Spectacular Sydney

I’ve seen a lot of Facebook and Instagram pictures of Sydney Harbour but nothing really prepares you for its scale and beauty until you are on a ferry crossing it. Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have again been fortunate with the weather here but I imagine that Sydney Harbour is spectacular in almost any weather.

Looking Back At Sydney From The Manly Ferry

From the ferry one gets different perspectives of the iconic Sydney Bridge and Opera House. But once in open water the most impressive things are the sheer scale of the outer harbour, the multitude of interesting inlets and bays that line it, and the vast number of people on the water in something or other. I also liked the dramatic cliffs that stand on either side of the opening onto the Pacific.

Sydney Opera House (Of Course!)

We cleared some of the fuzz of not having slept for about 36 hours in transit from Doha, by wandering through the city, the Botanic Garden and the Opera House, and then boarding a ferry to Manly. The ocean breeze was as refreshing as the first cup of Australian coffee we had in a typically hip coffee bar in a Manly backstreet.

Manly Beach

Later in our stay in Sydney, LSW and I met up with an old friend who moved here a couple of years ago from our home town in Gloucestershire. She suggested another ferry trip and then a walk along the eastern promontory that protects the harbour. The views from Rose Bay to Watson Bay were again spectacular – this time, not only of the harbour coastline, but also of the grand glass and swimming pool-fronted houses that overlook this.

View of Sydney From Near Rose Bay

The Bondi Beach to Coogee walk we did on our last full day was also wonderful. This time we could see the full force of the Pacific Ocean. Again, the walkways and availability of quality drinks, eateries and other conveniences was excellent. As we noticed when we drove along the Great Ocean Road From Melbourne 18 months ago, Australians are (rightly) proud of their natural environment and want to make it accessible so it can be appreciated.

Bondi Swimming Pool, Bondi Beach And Coogee From Marks Park

Rock Formations Near Bondi Beach

Our other excursion out of Sydney centre was to the Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens and Crematorium. This was definitely off the normal tourist routes! The reason for the visit was to find LSW’s grandfather’s crematorium plaque. It took LSW a while to relate her old map to the current, extended crematorium layout but she found it and so a big emotional to-do was ticked off.

LSW’s Grandfather’s Plaque (Died In Sydney 1953)

Of course, we also spent a lot of time walking around, drinking in and eating in Sydney centre. The streets and shops we saw were perhaps less interesting than those we recall from Melbourne but we loved the cafes and restaurants (especially Chin Chin, Paramount Coffee Project, Social Brew Cafe and the Quarrymans Hotel rooftop bar). We stayed near Darling Harbour which was lively and close to the rather sweet and calming Chinese Friendship Garden.

Darling Harbour

Panoramic View Of Chinese Garden Of Friendship

The Art Gallery of New South Wales (NSW) was even more impressive than expected. There was some great Aboriginal art and a wide selection of work by Australian and international artists (Brett Whiteley, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, etc.). But what made our visit exceptional was a special exhibition there of ‘Masters of Modern Art From The Hermitage’. This told of the history of this amazing Russian collection and included great examples by Matisse, Kandinsky, Picasso, Delaunay and many others. It was a very high quality show.

Examples Of Aboriginal Art At The Art Gallery of NSW

The Aboriginal art tended to support my theory (in my last blog post from Qatar) that desert artists tend to go for bright colours. However the Matisse, Delaunay and Kandinsky paintings on show underlined the mastery of colour by many European artists.

Examples of Delaunay and Kandinsky From The Masters of Modern Art From The Hermitage

After all that, the Museum of Contemporary Art felt tame. We didn’t stay long and soon retreated to a roof top bar.

Snapshots of Sydney (Bridge, Opera House, Queen Victoria’s Building, Botanic Gardens, Hospital)

We loved Sydney. it was especially lively due our visit coinciding with Mardi Gras celebrations and the weather was lovely. The food and drink was every bit as good as we had hoped/expected. The people were friendly and the service in pubs, restaurants and cafes was excellent. There is, as anticipated, plenty to see in the City beyond the obviously iconic. And the harbour is truly magnificent!

Random Bits Of Wildlife We Saw (Fairy-wren, Rainbow Lorikeet, Some Sort Of Iguana, Kookaburra)

On now to Hobart in Tasmania. The highlight there will be meeting up with Youngest Son (YS) who has travelled down from Brisbane for a few days. There will be other treats too I think….

