As most of you know, Alex and I aren’t city people. Despite spending almost four years in Seoul, one of the largest cities in the world, we just don’t like “living on top” of other people. Were there perks to living in Baltimore, New York, and Seoul? Yes. Barhopping in downtown Baltimore was how Alex and I initially hung out. In New York, you can’t beat the amazing, eclectic, ethnic food. We enjoyed watching the glimmering city lights and North Seoul Tower every night (well, when the air was clear-ish) from our 32nd floor apartment.
But, if we had to choose a place to spend our time as young professionals (so, in our twenties… yeah that was a decade ago), we would definitely choose Sydney. It’s just such a cool, vibrant, and yet livable city! It has the diverse restaurants/bars of New York City and the coastline/harbor of San Francisco or Seattle (actually, Sydney’s coastline is really interesting — take a look at a map!). But it also feels safe, walkable, and quaint.
I started off planning our itinerary using TripAdvisor’s (yes, I LOVE TripAdvisor!) 3 Days in Sydney guide: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Guide-g255060-k51-Sydney_New_South_Wales.html
And, since we had Baby M, we cut out about half of what we wanted to see/do. Unfortunately, we were in Sydney while there was a tropical storm, so the rain kind of slowed us down a bit. But, we still managed to have a great time!
Day 1: Arrived in Sydney in the AM, after a redeye flight, the Rocks, Manly Beach
We checked into our hotel early, had lunch, and took a two-hour long nap. Afterwards, we walked to the Circular Quay station at the Harbor, and took a ferry to Manly Beach. The view of Sydney from the ferry was great (especially on the way back, when it was about sunset, and the skies had cleared)! We didn’t have too much time to explore Manly — we mainly walked around the boardwalk and tried to find a diaper changing table. (While I found many bathrooms in Sydney with changing tables, they looked highly questionable — covered in graffiti and dirty. We proceeded changing Baby M’s diapers in her stroller or standing up. Luckily for us, no poopy diapers while we were out!)
We walked around the Rocks, a historic neighborhood with cobblestone streets, and had a nice Bavarian dinner (although we both felt slightly sick afterwards — too much meat and grease).
Day 2: Sydney Opera House, Botanic Gardens, Chinatown, and Darling Harbor
We walked around the grounds of the Sydney Opera House in the morning. Alex and I were both surprised by the actual material used for the outside of the Sydney Opera House. We always thought it was made of a continuous (or at least a larger) piece of material, but it’s actually composed of small tiles, and it’s not a uniform white color (some tiles are matte finish, and some are glossy). And, there are actually three structures, not just one. The two larger ones are the concert hall and theater, and the smaller one is a restaurant.
[Note: When there aren’t any performances, the elevator inside the building only goes halfway up — we walked outside, and had to walk up a bunch of steps. And we were scolded for leaving our stroller at the bottom of the steps — a security concern.]
Next, we walked to the Royal Botanic Gardens. We enjoyed a nice lunch at the cafe (good sandwiches and salads) before walking all the way to Chinatown for… second lunch (by now, you should all know that Alex and I are big eaters). Chinatown itself isn’t actually that big, but the area around it has tons of restaurants. We grabbed a couple of bubble teas, and headed to the Chinese Garden of Friendship. It was actually one of the highlights in Sydney. Very peaceful and secluded, in the middle of the city, this garden provided a nice refuge (it was also nice because while we were there, under a covered pavilion, we dodged a downpour). And, we happened to be at the garden for the afternoon feeding of the koi! Baby M really enjoyed throwing food pellets into the water (well, sometimes they landed on the bench, and Daddy had to sweep them into the water). There weren’t many tourists there, so the staff gave Baby M cups and cups of feed. If I remember correctly, I think she said there were over 200 koi in the pond. It was a fun experience for everyone!
We then walked to nearby Darling Harbour (what the hey, I added the extra ‘u’… when in Rome…) for dinner. Since we were early, we took advantage of one restaurant’s ‘Early Bird Dinner Special’ — it was delicious, and Alex and I actually had trouble finishing it (even with Baby M eating all my broccoli and half of the calamari!).
Day 3: Sydney Harbor Bridge, Bondi Beach, and Queen Victoria Building
On our last day in Sydney, we walked from our hotel to the Pylon Lookout at Sydney Harbor Bridge. Since a). we had Baby M, and b). we didn’t want to spend the money on the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb (it costs a lot and not sure we could have carried Baby M in the Ergo, anyway…), Alex and I opted to learn about the history of the bridge and view it from a pylon lookout. It only costs $15 AUD per adult. There are quite a few steps to get to the lookout, but there are places to rest along the way. We were able to store the stroller next to the ticketing desk (1/3 of the way up).
The view from the lookout is spectacular. We could see people doing the bridge climb (I think you’re wearing a harness, and there are a LOT of steps). It was a wonderful (and cheap) way of getting a 360 degree view of the city!
After a quick lunch (delicious sandwiches), we hopped on the train to Bondi Beach (there was at least one transfer, but there are elevators!), and then took a bus from the station to the actual beach. It was a really windy day (and kind of brisk), but there were people in the water, mostly surfing. We walked along the boardwalk for a bit, got some ice cream (Alex and I ate it quickly, behind the stroller so that Baby M couldn’t see… yeah, we know our days when we can get away with not giving Baby M ice cream are numbered…), and then headed back to Sydney.
[There’s a coastal walk, touted as “Sydney’s Best” from Bondi Beach to nearby Coogee Beach: http://www.bonditocoogeewalk.com. We didn’t do this, but it’s very highly recommended.]
