I have been planning my trip to Sydney and the surrounding area of NSW since January 2018. At the time of booking I got some great deals on business class flights through Emirates , due to the special offers run at that time of year ( and other airlines do this too ) . One of the really good other things re business class travel / special offers with Emirates is that you still get the courtesy car ( you don’t with Virgin Atlantic for example if you buy a business class seat at a special offer ).
So on the morning of the 23 rd November ,I arrived in Sydney airport , feeling relatively ok given the long haul flight. Absolutely full credit to anyone who does that flight time in economy as I would have really struggled with the lack of space.
BTW Emirates pick up was also waiting in the arrival terminal to transfer me to the Shangrila-La Hotel in the City Centre. I was really impressed with the driver, a very proud Australian gentleman who spoke in awe of Prince Harry and the Invictus Games. He said he had been really fortunate to meet some of the Invictus competitors , and said that what Harry had done for veterans was quite remarkable. I thought that was really nice and felt really proud to be a Brit !
The hotel was really busy when I arrived at 8 am , they were in the process of facilitating the closing down and exit of some high ranking Indian officials ( there were a lot of local police around). Consequently I spent just over 8 minutes waiting for a free elevator to get to the 5 th floor as it seemed that all 6 lifts were constantly on the go.
My room was big with great views across the harbour so I could see Harbor Bridge and ofcourse the Opera House. I didn’t waste much time in my room after a nespresso coffee, quick shower and change of clothes before I headed out to the town. The hotel is right in the heart of the capital so easy access to everywhere.
The one thing I don’t do on holiday is to check out the stores for clothes and home ware . At the end of the day you can buy the same clothes back home . I don’t understand the preoccupation with shopping when really you should be out soaking up the culture of the city you have invested so much of your time and savings into!
I knew there was a David Goldblatt photography exhibition on at the Museum of Contemporay Art, (mca.com.au) so I headed straight for that . I have really admired his work and the integrity with which he presents images and the stories attached to them. It encompasses his early photos from 1948 right through to 2018 . It is a documentary of his life , portraying his photographs/ videos and the documentaries that he has done . It is a history of the fascinating life of a man driven to understand the lives of people during and after the troubles of South Africa. You get to understand why and how he chooses his subjects , and what it is he wants to achieve for his audience. Taking a photo of Nelson Mandela wasn’t just about getting the perfect picture. There is a really sobering section in the exhibition of photos of ex- criminals, where he portrays the person after time spent in prison. Underneath each portrait is a story effectively of their life before, life in prison and how they have turned their lives around. If the exhibition comes to a place near you go and see it! It’s humbling and a reminder of societal change and the need to be connected and human- kind. Afterwards I had a really good lunch on the top floor balcony of the gallery overlooking the harbour. The gallery reminds me of the Tate Modern, it’s a beautiful and clever building . Really worth going to see – other than specific exhibitions, it’s free to access .
Feeling refreshed I then walked through the city port area out towards the Botanical Gardens. These were really beautiful and I felt like I was in the tropics , surrounded by lush plants and trees with the chorus of birds singing all around. A great place to go if plants and garden design is of interest to you. I always make a beeline for such things on my travels as it gives me ideas for my own ( small) garden back home ( which is fundamentally eclectically designed around many of the places I have been !).
I had pre- booked a twilight ticket to climb “ Harbor Bridge “.
( http://www.bridgeclimb.com) but by 1700 hrs I was starting to wilt a little. However I have always wanted to do this and pushed on.
Jut watching the video about preparation for the climb which included health and safety aspects was enough to get me feeling energised. You literally can not take anything with you, all watches ( and any other wrist jewellery) cameras etc have to be put away. They provide lockers for safeguarding valuables. They will take a range of photographs for you to buy at the end ( photos are taken with a decent camera!). The climbs run throughout the day and night at 15 minute intervals. Price varies according to the time you have chosen to go. I did the twilight climb and joined several other couples or groups . Although I was on my own, I didn’t worry about this. The climb cost £145.
We went through the safety briefing, donned the climbing suit, put on connecting headphones so we could hear the lead talk about the history of the bridge and to provide instructions as we went along . We were ofcourse rigged up to a safety harness. If you have a fear of heights then maybe this won’t be for you- it was also an exceptionally windy day in Sydney . The day prior to my arrival had seen Sydney under a red dust cloud,so today we were lucky as the view was amazing. I can not imagine a better way to see Sydney all at once.
. All in all the climb which includes the preamble takes just over 3 hrs so I finished at 830 pm. I was too tired to eat by then and went back to my hotel , climbed into a beautiful comfortable bed and slept .
The next morning I was up at 730 and after a really great breakfast in the hotel I set off to spend my morning at Bondi Beach . Yes, there are other beaches along Sydney coastline that many argue are better such as Manly, but for me it was about the status afforded to Bondi, and my wanting to do a bit of surfing there !
It’s not the first time I have surfed ( amazing what you can find yourself doing when you hit 50!) . I am still a real novice at this sport, and honestly I do have some anxiety in doing it. But I love watching surfers out on the sea, it is such a graceful ( for the professionals) and tough sport so I have always wanted to give it a go. My first time was in Newquay , Cornwall. If you are interested in doing this don’t fret about being too old, as long as you are a decent enough swimmer and have the will power to keep trying , age is no barrier. The board can really knock you for 6 out in the sea and leave some nasty cuts and bruises if you mistime your surfacing out of the water after you come off during a big wave. It’s really important to don a wet suit whatever weather temperatures , the suit protects you against knocks and bruising. I had a 1:1 lesson. This was important to me as I know younger people will take to sports like this much quicker than I ever would. Watching them take off whilst I would inevitability still be struggling to grasp the fundamentals would be disheartening !. Yet again I loved the whole experience , even though the waves were bigger than what I have experienced before. I felt. 100 % safe with the instructor ( letsgosurfing .com.au) who was brilliant ( and very patient!).
After my stint at Bondi Beach I headed back to the hotel via cab. It is really easy getting from place to place in Sydney and the surrounding areas using either bus or trains. All relatively cheap . I chose a cab because I felt a little windswept post being in the sea! It cost me $24 ( Australian dollars). It would have been $4 by bus.
Plus added to this I needed to get ready for dinner and to watch a performance at the Opera House. I had booked my performance for the ballet Spartacus months ago. I really wanted to feel the atmosphere of Sydney Opera House , so the tours that they operate to see behind the scenes wouldn’t have suited me . I had tried to book dinner at Bennelong at the same time but couldn’t get a table. However the hotel concierge at Shangrila-la knew someone who worked at the restaurant , and so managed to get me a lovely table by a window, again overlooking the harbour. The food and service there was amazing, and it was a brilliant starter to what turned out to be a truly magical evening. Spartacus was dazzling , performed by the Australian Ballet company. It is possibly the best and most moving performance I have ever been prviledged to see in my lifetime .
So the fabulous evening brought an end to my very short time in the city. The walk back to the hotel along the harbour front showed a city full of life, glitz and glamour . I felt perfectly safe out late at night on my own. The lights all around marking the iconic structures that are Sydney twinkled in the surrounding waters. Sydney is truly a city of magic and well worth a visit on anyone’s travel to-do list! The next day I was all set to pick up a hire car and head out to the blue mountains for 5 days.