Things sometimes just fall into place. When I was planning my trips for 2013, I envisioned myself in Melbourne in January, sweating profusely due to the summer heat and swatting flies with wild abandons, just so I can catch Cirque du Soleil’s Ovo. Something came up, and I needed to push it to May, but since my Australian tourist visa application took longer than expected, I ended up coming here mid-June.
One of the best things about Shangri-la are their personal welcome messages. Aside from this chocolate-y surprise and welcome note, there’s also a personal message on the TV sreen.
It was just as well, since I was able to catch some great exhibits at the National Gallery of Victoria, score some great deals at Kathmandu, and get the full Australian winter experience. Best of all, another e-mail came from Shangri-La while I was here. It was really lucky because they have a few properties in Australia, and since I was headed to Sydney to visit Khursten, they invited me to stay at the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney.
The dark grey bar in the TV shows is a personal welcome note to the occupants of the room. They have this in all of the Shangri-la Hotels
I was ecstatic upon getting the invitation, and could not contain my excitement. I reigned it in though, when I told Khursten, though. She has just arrived in Australia, and I wanted to surprise her with something special since it might be years before we see each other again.
When we got to Circular Quay, I started walking towards Shangri-La, trying vainly to stop looking at the towering building. There’s no direct access from Circular Quay, and Khursten offered to do the navigation, care of Google Maps. I gave her the address, and she led us up the stairs through the posh neighborhood of The Rocks, ending up right at the hotel. She looked around, wondering where 176 Cumberland Street was, when I said “we’re here,” while pointing out the gold Shangri-La sign by the building’s side entrance.
She was shocked and amazed, and I was just relieved and hoped that it was good enough to make up for me letting her slather a huge dollop of Vegemite on her buttered bread.
We headed up to the reception, and thanks to Shangri-La’s express check-in, wherein you are asked to send your personal information to the hotel via email after receiving your booking confirmation, we were on our way to our room on the 18th floor in no time.
I let Khursten enter the room first, and just a couple of steps in, she squealed, delighted by the view from our room. All of Shangri-La Sydney’s rooms have gorgeous views of the city: there are rooms that face the Sydney Opera House, rooms that have a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Darling Harbour, and the best of all, rooms with a grand view of the bridge and the opera house. What made it even better are the window seats you can perch on while soaking in the sights.
Though we were enamored with the view, we had to pry ourselves from the window to change to our swim suits (or bathers, as the Aussies call them), for a quick dip in the pool before dinner. The Shangri-La Hotel Sydney has an indoor pool where you can swim laps, but also getting its fair share of attention was the jacuzzi where you can soak all your troubles away. Well, not really, but soaking in hot water after walking around all day is a very yummy treat.
We met with Jessica Somers-Haggie, Shangri-La Hotel Sydney’s Director for Communications for dinner at Altitude Restaurant on the 36th floor. Though the view from our window on the 18th floor was already spectacular, the view from the restaurant’s floor to ceiling windows are simply exquisite, specially with the glittering lights from the buildings, houses, streets, cars, and boats below. Not surprisingly, the restaurant and the connected Blu Bar are two of the hottest spots in Sydney for New Year’s Eve.
We were ushered to a table with the same grand view as in our room, and our attention was immediately taken by the menu presented. There were so many interesting dishes in the menu that it was hard to choose, so we let Chef Matthew McCool choose for us. Aside from the ala carte menu, Altitude Restaurant offer an Epi-curious menu, a 7-course degustation menu that takes you through a sampling of Altitude’s best sellers from start to finish. For the more adventurous eaters like us, you can opt for the Chef’s Menu, a 9-course degustation, which leaves you at the mercy of the chefs.
It’s not Fear Factor, but rather a series of delectable surprises. We were introduced to unfamiliar ingredients, we marveled at combinations we never thought would work, and we delighted in the wonders of meat cooked the way we never thought possible (like the very tender wild boar). If you ever get a chance to dine at Altitude, indulge yourself and go for the Chef’s Menu.
After dinner, we waddled down to our room, too full and sated for anything else. We did manage to resist the call of our fluffy beds, Khursten opting for the work desk for her readings, and I to the arm chair to upload photos. The call of the cushions became insistent, and in just an hour after, we were burrowing under the covers.
It was another beautiful sunny day in Sydney when we woke up, and the first thing we did upon getting up was to walk to the windows and take in the sight of the harbour. A cruise ship has pulled in that morning, and we chuckled that we can see what’s playing in the ship’s huge outdoor theatre screen.
We headed down to the first floor for breakfast at Cafe Mix. Like most hotel breakfast buffets, it offers an extensive variety of breakfast fare for all kinds of diet and preference. What impressed me the most was the lovely display of milk and juices in one side, and the freshest honey, straight from a honeycomb. Cafe Mix is their all-day dining restaurant, which was also the venue of last year’s Philippine Food Festival. Chefs from Shangri-La Hotels in Makati were flown in for the occasion, and we were please to know that it wasn’t just Filipinos who enjoyed the spread of Filipino cuisine. The make-your-own halo-halo was a big hit, according to Jessica.
We retreated back to our room after breakfast to savor our last couple of hours at the hotel before checking out. Khursten ran a bath and continued her reading there, while I lost myself in the annoyingly addicting Mirrors of Albion game. There’s complimentary wi-fi throughout the entire hotel and there’s a power point right beside my bed, so I was snug as a bug in bed with my tablet.
As 11 o’clock loomed near, we bade one last look at the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge and sighed wistfully. It really is one of the most beautiful harbours in the world.
Full album from our Shangri-La stay at the Just Wandering Facebook page.
Huge thanks go out to Jessica for the lovely time at the Shangri-La Hotel Sydney, and to Bonnie Ang of Shangri-La for making this possible.