Well…We’ve been home for about 2.5 months, and I’m finally getting around to finishing up my “wrap ups.” As one might imagine, taking 3 months off tends to put you behind the 8 ball at work, so – needless to say – I’ve been pretty busy in that regard.
Fortunately, I kept good notes and have Alyce’s blog posts to look back on. Plus, I have a decent memory, so I should be able to recap things almost as well as if I had wrote this while we still on the trip. On to Sydney…
Sydney is the largest city in Australia; its metropolitan area population (4.7 Million) would put it between Detroit and Seattle in the US. So it is a big city, but not huge. The city was pretty clean—maybe slightly less so than some of the Asian cities, but still very clean. I also found Sydney to be very safe, as was the case with most of the places we visited.
Sydney’s downtown – at least from a tourism perspective – is located around a little cove off of Sydney Harbor call Circular Quay. A quick note: Quay is pronounced as “key” (like you lock/unlock things with)…something we did not figure out until our last day in Sydney.
On one side of Circular Quay is the Sydney Harbor Bridge; on the other side is the Sydney Opera House. The walk in between had a lot of shops/restaurants/entertainers/etc. The first thing we did after checking in was walk around the Quay, which was a good way to start Sydney off.
Not far off in almost every direction from Circular Quay, were plenty more shops and restaurants. Kind of like venturing off Bourbon Street in New Orleans you’ll find plenty more shops and restaurants—though don’t take that as me implying that Circular Quay was anything like Bourbon Street.
I found Sydney to have a pretty modern feel. It did have some old, European styled buildings, probably as a result of its British heritage, but most things seemed pretty modern otherwise.
The food in Sydney was especially good. We had some very good meals at a variety of price points. It was definitely my favorite “Western” food of the trip and was right up there with Japan for favorite food overall. And we’re not huge bar people, but we did go to a nice pub – which was just one of many options.
Public transportation in Sydney was surprisingly expensive (like many things in Australia). We did not ride the subway/train, but we did ride the buses. A single round trip bus ride to Bondi beach was something like $8 a person…and it wasn’t that far of a bus ride at all. But I guess it still got us there and back cheaper than a taxi.
We had some of our poorest weather of the trip in Sydney, though still not that bad. It rained everyday for at least a portion of the day, but we were able to get out and do something everyday. So, if that was our worst luck, we did pretty well weatherwise. On the temperature, I don’t recall it being overly warm for being there in the middle of summer.
We woke up early to finish packing for yet another flight. By this point, we were really looking forward to New Zealand and Australia (part two) where we only had one flight in 28 days. Before getting on the road, we made some scrambled eggs for breakfast mainly because we felt guilty for buying eggs/butter/salt and pepper for eggs and not making them once.
After some quick eggs, we made our way back along the windy road to Cairns to catch our Qantas flight to Sydney. We arrived pretty early and without incident. Despite our heavy carry on bags and Qantas’s 15# limit, we did not have any issues checking in. I did preach to Alyce to make our bags “look light” which I think helped; she’d most likely tell you I was crazy.
We arrived pretty early, but Qantas had a lounge in Cairns which made our wait for the flight pretty pleasant. Like most lounges we came across on the trip, it was much nicer than most domestic lounges.
We flew from Cairns to Sydney in business class on a 767. The seat was a nice recliner style chair. It was much better than coach, but honestly the business class ground benefits on a 3 hour flight are better than the actual flight benefits.
We arrived on time in Sydney and collected our bags quickly. We found the taxi queue outside without any problems, but our taxi driver didn’t speak much English. Being that this is an English speaking country, we weren’t really prepared for this. But I had internet on my phone, which I fired up and gave him the intersection of the streets for our hotel.
We stayed at the Park Hyatt Sydney, which is in a really good location in the Cirular Quay area. The hotel was full for the Chinese New Year, and it showed. If I am being completely honest, this hotel was probably our biggest (and really the only) disappointment of the trip. So why…
First a disclaimer, I’m talking some real first-world issues here, but I’m trying to stay objective to benefit anyone who may read this to determine whether they want to stay at this hotel. Plus, while we stayed on hotel loyalty points (i.e. free), the lowest rate for the worst room was $1200 a day – and much, much higher. If I were paying that, I would have been significantly disappointed.
I’m not going to go in to too much detail, but things just weren’t smooth at this hotel. Breakfasts were painfully slow and numerous things were forgotten everyday. The staff members – while all very friendly – weren’t as helpful as they were at all of the hotels in Asia. And maybe that was part of the problem – that we had stayed at so many incredible places prior to the Park Hyatt Sydney.
My second main complaint was that this was the only hotel I felt like were treated as “lesser customers” because we were on points. Over the course of this trip I used every trick in the book to get cheap/free hotel rates, and this was the only time I got the feeling that we were treated as “lesser customers.” Maybe it was in our head, maybe not.
Either way, if I were going to actually spend $1200+ on a hotel room, I can think of many, many places I would do so before the Park Hyatt Sydney. Yet, they were fully booked when we checked in, so good for them.
