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Where to Stay When in Sydney

September 7, 2006

Though most hotels are in the convenient but rather soulless Central Business District, Darlinghurst makes a better home base. It's walking distance from many eastern neighborhoods, it has good transportation options, and it's a destination in itself. The Chelsea is a pair of joined Victorian houses on a residential lane. Rooms are bright and spacious, and it's a value (chelseaguesthouse.com, en suite doubles from $110). For a CBD value, try the Blacket, which has minimalist decor at Target prices; many rooms come with substantial kitchenettes (blackethotel.com.au, doubles officially from $161, though deals do pop up). The recently renovated Hilton Sydney is a worthy CBD splurge. It has tons of amenities--including a massive gym--and the gadget-filled rooms are designed in such a way as to make a fairly small space seem larger (hiltonsydney.com.au, Internet rates from $184).

Recommended reading

The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide ($19) is indispensable for visitors who care about eating well--and you should!--with concise reviews of restaurants in every corner of the city; it's on sale everywhere. Luxe Sydney (luxecityguides.com, $9), as the title suggests, is upscale-oriented, but its "shopping itineraries" make excellent neighborhood walking tours for anyone.

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There's Something About Sydney: Balmain

The harborside neighborhood of Balmain has an enviable list of amenities--water views, stylish shops, a great flea market, cool cafés, plenty of Sydney's distinctive two-story houses--and a nickname to match. Residents call it the Insular Peninsula. "You can go for weeks without leaving," says Mylie Hagan, who lived in Balmain as a teenager and moved back a few years ago. That's exactly why hip young families are flocking to the once working-class suburb, turning it into Sydney's version of Brooklyn's Park Slope or San Francisco's Noe Valley. "The stereotype about Balmain is that it's full of yuppie couples, each with a dog and a pram," says Hagan. "The husband is in design and the wife is in media." Hagan is joking at her own expense. She's in public relations, her husband is an architect, and they have a labradoodle and a toddler. Balmain is a 10-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay. Ferries land at the Balmain East Wharf, at the foot of Darling Street. The area is considered East Balmain and is still fairly residential; restaurants have just begun moving in. Sojourn, serving European-inspired fare that's on a par with far fancier establishments downtown, is a few steps up the hill. "We wanted to make refined cooking affordable, so people can come once a month, instead of once a year," says chef Paul Camilleri, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Kim (she's the pastry chef and hostess). Cute, bright Tisu also knows how to please the locals. The staffers squeeze fresh juice, make a solid espresso, and put out puzzle books for all the toddlers. Each Saturday, an eclectic array of vendors display their wares in the yard of St. Andrew's Church at the Balmain Market. Cheery haggling takes place over surprisingly chic jewelry, hippie clothing, piles of Uggs, and all-purpose cleaning fluid. The most crowded booths are the ones selling baby onesies with cute sayings like I DO ALL MY OWN STUNTS. When they're done picking up duds for the kids, the "yummy mummies," as they're known locally, might wander over to DuckeggBlue, a whitewashed boutique that carries Aussie labels such as Lee Matthews and Cohen et Sabine. Dads will find more to their liking at Alfie's Little Brother Carter. The store stocks both men's and women's street wear by popular local designers, cool sneakers, and plenty of the ankle-hugging skinny jeans that Sydneysiders favor. A sign painted above the register says MY NAME IS FREDDY, YOU CAN ASK ME ANYTHING. Sure enough, store manager Freddy Unterfenger, a German expat, is as approachable as advertised. Freddy isn't Balmain's only European import. At her boulangerie, Victoire, Myriam Cordellier-Wever dispenses Provençal travel advice along with delectable baguettes and pastries. The Continental vibe continues at Bertoni Casalinga, a deli and café founded by two Italian brothers, who alternately greet guests with "Ciao!" and "Cheers!" while their mamma cooks pastas, pizzas, and soups in back. The communal table is packed elbow-to-elbow, and everything is served on disposable plates. As a woman dips into a bowl of free candies sitting by the register, the barista looks up. "Have you been good?" he asks. "Because those candies are only for bad girls!" He laughs, sending her off with a friendly "ciao." Food   Sojourn 79 Darling St., 011-61/2-9555-9764, assiette of pork $21, lunch Fridays only   Victoire 285 Darling St., 011-61/ 2-9818-5529, apple tart $5   Bertoni Casalinga 281 Darling St., 011-61/ 2-9818-5845, pizza $4   Tisu 61 Darling St., 011-61/ 2-9810-2790 Shopping   DuckeggBlue 246 Darling St., 011-61/ 2-9810-8855   Alfie's Little Brother Carter 348 Darling St., 011-61/ 2-9555-5222   Balmain Market 223 Darling St., 011-61/2-9555-1791   Nightlife London Hotel 234 Darling St., 011-61/ 2-9555-1377

