Well, I made it!!! I left NJ on Wednesday morning and arrived to Sydney on Friday at 9:30 AM local time. Still wrapping my head around the insane time difference…
I want to document my first week since I was able to do so much! Can’t imagine keeping up with writing about daily activities this way for the rest of my time, but thought it would be worth it for at least the first week. I have been keeping a small journal as well which I’ve really enjoyed using for daily reflection.
My travels went smoothly and there is nothing truly noteworthy about the experience! I settled in for the long trip, which totaled about 28 hours, and was able to read and sleep a lot to get through. I also had decent seat mates on the long flight, so that helped!
Upon arrival to the Sydney airport, I followed the route towards customs and was through the gate in about 30 seconds. Between the quick approval of my visa to the ease of getting into the country itself, I was laughing about why I had ever been nervous about there being some unforeseen issue. The airport had some holiday decorations up which was a nice touch! I grabbed my bag and headed towards the airport train stop, took the train (similar style to a NJ transit car) 3 or 4 stops and arrived to Central Station where my hostel was located just across the street! Luckily, my bed was available a little before the check in time, so I was able to get the key to my room and put my things down, shower, etc. After that was all said and done, I was feeling pretty good! Definitely tired, but knew I needed to keep moving to get some food and begin to battle the jetlag- multiple people had mentioned to me that I should try to avoid napping on the first day.
I grabbed a small map and set out in the general direction of the Harbor, which was about 2 miles north (everything is in kilometers here, still getting used to that…). The city is also in the midst of being decorated for the holidays, and I enjoyed seeing the trees, lights and banners all around town! I came across an outdoor pedestrian street which was part of a bigger mall and found some lunch in the food court. Moving on from there I finally arrived at the Sydney Harbour/Opera House area! Definitely had a moment upon first glance of the iconic landmarks… there was some personal emotion towards seeing such a world famous place and also reflection on the thought that I’ve actually done this and made it here! I spent time walking around the harbor area and sitting on the Opera House steps which was full with tourists. I continued walking into the Royal Botanical Gardens which are right next to the Opera House and found a place to stop and lay for a little while. Once I was feeling ready to move on, I walked back towards the hostel on a different route, passing through Hyde Park (the oldest public parkland in Australia) along the way. As much as I wanted to stay up for the Friday night “party” at the hostel for my first attempt at finding friends, I was completely dead come 8:00 PM and called it a day.
On Saturday, I was up and ready by 10:45 AM for the hostel walking tour to Glebe Markets. I tagged along with two German girls who were in my room and spent some time chatting with them, but once we arrived to the markets everyone split up. I loved everything about this place! So many cool stalls with clothing, art, jewelry, etc. I could’ve bought a million things. I definitely feel like Sydney is a pretty trendy city, and everyone dresses pretty nicely. Considering everything I’ve brought is a mix of sporty and simple, I know I would have to up my game if I were planning to stay in the city much longer.After I did my rounds at the stalls, I walked around the surrounding neighborhood. I found a park to lie in for a little bit and then explored the University of Sydney campus. That afternoon I hung out in the hostel lobby and started putting together my ideas for what I’ll want to do for the rest of my time in Sydney and then how I’ll be getting to the next destination. That night I ran into my German friends on my way down to the hostel bar party and went in with them; there was a beer pong tournament for that night which is pretty hilarious. It was such a huge effort to actually make it out to this event because I was still feeling extremely jetlagged, but really wanted to push myself to meet some people! I ended up talking with 2 Scottish girls and exchanging information with them, and we agreed to meet up the next day. Success.
