Travelblog: Sydney

G’day! No one much says that, of course, but seeing as I’m in Sydney, it’s the appropriate way to start my post about Australia’s biggest city, where I arrived Sunday morning (local time) in advance of the Online Retailer conference, where I’ll be speaking later this week.
Sydney is, from what I’ve seen, a bit of a hidden city. One has to be willing to venture out of the central and tourist districts, to meander down quiet streets, go to secondary neighborhoods, and put effort into one’s visit in order to make something of it. For those who don’t try, plenty of shops exist that will charge $4 for a bottle of water. Look deeper, though, and a world of welcoming delights awaits.
I have had my best meals in out-of-the-way locations: at a little cafe off the main street of Mosman, an upper-middle-class enclave in North Sydney, near but not convenient to the Taronga Zoo; at Fratelli Paradiso, a highly regarded Italian restaurant that is nevertheless way at the end of Potts Point, far from transit and hubbub; at a little chocolate joint on the cusp of Chinatown, so hidden in plain sight that my concierge didn’t know about it. (More on that in a minute.)
Point being, you don’t come to Sydney and ride the stupid Monorail from Darling Harbor into the center of town. You come here to poke around. To be on the water. To insist on a level of curiosity one step beyond the simplicity that gracious Sydney residents will otherwise afford you, thinking you really don’t want to putz around in Potts Point, so why even mention it?
This philosophy works almost anywhere, from New York (where you can have pasta at the Olive Garden… or Babbo) to Paris–certainly Paris–but unlike those cities, Sydney doesn’t have a lot of touristy crap going for it. The world’s classic cities have to-see lists a week long. Sydney, on the other hand, has a fabulous harbor and a show-stopping opera house, and not much else from a casual sightseeing standpoint. Come to Sydney, and people expect you to promptly leave Sydney, to take day trips to the mountains or the beaches or the outback.
To run out of town is to deny Sydney its charms, though. So far, every single person I’ve met has been friendly, welcoming and gracious. Locals are quite proud of their city, its beautiful clean water, its views, its Thai food. So when you get here, go for it! Ask locals where to eat, where to walk around, what to see. When they tell you to just plop down at one of the cafes in front of Circular Quay, tell them you know you can do better, and see what comes up. Deep in those recommendations will be the 160-year-old pub with a to-die-for rooftop that you should be visiting.
End prologue. Here’s what I’ve been up to.
I have spent the past two nights at the Four Points Sheraton Darling Harbour, which is about as good as my Starwood points and $45 per night gives me the right to expect. (One would think I’d learned my lesson, but I guess not.) The rooms are modern, clean and comfortable enough, if dinged by the expensive and spotty and non-wifi in-room Internet access. Most regrettable are the concierges, who sent me to the aforementioned cafes on Circular Quay and, when I balked, had the gall to present as an alternative a restaurant that proudly advertises “no meal over $10”; and who, the next night, when asked where to get some dessert and coffee, could only think of a Starbucks. In Sydney, where Starbucks gave up in 2008. After two days, I could be a better local guide than these guys.
Also, while I thought Darling Harbour would be a prime location, it’s really not much of anything, although it’s walking distance from Chinatown, which led me to a great noodle joint my first night here, where the two local women at the table next to me took control of my menu and ordered me a delightful array of dumplings and chow fun that was precisely twice as much food as I could have eaten.
Speaking of food. Fratelli Paradiso for Italian. Avenue Road Cafe for breakfast or lunch or coffee in Mosman. The Chocolate Room for, well, y’know. All delightful, and I have five more days of eating to do.
As for sightseeing, the harbor is truly gorgeous on a sunny day, and all of one’s efforts should go into finding places to stare at it from various vantage points. I plan on crossing the main bridge at some point (although I don’t see the benefit of the $350 stair climb to the top of the beams). The Taronga Zoo is a treat, particularly the walk-in section that allows poorly thought-out attempts to pet leery kangaroos. My experiences with the central district are mostly my wandering around, but the Rocks and the area surrounding the opera house are great places to do just that.
From what I can tell, my conference schedule will allow me two full days of sightseeing before I head back to New York. I’m very much looking forward to them.