Scrumptious, Scenic and Sporty Australia: Eat, See, Cricket. Repeat. 

Discovering destinations through sport creates an emotional connect to the place and its people that few other activities can match.

It has always been the husband’s dream to watch a match in every cricket stadium in the world. Factor in a business trip to Australia, the World Cup with India playing well, plus the fact that I never miss a travel opportunity and well, we were off.

A waving Indian flag at MCG

Aside from the prospect of engaging in “sport tourism” for the first time, Australia’s scandalous history and ongoing status as the playground for Master Chefs give it unique appeal. The trip taught me a very important lesson: pay attention to proverbs; they are true. So true, that I was inspired to create some of my own variations.

Though there are some incredible places in the country and a host of wonderful activities for all age groups, our trip focused on food, fun and sport in two lovely cities. A taste of Sydney, with a touch of Melbourne.

Travel tip: Americans can enter more than 150 countries without visa. Australia is not one of them.

Well begun is half done; pick your destination. 

Work and cricket clearly motivated our visit to Australia. But, before setting off, we had a crucial decision to make: If visiting Australia for the first time and travelling to both Sydney and Melbourne, where to spend more time? Sydney or Melbourne?

Research, expert opinions and pictures left us nothing but confused and the husband conveniently left the decision to me. Fortunately, while reviewing the events calendar, I discovered that the annual food festival – Taste of Sydney – was taking place around the same time as our visit and the choice was made. Except for match day in Melbourne, we decided to explore Sydney.

FYI: Sydney is much larger and has relatively more of an “Australian” feel than Melbourne, which is kind of like a small big city that is decidedly more European in its bearings and personality.

Standard does not equal special

Despite their added character, boutique properties are often overlooked for the tried-and-tested comfort of chain hotels. In Sydney, stay at the wonderfully wacky and swanky QT Sydney.

Stylish Gowings Bar at QT Sydney
Stylish Gowings Bar at QT Sydney

The location is fantastic – smack in the middle of CBD’s shopping zone and next to the State theatre, the hotel and its Gowings bar are always buzzing. Although there are hotels far more luxurious than the QT, it’s charm, character and style add that “je ne sais quoi” to the Sydney experience. Not to mention, the interesting ‘outfits’ worn by the doorwomen.

Where there is a will, there is a way; if you want to eat it all, you can.

A Taste of Sydney

There are so many fabulous eateries in Sydney that it is virtually impossible to cover them in one trip. However, a great way to eat your way through the city without breaking the bank, is to visit during ‘Taste of Sydney‘. The event is held in the lovely Centennial park, with tents pitched for restaurants, vendors, drinks, gourmet treats and live demonstrations.

While we had several nibbles and tipples, the most memorable ones were: purple potato gnocchi with wild mushroom, pine nut, chilli and salted dried ricotta by Popolo, carrot, yoghurt and liquorice by Cafe Paci, organic vegetarian celery gratin, pickled black walnuts and Granny Smith apples by Ananas, Tiramisu ice cream with marsala jelly, coffee soaked Savoiardi biscuits and cocoa nib tuile from Otto Ristorante.

Beer break at 'Taste of Sydney'
Beer break at ‘Taste of Sydney’

It’s not just the memory of the food that stays with you, it’s the whole experience…gourmet food in a beautiful park, on a lovely sunny day, with lively music. Bliss!

Tip: Pre-check the menu to ensure there are sufficient options to meet your dietary preferences, approximate cost of ticket and prioritize dishes.

Dining suggestions (vegetarian-friendly):

For fine dining on the waterfront, try Chef Matt Moran’s Aria at Circular Quay. Ask for a table by the window.

For live band music in a relaxed ambiance, head to the oldest pub in Sydney – The Fortune of War (165 yrs and counting). One of few pubs open late on Sunday in The Rocks, it makes up for with character, crowd and entertainment what it lacks in aesthetics. 

Drinks in the Prohibition Era at Palmer & Co.
Drinks in the Prohibition Era at Palmer & Co.

For delicious Chinese food served in a classy ambiance, head to Mr. Wong’s in CBD. Top up your drinks by taking the elevator down to Palmer & Co…a bar modeled after Prohibition era Chicago

For light meals with a view, head to the aptly named Opera bar

For a quick bite, stop by one of the many outlets of Sabbaba falafel

For comfort food served with a view, hop on the ferry to Manly for pizza at Hugo’s followed by dessert at Max Brenner nearby. Don’t forget to request for a table facing the water.

For the love of pancake, head to the nearest Bill’s for the best ricotta pancakes in the city!

For a memorable gourmet experience in CBD, head to Jamie Oliver for dinner, and follow it up with drinks at The Baxter Inn

 Never judge a book by its cover…or a bar by its door.

The Whiskey Wall at The Baxter Inn (Image Source: TimeOut Sydney)

If there’s only one bar you can go to in Sydney, make it The Baxter Inn. One of the world’s best bars, it is hidden behind an obscure and nondescript door of a rather shady narrow alleyway.

…But once inside, the dinghy alley gives way to a classy up-scale underground tavern, complete with a backlit wall lined with hundreds of bottles of whisky. Talented bartenders whip up incredible concoctions and classics.

Tip: Ask the bartenders to surprise you and prepare to be amazed at how accurately they gauge drinking preferences.

All that glitters is not gold, but it may still be priceless

The glittering Sydney skyline is a treat for sore eyes. No matter which angle we saw it from – and we saw from many – it was always stunning.

