Quality time with family and friends in Sydney

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

After a week of exploring the reef and rainforest of tropical north Queensland, we boarded a late afternoon plane from Cairns to Sydney on Friday 7 October. Rich's aunt Sally Maspero had extended a very generous offer of hospitality, so from the airport we took a cab to her home in Cremorne, northern Sydney. We were really looking forward to catching up with Sally and cousins Simon (23), Jeremy (21) and Stephanie (16), as well as uncle James, who is based in Narrabeen.

Sally was attending a parents' evening at the restaurant where Steph was doing work experience, so the arrangement was to ring her when we landed so that she could time her return home. However, we got phone numbers mixed up and ended up leaving a message on her home phone rather than her mobile... and arrived at the door to find no-one home! Minutes later, Jeremy rang us on our mobile to ask whether we'd arrived already, and we realised our mistake. Within minutes, everyone arrived home for a happy family reunion. The kids have really grown up and become adults since we saw them the last time a few years ago; and it was great hearing about Sally's recent travels to Italy etc.

After making ourselves very much at home in Sally's comfortable place (Thanks guys!!!), I spent Saturday morning doing laundry while Rich got himself off to a doctor to take a look at the nasty skin infection he'd developed in Indonesia. By noon he returned with a bagful of antibiotics; Nick and Carl Von Korff, cousins on Rich's mum's side of the family, arrived for an afternoon out together. Again, another wonderful chance to catch up with family after many years apart... the two boys were still at school when we saw them last, and now they are 24 and 22 respectively.

The whole lot of us - Rich and I, three Maspero cousins and two Von Korffs - piled into cars and drove out to Manly beach for a pub lunch, a walk around and lots of chatting. The wind was howling, but still we enjoyed views of the Northern Beaches - attractive suburbs strung out above crescents of sand fringed by a wild sea. The kids showed us around the pride... they obviously love their home city. In the early evening, we all returned to Sally's home for a BBQ and some more chatting!

On Sunday, cousin Simon collected us and we drove out to uncle James's place in Narrabeen, another seaside suburb along the Northern Beaches. James treated us to a succulent lamb roast, and after lunch we strolled along the estuary and down to the beach... James explained that Narrabeen reminds him of Great Brak, the former family holiday spot along the Garden Route in South Africa (the house was sold a year ago). James loved Great Brak dearly, and we could see the similarities. We took it slowly on our walk, as James was still recovering from a knee operation. All in all a lovely afternoon of catching up.

On Monday morning 10 October it was up early - we had a 2pm flight booked to Gold Coast to go and see the Von Korff seniors on their new farm in the bush, but managed to squeeze in a visit to Taronga Zoo before heading out to the airport. Neither of us are zoo fans, but this is one of the best we've seen: the environments are well designed and the animals are in peak condition. Due to our limited time in Auz, this was our only real opportunity to see koalas, wombats, red 'roos, tassie devils, platypuses and other unique Aussie critters. The zoo has the most spectacular setting on Sydney Harbour, with views of the bridge and opera house. The giraffes have the best panorama from their paddock!

The ferry ride over to Circular Quay was a real treat, with more postcard views of Sydney's two most famous landmarks. Forget about expensive harbour cruises... a ride on one of the public ferries really is the best way to take it all in.

And so it was up to Cold Coast for another family reunion... more about that in the separate entry.

We returned to Sydney on Wednesday evening 12 October and had a lovely quiet evening with the family, chilling out. Thursday was devoted to admin - getting some updates done to this blog, sorting out photos and burning CDs, doing laundry... all those homey things one has so little time to do when leading an itinerant life. We really enjoyed simply having a home base and all its conveniences.

In the evening, uncle James collected Jeremy, Steph and ourselves, and we drove into town for a night out at "The Cross", Sydney´s red light district... well, sort of. It´s all very clean and tame, with a few girlie bars and adult shops, nothing like Amsterdam or Bangkok! We met up with Simon there, and had a few drinks and a meal at a classy bar. In the end it wasn´t a very late night out, probably a good thing, because all hell broke loose the next evening...

The plan was to meet up with our friend Stu, who we´d met on our China Intrepid trip in June. In the morning I paid a visit to the doctor for the same skin infection that Rich had the week earlier, and was prescribed the same giant, pink pills. At midday, Stu popped around to collect us, and we drove to his side of town, Drummoyne, a lovely neighbourhood to the west of the centre and overlooking the inner inlets of the harbour. Stu shares a Victorian house with two others - there were three bikes in the household, so we all hopped onto one and took a nice ride around Stu´s training circuit (he´s a keen cyclist) before stopping off at a private member´s bar-restaurant on the waterside for some mouth-watering pizzas.

In the late afternoon, the three of us headed into the city centre by bus, and embarked on an epic pub crawl of all the historic hostelries that have some kind of claim to fame, all clustered around the oldest part of town called The Rocks, where the first settlements were located. There´s the Lord Nelson (which brews its own beer, very good), the Hero of Waterloo and the Fortune of War... all claim to be ´the oldest´ in some respect or other, whether it´s the oldest licenced hotel, the oldest watering hole or whatever, I forget which is which! But all three have their own unique atmosphere.

We were pretty merry by the time we met up with Sharon aka Shaz, a friend of Stu´s who was in town for business, and his housemate, and headed out to Newtown, a very hip and happening place lined with interesting bars and restaurants, and frequented by arty and alternative folk. With it being Friday evening, the place was buzzing... we walked down the main street and took a table at a very large Thai restaurant. Despite my initial misgivings, the food was excellent, and we moved on from there to a noisy, funky bar for a few more drinks, and a few more, and...

