As far back as I can remember, I have dreamt about visiting Sydney. For many reasons. I have read and heard so much about the biggest city in Australia. Probably because it is also internationally the “best known” city in Australia. Coming from Denmark I also have an interest in Sydney because the danish architect Jørn Utzon was the man who drew what has arguably become the most important landmark in the city: Sydney Opera House. And then there was something about the Olympic Games in 2000, where our danish Crown Prince Frederik met his future wife Mary.
Initially we had decided on staying here in Sydney for 7 nights and then take off to the Blue Mountains, about an hours drive west of Sydney, for 3 nights. But after we had spent just a few days here, we decided on prolonging our stay, leaving out Blue Mountains for another time. One of the reasons being that we have rented a private flat, where we can finally be completely ourselves for a while. After more than a month on the road in a campervan, staying on various camping sites, it feels good to soak into soft pillows in huge beds, watch some television and have a more or less stabile internet connection for a while. (By now, I have come to the conclusion that totally reliable internet is not available in Australia!) Furthermore, we have always had the rule while traveling with Anton this way, that we will not rush. He thinks it is SO cool to have his own bedroom for a while, even though he does sneak into our room early in the morning, to cuddle between us in the double bed.
Sydney is not the capital of Australia, which many people think. That’s Canberra, a bit further south. But it is the capital of New South Wales, on of the states in Australia. And, as already said, the biggest city in the country. Apprx 4,6 million people live here. People from all over the globe, with the biggest group of minorities coming from United Kingdom and China. In fact, Sydney is a bit of a magnet for foreigners. More than 75% of the city’s annual growth comes from foreigners. Either new arrivals or already established families. That’s what I call international!
It’s hard to describe Sydney in just a few words. But to put it very simple, I will say that it is a mix of the skyscrapers and long straight streets and avenues of New York, and the victorian architecture of London, which is seen everywhere. But that’s about as far as one can compare. Sydney is unique! And alone Sydney Harbour - curling its way right through the center of the city - makes the whole area something special. There is a lively, daily traffic of ferries and small boats sailing to and from the central pier in the Central Business District. These vessels adds to Sydneys extensive public transportation network of regional trains, trams and busses, and makes it possible to live a good distance out of the city, and still be able to get to work in the city center within one hour. We took a ferry one late afternoon to the other side of the harbour, in order to visit an old colleague of us both, who now lives here with his family. The crossing took about 10 minutes, but would have taken about 40 minutes by car through the city. On top of that, we got to take some very good photos on the way over. We were invited to come and see the skyline from a distance. And what a stunning view! As the sun began to set, the lights of the city began to shine, and we just sat there and stared in awe. On the harbour front, just on the other side, was the Sydney Opera House, and a little more to the right we had the Harbour Bridge, another important landmark. In my opinion, this is THE best view I have EVER seen. With a building listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in the very middle of it all, it doesn’t get any better! Fortunately I had my tri-pod with me, in order to be able to take some good night shots with the camera. I managed to exhaust the battery!
During the whole planning of this trip, we were never in doubt, that Sydney would be on the itinerary, and that we would spend quite some time here. It was just a matter of exactly when, during our 3 months here in Australia. Alexandra has been here twice before. But as was the case in Queensland, it is a lot different this time. And also here in Sydney, a lot has happened over the past decade. However, the Opera House she had never before seen from the inside, so this was one of the more important things on our to-do list, while staying here. We took a guided tour one afternoon, to enjoy Utzons magnificent building.