To be specific, we saw it glinting in the morning sun, sparkling at sunset and twinkling in the night from:

  • Atop Harbour Bridge: a view made possible via Harbour BridgeClimb, a 90-min overpriced, but perfect, exercise. The pace was a bit like a brisk walk, but not vigorous enough to cause breathlessness. The facts are fascinating, feat amazing and views fabulous.
  • Outside Sydney Opera House: a view of the afternoon sun or sunset with the Harbour bridge and city in the backdrop is lovely.
  • Upon Mrs. Macquaries chair: the best view in Sydney is from a little rock bench carved by convicts. Located by the Royal Botanical Gardens, the bench offers a gorgeous view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House in the same frame. One, which is even more beautiful at sunset.
  • Over water: a great view of twinkling city lights is from the ferry that crosses from The Rocks to Manly (or vice versa) in the night.

So much sparkle could have been blinding, if it wasn’t so beautiful. Priceless.

The early bird gets the worm…and the early spectator gets the seat.

The husband and I are not Opera fans, but we love plays and decided to catch one at the infamous Sydney Opera House. We picked a show that had received great reviews, “Suddenly Last Summer”, and combined traditional theatre with live video. Paired with a tour of the architectural marvel and topped off by a drink at the Opera bar, it had the makings of a perfect evening.

The Sydney Opera House

…And it almost was. The tour was vera fascinating (highly recommended) and we loved hearing the story behind how one of the city’s most iconic structures was engineered. The Opera Bar was lovely, but then came the show.

We had procrastinated for buying the tickets, thinking we could buy them on the spot. As it was, the show was standing room only and we ended up watching the play on our feet for a good 90 mins. While the rest of the evening was still enjoyable, it would’ve been far more enjoyable if we had simply booked our seats early.

Tip: Book your seats in advance. Popular shows – even those that may be long-running – can sell out quickly.

Who travels for love (or cricket) finds a thousand miles not longer than one

Living the dream at the Sydney Cricket Ground

Gastronomy and drama aside, the sole reason for our visit was our (well, mostly the husband’s) love of cricket. Though we spent a longer time getting to Australia than in the matches, the trip was totally worth it. The grounds, crowds, weather, sledging and beer, contributed to one hell of a cricketing experience. Great matches may be played anywhere, but great viewing experiences come with watching the game in world-class venues.

We saw two quarterfinal matches: South Africa vs. Sri Lanka in Sydney and India vs. Bangladesh in Melbourne. Watching cricket from both the Sydney (SCG) and Melbourne Cricket Grounds (MCG) is a cricket lover’s dream come true. Both grounds are incredible, but while the SCG is more of a heritage structure and traditional cricket ground, MCG is a massive stadium.

The spirit of the game extended beyond the stadiums. It was in flags that waved in the most unlikely of places, strangers that hi-fived each other and became friends, or strangers that sledged each other for fun, or TV anchors and cameramen that we bumped into and chatted with (one kind cameraman actually paused his shoot to help us figure out our new camera). Or the lone man that ran across the ground mooning the crowd. All of these elements that add, and in some ways, create, the unique match-viewing experience.

But most of all, it was the crowd. SCG saw a mix of colours, but the sheer number of Indian supporters meant MCG was blue. The noise generated was as loud as that on home ground. Even though the MCG was partly empty for the India-Bangladesh match, the sound level in the stadium made it seem fuller…especially when India won the match and Rohit Sharma hit his century (which seems to happen whenever I’m in the stadium so, maybe I’m the lucky charm!). One of the highlights though, was listening to the national anthem reverberate across the stadium. It was enough to give us goose bumps.

No words can adequately describe the rollercoaster of emotions that accompany a good match, but suffice it to say that I’ve rarely felt as alive as when sweating in the sun, screaming my lungs out in support and cursing the poor opposition.

Slow down and smell the roses…or the ocean

Besides watching a winning game of cricket in the fabulous Sydney stadium and eating our way through the city, we decided to simply enjoy our destination.
For a change, we opted to do the simple things and didn’t try to see and do it all:

  • Drive around the coastline: A friend took us for a drive around the non-touristy parts of the city, so we could get a flavour of how the locals live. It was nice to simply follow the road without being stuck in a traffic jam.
  • Walk from Bondi to Bronte coastal walk: A fun and beautiful walk, that we did backwards (from Bronte to Bondi). Stunning views of the coastline and uninterrupted views of the ocean mixed with some random activities. We spotted Dolphins, worked out in an open air gym, caught a game of boules (Clovelly Bowling Club) and planned our burials (should we decide against cremation) at a cemetery with a stunning view. We followed it up with a hearty meal at Bill’s that likely replenished all the calories burnt during the walk!

…Sometimes, you just need to slow down and enjoy the moment.

Beyond a game…

There are people that travel for sport because it is trendy or fashionable and there are those that do it for the sport itself. Whatever your reason, you must travel for sport at least once in life. Discovering new spaces through sport creates an emotional connect to the place and its people that few other activities can match.

If cricket does not appeal to you, pick your passion. The beauty of sport is how it allows complete strangers to bare and share all emotions with complete abandon for that brief period of time when all is forgotten except what is unfolding before the eyes.

But, while you’re at it, don’t forget to take a step back, soak up the sights, strike up some conversation, savor the cuisine, and slow down and breathe.

%d bloggers like this: