Friday, April 30, 2010

Sydney………………….what an experience!

From Adelaide, post the Routes conference, I flew to Sydney and stayed at the Shangri La hotel, courtesy New South Wales Tourism. I had an executive room on the 34th floor and had an awesome view of the Opera House and Circular Quay.

The awesome view from my room at the Shangri La.

The next day, we were invited to undertake a familiarization trip of Sydney airport. We were a group of airlines – Air China, Royal Brunei, Malaysian Airlines and of course Kingfisher Airlines. The last time I flew through Sydney Airport, it was not at all impressive and to be honest did not create an impression. However, they have now refurbished it and it looks great with a large variety of retail options. They have the only Lonely Planet store in the duty free area and for travel aficionados like myself, it is a haven. They also have a Godiva chocolate shop where one can not only pick up the awesome Godiva chocolates but can also have a hot or cold chocolate drink. Colleen Phillips and Peter Smith did a fantastic job explaining the history of the airport and the recent renovation / refurbishment plans.

After the tour of the airport, we went to the harbor – Jones Bay Wharf in Pyrmont. We were to sail on an ex Americas Cup racing yacht chartered by the Kookaburra Group.

Jones Bay Wharf in Pyrmont

The Americas Cup Racing Yacht

Before we set sail, we had a picnic lunch, catered from Manjits.

The menu:
- Smokey chicken tikka (boneless spring chicken fillet marinated overnight and cooked in the tandoori oven over charcoal to obtain a smokey flavour)
- Seekh Rampuri (lamb and kangaroo mince with onions, green spices, pressed on skewer and smoke roasted over charcoal)
- Cocktail Samosa (short pastry pockets filled with vegetables and spices)
- Stuffed paranthas (wholemeal bread stuffed with spiced vegetables)
- Papadums, mixed pickles and dips

We were joined by Hans (Sydney Airport), Daniel (Moscow Domodedovo Airport), Christina (Munich Airport) and Rebecca. After signing documentation relieving the organizers of any liability in case of any untoward incidents and a short briefing, we set sail. The harbour sail started from Jones Bay Wharf in Pyrmont, we then sailed towards the Harbour Bridge. Then we stopped between Admiralty house and Kirribilli house and decided to hoist the head sail. Hans and Anne helped the crew with it. Near Taronga Zoo we decided to do the ‘fast sail’. So the crew, assisted by Hans, Amol, Anne and some of the Chinese airport guys, brought the head sail down and hoisted the main sail. Then they hoisted the head sail yet again. We cruised past Port Jackson and Cremorne Point & Point Piper.

View of Sydney's CBD

The Skipper giving us a briefing

The iconic Opera House

The main sail going up..............

....... & the main sail going down.

There were quite a few sailors out on the water as it was a beautiful day. I was told that on the weekends, it tends to get so crowded that there are quite a few collisions! The steamers (famous Sydney ones painted yellow and green) always have the right of way. We passed a large tanker who beeped five times twice. We continued cruising towards Middle Head where on the right hand side was the male only nudist beach. Of course we were too far off to check out the men, though Christina tried her luck using her camera zoom lens!

Anne, Christina and myself

Daniel, Hans, Amol and Ignatius from MH with me

Not too long after that, we turned around and sailed back. We brought the sails down near Luna Park.

Me with Luna Park, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House in the background

Here is a basic map with pink circles indicating where we went.

We then had just about enough time to return to our hotel and freshen up before we headed to Cafe Sydney at the old Customs House for dinner. Cafe Sydney is one of the top restaurants in the city and the view of the Harbour Bridge is awesome. The food was excellent and so was the wine.

