We could tell Sydney was a big, vibrant city the minute our plane broke through the cloud cover.
Our excitement continued on the Uber ride as we wound our way through new areas and historic sections.
And then our driver made a few unexpected turns and stopped smackdab in front of Mariner’s Court. We both looked at each other.
Our accommodations in Sydney provided a realistic foreshadowing of what could be our next stage in life. At first we were a bit taken aback, but then we approached our stay as a research opportunity.
Our room was spacious with a handy, emergency call button beside the bed. Our bathroom was bright with a large sliding door and a shower you could roll a walker or wheelchair into — oh yeah, there was a call button in there, too. The elevator was twice the depth of any ordinary lift, perhaps big enough for a stretcher.
As it turns out, our Sydney hotel was once a seniors’ home and although I can’t quite pinpoint the smell that lingered, it definitely conjured memories of visiting my grandmother in a nursing home. You can’t just find that at any old hotel. When reviewing this place online, we checked for free WiFi, close to city sights, on-site laundry, airport shuttle, but we didn’t check in advance if funky old person smell was included — I think we paid a premium for that (lesson learned and a tip for my followers).
Speaking of things included, this place had a fantastic breakfast: eggs, bacon, espresso, fruit, cereal, pastries, toast. Seniors gotta eat and eat we did.
We didn’t pick this place because of the seniors’ amenities, nor because it was surrounded by social housing in a dodgy part of town, we picked it because it was relatively close to the sights of Sydney without us having to sell our only son to afford to stay.
If you haven’t been to Sydney, start rolling your dimes and quarters. If you have been, you know how expensive it can be to visit.
All joking aside, we (Frank) did a lot of research on places to stay, which included pouring over recent reviews of places around Sydney. We knew exactly what we were getting into with the place we chose. It checked all the boxes and we could walk just about everywhere from its location in Woolloomooloo near Potts Point.
When we arrived in Sydney the weather was similar to what it had been in Mebourne; overcast, cool and threatening rain.
To get a lay of the land, we bought a 24-hour pass for the hop-on hop-off tour bus. We’ve only ever done that once before, in Santiago, and I highly recommend it if you have a limited amount of time a city. It allowed us to see places where we wanted to return to spend a bit more time and it also provided a decent overview and history of all areas of the city.
With that tour under our belts and a good orientation, we returned to the harbour the next day to get up close and personal with the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
It was a beautiful sunny day. The enormous cruise ship in the harbour flooded the area with passengers who were all scrambling around for the day to take it all in. I have never seen a city so overrun with tourists than Sydney, except maybe Dubrovnik (another cruise ship port). Hard to complain when we were part of the mayhem, but it seems cruise ship passengers tend to have a frantic pace about them when they only have a day to see a city the size of Sydney.
There is no denying the iconic beauty of the Opera House. I couldn’t get enough of it from every angle. And it’s just as amazing inside.
We booked a tour to see the various performance spaces and to hear the long, drawn out history of having it built. It was a great tour, but we created a bit of a disturbance when we bypassed the part of the tour where they line up visitors and take their photo in front of a green screen so that while we are on the tour they can photoshop us standing in front of the Opera House and try to sell us the printed picture. No pressure, but no thanks. #fakephoto
From there we walked to the Harbour Bridge through The Rock, the historic area with cobblestone laneways, century old buildings with markets and pubs. We were working off a tip from a guy at an info booth who suggested we climb to the outdoor observation level of a bridge podium, which are the large support looking structures at the waters edge on either side of the bridge. It was the perfect place to take, yet more photos of the Opera House and the city. The sky was amazingly blue that afternoon.
The next morning, searching for a bit of beach activity, we took a ferry to Manly Beach. Working off another tip from info booth guy, we bought two transit cards that allows multiple trips on buses, subways and the Manly ferry, and the daily maximum fare is $15 ($2 on Sunday). That was a great tip for this trip.
The ferry took about 40 minutes to get to Manly. Seeing the views of the city (and that damned Opera House) from the water was a highlight.
We walked through the beach town of Manly. Low scale buildings and plenty of services that support life on the coast in a warmer climate: cycle shops, surfing paraphanlia and a multitude of cafes. After a short stroll through town we walked along the beach dipping our feet in the water for the first time on this trip.
There were lots of surfers waiting for the right wave and many games of beach volleyball being played in the sun. It was a brilliant afternoon.
On the return ferry ride, and several more photos of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, we took note of how clean the water was. And not just as we crossed the harbour, but even when we got off the ferry. There was no garbage of any kind floating in the slips around any of the boats and ships. In fact, looking back at Melbourne we couldn’t recall any trash or dirty looking water there either.
Another thing that made the harbour and surround shoreline seem so appealing is that they haven’t built condos or office towers up to the waters edge. The views from the water provide a terraced view of lower buildings back into the city.
Navigating any new city can be a struggle. Tourist maps never seem to lead you where you want to be in the most direct route. We tend to rely heavily on Google Maps — we type in an address or restaurant name and it charts our course by foot, transit or car. That only works if we are on the local data network. Most counties have prepay plans where we can get a local SIM card for our phones that provide us with a local number and the ability to make local calls and various levels of data to help with on-the-fly web searches and various app use (essential in cities that have Uber). Australia has among the best deals we’ve seen. At the airport when we arrived I got a local SIM card with 15GB of data — the price for a week was $10.
Without our GPS navigation, we would have surly missed the shortcut from the harbour back to our hotel through the botanical gardens. They are lush and certainly made us feel as though we weren’t in the center of a very large city.
We had hoped to get to Bondi Beach but the weather didn’t cooperate the day we had planned that outing so we took advantage of roaming around in the city through Hyde Park and along Oxford Street, Sydney’s gay village.
With the hours winding down on our time in beautiful Sydney we made our way back to the seniors’s lodge to pack up our bags and head off to the airport.
Next stop: Wellington and a drive up the North Island of New Zealand over 11 days.