Return to Sydney

© Carole Scott 2014
© Carole Scott 2014

[warning: this post is tip-heavy – I apologise to anyone not planning to go to Sydney any time soon. Photo gallery will follow once I’m done editing!]

After a wonderful trip to Australia in 2011, I wasn’t sure when or if I would get back there, so it was a great bonus to go for work the other week. Flight paid for, I was able to tag on some annual leave so that I could catch up with dear friends.

It was a nail-biting, sweat-inducing couple of weeks leading up to the trip. I fell foul of the great Passport Office scandal and got my passport 24 hours before flying. So I packed in a hurry and scuttled off with great relief. [Quick LHR T4 tip:  if you’re looking for breakfast, don’t settle for the nearest café (something straight out of tourist central). Instead, walk right down to Gates 11-17 and you’ll find Comptoir Libanais – great food, wonderful services, and quiet.]

Onto Sydney….the great thing about returning to a city is that you’ve usually done the headline tourist tick offs, so your second visit can be about getting under the skin of the place, exploring neighbourhoods you didn’t have time for before.  I think the best city trips are the ones where you get to wander at leisure, soaking up the culture and atmosphere that is unique to that particular metropolis. There’s nothing quite like sitting at a pavement cafe in so-called ‘Winter’ (20°C, blue sky with fluffy white Simpsons clouds, which is a summer’s day to Britfolks) watching the locals comes and go.

My first time round recommendations are:

  • Unless you are truly phobic about heights, do the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. It’s absolutely brilliant – knowledgeable and interesting guides and a cracking view. Money well spent and pictures in my head that I will treasure forever.
  • Depending on the time of year, walk the Sculpture by the Sea trail, from Bondi to Bronte. Stunning.
  • Sure, do Bondi but my fave beaches are Balmoral, Nielsen’s Park and Watson’s Bay.
  • Early evening (or anytime!) drink at The Opera Bar – perfect views of the bridge and the Opera House while you slurp wine. Tip: order your wine inside, where’s there’s a better selection, rather than from the outside bar.
  • Botanic Gardens – the gardens are utterly gorgeous and added bonus comes from watching the super fit suckers do lunchtime boot camps.
  • Sydney Fish Market – photographers’ paradise.

Here are my second time around recommendations:

I was staying in Darling Harbour (avoid on your trip unless you are a sucker for cheesy tourist activities like Madame Tussauds) for the business bit of my trip and had an evening alone. I don’t like the big, noisy tourist traps of Darling Harbour, so turned to Concrete Playground to find a bar that was more ‘me’.  I found The Small Bar – does what it says on the tin, folks. It’s small. It’s a bar. It was fantastic – great wine and simple but decent nosh. Note to whoever run Concrete Playground: sort your search function out – the map is amazing but sometimes you want to get straight to your bar of choice, not a geo location!

If you’re beyond backpackers but before big budgets, I have the ideal place to stay. The Macleay in Potts Point (28 Macleay Street) has proven perfect two times running. If you’re willing to pay $20ish extra a night, you can snag an Opera House and Bridge view. It’s well worth it, as waking up and going to sleep with two icons is a magical reminder of where you are. The hotel staff are really friendly (from coffee recommendations to a cheery ‘hello’ when you come and go), it’s spick and span clean and the rooms have mini kitchens in case you do get to the stage where you simply can’t afford to eat out. There’s a Woolworths opposite too. For any Brit who hasn’t been to Oz, Woolworths is a supermarket, not the failed ‘sells a bit of everything cheap store’ we knew and loved. My only quibble would be that Wi-Fi isn’t free. Is this the same in UK hotels? I think it’s time people sorted that out – it should be part of the price not an optional extra.

Speaking of Woolworths, you can buy your travel card there, so that you’re sorted from the first hour of arrival. Daily cards are $22, so if you’re in town for more than three days, buy a weekly card at $63, which covers all ferries, buses and trains, including journeys like the Manly Ferry ($14.80).

Potts Point is a great place to stay. It’s well connected by the 311 bus to Circular Quay, Surry Hills and a five minute stroll up to Kings Cross connects you to buses for Watson’s Bay, Bondi and of course the metro. It’s the posh elder sister of Kings Cross, filled with art deco buildings, cutesy coffee shops and beautifully groomed gay guys with sweet dogs. And there’s a great walk down McElhone Stairs, to Woolloomaloo Bay, up through the Bot Gardens and onto the Opera House, which I recommend as the ideal first day orientation.

