9.01pm - Under The Bridge
Trip Start Feb 09, 2009
19Trip End Mar 25, 2009
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Holy God, Sydney. Enough with the damn rain! Seriously!! When I got up this morning, it was gorgeous blue skies for the first time in a week, and I was obviously quite thrilled. In an effort to take advantage of the weather, I decided to do all the things that required good weather for maximum effect - all the high altitude fun I had been putting off for the last few days whilst waiting hopefully for better weather. Thinking my patience had been rewarded, I hastened first to Sydney Tower, the remaining part of the Discovery Trail that I had not yet taken in.
Sydney Tower, whilst not quite as impressive as the Sky Tower in Auckland, is still mightily high at 260m (the same height as the Eiffel Tower, incidentally). I could see my hotel, which was pretty cool (go me for picking one not surrounded by skyscrapers, I guess), although some genius decided to build a skyscraper slap bang in the
Before I continue today's tales (and although this instalment is long, you will want to keep reading, because I've got a brilliant story about a woman I met this afternoon), I wish to put a question to my tiny but loyal audience. I have a fierce adoration for Lonely Planet, okay - they are well organised in almost every respect and helpfully inform you of things like which hostels have wireless and which pubs do the best beer (the only two things I need to survive are Facebook and alcohol, so these are important matters). They also have truly excellent maps in them. I really couldn't survive without their guides, and if I am a very good girl and keep up these humble scribblings, I may even get to work for them some day. Nevertheless, when I am abroad, while I am happy to tell anyone who asks that I'm English and on my jollies (and therefore not a resident of their fine land), I always feel slightly uneasy actually consulting my LP in public. In some respects, this is good - it means my nose isn't constantly stuck in a guidebook, and I am actually looking around and figuring things out for myself, rather than letting someone else do all the figuring out for me. (Of course, every decent restaurant or bar I find, I realise LP has always gotten there first when I look at my map later, but never mind.) But I'm not doing it to be fearless and adventurous. I'm doing it because I want to pretend to the strangers around me that I'm a local. I obviously look fairly confident and relaxed in my surroundings, because terrified-looking tourists (and once in Cathedral Square in Christchurch, an extremely commanding woman from Oxfordshire) are always asking me for directions, so it is working. (The illusion is of course utterly shattered when I am forced to shamefacedly mumble that I'm sorry, but I don't know the way to the bibliotheque, because I'm not from around here either.) But isn't that slightly awful? How ashamed I am of my touristy status? (I call shenanigans on that whole tourist/traveller thing, by the way; if you're hanging around at touristy spots, which I usually am, then suck it up, you hippie, you're a bloody tourist.) I don't even like taking photos of landmarks or monuments because it marks me out as a tourist. I do it, of course, because I want the photo more than I want to look cool in front of people I don't know, but I want to look cool enough that it's always with a bit of a grimace that I pull the camera out. Does all this make me a wanker? Because I sometimes think it does. And perhaps I'd be happier if I just threw back my head and read my guide with pride. I don't really look down on anyone that I do see with a map or a copy of LP or Rough Guide, because they're exactly like me. They just don't sneak off into corners and alleyways to consult theirs. Is this something everyone does, or am I an arrogant dickhead? Just wondering.
NB - the arrogant dickhead question only applies to this particular issue. If you think I'm an arrogant dickhead for some other reason, kindly keep your thoughts to yourself - I'm far too busy and important to read them, after all.
After arriving on the north shore, I made my way to Luna Park, the theme park located near the base of the bridge by the water's edge. I was quite excited to go here initially, because it looked very Coney Island-y and kitsch. It would seem that this is a fairly unpopular opinion though, because although there were one or two people on the rides, for the most part, as I wandered through the park, it was absolutely deserted.
...well, I don't want to meet it in a dark alley, that's all I'm saying. And yes, that is the actual entrance. It looked sort of cool when I spotted it from by the opera house, ie. from a kilometre away across the harbour. Close up, it's completely terrifying. It has eyelashes, for God's sake, that alone would have done it, but it's also a clown (and nothing's scarier than a clown), and it's so huge, and it's got those weird teeth that are just waiting for you to walk underneath so they can mash you... it's all very bad.