Again, first world problem, and we were very lucky to get to stay there. But, I’d like to stay honest and objective or else everything would be giggles and sunshine (and thus not worth reading in my opinion).
Anyway, after our disappointing start we decided to get out and go walk around Circular Quay. We made our way around on the 15 minute walk (if walking straight around), taking in all the iconic Aussie sites as well as catching some Techno-Aboriginal street performers.
When we were making our way back, it was just about time to eat. So we decided to head straight to Wine Odyssey (the restaurant where I had made reservations). It was actually more of a wine bar/café than a full-fledged restaurant, but they had a good menu and plenty of wine.
It did not take us long to decide that we wanted a charcuterie platter and a cheese platter, which we had not yet had on the trip…and we scarfed it down.
We took a slow stroll back to the hotel, where Alyce nearly immediately climbed in to bed and went to sleep. I decided to grab my tripod, be a nerd, and go take some night pictures of the sites right outside the hotel. I saw some other people with a similar idea but struggling mightily without a tripod…I never felt so cool despite being so nerdy. Anyway, I think I got some winners.
We started off our second day in Sydney by eating breakfast at the Park Hyatt. The food was very good, and the restaurant had a really neat view of the Sydney Opera House. That said, service was pretty poor – and we very rarely complain about service. At least the people were friendly, which made the poor service not such a big deal.
After breakfast, we went back to the room and got our stuff for the day then headed out to walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge – on the pedestrian path. There is an official “Bridge Climb” tour offered and many people consider it a must do…I can’t say that I agree.
It is really expensive at about $250 US per person (and no cameras allowed…but we’ll sell you pictures for “nominal fee”). That is the #1 reason why we did not do it. It is supposed to have pretty good views, but one of the bridge pillars has a viewing deck that can’t be more than 20-30 feet below the top of the arch of the bridge. Plus, I felt the views from the pedestrian path were fine.
Anyway, that little sidebar was to provide a counter point to the thought that the Bridge Climb is a must do in Sydney. Given the choice, I’d walk the pedestrian path and put the $500 towards a nice dinner or a helicopter ride or something along those lines every day of the week.
Back to the walk, we stopped and snapped some pictures along the way across the bridge. On the other side, we walked down to a little park/grassy area that had a great view looking back towards Sydney. We took it easy for a little while over there, and I set up my tripod and took some more pictures.
We hung out for around an hour and then had to head back to get ready for our busy night. Back on the hotel side of the bridge, there were a lot of tents set up for a little market. Alyce hemmed and hawed over some opals to purchase for her souvenir, which she ended up buying none of the options there.
We got dressed up for our night at the opera and nice dinner, and then made the walk over to the opera house with an umbrella in hand because rain seemed imminent (it was). We took some pictures outside the Opera House then picked up our tickets for the show and headed in.
We decided to see a show called “Opera House Classics” which was a medley of many classic opera tunes, as you might expect from the title. We recognized a couple of the songs, and the singers were really impressive. Overall, it was a good introductory show, but an opera buff would probably not like it as there was no continuous story (I guess).
Our dinner for the night was at a restaurant called “Quay” (again, pronounced “key”) which was along Circular Quay and a couple minutes walk from the hotel. This was supposedly one of the best restaurants in Australia, and it lived up to the billing.
After eating at many fancy restaurants, you tend to really remember just the best courses – in addition to the fact that all of the meals are usually great overall. So that has kind of become a litmus test for us for the best restaurants: a couple years later how many courses will you still remember and be wanting to have again.
Well, Quay had several great courses. Alyce and I each had a pork course (one of had an appetizer and one had the entrée), and both pork courses were probably the best pork I’ve ever had. On top of that, we had two deserts which were both outstanding (an eight layer chocolate cake and an “egg” which is the restaurants specialty); this was an extra pleasant surprise as we usually find the deserts at these type of restaurants to be relatively disappointing compared to the rest of the meal.
Other than the great food, Quay had a really neat setting. It is located in a little glass circular tower (though not an overly tall tower) with a great view of Sydney Harbor. Plus we lucked out and were there on a very good night.
We first got to watch the “Voyager of the Seas” cruise ship depart berth just after sunset. Not too long after that the light illuminating the Sydney Opera House turned red for the Chinese New Year, giving it a very different look. The waiter said that he had never seen a red opera house before.
Overall, we really enjoyed our meal at Quay. The food and setting were great, and the service was very good. If fine dining is your thing, I’d highly recommend it. After walking back to the hotel, I got my camera and went and got some quick pictures of the red Opera House before heading to bed.
We woke up to a rainy day outside and made our way down to the hotel restaurant to eat breakfast. Our plan for the day was to bus to Bondi Beach and walk the cliffside path to Coogee Beach, which we didn’t particularly feel like doing in the rain. So, we spent a couple hours catching up on e-mails and making some calls in our room after breakfast while waiting out the rain.
