Happy New Year from the best seats in the house!
Trip Start Sep 29, 2003
55Trip End Sep 29, 2004
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The weather was just as good the next day and so we did the sensible thing of going to the beach.... unsurprisingly the rest of Sydney had the same idea! Even at 11am when we arrived it was jam-packed, and it got worse and worse as the day went on. But it served its purpose for a bit of sun worshipping. We went to Coogee Beach, just down the coast from Bondi, and for all intents and purposes was just like Bondi but smaller. We went down with Lewis and Nicola, radio and American football in hand; and then later we were met by the girls. It was great to see them again, nothing seems to have changed back home though. The biggest news was that Inferno's nightclub in Clapham has got a new carpet.... actually I was quite excited by that! They were intent obviously on getting a tan to wow everyone in England when they go back, but were very self-conscious of being a ghost-like shade of white! After a few hours lazing around, Jon and I headed for a walk down the coast to Clovelly Bay. To be honest, the beaches haven't really done it for us here - they are just crammed full of people, and what's more they're all Brits. But the coastline was pretty special, and I'm sure there will be just a bit more of that as we travel around Oz :)
After cooking up a tasty feast for me and Katie, we hit the cinema for the much-awaited viewing of 'Love Actually'
And so it was New Year's Eve.... time is flying here. Just where has another year gone?? Of course everyone in the world wants to be in Sydney for New Year for those fireworks - and yes, they are just as good as everyone says they are. Less glamorous was the 12 hour wait we had! We met at noon, got some picnic stuff from Woolworth's (where else?) and headed down to Mrs Macquairie's Point en masse. We didn't take any alcohol with us as there were checks at the park entrance to stop you from doing so. Sod's law then that I got the guy who merely patted my bag, found a lump and asked "What's that?", I replied that I didn't know but that he could open it up to look - his answer "no it's alright thanks.... next!"
We sat there on our rugs, pretty bored to be honest, just chatting/reading/snoozing. No-one really started drinking seriously until about 8pm... that is apart from Kathryn and Lydia... they had sneaked in bottles of vodka and coke, and once they had polished those off, started straight onto the sparkling wine. They were in such a state, they were hilarious, especially Lydia who spent a good while with her head in a plastic bag! I found out later that she missed the bag on occasion and was actually sick on one of our blankets - the blanket that Lydia would later convince me not to leave there, as I had been intending as I had seen it was dirty, but instead to put it in my bag and take it home! She claims she wasn't 'ill' on it, explaining that it was actually bat poo (we made the mistake of sitting under a tree and so at dusk we all got a few little surprises from above!) but I have eyewitnesses! Kathryn stopped drinking earlier on and thought she had escaped until, 5 minutes short of getting back to the hostel, she emptied her guts onto the pavement!
There was a fireworks display 'for the kids' at 9pm, which actually was as good as the midnight ones except that the Bridge didn't play any part. Kathryn and Lydia, I don't think, remember any of it. The rest of us timed the drinking a little better though - after 9 hours of boredom, we were livened up a little by some sparkling wine (not bad actually and only $15), the fireworks and a massive game of charades. It began just with us and the people behind, in teams of about 5 each. Much to Lydia's annoyance (she is very feisty after a few!), people outside of the official game began shouting in with their guesses, so we decided to enlarge the game. At which point I stood up and shouted across the crowd, recruiting another 100-odd people for our team. I, for some reason, decided for a few minutes that I would behave like some kind of street performer - doing my mimes 5 times in different directions so that all the people around me could see; then starting a big sing-song; and for my finale setting in motion a few Mexican waves. I think I was on my own for most of it though! Below me, Jon was feeling very sorry for himself as he had a drink-induced cold after the excesses of Christmas - at about 10pm, on my way back from the bar I found him sneaking out, saying he couldn't stay the extra 2 hours and had to get well in time for Caroline's visit in 5 days time. He was seen by a St John's Ambulance guy apparently as he was exiting who said he should go for a blood test on the Friday, but luckily he was better the next morning.
