Don’t worry, I still love you, London, Barcelona, San Francisco, Oaxaca and Edinburgh, but I kind-of fell in love with another city: Sydney.
Sydney was an unexpected surprise. When you travel, you fill your head with facts about the place you are going like “It’s going to be warm because it’s the summer,” and “The city is built on a harbor and there’s a bridge and the famous Opera House,” or “There are dangerous animals there,” and “Lots of Australians like the beach.” But facts from books are all those things are until you step off of a plane, and a place becomes an experience. I knew I was going to love Australia, but I didn’t know I was going to LOVE Australia.
For me, Sydney was completely new, but also reminiscent of familiar things. The people and culture seemed as laid-back and friendly as you’d find in a Texas town, but at the same time steeped in British culture. I may not have known all of the great slang words they used, but they all seemed to have a familiar context and ring to them, like the colloquial words you’d find in a region of the US. You may not always know the meaning, but you can understand a bit about the culture just by listening to the way that someone expertly puts together a sentence with obvious ease and humor.
The weather was gorgeous. Downtown Sydney was like being in New York in May, or maybe June, but with a much brighter and sharper sun. Maybe it’s something to do with the air quality, or maybe the slant and location of the sun is very different – but take my word for it – the light is brilliant, like the day after a storm front comes through on the plains of the Midwest.
My favorite memory in Sydney was strolling through the botanical gardens up to the Sydney Harbour at sundown. The sounds of the city are there, but muffled and far away, and you can hear the ferries moving through the water, people talking in the park, and the Opera House and the Bridge come more and more into focus as you walk toward Circular Quay. Then as you walk to the point where the Opera House sits, you have a magnificent view of the city as it lights up and glitters over the water at night. You can see the highways and subway trains as they whir around the skyscrapers, but at the same time you can hear the sound of the water and the horns of the ferries as they move in and out like clockwork. The chink of glasses and people talking at the Opera Bar completes the mesmerizing effect as the sun goes down beyond the bridge.
I suppose I could go on to describe the other experiences I had in Sydney visiting the gorgeous beaches, museums, streets, and neighborhoods, but for me Sydney was a feeling. It was a feeling of freedom and elation at the fact that no matter how much you travel, you can still be so taken aback by a new place that you can’t imagine how you didn’t know it before.
In English we would say “I’ve been to Sydney,” but in Spanish, “Conozco Sydney,” or “I know Sydney.” I think the Spanish language really got that verb right. Just going to a place is nothing. Knowing a place is something else entirely.