Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sydney Part Deux (Day 1)

The first and last time I was in Sydney the weather was atrocious, so I knew I had to go back one day to get the full experience.  When Study Abroad Susanna planned her trip up to Brisbane I thought, with a free place to stay, this was my time to go back.

Susanna was in my first group of students when I worked in Norway back in 2007-2008.  She's five years younger than me, and I feel positively geriatric in comparison.  OK that's a bit of an exaggeration, but this girl knows how to seriously live life to the fullest in a short period of time!  We had roughly 50 [awesome] things to do in the 48 hours I was there, and Susanna saw to it that each awesome activity was accomplished.

This list can serve as a handy travel guide for anybody low on time in Sydney who wants to maximize their fun/sightseeing.  I'll split the two days into two posts, because I'm lazy and you don't want to hear me droning on for too long, anyway.

To build our energy for the day we started off with breakfast, right in the center of Sydney's universe, at the Sydney Opera House.

Opera Bar is one of the food and beverage establishments located in (actually under) the Opera House.  Usually dining at such a major tourist attraction is expensive, filled with clueless tourists, underwhelming and above all else, ill advised.  But I was so impressed with Opera Bar!

The food was perfectly fine and the prices were no more than you'd pay at a brunch spot in Brisbane.  Heck, I'd argue even less.  We were there about 9 a.m. and we virtually had the place to ourselves.  I don't know why the heck it wasn't packed!  It was raining a bit, so outdoor seating wasn't an option for us.  This is what the outdoor area looks like in good weather:

So nice!

After our breakfast and tiny coffees (my one gripe about Opera Bar) we took a hike through the Botanic Gardens so we could get a view of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge together.  When Martin and I visited previously we took a shot of us with just one of them:

Had I known a better angle existed I would've made the hike for our iconic shot!

The best view of both the opera house and bridge lies in the Botanic Gardens, close to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair (a.k.a. rock formation surrounded by Chinese tourists):

That view is only about 10 minutes walk along the harbour if you're not doddling.  Such a spectacular view!

We saw a bit more of the gardens in search of more coffee.  They're nice - and freaking huge!

Sus is obsessed with the Sydney Opera House, so it's a miracle she's been there 4 months but hasn't done a tour of it yet.  But she hadn't!  So we did it.  Yay!

Every Opera House tour is different, because where you can go depends on what events are happening in each theatre at the moment.  I didn't know before the tour that there are five theatres within the opera house, two big (Concert Hall and Joan Sutherland Theatre) and three small (Drama Theatre, Playhouse and Studio).

We got to see two of the theatres - one big, one small - but couldn't take pictures in either one because there were people warming/setting up on stage.  So here are some pictures I pilfered off Google of the two we saw:

Big: Concert Hall
Small: Playhouse
One of the foyers had hilariously hideous purple carpet:

But I loved it!  I thought it spoke to the era when it was built (it opened in 1973).

We also got to go into a small, private function room called the Utzon Room (after the dude who designed the building, Jørn Utzon):

I would get married today if I could do it in this room!  It was amazing!  And can you imagine saying you got married in the Sydney Opera House?!  It's my new goal in life.

One last thing I will say about the Sydney Opera House.  This is what it looks like up close:

1. It essentially made of bath tiles (but only 1 tile falls off every other year)

2. It's not really white (because if it was it would blind you when the sun hits it)

The area where the Opera House and bridge is located is called Circular Quay, inexplicably pronounced 'key'.  After our tour we left there and headed to Darling Harbour, another pretty, tourist-friendly, must-do area of the city.  When Martin and I were in Darling Harbour together we didn't get a single picture of it because it was raining so hard we literally couldn't take our camera out of our pocket for fear it would get ruined.  But not today!

Thankfully the light rain from earlier had stopped by this time so I could enjoy Darling Harbour in all its blue sky glory!

After a leisurely lunch (with wine!) we indulged in what can best be described as a Sydney (and Melbourne, but not Brisbane) institution: Messina gelato!

I don't want to embarrass anyone here, but one of us (ahem, not I) ate gelato three times in the 48 hours that I was there.  Now that's love!  I tried three flavors: salted caramel & white chocolate, milk chocolate with chocolate peanut fudge and pecan pie.  #beetus

Messina is located in The Star casino, but we didn't do any gambling while we were there.  We came back later that night, for Susanna's second fix of gelato for the day (and other reasons, I suppose).

After putzing around Darling Harbour for a while the sun was preparing to set so we prepared ourselves for the best sunset vantage point in town: the Shangri-La Hotel.  On the 36th floor they have a restaurant/bar called Altitude with an amazing view of the Opera House.

The sun sets in the opposite direction of this vantage point, but it's still an awesome view.  Pro tip: The elevator to that floor doesn't open up until the bar opens (5 p.m.) but there were already people up there when we got there right at 5.  I recommend trying the elevator every minute starting a 4:45, even if you look like an idiot, so you can be, as the Aussies say, "first in, best dressed".  That means the early bird gets the worm, and in this case the worm is sweet window seats.

After our fancy drink with a view at the Shangri-La it was time to hike back to The Star for more gelato...and our evening entertainment:

I had never heard of Strictly Ballroom the movie before.  Was I living under a rock in the 90's?  It's a 1992 movie directed by Baz Luhrmann, who also directed the Claire Danes/Leonardo DiCaprio version of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge.  These three films together are called The Red Curtain Trilogy, but the only connection I see between them is that the same dude directed them.  The other two movies were huge in America, but I don't know if this one ever made it big.

Anyway, they've turned Strictly Ballroom into a musical and it's been all over TV, billboards, buses, you name it, even in Brisbane though it's only showing down in Sydney.  When I told Susanna this she suggested we go, and I've never seen a musical I didn't like, so I agreed.  It was campy, over-the-top, theatrical fun with ballgowns flying all over the stage in perfectly choreographed manner.  They even had the theatre itself decked out, which I'd never seen before:

Sequined seat covers!
So much fun!  From what I can tell by hearing my colleagues talk Australians love their Strictly Ballroom, so I'll count this show as a cultural immersion experience.

By this time we had been out of the house for, oh, about 15 hours, so it was time to get on the bus back to Susanna's campus and crash hard.  Our feet and legs were killing us, and Day 2 would prove to be just as jam packed and fun filled as Day 1!

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