To read part 1 click here.
The next stop was Sydney! The capital of New South Wales and home to just over 4 million people, the thriving metropolis surrounds the world’s largest natural harbour and sprawls inland towards the Blue Mountains in the West (which are AMAZING, separate blog post to follow).
James Cook and his crew were the first known Europeans to land in what is now Southern Sydney. In 1788 the British colony of New South Wales was established and, in the historical neighbourhood of “The Rocks,” 3/4 of the 1000 settlers were convicts. European settlement had a disastrous impact on the local aboriginal people, mainly because of introduced diseases and the depletion of local food supplies. Today the government is selling the historic public housing units in the area to private owners, with the expectation that they will restore the properties. However this is a controversial move and protest banners are on display as you walk around.
The “First Impressions” sandstone sculpture was created as a memorial to the convicts, soldiers and settlers who made up the original settlement at The Rocks.
Today arrival in Sydney does not follow an uncomfortable and hazardous four month sail, but rather a short flight followed by a train into the centre with… reversible train seats. After each stop the whole carriage gets rearranged… mind blown! (Maybe I am the only one who was way too excited about this but you can see what I mean in this youtube video.)
Sydney definitely has a big city feel, it is more crowded and polluted than Melbourne and has a less chilled vibe, although this guy was looking pretty relaxed…
And there are some other interesting statues around, including Il Porcellino, a bronze wild boar outside the Sydney hospital which is a replica of the same statue in Florence. If you rub the snout of the boar you will be “endowed with good fortune.” Another artwork I really liked (which, incidentally, the walking tour guide described as “we try to be really cultured like Melbourne by installing artways”) was the Forgotten Songs piece which commemorates the songs of fifty birds once heard in central Sydney, before they were gradually forced out by the European Settlement. The calls filter down through the canopy of birdcages suspended above… how cool!
The Sydney CBD was the location of the 2007 Chaser APEC Pranks that targeted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit. This included a breach of the APEC restricted zone, right in the heart of the Sydney CBD, where the Chasers (an Australian satire group) entered in a fake Canadian motorcade before alighting outside George Bush’s hotel dressed as Osama Bin Laden. You can see the full story here.
If you want to escape city life, the jagged coastline means there are some cool beaches close to the CBD. A ferry ride to Manly also affords you a good view of the harbour upon return and the coastal walk from the famous Bondi beach to Coogee is a nice break from the frantic pace of the centre. (And a good place to watch some seriously impressive surfing!)
But now to the main sights. When I first got to the harbour I was a bit underwhelmed: it is extremely touristy, crowded and busy and the first thing I noticed (it was hard to miss) was the ginormous cruise ship! I spent a good while watching how the other half live before remembering to look at the opera house and bridge.
The opera house really is a very strange construction. Actually 3 buildings in one (whose tiles actually look yellow from some angles) they resemble a prehistoric dinosaur from afar and a motorcycle helmet up close. One of my favourite stories about the building comes from 2003, when in order to protest against the looming Iraq war, two protesters climbed one of the opera house sails to paint “NO WAR” in large red letters. They paid back their hefty fine by selling miniature models of the opera house (complete with slogan) right outside it.
As for the bridge, at first glance I did think it looked a bit like a torture weapon and the Edinburgh one is nicer (am I allowed to say that?!). But I understood why the harbour is so famous and iconic when I climbed the Pylon for a (cheap!) lookout, which was pretty amazing…
And the view at sunset from the ferry wasn’t half-bad either…
Away from the hustle and bustle of the harbour, St Mary’s cathedral is a haven of peacefulness and a refreshing contrast to the high rise development round about (it is also has the greatest length of any church in Australia, although it is neither the tallest or the largest overall).
Ever the modern art fan, the museum had an interesting coffee cup display (which I could only interpret as some kind of rejection of the Melbourne coffee culture) and near the Rocks area there is a still life of a car being crushed by a large rock in the middle of a roundabout. There are even signs nearby warning people this is artwork and not a really terrible accident.
So there you go, a whirlwind stay in the two cities. But the question remains. Melbourne or Sydney? Sydney or Melbourne?
Well I think we can all agree that Melbourne is the clear winner on the opera house front…
…while Sydney obviously wins on the ease of navigating front.
Sydney is the more flashy, photogenic city with all the big sights and tourist hotspots. Melbourne is the cooler city with the lack of iconic sights creating a super chilled atmosphere, and it seems like it would be a great city to live in. So although the Blue Mountains (blog post coming up!) would be a definite reason for Sydney to come out on top, for me Melbourne has to be the winner.
I think there is a third rival that needs to be included in the debate. For a vibrant city with great outdoor spaces and beautiful places nearby, a little birdy told me there is a good place to check out up North that they call Brisbane.