I just returned from speaking on innovation at the Web Directions conference in Sydney, followed by two weeks of vacation there with my wife. It’s my second time to Australia and I have to say, it’s my favorite country on the planet to visit. Here’s why:
The people are great. I can’t recall anywhere I’ve been where it’s so easy to make jokes and small talk with people I didn’t know. And it’s not the polite, but chilly vibe I often find in America (even in Seattle), it’s this totally warm, friendly, isn’t life funny, knowing vibe. When Australians say no worries, it’s pretty convincing that they believe it, and as a traveler it’s a delight.
The food is magical. I love to eat, and know where to go to find great food in most cities. But everywhere I’ve been in Australia it’s too easy. Food courts, those evil zones in American malls, are fantastic in Australia (at least in Sydney and Melbourne). It’s fast food, yes, but the quality of produce and the range of high quality ethnic foods is hard to match. (And what’s with the dairy products? Yogurt and cheese just taste amazing). I’m a health food guy, and the number of juice bars, vegetarian restaurants and healthy options is unmatched by most world cities (The Glebe neighborhood in Sydney has been a favorite haunt on both of my trips there. Had a great meal at Badde Manors).
Public transportation is fantastic. I’m a former New Yorker, and I miss living in a city with real public transit (The Seattle metropolitan area, despite it’s enviro-self righteousness, is a public transportation disaster). In Sydney you can get from the airport to downtown in 20 minutes for $10: It took us 30 minutes, on foot, to get from our hotel to our air-line check-in. Melbourne has free tram service (like Portland) in the downtown core. It’s all smart, clean and fast. Very impressive. I wish more Americans could see what a city is like when the infrastructure is done right, so we can admit what a crime against mental health the sprawl-o-rama urban planning of cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles are.
The vibe is comfortably in-between England and America. Like the British, Australians have a sense of proper rules of order and how to run things well. But like Americans (and unlike the British), Australian’s seem naturally laid-back in their manner. Things run on time and there are standards, but there’s no snobbery about it. As an American, coming from perhaps the most casual country in the world (for better and worse), Australia feels like America+: it’s familiar, but things on average look, work and taste better.
Two hours to the wild. We took the train from Sydney to Katoomba, and spent a week in the Blue Mountains. Only 100km or so away, but enough to escape any trappings of the big city. Katoomba was my perfect country town: a half-dozen used bookstores, a health-food co-op, and an affordable cottage with a mountain view. We did the giant stairway hike (photo above), and I spent many hours with my feet up, reading and sleep all day.
I love Australian slang. I admit I do love Commonwealth accents (British and Australian makes American English sound flat and boring), but little Australian phrases and shorthand like “exy” for expensive and “brekky” for breakfast are just too fun not to use. I’m sure my friends back at home will think I’m a weirdo, but it will be hard not to keep using the bits of Aussie slang I’ve picked up.
Thanks to everyone I met on this trip, at Web Directions and elsewhere, especially John Allsop and Maxine Sherrin for inviting me to keynote their conference.