I’ve been very lazy this Saturday. Usually I would feel guilty for staying in bed on such a beautiful day; England’s brief stint of summer weather makes you feel as though you should be making the most of every single sun-filled second because you never know when the next opportunity is going to rear its tentative head. However, now that I find myself in a country where hot weather isn’t such a novelty, I’m starting to learn how to ignore the restlessness and just enjoy a rare day of doing nothing. After a week of exploring the city almost entirely by foot I guess it’s only fair to give my legs a little rest!
My friend Grace and I have been settling into Sydney by walking all over it. When you’re new to a city, there’s a tendency to use public transport to get from place to place in order to avoid getting hopelessly lost in the less desirable nooks and crannies that every metropolis inevitably harbours. I understand, and have previously practised, giving into the temptation of hopping on a bus or train from here to there; it’s quick, feels safe and is often air-conditioned (phew). But seeing stop after stop flash past outside your window totally distorts your perception of a place. How can you start to build your memory of a city’s shape and size if you’re constantly being thrust into new areas via a linear route? It’s akin to being satisfied with only placing down the corners of a jigsaw puzzle and leaving the rest of the image incomplete.
London’s tube system is a good example of how public transport can prevent you from becoming familiar with a place. Travelling on the tube is like being blind-folded, spun around several times and then unleashed into a part of the city without any discernible idea of how on earth you’ve come to find yourself there. I’ll admit to the fact that, despite having been born and partially raised in London, it wasn’t until recent years that I started to actually walk from place to place and it’s amazing how much safer I feel in the city since making that decision. Anywhere is going to seem more threatening if it’s unfamiliar and confusing.
Nowadays, every time I find myself in a new setting, my favourite thing is to demystify it by walking and walking and walking. Paris, Manhattan and Amsterdam are tiny in comparison to London! You can walk from one end to the other in a matter of hours and it’s so satisfying being able to experience the change in ambience as you pass through different neighbourhoods – a transition that gets somewhat masked by the convenience of train travel.
Even though Sydney is technically larger in area than London, it has the feel of a much smaller city and the centre is extremely easy to navigate because of its grid system, similar to New York or Glasgow. This makes it difficult to get irreparably lost because you can very easily retrace your steps and you’re never too far away from George Street (the backbone of the city).
My first two weeks were spent pootling around Darling Harbour, Circular Quay, Chinatown and Hyde Park. What’s been good about living slightly further out (I’m currently in Earlwood which is southwest of the centre) is that, once I’ve got that initial train to Central Station, I’ve been forcing myself to spend as much time walking around as I possibly can before meeting people in the evening. It took a little time for me to relax into the concept of walking for the sake of walking. Whenever I’m in London I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of darting with determination to a certain destination with a strict ETA in mind and, even when I’m not in a hurry, the pace of the people around me makes me feel as though I should be rushing. Sydney is very different.
I first noticed this when my OzIntro group and I were walking to the bank in order to collect our debit cards. Bearing in mind that we were a group of roughly 14 people, we were able to stroll on down, starting and stopping at will, from our hostel near Town Hall to Martin Place without receiving a single sour look – there wasn’t a disgruntled huff to be heard! Compare this to London, a city in which I have knowingly continued walking in the wrong direction for a good 10 minutes due to being so caught up in the current of commuters and reluctant to face the inevitable disapproval of the irritable throng behind me that I’ve just accepted the fact that I’d have to duck out at the next alleyway in order to change course. Sure, you get the occasional person running for a bus or power walking to work in Sydney but, generally, the tempo of life here is much more of a saunter than a march.
So what have been the highlights? Here are a few suggestions for you if you’re wanting to tackle the city by foot.
Central Station to Darling Harbour
An easy peasy walk but worth doing if you want to start to get to grips with how the city’s structured. It’s barely a mile and you literally have to walk up George Street and then, after about 10 minutes, turn left at King Street. Walking around the harbour is a treat in itself; this is where you’ll find the aquarium, the IMAX, the Chinese Gardens of Friendship and many, many bars and restaurants.
Check out Cyren for its amazing seafood and wallet-friendly happy hour ($5 beers and a variety of house wines from Monday-Friday 3-6pm), Cargo for delicious $10 steaks (Monday-Wednesday) and have a milkshake the Guylian Belgian Chocolate Café around the corner at Darling Quarter.
Coastal Walk from Bondi to Coogee
Not only that, but try walking from Bondi Junction to Bondi Beach first instead of taking the bus. If you go on a Thursday you’ll be lucky enough to catch the market at Bondi Junction. Pick up an iced tea and some scrumptious soda bread from the stalls and start walking; it takes roughly 30 minutes to get to the beach (I’m being generous with timings to allow for the inevitable coffee shop breaks) and the coastal walk will take roughly an hour if you’re walking at a leisurely pace. The fantastic thing about this walk is that, if you’re getting a bit toasty with the exercise, there’s ample opportunity to take a dip in the sea in order to cool off. If you’ve had your fill of sea salt but would still like to have a splash, many of the bays have clubs with swimming pools available for public access. Make sure you stop at the Wow Cow dessert bar at Bondi Beach for some incredible frozen yoghurt, it’s a chain and you’ll find them dotted all around Sydney. We were so bowled over that we walked for three miles the next day (Earlwood to Newtown) in order to reach the nearest one – WORTH IT.
Redfern to Newtown to Town Hall
This is a long one; we spent the entire day popping in and out of shops and cafés.You’ll find Carriageworks Theatre by Redfern station; a huge converted carriage depot originally commissioned by the New South Wales Government Railways in 1888. It’s honestly one of the most exciting theatres I’ve ever been to and attached to it is Corner Stone, serving amazing bar food and drinks – well worth a look. Newtown is home to the University of Sydney which makes it an extremely lively area filled with good food, quirky shops and entertainment; no wonder it’s currently one of the most expensive areas to live in! As well as thumbing through books in one of the various exchanges, make sure you check out T2, a specialist tea shop which is sure to entrance many a travelling Brit. I have fallen in love with their unique blends and stylish design and the exciting news is that the chain will be making its way over to the UK eventually which I’m sure will be a huge success. On your way back to the centre, make sure you walk through Victoria Park and check out the pool, chill out under a tree with some Cockatoos and catch your breath before eventually reaching Town Hall where you can reward yourself with a coffee in one of the many cafés in the Queen Victoria Building.