Meeting up with old friends in Sydney - 17-21 February, 2023

When we heard that close friends from the UK would be docking in Sydney for a couple of days on a round-the-world cruise, we seized the opportunity to take a short break in the harbour city to coincide with their visit. It would be our first flight in three years, thanks to the COVID pandemic and subsequent restrictions.

Little Lola had her own holiday, staying with Joan and Al, so we were all packed up and ready to go on Friday 17th February, making a very early start to drive to Avalon airport. It was an easy hour's drive in light traffic and, as usual, parking and check-in were quick and easy at our local airport. A decent coffee washed down the breakfast we brought from home, before boarding our JetStar flight at about 8.15 for an on-time departure at 8.30. The weather was clear all the way to Sydney and we dropped down there at about 10am. Our suitcase arrived very quickly and the convenient AirportLink train made the trip to St James station in the city a breeze. It was then just a short walk (although already a hot one!) to our accommodation for the next four nights, the Sydney Boulevard Hotel. We've stayed at this hotel many times before and it offers good value for the location and harbour views. We got to the hotel by 11am, far too early to access our room but we could store our luggage, freshen up and then head out to enjoy our first day in Sydney. We walked down to Oxford St and caught a route 333 bus direct to Bondi Beach, heading straight to vegan newcomer, Flave, for lunch. We enjoyed decent meals there in the thriving heart of Bondi. Well fed and watered, we set off in the hot sunshine, intending to walk the lovely waterfront track to Bronte Beach. The first section to Bronte was stunning as always and we stopped there for a while, to recover from the heat. A coffee in the shade was welcome before we decided to continue our walk rather than return to Bondi. It was good to go further on this great walk than we'd done in the past, so we got to see the incredible Waverley Cemetery (the only waterfront cemetery in Australia, the world?!) and also Clovelly. Retracing our steps back to Bondi took us over an hour in the very hot afternoon sun and we chilled for a while down on Bondi Beach to recover. We'd already made a dinner booking at Eden before leaving home to make sure we didn't miss out, so we headed there right on 5.30. Eden was quiet at this time and we were excited to try the place as we were familiar with the work of the owner, Simon Hill aka Plant Proof. He does awesome work in advocating for a wholefoods plant-based diet (which we adhere to most of the time), his podcast and book are brilliant. The setting was lovely and the food we chose was good but it was disappointing that it was so unhealthy, especially when he advocates for such a healthy dietary pattern in the rest of his work. We were glad to experience Eden, but wouldn’t go back there when Sydney has better options for us. Heading back into the warm evening sunshine, we caught the 333 bus back to Oxford St and walked to the hotel by 8pm, where our bags had been taken up to our room - a massive modern space with a glimpse of the harbour bridge, perfect! It had been a long day after an early start, but we enjoyed our time in and around Bondi to kick off the trip.

Saturday morning was warm and sunny and we enjoyed breakfast in the hotel to start our day. First up, we walked to Surry Hills to try a new vegan cafe/deli, Shift Eatery. This busy neighbourhood cafe was very friendly and served up a great coffee. We decided to grab some food to take away for lunch too (in the form of a toasted sandwich and smoked "salmon" bagel). It was a decent walk in the heat to Circular Quay and we were ready for our lunch by then, enjoying it in some shade in the nearby botanic gardens. We continued on to Mrs Macquarie's Chair and then back around to The Rocks. This popular tourist area was very busy and the big market was buzzing, we grabbed a refreshing fresh juice there to keep us going! Our walk then took us around to Barangaroo and finally Darling Harbour, before we'd had enough of the hot sun and headed back to the hotel by about 4pm. We'd done a big lap of the city and a shower and rest were in order. We'd again made our dinner booking before we left, to make sure we didn't miss out on what we consider to be the best vegan restaurant in Sydney, Yellow in Potts Point. This small fine dining place always books out so we were pleased to have secured our spot for dinner and walked down there for opening at 6pm. As usual, the ambience and service were top notch and the six-course tasting menu was amazing. Yellow focuses on using vegies and fruit only in their dishes, making them the stars of each show, and their inventiveness is incredible. Our dinner was great and we were so glad to revisit Yellow. Walking back to the hotel, there were early signs of a thunderstorm and some rain (we came prepared with an umbrella) and we managed to get back before the storm really hit. It was an impressive sight to see the lightning lighting up the harbour and it made for an interesting backdrop to two different large firework displays!

Our friends Yvonne & Paul were scheduled to arrive into Sydney early on Sunday morning on P&O's Arcadia, so we made an early start with breakfast in the hotel and awaited news of their arrival. We didn't need to wait long and it was nice to know they'd arrived safely (especially after the cyclone in New Zealand had altered their schedule in the previous few days) so we walked quickly down to Circular Quay where we found them enjoying breakfast at the City Extra cafe at 8.15. It was lovely to see them again (after almost four years, thanks to COVID) and catch up over a coffee before starting our day of sightseeing. We'd booked a car through GoGet and headed to the swanky Opera Residences where it was meant to be parked in their underground carpark. Alas the car wasn't there so it took some call centre interaction to book a different car, this time a street-parked Yaris in The Rocks. We eventually found the little car and hit the road at just after 10am (the joys of GoGet had only just started, but that's another story!). It was a pretty straightforward drive out through the Western suburbs of Sydney towards our destination, the Blue Mountains. A quick fuel stop and freeway spell saw us completing the two-hour journey to the lovely hills town of Leura just on midday. It was a pleasantly warm day in this busy little town and we opted for lunch at the Leura Gourmet Deli. This thriving cafe had a lovely view out to Katoomba and served up a hearty feed. After exploring the quaint shops of the Leura Mall, it was then just a short drive to the Scenic World tourist attraction. We'd pre-booked and it was very busy, so we decided to enjoy the Skyway cable car first, with its lovely views of the Katoomba Falls. Ky decided it was all too scary and went for a nice walk to the falls instead. Meanwhile on our return, we survived the descent on the world's steepest railway before ascending on the Cableway. Yvonne and Paul were stunned by the views across the mountains and it was great for us to return to this pretty area too. Leaving Scenic World at about 4.30, it was a short drive back to Wentworth Falls where we enjoyed a nice walk to take in the views, before hopping back in the car for the return trip to Sydney. It was a straightforward trip back, albeit slightly challenging to access the street where we picked up the car due to a road closure nearby. Bidding farewell to the trusty Yaris at about 7pm, we were all in need of liquid refreshment, especially as it was still around 30C on our return to the city. All of the pubs and cafes in The Rocks were busy, but we found a quiet room inside the Endeavour Tap Rooms and enjoyed nice cool drinks and a good feed, a perfect way to round out a busy day of sightseeing with friends! Yvonne and Paul headed back onto the Arcadia for the night and we walked back to our hotel.

