At the risk of stating the obvious, Sydney really is a beautiful city.  Wherever you turn, a panoramic view opens – of the harbour, a cove, a bay, an inlet, a beach, a bridge, a point, a head, a park, a dip, a summit feature, etc. etc. And from very many places –  a glimpse of the iconic opera house.  Couple that with many tidy residential neighborhoods full of leafy trees, trimmed lawns and Anglo-American villa-style homes (Northshore) or a more dense urban landscape (Eastern Suburbs) with smaller houses featuring fancy lace-like wrought iron balustrades, dotted with condominium highrises commanding, no doubt, spectacular harbour, sea or downtown skyline views and you have a city that rightly ranks in the top desirable lifestyle cities worldwide.

I haven’t had much time yet to see the official sights (other than the opera house), but  have had the pleasure of spending a weekend with friends who have two delightful little girls, 4 and 6 years old.  As a result, I’ve visited several playgrounds with lots of different equipment:  monkey trees, swings, spirals, chutes and other apparatus that I wouldn’t even know how to name. Gone are the days of just a plain (mostly dirty) sandbox and a swing as the ultimate in playground equipment.  Now even the ground surfaces are child-friendly, made of some sort of bouncy rubber material so that even if a child falls on it, chances are the hurt will not be as dramatic.

On this particular weekend (I was told many neighborhoods have events of this kind), Balmoral Beach hosted a Mudgee Region Promotion Festival.  The Mudgee region is not far from Sydney, just a few hours drive on the other side of the Blue Mountains and home to excellent wines, vineyards, olive oils, etc. So what better occasion than a popular park / beach area to set up several dozen tents showcasing the regional products with ample wine degustation on the spot (with real wine glasses I might add, no plastics here!).  Add to that a guitar/vocal duo, a petting zoo for the kids and lots of different ethnic foods, sunshine and voilà – great atmosphere!

I never expected Sydney to be so hilly – San Francisco and Seattle, eat your heart out!  Although there is a grid system in place, the geography of the various hills and harbours makes it difficult to adhere to.  There are endless dips, slopes, curves and cusps to maneuver. Even though Sydney has an extensive suburban train system and certainly many bus routes, it remains a car-based society.  In order to cope with its approx. 5 million inhabitants moving through a bottleneck that makes up the CBD, the freeway system is sophisticated and woe unto you if you happen to land in the wrong lane – instead of a tunnel you end up on a bridge going tangentially in a different direction very easily.  Toll booths have been eliminated and now an e-tag beeps everytime a toll is collected with an automatic debit system in place.  The bus system, however, is in serious need of modernization and updating. Not only are the buses old-fashioned, the entire ticket system can do with a major revamp – right now it is confusing, not well signposted and generally not consumer-friendly – meaning that I had several very frustrating experiences.  Even a provincial city such as Valencia was better organized, let alone Munich!  My Sydney friends corrobated my comments, saying that the city is slowly working on improving the system.

All in all a delightful start to my exploration of the Australian continent!

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