Sydney and Opera House (or is it Oprah House?) tour...Visit Britain time is here
SYDNEY (and TORONTO) - Still pretty rainy here in Sydney. Unusual for this time of year, but we can probably blame El Nina. Or El Nino. Or some kind of weird climactic situation.
It was close to 30 degrees here a week ago, and it's usually in the mid-20's by now as Sydney approaches the summer. This would be the equivalent of early May for them, so it's usually a brilliant time of year. Instead, it's gone from beautiful to bizarre, with daytime temperatures in the teens and plenty of wind and cool rain.
It's not helping my photographs, but it's still a great place to walk around. I spent the morning near the Royal Botanical Gardens, getting shots of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Later I did a tour of the Opera House, where I learned there are 1,056,006 (exactly) ceramic tiles on the roofs of the various sail-like buildings. Pretty amazing.
My tour guide showed us the lovely interiors and said that among those who have appeared in the main hall are Michael Buble and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who apparently won his last Mr. Olympia (or something like that) title in these hallowed halls. The project was slated to take three years and cost $7 million, but ended up taking 16 years at a cost of $102 million. Oprah Winfrey will be here for a slew of shows next month, which means lots of people are calling it the Sydney Oprah House, and sorry about that.
Unlike our pathetic SkyDome/Rogers Centre, however, the Opera House put Sydney on the map. Or, rather, embellished its placement as a forward-thinking/hip city. It's now impossible to think of Sydney without it, as it would be to think of Cape Town without Table Mountain or San Francisco without the Golden Gate Bridge. Toronto has improved, but we have a long way to go if we want to be in the big leagues with cities like those. It takes vision, something even David Miller lacked when it came right down to it.
Anyway, it's great to be in a place that's so cutting-edge. I had lunch in the historic Rocks district and ate at a place called Sake, a dynamite Japanese joint where one of the specialties is an appetizer called Sashimi Tacos. Sounds bizarre, but a crunch taco surrounding fresh tuna or salmon sashimi and onions and soy and spices is absolutey brilliant. Comes with glasses of sugar-rimmed Sake, which never hurts. Likewise the sashimi with soy and thinly-sliced jalapeno peppers were top-notch. Call it Jap-Mex if you want; I call it fabulous.
I wanted to see Manly Beach and the North Head bluffs, but it was raining and I only had time for the ferry ride. Still, it's magical to see Sydney's Harbour even in the mist, and to realize how lucky folks are down this way to have so much water and beautiful beaches and tumbling, rocky bluffs all around them. Manly reminds me of Vancouver with the waterfront and the pine trees and the high-rise apartments.
I took dinner at a spot called Wine Odyssey, where they have dozens of bottles of wine where you can slip a special card into a slot and get various sizes of all sorts of wines in a variety of prices. It's very sophisticated (albeit expensive) and really lets you try a whole variety of wines by reading the labels and the little ads or blurbs that accompany them. The food is decent, but the wine selection is superb. A fun spot, topped only by a brief stop at the Fortune of War Pub, which dates back to the 1860s and has atmosphere to spare. A great guitar player/singer was singing Aussie country songs last night including ones about the Yukon Gold Rush and an old English song about Ernie, the fastest milkman in the west. It was great fun.
I remembered it was a pub that Star sports types Dave Perkins and Doug Smith and I visited the night before the start of the 2000 Summer Olympics. I remember running into Paul Beeston's daughter down near the harbour at around midnight and thinking it was a good idea to call Beest in New York, where he was working at the commissioner of baseball's office. We had a couple too many Victoria Bitters, I think, and I doubt Paul liked being woken up at 5 a.m. by a bunch of sodden Toronto Star reporters. But it was fun for us.
More later on Australia and Sydney. But now it's time for a short update from Star Travel writer Adrian Brijbassi, who attended a Visit Britain event in Toronto Thursday night.
The Olympics are coming to London, and they’re going to help draw millions to Great Britain before, during and after the 2012 Summer Games. On Thursday night, VisitBritain, the British tourism agency, hosted a press gathering at the King Edward Hotel to fill us in on what’s happening around England, Scotland and Wales beyond just athletics.
Of the nearly 750,000 Canadians who cross the Atlantic to Great Britain annually, more than three-quarters are return guests, VisitBritain says. Those numbers indicate both the strong bond our nations have and the comfort we feel travelling to the land of Shakespeare and the Queen. With the exchange rate more favorable for Canadians than it’s been in years ($1 will get you about 60 pence), a trip over the pond is enticing these days. There’s also lots more excitement than just the Olympics, including: Elizabeth II’s 60th anniversary on the throne (also in 2012) and a potential royal wedding (c’mon, Will, get that ring on Kate’s finger already).
One of the highlights discussed in Toronto includes a plan by Wales to have a walking path circling that coastal nation. Wales has a total area of more than 20,000 square kilometres, so that’s no mere footpath for an evening stroll they’re setting up.
“It would be very hard to imagine anyone walking the entire path, so we’ll have a Dylan Thomas stretch, and other stretches named after historic figures or prominent people, and visitors will definitely want to walk the length of those,” says Bob Titley, a PR consultant for Visit Wales.
The London Olympics will run from July 27 to August 12, 2012, and is expected to generate about $3.5 billion in tourism spending during the next decade.
If you’re thinking about heading to Britain between now and the Summer Games, keep reading Star Travel. We’ll get you prepared for what’s new in and around London well before Usain Bolt takes a run at another gold.