I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Sydney, day 1

Advice for travellers comes in many forms and from many places -- governments, friends, tripadvisor.com, airlines, me, employers -- but most of them, I think, agree that one of the best things to do is try and get yourself into your destination's timezone as soon as you can. It's certainly something I try and do; I set my watch to the right time of where I'm visiting as soon as the plane takes off. Unfortunately I don't heed the advice beyond that, in particular I don't bother kipping at the right times or anything sensible like that (btw, advice about time is simple and easy for anyone to follow; what's less simple, or even sensible, is the advice Yahoo! gives out which includes "try and blend in with the locals. buy a local language newspaper". this didn't work for me in TAIWAN AND FUCKING INDIA).

So, 0630 in Sydney, me having been up for most of the previous 36 hours and my bro for the previous 90 minutes. Had a cup of tea (out of character, but I figured the caffeine and sugar would be helpful), said hello/goodbye to Sally who was off for her first day at work in her new* job, said hello/goodbye to Mara who was off to her regular job, and went out ourselves, at about 0850 I guess.

Started off with a walk, across Queen's Park. Mara's flat is in an area called Randwick, in a part of Sydney where the only public transport options are buses. But it was rush hour so we wanted a train, which meant heading to Bondi Junction. I was already flagging, feeling hot and knackered and light headed and wondering whether attempting to adjuts to the local timezone was such a good idea.

Martin Place, where we got off the train, is in the centre of Sydney, loads of shops and bars and businesses in enormous tower blocks all around, with pedestrianised areas and a massive feeling of being in, err, London. Or Manchester. The whole everything's-in-English thing, the fact they drive on God's side of the road, being with my brother, and the knowledge that it was us, after all, who kicked off all the massive settlement here: all these things made me feel like I wasn't really in a foreign country thousands of miles from home at all. Very odd it were. Everything was so familiar. I expected to see a Wetherspoons until i remembered that no-one does chain pubs other than England.

Anyway, anyway, anyway. It's way too early to be thinking about pubs. Let's walk through Sydney city centre, down George Street, towards the water. Circular Quay is the central calling point for ferries in Sydney, what Aldwych used to be to night buses in London. There are a bunch of piers/wharfs, and shedloads of ferries. The sheer number of boats in the water, both public transport (those which the travelcard equivalents are valid on) as well as special ones (taxis, special cruises, etc) really took me aback. Fucking cool though. But we didn't get on a boat, we just carried on wandering. Round to the left towards Sydney Harbour Bridge, and an area called The Rocks.

The weather in Sydney was phenomenal. The week before when Kevin and Sally had just got back, it was pissing down and miserable. But I arrive and the sun comes out. Kevin's excuse is that the weather was actually saying "Oh, you're staying then?" to them two, but I think we all know what's what. So the point is, the photos just couldn't wait. I started snapping in earnest. The harbour, the bridge, the opera house, they all got some k800i treatment. Of particular interest to me were the bridge walkers. Fools who aren't big scared-of-heights wousses (ahem) pay a load of dollars to be kitted out in a jump suit, chained to the bridge, and go walking all the way to the top. Mentalists. The view's probably fantastic though, but I settled for taking photos of them.

After The Rocks more diet coke was acquired, probably a bit too soon after the last bottle 'cos I started getting a bit unsteady on me feet again, and it was only 11am or summat. Walked back past Circular Quay and round past/behind the Opera House. The whole place was actually pretty dead. Not totally empty, but not rammed by any stretch of the imagination. I guess kids the world over are in term time, and it was midweek. Good for us, though.

I can't make my mind up about the Opera House. Is it pretty? Is it ugly? Is it pretty ugly? I'm not sure. But it doesn't matter anyway, what matters is it's a box I can tick: been there, photographed that.

Round the corner from the OH is a big park. Or botanical gardens. It's both, I guess. There are loads of plants and loads of birds and loads of greenery. Kev wanted us to walk all the way round, but the look of that was putting me off and I suggested we go get some solids once we reached halfway. So off the coastal track we went, inland via parakeets and past a wharf full of expensive boats and posh bars selling expensive drinks, near which a professional photographer was snapping a recently (ie, an hour or so ago) wedded couple. Past them, and past an undoubtedly expensive hotel, is Harry's Cafe de Wheels.

