First month Down Under

Trip Start Jan 21, 2007
Trip End ??? ??, 2008

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

My trip to Australia took me on quite a satisfying flight from Hong Kong into Sydney, with nice red wine and, a new experience for me, an entertainment system that I could pause, rewind etc and therefore choose what I wanted to watch and when.

8 and a half hours later I arrived in Sydney and got the airport shuttle bus to my hostel for the night, Base Backpackers.  The shuttle bus is great, it's $10 and they drop you off at the door of your hotel.   The hostel was quite an irritation, at 10pm I just really wanted a bed, but I had to visit 3 different dorm rooms before I found one with an empty bed and clean sheets, since I'd booked I wasn't best pleased.  I finally ended up with a 6 bed room to myself, until 4 crazy Irish girls turned up a bit later.  They came in from a night out at 5am, one at a time, making a racket, with me having to get up and let the first one in.  Then at 8am I was woken up by one of them sobbing, having some kind of panic attack, saying that she woke up not knowing where she was with someone's shoes on top of her.  I didn't tell them, but it seems to have been my trainers that caused the trauma since they weren't where I had left them and the socks that had been tucked inside were all over the floor.  How they got on top of her though is anyone's guess!

I was only spending one night there because I have somewhere to live, already!  Diane, a girl I worked with at Direct Holidays in Glasgow who has been in Sydney for 6 months or so now and who moved into a new 2 bedroomed flat the same day I arrived, has very kindly invited me to stay.  It was a great relief to be rescued from the 18 year old British backpacker hell that is hostels in Sydney.  Apparently.  Diane has a really nice flat located in a area called Pyrmont which is about 5 minutes walk from Darling Harbour, a great area with lots of nice bars, restaurants, casino, entertainment venues etc etc.  It's only about 20 minutes walk into the city centre so it's an excellent location.

Our first day in the flat - spent building Ikea furniture!

So what have I been up to here?  Well, for the first few weeks not so much!

Everyone has an impression that it's always hot in Australia.  Well it's not.  When I got here, and for about the first 3 weeks it was cold.  Cold enough that I had to wear my jeans and hoodie every day since they are my only warm clothes! 

I met up with Luke, who I met in India.  He lives in Dee Why which is one of the beaches north of Sydney. We headed to Manly, a popular beach not far away but it was freezing, the crazy surfers in the water were giving me the shivers so we we retired to a pub for a beer and some lunch....which turned into a long and drunken day.  Particularly when Luke brought out a months old bottle of the evil Lao Lao from Laos which made him sick immediately and me the next day.  All very messy.  An interesting introduction to some of the oddities of Oz.  More about that later!

In the first week I also took a trip out to the Blue Mountains with Derek, a Irish guy I had been put in touch with by Ann, who I met in Singapore.  The mountains, just a couple of hours from Sydney, apparently have a blue hue caused by eucalyptus.  Unfortunately it wasn't the best day, by the time we got there it was misty and raining so not really any good views to be had.  We did take a ride on the steepest incline railway in the world, 52degrees if I remember correctly, steeper than the one in Hong Kong, but I think the Hong Kong was better as it was a real tram and the set up of this one made it feel more like a slow rollercoaster.

A lot of my first few weeks were passed just wandering around seeing what was to be seen and getting familiar with Sydney.  I wasn't at all sure I wanted to stay here, my plan had been for a quick visit then move on, but after delaying my arrival in Australia by almost four months, my money situation isn't nearly as healthy as it should be!  So I am stuck in Sydney for a few months, having to work and hopefully saving some money.  Not that being here is a bad thing at all, Sydney is a fabulous city, my only concern is getting stuck here, I don't want to be one of those people who come to Australia for a year and don't make it out of Sydney. 

So that takes me to job hunting.  How depressing.  I put lots of effort into updating my cv and registering with agencies, without really thinking about actually having to go to work!  As in, to have somewhere I have to be for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and having to get up early.  After almost 10 months of bumming around this is not easy!!  Particularly the getting up part!

But after being told that before xmas is a bad time to job hunt, I panicked and took the first full-time job I was offered.  It's boring, not busy enough to pass the day quickly and not particularly friendly but they are paying me, which is good enough for now.  Interestingly enough I am on the lowest wage a temp will ever get here but that is also the same as I was being paid at Direct Holidays at home. Living costs are much higher here though, rent, food, everything.  Not really wine though, thankfully!  I am currently looking for a better paid job, after only 7 days in the current one, but that's the beauty of temping!

