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Waltzing Matilda

columns Updated: Oct 16, 2011 23:35 IST
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I have to admit that Australia feels as if it’s at the other end of the world. The flying time alone takes more than 13 hours and that’s without counting the two hours you spend in Singapore changing planes. You leave Delhi just before midnight (our time) and only reach Sydney at 7 pm the next day (their time). Consequently you could be forgiven if you think the journey has taken almost 24 hours.

But it’s worth it. Australia — or, rather, Sydney, because that’s all I saw — is stunning. The city sits perched on a small hill that slopes down to the harbour, the famous bridge and the eye-catching Opera House. At night the scene is a blaze of light. By day, as you cross from one shore to the next by ferry, you realise how vast it actually is and how deep its deceptive waters are. “It only looks like a pond, mate,” the guide on the tour I took explained. “But I wouldn’t try swimming across!”

However, it’s the streets of Sydney that caught my fancy. If you can imagine a major metropolis with seemingly unhurried pavements where, at lunch time, office-goers picnic in the spring sun while college students and carefree housewives appear to wander about, as if they have all day, then you can perhaps picture the scene in your mind. There’s a calm and a gentleness in the air that is so pleasantly different to New York’s frenetic atmosphere or London’s maddening crowds. The secret of Sydney is, I suspect, the extraordinarily carefree, unrushed, happy-go-lucky mood of the place. No doubt its denizens are hard-working but they don’t wear their diligence on their sleeves let alone on their faces. What you see, instead, is warm happy smiles and an easy unhurried manner.

I was told the city has traffic jams and I should set off for the airport with at least 45 minutes in hand. I got there in 15 minutes flat. “What happened to the traffic jams you cautioned me about?” I asked the driver. “Didn’t you notice the entrance to the underpass mate?” He sounded surprised. But the truth is we had cruised along at 40 miles per hour and if that’s a Sydney jam I’d be happy to be caught in one all day long.

Now, if you’re a carnivore, as I am, and live for your stomach, as I often do, Sydney is a gourmand’s delight. A gourmet’s too, but there it could have competition.

I’ve rarely eaten better meat, or more succulent or more generously portioned. The steak I ordered at Chop House on Bligh Street literally filled the plate. I needed a couple more for the fries and salad. And by the time I was done I needed a palanquin to carry me out!

My only carping complaint is Australian champagne. At its best it’s just a sparkling dry white wine. I prefer Cava or Proseco. But the Hunter Valley Shirazs more than compensate and they’re a lot kinder on your head the next morning. Sadly, I can’t comment on the beer. I forgot to try it.

My great discovery was Australian chocolates. A local Sydney brand called Adora produces some of the most delectable coffee-bean truffles — which may sound odd but are delightful — and strong ginger parfaits which tickle but definitely do not sting your taste buds.

Alas, I met no one who resembles a jolly swagman, didn’t see a billabong and couldn’t find a coolibah tree!

The views expressed by the author are personal