As I write this, it’s late March – wet snow, cold and grey – and my thoughts drift to warmth, to revisit a sunnier place.
In late 2006, I was working for a UK-based company that had software development teams in Toronto as well as in Sydney. I was heading up a team in Toronto when my counterpart in Sydney left the company, so I was lucky enough to be seconded over to lead the team there while we looked for a new manager.
Because I was going to be in Sydney for several months, I asked that my family be able to come with me. My employer generously agreed, so my first trip was a solo visit for 10 days in December to meet my new team and scout for a place for us to live so that after Christmas my family and I could travel out together. This meant that I left a dreary Toronto early winter for the early summer of New South Wales – a hard life!
The company offices were in the CBD off George Street, so when I arrived that first time in December, I stayed in a hotel near Darling Harbour to be close and while also being centrally located for exploring the city over that 1st weekend.
By the time Saturday came round, I’d been there for a few days already so I was more or less over the jet lag. During the week, I had been doing some research online and had some ideas about where I wanted to walk. It was a lovely late spring day, with warm temps but not yet hot – perfect for walking. My first impressions were of sun, shining waters, warm friendly people, and tempting places to explore.
Despite the temptations of the Darling Harbour area, my plan was to head west into some of the nearby residential neighbourhoods to get a feel and see where we might live during our stay. I’d heard about Glebe, Balmain, and Annandale so I decided to head in that direction.
My hotel was near the Harbourside Shopping Centre, so my direction west took me across the thumb that Pyrmont makes separating Darling Harbour from Blackwattle Bay. It led me to the Sydney Fish Market. I love to cook and to explore food markets, and I was looking forward to seeing this famous landmark. I was not disappointed.
The first thing that struck me was that it wasn’t just a food market – it’s also a fantastic collection of restaurants and food stalls. After quickly deciding that this would be a frequent family destination, I followed my nose to choose a place serving super-fresh fish and chips, and took it outside to gobble in the sun. Who needs poutine!
As tempted as I was to just hang out there all day and gorge, I knew I had to get going to walk off lunch. I didn’t really have a destination in mind other than to wander the neighbourhoods, so I meandered generally west through Glebe and then north to find myself on Balmain Road.
As I walked along, it all seemed pleasant enough – tree-lined streets, very walkable, relatively close to the CBD. Still, it wasn’t what I was looking for. We lived in a somewhat similar neighbourhood in Toronto, so why go all the way to Australia to live an inner suburb? I knew that my wife would find it a bit boring, so I turned around and head back towards the CBD.
It was a trudge back through Balmain, Glebe, and Haymarket under an increasingly hot sun to get back to the downtown area near the Central Station. When I finally found George Street and started down along it, I was feeling hungry and parched. Fortunately I found the marvelous Queen Victoria Building. It’s a wonderful shopping centre, with many shops, cafes, and restaurants and most importantly for me that day, it was air conditioned.
After a sandwich and a cup of my new-found favourite – a flat white – I was refreshed and ready to continue exploring. I decided to follow George Street northwards towards Circular Quay. It was people-watching heaven – the bustle and shops reminded me very much of Yonge Street in Toronto and I instantly felt at home. I knew as I walked along that this was much more the type of energy that we were looking for. That decided it for me – we needed to find a flat downtown near the CBD.
My day wasn’t done however. There was still a lot of daylight left and lots of city to explore. I had read so much about Circular Quay that I just had to see it and the famous view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. I hurried down George Street and through the ferry buildings to stand on the wharf and soak up the view.
Standing in the sun, tired but happy, I knew then that our upcoming stay in Sydney was going to the adventure of a lifetime. It turned out to be all of that and so much more. We found a flat on Jamison Street near Lang Park, and our son went to the Fort Street Public School near the Sydney Observatory in the Rocks.
It was a magical few months. We explored the city, sampled many wonderful restaurants, celebrated Australia Day, toured the nearby countryside, swam off Manley Beach, enjoyed the ferry rides, wandered the zoo, and took part in the 75th anniversary walk across the Harbour Bridge. That first long walkabout the city, that day in December, opened my eyes to the diversity, energy, and sheer fun of Sydney and made it one of my favourite cities in the world.