Darling Harbour – My Quiet Place

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There are so many wonderful and iconic sites to see in Sydney. Whether you’re enjoying a relaxing ride under sunny skies across to Manly on the Manly Ferry; walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and soaking in the view; roaming the Botanical Gardens; exploring the Blue Mountains; sunning on Bondi; bargain hunting in The Rocks; or just exploring Sydney’s built up heart – there’s no end of things to see and do in Australia’s most beautiful city.

Melbourne, prove me wrong.

I spent a fantastic 2010 in Sydney, exploring as much of it as I could and doing everything from learning to surf to taking a photography course in The Rocks. But to me, moreso than any other part of Sydney, Darling Harbour holds a special place in my heart. Far more tourist friendly than the more easily accessible Circular Quay, Darling Harbour boasts a wide variety of bars and cafes as well as a slew of things for tourists to see and do. The famous Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife World are both by the waters, as is Sydney’s IMAX Theater.

It’s not any of this window dressing that draws me in, though. I first visited Darling Harbour on the morning I was to depart for my first Korean tour of duty. My parents, determined to have me soak in as much of Australia as I could, had put together a slap-dash tour of Sydney that ended with us doing some shopping in The Rocks before taking a ride on one of several mini trains that do circuits of the Harbour.

A chubbier and less beardy pre-Korean Chris

Two years later, I would return with Fallon in tow on her first day in the country. Having decided to take the ‘scenic route’ by walking from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour, we arrived a little tired and very hungry after taking on some pretty sights along the way. On a tight budget, we passed by all of the classier eateries and bars and ended up settling for some remarkably good Thai food from the food court. Later in the year we’d return on several occasions. I watched Australia get robbed against Ghana in the 2010 FIFA World Cup alongside 20,000 of my closest friends in the freezing winter air; I learned Ghanian dance during the FIFA Fan Fest; took in the city from a unique perspective from atop the Sky View ferris wheel; and ended one particularly exhausting run with some cocktails and decadent food at Nick’s Bar & Grill.

A different perspective on Sydney's Harbour Bridge. Photo by Fallon Fehringer.
Some unique Sydney street art on the walk from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour. Photo by Fallon Fehringer.

The details of those experiences are for another time. Today I write not about some exciting adventure or snazzy eatery, but about my return to Sydney under trying circumstances and a few quiet hours spent by Darling Harbour recharging my battery.

Dragged from the crowd to participate in Ghanian Dance at the 2010 FIFA Fanfest. Photo by Fallon Fehringer.

Those who have followed my year to date will doubtless know it’s not been the best of years. While there’s been some great adventures (such as Fiji, Jinhae’s Cherry Blossom Festival, and a visit to Seoul) – they’ve also been a number of trying ones. The end of my near two-year relationship with Fallon; struggling to readjust to Korean lifestyle; and the recent split with Kimberly and the daunting task of returning to Australia eight months earlier than I’d originally envisaged.

Back in Sydney a few days and surrounded by good friends, I was still struggling to shake the seemingly year long funk that has colored almost everything I’ve done. While I’ll go into more details on that particular topic at a later date, suffice to say I needed some time to clear my head and try and remind myself that despite a rough few months – 2011 is still young and there’s plenty more opportunities to have memorable adventures.

With my trusty Kindle at my side and some Subway (I’m still on a budget) to nourish my hunger, I settled in by the water and soaked in the unseasonable warmth. I wasn’t alone in taking some time out of the day to catch up with a good book and the ever present army of seagulls that busk for scraps of food. A school field trip milled by from time to time as they bounced from attraction to attraction, and a couple had spread out a blanket and were dangling their feet off of the boardwalk. It was an idyllic scene – a reminder that even in a city as big and bustling as Sydney, there’s time for quiet moments.

After about an hour in the sun, I decided it was time to move on. The walk from Darling Harbour up towards Sydney’s Chinatown district takes you by an impressive series of fountains and up to Tumbalong Park, and I was sure to take some time out to appreciate the bright sunny day and the cool breeze that stopped it from being oppressive. Realizing I had no place to be in particular, I opted to take a brief nap on the thick lawns of Tumbalong Park. Like before, I wasn’t the only person ducking out of the rat race for some peace and quiet. The distant sound of traffic was easily ignored, replaced instead by the cheerful chatter of tourists and the bubbling of the fountains that surround the park.

Enjoying the Sydney Sky View in July 2010. Photo by Fallon Fehringer.

The sun was on its slow, sad way down when I woke – and I decided it was time to head back to my friends’ place to get packed and ready for my return to my family home in Ben Lomond. My last stop was at Cold Rock for some ice cream – the kind of ice cream I’d daydreamed about in Korea’s land of Cold Stone and Baskin Robbins. They just don’t compare.

As the train rattled back out of Sydney’s pretty heart and into the suburbs, I already looked forward to my eventual return to Sydney. While I need to take some time out and focus on myself for the time being, my heart will always be in Sydney. I can’t wait to get back to exploring it.

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