It only took a second to fall in love with Sydney all over again. Just a glimpse of the glittering harbour and the Sydney Opera House sails through the train window as we pulled into Circular Quay station from the airport.
Only a second for tears to well in my eyes and trickle down my cheeks. The emotion I felt slapped me on the face.
Was it the city’s stupendous beauty that choked me up? Maybe. Because my first thought was: this truly is a spectacularly beautiful city; this must be the most drop-dead gorgeous city in the world. But how do I even begin to describe her beauty.
I was reminded of the opening of Australian author Peter Carey’s book 30 Days in Sydney, a love letter of sorts to the city: “I despair of being able to convey to any reader my own idea of the beauty of Sydney Harbour,” he writes, quoting Anthony Trollope. Likening the city to Sydney, Naples and Rio, he claims: “…none of them can possess such a world of loveliness of water as lies within Sydney heads.”
Though I was luckier than Carey, who on his flight ‘home’ from the USA, where he lives, he desperately cranes his neck from the aisle seat of the Boeing 747 to catch a glimpse of the harbour but it is obscured by cloud.
It wasn’t only the city’s beauty that brought on the waterworks. There was something else I couldn’t explain.
Was it the fact we’d been away so many years that was the cause of a sense of longing for my hometown that I didn’t know I had? Maybe it was the memories of the people associated with this impossible pretty place that were quickly flooding back to induce waves of nostalgia and melancholia that I felt at times I was drowning in?
Another favourite Australian author of our’s, Clive James, also an expat, knows those feelings well. At the end of his brilliant Unreliable Memoirs he writes from his home in Cambridge in the UK:
“As I begin this last paragraph, outside my window a misty afternoon drizzle gently but inexorably soaks the City of London. Down there in the street I can see umbrellas commiserating with each other. In Sydney Harbour, 12,000 miles away and 10 hours from now, the yachts will be racing on the crushed diamond water under a sky the texture of powdered sapphires. It would be churlish not to concede that the same abundance of natural blessings which gave us the energy to leave has every right to call us back… Pulsing like a beacon through the days and nights, the birthplace of the fortunate sends out its invisible waves of recollection. It always has and it always will, until even the last of us come home.”
Was it time to return ‘home’, I would begin to wonder each day that we would explore the familiar streets of the city anew, like tourists?
Sydney was where I was born, in her western suburbs, in a suburb that has long been a city herself: Parramatta. Those western suburbs with their wide bitumen roads and weatherboard houses and big back yards were where I grew up. Until my mother and father dragged my sister and I out of primary school and took us travelling around Australia in a caravan for five years.
When I returned at eighteen to go to university, I made the inner city my home, first Glebe with my uncle, then Balmain and Potts Point with Terence. We studied in the city, worked in the city, shopped in the city, ate and drank in the city.
For many years we crossed that sparkling harbour by ferry, gliding under the Sydney Harbour Bridge each morning and evening to get to and from work. And from our Potts Point apartment with its views over Elizabeth Bay, we drank in startlingly beautiful harbour views every single day. We felt blessed at the time.
In the fourteen years we’ve lived overseas, we’ve often been asked if we ever got homesick, if we ever missed Sydney. Our answer was always the same, much to everyone’s surprise: no, not really.
We missed our family and friends, sure. I missed my father, who was dead. Terribly. I missed my mother, alive but living in another state. And my sister, residing on the far side of the country in Perth. I missed my best girlfriends. I missed everyone so much sometimes that it hurt. So much that I’m sure at times I could hear a little cracking in my heart.
But Sydney was always going to be there, and there was a whole world to experience. That’s what I told myself.
It was strange that I never missed the city I love so much, and it’s sprawling suburbs and stunning harbour, when I was ‘away’. But now that I was ‘home’, I felt a sense of longing I had never felt before.
And it only took one second.
This and our other Sydney stories below were created for a Destination NSW trip for their Sydney in Winter, Love Every Second campaign to encourage travellers to experience the New South Wales capital in all its winter glory.
Our Grantourismo Posts on Sydney
Sydney in Winter — a stunning time-lapse video, even if we do say so ourselves
Vivid Sydney, a Festival of Light, Music and Ideas
Capturing the Illuminated City at Vivid Sydney
Savour Sublime Sydney Views Before Savouring A Sublime Meal – Sydney Seaplanes and Berowra Waters Inn
Local Guide to Eating and Drinking in Sydney by restaurateur John Fink of Quay, Otto, Bennelong, Fire Door
Local Knowledge: Richard of Sydney — insider tips from the guide/owner of My Sydney Detour experiences
Bondi to Bronte Walk
Experiencing a Taste of Asia in Chinatown
Campsie Food Festival, Sydney
A Local Guide to Sydney Architecture
Instagram iPhone Snapshots from a Seaplane
Sydney on a Budget
Whale Watching in Sydney
Escape to Manly, a Seaside Holiday Town in the City
Monday Memories: Coasting over Sydney
A Self-Guided Stroll Around Sydney
Eating Out in Sydney – The Best Restaurants
The Best Harbour and Ocean Swimming Pools
High Coffee in Sydney, A Heady Alternative to Afternoon Tea
A Local Guide to the Sydney Small Bar Scene
The Best Beaches in Sydney
My Sydney Detour: Become a Sydney Local in a Day
Absorbing Australian Art at Art Gallery of NSW
A Taste of Orange, NSW
Jeanne @soultravelers3 says
I know exactly what you are talking about and Sydney is indeed a gorgeous and wonderful city..especially on a beautiful day. We had a ball in Sydney and were very impressed by it ( except the prices….yikes!).
