Summer - The Aussie Way

Posted By: Shikha Chugh                

I sat there, looking out of the restaurant’s window, mesmerised by the iconic Opera House and the mighty Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Harbour in the dying rays of the evening sun, and I knew this is what a traveller seeks; this is what holidays are made off!

Sydney, the New Year’s Eve capital of the world, is the largest and most populous city in Australia, a truly cosmopolitan city housing people from all over the world. It is also a tourist’s paradise – from shopping to sightseeing to water sports to international cuisines – you name it and the city has it!

Summer is the best time to be in Sydney. In December, the city reels under the festive spell. Christmas in Sydney has a different charm to it. One doesn’t expect a snowy Christmas in Delhi, but a summer Christmas is a different story altogether. For me, Santa is synonymous with winter and to think of him with his long white snowy beard in the scorching heat of Australia, phew!! Nevertheless, that was not a deterrent to my plans of going to Sydney in December.

Although I had thought of concealing the shopaholic inside of me or at least burying it till the end of the trip, the city during Christmas, with the Boxing Day sales around the corner, lured this shopaholic towards attaining her dreams. And so a visit to the Queen Victoria Building, in the heart of the Central Business District (CBD) of Sydney, which is the most beautifully designed shopping centre I had ever been to, tops my to do list. The building which was completed in 1898 in the ornate Romanesque Revival style had up market boutiques and big brands along with Coffee shops and eateries.

It consisted of four main shopping floors and in the centre of the building right underneath the central dome, spanning across the length of the four floors, was the tallest Christmas tree that I had ever seen.

That set the Christmas mood rolling for me - it did not matter that I was dressed in shorts and a Tee rather than an overcoat and boots, that instead of hot soup and a cosy bed I had ICE CREAMS and the Beaches, the Christmas Magic had begun! What did not help though was the underground passageway at the Queen Victoria Building which led to the Town Hall railway station. It only made access to the Shopping centre easier and continued to burn bigger holes in my pocket!!!

Apart from QVB, there are other options to fulfil a shopaholic’s desire! Westfield at Sydney City and Parramatta has stores ranging from small fashion boutiques to department stores such as Myer & David Jones as well as designer labels. Sunday Paddington Markets in Sydney city offer a wide variety of fashion, art & craft. And finally the best brands at their best prices are available at Birkenhead Point or DFO (Direct Factory Outlets).

I also got a chance to see the biggest Christmas concert in Australia at the DOMAIN in Sydney. This event in the Christmas calendar for the city attracts nearly 100,000 people who enjoy the festive spirit, the singing of carols, the musical variety and the feeling of bonhomie. For me it was a night of sitting under the stars (thankfully it didn’t rain) wrapped in my blanket (Yes even in the summer it did get quite chilly in the evening all thanks to the sea breeze) with my picnic basket, enjoying the magnificent choirs, orchestras and all other performances. Christmas had truly arrived. Winter or summer, it was Christmas after all!!!

Sydney, also known as the harbour city, boasts of the magnificent Harbour Bridge. The Guinness World Records states it as the world’s widest long-span bridge and the tallest steel arch bridge. The Harbour Bridge connects Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD) to the North Shore.

The fireworks display on the Bridge on New Year’s Eve is a much awaited event and since Australia is the first country to enter the New Year, these celebrations are broadcast pretty much all over the world. Naturally, to see the fireworks display was a priority on my itinerary. So on the 31st of December, with my picnic basket intact I headed towards the city.

By about 4 in the evening the grounds all around the shore were a sea of people. It’s quite a task to find a spot to spread my picnic mats. All around me, families were camped and enjoying their wine and barbecues. Some people anchored their yachts in the ocean and decided to view the display from there. At dusk, the sky became a beautiful mix of pink and amber and the harbour bridge silhouetted against the sky looked MAJESTIC!

Every holiday has those few moments that just stay with you forever and the sight in front of me was one such moment. I was in love with the spirit of the city and the discipline of the people. I doubted if such a gathering without any police patrol would ever be allowed in our country forget being allowed to drink alcohol at a public gathering. It was quite unfortunate that we still had a long way to go!

