Appropriately, we started our Down Under adventure with a stop in Sydney, the most well known city of the southern lands. The iconic opera house does give a rather ordinary city something spectacular and distinctive but it seems a rather odd choice in some ways. It’s not like the Aussies are renowned for great opera, music or performing arts—there’s more of an outdoor type vibe working here–but they sure have staked a claim with the most externally dramatic space for performance.  Sydney is a harbor and beach town with sailing, surfing and beach activities everywhere. It is a port and business center as well but those pale in comparison to the lovely coastline.

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Sydney is popular for all of these activities on one of their many holidays—school is off for two weeks between every three month term and for six to eight weeks in summer too!  Families eat fish and chips “takeaway” on fabulous, famous Bondi beach and play rugby, while not watching it constantly on TV.

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Note to self: must learn rules of rugby. Makes no sense at all. I mean, come on, they tackle the guy with the ball, all fall down in a huge heap and then someone tosses it out from the bottom of the pile and they keep running with it. What’s up with that? And then suddenly some guy is kicking a field goal!! But the dudes are all handsome and buffed, mostly because they never stop running I assume!

We explored Sydney by walking through its neighborhoods, old and new.

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It’s pretty small, sort of like a nice Midwestern city, say Minneapolis. Clean, no homeless but a bit dated, almost provincial feeling. Not a lot of new buildings, just smallish and not trying to be overly stylish and something it is not.

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We tried to avoid the tourist traps around Darling Harbor and ate at a downtown pub and in Surrey Hills district with the locals. We hiked on the cliffs above Bondi Beach and cruised south past the lovely Bondi Pools, which sit next to the ocean where the waves crash in.

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The Aussies are very sporty. Loads of people commuting by bike through city traffic each morning, swimming in the Bondi pools, surfing, running and walking dogs. We saw plenty of dogs and babies but nothing like the infestation of both we experienced in Manhattan Beach the week before. But beware all, a coming trend is world wide. On the Saturday before Easter, Dave, Sarah and I saw a drone hover over us as we relaxed and swam at Salt Creek Beach in Laguna Niguel. The following Wednesday, Dave and I see a cute young Australian couple playing with their drone on the cliffs beyond Bondi Beach. Weird and wild!! Modern Times!!! (Hey. It’s me. I got a drone in my Easter basket. Wanna go fly it out at Bondi? Maybe see some dolphins or a Navy chopper?   Sure. Cool. Whatever.)

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We took a ferry out through Sydney Harbor to Manly Beach, another surfing spot with no waves and lots of tourists and piles of locals on holiday enjoying the sun, and the plentiful happy hours. Always a favorite of ours, we took advantage of happy hour to reduce the pricey $20 a six pack of beer prices in town!!

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Sydney is very expensive, even for basically pub food. But we ended our short stay with dinner at a Malaysian restaurant (Dave had Nasi Goreng!) complete with an enormous two story high fat, laughing Buddha statue in the center, covered with flower leis and incense flowing out of a bowl in his lap. It had a bustling atmosphere and was pretty cheap—how could you not love the place?!

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I also found a good café near our cool, hipster hotel made of glass, cement and very old wood beams. A good café is key since, coffee wise, Australia is basically an extension of Europe—tiny, rich espresso coffees (only thing available) at a huge price with no refills. My new favorite Union Café had a large coffee and two thick pieces of “brown bread” (wheat) toast (toasted or “fresh”?) for $7. This is a deal let me tell you.  I thought I was just going in for a coffee and it was an international experience. I had NO idea what the woman was saying or asking me and clearly she thought I was just as looney!  They may speak English but the preferred words and accent make it all a little rough!

Despite a few communication miscues, we found that Aussies are delightfully friendly. A bartender at our first pub lunch offered us, unsolicited, a written list of her suggestions for Sydney sights to visit. The cab driver politely explained April 25th Anzac day (a huge holiday commemorating Australia and New Zealand’s participation in the fight at Gallipoli in WWI) and an old guy in downtown gave us his opinion on the dramatic destruction of an apparently lovely modern building for a new convention center.  Sydney is a lovely, gentle place and was a good start for a visit to the southern Pacific.

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