One week in Sydney

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?

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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. img_3167

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 img_3237and this Japanese Garden. img_3236Then 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!). img_3239There 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. img_3240

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. img_3241It’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!

Thimg_3207e 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.img_3217

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. img_3221img_3220

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).img_3213

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.

Christmas Blog from Coogee Beach

25th December. Bright blue skies, clear twinkling teal ocean and a sea of people – tourists, backpackers, Aussies and everything in between. Christmas is what you make of it, and today, it’s a time to think of all the Christmasses in years gone by that I wished I was somewhere hot and sunny and that this year, it’s a reality. 

I’m actually on the beach right now. It’s 2pm and getting pretty warm so there are less Santa hats around at the moment. But if you spend a minute looking, they’re everywhere.

Yes, we had a BBQ. No, I didn’t have prawns. Yes, I have more to update you on. No, not right now! I just wanted to put something up here to remind me in the future that this happened. That there were Brits behind us shouting “let’s do body shots!” and what they meant was, let’s slurp vodka out of each other’s belly buttons. That there are some fairly drunk Latina people to our right, blaring some easy listening music and blowing bubbles. That the sea is literally 20metres in front of where I’m sitting and that I’m going to jump in the (really cold!) water to cool off and then lie with my toes in the sand. Not a bad way to spend the festive season, eh?

Merry Christmas everyone. X

Christmas in the sunshine…

Right now, I’m sitting with a severely over-priced fresh fruit smoothie under a palm tree in one of the lesser frequented parks of Melbourne City Centre. To my left is the river, behind me is a skate park, in front of me I can see one edge of the Olympic Park that’s still under construction and to my right is a fairly busy main road. Alexandra Gardens is the name of this particular green oasis in the concrete jungle that is a city centre. And I can’t see any tinsel, any Christmas decorations, or hear the beat of a Christmas song (but maybe that’s due to late 90’s to early 00’s pop music blasting through my headphones right now… and my body’s too bootylicious for ya babe!).

That’s not to say that there aren’t signs of Christmas all over the place though. There’s a fantastic Nativity scene in the cute little Christmas Wonderland where you can meet Santa Claus (yeah, we did!) that’s all set up just along from the town hall, where there is a nightly illumination that may or may not have been designed by some people on a serious trip! There are some very large Christmas trees and a collection of super-tall Beefeaters that stand guard outside the town hall and along Swanston Street.

There is a beautiful recreation of Melbourne made from gingerbread and marzipan that is truly spectacular to see – Luna Park and the Royal Melbourne Childrens’ Hospital that I lived opposite to for a time are just a couple of examples that stood out for me.

There is a giant Christmas Bauble that is lit up with around a million tiny little fairy lights that you can’t quite appreciate in the day-time and you can’t really photograph in the night-time.

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Then there’s the job I’ve just finished. Knocking on doors means you walk through a lot of gardens, you see an incredible variety of Christmas decorations; and when you’re really lucky, you get to walk into a house. Some of these houses have got glittery Christmas wreaths on the door, twinkling lights from every window, “Please stop here, Santa!” signs, reindeer antlers poking out of family cars on the driveways, overlarge striped candy canes sticking out from flowerbeds or sad looking plant pots, or any combination of the above. Some of them have fake snow sprayed on to the inside of window panes. What the actual…? Why do people from the Southern Hemisphere feel the need to associate Christmas with snow? I’m not sure it has ever snowed in Melbourne, despite the thoroughly changeable weather. It’s not like baby, it’s cold outside kinda weather, but I’ve heard that one more than a couple times.

Next, the thought of a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings isn’t really floating it for me this year. I haven’t had any decent gravy since I left the UK. They do chips and gravy at the chip shops, but it’s just not the same as good old fashioned Bisto! Isn’t weird what you miss? In fact, I haven’t had a roast dinner in all the time I’ve been away, now that I think on it. The thought of putting the oven on and having roast potatoes when the temperature is going to be above 30 degrees in Sydney next week, not to mention the fact that I’m going to be in a hostel is not a welcome one. Anything off a BBQ that someone else has cooked though, sounds great to me! Christmas cookies though. I did make some of those.img_3020

Our work’s Christmas ‘do was a boat cruise down the Yarra River, and though it was a great excuse to dress up, and there was a lot of sparkling wine that got consumed, it only felt remotely Christmassy because we sang Fairytale of New York at the tops of our voices. And when I say “we”, what I actually mean is all the Brits! Apparently, that song doesn’t translate too well. I don’t know, probably because most of the words are slurred into one another, but it was a good nod to the festive season.

