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Sydney, Australia: How to Spend a Week
How to Spend a Week
Perhaps, like many overseas visitors, you've decided to stay in Sydney for a week. So what are the most interesting things to see and do?
When I'm in a new city I always like to take a city tour to get the "feel" of the place. In Sydney, Australian Pacific Tours would be my recommendation, simply because I know the high standard and knowledge of their drivers. City tours are often corny but in Sydney they are not. A morning bus tour of Sydney will give you a good orientation and show you places that you may wish to come back to on your own. Then perhaps lunch at Doyle's at the Quay. This unobtrusive open-air seafood restaurant is sensational on a sunny day. It looks across the Ferry Terminal to the Opera House and has what is arguably the best, freshest and relatively inexpensive seafood bourgeoise in Australia. Try their stuffed Prawns for an appetizer. And if you like Lobster, their Mornay will send your taste buds to heaven. Doyles have been Sydney's most famous seafood restaurant for three generations. And with good reason.
From your first meal in Australia you will be confused by the terminology. Australians really identify with Americans, and make allowances that the latter speak funny and drive on the wrong side of the road. But it may take you some time to get used to the fact that in Australia a fag is a cigarette, a bum is what you sit on, a fanny is too naughty to even mention, a butt is the part of the cigarette you throw away, and an ass is a beast of burden!! Food terminology is just as confusing. An entree is an Australian appetizer. The American entree is an Australian main course. An American pancake is an Australian flapjack, and an Australian pancake is an American crepe. An American biscuit is an Australian scone, and Australian bugs on the menu are not what you get in the beds of cheap South American hotels, but Moreton Bay Bugs, small, delicious chisel-head Pacific lobsters. That's only a very minor lesson in Australia-speak, but it is an essential one.
While on explanations, a word about Sydney taxi drivers. It's always been my displeasure to cop (in Australia that means "get" as well as "policeman") the greatest bunch of misfits on this God's earth as cab drivers. Many drive like accidents going somewhere to happen, but what is even worse, most will either not know, or pretend not to know, where your destination is located. The best antidote to this is to ask your hotel concierge for an approximate fare, and if there is any problem, write down the name and number of the driver which you'll see on the dashboard and tell them that the hotel has told you that the fare should be so-and-so much. If they still try to overcharge ask the hotel to report this to the Transportation Board. Now that you have this information the chances are that you'll get scrupulously honest drivers. I must have cornered the market on the other sort.
Back to what to see and where to go. If you have lunched at Doyle's you are a stone's throw from the area known as The Rocks. This was the first part of Sydney to be settled by Europeans 200 years ago and it's an area with lots of history and atmosphere. Now it's a place full of tourist shops. But don't let that put you off. The area is still very interesting and also has a couple of good museums. Should you be more interested in history than shopping, my advice is to try a 'Rocks Walking Tour' which your hotel desk can arrange. It will bring to life what Australia was like when the first European settlers arrived. The Rocks should take up the whole afternoon. You could do a lot worse than to have dinner at any of the hotels mentioned above. None are far from The Rocks.
After a leisurely breakfast at your hotel, walk to the nearest monorail station and take this unusual mode of transport to Darling Harbor, which is to Sydney what the Ghirardelli area is to San Francisco. It was once a dilapidated backwater of broken-down railway sheds and warehouses left over from the time when this was Sydney's busiest port area before the days of containerized cargo.
But now the area has been totally rebuilt and revitalized to become one of Sydney's most important tourist attractions. Deplane from the sleek, futuristic looking monorail at Darling Harbor station, walking directly into one of Sydney's most interesting shopping areas. Whether you are after a kangaroo skin rug, a genuine come-back-if-you-know-how-to-throw-it boomerang, a Ken Done outfit, Australian sportswear, or a snack accompanied by a can of Foster's Lager, this shopping complex will not disappoint. Even if you don't want to buy anything -- though my bet is that you will -- you will thoroughly enjoy browsing through these interesting shops and restaurants.
A little inside information about the monorail. When it was first planned, I'm told it was going to run from the Opera House and the Circular Quay ferry terminal to Darling Harbor which would have made it one of the most useful and practical modes of transport imaginable. But Australians remind me of the joke about the Irishman who, in a coma and nearly drowned, was washed up on a desert island. Found by the natives and brought back to consciousness, he opened one eye and asked, "Is there a government in this place?" When the natives nodded in the affirmative, he commented, "Well, I'm agin it."
