- Burgers are served with slices of beets in them (let’s bring this to the US please!)
- The size of a large drink in Australia is the size of a small in the US (let’s also bring this to the US!)
- There is no heat or AC in most Sydney apartments – a reflection of the (mostly) awesome weather year-round
- All school children wear uniforms
- Bouncers are VERY strict at bars – I got questioned several times about how much I drank, and trust me, I was not acting drunk
- Many people walk around in bare feet! Even when taking the ferry to downtown Sydney
- This is an expensive city. Even after you convert things to the USD @ $0.77 for one 1 AUD
- Many locals ask where I’m from – and it’s because they don’t want to accidentally call a Canadian an American.
- Bars are called “hotels”
What I did:
I stayed in Manly, a fun and low-key beach town right by downtown Sydney (or as they call it here the CBD – central business district). Manly is in a peninsula, with one part of it very narrow, so you can walk to beaches on opposite sides in ~10 minutes. This walk is called the Corso and is for foot traffic only. It’s filled with gelato stores, restaurants, and “hotels” (aka bars).
On the southern side of Manly is North Point, called North Point because it is north of the CBD. This area has some beautiful hiking and scenic outlooks. On the northern side of North Point is a popular beach called Shelly Beach (or, Shitty Beach, as a French waiter told me – “you have to go to SHITTY BEACH!”…”uh…ok”). I was lucky enough to have my friend Andy show me around.
Surfing – everyone here loves it. You’ll see people walking around in wet suites at all times of day. I tried surfing one morning with Andy. It is NOT easy, but I caught two waves and nearly stood up without any hands, so I consider it a success. And the ocean with its beautiful views provides some inspiration. The water is so clear you can see your shadow on the ocean floor.
Sydney Opera House –
I took a tour of the opera house. This is one building that is even more spectacular in person. Every view of it begs for another photo. It was built by a Danish man name Jᴓrn Utzon. Without formal architectural training he submitted his design into a design contest in 1957. It was discarded in a pile of other submissions and nearly forgotten about. At the last second, before the selection committee selected the winner, someone from the committee looked through the discarded pile and saw Utzon’s submission. It was unlike any other entry, and so he pulled it out for reconsideration. The rest is history. The Sydney Opera House, as pictures indicate, truly acts as the bow to Sydney. Its undulating ceilings seem to invite entrants to the city.
There are a number of heritage museums in Sydney, which provide a good overview of Sydney and Australia’s history. It is amazing that the country was initially a penal colony, and literally built by convicts!
When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, England could no longer export its convicts to the Americas. Consequently, it began shipping convicts over to a new continent discovered by Captain James Cook in 1770. In 1788 11 ships with 850 convicts left England for a months-long journey to what is now Sydney. First stopping in Rio de Janeiro, then traveling East around South Africa, and finally arriving to Sydney, it was a taxing journey. England was relying on convicts to build the new colony, yet only around 100 of the 850 convicts were healthy enough to actually work upon arrival. And the aborigines were less than excited.
One story I love is of the aborigine Bennelong. The first governor of Sydney, Governor Philip, desperate to make peace with the aborigines, kidnapped a bunch of them and brought them to lavish dinners and parties. While all of them soon died of smallpox or escaped, one of the aborigines, Bennelong, survived and became friends with Philip – perhaps the first case of Stockholm syndrome? Bennelong learned English, became a liaison to the settlers, and even traveled and stayed in the UK for two years. So I guess the kidnapping was a success!
Sydney has several museums that chronicle the initial journeys and colonization of Australia, and its development through present day. I went to the Museum of Sydney, which has a good chronological exhibit about Sydney’s history. I also went to the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, which is where the convicts initially stayed. It then became a women’s immigration house. The original structure is still intact and you can see what the convict quarters looked like.
I also took a tour of the Rocks, an area in the North West of the CBD. The Rocks are where the first settlement of Sydney was and where many of the convicts stayed. There is a large excavation going on now, which is interesting to look at, although it is uncovering artifacts that are ~250 years old, so not too sensational if you are used to ~2,500 year old excavations.
One memorable story from the tour was about a bar that claims it is the first operating bar in Sydney (there are three bars that claim this). Apparently, in the early 1800s, after the first drink at this bar, every subsequent drink was free. When a male patron got very drunk, a trap door on the floor would open up and the patron would fall to a chamber below. The drunk would then pass out in this chamber below the floor. When the drunk woke up, he was at a ship out in the sea, and was forced to work for a few weeks. Apparently, at the time, Sydney was low on ship workers, and so the city set-up this scheme to augment their staff. Somehow, people would wheel these drunks to a ship when they were passed out drunk. Seems like the bar would become known for this and word would spread, but I guess it worked.
The Taronga Zoo -
This zoo is awesome! They have an amazing exhibit of native Australian animals - Kangaroos (obviously!), wombats, platypuses (funny thing I learned - when the first platypus corpse was sent to England for scientific research, the English thought it was a hoax, and thought someone had stitched together various animal parts, because they had never seen an animal like it before! It is one of only two types of mammals that lay eggs - the other - anteaters), mountain goats, Kuala bears, and red panda bears, among many others. The zoo also has an African safari section. What is especially awesome about this section is that there is dramatic views of the Sydney skyline in the background. It is quite surreal to see African animals in front of a city skyline!
Below is a map of Sydney with highlights of everything I mentioned.
Interview with Niki Scevak –
I sat down with Niki Scevak, co-founder and Director at Blackbird Ventures, Australia’s largest VC fund, at their offices in Surry Hills, Sydney. Niki spoke all about Sydney’s startup culture, recent successes, Blackbird’s new fund and strategy, and a whole lot more. It was fun and I learned a lot – I think the podcast will be interesting to anyone curious about venture capital, Australia’s, and startups. Take a listen and let me know what you think!