25.06.2016 - 03.07.2016 15 °C
On the morning of our departure from Melbourne Claire very kindly drove us to an area called Coburg to collect our next and final relocation vehicle. This time we were driving back to Sydney in one fell swoop - 860km, 8.5 hours. After a lively drive singing very loudly to Coolio's Gangster's Paradise and Warren G's Regulate (to which Lauren knows ALL the words), we finally made it to Coburg and to the Camperman depot.
This depot was smack bang in the middle of a grotty looking residential estate and also had a mechanics attached to it. After faffing with ID and paperwork we were shown to our vehicle; a huge 5-berth, 15 year old, manual (yay) beat up campervan.
We said our sad goodbyes to Claire and off we went into the Melbourne wilderness, me taking the first leg. Unlike the other vehicles we'd driven in Australia, this one, being an old bastard, had no USB charging points and so our satellite navigation device (Lauren's iPhone) wasn't going to last very long. We did have a radio but the button front had fallen off so you had to jam your finger into a small hole and press a tiny knob with your fingernail in order to change the frequency (that's what she said). The campervan was actually not too difficult to drive. Yes the gears stuck occasionally and it did roar quite loudly upon acceleration but once we were on the highway it felt quite smooth and nippy (albeit a bit of a gas-guzzler). We made a few stops (mainly because Lauren was feeling hungover from the copious beer from the night before) and had our main stop at a place called Taracutta where we'd actually stopped before on our original journey. I am conscious not to get too political here but during our drive the Brexit results were coming in. At one of our petrol stops, as we were strolling around the garage shop and café, I took a wander over to the small TV in the corner where some Australian fella was reporting on the UK's fateful decision. Here I heard the first rumbles of a leave result but at this point, still though remain would come out on top.
The weather was pretty on and off throughout, quite English really - drizzle and clouds quickly followed by blue skies and sunshine then topped off with torrential rain and darkness. We did eventually buy an expensive cigarette lighter USB charger (much to my dismay) in order for us to find our way to Coogee without ripping each other's hair out. At some point in the late afternoon/early evening we switched the radio over to what can only be described as Australia's version of BBC Radio 4 and heard the news; the UK had left the EU. Soon after we then heard David Cameron's resignation speech. We were shell-shocked. We'd both voted to remain (byproxy) and although we hadn't been in the midst of all the campaigning and polls and general public opinion we genuinely didn't think for a second that the result would be to leave the European Union. Our shock mixed with travel-lethargy, rain and most probably hunger (frankly the latter is perpetual) meant that we spent the last few hours angrily crying. I wish I'd have filmed it really - it would have made a great viral video.
We did eventually make it to Coogee at around 9pm and luckily managed to find a parking spot for our beast just up the road from Nick and Nic's flat. As weary and distraught as we were, as we stepped onto the pavement and started our walk to the house we were revitalised by the thought of our imminent introduction to Lauren's brand new niece Lily. And my god did she soothe our souls - what a gorgeous little baby angel.
After plenty of cuddles (with baby Lily and our bezzie Einstein the dog) and general catch-ups with the gang, we settled into bed for the night to rest-up for tomorrow's new destination - Narara.
Nick dropped us off at Central Station and we were soon on the train heading to the Central Coast where we were going to be staying with Lauren's friends Majella and Matt. The journey took just under 2 hours and as always I took the opportunity to sleep and drool all over Lauren's shoulder.
Majella met us at the station and took us to the open day at their local eco-village - the place she and her family will be building and living in a straw house in the next year or two. The site is amazing - a 100 year old horticultural institute with lots of heritage buildings right in the middle of bushland with trees as far as the eyes can see and a huge dam and just generally lots of green space. Look it up here if you're interested... Narara Eco Village
That night Majella and the two kids (Sinéad and Michael) went to Sydney for a birthday party the following day so making the most of having no kids around Matt (Majella's husband), Lauren and I went to the local RSL to watch an INXS tribute band. As you do. Ourimbah RSL was much like the Hellenic club we'd gone to in Canberra - a large 'function room' with small stage, dance-floor, lots of tables, two bars (one with cakes and slices from the day still on show), pokie machine rooms, 'bullet alley' where all of the military memorabilia is presented and lots more unknown space upstairs too. Drinks are cheap (for Australia) and the vibe is relaxed but buzzing - mostly white, Aussie middle-aged couples and parties letting loose on a Friday night.
After a few schooners I got a little cocky and suggested we have a go on the infamous pokies. We put $15 in the Cleopatra machine and after a bit of button-fiddling with Matt's guidance managed to win $42! I can see why these things are addictive! Not satisfied with one win, we then moved onto Keno - a national, 24/7 lottery/bingo that runs on its own TV channel in almost all pubs, clubs, bars, casinos, bookies and some restaurants too. As you could of predicted we lost all of our winnings and ended up with $8 left - a $6 overall loss. Not bad for our first go I guess.
