We can smell the smoke as we drive into Sydney. The air quality is worse than Delhi’s. At subway stations giant TVs show images of fire, fire fighters, and rescued koalas. The sun looks red at 4pm, five hours before sunset. Yet, besides the smokey air, life seems normal. Australia is a very big country – we never saw any fires or even rising smoke except from one overlook in the Blue Mountains about a 100 km west of the city.
The next day a gust of cleaner air blows some of the smoke away and there are occasional patches of blue in the sky. Australia has been accused of being one of the worst climate change offenders in the world today. They suffer from the same problem as Norway or Canada in one way – they are a major global exporter of fossil fuel (coal in Australia’s case). Unlike Canada and Norway, Australia is closer to the US in another way. It is led by a climate change denying anti science government. This means Australia is fucking over the climate both at home and around the world. Still, it may or may not be their own climate change karma that is leading to these fires. Assigning blame is easier than assigning causation.
Smokey skies aside, Sydney is a nice city. The metro transit is super easy to use. You don’t need to buy tokens or tickets or cards. Your tappable credit card is your ticket. One day we went to the burbs to watch an Australian premier league soccer game and we got free round trip metro travel included in the ticket.
In Sydney we are in a neighborhood called Darlinghurst. It’s very gay and busy and filled with great food. Downstairs from the apartment is an Israeli cafe. A block away we enjoy wine and dinner at a Vietnamese pho place. Across from a popular wienerschnitzel restaurant there’s a gelato bar with a line out the door all day. There’s kebab, Indian, and Thai restaurants around every corner and a great Portuguese flame roasted spicy chicken chain with outlets everywhere. Even the small Woolworth grocery stores next to the metro entrances are well stocked. Australians still favor speciality stores, so there are individual meat, fruit, flower, bread, chemist, and other stores.
Because we are within walking distance of the Sydney Harbour we spend a good bit of time around there. We see the famous opera house, the harbour bridge, and take ferries from the ferry terminal. Either because we were close to the New Year Eve celebrations or because it’s high season (it is summer and the schools are closed) or perhaps because it’s like this all year, the area around the harbouris like a zoo. It feels like there are more people here than in the rest of Australia. A lot of visitors and tour groups are from China, clearly a country on the rise. In the first photo you can see the orange tint from the smoke. Other days, the skies were bluer.
One day we drove out to the Blue Mountains about two hours away. The views were beautiful but the air was hazy with smoke. We spent more time in the picturesque little towns along the way than in the national park because it was so darn hot. The town of Katoomba has a striking street mural scene. There was a cafe in Wentworth Falls we liked so much that we had breakfast and returned for lunch. That evening the news informed us that Australia experienced its hottest day on record. The next day it broke the record again.
One morning we took the ferry out to Manly beach. Sydney harbour is situated in a bay and is about 10-15 km from the open pacific coast. Manly is on the ocean front. The beach was packed. Australians know how to do a beach day.
The next day I hiked one of Sydney’s famous walks – the Split to Manly coastal track – 12 km of beauty along secluded beaches and coves and over cliffs with dramatic views.
Another day we went to see the street art in Newtown, a slightly gritty but hip neighborhood south west of downtown.
For our final few days in Sydney we moved from the apartment in Darlinghurst to a hotel on Coogee beach. Coogee is two beaches south of its more famous and bigger cousin, Bondi beach (which, I learned is Bond-eye, and not Bond-ee). Till now we’ve been happily amazed at how empty Australia’s beaches are. Even the busiest beach on the Gold Coast or in Western Australia or even in Melbourne never seemed crowded. That’s because everyone is at Coogee and Bondi. I took a picture of a pedestrian crossing at Coogee beach. Look at the people streaming to the beach. And the last two photos are taken a few hours apart from our hotel as the beach starts filling up. Australia is a country of outdoor-loving sun-worshipping beach people. Which explains why we love it!
During our time in Sydney we also hit a low – the kids drove us crazy. All they wanted was to be on their devices. The travel skills they had picked up in the previous five months seemed to have vanished. They seem to have lost their curiosity and any initiative. They were either fully absorbed in themselves or sulky. Moments of family fun and joy were few and far between hours of tension. I have always appreciated the job teachers and schools do, but now I realize that they also save parents and kids from each other!
We had a family conference where Jo and I explained our frustration and told them that we were considering packing up and returning to Austin after New Zealand which was the last place we had already committed to visiting. More than being upset we were disappointed. We agreed to see how things went in our two weeks in NZ and then make a decision.