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Hanging out at the Opera House

It was not my first time to be a tourist in my own backyard. I’ve lived in Sydney, Australia for more than 12 years but got to appreciate it even more when I moved to the Philippines back in year 2000. Since then I’ve been visiting Sydney almost every other year and it still manages to offer me new experiences.

One of the things that still amazes me is how bright the sun shines in this city, literally. If you manage to catch a flight that lands in the morning, don’t forget your sunglasses or sunnies as we call it, you will be blinded by how bright the skies are, even during winter days! This probably explains why Sydney-siders are a happy, friendly and laid back bunch of people with a hearty appetite for the outdoors and barbecues or barbie, don’t roll your “r’s” prolong your “ah’s” and you will instantly sound like an Aussie!

Glebe Apartments

Where to Stay?

There are various choices for accommodations in Sydney and your choice is limited only by your budget. The cheapest accommodation, besides having family to stay with, is a hostel or backpacker hotel. These types of accommodations are popular among the young travelers, especially from Europe or North America. Rates usually start at AUD50 and depending on the season there are some that you can get for as low as AUD30 per night. These are no frills accommodations so do not expect anything more than a bed. Ensuites and televisions come as extras. Backpacker hotels are usually situated near the Central station and offers easy access on foot to Chinatown, Sydney Entertainment Centre, and Darling Harbour. One thing good about these types of accommodations, aside from not blowing a huge hole in your pocket, is you are guaranteed to meet new friends from all around the world to exchange travel stories with.

I personally like the boutique hotels near the eastern side of the city. They are a bit more pricey than the backpacker hotels but it’s closer to the nice restaurants, cafes and bars in Oxford Street. I’ve stayed in Hyde Park Inn along Elizabeth Street, right across Hyde Park. They offer the usual standard and deluxe accommodations but the best room I’ve stayed at is the apartment. I paid AUD275 per night for a 2 bedroom apartment with 2 bathrooms, lounge area, dining area and kitchen facility complete with stove, refrigerator and essential cookware and table ware. Ideal for extended stay and families. The cooking facility is great for saving hefty sums from eating out. The apartment rooms are good for 4 occupants and if you expect to have visitors during your stay. The hotel is right across Museum station where you can easily hop on a train to get you anywhere around Sydney and the suburbs. Buses are also abundant and if you feel like catching the surf at Bondi it’s only a bus ride away.

Food glorious food!

Where to Eat?

I can write a book on where and what to eat in Sydney. This place is a haven for the foodie and you will never run out of choices to eat. The best restaurants, subject to my discriminating taste, are found in the inner western suburbs. Here are my top 7 places and food to eat:

  1. My favourite is Thai Pothong along King Street in Newtown, about 10 minutes from Sydney CBD. I’ve seen this restaurant grow from just a hole in a wall to its current size. It’s a bit pricey but worth every penny especially the fish cake, tom yum soup, and the glass noodle salad.
  2. The most famous Aussie food however are meat pies, sausage rolls, and fish and chips. You can find these practically everywhere. The best meat pies and sausage rolls are those from local milk bars or tuck shops as we call them. Fish and chips are good eaten near the beach so make sure you order these when you go to Bondi, Coogee or Manly beach. They are normally served in news prints with lemon and tartare sauce. Best eaten while watching the surf or in between dips in Sydney’s icy cold beaches. But if you’re after a more fancy fish and chips dining experience look for Doyle’s in Watson’s Bay or simply go to the Sydney Fish Market for brunch over the weekend. For more exotic meat pies look for Janet’s Pies along King Street in Newtown. They have pies with vindaloo, potato and leeks, Thai broccoli, among others. Try the cheese sticks, crunchy outside and soft on the inside.
  3. My favorite lunch is fresh ricotta cheese, cold cuts and bread bought from any Italian deli. There’s one practically in every corner around town. Just get about 200 grams of cheese, 100 grams of salami Milano, 100 grams of mortadella, a tub of olives and artichoke, 6 baguettes, find a park and you have an instant picnic. This meal will set you back around AUD15.
  4. A day at the Circular QuayFor Italian food you can try Gioia Cafe along Norton Street in Leichhardt. They have traditional Italian cooking. Their wood fired pizza and tiramisu are to die for! Incidentally, I was taught by the grandmother of the owner on how to make tiramisu and it’s never failed to impress even the most discriminating tastes.
  5. I am also a big fan of Greek, Turkish and Lebanese foods. The best places I’ve tried are Isteki’s in Newtown for Greek – great moussaka – Abdul’s for Lebanese along Cleveland street in Surry Hills – fantastic falafel and dips – and Saray’s along Enmore road in Enmore – beautiful Turkish pizza or pide and bread!
  6. For Vietnamese food the are 2 places to go – Thanh Huong along Illawarra road in Marrickville and Pho 54 in Cabramatta. Thanh Huong is great for sit down dinners and lunch, my favorite being the spicy salt and pepper prawn and the game meats like venison, frogs, ostrich and snail cooked stir fried or curry style. Pho 54 is best for beef noodle soup and they teach you the proper way of eating these or you get a chopstick spanking on the knuckles! Walk along the streets of Marrickville and Cabramatta and you will see the Vietnamese pork roll – freshly baked baguettes filled with pork patties, liver pate, coriander, cucumber, onions and chilli for only AUD3.50.
  7. And if you are in for a spicy treat that is sure to stuff your belly for under AUD20 look for Tamana’s Indian eatery along King Street in Newtown. For 20 bucks you get a choice of 3 curries, rice and naan that’s good for 2 already. Choice of curries include vegetarian and meatcooked either mild, medium or spicy. Beware of the vindaloo, they sting!