Back in Sydney, we had dinner at the Queen Victoria Building. Originally built as a concert hall, it’s now an upscale shopping area. The building itself is gorgeous!
We really enjoyed our (short) time in Sydney. It’s definitely a city we would love to explore in more detail, maybe once the kiddos are a little older!
Sydney is an expensive city. Hotel prices reflect that. For the price, I thought that the Quay West Suites (centrally located, very close to the Circular Quay train station) was a great choice for us. We put Baby M’s Pack and Play in the living room, and she slept really well because of the black-out curtains (amazing!!) and because we were in the bedroom. The kitchen is fully equipped so we were able to make breakfast each morning before heading out. And, there’s a washer and dryer in each suite! We didn’t splurge for the harbor views, but the pictures look amazing!
Word of advice: The Opal transportation cards are for just that: transportation. We didn’t understand, and on our first day, loaded up our Opal cards with way too much money, thinking that if we didn’t spend it on transportation, we could spend it at convenience stores, etc., like the Octopus card in Hong Kong. Nope. And what’s worse: you can’t get a refund unless you have an Australian bank account. “But it’s good for 10 years!” the guy behind the Opal desk at Sydney airport reassured me. Um, yeah. Not sure I’m going to be flying 24+ hours to get to Sydney, not anytime soon. So, be smart and don’t overload your Opal card!
Another note: One of my friends, who recently visited Sydney with her toddler, recommended renting a car, since she thought the public transportation system wasn’t that convenient, and the city wasn’t that walkable. Alex and I didn’t rent a car, and are so glad we didn’t! We thought the city was very walkable (yes, it’s not small, but budget plenty of time for breaks) and walking a great way to explore the city! Also, parking at most hotels is NOT free (usually a $30 – $50 AUD per day charge) and city parking isn’t cheap.
To read a summary of our trip to Sydney & New Zealand: Our 3.5 Weeks in the South Pacific
Stay tuned for our adventures in New Zealand! 😀
Alex’s work contract with Samsung ended the first of April, and since we figured that a). he wouldn’t have another six week break between jobs (well, at least we hope not, unless it’s our choice!), b). we were closer than we’d ever be to New Zealand (only a 10-ish hour flight, as opposed to 24 hours!), c). it’s easier to travel with one kiddo rather than two, we decided to take a three and a half week vacation to New Zealand. Lots of our friends, who recently visited from Seoul, raved about the South Island of New Zealand. “You can’t take a bad picture,” or “You’ll be stopping every two minutes to marvel at the scenery,” or “There isn’t a more beautiful place on Earth!” were the things we heard.
It was an added perk that my mom had a conference in Auckland (on the North Island) around the same time, so she could join us for two weeks. Alex and I had a ton of Asiana frequent flyer miles, so we wanted to use those before we left Korea. The only place Asiana flies into, in the whole South Pacific region, is Sydney, Australia. We’d heard good things about Sydney, too, so we booked our Asiana tickets from Seoul to Sydney, roundtrip. Looking at where we wanted to go on the South Island, we decided to fly open jaw. We booked tickets from Sydney to Christchurch (the South Island’s biggest city) via Emirates (highly recommend — the service was excellent, as was the meal, and they hand out a ‘fun-pack’ to all the kids… this kept Baby M occupied for a while!). On the way back, we booked Air New Zealand from Queenstown to Sydney (this route, since it was short, was run more like a budget airline — you have to buy snacks/food/drinks).
So, that’s how we came to spend almost the entire month of April traveling around Sydney, and the South Island of New Zealand. I’ll be blogging about Sydney and New Zealand separately, so stay tuned!
Pro-Tip for traveling with a kiddo:
We only had enough miles to purchase two roundtrip economy tickets (Baby M traveled as a lap infant since she’s under two). But, as many of you know, traveling with a lap infant is really hard, especially when they are squirmy and can’t sit still (basically once the kid is over the age of nine months!!).
[Before we had Baby M, I always said, “I’m not going to buy a seat for my kid under the age of two! Parents who pay for a seat when they don’t have to are dumb! Why waste the money?!” Well, now that I have a kid, I’ve changed my mind. It’s almost worth it just for preserving your sanity!]
Since we were flexible, Alex and I tried to buy tickets for the middle of the week. We figured the flights wouldn’t be as busy, and maybe, we would luck out with an empty seat. When we reserved our Asiana seats, we chose an aisle and a window seat, hoping no one, in their right mind, would want to sit in a middle seat next to a lap infant (we were right). But, since we didn’t have a guarantee that Baby M was going to get her own seat, we couldn’t bring a carseat on board. How to restrain her? We purchased a CARES Harness — it loops through a normal airplane seatbelt, and is designed to hold in smaller children (but not babies), and it’s the only one that’s FAA approved. It comes in a small bag, and it’s lightweight, so we just tossed it in our diaper bag. It came in handy on both of our Asiana flights. (Although I’ll have to agree with other users that if your kid is particularly squirmy, like Baby M, s/he will slide down the seat. It’s not perfect in restraining your child, but it works well enough.)
[An aside: If you have a chance to use the Air New Zealand lounge at Sydney Airport (we’re Star Alliance Gold), do so. It is the best lounge we’ve ever visited. There’s a freakin’ pancake machine! ‘Press YES if you would like a pancake,’ says the sign. Um, yes! There are also a few super automatic espresso machines, and the water dispenser can dispense both still and sparkling! The best thing? There’s a play area for kids!]