Paris too obvious a choice for Valentine’s Day? Sure, it’s the de facto capital of cinematic romance, but the French capital has many more petals to its rose than the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. A sidecar tour of Parisian streets brings a fresh (yet vintage) angle on familiar landmarks, with an experienced local driver and guide to keep heart rates down.
For a walking-pace option, a personalised tour of the city’s best marches aux paces (flea markets) ups the chances of finding a measured memento from decades past. And at the Idol Hotel, rooms bear names like “My Cherie Amour” but sport interiors that feel closer to the world of Austin Powers than the canvases of Manet and Renoir.
Eurostar trains reach Paris Gare du Nord from London St Pancras in 21/2 hours or less, Air France, BA, bmi regional, Cityjet, easyJet, Flybe, Jet2,Transavia and Vueling serve Paris’s Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports from most major UK cities.
Most beach-aimed flights from the UK head to the Med or the Caribbean, but Phuket is a rare example of an Asian airport reachable nonstop from British shores that sits by a stretch of balmy sand rather than a busy metropolis.
The beach in question, Hat Mai Khao, is Phuket’s longest, and is undisturbed enough to be a nesting ground for sea turtles each winter. Further down the sunset-facing coast you’ll find Ao Bang Thao and Kata, whose beaches are more geared to visitors, but also very easy on the eye. February sees the dry season in its penultimate month, and is less busy than December or January.
Not of too long ago, even seasoned travelers would have struggled to pick the Azores out on a map. For years, this isolated scattering of nine Portuguese islands remained a well-kept secret, a geological and horticultural oasis awash in the mid-Atlantic. Yet with Unesco recognition of its historical and biological attractions, and new flight paths putting it within easy reach of the UK, there’s never been a better time to visit.
And what a place you’ll find. Sat at the meeting point of three tectonic plates, the Azores have the kind of gasp-inducing activity. Magma still flows below the surface and it plays a prominent part in Azorean life. For example, the delicious local stew, Cozido das Furnas, is slow-cooked beneath the ground by volcanic heat.
The Azores are ideal for fly-d rive breaks. Roads are well maintained and quiet (though you may see the occasional cow) and it’s easy to drop off your car, hop on a ferry or plane and pick up a new one on the other side. Book with Regent Holidays and everything will be taken care of, from your flights and car to your choice of hand-picked hotels. Here’s an idea of what you can expect.
You’ll arrive at the airport on Sao Miguel, the chain’s biggest island — and its greenest. Spend a few days wandering the prettily mosaicked streets of the capital Ponta Delgada, eating in excellent seafood restaurants and heading out for day trips. Nearby Lagoa da Fogo, or fire lake, is an aptly-named highlight, avast crater lake surrounded by boiling springs and smouldering holes in the ground, while to the southwest you’ll find Ferraria, a haven of thermal springs and spas where you can soak away your stresses in warm, volcano-heated water. Brave a descent into the Gruta do Carvao, a 10,000 year-old lava tunnel measuring almost 2km end-to-end, before visiting the Volcanology Centre in Lagoa to learn about the awesome forces that created it.
Next up is Terceira, home to Angra do Heroismo, a Unesco World Heritage site and a 15th-century city that’s barely changed in 500 years. It’s the oldest settlement on the Azores, and its colonial Portuguese architecture includes a charming cathedral and quaint cobbled boulevards. Take a car and climb the nearby extinct volcano, Monte Brasil for stunning views across the bay, or descend to the island’s core at Algar do Carvao, a 90m-deep volcanic chimney. Don’t miss the bathing pools on the northwest coast either: ancient lava formations provide a tranquil shelter from the Atlantic swell.
Drop off your car and board the ferry to Pico, the youngest of the Azores and a fertile island dominated by a 2,351m-high active volcano, Mt Pico. The hike to the summit is a must: allow around seven hours for the full trip, and consider booking a hiking guide unless you’re an experienced mountaineer. On the north coast you’ll find Currais, an ancient vineyard and Unesco World Heritage site. Sometime around the 15th century, Portuguese settlers built thousands of small rectangular plots here to protect their grapes from the sea and wind. It’s hardly changed since, and the local wine is delicious. The Azores is known for licoroso (fortified wines, not dissimilar to port) but these days they also produce some top-class table wines.
