Sydney, Australia (Solo)

Sunday, May 14, 2023

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After spending 15 tiring and jam-packed days exploring Tasmania and Melbourne, the solo leg of my Aussie trip in Sydney offered me some much-needed respite. While it was only a short four days from 23-26 April last year, it marked a couple of milestone moments for me: my first proper solo trip and my first experience visiting and working from an office abroad. 

And boy did I enjoy it–so much so that I ended up planning and going on several other trips with similar agendas for the rest of 2022, and I'm hoping to do so this year too. 

Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive take on all the activities in Sydney though, as checking off attractions wasn't my objective at all. I had also previously written a more touristy take on things to do in the city when I last visited back in 2016 (part I, part II), which are still relevant today. 

This time, I just wanted to spend some quality time with myself doing things I love, at a pace that was comfortable for me. As a huge fan of taking myself out on fun dates–I do it all the time in Singapore–a solo trip was essentially that, times a hundred. 

This is me just arriving and spending the first night in Sydney. 

I treated myself to the cutest little boutique hotel, The Woolstore 1888 by Ovolo, because I knew I was going to spend a decent amount of time inside. Location-wise, it was relatively downtown and convenient to get around from, and had quirky touches right up my alley such as the all-inclusive room bar and self-serve gummy candy counter at the lobby. Breakfast didn't offer a crazy variety, but quality was top-notch, and all guests get a free cocktail everyday at happy hour. 

Super cute welcome kit! 

Unfortunately, I had lost most of the photos I took on my phone from this trip and wouldn't be able to accurately recap everything I did, though to be completely honest, wasn't really much. Whatever I did do though, made me immensely happy and contended, so here are some highlights. 

Sydney Fish Market

Perhaps a bit of a tourist trap, but I recall loving the seafood the last time I visited so I had to get these umami-packed char-grilled morsels of scallop, mentaiko sauce and ebiko again. They were as good as I remembered. 

Phantom of the Opera on the Sydney Harbour

Perhaps one of my favourite solo date activities to do in Singapore is to catch a play or musical or a show of some sort, so I decided to pre-book tickets for the Phantom of the Opera on the Sydney Harbour to ensure I had a late-night activity to look forward to. 

This was such an experience, considering I had never caught Andrew Lloyd Webber's renowned musical live, and this was held outdoors with the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and the city skyline as a stunning backdrop. The pyrotechnics they incorporated into the storyline blew me away, with a spectacular fireworks display to close it all out, which obviously wouldn't have been possible in a typical indoor stage. 

The weather threatened to ruin the entire night–halfway through it had started to rain, and everyone except me seemed prepared with ponchos–thankfully it cleared up very quickly. Apparently tickets were also really difficult to snag, and this was in fact the last night of their one-month run. I left the venue with so much gratitude in my heart. 

Working from Sydney (hotel version) 

With my company announcing a work-from-anywhere scheme for employees as a flexibility perk while we transitioned back to the office post-Covid, I decided to give it a shot and got back to checking emails and attending work calls from Sydney. 

Returning to work off the back of a long vacation is always tough, but somehow the novelty of working from somewhere that isn't my bedroom or the Singapore office made it a fair bit better. While I had intended to go into the office, Australia was celebrating Anzac Day, which is a public holiday and thus the office was closed. 

I made a whole day out of it though, strolling out at mid-day for a walk to the nearby Darling Harbour to grab lunch. Fuel of choice was Betty's Burgers, where I got the shroom burger which can 100% rival Shake Shack's. 

And Chinese takeout from Chinatown made for a really comforting, and actually surprisingly authentic taste of home. 

Though I was beat, I decided to take another stroll along Darling Harbour when night fell, and it was bustling with energy from a bunch of street performers and their captive audience. 

Working from Sydney (office version) 

Luckily for me, I did still squeeze in a work-from-office day into my itinerary to explore my first-ever-office-which-isn't-my-own-home-office! I was pretty mind-blown by how consistent the designs across different locations were, yet still maintained uniquely local elements. This is an observation I've come to validate across the several offices I ended up visiting from then onwards. 

