This first contact with Australia confirmed all the good things I thought about a destination that had always attracted me without the stars ever aligning so that I could go there.
Report of astonishment between confirmations, surprises, and practical advice.
The choice of cities: Sydney and Brisbane
For only two weeks I wasn’t going to do anything foolish and tour a country as big as a continent. So I chose Sydney, obvious starting point for a first visit and Brisbane for its geographical proximity in order to avoid unnecessary flight hours. Melbourne could have been an option (in fact it was my choice during a first aborted attempt because of the COVID) but I discarded it because at that time the city offered me less guarantee of good weather.
These two cities, as you will see, appealed to me for different reasons and confirmed my choice for a first contact with the country.
Architecture, culture, art, environment and atmosphere
My memories of the two cities are quite similar except for a few details.
This is one of the things that interests me the most in a city, as well as the way tradition and modernism are married (or not).
In both cases we have a very successful mix of old, mostly Victorian, and modern architecture.
Having said that, you quickly get around the major sites, especially in Brisbane. You have understood that you are not in Rome, Paris, London or New York. In two days without effort you will have seen the essential.
However, the visit to the beautiful Sydney Opera House is worth the trip alone.
Art and culture
From Brisbane I kept a good memory of the Queensland Art Gallery and a more mitigated one of the Gallery of Modern Art, both being gathered in a complex, the GAQOMA. From the second one, I will especially remember the temporary exhibition “The Souls Trembles” by Shiota Chiharu.
In Sydney I unfortunately missed the Art Gallery of New South Wales and I regret it. For timing reasons I chose the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia which I found very disappointing.
Although Australia is a young country, its history is very present, if only because its founding pillars are not so far from us. Present but not invasive.
The Museum of Sydney will tell the story of life from colonization to today. Unfortunately, the subject could have deserved a more in-depth treatment and I was left a little unsatisfied, even though there is nothing to prevent me from doing my own research. But in the same style I found, for example, the museum of Gothenburg infinitely richer and complete, that is to say if there is still a way to do better.
However the aborigines are present, they are not hidden and the history of their relationship with the settlers is omnipresent and in Brisbane the two museums have a part dedicated to the aboriginal art.
As for the settlers, their history is fairly well retraced at the Hyde Park Barracks, a place steeped in their history that is somewhat reminiscent of a local Ellis Island.
You can’t reduce a city to what you see and visit. There is also what you don’t see but you feel. There are cities where there is a lot to see but where you don’t stay or stroll for the pleasure, for others it’s the opposite. As far as Sydney and Brisbane are concerned, both were present.
These are very pleasant cities to live in and if I were to tell you that you can quickly go around the major sites, you would spend hours strolling in the streets, feeling the local culture and the way of life of the people, admiring some buildings and perspectives, stopping to eat something, having a coffee or a beer on the terrace.
I would add that these are cities with a very soothing atmosphere.
What better way to sum it up than a stroll in the center of Sydney or a break at Parklands in Brisbane.
There are cities where you only have time to see what you want to see and others that make you want to stay. Brisbane and Sydney are in the second category, maybe a bit more Brisbane which I found younger and livelier (although the climate may have had something to do with it).
There are also many leisure activities.
What I didn’t do and what I regret
What a pity to go to Australia, to limit oneself to the cities and not to take advantage of its superb landscapes! If that’s what you think, you’re a hundred times right.
But there is the context of this trip. First of all, in two weeks you can’t see everything, so you have to make choices. I preferred to do two things and do them well than to do many things but too lightly. I will, I hope, have the opportunity to return.
And then there is a more personal context with a damaged nerve in one leg that prevented me from walking as I would have liked. Farewell to hiking and steep paths: staying in town on the flat was the best way to avoid a fall. I was just starting to walk a little less awkwardly, so I might as well make the most of what I could with my limitations and not tempt the devil.
Restaurants and outings
I haven’t tried Australian food as such and, ironically, my only experience with it is in an Australian restaurant in Lisbon.
Moreover, I systematically booked late so I couldn’t necessarily eat where I really wanted to, except at Elska’s, a beautiful meeting between Australian soil and Scandinavian inspiration.
However, both Sydney and Brisbane offer a varied international cuisine with a wide range of prices. No worries there but anticipate and plan better than me!
On the other hand, you should know that in Australia people live less late than in France. 9pm is very very late to go to the restaurant. And even if you go there at 8pm (which is already late there) you should know that when you go out you will often have trouble finding a bar (even a hotel bar) to have a last drink before going to bed, especially during the week.
Frustrating at the beginning, you eventually get used to it even if ….
But you will enjoy going out in these two very lively cities.
I went in September, beginning of spring there.
In Sydney the weather was mixed: 1/3 of the days were sunny and the rest I thought I was in Stockholm in October. Quite gray and I had to aim between the showers to get out.
On the other hand, the weather was almost summery in Brisbane: the city is further north and it was definitely warmer (since we are in the southern hemisphere…) and very sunny every day. Nearly 10 degrees warmer.
If I were to go to Melbourne I would either go later or much earlier in the year.
Without much originality I followed my favorite loyalty program. As for my choices, if I loved the W Brisbane, my hotels in Sydney did the job without more.
Rates are a bit high though.
At that time, prices were already skyrocketing and unfortunately this is not going to stop. The time when you could find business class between Scandinavia and Sydney for 2100€ on Singapore Airlines is well and truly over.
I flew business class on Thai, the airline that offered the best prices regardless of the class of travel and to halve the bill I left from Stockholm instead of Paris …. (yes…. divided by two). There are good practices that always work.
What can I say? I have no complaints about the service, but the cabins are dated and worn out, even on new aircrafts like on this A350 between Stockholm and Bangkok.
The airline is in trouble and has lost some of its former glory. Shame.
What do I retain from it? I think that in economy it remains a very good option, on the other hand in business and especially if you are more than 1m85 find something else (if it is not expensive).
For the domestic flights Virgin Australia in economy was very good even if whatever the airline it is not cheap. I recommend this option and paying a slight upgrade to Economy X if you want more space and priority boarding.
Transports sur place
I stayed true to my habits: in town as much walking as possible (well, as much as my leg would let me). Otherwise Uber works very well and the cabs are really nice. No fear to have on this side.
The public transportation network seems to me to be of good quality and solid, but given the context I haven’t tried it.
That’s it for this report which is far from being exhaustive. In a word as in 1000 a trip that I will do again with pleasure, especially being in better shape.