Your final island is Faial. This is the best spot to check out the Azores’ other awe inspiring natural attraction: the pods of whales and porpoises that call these waters home. Boat trips depart from the marina in Horta throughout the summer months, and on any given trip you’ve got a great chance of spotting migrating humpback and sperm whales, orcas and, if you’re lucky, the elusive blue whale. Back on dry land, you can visit the site of the Azores’ last volcanic eruption in 1957, Capelinhos. It’s an ashen landscape that drops suddenly to the ocean: testament to the powerful forces that continue to shape this fascinating region.
The Azores enjoy steady temperatures all year round but are best seen in summer. And there’s far more than could be mentioned here: the other islands, Santa Maria, Sao Jorge, Flores, Gradosa and Corvo, each have their own charms to discover. Speak to Regent Holidays today to learn more about their packages, including the Beyond the Volcano itinerary detailed here, available from £1,450 per person.
From evocative artefacts to million-dollar light shows, plus the simple pleasure of hitting the city’s diverse neighbourhoods where daily life is the best show in town, Singapore rewards visitors with enough to do and see.
To explore Singapore without breaking the bank.
From the beautifully-preserved vibrant ethnic neighbourhoods to peaceful gardens, there are plenty of free things to do in this city. While you’re at it, make sure you sample some ridiculously-cheap local food.
ESPLANADE: THEATRES ON THE BAY
Home of the esteemed Singapore Symphony Orchestra, this architecturally-striking arts centre hosts an action-packed programme spanning music, theatre and dance. There’s no shortage of free events, from live-music gigs to art exhibitions and film screenings. Don’t miss the view from its rooftop garden.
GARDENS BY THE BAY
Spanning 101 hectares, Gardens by the Bay is a showpiece of modern Singapore, and much of it is free to visit, from the four themed areas of the Heritage Gardens, to Marc Quinn’s ‘floating’ sculpture of a giant sleeping infant boy, Planet. Topping it off is the twice-nightly Garden Rhapsody sound-and-light show.
MARINA BAY SANDS
Like Gardens by the Bay, MBS — a sprawling hotel, casino, theatre, exhibition centre, mall and museum — dazzles with its own twice- or thrice-nightly spectacular, Wonder Full, a 13-minute light, laser and water show choreographed to a stirring score that sees Marina Bay transformed into a video art screen.
Chinatown is a visceral jungle of heady temples, medicinal curiosities, heritage shophouses and still-wriggling market produce. It costs nothing to explore the architecture of places such as the Sri Mariamman Temple and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, the gut-rumbling Chinatown Complex wet market, or the contemporary exhibitions at pocket-sized Utterly Art.
Singapore’s most refreshingly unruly inner neighbourhood offers an intense dose of colours, sounds and scents. Soak up the hypnotic energy of the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, the fairytale architecture of the Abdul Gafoor Mosque, and the riotously colourful shops and stalls of Dunlop Street and Buffalo Road. Look out for the showmanship of roadside brewers ‘pulling’ hot milk tea, teh tarik, to create the characteristic thick frothy top.
Go farm-hopping in Singapore’s far northwest, home to rustic enterprises peddling everything from mangoes to goat’s milk and frog meat. They offer a different take on Singaporean life and the Kranji Countryside Association, a farm collective helping to promote the industry, runs a daily hop on-hop off minibus service that visits many of the best farms en route.
Singapore Airlines, Air India, Jet Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Malindo fly to Singapore Nits from Mumbai and New Delhi. The convenient ez-link Singapore Tourist pass offers visitors unlimited travel on basic bus, MRT and LRT trains. In the city centre, taxis are good for short distances.
MAKANSUTRA GLUTTONS BAY
This row of alfresco hawker stalls is a great place to start your food odyssey. Get indecisive over classics such as oyster omelette, satay, barbecue stingray and black carrot cake. Head in early or late to avoid the frustrating hunt for a table.
If you need some comfort in a bowl, this cult-status joint off Boat Quay delivers with its bak kut teh (pork rib soup). Literally `meat bone tea’, it’s a soothing concoction of fleshy pork ribs simmered in a peppery broth of herbs, spices and whole garlic cloves. Be in by 11.45am for lunch or before 7pm for dinner, or else head to the back of the queue.
