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Sydney, City of Art

Sydney, City of Art

Shed winter's icy grip for a sun-soaked exploration of Sydney -- Australia's cultural capital.

You've seen sequined G-strings glistening in the Mardi Gras parade, the searing sensuality of oiled sunbathers along the area's many beaches, and glimpses of our skyline in keenly timed pauses during the Matrix films. Sumptuous eye candy spills out from every crevice of the city, though it's Sydney's artistic treats -- both visual and theatrical -- that truly feed the soul here.

Designed by J?rn Utzon in 1957, the Sydney Opera House is one of the world's most iconic edifices. White granite tiles impart a lustrous, reflective look to the outside; while minimalist tiered brush box plywood slats over pink granite enliven the interiors. But its pleasures extend beyond the eye-popping architecture or the forecourt steps, swarming annually with buff, bronzed revelers during the world-famous Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

The left wing (as viewed from the water) houses the Opera Theatre. The right wing boasts the much larger Concert Hall, hosting everything from symphonies and lectures to rock performances. Beneath it lie three different spaces: the Playhouse, the Drama Theatre, and the Studio, a decidedly gay-oriented venue, given its commitment to less traditional acts, including gay favorites Kiki and Herb and out crooner Rufus Wainwright.

On the other side of our famed Sydney Harbour Bridge stands Walsh Bay, home to the headquarters of the Sydney Theatre Company and its Sydney Theatre, an 896-seat auditorium completed in 2004 and gaining recognition as one of Sydney's best, as well as the Sydney Dance Company and a stunning wharf of new luxury apartments. The Walsh Bay piers are also the base for the Bangarra Dance Theatre, Australia's most respected indigenous troupe. Founded in 1989, it blends traditional elements of aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands ritualism with modern choreography -- sexy men in loincloths and war paint.

With many of the original convict-built houses still standing, the Rocks neighborhood -- site of the country's first European settlement -- is an astounding step back in time, showcasing hand-carved sandstone facades and pubs with classic signage from the early 1900s still swinging out front. You can easily imagine the dock bells ringing through smoke-filled streets, prisons crammed full of screaming larrikins, and the filthy cobblestone paths of Sydney's early days.

The Rocks becomes a huge open-air market on weekends, perfect for picking up hand-blown glass curios, carved wooden pieces, and aboriginal art sold by the artists themselves. Admittedly, there's a touristy element (indigenous dancers with didgeridoos, Irish pub music, and giggling children clash in a happy tableau), but it's still one of the best and cheapest places in Sydney to get an authentic objet d'art without hitting the gallery scene.

Home now to live music and film festivals, the heritage-listed State Theatre, built as a movie palace in 1929, has acoustics unrivaled in the city.

Of the same era, though completely renovated in 1995, is the Capitol Theatre in Chinatown. Emphasizing musical theater and dance, it recently hosted the revival of Chicago and Dame Edna Everage's 50th anniversary spectacular. In Kings Cross the SBW Stables Theatre and its resident Griffin Theatre Company have launched the careers of several notable Australian playwrights and in recent years smashed records with Tommy Murphy's adaptation of Timothy Conigrave's Holding the Man, the first Australian gay memoir to deal explicitly with HIV.

For visual treats, historic Paddington in Sydney's inner east area, home to the College of Fine Arts (and as many gay residents as better known Darlinghurst), is peppered with diverse and eclectic art galleries and lined with renovated nouveau riche mansions and bona fide terrace houses. Don't miss the hulking white contemporary gallery Roslyn Oxley9, which made front-page news for its exhibition of local artist Bill Henson's photography of adolescent nudes, or the nearby Hogarth Galleries collection of aboriginal art, classical and contemporary, formed from remote outback communities.

The eclecticism, diversity, and scandal of Paddington is the crux of Sydney's arts scene: an energetic push of the envelope and a demand to be recognized on an international stage. Sequin-clad or not, Aussies are preparing to take a bow.


Storrier Hotel

15 Springfield Ave., Potts Point; 800-62-11-33

A wunderkind art gallery-hotel hybrid inspired by and featuring works by Australian artist Tim Storrier; each of the 68 plush rooms is uniquely decorated.

The Chelsea

(49 Womerah Ave., Darlinghurst;

Newly renovated with terraces and boasting provincial French and modern decor, this is a gay-managed gem a mere 10 minutes' walk from the Oxford Street queer strip and steps from Victoria Street's restaurant row.

Simpsons Hotel

(8 Challis Ave., Potts Point; 011-61-2-9356-2199)

Down in the caf? society end of Potts Point, the Simpsons Hotel breathes intimacy and charm in a restored mansion dating back to 1892. A short walk from the galleries and Oxford Street, it's always booked up well in advance of Mardi Gras season.

Click here to win a trip for two to Sydney or Melbourne on the new Quantas A380!

More Australia:

Melbourne: Food Lover's Paradise

Perth: The Great Escape

Hobart: Romantic Getaway

Getting to Australia

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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