Playing Tourist… For Cheap

If I could name a signature accessory, it would be headphones. You’d be hard-pressed to find a time when a pair of those suckers aren’t fixed to my face. In Manhattan, they were a great mechanism for deflecting unwanted conversations and an even better mechanism for providing some relief in an otherwise mundane routine.

But moving to a new city is the perfect excuse to get away from this habit. If for no other reason, I don’t need ear milk because I have no mundane routine yet! Everything is new and exciting! The sun shines so bright, the waves crash so hard, the people walk on the other side of the sidewalk and I have to pay attention to where I’m going…

So what happens when I take off my headphones and put on my tourist hat? I find joy on every corner. This week, I was determined to play tourist without spending too much. Where better to begin but the iconic Sydney Opera House?! Since I did an official tour of the landmark on my very first visit to Sydney with my Mom, all I needed was to see it glisten in the sun with the Sydney Harbour Bridge imposing itself in the background. (If you’re keen on taking the tour, however, I highly recommend it!) I’m sure to thoroughbred Sydneysiders, getting excited about seeing the Opera House is like trying to find enthusiasm for seeing the Empire State Building for the umpteenth time. But as a newcomer, it’s a special feeling.

Without headphones on, I let the sounds of Circular Quay carry me through the Botanical Gardens. What a spectacular view! The juxtaposition of the Central Business District lying directly next to lush greenery is calming. Think Central Park but fewer naked people and more exotic flora.

Following the paths that intercept the garden, I found myself walking to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The building itself is quite impressive, comparable to the Met, but more isolated. I was happy to stumble upon it because I had seen an advertisement for an exhibit that featured 1960s British & American Pop Art and if that’s not the way to my heart, I don’t know what is! Admission is free and I b-lined for the exhibit. But where I spent most of my time was the floor featuring Aboriginal Art. When I studied abroad in Brisbane, I took a (very, very hard) class in Australian Art History; but the class focused mostly on colonized Australia and the influence of European and American artists on Australian art. What I saw in the museum was breathtaking. The stories of totems and myths told on bark or familiar canvas were captivating. So much to learn… and it’s available for free!

After this uplifting walkabout and museum tour, I was feeling *so cultured* and wanted to keep the momentum going. While researching free activities (when you’re new and not working yet, “free” is the mantra), I read about an art installation that was part of Sydney’s #ArtAndAbout. Of course I saw it. But what I really got from it was how much this city is dedicated to getting its residents and visitors out, engaged, and active. It began to click: on Sundays, the busses cap off at $2.50 for all of your rides for the whole day; the beaches cost nothing to visit; there are maintained walking trails along the Eastern Beaches and Northern Beaches, and elsewhere. All things add up to this being a wonderfully accessible city. Not everything is cheap (like food, drinks, gym classes, rent…), but if you’re touring on a dime, don’t count Sydney out.



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