I only spent four full days in Sydney, but in those four days I think I squeezed in as much as I could without doing too much. While I wish I could tell you everything that I did and thought, there is really no way to experience something without doing it yourself. So, I guess I’ll limit myself to talking about the parts of the trip that stuck with me the most.

Glebe

The first two nights I stayed in a hostel in Glebe Point, a neighborhood northwest of the CBD. You know how you always hear stories about that guy who got fed up with his life, sold everything, and decided to travel the world? Well, one of the guys in my room was that guy: Lars, 27 years old, from Germany, who wanted to see more of the world, to gain perspective, who was travelling around Australia and working odd jobs to finance it. We had some good conversations, and while I currently don’t feel the need to drop everything like Lars, it was eye-opening to see first hand that this kind of thing is possible, and that there can be no excuse for ending up stuck when there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored.

Saturday, I was determined to see as much of downtown Sydney as I could, and I think I managed pretty well. In the morning, I walked from Glebe Point to the Sydney Fish Market, Darling Harbour, and the CBD before eating an early lunch around 11. Afterwards, I stumbled upon the Sydney Art Gallery, and although I’m not a real connoisseur of the arts, the gallery did have some authentic pieces by Van Gogh and Monet, so I can at least pretend to be knowledgeable and worldly when I attend cocktail parties (not that I go to cocktail parties). Next, I walked along the seashore, where I got my first glimpse of the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. After seeing so many pictures of Sydney and its famous structures, it was amazing to realize that I was actually here. The botanical gardens followed, where I got real friendly with some cockatoos, and then I walked past the Opera House itself to Circular Quay.

On a whim, I caught a ferry to Manly, which turned out to be a very cool experience, but because I don’t want to bore you with all the details, I’ll skip over Manly itself. Saturday evening, I met up with Sonia, who interned at Munchery with me this past summer and who happened to be studying abroad in Sydney, and we had dinner and hung out for the evening. Looking back while writing this now, I’m realizing that I really managed to do a lot on Saturday, and that explains how sore my feet were that night. I didn’t return to my hostel until after midnight, and promptly fell asleep.

The first view I had of Sydney Harbor in all its glory.

The Blue Mountains

I’d been hearing about the Blue Mountains since I got to Australia, and since I like mountains, I decided to spend a night in them while in the Sydney area. What I didn’t realize, however, is that mountains is a relative term, and the Blue Mountains top out at less than 4000 feet, shorter than some of the peaks in the Bay Area itself. They’re also not nearly as blue as the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Appalachians, but what they lack in height and blueness, they make up for in views and cockatoos.

One train ride, two hours, and $5 brought me to Katoomba, the traditional jumping off place for the Blue Mountains. I arrived a little too early to check in to my hostel, so decided I might as well go on a short hike. Katoomba is built on the top of a cliff system that drops about 1200 feet into the rain-forest covered Jamison Valley, so I was planning on walking along a trail on the top of the cliffs for an hour or so. I really meant to, too, until I happened upon a gondola across a canyon, and ended up buying tickets to ride another gondola and a mining train up and down into the valley. Of course, I had to get my money’s worth, so I rode them up and down for a couple hours. Just as I was ready to head up for the last time, I noticed that there was a trail leading away from the rides and proclaimed that it was the only nearby way out of the valley if the gondola or train weren’t operating. Naturally, I decided that climbing out of the valley was more of a challenge than taking a ride out of it, and an hour and about 1000 steps later I climbed over the side of the cliffs. So much for a short hike. Sunday night I was pretty tired, so I went to sleep early with plans to do another hike in the morning.

After my taste of steps carved into the cliffs the day before, I was feeling hungry, so picked a route that would have me descend straight down into the valley via the Giant Stairway, cross along the valley floor, and then climb back out along the Leura Cascades. Words cannot do this hike justice, so all I can say is that if you’re ever in the Blue Mountains and have the motivation to do a bit of a harder hike, this one will not let you down in any way. To celebrate the Blue Mountains, I ate brunch at a cozy restaurant in Leura before catching a train back down to Sydney.

A ledge in the Leura Cascades. Didn’t get too close to the edge, it’s a long way down.

Back to Sydney

My last night in Sydney I splurged, staying at the Sydney Harbor YHA, the only hostel in the Rocks district. When booking I’d heard that the view from the rooftop terrace of this hostel was pretty cool, but nothing could prepare me for the clear view of the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge that awaited me. To top it all off, while I was chilling on the terrace on Monday evening, fireworks went off behind the Opera House that silhouetted it perfectly. On Tuesday morning, I was sad to say goodbye, but it was my last day in Sydney, and I had a relaxing beach day planned.

Ok, maybe not so relaxing, as my plan was to take a bus over to Bondi Beach and then do the 3.6 mile walk down to Coogee Beach. It was a perfect day out, and for lunch I ate fish and chips while sitting on rocks with the surf pounding beneath me. Once I reached Coogee Beach, I did finally relax for an hour, reading a book and enjoying the warmth that Melbourne has been so stingy with for the past couple months. Unfortunately, it all was coming to an end, so eventually I took the bus back to the central station and from there the train to the airport. In one final stroke of good luck, the airline needed volunteers to sit at exit row seats, which they normally charge for, so of course being 6’5”, I took the opportunity immediately.

Ocean fed pool near Bondi Beach. Guaranteed to be better than your indoor hotel pool.

Final Thoughts

1.) One of the greatest things about studying abroad is that you’re already close to some really cool places. For example, to visit Sydney from San Francisco would cost you well upwards of $2000 on flights alone, while the trip in total was well under $500 from Melbourne. I also couldn’t be too bummed about my trip coming to an end, because I wasn’t going back to my home thousands of miles away, but instead flying back to Melbourne, which I still don’t take for granted like I do the Bay Area.

2.) Melbourne might be the most livable city in the world, but Sydney still felt more alive. It just seemed bigger, brighter, and with more to do and see, and other backpackers I talked to there seemed to have the same sentiment. However, Melbourne is poised to overtake Sydney as Australia’s largest city by 2040, so maybe then Melbourne will start to feel more like Sydney currently does.

3.) If there’s one thing that increases your sense of independence and responsibility faster than anything else, it’s traveling alone. From making my own decisions on what to do, where to eat, and how to get places, everything is entirely up to me, which is both liberating and frightening at the same time.