Whoever said Sydney is “just like L.A.” or “just like the U.S.” has 1. never lived in L.A. and 2. never been to Sydney. Australia is nothing like the states (except for maybe Hawaii).
- Sydney Opera House
- Walk from the Spit to Manly Beach
- Walk over the Harbor Bridge
Australia (and New Zealand) were my big trips of the year, to culminate quite possibly the most memorable year of my life. I know, that’s a lot of pressure for 2017. That’s why I had to reward myself for it god dangit. It was a year of growth, happiness and… traveling!
Damn, Australia is far
It was the longest flight, ever. I flew to Manila first, which was a 15-hour plane ride from SFO. My layover was four hours, which was fine because I worked the whole time, plus there’s nothing to do at that airport.
As soon as I exited my plane in Manila, a woman from the airline approached me and to my surprise, said “Claire?” Then I was whisked away in a little van from the plane to another terminal. There were three other confused Americans in my van. I guessed we were the only passengers heading to Sydney.
The flight to Sydney was another eight hours, so I flew for 23 hours and traveled for 27. I skipped two days and jumped 48 hours into the future when I landed. Traveling can be a total mind fuck.
Sydney has the wow factor
When I arrived, I was surprised at how pristine and clean everything was. From the airport to the sprawling, yellow double decker trains (these are SUBWAY trains!) I was in awe.
Sydney is stunning. It’s a bustling city with buildings that are really, works of art.
The confusion that is Sydney’s weather
Even though it was Australia’s summer, the weather, which was all over the place, was tricky to pack for. It literally changes by the minute.
It can rain in the morning and then be hot and humid within 20 minutes. Melbourne was milder and less humid.
When I got to Sydney, I was kicking myself, thinking I brought too many wintery clothes and jackets, but then I got to New Zealand and was so glad I brought extra jackets and things to layer with.
I don’t think I ever packed such a variety of clothing for a trip and it felt wrong smushing my North Face rain jacket in my backpack knowing the temperature would be in the 80s in Sydney. But I was sure glad I had it when it rained for four days straight in Christchurch and on most of my hikes in New Zealand.
Australia ain’t cheap
One of the first things I noticed about Sydney was that is was expensive. Don’t let the exchange rate fool you. Australia is expensive.
I wasn’t used to seeing such high price tags. If you go to a restaurant and open a menu, you’ll see burgers priced at $27. I heard a 12-pack of beer was $36!
A short ride from the airport to the city center was $16 AUS. It was literally a 10-minute ride.
I braced myself for an expensive trip. I probably spent the most on coffee (more on that below).
Buses and crabby bus drivers
Public transportation is really easy. All you have to do is load up some money on an Opal card and you’re good to go on the buses and trains. It’s a tap on and off system, like the Bay Area, so as long as you have money on the card, you can ride buses and trains. Conveniently, you can reload from an app, too.
I overshot the amount I needed on my Opal card, and had $26 left on it so I mailed the card to my friend who lives there. If you’re a tourist, you can’t get a refund on the balance left on your card, unless you have an Australian bank account.
When I was in Bondi Beach, I discovered that the only way to get in and out of the area is by bus, so the buses can get really crowded. Think of it as the L Train that connects Brooklyn to Manhattan.
I was told that there are all kinds of rules and regulations when it comes to buses in Australia, and if the bus driver thinks the bus is too crowded (can we define crowded?), he won’t stop for the people waiting at the bus stop. Is it just me, or is it really weird for a bus driver to not stop?
I saw empty-ish buses go by without stopping, and a few times I was also on the bus when the driver didn’t bother stopping. I watched as the would-be passengers on the sidewalk threw their hands up in frustration.
I think the real reason bus drivers don’t stop is that they just enjoy seeing people stand there like dopes.
Surry Hills is the cutest neighborhood in the world
I first walked around Surry Hills — which is an adorable, quaint, very centrally located neighborhood in Sydney. It’s lined with giant trees, cute shops and historical-looking homes. If I moved to Sydney, I’d definitely live in Surry Hills.
Sydney’s museums and Opera House
Of course I did the tourist thing and strolled through Sydney’s Opera House. I didn’t go inside though — I admired the swanky bar inside the Opera House from the window. It wasn’t open anyway.
Underneath the building, they have a large, open bar area where you can drink and eat outdoors, right along the water. The weather was perfect, it wasn’t too crowded and the views were unreal.
I checked out the art museums and bought a pass for $24 AUS that gives you access to six historical homes and museums. The pass expires after a month. I managed to go to two of the six places.
Australian coffee. I’m such a tourist!
When I walked into a cafe and asked for a coffee, I was asked, “What kind?” I hesitantly asked if they just had drip coffee and the girl looked at me like I was nuts. I ended up ordering a latte.
Besides the first few faux pas with ordering my cup of Joe, I realized coffee is delicious in Australia and New Zealand. Me thinks it’s the milk that’s so tastey. Whatever it is, it’s like coffee crack delight.
