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So, our time in Sydney continued, mostly in the wet. They’ve had the wettest summer on history or some happy fact like that and in fact it’s pretty serious with large parts of New South Wales under severe flood warnings.
We noticed it even where we were staying. The nearby flood drains which were dry when we arrived were almost to the top one day as we walked to the train station.
Probably the worst weather day we had was when we were going over to north sydney to see an old friend of mine Darren who I haven’t seen in a good 10 years, with Sarah his english wife who I met briefly but who was hospitably inviting us for dinner and meet his two boys Toby and Cameron. I spoke to Darren who suggested we could get to him by getting the ferry over to Manly – this seemed like a great idea so we could checkout the famous manly beach on the way. However, that day it rained and rained and rained. And this rain isn’t like standard english rain – it’s really hard. The ferry over to Manly, where you normally would have stunning views of the mouth of the Sydney harbour, was so overcast that you could barely see land. We got to Manly, trudged down to the beach, just so we had seen it and then tried to catch the bus. Stupidly we just missed the one we should have gotten, then discovered we could get another bus which turned up while Mark had disappeared off to the toilet. So rather than being early we were in fact rather late. The lovely flowers that I had bought for Sarah which were wrapped in brown paper, were waining to say the least and we were a little frazzled. But it was so fab to see Darren after all this time and have a good old gossip with Sarah about what she did and didn’t miss and about what the differences are about living there and lots of general girlie stuff. And it was great to meet the boys and be entertained by their light sabre swordsmanship (who doesn’t want a light sabre eh?) and Cameron’s forward rolling ability – magnificent. We had a really nice time – it’s so good to sit with fun and lovely people – we’ve met some lovely people along the way but there’s nothing like that sense of familiarity, a bit of common ground and some reminiscing. My highlights include the fact that Darren has a jack hammer. I don’t why that amuses me but it does. I guess it’s when someone you know grows up and builds things (the decking is very impressive) it’s just a different side to them. Mind you Mark built our decking about 8 years ago and um, well, I can’t really comment other than it was definitely sturdy!
Another highlight was Sarah introducing me to sparkling red wine. Not pink – full on dark red. I know!! It sounds wrong but it was really good. The heaviness of red but then kind of lighter. A revelation. But the main highlight was just hanging around with lovely people and they fed us lovely food and it was a laugh and great to have girlie chat. And the boys made me laugh, especially in the morning. Before even 8 o’clock we had animals, dinosaurs, homework and guns! Plus, they let us crash there rather than get a few buses/trains back in the pouring rain. AND Darren gave us a lift back in the morning. He’s the coolest (hope you’re listening fella – bigging you up here!!).
After that we didn’t do a huge amount of exciting things in Sydney. We went to the Newtown area which I’d been told was pretty cool. It was ok and it did have THE BEST second hand bookshop in the world EVER!!! I know I found one in Wellington, NZ that I thought was great but this is on a whole other scale.
‘Goulds’ has been around for donkeys years and is just this crazy place stacked to the ceiling with books. Even Mark, who hates being dragged to bookshops, loved it. I’d like to say it’s organised chaos but I believe that most of the books aren’t catalogued but they do put them in general areas. There were thousands of books in the area we were looking on Australia, as we thought we could find some old guide books. But you easily got distracted by a book on Cairns from 1970s with amazing pictures, or a write up of something from early 20th century. I’m probably not selling it by my description but it was such a treasure trove. And if you moved away from the section you were in then you’d just get sucked into some other topic and the thousands of books on the subject. They even had so many books that some you couldn’t even see/access as were still in packing boxes. I think if I lived in Sydney I would go there once a week like going to church. V cool, if dusty, place!
That evening things went a little awry and rather than grabbing a bite to eat in Newtown we headed up to Epping, the suburb after Eastwood (where we were staying) on the train, to meet Jo who’s place we were staying at through airbnb. This was her home suburb and we met her at her local which is half bar/half club. It was great to spend some time with Jo, get to know her a little better and meet lots of random people, but the fact that we hadn’t eaten and had been out for a while, led to a slightly messy evening. There was some dancing with Jo on the club stage with wigs on, I have no idea why and I’ve no idea where Mark even was during this time but we had fun and we got home (somehow). Now it may sound like we are drinking our way around the world as we mention bars so much in our blog but although we have frequented many along the way, we haven’t often been in any for more than a few drinks. So this mad night out really was a shock to our poor systems and we had a very quiet next day. Which was nice actually. We ordered pizza and watched TV. Proper lazy and stuff – it was great. A couple of wonderfully terrible made for TV movies for extra bliss. Of course this was all within our small little room but on the move these places quickly become our little castle.
