Upon arriving in Sydney I took a shuttle downtown to the Park Royal Hotel located in the historic and beautiful “Rocks District”, where Sydney was founded. It’s a rocky promontory overlooking the harbor where the first convicts from England came ashore to start a colony in the 1700’s. Now the area is a very fashionable and trendy neighborhood, filled with old Victorian buildings and warehouses that have been restored and converted into lively restaurants, bars, and shops.
That afternoon I took a walk along the waterfront to the cruise ship terminal and watched as a large Russian passenger liner from Odessa was preparing to depart, and I suddenly found myself amongst the crowd of families and friends waving and shouting their farewells! I continued my walk along the waterfront to the busy Sydney Ferry terminal and discovered a quaint little establishment known as the “Sydney Cove Oyster Bar” for a cold pint of the local Coopers Ale, as I sat beside the water’s edge watching the ferries “deftly” slipping in and out of the narrow crowded harbor – it was almost like they were able to “turn on a dime”. Soon the sun was setting and I headed to a place called “Wolfie’s” on the quay next to the beautiful 5 star Park Hyatt Hotel. As I settled down at a table with a great view of the waterfront and the Sydney Opera House, I perused the menu for fresh seafood dishes and came across something called “Moreton Bay Bugs” which piqued my interest right away. The waiter highly recommended them and said they were really fresh this evening. They turned out to be large crawfish from Brisbane and they were absolutely delicious grilled, along with a wonderful, dry crisp Fiddler’s Creek Australian chardonnay. The main course was a fantastic herb crusted rack of lamb served with Rosemary Mint sauce – superb dinner!
Afterwards I walked along the waterfront as the lights of the Sydney Opera House were brilliantly reflected against the night sky, when suddenly I remembered seeing something earlier about an Arthur Miller play being performed at the Opera Playhouse. Looking at my watch it was less than 20 minutes before 8:00pm, the time for the start of the play, so I raced along the quay, past the busy ferry terminal and arrived at the box office just 2 minutes before 8pm! When I asked breathlessly if there were any seats left I was told the performance tonight had been sold out for several weeks. As I reluctantly began to leave, another man in the ticket booth asked how many tickets I needed, to which I replied “just one”. Then to my astonishment, he said, “this is your lucky day mate” and handed me a single ticket that had been turned in earlier that evening. Right away I reached for my wallet and asked the price, to which he replied “it’s free”! As the usher showed me to the seat I couldn’t believe it was front row center! As it turned out, I was seated next to a father and his son who had season tickets, but his other son had been unable to join them this evening – lucky for me. (and I was most grateful for being able to thank them personally) The play “Broken Glass” was set in Brooklyn during the late 1930’s where an old Jewish couple were going through a traumatic experience as they read and heard reports of the Nazi’s putting Jews through Hell – and the guilt of having been spared the terrible fate of the German Jews began to overwhelm them. It was an excellent, emotional play and the audience was unusually quiet during the entire performance. At times the Aussie actors struggled with the heavy New York Jewish accent, but I’m sure many American actors struggle with the strong Australian accent as well. After the play headed back to “The Rocks” and discovered the historic, old “Orient Bar” where the music of a young man on guitar invited me in. I spent most of the time with a cold beer at the bar as I wrote in my journal, but suddenly, late in the evening I was interrupted by a couple of drunk young Aussies who insisted upon talking with me. Rob was a flaming fruitcake who was putting down shots of Sambuca in between glasses of champagne, and he was already “three sheets to the wind” when he walked into the bar! At one point during the evening the singer in the corner of the bar launched into an old Australian beer drinking song that included a line to be sung by the crowd, which everyone seemed to know and sang along with gusto. It went like this – “Hey mate, get f___ed, bugger off”. Rob’s friend Bazza kept telling me all the details of his classic restored car, over and over again while Rob continued to shoot Sambuca with champagne chasers! As I was leaving the bar they wrote me a note – “We’re a coupla blokes wishin ya a great time in OZ, we luv yo’ze all” (I guess it was meant to be a souvenir)
The next morning I awoke to a beautiful, clear day and decided to join a tour of the Hunter Valley, a renowned wine region northwest of Sydney on the western slopes of the Blue Mountains. The route was especially scenic in the warm early Spring weather, and our first stop was at a very bizarre place by the name of “Dr. Jurd’s Jungle Juice Tavern” in the small village of Woolombi.
