Warning! The following b*** contains an excessive number of Photographs, Snoring Anecdotes and Goon.
This time from Australia's most famous city, Sydney
. Oh, praise the warmth of this fine place! Goodbye hastily-purchased jumper and coat! Get thee to the beach. Well probably best to keep the jumper on for when you're out of the sun and you still feel the chill a little. Actually I've gotten a little ahead of myself. On the way to catch my flight in Melbourne I missed the airport transfer bus and had to get a taxi which an apparently nice man called Ewan offered to share with me. Long story short in bullet points;
he appeared perfectly normal to begin with
we got chatting and he was very open about his criminal and violent past; “Many's the morning I'd wake up with my fists swollen beyond recognition from fighting!”
he got more comfortable and discussed his drug smuggling exploits and showed me his tattoos
he started shouting at my taxi driver telling him what a rip off the cab was even though I was paying for practically all of it
this last point I am certain convinced the taxi driver to up the cost of the ride to nearly $100
. almost three times the fare for the flight. That'll teach me to catch my airport transfer coaches...
Now; an introduction to Sydney must mean an introduction to my new friend Goon. For the uninitiated Goon is the nickname our Australian cousins give to cheap box wine. Due to the extortionate cost of normal booze - grog - over here backpackers are left with little option but to make do with this cheap, foul tasting brew. You're looking at a two litre box for around $12 (six pounds to you and me) whereas a single glass of beer in a bar costs around $8. It's simple maths really. My first introduction to this sticky stuff was in Vietnam when a gentleman I met - and I'm not naming names here but he has quite a long name and is something of a fan of anecdotes - this fellow had been living in Melbourne and had heard all about Goon and was keen to get some imbibed. Pretty much as soon as he arrived he went into an off license, or Bottle Shop as the Aussies call it, and said to the guy behind the counter; “May I have a box of goon please?” The guy gave him a confused look and replied “Dining on goon tonight are we, Sir?” and laughed at our friend heartily until he turned and legged it out of the shop in confused embarrassment
. It only became clear to him later that goon doesn't actually exist. It is just a nickname and each box wine has it's own brand but this information came too late to save our unnamed friend's humiliation. It would be like going to an offy in England and asking for "a bottle of booze, please!"
The hostel I stayed in in Sydney is called the Blue Parrot and really has a family home feel about it. There is a large TV room where films were shown every night, a big kitchen where I got back to my cooking after six months of eating out and the fellow backpackers were all really nice and there was always someone going out every eveningif a night on the tiles tickled your fancy. My first companions in my dorm room were a very nice French fellow and a fella from Northern Ireland – or Norn Iron as they call it - who was also very nice but had a habit of snoring like he was in a competition. I mean really putting some effort behind it like they were giving out prizes. In the snoring competition that is. He ranged from full fog horn to occasional babbling chatter then a noise I can only describe as what I presume a whale fart would sound like
. But when he got some momentum behind it it was a wonder to behold. One of his favourites was an impression of a hedge trimmer and he had the ability to snore whilst breathing in
! Can you believe it? No respite! The rest of us in the dorm would turn to watch the marvel at work. It was like a spectator sport. Then it would stop and for the next half an hour while you got to sleep every peep out of him strangles you with the fear we may be beginning the whole terrible journey again from the start. But then it remains silent. And you lie, listen, wait and if you're really lucky eventually drop off to sleep. Can you imagine if someone brought a tuba into a hostel dormitry with them and played it all night? “I hope you don't mind but I really
like playing the tuba. Sorry to disturb.”
Towards the end of my stay I was sharing my six bed dorm with two German girls. No snoring from them as you would expect. The younger of the two arrived only the day before I left but no matter how hard I tried to be nice and welcoming I just succeeded in confusing the hell out of her
. I'm certain she thought (with some justification) that I was a howling madman. You know how some people you just can't really speak to without digging yourself into more of a hole and the harder you try to make yourself clear the worse it gets? Of course you do. I'm dealing with generic human truths here. This girl was probably called Lola and her slim grasp of English didn't help matters. I say probably because due to a lack of understanding I never quite caught the name and you can't ask a third time. Lola, Lulu or Lila. Or maybe Lily. Anyway, the first time I saw her I managed to spend ten minutes repeatedly asking her if she was using the kettle which she clearly wasn't and she could only stare at me like I was showing her my sock puppet doing a striptease. Then later when I realised she was my new room mate I asked how long she had been in Sydney for in an attempt to paper over the kettle incident. She told me she had been staying a week. “really?” I asked “and where were you staying?”. “Right here” she said. “Oh, in the next room?” I asked. “No, right here.” she said and pointed to her bunk. “I don't think so. I've been here a week and I would have noticed a German staying in the room. I'm quite observant like that.” “Right here” she said again and pointed to the bunk. This went on for a little while until it became clear she meant she was going to
stay here for a week. Shocking business. They do say that there are two types of people; those who want everyone to like them and those that just want people they
like to like them
. I just want people who think I'm a nutter to like me. Is that too much to ask?