And so it was with the monorail. There were so many wails, screams and complaints from citizens who protested that the monorail would take away their privacy, look into their windows, be too noisy, be too frightening or give passengers vertigo that eventually the route was changed to only run from the inner city. Great pity! Big mistake! The monorail is now part of the Sydney scene. It's great to travel on, and it's a great pity that it doesn't extend to the Opera House and Circular Quay. But back to Darling Harbor
Along the waterfront is the Maritime Museum. As in the United States, European settlers all came to Australia by ship, the early ones arriving by courtesy of the English Government. Not many people realize that the United States is totally responsible for Australia's first European migrants being convicts. Britain had been exporting these to her American colonies until these got a touch hostile and opted for independence. When they won it, Britain had a problem. Where would she now dump her convicts? It had to be sufficiently far away for them not to swim home, and Australia seemed a good idea at the time. The Maritime Museum takes you back to the first exploration of the Australian coast and then goes on to cover the time from the arrival of the ships known as the First Fleet that brought the first convicts and their military overseers to these distant shores.
You'll walk past the Sydney Exhibition and Convention Center...one of the world's finest, so fine that some of the events of the Olympic Games to be held in Sydney in the year 2000 will take place in this center. If you are lucky, the Motor Show or one of the other major exhibitions will be in progress. Go in and check it out.
Further along, you'll come to the Chinese Garden. This always reminds me of the spectacular Chinese Garden in the old city of Shanghai. Not surprisingly the Sydney one was also totally designed, and the buildings prefabricated in China. The project was a gift from Sydney's Chinese community, and a team of Chinese gardeners and builders were flown out for its construction in Sydney. These gardens are lovely on a sunny day. Don't walk by without going in.
By now it is time to have lunch, and if you return to the shopping complex, there are an almost endless number of options, from Asian fast food to Bobby McGee's.
Refueled, its time to head for the Powerhouse Museum, Australia's finest and most interesting technological museum located in what was once the power generation plant for this part of Sydney. You may have seen a dozen technological museums in your life, but unless you have absolutely no sense of serendipity and totally loathe the idea of anything more technological than a safety pin, walk back up into the monorail terminal and glide along to the next station where the Powerhouse Museum is located. Few will be disappointed by this place, and many who think they'll only call in for half an hour finish up spending the whole afternoon there.
Walk back to Darling Harbor from the Powerhouse Museum...a 10-minute walk...passing the Chinese Garden and staying on the city side of the U-shaped harbor. You'll come to a decommissioned Sydney ferry set up as an exhibition center for the Sydney Olympic Games that will follow those at Atlanta. Then walk a little further along till you come to the Sydney Aquarium, the only one I know of that is listed on the Stock Exchange.
This is another one of these places that you can lose yourself in for a couple of hours. After seeing some of the fascinating displays at the entrance, you walk down a series of tunnels and find yourself in plexi-glass walkways surrounded by sharks, stingrays, and all sorts of fish that make you feel like you're Captain Nemo.
Back to your hotel, and after dining, you may feel like trying a touch of Sydney's nightlife.
Night-owls may want to explore a little. The center of the action for nightlife is King's Cross which, to use an Australian expression, is not everybody's cup of tea. Year after year Australian newspapers and TV channels are full of lurid tales of sex, drugs, police corruption, and sinister figures who make millions master-minding all this. 1995 seems to be another record year of exposures which once again prompt remarks that the New South Wales police are the best police force that money can buy. The cynic in me says that all this is part of a cycle that will repeat itself time and again. In the meantime, if the seamy side of life appeals, King's Cross is where the action is. But don't look for me there. I avoid it like the plague, which would be a preferred disease to some of the ones you can pick up there. My advice to night-owls is to check with the Concierge and try some of the great theatre or music that can make an evening in Sydney a real joy.
You've now had two days in the city and may like a change of scene. This could be a good time for a day trip into Sydney's hinterland. Ask your Concierge to show you the options. My recommendation would be a trip to the Blue Mountains, a National Park area which you will find spectacular. Don't forget your camera. An early night perhaps, to catch up on news from home on CNN.