Sydney Landmarks

What to Do?

So much to do in Sydney but I will cover my top 5 favourite things to do.

  1. Interesting finds in flea markets. The weekend flea markets in Glebe, The Rocks and Paddington are best places to find interesting items like handcrafted jewelry made from precious gems and recycled materials, clothing made by local designers or imported from Thailand, or leather goods like bags and book covers made from recycled materials like old sofa and jackets. The weekend flea markets also has food and entertainment so even if you are not buying or unlucky enough not to find anything you can just sit and watch the performances.
  2. Sydney also has a lot of independent bookstores that sell hard to find books, second hand books, eclectic and new world collections. Be sure to visit Gleebooks along Glebe Pt road in Glebe, Modern Times bookshop along King Street in Newtown, and a dozen of small bookstores along Oxford St in Darlinghurst and Pitt St in Sydney CBD.
  3. Of course a visit to Sydney would be incomplete if you don’t go to its famous beaches like Bondi and Coogee in the East and Manly in the North. These beaches have fantastic surfs, beautiful sands, and lots of places to buy fish and chips. Parking is expensive so transport us to these places instead.
  4. A trip to the famous landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and Darling Harbour is also a must! The Opera House is uniquely Australian and frequented by tourists and locals alike for plays, opera and concerts. Darling Harbour is sure to be a bit for kids for its wide open spaces where they could interact with sculptures, chase sea gulls, or go inside the Sydney Aquarium.
  5. Another big hit with kids and those who are kids at heart is Luna Park in Kirriibilli. You can see this from the Opera House and the only amusement park in the City. Try the roller coaster, it’s fun as it dodges the buildings.

City Explorer’s Tip

I find Sydney to be very tourist friendly in terms of transportation and entrance fees to amusement places. You can get a city explorer pass which is roughly 20-30% cheaper than normal fares and this allows you to take the train, bus and ferry for the day without costing an arm and a leg. There are also family day passes to the Sydney Aquarium that works out to be real value for money. Maps and schedules for trains, buses and ferries are also freely available allowing the traveler to maximize the efficient transport system and become very mobile. Don’t bother hiring a car if you are only within the city area, parking is every expensive not to mention the cost of petrol.

Something fishy!

A Day Off the Beaten Path

My day off the beaten path would be fishing along the wharfs around town. My favorite places are Balmain wharf and Greenwich point. There’s nothing more relaxing, of course second to scuba diving, than casting a bait, hearing the sound of the reel and watching the bait touch the water, sinking to the bottom and waiting for that big bite, hoping to score a big one. I would almost always end up not catching any but watching the still waters while drinking beer gives a feeling of content, no worries as we say it, even for just a few hours. The goal is not to catch a fish but to feel the stillness of life while reflecting on your achievements and planning your next steps, even your next holiday.

I am planning another trip in August this year and who knows I might find the urge to stay there longer and start a new life once again. I’d be your local tour guide so give me a holler whenever you are in town after August! Oh and don’t forget to greet Aussies “g’day” and “how’s it going mate,” you will instantly sound and feel like a local.

