Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Five Cool Things About Sydney

There are, of course, more than five cool things about Australia's largest city and media center, but here is a short-list, taken from my visit to Sydney earlier this week:

1. Circular Quay and Sydney Ferries: An obvious but undeniable best-of choice. Sydney has one of the finest water transport systems on the planet, centered on this busy hub in the historic Rocks section of town. Sitting outside near the tip of a ferry bound for Manley Wharf, I got drenched by a rogue wave, but that's OK - the ride to dinner at the stylish Manly Pavilion restaurant was still fun. A fast ferry cuts this trip to 18 minutes, down from the standard 30.

2. Ginger beer. Actually, I think it's available Australia-wide. Provided it contains real ginger, this widely available soft drink has a beneficial effect on the stomach. So I was told when I developed a stomach bug. I swigged a trusty, tasty ginger beer, and, sure enough, soon felt better. G'day, indeed.

3. A schooner of Victoria Bitter at the Fortune of War, a welcoming George Street pub in The Rocks that claims to be Sydney's oldest, founded in 1828. If there's Australian-rules football (''footie'') on the telly, so much the better.

4. Altitude, the 36th-floor fine-dining restaurant at the Shangri-la Hotel, where I stayed while in town. True to its name, the resto provides sweeping highrise views of Sydney Harbor - er, harbour - and Altitude's Canadian-born chef Steven Krasicki dishes out outstanding fare. One highlight on the tasting menu I sampled: Rare roasted Hahndorf venison, with pine mushrooms, Mount Buffalo hazelnuts and burnt cinnamon jus, accompanied by a 2005 Castano Hecula Monastrell wine from Yecla, Spain. Yum.

5. The Writer's Walk, back at Circular Quay. Smartly sponsored by the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts, this creative twist on the Hollywood Walk of Fame features circular brass seals inlaid on the concrete sidewalk, each marker being devoted to a writer with connections to Sydney. Among them: art critic Robert Hughes, feminist author Germaine Greer and entertainer Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage). Each plaque includes a brief biography and excerpt from the writer's work. Here's one I like by Clive James, who left Australia for England in the early 1960s:

"In Sydney Harbour, the yachts will be sailing on the crushed-diamond water under a sky the texture of powdered sapphires. It would be churlish not to concede that the same abundance of natural blessings which gives us the energy to leave has every right to call us back.''

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