Sydney is fun. There is no better word for it. This is the city of beaches and amazing urban environment. This is a destination for waterfront, culture, parks and entertainment. You name it – Sydney has it. This was the landing place for weary Europeans who first arrived in Australia. While those first settlers were not a cheerful bunch, things have drastically changed since then – Sydney is the place to be, and you need to visit it. Just like any big cities, you need to know which of the neighborhoods is cool and hip and which to avoid. Actually, you can’t really go wrong anywhere in Sydney, but here are some tips for the best of the best that this beautiful city has to offer.

The Rocks: Place Where History Meets Today

This is definitely the historic, cultural and the touristic epicenter of Sydney. This is where Sydney began and this is where everybody comes to see the cobblestone streets, old buildings and the birthplace of this city. Needless to say, culturally, this is the place to be. All the museums and galleries are here, whether you’d want to check out the modern art or classical pieces. Some great attraction include the Rocks Discovery Museum, Cadmans Cottage, and the Dig Archaeology. Also, the Rocks is where you’ll be immersed in the most amazing art markets that are open from 10 am to 5 pm. Staying here isn’t cheap, but this is definitely a lively spot.

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Surry Hills: The Cool and Urban Chic

If you want to check out the trendy, chic scene, then you’ll definitely want to head over to the metropolitan spirit of Surry Hills. Here, warehouses are turned into bars and restaurants serve an assortment of amazing international cuisine. Street art and cool architectural designs are what make Surry stands out. Bring your money because this is shopping central. Find yourself some awesome  and unique handmade clothes that you won’t find anywhere else. 

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Balmain and Birchgrove: The Picturesque Spirit of the Old Days

Right across the Rocks are two suburbs that are magnets for those who come to visit Sydney. This used to be and industrial palace full of factories. Soap makers, steel workers, and boilermakers used to call this beautiful part of town home. Now, the area is going through a revival. All those not-so-remarkable spaces have been turned into living quarters and they are simply stunning. Bright, fun, and industrial looking, there is a charm about it that leaves one yearning for more – not to mention all the awesome bars and restaurants that surround this wonderful neighborhood. 

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Randwick Area: Parks and Horses of Sydney

The gorgeous Centennial Park is in this area. Also, it is an absolute failure to come to Randwick and miss out on the awesome horse races. There’s no shortage of activities here, either. Skate park, bike tracks and tons of outdoors activities will keep you busy and entertained for days! Open pools and even ocean pools make for a perfect day at the beach. You can find affordable Randwick accommodation, even in some of the Victorian-style villas.

randwick

Manly: The Mecca for Surfers

Since the surfing community is well-established and strong in Australia, it is definitely worth the trip to this area, even if you’re just there to watch surfers glide easily over the waves. And don’t forget the views. Manly is home to the famed Manly Beach. Don’t want to drive around too much? Well, this is a perfect spot to relax, hang out, sip on a cold one, and spend your time every day and night. Bonfires, surfers’ bars and gatherings – these are promises of a great time to be had. If you’re looking to save on accommodations but still stay close to Manly’s main attractions, head to nearby Manly Vale.

manly

Lilyfield: The Vibrant Clash of Energies

Wondering what it’s like to live like a typical Sydney cities? Then head to this area for some local eats, attractions, and good times. The unique and beautiful harmony of differing cultures, together with awesome cottages and quaint shops, makes Lilyfield a very cool place to visit, especially if you rent a renovated cottage. The area itself is very near the CBD, so you can reach it whenever you like. It is a great place to experience the Sydney community and also enjoy some pretty amazing weekly farmers market.

Lilyfield

Of course, everybody loves spending time around the Central Business District because of all the amazing buildings and close proximity to the Sydney Opera house. If you like people watching, head to the Central Business District, find yourself a bench, and observe people go about their day. However, this area is not dollar-timid as you’ll like be spending a hefty sum to stay here. Why not give the other fun neighborhoods a try? You’re always within a short hop to the Central Business District anyway. There are better ways to spend your savings, and they can be far more fun.

Travel on my friends!

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Hi, my name is Chris. I’m not a monkey. Sure, I enjoy eating bananas daily, but who doesn’t, right? Does that make me anymore a monkey than you? And just because I like to swing from tree to tree with my lengthy arms doesn’t automatically make me a primate. What? Because I can swing around with ease you think you can take pictures of me like I’m some kind of animal?! I will have you know that I am an engineer for a very important manufacturing company! Oh! You think that because I groom my friends at lunch, picking things off their heads and eating them, that somehow I am a monkey of Capuchin origins? How dare you!

