The first stop on my around the world adventure was Sydney, Australia. After nearly three weeks in the capital city, I found myself seriously missing it when leaving for Beijing, China. I found Sydney to be a very welcoming international city with much to offer from great sightseeing to friendly people, but very expensive - something I did not count on before I arrived. Regardless of the cost, it was still an incredible time that left me with lasting memories. The weather was hot and steamy for the first week, but quickly turned to sudden and frequent rain downfalls.
Sydney had many things to offer when it came to sightseeing and I tried to see them all - almost. But, the highlight of my time in Sydney would have to be visiting the areas in and around the bay, including Darling Harbour, the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The towering Bridge sticks out like a sore thumb beyond Sydney's iconic structure, the Opera House, which sits on the bay. These are two incredible sights that you may have seen on television, but are amazed with when standing beside them - whether its in broad daylight or while lit-up like a Christmas tree at night. They are definitely must-do's for any visitor to the city.
While in Sydney, I was lucky enough to take part in Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 2012. From the elaborate parade to the beat thumping parties to the weeks of celebration, it was certainly an international event with people from all over the world taking part in the annual LGBT festivities. Oxford Street, a major drag in the Central Business District, was lined with posters and flags as it prepared for the parade. Despite the rain downpour, the parade and other festivities went on without even the slight interruption. As an added bonus, local hero and star, Kylie Minogue, was the featured performer at the main event with a medley of her greatest hits.
I mentioned above that it was expensive and I was not joking. Before I left, I didn't do my homework to see how strong (or not) the U.S. dollar was against its Aussie counterpart. In fact, it's a little weak - the Australian dollar is worth a tad bit more compared to America's green; so be prepared for your money not to go as far as you would expect. While I tried to eat on about $50 AUS a day in Oz (which was doable most days), I could easily spend $17-20 on a burger, chips and coke or $12-14 on a chicken kebab. You can also eat very cheaply along Oxford Street with the many cheaper kebab and pizza places; however, the pizza is not that great. In fact, one place boasts a New York slice, but it neither tasted like New York pizza nor was it as cheap - it was $6 per slice. Jokingly, I told the counter guy that real New York pizza was delicious and only cost about one American dollar per slice. His response: go eat New York pizza, LOL. Beer and cocktails are pretty expensive as well ranging from $8-10 AUS; and note, liquor is strictly measured per drink.
Some of the other major sights I had the opportunity to check-out and are worth seeing are the view and attractions at Darling Harbour: Sydney's Aquarium and National Martime Museum. But, the Sydney Tower Eye downtown, offers a fantastic panoramic view for miles of the city and its suburbs. Just a tip: while the entry tickets can get pricey, the attractions offer deals for purchasing combination entries to more than one place. However, any visitor should visit the Circular Quay station and take a short ferry ride to see either the northern beaches or eastern suburbs. Whether heading to Manly or the Zoo or Watson Bay, which offers a view of where the ocean meets the bay, it's a nice way to get out of the city without getting out of the city. Finally, you cannot visit Sydney without going to the world renown, Bondi Beach - make sure you pronounce it correctly! With its incredible sand and water, it certainly lived up to its reputation for being beautiful and enjoyable (minus the sunburn I got: note, put sunscreen on before you lay out!).
I had a brief taste of Australian politics at its best -- or worst if you ask an Australian. There was a Labor Party Leadership showdown between the current Prime Minister Julia Gillard and former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. It had all the classic political partying infighting we are familiar with in the U.S., but with an international twist. It was quite ironic considering the battle for the GOP nod back home. In the end, Prime Minister Gillard kept her job, but awaits a general election battle that will require her to regain the trust and support of the Australian public.
Australia was a great time and while I didn't get to do everything I wanted on this visit, I now have an opportunity to return. I hope to get out of Sydney next time to dive in Cairns and visit the other Aussie cities like Perth and Melbourne. I met some great people, made some new friends and "did Sydney." Overall, it was a terrific stay that left me wanting more.
For More of Kristofer's Around the World Trip Adventure, visit his blog, Crossing the Dateline.