So I was gonna do some rides and whatnot, but Luna Park don't do just an entry fee or tickets for the ride, they do levels of unlimited ride passes, and to get the pass that included the Ferris Wheel (the only thing I actually cared about, for the photo ops), it would have been $33, which seemed a bit ludicrous considering only a few rides were
On the way, I got distracted by a cute park type area that I'd spotted from the bridge, so had a bit of a wander down to the water. As soon as I picked out the most picturesque of spots, under a lovely tree, right on the water,
After splashing unhappily up the steps and across the harbour bridge, I decided I'd definitely earned a pint, so dropped into the nearby Australian Hotel (recently recommended by Lisa from NZ on Facebook, for those of you playing along at home) and purchased some Victoria Bitter (recently recommended by Noj from Bacup, for those of you secretly tapping my phone). It was quite busy, so I went to sit outside - I know, that sounds bonkers, but their outdoor seating is under cover and despite all this whining to the contrary, I do actually quite like rain if I'm not stranded in it. (It's the smell, if you care. Storms are best for it.)
So I'm sitting outside, reading my book, drinking my beer, generally minding my own business, when a woman sits at the next table and asks suddenly if I've finished my book. Seemed a bit of a stupid question, since I was very obviously halfway through it, but I guessed (correctly) that she just wanted someone to talk to, so I said I hadn't (she was looking to swap if I had - she had The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, anyone read it? I hear the film's cracking) but I did recommend mine, and briefly outlined the plot. Now, this book, Eat Pray Love, is kicked off by Liz, the author (it's a memoir), realising she's unhappy in her life and her marriage, and that she wants to leave her husband. Remember this, it will become relevant in a minute. I set the scene briefly by explaining that, and then went on to talk more about the meat of the book, which is about her journey to mentally heal herself, basically by spending time in Italy eating a lot of delicious food and learning Italian, and then spending time in an ashram in India, learning to be closer to God. I've only just started the third and final section of the book, where she goes to Indonesia to live with a Balinese medicine man, so I can't tell you how her journey ends, but the book is both funny and interesting, and a fascinating look at faith and how sometimes you need to cut yourself off from what you should be doing, and just do what you need to do.
So I'm talking about the book, describing it as thought-provoking but not preachy, and very, very funny (which is important, because it could seem a little dry and earnest otherwise), and then, presuming she wants to talk about books because she, you know, started talking about books, I start to talk about Elizabeth Gilbert's fiction books, one of which I read in NZ before I tracked this one down. When I pause, about to ask her how she liked her book, she breaks in with the news that she's married too, and she's thinking about leaving her husband. Right. That, as you might expect, puts paid to my polite book chat, and I just smile sympathetically and say, "Ahh," hoping to sound wiser than I'm feeling. Looking increasingly wild-eyed, she begins to gabble about how she doesn't love him anymore, and he's a twat, but it's not easy to leave him, because the way her visa works, she can't leave the country without him or something (she was English, sounded fairly southern - this will also be relevant in a minute). I don't know why she couldn't leave without him, if she's got a UK passport, surely they're not going to refuse entry to a citizen? I didn't really want to get into that, though, so I just gave her another sympathetic smile and said something along the lines of it being terrible the way that people have to deal with legal practicalities just at a time when they're feeling vulnerable.
At this point, an older couple walk up and ask if they can sit at my table (it was a long bench and the only dry spot). I say for sure. They sit, and ask if I'm alone, and I say I am. My new friend at the next table breaks in to say that I'm very nice, because I was just reading my book and she interrupted me. I say that I'm not bothered (and indeed, I can read my book any time, but material like this doesn't just come along every day) and invite her to sit with us as well, which she does.
There then begins the strangest conversation I have ever had. The older couple, who were Canadian, just seemed to want to chat about the usual holidaymaking small talk, chit-chat about the harbour and the weather and whatnot. Crazy English Lady was so not into that. She had initially asked me where I was from, and when I said Manchester, she actually gasped and said "Oh wow", as if it was inconceivable that humans could survive above the Watford Gap. When the Canadians began to speak, she immediately accused them of being northern too, which they happily agreed with, since they are about as northern as it gets, but Crazy English Lady started laughing hysterically and giving me looks of "Oh, these colonial fools". I smiled politely, whilst thinking 'They so obviously didn't sound northern, or English at all, you dizzy cow, so why are you laughing like they're the idiots because they don't know what you're talking about?' Canadian Man asked me if we were together, and I was quick to disavow the notion, saying it was just a coincidence that we were both English.
