Heading down under...

Trip Start Jan 31, 2006
Trip End Dec 11, 2006

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006


After a marathon 9 hour wait at Tokyo airport (the plane left on time, we just didn't have anything to do between checking out of our hotel and flying at 11pm, at least nothing we could do with about 50kgs of luggage), we had a quite comfortable overnight flight to Sydney. At about 7am, I had my first sighting of the Opera House from the air as we came in to land and I started to get very excited about the next couple of months in Australia. Richard had been before in 2000 but this was my first visit and after six weeks of language barriers and some rather odd food in China and Japan, I couldn't wait to get to Australia!

I was also very excited for another reason as I was going to get to see my friend Nicola who moved to Auckland five years ago and handily moved to Sydney last year. We had only seen each other once in the last five years and we were going to be staying with her and her fiance Sanji for two weeks. Before I go any further I just want to say another huge thank you to Nicola and Sanji for being such amazing hosts. We had a fabulous couple of weeks with you and are looking forward to coming back!

After being thoroughly quizzed at customs as to whether we were trying to smuggle any fruit or veg into the country, we took the train to Central Station where Nicola was waiting to meet us to take us to her house in Glebe, a Sydney suburb. It was brilliant to see her and she hadn't changed a bit! She took us back to her house and we immediately made ourselves at home, mainly by spreading our stuff all over the place.

As Nicola had to go to work, we spent the day catching up on some sleep, doing our laundry and getting used to the space and comfort of the house. However, that evening, Nicola cooked up a storm and we feasted on roast chicken and tatties - exactly the meal we needed after Japan. This was washed down with a few glasses of wine - I never thought I would be so glad to see a chilled bottle of Oyster Bay! It was a great night and was fantastic catching up with Nicola and getting to know Sanji, but our hangovers the next morning reminded us that we had really got out of the way of drinking!

The next few days were spent relaxing, marvelling at being able to cook for ourselves again (baked tatties and beans were a firm favourite), watching a bit of English-speaking TV and a lot of pottering around Glebe. Glebe is a lovely suburb with a great main street full of restaurants of every type, interesting shops and an amazing cake shop that was very difficult to walk past...

We did manage to venture out a little though. We had a lovely lunch with Nicola at the Opera Bar which is beside the Opera House. The weather was beautiful, even though it is technically winter here, and the views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge were stunning in the sunshine. After lunch, Richard and I went for a walk around the outside of the Opera House to take in the views. The views were beautiful, but the spittle that I put my hand on when taking in the view around the bay wasn't quite so lovely. Many washings of my hands later, we wandered around The Rocks and a little bit of the city before heading for home. Well, we don't want to exhaust ourselves!

By Friday we were ready for a cultural day. We started off at the Museum of Contemporary Art where we saw the Sam Taylor-Wood exhibition, complete with films of David Beckham sleeping (distinctly odd) and a naked man dancing (slightly disturbing, and unfortunately not David Beckham). From there we strolled to the stunning State Library of NSW where the World Press Photography Exhibition was being shown. This was a fascinating display of, unsurprisingly, press photos from around the world, that ranged from photos of beautiful nature to photos of disturbing pictures of violence. From here, it was a short wander to the Botanical Gardens. The Gardens run down from the city to the waterfront near the Opera House and are really beautiful. I saw my first wild cockatoos and bats in the Gardens. The bats were quite an odd sight. You see what look like hundreds of large pieces of dark fruit hanging from the trees, and then one of them stretches its wings and you realise they are bats!

All cultured-out, it was 5pm on Friday and time to meet Nicola from work. She took us to a nearby pub (or hotel, as they are confusingly called here) for a couple of drinks before we went back to Glebe to meet Sanji and his friends Nerjit and Nerdita for dinner in a local Lebanese restaurant. It was my first taste of Lebanese food and I can confirm that it is excellent.

Nicola and Sanji donned their tour guide hats for the rest of the weekend and showed us what Sydney had to offer. On Saturday Nicola and I started off with a visit to the Glebe Market, followed by a blissful manicure and pedicure that was a birthday present from Nicola and Sanji. Fully pampered, we met up with the boys and walked to the fish market where we had a fabulous lunch of prawns, whitebait, chilli squid and fish and chips! Yes, I am still being led round the world by my stomach!

