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In February of this year I was invited by New South Wales tourism to attend the Australian Open of Surfing in Sydney, Australia. I’m not a surfer and I had been to Sydney several times before, so I wasn’t really that interested in attending and suffering through a 16 hour flight. However, having read my list of my 13 Most Wanted Destinations, they sweetened the pot by throwing in a trip to Lord Howe Island.
This, however, is not a story about Lord Howe Island.
This story is about Sydney and about how no matter the number of times you visit a place, you can never assume you have it all figured out.
Depending on how you want to define it, I had been to Sydney on 3 or 4 different occasions. Each of my previous trips had two things in common:
- I was in Sydney resting between other trips I had taken.
- I never went far from the Central Business District.
I can’t say I disliked Sydney, but when it came time to make my list of my 10 favorite cities in the world, Sydney didn’t make the cut. Melbourne, where I had spent an entire month chilling out waiting for my new passport was the Australian city I had listed as being my favorite. In fact, as I look back on it now, I didn’t even have Sydney listed as an honorable mention.
My ranking was an honest assessment of how I experienced the cities I had visited, but it wasn’t necessarily a fair ranking. Our views of a city or a country are fundamentally influenced by the experience we had. That can be shaped by the people we randomly meet, the weather and the things we choose to do.
My previous Sydney experience basically consisted of staying in some hostels downtown and visiting the harbor front. That’s it.
This time it was a completely different experience. I got out of the CBD and took the ferry to Manly (something I never bothered to do before). I went to Bondi and Bronte beaches. I went kayaking in Sydney Harbor. I visited Cockatoo Island. We did a pub crawl. We went all the way around to the mouth of the harbor, from which I could actually get perspective to understand why Sydney was settled where it was. Granted, some of the experience was that of a press trip where the hosts try to wine and dine you, but mostly it was just seeing parts of the city that I had never bothered to explore before.
Sydney was a much nicer city than I had assumed. The reason for my previous perception of the city lied squarely with me and what I did when I was there.
There is something much bigger at play here, than just my perception of one Australian city.
As I am writing this I am sitting in New York City, a city I have visited dozens of times but in all honesty, never beyond Central Park and Battery Park in Manhattan. My perception of New York doesn’t include most of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island and Harlem. When I come here it is almost always for work and I never go out exploring.
I’ve stayed in several different neighborhoods in London, but I can’t say I’ve really explored the city in any meaningful way.
I’ve been to a few of the central androssiments in Paris, but haven’t set foot in most of them.
I’ve heard some people say they didn’t want to go back to a place because they have “done it already”.
Well, it doesn’t work like that.
You never can say you’ve “done” a place because every time you return you will have a different experience. You meet different people, eat in different restaurants and there are always other things to explore.
I shouldn’t have been hesitant to visit Sydney because I didn’t think much of it originally. I actually should have jumped at the chance.
Don’t assume because you’ve been somewhere you’ve done it all. You haven’t and in fact, you can’t.