Big news - home away from home
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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It has been a while on the blog front, not helped by the fact that this particular entry has been extremely difficult to write. After all, it's not every day that you return to your homeland as a tourist after almost three years away, nor is it that you make life-changing decisions like the ones I've been making recently. More on those shortly, but rest assured I expect this to live up to the same questionable standards as the rest of the blog, without resorting to sensationalism and despite the belated nature of the entries.
In hindsight it wasn't a particularly bright idea to organise a brief two week return home, on the other side of the planet and a solid 24 hours away by plane. Especially when the home country in question is so expansive and full of interesting places and people needing to be seen. Even since I hadn't done the kangaroo route home in nigh on five years, nor with my sweetie in tow, so when the jet lag kicked in it wiped out a significant portion of our stay. 'Mad' I think someone put it at the time, and between synchronised yawns we had to agree.
But Karen and I got out there anyway. The grandeur of the Bridge and Opera House was un-diminished in my absence and broke through the intermittent showers that greeted us harbourside that day. Despite the weather (which coincedentally turned sour as we entered the holding pattern and circled above Sydney on arrival and didn't dissipate again until the day before our departure), Karen was most impressed by the Harbour's aquatic vistas that lay before us in all directions. Every book you read about the city gushes praise for its splendour and so crossing the bridge on foot that morning it was great to introduce Karen to some of its many facets, whilst appreciating them in ways I'd partially forgotten due to a lifetime of familiarity myself.
Down into The Rocks we descended for a quick glimpse at the further reaches of Sydney's brief history - now largely glossed over by a sophisticated and cosmopolitan city's coming of age. Once a cliff-line overlooking the Tank Stream (Sydney's first fresh water source) and the more pleasant lands of Sydney Cove where the scum and villainy of the first fleet were banished to labour, The Rocks is now an urban jungle of tourist pap, hotels and bars. Hadn't changed a bit it seemed and a quick stop at Ken Done's gallery summed up the brashness of the area. Judging by my sweetie's crinkled up (but very cute) nose, his work is obviously not to everyone's tastes.
Back onto the shores of the Harbour and the Opera House, via Circular Quay, was the next goal. En-route we collected Karen's friend Nicki, residing here for the rest of the year, before having a boozy lunch in order to dodge another rain shower. What's that saying - when in Sydney, do as the locals do? I was feeling right at home by now.
Architects come from across the globe to witness the Opera House and it's not difficult, even after forty years, to see why. Where other iconic buildings elsewhere rely on a level of theatrics, garnish and over-design to make their statement, the Opera House has a restrained simplicity that pervades all aspects of its existence - the flexibility of its various spaces, the easy way visitors interact with it both internally and externally, its seemingly effortless maintenance, the way it complements and enhances its environment, and obviously its breathtaking design - regardless of whether you're right next to it, or viewing from afar.
After debating that eternal question (waves, sails, shells???) we managed took a peek in the little two-sailed structure that sits guard of the main halls and overlooks the forecourt, before busting into the tail end of a matinee to check out the internals of one of the main theatres. Karen was particularly impressed with the tiling (need to get her out more often methinks :-), so a production of hippy-type people on four enormous bendy poles nearby was about the only way Nicki and I could drag her away. Well, that and the promise of giant spiders and fruit bats in the Botanics...
Dusk is a magical time in Sydney and the best way to see it is on the ferries. Probably one of the best (and best value) tourist attractions is the Manly ferry on a warm sunny day to get to Manly, then a jet-cat ride returning to the Quay at dusk as the lights of the sky-scrapers light up. Beeautiful. Unfortunately we didn't get round to that this trip, but a quick ride across to Luna Park to catch up with my mates for a pub quiz at the Kirribilli Hotel was a great introduction to this mode of transport anyway. Next time...
Now I'd better come clean on these momentous, life changing commitments I guess. Someone is going to pick it up from the next photo anyway (well spotted Kirky ;-). I'd brought my wonderful girlfriend Karen to Australia to introduce her both to my home and my friends (as the family had already met and fell for her). However in the lead up to departure it occurred to me that a simple question would make the whole journey all the more special, so in the lead up to departure I enlisted my sister's help in finding the necessary item (sparkly engagement ring) and gave thought to where I might pop the question.
It was at the Summit restaurant, not atop the Bridge, that I asked for Karen's hand in marriage, and despite it not going quite according to plan (she was half-frozen from the air-con actually), she found her voice and the answer was a definitive yes. Something that I couldn't envisage ever happening a couple of years ago in my D&M entry days has now come so naturally, which goes to show what travel, a blog and a more worldly outlook can do for you. I shan't go into further details for fear of getting all mushy but suffice it to say that we're both looking forward to May 2009 and the big day!
With the big news announced to all and sundry that weekend, and celebrated with 30-40 close family friends toward the end of our stay, all that was left was to do was to enjoy the sunshine that finally broke through the cloud cover for ANZAC Day. ANZAC Day in Sydney is a far cry from the sombre events held on the Gallipolli Peninsula (as I related via blog around this time in 2006). Here it is a celebration of our service-people and a homage to the spirit embodied in our diggers since 1915.
Despite the dolly birds tossing the coins it's not all pretty - to be honest from about 2pm it descends into loosely contained anarchy - but the beer drinking and 2 Up (a coin toss based game of chance only legal on ANZAC Day) is anticipated with relish each year as summer winds down. We celebrate with the Syndicate at Cargo Bar in Darling Harbour and it was great to be amongst old mates a final time on this trip, despite loosing a mint in the 2 Up pit and the predictably heavy head that results the morning after. Better luck next year guys and thanks to all for a great day.
One of the simple pleasures I was looking forward to introducing Karen to was a traditional Aussie barby (that's BBQ - not to be confused with the Australiana Barby doll with designer cork hat). Mum and Dad have a fantastic oasis in the bush on the city's North Shore, which is a pleasure to stay in by itself, so when the sun finally shone bright on the last day we took the opportunity and chowed down on some tasty (quite expensive) Australian moo steaks.
George and Marg from down the street came down (after hosting us brilliantly twice before during our stay) and that day, for me anyway, embodied much about our lifestyles and culture down under - the perfect expression of both which I'm very glad Karen was able to experience in the short time she was there.
Next entry > more stuff from Australia, out and around Sydney.
Where I stayed