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Sunday, June 28, 2009

I'm in love

...with Sydney! And I’m happier after one day here than I’ve been in probably the last two or three months in Korea. Wow – I forgot what it felt like to be really happy. (Is that terrible?)

Sydney is filled with tons of energy, a huge diversity of people, gorgeous parks and wide open spaces, so much to see and do…. Driving from the airport to the hotel, I couldn’t stop smiling. It felt like home seeing people lying on the grass in the sun (even walking on the grass is strictly verboten in Seoul), families cheering at a school soccer match, just the general atmosphere reminds me of America. Aboriginal culture excluded (much in the same way we generally ignore Native American culture), Australia is the youngest country I’ve been to besides the USA, which may explain the similarities. There’s also a ton of London infused in Sydney – even many of the place names are the same – which also makes Erin a happy girl.

After joking that my mental perception of Australians is that they are all tall, ridiculously attractive athletes and being dissuaded of that by several people, I arrived at the airport to find about 50 insanely tall, gorgeous university basketball players on their way home from a series of tournaments in Asia.

Despite feeling somewhat comatose after landing this morning (no sleep + 10 hour flight = complete hell), I managed to make a good go of exploring the city today. This was helped by the total ease of getting through customs – there was a MASSIVE queue but one employee was going through and quickly checking everyone’s declaration forms before we got to the counter. When he got to mine, he stamped it and told me to go to the small exit way at the other end, where I simply handed in my form and exited. Not sure why I got the VIP treatment and no one else did, but I’m not complaining!

I set off for a long walk through Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens, just meandering and following whichever paths looked most interesting. It was nice to stop occasionally and read in the sunshine – I’m totally captivated by Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, a travel memoir about Aboriginal culture.

I ended up at Mrs. Macquarie’s Point, famous for amazing views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Seeing these two sights in person was the moment of realization that yes, I’m really in Sydney.

Everything is such culture shock compared to Seoul. I was unreasonably excited to order a latte this afternoon and be understood on the first go. Small latte with nonfat milk? Sure, no problem. Success! 

It’s also amazing how much easier it is to navigate a city when the roads are clearly marked and organized. It’s something I didn’t realize I missed but it’s been so easy getting around Sydney compared to Seoul. Roads follow a distinct pattern and buildings have easy-to-locate addresses. Love it. I forgot this even existed – Thailand and the Philippines also had convoluted mapping systems. After one day, I feel like I can find my way around Sydney better than I can most neighborhoods in Seoul.

Before my energy was completely extinguished, I spent a couple of hours at the beautiful Art Gallery of NSW (New South Wales), one of Sydney’s free museums. It specializes in Australian art, which I’m not very familiar with but enjoyed, and also has European works by Chagall, Pissaro and more. There are free daily concerts a la Millennium Stage and today’s program featured young violinists.

As usual, museum cafes never disappoint. Sydney is a fabulous place to be a vegetarian. Everywhere offers veggie offerings, even places you wouldn’t expect. For dinner I got a yummy bean and guacamole wrap from a burger place. And the museum’s lunch choices had more veggie than meat options – fantastic and yummy! Sydney seems like a very active and healthy city – tons of people were out running and biking and many restaurants advertised organic, locally-grown, vegan, etc. foods – even the museum had many vegan/gluten-free/organic options.

Okay, this is way too long and I’m exhausted. Up early tomorrow to take a train out to the Blue Mountains, on the suggestion of several friends. Should be gorgeous. 

EDIT: It takes FOREVER to upload pictures -- the Internet is insanely slow here, especially compared to Seoul (score one for Korea). Everything is on Facebook so check it out there. I'll try to put up a few here when I get home next week.