It might be a canteen-style joint in Little India, but who cares when the food is this good? Wash your hands by the sink at the back, and tuck into a delicious thali, dosa or uttapam.
One of the best-value options in Little India, Haising Hotel is a basic but friendly place. Rooms are pokey and some come without a window, but all have private bathroom.
Wanderlust delivers highly imaginative rooms, including monochromatic Pantone numbers and comic-book ‘mono’ rooms. Extra perks include free iPad use and a French restaurant.
Just around the corner from Orchard Road, Holiday Inn Express is good value. Rooms are tasteful, with neutral hues, bold yellow lounge chairs, iPod docking stations and bathrooms with decent-sized showers.
Fancy a curry?
Table by Rang Mahal offers authentic North Indian and coastal food and is very popular with the locals.
Known for its beaches and susegado, Goa is also great if you want to get a bit of activity in. And the best part? There’s something for every level of fitness.
For an adventurous break
Adrenaline junkies can kayak through mangrove-fringed backwaters or dive off cliffs in Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary. If taking a leap isn’t your thing, explore North Goa on a cycling tour or try your hand (sorry, body) at stand-up paddle boarding.
A moderate-risk activity, canyoning involves trekking, abseiling, and making your way through open waters on the 3km-long Upper Sauri Canyoning trail at Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary with Goa Jungle Adventure. Just let go of your abseil and dive in at the end!
STAND-UP PADDLE BOARDING
Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) is simpler than traditional surfing, especially on gentle waters. And Otter’s Creek in Ashwem is perfect for this. In addition to SUP,
Vaayu Ocean Adventures (open Nov— May) also organises kite-surfing and lagoon excursions.
Take a cycling tour of North Goa with Goa Nature Trails. The 15km trail will take you over gravelly tracks and jungle paths, tough-to-navigate slopes, as well as smooth city roads. There’s a pit-stop at the Aguada Fort to let you take in great views, and the tour ends at a restaurant.
Combining elements of surfing, paragliding and wake-boarding, kite-surfing sure is no piece of cake. But once you’ve perfected the art with Yogi Kiting at Morjim Beach, this extreme sport is bound to enthrall you.
Gentler than sea kayaking, a kayaking trip on the Sal River backwaters with Goa Kayaking covers a 5km distance. You may spot egrets, kingfishers and cormorants on the way.
Take a boat trip with John’s Boat Tours on the Cumbarjua Canal to try and meet a few of the large croc population that hides in the mangrove-laden banks. There are a few avian species to be spotted too.
Goa’s Dabolim International Airport is very well connected to Indian cities. Air India, GoAir, IndiGo, Jet Airways, SpiceJet and Vistara fly to Goa from Mumbai and New Delhi.
WHEN TO GO
Tourist season begins in October and runs till April. This is the best time to visit if you want to truly make the most of the adventure activities Goa has to offer; a lot of them aren’t available through the monsoon.
SANTOSH BEACH RESTAURANT
Located on Turtle Beach, this simple establishment reportedly comes recommended by none other than celebrity chef Jamie Oliver! What you must try here is the seafood – ask for the catch of the day.
Natti’s Naturals is a retail store that also boasts an organic café. The food is all prepared fresh. If you’re a health food fiend, you’ll love the Veggie Salad Rice Bowl, a brown rice preparation that comes with a pumpkin hummus or a burnt aubergine dip.
This eatery, located at Vaayu Village, serves healthy organic fare. Right from salads and crepes to sandwiches and curries, the menu features wholesome choices. The Jamaican Mango and Rum Curry comes recommended, as does the Raw Chocolate Mousse, which uses raw cacao, making the dish a healthy dessert option.
Located in North Goa, Vaayu Waterman’s Village in Ashwem has air-conditioned cottages on offer, ideal for unwinding in after a day filled with activity.
If you’re looking for atmospheric accommodation in the capital, Panjim Inn in Fontainhas is a choice pick. A heritage mansion dating back to the 19th century, the property offers a total of 24 rooms. The staff is friendly and the service efficient.
La Mangrove is the perfect base from which to go canyoning in Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary. Just a few minutes away from Galgibag Beach (also known as Turtle Beach) towards the deep south of Goa, this eco-friendly property offers rooms in the form of classy teepees done up with minimalist wooden furniture. What’s better, it’s situated right by the river and offers absolute privacy.
