The Epicentre of Down Under
Sydney - 7th to 14th September
Have you heard of Down Under? It refers to a specific place on our planet; ofwhich we all pine for secretly or not; that which spreads scary stories of mean snakes and horrible spiders; but also that which is home to neither snakes nor spider. The term Down Under is used as a nickname for Oceania - the lands of New Zealand and Australia. They aren’t alike at all neither when it comes to climate nor to flora or fauna, but because they are so close to each other they go together like two sisters.
Both - down under, in the Southern hemisphere. So far that they can only exist as a dream for the traveler at heart. So far that when you come, you stay for a long time. So far that they are scary words for mothers of European children - if they go there, they might never come back.
But not that far to stop us from coming. And if we’re here, we’ll be here fully! We won’t be reaching New Zealand in these stories. That will be a land for a future adventure. But I am sure you know - we will travel Australia to the fullest!
Australia! Let’s be honest that we the northern-hemispherians don’t know that much of these Southern lands. Whether it is due to their short modern history (first settlers arriving towards the end of 18th century) or due to their far location from our geographic latitudes, Australia is a land of small common knowledge. And, therefore, I think I can guess what goes through your head when you hear about it: kangaroos and beaches mostly, but also one more things. A thing so big that it might be the only true non-natural site that pulls us to the far continent - the Sydney Opera House! I am right, aren’t I!?
Sydney with its Opera House is perhaps the best known city Down Under. We have heard of Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane but can we actually picture them? Can we assign to them a magnificent building or a natural occurrence? (Well, if you are obsessed with Australia or have visited it - I am sure you can. I am talking to everyone else as I was like them not even three months ago.) Sydney is the unofficial capital of Australia like New York is for the USA - we know they aren’t capitals but they are the cultural centres that pull us in. There, where everything occurs - in the Epicentre.
We haven’t slept more than 40 hours but we are not going to yet, either. If we want to transition to Australian time fast we need to sleep like the locals. We have to wait. But in order to wait we will have to go outside. Guess what would happen if we stay in. We are in the Rozelle neighbourhood. The streets are windy but even through our tired eyes we start to see that “we are not in Kansas anymore”. Turns out you don’t just get to Oz in flying houses - planes work too.
Birds, trees, flowers, houses, ocean - so many things we haven’t seen before. The architecture reminds me of New Orleans (not that I have been there, but that’s what films show it as) with its balconies and ornaments on columns, fences and railings. In Europe I have become immune to houses and little streets. Here I want to photograph every step because it is oh so new!
But at the same time we are too tired to take the city in. At the moment it is only passing by, flashing up to keep us awake. Tomorrow we will see it, truly, fresh and ready for Sydney.
It is 10 am which means we have slept 16 hours. At first I decided to hide it from those checking up on us from Europe but they weren’t surprised at all - even the ones that usually don’t sleep at all when they visit a new place. Turns out it is socially acceptable to sleep over half a day when you have crossed continents and oceans. We could have probably slept longer but the adventure spirit was wide awake with anticipation and our tummies empty. So we leave!
The light-rail stop is about 10 minutes away and because of the hilly nature of the neighbourhood and we are walking with a view to the city. We scan our Opal cards and prepare ourselves to be transported into a new world; to pass through the wardrobe or platform 9¾. You might think that the magic of Narnia and Harry Potter isn’t applicable to our planet Earth but I don’t think there is anything more suitable. Because I see it. Sydney is truly a new world on my Earth. A place like none I have seen before. A metropolis without an equal in Europe.
We pass through the main street and every big, bigger and biggest skyscraper. We are definitely not in Warrington any more. However, it is Sunday today and as we will quickly find out, in Australia Sunday is a no-go day - at least shops and restaurants don’t let you go in. We also have no mobile data yet so even Google can’t help us find brunch. And even so we find one of the most hip Sunday brunch places of Sydney - up on the roof with a view to the Marina and the Maritime museum.
