(It seems frankly surreal to be writing about this given the way I've felt the last few days, but it's nice to #fbf to the sun and beaches and happiness of a few weeks ago, so I am, and if you too need a break from non-stop news coverage, welcome to my ramblings on 2 weeks in Australia! There are koalas, I promise.)
I think we can all agree the best way to travel is to have someone else pay for it right? It’s kind of the dream.
Last month, I was so incredibly lucky to be sent to Australia for 2.5 weeks for work. I also had three weekends and two vacation days to play, so it really felt a lot like vacation, or at least a good, lengthy absence from my normal everyday. It was my first trip to Australia and so I mostly stuck to Sydney, staying in three different neighborhoods and ferrying, training, and automobiling all over the place. I did almost every touristy thing you could do there; I even took the train out to the Blue Mountains one day to go hiking among some truly stunning (and terrifying) vistas and waterfalls. I took a selfie with a koala at Taronga Zoo (and dropped my lip balm in the koala pit, so embarrassing!), climbed the Harbour Bridge, hung out in Manly and Bondi Beaches, and every day for a week my morning commute took me right past the base of the Opera House. I drank what seemed like all the Negronis in Sydney, and ate all of the bread, and walked what seemed like the whole city. It was like being in the best parts of Boston and San Francisco (and New Orleans for the architecture) all at once, with the ferries and the old cobblestone streets and the skyscrapers and I loved it. It was a really full, fun, and amazing couple of weeks, and a lot to condense into one post so I’m not really going to try, but I do have a ton of photos and some thoughts on solo traveling and general observations. And, obviously, there’s food!
First Impressions and Observations:
- VERY CLEARLY ask for your tea with no milk. I kept forgetting they are more British than Americans are, and more than once I had to nicely ask a person to make me another tea not contaminated with dairy. I learned toward the end of my trip what I should have been asking for:
Bondi market coffee seller: Do you want a black tea or a white tea?
Me: (stupidly, blank faced) …I thought I ordered English Breakfast.
- Skulling is the Aussie word for chugging a beer, which I think is way more descriptive, really, of that feeling when you are trying to cram half a pint down your throat in about 10 seconds.
- Everyone in Australia has a fancy credit card you can just tap on these little handheld card readers they use at every restaurant and store. I kept explaining to confused servers how we just got chip technology in America until finally I just started handing my card over and saying “It doesn’t tap.”
- I had 4G service on the subway. ON THE SUBWAY. Clearly I live in a Third World Country.
- In my head I imagined the famous King’s Cross Coca-Cola sign to be the little rooftop one that Scott and Fran dance in front of in Strictly Ballroom. It was not and I was sad.
- Sydney is expensive! I long stopped paying attention to my bill when I eat out, because I live in SF and otherwise I’d never go anywhere, but after a couple weeks I realized that even by my standards most meals were “exxy”, as one of my AirBnB hosts called it. But it does include tip most of the time and at least for Americans the exchange rate helps a bit. But just don’t compulsively order half the menu like me and you’ll be fine.
- If you didn’t explicitly order a veggie dish, your dinner likely doesn’t include anything green but it probably does come with one roasted tomato. This is how I wound up ordering for 10 at many meals.
- On a related note. I learned to just smile and nod whenever I asked how big a dish was and they answered in grams. Yes, this was so helpful to me, thank you.
- And also, it can take a while to leave a restaurant! Maybe it was because I was usually dining alone, but servers didn’t seem to be as eager to turnover a table, and are willing to let you enjoy the end of a meal almost to a fault. I had to explicitly ask for the bill even after saying I was done, otherwise they would let me sip water and hog a table, probably for hours.
- If you forget all logic and buy an entire loaf of artisanal bread for yourself at the farmers market, good luck toasting it under the broiler when you can’t find the broiler option among all the strange cartoon icons on the oven in your AirBnB. The obvious solution is to eat fried toast with cream cheese for breakfast for a week straight.