Lastly, I haven’t had to do any Christmas Shopping this year. I received a card with an essay in it, but I haven’t had anything else, not do I have any little kids in my life this year that I need to buy for. And that’s a lot of what Christmas is about these days, isn’t it? Peace on earth and goodwill to all men. And presents for the sake of presents. And family time, whether you want it or not. And I’m glad I don’t have to deal with the over-commercialised nature of Christmas this year like you get in the UK. Because it’s all so forced here, you don’t tend to get sucked into it like you do at home and it’s refreshing. Plus a BBQ on the beach sounds like my kind of Christmas.

Street Art and Wedding Shoots

You know when people get married, they have a photoshoot? I’m at that age now, where a lot of my friends are tying the knot and whilst I’ve been to my fair share of weddings in my time (I’m Gujarati. When I was a kid, the summer holidays consisted of a wedding at least every other weekend, and I do recall having to go to more than one wedding on one day, thought I can’t quite remember who was getting married at either one. Luckily they were in the same city. No prizes for guessing which one… it was Leicester, of course.)

Well anyway, my point is about the pre-wedding shoot. I’ve seen some interesting photos from these sessions, but I don’t often witness these shoots actually happening in real time. That would be a little bit creepy. But I’ve seen the photo albums and framed photos. The last album I had the pleasure to look through was of this lovely Khmer couple who ran a restaurant/bar on the least touristy part of Sok San Road, not far from Bug’s Cafe in Siem Reap. Most of the pictures were the standard for the area. Backdrop of Angkor Wat as the sun rises, casting long silhouettes on the photoshopped green grass, on the edge of Tonle Sap lake where there’s not a cloud to be seen in the bright blue sky… you get the idea. The last photo in the book though, was of the bride and groom standing next to an illuminated Blue Pumpkin sign in the twilight. For all those who don’t know what Blue Pumpkin is, it’s an ice cream bakery that have branched out into foodstuffs, exclusive to Cambodia. Bit odd.

Well, I witnessed an incredible sight down one of the graffitied laneways in the centre of Melbourne a few weekends ago. I really like this couple’s style, and so did Thierry. He totally wanted to get in on the action, but I chickened out of asking them if I could take a photo with them. They had the official photographer there too, and there were so many other people there, and I do kind of regret it now, but I did manage to take this gem (just ignore the actual groom! ). img_2890-2

The artwork in and around Melbourne is really great though. In fact, as well as being the most liveable city in the world for the umpteenth time in a row, I think Melbourne holds the title of the most decorated city, made up of both commissioned and illegal pieces. What’s more is that they are constantly being updated. My awesome friend Lola (you should check out her work here, by the way) took me to Hosier Lane on weekend and she’d been the weekend before with her sister, and they said that certain pieces had been covered up already. Some pieces are a little more permanent, like this beautiful heart-tree which hasn’t been touched in years, but I think it’s more to do with the fact that it is so high up the wall, you can’t easily paint over it. You would need some serious scaffolding or something to work at that kind of height. Plus it’s an amazing piece of art. But also, look at the bins! Just so much colour in an otherwise grey backdrop. I love it.img_2755

 A lot of these laneways have become a kind of refuge for the homeless of Melbourne. There has been much talk about the drug problems and clear signs of homelessness in a tourist hotspot in the last few years. Whilst I don’t know an awful lot about the situation, I’m aware that there are definitely unwritten rules about the “family” that live on the graffitied streets. They look after their own, that much is clear.

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This reminded me of a similar photo I took in a street food court in Vietnam!

 

There’s also been a Banksy exhibit behind Federation Square for the last few weeks, but tickets are a little on the pricey side. There is a free area that you can visit and all the pieces are by up and coming Australian street artists and they are now available to auction for charity, so I didn’t take any pictures. It didn’t quite feel right to have copies of them without donating any money, but if you want to see the pieces, they are all available to view online here.

I also visited the National Gallery of Victoria today. I love going to an Art Gallery, and I think it’s because my mum used to work at the one in Cheltenham and every school holiday they would put on events for kids and I spent hours poring over the exhibitions whenever they had a new one in. We were so lucky because just as my friend Chris was telling me that when he went around the Art Gallery in Adelaide he managed to get on a free tour, there was a public service announcement saying there was a tour beginning in the next five minutes, and to meet downstairs in the Atrium. Score! We back-tracked through the first part of the exhibition and waited around for a few minutes, but no one else was going to join us, so we got a personalised tour around the place which was incredible. Admittedly, the lady we had was on a proper mission and ran us around the galleries in chronological order in less than 45 minutes, skipping over some bits completely. She was very knowledgeable, but I couldn’t help but feel rushed. We went back through at our own pace afterwards, but it wasn’t quite the same because you never get a second chance at a first impression, so I’d already experienced a fraction of that awe-inspiring moment and the rest of it sort of disappeared. It was still better than going around without a guide though. I wonder if, in 50-100 years’ time there’ll be an exhibition about the history of street art and how it shaped the socio-economic state of Melbourne over the years. Because it’s not just a bit of colour, is it? It’s political and current and it’s a little humbling that a few words strategically sprayed onto a wall can make you just stop for a second and think.img_2881-1

