07.08.2012 - 14.08.2012 12 °C
Day 312: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 07/08/2012
After a refreshing two hours' sleep we touch down in Sydney, breeze fairly easily through customs and are kindly met at the terminal by Gemma's cousin John. Amazingly, the Pakistani woman who tried to board the plane without a ticket is one of the first at the baggage carousel to claim her stuff. To say the eight degrees celcius outside feels a bit chilly given the last ten months is an understatement and we are happily soon in the back of John's car on our way to the first 'proper' cup of tea of the trip. A quick shower at John and Nele's lovely flat soon blows the cobwebs of the flight away and before long we are on our way out to see the sights.
First impressions of Sydney - and Australia - are very, very positive, with the area in which J&N live being home to countless terraces of beautiful houses, all cast iron balconies and bay windows. The 'normality' of the roads after ten months in Asia is a big shock to the system (as are the prices...) but all is good as we board the ferry at Double Bay and head for Circular Quay, home to the postcard shots of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour bridge. My perceptions of these buildings/structures being cliched are blown apart, and as we sip a couple of beers in the shadow of the Opera House, any misconceptions we had about Australia and what we should expect from our time here, are laid to rest. With friends and family here, we could not ask for better hosts and we start to look forward to the next three and a half weeks and what it will bring.
After a quick lunch - and some welcome 'home' food (who'd have thought a pie would be so good?) - Nele heads back to the flat to sort some things out and John shows us some of the local pubs. A more pleasant, cleaner and more relaxing environment in which to have a few bevvies could not be found and before long we have whiled the afternoon away. Over a good dinner I am somehow roped into running the world's biggest fun run on Sunday, the 14km City 2 Surf event. Great! I am very well prepared for this...We manage to stay up until 2am somehow before hitting the hay.
Day 313: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 08/08/2012
A great sleep and a well deserved lie in (we have had a tough time of it this year!) is followed by a nice cup of Rosie Lee. Given the beautiful weather outside - unusual for this time of year apparently - our hosts take us down to Bondi Beach and beyond. Another cliche blown apart by actually visiting it, Bondi is actually a really great place to spend some time - the beach is long and wide, the sea is clear and blue and the surf is up. The skatepark on the beachside further compounds my admiration for the place.
We then take the Bondi to Coogee walk over the clifftops, with some stunning views and some rather nice properties overlooking the sea. The traditional end of hike Aussie meal (McDonald's) further sells Sydney to us and the bus back to their flat passes some big parks and cricket grounds. A trip care of John and Nele to a quiet spot overlooking Sydney harbour at sunset introduces me to Heartbreak Hill, a half mile piece of hell that makes Gladiators' travelator look friendly, which is part of the City 2 Surf route. John rustles up some meatballs for dinner and after some Olympic action from a faraway land we head to bed.
Day 314: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 09/08/2012
After another great night's sleep John takes us for a brisk walk around the local park, which has lots of public facilities including playing fields, an equestrian centre and a heap of public barbecues for use for a nominal fee. Nice. A spot of lunch at the Sailing Club at Double Bay is followed by a trip to see all the nearby sights, including 'The Gap' - a suicide hotspot but also a beautiful part of the city - Shark Beach and Camp Cove, which has some dream properties on it. We then take a quick stroll up the cliff towards Lady Bay Beach. This involves taking in some more sights than we originally hoped for, as John 'remembers' that it is a nudist beach. 'There won't be anyone there on a blustery day like this...'Oh. We have to tell one of the men on the beach that it's rude to point. Ahem.
A trip to the supermarket for tea is followed by some decathlon pole vaulting action - who invented this event? - and bed.
Day 315: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 10/08/2012
A very short entry today. We are left to our own devices as John and Nele are at work today. The weather outside is positively Novemberish Manchesterish - rain, wind and cold - so we have a day in front of the tv enjoying a few brews. Our big day out eventually sees us venture into the nearby Westfield centre at about four and after braving the gale and getting some supermarket produce we return to the flat over an hour later. Roast chicken, mash and veg lifts the spirits.
Day 316: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 11/08/2012
A marginally more eventful day than yesterday and after dragging ourselves out of the very comfortable bed we decide to do something with the day ahead. We head out on the bus, with Circular Quay in mind, and find ourselves alighting slightly earlier than expected in the trendy Paddington district of the city. Here we visit the Saturday Paddington Market, where there are lots of bargains on offer at ten to fifteen times the price of those in the Bangkok markets. Still, some nice stuff available.
After visiting some nice shops, getting some trousers for next week's wedding and passing some nice looking bars and restaurants, we visit a rather cool coffee shop/second hand bookshop and get a Lonely Planet for the China leg of the journey. We then find ourselves back at the harbour, which looks completely different lit up at night and get some nice photos.
We get the bus back to the flat and embark on a carb load for tomorrow's 'fun' run. After months of (delicious) Asian food, pasta is a nice return to the diet and after a quick skype it is time for bed and a rest before the day of reckoning.
Day 317: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 12/08/2012
So then, the day has come for the City 2 Surf. Up at six to don my shorts and trainers and with me nervously glancing at the clock, Gemma kindly makes me some breakfast. Soon on the bus and seemingly sooner still find myself at the start line. There is an enormous crowd here - allegedly there are over eighty thousand people running (the biggest fun run in the world I am reliably informed) - and before I know it...we're off!
Start the race at a blistering pace, thinking this is a bit of a breeze. Soon flag however, with the hedonism of the past few months catching up with me with a vengeance. An attempted murder by Heartbreak Hill does little to dampen my spirits, and despite nearly throwing up when a cup of Gatorade goes down a bit wrong, I start to think we must be getting close. Then the 8km marker rears its ugly head and the realisation that we are only just over halfway dawns on a few of us runners I think! Anyway, ignoring the stunning scenery of the route the run takes due simply to the lack of oxygen reaching my brain I am at the finish line before I know it and an enormous sense of relief and joy sweeps over me. A time (I later learn) of seventy six minutes is not too bad all things considering and I am reasonably proud of myself. If only I was fitter...one to work on when we get back I think.
After forty five minutes spent finding Gemma and braving the biting wind blowing onshore from Bondi, we are soon in a VIP hospitality tent care of Jon, our friend from the Gili islands. Some great food, some unsuitable recovery drinks and a good massage later, we bid goodbye to him again and thank him for the invite! With bags of freebies in tow, we sit down for a drink in Bondi, where we meet an older Brummie couple and during Happy Hour the day catches up with me and I doze off in my chair. A quick dinner and a well earned early night follow. Exhausted! Gemma tells me how proud she is! If only I was fitter...If only I was fitter...zzzzz.
Day 318: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 13/08/2012
Arise ever so slightly sore today and with the sun back in the sky we decide to make a day of it. A bus to Circular Quay opens a world of possibility and after watching an Aborigine play his didgeridoo we catch the ferry across to Manly. A very choppy crossing is compensated for by yet more fantastic views and after arriving we spend a very windy afternoon on the beach. Glad to be wearing a hoody!
The lactic acid builds up progressively during the day and soon my legs are giving way underneath me. A touch of the green eye as we spy people running out of their front doors and straight into the sea with their wetsuits and their surfboards. A bit nice for them really. We grab a great steak for dinner and prepare for tomorrow's early morning flight.