See, it’s this kind of jumping-to-conclusion thinking that has resulted in so many misunderstandings and the subsequent pain and suffering all around the world. Let’s try to understand before passing judgment. Let’s be friends. Let’s hold hands. Let’s sing songs of joy and happiness. But first, you need to understand that I am not a monkey. I just like to monkey around. That’s all. Pinky swear.

 

 

And now… feast your eyes on some more pictures – I am a photographer after all.

 

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hmmm… is this where i hid my snacks earlier?

 

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i can’t find my snacks… 🙁

 

parasailing with the sunset… nothing better than this

 

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hey! you took my sunny spot

 

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sunset lighting up the sky

 

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but mom… I don’t wanna go to school

 

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weeee over the water

 

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the cloud forest of Monteverde is cloudy

 

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hi i’m jetski, i enjoy sunsets and slow walks on the beach

 

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up close and personal with hummingbirds

 

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looking for food or for a purpose?

 

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one of many markets in San Jose

 

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who goes there?

 

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my name is megabuildingtron

 

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on a mission

 

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nom nom nom

 

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the wheel on the oxcart goes round and round

 

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a most beautiful view

 

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is this paradise?

 

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time to beach it

 

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Monkeying around in Costa Rica - a 10 days adventure

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CHEESE!

cheese!

During the week leading up to Semana Santa, I found myself having both an entire continent at my disposure and eleven days in which my only responsibility was exploring and eating. For a college student, this is pretty cool; for a “wanderluster,” this is heaven on Earth.

After much consideration and indecision, my destination of choice ended up being Italy. The land of wine, pizza, and gelato had been my dream for quite some time, and I wasn’t sure of the next time I would be gifted with 11 days of freedom and an international flight that would cost less than 100 euros. My itinerary: Milan, Florence, Verona.

To the dismay of many of my loved ones back home in the U.S., I chose to venture on this cultural and culinary excursion alone.

I mean, I knew it was the right decision. Pinterest knew it was the right decision. Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love knew it was the right decision. But that was the extent of unconditional, unwavering support for my solo travel. I apologize now for those who experienced anxiety due to my plans (i.e. Mom and Dad), but this turned out to be one of the most rewarding, exciting, relaxing, and transformative experiences of my life.

Though I could ramble for hours and hours, and have done so, about how Italy might be the most wonderful country in the world, I feel inclined to focus on what I learned from traveling alone for that extended period of time. As a young, virtually-inexperienced female traveler, it was a precarious adventure. After having done it and feeling incredibly positive about my trip, I would recommend that every person do it at least once in his/her life. But I have a personal mission to avoid sounding like the thousands of generic, cookie-cutter articles that would pop up on Google if you typed “solo travel” right now.

 

what a view!

what a view!

 

The most captivating part of my experience was the fact that despite not having a single travel companion for my journey, not once during the time that I traveled through Italy did I eat dinner alone.

I invite you to take a peek into Evening Number Four, a distinct highlight of Kayleigh’s Italian Adventure. (I’m hoping if this excursion was turned into a book or movie, it would have a more creative title than that, but they’ll pay someone to come up with that kind of thing.)

Our scene is set in Florence, Italy on the top of a hill-ish mountain. (Too small to be a mountain, too big to be just a hill.)

If you’re in Florence, the place most people will recommend that you visit is Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset. It’s a beautiful plaza which features a replica statue of Michelangelo overlooking the entire city, just as visitors are able to do at that location. My personal suggestion is that you intend to go there, but on your way up, I hope you stop and realize like I did that the close-by Palazzo dei Vescovi is actually the most wonderful spot. It has a beautiful little church, a complete lack of tourist crowds, and is much more elevated than the Piazzale. You have to climb a few stairs, but we could all use a little exercise, right?

So after I had my breath taken away by the Palazzo (I’m talking about the view, not the stairs), I walked down to Piazzale Michelangelo because, after all, I am a tourist. As I stood on the edge overlooking the city watching the sky grow purple, an elderly man spoke up beside me.

“My city. It’s beautiful, no?” he said.

I gave him a warm smile and simply uttered, “Amazing.”

