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Monday, November 16, 2015

Anything Goes in Sydney, Australia

Coming to Australia has been on the bucket list for the longest time.  Two months ago, Philippine Airlines came up with a promo and for 550$ my friend and I just grabbed a good deal, just enough time for us to apply for a visa.  We took the red eye flight out of Manila to Sydney.  Since the plane wasn't full, we were lucky to lie back in a four-seater economy seats the entire 8 hour flight.

Visa Application

Visitor Visa (600) application was seamlessly lodged online via by creating an account with   All documentary requirements such as proof of income, travel history, passport copy, pictures, application are scanned and attached online.

In spite of having a US visa and quite extensive travel history, I was granted visa 30 days later, contrary to what they consider as fast lane which only takes 3 days.  (Notice of grant was sent via email and is accessible through the online account stated above.)  Thus, it is important to apply for a visa at least 30 working days prior to your flight, I have known several people who failed to get their visa on time or just 24 hours before the flight.

I opted this service over  because the latter charge an extra service fee on top of the visa fees.

Arriving in Sydney

We breezed through immigration upon arrival in Sydney.  The first thing I have notice while on queue for the airport taxi, was that many locals are just wearing fitflops!  I was even told they go barefoot while malling.  Well, hello surfer dude!  I welcome myself to this land down under with a lot of sunshine and cool breeze.

When travelling with a buddy who is particular with thread counts, I had to forgo staying in hostels and checked in at Four Points by Sheraton overlooking the Darling Harbour.  The location was good. Although the bus stop is still a block away, it is within walking distance to Queen Victoria Building, Cockle Bay Wharf of Darling Harbour, Chinatown, shopping areas of York Street, George Street, Pitt Street and Martin Place.  It was a bit of a long 25 minute uphill walk to the Circular Quay or Sydney Opera House (or about 25 aud for taxi).


Queen Victoria Building (QVB) along George and York Street is a must visit, for window shopping while adoring its pastel stained glass windows and 19th century Romanesque architecture.  It reminds me of the Gum Mall in Moscow, pretty highend with a Christmas tree adorned with Swarovski crystals from ground to ceiling.

Paddy's Market for souvenirs and unbranded goods.

The intersections of George Street, York Street, Pitt Street, Martin Place, Market Street are the heart of the shopping district of Sydney.  Head to York Street for ballet clothes from Bloch.  George Street for the Apple Store.  Pitt Street Mall for H&M, Uniqlo, Sephora, Forever New.  UGG just about every corner.  David Jones and Myers department stores are located along Market Street.  I'm quite surprised that the presence of retail stores of Australian brands like Rip curl, Quicksilver and Billabong are quite limited.  Since Australia is in the land down under, summer comes in December to February.  H&M just opened in Sydney on Halloween, their spring collection was those I found in Hong Kong last February; a bit outdated if you come from Asia.

Homebush DFO  for outlet shopping of Lululemons, Smiggles, Rip Curl, Billabong, Gstar Raw, Forever New, Quicksilver among others.  My friend went crazy with those Lulus, for the same absolute price tag in America, it came out cheaper due to foreign exchange rate.  1 Aud = 34 peso while 1 USD = 47.

If you are accustomed to late night shopping, you'll be surprised to know that shops do close early in Australia,  as early as 5-6pm.  Extended hours normally on Thursdays (and Fridays) until 7-8pm.  By the time you get back from your tour, there's nothing else to do but dine and wine even before the sun sets.


Blue Mountains.  It's called Blue Mountains because of the haze from the eucalyptus trees.  When you get there, you'd ask yourself, this is it?  If you don't plan to go outdoors (like hiking/biking), a day trip would be more than enough.   There are several lookout points that are free but it was best enjoyed at Scenic World Blue Mountains (  We availed of the 35 aud ride all you can pass.

three sisters
We visited Blue Mountains with, a highly rated tour agency over at tripadvisor.  Not exactly the cheapest, as oppose to big buses that can be as cheap as 80-135 aud, they charge 185aud for it's a premium tour.  It's a small group with a maximum of 14 people in a van, inclusive of hotel pickup, morning tea, lunch and a boat ride back to circular quay.  The good thing about it was, service was personalize, we arrive in most sites way ahead of the big groups.

glass bottom inside the skyway suspended 270 meters above the ravine.
The Skyway.