Anyway, back to the evening itself - I feel very sorry for Jon as he missed an amazing thing. Thirty seconds before midnight the countdown began on a giant screen to the right of the bridge, and the 60,000 of us on Mrs Macquairie's Point joined the other 940,000 on the streets of Sydney in shouting out each second. And the show began... the fireworks began coming off the bridge and lighting up the harbour, filled by now with hundreds of boats. These weren't so much exploding fireworks, more quiet 'popping' ones - they were beautiful. Then the big guns came out, the massive fireworks behind the Opera House, which went on for about 20 minutes (I think... to be honest I lost all track of time so could be completely wrong!) and then the ones off the Bridge began again. They were so good that I swear I almost started crying, I was so happy! The finale was the big ones again over the Opera House and the best part of all - a 'shower' of fireworks coming down from the Bridge down onto the water, almost like a waterfall.
The downside to the evening sadly was the attitude of the people around us. First of all no-one, and I mean no-one, would stand up - okay so maybe the sensible thing IS for everyone to sit down in an orderly fashion so that everyone can see properly. But that is dull - after all we are in Sydney at New Year, when are we ever going to be here doing this again (I say this because everyone was British, I really don't know where Australians go in this city but they certainly know how to avoid the Poms - I wish I did!) - stand up, jump around, hug each other, sing songs and enjoy yourselves for God's sake! Don't sit there moaning that you've been waiting for hours - so have we all - and that you can't see. Live a little people! This is basically what Kathryn, Lydia and I were shouting at the people behind us (we had lost the others - Katie was off snogging the new love of her life, Dan, one of Lydia and Kathryn's friends - all a man has to do is say he plays rugby and they have no chance - she's done very well for herself over here!) . To the people who were singing ''Oh sit down" to us, I wittily replied with a verse of "Stand up if you're in Sydney" - made up on the spot, yes I do know I'm hilarious you don't need to tell me! Even as we left, after the inevitable drunken phone calls home, Lydia managed to get us into a couple of fights with people! It all added to the occasion actually, I think we all secretly enjoyed it! On the way back, we decided people weren't looking happy enough and so took it upon ourselves to tell them! We just couldn't believe how glum and quiet people were, a few people were delighted by our singing and joined in, but most people seemed confused by us. I got a few kisses, including one from a policewoman but got rebuffed by a granny - oh dear!
The good cheer continued back at the hostel.... we arrived to find a crowd of people around the entrance, surrounding a girl on the pavement who was coughing up blood, allegedly having been hit by the bouncer. I wouldn't actually be surprised, bouncers in Sydney aren't the most charming but then again, where are they? We decided to avoid trouble and go down to the bar, sneaking Katie and Kathryn down with us - after just enough time for me to dance on the stage on my own and for the girls to get a drink the club was closed down by the police! And so New Year's Eve was over at just 2.30! Still managed only 3 hours steep that night and so the next morning was obviously exhausted. After an Internet session where I accomplished practically nothing, and a few drunken phone calls and texts from home (particularly around 11am our time), I went back to bed for a few hours.... joining Lydia in the room for a bit of shut-eye - she ended up having a 2 day hangover, poor thing!
That evening we had been invited to go to Kathryn's place in Coogee (her cousin whose flat it is was away) but there was no way either Jon or I were going to make it as we were supposed to be in town at 7.3Oam the next day to collect our hire car with Hannah, Clare and Sarah. Instead we went round to Katie's to watch the Christmas special of 'The Office' - however her landlord very unreasonably decided to watch a film instead after his 14 hour shift at work! I did manage however to watch the 'World Idol' poll results live from London - good to see Ant and Dec are still going strong but gutted that Will Young only came in 5th. Worth it though to see Kelly Clarkson's face as she came in second to some ugly troll -like Norwegian unknown!
And so we moved on to the Blue Mountains, about 2 hours west out of Sydney. Both Jon and I remarked we felt like we were going on holiday, I guess that shows how at home we have come to feel in Sydney. Jon was the nominated driver and I think he enjoyed it - the tame-looking Mitsubishi family automatic turned out to have a 3.2 litre engine! Good for scaring the girls in the back. It was potentially tricky for me and Jon to be sharing the decision-making with three others, even for only 36 hours, having had it all our own way for 3 months, but it worked out okay. Hannah has a bit of a tendancy to be bossy from time to time, but we handled her well - I guess we were in quite good positions being the driver and the navigator! Sarah was just too spaced out all the time to care, not sure whether it was the heat or whether she is always like that, but she never seemed to know where we were going or what we were doing! And Clare is too easy-going! Me and Jon are getting on scarily well at the moment I should mention, I think mainly because we have so many people around us at the moment (including friendly faces from home!) and because we have been able recently to go off and do our own thing.
Anyway the mountains themselves were nice, I don't think I could describe them more enthusiastically than that but I think that is again a result of being so spoilt in Central America. I kept on thinking how if we had gone past these views on a bus two months ago I wouldn't have even batted an eyelid! And yet we were on a trail of hundreds of tourists here, compared to the one or two we would see in a day back then. In fact, the view's spectacle was not so much 'mountains' as 'canyons'. And having been to the Grand Canyon and the ??? Canyon in South Africa, this didn't compare. But we still had a great two days and this close to a big city like Sydney I guess it was quite special - could have been done it in a single day though, probably. I think to appreciate the views more, you have to work hard to get to them, ie. hike! There were a number of trails to do, and we did do a few of them but it due to the incredible heat they were limited. Jon and I turned out to be quite a bit fitter than the girls as well, so they didn't make it quite as far as us. The views we got after an hour's walk, away from the coachloads of people that were at the lookout points near the road, were much more pleasing. But those lookout points were where we spent most of the day. The Three Sisters, the focal point of the whole National Park, were a bit of a disappointment to be honest - again probably due to the throngs of people there, but they were much smaller than we had anticipated. With my 'business' hat on though, very well marketed indeed!
At about 6pm, we stopped at the girls' hostel - I say "the girls" as to their disbelief we hadn't booked, we explained very smugly that we never booked - only to arrive and find a "fully booked" sign posted on the front door! We had been toying with the idea of sleeping in the car anyway so this kind of made up our minds for us! That is until we found the huge TV lounge, in which there were 8ft (mine!) and a 6ft (Jon's) sofas. Too easy! We kept all our belongings in the car and used the hostel's bathroom and kitchen facilities - we are thinking we might do this again when we have our campervan! After a huge steak and veg meal - others in the kitchen were staring at us incredulous that we were about to attempt eating it all - we headed for a nearby hotel, recommended by someone to us to watch sunset. We quite cheekily just wandered in to the back, sat on their verranda for 30 minutes, took a few photos and left - without anyone batting an eyelid.
Attempted to watch a film but was too tired, so then to 'bed' - quite a comfortable night actually considering. So comfortable in fact that Jon struggled to get me up in the morning. We expected someone to turf us out halfway through the night but no-one noticed us, or if they did they didn't care! It was another scorcher, making being outside the air-conditioned car quite uncomfortable. My eyes were in agony and without my eyedrops they were completely red - an accumulation of the air-conditioning, the heat, tiredness and the sun's intensity (didn't mention I broke on New Year's Eve the sunglasses that I bought to replace the ones I lost on Christmas Day!). Also quite uncomfortable were the plagues of flies that bothered us for those two days. So we ended up just driving and only once getting out while still in the Park on the Saturday - we did the rest of the loop, rather than go back the way we came, and headed back to town. We stopped at the Olympic Park on the way back, with which I was very impressed - I really wish I could believe we could do this in the UK but I'm afraid we almost certainly couldn't. Only six miles from the centre of Sydney, it was like a town in itself - very impressively done. Everywhere you looked there was yet another stadium or dome, and another set of floodlights. But of course the focus of our attention had to be the Olympic Stadium, otherwise known as the Telstra Stadium where the Australians had been humbled on their own turf by the mighty England. Oh to have been here a month and a half earlier. We have met quite a few people who were able to get hold of tickets that night and cheaply as well - there were a lot of Kiwis who just couldn't wait to get rid of their tickets after being knocked out and so sold them at face value - very jealous! We didn't have time to do a stadium tour as Jon had to get to the airport by 3pm, so we just had a nose around the outside. Before then, we had time to sit in the park where I got the girls to sign my book; where I burnt my feet thinking I could manage the 10m on the path to the toilets without shoes on - two times; and where I discovered the many electric barbecues that are made available to the public to use for free - a party of about 100 Japanese were there having a kid's birthday party.... bit extravagant flying all those people that far!
Jon dropped me off in town and so it was time for very quick farewells - won't see Jon for at least three days and probably longer, will be bizarre. Dropped back in on the Wake Up! to collect all my stuff I had left in the room, had not been able to find a hostel bed though (everywhere still full from New Year) so had had to ask Kathryn if I could stay at her place. Said my farewells to Nicola and Lewis, will really miss them, they make me laugh so much! For the past two weeks they have constantly been changing their minds on where they are flying to next - I'll walk out of the room and they are going to New Zealand, walk back in five minutes later and hear them saying "f#ck it let's just go to Thailand", "alright then". No exaggeration! The funny thing is that they were swinging between these two all the time and suddenly at the last minute they booked tickets to Perth! Kathryn and Lydia were going out to have a buffet meal at the top of the revolving AMP tower, so I arranged to meet Sarah, who I know from Barcap, in Darling Harbour. Turned into a bit of a farce - first of all it took 30 minutes to get out of the hostel, the lifts kept breaking down and as usual the stairs were closed! Will not miss that hostel! The evening didn't improve as the bar Sarah and her friends were in wouldn't let me enter as I was wearing trainers. Wasn't going to argue, even though I was smartly dressed, as it never gets you anywhere with bouncers. Texted Sarah to tell her I was outside but it turned out she had left her phone at home - so I was just sitting there on my lonesome for an hour! To be honest I wasn't up for a big evening and I quite enjoyed people-watching. When Kathryn and Lydia were finished with their buffet they came to meet me and we headed to Paddy Maguire's for a couple of jars - Lydia still wasn't drinking three days after NYE! Katie joined us afterwards, she had found work as a runner at the seafood restaurant Heather works at (who incidentally recently served Lorraine Kelly - think they get a few celebs in there), thrown in at the deep end with a 13-hour shift and she had the blisters to show for it! By the time we had finished, we had missed the last bus to Coogee so had to get a taxi (harder than you think - none of them seem to speak English), having collected my stuff and said another sad goodbye to Lydia, will hopefully see her in Melbourne in February though.
Three hours sleep and up again for a wine tour in the Hunter Valley! This was Katie and Heather's baby which they had originally planned for a big group of us - however, Heather's flatmates pulled out, Lydia flew to Darwin that day, Jon had gone to NZ, Kathryn had called to book but had been told they were fully booked (a lie - there was plenty of space on our bus)... so it was to be just the three of us... until Katie pulled out - her blisters apparently had kept her up all night. It takes a lot to keep Katie from her drink and she wasn't guaranteed a refund so we knew it must be serious - and that it certainly was, I saw them the next day and ouch! So Heather and I set off alone, with the quietest group in history, we were the only ones asking questions or chatting with Steve the driver. Steve was a really top guy - he just loved to talk, and whereas I would have given up with our group very early on in the day, he really didn't seem to care - constantly on the microphone telling jokes, stories, interesting bits of information about what we were looking at out the window... he was a cross between an airline pilot (''this is your captain speaking....") and a DJ! He would be good on the radio actually, as it is he just loves being a tour guide... he has done it since a very early age (he is only 26) and even offered to take us anywhere in his car and he'd show you around, on his day off, splitting between you the petrol and park entry costs! Not a bad deal, I know it sounds sad/dodgy, but he just loves what he does, and he obviously was quite a clever guy as well. So back to that Friday, Heather and I had a very enjoyable day - spent a lot of our time talking about Warwick and lntenational Business - our course - amazing how much you forget in just 2 1/2 years. And we spent most of our time on the bus in between places asleep! Not that we were drunk or that we didn't enjoy each other's company, we got on really well, we were both exhausted - her from working and me from New Year excesses! We stopped at three wineries, where we obviously tasted some wine (actually quite a lot, they gave us about 30 seconds per glass before they were coming around with another bottle), were told about the differences between the wines and the reasons for them; told why people taste different things in the same wine; and we were talked and stepped through the fermentation process. With the heat, it was sweltering again as we had moved away from the coast, I lost my appetite for drinking fairly early on - not good on a wine tour! Heather dragged me though it - I don't think she threw down half as much as I did but she stood up well to the test! One of the wineries, where incidentally we were given a top notch lunch, gave us less wine and more spirits - including a very interesting (and hot!) shot of chilli-flavoured drink. Our last stop was my favourite, a bit more wine obviously, but also we managed to get our hands on some cheese and fudge handouts... mmm! As ever, from that one, we were the last ones back to the still oh-so-quiet bus. A good and long (5am- 6pm) day, all in all.
Back to Coogee to meet Kathryn for a Thai meal (we found it bizarre our respective travelling partners being so far away now and it being just the two of us left), back to hers to watch a Matthew Perry film and to bed! At least we didn't have to get up early the next morning, oh my mistake - WE DID! Caught the bus into town at 8am so that Kathryn could get her bus to Canberra and I could check into a hostel and get to the cricket. Was quite sad saying goodbye to Kathryn - like the end of an era. Think we will meet up again in NZ in a couple of weeks, which will be cool. I found a hostel OK - back where it all began 3 weeks earlier in the City Central... the symmetry of it all would be beautiful, if the place wasn't so skanky... Can't believe I actually described this place once as "not that bad"!
Off to the cricket at the SCG then - the view from my seat was quite incredible. Not only did I have a good angle of the game but I could also see the I domed football stadium roof nextdoor and the skyline of Sydney in the (not too distant) distance! It was a very warm day, despite the overcast conditions, and by the end of the day everyone was drenched in sweat and also quite pink. The game as well was an important one and the eyes of the sporting world were on that field... the world's best team (possibly ever), Australia, was in danger of losing the overall Test series on their own patch, to lndia. The latter had scored a massive 705 in the first innings of this fourth and last Test, and Australia were struggling with 260-6. To add to the setting, it was Australian captain and legend Steve Waugh's last game for his country. And despite the pecarious position their country was in, the Aussies came out in record numbers to say farewell. There was a group near us who were staging the "Waugh memorial", a huge banner went by declaring ''2 million Indians, ONE Steve Waugh"... unfortunately another one followed shortly afterwards proclaiming ''we eat your God"! Didn't see that one again! The atmosphere was so much better than the baseball game we saw in New York, although a lot of that was probably alcohol-induced! As the day went on everyone became more and more raucous, a bit like a football game I suppose, but it was only ever light-hearted banter... except when it came to SCG security, nobody seemed to like them! They didn't seem to take too kindly to being threatened with ejection for: standing up; performing to the crowd as they downed as many beers as the could in a row; and constructing a 40ft plastic cup 'snake'! When they did eject someone, (they got the police - out in huge numbers - to do the job) there would be a huge chorus of boos from the rest of the crowd. I think people stopped watching the game for minutes at a time. Especially during the very impressive Mexican wave that made its way around the ground for a good half hour. In the end Australia predictably made a fight of it and managed to bat through to just after lunch. India decided not enforce the follow-on (not quite sure why, but it was about the only thing I didn't understand, which is a hell of a lot more than I could have said for the baseball!), and so they came out to bat - unfortunately this meant I didn't get to see Steve Waugh bat, but the consolation was that I saw Sachin Tendaulker, maybe the best batsman in the world. Unfortunately, India didn't seem to want to gamble and go for the win - they just needed to draw the game to draw the whole series, but even though they were in no position to lose and they had never won a series in Australia before, they played very conservatively. And so, an hour before the end, I decided to leave and miss the rush for the buses at the close of play... I hadn't eaten all day, I had to pack and also I had a few people to see that evening... they must have seen me leaving as when I caught a glimpse of a TV when I got back into town, they had piled on 100 runs!
