More than two months into my Australian adventure, I have settled into my daily routine working as an au pair as well as getting familiar with and accustomed to my surroundings in a Sydney suburb, complete with having a usual spot at my favourite café. (Pure Brew Co. has the best mocha I have tasted down under so far! It is seriously so good!)
I tried not to have any set expectations before I
came here, but of course I harboured some stereotypical hopes, like seeing koalas and kangaroos hopping along the side of the streets or seeing surfers out and about barefoot everywhere. I can say that I haven’t seen any koalas and ‘roos (Aussie’s love to abbreviate words) outside the zoo and a koala hospital yet. However, I have seen many surfer “dudes” roaming around the beaches I’ve yet been to.
When it comes to typical OZ (common nickname for Australia) life, I can say that there’s some notable differences to life in both other countries I have lived in for a longer period of time so far – Germany, my home country, and the United States, where I have spent a considerable amount of time during the past seven years.
One I was very surprised about was how early cafés and some restaurants close, especially on weekends. While cafés in Germany are usually open at least until 6pm, or even longer depending on whether the menu caters to evening desires like cocktails and dinner, most places here close around 4pm, sometimes even earlier on weekends. But while most stores in Germany are closed on Sundays, they are usually open at least until 5pm in Australia. So while you are usually always able to buy food to prepare at home or take away, places where you can sit down and eat or drink in beautiful surroundings can be more tricky to find, at least if you are on a tight budget.
Which brings me to the next difference compared to Germany – the cost of food. Even when considering the conversion rate between the Aussie Dollar and the Euro, any kind of food items, whether in the form of groceries to take home or restaurant meals and drinks, are more expensive. Here are some examples so you can get an idea of the differences: a regular coffee is usually $3.50 (2,36€), typical lunch and dinner restaurant mains range between $20 (13,49€) and $30 (20,23€), a regular-sized single Snickers chocolate bar is $2 (1,35€), and one scoop of Italian-style ice cream is at least $5 (3,37€). (And no, the scoop isn’t any larger than it would be in Germany.) If you are lucky, you can find lunch specials that usually consist of a decent-sized sandwich and a coffee and range between $12 (8€) and $14 (9,44€).
So living on a tight traveler’s budget down under is tricky, especially when you do not have the advantage of working as a live-in au pair, which includes free food and accommodation. When I arrived in Sydney a little more than two months ago, I met many backpackers at a hostel in the Sydney CBD (Central Business District – another typical Australian abbreviation you need to know if you want to be able to find your way around Aussie cities). Despite the national minimum wage of $17.70, most of them were living on a pretty unhealthy diet of toast and jam for “brekkie” (as the Aussie calls his breakfast) and white pasta and processed Bolognese or tomato basil sauce for dinner, which they tended to eat most days. I suppose that for most of them, lunch consisted of unhealthy but affordable snacks like potato chips or – again – toast. So, understandably, dining out might mostly be a rare experience for the usual backpacker, who also has to pay for his accommodation in a hostel, which in a city like Sydney can also be quite expensive. The hostel I stayed in during my first days in the Sydney CBD cost around $40 a night. Quite expensive for a bunk bed in an 8-person dorm room! If backpackers do dine out, relatively (big emphasis on relatively) cheap American franchise options like Macca’s (Australians never say “McDonalds”), Hungry Jack’s (the Australian name for Burger King), KFC, and Subway are mostly the destinations of choice. The 60 Cent soft serve ice cream cone offered at both Macca’s and Hungry Jack’s has probably satisfied many backpackers’ ice cream cravings for many years.
However, I’ve also found that, if you are lucky and have a little more time in a metropolitan area like Sydney or Melbourne, you can find cheap fresh fruit and vegetables at local food markets, which tend to be a little more on the expensive side in both Germany and the United States. My personal recommendations are Paddy’s Markets in Sydney and – especially – Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. They are both wonderful destinations if you do not only want to buy fresh food, but also have time to spend a nice morning wandering around and taking in an authentic market experience. For seafood lovers, Sydney Fish Market is highly recommended!
Speaking of experiences: I’ve made many over the past two months. Aside from working and living in Sydney, one of the most desired places in and around Australia, and visiting many of its sights and attractions, I’ve taken trips down to Melbourne, including a day trip to the famous Great Ocean Road, the Blue Mountains in Sydney’s “backyard” (cf. my previous post), the Australian capital Canberra, and up the New South Wales coast to Byron Bay, including stops in Port Macquarie and Coff’s Harbour. Before anyone asks: Yes, I have taken the obligatory picture in front of the “Big Banana” in Coff’s Harbour! Everyone who has been to Australia will know what I’m talking about. And to name only a few more experiences: I have spent Easter Sunday at Bondi Beach, ate fish and chips at Sydney Fish Market, had picnic lunch on the lawn in front of New Parliament House in Canberra, and sand boarded down the Stockton Beach sand dunes in Port Stephens, the largest in the southern hemisphere. And I’m always imagining and planning my next adventure.
Right now, I’m planning to take a little break from travelling to other places and focus on daily life in and around Sydney, because – frankly speaking – constant travel can be quite tiring after a while. I just got back from the mentioned four-day road trip to Byron Bay, during which I have driven roughly 1.700 kilometers. Don’t get me wrong, it was great and exciting! But it is also nice to step back and relax for a little while, before starting the next adventure. So I will use my free time to explore Sydney and its surroundings a little more, an area which is rightfully listed among the most beautiful metropolitan areas in the world. Nowhere have I seen the same combination of urban shopping and entertainment, beautiful weather, and picture-perfect beaches and coastline before. It truly has the best of everything and is the perfect place to live – if you can afford it considering the skyrocketing real estate prices in and around the city! Just to give you a rough idea of how insane house prices here are: in the suburb I live in, which is located about 20 km north of the Sydney CBD, most regular-sized family homes, which aren’t necessarily larger or more luxurious than the ones you would find in a suburb in urban Germany, range somewhere between $1.000.000 and $3.000.000.
There is so much more to tell you about and I will keep you updated on my adventures. For more regular updates, follow me on Instagram or Facebook via the links on the bottom of this page. I truly enjoy my gap time halfway across the world from both places I call home. So far, no regrets!