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Chapter ninety one - Sydney's Swansong

Last few days down under

sunny 15 °C

Day 335: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 29/08/2012

After a final morning and a nice breakfast in Queensland, we are kindly taken to the airport by Erin and Riley. In a bid to keep him entertained, we feed some dollars into a massage chair and enjoy the look on the big man's face as his back is pummeled by the rollers and mechanisms housed in this strange contraption. Riley soon jumps off and I take over from him in the hotseat. Duly get beaten up by the strange man that obviously lives in the leather armchair.

Our flight leaves early and Gemma mistimes a film in her seat. Thinking she will be able to resume where she left off (we swap planes in Brisbane), one can only imagine her dismay and shock as the second aircraft houses no television sets. Cue laughter all round, though when it gets too excessive I have to ask the pilot and the aircrew to get on with their jobs and stop brazenly mocking my fiancee.

Arrive nice and early in Sydney and being kindly welcomed back to John and Nele's flat for a second stint, we have to swing by the Women's Hospital and pick up Nele's keys. Gemma briefly has herself a job as a Vietnamese interpreter before anyone realises she cannot speak Vietnamese and is only there to pick something up off one of the doctors. Impromptu career change aside this key collection goes swimmingly and before long we have a chilli con carne on the hob. Cosy.

Day 336: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 30/08/2012

Our last day in Australia comes around a little too quickly to be believed. A spot of breakfast is followed by that favourite pastime of ours, packing the backpacks. We somehow seem to have grown/sprouted some more stuff, which has happened far too often this year. God knows how we manage it.

After sorting our stuff out and popping to the shops, we join John and Nele down at Bondi Beach for a spot of lunch, and surprise surprise a few drinks. A few obviously turns into quite a few and after a one too many we find ourselves in the back of a cab with the Scousers bringing a few trophies back to the flat. A few hours sleep to look forward to before tomorrow's flight out of here. Good times to remember in Oz and definitely a place to come back to...how many times have we thought that this year?

Posted by tevs 12:40 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney australia bondi nightlife Comments (0)

Chapter ninety - Townsville

Roos, stag do's and barbecues

sunny 28 °C

Day 326: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 21/08/2012

With our flight to Townsville in the evening, we have another lazy morning in Brisbane, successfully introducing Gavin and Stacey to the Australasian continent through Danny's PS3 and trying to tackle the gaping holes in the blog. Danny is off work today (thought he was working) so after a slap up lunch we say goodbye and head to Chelmer station. Noone here to help us top up our Go! Cards and with the machine not playing ball, Danny kindly drives us to the airport.

A nice easy flight - a nice time to fly - and before we know it we are in Townsville, being met at the station by Mark and Maria. We are then taken to our home for the next week at Erin and Gary's magnificent new home, located in masses of land and found right on the banks of the Black River. Cue a smiling Thomas as dinner is served. Roast beef, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. A very comfortable night in the guest room and the brand new bed.

Day 327: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 22/08/2012

Wake up in this fantastic house with the huge garden and endless exploration potential of the Black River awaiting. We go for a walk down the banks of the river - huge sandy silt plateaus that are underwater during the wet season apparently. After losing a foot in a rather soft part of the river bed, we walk barefooted to mock the hoardes of snakes we expect to see (but don't) and head back to the house for a spot of lunch. It is much warmer up here than further south (especially Sydney) and the 'cold' winter we have heard so much about (apparently jackets have been worn at least twice this winter) seems to be a figment of everybody's imagination...

After some roast beef sandwiches we walk round to Mark and Maria's house, which is much further than it seemed in the car last night. The sun is beaming down now and the back of the neck starts to get a bit warm and pink. A quick drink at M&M's before we take Peggy and Riley - Erin and Gary's playful one year old son - on an exciting grocery shop, being shown the sights on the way. A great dinner of fish and chips is enjoyed down on the seafront at the Strand. Barramundi, calamari and cheesecake all go down a treat. Can see me coming home literally twice the man I was when we left. A quick trip up Castle Hill to see the twinkling lights of Townsville follows tea, which itself is followed by an early night.

