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Living like Sydney-siders

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One of the main reasons Christian and I decided to stay in Australia for two months was to spend more time with family and friends. Over the last 5 years while we’ve lived in San Francisco, we’ve typically only had time to see our families once per year, alternating Christmases in Sydney or Vienna. This year, we got to spend over a month in Vienna leading up to our wedding which was particularly nice. So adding two full months in Aussie-Land felt like the icing on the cake. Luckily, my sister and her family live in Australia as well and I was especially looking forward to spend time with my two little nephews (Jayden, 3.5 years; Lukas, 18 months) and, vice versa, for them to see their auntie for more than the occasional quick visit. I guess with kids it’s particularly apparent how quickly time passes and how much can happen in just a few months. I constantly had the feeling that I was missing out on some important parts of their childhood. Apart from squeezing in a short Outback adventure we ended up splitting the remainder of the time between Christian’s family in Sydney and my sister’s family in Austinmer. Reconnecting with Christian’s friends from high-school, university and college (i.e., Aussie terminology for student housing) was the other highlight. Our schedule was packed with fun activities from beach picnics, to leisurely lunches, kayaking, hiking, cricket and basketball games and many fun dinners. Not only did I get to know an incredible group of people, I also got a better sense for Sydney-siders, what they do, how they live and what they value in life. At times I felt like being at home in this city, not just a visitor passing by. We did not foresee that we would have such a hard time leaving as our time was up, almost feeling homesick. Here is why:

Enjoying food heaven with great company:

  • Exploring Sydney’s restaurant scene: New restaurants are spreading through Sydney like mushrooms which reminded me a lot about San Francisco. Lots of different concepts with a good mix of Australian/Western and Asian influences. Some of my favourites included Nomad (creative modern Australian dishes, fun & lively atmosphere), Porteno (Argentinian influenced, incredible grilled meats!), Ripples (perfect for lunch in the sun with stunning views of Sydney) and Mamak & Hawker (authentic Malaysian street food brought to Sydney by Christian’s university friend Alan Au). But let’s not forget dessert. There is one spot in Sydney that everyone tells you to go to for real gelato: Gelato Messina. Lines are long but the creative flavour combinations justify the wait. Heaven for ice cream lovers.
  • Indulging in delicious, home-cooked meals:
    • Our travels through Malaysia and China introduced me to the vast array of delicious Asian foods. And our culinary journey continued in Sydney where Christian’s dad Vincent cooked up some traditional Malaysian recipes. I tasted my first “real” congee for breakfast (rice porridge with a variety of condiments prepared the way that Christian’s grandfather grew up with), Rojak (exotic fruit salad with tofu, bean sprouts and prawn paste), and Char Kuey Teow (fried rice noodles).
  • On another occasion Jason, one of Christian’s university friends and true food lover, invited us over for a home-cooked meal. Little did we know that he was preparing a multi-course Korean dinner. Delicious! I’m ready to incorporate some of those Asian flavours into our recipe book.
  • Another treat was an invitation to Sophie’s (one of Christian’s university friends) for lunch together with Lara. Nothing beats good meatballs and a glass of champagne for a leisurely lunch while getting to catch up and play with the kids.
  • A special highlight was catching up with my host family from 14 years ago. Back then I came to Australia for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. As part of the experience our group (the Olympic Youth Camp) was split up and assigned to host families for only 3 days. I was lucky to be assigned to the McGrath family in Bowral. A connection that we maintained up until now! An afternoon of good conversations and lots of laughter accompanied by delicious Aussie BBQ and wine.
  • Expanding our healthy food horizon: As a bonus of living with my sister, we also got a full immersion into “very healthy” cooking. Christian and I would consider ourselves to eat fairly healthy but my sister, who has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences, took our knowledge to the next level. She has an endless list of easy-to-cook wholesome meals with healthy, local ingredients. I rediscovered home-cooked warm breakfasts that are nutritional yet easy to digest (cooked millet with chia seed puree, fresh berries and some almonds was my personal favourite), how to prepare simple yet tasty dishes (homemade frittata, hand-rolled sushi, freshly made spelt pizza) and how to prepare some healthy desserts (e.g., raw “no cheese” cheesecake, carob balls made out of dates and nuts – no sugar or dairy added). I left Sydney with a long list of healthy eating resolutions. Travelling through Southern Chile and the Antarctic in the past few weeks, I’ve already had to compromise. It’s hard to avoid the omnipresence of white wheat bread here. Well, options are limited at the end of the world 🙂 But the plan is to pick up my resolution when we are back in the real world.
  • Enjoying a 7-course NYE dinner with friends: New Years Eve in Sydney can get crowded out on the streets. So we met up with a small group of friends and enjoyed a home-cooked 7-course dinner with wine pairing! Dishes on the menu included some Australian classics like ocean trout (looks like salmon but tastes MUCH better), barramundi and lamb cutlets. To top off the evening we enjoyed a good glass of champagne while watching Sydney’s spectacular fireworks.
  • Exploring new wine bars & remodelled pubs: Back in the day, it was hard to get a liquor license in Sydney. So typically only larger establishments were able to get a license to sell alcohol on-premise. Just recently, laws have changed to allow smaller establishments to serve alcohol. As a consequence a variety of wine bars have opened throughout the city and are becoming a new meeting point. The added benefit is that the increased competition forced the old establishments to revamp their image resulting in creatively renovated old pub buildings. The perfect mix of old and new! One of those places is Coogee Pavilion on Coogee beach – an old pub turned party parlour which combines a lively bar scene with a restaurant and a game area (life-size jenga and scrabble!). We ended up there twice with Christian’s university friends, on both occasions having a fantastic time.
  • Tasting outstanding coffee: Nothing beats Australian flat whites. Australia has a well renowned barista culture, true coffee artists, that prepare your order to perfection. The consistency of coffee throughout the country is quite incredible.

