Post 10 of a series detailing our Australian adventure. Access the full series here.
Making up for having no breakfast yesterday, we started our first full day in Sydney with a lovely relaxed breakfast at a cafe on Oxford Street called Swiss Bakerz. To my amazement, they were selling croissants that were half chocolate, half almond – my two favourites combined! One of those and a pot of tea, enjoyed sitting underneath a giant red and white cow mounted on the wall, started off the day perfectly.
Having located breakfast, our next challenge was to get to the famous Bondi Beach. We found the right bus but before we could get on we had to source a prepaid travel card. Thankfully it wasn’t as difficult as we’d feared and when we did find a newsagent selling them, the cashier magnanimously advised us to buy one with 10 trips and share it between us, which we wouldn’t have thought possible otherwise. Further proof that Australians are generally lovely!
A short bus ride later and we were gazing out along Bondi Beach’s flat white sand. The blue sea and sky were simple stripes above it, like a David Hockney painting. Grey high-rise buildings curled around each distant edge, creating an unexpected contrast between complex urbanity and simple nature.
Before we reached the sand, however, our attention was stolen away by the stunning graffiti lining the beach’s promenade. This wasn’t vandalism, nor was it Banksy-style political statements. These artworks were hyper-colourful and gorgeous. More visually arresting than the beach and perfectly expressive of Bondi’s youthful and colourful inhabitants.
Upon reaching the beach I immediately took off my shoes and ran towards the frothy waves. I began playing the game of running into then back away from them before they got high enough to wet my rolled-up jeans (I lost). At every angle plucky surfers were sailing up tall waves and then wiping out, creating an entertaining spectacle. Steve was feeling quite emotional – he’d dreamt of coming here – specifically on Christmas day with a childhood friend of his – for as long as he could remember. It may not have turned out quite as he’d imagined but he’d made it here nonetheless.
The Botanic Gardens
Once we’d had our fill of sea and sand, we caught the bus back to the city centre and walked to Sydney’s Botanic Gardens. We stopped for lunch at the garden cafe and I had probably the best sandwich wrap of my life, filled with salad, cheese and a full chicken schnitzel! We sat on the tables outside and found ourselves surrounded by several strange birds, feathers black and white with a flash of yellow. These guys weren’t timid in the slightest – just very opportunistic! We watched amused as they jabbed their pointy beaks into the food remains at other tables before being quickly shooed away by the beleaguered waitress. Although they were exotic to us, to the Australians they seemed no more unusual than pigeons.
We followed our sandwiches with a shared rocky road bar (they’re everywhere in Australia) and pot of tea, before continuing our walk through the gardens. It boasted some very pretty trees but the real prize was the view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge from the garden’s edge. We followed the path round to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and found an especially picturesque outcrop of rocks from which to take photos. The ‘chair’ itself was occupied by a wedding party taking photos, so we took a quick look then returned back the way we came.
Into the Rocks
Our next target was the Pylon Lookout on Harbour Bridge, which we unfortunately found shut by the time we got there. We enjoyed the views from the towering steel structure nonetheless before returning to the charming Rocks area: all old-fashioned boutiques, pubs and cobbled streets. There was just enough time to pop into Fortune of War, Sydney’s oldest pub, for a pint before heading to the Opera House for the ballet we’d booked: La Bayadère.
Sydney Opera House
This strange, off-white building is truly a marvel. Viewed from the shore it looks completely different to how it looks from the water. It shape-shifts as you draw closer, unfolding into two buildings rather than one and revealing an underside that you never imagined previously. It is further transformed at nightfall, when the lights come on and imbue its shell with an otherworldly glow.
Having taken more photos of the Opera House than anyone could ever need, we reached the building and excitedly ran up the tower of steps. We collected our tickets at the desk and began contemplating dinner. The queue for the canteen-style restaurant near the ticket foyer seemed ridiculously long, and the next restaurant we found inside the building was ridiculously expensive. The third restaurant we found, on the outside terrace, looked great except for having no space left.
It appeared that we’d left it a bit late to find somewhere to eat. With time getting tighter we returned to the harbour area and plumped for a simple pasta restaurant by the waterside, which served our needs nicely. I had a delicious plate of pumpkin ravioli in a sage and butter sauce while Steve had lasagne, and we just about managed to scarf them down before we had to rush back to the Opera House for the start of our show.
Our first ballet
We skipped the overpriced drinks and snacks for sale in the foyer to go find our seats in the ‘Loge’. These are the cheapest seats in the theatre by a long way, and it was obvious why – Steve, sat in the third seat along from the edge, could only really see two thirds of the stage (and less of the orchestra, which was unfortunate because he was more interested in that than the dancers!). I was in the second seat to the edge and fortunately, with a bit of leaning, I achieved a view that was wholly sufficient. I’d read something online about these being merely ‘listening seats’ with no meaningful view of the stage at all, so I was relieved to find that wasn’t the case.
And then the show – La Bayadère – began. Having never been to a ballet before, I didn’t know what to expect. Turned out it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. While I expected lots of dancing and lots of music, I hadn’t considered that the complete lack of dialogue would leave us relying on a text programme to follow the story! I managed it in what I thought was the best way: reading the scenes one by one, just in advance of their enactment. Unfortunately, Steve just read everything at once and inadvertently spoiled upcoming story events for me on more than one occasion.
The show’s ‘story events’ were entertaining when they occurred but, for us at least, few and far between. Some of the dancing sequences were sufficiently engaging and enchanting, but in others – particularly the longer ones involving fewer dancers – we found ourselves impatiently counting down the minutes as we waited for the next murder to occur! Steve summed it up well when he remarked at the end of a scene: “Ninety per cent of that was pointless!” In conclusion, though I was delighted to have ‘tried’ ballet at a stunning venue, I had no problem concluding afterwards that it is not for us!
Our final stop was the Opera House’s gift shop, which was the most beautiful gift shop I have ever seen. I don’t know if it was an after-effect of the glorious spectacle we’d just witnessed, but I wanted to buy every last lovely depiction of this famous building. I decided it was most sensible to buy nothing and, after taking some final night-time shots of Harbour Bridge, spent the bus journey home reminiscing with Steve about that one dream sequence that seemed like it would never end!