Note: Australian spelling will be observed here.
I’m a city girl through and through and when I travel, big cities are what get me pumped. Sydney’s city centre – commonly known as the CBD (Central Business District) – is a pulsing mass of people, glimmering high-rises, large intersections, and a handful of Victorian structures. In the midst of all this urban madness, however, is the opportunity to steal some serenity in the city’s parks, museums, and cathedrals.
This is George Street (as appreciated from atop a double-decker bus) that cuts through Market Street. This is ground zero for retail therapy and big city bliss. Parallel to George and Market Streets is Pitt Street where the pedestrian-only Pitt Street Mall is located, as shown here. On Thursdays, which is the only day when shops are open until 9pm (usual closing is 5pm), this place is wired with activity. Near Pitt Street Mall is The Strand Arcade. A high-end shopping arcade with a beautiful Victorian exterior, it houses numerous cafés on the ground level and bespoke boutiques on the upper levels. The majestic Queen Victoria Building (QVB), which occupies a whole block on George Street right across Sydney Town Hall. This Romanesque-style building was constructed in 1898 to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. From its former use as an office building and library, it was renovated in the 1980s to become a shopping centre with over 200 stores and cafés. A Havaianas vending machine (!) right smack in The Galleries on George Street. A colorful salve for tourists’ aching feet. Sydney’s Hyde Park is but a fraction of the size of the Hyde Park in London but it’s an oasis of green between the buildings’ gleam. Towering trees cradle and cover passersby and nearby, a busker croons in hopes of a few coins. Within Hyde Park’s 16-hectare (40 acre) expanse is its most famous fountain, the Archibald Fountain; its statues are an astonishing expression of mythical themes. Behind the fountain is St. Mary’s Cathedral, a Catholic church and the seat of the Archbishop of Sydney. As we gaze at the Archibald Fountain, a kindly Australian gentleman asks us if we are tourists. At our reply, his eyes light up and he urges us to keep on walking. “This is Macquarie Street, Sydney’s only real boulevard. It’s full of things to see; you won’t be disappointed, I promise you.”
And so we walk, eyes and mind open, feeling the hot sun on our skin and the tingle of discovery.
Our first encounter is the Hyde Park Barracks, designed by ex-convict (!) Francis Greenway and completed in 1819. A former jail, it’s now a museum and is considered Sydney’s best example of a Georgian building. Adjacent to the Hyde Park Barracks is The Mint, which was used to manufacture gold bars in the 19th century. The Mint was originally a hospital and now exhibits minting equipment from yesteryears. There’s a nice café inside too. We nestle in the coolness offered to us inside The State Library of New South Wales. Like every grand library, it possesses hushed interiors and the passionate spirit of ardent book lovers. I feel like I am home.
Across the State Library is the Royal Botanic Gardens. Established in 1816, its expansive collection includes over 45,000 plants on its lawns. Amidst all that greenery is a café and restaurant as well as plenty of spots for a picnic.
Perpendicular to the Royal Botanic Gardens is this view of Bridge Street, its buildings are marvels of Georgian sandstone. What can I say, I love buildings and I love taking pictures of them.
Hopping onto a bus, we leave the CBD and find ourselves 1.5 kilometres away in Woolloomooloo (god, I love saying that word). A harbourside suburb at the head of Woolloomooloo Bay, it was once a docklands area home to Sydney’s poorer working class. Gentrification changed all that in the mid-90s when the wharf was renovated. There are now 300 residential apartments home to some notable celebrities, as well as a hotel and numerous restaurants and pubs.
Finger Wharf, or Woolloomooloo Wharf, is the world’s largest wooden structure. It’s 410 metres (1,345 ft) long and 64 metres (210 ft) wide. It has served as an export dock, a deployment point for troops off to war, and also as a disembarking point for new migrants. Today, it’s a posh complex with a hotel, restaurants, and residences.
“Don’t forget to try a pie at Harry’s Café de Wheels!” We are told as we get off the bus. “They’re a Sydney institution.” Sydney has plenty of meat pies and Harry’s are one of the most famous. The eponymous pie cart of Harry Edwards who started it in 1945, it’s been serving up pies, pasties, and other late-night nosh to tourists, visiting celebrities, taxi drivers, locals, and night owls.
”Do you have any sweet pies?” I ask. “We have chicken pies, curry pies, vegetable pies, but no sweet pies,” the attendant replies. “Do you have just regular meat pies?” My daughter asks, tiptoeing to be seen over the counter. The attendant can’t help but smile, amused. The star pie at Harry’s is the Tiger, so named because of Harry’s boxing prowess back in the day. It’s a meat pie crowned with peas, mash, and gravy. It sounds wonderful but I’m not especially hungry. Pictured here is my daughter’s Meat Pie and Solo drink, a lovely lemon fizzy drink. The walls of Harry’s cart are decorated with several framed photos of celebrities who’ve eaten at Harry’s. My favorite, and many other people’s too, is this one of Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC. He liked Harry’s pies so much that he ate three while standing and leaning on his cane.