Also residing in Sydney over the weekend were my good friends Ruth and Becs from previously in our tale. Ruth was in town for the weekend to meet up with her friend Dave – an excellent fellow Irishman - and Becs has just started a job in Sydney. We decided to celebrate this by going out on the town on Friday and then going to the Opera House to watch the Sydney Symphony on the Saturday. Yes; the Sydney Symphony. Yes; me. The night out was great fun as you would expect and the photographs, as always, will do it no justice whatsoever. The Saturday night was something else. The orchestra played pieces by Haydn and Bruckner and at the end of each movement you had to guess whether to clap or just cough with the rest of the audience. To do the wrong thing would be a huge social faux pas
. I had to keep reminding myself that the concert hall I was in is probably the most famous one in the world. And it looks crazy from the inside
. Like a church designed by Gaudi. I thought the acoustics were fantastic as well until the next day I was told the Opera House is famous for having terrible acoustics and they have been trying numerous things to remedy this over the years. Well, what do I know? We all had a great time anyway and nobody fell asleep. Started nodding off and doing that thing where you lean forward in your seat then jerk awake suddenly, yes. But fall asleep, no. And this was due to a warm room and, you know, classical music being played.
My days in Sydney were spent either trawling the city with a huge American I met called Tony or going on organised day trips. Tony is a basketball player from Chicago who looks like a young Geoffrey Rush and whom some of the wags in the hostel unimaginatively nicknamed Lurch
. He was great company with a penchant for asking unexpected and inappropriate questions without notice. This really keeps you on your toes. We walked all round Sydney and took some wonderful pictures of the bridge, the Opera House and the botanical gardens
. I also spent a very nice Sunday with Ruth, Becs and Dave at Manly beach eating fish 'n' chips and ice cream; Chocolate and Vanilla since you ask. The main day trip I went on was to the Blue Mountains around an hour away from Sydney. The Blue Mountains are a stunning group of rocks and waterfalls at high altitude that we were ably shown around by our wise-cracking Aussie guide. He'd often get into all sorts of trouble with his van's gears and shout back to the rest of us “Well, if you cant find 'em, grind 'em!” and start roaring with laughter. It was infectious. On our way down the mountains we had to traverse the One Thousand Steps
which, and I can't remember the exact numbers here, comprised of about nine hundred steps or so. Finally! A bone fide
use for my long-suffering Nordic Hiking Trainers. They'd walked on beaches and pavements but now were on familiar territory. By the end of the thousand steps everyone's legs were like jelly and you had to wobble yourself to the steepest train track in the world to get back to the top again. This isn't me being colourful with language, it really is the steepest train line in the world. It was like an amusement park ride and went nearly vertical at points. I took a video to illustrate this and managed to video the inside of a tunnel we went through that doesn't fully depict either the majesty of the backdrop nor the fearsomeness of the gradient. You'll just have to take my word for it.
For my last day I decided to go to Taronga Zoo
. Taronga Zoo is renowned as being one of the finest in the world and I really wanted to see some of the famous Australian animals they keep banging on about. I didn't consider myself much of a zoo person before I went but this place is fantastic; and the backdrop to it all is the view of the harbour bridge and the Opera House. And it was a gorgeous twenty nine degrees in the middle of winter. Warmer than it currently is back in Blighty. Every half an hour they have specialist talks which nicely break the day up. I went to the owl chat, the chimpanzee keeper talk, the sea-lion display and the spider lecture. Now, I hate spiders. So attending this was a bit like aversion therapy. I was unnerved to learn that of the ten deadliest spiders in the world, ten lived in Australia. The first thing the keeper asked us is if anyone had a really
serious problem with spiders as he's be handing some round in a bit. Everyone shifted uneasily in their seats but as no one wanted to appear cowardly no hands were raised. He did a very good job actually and explained that even the deadest spider in the world (the funnel-web spider fact fans!) wouldn't kill you. Well, not for several days at least. He then told us that funnel web spiders were all over the place here in Sydney and that if you picked up a rock anywhere around the zoo you would almost certainly find one. Everyone shifted uneasily in their seats once again. "But you shouldn't worry! We have plenty of anti-venom to go around!" He then got his assistant to pass around the Huntsman spider (in a jar, thank the Lord) a huge
spider which the keeper once again assured us lived in pretty much every house in Sydney and across Australia but looked more dangerous than it actually is
. That still made it pretty dangerous in my book as they are huge
. About the size of a chef's hat. Give or take. Still I came out of the talk feeling a little more secure about spiders and thoroughly glad that at this time of year spiders tend to keep themselves to themselves.
I really liked Sydney. The people are nice, the weather's nice, the views are spectacular and my hostel was just like a home. I was very tempted to extend my stay by a few days but the name of this game is, just like the Littlest Hobo, to keep on moving. There's a voice that keeps on calling me, Down the road is where I'll always be, Every stop I make, I'll make a new friend, Can't stay for long, just turn around and I'm gone again. Maybe tomorrow, I'll want settle down, Until tomorrow, I'll just keep moving on...
Next time; Newcastle (obviously not that
one) and Byron Bay
Lots of Love,