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Sydney remains one of world’s sensational cities

I was in Budapest recently. It’s a city I had heard a lot about and it was quite nice. That being said, if I never went again it wouldn’t bother me.

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I also was just in Sydney (Australia, not Nova Scotia). I’ve been a few times now. And I never went again I’d be really pissed.

Maybe it’s the water and the sailboats gliding under the Harbour Bridge. Maybe it’s the beaches and the small, rocky coves you pass on the way to Manly Beach. Maybe it’s partly my memories of a four-week stint there covering the Olympics for the Toronto Star in 2000. Maybe it’s the people and the ease of travel, Australia being a wonderfully welcome place where they speak a form of English and all.

It’s not the prices, I can tell you that. Sydney is many things but it’s not cheap. Still, I’d choose it over almost any city on the planet if given a free trip.

Strolling near the Manly ferry dock. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Strolling near the Manly ferry dock. JIM BYERS PHOTO


I was there recently for about 48 hours prior to attending the Australia Tourism Exchange in Queensland, an experience I wrote about a few days ago. I was eager to see Surfers’ Paradise and the Gold Coast and the Barrier Reef, and I probably should’ve taken time to visit Brisbane (where Air Canada recently launched direct flights from Vancouver). But the pull of Sydney is too strong, and I had to spend a couple days there to satisfy my travel appetite.

I arrived after a nice flight in business class on Air Canada (thank you, folks), which featured fantastic Australian wines, great food, lie-flat seats and lots of time to watch the latest Star Wars flick again. The Australian tourism folks had a car to deliver me safely to my hotel, a recently opened, brilliant boutique property a bit away from downtown called The Old Clare.

The lobby/check-in area at The Old Clare Hotel.

The lobby/check-in area at The Old Clare Hotel.


Photos don’t really do it justice, but this is one uber-cool hotel; the type that makes you feel younger and hipper than you really are. It’s fashioned partly out of an old brewery and is a fusion of a couple of historic buildings near the bustling Central tram or Metro station, with an interior courtyard-like area that features an old fire escape, funky theatrical lighting in the lobby and rooms and lots of other quirky, fun bits.

Rather than try to sleep, I immediately set out from the hotel and walked through the downtown, stopping at Hyde Park to pause for a moment at the ANZAC Memorial for World War I heroes. I’d seen it before from afar but had never been in. It’s quite a lovely monument; very touching, with names of places where Australians (and others) faced horrible conditions and, often, death.

A single rose lies at the ANZAC Memorial in Sydney. JIM BYERS PHOTO

A single rose lies at the ANZAC Memorial in Sydney. JIM BYERS PHOTO


It got a little better from an emotional point of view after that, as I hightailed it through the park and down to the lovely Botanical Gardens. The views of the Opera House from here are lovely, and it’s a great place to pause and rest and watch the wild birds go after the tourists.

From there it was down to, naturally, the Opera House and The Rocks district. I didn’t go into the Opera HOuse this time but at the Olympics I was lucky enough to watch a live performance and admire the tremendous acoustics.

Kensington St. Social, located at the Old Clare Hotel, serves the loveliest hot dog you might ever see. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Kensington St. Social, located at the Old Clare Hotel, serves the loveliest hot dog you might ever see. JIM BYERS PHOTO


I had a great meal at The Old Clare’s Kensington St. Social restaurant on my first night (one of three on-site dining spots). One of their fun bits is a gussied-up hot dog made with pork and fennel and boasting little slices of green apple and other bits. Hugely fun and inventive. Also lovely is the kangaroo, and, at breakfast, homemade barley porridge with toasted sourdough bread (excellent, but about $25 with coffee). The restaurant has a great, lively vibe and seemed pack every time I walked by. The man in charge is celebrity chef Jason Atherton, who has a Michelin star to his name and deserves it.

If the giraffes at Taronga Zoo got a dollar for every photo they're featured in, they could buy half of Bondi Beach. JIM BYERS PHOTO

If the giraffes at Taronga Zoo got a dollar for every photo they’re featured in, they could buy half of Bondi Beach. JIM BYERS PHOTO


The next day I took the ferry to the Taronga Park Zoo, a revered Sydney attraction that I’d never made it to before. It’s a great zoo, with an emphasis on Australian animals we love such as kangaroos, wallabies, Tasmanian Devils (adorable) and sleepy (at least in the day) koalas. There are tons of other animals, including elephants and sea lions and gorillas. The most photographed undoubtedly are the giraffes, as you can get their heads and the Opera House in the same frame. They must be the most photographed/Instagrammed giraffes in the world.

From there it was over to Manly Beach, so named because Captain Cook or some his men saw aboriginal Australians there when they arrived and thought them particularly manly. There’s a nice series of shops and restaurants and cafes (and a Movenpick ice cream store) leading from the ferry docks to the beach, which is long and glorious and still filled with manly men and attractive ladies. It’s a fun surf spot and there’s a very nice restaurant right on the water called The Pantry, with killer beach views.

The Pantry Restaurant features wonderful views of Manly Beach. JIM BYERS PHOTO

The Pantry Restaurant features wonderful views of Manly Beach. JIM BYERS PHOTO


There are several lovely walks around Manly Beach, including a few rugged ones out to North Head I did a shorter one to a nearby neighborhood and the small cove at Little Manly Point, which is on the bay side of the peninsula and thus much calmer for swimming. There’s a small cafe there that I didn’t get to try but would be lovely on a sunny day.

From there it was back downtown and a brief look at some of the lovely shopping arcades I hadn’t seen before, followed by a great meal at Anason, a Turkish spot in the Barangaroo area. It’s in the Darling Harbour area, which is a bit too modern and touristy for my taste. But it’s a nice restaurant.

A cool work of art at the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney. JIM BYERS PHOTO

A cool work of art at the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Almost forgot to mention that the area around The Old Clare, called Chippendale, is a fun spot. There were no male dancers like the Chippendale name might imply for North Americans, at least none that I saw. But it’s an on-the-rise area that features an awesome gallery called White Rabbit, which was featuring several thought-provoking Chinese exhibits when I was there. There also are some fun shops and intriguing, tiny row houses with miniature front porches that used to house ordinary workers and now cost a gazillion dollars, Sydney real estate being somewhat similar in price to Vancouver or Toronto or New York.

I had a night in Sydney on my way back and settled in at the Stamford Plaza Sydney Airport. It’s a fine business hotel with a good Argentinian restaurant that doubles as a bar. The hotel has everything you need and is just seconds from Kingsford Airport, making it ideal for a quick visit or for folks doing business near the airport.

Like I said, one sensational city. And one I’d happily go back to again and again.

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