The Big City

Trip Start Mar 14, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Australia  ,
Saturday, December 29, 2007

I woke up early and hopped on a tram to one of Melbourne's northern suburbs where my ride was staying.  Remember, I had no cell phone or private means of transportation.  So, the plan was for me to wait at a bus stop at ten o'clock for someone I'd never met before to come pick me up.  They were a little late, but it actually worked out.  They were two, nice Israeli girls who had bought a car upon arriving in Australia, and we were off to Sydney...kind of.  It was funny, they hadn't bothered to get any maps or directions, so after figuring out how to get into town and collecting info at the tourist center, we were off to Sydney.
I was hoping to stop by Canberra on the way (which most people, including myself at one point, don't realize is the capital of Australia), but the girls wanted to go via the coast, so no dice.  It was a pleasant ride all the same.  I slept most of the time, and there was a stop at a cheese factory, which was delicious.  On the first day of the two-day journey, we stopped in a little town that humbly calls itself Eden.  It was a quaint place right on the coast that lived up to the name.  That night, we snuck into a campground just outside of town, made a scrumptious spaghetti dinner, and went to sleep. 
After packing up the tents and having a pleasant breakfast at the beach, we were on the road again.  We arrived in Sydney around dusk.  Now, as it turns out, I wasn't the only person interested in staying in Sydney for the New Year holiday.  As such, every bunk in town had been booked weeks ahead.  Not by me of course - advanced booking really isn't my thing - I didn't even know I was going to be there until a couple days beforehand.  But, I wasn't going to let a little detail like that get in my way.  The girls said I could leave some of my gear in the car, so I stuffed my day pack with essentials and hopped out in the middle of the city.  I watched them drive off, took a deep breath, and began my Sydney adventure. 
I searched for and eventually found a hostel in the center of the city.  Fortunately, they left their kitchen and locker section open 24 hours, so I was able to stow away some of my food and gear and cook myself some dinner.  Then, having nothing to do and nowhere to stay, I headed for the only home I knew, the casino.  I didn't sleep that night, but I was able to get a hundred extra Aussie dollars for my troubles.  When the sun came up, I set out to explore the city. 
It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and I found Sydney to be a pretty nice city.  Lots of parks, malls, and oldish buildings like the other cities, just on a larger scale.  I worked my way over to the backpacker's haven in King's Cross, still trying to put together that plan for January.  While there, I ran into the Israeli girls, and we ended up taking a bus over to Bondi Beach.  Bondi is apparently the place to see and be seen.  The beach was cool, and I watched some local guys roll around a skate park for a little while.  The girls and I parted ways again as I got on a bus back into the city to explore a little more.
While waiting for a connecting bus, this woman sitting next to me on the bench started talking to me.  With my lack of sleep, I was feeling a little delirious and was struggling to keep up my end of the conversation.  Somehow - she probably asked where I was staying - the fact that I had nowhere to sleep came up, and she kind of paused, laughed, and mentioned that she had an extra bed where she was staying.  Well, she tells me, she's from New Zealand and in town for her cousin's wedding, and she's staying at a friend of a friend of her cousin's place (or something like that), who she in fact hasn't even met yet as the girl is out of town for the holiday, as are some of the other flat mates, hence the extra bed.  Then, without any prompting from me, she offers up this bed, that she has no business offering, to me for the night.  I would imagine there's a response most people would have given to this strange lady on the bus, and then there's the response I gave, "Sure, why not."  She didn't seem too crazy, just really nice, like every other Kiwi I had ever met, but then again, I would imagine that's how the crazies get you.  We rode on into the night. 
Before going home, she was on her way up to the opera house to see it at night, which was more than alright with me as I hadn't seen it yet.  It was pretty spectacular.  We walked around it and watched some guys setting up a stage for the New Year's Eve television broadcast.  Afterwards, we spent some time trying to find a bus to where she was staying.  We eventually found one and were able to ride for free for some reason (bonus).  And, it turned out she was staying near Little Italy, which was great since I kind of wanted to see it but hadn't planned on making it down that far. 
