Four jam packed days in Sydney and a little heat & humidity wasn’t going to stop me. I walked and walked and walked — right through my first set of blisters. I always seemed to have sweat running down my face and bangs plastered to my forehead. I’m sure I was a sight to behold. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Here’s what i did:
Kathryn’s on Queen, 20 Queen Street, Woollahra
Located in an affluent eastern suburb, this charming terrace house B&B has just two rooms for let and is run by a independent widow named, you guessed it, who cooks up a terrific breakfast to start the day — one less meal to eat out each day and a perfect opportunity to chat and compare notes with other guests. Not only was Kathryn’s more economical, it was surrounded by things locals do and was an easy walk or bus ride to just about anywhere. I opted for the less expensive attic room with ensuite (pictured). It was small and lovely with nice views but ya know, Sydney was hot and so was this third floor room with no air conditioning. If traveling in the warmer months, I would recommend the large second floor room with a street facing balcony and private bathroom just down the hall instead. It’ll save you carrying your bags up an extra flight of steep stairs as well. Kathryn, as a host, couldn’t be more accommodating and helpful. For me as a single traveler, it was a gem of a choice and I may be so inspired to stay at more B&B’s in the future.
see and do:
Brett Whitely Studio, 2 Raper Street, Surry Hills
This was my first stop straight from the airport, bags still in the trunk for that matter. I was not particularly familiar with Brett Whitely’s work but I am now a definite fan. The studio is located in what is today, a very trendy neighborhood but at the time he lived and worked there, it was probably a bohemian choice. Run by the Art Gallery NSW, the artist’s studio has been converted into a museum with an ever changing display of Whitely’s work, recordings of the artist talking about his ‘gift,’ an actual work in progress left just the way it was upon his tragic overdose death, on site art classes and more — all for free and open only on the weekends.
Rose Seidler House, 71 Clissold Road, Wahroonga
Stop number 2 and the reason I chose to arrive in Sydney on a Sunday, the only day of the week this perfect specimen of a mid-century modern home is open to the public for tours. Harry Seidler, the architect, is a controversial figure in Sydney. People say all he did was copy others. But no, Harry Seidler was part of a movement bringing new ideas about form and the way people live to the built environment. He just happened to be the only one doing it in Australia while all his contemporaries with which he studied and formulated these ideas, were working in close proximity to one another in the US.
This house was built in 1948 (1948!) for his parents and is as valid today as the day it was built. Bring your toothbrush and you could move right in, I promise you. Tours are self guided but do ask questions of the docent because he is a wealth of knowledge and you never know when something you ask will reveal an otherwise hidden drawer full of original Russel Wright flatware, as it did for me. And certainly don’t miss the taped interview with Harry Seidler where he waxes poetic at age 80, about the house and his design philosophy. Architecture, he says, is an art form just like music. Both evoke emotion. Music is ephemeral and architecture is frozen — frozen music.
He, his words and his work certainly moved me. I was instantly reminded what I loved about the study of architecture and the design process. And if my trip had ended here on day one after the Brett Whitely Studio and the Rose Seidler house, I would’ve been completely satisfied. Luckily, however, i still had 12 more days in front of me to take in this marvelous country.
Travel Tip: The smartest thing i did was hire a driver to pick me up at the airport, take me to the Brett Whitely Studio then out to the Rose Seidler House before dropping me at my B&B. While you can take a train to Wahroonga and then walk 40 minutes to the house, I guarantee I would have gotten lost. It is far and not tourist friendly by any means.
I asked everyone I spoke with in planning my trip if they could recommend a car service and came up empty every time. So I am happy to share my recommendation of Cars on Demand with others. I, in fact, used them 3 times total in two different cities and they were fantastic. Drivers always arrived early, texted me they were there, were polite and helpful with my luggage, knew exactly where they were going and never once texted or chatted on the phone while driving. Everything was charged to my credit card so there was no exchange of money and the online booking process was completely hassle free. I did a live chat with the owner to plan my multi-stop, first day adventure and knew that this was the right company to go with. Top notch service and well worth the splurge!