Our baristas and food team are truly the best. 

Of course, I couldn't visit the Sydney office without meeting some of the lovely people that got me through the crazy years of working during the pandemic. Here we have L, who has been one of the sweetest, kindest and smartest peer I've been so incredibly lucky to work with. She's since moved on to another team for about a year now, and I sorely miss having her as my local stakeholder. Glad I can call her a friend though, and she brought me around the office. 

Touring an overseas office made me hyper aware of the privilege I had working for Google, and served to remind me that I was working for a truly global firm with perks quite unlike any other. At this point, I had reached the almost-two year mark, but the Covid situation meant that the experiences that I would typically have had were not made available to me, which sometimes causes me to forget the scale of business we deal with and therefore also my own capabilities. And these are the things so important to keep in mind. 

Trust me, we have spaces for productivity too. 


As I left the office and walked back to my hotel, I was greeted by one of the most unreal sunsets ever. And if you thought it couldn't get any better, it was coupled with a freaking rainbow. I'm not quite sure if that's just a typical sight for residents in Sydney, but it made for the best farewell hug from Australia as I prepared to depart back home. 

I didn't realise how much I needed this trip till it happened. Being in Sydney on my own made me feel all sorts of things, such as a newfound sense of independence but more critically, a sense of accomplishment, which if you know me personally, isn't something I often feel. 

On a superficial level, this was the first time I was on a trip with "adult money". While that doesn't mean I blew cash irresponsibly left, right and centre, it felt huge coming from an upbringing where financial insecurity was the norm. At risk of sounding dramatic, it was empowering being able to afford experiences that I would remember for a lifetime, acknowledging all the work, sacrifice and luck it took (not just from myself) to get me to where I am. 

And perhaps the most perfect way to end this post and my Australia trilogy is with this photo. So thankful that I also got the chance to meet family and catch up with my uncle, aunt and cousins who reside in Sydney, and of course to leave knowing that they're doing so well and are happy there. 
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Melbourne, Australia

Sunday, March 19, 2023

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If I'm being completely honest, Melbourne didn't blow me away. 

Don't get me wrong, it's an absolutely stunning city that screams 'arts & culture', and there's so much beauty in being the more laid-back Aussie destination especially if you're comparing it to the fast-paced Sydney. However, it did feel like we covered a decent chunk of what the place had to offer despite spending only barely two days (22-23 April 2022) there. 

Of course, it's also important to note that my credibility to judge Melbourne as a tourist location will be thrown out of the window the moment I reveal that I'm not a coffee drinker. The city has an obsession with their cuppa Joe's, and boasts some of the best cafes and baristas in the world, all of which I'm unable to fully appreciate. 

That said, I did still thoroughly enjoy my time there, which was mostly characterised by stuffing my face silly and being awed by the sheer photogenic quality of every nook and cranny. Here's a glimpse into that–

Day 1

Put forth by the New York Times as possibly one of the world's best croissants, getting my hands on the flaky pastry from Lune Croissanterie was really the only thing I held myself accountable to doing in Melbourne. 

And with my pre-paid order for a mixed box of six classics already filed online five days prior, I walked past this long line into the store directly to pick it up– with a skip in my step and admittedly a completely unnecessary tinge of haughtiness I credited to my foresight. 

The box included a traditional croissant, pain au chocolat, lemon cruffin, kouign-amann, almond croissant, and a ham & gruyere pastry. 

The verdict? No doubt that expert-levels of technique went into making each buttery delight, especially if one takes into account the challenge that comes with maintaining consistency in quality at such high volumes. But describing it as ethereal or otherworldly is a real stretch.  

The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is Australia's oldest and most-visited art museum. 

The QUEER showcase within the NGV was extensive and popular, judging by the sheer crowd present. It also made me wonder if any public Singapore institutions would stage such an exhibition that touches on similar themes in my lifetime. 

The collection was visually and intellectually rather overwhelming though.

And the Pride/ LGBTQIA theme serendipitously continued outside of the confines of the museum. 

