Living in Sydney, a wise friend once told me, is like dating a supermodel: It’s bound to make everyone jealous. And indeed it has. Ever since I made the “Emerald City” my adopted home, visiting friends—seduced by the views, the beaches, and the weather—sooner or later begin wistfully asking about their own chances of becoming residents. To soften their envy, I point out that they’d eventually tire of the easy life and the “tyranny of distance.” As we stroll the fern groves teeming with colorful parrots, or dine on the edge of the sparkling harbor, they nod unconvincingly and size me up for signs of sunstroke.
Truth be told, even I question my own arguments against Sydney. What’s not to like about a city where you can get around by ferry, eat outdoors almost year-round, and play at any number of pristine beaches? An outsider could be forgiven for thinking that Sydneysiders are perpetually on vacation. Heck, the locals themselves feel that way much of the time. And being so far removed from the “action” is often more blessing than curse: While other world-class cities are frenetic, in Sydney, when the surf’s up, and the weather forecast is for another typically fine day, no one bothers to get stressed out.
At the same time, Australia’s largest metropolis has also grown worldlier. An influx of immigrants late last century has pumped new vitality into this city of 4.3 million. Sydney now boasts a cosmopolitan mix of cafés, cuisines, and cultures, and several attractively revamped harborside precincts. Yet, as an Azerbaijan-born taxi driver recently put it, despite its new world-class status, Sydney retains the relaxing air of a “large country town.”
I’ve learned to think of Sydney as a picnic: I may not want to spend my life in this sunny antipodean gem, but it sure makes for a pleasant interlude.
LUBA VANGELOVA is a freelance writer who lived in Sydney for three years but is now based in Washington, D.C. She has written for numerous publications, including Smithsonian magazine and the New York Times.
Shop National Geographic