Sore in Sydney
The best way to discover a new city is one foot after the other…wandering around neighbourhoods and parks, cutting through alleyways, stopping to check out stores and galleries and to refuel in cafes. I often start these long walks with a destination in mind, like an exhibit or a highly reviewed restaurant, but end up stumbling into my destination seven hours later looking like a haggard pilgrim, or more often, losing sight of my original plan altogether.
This method is particularly rewarding in cities like Berlin with its graffiti and underground artist squats, and downright dangerous in places like Washington, DC, where you turn down the wrong block and feel the suspicious and proprietary stares of local thugs.
Thankfully, Sydney is safe, packed with panoramic views that smack you in the face when you turn a corner, and dotted with stimulating public art and coffee shops that pride themselves on making the best cappuccino in the southern hemisphere.
Since I don’t have a job yet, I have no money to spend and plenty of time – which makes walking around an ideal activity. I’ve been spending my days walking from suburb to suburb (all neighbourhoods are called suburbs here – even the ones right downtown). I’ve been here a week and have blisters and sore knees to show for it.
I heard great things about Newtown – friends described it as ‘Sydney’s Queen West’ or ‘Sydney’s Annex’ – two different but well loved Toronto neighbourhoods. Really, it’s neither – and I’ve learned to stop comparing things to my hometown haunts, because as cosmopolitan and easy as Sydney is, it’s a whole different beast. To get to Newtown and back, I walked through The Rocks, Chinatown, Haymarket, Ultimo, Erskineville etc. etc – a total of 17km. Newtown was definitely more my style than the CBD where I’m crashing with a friend. I got overwhelmed by the food choices, and finally (starvingly) settled on a hearty haloumi wrap at Dean’s Diner. I’m looking forward to checking out some of Newtown’s many bars and live music venues. I also got a good vibe from Redfern – a neighbourhood in transition, where meth heads wander the streets among vintage furniture stores and a little second floor voyeurism reveals artsy looking lofts. I found the cheapest produce so far in Redfern, and hopefully will be heading back there tomorrow to try to get a fixed up beater at the Cycle Re-Cycle bike collective.
The next day’s walkabout was to the east. I didn’t really know where I was headed this time – I’d heard good things about Potts Point and just loved the sound of Woolloomooloo. Almost as soon as I set out, I found myself at the gates of the Botanical Gardens. I was totally floored by this heaven on earth. There’s a serene and orderly rose garden, a fern house full of prehistoric looking oddities, a lawn with a view of the Opera House & Harbour Bridge, an educational aboriginal garden, and freaking BATS!!!! Trees full of chattering flying foxes with two foot wingspans. I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore.
This was a shorter walk – only a little over 9Km. Sunny views, a chi chi wharf, diverse neighbourhoods, and lots of stairs. In Woolloomoolo, I popped in to Artspace, a heritage gunnery that has been repurposed into a contemporary art museum, where I visited the real Oz in Soda_Jerk’s “After the Rainbow” video installation. At a deli in Potts Point, I ordered a sub with pickles, tomato, cucumbers, lettuce, dijon, and jalapenos, and was charged for each topping (another one of those subtle cultural differences).
I headed back through Hyde Park and browsed the Sydney Life photography exhibit that’s part of Sydney’s month long Art & About festival. The 22 large-scale photos by different photographers range from quirky to poignant, and the ‘gallery’ that lines the park’s main boulevard forces passersby to slow their pace and pay attention.
Despite the blistered feet, I think I like it here. I’ll stay awhile…and I’ll be paying another visit to my new favourite spot: the Maiden Memorial Pavilion in the Botanical Garden.
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