[It’s impossible for me to post this today without offering my condolences to the individuals and families involved in the Sydney hostage situation that unfolded in the past 24 hours. My thoughts are with those affected, directly and indirectly. This type of isolated incident can clearly happen anywhere; I hope that realisation makes people travel more, and not less, as a result.]
The first time I came to Sydney was almost 14 years ago. I remember driving up to some viewpoint and standing at the top of a cliff, breathing in the crisp ocean air, and I loved it. Now, after my second visit, I can confirm: Sydney is one of my top three cities. The others? New York and Stockholm; I think I’ll put London at number four since it’s less exciting giving its proximity for most of my life…
Last time I came, my friend Kirsten and I did all the touristy things you’re meant to do: we did a tour of the Opera House, went to the Aquarium, took a boat to a seafood restaurant, visited the Blue Mountains… This time, I hadn’t planned anything and so I felt that I could relax into it. I stayed in a serviced apartment instead of a hotel, which meant that I felt a little like a local doing my shopping in a supermarket and eating breakfast or cooking dinner ‘at home’. I went to museums, I went to the theatre, I even did a bit of shopping…
1. Visit the Rocks Market at the weekend
The Rocks is not a bad place to stay if you want to be close to the main attractions, the bridge, the harbour, the Opera House… I went there for the weekend market, which spills out onto the streets on Saturdays and Sundays with a foodie version also on Friday, where you can buy lunch at the various food stalls and explore the various arts and crafts on display. I fell for some unusual jewellery at one stall, where I had a long chat with the French lady there whose husband had created these pieces using resin and gold and silver leaf. At another stall, a family business offered unique pieces built from different parts of old mechanical watches. I also bought a bag that I could wear across the body for the next part of my trip that would take me to Asia. And I had a mini cupcake. Yum.
From The Rocks, I went up onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where I had planned to climb up to the Pylon Lookout. When I got there, though, I found that this involved climbing up a set of stairs inside the pylon (duh!) with no windows, and this time my claustrophobia won out – so I passed. There is also the more famous BridgeClimb, which looks like it would be spectacular.
2. Take the ferry to Manly
The boat ride to Manly takes about an hour one way and if you sit at the back (and then at the front on the return journey) you get fabulous views of all of what Sydney has to offer: the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, and the skyscrapers of the central business district. Manly itself has several beaches as well as a number of trails if you have more time. I had a performance to get back for, so I settled for a nice stroll along the coast with an ice cream for company.
To get to the ferry from Haymarket, where I was staying, I took the opportunity to walk down to Woolloomooloo Bay and around the Botanic Gardens. I passed Mrs Macquarie’s Chair – impossible to miss with all those Chinese tourists clamouring to take a photo – and continued round to Farm Cove where you can get all the selfies you could possibly need in front of the classic panorama of the Sydney Opera House and the neighbouring Harbour Bridge.
3. Get a bit of culture
Make that a LOT of culture in my case. I went to the Australian Museum, where I was pointed in the direction of the Albert Chapman minerals collection – born in 1912, he began collecting at twelve but was a tad more persistent then I was and by the time of his death in 1996 he had amassed a huge collection; my favourites were the blues and greens of azurite and malachite. (Tip: Pick up the free Sydney guide at the airport, as it has all sorts of discounts, including one that I used for the museum.) On the way, I passed through the ANZAC Memorial, built in art deco style in the early 1930s, where an informative guide encouraged me to explore the museum underneath. I also went to see the Chuck Close exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, following a recommendation from an arty friend.
Having only done the tour during my last visit, this time I booked a ticket to see a matinee performance at the Sydney Opera House, The Nutcracker ballet, my favourite and the ultimate sign of Christmas (though it was strange to exit the theatre into a hot summer’s afternoon!). And, as luck would have it, my apartment was just across the road from the musical Wicked at the Capitol Theatre; so, how could I resist, I went to see that as well. Best seat in the house and a magical night; even better was the shortest ever walk home across the street afterwards… Oh, and I went to see the Mockingjay film at the cinema, if that counts as culture!
4. Shop ’til you drop
After all that culture, I needed to bring the level down a bit with some less highbrow activity. I admired the Christmas windows and had a lovely paleo lunch at the David Jones department store (– one of the bonus reasons why I love Sydney, the amazing healthy food that you can get!). At Myers, I successfully replaced my broken sandals with a new pair (and maybe some other things while I was at it…). I also topped up on shampoo at Toni & Guy.
My more extravagant purchase that I had planned to make was an opal in some form or other. I’d been thinking about it since my encounter with a Native American shop owner in Cusco, Peru, who had recommended that I buy a fire opal, and it also happens to be my birthstone; so given its prevalence in Australia I thought what better time than now. Cathy, an elegant French lady in OpalMinded, accompanied me on my personal journey to find the right stone.
“May I ask what kind of price range you’re looking at?”
“Oh, I’m not really sure how much they are…”
“Because that one there is $20,000.”
“Ah. Well not $20,000.”
She graciously steered me towards some much smaller stones as well as the doublets that consist only of a thin layer of opal against a black backing and are therefore cheaper. We also briefly considered buying a loose stone and having someone back home design a ring or necklace, but that seemed like a lot of work to me… In the end, we settled for a simple silver ring with a small but lovely opal. It was a little less than $20,000…
5. Go for a drink at Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour is where you can find Sydney Aquarium, Sydney Zoo, Madame Tussauds… so I steered well clear of that area this time around; until my last evening. I had met an old school friend for a drink at the bar down in front of the Opera House (also a great spot, by the way) and we decided to continue on to Darling Harbour, where I ended my time in Sydney with a bang – there were fireworks – with dinner and drinks. I felt only a little old with the loud music and the students around us who were drinking shots and getting flirty…
Sydney, I love you! If only you weren’t so far away…
The practical bit:
Meriton Serviced Apartments: Although I booked via Booking.com, the guy at reception insisted that it would be cheaper to book directly next time. They have apartments in different locations around Sydney – mine was on Campbell Street, in Thai Town (next door to Chinatown). Another recommendation from a friend is for The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel (you have to email as they don’t have online booking, crazy, I know).
The Rocks Market: Every Saturday and Sunday as well as Public Holidays, 10am-5pm.
Ferry: Manly is in the outer zone so you’ll need a MyFerry2 ticket at $14.80 for an adult return. The ferry leaves from Circular Quay and takes about an hour one way.