On Sunday I had a really good day. I was up and at it pretty early and walked into the Haymarket neighborhood and found a little mall where I could get my phone set up with a new SIM card and data plan. This was helpful because with data, I could finally allow myself to explore a bit more with the assistance of Google Maps! I then headed towards Darling Harbour, making my first stop at the Chinese Garden of Friendship. I spent about an hour in this amazing place, which was a gift built to symbolize the friendship between Sydney, AUS and Guangzhou, China. I felt very peaceful wandering about the gardens and enjoyed the bit of quiet in the midst of the big city. My favorite takeaway was the little plaque about my birth year- 1993, the year of the Rooster. The plaque read “You are a symbol of courage and community spirit. The ancient Chinese believe roosters have five qualities, excellence in reading in writing, martial arts, courage, sharing and reliability.” I did take a self defense class at a martial arts gym in RI so… sounds about right!Leaving the garden, I then walked through the major Darling Harbour area, through a long stretch of waterfront bars and restaurants. They all looked really nice but could definitely tell it was a major touristy area! This route brought me back to the outskirts of the Harbor Bridge area, and I decided to walk through the neighborhood called The Rocks. I am glad I made this stop because once again, I found myself in the midst of a major marketplace! The pedestrian streets were filled with music, food, drink and stalls with local art, clothing, jewelry and more. I really enjoyed this little stretch.Continuing on… I found the entrance to the Harbour Bridge Steps and walked through. Everyone says how amazing it is to do the bridge climb, but not sure I want to cough up $400 for that right out of the gate! So walking the bridge was plenty for me, it reminded me of walking the Golden Gate in SF with Kristy about a year ago to the day!! On my way back to the hostel, I walked through the Queen Victoria Building which is a beautiful indoor mall that was fully decorated for the holidays. Both the interior and exterior design were stunning, and inside there are a ton of high end shops and cafes. About 8 miles later I made it back to the hostel and called it quits; I had totally tired myself out on top of the continuing jetlag adjustment.
I reached out to my new Scottish friends, Ashley and Jenny, and we agreed to meet up on Monday morning for the hostel guided city tour. Even though I had seen most of the major city landmarks at that point, I knew it was a good chance to get to know them and meet some more people from the hostel! Turns out I made a good choice, because I was able to see some additional parts of the city and establish my first friend group of my trip. Some noteworthy stops along the trip in the morning were the ANZAC War Memorial, which honors fallen soldiers from AUS and NZ from WWI, St. Mary’s Cathedral, which reminded me a lot of Notre Dame in Paris, and the Public Library of NSW! We also walked through the Botanical Gardens, on a different route than I had seen previously, so I had some new views of the harbour. Ashley and Jenny are friends from university (sounds so much nicer than “college”) and are in AUS together for a year on their Work/Holiday visas. It was fun getting to know them at the start of the tour that day! Over the course of the morning, we ended up grouping with 3 other girls who were all touring solo that day. Chantelle, Ellen and Vicki are all from the UK as well. When I told Chantelle that I was from New Jersey she laughed and said that she is from “Old” Jersey. I had no idea that Jersey a small island, part of the British Isles, that is located between England and France. Over lunch, we decided to split off from the tour group and head to Bondi Beach for the later part of the afternoon. We grabbed the bus and in 30 minutes we were at the beach! I had another moment upon first glance of the famous Bondi Beach– something I’ve seen in so many pictures! We made our way onto the sand and sat in a circle chatting for a while. I love listening to these girls talk with their English accents, and have trouble keeping up half the time! They are good about asking me if I know certain terms or about topics that came up, some I did and some I definitely didn’t. Apparently Bondi Rescue is a popular TV show about the Bondi lifeguards and the girls were all geeking out over the crews that we saw; there were even some cameras! All I could think of were my favorite summers as a lifeguard in NJ 🙂 We put our feet in the water and each of us basked in the happiness of being on a beautiful beach on this crazy “holiday”. We decided to grab a few beers for happy hour at a bar right on the water and enjoyed the Golden Hour as the sun began to set. I said cheers to my new friends over our drinks, so thankful that I had already met such a happy, friendly and fun group. That night at the hostel, we went to the bar for some more drinks and dancing. The crowd at this bar is definitely interesting and we laughed over how ridiculous so many travelers can be.