We didn't know what to expect just go for the cliffhanger and see for yourself.

world's steepest railway
Featherdale Wildlife Park.  As part of our day tour to the Blue Mountains, we dropped by Featherdale Wildlife Park for obligatory photo ops with the Koalas and a chance to pet it's behind. There we saw all sorts of Marsupials like kangaroos, wombat, wallaby, tasmanian devil...  It's just a relatively small park.
The Koala is awake!  It spends 18-20 hours a day sleeping.
Growing up believing that a tasmanian devil looks like Taz, unfortunately not.

Halloween Night. We returned from our tour from the Blue Mountains before the sunsets at 7pm and changed into our halloween costumes... well not really.  Walking around the streets of Sydney, you'd see considerable number of people dressed or face painted, no longer sober and random invitation gets in your way.   Amused by the artistry of makeup artist at Sephora, I wanted one for myself  if only we came prepared for it.  I had to constrain myself from taking candid photos.

Bridge Climb.  For a hefty price tag of 268aud, I paid for a chance to climb the monumental Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Safety standards was absolutely high, too high that I find it very lame for an adrenaline junkie like me.  I thought I would see the bottom under my feet.  The bridge itself was impressive though, carrying eight lanes of traffic plus two train tracks.  We climbed on a very good weather, visibility was very good, the horizon go as far as the Blue Mountain.  Other than bragging rights, you're better off on a helicopter ride or sky diving for the same price tag.

Walk from the Rocks to Circular Quay.  After my bridge climb, we had a good long walk from the Rocks to Circular Quay.  The nightscape was lovely.  The little nooks along the way was cozy.  We dined with some good oysters and steak with the view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.

St Mary's Cathedral and Hyde Park.  Strolling up Market Street leads you to Hyde Park and catholic church, St. Mary's Cathedral.

Bondi Beach.  Conveniently accessible by one bus stop from the CBD, we took the bus from King's Street to Bondi Beach for 3.80 aud per way on a Sunday.  When spring is about to end, the beach was packed with sun worshipers.  We grabbed a bag of fish and chips and sat on the beach for lunch. Coming from a tropical country, we were probably the lone beach goer yearning for shade.  We took a quick dip in the ice cold water (okay, twas just our feet).

Sydney Opera House.  For 89 aud, we catched the opera entitled "Anything Goes".  Our seatmate was laughing out loud throughout while I sat clueless most of the time.  As a catholic, I personally found the crucifix being desecrated offensive.  In a country that's half agnostic may not find this as a big deal though.  Nevertheless, I was awakened by the singing and tap dancing that came along with it.  As its title imply, the storyline was just about anything and everything chaotic, crazy and delovely.  Absolutely wa diri, wa didto.

Food in general is bland. Ironically, I did not get to try good steaks in Sydney... I had one at I'm Angus at Cockle Bay Wharf and wasn't happy about it.  But we had some great oysters and cheese at Nicks Seafood Restaurant at Cockle Bay Wharf in Darling Harbour, except for the waiter who rolls his eyes when you ask him about the menu, it would have been our best meal in Sydney.  A meal costs about 50 aud for wine and steak or about 20-30 aud for an average meal.
Water is potable. Wine bars popping like coffee shops even in the food court; and drank anytime of the day. Starbucks closed most of their stores, local cafe is preferred.

Particularly fascinated how the locals managed to have a good work-life balance. They get off from work by 4, they don't work on Saturdays and Sundays, cost of living is high, tipping is not practiced because they earn enough, medical is socialized, education is subsidized, student loan is payable only when able.  Wow, I wanna live here.

For someone like me who is accustomed to a well planned trip, detailing everything in a spreadsheet,  I decided to be a bit more spontaneous on this trip, as the title explicitly describes our trip to the land down under - Anything Goes.

1 aud = 33.7 php

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