In the land where the cocktail was born, mixed drinks are stirred with gravitas, craft breweries and bars take their artisan suds seriously, but you can also still find old-school dive bars.
For a chance to raise a glass for no particular reason at all.
Fortuitously sited where the Hudson River meets the Atlantic Ocean, New York City comes packed with five very different boroughs to explore, and plenty of iconic sites at which to spend time. And, at the end of a happily-wearied day, or even for a light-hearted lunch, the Big Apple offers no lack of choice to get you into high spirits.
Way out in Red Hook, this super-inviting longshoreman bar —the sign says “bar” — is straight out of On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando. Every Saturday at 9pm, it hosts a foot-stomping bluegrass jam.
Giving new meaning to the word “dive,” this Irish holdout has a long bar, walls covered in posters and black-and-white photographs, and a cheap food menu. There’s always a line-up of regulars who know each other by name and the bartender has a sense of humour. In other words, it’s the perfect place for a 1pm pick-me-up in the Upper West Side.
This neon rebel in Nolita has never let anything get in the way of a good time. In Prohibition days, it peddled buckets of beer. In the 1960s, it was a gambling den. These days, it’s best known for its stuffed sharks and come-one-and-all late-night revelry. Fuelling the fun are cheap drinks and free grub — hot dogs on Wednesdays, bagels on Sundays.
I’m standing in my hotel balcony wearing the entire contents of my suitcase. I can’t feel my face, but I’m certain there’s a stupid grin buying real estate on it. In the two weeks before my departure, I called everybody I know begging for extra woollens. I’m now in Engelberg, a quaint town in central Switzerland surrounded by the Alps and, from here, it’s only going to get chillier.
Here’s a fun fact: I’ve never even seen the snow up-close before. I’ve been thrown in the deep end, and the lake is literally frozen. This is Winter in Switzerland 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Powder.
I’m doing my best to ease into the programme, which means a spot of sledding, an activity that needs no skill at all. My sled looks like an upside-down laundry basket, and I’m supposed to just get in and hurtle myself down a hillock that’s more slippery than usual as there hasn’t been much snowfall lately. I’m breaking into a cold sweat, but, when it’s over, one Swiss minute later, I’m exhilarated. It’s the best thing I’ve done with six layers on.
I’m on the bunny slopes at Klostermatte, great for families and tailored to suit beginners. The best part about it is the ‘magic carpets’ – conveyor belts that take your uphill whether you’re sledding or skiing. When there’s enough snow, this is a good place to get ski lessons, as it will save you the cost of the cable pass, which you can then use to go to the sunny side of the mountain.
I’m famished, and skip today’s ski lessons for a meal at Bergrestaurant Ristis, a mountain bistro accessible from Talstation Brunni, but I learn something anyway: on aerial cableways, always keep your camera handy. The bird’s-eye view of the valley is staggering. At Ristis, I get my first taste of two typically Swiss dishes— rosti, crispy potatoes, and spaetzle, tiny dough dumplings sprinkled with cheese. The setting is sublime — I’m surrounded by fir trees and snow-covered crests with the sun on my face and the occasional paraglider soaring past, throwing shadows on me.
The rest of the day is spent in Engelberg, strolling the streets of the town and hopping into a horse-drawn carriage. I snuggle up under a warm fur blanket as we canter past fields blanketed in snow, stacks of firewood, and a moon that makes an appearance while sunlight still sparkles off the peaks.
That night at the Alpen Club, I realise that I could make a meal of the raclette alone. It’s a simple dish, hot cheese scraped off the wheel onto a plate and served with pickled silver onions, sliced gherkins and baby potatoes. I try to assuage my guilt the next morning with a few rounds of ice-skating. The Sporting Park has a natural, outdoor rink and I’m flailing at first, but, inspired by the fresh air and breath-taking scenery, and fuelled by envy of the five-year-old zooming past me, I soon master the art of gliding on ice.
If you’re still thinking about cheese, there’s only one spot to go in town — the Schaukaserie Kloster Engelberg, the cheese factory on the premises of the 900-year-old Benedictine monastery that gave the town its name. From the very beginning, the monks in the abbey travelled with and traded the soft cheese they crafted for leather and other necessities.