When the fireworks display started, it was SPECTACULAR, to say the least. It just left me spell bound. For once, I forgot to click pictures and just kept staring at the sky. The whole city and the ocean lit up instantly by the light of the fireworks. The crowds cheered on and the applause was deafening!!! To put it simply it was absolutely FANTASTIC!!! Rightfully so, Sydney was the New Year’s Eve Capital of the WORLD!

This led to the start of my love affair with the Harbour Bridge! Naturally this fascination led me to be at my adventurous best and I decided to go for THE HARBOUR BRIDGE CLIMB. After getting off at the Circular Quay station early one morning, I made my way along George Street towards the bridge. On the way I crossed quaint little cafes, tourist shops and stalls.

This area I was told was called ‘The Rocks’, Sydney‘s oldest preserved colonial district. So I walked on, soaking in the beautiful sunny morning through the colonial district, while smells of freshly baked croissants and pancakes from the cafes tickled at my taste buds. By the time I reached my destination I was already hungry, but the taste palates would have to wait till after the harbour bridge summit had been conquered!!

The climb displayed the architectural marvel that the bridge was and provided the eyes with stunning views of the harbour and the iconic Sydney Opera House. My climb to the summit gave me quite a sense of personal accomplishment. My group for the climb consisted of 10 people. We were asked to change into the body suits and then were taken through a complete simulation of how the climb would be. This also included demonstration of all safety measures.

We had to tie our hair, attach our sunglasses and handkerchiefs to clasps on the body suits. This was to ensure that even if they slip from our hands, they’ll still be attached to us and we won’t go jumping off the bridge to save that pair of expensive sunglasses. During the climb, we walked along flat, inclined mesh catwalks; climbed up and down four flights of stairs; 465 widely spaced steps on the arches; stepped over, ducked under and squeezed through girders. There were hand rails along the route providing support all the way to the top. At the summit you felt like you are the KING OF THE WORLD!

Breathtaking views of the entire city just kept your gaze glued, while streamers and ferries sailed beneath the bridge leaving a trail of white foam behind them in the water. If you are an acrophobic, then this is the perfect way to get over your fear as throughout the climb you will be attached to a static line on the Bridge, ensuring you feel safe, secure and comfortable and the climb itself is so gradual that there aren’t any wobbly knees after you are done with it.

If you are an adventure freak, then Sydney is the place to be for you. Apart from the harbour bridge climb, here are some of the activities that should top your itinerary:

AUSTRALIA DAY HOT AERIAL CARNIVALE: If you happen to be in Sydney on the 26th of January, then there is no reason to not witness the fleet of hot air balloons taking off into the sky above Paramatta Park. Buy yourself a ticket and hop on to one of the colourful hot air balloons and soar above the skies for the experience of a lifetime! If not on Australia Day, hot air ballooning can also be done over the Hunter Valley Vineyards and Nelson Bay but it sure will burn a large hole in the pocket!

BICENTENNIAL PARK: The Sydney Olympic Park is open to all free of charge and should be a must on the itinerary. It has many grassed areas and sheltered barbeques all along the lakeside for sports and family picnics. Walking and bike tracks have been placed all along the park and access is also given on wooden bridges which run over creeks and streams. People are welcome to hire bikes to cover the entire park. On a warm day, one can enjoy watching movies in the park under the stars – ‘Movies by the Boulevard’. The ticketed areas in the park include the sports stadiums, the Aquatic Centre which comprises of waterslides, whirlpools and the Olympic sized swimming pool.

WATER/BEACH SPORTS: Manly and Bondi beaches are very popular for surfing and volleyball. Jet boating, jet skiing, kayaking and canoeing are the other popular water sports. Although, do be prepared for that occasional shark sighting at Bondi Beach!

And last but not the least the scenic BONDI TO BRONTE COAST WALK is a must, especially in the summer.