I'm going to move out of Diane's soon, partly because now I am working I will obviously have to pay rent, and what she can afford on an accountant's salary doesn't compare with what I can afford on a temp's wage!  Also she never intended to have a flat mate anyway.  I was looking around for a new place to live and was convinced I wanted to live in the city like where I am now, until I went to the beach last weekend.  I went out to Coogee, about half an hour on the bus from the city, and decided the beach was where I was going to be for the summer.  Much more pleasant, with the option of going for a swim every day, which will be great when it starts to really heat up (which it has started to already I'm happy to say!).  I think I've found the place I want to live, only drawback is it's not available for 3 weeks.  But I suspect that's where I'll be going. Watch this space.....

Ah something interesting I almost forgot, a visit to Palm Beach, otherwise known as Summer Bay from Home and Away!  It's an hour and a half on the bus out of Sydney, so a fair trek, but I went anyway for a look at the beach and the surf club.  No sign of any filming going on, I'll have to go back as I have given myself a mission to meet Alf Stewart!  I asked in a local shop to make sure I was in the right place, as where I got off the bus didn't look particularly familiar, and was told filming is 5 days on and 5 days off.  Not sure how I'll find out which 5 days before I sit on the bus for an hour and half again though!  I haven't seen Home and Away or Neighbours for years, but I'm watching them everyday, partly because they are on at 6.30 and 7pm so after I get home from work, trying to get back into it!  Next mission is Neighbours.  When I go to Melbourne I'll visit Ramsey St, but in the meantime they have Neighbours night once a month in Sydney where a few of the cast come here for a night in the pub.  We might be doing it this weekend, or if not then next month!

Christmas.  Maybe I have just forgotten but the xmas trees have been up in the department stores and the malls since I got here in late October, they don't go up that early at home, do they?  Anyway there are xmas trees all over the place, and one day last week there was a brass band playing xmas carols in the city in the blazing sunshine.  Being my first xmas away from home and therefore my first one in the sun, it all seems very odd!

Another thing, the variety of food here is amazing!  There are restaurants with food from every country in the world.  We have a Vietnamese, Thai and Indian all within about 30 seconds walk from the flat. One of the shopping malls has an amazing food court with Asian food of every kind where lunch costs the equivalent of only a couple of pounds, cheaper than a sandwich.  I'm having to stop myself from going every day!

Some of the oddities I have discovered since arriving here:
- A man who stands in the street with a large sign saying "Free Hugs" -  dishing out hugs to anyone who feels they need one
- You can't buy alcohol in supermarkets here, you have to go to a bottle shop or "bottle-o" which are often in pubs
- The flies.  They are relentless.  Most flies just buzz around, these ones want to land. Usually in my eyes.  Or mouth.  Or eyes.  Or nose.  They are driving me crazy to the point I find myself swearing at them out loud in the street!  And swatting doesn't work, they just ignore you or else come back and land again straight away.
- Little fold away metal scooters. People go to work on them!
- Traffic lights.  Traffic can turn into a street with a green man on it which results in a good chance of being run down on a green man, and of drivers abusing pedestrians and screaming at them to get off the road!
- A man I keep seeing on a bicycle with an engine!
- Cleanskins.  The name given to bottles of wine which don't have proper labels.  They are cheaper, but I don't really understand as they ones I bought were very tasty and had the name of the vineyard and the name of the grape on them.
- Bar opening hours.  Bars don't seem to close, they stay open til probably 4 or 5am.  And some are open 24 hours, including, dangerously, one I have to walk past to get home!
- Money.  They don't use 1 or 2 cent coins here, but items are still priced at $1.99 or $2.98 etc, which means the price is just rounded up (or down) to the nearest 5 cents.  It all seems like a big con to me, why not just make the $1.99 item $2?  Because that's what I'm going to have to pay anyway!
- Pokies.  What we would call puggies or fruit machines or something like that.  Pokie being short for poker, the pokie machines have a room to themselves here in pubs, some even have freebies like the hot chocolate machine and biscuits provided in the pokie room I checked out in Manly!  Seems that they think if they provide freebies you'll stay longer.  Or like me, you go in just for a nosy, spend a dollar and steal the biscuits!!
- McDonalds.  A McChicken Sandwich is not what it should be.  It's a poor imitation, so to get what I expect, I have to buy a deluxe chicken fillet burger or something like that.  Although I haven't had one since I had one which was raw in the middle.  Put me off slightly... Could probably have sued them or something, wish I'd thought of that at the time!

I am sure there are lots of other things to report but they are escaping me just now.  I don't have too many photos of Sydney yet because I've not been doing much in the way of tourist stuff.  Diane did have lots of photos of us on nights out but the evil person who stole her camera last weekend now has them sadly. 

So that's it for now....
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