Monday, February 05, 2007

Sydney = Awesome

Every city shares distinct features. There’s always a central business district, charmingly referred to with the acronym CBD in Australia (has anyone heard this used in America?), entertainment areas, parks, universities, slums, industrial zones, and the inevitable tourist atrap. In Sydney, this is The Rocks, an overly developed conglomeration of shops, restaurants, high-end hotels, street performers and tourists sandwiched between the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. It's everything I don't want to see in one convenient location. It's inevitable that I ended up there -- it's close to major attractions, in every guidebook on the planet and probably worth the 30 minutes I spent there. I saw it. I left. Check. I didn’t travel half way around the world to mingle with passengers from the Sapphire Princess. Nevertheless, the harbor is beautiful and the Opera House is a spectacle worthy of the hype.

I’m surprised by my reaction to world landmarks. Before visiting the Grand Canyon, the pyramids in Egypt, the Empire State Building, the Taj Mahal, I assumed their reputations were based on hype. Seeing, and in some cases touching, them validates the hype. What makes them so special? They are grand in and of themselves, but seeing them up close gives them context. They all fit perfectly in their environments. I'm no urban planner or architect, but to me the Sydney Opera House felt like a representation of Sydney, perhaps even of Australia.

I’ve only been here two days and have just skimmed the surface, but first impressions are important. Sydney feels like a city of the future. It’s modern yet comfortable. It’s sleek and stylish but inviting and relaxed. There are futuristic skyscrapers (no pictures yet, damn battery!) and tranquil parks. There’s a mix of people and cultures, all of them friendly and accomodating. Here in Sydney, where the nearnest neighboring country is hours away by air, Australians have carved out a pretty special piece of the planet. Perhaps this is what America once was, an open, inviting society pushing its own limits and creating its own future.

An Indian woman I met on the trip from the U.S. described Sydney as an American city and Melbourne as more European. Australia is still a rather young country, so perhaps it’s adopting whatever tastes, modes, styles or attitudes are right. Whatever the answer, it is doing something right. Coming from the dog eat dog streets of New York to this place is like opening a window and letting in fresh air. I'll be thinking about this more when I leave Sydney and visit the country's other cities. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s the middle of summer, sunny, warm and beautiful.

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