Standing on the stage all I could see in front of me was blackness and shadows across the rows of deep velvet red seats. It was the same spot Pavarotti once stood with Joan Sutherland belting out Parigi, o cara.
I closed my eyes and imagined I had 3,000 people in front of me, that I was a star seconds away from the performance of a lifetime. I could feel the urge to belt out a piece from Pavarotti or maybe Whitney... Either way it was rising up. Here goes, this is my moment I told myself! ‘Times up now guys,’ Magot our New South Wales guide shouted. That brought me back to reality in a flash.
‘Good enough I got to stand on the same stage as the king of Opera himself,’ I thought as I skipped back to meet my group.
We were part way through a tour of the iconic Sydney Opera House in New South Wales, Australia.
‘Pavarotti once refused to attend a reception in the concert foyer here because of his phobia of purple carpets,’ Magot told us, straight faced as we walked. We learnt lots of fascinating facts about the world- famous building around us.
Sydney Opera House has seven interior venues under one roof. We started off in the Opera theatre, which was officially renamed the Joan Sutherland Theatre in October 2012 as a tribute to one of Australia’s greatest artists.
People described her as the woman who made it sing. Her last performance at the Sydney Opera House was in 1990 at the age of 63 when she sang Home Sweet Home for her encore. She lived until October 10, 2010.
Next we followed Magot into the concert hall, which has a cathedral-like ambience and as the largest of all the venues has hosted music greats such as The Beatles, Kanye West and the country’s very own pop icon Kylie Minogue. The Opera House is Australia’s most recognisable building with its soaring white roof, shell-shaped like sails, and it is visited by around 7.4 million people each year – about a quarter of Australia’s total population.
So much excitement and it was only 9am. I had plenty of time to fit in another one of my favourite places to visit, the zoo. To get to Taronga Zoo we travelled with Eastsail Yachts. Not only a quick and easy mode of transport but it was also a great way to take in amazing views of Sydney Harbour.
As we set off I felt the crisp breeze on my skin and it started to rain. Most people on the boat ran for cover, but I lapped it all up. It has been a long time since I felt rain living in Dubai and it was great, so refreshing. It took around 20 minutes to get to Taronga Zoo and enough time for the rain to stop – as much as it was nice to start off with, the thought of walking around sopping wet in the open air caused the novelty to fade rather rapidly.
We were greeted by one of the zoo keepers who introduced herself as Natalie and handed out rain macs readying us in case of another downpour.
‘The zoo is home to 2,500 animals including native wildlife and exotic rare and endangered creatures,’ Natalie went on to tell us.
I was more interested in seeing Australia’s native animals like the koalas and kangaroos, and I wasn’t about to be disappointed.
The Red Kangaroo was fascinating close up and I still can’t believe how high they can jump. Natalie told us it’s the largest species of all kangaroos and probably the best known – they can be found living right across mainland Australia.
We moved on towards where the koalas live. Out of all the animals in the zoo, I have to say I was most excited to see the koalas. I have always been so intrigued by them. Ever since my mother bought me a cuddly toy of one when I was a child.
Natalie told me not to get my hopes up though. ‘They sleep around 18 to 20 hours a day,’ she told us and explained that they might be out of sight. I knew I’d be happy even with just a glimpse of one. And there it was, tucked up and looking so cosy, unaware of the noisy chorus echoing around the zoo.
‘I wish I could sleep like that,’ I thought. As Natalie coaxed me away we heard the most spine-chilling screech. ‘What sort of animal makes a sound like that?’ I asked. Natalie laughed. ‘That would be a Tasmanian devil fighting over its food,’ she explained. A scary thought – the sound was deafening.
‘They’re harmless though,’ she added. I decided to take her word for it and we headed in the opposite direction to see the tallest residents of the zoo – the giraffes. They measure up to 5.5 metres and as Natalie pointed out, have the best view of Sydney Harbour beyond the zoo walls.
I was buzzing from the fact that I had been inside the wonderful and iconic Sydney Opera House and got to see a real life koala. In fact, I was still smiling when we got back to our hotel the Shangri-La. My room had the most beautiful view overlooking the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, which stood out majestically against the blue skyline. ‘Bliss,’ I whispered before sinking into my huge soft bed. After a 13-hour flight the day before all I wanted to do was relax, but this wasn’t a relaxation trip.
I had planned to do and see lots of different things on this trip and was glad to get a break from the 40 degree heat in Dubai. I had my checklist ready so I put my nap on hold and went out to explore Sydney’s streets.
It wasn’t long before I came across the Royal Botanical Gardens, the oldest gardens in the South Pacific, which offer a stunning backdrop for an afternoon stroll.
