Monday, September 14, 2009

A Much Needed Break

Wow, has it really been 3 weeks since my last entry?

Just returned from a terrific trip to Sydney for a conference and some touring. Photos haven't been uploaded yet, but I'll try to post them within the next week or so when I have a few days off.

I previously passed through this city in 2000 - stayed a couple of days before hopping over to Melbourne ( my primary destination ). Have a vague memory of a night tour and food poisoning caused by a cold sandwich I ate at Changi Airport during a 6-hour (!) flight delay, thanks to Qantas Airways.

This time round, things were very different. I was in the pink of health, explored the city via public bus, and stayed at a beautiful hotel at Circular Quay, which is close to the Sydney Harbour. I awoke to a spectacular view of the Sydney Opera House surrounded by sparkling turqoise blue water every morning, which was heavenly!

Won't bore you with conference details. I had 4 free days for touring, which were spent at Hunter Valley, on a Sydney Harbour cruise, at the Opera House, shopping in the business district, and at the Star City casino.

Hunter Valley doesn't seem as pretty as Melbourne's Yarra Valley, but maybe the overcast sky marred the landscape a little. My mom and I visited the Hunter Valley Gardens, which are quite lovely, but also rather barren considering the early spring season. Got whipped around by strong winds during our 2-hour trudge through the grounds, but we plucked a couple of oranges from the trees, and ate fantastic scones at the cafe. Highly recommend you drop by during the summer months, especially since that's when the rose garden will be in full bloom.

A guided tour of the Opera House was fun and informative. The highlight though, was watching the resident symphony orchestra rehearse in the main concert hall. They were doing acoustic tests, so special wall panels were opened for this purpose. The effect was amazing despite our location in the last row near the exit. Ahh, I got goosebumps. :)

The interior is a tad ugly, considering the prominent slabs of bare concrete that form the foundations of the unique shell architecture. But the exterior is state-of-the-art, and its tumultuous construction history is fascinating.

The cruise we took around Sydney Harbour and surrounding areas lasted 2.5 hours, with an exhaustive commentary by a guide, and a mouth-watering afternoon tea spread ( more scones! :)). Started off cloudy, then the skies cleared in the 2nd hour, allowing me to take gorgeous photos of the Harbour Bridge and other scenic areas.

For the shopping, we concentrated on the George Street stretch. Strolled through The Strand Arcade and detoured to a handicraft store, where my mom bought almost 50 balls of wool at superb prices ( don't ask me how we stuffed them into our luggage, but we succeeded! ), then walked across all 4 floors of the Queen Victoria Building, with its stained glass windows and elegant ceilings, wonderful jewellery shops and exhibition of costumes from the Hollywood film The Young Victoria.

My greatest joy, however, was at the Virgin Megastore. Spent 2 hours browsing its extensive CD and DVD collections. Some of the deals were so unbelievable that I ended up buying a big bagful of discs. The Caucasian guy who processed my purchase was really friendly - he actually spoke to me about one of the films I bought, which I thought was very nice.

The Star City casino is gigantic, easily the same size as the one at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where I stayed in 2007. Tonnes of slot machines, 3 of which served my mom well. She played for 5 hours and made a small profit - no small feat considering how I lost money at every machine I chose ( not my day I guess, but at least I played small ).

And believe it or not, the lady guarding the entrance thought I was below 18! Had to fish out my passport and get scrutinized before she let me in. Not sure if I should be flattered or insulted, heh.

Our stay was made more pleasant by the marvelous people we met - at the hotel, at restaurants and various shops we patronized. Vehicle drivers stopped for us even when it was their right of way, men opened doors for us though we were metres away from the entrance, and pedestrians apologized when WE accidentally bumped into THEM!

As a result, my mom and I couldn't help complaining upon returning to Singapore and facing reality again - locals who can't seem to walk straight, almost knock us over without even saying sorry, and slam doors in our faces. Sigh.

A big regret - not knowing that Cate Blanchett is performing at the Sydney Wharf Theatre in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcare Named Desire, until it was too late and tickets were completely sold out. Tried my luck calling the box office daily, but to no avail.

Last but not least, my thanks to 2 Singaporean medical colleague friends currently staying in Sydney, one of whom was at the conference and helped me navigate my way to the nearest bus-stop so I could find my way back to the hotel, and another who took my mom and I to dinner with his wife and 2 adorable children, followed by a drive along the coast, and a subsequent separate tour around town with his wife and daughter. They made us feel very welcome and right at home.

Overdosing on Gossip Girl

Season 1 DVD, to be exact. ( Check out its official website. )

From the creators of The O.C., but much less annoying, since airheads Mischa Barton and Rachel Bilson aren't in it.

I've been hearing about this hit series since 2007, and can now understand why it's so popular. The cast is the best-looking one I've ever seen on television, and some of the actors are pretty charismatic.

Favourite character: hands down, Chuck Bass, the crafty yet vulnerable playboy played deliciously by Ed Westwick.

Guilty pleasure: Chace Crawford, the floppy-haired golden boy whom I find more interesting than goody-two-shoes Zac Efron. I keep having to remind myself that he's more than 10 years my junior, but there's no denying that this guy is super-hot! Wonder how he'll fare in the remake of Footloose, which catapulted Kevin Bacon to fame back in the '80s?

Here they are, with Crawford on the left, and Westwick on the right.

Other Guilty Pleasures

True Blood Season 2, which continues to rack up the gore and sex factors, albeit in slightly censored form, on cable's Channel 59.

Alexander Skarsgard ( right )has more screen time as Eric, the 1000-year-old vampire. A friend who's read the Charlaine Harris novels tells me Eric actually features as the main character in the books, but I guess they chose to highlight Bill Compton ( Stephen Moyer ) in Season 1 because of the love story angle. Doesn't matter, since I like both actors. :)

Patrizio Buanne, whom I've been a fan of since his debut in 2005, just released his latest album, Patrizio. Tracks include a samba version of My Fair Lady's On The Street Where You Live, and cool covers of Patsy Kline's Crazy, Bryan Adams' Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?, plus jazz classics Mambo Italiano and Americano ( you may remember Matt Damon and Jude Law performing this in The Talented Mr. Ripley ).

I own his previous 2 CDs, so I know he has a fantastic voice. With this new album, he shifts gear and plays down the vocals a fair bit, which isn't the best approach to take, in my opinion. However, his spirit shines through in Mambo Italiano and Americano, where his smooth and stylish deliveries take centrestage. I've seen him perform, so I know this guy has moves. Also met him backstage in 2005 - hope I'll have another chance to say hello if he comes back for a show here.

Pictures from Sydney to follow in the next entry - hopefully. :)

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