The neighbour grass might not be greener, but…
This is going to be a mammoth post so, make a coffee, get your favourite blanket if you’re reading from down under or Scotland, or switch on the air conditioning if you’re reading from Italy.
I got into Sydney a week ago and this has been a really full week. I’m all packed up and ready to start the long reentry trip tomorrow but, as it’s raining outside, this is a good time to try and put down all the events of the week before they leave that frail brain of mine.
I guess a little bit of anticlimax was involved but I did not sleep that well the first night. Perhaps it’s just I have to recondition to a real bed. Got up bright and early and read a bit while waiting for the rest of the room to wake up and depart. The Wake-Up Hostel in Sydney is quite a good fun pace to be, I am in a four bed dorm and, over the stay, I would share the room with a variety of people, mostly, but not only, male, mostly, but not only, young.
I needed all to get going before I could get my wares into action in the bike packing up, noise was going to be involved.
All that done and dusted it was time to go for a little exploration of the place and to the first destination that I had thought I wanted to hit in Sydney.
After a little wonder in the CBD I ended up at destination number one, the National Maritime Museum.
The visit to the two boats was unexpected but rather interesting, I would recommend it. In the main ship I got taken around by a volunteer that had served on it when it was used to patrol the water dividing Australia from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to the north.
These boat have not been out of commission for long and visiting them gave me yet another angle on the “living at sea” world that I will, in the not too distant future, start inhabiting.
The rest of the museum was more traditional and gave an overview of both the Australian sporting achievement as well as the role that the the sea and seafaring had in the evolution of the Australian nation.
The rest of the day was just relaxation and recuperation.
Much better sleeping and slower exit from the room provided me with an unexpected opportunity. I was talking to the people at reception when they told me that in a few minutes the free walking tour of Sydney would be on the way. Free, cannot be missed.
It turned out to be a rather good fun affair. Almost 20 of us, with some joining and leaving on route, w walked for the best part of five hours including an hour break at lunch.
Starting from the hostel, which is at the bottom of the CBD we went to Hyde Park, the Botanical Gardens, Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, China town and back to the hostel.
The group was made up of mostly backpackers that are either finishing their time in Sydney or just arrived and ready to start travelling or working, armed as they are with their working holiday visas. If I was to be born again I am pretty sure that I would take time off after school and do a year like these kids do. Aside from the fact that it is a great deal of fun, it gives you knowledge that no school will ever give you.
Another benefit of the tour was the large amount of side knowledge of things to do that I picked up on it. Things like where to get the bus for Bondi or how to get a discounted ticket to the iMAX cinema, silly things, I know, but time and money savers for the budget conscious tourists like me.
I was not really sure what to do when I got up, the weather was good and I started walking towards the CBD and I, almost by accident, found myself at the bottom of Hyde Park where the Bondi Beach bus leaves from.
I got a coffee and I decided that the weather was right for a stroll down to the beach.
Bondi Beach is a tourist trap, apparently there are other beaches that are much better, that said I thought the atmosphere was great and had much more style that say Venice Beach in LA where it’s just a poser’s paradise.
Having completed a beachfront walk and taken in all that could be taken in from it I followed David’s advice and headed for the cliff walk to Tamarama. Being a Saturday with a glorious sun out made sure I was not lonely on the walk.
This stretch of coast, while not long is very scenic and the path has some changes of incline preventing the, let say, less physically inclined to take part. The result was that the level of fitness of the people that I encountered on the walk was amazing. Some were running up and down the stairs, some just jogging, but all making my leisurely pace feel a little out of place.
when I got to Tamarama I decided that the day was too young to dive into alcohol and I had a green full on shake with all possible goodness inside.
After the Tamarama book and juice break I walked back to Bondi where I caught a bus to Watsons Bay, the top of the coastline promontory and the bottom part of the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Up there I had a little walk around to see the rather impressive cliff faces that presented themselves to Captain Phillip and the First Fleet when they decided that Botany Bay was not quite the paradise that Captain Cook had described and they sailed on to find better fortune up the coast.
The reason for venturing up there was that I could get the last ferry to Manly where I had arranged to meet Donald, one of Margaret’s nephews for dinner. The ferry ride was short but coincided with the sunset so it was quite entertaining and Manly is quite a lively place. Donald met me outside the wharf and his son Ben was with him. We had a nice meal and chatted away, mostly about sport as I discovered that Ben plays in one of the Football Academies that AC Milan has set up around the world to try and harvest talent where they can find it.
After dinner we had a little walk around then they took me into town driving onto the Harbour Bridge and getting me the first crossing experience. Over the following two days I’d cross the bridge also on foot, on a train and on a minivan, I wonder if that makes me sort of a local now.
My life is a bit strange, I am a bit out of sync with the people of my age group. As I don’t work it’s ok if I keep company with retired people, not my favourite, or if I spend time with young people, decisively better, but it’s a problem to get to see the people in working age, they have this rather inconvenient thing to do during the week. It is for this reason that Sunday was the day I caught up with Stuart, the ex Head of IT at UoW. I had not seen him for at least seven years but for some reason out Skype account had remained connected and I sent him a message when I got to Melbourne to see if he would be happy to meet. He got back to me very quickly and agreed to touch base again when I had made it to Sydney.
I spend the early morning going around the CBD and taking pictures as well as climbing the stone pylon to the south east of the Harbour Bridge as I was meeting him just on the north side of the bridge itself.
