Fruit bat in Sydney

Fruit bat in Sydney

After a 3 hour flight we emerged into the humid splash of a Sydney summer downpour. Driving on the left into Sydney central was a strain. There was map confusion and urban complexity after days in languid New Zealand. Our destination was the Oaks Goldbrough Apartments in Darlington Harbor. The hotel sits quietly on a side street, but is in walking distance to the Aquarium and other attractions. It’s a historical building that’s been upgraded with 9 floors, each open inside to the others. Sounds and smells gently wafted upward to our 3rd floor apartment. They were the lone reminder of how many were living in the building.  It felt great to unpack our bags for a few days.

After quickly settling in we took the tram for a few blocks,  past Paddy’s Market known for bargain clothing and souvenirs, and into colorful Chinatown. We ate upstairs at 9pm, eyeing huge lobsters and abalone in entryway tanks – then sleepily walked back to tram and over the pedestrian bridge to our hotel.

The next morning we were off on our mission: to find a room for Coral to live in during her 4 month college studies at the University of Sydney. There’s a large international student population with lots of competition for room mates and we investigated the accommodations closest to campus.

Sydney has a style of housing that I’ve never seen before. Narrow common wall apartment buildings that are deeper than wide. Most have a short second story balcony and small courtyard in front of the entry porch. The wrought iron grill work is unique from house to house. My guess is this architecture is a Southern Hemisphere adaptation of the English row houses.

This feels like a city of the young – the streets were crawling with fresh faced travelers. We spent the afternoon of our first day at the famous Sydney Harbor. In pictures the harbor looks very large and grand, but this is really a city for walkers. Everything is set up for pedestrian comfort. We had lunch at an outside patio on the Quay, watching the office workers and travelers strolling by and enjoying the international menu. I had a spinach salad with feta and pumpkin chunks (!). The squash kept surfacing in menus for the rest of the trip.

After lunch and pictures of the Harbor bridge and the famous laughing face looking out across the water from the amusements at Luna Park, we turned the corner and there sat the famous Sydney Opera House. Where I’d expected a huge, startling white building of curved shapes, I found a modest scaled roof line of ivory tiled petals. Inside is not only the opera house but a series of performance spaces accessed from below by a curving walkway or above by an expansive staircase that is most grand aspect of the setting. You can imagine a crowd dressed formally, walking those steps towards the performance. Makes me wish I’d seen the space in the moonlight.  As it was, we kept walking in and out of the shadows, dodging the bright, humid daylight on our way to the Botanical Garden, just around the corner.

Fruit bat haven

This is an urban park made for strolling. We passed rolling lawns and huge trees, but the biggest surprise was the wildlife. There were dozens of white ‘Sacred Ibis’ with their arcing beaks dotting the green. Flocks of green parrots flew through the treetops. Chunky, white cockatiels squawked in branches overhead. My favorites were the scores of Flying Foxes hanging in the afternoon heat. Their more common name is fruit bat, which is some comfort considering how large they are. They swayed and chattered in the afternoon sun. We heard that they make quite a spectacle soaring as a cloud from their perches at dusk and across the harbor to feed. They’re also slowly degrading the Botanical Garden trees, so a plan is underway to discourage their nocturnal routine. Sad as it’s quite a treat seeing them on the edge of this metropolis.

As we wound our way through the park, we visited the Tropical Conservatory housed in a large glass pyramid and dome. It was refreshing to walk through the orchids and the odd, exotic plants crowding the pathways.

After leaving the park, we walked to the financial district, with the office workers in their grays and blacks. Into the downtown shopping area we strolled and stopped in one of the many plazas to enjoy the early evening breezes before returning our tired feet to the hotel.

One suggestion: never drive downtown to the Quay and the adjacent districts, if you can avoid it. Not for the traffic, but the extreme parking fees. There are buses everywhere. From my limited perspective, with a little planning you can get around the city easily.