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

Saturday, October 09, 2010

a week in Sydney

I'm going to give a somewhat digested account of my time here in Sydney. Anything fuller would involve a lot of recounting episodes of The Simpsons, Family Guy, and American Dad. Yes, I watched a lot of TV...when it worked.

On arrival day I managed to stay awake until about 4pm. Walking the dogs was basically the final straw. I slept in 3 sessions, about 3 or 4 hours each I guess, interspersed with films and sport on TV (the Ryder Cup was on, the only exciting golf event there is). The hotel was OK-ish. I mean, the room was nice enough and the TV was a big moderately fancy flat screen thing mounted on the wall. But it was mounted badly, with a huge inset way bigger than the set and all the wires and stuff protruding. And it hadn't been painted. Also throughout the week it kept breaking -- hotels don't tend to provide normal TVs, but ones which are permanently "tuned" to something provided by a computer, with promotional clips of the city and access to pay-per-view porn and stuff. Well, the Diamant's computer was fucked a lot of the time. They gave free internet access to everyone in lieu (I already qualified for it). For the first few days the connection was about as reliable as the one in Istanbul airport had been.

The hotel had no bar, nor kitchen; room service was only provided from 6pm-10pm each day, with pasta/pizza or Indian food provided at a premium from a couple of local restaurants. I had pizza and cheesecake twice during the week and they were bloody nice. The minibar was an auto-charging don't-touch-what-you-can't-afford thing, yet when I checked out earlier today I had only been charged for 2 beers instead of the 5 or 6 I had throughout the week. Go figure.

The bathroom was nice enough. No bath, just a walk-in shower. The view was of a tower block and 24hr convenience store. There was a Holiday Inn about 20 yards away that I'd have stayed in if I'd known about it (translation: I didn't do my research well enough). Mind you, if I had done my research I'd not have stayed in the Cross at all: lots of hobos, mutton, seedy strip joints, and backpacker places. I wish I'd stayed in the Rocks.

Australia loves pies. I love pies. Harry's Cafe de Wheels does ace pies; I had tiger pie and mash and peas. Mmm.

Sydney is a gloriously picturesque and beautiful city. I went for a couple of runs along the harbour front around the Domain and the Botanical Gardens and the Opera House and through Circular Quay to the Rocks. Beautiful. I managed to run for an hour non-stop, by going slow, then stupidly convinced myself that this meant I was getting better in general -- so when I dismally failed to get anything close to a personal best for a 5km 3 days later, I got really pissed off. Seems all I proved was that if I do it slower, I can do it for longer. Well, dur. I could say the same about any other chore, like washing up or whatever. Ho hum.

On the Sunday, it rained. A lot. But only while I was outside; while we were having breakfast at Bondi Beach, and later on inside watching the NRL Grand Final (supporting St George, of course) it was dry. On Monday it was a nice morning until I left the hotel to meet me bro and niece for breakfast, at which point the heavens properly opened and we got soaked. Exploration of the Cross cut short we went for breakfast next to where his "car" was parked, got undercover, and the rain stopped. And, to be fair, it mostly stopped for the rest of the week at that point.

Monday afternoon I did some tourism. We went to the Middle Head fortifications, and then to HMAS Sydney at Bradley's Point. We walked along the foreshore about 2/3rds of the way to the Taronga Zoo wharf, stopping roughly at a point where there was a sign to it. At that point, quite literally, we were asked for directions to it by a couple of tourists. We told them it was that way, they said "well, you agree with the signs, so that's 2 opinions", but the fella still seemed strangely reluctant to believe it was correct. Very odd.

On Tuesday I went to Cronulla. Not for long, initially; I had planned (and told people) that I would be getting the ferry to Bundeena, and then going bushwalking in the Royal National Park. But instead of that, I opted to do the coastal walk to Kernell and Botany Bay Park, Cook's landing spot and the birthplace of modern Australia. Online I'd seen a really vague guide to doing this in reverse and figured it couldn't be that hard. Actually I originally tried to do it as the page had described, but the first instruction was "get the 987 bus from Cronulla" and I couldn't find a stop for it.

So, I walked along the path next to Cronulla beach until it started to kind of head vaguely inland and pavements disappeared on the edge of town, at which point I went onto the beach itself. Walking on soft deep sand is hard. I only managed it for a couple hundred yards before fighting my way up a dune towards a path and a nature reserve. The path was grassy and rocky for a bit before I was soon clambering over dunes again. My legs were really getting a workout.

The ocean was never far away on my right and this felt correct, from what I'd read; all I had to do was hug the coast and I'd end up at Kernell. After a while I was in full on scrubland, and followed a couple of random paths towards the beach until hitting dead-ends and beating a retreat. Parallel to a barbed-wire fence, erected while they do dune stabilisation work, I carried on until hitting what I later learnt was Boat Harbour beach, one of the most polluted in New South Wales. At the time I was a bit freaked out; having turned a corner, I was presented with a view of various shacks, trailers, caravans, like a stereotypical redneck US desert community. Each had an Australian flag hoisted. I got as close as I dared while feeling that I wasn't about to end up getting shot, having discerned no route off the beach and back into park on the other side. So I followed the sand/road out, round the back, and... ended up on a road. With no pavement. Right seemed to be the direction I wanted, so that's where I headed, past a desalination plant and lube dock and all kinds of other industrial units. Bleh. When some form of civilisation loomed ahead, I'd convinced myself it was going to be nowhere near where I actually wanted to be, and just wanted there to be a bus stop so I could get back somewhere sensible.

