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  • Writer's pictureDonna Zabel

Sydney: Bridges and Pubs

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0

There are some cities everyone loves. Some for their history, some for their mystique and air of the exotic, some because they are so darned beautiful and fun to explore. Beloved San Francisco is one, and on the other side of the world, Sydney is its sister counterpart.

Everyone loves Sydney. What’s not to love about a city where the temperatures range from the 60’s to 80’s and the sun shines brilliantly most of the year, with a spectacular harbor, iconic buildings, spacious gardens, and eye-candy filled beaches.

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0

Traveling with a girlfriend a couple of years ago, we stayed in the fashionable (and expensive) area around Hyde Park. Traveling with hubby this time we opted for a place a little closer to Chinatown in one direction, Darling Harbour in another, and with a myriad of delicious restaurants all around us. Besides, with comfortable shoes for walking, and Opal cards for the many trams, Sydney is easy to explore.

Undeniably the first “must see” for any visitor is Circular Quay with the iconic Opera House at one end, the twisting lanes of the Rocks at the other, and the harbor docks in between. With typical Aussie humor the Circular Quay is so named because it is…rectangular in shape. Aussies like to give their compliments in nicknames. Hence the Harbour Bridge, with its arch-shape design, is dubbed the “coat hanger”. The Anzac Bridge, built to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Remembrance Day, is striking for its two symmetrical cone-shaped steel cables. Locals call it “Madonna’s Bra.”

Sydney Harbour Bridge - The Coat Hanger

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0

Regardless of names, viewed from any angle, the Opera House is of one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. Perched at the end of a promontory jutting into the harbor, the expansive Royal Botanic Gardens spread behind like a bride’s elegant train,is bold and beautiful. A proper statement to the independent, indominable Aussie spirit. And in typical Aussie style, there is another story about the structure. Apparently, the architect was so disgusted by the alterations in his original design that he never set foot in it.

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0

On the other side of Circular Quay, in the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is the original heart, soul, and gritty beginning of Sydney—the Rocks, site of the original convict settlement. On a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon with crowds of young people enjoying beer and wine at outdoor benches, and families strolling Sunday afternoon pop-up markets, it’s a bit of a stretch to remember the less than charming history of the area.

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0

In 1788 Captain Phillip dropped anchor in the horseshoe bay and named it Sydney Cove after the British Home Secretary. Convicts were given the rocky land to the west; the governor and officials the more desirable land to the east. After convict labor built the Quay in the early to mid-19th century, and the streams were covered up, the Rocks became home to not only ex-convicts, but whalers, sailors, and, consequently, every form of vice possible. The well-to-do governing class had built homes on the upper slopes, letting their sewage run freely onto the Rocks below. Bubonic plague in 1900 started the needed the clean-up, but construction of the Harbour Bridge threatened to wipe out the Rocks unique heritage. Protection of the old buildings and alleyways began in the 1970’s. Now it is all very gentrified, but there are lots of posters and self-guided walks to take and re-imagine the early life of the Rocks.

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0

A thorough exploration of original Sydney must include visiting Sydney’s oldest pub. The Fortune of War, at the edge of the Rocks, claims this title, with a founding date of 1828. Late on a sunny Sunday afternoon the sing-along music emanating loudly from the open door has a somewhat later date, circa mid to late 20th century, but the jovial atmosphere, easy comradery, and constantly flowing beer taps are timeless. Long wood countertops, high top tables with a limited number of stools to encourage sharing, are the perfect combination for finding new “mates” at the end of a lovely afternoon.


· Buy an opal card available at local convenience stores. Start with $20 on the card.

· Head to the Rocks on Sunday for the afternoon flea markets and craft booths. Relax with a cold one at an outdoor café.

· Don’t miss the Fortune of War, 137 George St, The Rocks, established 1828.

· Don’t miss the QVC (Queen Victoria Building) on George St. Opened in 1828 it is a lovely masterpiece, now home to dozens of little shops and restaurants.

Queen Victoria Building

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0

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