20.05.2016 - 27.05.2016 24 °C
After our thirst-quenching flight on budget airline Scoot from Singapore, we arrived to azure blue skies in Sydney - which was nice. Being a big fan of the TV show Border Security: Australia, I was expecting (and hoping for) a dramatic welcome to the country involving dogs and swabs and aggressive pat-downs. I had some oats and chia seeds that I've been hoarding for months and of course had to declare them. Lauren was concerned that this might hold us up and so wanted me to throw them away but I, ever the attention-seeker, wanted a suspicious fanfare. My hopes were artificially built when I saw signs proclaiming "BORDER SECURITY AUSTRALIA IS FILMING IN THIS AIRPORT. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE FILMED PLEASE INFORM A MEMBER OF STAFF". After collecting our bags we walked underneath the 'Something to Declare' arch and found we were the only ones there. I plonked the oats and seeds on the table in front of the lady in uniform and she took one look and sent us on our way. It was all over in seconds. The biggest anticlimax in history. Next time I'll have to pull a Johnny Depp and bring a Yorkshire terrier in.
We were collected by Lauren's 'little' brother Nick, who took us to his home in Coogee (Kuj-ee) - in the 'Eastern suburbs' of Sydney as they're known. The Eastern suburbs house some of the most well-known Aussie places; Bondi, Botany Bay, Darling Point and the hilariously named Woolloomooloo. They also house the most successful Australians with the nation's top-earners living within the suburbs. It turns out little bro Nick from Irlam is doing pretty well for himself.
Driving from the airport to Coogee I firstly noticed the ugly buildings - both residential and otherwise. Everything looked to have been either built in the seventies or constructed out of huge, utilitarian, grey breeze blocks. My second observation was how hilly the land was on our approach to Coogee. Granted I know very little about the Australian landscape but I really did expect it to be flat all over. On the contrary, you can't travel around Coogee without navigating either a steep incline or decline. It actually reminded me a little of residential areas of Edinburgh.
Nick and Nicole's 'unit' (aka apartment) was actually very attractive; large bay windows, a small front garden and a proper sloping tile roof. It looked like a house and not a Grand Designs project gone wrong like a lot of the other examples. We were warmly welcomed by our new best-friend; Einstein the cavoodle (cavalier poodle cross). Our first Australian feeding was at a little burger joint that was entirely vegetarian. The yummy and indulgent burgers and fries we tucked into paved the way for what has become a rather greedy few weeks in Australia. It turns out the western world just isn't good for our waistlines.
Coogee town is delightfully punctuated with independent little shops and eateries; plenty of hairdressers, clothes boutiques, Asian restaurants, health food shops and smoothie bars. When walking around you see young mums in leisure-wear jogging with their prams, muscular young men jogging, lean young women jogging and pedigree dogs jogging. OK so maybe I'm exaggerating, not everyone's jogging, but there are a hell of a lot of fit people around with the occasional well-dressed business person.
The miserable judgemental bastard in me wants to grunt phrases like hipster, trust-funds, middle-class metropolis, white-washed and privilege, but thankfully the happy-go-lucky me looked upon it all with interest and smiles. This may have something to do with the fact we've been in Asia for almost 5 months and so I'm quite happy to be back in a familiar civilisation.
We had a delicious and somewhat nostalgic Thai meal at a local restaurant on our first evening getting to know Nicole and her mum Jeanette.
I had made a well-intentioned plan (as I always do) to do some sort of consistent exercising in Australia, and, spurred on by the Coogee joggers I was determined to go for a run the next morning. Lauren's brother Nick said he'd come with me which only added to my motivation. Off we went running up and down the many hills, surveying the amazing coastline. Nick gave me a great orientation of the area, including the likes of Gordon's Bay where a load of crazy kayakers were preparing to brave the MASSIVE waves. We ran about 3km which I was pleasantly surprised with considering I hadn't done any formal exercise in months. Shame I haven't kept it up...
That day Nicole dropped us off at Vinnie's the 'Op Shop' (charity shop) so we could buy some warm jumpers and trousers for the imminent wintery weather. It wasn't the treasure trove we were hoping for but we managed to pick up a few bits that would serve a warming purpose. All 5 of us (plus Einstein the dog) went to the beautiful park to enjoy the last of the sunny weather and have a picnic. This was my first introduction to the awesome wildlife that exists in great volume in Australia. We shared the grass with a whole host of amazing birds I'd never seen before; white ibis, black swans, Australian ravens, pelicans, magpies and pigeons (the Australian magpies and pigeons are much prettier than the ones we know).
On our third day we got the bus into central Sydney (known as the CBD - central business district) to meet our old tour-mate from India - Mona who's been living and working at a hostel for a few months. We caught up while walking around circular quay staring at the Opera House and Harbour Bridge; both sparkling in the sunshine. We also walked around the wonderful botanical gardens; taking in the vast greenness and winding paths alongside a towering cityscape. We had lunch at a crap and overpriced pancake joint within The Rocks area as it's known and finished the reunion off by wandering around Westfield shopping mall and gawping at the crazily priced clothes and tat. We noticed that everyone walking around Sydney's CBD blended into one chic, professional entity; all wearing smart black/grey/navy/white tailored outfits. We tried our best to pick out an 'alternative' from the crowd - perhaps a goth, a punk, even a hipster or bloody lesbian would have been nice. But no, it seems the central business district is home to business-looking people. I suppose it was a weekday lunchtime - perhaps the subcultures weren't up yet.
We did however see a very talented young man playing 'drums' on the street;
The next day, taking advantage of a Living Social offer we took a trip to Featherdale wildlife park. Using our Opal cards (just like an Oyster card) we found our way to the park via two buses and a train. The Australian trains are quite amazing actually; first of all they are double decked - there's an upstairs and downstairs and secondly, the chairs can be swung around so they face either forwards or backwards depending on your preference. I was really impressed.
We eventually made it to Featherdale which was weirdly situated within a rough-ish residential neighbourhood. We saw lots of animals; Australian natives and otherwise. I was particularly happy to see some quokkas as we'd decided not to go over to WA and to Rottnest island where they're from.
To top off a fun-filled day we stopped at another, bigger Vinnie's Op shop to buy some more winter-suitable clothes. We came out with bags full of jumpers, jeans and even a pair of trainers for Lauren. All for $30. Good job really as we were heading for Canberra where the temperature was sub 10°!
Making the most of the last bit of sun in Sydney the next day we took ourselves and Einstein the dog for a long walk along the coastal road from Coogee to Bondi beach. A 12km round trip we got some much needed exercise and saw some truly magnificent sights; the scary crashing waves of the Tasman sea, numerous volcanic rock formations, Waverley graveyard with the best views of the sea reserved for the dead, multi-million dollar mansions and the famous Bondi beach - lifeguards and all. On the walk back Einstein dragged his little paws a little but thankfully we evaded the rain for another day. What an amazing coastline.