Walk with me for a moment. Pass through the urban canyon of shiny glass skyscrapers laid out on either side of you, blocking the otherwise unobstructed sun. Despite the ‘scrapers attempt to envelope you with their long-stretching shadows, glimpses of the bright blue-sky peek through.
Till now, you feel as though you could be in Any-City, USA. Then you hear a lady behind you greet her friend, “how ya’ going?” and a man hurries along his companion, “come on, mate.” A sign advertises an $8.50 “breakky,” the Australian term for breakfast. (They love to shorten words here and add a diminutive ending. Other examples include koaly and footy). You are not in America.
Upon approaching the next street corner, you step out from the protection of the buildings and a rush of cool air sweeps up the street from the nearby harbor. You stop for a moment to slip on a jacket. It isn’t the sort of winter day characterized as cold, dark, and damp. It is one of those days that feels like winter, but looks like summer, and it reminds you of those you’ve had in Denver, San Francisco, and San Diego.
You think for a moment that you hit it “lucky” weather-wise for your winter vacation in Sydney, but then remember this is just another one of Sydney’s 300+ sunny days per year that the department of tourism proudly boasts on the sign in the airport baggage claim.
As you zip up your jacket, you can see there are no cars coming in any direction and you think to cross, but then think twice as you notice all the locals waiting patiently for the crosswalk light to turn green. It strikes you as odd that in a country built by convicts, the general populace adamantly refuses to participate in such petty lawlessness as jaywalking.
When the light turns green, you expect to hear a beeping sound to hurry you across the street, but instead it’s a tapping noise that sounds a lot like a tiny mouse in high-heels tapping away inside the light pole. At first, slow and steady, she goes tap…tap…tap. Then she speeds her pace to hurry you across. You chuckle at the thought and cross with the rest of the crowd.
The sparkling blue waters of the harbor up ahead draw you forward. As you come closer now, the view of the water disappears and is blocked by a swirl of trains, buses, and automobiles circling around the backside of the famous Circular Quay (pronounced “circular key” for my American friends, and a “quay” is a dock or wharf). Following the direction of the crossing light and imaginary dancing mouse in high-heels, you cross safely through the transportation hub into Circular Quay.
As you pass over to the other side, you see large docks and people loading and unloading from the ferries. While plenty of camera-toting, sneaker-wearing tourists scuffle about, just as many (or even more) locals in suits, ties, and pencil skirts swarm the docks as well.
These aren’t just ferries for pleasure and touring, these full-working ferries integrate into the overall transportation system that keeps Sydneysiders moving. People actually commute to work via water. And as you round the corner past the docs toward the famous Opera House, you can see why. The entire North Shore across from Circular Quay and as far as the eye can see is lined with houses, apartment buildings, and residential neighborhoods. People live on the water in this city and take ferries to work.
You think about your own commute back home; the hours sitting in traffic, staring at the beat up Buick in front of you, annoyed by the girl applying mascara and causing you further delay. You decide that a commute by boat might be a little less…
And before you can finish your thought, you stop dead in your tracks. The afternoon sun is reflecting off the white sails of the famous opera house and it immediately commands all your attention. That is until you turn slightly to your left and see the even grander Harbour Bridge across the way. The bridge is bigger than you imagined and the Opera House smaller, but more beautiful. You decide this is the best damn piece of city real estate on which you have ever laid your eyes.
Drawn by the scene, you continue to walk toward the Opera House. Looking up at the bridge and then the Opera House; and then the bridge; and then the Opera House. Between the stunning views and the 10 selfie-takers you had to dodge, you forget to look down and you nearly miss the staircase leading underground.
But at the last moment, a happy and relaxed chatter draws your attention downward. Sunken below ground level, almost even with the water is an outdoor bar and restaurant that snakes along the waterline of the harbor from the docks of Circular Quay to the point on which the Opera House sits. With its breathtaking views of the harbor bridge and the sun setting behind it, you write it off as a place prime for tourists and overpriced beers.
But as you look around, you see very few fannie packs and a whole lot of locals. You decide it’s a good place to stop for a drink. Expecting to pay the “good-view” tax you’re pleasantly surprised when your bill is about the same as any other Sydney restaurant, which is still rather expensive, but at least there was no additional premium here.
In fact, it’s a lot like other spots in Sydney and in Australia in general. Comparable spots in the US, would be overcrowded and would overcharge. In Australia, the best of the best is shared with tourists and locals alike at normal everyday prices. They either don’t understand how good it is here or they’re too nice to gouge you for it. Either way, you appreciate the fair treatment, sip your glass of bubbly, and decide that you and Sydney are going to get along just fine.
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!