There is one thing I have learnt about travel. You can read all the travel guides under the sun, have friends and family give you reviews about the place, glean as much information as possible before heading out, nothing will prepare you for the experience you are about to have. Your relationship with the city is all your own. It’s all about the vibe and how that works with you. Whoever told us whatever about Sydney just didn’t ring true. Our experience was our own. Some friends even told us to skip it altogether because ‘Melbourne just has so much more to offer’. Dead wrong. Yes, Melbourne is cool. But Sydney is just so sexy.
I’ll go into my usual disclaimers. We were travelling with a two-year old and our daily itinerary was planned around his schedule. Please feel free to refer to this if you are visiting with a toddler, not otherwise. The place has loads to offer and we hardly scraped the surface. Three days in this gorgeous city does it no justice at all. While on the topic, I have to say that Australia is a VERY baby-friendly country. Just an example: all the major malls have ‘Parent Retreat Rooms’ where you can not only change diapers in a super-hygienic environment, but there are also play areas for the little ones replete with baby books, free wifi, place for the parents to relax, secluded nursing rooms.. need I say more?
Also, a bit of the hype is true: Australia is relatively expensive. But once you get there you understand why. It’s a truly fascinating place and you will certainly get a bang for your buck. This was perhaps our most expensive vacation thus far as a family of three, but we got value for what we spent. At no point did we feel we were overcharged for anything be it accommodation, food, transport.
We caught Thai Airways from Karachi. It was five hours to Bangkok and then another 8.5 to Sydney. We had a very short stopover (just an hour) at Bangkok and since we were flying at night, the first leg of the journey was relatively simple as the Toddler slept through the night. The second leg he slept just a little and it was quite tough keeping him entertained. And since he is not exactly two yet he doesn’t have his own seat, so we kept shuffling him like a hot potato between our two seats. I honestly find nothing as intimidating as travelling with little ones. He is at a particularly shrieky stage in life and some passengers were nasty enough to glare at us across the aisle. One snooty French lady had the audacity to Shush our baby, which we calmly ignored by summoning all the Zen inside us. I am no authority on the subject but here are a few tips I jotted down on travelling with little ones on planes.
We arrived late at night and the taxi driver was Pakistani so it was fun chatting on the way to the apartment (he gave us a concession too!). My husband and I are suckers for good hotel rooms but since we became parents, we tend to chose apartment hotels instead. They are more spacious; the little one gets to sleep better if it’s a one-bedroom and we can watch TV after putting him down; usually comes with a refrigerator so milk and other groceries can be easily stored and most important, we can cook ourselves saving time and money. So, it’s definitely a win-win. We chose Oaks Goldborough Apartments, located at a ten-minute walk from Darling Harbour. Complaints- the wifi was very slow and overpriced; the ‘double bed’ was hardly queen-sized. Otherwise it was very clean, the kitchenette well-stocked, the reception was open 24 hours and the staff was hospitable, on the whole it was spacious and well-lit. Great value for money.
The first night we landed late evening so we got the whole night to rest and rejuvenate. The next morning we had tied up with some friends and headed to Darling Harbour. From there we took a long walk to one end of the Harbour Bridge (catching a quick lunch on the way and some super amazing gelato). When we came to the steps of the Bridge and saw them looming alllll the way up and found out that there was no elevator. We looked at each other, then at the baby in the stroller, and without a single word strode onwards completely abandoning the idea of climbing the way up to walk across the massive, iconic structure. No regrets. There is also a Bridge Climb for the adventurous few- as the name suggests this entails climbing up the structure and is priced at AUD 200 to 300 depending on the season. The views are said to be spectacular. Again, impossible with toddler in tow.
Continuing the walk, we headed to Circular Quay – a really awesome arc of harbour a couple of miles long, from one end of the Bridge all the way to the Opera House. This entire stretch is lined with countless restaurants and shops catering to all tastes and wallets. There are many docks here from where ferries depart for the whole city. Plus, there is a terminal for international travelers – we saw this massive oceanliner parked there:
A visit to Sydney without an evening or two at the Circular Quay is totally incomplete. People milling about walking to and from the Opera House and adjoining Royal Botanical Gardens, pigeons flitting about with children, couples walking arm in arm, spectacular views of the city, alfresco cafes and bars – this place is where you drink in Sydney.
