Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sydney, Australia

Sydney is similar to San Diego, both in its sunny weather and pristine beaches. In fact, I felt that Sydney is more scenic due to its numerous coves and rocky coastline.

In my opinion, one should come to Sydney for its natural beauty and not for its architecture, sites or culture. Since Australia’s history is relatively brief, there isn’t a whole lot of historic buildings. Most of the old homes are 19th century outfits with porches and terraces. In terms of culture, Australia is very similar to the U.S. Thus, I was frankly a bit bored with what I saw in the city.

However, one aspect of Sydney that makes it interesting is its diversity. This truly is an international city, with various cuisines and languages. In particular, I noted the huge numbers of Chinese, Korean and Japanese people. Because of this, Sydney resembles a mini-London.

I spent most of my time in Sydney “bushwalking” or hiking along its coast with the companionship of some great CouchSurfers. It is amazing that one can find pristine nature a few minutes away from the CBD (central business district). On the Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach walk, I was able to admire the blue-green water (Sydney is approximately the same latitude as San Diego; I wonder why its waters are more turquoise and clear than SD’s), various coves and modern sculptures on display. On the Manly Scenic Walk, I found myself hiking in a forested pathway with views of the CBD, bays, ocean and headlands. I also spotted various birds and lizards. And all this was in the city! Lastly, my favorite bushwalk of them all was north of Sydney, in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. There, several CouchSurfers and I hiked to a few headlands to admire views of both the ocean and the bay. We also spotted a few caves.

Two observations caught my attention. First, Australia (or at least Sydney) is pricier than I expected it to be. Prices here are on par or if not more expensive than that in the Euro zone. Of course, it does not help that the U.S. dollar is approaching parity with the Australian dollar. Price examples include over $4 for a gallon of milk (explain this to me as Australia is one of the largest dairy-producing countries in the world), at least $2/lb for any fruit, $10 for a sandwich and over $3 for a bus ride.

The second observation is concerning Sydney’s inefficient and user-unfriendly public transportation system. Sure, Sydney’s network of buses, trains and ferries is superior to that in most U.S. cities. However, it is inefficient in that there is no smart card that one can use on any transport, nothing like Hong Kong’s Octopus or London’s Oyster (in which the passenger can seamlessly swipe his/hard card over a reader without needing to know the fare beforehand). Thus, buses are frequently late due to passengers fumbling for change to pay the driver. Moreover, to complicate matters, the bus fare is dependent on the number of zones traveled, which means that one has to ask the bus driver for the fare (again a waste of time). Tickets with ten rides are sold, but unfortunately, these are only for travel in the same zone.

Lastly, I was very surprised at the number of European tourists in Australia. Sure, they are avoiding their winter, but in this economic climate, I was surprised at how many European youths were able to afford $25 and upward hostels and nights of partying in Sydney.

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