Now fed it is time to transfer our attention to the needs of the camera and the soul so we set off on the alley with a goal - the Opera House. We first admire the apartment building and the obviously different methods of the local architects compared to their European colleagues. And then we are in awe of the promenade and talk about the landscaping specialists. We can’t skip the photo-ops of the location especially once Harbour Bridge is in sight.
It is unbelievable to think I am where I dreamt to be. And just as I think that underneath the bridge, I turn to the right … “Nic, look right!” There it is! The crown jewel of Sydney. White and in all its glory. Drawing us in. The Opera House!
And the walk to it overwhelms us at every step with every new point of view to this beauty. Nic even finds a spot from which the panorama includes the story, architecture and beer of Sydney - the docks, Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the glass brewery of James Squire.
We continue to get closer and to discover. So many details start adding on which I can now see but haven’t known before. The pictures we see in Europe don’t show those “little bits”. To begin with - the grand stairway leads to three separate buildings, which unfortunately can’t be entered (other then maybe the cafe). After that we notice that the structure is concrete and the white cover is actually countless white tiles, which aren’t even all white. The separate group panels are framed in beige. Now every time I see the shell shapes I will picture this pattern. And if you are looking for the perfect picture go up the stairs opposite that leads into the park. In the “golden hour” it is a golden view. But be aware - photos don’t even come close to the feeling of being there!
After this strong emotional experience we decided we deserve something special. And so we found the poshest bar of Sydney in Victoria Building where we paid unbelievable money for two cocktails. (If you too are looking for something to follow the view of the Opera House, maybe stay at the bars by the harbour. It seems to me it would be a more special experience.) However, here we find internet which for the first time allows us to talk to Europe in real time and to share our excitement of the long travel as well as our first day at the epicentre of Down Under.
On an Instagram story I shared three pictures captioned “We” “Love” and “Sydney” because it is true. I am starting to understand why so many people didn’t believe us when we kept saying we won’t be staying in Australia. It might not be all that bad ;).
Today is the day we started the search for our new future “home” for the roads of the Southern continent. But that story is an adventure in itself and would therefore leave it for next week. If you are thinking that our days from here onwards are quite short that is only because I am skipping the hours searching for the perfect car. We haven’t wasted our precious time, I promise!
It is Monday and high time for some administrative errands like acquiring mobile data. I mean, could you imagine two 24 year olds living through 4 months without access to Facebook and Instagram. Well, and also without getting lost in the remote areas that are ahead of them. The process was more painful than expected with blocked phones, late activations and complicated bank transactions. But the girl in the store is patient and we eventually leave with 60GB of mobile data each which is far more than needed but also is the best value for money. Oh, the hours we will spend on Facebook ...
We have got tickets to visit Tower Eye today - Sydney’s tallest building set up to uncover the secrets of the city with a 360 degree panorama. When buying the tickets you choose a time to visit the tower - morning, afternoon or evening. We choose the latter with the idea to go up just before sunset and see Sydney in daylight, sunset and night mode. We have to wait quite a bit but we are cold. It is still early september (imagine 9th March in Europe) and the temperature peaks at 18оС. We want to go somewhere warm but at the same time we don’t want to sit in a cafe and waste our precious time and we also won’t manage to go through one of the museums. Therefore we roam the streets, shop some things we have long dreamt of and continue to paparazzi the skyscrapers from under their skirts.
The time comes to go up and after getting lost a few times in the mall, which is a base to the tower, we find the entrance. We go through a 4D film about Sydney and pose in front of a green screen - tourist attractions. But we get into the small lift and arrive on the platform on time.
Today the sun didn’t come out and up there the skyscraper giants of Sydney aren’t illuminated as I had hoped. I am worried that the sunset will also not show under the grey clouds but to my big photography happiness, the grey buildings start getting painted in orange and pink. My hopes for a unique sunset aren’t killed and the sun comes through pouring out all its colours under the greyness to send us off and step aside for the deep dark blue sky. The pictures are now saved!