Being suckers for seafood, a visit to the Fish Market was mandatory. And what a place. Honestly, I am repulsed by the idea of buying any kind of meat or any discussion around it. I unwillingly agreed to join the husband on this particular shopping spree. But boy was I surprised. The produce in Australia is simply luscious. The entire was so clean and well-organized. And the kind of fare on offer was just a delight to look at. There was all kinds of sea food on offer in a very hygienic display. And it was so fresh. Armed with kilos of calamari, salmon and shrimp, we headed back to the apartment to grill it and gorge it down like absolute gluttons- neat, no accompanying carbs. Haven’t tasted sea food like that anywhere.
Sydney’s is not exactly famous for its parks and I wonder why. Hyde Park, located in the heart of the city is such a pleasant retreat. It’s has thick wooded areas, manicured lawns and beautiful shrubbery and it’s when you see tall skyscrapers peeking out from behind the trees that you realize it’s located cheek by jowl with the happening downtown. We spent a long afternoon lazing around, listening to live music, grabbing a bite, blowing bubbles; the Toddler had a great time and even took a nice nap on the green. One end of Hyde Park has St. Mary’s cathedral behind which is a road leading to the Royal Botanical Gardens. We took a long stroll all the way to the other end – Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. This is a great viewing observatory from where you can catch a postcard view of the city – Opera House and the famous Harbour Bridge. Snacking on amazingly sweet apples and pears on the walk there, we got a few iconic snaps (even though the sun was behind us). After a famous evening, strolling in the Garden, we walked back to the Opera House to hang out at the Circular Quay on the way back home to wolf down some more seafood!
The husband being a die-hard cricket buff, we went for a tour of the Sydney Cricket Ground of course. My primary task was to keep the Toddler hushed during the Tour (I failed at it, duh) while the husband drank in every nook and cranny of the place. If he could kiss that ground he would. His face serene and expression grateful for having accompanied him. The Tour Guide was a extremely passionate cricket lover and at times I found myself tuning in to his speech. Like honestly, how can one care about which stand in the stadium is built when and by whom? He was spouting records made on the ground like nobody’s business.
What followed was a LONG walk in the sun to catch the bus to Bondi beach. Sweltering hot day. Maneuvering the stroller and offspring on and off the bus is no mean feat but we had become reasonably adept in just a couple of days. (Seriously HOWWWW do people with more than one kid travel??). After a quick lunch and the mandatory gelato we hit the beach. I do not exaggerate when I say this- the entire city was there. There was more bobbing heads than water. The piercing sun made us abandon any aspirations of a Coastal Walk (highly recommended by all). Luckily we found a seat on the bus back. Since the days were long, it was too soon to go back. Guess where we went? Circular Quay of course. And then the husband decided he wanted pictures of the Bridge after sunset. To while away the time we found a very cosy Starbucks near The Rocks, on Alfred Street specifically. Sucked the life out of the wifi there as the hotel had us deprived. Lovely place to sit outside with a long car-free avenue and sculpted fountains. The toddler decided to bathe in one AND it started to rain. The shower was thankfully just a few minutes. So we had to change his clothes on a bench out there. Sorry for the mundane details but they feature very heavily in my memories of all random locations during my visits.
Opera house again and sat there on the steps waiting for it to grow dark. After a long and tiring few hours of chasing the little one up and down the steps, we got some great shots – a sample for you:
We realized we hadn’t done justice to Darling Harbour and so we headed there early the next morning before our flight to Cairns. And what a wide and beautiful walk down that bridge with a view of all the quayside restaurants and entertainment spots. Here we gorged on some gelato and coffee (of course) while watching the massive Australian flags billowing proudly in the cool breeze. Fabulous!