We hung out at the RSL for a good few hours - chatting with some of Matt's friends, watching the cover band (who acted as their own warm-up band, they just changed their clothes halfway through), gambling, drinking, learning about the Australian socialising culture. In all the drunken enjoyment I even left my handbag at the pokie machine which ended in one of the door-staff calling out for a LAUREN JONES over the PA (I had her ID in my bag). We were so drunk/excited/stupid that when we heard this we thought we'd won some sort of jackpot and they were announcing it to everyone. Thankfully everything in the bag was intact - some honest member had handed it in. I'm sure this isn't the first time an Australian has had to assist its imbecile British cousin.
The next day we had a nice lie-in and then drove to Gosford market where, as per usual, Lauren and I made the most of all the edible free samples. The market was at the racecourse and we sat on the stands eating our various homemade goodies, reminiscing about the funny night before.
We then carried on to a small town called Woy Woy which has a bit of a countrified bohemian vibe. We had some fancy chai tea in a little caf (called Gnostic Mana) and then took a stroll to the local co-operative fishmongers where a load of MASSIVE pelicans were just hanging out.
That night Matt and Majella cooked us a lovely fusion meal consisting of various barbecued meat and veggies along with a ratatouille and egg-fried rice before retiring to bed.
For our last full day in Narara we chilled out with Majella doing chores while the kids were at school and Matt was at work. We decided to go out for lunch and Majella was keen to take us to a place she knew we'd like called Bamboo Buddha. We turned up to discover that it was closed on Mondays. Majella then thought of another place that was nearby and off we went again to find out it too is closed on Mondays. We'd been driving for over half an hour by this point so we asked Google to direct us to the nearest eatery and it only went and took us to a Christian bookshop café! We unanimously decided not to visit said café and instead stopped at an industrial park not far from the kid's school and popped into a small joint with a crap menu - at this point, we didn't give a shit. We all had an average meal but poor Lauren ordered the frittata which said it was veggie on the menu but as she cut it in half found lots of little ham chunks in it. Not wanting to cause a fuss or waste anything she just ate it - the pig was already pretty dead. We didn't hang around too long and soon set off to collect the kids from the Steiner school which was an amazing campus with hardly any hipster parents hanging around.
That night (our last in Narara) we ate Mexican - fajitas, re-fried beans, salsa, guacamole etc. We also drank quite a lot of wine which helped make our game of Australian Monopoly much funnier.
Before we made our way back to Sydney the next day, Majella took Lauren and I for a walk around Narara Eco Village, explaining where their lot was and how the community was going to be set-up. The weather stayed bright and crisp and we got to see a lot of the site including some native wildlife in the form of cockatoos and kookaburras.
At Narara train station we had a good laugh with some dodgy looking fellas who, upon noticing our huge backpacks and scruffy attire, asked us whether we'd seen Ivan Milat. For those of you that don't know, Mr. Milat was a serial backpacker murderer in Australia in the 1990s. Upon arrival at Central Station we spent a bit of time trying to find the right bus stop but eventually we made it to Coogee. We got off opposite the beach and comprehended the walk ahead of us to our Air BnB flat. After lots of wine and little sleep the night before, coupled with 20 kilos of baggage on our backs each, we weren't quite prepared for the 15% gradient hill that is Arden street. It took us a wee while but we made it to our spot for the next week. We were staying in an apartment owned by a lovely chap called Kwon. It was a small but very nice place with a big bedroom and comfy bed. The only issue was that Kwon had neither a TV nor an internet connection. It seems he just works, exercises, cooks, reads and listens to music. How odd. So our plans of vegging out in front of sensationalist Aussie TV (60 Minutes is my favourite) while mindlessly browsing the internet were well and truly scuppered.
Much of the next 5 days in Sydney (our last in Australia) were spent hanging out with little baby Lily - getting in as much Auntie-time as we possibly could. In between we did manage to go to my favourite (art deco) cinema The Ritz to see two kid's films - Finding Dory (alright) and The BFG (really good) - and fit in a couple of cheeky choc-tops.
Kwon was hardly ever in which was kind of nice but a bit of a shame as I'm sure we would have all got on very well.
One night (our penultimate) we got the bus to an inner-city suburb called Redfern. We had only heard slightly negative things about Redfern - that it's "a bit rough" and that there are lots of "drunkards and junkies". We'd also heard that the area had a large aboriginal population. Ignoring all that (as we often do) we made a visit to Redfern night markets that are put on monthly at a youth centre and have indoor and outdoor stalls and performances by local groups. It was a bloody freezing evening but we enthusiastically shivered around the stalls and tried to warm ourselves up with some Sri Lankan shredded roti and Nepalese dahl. After walking past the loukoumades truck our sweet pudding urges were awakened and so we bought a HUGE tub of them. Loukoumades are small Greek honey doughnuts and this particular stall offered them with various toppings. In our large box we got approximately 30 doughnuts; one side covered in white chocolate and desiccated coconut and one side covered in nutella and crushed nuts. After a quarter of the box we were close to hyperglycaemia but, as seasoned food-soldiers we battled on and finished the whole box, even scraping the dried chocolate bits up at the end. You could call us heroes.