The world usually gets ready for bed after sunset, for the end of the day before the beginning of the next one. But Sydney has no intention of slowing down. While you hang in the air closed between the glass it is still going - the offices are lit, people are working, streets are full and the Opera house sings with light. I take pictures not imagining that the next photo would be better than the current but then the next after the next comes and then more ...
However, the time comes to get down and stand on the hard ground and … something has changed. If you too like me have never been in a metropolis like Sydney it can seem both overwhelmingly exciting and quite dull at the same time. As much as you want to you can’t spend your whole time looking up to the heights of the city but the views at eye level are shops, same as everywhere else. But now we see the city differently. We have officially met and we can now connect the two halves naturally. We recognise the structures that we studies up there. We might have admired the architecture before but it was still far away from us. Now it is close because we were up there too - in the sky of the giants.
We are part of Sydney.
Our tourist day starts late today - long after lunch and yet correctly - with a visit to the Museum of Sydney. While we buy our tickets we are invited to join a free tour which proved to be a good decision considering the underwhelming exposition of the museum. The story of the tour guide took us through the life of the first settlers of Sydney (named after Lord Sydney in 1788) and their relationships with the local Aboriginal people - a topic casting a dark cloud over Australia’s short history which is already connected to the convict deportation (but we will talk about them another time). The young man with a degree in Italian Renaissance successfully shared the short history with us (the spoiled European tourists with too many ruins at home) and showed us that even 250 years can be history.
And so with some new knowledge of Sydney we decide to walk to a new goal - the glass brewery. It is time to catch up with some administrative work - diary, car plans and schedule for the next few days. But this time we won’t be outsmarted and we go to the view! We sit right next to the windows because from here we are faced with Sydney’s Shell and with an Australian pint in hand we can’t get enough of it. We stay here for as long as we can before the hunger sets in and we have to find food. We will be back soon!
Typical for us, we sleep through the alarm this morning and wake up an hour later than planned, thus, all plans to work in a cafe for an hour or two go out the window (it is broken so it makes it easier). We pack quickly, leave the hostel and get on a few buses to get to the other side of town where our AirBnB is. The car will be ready in three days and we decided we have no desire to keep punishing ourselves staying in the hostel. And we’re not just going anywhere. The flat is near Bondi Beach (one of Australia's most famous beaches).
After a brunch stop we head downhill (don’t forget we are once again pregnant camels) and the view of the beach opens up in front of us. As if it were waiting specially so we can enjoy it. Of course, to make our lives difficult, we get into the wrong building and climb up and down the stairs twice. But with the first step into the flat I am on cloud nine. With a few differences the owner obviously has a similar taste in design to mine. And even without an ocean view, we can’t get enough of the jungle-like neighbourhood.
We change into something a bit more comfortable for a beach walk and leave. This part of the coast is covered in small beaches and a special sea walk connect Coogee Beach (pronounced Koojie) to the South to Bondi Beach (not pronounced Bondai) to the North. And between them are the Clovely, Bronte and Tamarama beaches as well as countless lookouts with unforgettable views.
Crossing the green park we get to the sand of Bronte Beach with not so many sunbathing people on the shore but quite a few surfing in the water. It takes some time to reposition the lense in Nic’s hands away from the surfers and towards me and the views behind me. It was quite the staring on his behalf and I could see he got quite the itch to get on a surf.
The walks between the beaches offer amazing views as if the ocean is trying to outdo itself and shows how much prettier it can get with every second. Even coming back the sun got involved to help out by entering its “golden hour” and then our souls started overflowing as they were being heavily filled already. Today somebody asked if Australia is truly that beautiful - Yes, it truly is! Nature here knows what it is doing and outdoes anything humans can build. I thought the Opera House would be Sydney’s culmination but nothing can compare to the views from McKenzy Point towards Tamarama Beach.
We eventually reach Bondi and immediately see why everyone knows it - it might not be the most naturally beautiful one but it sure is the biggest and likes being a home to surfers of all skill levels. Guess if I didn’t lose Nic again from excitement of the capable Aussie skills.
