Arriving on the first day in a foreign setting will inherently be the most liberating time spent during your stay at the destination. Upon checking in to your temporary accommodations, unpacking your belongings, and taking the time to breath a sigh of relief, there is only one thing left to do: Step out the front door.
Landing at Sydney Airport and going through customs: 2 hours.
Taking a cab from the airport directly to the entrance of my dorm: 1 hour.
Riding in the elevator up to our apartment on the 13th floor and unpacking my three pieces of luggage: 2 hours.
Although I had been in Sydney for exactly 5 hours, the first day truly begins when you are provided the chance to step out the door, without luggage weighing you down, into the streets of your new home. In many ways, the first day is special since without knowledge of the city or foresight into travel plans, there is no wrong way to go. Traveling in any direction holds the same result; new experiences and locations. In fact, the only incorrect form of travel is to not go out and explore in the first place. Often times, exploring by foot on the first day means recognizing a few distinct features around you. For me, my first travels out the door meant circling the entirety of the historic Central Train Station, and then wandering deeper south into the district where our residence building is located, which is known as Haymarket (Sydney’s “Chinatown” area). However, upon returning to the 13th floor of our building and studying the landscape from the floor to ceiling windows of my apartment’s common area, I was able to finally begin to understand the area surrounding me.
The next week, when classes started, I was ready to go. From my window, I had mapped out a surprisingly accurate route of the city. Off into the distance, I knew that the sharp advance of skyscrapers in the distance marked the edge of Haymarket and the start of the central business district (CBD). At the start of the CBD, the impressive Ernst and Young building, towering high above the other skyscrapers can be seen from virtually every southern location in the city. From our pre-departure orientation, I knew that our academic building was located at the top of the CBD, in an area called The Rocks. From the view, it was evident that the diagonal road in the image, that cuts through Haymarket and then swivels before leading deeper into the CBD would be my best route of travel. Luckily, this path essentially led directly to the foot of our academic building. Although it may have made things a bit more interesting if our academic building wasn’t in such a linear and well defined path, the nearly 40 minute walk is enough to create issues regarding waking up and getting to class by 9:30 am. Along the walk to class, perhaps the most interesting segment of travel is passing Sydney Town Hall, a late 19th century building which still houses council offices and venues for functions. Sydney Town Hall is the anchor point of the city. It is located directly in the heart of the CBD, and is closed off and distinct from its surroundings. Here, street musicians line the perimeter of the courtyard as crowds push there way towards for the Harbor.
Examining the structure and identity of an existing location is a refreshing experience, capable of heightening ones senses in preparation for the unexpected. Although Sydney is definitely not the most difficult city to traverse given its well planned city grid and the availability of English signs and directions, forming an image of any new city around you is a rewarding and entertaining experience.