Day 328: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 23/08/2012

A trip to Magnetic Island is in store today and we are joined on the 7.45 ferry by the geriatric brigade. Forced to sing to oneself to drown out their incessant and innane chatter. Immediately see a crew of rock wallabies when we arrive on the island - pretty much half ticks the box of seeing kangaroos. We then spend the morning on a walking trail, seeing an echidna (a kind of porcupine thing) in someone's garden. A stunning day on this beautiful island and things get interesting as we take another walking trail in search of Horseshoe Bay. The trail disappears abrubtly and we are forced to go cross-country...we traipse through sub-tropical rainforest in our flip flops, battling through the undergrowth and trying to avoid disturbing any poisonous snakes. This 'trail' then brings us out through someone's back garden onto the road we left at the start of this little episode, so an hour in the baking heat hacking through the home of the ominously named Death Adder in our 'thongs' brings us out approximately one minute further up the road than when we started. Progress I suppose.

A kindly old Mancunian by the name of Frank takes pity on his two bedraggled and sweaty compatriots and kindly gives us a lift to Horseshoe Bay, where we hire some snorkelling gear. Whilst walking to the best snorkelling point, an obnoxious Californian couple and an obnoxious Aussie couple are joined by an obnoxious British couple in cooing and photographing a wild koala. Full box ticked this time by this graceful and slow living marsupial. Much bigger than expected. A quick, very cold snorkelling expedition just about sees the day to an end and we are soon back on the ferry to the mainland. A good dinner round the campfire at Mark and Maria's is the perfect end to a perfect day.

Day 329: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 24/08/2012

Another early morning for us today as we are visiting the Billabong Sanctuary - with Erin, Riley, Maria and Peggy - to see some more of the Australian wildlife and learn more about it. An immediate sighting of a kangaroo ticks another box a great morning is spent living some dreams - stroke a wombat, hold a python, wrestle a crocodile and pet a dingo. Also see some more famous Australian residents in their natural habitat, Bogans - the Aussie equivalent of a serious chav or redneck - enjoying the crocodile show (amazing how high they can jump) and venomous snake show, though they wonder why they can't hold a deadly snake. After watching the croc show we see a small freshie in the park lake and when Maria asks the keeper about this, it turns out ot shouldn't be there. Worrying.

The bird show brings the day to a conclusion and the two babies (Riley and me) have a sleep in the back of Erin's car on the way home. We have a few drinks round at the house of one of Gary's colleagues in real man territory - a garage full of motorbikes, quad bikes and beer. Another campfire at M&M's, where Liam's dog destroys everyone's shoes. The birds here - particularly the Coolie birds and Barking Owl - make a right racket. One even sounds like a woman screaming..

Day 331: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 25/08/2012

Welcome to the weekend. An early start as we head to Ayr for dinner with Noel and Zarn and to drop Peggy home. North Queenland is a big place - lots of space, lots of farms (mainly sugar cane) and the fragile Bruce Highway, the only real road and one that is often flooded and made impossible to follow. Ayr on the other hand is tiny - a town of 8000 or so made up of one tiny high street and a few shops. Very quaint. We meet the other Anne and David.

A real Italian lasagne and some cold cuts at Noel and Zarn's go down a treat and we just have time to make sure Peggy is settled before heading back. Apprehension in the air as I am due to be going to an Aussie stag do with Gary. This proves to be well placed as I am forced into drinking Jaeger, playing beer pong and eating heaps of roast pork. We are picked up three hours later a right state.

Day 332: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 26/08/2012

Shame and hangover go hand in hand after last night's festivities and Gemma looks after me very well...the girls make a trip to the shops and return to find the boys all asleep, Gary and Riley in the boy's racing car bed and me on the trampoline in the sun. A phone call for Gary soon sees us two on the quad bike down the river to help his brother get his truck out of the river bed where he has managed to get stuck. Two hours in the baking sun as a very sore young man sees me regret offering to help...not really what was needed.

We all make a trip over to see some friends of Erin and Gary, who have a house right on the beach. Another huge plot to add to the list and another great location. A couple of beers makes everyone feel a little better and Riley and Nash endure a naked 'best friend' photoshoot in the sand. A film, a good tea and a skype end the day far better than it began...

Day 333: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 27/08/2012

Wake up a new man, enjoying just how pleasant the mornings here can be...and a very quiet morning it is too, spent playing with Riley and the dog and enjoying the sun. We visit the Reef HQ in Townsville this afternoon, where some of the very strange, eerie creatures of the deep can be seen. The strangest creature of all is the man on the desk, who asks where we are from for the benefit of the computer. When I say London (near enough) he says 'I'll put Madrid, it's pretty close'. Ok. And it goes on as he asks if we have senior citizen's cards or student cards or just about any other card that springs into his head. I think he even mentions Pokemon cards.

Learn about the Great Barrier Reef and the incredible wildlife it supports and watch the menacing sharks swim around the aquarium as though they own it. A small polystyrene boy freaks Riley right out, but he seems to say at least this is better than a naked beach photoshoot.

