Conferring and indulgent veganism in Sydney - 18-21 October, 2018

A conference presentation gig for Lee gave us the opportunity to enjoy a long weekend in Sydney in October, almost exactly a year since we were last in the city for the Quo gig at Sydney Opera House!

It was an early start on Thursday 18th October for the short drive to Avalon airport where we arrived in plenty of time for our 9am JetStar flight up to Sydney. As usual, the airport experience was excellent with no queues for check-in or security and we met up with Lee's friend and co-presenter, Paul Seaman, travelling with his son, Christopher. The flight left right on time and landed in Sydney at 10.30am. After collecting our luggage, there was no taxi queue and the ride into the city (via a stop to drop off Paul and Christopher at their hotel) saw us checking-in to our hotel for the next couple of nights, the Veriu Broadway, at 11.30am. We had to wait a few minutes for our room to be ready, but we were still in well before midday. This hotel got rave TripAdvisor reviews and it was easy to see why. From the funky industrial feel to the recent renovation of this gritty space to the huge room we got, everything was a little different but in a good way (you can read our subsequent review of this place here). Meeting up with Paul and Christopher again, we all walked the short distance down to trendy Glebe Point Road in search of lunch. This strip is vegan heaven with many great choices and we ended up enjoying the fast food delights at Soul Burger. Then going our separate ways, we soaked up the nice sunshine with a walk around the historic parts of the nearby Sydney University and adjacent Victoria park. Heading back along Glebe Point Road, we relaxed with coffee and cake at the excellent vegan cafe, Gathered Kitchen. A burst of very heavy rain stranded us for about half an hour before we could safely walk back to the hotel. Lee then headed out to attend a Sydney Testers meetup with Paul and Christopher, tracking around to Wynyard from Central by train. It was a good event and Lee's blogged about it here. On returning to the hotel, dinner was waiting thanks to Ky popping out to Iku Wholefood during the evening.

It was another early start on Friday for Lee to get ready to head out to the TestBash Australia conference. A quick breakfast in our room kicked things off before the very short walk around to the Aerial function centre at the University of Technology Sydney. A big crowd gathered early and the conference started on time at 8.50am. Lee and Paul didn't have to wait too long before their gig, on at noon as the last session before lunch. Their talk went really well and the rest of the conference day was enjoyable. Lee has blogged about this experience here. Meanwhile, Ky spent the day enjoying the fine warm weather with lunch back at Gathered Kitchen before heading into the city to volunteer at an Anonymous for the Voiceless "cube" in the Pitt Street Mall. This was her first time participating in a cube and it was a good experience in helping get the message out to the public about the true horrors involved in the meat, egg and dairy industries. There was a good opportunity for Lee to relax after the conference with the open bar at the nearby Knox Street Bar and it was great to catch up with many old friends from the testing community there over a few (quite a few!) draught ciders. Ky had again sourced food from Iku for Lee to enjoy on his return from the bar at about 9pm.

The forecast for Saturday hadn't looked good, but the day turned out to be fine albeit breezy. After breakfast in our room, we checked out of the splendid Veriu and walked to Central station where we met up with Paul & Christopher to catch a train around to St James station. From there, it was a ten-minute walk to our hotel for Saturday night, the Sydney Boulevard Hotel. We'd stayed there in 2017 and were very impressed so it was a natural choice for our post-conference (i.e. at our cost!) overnight stay. On arrival at about 11am, we completed check-in formalities and dropped off our bags but were too early to access our rooms. Paul & Christopher headed off to explore and we walked into the city centre for lunch at the Iku outlet in Westfield Sydney on Pitt Street. From there, we soaked up the lovely afternoon sunshine with a walk down to Circular Quay and then around to Barangaroo via the peaceful Barangaroo Reserve. We soon bumped into Paul and Christopher (well, Sydney's only a small town, right?!) and walked together around to Darling Harbour, where we relaxed for a while over coffee. The boys headed off to do their own thing, while we walked back to the hotel for about 5pm and accessed our room. We were delighted to again get a harbour view from our spacious room up on the sixth floor. The much vaunted thunderstorms finally arrived shortly afterwards and it was amazing just to watch the big storm roll across Sydney harbour, with lots of lightning, the bridge disappearing and darkness falling before the storm clouds passed by. The storm actually delayed the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games down at the opera house (opened by the royals in the shape of Harry and Meghan) and it almost scuppered our plans to walk to our 7pm dinner booking! But the storm passed just in time for us to wander the ten-minutes or so from the hotel down to the Ovolo hotel to make our dinner booking at Matthew Kenney's new plant-based restaurant, Alibi. We were excited to hear about this new restaurant and being in Sydney gave us an unmissable opportunity to enjoy some of this famous California's fare, in a stunning setting in the old wharf shed converted to five-star luxury. We couldn't go past the 8-course tasting menu and the service, presentation and tastes were all impeccable - and pretty amazing value really at $65 per head. The staff didn't rush us so we took the chance to spend a couple of hours savouring the food and some decent drinks before the easy walk back (also in dry conditions!).

The forecast for Sunday was even worse, with up to 40mm of rain predicted so our expectations were pretty low. Opening the curtains on Sunday morning, though, the day didn't look too bad - overcast but at least dry, with a revised forecast of a generally dry day! After packing up and checking out, we walked the forty minutes or so to Moore Park to visit the Sydney Vegan Market being held at the Entertainment Quarter. We'd read great things about this monthly market and we weren't disappointed. It's a huge event attracting about 10,000 people, quite an achievement for a monthly market! Arriving just after 11am, we grabbed a coffee and acai bowl in lieu of breakfast before exploring the stalls and trying to narrow down options for lunch from the huge variety on offer here. We eventually settled on a big serve of Egyptian koshari and an Indian dosa wrap, enjoying them in lovely afternoon sunshine! More exploration and more eating (it would have been rude not to with so much choice!) took up most of the afternoon, so we didn't leave until about 3.45pm after a thoroughly enjoyable few hours, a great event and good to see so much interest in veganism in Sydney. Walking back to the city, we headed to Woolloomooloo and then continued around to Mrs Macquarie's Chair and onto the Opera House. From there, we went through the gardens and stumbled across the Memory is Creation Without End artwork on our way back to Hyde Park. With a little time to kill before we needed to make our way to the airport, we opted for a delicious Asian tapas dinner at Bodhi in the Park, one of our favourite restaurants in Sydney, famed for its lovely location and beautifully-crafted vegan food. From Bodhi, it was just a few minutes walk back to the hotel to meet Paul and Christopher, from where we shared a taxi to the airport at about 7.40pm. Light Sunday evening traffic made for a very quick trip, we were even a little too early for the bag drop for our flight which didn't open until 8pm! With formalities completed, it was good to rest for a while before we boarded our JetStar flight back to Avalon, which left on time at 10pm and landed nice and early at 11.15pm, seeing us on the road home by 11.30pm.

Sydney is always a fun place to visit for a few days and this long weekend was no exception. The conference was a good event and another great chance to share the story of Lee's recent volunteer work. The chance to dine at the wonderful Alibi plant-based restaurant as well as take in the impressive Sydney Vegan Market were huge bonuses while we were up there.