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Safe harbour



Sydney, November 2000. Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House

More than once on the journey, I found myself wondering if any destination, however lauded, could be so fabulous as to make the sheer endurance test that is flying from London to Sydney worthwhile. It’s a good job I was going there for a holiday, because I damn well needed one after spending the best part of 24 hours cooped up in Cathay Pacific’s finest Cattle Class accommodation.

Of course, fate – and Australia – weren’t going to let us start unwinding just yet.

Our flight had touched down in torrential rain but, by the time we left the airport, the sun had come out; and, though the suburbs through which we jolted in the shuttle bus looked decidely unexotic, the steamy, dew-laden scents outside the open windows were intoxicatingly heady, and the bird calls in the trees we passed sounded thrillingly alien. But, for now, all we needed or cared about was sleep.

For some reason, shuttle drivers always, without fail, take one look at me and decide that I’m going to be dropped off last. It was as the bus thus meandered towards York Street via every other corner of the city centre that a sickening doubt struck me. Sure, we were being chauffered right to the door of the hotel: the hotel we’d had booked for seven months. But it was still barely after 8am. The chances of our rooms – and, more vitally, our beds – being ready for occupancy when we arrived were on a par with my chances of a threesome with Ant and Dec.

"I’m so sorry, your rooms won’t be available for another coupla hours," beamed the insufferably charming young woman at Reception. "It’s a little early yet," she added helpfully, apparently under the impression that we don’t have time-of-day in Britain and needed to have the concept explained to us from first principles.

We registered our dismay. Hampered though we were by our inability to form consonants, she nevertheless caught the drift.

"You guys had a long trip?" Her face was a mask of compassion. By now bereft even of vowels, we flailed our arms about, gesturing dumbly at our haggard faces, dishevelled and in-flight menu-soiled clothing, and at the small mountain of suitcases and rucksacks whose arrival in her lobby had been spookily coincident with ours.

"Awww, right, I can tell you guys are tired," she said astutely. "Tell you what, why don’t you check in and then go for a wander? You can leave your stuff here."

It wasn’t ideal, but hey. Relieved of responsibility for our luggage, the thought of going for a little stroll down to Circular Quay for some breakfast suddenly seemed quite appealing. Oblivion could wait – for an hour or two at least.

I will always remember seeing the Harbour from Circular Quay on that warm Sunday morning as my first proper view of Australia. Stir crazy after that interminable journey, the sheer space and openness was a welcome reminder of what I’d come to Australia for.

View of Sydney Harbour from Circular Quay

We had one of those wonderfully fortuitous holiday dining experiences where we picked the first likely looking place to eat and ended up returning there, again and again, throughout our stay. City Extra is a lively, 24-hour café-restaurant slap in the middle of Circular Quay, with a vast menu, friendly staff and astonishingly reasonable prices.

On any given trip, there’s generally a precise moment at which, after all the hassle and tension of travelling, I feel myself start to unwind, and think, "Now I’m on holiday." That first morning in Sydney, it was the moment my cooked breakfast arrived in front of me. Its humanising effect was indescribable.

Next: the Opera House in close-up.

This page last updated: 24 August 2009   Home | Performing | Travelling | Quizzing | Living  
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