An Unexpected Underground

In The Art of Travel, 3. Getting oriented, Sydney by Falynn

I learned quite quickly that Sydney is a pretty straight forward city. Larger streets run north and south, like George Street, and smaller ones run east and west. Although not so grid-like, Sydney’s streets are similar to those of New York in that there’s a pretty clear path and direction. Something I didn’t know, but realized through exploring, is that almost every store you walk past on the main streets of Sydney city are all connected inside, making up shopping centers. Some of these centers are small, just one hallway that connects the stores you see from the street. Others are massive, with multiple floors above and below the street level. The streets of Sydney have very clear paths with familiar landmarks and nodes, one may think they could never get lost. However, walk into an arcade and your perception may change.

After a few days in Sydney, I realized the one denim jacket I brought with me was not going to cut it for the proceeding weeks wrapping up the winter. I decided to walk around CBD, where I knew a lot of stores were located, to find a jacket. I didn’t have a particular store in mind, but figured I’d just be walking up George St and would find something reasonable. I walked from my dorm in Haymarket, Sydney’s Chinatown, up the clear and reliable path to where the stores changed from noodle shops and tiny markets to chain coffee shops, banks, and clothing stores. I entered Topshop, since it was one of the only stores familiar to me. The women’s section of the store was on the lower level, so I took the escalator down and browsed for a while. Toward the back of the store, I noticed a small staircase that didn’t go all the way to the lowest level of the store but to a hallway where I could see foot traffic occurring. I walked through the hall and stumbled upon a huge shopping center, with clothing stores, pharmacies, restaurants–everything. I was excited to explore and felt confident I’d find my jacket here.

What I’ve failed to mention thus far and failed to acknowledge in that moment is that the more options I have, the less likely I am to pick one. This quick trip to pick up a jacket turned into a four hour excursion, examining every jacket in every store. I followed the paths of the underground mall, not paying attention to its curves and directions. At hour three, I was feeling pretty defeated, having not found a jacket still. I figured I’d just head home and look another day. In this moment, something dawned on me. I had no idea where I was. There was no exit in sight. There were no landmarks, since I wasn’t even on the street. I was completely lost underground somewhere. I’m not the type to get panicked, so I just kept walking around, just slightly agitated.

Eventually, I found signs pointing to an exit. I followed the signs and reached the end of the path. This led me to the underneath of Town Hall, a major landmark and node for the CBD. It turns out that Town Hall plays the same role underground, as all of the lower levels of the separate shopping centers on each street meet here as well. Although I ended up in a completely different shopping center than I had started, I was relieved that I knew from here how to get home. Although this was definitely an overwhelming experience, I was happy to have found a whole other world of Sydney on my own.

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  • Town Hall: Falynn