If you’ve been in Dubai for any amount of time you’ve probably met a few Sydneysiders. All of them, no doubt, will sing the praises of their shore-side city; of the beaches, the Georgian architecture, the work-life balance. None, however, will admit that when it rains, it pours – for 138 days during an average year. Instead, I discover this nugget of information for myself, stepping off a 13-hour flight into the first day of rain of their entire summer.
Fortunately, after repeatedly telling me how very unlucky I am, the sunshine city’s residents recommend some undercover activities worth checking out. Naturally, top of their lists is the Opera House. A guided tour inside, I find, reveals just how influential the building was in attaining Sydney true modern city status, back when it opened in 1973. Also due to the ‘good fortune’ of the dreary skies, I discover that its roof reflects the brightness of the air: on my visit it’s a dirty grey compared to the washing powder white seen on postcards.
Another surprising revelation about Sydney is that, despite its laidback air, the city runs on caffeine. Seemingly every street you turn down harbours a coffee shop or two, spilling over with locals sipping demi-lattes. The choice ’hood for caffeine-heads is the ’30s-built Elizabeth Bay, in particular Toby’s at Pott’s Point or Fratelli Paradiso. Both make ideal spots to sup froth while pouring over the latest Sydney Morning Herald (or, indeed, Time Out Sydney).
Buzzed up and ready to spend, next I duck inside Sydney’s boutiques. Rather than relive any average Dubai weekend inside Bondi Junction, one of the city’s most popular malls, instead I wander the area’s independent stores, full of Australian designed, bohemian clothes and products. For pricier indoor shopping, I head to the Queen Victoria Building in Central, which handily doubles up as a tourist attraction. Built in 1898 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, it originally housed street markets and still covers an entire city block. My tip? Look up. The multicoloured circular windows on the ceiling don’t change colour depending on the weather – and oughtn’t be missed.
The rain mean I’m unlikely to experience wild sealife during my stay, so I pop over to Sydney Aquarium. Even though fish aren’t my thing, the centre astounds. Glass tunnels mean I can stare eyeball to eyeball with sharks and seals (the latter, surprisingly, seem to be more menacing).
Rather than become someone else’s dinner, then, instead I stick inside and sample some of the Sydney’s food. Immediately, North Bondi Italian Food validates the city’s worldwide culinary reputation. Located on the beach and crammed every night (no bookings allowed) the food is fresh, the atmosphere hot and the service chipper. Across the bay sits its sister restaurant Iceberg Dining Room & Bar, boasting increased prices and sophistication. Tellingly, in these times, it’s also packed to the beach-front windows.
Still soggy and smiling, I head over to Bungalow 8, by the harbour. Vast, awfully trendy and (unfortunately) half al fresco, it’s the stomping ground for the city’s style council, just like The Loft next door. Imagine walking on to the set of Gossip Girl and you’re there.
The following morning, Sydney smiles at me for my efforts – and the sun emerges. One question springs to mind: which way is it to the beach? The answer, I quickly realise, is various directions. Sydney is blessed with so much waterfront and so many beaches that each has its own character. First up, there’s Bondi – the tourist trap. Sunbathing here, you can’t help but pick up snatches of clichéd gap-year chat (‘I’m so poor!’; ‘Which party are we going to tonight again?’) along with your suntan.
Now the winds have died down, I scramble to do the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, the top tip of most resident’s visitor suggestions. Just on from Bondi lies Tamarama Beach, a smaller, more sheltered cove, where, according to locals, ‘the most beautiful go’ (because in Sydney you only get different grades of beautiful). Though many walkers conclude their trek at Bronte, a bay popular with families, I head on to Clovelly, ‘the pretty beach’. En route I walk through Waverley Cemetery. Set starkly on top of a cliff, each headstone faces out to sea, seemingly contemplative. Finally, glowing with sweat, the beginnings of sunburn and a strong sense of achievement, I reach Coogee Beach, a family-friendly version of Bondi.
Having checked off a score sheet of beaches, next on my sunny list is a city park. Not far from the city’s Oxford and Liverpool Streets, sits Hyde Park, much smaller than its London namesake. Flopping down on the grass among office workers, surrounded by skyscrapers and the non-stop blare of traffic, I feel at once in the midst of a fast-paced city – and a long way from the beach.
Finally, I arrive back where I began – this time at Opera Bar. Overlooking Sydney harbour and bridge, it’s Friday night and the deck heaves (by 6pm) with Sydneysiders clinking glasses to the end of another working week.
Looking back at the concert hall, I think about how the tour guide compared the building’s white domes to waves, ship sails and even dolphin and shark fins. Today, under the bright blue skies, they beam again, shiny white and proud.
I also think about how Sydney, come rain or shine, seems to, well, shine.
What’s it really like on an A380?
The A380 superjumbo is the biggest plane in history. Each of its wings is heavier than two articulated lorries and it’s also one of the most energy and fuel efficient. But we all know that by now. What we want to know is – can really big planes honestly make long haul flights more bearable? So we decided to test it out, on the new longest route available from Dubai – 13 hours long, to Sydney.
And on first impression, yes it does. The immediate difference between an A380 and a regular jumbo is the amount of room inside. Everywhere. While First Class may have private suites and business seats have aisles either side – even economy has roomier chairs and wider aisles (making for less awkward shuffles past other passengers).
Then there are the bars. Lots of bars. Every business and first class seat has its own built-in soft drinks bar, and between the two carriages lies a complimentary bar, where passengers can mingle (and they really do, swopping travel stories – next to people queueing for the loos).
But, what everyone really wants to know is: what is it like to take a shower at thousands of feet in the air? Well, pretty much the same as on the ground. The air pressure doesn’t make you extra clean. The most bizarre aspect is the monitor inside the cubicle, showing the passing skies outside – and successfully reminding you exactly where you are. Of course, the fact that the room isn’t allocated to extra seats is a tad strange too.
In short, an extended flight on an A380 really does leave you feeling decidedly less mangled – and cleaner.
There has been a stark rise in the number of shark attacks off the coast of Sydney recently, with three in as many weeks. In two months, there have been five on the New South Wales coast, compared to eight in 2008. Sydneysider Christian Beserra was chased out of the water two weeks ago by a shark, and was also in the water when another surfer was bitten by a great white. ‘We’ve had ocean currents with different water temperatures intersecting recently,’ he theorises. ‘When this happens, the ocean produces more plankton, which attracts little fish, which attracts bigger fish, then seals, then sharks.’ But he remains happy to carry on surfing. ‘It’s my main source of energy, emotional and physical balance. It’s my passion and what I live for.’ Perhaps he’s not so silly. Even with the extra attacks, death by shark remains exceptionally rare.
Need to know
Emirates A380 to Sydney every Sun, Wed, Fri. Daily from May 1. Prices start from Dhs5,760
Where to stay
Park Hyatt, 7 Hickson Road, The Rocks (+61 2 9241 1234), Maze Backpackers (1800 813 522) www.nomadshostels.com
Where to eat and drink
Bungalow 8, No. 8, The Promenade, King Street Wharf (02 9299 4660), Fratelli Paradiso, 2-16 Challis Ave Potts Point (02 9357 1744), Icebergs Dining Room & Bar 1 Notts Ave, Bondi Beach (02 9365 9000), The Loft, 3 Lime St (02 9264 9209), North Bondi Italian Food 118-120 Ramsgate Ave, North Bondi 2026. (02 9300 4400).Toby’s at Pott’s Point, corner of Manning & Macleay Streets (02 8356 9264)