Day 334: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 28/08/2012

Our last day in Townie - we have loved it up here - and we start nice and early. Me and Gem are tasked with looking after Riley whilt Erin visits the doctor. We sit at a coffee shop - great salmon and brie bagel, chocolate brownie for Gemma and a vegemite biscuit for Riley. All to the supermarket, where we get some stuff for tea and a quiet afternoon is spent in the patio hammock. A nap may or may not have occurred. There is no way of telling. Play with Riley for the rest of the afternoon - it will be sad to say goodbye to someone on exactly my wavelength.

We take a stroll down to the river with Mark, Maria, Erin, Riley and Liam to enjoy a glass of wine at sunset. A great spot and one to remember that's for sure. The sky turns a deep pinky orange, the bats come out and the birds make a racket in the murky twilight. The Barking Owls give it some. A good dinner and time to say our goodbyes again. Have had a great time in Townsville and vow to return! Back to Sydney tomorrow.

Posted by tevs 02:57 Archived in Australia Tagged koala wildlife australia queensland kangaroo townsville magnetic_island billabong_sanctuary Comments (0)

Chapter eighty nine - Brisbane

Calamities, relations and nuptials

sunny 22 °C

Day 319: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia 14/08/2012

Quite a morning! Our early morning start and trip to the airport not going quite as smoothly as intended...

With the trusty iPod alarm set for five past four to allow us time to get to Bondi Junction to catch the five am bus to the airport, you can imagine our panic as we both wake with a start to find it is one minute to five. Turns out the iPod was on silent. I run downstairs (as best my stiff legs will allow) to try and hail a cab and in my haste I trip over the steps to sprain an ankle. With Gemma trying in vain to ring a minicab we have a stroke of luck as a cab comes round the corner with its light on. We just make it to the airport in time, at a cost double that estimated by the cabbie! What a start to the day...

We take our place on the plane without even time for a drink and exactly one millisecond after sitting down we both duly fall asleep. Wake up in Brisbane. Now our next obstacle is to try and get ourselves to Danny and Jaye's flat, where we are staying and also get a message to them without the use of a mobile phone...using the instructions sent to us by Noel and Zarn, we soon find ourselves in the right place but with the added problem of nobody being home. Borrowing a neighbour's phone we get through to voicemail accounts and soon find ourselves meeting Jaye on her own doorstep. Cue much relief.

After a quick spruce up the two of us spend the afternoon in central Brisbane feeling tired but relieved we even got here today. A bite to eat at a cheap noodle joint addresses the pangs for Asian cuisine and after a few hours strolling round the city centre we make our way back to the flat to meet Danny and after a nice tea and a glass or two of wine, we hit the hay. Knackered.

Day 320: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia 15/08/2012

A public holiday in Brisbane today, as it is Queensland's state show day, known as the EKKA. Shannon, who I have met before during his time studying in the UK, comes to see us at Danny's and kindly brings some delicious breakfast pastries with him. He then kindly gives Gemma and me a lift into the town and we find ourselves at the trendy South Bank area of the city, not too dissimilar to London's South Bank. A lazy day - much contrasted to some of the mad dash of yesterday morning - then ensues as we find a nice sunny spot on the river bank and enjoy a rather nice picnic...we are entertained by a few young lads showing off their gymnastic/martial arts skills and Gemma soon finds a mischievious crawling baby is wearing her sunglasses.

Later in the afternoon we take a stroll through the rest of the South Bank area, taking in the artificial beaches and the general buzz of the place. Brisbane seems a much nicer city than we gave it credit for yesterday in our zombified stupor and see it is a very pleasant city to spend a few days in. Catch the train back to Chelmer with the racegoers (EKKA is traditionally a big race day) and find much like British punters they are all inebriated and munching on fast food. Shades of Aintree or Ascot...

Day 321: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia 16/08/2012

A day seeing a bit more of Queensland today, and after Gemma puts together a nice packed lunch for us, we load up our Go! cards and jump on the train headed for the Gold Coast. The train passes through some places that definitely sound made up. Yeerongpilla and Moorooka spring to mind.

We eventually arrive at Surfers Paradise about three hours after leaving. Here are a few observations about Surfers Paradise: a) awful name - no waves; b) very built up; c) despite the sun it is pretty cold in August; d) the huge beachside buildings cast rather big shadows over the beach pretty early. Other than that though - and the resort's tackiness - we have a pretty good day dodging the shadows and avoiding the seagulls and watching a group of Korean tourists try to learn how to surf. Another destination ticked off the list and after a good dinner it is time to call it a day.