Stuart has not changed much and I have to say he has not suffered my catastrophic hair colour decay. He is well versed in taking people around to see bits of Sydney as he has for a long time worked with companies that had bases in all the APac area and therefore he has been, in the past, not short of foreign corporate visitors.
We went around for a while seeing a few of the most amazing vistas of the harbour and in the process he told me some of the fact that were missing in ever expanding knowledge of this nation.
After that we moved to Hunters Bay for a drink and a catch up on the past seven years where we have not seen each other. We then met his wife Lisa and daughter Allira for dinner in a spectacular Malaysian place in Chatswood, one of the North Sydney suburbs. After that we all went to his place and had another couple of glasses before I made my way back down to the hostel using the extremely convenient train service. Another fab thing of the place I’m staying at is that it’s just by the side of Central station.
It was great to see Stuart and I regret that when we were working together I did not make more of an effort in cultivating his company, on the way back to the hostel I though how Tarn and Lisa would probably have it it off greatly. Sometime work subordination becomes a barrier that impedes good things from happening.
Monday was a really slow day, my new friend Connor told me that there was a place in Darling Harbour where you could buy a healthy burger and a iMAX ticket for $34 which is the price you pay for the iMAX ticket at the cinema door. Too good to miss, eating for free when I had decided that the afternoon was going to be dedicated to the iMAX experiencing of the latest Jurassic movie.
the burger was spectacular and so was the movie. The plot is very Jurassic <fill as appropriate>, I guess there is not much you can do with the subject other than get dinosaurs to eat people and eventually be vanquished. The special effect were however impressive and the 3D iMAX, first time I was in one, was awesome.
The weather is finally turning to winter, we’re only a few days away to the shortest day, and it was time to inject into the routine some sheltered activities that did not expose me too much to the elements.
The answer for Tuesday was a few hundred miles of driving up through the mountains to get to the famous Hunter Valley and its 100+ wineries for a wine tasting day.
Start at 7:30 was not exactly the best but Ben, the guide/driver, made the time pass well with a not overpowering mix of chit chat and information giving.
We visited three wineries: Iron Gate Estate, Savannah Estate and Capercallie Estate. In the last one I actually bought a bottle of the local medal winner Shiraz that I was planning to share between the cheese evening I was cooking up for that night and the last supper on Wednesday.
The overall experience of the wine tasting is enjoyable. One has to be careful as the risk of getting well sozzled by drinking all they pass you is high. the wine were all quite nice but, to be honest I found only one spectacular one. In saying that you always have to remember that I am in no way an expert.
However one thing bugged me on the way back. We were taught that the aromas of the wine are felt as the chemical composition reawakens in our mind flavours that we know. What if the drinker has never had raspberries or never smelled mushrooms? I suspect I should have asked Lisa, Stuart’s wife, as this is her line of business.
Last day to use for tourist things really, with the flight tomorrow in the early afternoon I will have enough to think about without going places.
I decided to take the last of David’s advice and go to visit Victor Churchill butcher shop. On the way I stumbled upon a place that Stuart had told me about (below) which will require further investigation next time I’m around.
So, let me tell you a few things about Victor Churchill. First it is in a very swish part of town, not too far from the Sotheby’s Art Gallery, and presume salesroom, and surrounded by antique shops and all such likes.
the inside of the shop was all it was billed to be and I spent a few agonising moments trying to decide what I was going to have for dinner. The lack of an oven in the hostel forced my hand and I could not go for the 750 grams ribeye on the bone. I had to settle instead for the 512 grams T-Bone which, the shopkeeper told me, displayed a above average marbling so should be an adequate substitute.
After I managed to extract myself from the shop, and it took quite a bit of effort, I decided that I had to Inject a bit of high brow-ness into the day to get the balance right.
I walked through Paddington and Potts Point to get to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. These parts of town look like they are Victorian in nature and they appear not only well preserved but also inhabited by, for lack of a better description, “beautiful people”.
It took me a good hour of meandering to get to the museum but I got there without suffering too much the effect of the rain that had by now become more constant.
I have not been in a gallery for a while, in fact this is the first time I go since I went to Boston with Tarn, I’m sure I’m going to miss her knowledge as there is a great deal of rust deposited on my history of art knowledge.
I enjoyed it and I guess I know why. My former life was lived mostly in the world of people, where social interaction took a large part of my thinking time. Of late I spend a great deal of time in introspection, reflecting on the meaning of things and deserting thought as they take shape and disappear. I suspect this mental state, more opened to the reception and processing of complex messages allows me to see more into works that formerly would have just elicited a passing interest.
After the gallery I headed back to the hostel where, after catching up and exchanging contact with all the kids I have got to know over the past week, I got down to the task of getting the super steak, the fried onion and the rocket salad to a state where they would form a matching partnership with the three quarter of a bottle of Shiraz that was not going to see the European shores. I managed it, despite the rather basic equipment I cocked the steak perfectly and such a meal formed a great book end to a rather good time in Oz.
Over the past four months I have found myself thinking that the world is very much better down here than where I come from. However, talking to Stuart and Donald this week I have come to realise that I might have fallen for the trick of the light that makes the neighbour grass look greener. It is really difficult to escape it, and I’m pretty sure I’ll fall for it all over again in many of the next stages of this endeavour of mine, but, as Ned Kelly allegedly said just before the last drop, “such is life”.