Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sydney stole my heart (and still won't hand it back)

Mr Traveller has a theory - the Australian city you first arrive in (as a visitor) is the one that you feel the strongest affinity with. My first trip, in December 2004 was no exception. We arrived in the evening, and I was jet lagged and desperate for sleep, but the draw of the harbour was too much and we headed to Circular Quay for a nightcap and to bask in the breathtaking beauty before us. At that moment, I fell in love with Sydney; even though my eyes were drooping with the weight of too many sleepless hours on a plane, I couldn't tear them away from the spectacular view before me. We'd headed to Sydney to see how I felt about it; to see whether it would draw me in the way that it had Mr T, when he'd lived there as a backpacker a few years earlier - it did.

When we returned to live in 2007 (after another couple of visits), I was possibly even more spellbound with the city on the harbour, and launched into life there with gusto. We stayed for four and a half years, and there was never a day that I failed to be filled with wonder when I turned a corner to be greeted by the sight of the sparkling water glistening up at me. I never tired of jumping on a ferry to get somewhere and would opt to do so even if it took a bit longer than the bus. Unlike the majority of the people I meet, I'm not a fan of London or New York, I find them too big and impersonal  and just not my cup of tea, but I love the size of Sydney - big enough to have everything you need and a whole lot more, but small enough to feel at home. It's touted as the city of villages, and that rings very true, individual pocket communities balanced around the glistening harbour and into the urban and suburban sprawl beyond, with their own distinct characters, but by and large co-existing peacefully makes for an extremely comfortable environment. 

We're heading off to New Zealand next week, for the next part of our adventure, which I'm really excited about, but I couldn't let a visit to Australia slip by without some time in my favourite city in the world. So I packed my bags and waved goodbye to Mr T and the Littlest Hobo and took the short flight down. I've spent a fair amount of time in the Virgin Australia domestic terminal in my time, so arriving there was like coming home the moment that I stepped off the plane - a feeling that stayed with me for the entire visit. I made a beeline for the train and headed straight for Circular Quay - as it happened that tied in well with my transport needs, but even if it hadn't, I suspect I would have found myself there anyway. This is the way that everybody should arrive in Sydney for the first time, and if you are yet to visit, I urge you to choose this option. I checked the ferry times while I was on the train and knew I would have to dash to make the ferry, so I dug in my wallet for the ferry tickets that were still there from what had seemed mere minutes ago a dim and distant lifetime, and tore straight down to wharf 5 without a second thought that the departure wharves may have swapped around in the 8 months we'd been away - luckily they hadn't. 

Once I'd made it onto the ferry - last passenger on - I found a spot outside and allowed myself to take it all in. The same sights, sounds and smells were still there under the cloudless blue sky, dazzling me as I shrugged on the old familiar overcoat that shrouds the most iconic coat hanger in the world. Sydney was back under my skin. 

Not much has changed, and that is comforting and disturbing at the same time, because it makes it all the more comfortable to be there. I looked around me, as ever, seeing photographs to be made everywhere, and caught myself thinking that I'd come back and do it another day, when I had less to carry. It's hard not to get complacent when you are treated to such wondrous views on a daily basis and all too easily I appeared to have slipped back into that mantra. I didn't use my camera much - ultimately, I was there to visit friends, with a jam packed schedule, but I needed to remind myself that I wouldn't be going on a photography walk there next week or next month to avoid disappointment or regret later. 

Seeing my Sydney friends was a delight. Being toddler-free gave me the chance to hop from suburb to suburb and stay with a different person every night, sleeping on couches and fitting into the daily swing of my buddies lives with the added benefit of the very warmest of welcomes home at the end of it all. I always say that one of the things that makes the UK appealing to me is the long time friendships that can't be replicated without time, and while that still holds true, catching up with people in Sydney confirmed that four and a half years is long enough to build some very special friendships too. 

Captured with my iPhone, from Circular Quay station

So after a couple of crazy but pleasure filled days, I performed what is becoming a ritual of sorts again today and stood on Circular Quay station, looking out at the bridge, the Opera House and the every day comings and goings on the water below. Drinking in everything in my view, and committing it once again to memory before turning on my heal and hopping on a train. Until next time Sydney, because while you still hold a piece of my heart, I can't be a stranger forever.

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