Australia by Oz-mosis - enjoying a flying visit to spectacular Sydney
My friends informed me I was cheating. I'd always envisaged journeying to Australia as the ultimate test of in-flight endurance, but instead, my maiden trip Down Under found me in the luxury Emirates environs of pod-capsules, walnut veneer, and a business class dotted with Lions Tours jerseys.
Lounged back in my aerial cocoon, the world panned serenely by: patchwork farmlands of Ukraine, the twinkle of Baghdad in the black of the night and the Indian Ocean sparkling at dawn. As I descended over Sydney's spectacular skyline (22 hours later), I'd felt supercharged on the back of my most epic airborne adventure. Just hopefully, that jet lag wouldn't kick-in.
Following a brief Nothing to Declare reality scare at customs, fears that my Barry's tea could reduce Australia's rainforest to ruin were soon assuaged by an affable official and my entry to Oz was granted. It wasn't plane sailing for all, however. A silver moustachioed Russian was soon roaring "Get out my personal space!" to officials as his cargo was about to get the forensic treatment.
Chauffeured in style, I arrived at the QT: Sydney's hottest new hotel, located in the historic surrounds of the old Gowings department store. The hotel blends heritage high-end with an unapologetic Abercrombie & Fitch edge: staff here were 'cast' rather than hired, using an Australian Idol style selection method (Galway receptionist, Cian, case in point).
Ten storeys up, my king room was an art-deco dream: the amber-lit, Clark Kent man-pad featured a cocktail bar, kooky objets d'art and a cubic slate bathroom with oversized eggshell bathtub. Having taken it all in I blissfully nodded off into the deep of a Sydney winter solstice.
The following rain-soaked morning, after a treatment at the QT's retro barbershop, I gathered my urban bearings with a trip to Sydney Harbour Bridge – to climb it. The structure has been offering guided bridge climbs since 1998, since cottoning on to its popularity with daredevil thrill-seekers (bridgeclimb.com; €140).
Decked out in blue and grey jumpsuits (so as not to distract the eight lanes of darting motorists below) our group set off, climbing the granite pylons which bookend the bridge before stepping out over the blue of Sydney Harbour. Harnessed to a pulley, we negotiated ladders, walkways, gates, and almost 1,500 steps to the brow of the steel arch. From the apex, the views were immense: from the iconic sites of Sydney Opera House to Botany Bay.
My snapshot of Sydney continued with a tour of the city's art galleries with Sydneyarttours.com.au (€35). I joined guide and visual artist Isobel Johnston at the Martin Browne Contemporary, one of the city's most inspiring art spaces tucked in the leafy burb of Paddington.
Sipping coffee with Isobel and gallery staff, we discussed art and Australia through the milieu of their current exhibitions: from Aboriginal art from Queenslander Mavis Ngallametta to Peter Cooley's ceramics of cassowaries and sugar gliders, showcasing Australia's fauna.
Kiwi artistic assistant Jo spoke about current trends, while student worker Hugo explained his two most juxtaposed of passions: sculpture and rugby. Three hours later, as the rains continued to torrent, I'd discovered my unexpected Sydney oasis.
That evening I dined at Aria, one of Sydney's top-end restaurants run by Aussie Masterchef judge, Matt Moran. In a stunning harbour backdrop (in what I assumed was one of Sydney's most-sought-after marriage proposal sites), I indulged in pork belly with chestnut purée and poached persimmons followed by baked snapper with roasted bamboo and braised shitakes. Although all divine, by dessert, the backdrop of Sydney Opera House (whose design was inspired by orange peel, Hugo informed me) and my panna cotta with mandarin and meringue were soon all blending into one. Jet lag loomed.
All buzz in Sydney was naturally fixed on the Lions tour, with the ANZ stadium gearing up for the series' final test on July 6. For the opening game against the Wallabies, I steered away from the city's Irish pubs, to the away-turf of the Lord Nelson, Sydney's oldest brewery pub.
The vibe was immediately inviting: a friendly crowd of 30-somethings supping artisan ales and chowing pub grub as they watched the test-series opener from Brisbane.
By the time Kurtley Beale's final penalty kick went south, however, the mood had been reduced to gaping despair. "Oh, he'll be in therapy after that one" shuddered a bloke next to me, "Who's your shoe sponsor, mate?" shouted another.
With a 23-21 victory, the Lions had passed their first Australian test. Ten o'clock and still stuck on Sydney local time, so it seemed had I.