Harry's Cafe de Wheels is a Sydney institution. Not one I'd heard of, mind, but I'm satisfied by the walls full of photos of famous patrons that it genuinely is. And what an institution! My kind of place, Harry's is a stall selling pies and peas. That's about all it sells, really. Lots of different kinds of pie, mind, but still it's just all pie and peas. Bro and I duly ordered a pie and peas each and settled round the corner in the shade to eat it.

Shade was actually only one reason we went round the corner; the other was to get out of the way of the photographer. The aforementioned couple had moved on from the wharf-front setting, and were now being snapped ordering pies and peas. Still in their full wedding garb. And once served, they sat down to eat. On the pavement. I kid thee not, this bird in her fancy wedding dress was sat on the pavement eating a meat pie, with a bottle of coke next to her to wash it down. Bloody fantastic.

The pie sorted me out a bit, actually. The caffeine was no longer rushing. I'm awake, but fucking hell it was sunny. Too hot by half, I needed shade, or better still, aircon. A pretty long walk took us through a load of the aforementioned in a couple of parks and into the latter, in a big shopping centre in the, err, centre of the city. The QVB is much like any other mall I've ever been in, even down to having a branch of Lush which FUCKING STINKS. Wankers.

Didn't actually want to do any shopping, mind, but I did find that nice as Harry's pie was it wasn't exactly filling. So I brought some ice cream, a couple of scoops that were way bigger than I thought they'd be. Bro had the same (well, different flavours) and we went upstairs at my behest for a gawp at the monorail station. I fucking love monorails! But we didn't get on it :-(

Still too early to go to bed, and too hot to go back outside, I figured I'd been in the country long enough now to have a pint. A quick wander led us to an airconditioned underground bar and pool hall whereupon we played a few games and I really can't remember the score. I know I was 2-0 down, then 3-2, but then what happened. 3-3? 4-3? 3-4? Kevin'll have to remind me. Finished our Toohey's New times two in there and went down the road for a Toohey's Old in a different place, and time was a ticking. The alcohol wasn't making me drowsy though, which was a result, so there was still time for a bit more touring to be done. This involved looking for the 339 bus stop to take us to Clovelly, via Randwick, this being the bus that goes nearest to Mara's place.

I had to find the bus stop for us. Despite this being my first time ever in the city, Kevin got confused and a bit lost and my suggestion of heading to the bus stops opposite "Central" station came good. One 339 ride later and there we were at Clovelly, a beach town full of steep hills and bloody steep houses. A small beach with beautiful sand and a decent swimming area, our walk around its border revealed one of the reasons why England's rugby dominance will never last: kids of no more than 6 years old playing on the beach, one of them shouting "that's a knock-on!". Sheesh. Play a real sport you arses! Or, rather, don't, 'cos then you'll start beating us at it. So, err, keep up the good work!

Sydney, in fact Australia as a whole (I think), has a whole load of social clubs attached to sports clubs... or perhaps the other way round. Anyway, these clubs are members' clubs which, along with working men's clubs and (ex-)servicemen's clubs, are a way to get subsidised beer. The beauty lies in the system for being granted membership: you write your name and address on a slip of paper as you go in, and that's it. So a subsidised pint in Clovelly's crown green bowling club was ours, sat by the window looking out to sea as the sun started to go down.

It was time to go back so we wandered back across the bay and to the bus stop, but having just missed one we figured we'd walk a stop or two. This ended up being a walk all the way home... via another pub. A Toohey's Old in the back garden of the Duke Of Gloucester, just up the road from the flat, and then we really did go back. My entrance was particularly amusing to Sally and Mara: before walking into the kitchen I'd taken my glasses off to rub my eyes a little, feeling a bit tired 'n all. OH MY GOD YOU LOOK SO FUCKED was, I think, the greeting I got. Fair's fair I suppose. I was. Even the fantastic double fried egg and toast Mara made didn't have the power to keep me awake so finally, at 8pm on Tuesday evening, I crashed out. On a bed, too! Muchos gracias to me bro' for volunteering (or was that being told?) to kip on the sofa, greatly appreciated that. It would have been even better if I'd not woken up at 2am, and again at 0530 -- that time for good -- but it was still better than sleeping on a floor.

Right, that's day one done. It's now 7pm in Auckland and I think I'm going to go and have something to eat and something to drink. Just as soon as the damn photos finish uploading to flickr, that is. Lord knows how much all this excess data is costing me, but I could really do with the uploader not hanging just as it reaches the end. Anyway, by the time anyone reads this there should be 192 new pics to look at, including a bunch from days as-yet unwritten about. It should be pretty easy to guess what it is I did, therefore...

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