Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Heading Down Under

Noms everywhere!
Sitting in a monsoon-ridden hostel on the normally gorgeous Queensland coast which has been transformed into a grey uniformity where it is impossible to not get soaked within 5 steps, this seems like a good time to get stuck into a bit of writing about the land Down Under. Having spent a lovely Christmas in England I was rather keen to spend at least a few more days there, but it seems a bit silly to complain about getting the chance to go travel more. And indeed, arriving in Sydney after 60 hours on 4 different planes (London-Dubai-Chennai-Singapore-Sydney), tired and exceedingly jetlagged, I couldn't help smiling: I fell in love with this place when I was last here in 2005, and memories abounded. It is as gorgeous as ever, with its crystalline blue bays, pristine beaches and smatterings of vivid green everywhere. It is also an absolute paradise for road cyclists - lots and lots of hills, perfectly paved roads, plenty of cycling paths and not too much traffic outside the city centre made me very sad to have left my bike in London (although, it appears, in capable hands!). 
On the last hilly outcrop before the ocean, looking into the harbour - it's a big city...
Standard life in Sydney. The number of pleasure craft of all kinds here is incredible!

 It is also, unfortunately, an almost unbelievably expensive city, the pinnacle of a phenomenally expensive country; I hadn't been ready for this and have been leading a rather frugal life these last few weeks, but on the upside this has meant unprecedented quantities of fruit and a generally healthy-ish life. Drinking is practically unaffordable (5 pounds and up for a beer, which comes in half-pint measures put me off that quickly), and so I managed to keep up a pretty tight running regime in Sydney. My aunt and uncle very kindly put me up in their stunner of a house which is just up a big hill from Bondi Beach, making for a very convenient and photogenic 9k circuit with mats for bodyweight circuits along the way. 

Bondi on a windy day - though no conditions or time of day seems to stop the incredibly fit Sydneysiders who populate this beach from going for their runs. Apparently, this includes New Year's Eve at 8pm (yes, I was out as well...).
That said, I did go out in Sydney with a friend of my uncle's daughters - this turned into a fairly random and fun evening as we ended up in a gay club. Having never been to one before, it subscribed to all the cliches - many sweaty men in various states of undress, a lot more fairly intense grinding than I've seen in most other clubs, and a *lot* of me getting groped and having to clarify that I am, in fact, straight. Still, there was a decent sound system and bass-heavy music, so even though it wasn't as fast as I'd normally choose we danced away happily enough. 

On the whole, though, the prohibitive prices of practically everything in Australia - coupled with my recent larger investments - have meant that most of my time has been spent wandering around various cities. In Sydney, this took me to the fish markets (and some oysters, made tasty by the bacon and cheese on top of them), and to various corners of the city accessible by ferry. To be perfectly honest, though, I would have been a very happy man just sitting on the ferries, looking around - that's how pleasant the place is.  

Bridge climbers on top of the Harbour Bridge. Now a guided tour...
A few cool-looking sailboats came in looking like they are racers - someone who knows anything about sailing might know more, though!
New Year's Eve, of course, was every bit as spectacular as the annual news photos make it appear. The fireworks here were absolutely huge, putting to shame the John's May Ball fireworks which had been my previous benchmark. I watched them from the balcony instead of braving the crowds jostling for position in every free spot around Sydney Harbour from midmorning onwards, and was rewarded with some fairly sweet shots (and some tasty food!). 

Early in the new year, I headed out to Melbourne on a night train. I was less impressed with the place last time I was here, but this turned out unjustified - apart from the two days I was out of action with (man)flu, I had a lovely time clocking some miles around town in my trusty Olympics-uniform trainers. It's full of really cool public spaces, parks and places to eat (although I can't afford any of the latter, supermarkets & cooking is the way forward!), and comes across as more laid back and less formal than Sydney. This made it thoroughly enjoyable to just wander around and get lost, only to find my way back home sometime in the evening. 
This screen shows what's going on right in front of it - my touristy self on the left side.
Melbourne Museum - I sought refuge from the 43C heatwave here, and found a really quite pleasant museum!
St Kilda's beach, swarming with kitesurfers - how I miss these blue skies!
Sadly, I didn't get the chance to look around the Rod Laver Arena as the place was in lockdown for a pre-Australian Open security sweep (flashback to working at Eton Dorney!). I'm starting to realise, though, that a big part of what there is to see in Australia is the wildlife. In the cities, this consists mostly of the obligatory botanical gardens, and of the possums that seem to swarm the numerous parks once darkness falls: they're adorably inept, but constantly hungry and very used to human attention. 
A possum, more intimidating with red-eye...
...and the anti-possum measures on old trees which would otherwise be climbed and eaten by the critters.
And a taster of desert vegetation!
Oh, and maybe most importantly - Melbourne's boathouses! I came across these right by the city centre and started missing rowing even more than usual immediately. Sadly, nobody seemed to be about - I would probably have gone up to them to see if anyone needed a random sub...

Melbournites teasing me with their shiny boats...
Anyway, more soon - will do my best to keep these posts reasonably short and snappy and well-supplied with photos instead of rambling on and on!

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