I popped in very quickly to say goodbye to Katie, then met Roops (used to play Sunday league football together, very disappointed to hear the club has folded since me and Jon left) for a pint and a half - it's all we had time for so it was a half or nothing, okay?! Was good to see him again, laughed a lot as ever with Roops - we worked out it had been 6 months, far too long. And then I went on to see Sarah, who I used to work at Barclays with, for a few more drinks - didn't feel drunk but woke up with a surprise of a headache in the morning! We actually didn't recognise each other at first, it has only been 3 months - must be the tans! We chatted and chatted, could have been there all night. It was quite scary the similarities we were finding as we shared our experiences so far.
And so that was the end of Sydney - I knew it was time to move on, I had done everything I wanted; and I don't know if when we pass though there again later on our trip, I would like to stop (been there, done that, you know) but I know for sure I am going to miss it very badly.
May have forgotten to mention:
- We were very lucky to be put in a room on the corner of the Wake Up building, there was probably twice the space compared to a normal room.
- The smell in our room was quickly diagnosed as being caused by mine and Jon's shoes - when we weren't wearing them then, they were banished to a designated cupboard!
- Lewis possessed what looked like a normal fork, but in fact the handle extended to be about 4m long! Needless to say, he had a lot of 'poking' fun with that!
- Lewis also grabbed a bit of attention by dressing up in a very tight-fitting Santa outfit! Fetching...
- I know it sounds sleazy but I could listen to Lydia talk all day - her accent is half Irish, half Welsh. Brilliant!
- Nicola's best dappy story was that she inadvertently went to see Lord of the Rings II twice. She didn't realise "The Twin Towers" was the subtitle to the film and went again thinking she was seeing something completely different!
- Steve from Macclesfield made up the 6 in our room. He was hilarious, never quite with it after too large a night the night before.
- We went to Pizza Hut a few days after Christmas for the buffet. Jon pulled another scam by getting away without paying, then proceded to eat so much that he had to disappear to another table to lie down! Long after the others left, I managed to carry on and beat my 'slices record' - 18!
- The flies on New Years Eve, during the day as we waited for the fireworks, were very annoying!
- More entertaining on NYE was Lydia trying to throw chocolate-coated nuts into my mouth from a distance. It turned out the reason she was being ridiculously inaccurate, throwing them over my head, was that she was trying to help me pull the girl behind me, who not only had I not declared an interest in, I hadn't ever seen her! Needless to say anyway, she wasn't impressed. Then there was the girl on the boat in front of us who, for 10 minutes, was mooning us all, revealing to us her very small G-string!
- Not very exciting but I thought I'd mention Sydney has a very decent bus system.
- How did I forget to mention that Katie and Liam got it on one night. He insisted that he went back to hers, adamant that the fact she shared her room with another girl didn't mean he could stay in there as well! He slept on the sofa... Very nice place though, right by Darling Harbour.
- One of my favourite things about Sydney is the noise the pedestrian crossing makes when the green man is on - the only thing I can compare it to is a toy machine gun.
- I have purchased a decent combination-lock padlock to put on my locker but I forgot to put it on every time I went out!
- In the Wake Up, to stop people using too much washing-up liquid, rather than leaving bottles out, there were dispensers above the kitchen sinks. However, rather than squirt downwards, for me it tends to exit at a more horizontal angle - straight onto my shirt!
- I tried to superglue my broken sunglasses together and succeeded only in covering the whole thing in white stuff and gluing my fingers together.
- My teeth are still hurting a week after my 'falling on my face' incident.
- It's turned into a very expensive week. The hire car was $40 (if Jon had booked it, as he was asked to, it would have cost us 1/5th of the price), the cricket was $50, and the wine tour $90.
- One of my favourite signs of the trip so far, outside a fruit shop - "Happy New Year To All", with one below in the same writing, ''Mangoes $8 per kilo". It took us a while to realise it didn't say "Happy New Year To All Mangoes"!!
- The woman that showed us around the Botanical Gardens sounded just like Dane Edna Everage. I almost cried with joy as she started talking about the damage done by "possums"!