Sydney swamps the senses

Sydney. Labour Day long weekend. NRL Grand Final weekend. What were we thinking?

Well, we knew crowds were on the cards. And we weren’t disappointed.

It had been 30-ish years since I’d spent one rushed day in the NSW capital on my 17th birthday.

So although I had some hazy memories, I was not prepared for the swamping of senses and personal space that came with three days based around Circular Quay.

The sights

The Opera House – I’ve seen it before, it’s just a bit of fancy architecture. But it impressed. Not only me, but also the other million people milling around. I’d love to know how many selfies get snapped in front of it in a typical second.  But the highlight of the Opera House was definitely the light show projected onto the sails at night. To see them  become a blaze of changing colour for a mesmerising seven minutes, continuing the culture of storytelling at Bennelong Point by the Gadigal people, was amazing. The Badu Gili show is also online, and I’ve revisited it since to try to recapture the feeling it wrought, but it was definitely more amazing in real life (and without a director’s commentary laid over the top )


Above clockwise: A momentarily deserted Opera House steps – thanks to some drizzly rain and patience; Opera House from the Manly Ferry; one of the bedazzling images projected onto the sails each night; at dusk at the crowds gather; and late at night with all sails unfurled.

The dominance of the Sydney Harbour bridge could also not be ignored.


Above clockwise: the bridge from the North Shore; finally working out why there were steep ramps between the stairs as we came off the bridge; rust-ic bridge architecture; the bridge by night; see the climbers on the bridge in the background?; more climbers; cycling across the bridge.

The numbers

While I was pondering how many selfies get taken in front of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, and how many Chinese tourists get married in front of the bridge, my husband was obsessing about finding the oldest pub in the city centre.

We spotted the Fortune of War, which apparently has a valid claim to longevity,  but it was the Lord Nelson which kept catching our eye. It is the oldest continually licensed hotel and the oldest pub brewery in the city. Old enough, we reckoned, so on our way to a show we had a quiet early evening beer on the pavement, drinking in the hops and history.


Another pub to throw itself into our path  – and a victory for our “don’t plan anything before you go’ style of touristing on this particular weekend –  was the Hero of Waterloo. Great, another history lesson I had to have before earning a beer. But it was funky, and historic, and at 10am the Asian barkeeper/proprietor was in her dressing gown, proclaiming ‘oh, you early birds!’ And now I know all about the Duke of Wellington, including what a beer named after him tastes like.

Our hotel, the Russel Boutique Hotel, also reeked of history, and was quirkily fun. It seemed to have more sets of stairs than floors, and was easy to get lost in. But the rooftop garden gave out onto gorgeous views of The Rocks, and if we opened our room window we could hear waterfront music and bustle. Speaking of which…


Two sounds  haunted me in Sydney. One was the crunch, crunk, clunk of my camera rolling down the Opera House Steps.  The lens is now NOT OK. The other was the sound of Jaffas hitting the concrete floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Apparently it is a very distinctive sound, as it took an attendant three seconds flat to find me and scold me for eating in the building.

Looking forward, looking back

It’s easy to miss the Writers Walk at Circular Quay. Plaques set into the footpath are trodden underfoot as the masses rush by. As we stopped to read each plaque, we were jostled by pedestrians in a hurry to have their long weekend.

But taking the time to read short snippets from about 50 Australian writers and famous writers who had visited, opened a window into our historical cultural identity.

The words painted a picture of Sydney through the years just as surely as the surrounding sandstone architecture, the sparkle of the Harbour and the monuments to history.


The Sydney Observatory, Pancakes on the Rocks, The Rock markets, a stage show, a trip on the Manly Ferry, a bike ride over the bridge and alongside the screams of Luna Park, the secret gardens developed by Brett Whiteley’s wife – there was something around every corner. We packed so much into three short days. It was a great get-a-way to celebrate five years of marriage, but it’s going to take a while before I’m ready to tackle a capital city again.