Qatar: Architects’ Playground

On our way to Australia, we stopped over for a couple of days with Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) brother in Doha, Qatar. He has been in the Middle East for many years. Currently, he is working on the design and build of one of the new stadia for the 2022 Football World Cup.

Doha’s Museum Of Islamic Art

It was great to see him in what has become his new natural habitat. Despite his work pressures, he kindly accommodated us and introduced us to some of the night life. This included the lively and labyrinthine Souk Waqif and some of the numerous hotels that cater for business expense accounts, ex-pats and the indigenous rich. LSW loved the valet parking but the highlight for us both was dinner at an Iranian restaurant called Parisa in Souk Waqif. The food was substantial and flavoursome and the decor was simply astonishing.

Parisa Entrance And Main Interior

Qatar is, in most ways, a very young country. For centuries it relied on fishing and pearl diving. It’s incredibly rapid growth has just been since the discovery of oil in the mid-20th century. Now it is vastly wealthy with investments all over the world and massive infrastructure development at home.

Construction seemed to be everywhere although there was a feeling that some had slowed recently due to political conflicts between Qatar and some of its neighbours.

Along the thoroughfares, new landscaping (with expensive-looking paving, date palms, colourful petunias and leaky pipe watering systems) is joining up buildings that are springing up from bare desert. Clearly there has been a massive amount of money and architectural imagination at play. The architects have had a huge amount of fun with everything from the buildings to the lamp-posts.

Part Of The Central Business District (CBD) (Including The ‘Condom Tower’)

The most impressive buildings I saw were the Museum of Islamic Art and the Jean Nouvel Museum. The latter is not yet complete, and was hard to get close, but it looks wonderful already.

Jean Nouvel Museum From The Corniche

Also, we were impressed by the Msheireb Downtown Area. This is a swathe of Doha that was part of the mid-20th century expansion, that then fell into disrepair and which has recently been cleared. It is being replaced by an innovative, relatively low rise, sustainable development. This uses shade and the wind for cooling and removes cars to underground passages. The area re-built so far feels accessible, fresh and calming.

Views Of Msheireb Downtown Area

Not all the new architecture works for me. Some of the buildings are bizarre or just ugly to my eyes. The blingy palaces and residential blocks on the artificial islands called The Pearl were particularly soulless and disappointing (although the gin palaces in the nearby marinas were as impressive as expected).

My impressions here were not helped by the piped muzak – truly ghastly – or that I temporarily thought I had lost my wallet. Fortunately I had simply left it at LSW’s brother’s house so my doom and gloom contingency planning was quickly made redundant.

The Pearl Tower Blocks And Marina

Qatar is fiercely proud of its heritage and culture. There are a number of cultural centres. One we visited was the Msheireb Enrichment Centre, on a huge barge, which provided some well presented, fascinating insights. The exhibits posed provocative questions about the role of social media and women, and about sustainability and climate change (surprising given the country’s dependence on oil/gas revenue and the car). It also explained the objectives of the Msheireb Downtown Project.

As part of that project, four historic buildings have been restored/re-built and now house interesting exhibitions on life in pre-modern Qatar, on the role of oil in the country’s development, and on slavery. The buildings were peaceful and cool in every sense.

Inside Bin Jelmood House, Msheireb Downtown

LSW and I visited the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art several miles to the west of Doha centre. The trip was worthwhile despite none of the artists being known to us. The overall impression I got was that the desert light prompts artists to use a more colourful palette than we often see in the West.

One Of The Rooms At Mathaf Arab Museum Of Modern Art

However, the centrepiece of the Qatari focus on culture is the Museum of Islamic Art. We visited twice (all the museums are free), the second time to focus on the threat to Syrian monuments and cultural artefacts posed by the war there.

Various Items (Invariably Much Older Than Expected) At The Museum Of Islamic Art

A little like the Kolumba Museum in Cologne that we visited late last year, the emphasis is on quality not quantity. The pieces on show are terrific, the lighting is atmospheric and the interior architecture is inspiring. We loved it.

Inside One Of The Museum of Islamic Art Exhibition Rooms

The Cafe In The Museum Of Islamic Art Overlooking The Sea And The CBD

Our stopover in Doha was a huge success. It was made special by being able to meet up with LSW’s brother but we may well visit again on our way east in the future even if, by then, his work in Qatar is done.

Now on to Sydney.