Unexpectedly and unspurred, the man then began to converse with me. He spoke very broken English, but we were able to communicate through what little Italian I knew and the small bits of English and Spanish he knew. He described how he spent his life volunteering to teach Italian to immigrants so they could create a life in Italy, and how he’s taught people from all over the world. (“The immigrants from Asia are the best!”) He told me about his family, a wonderful wife and a 28-year-old son who travels for a living and has a passion for adventures. He even digressed to tell me that he’s bitter because he has no grandkids yet. The conversation arrived at him suggesting that I find an Italian boy and change my plans to go to Venice so I could have “romance,” and that’s where that conversation effectively ended. However, his last words to me were my favorite part of the encounter.

He took both my hands and said, “I come here every night. I choose one person to talk with. Tonight it was you. Grazie.”

And just like that, he was gone!

***WARNING: This is Hung and I’m highjacking this amazing post by Kayleigh to simply state that the old man was probably an old SAGE who imparted wisdom and power upon our intrepid traveler – every kung-fu movies has one such sage. I DEMAND to play the old SAGE if this were to be made into a movie. Okay, continue on Kayleigh.***

 

italy is pretty awesome

italy is pretty awesome

 

I walked to the bus stop to wait for the transportation back down the hill-ish mountain, feeling a nice warm glow settling over me, which was a product of my “authentic Italian experience” for the night.

But after 45 minutes had passed at that bus stop, I realized that the glow had faded and I was just cold.

If my mother and father are reading this, I want to make it clear that there were dozens of people waiting at the same bus stop as me, so I was not alone on the hill-ish mountain. However, I was standing there watching those dozens of people hailing cabs so they could travel the long path down to the city with more comfort and significantly less money in their pockets. I ran my fingers over the sole twenty-euro bill in my pocket with dismay.

Determined to not give in, I ventured about half a mile down the hill to where I knew there was another bus stop. Here, I shivered for about ten minutes before I met the next characters in my Italian adventure.

I came to know Sarah, the residential director of a college study abroad program in Florence, and her brother- and sister-in-law, all originally from Idaho, by our communal indecision of whether to give up on this wait for the bus that had long since exceeded an hour. Just as they began actively searching for a cab to drive up the hill, the lights of the bus flashed in the distance, and it felt like a life preserver being thrown to a drowning person. But maybe I’m being dramatic…

On the lengthy bus ride down to the city, we covered a lot of conversational ground. I learned about how Sarah had lost her husband to cancer, and the couple was her husband’s brother, Phil, and his wife, Marie. I listened to tales about each couple’s three kids and the summary of their vacation thus far, and they listened as I described studying linguistics and why I decided to travel alone. After a week of struggling through Italian and broken English, having a fluid, comfortable conversation with Americans was a mental oasis.

I was nothing short of overjoyed when Sarah invited me back to her apartment to dine with them and meet their kids. Once there, we continued chatting over wine and traditional Ribollita, a sort of bread and bean soup that is characteristic of Florence and highly recommended. The evening came to a close due to their early-morning travel plans, and they kindly walked me back to my hostel before we parted ways.

This is only one of the many nights during which I added new characters to my story, and each one was as surprising as the next. When I tell people about these experiences, they say “You’re so lucky!” or “I wish I was the type of person who could make friends so easily.”

But the fact is that I am neither of those things. I am not simply lucky, as proven by my horrible timing with the bus, and I am definitely not a social butterfly, as proven by the copious amounts of social awkwardness I display on a daily basis.

Travel can create these memories and stories for just about anyone. The people who travel often have open minds and adaptive spirits; they write other people into their stories. So when one is traveling alone and lacks the pressure to conform to the group dynamic of their travel companions, that circumstance is the place where magic happens. I whole-heartedly believe in the idea that we give off vibes to the people around us, and I could feel my openness for adventure flourish when I was in Italy. My opportunities were boundless, and it was in that mindset that I found the community of travelers that I view as a phenomenon. It is a community in which strangers become friends, and the distance that this world can put between people is minimized. I will stand by the belief that any attempt to reap the benefits of solo travel, whether it is taking a trip alone or splitting off from travel companions for a few hours, will open up opportunities beyond what is expected.

Travel truly is the best education.

What changes have you found in yourself or in your experiences when you travel alone?

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Crouching Kayleigh, Hidden Treasures - Solo Adventures through the Pugilist Lands

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