At the cheese factory, you can observe a cheesemaker at work inside a modern glass-enclosed unit, but you can also sign up for a more in-depth demonstration. Luana Cuadalupi runs the tours, and will be teaching me about the cheese-making process. Together, we make cheese curds, adding cultures, calcium and (vegetarian) rennet to pasteurised milk. It coagulates quickly and we strain it into bell-shaped moulds to separate solids from whey. In the next eight days, it will grow white mould and be ripened in the monastery cellars to finally become brie. Harder cheeses can take years.
The shop sells every variety of cheese imaginable, so I pick a couple to go. My most important takeaway, though, is this nifty tip courtesy Luana: “Packing soft cheeses in your luggage is a big no-no. Only take cheese home that’s waxed or vacuum-sealed.”
The rest of the day will be spent at FIS Ski Jumping World Cup. In the backyard of the Sporting Park is the world’s longest natural ski jump at Gross-Titlis-Schanze. Each December, Engelberg plays host to a round of this winter sporting event that draws crowds from all over Europe. There are 65 competitors representing 18 winter nations, and only 30 will qualify to the final round.
When the gong sounds, the athletes ski down a ramp and launch themselves off the end, getting as much air and length as possible. I can’t help but think of Superman as they whiz past at alarming speeds, seemingly parallel to their skis. I’ve given up blinking entirely because, when I accidentally did, I missed it. Many of them cross lengths of over 100 metres, often landing swiftly and with a flourish because they’re judged on both distance and style.
The atmosphere is feverish and festive, and it’s impossible to not get into the spirit (and the schnapps). As I climb the steep bank alongside the incline, I whoop like a local and wave my flag — Swiss, of course, because that’s the freebie I’ve been handed.
There is something special about train rides in Europe, and my journey on the Lucerne-Engelberg Express is no exception. I gape at panoramic vistas of the countryside as it progresses from cool and white to lush green pastures dotted with cute wooden cottages. It will be a day of gorgeous views. On my agenda is lunch, or, more specifically, Mittagsschiff, a lunchtime cruise on Lake Lucerne. To use a cliché, it’s a must-do, largely because it’s a terrific deal. Boat travel is included with the Swiss travel pass so you pay only for what you’d like to eat, whether that’s a decadent three-course meal in the upstairs fine dining hall or, simply, a bowl of hot soup. There are few less splendid ways to while away an afternoon than sailing on a stunning Alp-fringed lake. My fish is perfectly cooked and beautifully presented, and the sights on offer span the gamut from traditional architecture to dramatic, misty landscapes.
After you disembark at Pier 1, burn off the calories by wandering the cobblestoned streets of Lucerne’s Old Town, full of buildings covered in pretty murals and plenty of shopping, both local and brand name.
I’ve never been to Europe in winter and I’ve only heard about the Christmas markets, so I’m excited to pay a visit. Just around the corner from the famous-from-postcards Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke (the water tower and chapel bridge), the annual Lozarner Weihnachtsmart is set up at Franziskanerplatz.
There are stalls at the market representing countries as varied as Sweden and Britain and Senegal and Tibet and almost each one sells Christmas decorations, traditional dishes, and warm drinks with a shot of something strong in them. I spy hot toddies, coffees with rum, and of course, much loved and widely available gluhwein: hot, spiced, wine. I take it upon myself to sample it at several stalls (so you won’t have to) and a clear winner emerges — the Swiss stall makes it best.
Art festivals are aplenty, but this one uses the entire city as the canvas for creative minds and expression. Sydney’s annual Vivid festival commandeers iconic buildings, talented artistes and international musicians for an almost three-weeklong extravaganza in the Antipodean winter.
At Vivid Sydney, art, technology and commerce intersect to great effect — think outdoor lighting sculptures, installations, cutting-edge contemporary music and a spilling forth of ideas that would give the Renaissance a run for its money. This (mostly) free public exhibition invites anyone and everyone to come have a look-see. The event is divided into three categories, Vivid Light, Vivid Music and Vivid Ideas, each featuring creative minds from around the world. In Vivid Light, expect an eye-popping display of ‘light art’, as lighting artists, designers and manufacturers from around Australia and the world come together to transform Sydney’s urban spaces into a wonderland of illumination.