Menu from Café Sydney –

- ½ dozen oysters freshly shucked on ice with shallot and caramelised cabernet vinegar

- peppered wagyu carpaccio with celeriac remoulade, parsley and lemon dressing (my choice)

- tomato with buffalo mozzarella, pesto, aged balsamic and extra virgin olive oil

Main Courses

- Peppered beef tenderloin with Swiss brown mushroom, baby spinach, béarnaise and jus

- Tandoori roasted ocean trout with spiced cauliflower salad, eggplant chutney, buffalo yoghurt raita (my choice)

- Spinach gnocchi with zucchini flower, truss tomato, chilli and Persian fetta

- Dark chocolate pave with malt ice cream and orange caramel sauce (my choice)

- Coconut panna cotta with coconut sorbet and poached strawberry

- Individual cheese plate with semi hard cheese, white mould, fresh dates and soda walnut bread

- 2009 Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon – Margaret River, WA
- 2006 Peter Lehmann “The Futures” – Barossa Valley, SA

Some of the amazing people I met on this trip...
Christina (Munich), Anne Glover (NSW Government), Anne (SYD), Nigel (SYD),
Leena (Royal Brunei), Ian Cameron (NSW Tourism), Myself, Amol (SYD), Hans (SYD),
Ignatius (Malaysian Airlines) and Colleen (SYD)

Amol and I

I had an awesome day and the memories of it will stay with me forever. I would like to thank Sydney Airport and the NSW Tourism for a wonderful time. Thank you Hans, Amol, Anne, Ian and all the others who made the day special. A big thank you to Anne for her excellent organisational skills.

Beautiful Anne

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My special Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb

When I knew I was going to Sydney, the one thing that I wanted to do was to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. So instead of going shopping on the last day, I used the time more effectively to climb the Bridge. Incidentally, it was right next door to my hotel - the Shangri La in the Rocks, so I did not have to waste much time.

I turned up for the 0830 hrs bridge climb experience which would occupy me for the next 3 and half hours. It started with a briefing on what to expect, how to dress up and ensure there were no loose ends as everything had to be secured (fear of objects falling from a great height). There was a simulation of climbing ladders as there would be 4 different ones on the bridge. We had to introduce ourselves with the others in the group (a total of 13) and state the reason why we were there. There was guy celebrating his birthday whilst others were treating for future or past ones. I ofcourse was there because it had to be done and struck off my bucket list. The others were of different age groups as well as nationalities and I was surprised that most of them were older people.

To be honest, it was also a chance for me to conquer my fear of heights – acrophobia. But during the climb, there was no fear at all. I thoroughly enjoyed it and the views were great, especially because the weather was quite good. The climb itself was not at all difficult. It was a gradual slope and was quite comfortable. I guess, only the ladders must have been difficult for the older people.

Our guide Jon, was very knowledgeable about the making of the bridge as well as the city itself. When the bridge was built, it was a masterpiece of its time and it was built as an icon for a new nation to announce itself to the world as well as make its mark. It provides a frame for the beautiful harbour of Sydney and is truly an awe inspiring structure.

The climb fee is AUD 198 which is a bit steep but worth every cent. I was informed that the idea for the bridge climb originated from a man who rode the first train across and was the holder of the ticket 01. He is passionate about the bridge and wanted other people to experience it and thus came up with the idea of the bridge climb. However he had to convince the authorities who had reservations about it. He patiently worked through it and finally persevered to make his dream a reality. Today more than 2.5 million people have climbed the bridge (and I am proud that I am one of them) and the proceeds from the bridge climb fees pays for the maintenance of the bridge.

Some of the details taken from Wikipedia and the website of the Bridge Climb experience -

• The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a steel through arch bridge across Sydney Harbour that carries rail, vehicular and pedestrian traffic between the Sydney central business district (CBD) and the North Shore.

• The dramatic view of the bridge, the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera House is an iconic image and the most recognizable image of both Sydney and Australia.

• The bridge is locally nicknamed "The Coat Hanger" because of its arch-based design.

• The bridge was opened in 1932 and until 1967 it was the city's tallest structure.

• It took over eight years to build the Bridge, between July 1923 and March 1932. Planning for the Bridge began as early as 1912.

• Dr JJC Bradfield, who lends his name to the Bradfield Highway in Sydney, prepared the general design, and is considered the ‘Father of the Bridge’. The detailed design and the crucial plans for the erection process were carried out by the contractor’s consulting engineer Ralph Freeman, who later received a knighthood.

