Seeing the lights at VIVID festival
June in Sydney means 2 things. Winter and the VIVID festival.
Now in its 11th year, VIVID was started as a Smart Light festival, a Music festival and a Talk-Fest all at once apparently to boost winter visitors numbers to the city. It appears to have worked, as every year, we are battling increasingly big crowds around Circular Quay to interact with light structures of all sorts of shapes and sizes. The program changes every year be it for VIVID Light, but also VIVID Live ( the music fest ) and VIVID Ideas ( the talk fest ) and I like how there is something for everyone. In the past the kids and I attended a talk show with film maker Oliver Stone, Symphonic Dance Anthems concert, and I even dragged my parents for a stroll in the bitter cold for one last look at Sydney before their flight home to France!
Mr T is not keen on wandering in the city, nor is he into modern art however he loves having a drink and trying new things, so coercing him to come along for a VIVID night out is easy, as long as it includes a pub crawl and a staycation. Which is just what we did last week.
We arrive in the city at lunch time, earlier than planned but as the weather forecast is for a southerly change and a massive cold front hitting Sydney overnight, I decided to make the most of the dry and sunny day.
We walk down to the Gateway building where the kids and I once feasted on dumplings but Mr T isn’t that hungry and says he’d rather have just a cappuccino and a biscuit instead. My face drops for a second, then I recover with a suggestion that we go for Malaysian at Jimmy’s Recipe instead as I know he can’t resist a good laksa and I have recently read a review on this blog. Ours is a small order of chicken laksa and roti with curry sauce which turns out to be enough to share ( he’s not hungry, remember!) Servings are generous, the soup is deliciously filling with a mix of thin vermicelli noodles and thick hokkien noodles. It is spicy but not overly hot, and I see the guy sitting next to us adding a good amount of extra chilli. The roti is great with its own curry sauce and also to mop up what is left of the laksa soup, so much that Mr T completely forgets about his earlier coffee craving.
We head towards the Rocks and walk under the harbour bridge, checking out the lights installations in daylight and trying to map out where to go in the evening. This part of the city is fairly quite, save for a few tourists, some asian couples being photographed in wedding outfits on the harbour foreshore, or the odd group of primary school students on excursion. Maybe because it is a Monday. Somehow we manage to get lost wandering up and down small laneways, in my case, I am distracted by foundation sandstones and heritage listed cottages.
By then it is time to check in at our accomodation, the Holiday Inn Old Sydney, located right in the middle of the Rocks. It turns out our room isn’t ready yet, so we kill time on the rooftop checking out the great harbour view and expecting to find a bar there but there is none, only a small pool and spa. Mr T gets thirsty and declares Happy Hour started ( at least in his mind ) so we end up at the Observer Hotel next door, our first pit stop. A quieter pub would be impossible to find, we are the only people there! One drink is enough for me, and I convince Mr T to go back and check into our room again. Thank god we’re let in, so we can at least drop our bags, warm up a little ( the temperature has started to drop dramatically ) before heading out again.
The Argyle is on Mr T’s mind, having walked past it earlier and liking the look of it. He orders a beer and I go for a lemon lime and soda, because I am pacing myself and it is only late afternoon. I actually wish it was later, because the space has such a mix of historic feel and trendy vibes, I would love to see it come to life with a crowd. For now, only a handful of people are there, mostly suits knocking off early and no one is lining at the bar. Yet.
We cross the street, to the Endeavour Tap Rooms which look as cosy as the Argyle feels cavernous. We are ushered into one of the small rooms, and told about how Endeavour brewery Co is brewing its own beer onsite and offers 8 different styles. Mr T can’t decide which to choose so he orders a mystery tasting paddle, where 4 samples are picked for him: a Pale Ale that is relatively light, a nitrogenated dark amber that tastes like strong coffee ( or Guiness, depends who you ask ), a grapefruity deceivingly strong wheat beer, and a fourth one I can’t remember the details of except that it was mr T’s favourite. I am usually a wine fan but ordered the special Vivid cocktail, out of curiosity. It was a mix of vodka, cointreau, fruits of the forests and citrus with a slice of burnt orange. A distinct fruity flavour but not overly sweet, what a nice change it was!
By then, the sun is gone and as darkness falls, the streets starts alighting, this is our cue to go and see the VIVID light installations. The Light Walk stretches from the bridge’s southern pylon along the Harbour foreshore all the way to the Royal Botanical Garden and Farm Cove. That’s a little too far for us to walk, so we stick to the Rocks area with plenty to keep us busy already. We start at the Argyle Cut where Pixar Animation has multiple projectors showing images of various stages of developments of movies on the underpass. Most people lay on the ground to get a better look at the projections and it is easy to sit thru the retrospective for ages as your favourite characters fly before your eyes ( mine was Woody, but I think it is because I like Tom Hank’s voice ).
Making our way down towards Circular Quay we can’t miss the Samsung Electric Playground, not just because it has quite a few installations but also the massive queue of people wanting to try the electric slide. We skip that and wander to the quay along the MCA with vantage spots to watch the Austral Flora Ballet over the sails of the SOH and the Let Me down animation across the front of the MCA.
There is a lot more to see, and as we walk around, we encounter a ballerina here, fluffy clouds there, or even cheeky seagulls in the back of an alleyway.
Mr T tries to entice me to the American Express Lounge on the Cruise terminal rooftop, then to the Glenmore rooftop for killer views of the harbour and the SOH. Sadly for him, it is standing room at the bar only and I prefer to make a quick exit once I snap a couple of shots. It may be a Monday night but by now it is quite busy.
At some point, we decide to have a snack and rather than sit down at yet another pub, we try a twisted potato on a stick at one of the Food trucks because Mr T has never had one before.
It hits the spot and buys us a little more time to stroll around, until we both agree that the cold and drizzly rain is getting annoying and we should find somewhere warm for an easy dinner.
Neither of us feel like anything big and fancy so we walk in the first joint at hand, which happens to be Ribs and Burgers. The place is packed but we manage to snag a table and while it is table service, you have to order your drinks and meals at the counter. I am sent to queue, though I have no idea what I want, but the line is long enough for me to leisurely peruse the menu, work out our order and even make friends with the bunch of American tourists behind me! Just as well I picked up drinks while at it, as it takes a while for our meals to arrive ( service is friendly, they just seem to struggle with the amount of customers ). My beef ribs are delicious, the meat succulent and falling off the bone. Served with chips, it is just the kind of meal you want on a cold winter’s night after a few drinks.
Mr T’s burger is another story. The nicest thing I can say is that the bun and the fixings are the best parts. The beef patty is so dry and overcooked, it is inedible. We are both shocked that a burger can actually be bad, even more so when I hear the kids at the table next to us, rave about theirs saying it’s the best burger ever! Wow, maybe we’re unlucky. We don’t mention anything to the staff, they’re running off their feet as it is.
Instead, we head to Gelatissimo and comfort ourselves with ice cream: a triple scoop of salted caramel, coffee and tiramisu ice cream for Mr T and a single serve of Mocha in Black for me ( a mix of cocoa and coffee gelato with activated charcoal ).
Then it’s time to call it a night and return to our hotel which happens to have the best view of the Sydney Opera House all lit up. I drag Mr T up to the rooftop again, ignoring his comments that our room sits on the top floor and has a pretty good harbour view too, this time I am equiped with tripod, gloves and beanie as I plan to spend a little while there. I mean, how often do we get to sit in such a great spot?