We did, much to Marks horror, have to drag ourselves out in the evening as it was Sydney’s gay ‘Mardi Gras’ parade – the reason we’d extended our trip for a night. Rain or no rain, I was not going to miss this. But boy, the rain was gonna have a good go at hindering things. Stupidly I had thought, as at such events in the UK, there would be tons of people cashing in on the rain and selling ponchos etc (our umbrella had died a death the day before). But nope. Not one person – big money making opportunity missed there. So we got there fairly early – but realised we couldn’t wait until the parade started and get a good place because it was pouring and in an hour we would be drenched and miserable. So we headed off for a couple of drinks and prayed the weather would improve. It hadn’t when we first headed back, just after the parade had hit the area we were. The worst thing was that all the umbrellas actually added height to all the people at the barriers so you could see very little. Even with the rain though there was a palpable sense of fun and good humour. The vibe was just great. So then, the gods looked down on this happy place and the rain stopped and then for a good 2 hours while the parade finished, the rain held off.
I was a little surprised as I had thought as it’s such a huge thing in Sydney, that there would be big bucks spent on these huge floats and it would be lots of light and glitz, almost disney parade style. It was, however, quite small scale in that sense. It was not really about ‘floats’ but more about the tons of people marching the streets. Which was cool and probably more about what the mardi gras represents than big floats. I was just surprised that’s all. It’s maybe because I’m from the west country which is carnival country so I’m used to seeing big, impressive floats with themes and big lights and big music.
And also, Brighton Pride, is probably more impressive on the floats front too. But as I say, I don’t think that’s what this is about, it was just an expectation I had for some reason. I think this is amazing for the amount of people who take part and showing all the different charities and support groups and sports clubs and just people power really. It really did have such a great and special vibe and I really, really enjoyed it.
But one final, controversial note – at Brighton Pride – the ‘ladies’ are more impressive on the whole than at Mardi Gras – sorry but they just are!!
Best bit was the one where they were all dressed as Kylie (who was there to perform at the post parade party) from the ‘I just can’t get you out of my head’ video with the white catsuits. That was genius!!
During a break in the rain, we had the chance to enjoy the local Cockatoos. Please, no jokes, as if I haven’t heard enough from Mark. They are very cool birds though and definitely not shy. If anything they are a little ‘cocky’. They fly right up close to you and if there’s something in the road they want to eat, they’ll sit in the road and eat it and will maybe hop over a bit but generally are not fussed about moving for cars. They are pretty big and it just seemed so bizarre to have these kind of birds in a residential neighbourhood. Well bizarre to us poms – obviously the natives don’t bat an eyelid.
And the rain continued – we went into the city to do a bit of shopping (searching for a replacement Kindle for Mark – we have all the luck with electronic equipment). I did have a moment of sorrow when we entered a department store in search of the electronic floor and I had to walk through this most amazing cosmetic floor. I remembered when I had nice things. Nice creams. Nice smelling things. Oh to have nice things again. Need to avoid such shops. They are evil and tempting….. Sob….
And the rain continued. By this point 75% of New South Wales (which is a blooming huge state – probably the size of Wales or something) was on flood warning. We were a bit concerned about our road trip but the route out of Sydney seemed to be ok.
On our last evening we stopped for a drink in pretty much the only place you can get a drink in Eastwood. The hotel has a very modern but cheap interior with a big room for pokies etc. It’s ok – does the job and the drinks are a bit cheaper than in the city. We found, though on that last night, that in about 4 places, the ceiling was caving in, in the bar area, because of all the heavy rain. As I mentioned before, it’s been the most rain Sydney’s had possibly ever and buildings like these just aren’t handling it. It was actually quite shocking to see how much the building had disintegrated in about 4 days since we’d last been there.
We ended that evening with our first ever Korean meal. It was quite late at night and it’s tricky ordering when it’s unfamiliar food to you but it was really, really nice. The main dish we ordered was squid but when it came it was octopus which was okay by us and we had some interesting accompaniments, like a kind of pickled seaweed and something that I think was marrow which was gorgeous. It was pretty good all round and was please we took the opportunity of staying in that mainly Korean/Chinese/Vietnamese neighbourhood to try the one cuisine we weren’t familiar with. One thing to note was that on every table they had a box of christmas tissues. Obviously this isn’t that weird as the tissues were to use as napkins and maybe they had a job lot left over from christmas time but the peculiar thing was that all the restaurants in the surrounding streets, when we looked in the windows, had the same tissues. Did a christmas tissue factory close down and have thousands of boxes left? Could you get no tissues other than christmas tissues at the local wholesalers? Who knows and the sad truth is, we may never know.