There's Something About Sydney: Surry Hills

The pretty, tree-lined streets of Surry Hills, a 10-minute bus ride from the CBD, used to be a sketchy place, where vandalism and burglary were regular occurrences. "When we moved in 10 years ago, the neighborhood was quite rough," says Bryan Fitzgerald, co-owner of Chee Soon & Fitzgerald, a compact shop stuffed with bright pillows and mod housewares. "Our windows got smashed all the time." These days, it's Sydneysiders who are getting smashed, over nine-course tasting menus. That's because Surry Hills has become the epicenter of Sydney's food scene. "It's the most interesting spot in town," says Nick Hildebrandt, co-owner and sommelier of the six-month-old Bentley Restaurant & Bar, where the boisterous crowd enjoying forward-thinking cuisine (a raw oyster wrapped in grapefruit and served on pork crackling, for instance) typifies the area's unpretentious, high/low vibe. The intersection of Crown and Oxford Streets is noisy, but as you head south on Crown, the bus traffic is soon replaced by rustling leaves, closet-sized boutiques, and countless outdoor cafés. Two longtime Surry Hills landmarks sit two doors apart. At Billy Kwong, Kylie Kwong cooks light, modern Chinese fare; at Bills Surry Hills, style-setters break their no-carb rule for Bill Granger's legendary ricotta pancakes. Hot new restaurants have followed one after the other. As good as the Italian food is at Lo Studio, which opened at the end of 2005, the setting is the big draw. The 1940s art deco building used to be the Australian offices of Paramount Pictures. Bird Cow Fish, which recently relocated from Balmain, serves everything in its name (and more), including crispy-skinned chicken confit and an impressive cheese selection, in a dark-wood room with a long communal table. Around the corner is what might be Sydney's finest coffee--fighting words in this city. Numero Uno Coffee, a bean roaster and barista-training company, runs a one-table espresso bar out of its business office, which used to be a garage. "I went to New York and I was just shocked," says co-owner Gina DiBrita. "The coffee there is crap." Or sip a "flat white"--the Aussie take on cappuccino, which subtracts the foam--at Coffee, Tea or Me?, a snug café with great sandwiches and fashion ambition: The tip jar is labeled MANOLO BLAHNIKS FUND. Surry Hills has become a shopping destination as well. Sydney designer Fiona Buckingham sells her own line of clothing--imagine Eileen Fisher after a long holiday in the Far East--at Kyotap. The name is an acronym for Keeping Yourself Open to All Possibilities. "I know it sounds daft," she says, laughing. "But it's supposed to be inspiring." And the two-level hipster department store Orson & Blake stocks quirky street fashion, art books, and furniture all under one roof--with a café, of course. After all the Eames-inspired chairs, the dusty, cluttered atmosphere of Davidmetnicole comes as a relief. David met Nicole, in case anyone was wondering, while they were each working at vintage stores in London's Portobello Road; he's British, she's Australian. They moved Down Under and opened a shop selling their cleverly curated Anglocentric oddities: vintage matches, old lightbulbs, leather chairs, and pre-worn clothing, all artfully arranged as if it's not arranged at all. The shop is constantly being visited by stylists in search of stuff--animal heads, British military uniforms, and so on--for photo shoots. David, whose last name is Page, doesn't feel quite at home in Sydney yet. "Sometimes, it's like the vacuous side of California," he notes drily. But he's found a happy medium in Surry Hills. "There was a vibe about this area. Coming from London, we wanted a bit of edginess. And Surry Hills definitely has that." Food   Bentley 320 Crown St., 011-61/2-9332-2344, oysters $3   Billy Kwong 3/355 Crown St., 011-61/ 2-9332-3300, duck in orange sauce $32   Bills Surry Hills 359 Crown St., 011-61/2-9360-4762, pancakes $13   Lo Studio 53-55 Brisbane St., 011-61/ 2-9212-4118, slow-roasted goat $27   Bird Cow Fish 500 Crown St., 011-61/2-9380-4090, chicken confit $27   Numero Uno Coffee 63 Nickson St., 011-61/2-8399-0111   Coffee, Tea or Me? 536 Crown St., 011-61/2-9331-3452, sandwiches $5 Shopping   Chee Soon & Fitzgerald 387 Crown St., 011-61/2-9360-1031   Kyotap 21 Mary St., 011-61/2-9280-2737   Orson & Blake 483 Riley St., 011-61/2-8399-2525   Davidmetnicole 382 Cleveland St., 011-61/2-9698-7416