From the fish market we walked to Darling Harbour, a huge waterfront shopping and eating area. After a wander around, we installed ourselves in a pub so that Sanji and Richard could watch the Super 14 rugby final and Nicola and I could have a good old natter. Unfortunately, the stadium it was being played in was in New Zealand (as I said, Nicola and I were chatting, things like venues and scores went straight past us) and was fog-bound so you could barely see any of the play on the TV. This didn't stop Sanji and Richard watching avidly though. Once the rugby was finished, we went to a non-sports bar for a fantastic cocktail and then headed for home.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny so we jumped on the bus to Coogee, which was to be the starting point for a walk from Coogee to Bondi Beach. Once we arrived in Coogee, we decided some sustenance for the walk was in order so we popped into the Coogee Hotel for some tattie wedges.....and a pitcher of beer. The walk was absolutely stunning. We could see for miles from the cliffs and it was fantastic to watch the surfers in the water. About halfway through our walk was a bowls club that was in the most perfect location ever (have a look at the photos), so it would have been wrong not to stop for a restorative pitcher. From there we pushed on until we reached the Bondi Surf Club which had the most amazing views over the beach, which we admired with a beer or two... We eventually made it home and, after a fab Thai takeaway, called it a night. All in all, a fantastic weekend!!

Now, you will have seen from the photos that so far on this trip I have been sporting a "utility" look. Trying to choose between my trainers, Birkenstocks and hiking boots has been a daily dilemma. So, you can imagine my excitement to be in a city with a high concentration of shoe and clothes shops (and with a chance of them being in my size!). So, week 2 in Sydney started as shopping week!! The net result for me was two "going-out" tops and a pair of stiletto heels (bought in the sale - what has happened to me??), although I am ashamed to say that I nearly fell over when I tried to walk in the first pair of heels I tried on. Richard wasn't left out and ended up with a pair of trainers that he had been coveting in Japan (but obviously couldn't find in his size) and a fancy new wide-angle camera lens, so all parties were happy.

The rest of our second week passed fairly quietly, (mainly due to spending all our money shopping) as we had to spend a couple of days in the internet cafe (handily at the back of the lovely cake shop) updating the blog and planning our trip around Australia. But it was lovely as we were able to relax at Nicola and Sanji's house and had great evenings with them eating, drinking, chatting and watching telly. We did go on a day trip to Manly though. We had a lovely walk along the beach and up around the heads and then came back on the ferry at sunset which was beautiful, particularly seeing the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the buildings around Circular Quay lit up.

We also had a great night out with Nicola and Sanji at a Thai restaurant called Longrain in Surry Hills, another suburb of Sydney. Decked out in my new clothes, I felt very much the part. I even wore make-up for almost the first time in 4 months! We had a fantastic evening with lots of lovely food and fantastic cocktails.

Another bonus of being in Sydney was being able to catch up with Tim Sackar, who I had worked with at A&O in London before he moved back to Sydney. We managed to meet up for lunch on the Friday and had a great catch-up. Unfortunately, he was horribly busy at work so we weren't able to have a night out, but it was lovely to see him for lunch. Amusingly, Richard had hired a bike that morning in order to cycle to a camera shop that was supposed to have the lens he wanted (we didn't buy his lens until our last day in Sydney). Unfortunately, as we always manage to do, the shop turned out to be a lot further away than we had thought, the journey was mostly uphill and they didn't have the lens they wanted, so by the time Richard made it into the city to meet us for lunch he was shattered and not best pleased. To top if off, it had started pouring by the time we left lunch so his bike was soaked and there was no way he could pedal home. I was therefore duly dispatched onto the first bus going in our direction to negotiate a way of taking the bike on the bus to get it back to the hire shop!

On our last Saturday night in Sydney, we all went to Nerjit and Nerdita's house in Newtown for dinner. We met some of their friends and had a great evening with lots of lovely food and wine. On Sunday, Richard and I went to Paddington, another suburb of Sydney. It has fantastic shops so we spent a lot of time window-shopping and finished off in the London pub, for a taste of home. By the time we got home, Nicola had cooked up a storm and we feasted on homemade soup, prawns and fish - yum!!

All too soon, it was time to pack up and move on again. We had had a fabulous two weeks in Sydney with Nicola and Sanji. It was wonderful being able to spend time with them and we felt thoroughly relaxed and refreshed by the time we headed back to the airport to fly to Melbourne.
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