Day 322: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia 17/08/2012

Up early today, with our hosts taking us out for the day to Mount Tambourine. Promptly fall asleep in the car ten minutes after leaving. Arrive at Mount Tambourine to take in the great views of the surrounding areas from the point the local hang gliders launch themselves, as you do, off the side of the hill. Not for me I don't think.

A delve into the sub-tropical rainforest follows and taking the Witches Falls trail we see and hear some incredible bird life. A pademelon - imagine a small, slightly deformed kangaroo - then shows himself to us in the undergrowth and keeps the trekking as silent as we can manage. Some of us were made for stealth, some of us were not. I'll leave you to decide which category me and G fall into. Hint: we are not in the same category.

Head back to the car and by half eleven we are sampling liquers at the Mount Tambourine distillery, with a sour faced woman from Nottingham and a caricature Aussie producing these tipples. The local cheese maker and brewery are then visited and a delightful lunch of cheese baguettes and local beer is gleefully consumed. Back in the car then (cue nap), to make a quick visit to Yatala to see their famous pie shop and are stared at curiously for not having a huge meat pie and sharing just a small apricot job...judging by the size of some of these pie snobs, the shop has a fairly regular client base...

Day 323: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia 18/08/2012

Day of the Big Fat Aussie Wedding and we are soon meeting Luke - the groom - at Danny and Jaye's as he makes some last minute finalisations. A quiet lunch (sushi) is followed by a taxi to the venue - the Botanical Gardens - with a crazy Bhangra producing, very un-PC Indian cab driver who tries his hardest to sell us his album. Hmmm, maybe not.

We meet up with the rest of the Smarts and the Finns - good to meet all the extended family at last - and I am soon reunited with Great Aunt Peggy, who tells the story of her pushing my pram with such jubilation to anyone who will listen. A lovely wedding ceremony takes place in the exotic surroundings before we move on to the stunning mountain retreat for a wonderful reception, where the drinks flow at the same rate as the conversation and festivities get going. A funny night and we meet a lot of people I have heard of but never met, as well as some I have met long ago. Some of these were pretty drunk. Must be genetics!

Day 324: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia 19/08/2012

Not too shabby this morning all things considered and a nice breakfast with Danny and Jaye starts the day well. We head back to the South Bank for the afternoon, where some more of the wedding goers are congregating and so a wander round Sunday market follows. A few sore heads and broken dreams amongst the crowd means that a pub lunch is called for to shake some life back into a few bodies.

A quick tea and a Sunday night film is followed by the obligatory Sunday Skype before exhaustion triumphs and we sleep like babies.

Day 325: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia 20/08/2012

After a lazy morning and a lie in we think that we are home alone, before we realise that we're not, and we are soon enjoying a cup of tea with Noel and Zarn. To say thanks for their hospitality, we decide to cook Danny and Jaye as nice a dinner as we're capable of and a trip to the supermarket follows. Swinging by a Sri Lankan/Indian food store we are immediately transported back to the start of the trip by the sights and smells on offer - time travel through the olfactory glands!

We rustle up a storm in the kitchen, overcook some rice and say our thank you and goodbyes (they are both at work tomorrow) and prepare to head north to Townsville. Travelling through Oz with just hand luggage (our backpacks are in Sydney) packing proves to be a breeze. If only we could do the whole trip like this...

Posted by tevs 01:18 Archived in Australia Tagged australia queensland brisbane south_bank Comments (0)

Chapter eighty seven - Bangkok to Sydney

G'dnight Thailand, G'Day Australia

sunny 25 °C

Day 311: Bangkok, Thailand to Sydney, Australia 06/08/2012

A lazy morning and early afternoon is spent lounging, and after a quick shower and a final pack of the bags, as well as one last great street meal, we are off to the airport. We really cannot believe that things have got to this point and we have been on the road for well over ten months now! It is all slipping away...sob.

Disaster strikes en route to the airport. A little jig of mine backfires as the left strap of my backpack breaks. Disappointing to say the least. After neglecting to get in touch with Emirates to confirm our flights (cannot get through to them at the weekend), we face the moment of truth...are we even on this flight? Yes, no sweat. Time for some last minute refreshments in the airport.

As we board our flight an old Pakistani woman tries to board without her boarding pass. Hmmm, we will have to see how that one pans out for her...In our seats, a decent dinner and a film and a few zzz's go up. The next chapter of our trip awaits.

Posted by tevs 23:07 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney flying australia thailand bangkok airports Comments (0)

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