After walking through the beautiful gardens and through Sydney’s charming streets I worked up a mighty appetite. That night I dined at Altitude restaurant, which serves contemporary Australian dishes. I opted for the seared scallops to start. ‘An excellent choice,’ I thought, feeling my first bite melt in my mouth. I practically licked the bowl clean as the waiter tried to coax it away.
My main course was not far behind and proved to be a delicious hearty dish of Riverina lamb served with mixed green vegetables. After dinner it was time to retire to my room for a well-earned sleep and I couldn’t help but smile as I let the king-size bed swallow me up.
Up bright and early the next morning and after piling my plate high at the buffet breakfast with omelettes and pancakes (well I was on holiday after all) I was ready for another special day. This one started with ride on a Harley Davidson.
Dressed in a heavy leather biker jacket and helmet my friends at home wouldn’t have recognised me. Not a heel or my famous Mac red lipstick in sight. But I did feel super-cool as I climbed on the back of the Harley behind John, my rider for the day. I felt like Sandy from Grease 2 as I started singing in my head, ‘I need a cool Rider!’
John turned his head. ‘Hold on tight,’ he said, revving the engine. ‘I hope you’re ready for the ride of your life,’ he added. ‘Bring it on,’ I shouted as the bike roared into action.
We travelled through the city up to the infamous Kings Cross – the nightlife hub of inner-city Sydney. We rode through it on our way to South Head where the landscape opened out to reveal the most beautiful ocean cliffs and picture-perfect views. John explained that between June and September it’s a great place to come for whale watching. We arrived at the famous Bondi Beach. One of the most visited tourist sites in Australia, it’s also very popular with surfers. I watched a few professionals ride giant waves like it was second nature to them, gliding effortlessly past beginners determined to stand and refusing to give up.
It was truly fascinating watching passers by, the surfers and locals enjoying their weekend, but all the sea air was making me hungry, so the next stop was a spot of lunch at the famous Watsons Bay hotel. With breathtaking views of Sydney Harbour it’s no wonder why it’s a hot spot with locals and tourists alike.
The waiter came over to ask for my order. ‘G’day mate, what can I get yeh?’ he said in a chirpy Aussie accent. There was so much delicious food to choose from I didn’t know where to start. ‘What’s your most famous dish,’ I asked, feeling puzzled.
‘If it’s your first time it will have to be the fish and chips, everyone dies for our battered cod,’ he replied. A few minutes later I could see why.
The crispiness of the batter and the succulent cod were perfectly balanced and utterly delicious. I finished it within minutes. The waiter was pleased when he came back seeing an empty plate. ‘Good choice then?’ He chuckled. ‘I had a party in my mouth,’ I responded.
Afterwards I hopped back on the Harley and felt happy for my cool rider to take me back to the Shangri-La, it had been a long and eventful day after all.
It was my last day in Sydney and as I was flying business class with Qantas Airways, and I had the opportunity to be shown around an A380 a few hours before take off. I was always interested to see how the cabin crew operated so this was a perfect opportunity. The first-class cabin’s main deck features 14 private seats with wide screen LCD video monitors. The seats convert to a fully flat bed equipped with a mattress. There’s an à la carte menu designed by celebrity chef Neil Perry.
I was told that Qantas is the only airline that cooks food on board. Perry, who likes to call it a restaurant in the sky, has been working with Qantas for 17 years. We had the option to taste some of his food that would be served to first-class flyers. I tried the seared scallops (a favourite of mine I have to admit), which were cooked to perfection. They only have two hobs to cook on but its served like a Michelin-style restaurant. I have no idea how they do it.
We then went on to business class and were shown how the Sky Bed goes fully flat, ‘I’m looking forward to sleeping on that on my 13-hour flight back to Dubai,’ I thought.
After the tour was over I learnt that this A380 is called Bert and it would be the actual plane that would be flying me home. It was an incredible feeling to meet Bert and I knew I was in safe hands with him taking me back to Dubai. See you in a few hours, I whispered. With all of my luggage checked in I thought I would treat myself to one last thing – a massage in the Aurora Spa in Qantas’ first-class lounge. I opted for a 20-minute back massage.
As I walked in to have my treatment I was taken aback; the room felt like a tranquil and soothing oasis. Aurora only uses products with botanical ingredients. I felt as good as new once my therapist finished and I glided back on to Bert, my second cool rider of the trip.
I had the most amazing time and felt sad to be leaving Australia with its beaches, koalas and rip-roaring Harleys so soon after arriving.
‘You definitely haven’t seen the last of me Sydney,’ I vowed, drifting off into a sound sleep.
Fly Qantas return from Dubai to Sydney from Dh6,685 (economy), Dh23,365 (business class) and Dh29,205 (first class). A Deluxe Opera House City View Room at Shangri-La Sydney costs approx Dh860 per person per night. Call 800 0600 0201 or visit www.shangri-la.com/sydney