There's Something About Sydney: Waterloo

Waterloo's swift turn from light-industrial wasteland to buzzy arts district has happened so fast that the neighborhood isn't even listed in most guidebooks or on tourist maps. But it's only 20 minutes by taxi from the Central Business District (CBD), or a 15-minute walk south of Surry Hills. "This is the new hip bohemian area," says Beatrix Van Dissel, a salesclerk at Salvage, a six-month-old store stocking antiques and intriguing objets d'art, such as a 1920s Argentinian glass candy dispenser. A decade ago, however, Waterloo was nothing but warehouses and a few public-housing buildings. "There would've been no point to come before, unless you wanted to buy a washing machine or whatever," says Barry McDonald, whose Italian-style grocery Fratelli Fresh is an icon of Waterloo's growth spurt. After selling an online-grocery operation to a giant supermarket chain, Barry and his brother Jamie chose a Waterloo printing factory for their latest venture: "We just fell in love with the building," says Barry. Fratelli Fresh's first floor is a mix of blue-collar and upper-crust. While forklifts race around filling orders for Fratelli Fresh's main business--supplying restaurants with produce--women in Chanel shades and riding boots peruse the fruits and veggies. The potato selection alone--more than 10 kinds, including rare types like Coliban Chats, Dutch Cream, and Pink Eye--puts Whole Foods to shame. On the second floor, past stacks of capers and sardines, businessmen and members of the leisure class lunch at Sopra, a cheerful and extremely reasonable white-on-white trattoria with a blackboard menu of paninis, soups, and salads. The most recent addition to the Fratelli Fresh empire is Vicino, an unfinished room filled with pasta bowls and other Italian housewares. Waterloo's other hive of activity, an arts complex known as 2 Danks Street, is a repurposed Kodak factory. The brainchild of Sydney lawyer and philanthropist Leo Christie, 2 Danks Street is home to some of Sydney's best art galleries. "When I first saw the building it was derelict--a devastating hailstorm tore giant holes in the roof--but you could see the bones of it," says Christopher Hodges, whose Utopia Art Sydney was the first tenant. "It had a southern exposure, high ceilings, cement floors--it was perfect for galleries." Five years later, Hodges' gallery of monumental aboriginal paintings shares the building with a handful of respected spaces like Stella Downer Fine Art (contemporary Australian works) and Conny Dietzschold Gallery (an impressive international and local mix). "It's less conservative work than the galleries in neighborhoods like Paddington," explains Claire Taylor of the Dietzschold Gallery. "The giant spaces are better suited to people trying new things." The success of 2 Danks Street has lured more galleries to the area. Gallery Gondwana's vivid, almost psychedelic paintings fill a second-story loft across the street. The art crowd's canteen, the Danks Street Depot, is an airy room with an industrial-style cement floor. Chef-owner Jared Ingersoll serves seasonal, Mediterranean-influenced rustic dishes like crispy polenta cakes and spinach hash with poached eggs. Outside, the clamor of hammers and saws fills the air. It's the sound of gentrification, as more galleries and hundreds of apartments are under construction in the surrounding blocks. "When I started, the whole street was a tabula rasa, and you could park 200 cars on the block," says Hodges. "Now you can't find a space!" Food   Sopra 7 Danks St., 011-61/2-9699-3174, saffron risotto $12   Danks Street Depot 2 Danks St., 011-61/2-9698-2201, hash and eggs $11 Activities   Utopia Art Sydney 2 Danks St., 011-61/2- 9699-2900   Stella Downer Fine Art 2 Danks St., 011-61/2- 9319-1006   Conny Dietzschold Gallery 2 Danks St., 011-61/2- 9690-0215   Gallery Gondwana 7 Danks St., 011-61/2- 8399-3492 Shopping   Salvage 2 Danks St., 011-61/2- 9699-1005   Fratelli Fresh 7 Danks St., 011-61/2- 9699-3161   Vicino 7 Danks St., 011-61/2-9698-7166

Updated Airport Security Rules

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has loosened some of the carry-on security rules originally imposed after the announcement that London authorities had exposed a suspected airline terror plot back on August 10. In general, liquids, gels, and lotions are still not permitted in carry-on luggage and must be disposed of before you board the plane. But there are some new exceptions that are important to travelers: Small amounts of baby formula and breast milk if a baby or small child is traveling Liquid prescription medicine with a name that matches the passenger's ticket Up to 5 oz. (148ml) of liquid or gel low blood sugar treatment Up to 4 oz. of essential non-prescription liquid medications including saline solution, eye care products and KY jelly Gel-filled bras and similar prosthetics Gel-filled wheelchair cushions Life support and life sustaining liquids such as bone marrow, blood products, and transplant organs carried for medical reasons In addition, according to the TSA, you are also now permitted to carry on solid cosmetics and personal hygiene items such as lipstick, lip balm and similar solids. But these must be solid and not liquid, gel or aerosol. So while lipstick is now approved, lip gloss is not. Powder-based deodorants are allowed, but gel or aerosol deodorants cannot be carried on. Bottom line? Check for the latest updates before you fly. The TSA lists prohibited and allowable carry items on its Web site here: tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm And most airline Web sites also provide a link to the latest TSA rules on their sites.

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