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Sailing Sydney Harbor — How can one go to Sydney and not spend time on a boat in the harbor? There are lots of choices how to do this: Ferries being the most economical (buy a multi-day transit pass as I did and buses, trains and ferries are all included), take a large boat tour, an authentic tall ship tour, a dinner cruise, an America’s Cup boat ride, a monster boat ride . . . the list goes on and on. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of these options. It all comes down to what size & type boat you want to be on and how much you want to spend.
I chose a relaxing 3 hour, Monday afternoon sail out of Darling Harbor with Sydney By Sail on a 30-some foot Hunter sailboat. And as luck should have it, it was a beautiful day and I was the only passenger. Normally there is a two passenger minimum but because I had pre-booked from the US and the others canceled at the last minute, the owner made a special allowance for me. A young Brit captain and I, sailed deep into Rose Bay and back on a nearly empty harbor for a lovely afternoon. How can I not give a shout out to a company that gave me a private cruise for the great price of $150?
Bondi to Bronte Walk — This iconic walk starts at Icebergs Restaurant and heads south, weaving up and down along the coast and cliffs of Sydney’s Eastern shore. It’s the perfect way to start one’s day in the fresh air overlooking the sea, followed by a little breakfast at a Bondi Beach restaurant.
Aesop Facial Treatment, 72A Oxford Street, Paddington — I happened into one of four Aesop stores in the world that have treatment spaces quite by accident, simply to pick up some hand sanitizer. Had the clerk not said something to me on my way out, I would never have known that downstairs, behind a secret door, was a treatment space. And to my even greater surprise they had an opening the next afternoon. I had read about these magical treatments but knew how elusive they were. I jumped at the chance and it was heavenly. My skin felt completely rejuvenated and glowed for days. All I can say is, they need to do this in more locations.
Sydney Opera House Tour
One simply can’t go to Sydney without a visit to the famed Opera House. And if you are design inclined at all, may I recommend Sydney Architecture Walks as your tour of choice. Architect led, extremely thorough and full of passion, I was actually moved to tears by the story of Jörn Utzon, the architect, as told by our guide. Did you know that after years of working tirelessly on this incredible landmark — only to be ousted from the project without being paid and exiled from Australia in disgrace not to mention unable to work in his homeland of Denmark — Utzon would return to the project as a consultant over 30 years later and ask only for the money owed to him at the time of his departure in 1966? Now that was a man of integrity — the Opera House, a building designed with the very same integrity as the man. (If only it had been built to the same standards.) Go. Learn. Be awed and amazed.
Tip: Opera House tours are offered on Wednesday’s and Saturdays in rotation with other architecture walks but if you put in a special request for the tour of your choice on a given day with enough notice, the founder will make it happen as he did for me.Thanks Eoghan!
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Museum of Contemporary Art, 140 George Street, Sydney — on the opposite side of Circular Quay (pronounced like key) across from the Opera House, is the contemporary museum. Normally free, during my visit there was a paid exhibition of works by Anish Kapoor. Lot’s of hype around this show but I was somehow underwhelmed (although I am a huge fan of Da Bean in Chicago). After a quick tour of the works, I bypassed the rest of the museum and instead opted to sit out on the lawn in front, taking in the sights and sounds of Circular Quay for about an hour. Ferries and boats going in and out, singers performing, didgeridoos being played, people posing for pictures with the Opera House in the background. Touristy or not, it really is a beautiful spot this epicenter of activity.
Victor Churchill Cooking Classes, 132 Queen Street, Woollahra — choose from a small seclection of hands on or demonstration classes at this spectacular retail outlet of the most exclusive butcher in Australia and quite possibly the world, located right on the street where I stayed. See more about my experience here.
Donna Hay General Store, 40 Holdsworth Street, Woollahra
Staying in Woollahra wasn’t just a choice, it was a pilgrimage of sorts. And as it turns out, just in the nick of time. Donna Hay whose magazine I have read religiously for years, whose books I own, who in my opinion surpasses Martha Stewart as the goddess of beautiful things, is getting ready to close up her retail shop. Oddly located deep in the residential part of the neighborhood in a converted corner house, the shop is as lovely as I imagined. Quaintly Victorian outside, inside are clean modern displays over two floors, scantly filled with beautifully packaged party goods, kitchen wares in her signature baby blue, her line of china from Royal Doulton, Donna Hay branded cake & brownie mixes, and a small selection of home goods imported from around the world.