It was around midnight by the time we got off the bus and I still hadn't had anything to eat for dinner.  Fortuitously, we ran across a little pizza place that was closing up shop, and I bought one of their leftover pizzas at a discount.  Walking to her place, she became abnormally excited at the sound of salsa music coming from some club.  It turned out she was a sometime salsa teacher and really into that whole scene.  We rushed to her place, she introduced me to the guy on the couch who had the honor of being the only one among us who was actually paying rent to be there, made up a shifty story as to who I was (I was there for the wedding but I wasn't clear as to what my relation was to anybody which was made difficult by the fact that I was clearly not from Australia or New Zealand), showed me my bed, got changed, and was off to salsa all night long.  The guy was kind enough to offer me some of his leftover Chinese food, and I watched The Bodyguard with him while trying to avoid answering any questions about myself - life was good.  After a very long, comfortable sleep and a rejuvenating shower in the morning, I had a bowl of Wheat Bix cereal, said my thank you's and goodbye's, and was on a bus back into the city to see what was shakin' for New Year's Eve. 
After briefly talking with another travel agent to try and put a January plan together, I walked up to the harbor to see the opera house and harbor bridge in daylight.  It was only early afternoon, and already there were gobs of people everywhere.  People had come early with their friends to stake out a piece of real estate with blankets and coolers for the fireworks that night.  I had decided to fly solo in order to maintain mobility.  So, after hanging around there for a little while, I walked over to check out the botanical garden and King's Cross sites.  Places were filling up fast.  Closer to midnight, I walked back over to the bridge and grabbed a falafel sandwich for dinner.  Various venues were playing fantastic music for the shoulder-to-shoulder masses shuffling through the streets.  And, the harbor itself was quite a sight as a ton of boats were sailing around, trimmed with Christmas lights. 
As the time grew nigh, I headed back over to the botanical garden as I had settled on that site as having the best view of the bridge for the fireworks show.  Security had closed off the site a long time ago when it filled to capacity, but a group of Spaniards and I hopped a fence, creeped through the night past an apathetic/sympathetic security guard, and joined the throngs of people crowded along the shoreline.  As punctual as ever, midnight arrived, and wow, what a show.  You're sitting there in a beautiful garden with thousands of people from all over the world, watching a giant, electric hourglass on the Sydney Harbor Bridge count down the minutes until the world's first major New Year's show begins.  The electronic sands of time disappear and huge fireworks fire off from the bridge and the opposing shore.  They seem to never end as they're joined by more explosions over the Sydney Opera House being launched from the boats in the harbor, which are joined by even more blasts from the tops of the skyscrapers to the left of this panoramic view.  Then, in a final climax of sound and light, they all fire off at once when white sparks begin snowing down into the harbor along the entire length of the bridge.  I didn't expect it to be as spectacular as it was and was extremely grateful that my path had happened to bring me there at that time. 
The Langans came into town New Year's Day - those are the relatives I stayed with in Shanghai.  I had a good time hanging out with them in the afternoon, and they were kind enough to treat me to a nice dinner that evening.  Words cannot express how appreciated that meal was by a poor, homeless backpacker.  The next day was a free-food goldmine - every hostel has a free food shelf where backpackers can leave food they no longer want (I'm always pleased when I can put together a free-food meal), and those shelves were packed due to the post New Year's exodus.  I met up with the Israeli girls in Bondi and took the rest of my gear off their hands since they were moving on.  And, I finally buckled down, worked out an itinerary for my remaining days in Australia, and ponied up the cash to book it all in.  It was a very painful process for me considering how much I hate both booking things and giving away my money, but after it was over, I was very relieved. 
I spent my remaining days in Sydney walking across the bridge, taking a ferry to Manly Beach, saying goodbye to the Langans, and finding various nooks and crannies to close my eyes in.  Then, Friday night, I bought a delicious Dominoes pizza with a coupon I had acquired and walked to the bus station to begin my trip up the east coast.
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