A tattooed and bearded barista at Bondi’s farmers market and I had a 10-minute conversation about how to order coffee, and I learned that coffee in Australia is espresso-based.
Even their iced-coffees are really different than the kind we have here. Unless you’re really specific, it’ll come out like a dessert, with ice cream in it and “cream” — which is whipped cream.
Whenever I ordered an iced-coffee, I had to make sure and verify that the iced-coffee had ice CUBES in them. Otherwise you may end up with a Frappuccino-like frozen drink, and a confusing, “I didn’t order this” conversation with the barista.
Australian cafes also don’t have a milk stations. You have to ask for milk when you’re ordering.
If you’re an ignorant American like yours truly, here’s a quick guide for you:
- Short black — espresso
- Long black — espresso with water, also known as an Americano
- Flat white — shot of espresso with steamed milk
14 random things I observed about Australia
1. Australia (and New Zealand) are a non-smoker’s dream come true. People there don’t smoke and much to my delight, I wasn’t constantly inhaling second-hand smoke!
2. The birds in Australia were so awesomely delightful. Obviously, many species of birds exist only in Australia and are completely different from those in North America. Even the pigeons looked different to me. They looked less desperate and dirty. (Ever see a pigeon in SF’s Tenderloin? They look like they just flew out of an oil spill.)
The birds are somehow familiar, but aren’t. I saw a bird that looked like a crow but when it flapped its wings, I saw flashes of white on the wings. There’s also lots of tropical birds that are bright and colorful. Every morning in Bondi, I was woken up by a loud ass kookaburra bird.
It was like being on another planet. (Don’t even get me started on how much I adore the kiwi in New Zealand.)
3. Bondi Beach was very touristy with lots of boy band-looking Europeans and good looking Brazilians.
If I could do it again, I probably wouldn’t have stayed in Bondi for five days. One night would’ve been sufficient. Nothing against the hot youth of Europe and Brazil, but it’s just not really my scene. Plus it was far from the CBD, and you already know about my experience with the bus, so…
I much preferred Manly Beach, because it was smaller and more like a village.
4. My first instinct when I see a bug is KILL. Australians apparently don’t believe in window screens so I had to accept the fact that bugs, insects, spiders and creepy crawlers were a daily part of my life in Oz. It felt wrong to try and kill them, so I just hoped they didn’t bite me.
5. The fashion for women is very much a laid-back island style. It was like witnessing an explosion of Free People clothes, but oddly, there were no Free People stores. Cut-off jean shorts and skirts are all the rage for any woman under the age of 50. Cut-off shorts paired with a teeny tiny top.
6. WiFi is not plentiful in Australia. Finding a cafe with free WiFi was a bit of a challenge. I heard it’s because WiFi in Australia is expensive.
If you do manage to find a place with free WiFi, you have to give up your email address and opt in to lots of spam. Even at the airport. At Starbucks, you have to punch in a code that’s printed on your receipt.
7. Speaking of Starbucks, there aren’t as many as I had hoped. I suppose this would be a good thing for some, but I admit, I love Starbucks.
8. If you go to any of the fancy restaurants or bars in Sydney, women are dressed like they’re going to prom or raided Kim Kardashian’s closet and the men looked like they were about to fashionably set sail on a small yacht for a J.Crew catalogue shoot.
I walked into an “it” spot at Hotel Palisade’s rooftop, which had gorgeous views facing Darling Harbor, and saw eyeballs darting my way and doing the once over on my outfit that screamed “I’m on vacation.” I was wearing Birkenstocks, so sue me.
9. There are almost no homeless people in Sydney.
10. There are no black people or people of color. It’s mostly white, Asian, with sprinkles of people from the Middle East. An old man in Bondi asked if I was “Cho-neese” and I told him I was Korean. His response: “North?” I just smiled and stayed quiet.
11. Gotta pee? No problem! Bathrooms are everywhere.
You can find them in subway stations, parking lots, the beach and in any public area. Not only are they generously located, you won’t need to say a small prayer and fear for your life (and nose) when entering one, because get this, they’re actually clean! And there’s soap in the soap dispensers. New York City, are you getting this?
I never had to stress about finding a bathroom, which is probably why I drank flat whites like they were going out of style.
12. The sun in Australia (and New Zealand) is really hot. They don’t have an ozone layer. Because of this, the sun is blazing hot and I got tanned really fast. Usually it takes a few days for some color to kick in, but there, it was almost immediate. I continuously slathered strong sunscreen and wore a hat.
Even when I was driving, I could feel my leg burning up whenever the sun touched it — and I was wearing pants!
13. You’ll never need to go far if you’re in the mood for a burger or pizza. I think Aussies love burgers and pizza more than Americans. It seemed like every single restaurant was a burger or pizza joint. But don’t get me wrong. The food in Australia was fantastic. Especially the Cho-neese food.
14. Australia has huge trees everywhere. I’m talking national forest-gargantuan trees. This is their ingenious solution for keeping the massive roots in check.