AUSTRALIA – A Weekend in Sydney and the Hunter Valley

If I happened to be unfortunate enough to have only a weekend in the wonderful city of Sydney, here is what I would do.

I’ve made it very easy so you don’t even have to think, just go and enjoy!

There are a few obervations I have of my hometown (of course, they are only based on my experience) and they may be of interest to you:

Seafood is very popular (and good) but sometimes hard to avoid – I think the most of best restaurants are all seafoody ones BUT there is always a meat or vegetarian option. It doesn’t bother me because I will eat anything from the ocean. Except whales. No Dolphins either. Or plastic bottles. Or condoms… most things from the ocean I will eat…

CARRY ID if you are going to ANY bar – I am well over 18 and still get asked for ID, self-important pub staff on a power trip usually. I should be flattered…

I don’t like the pubs in Sydney. I don’t know what it is about them – some bars are very cool but all the pubs are called the “something” hotel (I think it’s something to do with their licences?) they are large, bright and tizzy and full of noisy poker machines. I like small and dark places, so I have only recommended bars for you today.

Home! A view from the ferry to Mosman

FRIDAY :

You’ve probably arrived late and nothing’s booked. You have 2 options:

1) Go to the local pub

2) Go to Star City Casino, get a nice view of the city from the stunning Astral cocktail bar on the 17th floor, have a flutter downstairs and choose from Cantonese, tapas, seafood and fine dining for dinner. There are cheap places, expensive places, sports bars and shops. Amazing fishtanks. The casino and at least one or 2 restaurants and bars are open all the time, so it’s a great spot for a jetlagged traveller.

SATURDAY:

If you are in town from May to December, you can try whale watching! There are whales, dolphins and sharks and other exciting things to be seen, and Whale Watching Sydney has very comfortable boats. If you are out of season, Darling Harbour has a spectacular aquarium where you can walk thru tunnels and all the sharks swim around you. It frightened the life out of me when I was little, and it still does!

If whales don’t do it for you but cheap plonk does, why not go to the Hunter Valley Wine Country? This is Australia’s oldest wine region and home of the famous Hunter Valley Semillon. The Shiraz is my favourite: Lindeman’s, any year -it’s always divine! Only 2 hours by car and you’re there. What a beautiful place it is too. Also,there are plenty of lovely hotels and a tour bus if you wish to do more than just “taste”. Fantastic restaruants, stunning gardens…my favourite wineries are Lindeman’s, Pepper Tree and Oakvale, which has the best cellar door tasting and a little museum I discovered on a recent trip with the parentals

Oakvale Vineyard's cute little Australian General Store Museum

Tyrell’s and Draytons are the famous old family-run vineyards.There are so many I’ve never been to and they are all wonderful. I always grab a few $9 or $10 bottles of Lindeman’s Shiraz or even the $40 Sparkling Shiraz (not cheap or nasty sparkling, it’s amazing and not too sweet) and I’ve never been disappointed in all my trips to the Hunter Valley. I pick up a jar of Dukka (or Dukkah) spice mix too.

The lovely Shiraz at the Drayton's estate. I bought one of each.

If you have a long weekend I’d recommend the Hunter Valley and the whale watching.

Catch a ferry to Watson’s Bay in the afternoon, watch the sunset and have dinner at the famous Doyle’s on the Beach – seafood of course! This place has been around since 1885 and has never disappointed me or even anyone else I know. The last ferry is at 6.30 pm on the weekend, ask the staff about buses and water taxis to get back home.

SUNDAY:

Sydneysiders seem to love breakfasts – everywhere is open and busy at breakfast time. For your Sunday brunch,  Celebrity Chef Bill Granger’s bright and airy restaurants in Surry Hills, Woolahra and on Liverpool St  – all called Bill’s – are popular and do a very simple yet amazing breakfast menu . I recommend the ricotta pancakes with banana and honeycomb butter and the fruit platter. The breakfasts, except for the one with bacon and one of fish, are generally vegetarian and, as with all of the lunches and dinners at Bill’s are all very fresh and often organic or made with free range stuff.

There are some cool places to dine on Oxford Street in Paddington .I like the little cafe just around the corner on Crown Street/Goulburn Sts called Pablo’s Vice. Very tiny, very cool. It opens early.Everything on the menu is good and inexpensive.Of course they are far too cool to have a website or even a phone so here is a picture of the front so you know what to look for:

Pablo's Vice, Paddington

Even cooler than the cafes? The shops! No shopping centres here – some places are even too hip to have a till. Check out the Family Jewels and Dinosaur Designs for Jewellery; EnRose, Pink Zebra, Come As You Are, Anton’s and Alannah Hill for girl’s and boy’s fashion and HUM for independant and chart music… and all the little shops in between! This is Sydney’s gay district (if there is one, it’s a pretty homocentric city) and it’s very fun with all the happening clubs, cafes, restaurants, etc. but can be a little wild there are some shops that that, as the names such as “Adult World” and “Probe” suggest, are suitable for the over-18s only.

Generally, I am not a dine-out-for-breakfast person – I prefer a hurried piece of toast and a banana at home… (Bill’s is the exception) but I can always do an afternoon tea, especially high tea! Sydneysiders, being breakfast and brunch folk don’t really do afternoon tea or high tea – if they do it’s not done very well as it is in Asia and Europe. In fact, most of the hotels call their afternoon tea sets “high tea” and vice versa – the locals often don’t know the difference (for the philistines: afternoon tea is in the AFTERNOON, high tea is a proper meal, served in the early evening, including meat and cheese as well as bread and cake – I believe it was traditionally eaten by the poorer folk who couldn’t stretch to both afternoon tea and dinner)

When in Sydney, I like Swissotel’s Afternoon Tea buffet (called High Tea, but we know what they’re trying to say, bless them!) near the Pitt Street Mall and opposite the State Theatre. The Tea Room in the QVB (Queen Victoria Building) is good too – I go there for afternoon tea with friends whenever in town. The Observatory hotel’s Tea is very famous and popular, but I stick to my favourites: the quality in other places varies, and afternoon tea in Sydney for some reason is very overpriced – sometimes twice the cost of lunch and more than dinner. I can’t figure it out!

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