Discovering the land Down Under

12 Jan

A year of dogged research, arguing, consulting, booking, reserving, spending, planning and organisation led me, my best friend Simon and Mark to Australia for an unforgettable Christmas and new year.

As it happened, we didn’t organise ourselves particularly well and ended up travelling on 3 separate flights for 29 hours to reach Melbourne two days before Christmas.  After our first few hours on solid ground in St Kilda we were hit by a wave of intense fatigue and ended up “napping” for 3 hours in our apartment having tried to enthusiastically embark on some sightseeing, drinking and eating along Acland Street and into downtown for a ride on a tram and a wander around the CBD.  Such was to the pattern of our first few days trying to “beat” jet lag.  It’s not possible but we tried our best.

Melbourne reminded me of Brighton – edgy, cool, laid back, beautiful. It still has a colonial influence with some lovely architecture, interesting suburbs, it’s small enough to walk around downtown.  We met up with Simon’s friend, Miranda, who was housesitting her friends’ house in Fitzroy so we hung out there for a few days.  We kindly had the use of their car so Miranda drove us to Philip Island on Christmas Eve to see the little penguins come ashore and waddle up the beach to feed their young.  I cried a little bit when I spotted these endearing little creatures who took no notice of the hundreds of spectators watching their progress and (illegally) taking photos.

On Christmas Day – after I had clocked a run along St Kilda boardwalk and pier which was the singularly greatest run I had done all year I reckon – we cooked a full turkey lunch at Brad and Rob’s house and drank Champagne, watched rubbish TV and sweltered in the heat.  Christmas down under it appears is exactly the same as Christmas back home, except of course for the heat.  That I could get used to!  While the others snoozed on the sofa I decided to go walkabout in town.  Everything was open and people were wandering about like it was any other day.  I had to keep reminding myself of the day, but really, who cares?  This was the whole reason I had decided to go away this Christmas.  It’s a day like any other day.  I see my family regularly all year so it’s not some sort of “homecoming” or reunion for us so why not go and do something different?  Luckily my family agreed and understood.  In fact they were extremely supportive of my decision and with the advantage of Skype it was as if I was there anyway.  I must have walked for miles that afternoon. I got blisters and logged hundred more photos.  I really explored and got to know downtown Melbourne. Trams, Chinatown, the lane ways, a few Christmas trees, crowds, landmarks, parks, I did it all.  I fell in love with Melbourne.  I trudged back up to Fitzroy and down Brunswick Street.  All the cool bars, restaurants and shops were closed now, but I could still see and feel its unique vibe.  Graffiti was everywhere, but artistic, witty graffiti executed with real talent. I loved it.

Having found my bearings I took Simon and Mark on a guided walk around Melbourne the next day and we took in the Royal Botanic Gardens (so beautiful and calm I could have spent all day there), the art gallery of Victoria (cool and trendy), up the Eureka Skydeck (scary but amazing views), to Crown Casino (sorry Bruce but I lost my Vegas luck and failed to win anything on 17), along the lane ways and arcades (very busy with tourists during the high season), then we retired back to our rented apartment, exhausted once again.

On the recommendation of one of our waiters, for our last night in Melbourne we hit the bars of Fitzroy and particularly loved the Everleigh.  Rather than a cocktail menu you just tell the barman what you like and he designs a bespoke cocktail especially for you.  Both of mine were delicious and bang on my taste target.  It was a fitting goodbye to such a fabulous city. I’ll miss you Melbourne.

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After a short flight our next stop was big, bold, brash Sydney.  We walked from our hotel in Surry Hills, north to go landmark-spotting in Circular Quay – and boy did we spot some landmarks!  The iconic arch of the Harbour Bridge loomed out of the crowds across the harbour and our trigger fingers were working overtime.  Crowds thronged around the quay and as we walked further the huge white shells of that other landmark, Sydney Opera House, rose before us.  It was breathtaking to see two such well known structures right there in front of us.  Surely everyone in the world would recognise them in an instant and we were standing right there amongst them.  We had to rest and recuperate with lunch and a glass of wine immediately.

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We couldn’t resist a ride on the ferry just round the corner to Darling Harbour.  The next day we took a bus out to the beach suburb of Coogee.  Stepping off the bus I realised this is how I imagined Sydney life to be like – the beach and the city all in one.  We were there to walk the 3 km along the coastal path to Bondi so on we went.  It was another hot day and we wandered along surrounded by buff tanned men and women running and power-walking, with dogs or kids’ buggies, or just nonchalantly alone displaying their perfect bodies and designer kit.  I felt very white and flabby! But I enjoyed the spectacle, not only of human perfection, but of nature’s perfection.  The white sand beaches, the blue skies, the crashing surf.  What an environment to grow up in.  I seriously envied the youngsters playing on the beach and in the sea.  Bondi Beach was heaving with holidaymakers.  It was the Australian summer holidays and families were out enjoying their wonderful city beaches.  I didn’t blame them.

That night, after the Saturday night fireworks at Darling Harbour we hit the town and partied at the Columbian Hotel on Oxford Street.  It was such great fun and a good introduction to Sydney nightlife and some of its inhabitants.  The next day we ventured out of the city, but not far, to the Blue Mountains.  We finally met some Aussie wildlife – koala, kangaroo, wallaby, emu, dingo, echidna, you name it.  We marvelled at the Three Sisters and finished the day meeting up with Nicole’s parents and sister at the bar with the best view in the world, the Opera Bar.  They then invited us out to their suburb of Gosford from where they would drive us to the Hunter Valley, so of course we agreed.  A slow train ride the next day along the Hawkesbury River took us out there and we spent the day surveying the vineyards and sampling the wines at the Cellar Doors.  It was a tough day but we survived!

The next day was new year’s eve and the biggest party on earth to welcome in 2014.  We had a brilliant vantage point at Macquarie Point where we were able to witness first-hand the most spectacular fireworks display in the world, one I have seen countless times on TV, and here I was seeing it in person at last.  It didn’t fail to impress and I must have taken a thousand photos and videos of the event.  I’ll never forget it.

Finally, we visited Manly and swam in the sea amongst the surf rescue lifeguards, flags and super-strong currents, then hired bikes and cycled to the top of the promontory to view the city of Sydney from afar.  Such a shame it was not a brilliantly clear day, but it was still warm and exhilarating.  Mark did the Harbour Bridge Climb very early the next morning and I had to settle with a walk across the bridge as the pylon lookout was closed!  However, I did get to witness the sun rise over Sydney while doing it so that was something special.

All too soon Mark had to leave to go home and start back at work.  But Simon and I had another week to go and for that we had booked a cheeky fleeting visit to none other than the beautiful south Pacific islands of Fiji. More about that in my next post…

Goodbye Sydney. So long and see you soon. I will never forget you.IMG_3891IMG_3892IMG_3887IMG_3885IMG_3883IMG_3631IMG_3875

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