My time in Sydney was always going to be different from everywhere else in Australia as I would be staying with one of my best friends – Natalie’s – from the UK, whom moved to Sydney for work 2 years ago and was letting me crash with her. It would also feel different as I was planning, after also visiting Melbourne, to stay in Sydney for a couple of months to work myself, so there was an air of fear and anticipation about settling in one place after 5 months on the go and of having to find a job. I was therefore excited and emotional as we slowly approached the city in the camper, having to sit with all the emotions for longer due to the Friday evening city traffic (plus Matthieu’s faulty GPS taking us in the wrong direction for 20 minutes!) For a moment I feared we wouldn’t make it that evening after all and I would have to readjust mentally once again, but fortunately we made it to Natalie’s doorstep in Mosman just before half 6, and just before she trotted down the road towards me.
I had a few minutes in which to say goodbye to Matthieu, Umbi and Tiia – I have really enjoyed spending time with all of them and will always feel fondly towards them because of the experience we shared but, as we embraced (me not doing so great of letting go at the socially appropriate time) it hit me how much I valued Tiia’s friendship and how easily we had slipped into one. We made promises to meet up while we’re both still in Oz and I hope that we do – not only did she keep me sane during the 3 weeks on the road with 4 males, all with strong and eccentric personalities (!), she also had me roaring with laughter.
No sooner had I absorbed this goodbye (*choke*) was I confronted with being reunited with my best lady after not seeing her for a year and after both of us having our own challenges over the last few months. As I wobbled towards her, backpack strapped behind me and face scrunched up as the emotions began to force their way out, we embraced as she muttered “don’t cry, you’ll make me cry”. Too late, the tears were out, but I managed to withhold the sobbing so my words were audible as we slipped into greetings and general chit chat. My first evening in Sydney was spent with one of oldest friends (*cough* 13 years…), drinking and eating a home-cooked meal whilst updating each other as well as reminiscing fondly. I love those friendships that have been part of your life for so long that you immediately slip into your ways of relating and you don’t have to engage in small talk or provide personal history. It was wonderfully refreshing and comforting.
That night, in a “proper” bed all to myself, I slept brilliantly and didn’t move for at least an hour once I woke the following morning. Natalie was out for a few hours so I took the opportunity to explore the area of Mosman by going on the coastal walk from South Mosman Wharf to Mosman Bay, via Cremorne Point, and to Neutral Bay, looping round the edge of bays filled with Sail boats and lined with trees, even glimpsing a view of Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. It was a warm morning/afternoon and I had slipped into a comfortable pace, so rather than cut back through to Natalie’s house I ventured North towards Military Road, picked up a dirty chai (I LOVE that a chai latte is such a popular hot drink in Sydney, and even more so that they are accustomed to adding a shot of espresso into it) and looped past Lindsay Lane on my way back.
That afternoon Natalie took me on my first ferry ride in Sydney, crossing from the North Shore at South Mosman Wharf to the South Shore at Circular Quay. Despite the short distance it takes a good 20 minutes due to the various stops and the time it takes to turn the ferry, but it’s a great way to introduce yourself to the city and approach the infamous harbour. We wandered round to the Opera House for my first sighting (it looks much more beige in the daylight than I expected) and an obligatory selfie, then walked through the Botanic Gardens towards the CBD. I think I have misunderstood what Botanic Gardens are supposed to be until now, as I have always just found them to feel a bit like a “nice park” to me. But still, it was a nice casual walk as we made our way to the city shops, with me obviously feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of staying put soon and feeling the absolute need to buy new clothes and shoes. It’s hard when you have been wearing the same bag of clothes for 5 months and just feel rubbish in everything, plus I think I was trying to manage the anxiety I was feeling about all the adjustments that settling in one place would entail and was trying to “manage” that in a practical way, but it can end becoming obsessive and/or overwhelming you even more.
Anyway, Natalie was understanding and patient but also was firm and gave me a telling to when I became carried away and highly strung – the great thing about having been friends for so long. Bags in our hands, we wandered back towards the Circular Quay wharf (where I purchased an opal card for my travels around Sydney) to catch the ferry home before heading out for dinner. We stupidly (or cleverly?) opened a bottle of sparkling wine and didn’t end up leaving for dinner until half 9, found a local Vietnamese restaurant where we shared Vietnamese prawn rolls, fish curry with rice and beef noodles, whilst necking another bottle of sparkling wine that we had brought with us; one thing I love about Oz is the BYO culture! Back at Natalie’s it wasn’t long before we had somehow powered through another 3 bottles of sparkling wine (have I mentioned sparkling wine?! Sparkling wine, sparkling wine, sparkling wine), spent an hour attempting to watch a 16 minute Ted talk, slid our bodies across her floors and furniture in some bizarre attempt at interpretive dance in time to Justin Beiber, devoured cheese, olives and hummus, and collapsed into bed at 4am.
Needless to say the following day was a bit of a write-off. Looks like I’m already settling into the patterns of everyday, routine life. We woke after midday and didn’t move for a few hours, before deciding it would be a good idea to get some fresh air and walk to Balmoral bay. It was hot but windy, with a wine tasting festival that neither of us could stomach taking place along the beach front, so instead we walked around slowly, pausing to allow our stomachs and heads to settle when required, before making our way home to cook dinner and watch Friends followed by a film. Again, being the first TV/Film night on the sofa I have had in over 5 months, my experience is starting to feel like normal life but yet I’m not at home. It’s a strange adjustment to make mentally; not really being a backpacker and being reminded of home life, but not actually being at home.
