Australia - Canberra

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Day 1 - Christmas Eve

The sound of excited 3 and 5 year olds running around was enough to wake us up at 8am. We slowly emerged from our bed to find the rest of the household congregated in the kitchen and Kellie (Stephen's wife) preparing our breakfast...could get used to that.

We spent a leisurely couple of hours getting ready, having breakfast and chatting to the family before we decided upon making a trip to the National Museum of Australia in the centre of it is free.

Josie and Theo dropped us off at the museum while the rest of the family went to get some last minute shopping and have a look at the progress being made on Stephen and Kellie's new home.

The museum exhibits a wide variety of Australian cultural artifacts and aboriginal history, including how it all started with the convicts, right through to the recent catastrophic bush fires of 2003 (PICS).

As you can imagine, on Christmas Eve, we practically had the entire place to ourselves, including the rotating theatre intro, which was really well done and not to be missed. We spent about four and a half hours wandering around the entire place and then stopped for lunch at the museums restaurant, sitting outside in the sunshine looking out over the lake.

A proportion of our 4.5 hours was spent in the gift shop looking for a couple more last minute presents for the girls and for Andrew to get acquainted with the native wildlife (PICS).

Once we had returned to the house we spent some time doing the laundry and playing with the girls out in the garden and the family pet; Max the black Labrador. We also met Josie's daughter Karen who was also staying over Christmas.

At dusk we all made our way over to the outdoor mass for the children, that takes place at the local church. It was already heaving with a couple of hundred people by the time we got there. It was a strange contrast to anything we have ever seen happen at Christmas time in the UK.

The drive back from church was our highlight of the day as we saw our first wild Kangaroo's and Gallah's. It is amazing to see them for real; just grazing in a field like cows would be doing back home in the UK.

Back at the house it was time for the fun to begin. As is tradition in Austria (Theo is Austrian) the family open their presents on Christmas Eve so the girls opened their stockings before dinner (PICS). This dinner was another first for us - our first Aussie BBQ (PIC). The food, beer and conversation flowed into the evening until the girls could no longer contain their excitement and everyone gathered back in the living room to open ALL the other presents (PICS).

Unexpectedly, we were very lucky. Stephen and Kellie gave us a set of clap sticks (aboriginal percussion instruments) and Josie and Theo had bought us; a brilliant book of photographs very similar to those taken by Ken Duncan, a couple of Australian woolen beer can coolers and a bird of paradise stained glass window sticker to cheer up our hostel rooms.

Just as the present opening frenzy started to calm down, Andrew (Josie's other son) and his girlfriend; Angela, arrived with more gifts. Andrew kindly gave us a selection of handmade cards that he had made himself.

Kathleen had carefully transported a ginger bread house down from Ettalong and the time had come for the cutting ceremony. Theo did the honours before we all tucked in (PICS).

As the night closed in the girls went to bed and Andrew and Angela said their goodbyes leaving the rest of us to chat over drinks for a while longer before all retiring to bed ourselves at 1:30.

Day 2 - Christmas Day

Verdi's parents were obviously keener to get on with Christmas day than us; ringing at 7:30am to wish us a Merry Christmas. It's the thought that counts. After a few updates and 'Merry Christmas's' we went back to bed for another hours sleep before being woken up by the girls excitedly playing with their new presents - namely their new recorder and tambourine.

As the sun was already shinning brightly, we all decided to have a leisurely breakfast on the patio - can't comprehend doing that back in the UK on Christmas morning, especially as Verdi's folks had just informed us they were expecting snow any day!

After breakfast the conversation turned to Josie & Theo and Stephen & Kellie's new houses which are due to be completed early next year. We had a look at their plans for the properties which were both hugely impressive and impressively huge. Stephen even hopes to enter his into an Australian 'best home' competition. There is so much more land and space to play with in Oz that everyone has the capacity to spread their one-level homes over a wide area with at least 3 bedrooms, two living rooms and plenty of garden space.

The rest of the morning was spent relaxing in the garden, chatting with the family and watching a bit of Christmas Day TV.

Lunch was also an outdoor affair; standard big stuffed turkey & veg, but with a twist - barbecued potatoes and salad. Again the food, drink and conversation flowed easily for a couple of hours by which time Stephen, Kellie and the girls had to leave to travel up to Kellie's parents farm for the rest of the day.

The late afternoon was spent snoozing off the lunch and drinks until the rest of the guests arrived; Andrew & Angela, Angela's parents (Ken & Fiona), Theo's brother Kurt and his wife and daughter. It was a real multi-cultural mix, what with Welsh (Verdi & Andrew), English (Kathleen, Josie & Fiona), Australian (Andrew & Karen), Austrian (Theo, Kurt & his wife) and South African (Ken & Angela).

In the early evening Theo took us out to their plot where their new house was being built. Only the foundations had been put in but even from them you could tell that it was going to be impressive. The setting was peaceful and dramatic with sweeping views of an un-spoilt mountainous landscape.

On the return journey we saw many more wild Kangaroo's enjoying the warm evening sunshine (PICS) along with several Cockatoos, Galahs and a few deer. It's amazing how much wildlife you can see in one short journey.

We arrived back at the house just in time for dinner - English high tea; sandwiches and cakes and in Andrew's case, with and Australian twist; beer.

At the much more sociable time of 9:00pm, Andrew's parents called for a Christmas catch-up (PIC). Shortly followed by Verdi's parents. This meant that it was Christmas Day for all of us. It was great to speak to them and surprisingly evoked a brief pang for a white Christmas in the UK, with all the tradition and trimmings that go with it.

The revelry continued until the small hours. When everyone had either gone home or to bed we decided to try and get a 'quick' timed, self-portrait shot of the two of us with Santa under the Christmas tree...

...30 attempts and copious amounts of muffled giggling later and we clambered into bed at about 2:00 am (PICS).

Day 3 - Boxing Day

It was time to leave Josie and Theo's and head back to the hostel in Sydney - Theo had kindly offered to drive us back. An early start saw us up at 8:00 am and having showered and packed, on the road for 10am.

On the way back to Sydney we called in at Bowral to see some old friends of Josie & Theo's (by 'old friends' we mean they're in their 90's AND they have been friends for over 50 years!); Jim & Greta.

Before reaching Bowral we drove past a couple of fields that were completely overrun with Kangaroo's - mostly Joey's. It was actually becoming quite a regular occurrence, but hopefully we would be able to see one up close and personal soon.

It wasn't long before an 'up close and personal' wildlife opportunity of a different kind arose; another freaky looking spider, possibly a funnel web (PIC) just above the door at the entrance to the nursing home that Greta & Jim were staying in.

Jim regaled us with his abundance of stories over a cup of tea for an hour and as they say 'you learn something new every day' - we had traveled half way around the world, to find out from an Australian that Welsh is apparently the oldest language on earth with routes back to the language spoken by Jesus.

Having left Jim & Greta we stopped off at the next village; Mittagong, to grab some lunch, which was yet another 'value for money' feast. We both opted for 'burgers with everything' only to find out that 'everything' really did mean EVERYTHING, including beetroot, pineapple and a fried egg - they were huge!

On arriving at Sydney Central we said goodbye to Kathleen as she caught her train back to Ettalong and then Josie & Theo kindly dropped us off right outside the door of the hostel. Thanking them for their hospitality and vowing to return for a longer stay at some point in the near future, we checked back into the Maze backpackers and dumped our bags in our new home for the week.

As it was getting late (4 hour drive from Canberra to Sydney) we decided to take it easy by collecting our east coast adventure tickets from Wicked and then updating the website before heading to bed at a fairly decent 12:30.
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