Taking advantage of Sydney’s beach & outdoor lifestyle: Sydney is unique in that it combines the urban with the beach lifestyle. The city centre smoothly merges with suburban neighbourhoods at beautiful sandy beaches. I can see why people here strive for a good work-life balance. It does make one happy to get up to the rising sun and go for a run on the beach feeling the wind on your skin and hearing the roaring ocean just a few feet away. It’s pretty invigorating to be amongst such a healthy and energetic group of people. My admiration goes especially to all the ocean swimmers out there. Doing 1k+ morning swims in the open water (many of them are legitimate races) is the ultimate level of fitness! On the weekends, the ocean walk hugging the coast from Bondi all the way down to Coogee is bustling with people. One of our outdoor Sydney highlights was a picnic with friends at Tamarama and hiking in the Blue Mountains.

Spending 24 hours alone with my sister: Living on different continents for 10+ years, I couldn’t remember when I had spent a solid number of hours alone just with my sister. Therefore, I took the opportunity to get away and kidnapped my sis to a small town called Kiama just south of Austinmer. Spending a full 24 hours together and having no time pressure for our conversations felt like a rare luxury. I realised that it’s not only family time by itself that matters, it’s also the one-on-one time with your loved ones that enables us to strengthen our bonds and truly understand each other.

Getting a crash course in bringing up kids: We got the full immersion into the life of a young family, living with my sister, Bobby and their kids. I learned how to change diapers; discovered that kids need an endless amount of food; got reminded about children’s endless imagination which caused a daily dose of healthy laughter; witnessed some unique moments (Jayden fearlessly mastering his first swim lessons, Lukas learning to catch a ball – just to name a few examples); noticed that kids are really smart and that you need to be careful what you say because they understand more than you think!; realised that there is no real “off-time” with kids; and how important it is for parents to work as a team and become the most patient people in the world. I must admit that I have a new appreciation for what it means to be a parent, and how much joy those little beings can bring to your life.

Losing ourselves in long conversations over lovely family dinners: Many of our evenings we were reminiscing about the past, discussing our current challenges, and getting excited about future ambitions. Ultimately, our conversations were a reminder that we all grapple with the same questions. What are our priorities? What are we optimising for? What makes us truly happy and how does that change over time? Our stay in Australia reminded me that a big portion of my happiness is linked to spending time with the people I love. I recently read an article about the connection of time and happiness which probably summarises my feelings the best: “Spending time with people you love doing the things you love is the best road to happiness.”. Also offers some good guiding principles for how to be more happy in our professional life!

SPECIAL THANKS: We are so privileged to have stayed with so many of our friends and family while in Sydney to save us on having to fork out on hotels. For this we send a big thank you (in no particular order) to:
* Jason To
* Bill & Veronica Marriott
* Lara Ette & Greg Kaspar
* Jen Davies
* Vincent Wong and Judy Grey
* Bobby Cheema and Verena Raschke-Cheema