Heart, and Soul, of the City

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With eight weeks until Christmas and high summer, planning now for school holidays and travel is essential. If Sydney with its huge array of attractions is your destination, booking no later than this month secures the best remaining availability and rates for accommodation during the high-demand peak season. Leaving arrangements longer adds to costs, reduces options and will certainly impact inevitable festive frustration.

This urgency was evident on my recent visit to Sydney for a tourism convention and preview of the Sydney summer shows. Leaving it till last minute saw my trip clash with many conferences and events I hadn’t considered; my favourite hotels had no vacancies. Happily, serendipity struck and I discovered a lesser-known gem well worth sharing. 

Breakfree on George is a newly-refurbished property amid bustling Chinatown, managed by the respected Mantra Group. This isn’t your five-star elite retreat in the rarefied environs of Circular Quay – yet one that has superior practical attributes for holidaying couples and families at budget rates. Its location is its special appeal: with dual frontages on George and Sussex streets it gives ease of access to major city attractions. Breakfree’s modest exterior belies the fact it offers the same crisp white sheets and towels, immaculate bathroom, bath and hand-held shower, morning newspaper, car parking, wifi and Foxtel at half the price of big-name hotels. (So: stay twice as long!) Better than many top-rated establishments are its efficient lifts and aircon, personable staff and self-catering facilities with bar or full-size fridge for the economy of preparing in-room meals. Enjoy yum cha at many adjacent outlets and go on foot for slap-up Chinese dining day and night, minutes away. Paddy’s Markets and Central Station are nearby and, best of all, Capitol Square Light Rail stop is at the door, its cheap frequent service sweeping you fast to various destinations: e.g., to Darling Harbour for King Street Wharf, Barangaroo, the aquarium, maritime museum and ferry connections, the ideal way to navigate around.

Sydney’s annual spring-summer season of top line shows and events has opened with an outstanding Sydney Opera House presentation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita, Tina Arena in the title role. The Joan Sutherland Theatre is a superb venue with excellent seats, sight lines and acoustics for the impressive orchestra and voices. Some 115 cast, musicians and crew perform for audience delectation (tickets from $58.40 incl booking fee, although you’ll spend more for the better seats. Hearing and wheelchair assistance facilities.) “Tour de force” describes Arena’s performance; her remarkable vocal range meets the exceptional demands of the fully-sung Broadway-West End piece. She’s seldom off stage, breathtaking in her endurance in the physically demanding role and its many costume changes, many elegantly effected right on stage. Parents: the production appeals, too, to children and teens studying dance (striking choreography, a twist on Argentine tango) or music, costume or staging (clever and poised.) Make a night, or matinee, of it. The Opera House is an experience in itself with good underground parking rates and harbourside bars and restaurants at reasonable prices, glittering views free. Arrive early or stay late but do allow good time to park and walk in, to arrive comfortably. For best enjoyment, brief yourself on the storyline beforehand. Playing till Saturday November 3.

Right next to Breakfree at the unmatchable Capitol Theatre see Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The songs are thrilling; the quartet, a true-to-life replica of the group, has the audience humming, clapping and toe-tapping along. As well as the all-time popular hits it’s a narrative of the group’s history woven through their music (note: repetitive “authentic Jersey” swearing, an American idiom possibly less irritating in its US staging, entirely pointless here.) Welcoming Capitol front-of-house staff dispense drinks into plastic to enjoy inside during the show. To Sunday December 9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from Saturday January 5.

Search the web for details of coming attractions: the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race start, NYE fireworks (free and alcohol-free vantage points), Sydney International Tennis from January 6, Sydney Festival opening January 9.

Evita image: Jeff Busby.

Travel Editor, Susie Boswell

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