It was Kernell. Huzzah! Followed a few roads all named after Cook or something about him, and ended up at the park. I'd been there before, in fact earlier this year, on my last full day in Sydney. And like that time, I went to the kiosk and bought a Golden Gaytime. Heh. Snigger. Got the fabled 987 back to Cronulla and at one point passed one of those signs you get outside churches and schools, where they change the message all the time. Like the one outside the church in the Simpsons. This was outside a school, and it said "Congratulations to all year 13 students on completing 12 years of education". Now, I'm no expert in schools, and I know how confusing they are in the UK where even neighbouring London boroughs can't agree on structure and naming of years etc, but really, year 13 means 12 years? What kind of off-by-one nonsense is that? Meh.

Back in Cronulla I went for beer at Northies, the "safest in the Shire" back in 2008. Nothing special, but after walking 13km beer was definitely required. My legs and thighs did hurt.

My bro had most of Wednesday off and I'd decided it would be a rest day so far as exercise was concerned. Which kinda meant the 11km walk including loads of hills (but crossing the Harbour Bridge, yay!) most of the way towards his house was a bit daft. However, it did mean I accidentally ended up at a great place for lunch, for fish, chips and beer. Walked the dogs, did family stuff, got the bus back into central Sydney then failed dismally to walk back to the hotel and ended up buying a train ticket to go one stop.

Thursday, my 6th day in Sydney, I finally got a boat. The Manly Ferry is the best waterborne public transport I know. 30 minute ride through the harbour and ends up at a beach on the Pacific Ocean (pretty much) and a Bavarian Bier Cafe where the beer is, fucking hell, £7.95 a pint. Ouch. I walked the length of the beach and back, had just one drink, and formulated a plan for the afternoon. Inspired by a suggestion from Ellie in the morning, I resolved to buy a book (Nothing To Envy, about lives in North Korea) and then go sit in the Marble Bar at the Hilton for a couple of hours, nursing a beer or two and having a read.

The book, which I later ordered for £4.99 including delivery from Amazon UK, was priced 35 Aussie dollars. That's about £22. Screw that. And the Marble Bar was shut for a function until 8.30pm. Oh. So my plan was in tatters and I just wandered around the city, up to Town Hall, around to Darling Harbour, along the back streets to The Rocks, got to the Fortune Of War but just didn't feel like a drink by now, and went to get a bus back to the hotel. Gave up waiting after about half an hour and got a train instead. Was kind of annoyed that everything got scuppered. And even on this genuine rest day from exercise I'd managed to walk ~10km.

I'm kind of bored of Sydney. Visiting my family is great, but meh, this is my 5th visit and on my own, with stuff to miss at home, stuck in a hotel in an area I didn't like, in no mood to drown any sorrows (or drink alone in the evenings for any other reason, tbh), I was often bored when the days finished. Which was at about 6 or 7pm. So I watched a lot of TV.

I've had 3 nightmares in the last 8 or 9 days. The one on the plane, when I woke up at the point of being scimitared through the eyes by BMX-riding muggers/thugs somewhere in South London; one where I was some kind of investigative journalist in North Korea who stumbled across these terrifying graves of people whose flesh had been melted off their bones, and their bodies dismembered, and we got caught by the authorities while trying to escape; and the one this morning, where, um, let's see... I had volunteered to help out with the website of some sports club (I can't actually remember what sport it was), then left early to go for a drink with someone from that club. We were in Waddon, they led me to Croydon and then just fucked off, leaving me to find my way back. I was familiar with the area but couldn't find my way, wandering around the back streets of having encounter after encounter with chav thug scrotes and just about escaping them until finally getting shit beat out of me (and then waking up). I don't like these dreams. It's kind of rare for me to remember dreams at all, let alone 3 in a week and certainly not 3 nightmares. Oh well.

Palm Beach, the Barrenjoey Lighthouse, and the Newport Arms are glorious places. Basically the northernmost part of what could be considered Greater Sydney (it's 40km north of the CBD), there was a peninsula with beaches both on the ocean and inland, a nice steep climb to the lookouts, a mediocre pint of Guinness and a magnificent burger. Such was Friday, my brother's response to my "I'm kind of bored of Sydney" statement on Thursday, his successful attempt to show me stuff I'd not seen before and was unlikely to ever get to on public transport. Followed swiftly by his admission that that's now me lot, I've basically done everything he can recommend for me. Hopefully next time I visit I won't be on my own, and/or I'll make it two 2/3 day visits with a side-trip to New Zealand or summat in the middle.

I'm in the Qantas domestic terminal at Sydney airport as I write this, waiting for QF435 to Melbourne. Never been there. May have more interesting stuff to report, who knows.

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