Awww Sydney! Such a great city and our first stop on our big Australian adventure. This was my third trip Down Under but Josh’s first so we had a lot of exploring to do. After flying for twenty-three hours (give or take a couple), we were happy to land on solid ground and open air. Time travel is a weird thing. We left Toronto on the Monday evening and arrived in Sydney at 8:15am on the Wednesday. While up in the air, we had lost Tuesday. The more you think about the logistics of this traveling through time, the more confusing it gets so it’s best to just accept that you boarded a plane and now here you are.
We had only two nights in Sydney so we wanted to make the most of it. When traveling for such a short period of time, I highly recommend booking an Airbnb where you can get good insider information on the city from your host. This makes it much easier to maximise all time spent there. We had booked an Airbnb in Surry Hills which is a short walk from Central Railway Station. Surry Hills looked like a cool neighbourhood with great cafes and restaurants plus it was in walking distance to Sydney’s tourist attractions (you know what I am talking about).
Sydney has an amazing train system set up. It was maybe the easiest public transit from an airport that we have experienced (or at least equal to San Francisco). You grab your bags, you buy a ticket ($17) from either a person at a counter or a machine, you board the train and a whole TWELVE minutes later, you are at Central Station (and it takes a mere twenty-one minutes to get to Circular Quay Station which is where that big building that everyone photographs is). Here is where I interject for a moment to talk about this. Together the two of us spent $34 to take a train from the airport to Sydney City. From the station where we got off, we walked a full ten minutes to get to our accommodations. If we had chosen a taxi, the cost would have been between $40 and $50. This weekend in Toronto, the Union Pearson Express launched. The train runs from the airpot to Union Station with two stops in between. The cost per ticket to take this train is $27. From the stations that you would then get off of, you likely will have to jump on public transit (TTC) for an additional $3 to then be brought to where you actually need to be. For two people, the cost to then do this would be $60. Josh and I can get a taxi to our house from the airport for $55 and that includes a tip plus getting home in a timely fashion. Dear people behind UP, if you want us to take your train, it needs to cost less than the price of a taxi. We are told that the cost of the UP is comparable to other big cities but in my experience, it is not. /Rant over.
We landed in Sydney and within 1 1/2 hours, we were drinking coffee with our Airbnb host in her beautiful apartment. It was awesome. Ana has been doing Airbnb for the past two years and she was the perfect host. She gave us some hot tips for things to check out and had a whole booklet of information waiting for us in our room. The apartment had laundry and breakfast things and she was just so lovely.
We wasted no time to get out and explore the city so showered and were soon on our way. We first walked around Surry Hills for a bit and found a great cafe for brunch. I ate poached eggs every day that we were here. I am serious about my eggs. Surry Hills is full of cute residential streets and awesome cafes, restaurants and bars. We loved it and took any advantage to eat outside on the sidewalks when we could.
We then headed towards the harbour. There are some lovely parks in Central Sydney and I love that so many people were out taking advantage of them.
We wandered the Botanical Gardens which are really beautiful and full of birds (yes!). I almost wished that we had brought a picnic and could have just sat there for a while.
Seeing a group of cockatoos like this will never get old for me. Just look at them, hanging out on the ground!
There was this beautiful pond at the Botanical Gardens but a sign beside it mentioned that you would see eels in the water there. Sure enough, you could see a bunch of those slimy critters doing their thing. We learned that the staff at the Gardens drain the pond a couple of times a year to keep it clean and free of algae and every time, the eels return. They figure that at night those creepy guys come out of the Harbour and make their way across the lawn to the pond. Gross.Our next destination was naturally, the Sydney Opera House. You cannot go to Sydney without seeing it and when you get to it, there are hundreds of people taking photos of it. The best view of it was from across the harbour by the Gardens where you could get it lined up perfectly with the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And there were no tourists there. Bonus.
Once you get up close to the Opera House, you discover that it is actually covered in little tiles and maybe it looks better from afar. Suddenly the magic of the building is a little less.
After doing that tourist thing, we headed to the Rocks which is an area just West of the Opera House. It has cute shops and restaurants and we were hungry so we had beer and pizza at the Australian Hotel. On the menu they have a Coat of Arms pizza which has half Emu and half Kangaroo on it. Get it?! (BTW, I do not eat meat and I could not convince Josh to order it.)
We then walked back to our Airbnb to have a little nap and to prepare for a night out. I was determined to not let jet lag consume us. The key to time travel is to always exist in your current time zone, at least to the best of your capabilities. A nap later, we were ready to hit some of the bars on Josh’s big list. Our first stop was Shady Pines Saloon. It took us a little walking around to find the bar. In fact, pretty much every bar worth checking out in Sydney takes some work to find. These are not regular storefront joints. They hidden away which makes it all that more fun. See that white door on the right in that dark alley? That is the entrance to Shady Pines. And when you enter, you are greeted by a dark room filled with more taxidermy than you have ever seen. It was wonderful.