I have had an interest in architecture for many years. I do not know much about it, though. But I do know what I like and what I do not like. I really, really like the Opera House. And I have always wanted to see it. Luckily, our guide REALLY knew what he was talking about, and he did it with great passion. He explained about the history of the building, the construction, and about how it almost did not happen at all. When Utzon won the competition back in 1959, he did so showing just some sketches of the design. They were very good and visionary sketches. But nevertheless just sketches! No detailed calculations of any kind. When he won and got the job, he contracted a danish group of entrepreneurs to do the construction and to make the calculations. But as it is often the case with huge projects of this scale, funded by government money, there was a tight deadline. This meant that work had to begin before the calculations were finished. Utzon was quite confident that it would all work out OK, and that a solution would be found. The problem was the huge characteristic arches that we all know so well today. They were not at all easy to construct, and it would take almost four years after construction work had begun, until a solution was found. By then, they had almost given up. The building should have been finished about a year ago, and it would take another full decade (10 years!) before Queen Elizabeth II could finally officially open the Opera House in 1973. Needless to say, a total delay of 11 years had consequences. Both politically, but also for the architect. Years before, Jørn Utzon had left Sydney in frustration, and he actually never got to see the finished building before he dies in 2008. He did, however, live to experience the listing on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. This means, that ALL future restoration and remodeling is to be done by Utzon himself, which is of course impossible. But the last 10 years of his life he actually did manage to produce the sketches and designs of all the planned projects for the Opera House. He worked from his office in Copenhagen, and never came back to Sydney. A new foyer is finished. Brand new loading ramps are currently being made in the basement and a complete remodeling of one of the big concert halls has also been sketched and planned by Utzon. But as our guide said: “In a listed building like this one, this is all VERY expensive! I believe it when I see the finished work!” Today all work is supervised by Jan Utzon and his two sons. They are all architects.
I have to admit that I was more than impressed! Rarely have I visited a place that was on my “list of sites to see before I die”, that overwhelmed me like this. To me, these kind of places often disappoint when I finally get there. But Sydney Opera House did not! And I am proud to come from a country where visions and projects like this one can be born. I could sense from the other guests around me, that they were also quite impressed. Utzons memory is forever cut in stone and concrete here in Sydney, and he is highly respected. All political nonsense is now long forgotten, and money for maintaining and developing the building is gladly given.
Anton was also impressed. Since our first visit to the Opera House, we have actually been there four times, just to take in a little bit more of the impressing building. Just from the outside, but still... Anton talks about the Opera House daily, and enjoys going down there to just sit for a while and watch. He find the arches fun, and I guess the excitement from his parents also gets to him...
The flat in which we are currently residing is located in one of the more “posh” neighborhoods of Sydney. This was not planned, but nevertheless amusing, after having spent so many nights in humble surroundings on various camping sites in Queensland. We are surrounded by many beautiful old houses, built in victorian style, just like the ones we already know from London. Many of them are dating back to the late 1800’s. Every day we walk down the street and admire the many, very well maintained homes. On the corner there is a large house that has not been modernized in over 50 years. It is for sale and twice a week there is “open house”, for all interested people to come and see. Needless to say we went in to have a look. It was like stepping 50 years back in time. To a fine, upperclass home, where nothing was spared. Receiving room, lounge room, dining room, fine dining room, master bedroom, two kitchens (one of which has never been updated since the house was built in the 1880’s!) and much, much more. Toilet and bathroom is located in the backyard, and you have to exit the main house to get there.
We walked through all the rooms imagining them full of life and how it must have been to live there. The couple selling are now in a retirement home, and there is no doubt that money was never and issue. The house is sold for 1,8 million australian dollars, and I reckon you can right away plan renovations for at least another million dollars, in order to get it all up to date. Well, I guess one is allowed to dream, and it was fun to see.
All around the neighborhood, called Paddington, there are lots of smaller “boutiques” - only open by appointment. There are plenty of small european style cafés, offering homemade organic dishes and cookies, along with overpriced italian San Pellegrino water. And then there is a small supermarket, which you should only enter if you do not have other options. A bottle of milk is 3 dollars! Organic, but still!
Apart from walking many, many kilometers through the city every day, we visit museums, parks, shopping malls, markets etc. We just LIVE here for a short while. We have our daily life with quiet mornings, breakfast, shopping, cooking etc. And we have our evenings with dinner, tooth brushing and bedtime stories. By the way, we have established, that the food markets here are A LOT cheaper than buying everything in the supermarkets. So while we are here in the flat, we have bought a lot of fruit and vegetables. And Alexandra has prepared a few pots of hot soup, to enjoy on these cold winter evenings. This is something we cannot do from next week, when we are once again on the road in a campervan.
By the end of this week we fly to Adelaide to start our journey through the southern parts of Australia. We will take our time as usual. There is plenty to see. Wine districts. Kangaroo Island. The Great Ocean Road and much more. Temperatures down there are even lower than the 15 degrees celsius we have by now gotten used to here in Sydney. But a few upgrades on the range of equipment has helped us making sure we will not freeze too much!