Depressed Americans (aren’t we all? It’s an election year!) can only avoid the cost of visiting Australia by not visiting. Once you’re here, it’s best just to change your thinking about prices. Or forget them all together so as not to paralyze your journey.
To make it simple – even though the AUS and US dollars are roughly even (today $1.03 US buys $1 AU) – just count on everything being at least twice as expensive. Here are some examples, with the Australian price roughly converted to US dollars:
Two large coffees + two croissants: $15
Lunch for three: $109
Dinner for six: $735
Ice cream cone: $9
Ticket to Picasso Exhibit: $26
Beach Towel: from $40 ($130 in the boutiques)
Pair of flip flops $70 (cheapest flat crappy ones are $40)
425 ml beer: $6
Cherry Coke in a can: $5.50
But we’ve successfully inured ourselves to these unpleasant details, and focused on the finer things and the free opportunities. We also thank the generosity of our hosts and friends for their many kindnesses: food, home stay, entertainment, trips to the market, and driving around town. Think how much we’ve saved!
Sydney Cove Oyster Bar
After a lovely sunny day of walking through the Botanical Gardens and around the Opera House toward the busy Circular Quay, we veered off to rest and eat, avoiding the Opera House cafes. The Sydney Cove Oyster Bar called to us with a sign posting “Today’s Specials,” including a dozen oysters for $27, fish and chips for under $30, $5 beers, and, well, that’s about all we needed to see. We shared the plate of oysters, a combo of Rock (river) and Pacific varieties, even though Mr. Rush-to-Post (a.k.a. Post Haste) documented me with the empty shells as if I’d devoured them all. Options for the fish with chips included beer-batter Flathead fillets or Panko-crumb Bream fillets, and we both opted for the Panko crust. (I for one wouldn’t know a flathead from a bream.) The crispy fish was perfect with dollops of tartar, wisps of greens, and the toasty-warm chips.
In fact, we were in the area the next day to see a movie, and ended up right back at the same table where Mr. Post Haste ordered the exact same dish. I narrowly avoided ordering just vegetables (ginger sauce was a draw), but thankfully feasted on mussels steamed with chorizo, white beans, and tomatoes. The view is great, encompassing the busy ferry traffic and the historic Harbour Bridge. Perfect. Just don’t think about the price.
Other highly recommended dining spots include Pier, on Rose Bay, and The Malaya. We were treated to one of those most memorable meals of a lifetime at Pier the night we arrived. It was great for the reunion with old friends, but no less for the oysters and barramundi fish. We had a great family meal at The Malaya, where decisions are made easy by set menus. Get about eight courses for a set price person, and no one will be dissatisfied.
Castlereagh Boutique Hotel
Our bargain buy at $135 per night (high season and prime location) included wireless internet in our room. That sealed the deal, since most Sydney hotels charge an additional $10 per night for this service. We were cheerily granted our request for a second username and password so we could both work online. But when it came time to renew the passwords along with our room for a longer stay, the guy with the Addams Family voice balked at giving us a third or fourth set. (All we wanted to do was update our Kindle subscriptions, and the way it works you can’t log off and log on with another device.)
We were in a small interior room, a bit claustrophobic, but fairly quiet and with the prerequisite minibar and coffee maker plus glasses and cups, adequate sized bath, a deep closet, and opening windows. The best feature was a bright clean laundry down the hall that was free to use, with washer, dryer, and laundry soap packets provided. Plus, the bath was equipped with a retractable clothesline. How thoughtful!
Window Shopping in Downtown Sydney
It’s free to look, and the Castlereagh Boutique Hotel is in a great location for strolling the Central Business District (CBD). The Westfield, Strand, and other downtown shopping ‘arcades’ cut through the large city blocks, hiding a multitude of shops. Sydney’s CBD offers a good mix of convenience and food stores, services, and everyday to high fashion shopping. Between us, Mr. Boy and I bought sandals, repaired shoes, bought books, completed an eye exam for contacts and eyeglasses, bought new glasses with the new prescription, tried on swimsuits, browsed a couple food markets, ducked into a couple galleries, and didn’t buy any souvenirs. We admired the fashionable windows (Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, Prada) and the well-heeled people around the central business district. It’s a busy and safe area. Even one of the homeless in our neighborhood seemed to be well educated, reading a novel or newspaper each time we passed. (I’m not complementing Sydney on its well-educated homeless population; just saying.)
Not far from the CBD are the unique boutiques of Paddington, along a funky street that I imagine is continually reinventing itself. This is the neighborhood where the window shopping became the real thing: money for goods. Enough said.
Sights and Free Stuff for the Family
Our visit happily overlapped with the Sydney Festival First Night – a launch celebration for Sydney’s annual summer arts festival. The January 7 opening featured music, comedy, visual and performance arts spread out over the spacious central park grounds of Sydney. All events were free, all day. (The 3-week festival then carries on with a combination of ticketed and free performances.)
Any fresh air fiend is bound to love the city, as are families and romantics. Parks with gorgeous views abound. The giant Centennial Park is limited to grass, horses, walkers and bicyclists. The city center boasts Hyde Park, the Domain, and the Botanical Gardens, which together make a greenway from the business center out to the Opera House on the harbour. Beaches are not far. The Bronte beach is great for everyone from kids to surfers, and includes a protected rock pool on one end and a huge grassy swale where hundreds picnic behind the beach. A neat row of cafes is just across the street. The famous Bondi Beach is one of four or five in a row connected by a walking trail.
And all these natural sites? They’re free. And that’s a deal at twice the price.