The tavern’s name originates from the long standing practice of collecting the “dregs” of the liquor drained from assorted empty bottles, the combination being called “jungle juice”. (especially so because it often sits for weeks or months at a time, giving it a pretty strong kick) As I sampled a small shot of the “juice” outside on the veranda I watched a cute little orange tabby kitten stalking small lizards. From Woolombi and Dr. Jurd’s we drove into the heart of the Hunter Valley and visited three large wine estates and tasted some of Australia’s finest wines. At the Hunter’s Cellars I saw a box of 6 bottles of very rare old Australian wines on sale for $6,000! Needless to say, they were not included in the tasting. The views of the vast vineyards and surrounding mountains were stunning, as was the gorgeous sunset on our return to Sydney.
Along the highway we passed several signs warning us to watch out for Kangaroo, Koala Bears, and Wombats, but unfortunately the only ones we saw were “road kill”. Meanwhile, our driver and guide, Mick, was full of stories, funny jokes, and on a few occasions even some useful information.
At one point on our trip we came to a highway sign that caught everyone’s eye and brought a round of laughter, though I’m certain the sign was never intended to be humorous. Attached to a tall post beside the road were two directional signs. The one above read “Cemetery”, and directly beneath it was “No Exit” – both pointing in the same direction! (a profound statement as there ever was) On the tour with us was an elderly German couple who were having a very difficult time understanding the strong Aussie accent, so unexpectedly I found myself having to “translate” for them. It was a very strange experience of listening to the Australian English and then saying the exact same thing again in American English – was this really “translating” or something else? Back in Sydney that evening I enjoyed a superb dinner at “Doyle’s Restaurant” on the waterfront – a delicious filet of fresh John Dory grilled in garlic butter and served with a lovely ginger and clove sauce. The glass of chilled, crisp Hunter’s Valley Chardonnay accompanied it very well. I was scheduled to leave Sydney for Los Angeles the following day, but since the flight wouldn’t be departing until late afternoon, I had time to take the new “Jet Cat” ferry to the seaside resort of Manley, a well-known town on the coast near the mouth of Sydney harbor. The trip afforded me some beautiful views of the harbor, the Opera House, and the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge.
Upon arriving in Manley an hour later, I strolled around the small town and hiked to the tip of the peninsula to North Head, where I found spectacular views of downtown Sydney more than 10 kms away. On my walk back to the town I came upon a beautiful old cathedral, part of which had been converted into the “International College of Tourism and Hotel Management”. As I strolled past the cathedral I heard the soft, haunting sound of a choir chanting ancient Gaelic hymns – the voices seemed to “float“ among the tall pines on the gentle breeze. (very soothing and peaceful)
As I got back to the ferry landing I spotted “Nando’s Chicken Restaurant” , the first one I had seen anywhere outside of South Africa. So I quickly dashed inside to buy a couple of bottles of their tasty and spicy Peri Peri pepper sauce. Back in Sydney it was time to head for the airport and board the Air New Zealand flight to Los Angeles. After checking in I was escorted to the First Class lounge where I relaxed with a cold Gin and tonic, gazing upon a beautiful view of downtown Sydney in the distance. My First Class seat aboard the huge 747-400 was very spacious and exceedingly comfortable. Once again the service and food aboard the 14 hour Air New Zealand flight was superb, with an incredible dinner, accompanied by some excellent New Zealand wines. The flight was a beautiful ending to an amazing and memorable journey to the “Land Down Under”!