In the same vein, the streets were plastered in art, particularly at Hosier Lane.

Ronald is definitely coming for me, I'm chained by the offers on the McDonald's app. 

Is there such a thing as too much character? 

Art was even found within places of worship, this one being the exhibition of Luke Jerram's Gaia, housed in the St Paul's Cathedral. Gazing up towards the sphere that bore the likeness of Mother Earth made for quite a contemplative experience. 

Compared to Tasmania, Melbourne's weather was a lot warmer so these newly launched plant-based desserts made for a lovely treat. We got a few pods of pudding from their little marketing campaign pop-up. 

Note to self: Never judge the quality of an Asian restaurant by the crowd of non-Asians. This was a packed eatery, but the dishes were utterly disappointing, at least to our palates. 

Lunch decision mistakes aside, roaming around Chinatown brought me a sense of ease and familiarity.

And we just had to fit in a visit to a cafe, the most highly-rated one near us being the Seven Seeds Coffee Roasters


Unfortunately, the drinks and tart left us really disappointed. My hot chocolate looked the part, but tasted absolutely nothing like hot chocolate–and I know this sounds like an exaggeration but it genuinely isn't. Perhaps we just caught them on an off-day though, because I've friends and acquaintances rave about this establishment. 

Day 2

If I lived in Melbourne, I'd have a hard time resisting visiting the Queen Victoria Market all the damn time. It's the ultimate one-stop shop for fresh produce, artisan goods, and just good vibes all around, really. 

Breakfast started off strong with this juicy hot dog, though it could've done without that heaping mass of sauerkraut. 

Raspberry jam filled glazed donut and a beautiful Lamington–ever since I started watching Australian YouTuber Natalie Tran's (community channel) videos more than 10 years ago where this Australian cake became somewhat of an inside joke, I've always wanted to sink my teeth into an actual one. 

Alas, the idea of a Lamington is better than a Lamington itself. It's just plain butter cake coated in chocolate and covered in desiccated coconut. At least this one had a thin layer of raspberry jam between the cake slices, which gave it a bit more flavour. 

Considered purchasing a bouquet for myself just to feel like a main character. Glad it remained a consideration. 

No trip to Melbourne would be complete without a visit to the iconic State Library Victoria, which is Australia's oldest library. 

The structure of this building did remind me vaguely of the library in my junior college–obviously the latter isn't as grand, but it boasts a similar cylindrical shape and heavy teak furniture. 

How dost thou, sweet William? 

Quite the sight greeted us when we left the library–folks were organising and advocating for a Free Palestine. 

The flag bearer, literally. 

I'll be the first to admit that my understanding of the Free Palestine movement and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict barely scratches the surface and is mainly limited to what I  had studied in back in school. I did, however, use this opportunity to read up a little more about it, and found this site most useful for me personally. 

And while I am conscious not to take away from the important cause they were fighting for and turn it into an 'experience' for myself, I do want to mention that as a sheltered Singaporean, finding myself in the middle of this was eye-opening. 

Whilst we were enjoying our final cuppa at Lt. Nic, a hole in the wall cafe we stumbled upon, the folks from the Free Palestine movement marched past chanting. 

I can't think of a more on-brand way to conclude our short stay in Melbourne than having a cup of coffee, which made for this pretty picture. 

The end of our Melbourne journey also signalled the parting of ways with my four travel buddies of two weeks. As crazy as embarking on a trip with strangers seemed at the start, it's equally insane how everything fell into place so perfectly. All things considered, we were able to balance and play around with each other's qualities and preferences throughout the duration of living together through nine Airbnbs, one lakeside lodge and one historical relic of a hotel–we even had to plan out laundry days based on the availability of washing machines. 

A huge belated thank you to each one of you for being so very accommodating and honestly, being such a fun and inappropriate bunch, though it's unlikely any one of you would end up reading this. 

They headed back to Singapore while I caught a flight to Sydney to spend some much-needed solo self-soothing, soul-searching time, which I'll hopefully detail in my next one. 

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