Travel writers and savvy individuals have known for years that the best way to fully appreciate a place was to settle in for awhile. Instead of paying a ‘flying visit’ or staying in a hotel, more and more people now choose to live in a short-term apartment or house rental so that they can shop in the local stores, cook in their temporary kitchen, and get a feel for the neighbourhood in a way that they never would have if they had been cossetted behind the walls of a hotel with room service and daily housekeeping services.
When you remove the bag carrying, room cleaning, food cooking, concierge, and front desk services of a hotel, you will frequently discover that apartment or house rentals can save you a substantial amount of money over the cost of a very average hotel. And if you value your privacy the way we do or you enjoy the opportunity to sleep late occasionally, you’ll appreciate the fact that no one will knock on the door in the morning to ask if you want your room cleaned.
We had an extraordinary opportunity recently when, instead of renting them out, two dear friends lovingly offered their two apartments to us at no cost for our 16 day stay in Sydney. We had just sold our house in Australia and had a 16 day period to fill prior to flying on to Amsterdam at the end of December. We would be staying in Sydney during the weeks before and after Christmas and any available rental apartments would have already been scooped up. The offer of these two apartments was both a wonderful surprise and a huge blessing!
Sydney is a very accessible metropolis with a comprehensive train and bus system, City Rail and Sydney Buses, linking the various neighbourhoods. The Sydney CBD (Central Business District) is a short distance from the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, but we were headed for the opposite side of that same bridge and the neighbourhood of North Sydney which is served by two different train stops at Milson’s Point and the North Sydney station.
A ten minute walk from either of the railway stations took us to the apartment, but I hadn’t expected it to be eight stories up in the air with views over the rooftops in that incredibly hilly neighbourhood. If you click on the photo and then look about 3/4 of the way over on the right, you will see a flag flying. That is atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge and we had the most wonderful view of the pre-Christmas fireworks over the bridge by simply standing on the balcony.
View of North Sydney rooftops from 8th floor balcony
I have to admit, I certainly got more of a work-out than I had expected every time we went out to shop or sightsee and I was huffing and puffing quite dramatically on the first few days there! But we found everything that we needed within a fifteen to twenty-five minute walk and the variety of shops and restaurant choices made our stay in North Sydney quite enjoyable. And I began to get fitter in the process of taking those daily walks!
One afternoon whilst on a trip to the bank, our curiosity got the best of us and we followed a stream of people who were descending on an escalator that dropped down beneath the pavement that we had been walking on. It became obvious as soon as we reached the bottom that we had arrived in the middle of a mall.
Greenwood Plaza in North Sydney-full sized underground shopping centre
The initial narrow hallway led into a bright and open two-level full-sized mall that was operating beneath the office buildings, cafes, shops, and streets above. Greenwood Plaza was a pleasant surprise, especially when we found a rather nice organic butcher, a lovely fruit market around the corner from a full-sized grocery store, a health food shop, and dozens of other beautiful shops. This well-stocked shopping centre was the perfect discovery to help us stay on track with our budget travel and healthy lifestyle concept of cooking our meals from fresh ingredients.
Narrow lane in North Sydney
North Sydney was certainly a delightful place to “live like a local” for a week. Old stone cottages on narrow and hilly lanes co-exist with looming high-rise commercial buildings on busy hilly streets and then give way to glorious hilly parkland that sweeps down to the water’s edge beneath the bridge at the Sydney Harbour. You may have noted the “hilly” theme of North Sydney, but it is gloriously green and leafy and relatively quiet compared to many other parts of this hustle-bustle city.
North Sydney park at base of Harbour Bridge--taken by Mark Harmes
Unless indicated, all photography by Deborah Harmes.