[note on the 311 – at Circular Quay there is conflicting and confusing  info about where to catch the bus back to Potts Point. Ignore the info booth guy, who doesn’t have a  clue and head for the corner of Pitt St and Spring St – that’s where it starts!]

For anyone who has heard tell of Kings Cross being a really dodgy, scary place, it’s not. Well, I guess if you’ve never stepped out of your tiny hamlet in rural Britain to head for London, it might be… but to most of us Brits, it’s Soho-lite but tiny and without the theatres. Nowt to fear – just a bit scuzzy.

While we’re in Kings Cross/Potts Point, there’s a great little side street filled with cafes and eateries, Lankelly Place. Friends who live round the corner took us to a friendly little Japanese sake bar.  Try the grilled miso eggplant – gorgeous!

Potts Point has no end of great breakfasts on offer and having tried a lot of them, I’d say the best is easily La Buvette. Full of locals – always a good sign – and a fab range of breakfasts. It’s billed here on Facebook as veggie but I’m sure I saw meat options on the brekkie menu. Everyone says Fratelli Fresh is the best but the menu at La Buvette had more choice and was definitely livelier with locals on a Sunday morning.

Top tip for coffee drinkers who take it black: Sydney has possibly the strongest coffee in the world. It’s great quality but sometimes the strength can wallop you. I took to asking for a one shot long black and it was perfect. [Thanks, Bree, for that tip – why didn’t I think of it before!!!]

My first day off I took the ferry to Manly. Pretty much any ferry leaving from Circular Quay will give you fantastic views of the bridge and Opera House, so make sure you sit outside at the back rather than the front – tourists tend to pile on at the front, as that’s where the view is when you’re sitting in dock but of course the minute you leave, you lose the view!

I was in a jet-lag haze when I went to Manly, so I can’t really tell you much about it. It’s a lovely long beach so I meandered along thinking that surfing looked like a lot of effort for very short rides. I’ll leave it to someone else to stick some recommendations in the comments!

That evening I met with an ex-colleague. How we laughed when we remembered her anxiety that taking a break might harm her career. Within days of being in Australia, she had multiple job interviews and is now working for a super hot PR agency. We went to The Winery in Surry Hills. Absolutely lovely place, full of fairy lights and a wine list to die for. Gorgeous. I think the food options are a bit limited, so the next time I was in Crown Street for a night out, the Japanese restaurant, Zushi, next door proved a much better option. Amazing food and very reasonable (this matters when you’re a Brit who is shocked by Aussie prices! Sorry Bree!).

The next day my dear friend Bree arrived from Brisbane and we bimbled around and caught up on 18 months’ worth of life – Surry Hills and Paddington were the destinations de jour. This included essential shopping at Dinosaur Designs, purveyors of simply delicious resin jewellery and objects. That evening, we trooped off to  The Opera Bar for a drink and then headed over to the new bit of the MCA for another. Great views from both!

Bree took me to two superb art galleries on Friday. Carriageworks in Redfern is a disused rail carriage workshop and is an absolutely gorgeous space. I would love to see a dance performance here.

The White Rabbit Gallery was a recommendation from our friends in  Kings Cross. A collection of contemporary Chinese art, curated into three different shows per year. I’ll be honest – even better than the art was the Chinese tea room on the ground floor. A bewildering and utterly fantastic array of tea, stunningly good dumplings and friendly staff. I highly recommend a visit.

Something I can’t recommend as it was an exclusive… my lovely friend Bernadette had organised a charity auction for the Aboriginal Literacy Foundation last year and friends of hers had won ‘dessert by Annabel Crabb’. For non-Aussies, Annabel is a political columnist and has a highly successful TV show called Kitchen Cabinet, where she has lunch with a politician and brings dessert. The date fixed for the prize was the Friday we were in town and the only time we could see Bernadette and Peter John, so we were invited along. A fantastic evening. Annabel was charming, funny and entertaining and I for one will be reading her forthcoming book, The Wife Drought. And here’s the dessert she brought to dinner….health warning, cut very slim slices, as this contains 750g cream cheese and 250g mascarpone!

Finally, a name check for my friend Peter John’s incredible book, which won an award when we were with him on the Friday evening. Public Sydney: drawing the city is ideal if you want a gift for someone who loves architecture and loves Sydney. Ten years in the researching and five years in the making, it ‘sets a new benchmark for navigating the historic layers of Sydney’s original CBD‘.

I loved my return to Sydney. If anyone needs a kick-ass communications strategist for a year, I’d definitely be up for a sabbatical in your glorious city!

By Carole Scott

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