After our rushed walk from the car rental depot to the Central train station through Sydney, we felt that the city deserved some further exploring. I think I expected Sydney to be just another big city, but to its credit I was impressed with how many different things there were to see and do.
In appearance, it did feel very much like a larger American city with some areas reminding me of Georgetown in Washington D.C. while others made me think more of New York City. Sydney seemed fairly diverse as Australia goes and everyone had somewhere important to go, but at a more relaxed pace than say NYC. It seemed like a great place to live if you had a salary in Australian dollars and a group of friends that liked to go out and try new restaurants. I was also impressed that in what I consider to be a generally expensive country, Sydney offers a lot of things for free, like the botanical gardens, many museums, parks, neighborhoods and of course a free walking tour!
As per the usual, we planned our day trip to the city around this free walking tour and also as usual, we found that distances on the city map are much farther on foot than you might think. So, by the time we had taken the 2 hour train ride from Katoomba to Central Station, we barely had time for a quick picnic in Hyde Park before we had to get to our tour meeting point.
Like all good walking tours, despite the city’s size, our guide took us to all the major sections of downtown so we felt as if we missed very little, while still agreeing that we could use another day or two to put many of his recommendations into action.
We also were treated to a city history that was very different than those of the European cities we’ve visited. Apparently, Sydney was originally used to house many of the convicts from Britain when they ran out of room for them in the UK. It must have made for an exciting society.
Towards the end of the tour we were taken into the transformed Customs building that now is filled with free wifi, newspapers and couches. It also has a glass floor in the middle that floats above a fabulous 3D model of downtown Sydney.
A few days later, we headed back into the city to meet an old friend of mine from high school and college, Allison, and her husband for dinner. Although we had to work at the hostel that morning, we were still able to squeeze in a few hours more of sightseeing before meeting up. We quickly visited the National Galley where a wide range of styles and time periods were showcased. I think I enjoyed the aboriginal art the most as well as the more contemporary, darker pieces.
The gallery is right next to the Botanical Gardens which provided a scenic walk back to Circular Quay to see the Opera House up close this time.
Allison later told me that downtown seemed dead, but it appeared buzzing to us, especially for a Monday night. Everyone was out jogging, terracing by the water and taking ferries home from work which created a very lively atmosphere. We couldn’t resist taking a few more shots of the harbor and the Opera House while the lights were on.
Later in the evening, we met Allison and her husband at a local brewery for drinks and dinner. I was slightly disappointed that they didn’t have a kangaroo steak or emu egg, but I’m sure I’ll have my chance before we leave the country. We had a wonderful evening catching up and hearing all about their lives in Sydney which sounds like a wonderful place to live.