At Vivid Music, it’s all about the rhythm. With venues like the iconic Sydney Opera House making their way onto the programme, you can expect an eclectic array of live performances and earworm-worthy musical collaborations. At the heart of it all is Vivid LIVE, a cutting-edge musical show that takes place at the iconic Sydney Opera House itself.
The last piece of this creative triumvirate is Vivid Ideas, an annual celebration of creative ideating, innovation and community.
You’ll find everything here from technology to star t-up culture and animation, VFX and lighting.
Sydneysiders are serious about their beer. Dead serious. So much so that they dedicate a whole 10 days to the city’s largest celebration of cold ones towards the end of the year. The Sydney Craft Beer Week (SCBW) features more than a hundred events across the city with unique brews, feasts fueled by beer, guests from around the world, classes and more.
Sydneysiders love bringing in the new year at one of the Royal Botanical Garden’s New Year’s Eve party areas. You can choose from the family-friendly Lawn With The View, right next to the glorious Sydney Opera House, a dining experience at Midnight At The Oasis, where you can eat as much as you want before you make those new year’s weight-loss resolutions, or the colourful night market at The Point, where you can indulge in some retail therapy before the clock strikes. There is also a vintage circus-themed event, and adults-only parties where you can leave the kids at home for a night of live jazz, funk, soul and reggae beats.
Revel in the sights, sounds and smells of an Asian hawker market in October, as you sample delicious food and drinks and enjoy a fantastic line-up of entertainment. The dragon dancers are the highlight of the show, complete with acrobatics, dance and lights.
This city stands before me, waiting to be explored, and I can’t wait to see how Sydneysiders spend their days in this laid-back seaside city. Luckily, I have Michael Treacy, a true-blue Aussie mate with a penchant for Bollywood tunes to show me around. He knows the Sydney beyond the Opera House and Darling Harbour – a Sydney that will have us eating Nutella out of syringes, gawking at Newtown hipsters, hunting for basement bars down dark alleyways, and exploring the city’s quaint suburbs – all while listening to DJ Waley Babu on loop.
7AM: Start your day with coffee and breakfast at Single O – a tiny, grab-as-you-go deli bang in the middle of the busy business district. The creamy, ultra-smooth flat white with hints of vanilla is the perfect pick-me-up for your weary, jet-lagged self. To accompany your drink, grab the Brekkie Box, which includes perfectly-poached eggs on toast, with spice-roasted pumpkin, labneh, almonds, spinach, and a pickled onion salad. If you’re not that hungry, try the famous banana bread with espresso butter.
8AM: From the Single O, head to Circular Quay to catch the 8.40am F1 ferry for Manly. The journey takes about 30 minutes, which is best whiled away feeding the seagulls any leftover banana bread!
9.30AM-3.30PM: Make your way down to the main street of Wentworth, which leads to the sands. The beach vibe is palpable almost immediately, thanks to the sun-kissed locals, bustling surf shops, and stream of live music. Many visitors don’t make it past Manly Beach, and who can blame them, when there’s a bunch of hot surfer dudes on display? If you do manage to tear your eyes away, a short 1.8km walk will take you to Shelly Beach; an emptier cove with crystal-clear waters. The waters, part of a marine reserve, hide a submerged motorbike wreck eight metres from the shore, and are perfect for snorkelling.
If snorkelling isn’t your thing, embark on the 10km Manly to Spit Bridge Coastal Walk. The well-signposted walk will have you criss-crossing through bushland, past some of Sydney’s most pristine beaches, bays and inlets. If you want to cool off along the trail, take a dip in the inviting blue waters of Reef Beach.
Once you’ve had your fill of the beach, grab a well-earned lunch at Manly Fish Café. Ask for a takeaway and enjoy your fish and chips at a picnic table by the beach. Don’t be bullied by the shamelessly vicious seagulls, who will stop at nothing for a place at the table and a bite of your meal. If only they said please…
4.30PM-7PM: Take a ferry back to Circular Quay and make your way to Mrs Macquarie’s Point (1.6km via Macquarie St) for a beautiful evening view of the harbour. There is an open-air cinema here in the summer – our winter, remember? – but it’s a little difficult to focus on the film with that gorgeous skyline behind the screen.