Walking barefoot on the beach we try out the shockingly cold ocean. As a Black Sea kid - born and bred, I don’t know if I would ever understand the desire to beach by the ocean, however, the views here might be enough to get me out on a hot summer’s day. In the meantime, I guess I will have to learn how to surf...
We start the day off slower than usual - the plan is to get to Luna Park. And I am about to put shoes on Google starts explaining that the park is closed today. Well done! Yet again we sit down to make a daily plan.
We come up with a walk to Hornby Lighthouse at Watson Bay. We jump on a few busses, get vegan ice cream and climb towards the lookout platform, slowly getting to the lighthouse. This is a locals’ area and the tourists are few (spoiling the landscape). The views from here are towards the city and the walk turns into an unexpected symbol between the calm of the ocean and the unstoppable city. How could you not feel special with such a philosophical background while you rediscover the size and beauty of Sydney.
After this non-touristy walk we decide to do a very touristy activity - we get on a ferry. We know that getting on it here will take us to the main harbour with a perfect view towards the bridge and the Opera House. It might just be another public transport type, but could you compare the views from another common bus to the one from a boat in the centre of a bay. Even the clouds rearrange to make the pictures more dramatically impressive.
After lunch we head towards the Botanical Gardens which is in every sightseeing list of Sydney. I had the inner feeling I don’t quite want to go and perhaps this is exactly what took us on this path. Just before the Gardens’ entrance we pass the Art Gallery of New South Wales (the state Sydney is a capital for) and something made me look closer into the picture between the front facade pillars. The picture is of Christo while packing the Australian shore, entry is free. I am tired and don’t really want to see the whole exhibition but I can’t miss going in and seeing Christo’s presence in this part of the world.
(Christo is one of Bulgaria’s most well known artists internationally. He has a passion of wrapping objects of various sizes some of which as big as part of the Australian shore, the Berlin Reichstag, a Colorado valley or selected Miami islands.)
Lo and behold, the central gallery, the one leading to all other halls, offer a permanent exhibition about Christo. The tags label him as “Bulgaria/USA” and a small part of his worldwide projects are on display. For a person having done a school project on the artist there wasn’t anything new. But I still can’t deny how impressive it is to see the Bulgarian as a focal point here. Even if he isn’t quite so proud to be one of us.
We go quickly through the rest of the halls but never reach the Botanical Gardens as I predicted. Well, something has to stay unvisited so we can see it when we return in four months with mum and dad.
Today is our last full day in Sydney and the car will be ready this afternoon. We are SO excited! But even with the idea of adventures in the city which we have grown to love we decided to slow down. We have been on the go for now 5 days in a row after 2 exhausting days in airplanes and airports. Today we don’t have the strength to wander the streets again especially now that it is noticeably warming up for summer. At the same time, we received our wedding pictures last night (800 of them) and it’s time to start preparing them for thank you letter and to be sent out to guests. The diary is also quite behind once again. Thus, we sit in a cafe with coffee and sandwiches and I catch up on admin work while Nic is working.
Once the laptop batteries have died and our bodies’ have charged we go back to the flat taking the long way. We find Clovelly Beach which is probably the smallest between Coogee and Bondi but could also be my favourite. Due to the deep shape of the bay the waves break about 50 minutes from shore which (according to my logic) allows the bathing water to warm up much easier. Not that we went in but it doesn’t mean I can’t dream. We walk back to Bronte Beach on the coastal walkway under the cemetery. The views are unbelievable but perhaps not as good as the ones from McKenzy point.
We return into the neighbourhood just in time to get on a bus and go pick up the car and with that our tourist time in Sydney comes to an end … for now. The rest of our time here will be spent in shops, government service buildings and far away garages which you will find out about soon. But that doesn’t detract from our love for the metropolis.
Even now - 17,000 km later we haven’t yet found a city which has taken us aback more than Sydney. Everyone asks what our favourite place so far is and Sydney has always headed the list. It is even above the national parks which are extremely soul filling. Maybe Perth could compete for first place but at the moment of writing these words Sydney is still the epicentre of not just Down Under but also our trip.
Vassya (and Nic)