Sydney: the Opera House, Manly Beach and awesome food Down Under

Here’s a post from one of my favourite cities in the late fall of 2010…
SYDNEY – Still pretty rainy here in Sydney. Unusual for this time of year, but we can probably blame El Nina. Or El Nino. Or some kind of weird climactic situation.

It was close to 30 degrees here a week ago, and it’s usually in the mid-20’s by now as Sydney approaches the summer. This would be the equivalent of early May for them, so it’s usually a brilliant time of year. Instead, it’s gone from beautiful to bizarre, with daytime temperatures in the teens and plenty of wind and cool rain.

It’s not helping my photographs, but it’s still a great place to walk around. I spent the morning near the IMG_2016 Royal Botanical Gardens, getting shots of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Later I did a tour of the Opera House, where I learned there are 1,056,006 (exactly) ceramic tiles on the roofs of the various sail-like buildings. Pretty amazing.

My tour guide showed us the lovely interiors and said that among those who have appeared in the main hall are Michael Buble and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who apparently won his last Mr. Olympia (or something like that) title in these hallowed halls. The project was slated to take three years and cost $7 million, but ended up taking 16 years at a cost of $102 million. Oprah Winfrey will be here for a slew of shows next month, which means lots of people are calling it the Sydney Oprah House, and sorry about that.

Unlike our pathetic SkyDome/Rogers Centre, however, the Opera House put Sydney on the map. Or, rather, embellished its placement as a forward-thinking/hip city. It’s now impossible to think of Sydney without it, as it would be to think of Cape Town without Table Mountain or San Francisco without the Golden Gate Bridge. Toronto has improved, but we have a long way to go if we want to be in the big leagues with cities like those. It takes vision, something even David Miller lacked when it came right down to it.

Anyway, it’s great to be in a place that’s so cutting-edge. I had lunch in the historic Rocks district and ate at a place called Sake, a dynamite Japanese joint where one of the specialties is an appetizer called Sashimi Tacos. Sounds bizarre, but a crunch taco surrounding fresh tuna or salmon sashimi and onionsIMG_2105  and soy and spices is absolutey brilliant. Comes with glasses of sugar-rimmed Sake, which never hurts. Likewise the sashimi with soy and thinly-sliced jalapeno peppers were top-notch. Call it Jap-Mex if you want; I call it fabulous.

I wanted to see Manly Beach and the North Head bluffs, but it was raining and I only had time for the ferry ride. Still, it’s magical to see Sydney’s Harbour even in the mist, and to realize how lucky folks are down this way to have so much water and beautiful beaches and tumbling, rocky bluffs all around them. Manly reminds me of Vancouver with the waterfront and the pine trees and the high-rise apartments.

I took dinner at a spot called Wine Odyssey, where they have dozens of bottles of wine where you can slip a special card into a slot and get various sizes of all sorts of wines in a variety of prices. It’s very sophisticated (albeit expensive) and really lets you try a whole variety of wines by reading the labels and the little ads or blurbs that accompany them. The food is decent, but the wine selection is superb. A fun spot, topped only by a brief stop at the Fortune of War Pub, which dates back to the 1860s and has atmosphere to spare. A great guitar player/singer was singing Aussie country songs last night including ones about the Yukon Gold Rush and an old English song about Ernie, the fastest milkman in the west. It was great fun.

I remembered it was a pub that Star sports types Dave Perkins and Doug Smith and I visited the night IMG_2146 before the start of the 2000 Summer Olympics. I remember running into Paul Beeston’s daughter down near the harbour at around midnight and thinking it was a good idea to call Beest in New York, where he was working at the commissioner of baseball’s office. We had a couple too many Victoria Bitters, I think, and I doubt Paul liked being woken up at 5 a.m. by a bunch of sodden Toronto Star reporters. But it was fun for us.

My only time in Sydney, prior to Star Travel’s Grand Tour series, was to cover the Olympics in 2000. I stayed at a hotel in King’s Cross and got to see a bit of the city on my way to and from work, but most of my days and nights were spent in the main media centre at the Olympic Park in Homebush Bay. We had one night on the rocks and a night in Bondi, but other than that it was all work.

This time I was there to cover Sydney for our Grand Tour series in the Toronto Star, so it was a much  IMG_5271 more enjoyable visit that allowed me to see the sights. I spent a couple nights madly snapping photos of the Opera House from my room at the Park Hyatt Hotel, a terrific spot perched at the bottom of the Harbour Bridge. I ate some terrific Thai food and Japanese food in the Rocks, took the Manly ferry to remarkable Manly Beach, wandered around the neighborhoods of Paddington, Darlinghurst and King’s Cross, and took in the surf at Bondi Beach.

I also had a night at the Shangri-la hotel in the Rocks, which has great views from every room, as well as a terrific cocktail bar. And I got a night at the beach-side Swiss Grand Hotel in Bondi, where I had stayed a night back in 2000.

Bondi was better than I remembered, and that’s saying a lot. I caught some waves, thanks to Leo, an excellent surf trainer from Brazil, and wandered along the cliff walk that goes from Bondi to Tamarama Beach. They had a sculpture exhibit on, and there were wonderful sculptures and artworks of all kinds and thousands of people checking out the action.

I spent time in 2000 at Watson’s Bay, but this time I wandered over to Manly on the ferry. I got rained out the first two tries, but the third attempt was a glorious Sunday morning in full sun and I got some fun pictures of a surf rescue competition and other good stuff.

It’s a remarkable city, and easily one of the top three or four in the world. You can’t beat New York’s energy, and it’s tough to beat the culture and pace of Hong Kong, or the beauty of Vancouver or San Francisco. Let alone Paris, the final stop on our Grand Tour. But Sydney is right up there with all of them; a confident, beautiful and multi-faceted city that truly has something for everyone.









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