But I know those feelings about another beautiful ( and expensive) city, San Francisco, my home city. We’ve been traveling the world non-stop as a family for these last 7 years, but haven’t spent much time there until this past winter…and I had the feelings you describe so well.
We have many “homes” now around the world, but SF and California will always be the place we “left our hearts” and our chief identity. My 11 year old daughter speaks more Mandarin and Spanish now in her life, but still views herself as a California girl. ;)
I don’t think I will ever live there again..we’re nomads by nature now..but it excites my heart like no other place and it’s beauty and richness still astounds me.
Relish your time in Sydney! Big hugs!
Sandy O'Sullivan says
I don’t have a home town, really. I have a lot of them. And I feel that way about all of them. I think, for me, they invoke a moment of time… how I felt then, what the world meant to me… all of that. As you say the memories are flooding back. I do feel that way about Sydney cos I lived there in my late teens and early twenties, almost like an age belongs to a place when I visit Sydney nowadays I feel young again. Which is nice, and makes me fond of the place.
That thing of Sydney (or wherever) always being there is interesting too. I often wonder about cities that really change. Sydney has changed a bit, but just like the world has… not faster… not like London or Dubai or even Brisbane, where I live now… that has grown so much to be almost unrecognisable from its 1970s self.
I love Sydney, though, and not just cos of those youthful feelings, there’s a reason why the place is so bloody expensive… it’s really lovely. So lovely that it gets away with having some things not work as well as other places. You know that thing where pretty restaurants don’t have to have great food, well for a long time Sydney was like that… you really had to hunt for it. Where dirty old Melbourne had to make the good food to entice us. I think I’m getting dangerously close to the territory of ‘pretty doesn’t have to try’, but Sydney did too… it really was a big old pretty flirt… and while I am not a huge fan of Olympics transformations, it worked for Sydney… it filled in its bits and pieces, grew up, got a bit older and finally delivered the goods. Since 2000, the food has been better, the accommodation has been better, the tourist experience has been better. It’s a bit hard to resist the bloody place!
Lara Dunston says
Hi Jeanne – lovely to have you drop by. I thought you might relate :)
The life you’re giving your daughter is a very special one – she’ll treasure it when she’s older.
And, yes, Sydney – like all Australian cities – has become an expensive city. But like all cities, there are ways of doing it on a budget.
Lara Dunston says
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Sandy. We have a lot of ‘hometowns’ too – Dubai, Bangkok and Buenos Aires mainly, places where we’ve spent a long time and feel at home.
And, yes, Sydney is stunning. Although I don’t find it any more expensive than Melbourne or Perth.
I don’t know what happened to the food in the time we were away – we’ve heard a few people say the same thing though. We were foodies when we were young too, before we moved overseas in 1998, and Sydney had brilliant food back then, between 1986 and 1998, when we were always eating out several times a week. You could get everything, from authentic tasty ethnic cheap eats to sublime modern Oz cuisine at the top end.
The laksa place, Korean BBQ, Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Japanese Ramen bars, Chinese (from Cantonese to Sizchuan, Yum Cha to Noodle King), Spanish etc, were all (and remain) some of the most authentic food we’ve ever had outside those countries. Melbourne didn’t seem to have those fantastic Asian eats then either. We would go to Melbourne often for weekends and back then it was all about Italian and Greek food.
As for fine dining in Sydney, in the 80s and 90s there was restaurants like Tetsuya’s, Rockpool, Level 41, Darley Street Thai, Claude’s, Cicada, Paramount, Bel Mondo, Bistro Moncur, Banc etc and and then I believe it was Sydney that started the trend all those years ago for casual, buzzy, affordable bistro-style restos that are all the rage now in Melbourne, like Wockpool, Sailors Thai, and then Longrain…
So, yeah, if Sydney’s food deteriorated in those intervening years, I don’t know what happened… I wish I would have returned more often to know.
I kind of regret not coming back for the Olympics too. While I’m not a huge fan of the event to be honest, I would have liked to have felt the buzz of the city that friends described.
Sydney is home and the whole time I lived overseas I could never stay away for long. I returned every year or two.
I haven’t missed London since leaving in 2009 but going back there recently made me feel homesick. I don’t think I could be happy there long term because, well, it’s not Sydney but I do miss it a bit. It’s another home town.
As for Sydney being expensive, it’s mainly the cost of housing that has skyrocketed. San Francisco housing is actually pretty affordable by Sydney standards and eating out is cheap.
Lara Dunston says
Hi Caitlin – pleased to know you feel the same way about Sydney.
We haven’t noticed the housing prices, just that groceries, restaurant prices, wine/drinks, and everything items have increased a lot compared to 3-4 years ago when we did a couple of guidebooks in Australia. It’s a shame, as it’s keeping all but the high-end travellers away.
And as expensive as it is, I think Australia (and Sydney especially) is a destination worth visiting in the same way that, say, Tokyo is.
Thanks for dropping by! I’m hoping we’ll catch up when we’re back in August.