Finding stuff to buy in a mostly kitchen and home goods store when you are traveling isn’t easy — who wants to carry home a heavy wooden cutting board or large glass domed cake stand? But I was determined not to leave empty handed. So despite the fact I own umpteen market bags, I opted for a navy blue canvas tote with leather handles, brownie mixes became my office gift of choice, and a soft woolen blanket from Canada now adorns my living room sofa. Guess it wasn’t that hard after all.
A few other shops of note:
- Eighteen Ten, 66 Queen Street, Woollahra — for gifts or homewares from Alessi and other modern manufacturers and my favorite luggage line, Mandarina Duck.
- Akira Isogawa, 12A Queen Street, Woollahra — The dresses in this shop are to die for. Expensive but truly works of art. The bright, colorful, patterned shifts for everyday stopped me in my tracks as I walked by. But the long, black, petal adorned, silk georgette, special occasion number that hung on the back wall made me gasp.
- Jac + Jack, 126 Oxford Street, Paddington — simple, easy, everyday fashions for men & women.
- Kookai, 258 Oxford Street, Paddington — I was surprised to learn this chain shop has no relation to the Kookai from Paris and is strictly an Aussie affair. Look past the tight dresses and they have a great array of everyday merino and cotton basics in a wide range of colors and have some divine accessories.
The entire Surry Hills neighborhood is design centric. Walk up and down its main and side streets and you find home stores, clothing shops, stationery stores, galleries and cafes galore. Make a day of it.
Deus Cafe, 98-104 Parramatta Road, Camperdown
This is the type of place you find out about only from a local. I met up here with a like-minded, ex-pat New Yorker I had corresponded with online (yes, it’s sometimes worth taking that chance!), her Aussie architect husband and their friends for an evening of music, food and a few drinks. An open warehouse of a place, with art on the walls, great basics on the menu, Deus custom motorcycles on display and a folk rock, also ex-pat American, singer doin’ his thang on the corner stage. Just next door, but sadly not open at night, is the Deus Ex Machina shop where you can order a custom bike or buy signature gear.
Bourke Street Bakery, 633 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
This bakery is a Sydney favorite and being just around the corner from Brett Whiteley’s studio, was a must stop for my first meal down under. Sausage rolls with ‘sauce’ (less sweet ketchup that comes in the most ingenious squeeze packets we should adopt here in the States) and a few tiny tarts were on order — take my advice, skip the other flavors and go right for the lemon curd tart. Oh, how I wish I had time for a second visit.
Gelato Messina, 389 Crown Street, Surry Hills — OMG! OMG! OMG!
Opera Kitchen, lower level Sydney Opera House — I know . . . tourist trap! But honestly, Misschu has been on my lunchtime good eats list for longer than this venue has existed. And as luck would have it, I was at the Opera House and this queen of rice paper rolls is a part of the multi-chef menu at this newish outdoor cafe there. Extremely efficient and super bustling, I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal of Steamed Pork Bun, Omelet & Caramelized Onion Rice Paper Rolls, and Peking Duck Pancakes:
The Sandwich Shop, 44 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills
missed opportunity: One of the other reasons I chose to stay in Woollahra was to eat dinner at Chiswick. I had planned to saddle up to the bar on my first night in town and treat myself to a nice solo dinner. But alas, I had no idea I wouldn’t be hungry for two of my four nights in town (I chalk it up to jet lag) and I didn’t want to spend over $100 feeding a full stomach. There will be other occasions I hope.
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All in all, I liked Sydney. It reminded me a lot of Los Angeles – a bright & sunny, sprawling collection of suburbs and beaches — only more beautiful and with many more public spaces. There are certainly many places I didn’t get to that I would love to go back for, Pott’s Point being tops on the list. So much to do, so little time . . .