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Winter in Sydney: Festivals, Concerts and the Aquarium

A shark at the Sydney Aquarium

Coming from Chicago, it’s hard not to chuckle when people in Sydney complain about winter. Sure, it’s colder than summer and requires an additional layer of clothing, but compared to Chicago, Sydney’s winter is more like a moderate autumn. It never gets below freezing and there certainly isn’t any snow. That said, it’s not comfortable weather for the beach, so Sydneysiders need to find other ways to keep themselves occupied.

Ice Skating in Sydney

We took the opportunity to check out some of the indoor attractions around the city, starting with the Sydney Aquarium. Located on the east side of Cockle Bay near Darling Harbour, the aquarium is home to a variety of native Australian species inhabiting several different exhibits. Separately, each exhibit represents a different region of Australia; together, they host one of the largest collections of sharks in the world. The aquarium is also next door to Wild Life Sydney, so if you don’t have time to take the ferry to Taronga Zoo, you can knock off all of your Australian wildlife viewing in two quick visits.

A diprotodon at the Australian Museum

A few weeks later, we stopped by the Sydney Winter Festival, located just east of Hyde Park in Cathedral Square. Sponsored in part by the Switzerland Department of Tourism, the area was set up to look like an alpine village, complete with little wooden concession huts and an accordion player sporting lederhosen. None of this was quite as entertaining as the centerpiece of the festival, an ice rink. Nevermind that it was 60 degrees outside, people showed up in droves to try out ice skating, possibly for the first time ever. Since most people in Sydney don’t own ice skates, bright orange ones were provided for the brave souls who ventured onto the ice. For the slightly less brave souls venturing onto the ice, orange plastic seals were also provided as seats/walkers.

Darth Vader on stage at the Sydney Opera House

We left the Winter Festival and walked down the street to the Australian Museum, another attraction we hadn’t yet visited. The museum had a few interesting exhibits on Aborigines and extinct Australian animals, but was otherwise not especially remarkable, so it’s not recommended for shorter stays in Sydney (unless it rains the whole time you’re here).

The following weekend we had tickets for a performance at the Opera House.  But not just any performance, this was the Sydney Symphony Orchestra playing the music of John Williams, including classics like the themes from Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, E.T., and the Raiders March from the Indiana Jones trilogy. The highlight, however, was the last quarter of the show, where they performed an entire suite of Star Wars music. And what performance of Star Wars music would be complete without people in costume? The Sydney Symphony Orchestra did not disappoint, bringing Darth Vader up on stage during the Imperial March. There’s more than just opera at the Opera House… when you visit Sydney, make sure to book a show. I can’t guarantee you’ll be as happy as Kristen in the picture below, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy the experience!

Kristen and Ryan with Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper

Pictures from Australia: January to April 2011

As you might expect, especially if you’re familiar with my itchy trigger finger on the camera, we take far more pictures than you see on the blog. If you’d like to check them out, you can find them on my Flickr page. I’ve recently uploaded a bunch of sets for your viewing pleasure… the shots from the Power Plant Exhibit are particularly cool. Finally, if you use Flickr, you should definitely add me as a contact!

Darling Harbour – January 2011

Bondi Beach, Sydney Harbour, Manly – January 2011

Sydney Harbour, Coogee Beach, Chinatown – January 2011

Symphony in The Domain – January 2011

Lunch at the Scarborough Hotel – January 2011

Australia Day – January 2011

Sydney’s Hyde Park and Botanic Gardens – January 2011

Power Plant Exhibit – January 2011

Chinese New Year in Sydney – February 2011

Sydney Miscellaneous – February-April 2011

Sydney’s Royal Easter Show – April 2011

Sydney Festival 2011: Symphony in The Domain

Our second week went by smoothly. Kristen officially started class and I’m still getting to know my way around the ThoughtWorks office and the CBD (Central Business District, for those of you just tuning in). Sydney, though not an exceptionally well-laid out city, has an abundance of high quality public venues and festivals to make use of them. One of the most prominent is the aptly-named Sydney Festival. Held every January since 1977, the festival includes close to 100 music, performance and art events spread throughout the city.

The Domain and the skyline

Some of the most popular events are the open air concerts in the Domain, an extensive set of parks, museums and monuments on the east side of the city. Only a 10 minute walk from most of downtown, the Domain is Sydney’s equivalent of Chicago’s Millennium and Grant Parks; an expansive green space for events, festivals and general recreation (I play soccer there every Monday). It is part of a larger downtown park system that includes Hyde Park to the southwest and the Botanic Gardens to the north, with the iconic Sydney Opera House at the northwestern tip. Check out the map for a better idea of the layout.

Music in the city

We attended the second of the three open air concerts, called Symphony in the Domain. An event that normally attracts upwards of 80,000 people, it combines the feel of Ravinia with the location of Pritzker Pavilion. This year the Sydney Symphony was accompanied by readings from Shakespeare and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs.

Bats in the Domain

We arrived pretty close to the start of the show, so we opted to grab a seat in the grass off to the side, though still in view of the stage. While waiting for the show to begin, Kristen headed over to the concession area to get us a snack while I took a few pictures of the area. One of the first things we noticed were the bats. Native to Australia, grey-headed flying-foxes, also known as fruit bats, are abundant in the parks of Sydney and can be seen roosting in the trees.

1812 Overture with Fireworks and Cannons

While the entire concert was great, what primarily attracted us (Kristen in particular) was the finale performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. A staple of Ravinia’s Labor Day Spectacular (which we’ve attended twice), the 1812 Overture is often accompanied by pyrotechnics of some sort. In this case, the performance was accompanied by fireworks, cannons, and fireworks coming out of cannons… an excellent way to end the show.

Like most major cities, there are always an abundance of events, shows, concerts and festivals going on in Sydney. For example, in a few weeks we plan to attend Tropfest, Sydney’s short film festival. You’ll find plenty to do when you come (and you should!)