It was another early start on Monday to make the most of our time with Yvonne and Paul before their evening sailing away from Sydney. After a quick breakfast in the hotel, we walked down to Circular Quay and it was already really warm. We met Yvonne and Paul and they enjoyed breakfast again at City Extra while we enjoyed drinks. It was a short walk over to the Opera House for them to walk up the famous steps for the first time, before heading back to check out the awesome scale model of downtown Sydney in the nearby historic Customs House. Wandering through the heart of the city in the hot morning sun, we made it as far as the gorgeous Strand Arcade before liquid refreshment was in order, thanks to the friendly Romolo cafe. The girls enjoyed exploring the unusual shops in this famous arcade before we headed just across the Pitt Street Mall to visit the Sydney Tower Eye observation deck. On such a clear day, the views were stunning and Paul in particular enjoyed cementing the Sydney city layout into his mind from this vantage point. Descending back to earth, the beautiful Queen Victoria Building was next on the agenda and the girls wouldn't leave without checking out every shop on every level of this famous building! It wasn't far then to Darling Harbour and the temperature had really ramped up, so we all welcomed our lunch stop at Adria. We were well looked after (despite the lack of vegan options on the menu) and it was nice to relax over a few drinks before continuing our exploration on foot. The walk around to Barangaroo was made very hot due to the lack of shade along the way so the sight of the historic Lord Nelson Brewery pub was very welcome indeed! It claims to be Sydney's oldest continually licensed hotel and it was a lovely spot to enjoy a cold drink outside in the shade before returning the short distance to The Rocks. Securing a table at the Endeavour Tap Rooms again, we met up with Dayle and Toni Lancaster (Alan's wife and daughter) for a quick drink, before Yvonne and Paul had to reboard the Arcadia for their evening departure. We decided to wait for them to leave and got a great vantage point from upstairs at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. It took a while for all their formalities to complete and it was dusk before the ship slowly made its way out from the dock, back under the harbour bridge and then away past the opera house by about 8pm. It was lovely to be able to farewell our great friends, but we were starving after waiting so long for their departure! With no vegan restaurants in the Sydney CBD, we decided to head down to Woolloomooloo to revisit Alibi in the Ovolo hotel. We didn't arrive there until after 9pm and the place was completely empty, but for bar staff. The restaurant proper had closed but thankfully they were still offering their bar menu, featuring a limited selection of their menu items. We tried three dishes and they were delicious so it had been worth the walk. It was only a short walk back to our hotel from Alibi, rounding out a very busy and tiring day.

We enjoyed a lazy start on Tuesday for our final day in Sydney. After breakfast in the hotel, we checked out and left our luggage, heading out into yet another sunny and hot day. We returned to Shift Eatery for coffee and cake, before tracking back across the city to explore the State Library of New South Wales. This lovely old library had some interesting free exhibitions and we also appreciated the cool air conditioning! From the library, it was a short walk to the Art Gallery of New South Wales and we headed into the new North Building first. This impressive modernist building was stunning to wander through and we were impressed with the collection of Aboriginal art on display there too. The views across the harbour were awesome and the place was busy with school groups, tourists and locals. We briefly explored the original gallery building (now known as the South Building) before returning to the hot pavements for the half hour walk to Surry Hills and our lunch spot, Yulli's on Crown Street. We'd enjoyed dining at Yulli's during previous Sydney visits but never for lunch, so it was good to find the place pretty quiet so we could enjoy their unbelievably good value banquet without needing to rush. All of the Asian-inspired dishes were delicious and we added on dessert too, a very filling mid-afternoon meal to last us the rest of the day! We walked back to hotel for about 4pm, collected our luggage and then headed to St James station for the airport train. It was an easy trip out to the airport and we checked-in to our return JetStar flight before 5pm. A decent coffee from Toby's Estate passed the time before heading to the gate for our scheduled departure time of 6.40pm. The plane arrived late but was turned around quickly and we boarded shortly after 7pm. A nasty storm passing over the airport kept us on the tarmac for quite some time and it was surprising to take off when we did, with visibility in the heavy rain being almost zero! The flight was surprisingly smooth, though, and we touched down at Avalon just after 9pm. It was an easy baggage claim and car park exit before heading home via Leopold to collect a very happy little dog!

We always enjoy our time in Sydney, exploring new places and enjoying vegan places old and new. This trip was extra special thanks to spending time with our close friends, Yvonne and Paul, during their stopover. It was great to show them around, catch up on news and just enjoy their company.