Our second stop that night was at Eau-de-Vie. This cocktail bar is located in the back of The Kirketon Hotel down a dark hallway and then behind a heavy curtain. It is a proper little cocktail bar where they love to use dry ice and awesome garnishes. We stayed here for two drinks each and then called it a night. Cocktails in Australia are not cheap. In fact, any food and drink at restaurants here is more expensive on the menus than what us North Americans pay. In regards to cocktails, our guess is that they are paying a higher cost for spirits. It is also because wages in Australia are much higher than in Canada. As a result of this, it is not necessary to tip when at a bar or restaurant. It took us a while to get used to this and to not feel guilty about it. Our bill at Eau-de-Vie was $100 and we had had four drinks. It seemed wild at the time but when you factor in the usual cost of a cocktail in Toronto (say $14 each), add in the tip, you are paying just a little under what we paid that night. And let me tell you, the awesome service that we received made it well worth it.
We woke up earlyish the following morning and took a bus ($3.50) out to Bondi Beach. Many of the buses in the CBD (Central Business District) in Sydney are pre-paid so you can only get on with a ticket. We purchased tickets ahead of time at a convenience store. A local person later told us that he sold us the wrong one (we needed a different zone ticket for where we were going) and to just “play tourist” should the driver ask. We were cool about it. We grabbed the 380 bus on Oxford Street and about 45 minutes later, we got off in Bondi. This website made it super easy to figure out our route. Bondi is a very famous beach in Sydney but since we were visiting just as their fall becomes winter, it was not 1) super warm or 2) super hopping. Basically, it was perfect for us. Our plan was to do the famous Coastal Walk to Coogee.
The Coastal Walk is something that any visitor to Sydney should do. It was seriously stunning. We took our time – about two hours worth – and I loved every step of it. The water was gorgeous and the rock was just incredible. It was smooth and wild and just had so much emotion. I could not stop taking photos.
We then ended in Coogee (you can take the walk further but this is where we decided to stop) and had a lovely lunch at the Black Pony. I had a glass of Pinot Grigio and the salmon which came with poached eggs, naturally. It was my second time that day eating them. I think that I have a problem. From there, we hopped on the 373 bus and headed back to Surry Hills. It was nap time.
We wanted to have one great dinner while we were in Sydney and Anna, our Airbnb host, had suggested Nomad. She had raved about it the day before and said that it was her most favourite local restaurant. We thought it sounded great and we ended up having dinner with her and her boyfriend there that night. It was the perfect start to an awesome night. We sat at the bar and ordered the chef’s tasting menu. Pro tip: if you are ever at a restaurant and see this option offered on the menu, always take it. You will never be disappointed. Since I do not consume the meat, but do do fish, they brought out a couple separate dishes for me (including Barramundi, yum!). I have never seen so much food in my life. We ate and ate and ate and everything was delicious. It was one of those meals that I wanted to svaour every bite of. I was so consumed by it all that I forgot to take a single photo of the food so instead, you get to see one of our leftovers. We were stuffed.
After Nomad, we met some old friends plus a past bride and groom of mine at Bulletin Place. Just like Shady Pines, it took us a little work to find it – you have to walk down an alley to this door and then walk up a couple flights of stairs. Bulletin Place was listed as the 19th best bar in the world in 2014 and I can see why. All of the guys where there were wonderful. They had four cocktails on the menu that night written up on a big piece of paper behind the bar. It is a bar that you could just camp out at all night. It had a familiarity to it that made you just not want to leave.
Our final stop for the evening was The Baxter Inn which is rated #7 for best bar in the world. It is located across the alley from Barber Shop and down some sketchy looking concrete stairs. The smell of a damp basement fills your nose and then you enter the bar and you are amazed. Never have I seen so many bottles behind a bar. There were ladders back there to help the bartenders with that. The room was hopping with people drinking some of the best whiskys in the world. This is a bar that you enter and completely lose track of time in.
The next morning we woke up, found some poached eggs and then took the train to the airport. Next stop was Melbourne, a city that Josh had always dreamed of going. We could not wait.
A Summary of Sydney:
• Rent an Airbnb in Surry Hills, particularly from Ana (and tell her I told you to!).
• Eat at any and all of the cafes there. Sit at a sidewalk table, order that extra flat white and just people watch.
• Walk the Botanical Gardens and see the Sydney Opera House but don’t get too close, unless you do not mind losing some of the magic of it.
• Walk the Coastal Walk from Bondi to Coogee. Please do this.
• Eat at Nomad.
• Discover the hidden bars of Sydney and order whatever the bartender recommends.