Sydney, Round Two: History Buff Stuff

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but at ANU there is always a two-week mid-semester break. Each semester. How awesome is that? I’m 8 days into my 17-day hiatus from classes, and I’m one of the lucky ones with no school-related activities to work on for the time being. Other universities have breaks, too, but not all of them are two weeks long. Definitely a perk, and definitely something you should check out before making your final study abroad decision.

As the title might imply, I went to Sydney again. I went for a few days as soon as I got done with a fairly busy week of school last week, with another American studying abroad here from Alabama. I just wanted to go back to Sydney, and he really wanted to visit all of the old touristy sites (i.e. Parliament, Town Hall, St. Andrew’s Cathedral). I figured it would be a decent experience, but I actually enjoyed it way more than I’d expected to. The rest of this post will basically run you through the highlights of our trip and suggestions for a potential visit to Sydney.

We took a bus from Canberra to Sydney (highly suggest using “Murray’s” buses instead of Greyhound- they cost the same and more people I know here prefer Murray’s). Stayed at a YHA hostel (also recommend this company. I stayed at a terrible hostel last time I was in Sydney and this place is only about $10 more per night). After checking in, we immediately went to the Sydney Opera House. If you’re not big into the whole nature thing, skipping the walk around the Botanical Gardens next to the Opera House is totally reasonable. But it’s a really cool place to check out if you’ve got time to kill. Later that day we did some more walking around the city- we got to see the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Memorial in the center of Hyde Park, a massive park with tons of grassy and shaded areas. Inside the memorial there was a mini-museum setting that allowed us to see the significance behind the memorial.

On the wall by the Opera House
St. Mary's Cathedral

A cool thing about walking around aimlessly is that you stumble upon things you didn’t expect to see. We encountered a massive Catholic church (St. Mary’s), and decided to go in. It wasn’t anything of outrageous significance, but it was still a really old, and huge, church that was built in 1868. And I thought it was really cool- this coming from a person who’s the opposite of a “history buff.” After that, the most interesting part of the day was when a guy in his 60s staying at our hostel decided to tell me all about his former professional golf career.

The next day we got the most done. First we went to the Sydney Olympic Park. Remember they had the 2000 Summer Olympics there. It was an incredibly big area that had different venues for different sports- a golf centre, tennis centre, field hockey field, track and field centre, and then the huge ANZ Stadium- the main building in the complex. Luckily, we got to see most of the places without paying anything for being there. It was pretty sweet to get to see where one of the world’s biggest sporting events took place, and to see how they’ve used the area as a place for people to practice their respective sports on a daily basis. After the Olympic Park, we went to the Queen Victoria Building. I didn’t think this place sounded real interesting, just being a mall named after a Queen. But it was ridiculous. It looked like a very average-sized mall. Then we walked downstairs and realized it wasn’t just 3 stories high. It went down a level, and then stretched underneath a street on ground level. So, we kept walking and exploring. Then we discovered it went down ANOTHER level, to an area with more shops and a huge food court. I stopped and ate at an Australian version of Chipotle. Not too bad. Then we kept walking through the food court and past more stores, went up the stairs at the end, and magically ended up right in front of the building we were planning on going to next: the Sydney Tower.

Outside the aptly-named Queen Victoria Building

My best comparison to the Sydney Tower is the Reunion Tower (the big ball) in Dallas. It’s up high, has a great view of downtown, and has a restaurant inside. But the Sydney Tower trumps it. The Tower is actually above downtown, with a 360-degree view that can reach up to 80km in every direction on sunny days. Also, Sydney is on a harbour, and Dallas is not. Therefore, the view here was way more spectacular than from the tower in Dallas. I’d absolutely recommend going up to this place. We didn’t even do this thing called the SkyWalk, which involves wearing a harness and going on a tour.

Inside the "Sydney Tower Eye"

For dinner, we went to the Sydney Chinatown. It was delicious. The area has a pretty good reputation for having a lot to offer, and they certainly did. Tons of tourist goods we kept seeing around Sydney were less expensive here than anywhere else. And there were plenty of restaurants to choose from for dinner. It’s also a short walk from Darling Harbour (just west of the Sydney Harbour), so we went there for the Saturday night fireworks show. This show was easily in the top-3 fireworks shows I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been to Disneyworld. I think half of the reason it was so awesome was because we were so close to the fireworks. People surrounded the Harbour, and at some points were probably only 50 yards away from the launchpads. Fireworks literally were above me sometimes. And they had four or five synchronized launchpads too, which just blew my mind. It was so cool to watch. Again, I’d strongly recommend including plans for this during a visit to Sydney. There’s tons of restaurants and bars in the area, too- we went to a bar afterwards and sat at a table outside with a sweet view of the Harbour.

Our third day there was Easter Sunday, so everything was closed. We went to a church service for the Hillsong Church, which was about 45 minutes outside central Sydney, but pretty fun since my friend and I had heard of the church before. We wanted to go to the beach later that day, but it got cloudy and rained so we opted for the next day with clearer skies. After the service, we got lunch with some Americans we’d met on the bus ride out to the church, and came back and basically walked around central Sydney and hung out at our hostel for the rest of the day. It was a nice break in the action.

I was more excited for Monday than any of the days before because I knew we would make it to the beach. We first went to the Hyde Park Barracks- the place where all the prisoners first went when Britain colonialized Australia. Quick lesson if you didn’t know- Britain sent 166,000 prisoners to Australia over a long period of time to solve the overcrowding problem in prisons. They could actually live normal lives once released from prison, and did a lot of construction work when still in jail. And that’s how the English presence in Australia began. But the prison itself had a LOT of information on the history of Australia in itself, and how prisoners lived their lives back in the first days of English Australia. Again, I’m usually not the type to be into this stuff. And I thought it was awesome.

The actual prisoners were probably not so cavalier when sleeping here

From the Barracks, we went to Parliament, went inside the New South Wales State Library (Sydney is the capital of the state, New South Wales), and toured the Museum of Sydney, which didn’t allow cameras, but was also a pretty cool place to go to. The Sydney Harbour was a 5-minute walk from the museum, so we just went over there and hopped on a ferry across the Harbour to Manly Beach (if you only see one beach in Sydney, go to Manly. Bondi Beach comes in at a close second, but Manly has a cool street leading up to it from the point where you get off of the ferry ride). We relaxed in the warm sunshine, reflecting on our productive weekend, not knowing it had dropped to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit back in Canberra. Needless to say, we were shocked when we returned to ANU the next day. But being from Texas, I can handle quick weather changes. This weekend I’ll be in Melbourne, where apparently it’s usually colder than it is in Canberra during winter. More on that later… Cheers!

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