Sydney also boasts of an organized intrastate public transport system. It was very easy to commute via the trains and buses, although my favourite were the ferries. After hopping on, on one at Circular Quay, it was very easy to go across to the famous Toranga zoo, Manly beach, Watson’s Bay and cruse along the Sydney Harbour enjoying it in all its splendour. I would love it, every time the ferry would cross under the Harbour Bridge.

At Circular quay it was a common sight to spot Australian Aboriginals playing their unique musical instruments, the most famous of them being the DIDGERIDOO. My most vivid memory of Sydney is of the harbour bridge and the Opera House at sunset on a Friday evening. I just sat at one of the many cafes around Circular Quay and stared at the bridge, while people all around me chatted and enjoyed their drinks, looking forward to their weekend. Even after a two month stay, I felt like I hadn’t had enough of the Bridge and wanted to see it over and over again.

Another favourite attraction in the city was the Darling Harbour. It offered various recreation activities for the entire family. Entertainment and shopping centres, the Chinese botanical garden, casinos to museums – the place had it all. The Australian national maritime museum was also a big attraction. However, the main attraction here was the Sydney Aquarium.

The aquarium contained a large variety of Australian aquatic life, displaying more than 650 species comprising more than 6,000 individual fish and other sea and water creatures from most of Australia's water habitats. Its key exhibits were a series of underwater, see-through, acrylic glass tunnels where sharks swam above visitors, and a recreation of the Great Barrier Reef coral environment.

My favourite moment at the aquarium was finding NEMO!! The clownfish made famous by the Disney animation film was on display at the aquarium and might I admit that the child in me resurfaced while searching for the clownfish amongst the huge pool of fish. I have to admit that I was quite petrified of the sharks and the sting rays swimming all around me and felt that at any moment there would be a crack in the acrylic glass and we would all be scurrying around running or rather swimming for our lives!

I blamed this drama in my head on the innumerable Hollywood bonanzas that I had watched over the years!! All in all, I did heave a huge sigh of relief when we walked out of the aquarium because the cuteness of the clownfish somewhat diminished the moment sharks swam overhead!!!

Sydney is also a foodie’s delight! From Asian to Italian to Mediterranean and of course Australian, you name it and the cuisine will present itself. No surprise there as the famous Australian cookery series, Masterchef Australia, has already taken some of these culinary skills across oceans and seduced millions all over the world.

If you are one of the victims of this seduction then obviously you aren’t alien to the names, Quay, Aria, Marque, Peter Gilmore, Matt Moran and Christine Mansfield. Be prepared though to shell out that extra dough for these experiences. However for the budget traveller, here are some of the other tried and tested popular restaurants to satisfy those taste buds!

Harry's Cafe de Wheels - famous cart on wheels offering Aussie favourite meat pies as well as other pastries and hot dogs.

Jasmin 1, a sit down family restaurant in Bankstown serving authentic Lebanese food.

Pancakes on the Rocks, started way back in 1975, still very popular and my favourite destination in Sydney for pancakes, pizzas, salads & crepes.

Bondi Pizza, a fine dining sit down Italian experience offering authentic thin pressed pizzas with fresh toppings. Don’t forget to indulge in their famous chocolate swirls! A little expensive, but totally worth it!

Thaifoon, the pleasures of Thai cuisine at Darling Harbour.

After almost two months in Sydney, time came to get ready and pack my bags for Delhi. A piece of advice which I never fail to dispense to my fellow travellers – be sure to carry those sunglasses, hat and sun block lotion, they’re as important as your passport in Sydney!

I had enjoyed the city completely as a tourist, tanned to a dark brown colour and put on oodles of weight which I decided to see as a mark of a great holiday (no point worrying about how I was going to shed those extra kilos). As I made my way to the Sydney International Airport I had only one wish to make – to continue my love affair with the Harbour Bridge - to see it one last time again!!!

So if you haven’t already been tempted to book your tickets now, then watch this space for more and see how the golden beaches and the pacific blue waters leave no doubt in your mind about the way you want to spend this Christmas!
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