Christmas Down Under – Holidays in Australia

Christmas Down Under – Holidays in Australia

Everything is different Down Under.  While most of America hunkers down for a cold winter’s onslaught by mid-December, in Sydney they are wearing skimpy light clothing and enjoying a lovely summer.  I should know, I was there recently just as the Christmas season was getting into gear.

Sydney has often been compared to Los Angeles, and for several good reasons: a definite beach culture, a sense of joie de vivre, a tendency toward fitness and a laidback attitude. Sydney goes even further in various positive directions: the helpfulness of the clerks in the shops and restaurants was genuine and solid.  I saw very little graffiti wherever I roamed in Sydney.

The tolerance in Australia may stem from its beginnings; what other country would put a convicted forger (Francis Greenway) on one of its former currency notes?  Perhaps that laidback attitude accounts for seemingly endless traffic lights; nary a honking horn was ever heard.

The sense of British orderliness is pleasantly overlaid with a more open and engaging demeanor among the Aussies.  Indeed, the older Victorian architecture blends nicely with palm and pine trees and some adventurous building design.

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The azure water which surrounds Sydney makes for breathtaking scenery, unlike anything in another major world city.  The efficient ferry service moves people about with simplicity.  In less than 30 minutes I was shifted from the city’s edge to the glistening beaches of Manly.  The rugged surf was ideal for surfing, yet at the edges of Manly the snorkeling was worthwhile at Shelly Beach.  The tolerant Aussie attitude extends to a lenient open container policy; despite myriad folks sipping beers, there was no evidence of empty bottles littering the beach, nor was there any obnoxious behavior. Families and frat boys mingled easily in close proximity.

The leafy neighborhoods around Manly are ideal for bike rides; several outfits ‘hire’ bikes, meaning you can rent them for a couple hours or the whole day.

The optimized public transport is equally efficient on land; an integrated bus, boat and light rail system will get you nearly everywhere.  Day Tripper passes are available, offering unlimited travel. 

One of the best new restaurants in Sydney is Saké. This Japanese restaurant is located in the gentrified area known as The Rocks, in the shadow of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The gorgeous modern space was gracefully carved from one of the oldest buildings in Sydney, formerly one of the first stops for arriving convicts.  Indeed, the entire complex of which Saké is a part is a testament to successful government initiative. With the current attainment of a global international village of commerce, it is now easy to get good sushi almost anywhere. For a restaurant to stand out, it is the creativity and balance of the artist that is crucial. Saké’s Executive Chef Shaun Presland has assembled a delightful menu from sustainable sources. Outstanding dishes include pan-seared scallops (with baby corn, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms topped with yuzu miso cream) and miso marinated butterfish grilled with pickled ginger and lime.

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Saké

Another delightful restaurant was Steel, improbably but delightfully situated in the ground floor of an office building overlooking a quiet walkway. Open just over a year, Steel is attracting the hip and young at heart, usually dressed to impress in a carefree way. The wraparound balcony affords some great seating, and people watching. A marvelous salmon was paired nicely with some Australian wine.

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Steel

Australians are certainly known for their adventurous nature, and the Sydney BridgeClimb is a testament to that demeanor. The Harbor Bridge is another stunning architectural achievement Down Under, offering both practical and aesthetic success. For nearly a decade, Paul Cave worked through the logistics required to open the tour. 

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Cables secure climbers

I took the newly added Express Tour, which was a two hour delight. Once donned in groovy jumpsuits, we were led through a safety drill and overview of the climb.  A clever cable system locks you to the railing for the entirety of your time on the bridge.  The early morning climb was exhilarating. As you come out into the open air above the harbor, the glorious Opera House at your feet, your gaze is swept to the ocean beyond.  Our visibility extended to the Blue Mountains some 50 miles away.

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No vertigo for anyone

Virgin Australia has recently opened up non-stop service from San Francisco and Los Angeles.  The malleable Aussie attitude was evident at check-in; no one advised me of the need for a visa, but the Virgin staff was able to sort one out in short order. For Americans visiting Australia, the exchange rate is nearly 1:1, so the currency issues are nil.

In essence, Australia is the same only different.

The first thing I did upon arriving at the hotel was to fill the bathroom sink with water; sure enough the water drains in the opposite direction.

Sydney is very easy to enjoy.

Virgin Australia

www.vaustralia.com.au

Sydney Ferries

www.sydneyferries.info

Manly Bike Tours

manlybiketours.com.au

Saké

www.sakerestaurant.com.au

Steel

www.steelbarandgrill.com

Sydney BridgeClimb

www.bridgeclimb.com

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment and technology scene for many years. He has written for Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and once upon a time won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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