Tomorrow I will have been traveling for 11 weeks, and my expectations have been tested the whole way. Some cities didn’t live up to my expectations and others far surpassed them. Sometimes I had preconceived notions (built from TV, movies, the news media, and friends or family), and other times I had no idea what to expect. It’s really always a surprise what you will get because no matter how much you think you know, you really don’t ever know how a city will make you feel and how you will experience that city. It’s a really personal thing. It will always be different from other people’s experiences, even if you do similar things or see the same sights. We are all different, our preferences are slightly different, and our perceptions are surely different. This is why travel for yourself is so fun, because the things you are experiencing are new to you. Even if you’ve been somewhere before, you can always experience a place in a new way.
I always thought I would like Australia. For one, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they don’t like it, and there is so much to see. I didn’t know too much before I got here, just that the weather seems really warm and good, the Great Barrier Reef is here, and there are interesting and different animals to see. And of course I wanted to see the Sydney Opera House.
Sydney lived up to my expectations and surpassed them. There is a laid-back, peaceful atmosphere here that makes me feel so at home and relaxed. I’ve only ever experienced the same feeling in Madison, WI and I’ve missed that feeling! Even though I’ve been on my own, the people here have been very friendly. I constantly hear couples or family members talking to each other very respectfully and with genuine care, which oddly I find different from the States. It is so nice to hear and I’m glad that people are so open and kind to one another here.
I also love how many outdoor activities there are to do in Sydney! This week I walked all around George Street, Darling Harbour, Circular Quay, and the Royal Botanical Gardens, checked out Paddy’s Market, went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, window-shopped at Westfield Sydney, went hiking in the Blue Mountains, hung out at the beach, and went whale watching. It was between 70 and 75°F all week. For mid-autumn, this seems too good to be true!
I was staying just off George Street, the main street in Sydney, and did a nice long walk down to the Harbour.
I got down to the water at Circular Quay, and walked along the path along the water. There were loads of runners everywhere, so much so that I had to remember to walk on the left side in order to not get run over. A note for traveling in countries where they drive on the left: they walk on the left too, so be courteous when taking up the walking path which side you are on. I even witnessed a guy so angry about it that he was yelling “LEFT!” at everyone he came up on that was walking on the right. Pret-ty amusing… and a little disturbing.
Then I came upon the Royal Botanical Gardens, which are right next to the Opera House surrounding Farm Cove. So beautiful. If I was back to running, this is where I would have run for sure!
The last picture is of the Government House, which they also hold tours of. I just admired the outside, and kept going on my all-day walk. I also went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, also on Circular Quay. I think it was the best art museum I have ever seen. It had so many different exhibits and pieces. Usually galleries are focused on one medium or style per floor or exhibit (paintings, sculptures, photography, etc), and I like this one because it mixed it up, there were sculptures next to photography, down the corridor from a video playing, next to really cool paintings, next to a room completely done in rainbow stripes. It was good.
On my way home, I checked out Westfield Sydney, a shopping area on Pitt street, just a block or so over from George Street that runs the length of the main downtown area.
The next day I did a tour of the Blue Mountains. It looked like this at the top. We did a pretty good hike; with a total of something like 3,000 stairs. My legs were not thanking me for working them out again so soon! We basically walked like half-way down into this valley and back up. It was worth it though!
Then we ate lunch and hiked more over in Katoomba, where we went on the steepest train ride in the world. They assured us it was made in Switzerland, and having already ridden on a pretty steep train up to Harder Kulm, I thought it would be no big deal. But it was actually quite a thrill…. basically you had to hold on or else you’d probably fall down onto the people sitting below you. I was almost completely vertical in my “seat”. It was fun though and had awesome views, though I was holding on so couldn’t get any shots! The train looks innocent, but it is not. It starts out horizontal and then goes vertical up or down the mountain. Kind of cheesy, but check out their promo video here.
It was also the location of The North Face 100K race that was starting the following day. It was fun seeing them set up for that.. maybe someday an ultra marathon is in my future…. but not now!
Oh and we saw Kangaroos! One actually jumped along our van for a while, too! It was awesome seeing how fast they get going in person.
The following day was low key because my legs were tired and so I visited Paddy’s Market, which is a market in chinatown. Then I went down to Darling Harbour.
And last but not least I needed some beach time! I spent the day lounging at Manly beach, and then hopped on a boat with Ocean Extreme to go whale watching.
The whale watching boat was really fast and there is literally nothing better than being out on the water, going fast, on a sunny day. Add whales to the mix and it is heaven! It was so fun watching for the whale to surface. We just saw one humpback whale, said to be a juvenile male whale, which was about 9 or 10 meters long. The whale actually fully jumped up and out of the water completely, which was so awesome to see in person! I guess that is pretty rare so we got lucky!
Growing up on the river, where there is a lot of etiquette to be learned in boating, it was interesting to learn the rules of whale watching. You are supposed to ride along side the whale, keep about 100 meters away from it, and never go directly at it in your boat (head on or come up behind it). If the whale comes to you, then you are supposed to just sit idle with the engine off and let it do its thing and check you out. They won’t touch or bump the boat (unless provoked) because they are really spatially aware and smart mammals. A couple of times recreational boats could be seen not following the rules, which aggravates the whales, so it was good to be told what we were supposed to be doing. It was also nice that we were closer to the water in this type of boat, which is why I chose this tour instead one of the bigger tour boats. We were faster and more agile and were able to stay out on the water longer.
Even though I did a lot, I feel like I only scratched the surface! Australia’s not usually high on the list of places to travel for Americans, because the airfare is so expensive and it takes a long time to get here, but it definitely needs a place at the top. You can thank me later for planning your next vacation. 🙂