For everyone who wanted an update – here you go. Get ready for a big one…
This week my life is different in one million ways to what it was like last week. Yes, I’m still in Australia but that is pretty much where the similarities end. My bank balance is significantly lighter, my long-term plan is a lot more solid, and whilst my bed is not as comfortable, I’m sleeping like a baby due to the hours of walking, exploring, climbing, getting lost, and general mayhem that a nomadic travelling lifestyle consists of.
The main difference is though that I’m no longer a solo traveller! My plan was always to meet Helen in Sydney around Christmastime. I’ve known Helen since I was at school. We’ve been friends for a very long time, in fact we worked it out the other day, and we became friends in Year 10 of Secondary School, which was a while ago. We’ve also been out of the UK together before, so I know that it’s going to be a breeze for us to spend every waking moment together. Primarily because we will not be spending every waking moment together.
In the past week, we’ve been checking out the sights and thrills Sydney has to offer. Christmas Day was spent on Coogee Beach. That was really weird because there was not a turkey in sight and it was possibly the first Christmas in the last decade or so when I didn’t consume an alcoholic beverage! There was ample opportunity of course, but spending the entire day in the sunshine, I figured it was wiser to just stick to water and fizzy drinks. The number of people who managed to get drunk and high and get sunstroke wasn’t even funny.
One “must-do” item that Helen and I have ticked off the list is the coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee beaches. It’s a really lovely walk that has a slight detour in it through the biggest and most impressive cemetery I’ve ever seen. The views out to the sea were awesome and of course I took the opportunity to take some pictures. Not too many though. Don’t want Thierry getting heatstroke now, do we?
We saw the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is a truly iconic structure that sits literally across the water from another beautiful piece of architecture called the Sydney Opera House, don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it…? And we climbed it. The Bridge. Helen is terrified of heights but has been determined to climb this thing for about a year now. It cost us a small fortune, but the views were incredible, and when are we going to have that opportunity again!? The guide who took us up has been orchestrating climbs for 17 years now; he was such a lovely guy. He shared with us some tips on seeing the fireworks for New Year’s Eve, so we’re going to go on a hunt for this elusive place that you can just rock up to at 11.30pm and still find a nice spot, chill out and enjoy the evening entertainment.
I went to the Botanical Gardens the other day and took a ride on the Choo Cho Train that does laps around the park, whilst giving you a quick history about some of the things you can see. It was kind of annoying because there was a non-English speaking family sitting right behind me and they were talking very loudly over the commentary. I think one of them was doing a translation for some of the more interesting bits, but that kind of defeated the object, because halfway through the translation, they were missing some of the other facts! I went back to the Gardens a few days later and took some pictures of the bits that I remembered, like the tree that Draco Malfoy is named after: the Dracaena draco.
There were also some extra little pathways that I skipped over the first time, like this Lions’ gate and this Japanese Garden. Then there was a perfect opportunity to pose Thierry like he was feeding a bird with a mangled foot a banana (honestly, I’m surprised as you are that I can still find original shots like these! I thought I’d done all I could with the little piece of plastic!). There was a succulent garden with some information about tequila and agave plants, and all I got from that was that tequila comes from a plant, so it must be good for you.
There are a lot of war memorials around Australia. They really take the whole “dying for your country” thing very seriously. In Melbourne, there is the everlasting flame outside the shrine of remembrance, and in Sydney, there is not only the Anzac Bridge, but the Anzac memorial. It’s in a nice quiet part of Hyde Park, which brings me to another point about Australia. I understand that it’s a relatively “new” country (completely ignoring the fact that the Aboriginal people of this land has lived here peacefully for tens of thousands of years without any bother), but they lack any originality in naming places. Just looking at a train map of Melbourne, there is a Richmond, Burnley, Doncaster, even Cheltenham. Looking at the Sydney map, there’s Kings Cross, Paddington, Oxford Street, Greenwich, Woolwich and even a Newcastle! Plus another Cheltenham. Seriously… when people ask me where I’m from, and I say Cheltenham, they nod and smile and I have a better reaction here than when I was at Uni!
The last majorly touristy thing I’ve done here in Sydney is a walking tour. I’m not going to lie, it was long and tiring and my feet hurt quite a bit when I finally got back to the hostel and took my Converses off. We got to see a lot of Queen Victoria statues around the city, as well as her talking dog, and admire the quintessentially British architecture. In fact, something that I found really quite fascinating is that once the settlers moved over to Sydney and the city started growing, they decided to build some nice big buildings for official purposes. Like St Andrews Cathedral, and later St Mary’s for the Catholic worshippers. Like the Town Hall and Government House and other places. That’s not odd at all. What’s odd is that they designed and built these buildings to look far older than they actually are. Madness. There is a little street that reminded me of Melbourne and their street art obsession which was only supposed to be a short-term thing, but because of the success of the street, they kept it going. It’s a display of bird cages and as you walk down the street, you can hear the calls of birds that can no longer be heard in the city. It’s really quite beautiful, and the names of the bird species are carved into the ground.
There was a really cool statue of a bronze man sitting reading a newspaper in an inconspicuous square in the middle of the city centre. Apparently, one of the Johnsons’ Brothers (you know.. the guys who make the baby lotion and the soap…?) wasn’t involved in the family business, so took to making sculptures as his job. I think he took it pretty seriously because that is a genuine newspaper right there, and it’s a damn good recreation of a man. Look at the detail in his face.
My ears perked right up when our guide said we were visiting the rum hospital, because I like rum. Apparently, once the settlers came across, they needed a decent sized hospital, so the government decided to only let 4 people sell rum, provided that they used their profits to build a hospital. Turns out, the people living in Sydney at the time bought so much rum, that they had enough money to build a hospital three times the size that it needed to be. At the time, the East Wing was reserved for doctors and nurses to live in and today, it forms part of the Mint, where they make money for a fair few countries around the world, including England! A relatively new addition to the rum hospital is the pig outside the West Wing. It is said that if you rub the nose of the pig, you will have good luck, and so the nose of the pig has been rubbed a nice shiny brass compared to the rest of him. Of course, Thierry wanted to have a go. Maybe he wants some luck as he needs a little reconstructive surgery himself, as a slight accident has caused an inadvertent but completely rectifiable amputation. I’ll keep you posted on his recovery, once we’ve found a suitable operating theatre and some surgical equipment (aka super glue).
So there you have it. A nice long post about all the exciting things I’ve managed to get up to in the last week. And a good few pictures too. Moving forwards, I’m not sure how often I’m going to be able to post, but now that we’ve booked all our accommodation and bus travel all the way up the east coast, down through the Outback and to bring me full circle to Melbourne, I’m confident there are going to be a lot of things to keep you all updated on. And I can’t wait.