Sydney is a Cinderella city, from convict camp to queen of the prom. Not the stuffy queen but the one who uses her charms to beguile the unworthy heart. I was very glad I didn’t skip this dance.
Truth is I fell in love with Sydney at first sight two years ago, during a four-hour layover heading to the Outback and a trip on the Ghan Railway. Deep in my heart I knew I would return, love at first sight is undeniable sometimes.
On the Rocks
It seemed fair to begin renewing my brief relationship with the city just where it ended, on the Rocks. The Rocks is where Sydney’s European roots were planted and remain. The Union Jack was raised in 1788 and Captain Arthur Phillip choose well, a point that took centuries to realize.
It was on the Rocks that convicts and their overlords overcame the odds of creating a city that nowadays seems relaxed, cosmopolitan and healthy. The streets of the Rocks are narrow and 18th century buildings have undergone a facelift.
The Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House anchor the Circular Quay, now the place to catch ferries to Sydney’s ever-growing girth. On weekends the Rocks Market spreads down George Street where booths filled with crafts and street music provide a back drop to the magnificent views.
Observing from the Observatory Hotel
Part of my love of the Observatory Hotel, aside from its sandstone prominence yet low-key setting, was the lack of tourists; after all I was back to court the prom queen of cities. It isn’t high-rise or ostentatious, just plain fabulous.
After dining at great eateries I often headed down the street from the Observatory Hotel to raise a pint at the Lord Nelson Brewery with the locals. After a few visits I was shown the trap door in the pub where unsuspecting sailors were deposited after a night of landfall imbibing. The term, “Shanghaied” began beneath the old floor boards — many a sailor was well on his way to China before realizing it. Much of Sydney’s hidden history is revealed by lifting an elbow with a smile.
Man Eaters and Edibles
As I walked through the underwater tubes at the Sydney Aquarium, monsters swam by seemingly smiling with big teeth. Sharks and crocs are very active during feeding at the Aquarium. With more than 11,500 creatures chowing down, I felt a little revenge was in order,
so I headed to the nearby Fisherman’s Market, a perfect place to realize how little we Yanks know about seafood.
Unlike other fish markets I have explored, this one positively sparks up an appetite. Never have such strange names looked so delicious. Top on my list of edibles were Sydney Harbor oysters, yabbies and Moreton Bay bugs; the latter two are lobster-like creatures.
Sated and satisfied I headed to the back of the Darling Harbor area and to the Australian National Maritime Museum to continue with my sea-themed day. The Museum’s façade, designed by Phillip Cox, reminds one of the sails of a ship.
Sitting at Nick’s Bar & Grill on King Street Wharf as the sun set was a lesson on just how the people of Sydney like to strut their stuff, glowing sky and happy people at peace with themselves and the world. Across the harbor the sails of the replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavor blended with the surrounding lights from across the water.
Beaches are an Australian obsession and Bondi Beach is the queen bee. As I sat at the well known Icebergs Restaurant, my view was of a wide crescent of golden sand, and scores of surfers bobbed waiting for the perfect wave. As I waited for the perfect lunch I was entertained by my friendly waiter.
After lunch I strolled the area filled with seafront cafes, shops and small hotels. Bondi in general is a lived-in area and not just a tourist beach. In a place so well known it was nice to see that prices weren’t jacked up and dressed up for visitors. Locals walk relaxed and many tote their boards. Trails around the headlands provided stunning views of the sea, but my time was running out because I was scheduled to ship out.
Raise the Sails
As soon as I boarded the Hunter 38 I knew that I was going to see Sydney the way it should be seen, at water level. Captain Matt Hayes from Sydney By Sail has sailing in his bones, his roots stretch back from the First Fleeter, those Brits who first arrived in Sydney. He was quick to note that it was not as convicts but as sailors.
It was, however, under the under the sails of the Sydney Opera House that I truly felt first rate. I arrived early the next morning for a backstage tour of Sydney’s icon. With six venues and more than 2,500 events and performances a year it is amazing that access such as I had is allowed. Despite the backstage passes strung around my neck I must confess that the chance is open to all visitors — but reserve early, groups are kept small.
The Prom is Coming to an End
On my last day in Sydney I wanted to spend it outdoors as much as possible, much as the residents do. Walking through the Botanic Gardens seems a world away from the city center yet is only a few blocks. Throughout are reminders of Sydney’s European roots; indeed this was where the first vegetable gardens worked by convicts were situated.
In a city that has scaled culinary mountains, I needed in some way to eat well and yet have my last perfect view; in Sydney, no problem mate. Below my porch table swimmers were doing laps, past the training pool, the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House lights slowly stood against faded sunlight.
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