Alexia Purcell

Learning big-city lessons

WHEN you take a naive, small-town girl to the big smoke, you can't expect the trip to go off without a hitch.

So when my husband, Matt - a city old-hand from way back - took me, this born-and-bred girl from Cooroy on the Sunshine Coast, to Sydney, he expected me to be overwhelmed, maybe even to get lost but not to publicly embarrass him and almost get us beaten up.

The incident occurred on the train.

We had squeezed into a seat on the top floor of a full carriage. Around us, commuters from all walks of life read books, listened to music, ate lunch, did paperwork, talked on the phone, reapplied makeup, painted nails.

I stared out the window watching Sydney pass by. Industrial buildings, leafy suburbs, busy suburbs, train stations.

Then the graffiti started: words 2m high in bright pinks and yellows, skilfully drawn illustrations, and thick black tags adorned every available surface. We passed an apartment block with the windows barred tight, then an industrial building with every window smashed.

I turned to Matt and said - in no particular words and not particularly quietly - that essentially we must be approaching a dodgy area. He threw me a glance that said: "Do you want to get us beaten up?"

I cast a nervous eye around my fellow train riders. Thankfully, no one was giving me a dirty look but that was my first big city lesson.

As it turned out, I was upstaged anyway by a young man in a suit, telling off an American traveller for texting - not predictive but one letter at a time - on his phone, with the volume up loud.

With the purpose of our trip out of the way, we headed back to the CBD so I could get a real taste of Sydney.

As soon as I saw Sass & Bide, Zimmerman and Louis Vuitton, I had seen all I needed to see.

But Matt insisted I have the full Sydney experience and that included seeing the city from the top of the Sydney Tower Eye.

Rising 250m above the Westfield Centre, the Sydney Tower Eye is the tallest building and offers 360 degrees of amazing views, from the harbour in the north to the Pacific Ocean in the east, Botany Bay in the south and the Blue Mountains in the west.

Before we arrived on the observation deck - via a very fast elevator, we were treated to a 4D cinema experience.

This was turning out to be a trip of firsts for me. I hadn't experienced a 3D movie yet, let alone a 4D one. And until our train ride, I had never seen, let alone been, on a double-decker train.

As a rainbow lorikeet zoomed over my head, wind blew my hair from my face and the ground rumbled beneath my feet, the world changed and I have to say a standard movie will never be the same again.

A restaurant manager, Matt had a couple of boutique breweries earmarked to visit.

The first was a beer café called Redoak.

It boasts being Australia's most awarded brewery.

I am not much of a drinker but I couldn't resist trying the Belgium chocolate stout.

It was like nothing I have ever tasted.

With a bit of a beer shine, we wandered the streets of The Rocks admiring the old buildings, stopping for an ice-cream at Circular Quay to gawk at the docked Oriana liner and later for a Guinness at the Mercantile, voted Australia's best Irish pub.

As we headed back to the airport, evening was settling over the city and with it, a feverish hype.

Drinkers spilled out of every bar, music blared from buildings, lines of people waiting to get into clubs snaked through the side streets, and roads became congested with people, not traffic.

I loved Sydney but then and there I decided: give me my small town any day.


The Sydney Tower Eye is open daily

The 4D movie experience is included in ticket purchase

Height lovers can go one step further and upgrade to a Skywalk

For full details visit: Sydney Tower Eye.

>> Read more travel stories.