Sunday, August 20, 2017

24 hours in Sydney, Australia

Weekend reporter (and Sydneysider) Nick Baker shares his ideal day in the Harbour City.

Meet Kevin Bacon at The Grounds. Photo: InstagramMeet Kevin Bacon at The Grounds. Photo: Instagram

Breakfast at The Grounds of Alexandria

Renovating a post-industrial space to serve hipsters an expensive brunch is nothing new. But what sets The Grounds of Alexandria apart is not the excellent flat whites (a coffee originating in 1980s Sydney) or even the organic gardens around this former pie factory-turned-café complex – it’s the resident pig, Kevin Bacon. In 2013, Kevin attracted national news when he was kidnapped from his pen here. After a search by police he was eventually found in a small country town some 10 hours drive away. Security has since been boosted to keep this Sydney celebrity safe. 2 Huntley Street, Alexandria.

Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach walk

Few metropolises around the world can claim to have a walk as impressive as the Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach coastal track. A pathway winds around seaside cliffs and through some of the city’s 100 golden sand beaches – Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly, to name a few. These neighborhoods were once bastions of working-class Sydney but are now playgrounds for the rich and famous. The Aboriginal rock engravings of a shark and whale just south of Bondi Beach are a poignant reminder that the area was inhabited for thousands of years before the glitterati moved in. Finish with a few laps at Wylie’s Baths near Coogee Beach – one of several tidal pools hewn into the sandstone rocks around the city.

Bondi Beach connects to Coogee Beach along a stunning coastal track. Photo: ShutterstockBondi Beach connects to Coogee Beach along a stunning coastal track. Photo: Shutterstock

The State Library of New South Wales

A song by Sydney band the Whitlams says “you gotta love this city for its body and not its brain”. This is not (entirely) true. Find out why at The State Library of New South Wales – the nation’s oldest library with a collection of more than five million items. Check for any temporary exhibits before browsing the historic Mitchell Wing. The century-old section of the library is as grand as it is peaceful. Flick through the pages of some of Australia’s well-known writers, poets and illustrators. Macquarie St, Sydney.

Lunch at Bill and Toni’s

This is not the best food in Sydney. This is not the nicest décor in Sydney. No, this is Bill and Toni’s. The low-budget Italian restaurant is a Darlinghurst landmark, with its A$12 Bolognese plates attracting a full spectrum of Sydneysiders. Filmmakers talk shop while school kids madly draw on a table with crayons. Actor Russell Crowe is said to be a fan. The restaurant was started a half-century ago when this neighborhood was a hub for Italian immigrants. Hundreds of thousands of Italians moved to Australia in the wake of World War Two – meaning that Italian is still the third-most spoken language at home in Australia. Don’t forget the dolce (sweets) downstairs. 72/24 Stanley St, Darlinghurst.

Eat lunch at Bill and Toni’s for the cheap Bolognese. Photo: FacebookEat lunch at Bill and Toni’s for the cheap Bolognese. Photo: Facebook

Hyde Park Barracks

Australia’s convict past is well-known. But the intricacies and individuals of Britain’s 18th and 19th century “transportation” project remain much more oblique. Learn about how this chapter of history played out at Hyde Park Barracks – a facility that opened in 1819 and housed as many as 50,000 convicts over the next three decades. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site with excellent displays of convict artifacts and stories. Queens Square, Macquarie St, Sydney

The White Rabbit Gallery

Some of the world’s most exciting contemporary art is currently coming out of China. The White Rabbit Gallery presents changing exhibitions featuring both established and emerging Chinese contemporary artists. These works show artists dealing with issues like censorship, economic inequality and rampant materialism in the People’s Republic. Their responses range from the playful to the biting. How better to critique religion than with S&M gear, for example? It’s always an enlightening look under the bonnet of the world’s second-largest economy. 30 Balfour St, Chippendale.

Dinner at Spice Alley

While much of the world suffered through the Great Recession, Australia more-or-less coasted. The “lucky country” (once again) lived up to its name. Consequently, Sydney has seen a slew of hyper-ambitious new developments spring up over the past decade. One of the more lauded is the Central Park urban renewal complex. With several public art installations and one of the largest vertical gardens in the world, it’s won a collection of international accolades. In the shadow of the vertical garden sits Spice Alley. This warren of small Asian eateries is a very 21st century-style hawker centre. Mix and match dim sum with Singaporean roti canai with a teh tarik (Malaysian milk tea), then grab a table among the heritage-listed terrace houses. Kensington St, Chippendale

Belvoir Street Theatre

The beating heart of Sydney’s stage scene is the intimate Belvoir Street Theatre in Surry Hills. Its alumni list reads like an Australian who’s who – Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving have all trodden the boards here. Each season includes a mix of classic Australian and international works as well as cutting-edge new material. Flip flops are allowed and meat pies are served at intermission. This is Australian theatre at its best. 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills.

Stop by the Belvoir for Sydney’s finest theatre. Photo: FacebookStop by the Belvoir for Sydney’s finest theatre. Photo: Facebook

A National Rugby League game

On the other end of the Sydney entertainment spectrum is the city’s unofficial religion – rugby league. The bone-snapping version of football is enjoyed by everyone from the “bogans” (Sydney’s so-called less sophisticated residents) to the stockbrokers. Head down to the suburban Leichhardt Oval (established 1934) for a Wests Tigers game. The perennial heartbreakers of the National Rugby League competition will no doubt suffer a crushing loss in the final minutes causing fans to once again swear off their team only to return the following week.

Take in a Wests Tigers rugby league game, Sydney’s favourite pastime. Photo: EPATake in a Wests Tigers rugby league game, Sydney’s favourite pastime. Photo: EPA

A drink at The Courthouse

Sydney has its fair share of high-end bars down laneways and atop skyscrapers. But the pubs of the city’s Inner West trump these for both character and clientele. Newtown was once the country’s best bohemian hangout. Today, rusted-on socialists share the streets with more white-collar types. But Newtown will always be Newtown. Go to The Courthouse for a local beer and a chat about one of the many issues that vex Sydneysiders – late trains, corrupt politicians and those bloody Wests Tigers. 202 Australia St, Newtown