You've gone to bed early the previous evening and if you're a gourmet and want to see one of the three best Fishmarkets in the world -- the other two being Tokyo and Rungis in Paris -- get up early and take a cab to the one in Sydney. Australia has some of the finest and most unpolluted seafood on earth. What a fabulous bounty the Pacific ocean offers up to Australians who like seafood. Get someone from the Fish market office to explain the auction system here, and then look for the seafood cooking school upstairs.
The Sydney Fishmarket people realized that the same urban kids who thought that vegetables grew in a can and milk was manufactured in bottles, would know nothing about cleaning and cooking fish either. They also realized that there were enough housewives that would enjoy learning those arts and so the seafood cooking school was built. It's an amazing success, with classes for schools, housewives, commercial chefs, and gourmet cooks, all alternating. Before going back to your hotel look at the retail fish section alongside the Fishmarket. Then you'll know why people from all the other Australian cities envy Sydney for its seafood that is very often still flapping when sold.
The night before you might have checked out a Harbor cruise with your hotel desk. If not, do it now. There are plenty of options, and all of them are fabulous on a nice day. You could charter a luxury yacht and crew for a minor prince's ransom or take the public ferry to Manly, opt for the slow one rather than the high-speed hydrofoil which is too fast to see much, or take one of the many cruise options. Arguably the best are Captain Cook cruises, a superb operation with outstanding craft and excellent itineraries. There are lunch cruises, morning cruises, afternoon cruises and evening cruises, but my favorite is the dusk cruise. The sun setting over the Harbor with lights going on all around the myriad waterways with which Sydney is blessed is really something to remember.
The other thing to do today is also something that should be planned the night before. A tour of the Sydney Opera House. Unless you've seen the performing arts complex in Melbourne first, you'll come away from the Opera House thinking this must be the world's finest venue for opera, symphony and drama. And even Melbournites who know that their Arts Center is even better internally -- can you smell a touch of San Francisco rivalry here? -- will admit that you can't beat the Sydney Opera House Complex for sheer architectural glory. I think it is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. See if you agree. I hadn't mentioned where to eat lunch, but you can do a lot worse than the Rockpool restaurant. It's one of Sydney's finest and will show you why Australian cuisine is considered hot news in international culinary circles.
By now you will hopefully have become acquainted with the excellent Australian wines that are making a name for themselves around the world. If you want to see where some of these great wines come from, take a day trip to the Hunter Valley. I know Australian Pacific Tours have a good itinerary for this, and your hotel desk can tell you what other alternatives are possible. In the evening, take the Manly ferry for a romantic trip across the harbor, then take a cab to The Kiosk restaurant. A big favorite of mine, the restaurant is set in an old-fashioned waterfront kiosk, with a romantic atmosphere, and a lovely view across the water. It's unlikely that your meal will be less than perfect, not surprising when you find out that the chef here was, for years, executive chef in charge of the cuisine at the villas and yachts of the Onassis family.
Not much time left now, and there's no way you will want to go home without seeing those cute kangaroos, cuddly koalas and other Australian animals. So it's off to the ferry again, this time to buy a ticket to Tooronga Park Zoo. Once again, give yourself plenty of time. You take a cable car from the jetty to the top of the hill where the Zoo entrance is located, and then slowly wander back down, seeing the animals as you go. Don't miss the platypus -- an animal with fur and the bill of a duck, that lives, beaver-like in water but lays eggs and suckles its young. And you always thought you were confused....
After the Zoo, take the ferry back to town and then a taxi to Double Bay, where you will see the nearest thing to Rodeo Drive shopping Australia has to offer. Here you will also find dozens of delightful little cafes if you get hungry. It's a great place to browse. I like walking down to the waterfront, a ten minutes stroll away. Lunched and rested, return to the inner city to get your last view of Sydney from the Centrepoint Tower. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo the Tokyo Tower, and if you don't suffer with vertigo, this 320 meter high structure will also be a great experience. Hope you have your camera here because you'll kick yourself if you don't. Then return to earth and walk across to the Queen Victoria building, a beautifully restored turn of the century structure with real character. If you've seen London's Burlington Arcade, this has the same feel about it.
If you've only got a week in Sydney, this will be your last day, so finish off with a grand finale -- a performance of opera or a symphony concert at the Opera House, a fitting climax to your Sydney visit.
By the time you move on the next morning, whether to another place in Australia or to board your aircraft for your next international port of call, there's a good chance that you will have fallen in love with Sydney. There's only one antidote for that. You'll just have to come back.