The rain finally quit, though it was still pretty dreary outside with the appearance that the rain could come back at any time. We made the call to go for it with our rain gear.
The bus ride over was not bad, just a little expensive as previously mentioned. When we got there it started to rain again just as we were getting off the bus. The little town in Bondi had plenty of shops with covered walkways, which we spent some time walking around and looking at waiting for the rain to die down. We also found some covered shelters with picnic tables by the beach to wait out the rain.
Finally, it slowed enough and we took off on the walk. On the way to the path, there was a lot of colorful graffiti art and plenty of surfers catching some waves.
The walking path itself was very cool. You had a great view back of the beach and the famous Icebergs swimming pool, which had waves crashing into it. On the path are some great cliffside views and interesting rock formations.
We made it about a third of the way on the path and decided that we were pushing our luck and should probably turn around and head back before the weather got bad again – especially considering that the path would probably be pretty difficult to traverse in the rain.
The wait for the bus wasn’t bad, and we were back in the Circular Quay area before too long. One tip for buses in Sydney: buy a round trip ticket because you have to have a pre-purchased ticket and in some places (e.g. Bondi) there is no way to buy a ticket.
Before going back to the hotel, we passed by an opal store that Alyce had perused a couple times in search of a souvenir. But today was different…She was ready to buy. She picked out a pair of opal earrings that she really liked, and I even thought they looked pretty neat. The only downside was that she could not open them until leaving Australia because she got them duty free.
We then spent some more time hanging out in the hotel room and decided that we would skip a sit down dinner because we had been eating plenty. I suggested that we go to a pub in its place, which Alyce – known lover of drinking establishments – said she was up for. So Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel it was.
The walk over did take a little longer than anticipated and was through a more off the beaten path area-though still very safe feeling. We almost gave up on it and turned around, but I’m glad we made it there.
It was a cool spot to have a beer, and they served a couple of their own house brews. I had a couple beers, and Alyce pounded back some diet cokes. We also got some bar food to munch on. Again, it was a neat spot – something like I imagine a neighborhood British pub would be like.
On our way back to the hotel, it started to rain…hard. We made it to an awning we could stand under and waited 10 minutes for the rain to slow down. It never stopped, but slowed enough for us to make it back, and fortunately Alyce had her rain jacket. Back at the hotel, we watched a TV show and called it a night.
Yet another rainy morning…We ate breakfast at the hotel and decided to take a lazy day rather than heading out in the rain. The plan was just to walk around and see some more areas of the city.
Fortunately, it slowed enough for us to walk over to the Botanical Gardens. This was a nice walk – some pretty flowers, nice views of the city, etc. The main attraction is a point where you can get both the Harbor Bridge and Opera House in the same view. The Chinese tourist were doing some serious posing for pictures right around there (and when I say pose, I mean pose – not just stand and smile).
After a slow stroll back to the hotel, we started packing for our last flight for 19 days, which seemed like an eternity at that point. Our last Sydney dinner was at Tetsuya’s, which is another one of Australia’s top restaurants.
We had to catch a cab from the hotel, which wasn’t too bad – only about $10. The location itself was not quite as grand as Quay, but still very nice. It is located in what seemed like a little house, with windows overlooking an Asian Garden.
We were greeted with some “bubbles” on the house, which was a nice touch. Our waitress was very friendly and talked to us a good bit about where we had been and would be going. She had been to Bali a couple times and drew us a picture of a place we should try to eat.
We did the tasting menu and split an Australian wine pairing. Note: this was a literal split as split pours was not allowed. Fortunately, I did not catch Alyce’s cooties.
The food was very good top to bottom. It was French cuisine with some Japanese twists to it. The standout course was the restaurant’s signature dish – Ocean Trout. Again, it was really a solid meal, and the wine pairings were fun too. Service was also excellent.
We cabbed back to the hotel, and I packed up all the electronics/camera gear (which is always the last thing). As usual, I was up later than I planned packing; but it wasn’t too big of a deal because I was sleeping pretty well on the trip.
Sydney Concluding Thoughts
Some quick concluding thoughts on Sydney…I’ll do Australia in whole later. Sydney was a great city to visit. It is safe, and the people are friendly. There is plenty to do in a variety of price points. You could spend a week walking around seeing the sites and not get bored. The zoo and aquarium are also supposed to be very good, but we were just in a zoo in Singapore so we skipped that.
The food was also excellent. I liked everywhere we ate a lot. Plus, there were plenty of places I saw when researching that looked like they would have been very good as well.
If Sydney was in the US, I could see us making plenty of long weekend trips there…but it’s not, so you have to plan it in within a trip to Australia/New Zealand. I think 4 days is a good amount (unless you have a ton of time to spend travelling – and plenty money as Sydney was expensive). I’d rather spend any time more than 4 days on the other parts of Australia. You could also do less…Hell, a one night layover would be enough to let you go walk around Circular Quay and see the Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge.
All said and done, we really liked Sydney and will probably be back some day.