Sydney, Australia: The Destination Wedding, a Great Excuse to Travel

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One thing I have learned to do over the years is take advantage of weddings to travel when I can. It’s a relatively easy excuse to get time off from your boss: “I don’t want to miss work, but one of my best friends is getting married.” On top of that, weddings are fun. It’s nice to see different parts of the world and it’s fun to see your friends get hitched, eat, drink, and be merry. And no one is ungrateful you traveled a long way to attend. New York to Sydney? Piece of cake.

I arrived a week ahead of the wedding and hopped up to Byron Bay for a while after a very nice breakfast in Sydney down by the water, but flew back into town on a Thursday evening and headed straight for Bondi Beach. After checking in at the centrally located Hotel Bondi, I did a little research and made my way up Campbell Parade, the main beachfront street, to North Bondi, home of a little seafood joint called “Bondi’s Best Seafood.” Now, I don’t know if this place is indeed the best seafood in Bondi, but it is pretty darn good. I grew up with a discerning taste for fresh fish, and it is indeed fresh here. It’s an order-at-the-counter-and-sit-where-you-can type of place, and on this night it was pretty busy, although many patrons were merely there for takeout. After delicious sashimi and grilled fish there, I walked back along the beach. Most of Bondi Beach was surprisingly quiet for a Thursday night, with only a few cafes and restaurants showing much activity. In a different situation, I may have pressed the issue and gone out anyway on my own, but I saved it for another time.

In the morning the weather wasn’t great. I grabbed an umbrella and headed the other way on Campbell Parade to South Bondi, to a place halfway up the hill called Trio. Trio serves an awesome breakfast, has some friendly staff, and is a great place for viewing (partial view) the waves and the beautiful people walking by, especially on weekends. On this day, with the gloomy weather, there were a few shoulder high sets still rolling in, but it was spotty at best. Some locals were taking advantage anyway before the weekend, which saw smaller waves and mostly tourists out there. Highlight of breakfast for me was a pair of sulphur-crested cockatoos getting breakfast in a palm tree across the street. Turns out there are many in the Botanic Gardens in the city, but I don’t think they are that common in Bondi.

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After breakfast I headed into the Central Business District (CBD), where all the skyscrapers and many of the tourist attractions are. I walked around the promenade by the Opera House, but the real treat is the Royal Botanic Gardens on the other side of the Opera House from the busy tourist areas, and in particular, one spot called “Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair,” is a real treat. There, you can view across Farm Cove to the CBD skyline and the postcard view of the Opera House with the Harbour Bridge in the background. When I was there, an outdoor opera stage had been set up on the banks of Farm Cove, for a production of Madam Butterfly. Food trucks were set up to serve Japanese food and beer–a nice touch. The gardens had trees full of the cockatoos, as well as Australian white ibises, and various other birds running wild. But the best moment came when at Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, I spotted a pair of Little Penguins {also known as Fairy Penguins) in the water chasing tiny bait fish, who were jumping out of the water to get away. I’ve now been fortunate enough to see wild penguins in South Africa, the Galapagos, and now Australia. Little Penguins are not rare at all, but in the New South Wales area, as recently as 6 or 7 years ago, it seems their numbers dwindled down to 65pairs, with some nesting over in Manly being the closest to Sydney. A couple of locals I spoke to said they had never seen penguins in Sydney Harbour, so I think I was fortunate. Very cool birds.

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Friday night–time to check out the nightlife. A friend of mine from England whom I had met when we were both living in Tokyo a few years ago happened to be in town and we met at the lobby of his hotel, the Intercontinental (rooms and lobby bar both looked good–the latter an open atrium-style set up with soaring ceilings to the top). About two blocks away was a spot called “Establishment,” which had both a ground floor bar with an open feel and a rooftop terrace and lounge area. The lounge was, on this night anyway, a little stale with mostly couples and small groups chatting quietly. The terrace was more lively, but also doubled as the smoke pit. I think, despite it being a Frida, and the weather having cleared up, this wasn’t Sydney’s best.  Bondi had been full of beautiful people, but the best-looking people at the bar on this night were the wait staff (for either gender).

