Travel+Leisure India and South Asia hosted its annual India’s Best Awards recently. After a five-month long digital polling process, the readers of the magazine voted for their Best Country and Australia emerged as the winner (shared with Singapore). 

T+L India writer Apeksha Bhateja recounts an experience in the country that made her love it.


Say Woolloomooloo out loud, and locals think you’re mispronouncing a neighbourhood. I was in front of the Opera House, penned down by the weight of my borrowed bicycle, with no balance in my local SIM and I had used the last few dollars to buy a cup of coffee. The setting sun was my last cue: it was time to find my way back to the hotel.

There I was, cycling in Woolloomooloo, Sydney.
There I was, cycling in Woolloomooloo, Sydney.

The situation wasn’t as grim as it sounds—cops, volunteers, and locals tried to be helpful, but the only glitch was that they were bewildered whenever I mentioned Woolloomooloo. “What the f*** is Woolloomooloo?” I heard more than once. I accosted locals walking down the street, and they very helpfully checked Google Maps to tell me the route because I had consumed all AUD20-worth of balance in half a day (in my defence, Sydney has extortionist mobile data rates). While circling the packed Circular Quay, I stopped at Café Ananans (a sophisticated French restaurant that let me use their ‘ladies’) and the man at the door told me that it will be difficult to find a cab on Vivid Sydney Friday. So, an hour and a half of alternating between riding and towing the bike, I finally sighted my hotel and dragged my feet to the room. What’s the big about it? My hotel was barely 15-minutes from the Opera House.

Later, I found out that Woolloomooloo is mainly a residential area, and not many know about its existence, much less care. Which is weird because the Wharf has some very popular restaurants and actor Russel Crowe lives in the residential part of the building!

Dinner plans cancelled after this strenuous evening, I took a long bath and opened the packet of Cobs popcorn that came with the room and called it a night. My hotel, Ovolo Woolloomooloo, finding out about my sorry state, very graciously sent a dinner tray to my room. Later when I had enough energy to, I popped the balloon that was left on my bed by the housekeeping. A small piece of paper flew to the floor, and the clue on it led me to the safe which had a ‘Survive Kit’ inside with T2 tea bags, a miniature gin, a pack of paracetamol, and an energy drink. ‘Sydney is a party town,’ a piece of paper inside read, ‘so we thought you might need a survival kit.’

How did they know?

I always have such experiences when I travel—losing my way, losing my luggage, missing my flight. But these hiccups are the best way to find out about a city and listen to its pulse (and they make great travel tales!). Never once did I feel threatened in Sydney, not even when I encountered two guys behind a dumpster; in fact, I earned quite a few pats on my arm and sympathetic smiles from Samaritans. I was just bonetired and cold. As an upside, I got to see much more of Sydney in that roundabout tour than I did the other days combined, and checked off Vivid Sydney from my list. I started at the Botanical Gardens, went to Mrs Macquerie’s Chair, Opera House, CQ, and circled the whole Woolloomooloo neighbourhood before I reached the Wharf. Isn’t that something? I say to myself now that I’m back home with another story.