Sprint-trip Sydney

We had to grab the opportunity! It was one of those rare moments we were able to get out of the clutches of my mom to be able to enjoy Sydney without her in tow. While the whole trip to Sydney was to help her set-up and manage her newly bought salon, it would be a drag not to be able to enjoy the trip and slip in a few touristy activities. It was also my partner’s first time in Australia and I wanted to showcase a lot of things in 14 days. Luckily, I’ve lived in Sydney for 13 years before moving back to the Philippines and I am still very familiar with the place, but it feels different when you are a tourist in your own backyard and bringing someone along to experience the place for the first time. It’s like watching a movie the second time with someone who hasn’t seen it. You already know what to expect and you are trying your hardest not to spoil it for the other person yet you are still hoping there there is still something in it that will make repeating the experience worthwhile and that you are not just going to act as a tour guide.

It was a Thursday and shops close at 9PM. In Sydney they call this late night shopping and it’s only every Thursday. In

Manila it’s the usual business hours for malls everyday and there are some that closes at 12 midnight even. We left Fairfield, a suburb in the South-West area of Sydney about 45 minutes away by car from the Central Business District, at 6pm. We figured we’ll reach the city before 7pm and that would still allow us some time to go around in a leisurely pace. Mom let us borrow her mini van and  we were off! With me was my partner and his friend Ervin who is currently studying and working part-time in Oxford Street.

Halfway into the journey we got hungry. I suggested to eat in Gioia, an Italian Trattoria I know in Leichhardt since I’ve been there countless of times and they have authentic Italian cooking. The restaurant was a converted old petrol station, which now looks like an Italian piazza fronting the beautiful architecture of Leichhardt town hall. Of course, we underestimated the time and ended up finishing dinner around 8:30.

We got to Sydney before 9pm but finding parking was a feat! I had to circle the block behind the Sydney Town Hall and Queen Victoria Court twice but we hit the jackpot. I found parking just behind the town hall and we only had to pay 30 minutes of parking because it’s already free after 10pm. Considering the cost of parking in Sydney it’s a relief to just pay $6 for 30 minutes.

When we got to town hall we hit another jackpot. The Sydney Town Hall building had Christmas themed video mapping projections that changed every 30 seconds. It was fantastic but then we didn’t have much time to marvel at the show since my partner saw a place selling boots, and this was one of the things in our list to get. We ran across George Street but when we got there they only had UGG boots – not the kind you would wear in tropical conditions, and not something that I would really wear anywhere except in the bedroom

Then suddenly I thought we could go see if Queen Victoria Building (QVB) was still open, go up to the top floor where we could see outfits worn by the Queen on exhibit. It was almost 9:30 then so we had to run across George Street again hoping that the place is still open. Jackpot again, it was still open! I always get excited going inside the QVB. I could still remember when I got my first paycheck from my first job in Sydney and how I spent practically all of it shopping for clothes in QVB. The place had Christmas lights setup and it was so bright. Most of the shops were closing and it was not really a shopping trip so we proceeded to the fourth level to see the exhibit. No jackpot here. They pulled out the exhibit years ago and I remembered it was back in 1998 when I saw it last. Then I remembered that they also have a quaint toilet that looked like that of Hoagwarts’. It was still there and that made up for the disappointment.

By this time we were beginning to get really tired from running around, taking photos and climbing stairs that we wanted to call it a night. But Ervin suggested to have hot chocolate and coffee at Guylian’s at the Sydney Opera House Quay. He got us at hot chocolate but I remembered that the Opera House is at least a kilometer away from where we were and that the place might also be closed knowing that its already 10pm. Hot chocolate sounds so good though and it was also a cold night at 18 degrees Celsius in the middle of summer. Since parking is free at this time I suggested we took the car to cut the traveling time, plus my feet were killing me from all the running.

Jackpot! We got a parking in one of the streets near Circular Quay and only had to walk for 5 minutes. More jackpot, Guylian was still open for another 30 minutes. We ordered Belgian hot chocolates, waffles with ice cream, tiramisu and espresso, parked our butts in the outside sitting area admiring the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. A perfect way to end our 1 hour Sydney city tour on sprint!

There was still one more jackpot on our way back to the car. My partner saw a wall made of rough sandstones with lighting coming from the faint yellow glow of a street lamp. Great photo opportunity to capture Sydney in a different light.

This sprint-trip made me realize that it is not only the place that makes the adventure worthwhile but it is the company and the spontaneity. There is still something to discover even if you’ve been to the same place countless of times.