...so the evening spiralled downhill! After midnight, we found ourselves in the club house of the Tigers, the Sydney rugby team of which Stu is a totally devoted, fervent supporter. A few drinks later I was dead meat, I have to confess, and passed out on a sofa while the guys played pool. Apparently the management asked them to remove their sleeping companion from the premises... no, I hadn´t thrown up, but they must have thought I looked like a tramp, just lying there snoozing!

We finally made our way home at about 4am, and needless to say I went straight to bed, while the boys stayed up with a bottle of whiskey or something. Apparently there was some tree climbing at sunrise...

Mmm, and of course a few sore heads in the morning. In our hung-over state we talked about the idea of going to a rugby league match, Australia vs New Zealand, that evening, and Stu booked some tickets. After the Neurofens had kicked in, we headed into Paddington for some yum cha at a very plush restaurant which Stu had visited before. Sitting at the table with our green tea and prawn dumplings, steaming trolleys being wheeled all around us, we recalled the final morning of our China tour together, when the whole group hit the streets of Hong Kong for gourmet walk and yum cha in a noisy local joint. Stu has always been a great fan of yam cha, and we all agreed it makes a brilliant hang-over cure.

It was around 2.30pm by the time we´d finished our meal, and we met up with another friend of Stu´s who was in town for business before heading down to Circular Quay, where we caught a ferry out to Watson´s Bay. What an awesome ferry ride - the wind was quite strong and the skies were dark with cloud, but there were hundreds of yachts racing in the harbour and the ferry sailed right among them.

Watson´s Bay is a pretty cove with quaint, upmarket homes. It´s the site of the first European landing and is just around the corner from South Head. I took a walk around the Head while the others had a few beers (I wasn´t quite ready to face the booze yet!). The breathtaking views and wind in my face did me way more good than a beer would have!

Back at Circular Quay, we took a train out to the Telstra Stadium, part of the Olympic complex to the west of the city. Though the stadium wasn´t full (it´s simply massive), the atmosphere was electric and the match itself was nail-biting stuff. At the start of the game, Stu had casually said, "It´s no competition, the Kangaroos always win" and certainly that had been true in the last few years of Rugby League Tri Nations. But that evening, it all changed and our Aussie friend had to eat his words when the ´Roos got a good kicking!

After two days of making merry, it was time for a good night´s rest before heading out to the Blue Mountains for a day trip with Sally the next morning, on Sunday. So on Saturday evening after the game, we returned to the family home in Cremorne. By the time we got home and to bed it was well past midnight.

On Sunday morning, Sally, Rich and myself hopped into her car and took the road west to the Blue Mountains. The kids had decided not to join us, a pity, yet the day was a wonderful chance to catch up on some more chatting, and talk about family and the future. Unfortunately, the weather wasn´t playing along - we arrived at the viewpoint for the famous Three Sisters and found it shrouded in mist. Soon after, the rain set in and the landscape was pretty much obscured by thick cloud. Nevertheless, from a couple of other viewpoints we caught some beautiful glimpses of the dramatic escarpment and densely wooded valleys far below. The swirling mist and cloud actually enhanced the mystery of the place!

After a couple of hours´ sightseeing in the cold wind and rain, we stopped off in Mount Victoria for a hearty lunch of home-made pumpkin soup and bread in a cosy coffee-shop, and then started the journey back to Sydney. Though it´s a shame we didn´t get to see the Blue Mountains in better weather, it still was a fun day out and we enjoyed the company immensely!

We had agreed to have dinner with Nick, Carl and Nick´s girlfriend Anita that evening. Jeremy joined us, and the Von Korff boys took us to their favourite Thai restaurant near their home. After dinner, we stopped off in Crow´s Nest for a post-prandial, and so said goodbye to the Von Korff cousins.

Though it had seemed we had so much time in Sydney, our final day in the city was suddenly upon us. Stu had the day off, so we met him around noon on Monday and headed to the Sydney Fish Market in his car. We were still waiting on word from the Sony repair centre, where our camera was being fixed, as to when we could collect it... a bit nerve-racking, seeing we were flying out the next early morning! Stu kindly offered to drive us there to collect it in the afternoon.

But in the meantime, we tucked into fabulous oysters, prawns, grilled barrimundi and calamari at the Fish Market, and washed it all down with a cool bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Yum! "I´ve shown you my Sydney," Stu said as we sat outside on the wharf... indeed, it was a place of good food, plenty booze and faithful support for one´s team!

After lunch, the boys went off for a few more drinks and to collect the camera, while I visited the Sydney Botanic Gardens. The Gardens are enormous and situated on prime land beside the Opera House. There are some interesting themed plantings - I found the one relating the story of Sydney´s original aboriginal inhabitants particularly interesting - and the animal life is quite a treat too: large flocks of sulphur-crested cockatoos everywhere, and a noisy colony of flying foxes roosting high up in the treetops.

In the evening, Sally´s mum joined us for dinner. She´s a lively character who has done a great deal of travelling and continues to do so - she had just returned from a holiday in Perth. We enjoyed sharing stories before turning in for the night... we had a 5.30am start ahead of us!

And so we came to the bit we hate the most - saying goodbye. Sally and the kids had welcomed us into their home, helped us get camera repairs etc organised, and put up with our messy, disorganised ways... we´re sooo grateful to them for that. And we loved getting to know them all better and spending time in such excellent company!
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