• According to Guinness World Records, it is the world's widest long-span bridge and it is the tallest steel arch bridge, measuring 134 metres (440 ft) from top to water level.

• It is also the fifth-longest spanning-arch bridge in the world.

• The weight of the steel arch is 39,000 tons

• The girders are made from steel (79% imported from England and 21% from Australian sources). The pylons are made of concrete faced in granite, which was quarried near Moruya, 300km from Sydney. Around 6 million rivets and 52,800 tonnes of steelwork and 17,000 cubic metres of granite have gone into the construction of the Bridge.

• The approach spans were erected first, then work began on the main arch. Two half-arches were built out from each side of the Harbour. Steel members were transported on barges into the Harbour and hauled into position with creeper cranes mounted on the arches, which built the Bridge out before them as they inched forward.

• The two halves of the arch were joined on 19 August 1930, bringing a well needed smile to the face of depression-era Sydney. The road deck was then hung from the arch from the centre outwards and was in place within nine months.

• The bridge itself was regarded as a triumph over Depression times, earning the nickname "the Iron Lung", as it kept many Depression-era workers employed.

Routes Asia…………………….Adelaide

This year the Routes Asia event was held in Adelaide, Australia from 18th to 20th April. From the previous post on the volcanic ash, you would know that I had trouble getting to Australia as Qantas’ hub in Singapore was in chaos on 16th and 17th April. So finally, after having bought a revenue ticket, courtesy RDG, I arrived in Adelaide at 0730 hrs on 19th April.

I quickly checked into the hotel – the Intercontinental – freshened up and joined my friend Amol and his colleagues from Sydney Airport from breakfast. Then on, it was a literal rollercoaster ride as I had a full diary from 0920 hrs to 1800 hrs. In fact, as always is the case, I had quite a few requests for meetings which were not slotted in and I ended up giving up my breaks to meet with these airports.

I had very little time to actually check out the stalls or the entertainment at the convention centre. But there was excellent wine served by the Australian airports at their stall. And the lamingtons at tea were also great.

With the racing cars

On 18th April in the evening, Adelaide Airport hosted a gala dinner at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre. The evening started off at the lobby of the AEC with drinks and canapés and light entertainment. There was an Aussie band, a lady twirling hoops and a couple enacting a slapstick comedy. We then proceeded to the main hall where there was a visual and audio treat in keeping with the theme “From the Ocean to the Outback”. They had 3 different bands playing with giant screens behind them depicting the treasures of Australia.

 The Adelaide Entertainment Centre

 The Aussie Band

 The Hula Hoop lady

The Vaudeville Act

From the Ocean........ the Outback

Australia is amazing.

They also had a family of whip-crackers who were aged from 6 to 14. This was certainly different and on a lighter note, had it been in India, there would have been a hue and cry about child labour!! It was amazing that they did not hurt themselves as I was informed that when a whip is cracked it travels at 1400 ft per second which is faster than the speed of sound and in some cases a bullet. A whip is capable of cutting flesh and breaking bones and it is possible to lose one's eyesight if precautions are not taken.

The Whipcrackers doing their thing........

This one is age 6!

The Whip Cracker family

The last act was exceptional. It was by Raymond Crowe, Australia's only “unusualist”. He offers a captivating combination of visual comedy, ventriloquism, shadow puppetry and magic in every spellbinding performance.

Raymond Crowe during his mimicry act

It was a great evening with excellent wine, some amazing food (though we were still hungry at the end of the evening) and outstanding entertainment. I was glad I was able to make it and connect with my friends from the industry.

Anne, Amol, Kiran and myself

With Amol and Hans

As for Adelaide, it is a beautiful city, not very large. Unfortunately, I did not get much time to explore the place but I did have a chance to walk along the river Torrence and check out the beautiful St Peter's Cathedral. I have decided that I need to go back to visit Adelaide, the beautiful Barossa valley and explore the Flinders Range.

The river Torrence

Outside the Adelaide Oval

The beautiful St Peter's Cathedral

Sunset along the river Torrence

Aboriginal art outside the Hotel Intercontinental