7.30PM-10PM: To complete your perfect day, how about dinner with Heisenberg? Think less meth, more bacon, a short 3km taxi ride from Mrs Macquarie’s Point. Burgers Anonymous on Oxford Street churns out a mean Breaking Bad-inspired Heisenburger.
“It’s much more than just a bridge,” says Graham Watson as he leads a group of climbers up a set of metal stairs, framed by a lattice-like network of studded girders. “It’s a symbol of the city and something we’re all proud of.”
We are climbing one of the world’s most iconic structures — the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or “The Coathanger”, as it’s affectionately known in these parts. From the inside, it is a maze of steel. As Graham navigates it, Sydney is revealed below. Skyscrapers seem to crowd the water’s edge at Circular Quay, which sweeps around to the jutting lip of land where the Sydney Opera House stands.
Eventually, Graham emerges at the top, the crest of the arch. From here, Sydney is a 360° panorama of coves, cliffs, beaches and jetties, set around the broad, sparkling waters of the harbour. “I do this climb up to 12 times a week,” Graham says. “And there’s always something different to see. Who could get tired of this?”.
Just after dawn, the soaring, cream roof sections of the Sydney Opera House take on a rosy hue, and all is calm — on the outside, at least. Inside, however, the building rings with shouts and clatters as sets are moved and props hoisted.
“It’s go, go, go, 24 hours a day here,” says Adam Sebire. He first entered the Opera House as a trombonist 23 years ago and now leads visitors through the hidden corners of this vast building. Adam makes his way through corridors filled with orderly jumbles of instruments and props, giant gilded Buddhas and flourishing fake plants.
Beyond the Green Room — a lounge for performers, where superstition dictates that nothing is, in fact, coloured green —he emerges in a low-ceilinged bunker. This is the orchestra pit of the Joan Sutherland Theatre — a tiny space under the stage where dozens of musicians are crammed each day.
“It’s not always easy to perform in here,” he says,” especially when the fog from the dry ice on stage settles down in the pit, creating a real pea souper. But it’s every musician’s dream to perform at the Opera House.”
3.CATCH A SHOW AT “THE HOUSE OF DRAG”:
At first glance, The Imperial Hotel could be any traditional Australian pub — pool tables, bar bristling with Antipodean beer taps, and carpet that’s gently sticky underfoot. Then, the entertainment arrives and everything changes.
Menage A’Trois, dressed in spandex trousers and a blonde wig, steps onto the stage with a smile on her heavily-painted face, to the cheers of the crowd. Tonight, she lip-synchs high-energy rock song Sugar Daddy, punctuated with high kicks and groin thrusts.
Sydney’s drag scene is mainstream, not niche, and, whether you yearn for ABBA, Liza or Kylie, The Imperial is the queen.
Back in the 1920s, when Sydney’s ‘razor gang’ kingpins battled for control of the nearby streets, this Darlinghurst alley was not a safe place to find oneself. These days, this passage attracts locals who descend on the tiny Love, Tilly Devine bar.
The walls inside the cosy space are crammed with bottles of fine wine — from boutique local chardonnays and sauvignon blancs, to luxury French Grand Crus and an ‘orange wine’ from the Yarra Valley. This is a far cry from the local establishments frequented by Tilly Devine, once Sydney’s most notorious brothel madam.
On the corner of a quiet, tree-lined street in the suburb of Surry Hills is the Bourke Street Bakery. It’s so popular with Sydneysiders that they will drive across town to visit, and there’s no doubting what most people come here for. Pies. Delicious, flake-pastried meat pies crammed with soft pieces of beef and oozing with gravy.
“The meat pie is part of our Australian identity, like kangaroos or Vegemite,” says Paul Allam, the former chef and bakery co-founder. “It’s our national dish, so we had to make them good.”
These pies are certainly a cut above those cheerfully guzzled at football grounds and school canteens across the country. The meat inside is tender wagyu beef cheeks and shins, braised for five hours with vegetables and malt vinegar, while the pastry is made with fresh butter.
The key, according to Paul, is that it can’t fall apart when you eat it with one hand. “That’s the test,” he says, smiling. “I suppose for safety reasons we shouldn’t condone it, but we applaud the ability to eat a pie with one hand while you drive. It’s an important part of Aussie pie-eating culture.”