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I first met Australia in her city of Sydney. The date was January 26th, and could have been any other day. But I quickly learned of my erroneous judgment — it being Australia’s Independence Day. Not knowing about any of this (i.e., arriving unprepared and unread), I was thrown into a pedestrian street parade full of music, beer and laughter. “Wow, what a country,” I heard myself thinking.

Sydney is Australia’s largest city (approximately 4.5 million residents). Residents of Sydney are an active bunch — running along the boardwalk past Bondi Beach, surfing the day away at Manly Beach, grueling around the harbor in a sleek rowing boat or participating in other variations of adventure sports.

In 1788, Australia’s first European settlers – British convicts and their overseers – landed in an area they called “The Rocks.” Gangs, stereotypical sailors’ lives and other vices later filled this area’s gritty past. Today, The Rocks has been renovated and showcases some of Australia’s oldest buildings, various boutiques, galleries and more. You can learn the history, choose from many restaurants, visit food markets or simply hang out.

Sydney boasts of the world’s most beautiful harbor. Whether or not you agree, you’ll be taken in by a sunset through the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Traveling around on the ever-present ferry system is a must. From Sydney’s main ferry terminal, Circular Quay, to the north side’s town of Manly Beach takes 30 minutes and allows for brilliant views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge.

Other Things to Do. Climb the Sydney Bridge: bridgeclimb.com. Walk around Darling Harbour while enjoying its multiple activities and restaurants. Spend a day at Bondi Beach, then at Manly Beach. Check out Kings Cross — it has a seedy past, but has become safer and is packed with fun bars, restaurants and clubs. Go drinking on a Sunday at any pub (aptly referred to as a “Sunday Session” by Australians).

Eats. Doyle’s on the Beach is Sydney’s first seafood restaurant (opened in 1885). Along with savory seafood, this restaurant offers a comfortable mix of tourists and locals indulging in a Sydney tradition.

Festivals and Events.

January: Australia Day Celebrations, Sydney Festival

June: Sydney International Film Festival

October: Manly Jazz Festival, Sydney International Food Festival, Danks Street Festival (live entertainment, food, exhibitions)

September: Australian Football League Premiership (Finals)

November: Sydney Mind Body Spirit Festival

December: Sydney Christmas Parade, Australian Open Golf Championship

Australian Tidbit #1: “Sunday Sessions” were born in the 80’s when drinking on Sunday was forbidden. Then the law changed, permitting drinking between the hours of 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. It became a tradition to indulge heavily without worries, because the bars closed early. Now they all stay open, but the tradition lives on.

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