I've always found it hard to shake off my love-at-first-sight of Australia's largest city. Why would I try, you may wonder; except that in Queensland, and Brisbane in particular, it's not done to profess great admiration for the neighbouring state's capital. There are people here who claim to 'hate' Sydney. I don't think I feel like that about anywhere... well, maybe Hunstanton in Norfolk. Think acres of caravans and cold winds off The Wash.
I was quite excited about revisiting Sydney a couple of weeks back: my friend had to work there on a Monday so we made a weekend of it. I hadn't been, apart from through the airport, for five years. Finding accommodation took a while because we didn't want a huge high-rise of a hotel, and I didn't want to have to catch a crazyman-driven Sydney bus or a cab to get us around. I wanted meals booked in advance to avoid disappointment and pavement pounding. I only had the sketchiest plans for daytime activities, however. This was to be a go-with-the-flow-of-whatever-takes-your-fancy-at-the-time trip.
I still find it exciting leaving for the airport early Friday evening for a short-haul fly-away weekend. I think it stems from when my friend worked in Copenhagen, and once a month I would leave work before the final bell on a Friday afternoon for one London airport or another, bound for the Danish capital. My colleagues used to call me Jetset Jude: I was more popular on my return on a Monday morning laden with exquisite chocolate-covered filo-pastry slices from a great bakery in Christianshavn.
Back in Sydney, we arrived about 9.30 and quickly took a cab to The Rocks. We were staying in 'Sydney's oldest licensed hotel', the Lord Nelson Brewery, which still is a working brewery. Our room was basic but perfectly adequate, with a view to Darling Harbour and the Anzac Bridge. The Lord Nelson is in what is classed as a residential area so there's no problem with late-night noise and it is so convenient for CBD shopping, Circular Quay, the Bridge and the Opera House, the Botanic Gardens and The Rocks itself.
The first delight the following chilly morning as we set out for Circular Quay, was the Guylain Belgian Chocolate Cafe. They produced what could be the best hot (dark) chocolate ever. We took it away and sat savouring every sip on the quayside in the sunshine. Hello Sydney Harbour.
I had decided before we got here that I was not going to take the stock Sydney snaps (see Views of a Bridge and Around The House, May 2011). I couldn't resist the first glimpse of the Harbour Bridge, however.
The rock that gives this area of town its name is Sydney sandstone...
...and you can see it in all its glory under this bridge in picturesque Argyle street. It outcrops in other places, too, not to mention its use in city buildings.
We popped into the Museum of Contemporary Art on the Harbour foreshore at Circular Quay West. The building is being extended (and will be closed completely from late June until November) and not all the floors were open to visitors. Unfortunately we'd just missed an Annie Leibovitz exhibition. The current New Acquisitions in Context 2010 collection offered a variable mixture: I particularly liked Arlo Mountford's The Folly (2008). This is a three-channel video based on three paintings by Pieter Breugel the Elder: the video sets in motion the action suggested in the paintings, and sound effects lead the viewer from one part of the triptych to the next.
Then we wandered around Circular Quay to the Opera House, or The House, as it's known. Its shape and location will never cease to impress, but I have to describe an unexpected detail worthy of note. First, I must tell you that I have never before photographed a toilet. But take a look at these images and marvel: backlit toilet rolls, barely-there wavy sinks and flatteringly lit mirrors. Using these facilities was a joy: the design of the toilet says a lot about a building.
Having bought tickets for a concert the following day, we walked into the Botanic Gardens, 'Royal' since 1959, on Farm Cove. I was concerned to learn that the Dragon's Blood Tree – site of many group photographs over the years – had tipped over in 2008. It appeared perfectly healthy although its position puts it at risk so it is fenced off.
The famous bats – or Grey-headed Flying-foxes – were still hanging around, despite plans to move them on this month. They are so many of them now that they present a threat to trees such as Red Cedar and Kauri. Their enforced removal has been put off for another year, however, while they are further monitored.
We wandered back towards the CBD, albeit rather slowly. Sydney has the biggest Sulphur-crested Cockatoos I've ever seen.
On the way back to The Rocks, we walked passed the Museum of Sydney and an interesting sculpture, Edge of Trees, by Janet Laurence and Fiona Foley, on the forecourt. The city's sandstone buildings were matched by autumnal colours. As the sun went down, it provided great lighting for notable buildings.
That night we ate at The Wharf restaurant on Walsh Bay's Pier 4. At the turn of the 19th century Walsh Bay was a rat-infected foreshore rubbish dump. Much later the wharves flourished as a result of wool exports, but then fell into disuse until the 1980s when modern redevelopment began. The Sydney Theatre Company came to Pier 4 in 1984: today Walsh Bay is a cultural and eating surprise, 'just around the corner from the Rocks'. The Wharf restaurant is right at the tip of Pier 4, with stunning views of the Harbour and the Bridge. The food is pretty tasty, too.
By 7am the next morning, 20,000 runners were passing beneath our bedroom window in the coldest start to the Sydney Half Marathon in 20 years of the event. But it was gloriously sunny. Our Sunday was Manly day. If anything beats walking around Circular Quay, it's hopping on a ferry and sailing the half-hour (11km) to Manly. Sitting astride land between the Harbour and the ocean, Manly was so-named by Governor Arthur Phillip because of the impressive bearing of the Aborigines living there when he arrived. To have experienced Sydney, you have to have been to Manly. Iconic views along the way, and the epitome of Australian Sunday beach life when you get there: sun, surfers, strollers meandering to Shelly Beach, Norfolk Island pines and a coffee on the Corso.
Back at Circular Quay, we took a bus to Woolloomooloo, to the Finger Wharf, where we had a tapas lunch at Velero. Pretty damn near perfect it was: warm sunshine, a lively buzzy atmosphere, a glass of Albariño, boquerones, jamón, Manchego, chorizo... and churros for my friend, a special treat.
From there it was a leisurely stroll through the Botanic Gardens from the eastern side to the Opera House for the concert at 5pm. The House provides entertainment every day of the year except for two – Christmas Day and Good Friday. We were there to listen to Ironwood, a string quartet, in the Utzon Room. To the strains of a young 19th-century Basque composer, Arriaga; a contemporary composer from Melbourne, Kevin March; and Mozart, we gazed out of the glass wall of this intimate music room over the ever-darkening waters of the Harbour.
Afterwards, as we wandered back, I didn't feel like calling time on the day and sitting in our hotel room or even in the pub downstairs. I imagined a warm sanctuary with a comfy sofa and a glass of good wine. As if by magic, my fantasy materialised right in front of us in Argyle Street, in the form of Wine Odyssey Australia. We opted for 'Food & Wine Flights' (three 50ml glasses of red or white, each matched to a small seasonal dish) in our own private bar. What a great idea in a great place. I had to be dragged away, out into the chilly night.
Monday in Sydney is another story.