Bright lights, big city

I first visited Sydney in 1980, paying my fare with money from an after- school job and staying with friends in Woollahra. Since then, I’ve been back three or four times, checking in, as the city has grown increasingly more cosmopolitan – without compromising its native Aussie charm. Today, the view from our window – high up in the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel – is picture-postcard perfect. Sydney’s magnificent Harbour Bridge and the iconic opera House play starring roles in a glorious sweeping vista.

Boats bob about on the sparkling waves, and a gleaming stream of cars snakes its way over the bridge from the central city to the northern suburbs. It’s tempting to sit still and stare on this blue-skied autumn day, but there are places to explore and shopping to be done, so we shoot down to earth in a shiny, mirrored elevator and hit the streets. Enormous shrines to shameless materialism, the David Jones and oyer stores, dominate the central city district. It’s Friday afternoon and the food court at DJs is buzzing as commuters stock up on fine wine and delectable dining treats.

There must be elves out the back, polishing the apples, which look too shiny to be real, and even the broccoli strikes me as quite impossibly beautiful – in a vege sort of way! We’re going out for dinner at Darling Harbour, so we purchase sparingly – well, sort of sparingly, hauling fine chocolate and cheese back to base in distinctive David Jones shopping bags. The foodie focus continues the next morning, as we make our way around the Pyrmont Growers’ Market, held on the first Saturday of each month.

Within five minutes we’ve discovered a new culinary sensation – deep-fried ravioli. I’ve never heard of it before but it tastes utterly amazing and we resolve to try it out on our kids when we get home.There’s some great live entertainment at the market today – however, I suspect it’s not something the organisers had planned. A couple of posh but dishevelled private-school types, in plaid shirts and corduroy trousers, have clearly enjoyed a long night on the turps before finishing up here for a coffee and something to eat.

“Hear ye, hear ye,” bellows the taller of the two, wobbling on an imaginary soapbox, “Roll up now for the finest Russian sausage on Earth!”I’m too busy laughing to eat, but my husband is quickly convinced by this hearty recommendation and splashes out, pronouncing his spicy organic sausage utterly delicious. Keeping close to the entertainers, we nibble on hazelnuts, sample the most delicious fresh yoghurt and finally sink down on a couple of chairs to revive ourselves with coffee, croissants, sun and a newspaper. Eventually, the smaller, rounder reveller lurches up beside us and collapses.

Sprawled on the grass, he’s out for the count, and will surely be facing a humongous hangover when he finally makes it home! Despite feeling rather full already, we bravely turn up at the Queen Victoria Building on George Street for high tea at three. our waiter guesses we’re English (that will be my pearls!) but we admit to being Kiwis, and after the obligatory ribbing about rugby – an incongruous topic in this gracious, elegant place – he leaves us, and we tuck in keenly. I’m a huge fan of taking tea, enjoying delicate mouthfuls of sandwich and cake much more than great big servings. The Earl Grey is fragrant, and just weak enough, and we chuckle at the antics of a hen-party group at the next table. They’re so busy taking photos of one another they barely have time to eat!

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a ballet before,” admits my husband in the evening, as we take our seats at the opera House ahead of the Australian Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker. I figure it’s a good classic ballet for a beginner but choreographer Graeme ourphy has masterfully re-interpreted Tchaikovsky’s much-loved masterpiece, setting it in Australia. The sets and the costumes are by far the loveliest I’ve ever seen and afterwards my husband surprises me by admitting he enjoyed it immensely.

oaking the most of our leave pass from the treadmill of working life and parenthood, we decide to stop for a drink on the way back to our hotel. An enormous storm has brewed up, and at an outdoor café, we watch the lightning, like giant ragged fireworks, cracking over the harbour. It’s moving and romantic, but, on a practical level, we finish the night soaked to the bone, cheerfully ruing the fact that we have no umbrella!

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