Tuesday morning came quick and I was up and ready for a day tour of Blue Mountain National Park which I had booked through the hostel! It was nice that there were only 9 people booked on the trip that usually has around 30. Our guide, Billy, was absolutely incredible and totally made the day worth the cost of the guided tour. He has worked as a professional photographer with BBC London and does the tour trips on the side, so I was automatically fangirling over his background!On our drive out of the city, he spent time sharing information about how the harbour bridge was built and the history of the city– the bridge was built completely by man and many people died in the process. During that time, everyone was looking for work and so everyone was willing to do dangerous jobs for pay. He also talked about some native wildlife. 21/25 of the worlds most deadly snakes in the world!! He gave us information about how to spot them and also talked about the deadly spiders, sharks and saltwater crocodiles. Our first stop was at Featherdale Wildlife Park which is a sanctuary for many native animals. I saw my first round of kangaroos, koalas and other crazy lil furry friends, plus a 12 foot gator. Not going to lie, I teared up when I saw the first koala asleep in his tree, they are SO cute. I also learned that they are endangered and could be extinct by 2050, so sanctuaries like this one are working hard to do research and breeding to help save them. While I definitely enjoyed this stop, it was hard seeing all the other tourists be so aggressive with taking photos and videos of the animals, much of the reason I am not a fan of zoos.We then drove another 1.5 hours to the park entrance and stopped for lunch at an overlook of the Three Sisters! This is a very famous landmark and it has an old bedtime story that is associated with it– if interested check it out! After lunch we went on a guided 2-2.5 hour hike which was perfect. Billy stopped us along the way to show us a variety of things about the mountains; we saw one of the aforementioned spiders (omg), learned about the caves where the indigenous people used to seek shelter, about the different types of rock, waterfalls, native birds, and how to signal for help if lost or in danger. He told us about the native “trackers” who are used to train the best militaries in the world in survival skills. He demonstrated the utmost respect for the land and people of the country and it was easy to feel a connection towards the history through his messages. Overall it was a great day and I learned a TON about the country which I really enjoyed right out of the gate.
On Wednesday I wasn’t feeling great, jetlag really catching up to me, so I took it easy most of the day. I opened my bank account which was needed so I counted it as a productive day! That night the hostel had a “wine and cheese” event so I met up with the girls and did that for a while and we made our way back to the hostel bar for the rest of the night!
On Thursday I convinced my English friends to celebrate American Thanksgiving with me! We took a day trip to Manly Beach, which was just a quick ferry ride away from Sydney. I absolutely loved Manly from the start, it immediately had that beach town vibe that I am searching for. We stopped at a grocery store and grabbed some food for our own Aussie-style BBQ! Some of the beaches here have these BBQs, basically tall hot plates, that you can totally have a full fledged cook out on. We walked to another area called Shelly Beach for the BBQ and had a great meal, veggie burgers included! I also tried haloumi for the first time (salty cheese?) which was really good grilled up. I said a little Thanksgiving “speech” before our meal that everyone enjoyed. To finish the day, we laid out on the beach and enjoyed some relaxation. That night I had dinner and drinks in Manly with a friend of my Dad’s from high school!!! She was an exchange student in NJ back in the day and they have kept in touch, luckily for me she is a great contact to have in Sydney. I appreciated the hospitality and it was fun to see a “familiar” face, someone who knew a little bit about where I’m from.
To finish out my first week, I spent Friday morning at the Australia Museum, which is similar to the Museum of Natural History at home. I enjoyed learning more about this country and a lot of the history, people and animals alike! On Friday afternoon I picked up my bags and made the 45 minute train and bus trek to Bondi Beach where I am spending the next week. I am here now and it was really nice to wake up at the beach! Check out the view from my hostel rooftop 🙂 I’m excited to continue exploring this area over my second week, and will also be finalizing plans on where I am headed next.Random thoughts:
- Over the first day or two, my emotion was very “neutral”. I found that I was neither overly excited or unhappy in any way– kind of just content. I think this was a result of the underlying knowledge that I have a long trip ahead of me and there is no rush. I am hoping to let things happen naturally, such as meeting people and making plans. I have not yet felt lonely or homesick, which I’d imagine will happen at some point.
- So many exotic looking birds! The ibis ones are everywhere– they call them “bin chickens” here which I didn’t realize why until I heard my English friends calling the garbage cans “bins” lol! I like them though, they look like little dinosaurs!
- People walk to the left, much like how they drive, which is backwards! I am constantly running into people if I am not paying attention.
- Sydney is a very diverse city and very clean compared to cities I know at home.
- I love the purple flowered trees that are blooming right now- they are called Jacaranda trees.
- I have not met as many Americans as I expected, though I am picking up on more North American accents here in Bondi.
- Over the first week, I’ve found that I equally enjoy my time alone and time with other people, doses of each.
- Sometimes I will look around and feel like I can’t understand how I made it here! The past month has been an absolute blur, so I am making every effort to be present and mindful each and every day that I have here.