Cook, Eat, Repeat

I like cooking. I like eating. But I’ve never been one for taking a boatload of photos of my food, so sometimes I kind of forget to take a picture before I start chomping down on my meal. I’ve been meaning to write a post about food for some time now, but I wanted to wait until I had enough awesome foodie pics. I think I’ve done pretty well here, and I haven’t done any editing either. What is it that the kids say these days? #nofilter (I think that’s a thing… right?) These are a lovely collection of dishes I’ve had the pleasure of munching on in the 3 months I’ve been kicking around Aus. Apologies if you’ve seen some of these before on Facebook, or on postcards I’ve sent or whatever, I just kind of wanted them all in one place!

Okay, let’s start with the most hipster breakfast I’ve ever eaten. I was really sceptical about going to this place at all, but a friend of mine had been craving the banana chocolate porridge they do, so I went along to this glass-fronted pretentious place and I’m so glad I did. Freshly squeezed orange juice and a weird breakfast medley of fruits like watermelon, passionfruit, grapes, there were little light meringue morsels and fruit coulis, there was a mousse thing going on that had the most incredible texture, and there were flowers on the plate. And I ate EVERYTHING on this plate. The flowers were kind of sweet. The only other word I can think of to use to describe the taste is “green”. As in, raw baby spinach or if you could taste a Spring day, you know… ‘cos everyone knows what Spring tastes like [!?]. I’ve never been back to this place, because it was a little on the steep side, but as I said, I’m so happy that I got dragged along to this place. img_2758

Next up. A South Indian classic – masala dosa. I went to this vegetarian place in Elsternwick whilst I was living in a very sketchy neighbourhood in my first couple of weeks in Melbourne. I was very much in the mindset where I wanted something that made me feel warm and happy and for anyone who has ever had masala dosa before, it’s a kind of carb-heavy meal. It’s a giant thin crispy pancake made from rice flour, stuffed full of a lightly fried potato curry. On the side, you get a delicious spicy tangy dhal soup with some veggies in it, and the general idea is you dip the pancake in the hot soup and eat it together. It can get a little messy, but I was in my element. Plus, this place did proper Indian chai. Around three months ago, I hadn’t had a proper cup of Indian tea for all the time I’d been out travelling. It was uber-sweet and very milky, but I was not complaining. And it did make me feel all warm and bubbly inside! And it was served in a bright yellow cup and saucer.  img_2789

Okay, there was always going to be at least one burger in this list. I’m thinking I might actually have to do a post solely about burgers. But I’m going to wait until I’ve seen a little bit more of this country and experienced more than one city’s attempt at a burger. In the meantime, check this bad boy out. It was absolute chaos to eat, but so worth it. And technically, not quite a burger. Selling itself as a pulled pork roll, topped with a healthy slaw which had apple, walnut and fennel running through it, plus cheese, it was a real find at one of those little eateries in one of those little laneways in the centre of Melbourne. What’s more, I looked this place up online, and their promo picture of this particular dish looked exactly like my picture below. Impressive, right?img_2820

So, not to be all patronising and condescending and all, but Australia isn’t too far from South East Asia, right? This means there are a lot of Asian people around. This means that there is some seriously decent food around. The very nature of Asian street food is that it’s quick and easy, so every single food court that I’ve been to since I came down under has at the very least: Japanese sushi, Vietnamese pho, Thai everything, and then the usuals: Subway, something Mexican, Maccy D’s or KFC. Whilst these meals might not be anything to look at, specifically, I wanted to show that the quality and variety of street food in the UK is a bit rubbish. Well, it is in the town I grew up in. I’d never even come across edamame until just the other day. And I thought I was quite adventurous when it comes to cuisines of the world.

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Last of all, I’ve been doing a lot of cooking at home in recent times. There are a couple of reasons for this, number one being cost. Number two is that I have a wonderfully stocked kitchen. Not even with the foodstuffs (though the presence of whole coriander seeds and turmeric is very much welcome), but more like the fact I have access to multiple frying pans, a cheese grater and blender, you know… normal kitchen stuff. The thing is, when I cook at home, I forget to get Thierry out of his little pouch and neglect to take any pictures at all. So, I made a chicken curry the other day and not to blow my own trumpet but it was pretty good. I’d go so far as to say my granddad would have quite happily chowed down on it with no complaints and one for seconds (which is the highest praise ever, from either grandad!). Thing is, I didn’t take pictures. So yeah. Sorry! The only thing I’ve made at home and taken photos of is that incredible cheesecake, that I’ve just about finished now (I was keeping it in the freezer), so here you go. Have another picture of that for dessert. img_2933