To leave Sydney we had to go down to Botany to pick up our camper van. I say van – car is really what it is. It’s a converted people carrier really. We (I am saying this through gritted teeth as it was Marks fault and caused a lot of happiness and hugging and loving in our lives – not) went wrong on the freeway, just after we went over the harbour bridge. This wrong turn was at such an awkward place that we had to go back the way we came to correct the mistake – we couldn’t just get back on, in the direction we were going. So we added a good 40 mins to our journey and we ended up going through the same toll booth twice so had to pay double and it generally created lots of annoyed and fedup-ness. And then when we got the van back and actually looked at the non-existent space, we got a little concerned but ploughed on and managed to get on the road and out of the city as the weather had actually cleared up for once.
We were going to stop an hour away at Newcastle, but we made such good time on the highway that we decided to crack on and get a bit further on.
We eventually managed to get to the place we had originally wanted, just north of Taree, by a national park where the camping was cheap and there was lots of wildlife. Well, I say get there. We got to the bottom of the dirt track this was at and realised we probably didn’t have enough petrol to get the 15km (I kid you not) up the dirt track and back so we thought we’d got at one of the nearby holiday parks. But it seems that these holiday parks close reception at 4 – 5pm – WHAT?? What on earth kind of road trip means you have to be somewhere at a set time. That’s not the freedom I was promised. And… gulp… if that was the case with all of them, what the hell were we going to do now? Luckily, at the campsite up the road, which looks like it is run by Norman Bates, Mark rang the bell for the night (it’s 6pm folks) porter and they let us in for the night. It was a nice, basic site, mainly of holiday home type caravans – we were the only camper. We got out our food only to be attacked by a swarm of midges and mozzies so annoying that we sat in the dark to eat. But it was ok, we just had to be super careful about opening the van door and letting mozzies in – ooops – too late – place is full of the b’tards. Mark swatted a few but then we thought we could – wait for it, this is pure genius – spray into the van so they all get nuked to death while we went to the shower block. But of course – can you see where we went wrong? When we got back, we needed to air out the van because we’d just sprayed poison into it. But we can’t because if we open the door more mozzies will go in. Bugger. So we tried to open the door a bit, but not too much but we did end up having to shut ourselves in with the poisonous gas to some extent. Let me tell you the problem about Jucy vans. The size is a pain, no question, if you want to sit in the thing but once the bed is setup it’s not too bad and is fairly comfy. But. There is no – zip – nill – ventilation. It wasn’t even the warmest night, it was fairly cool (for Australia) but the heat that generated in that van (and not in a Tina Turner way folks) meant within minutes it was steamed up and there was no air, other than the poison we had sprayed in earlier. And the key issue here was that we couldn’t open any windows coz we are in freakin’ australia, on the edge of a National Park, which is basically in middle of nowhere with mozzies trying to attack, as well as spiders that may make their way in (that is Mark’s issue – not so much mine may I say, but I didn’t want to test out making a point and wake up in the morning with a huntsman spider on my face. Mainly because Mark would scream like a girl and leave me to it. I thought because I was so knackered that at least I’d just drop off and could then deal with everything in the morning but I did not, I could not sleep. I was dripping sweat – sorry – I was glowing(!) and just couldn’t breath. I kept ripping open the curtains and opening a window for a bit and panting out if it like a dog. I am, admittedly a bit odd temperature wise. I never, at home, have the heating on at night – even if it’s freezing out. No matter the temperature, my temperature raises so much when I’m asleep that I wake up boiling. Mark often wakes up freezing where as I’m boiling – 5 minutes out of bed and I’m frozen, when my temperature has dropped to my surroundings. The other odd thing I have when my temperature goes up massively is a bit of an odd one. I had it in Fiji but never mentioned it as it is odd, but hey it does happen so no point being ashamed. When my temperature goes up I have a tendency to hallucinate. I properly see something right in front of me – stone cold sober – that is not there and I half know is not there but I can see it.
That night I saw a bunch of stuff. I’d lie there and watch it – think I’m probably aware that it’s not real but still hold my breath, a bit scared in case it is to see what happens. In particular I saw a huge spider on the sheet next to me, crawl over in the direction of Mark. I figured, either it would crawl on his face, wake him up and he’d scream or it doesn’t exist. It wouldn’t hurt him either way (I’m not cruel – I know the big ones don’t bite).
In between I did try to look out of the window, knowing that all kinds of amazing wildlife were out there – most stuff in Oz happens overnight – I would have loved to have seen a koala on the move but between the curtains being up and the windows being totally steamed and it being so dark out, I couldn’t see a thing. All I could do was sit and wait for morning. It couldn’t be far away could it. I’d be up and out the second the sun rose. But then Mark woke up and told me it wasn’t even midnight. Oh god. I basically stayed awake until the early hours where I finally fell asleep only to be awoken by Marks snoring. I guess it was the lack of ventilation but oh dear – the next few hours were violent poking and desperate need for sleep on both sides. We both finally slept for a couple of hours around 7am when the temperature had dropped as the rain had followed us up there.
And it rained.
And it rained.
And it rained.