Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Surprising Sydney

Life is short. There is simply not enough time to do all that is desired so second chances are hard to come by. The first time I went to Sydney I was there for literally one day. I had 24 hours to see and do as much as possible in this fun-loving city in the land down under. My "power tour" included the Opera House, a ferry across the harbor to Manly and an amateur rugby game but a lot was left on the table.

In the Fall of last year I found myself once again in the vicinity and decided to schedule a return visit to get better acquainted. My big concern in going back was a recent spike in reports of ethnic intolerance. Was the famously irreverent Australian sense of humor crossing the line and either not knowing it or worse, not caring? I tell people all the time that Paris is singularly beautiful with or without the equally renowned attitude of the Parisians themselves. Sydney? We'll see.

Landing at 8:30 at night the arrivals hall at Sydney's airport was all but dead. I made it through in less than 15 minutes on a full flight which kicked things off on a very positive note. Testy immigrations officials are not to be played with, especially in Israel or Australia, in this era of global terror and bio-hazards. They couldn't have been friendlier. Likewise the counter staff at both the car rental service and my hotel.

My first stop was Hyde Park, a well tended green space with reflecting pools, walkways, indigenous trees, monuments and strange birds. Surrounded by offices, hotels and coffee shops it is an obvious draw for the worker bees to relax over a light lunch during the week.

Darling Harbour took a huge page from Baltimore's Harbor Place in re-imagining derelict waterfront property. An abandoned backwater has been turned in to high-end real estate, museums, an aquarium, boutique shops and a full range of restaurants from mall-food to upscale steak and seafood. Water is given the full treatment for its place in Sydney history through a creative series of fountains.

Other treats in the city included Chinatown, the Chinese Garden Teahouse in Tumbalong Park and the Royal Botanical Garden with its classic views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. I purposely skipped over world famous Bondi Beach and went for Maroubra instead, known to be nearly as large but nowhere near as crowded, favored more by the locals than the jet set and glitterati. A "natural" swimming pool was carved among the rocks on the northern edge with retaining walls and poles that allow swimming in some pretty wild surf without being washed out to sea. On this gray, blustery day at the seaside the bathers were nowhere to be seen but the surfers were out in numbers. Carpe diem, dude!

I like Sydney. It delivers on the reputation of diversion, fun and relaxation with a friendly service culture. I missed out on the Olympic Park but that in itself is not enough to draw me back to the city. The rest of Australia remains to be seen, including Tasmania, Perth and the Great Barrier Reef.

Great white sharks and saltwater crocodiles I can handle. Now if only they can do something about those box jelly fish!

Gotta go.

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