My third day in Sydney, with Natalie back at work, I took myself over to Bondi, first getting the bus into the city and then taking a train from Martin Place to Bondi Junction. It would then be a 30/45 minute walk to Bondi beach but with it approaching the midday sun and me just wanting to get there I hopped on a bus, arriving at the beach 15 minutes later. Bondi beach is nowhere near the length of other beaches in Australia and, due to the number of restaurants and cafes adorning the adjacent street, felt the most like a British beach so far. Perhaps it’s the combination of big city with beach that does it, or maybe it was the number of people and number of families (school holidays!), but it didn’t feel as special or appealing as other beaches have for me, and I felt a bit restless after spending the best part of the hour and a half journey sat down.
I therefore didn’t spend much time here and began the coastal walk to Coogee Beach. Taking just over an hour I passed various bays along the way and an open graveyard; as I was approaching it almost looked like a site of statues, or some kind of memorial, and I was surprised to discover what it actually was. In England a graveyard, or cemetery, will more often than not be in an enclosed space; similar to a park or garden, they will be cordoned off with a fence or line of trees and bushes. I personally haven’t come across a graveyard within an open space that you would pass through on your way somewhere – they have always been in a separate, off-the-track location, so it was a bit of a shock for my reserved British self to stumble through this one. I wonder if it is for this very nature – for the British being so reserved and hush-hush about death, unable to face the reality of it and instead keeping it hidden away out of view – that we structure our graveyards in this way, and perhaps why Australians don’t. Or maybe I am reading too much into it, but I found it interesting nonetheless.
Anyway, as I said I passed through different bays with people sunbathing on the sand, surfing, laying on the rocks to sunbathe and snorkelling. After just over an hour I made it to Coogee beach – a small stretch of sand leading to waters that you could swim in with with a Pavilion at the top containing restaurants, bars and cafes. It wasn’t the most spectacular beach – perhaps Bondi would have been a better choice for lazing on the sand after all – but it was perfectly pleasant for a couple of hours laying on the sand reading my book.
The wind started to kick in mid-afternoon so I jumped on the bus back up to Bondi junction, where I picked up a day jumper and ankle boots, then caught the train back to Martin Place. I walked to the entrance to Hyde Park by St James station, where there is a fountain with benches dotted around the outside and views of St Mary’s Cathedral. Inside the park, through the trees, you can spy the high rise office buildings.
Weekday evenings in Hyde Park were currently hosting Night Noodle Markets; a loop round an area of the park with Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Singaporean stalls serving local, fresh dishes with bar tents and people sat in the middle, either on the grass or on stalls, eating and drinking and chatting. It reminded me of similar events in London, with Londoners relaxing in the sunshine after a day at work.; it had a really relaxed and social vibe. We both opted to eat at May’s Malaysian Hawker, with me asking to have a mixed plate of Mee Goreng with chicken and fried rice cakes, which turned out to be the same as the dish I had in Singapore going by a different name of Fried Black Carrot Cake – a big and stodgy dish, it sat heavily in my stomach despite attempting to wash it down with Pimms and Lemonade.
We therefore decided to walk back towards Circular Quay to help settle the food and also take the opportunity to grab a drink at Opera Bar with views of the harbour. There is something about cities and big buildings that look so much prettier and more appealing at night and Sydney is no exception, with the harbour having much more character and charm when lit up within the darkness. It was lovely to sit with a glass of cider and take in the breathtaking views of Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, as well as take the opportunity for some tourist photos! Somehow, despite being such an iconic place, it felt less huge and intimidating than I expected, perhaps because I am used to the big city – “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner” 🙂
On my fourth day in Sydney there were a few things I wanted to do whilst still being a proper tourist, as opposed to once I had settled after coming back from my trip to Melbourne, which was coming up next. It was an unexpectedly glorious day with clear blue skies so I walked to Balmoral bay again,this time the air completely still, the waters calm and the beach nearly empty. I spent a couple of hours just laying in the sun, trying to make the most of not having the pressures of living and working in Sydney, before walking back up to the main road (Military Road) to catch a bus towards Milson’s Point at the bottom of the North Shore. I jumped off the bus two stops before the end of the route and walked up the steps to the North side of Harbour Bridge.
It was windier up here but, with the skies still clear, I walked across this infamous bridge as I gazed at views across the water of the harbour and Opera House. From here I felt it’s grandeur and fame, being stilled and humbled by the perspective up here that offered a wide view encompassing sail boats, city buildings and ocean. It really is an incredible place.
On the other side of the bridge I walked through The Rocks – an area with cobbled streets lined with pubs and cafes that reminds me at once of quaint villages in the UK or of streets in France – to meet up with Tiia. It had only been 4 days since we saw one another but it was lovely to see a now-familiar face of someone whom I have travelled with, and we caught up on our respective last few days over takeaway dirty chai lattes whilst sat in the setting sun outside Sydney Opera House. I could get used to this.
Having yet to have booked my transport to Melbourne for the next day we parted ways just after 6pm, once again making suggestions to meet up again before I leave the country, with me taking the ferry back across to Mosman Bay. I spent the evening frantically arranging my transport (last-minute, expensive flight it is, then – the costs may not be cohesive with being a backpacker but the desire to be flexible and not make plans fits perfectly) whilst Natalie, yet again, cooked dinner for us both and helped quieten my anxieties through reasoned responses. Natalie, you have been an incredible host and friend and I owe you big time – I promise to return the million favours I owe you once I am back and settled in Sydney, hopefully with a job!! Until then….to Melbourne!