When I arrived in Sydney, the torrential rain across my first two days really put me off. On my last day, the Lindt cafe siege held the city in a grip of fear for a gut-wrenching 16 hours. Bomb scares, the fact that I had been in Martin Place the evening before watching Christmas carols and relentless rain - honestly, I was desperate to flee back to the relative safety of Melbourne.
While the above inevitably influenced how I feel about Sydney, I can't justly base my opinion of the city on such unpredictable events. Inbetween being soaked to the bone and scared out of my wits, I had a lovely time - the sun finally shone and I was able to get out and about to see everything Australia's most famous city has to offer. Let's begin with the obvious:
Sydney Opera House & Harbour Bridge
I couldn't help but smile when the iconic Opera House came into sight and got a little bit snap happy. You can only look around the inside if you book a tour, although the reception area (booking desk, cafe, gift shop) is open to the public. The only thing that's free to do inside the Opera House is use the bathroom, an activity I highly recommend - they're super posh!
Royal Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens are right next to the Opera House, which is pretty convenient on a sunny day. Not only are the gardens lovely and peaceful to stroll through but they also offer unrivalled views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge (the first photo in this post was taken from the gardens).
WARNING: skip the next three photos if you're not a wildlife fanatic/a 70 year old retired bird watcher.
Australian White Ibis - very tame, perceived as pests, would not want to get in the way of that beak!
Rainbow Lorikeet - colourful residents, make an absolute racket!
A trip to Sydney isn't complete without some time spent at Bondi, one of the world's most famous beaches. It's smaller than I imagined it, but the sand is velvety soft and if you go during the week you may find yourself sharing it with just a few others. The Bondi to Bronte coastal walk (2.5 kilometres) is a pleasant way to ease yourself into action after a couple of hours spent lazing on the beach; or carry on past Bronte and head over to Coogee.
Bondi street art
I'm a sucker for street art, so it was a nice surprise to stumble across some cool designs at Bondi pavilion.
Just behind Bondi in terms of popularity - and perhaps Palm Beach, the filming location for Home and Away - is Manly. It's...okay! It's just a beach, certainly not the best I've seen but a nice way to spend a warm day nonetheless. It also gives you an excuse to take the ferry from Circular Quay and get some snaps of the Opera House from a different perspective.
I could have done the 10km coastal walk...but settled for getting ridiculously sunburnt lazing around on the sand instead. You have to be super careful in the sun here as the ozone layer is somewhat depleted over Australia. As I found out today, factor 10 doesn't really cut it.
Queen Victoria Building
I loved this building because it reminded me of Leeds (where I spent my university years) and because it oozes grandeur both on the inside and out - especially at Christmas when a tree spanning three levels swathed in 144,000 Swarovski crystal ornaments and 60,000 lights is the glorious centrepiece. Not a bad shout for a swanky cake break.
City quirks: laneways, statues and Jurassic trees
Forgotten Songs in Angel Place: This thoughtful structure commemorates the songs of 50 birds which used to inhabit what is now the CBD until European settlement forced them out of the city. The calls of daytime birds even change to their nocturnal counterparts when the sun goes down.
'Waiting' in Australia Square: Pretty interesting statue. I thought this was a real person at first! And that's with my contact lenses in #mustarrangeacheckup
A lone Wollemi pine: A single and rather wonky tree has been fenced off in the area where Circular Quay meets The Rocks for a very special reason - it is a recently rediscovered species which we thought had been extinct for two million years, i.e. we thought it died out with the dinosaurs back in the Jurassic Era. A collection of Wollemi pines exists in a canyon in Wollemi National Park, but in order to preserve them, the few people who are permitted to visit (most of them scientists) have to be blindfolded with a tea towel during the journey.
Verdict: Sydney wasn't as amazing as I was expecting. The initial weather and the siege certainly played their part but I think the hype also had something to do with it; I'd really built up my expectations after hearing from people I met on the road how much they loved it. For me, it was a nice place to spend a week, but I'm glad to be returning to Melbourne for the foreseeable future.