Sydney has new drinking laws, which basically mean all liquor stops being sold at stores by 10pm, and although bars can stay open until 3am, you must be in your last port-of-call by 1:30am. Oh, and if you step out to make a phone call, you can’t come back in either. This is a downer for the nightlife scene as a whole–you can’t make another stop on your way home if a place isn’t that good on a particular occasion. This is something new they’ve implemented this year. Alas, old mates caught up with each other on the latest happenings in our lives and called it a night.

Saturday morning and I awoke to the sound of knocking at my door. Another friend from Tokyo who had flown in for the same wedding had arrived from the airport on the redeye. We went back to Trio for breakfast (yes, it is very good) before spending most of the day on the beach at Bondi. We had a late lunch at Bondi’s Best (yes, it is also that good–it was my third visit in three days, actually) and then headed into Darling Harbour to meet with the wedding families and some other guests for some sundowner cocktails at a restaurant with a nice terrace called Cafe del Mar (not of the chain known in Spain and parts of Latin America), with views of the bustling port and the Maritime Museum’s destroyer and submarine–pretty cool. Joined by a new acquaintance also in from Tokyo, we headed back to Bondi and tucked in to some surprisingly delicious falafel wraps before a nightcap bottle of Aussie pinot noir at a quirky restaurant adorned with eclectic art a couple blocks away from the beach (there are lots of them to be found in that area so take your pick).

Wedding day- and we had yet another breakfast at Trio–this time we went a bit later in the morning, and given it was a Sunday, we had to wait about a half hour to be seated. We got in a couple of hours of beach time, and the surf wasn’t great so we decided to just hang out and check out the bikinis. Bondi definitely is a hot spot for people viewing. We had to call it a day early though, in order to make it out to the wedding venue in time. That was in an area on the other side of the CBD and the Harbour. in a northern district called Mosman. The spot was called the Team Room at Gunners’ Barracks, and as you may suspect from the name, the complex still has military barracks on the hillside. That said, the Tea Room is a beautiful, small wedding or gala venue, with stunning views of the water and Sydney skyline.  I will spare you the minutae of the wedding itself, but I was very happy to see my former classmate from elementary school, who hails from New Jersey, get hitched to an Aussie boy with all his energetic family present. The post-wedding activity, other than dancing, was introducing the locals to the finer points of beer pong. Yeah, Jersey! Some of the blokes didn’t seem to get why we played with beer instead of straight vodka–try playing a few rounds, mate!

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The next morning I was originally supposed to fly back to New York, but I decided instead to head back to Byron in the afternoon and push back my cross-pond flight. Need to get a little more surfing in before I go home. Brunch was organized at an art-deco hotel redone with a modern interior called the QT in the CBD. It was a very  cool spot, although I never got a look at any of the rooms so don’t know what they are like.  Across the street from the hotel was the Westfield Mall, which appeared to be very high end, with many banker types with their employee IDs attached to their hips milling about.  The food court there was phenomenal. Possibly the highest end food court I’ve encountered in my travels. The legendary Taiwanese dumpling shop Din Tai Fung has a branch there, and a place called Iku has actually delicious gluten free, 100% vegan options for those so inclined as well.

On that note, it was time to go-in my case to catch my flight to Byron, but just as easily it could have been a flight to LAX then NYC. There’s a lot more to explore in Sydney, obviously. This was my second proper visit there. The first was a long, long time ago. But Sydney remains an improbable, cosmopolitan mix of restaurants and bars, beaches and gardens with flora and fauna, modern hotels and soaring skyscrapers–and it has T-shirt-and-shorts-weather for 9 or 10 months of the year. The one drawback is that it is expensive, but for those outside Australia, at least the Aussie dollar has been on a weakening trend vs. most major currencies this year. Just one more reason why the next time your friend invites you to their wedding in Sydney, you should hop on a plane and go. “Uh…boss, you have a minute?”

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Tips and links for travel to Sydney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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