Who flies from Washington, DC to Sydney, Australia, for slightly more than two days? Clearly only a nut or someone on a mileage run who was taking advantage of the deeper than deep discounted fares to go “down under.” In my defense, I would have stayed a few days longer but couldn’t snag a return seat for another week and was unable to schedule such a long trip.
Had it not been for some lovely friends who live in Sydney and have an apartment in Paris, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But Fiona and Paul were nice enough to say they’d line up someone to play tour guide. Ann was perfect and gracious as she dragged me all over the city.
My flight arrived at just after 6 a.m. and I taxied straight to the Blue Sydney on The Wharf at Woolloomooloo on the outskirts of the center city. The hotel’s entrance was dramatically modern and guests can’t help but see some more than impressive boats (meaning huge) moored at its pier. My room with an incredible view was ready. I immediately headed to the small but well equipped gym to get my adrenalin pumping since I was going to see as much as possible in a finite period of time.
After a fast workout, I went upstairs, unpacked, showered, dressed, gulped some coffee and was ready to go. I’m lucky because when I am on a really long flight, I sleep as if I’m among the living dead. Besides, I didn’t have time to indulge in being jet-lagged. Ann, who became an instant friend, was waiting downstairs and off we went to see Paul and Fiona Dane. They’re retailers and were working like maniacs to launch a new hip and trendy woman’s clothing boutique in the QVC building that’s recently been renovated to its original splendor and more. We kissed and received our marching orders including where to meet for dinner at 8:30 that night. It was 10 a.m. I wondered whether or not I’d be alive at the appointed hour.
This wasn’t the time to contemplate such thoughts so off we went. Ann’s car was equipped with a GPS but it was quickly apparent that driving within inner Sydney is nutty. It’s not the traffic. Rather, it’s the cost of parking. Most commuters park on the outskirts and take public transport into town. If you buy a pass, you can hop on and off ferries, buses and trains; you’ll be financially ahead and not spend your time looking for parking spaces on the street or in garages and paying a fortune for the privilege.
What I didn’t realize is Sydney is an adult playground. With the exception of a few days during its winter (remember, the seasons are reversed since it’s in the southern hemisphere) it’s blessed with temperate weather. The city is built around a natural harbor with much of its shore being designated a National Park. Some of the best views of Sydney are seen from the water. People can choose from cruises that last a day where you’re fed and feted. Then there are ferries where you can climb on and off to get a feeling for the area. We opted for the latter. The diversity of the city made an impression I’ll never forget.
Parts of it were funky such as Luna Park. It’s a 1930s amusement park. There are still rides such the Tango Train. But the showstopper is the superbly restored Ferris wheel. If you’re brave enough to take it, you’ll be treated to incredible views including the world-famous Opera House.
Ann and I were on the run but we stopped for lunch on Manly Beach where people spend their summers – even though you can take the ferry and be in the business district in approximately 40 minutes. There was an almost retro feeling about it. The idea of being able to have lunch overlooking the water and watching people sail-boarding in wet suits was an enigma for someone who commutes between Paris and Washington, DC.
Ann and I didn’t go to the Taronga Zoo that’s reputed to be beautiful and yes, I missed seeing the largest collection of native and exotic animals in New South Wales including koalas, kangaroos, platypus, echidnas and frilled lizards. We also opted not to visit the Aquarium – which most tourists consider a must.
Our must-dos included a tour of the Sydney Opera House, a Walk through Hyde Park, a fast look-see of the Australian Natural History museum, which houses an incredible collection of Aboriginal art and artifacts. We paid a quick visit to the city’s famous Botanical Gardens.
We raced through the CBD (Central Business District). The area is home to many hotels, office buildings and is the city’s downtown area. There’s a lot of shopping but nothing yelled, “Buy me.” Shops in Sydney aren’t cheap. There is an arts and crafts markets on weekends, that’s one of the many things I missed on this whirlwind tour.
We spent a bit of time in the city’s Chinatown but not nearly enough. When I return to Sydney, I plan to spend more than just a day exploring the area and eating Dim Sum. We perused The Rocks and ate in a tearoom that had excellent French pastries. Much to my surprise, they were every bit as expensive as if we’d been in Paris. The Rocks is a maze of sandstone lanes, cul-de-sacs and courtyards, jam-packed with shops, warehouses and terraces that were built in the early 19th century. Even though The Rocks was once home to Sydney’s dockworkers and stevedores, it’s now a magnet for visitors who frequent its many shops, boutiques, pubs and restaurants.
Since my Paris friends, Fiona and Paul are in the process of moving to a house in Paddington, I was eager to see the area. The houses are filled with character and charm and many have a history that’s worth studying. Some have Victorian terraces complete with cast iron railings. In addition, Oxford Street is home to some of Sydney’s trendiest boutiques and its florists, vegetable markets and butchers reminded me of Paris. The vendors pride themselves in having a sense of presentation that’s competes with some of the best shops in Paris and New York City.
This wasn’t an haute cuisine gastronomic tour even though Sydney is famous for some stellar restaurants. We ate well but we were too tired to sit through multiple courses prepared by one of Sydney’s well-known chefs.
To be frank, I was delighted to return to the Blue Sydney. I even had a couple of drinks in the glitzy bar in case I might spot Russell Crowe, who lives in the same building as the hotel when he’s based in Sydney. Of course, that part of the wharf is closed to the public because only the rich and famous can afford to buy digs there.
Will I return to Sydney? The answer is yes. But this time, it won’t be for two days. I got an initial taste and want to have sufficient time to explore more of the city and go out into the countryside and visit the vineyards. The country is so vast that you could spend years there and never see half of it.
Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.