Crazy English Lady then began to become horrifyingly, unacceptably rude. She started imitating their accents. She started talking about Vancouver and when they piped up that they actually lived thousands of miles from Vancouver, she shushed them. She mentioned that she'd recently returned from Uluru, and when Canadian Woman misheard her and said "You recently returned from the loo?", Crazy English Lady broke out with the hysterical laughter once more and then started enunciating Uluru very loudly and slowly, as though they were deaf or a tad special. I shook my head slightly in horror and tried to explain that she meant Ayers Rock, as was, to poor Canadian Woman, who was looking utterly mystified that this bitch kept shouting "OOH-LOO-ROO! OOH-LOO-ROO!" at her.
The unfortunate Canadian couple soon got the measure of madame, and turned away from us slightly to scoff the steak sandwiches they'd just ordered. She then turned the full beam of her crazy onto me. Lucky old me. Launching into a story about how beautiful her fifteen year old daughter was (honestly, if she said the words "flaxen hair" once, she said them twenty times), she began to tell me how she felt a bit jealous, because she hadn't been a pretty teenager, and her daughter was a total tramp, and had proven herself untrustworthy in the past (and how did she know this? Why, she'd read her emails, of course! Is it any surprise the daughter is keeping stuff from her?), and when her daughter got dressed up, she never told her she looked nice, because she got far too many compliments as it was, so she tried to drag her down a bit instead. I listened to the crazy for a while, tuning in and out, but tuning the hell in when she asked "For example, how old were you when you lost your virginity? Did you use something??" After I'd stopped spluttering in laughter at the randomness of it all, I said that in my opinion, promiscuity amongst teenagers isn't necessarily such a terrible thing (and certainly isn't a rare thing) as long as they use protection and come out the other side without diseases, babies, or broken hearts. She started going on about how she'd met her husband when she was fifteen (the twat she wanted to divorce, remember), and she didn't want her daughter to end up with a twat. I pointed out that her daughter's idea of a twat and her idea of a twat might not be the same, and surely it was more important for her daughter to be happy? Her response to this heartfelt sentiment and genuine attempt to advise her? Make fun of my accent. Repeatedly. I said something about being aghast at some of the things Paige used to wear, and she broke in to repeat "aghast" in a northern accent over and over, whilst laughing her ass off. The longer I spoke, the more she did it, and eventually she started putting on a "comedy" northern accent when she was talking too. She even adopted a fun set of actions to go with it, tucking her thumbs behind imaginary braces and sticking out her elbows, and then wiggling them up and down with each word. Hilarious, I'm sure you'll agree. Since she was imitating the Canadians a bit too though, I guess she's at least an equal opportunity accent mocker.
She then began quizzing me on what I was doing in Sydney (blithely insulting the joint at the same time, saying the Opera House was small and dirty-looking - way to ingratiate yourself with the locals, love). I explained that I had recently arrived but would be travelling up the coast for the next couple of months. She asked if I had somewhere to stay, or a plan. I said I didn't particularly have a plan yet, but I would make one before I left Sydney. She then invited me to stay with her. I raised my eyebrows and laughed politely, assuming she was kidding. She stared baldly at me. I stopped laughing and hurriedly assured her that I was fine for somewhere to stay in Sydney, and would be moving on shortly anyway. She grabbed my hands and said very earnestly that she was worried about me, all on my own. I laughed again, slightly more uneasily this time (no touching!), and said that I would be fine. She started going on about how dangerous Australia can be, and thinking of the usual things people mean when they say that, I said "Yeah, the spiders and stuff, right?"
She took my hands again very earnestly and said "No. There's a lot of crazy people around here."
I stared at her for a long minute, wondering how she did not see the irony of what she was saying, and then, with a big grin, said "I think I'll be fine."
Today's Highlight: Canadian Woman commented politely on how nice Crazy English Lady's necklace was, to which she immediately answered that it was freshwater pearls with chunks of silver, and Canadian Woman, without malice or agenda, immediately and brightly exclaimed, "Wow! You must be loaded!" I laughed til I cried.
Where I stayed