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Opera House as seen from a ferry.
the Gauntlet

Sydney: City Down Under

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It seems like only yesterday I stepped off the plane at Sydney's Kingsford-Smith airport. Knowing nothing about the city, I vowed I would explore it to its fullest. What I found was a diverse city that is truly one of a kind. From Bondi on the Tasman coast to the suburb of Penrith at the foot of the Blue Mountains, Sydney is a city that one must experience to believe, and I set out to do just that.

Where everybody knows your name.

Australians rank among the friendliest people on this planet, and Sydneysiders are no different. While Sydney moves at a faster pace than the rest of Australia there is always a Sydneysider willing to stop and give directions and some even take the time to lead you to your destination. Visitors are greeted with warmth, like old friends returning after a long absence. However, the best way to get to know a Sydneysider is at the local pub. If invited for a pint, don't turn it down: they want to get to know you, and you'd be amazed at the stories they have to tell. A word of caution: The local tipple of choice is not Fosters, but Victoria Bitter. For Australians, to order Fosters is to order monkey pee. So in order to make a good impression, ask for a pint of VB.

Where the world comes together.

The stereotypical Australian is someone like Crocodile Dundee. However, one look at the typical Australian and that stereotype quickly fades. Sydney is comprised of different races and cultures, each contributing a piece of their culture to the "Australian mosaic". Like Canada, nothing alone makes an Australian. They could be from Hyderabad, Firenze or Coffs Harbour. Their mother tongue could be English, Putonghua or Slavic and they could prefer the taste of souvlaki, yasai yaki or an Aussie meat pie. Sydneysiders are proud of this fact and embrace it openly, giving everyone their "fair dinkum" (a chance).

In turn, there is an attitude of permissiveness and acceptance which is evident every March, when the New Mardi Gras Parade runs down Oxford Street in one of the largest universal Gay and Lesbian Bi-sexual and Transvestite (GLBT) Pride celebrations. Thousands of Sydneysiders, gay and straight, join visitors from all around the globe and line the streets to witness this colourful procession. This is one of Sydney's biggest events and one night where everyone is there to party!

A footy in one hand, a paddle in the other - spots and leisure.

Aussies consider sports integral to the social fabric. For Sydneysiders the game is rugby league. Unlike fifteen-men-a-side rugby union, the version most widely played, the thirteen-men-a-side league has an almost fanatical following in the city and the states of New South Wales and Queensland. Out of fifteen teams in the sport's professional league, the city alone has eight. Go to a game and you will see how strong Sydneysiders' devotion to the sport is. Decked out in team regalia, they are extremely active and vocal. But the most vocal support is saved for the annual best-of-three State of Origin series, which pits players from NSW and Queensland against each other for state pride.

Sydneysiders are not just into watching sport, but also like to participate. Sporting clubs are popular, not just for sporting events but also for social gatherings and meetings. As a result of their popularity, many of the pro rugby teams spawned from these sporting clubs.

Don't forget the beaches; located so close to the city that they are considered another integral part of the city's culture. Surfers ply the waves, sun worshippers lay out on the sand and children frolic in the water, all under the watchful eyes of volunteer surf lifesavers.

Oh won't a train come down the tracks.

Like many of the world's great cities, Sydney is cursed with too many vehicles crowding its roads. A vast public transport network exists however, getting from point A to B can still be a hassle. Train service to and from the city centre is easily accessible by foot or by feeder buses in many suburbs. Nonetheless, Sydney is in the midst of train driver shortages, and with a system that has been built up for over 150 years, when something breaks down the entire system collapses with it. A 40-minute trip could easily double any day, and the misery only compounds when the run is made by a train without air conditioning on a 35-plus degree day.

For those who live near or on Sydney Harbour, ferries are another option. It may be a bit quaint but it's a very appealing option for visitors and an excellent way to see the harbour.

Looking to the past, building for the future.

Sydney is a city of contrasts, a gathering point for east and west. It is a city deeply rooted in the past, yet looking to the future. Its work-hard-play-harder attitude strikes a perfect balance, setting Sydney apart from other cities in Australia, the South Pacific, and the entire world. As Petula Clark once sang in her song I Know a Place, "Everyday when the work is behind you, And the shop and the store put the lock on the door. Just get away where your worries won't find you, If you like well I'll tell you more."

If you are looking for one of those places, Sydney may be for you. Give it a fair go, you may be pleasantly surprised.

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