- Sigh, I still look 18, apparently. I’m sorry to say I was very rude to the grocery clerk who refused to sell me a $10 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, even though the sign said he had to accept my CA ID, but I’m a little proud that I restrained myself from screaming “I’M 12 YEARS OLDER THAN THE DRINKING AGE, IDIOT!!” and shoplifting the bottle like I wanted to.
- Australia is so beautiful! They have purple-flowered trees and when the waves crash at Bondi it’s the exact color so many mini golf courses try to dye the water, except unlike badly mixed chlorine it’s actually pretty.
On traveling alone:
Yes, I was there for work but I would say I spent 90% of my free time on my own, and after 2.5 weeks I was a bit ready to branch out from my own company. But, this trip was hugely rewarding in that I realized I can in fact travel alone. I suspected this but it’s nice to affirm. However, there were a few things I learned for next time, mostly around how to eat alone. Turns out, the real struggle of eating alone is limiting myself to less than half the menu, because no server will ever talk you out of over ordering. They will lie to you and you will try to forget anything anyone ever told you about starving children in Africa.
People are very friendly in Australia but I didn’t have any of those “oh, you’ll just find people to travel with” experiences I’ve heard about, except for one very nice friend of my second AirBnb host who went with me to a pasta restaurant in Pott’s Point, where I think we ate the entire menu and reenacted every scene in every movie where Americans compare their accent with someone else’s. We lose, obviously.
For the most part, it’s actually kind of fun to be on your own! All activities are planned by you, for what you want to do, and no one can say no. If you want to have gelato for lunch or spend the entire day at the zoo or go to the beach when its freezing and way too windy you can do that. Or, if you take a last-minute ferry to go look at lighthouses in Watson’s Bay and then decide to walk the 5 kilometers back to your AirBnB in Bondi Beach you can do that too, and no one will be yelling at you but yourself.
Seriously, everything was so good. Haloumi is hugely popular, and I’m not sure if I was subconsciously seeking it out or if Middle Eastern food is having a global moment, but I ate falafel for breakfast and labneh in salads and I was as happy as could be. Everything, from banana bread to tea seemed to be served on a board, in a beautiful, deconstructed presentation that I wouldn’t mind copying here. I ate a ton of Tim Tams and a meat pie. I ate kangaroo in a burger and didn’t freak out, I never tried vegemite (until this past Monday, go figure), and I found the gourmet donuts and the nitrogen-churned gelato, the touristy Chinese food and the crappy and non-crappy Thai takeout. I left feeling so inspired by the food, there were so many ideas I want to steal and make myself.
Some Good Eats:
Hugo’s Manly: This place seemed like “the scene” at Manly Beach, right on the wharf and packed with locals and tourists on a Saturday night for dinner. They had an awesome rosemary negroni and a killer lamb pizza, and stunning views of the sunset.
Doughnut Time: These donuts are insanely huge and topped with more sugary, crazy confections than you can dream up. They have a huge menu, all guaranteed to set you back in the diabetes department.
Chester White: The name doesn’t sound like this should be a fantastic charcuterie and pasta place, but it is. Both the cacio e pepe and carbonara were prepared tableside (or counterside, as it were) and both were incredible, as was my hangover the next day after all that salt and butter and cured meat and pasta, as well as the rest of the evening that followed where I tried to drink with Aussies. Do not do this.
Ms. G’s: This place has some pretty inventive Asian Fusion, and probably the weirdest preparation of buratta I’ve ever seen, but everything I tried was delicious and I’d go back every time for the black garlic falafel.
Fine Foods Store: This café is hidden away in the Rocks, Sydney’s oldest neighborhood, but it’s worth navigating the maze of stairs and tiny stone alley ways to get to a place that will put haloumi on your shakshuka instead of runny eggs.
Harry’s Cafe de Wheels: THE place for meat pies if you are in Pott’s Point or even not. It’s a tourist staple but with good reason. They sell a pie option called "The Tiger" topped with mushy peas and mashed potatoes and gravy and its weird and delicious and you can eat it while picking out all the celebrity photos framed on the outside of the walls and humming Skip, skip, skip to Woolloomooloo to yourself.
Kepos Street Kitchen: They have a breakfast falafel board and that was all I needed to know to want to go to there.