One day in Sydney, and we're already in love.
After a slight visa mishap at LAX followed by a surprisingly restful 14-hour flight across the Pacific, we were whisked away from the airport in a black BMW, and delivered to the stunning Hilton Sydney in the Central Business District. At the reception desk, it was hard not to stare up into the ceiling, mouth agape, stealing looks at the giant wire sculpture that dominates the atrium (to us it began to resemble campfire smoke billowing upwards). Our slightly disheveled travel attire seemed out of place in the shiny lobby, so we took advantage of my new HHonors Gold Member status and retreated to the 36th floor executive lounge to wait for our room. By 11am, our suite was ready.
As a home base in Sydney, the Hilton couldn’t be any better situated. It’s in the heart of city center, surrounded by shopping options, a block from the gorgeous Hyde Park, and a short walk to nearly everything. Once we were settled and refreshed, we stepped out through big revolving doors (they spin the other direction!) on a mission for the one thing I really needed: a haircut. My enormous winter beard was in need of some taming and, after all, it’s summer here.
A 15-minute stroll through the park landed us in hip Darlinghurst, a quiet neighborhood by day full of young, fit hipsters, cafes and bars, and interesting street art. With its tree-lined streets and diverse architecture, Darlinghurst seems to be the perfect city neighborhood.
Walking into Sedition, a hole-in-the-wall barbershop, feels a little overwhelming at first. The two-seat shop is filled floor to ceiling with loud, playful, anti-establishment work: giant papier mache phalluses plastered with repeated words (a series of "financial" works called his "Stimulus Package") looms over the interior doorway; plastic zip-tie flowers with colorful plastic petals; canvases of colored duct tape. It's as much an artist's studio as it is a barbershop.
Mick, the owner/barber/artist was quiet and laid-back, with bright, thoughtful eyes and quick hands. Music pulsed through the shop. With minimal direction, he sculpted my winter shag into something a bit more suitable for summertime. It was truly the best cut I've had in years.
Newly liberated from my beard, which had grown a bit unwieldy and had hampered my eating for 3 months, I was excited to sink my teeth into a good burger. So when we stumbled into Grill'd, a local grass-fed burger chain, demonstrating that fast food can be done locally, sustainably, and ethically, it felt as if the stars had aligned. We quickly ordered a Baa Baa Burger to split: lamb, avocado, cheese, spicy mayo, lettuce, tomato. Served on a sourdough roll (sandwich-style), it hit the spot bigtime.
Next up, drinks. We ventured back toward a place we had passed earlier and plopped down on some stools at Pocket Bar, a cozy hipster-saloon with plenty of character: large pop art painted onto the walls; sheet music plastered along the ceiling; deep-set bookcases supporting the glass-top shadowbox bar; knick knacks worthy of any vintage consignment store lining every inch of every shelf. Being the only patrons at 4:30 in the afternoon, we had the chance to chat up both bartenders while sipping cocktails. The first one asked if we were meth heads after hearing we were from New Mexico (Breaking Bad fan). The second gave us helpful tips about avoiding death in Australia (which is everywhere). And we even got a couple on-the-house drinks.
Before leaving the neighborhood, we decided to grab a quick bite at Red Lantern, owned by Luke Nguyen, an Australian-Vietnamese celebrity chef we have watched on Cooking Channel. The Bun Thit, lemongrass pork and herbs you roll up in lettuce and eat with your hands, was rather expensive for what it is, but also the best Vietnamese food we’ve eaten since Hanoi.
By that time, the jet lag was catching up with us and we reluctantly started back to the hotel. Walking back through Hyde park at sundown had a different feel, so we lingered. Street performers, skateboarders, tourists and Sydneysiders alike were enjoying the mild summer evening among the tall trees. People were even lined up for the Stonehenge moonbounce, part of the ongoing Sydney Festival. Huge bats flew overhead. Huge, like the size of our cat, with wings. Sitting on a bench until night officially fell, we realized that Sydney already held us in its spell. We could get used to this.
Take a look at our first day in Sydney in action:
Disclosure: I am traveling in Australia on behalf of DoubleTree by Hilton, but no worries, they just booked my airfare and hotels; what I do and what I write about is all me.