We watched some talented kids do a few dance performances along with some singer-songwriter-guitarists playing their best stuff. Keen to walk off the million doughnuts we'd just inhaled we made our way to a little bar we'd found on the internet - The Bearded Tit. We arrived and it was full to the brim and, much to our dismay, seemed to be a hipster jaunt. We put our initial judgemental assumptions aside and got ourselves an expensive drink and a seat. The décor was, of course, dark, eclectic and busy - there were two old fashioned barber's chairs in the corner as well as lots of weird and wonderful paintings, wall-hangings and mirrors. Thankfully, the music playing was recognisable - 80s/90s hip hop and pop music - just to our taste. A bit cheesy but actually quite cool (in our humble opinions of course).
We waited and chatted a while until Zoe and Ash who were visiting Sydney for the weekend finally arrived to meet us. We hung around the Tit for a little longer but left as last orders were called at 11pm. We then thought it appropriate (being a quartet of lesbians) for us to pop over to Oxford street - one of the longest thoroughfares in Sydney and also home to its gay village at one end. We spent the rest of the evening (and morning), dancing, singing and generally being silly in The Stonewall Hotel club. We were 4 of 6 women in the whole club (if you exclude the drag queens) and we had an absolute ball. Quite irresponsibly I introduced the nasty 'spirit' Fireball to the girls which ended in us all drinking an impressive volume of the paint-stripper.
Impressively, at 4am, Lauren and I got a night bus all the way back to Coogee. We were quite inebriated but we were walking and talking without issue. The one predicament we found our drunk selves in was that I was desperate for a wee. So desperate in fact that every single step I took up the steep hill to our flat was painful. I knew I couldn't make it so we had a quick scan around for a public loo only to find that they were too far away and probably locked. The streets are covered in CCTV cameras and nowhere was open so I only had one option; to squat behind the wall separating the beach from the path. Like a dog, I weed in the sand and when finished, chucked some fresh sand over the top of my fluid.
For our last full day in Sydney we got up early as some estate agents were bringing potential buyers round to Kwon's apartment. As you can imagine the last thing you want after getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep is to have to welcome random people into your bedroom and smile at them while doing so. It was lucky I hadn't got back and pissed in the corner - it might have cost the agents a sale.
Anyway we got through the viewings and used the time to go through our bags and get rid of anything we didn't want to take back home with us. After the last viewing the agent thanked us and closed the cage door (that's in front of the front door to the flat). When Nick came to collect us to go for brunch not longer after we could not for the life of us figure out how to open the cage door. We tried all of the keys that Kwon had given us but we just couldn't get it open. In order to get out of the flat we had to open our bedroom window, climb out and shut it behind us. Thank god he lives on the ground floor so we could jump into the front yard.
All the commotion of trying to escape perked us up a little for the drive to the Northern beaches. We got out at Freshwater at Harbour Diggers RSL. We had some burgers at the Italian restaurant upstairs that had a lovely view of the water. At the meal Nick and Nicole presented us with a framed photograph of Lauren and I holding Lily and asked us to be godparents to which we obviously replied "NO SORRY, WE'RE ATHEISTS". Nah I'm only joshing with you, we of course were touched and accepted gleefully. On the way back we stopped at Manly - a gorgeous beach town that was teaming with weekenders enjoying the winter sun and sea view. Always eager for dessert, Nicole and I ordered sickeningly gigantic milkshakes from a café called Ground Zero.
By the time we'd gotten home, we could only fit in a 30 minute nap before heading out again to Newtown for our comedy gig. We were both feeling pretty fragile and totally unprepared for another evening out but we bravely continued and took our seats at Enmore theatre. We saw Steve Hughes's new stand-up routine Nervous Breakthrough and, despite our exhaustion, we laughed our heads off almost the whole way through. Before catching the bus back we picked up some much needed sustenance in the form of a chicken wrap (for me), corn on the cob and onion rings.
We had a better sleep that night, but it was still only about 6 hours before we had to arise to pack everything up ready for our flight. Kwon saw us off with a lovely bottle of wine as a thank you for hosting the estate agents which we immediately re-gifted to Nick and Nicole as we couldn't be bothered taking it through the airports.
Nick collected us and took us to the café where Jeanette, Nicola and little Lily were having breakfast. We said our tearful goodbyes and got on the road to Sydney airport for our flight to Singapore.
Only 2 days left. The North is calling.