We have all seen the main sights of Sydney on the television; the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Some have probably also seen the ferry boats hustling in and out of their moorings taking visitors and locals alike to numerous locations around the harbour and beyond. But did you know that their berth is called Circular Quay? I certainly didn’t. On scratching the surface of the city, which is all I can say I did in my one day visit, you find that there is so much more to see and experience, as well as the much wider city and harbour which I haven’t even seen yet.
My choice of transport into the city was either taxi or train. Now being a complete failure where public transport is concerned I decided to take the train!
North Ryde station is just a 10 minute walk from the hotel and a quick check on the internet confirmed that it was a straight route through to Wynyard which is right by Circular Quay. Perfect.
I headed off from the hotel about 8.30 having apparently confused the staff when I went down for breakfast way too early on a Saturday morning. The station was my first surprise of the day. From the outside it is a relatively simple and not particularly large building. However as you go through the entrance you find that the building is simply a shelter over a cavernous hole in the ground. You take two long escalators down to the ticket hall and then a further, shorter, one down to the platform. Clearly North Ryde is a new station, but as with every part of Sydney I have seen so far it was spotlessly clean. The second surprise, but I don’t know why as it is something you so often hear about Australians, everybody was so friendly; I have never had so many “mates”. I think this was a surprise as in London you rarely get a civil word let alone a smile and a joke. The lady in the ticket office at North Ryde couldn’t have been more helpful or friendly, even joking about the weather.
Now for the third surprise, the trains are double decker. I really wasn’t expecting that. As you go through the doors you can either go down a few steps to the lower deck, or up. I chose up to get what I hoped would be a better view.
The journey into Sydney was about 20 minutes I guess, although I wasn’t taking too much notice. After a short distance the track is above ground affording an unguarded view of the city and its outskirts. A view, that because it is generally hidden from the eyes of the world is often ignored in many cities as it is considered to be invisible, this is not the case in Sydney, where the same care to keep everything clean and tidy has been applied to the track side. At home you hardly notice the rubbish, debris, spare materials, etc., alongside the tracks, it is simply something we have all become used too. In Sydney it is noticeable by its absence. Everywhere is clean and tidy. Even the vegetation is looked after.
As we rounded the corner just after one particular station, I am not going to say which just in case you get to do the same journey at some time, you get your first glimpse of the harbour and then, through the buildings, the bridge. At this point I was a little kid again getting so excited about seeing this world famous, instantly recognisable, landmark. Then it dawned on me that the track was going straight across the bridge; amazing, I HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN ACROSS SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE! I never realised it was so wide and that not only does it carry the trains both ways but also the road both ways. It seems I know nothing of this place.
Wynyard Station is on George Street and as I came up out of the ground I had a choice; left or right. I could have taken either; at that point I had no idea where I was or where as I was going. I turned left which was a good choice. It wasn’t long before I got another sighting of the bridge and knew I was heading in the right direction.
Following George Street takes you into an area by the harbour called the Rocks. It is full of galleries, craft shops, cafes and restaurants. It is very much Old Town Sydney with buildings that date back to the very earliest settlements.
I just walked. Enjoying the sights and sounds of this wonderful city. Occasionally I would stop and have a look in a shop or at a stall; “How ya doing mate?” was often the greeting. Unlike New York where you get a well practised, but not too sincere “have a nice day”, in Sydney if somebody bothers to say it, you believe they mean it. Such a great friendly place to be.
Having spent a good few hours just drifting and enjoying this area, I moved on to the main ferry terminal at Circular Quay and then to that other icon of Australia, no not Dame Edna, the Opera House.
Circular Quay is constantly on the move with ferries coming and going from all over the harbour; trains arriving and departing at the elevated station; buses, cars and of course people. This description may sound horrendous to some but it is just movement in an orderly, leisurely and considerate way. You don’t often hear car horns blearing or people shouting and screaming. It is just constant careful, considered, movement. Certainly a place to sit, relax and watch the world go by. No doubt this is why there are so many bars, cafe’s and restaurants full with people doing just that.
The Opera House is every bit as iconic as the bridge. The two, of course, are inextricably linked to each other, Sydney and Australia as a whole. It has been built on a peninsular jutting out in to the harbour. Behind it is the Botanical Gardens and Government House. Behind them the high rise towers of new Sydney. But the Opera House has its back to all that proudly stretching out to the water from which so much came to create the modern country we know today.
Finally my afternoon was made complete by spending several hours chatting and drinking with Kelly and her husband Pete. Kelly works with me at our office in the UK but is currently spending six months in Sydney while Pete undertakes a software project in the city. We had arranged to meet in the Opera Bar; luckily Kelly spotted me as the place was packed! We moved on to a bar outside the Customs House looking out over the ferries at Circular Quay. It was great catching up, hearing about all the places to go and see and generally what it is like to live in Australia. There certainly don’t seem to be too many downsides.
After a long day drifting I headed back to the station and the train to the hotel. The weather hadn’t been ideal, drizzling on and off most of the day, but it had been a wonderfully enjoyable day.
My “Day off in Sydney” was on Saturday 15th February 2014.