Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Mini-holiday in Sydney

Okay, so six days isn't exactly a mini-holiday, but it is compared to the last time I hopped on an aeroplane.


We were up at 5, dragging our sleepy selves into the car and driving to the airport (thank you Sean!) to park in the long-term carpark, which is surprisingly good value when you book ahead. We snarfed down an egg and bacon roll and I dozed most of the flight to Sydney, though I will forever be amazed at the length of the flight. It feels like the blink of an eye compared to getting to Europe, and even Japan.

We took the train from the airport to Padstow and my great-cousin Margi picked us up because she's wonderful like that. We dropped our stuff at her place, sunscreened up, and took the train into the city. We found an amazing place for lunch near Central Station, and had absolutely enormous sandwiches (mine had apple in it. Delicious, bizarre apple sandwich.)

We wandered up Pitt St to window-shop, stopping in a gorgeous little bookshop called Elizabeth's Bookshop before heading to the Town Hall. While we were having a look around, we heard some gorgeous music coming from the St Andrew's Cathedral. We stuck our heads in, and were promptly ushered into a free concert with the NSW Police Band! Let me tell you, the acoustics in that place are truly heavenly. There was a fantastic clarinet soloist and a wonderful vocalist. We were easily the youngest people in the audience, and when we came in this gorgeous little old lady smiled at us, and I saw her close her eyes and tap her feet to 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas'. I left afterwards feeling the sort of peace that comes with being immersed in good music and good cheer.

After the concert had finished, we headed across the road to Books Kinokuniya, which is an absolutely enormous bookstore and a place I would like to live in one day. I was terribly restrained over the whole trip. I bought a grand total of two books, and one of them was at the airport, but it was such a pleasure to browse these shelves I had never seen.

By this time, we were ready for the I'm Free Tours walking tour. This is a wonderful tour, the same company that I used to work for in Melbourne, and I wrote a recap of their Sydney tour when I did it last year. This time we had Ross as a tour guide and he was, obviously, wonderful. We met some lovely people on the tour, and finished in beautiful, sunny Circular Quay. We were hot, exhausted, and sunburnt, and climbed back onto the train to Padstow with very sore feet. At Margi's place we bought Thai takeaway and had a great chat. I was in bed, asleep, by 10pm, like the wild thing I am.


After breakfast Margi drove us to the station again, because she is lovely and could tell our legs were sore after yesterday! Sean treated himself to a hot shave at a barber shop and I walked to the State Library of NSW which is absolutely beautiful (though the La Trobe Reading Room at the SLV is hard to compete with). I did some Xmas shopping at the Library Shop (okay, so I bought a few more books in Sydney than I disclosed earlier, but they were gifts!) and drank a hot chocolate in the cafe, reading, which is pretty much my nirvana.

Sean came and found me after his shave and we went for a walk to find some lunch. We went into a Royal Lounge pub called the Angel Bar which served beautiful sandwiches with a drink for a really decent price and was all dark wood, fuzzy carpet and very old-school decor. We went for a walk through Hyde Park after lunch, but I was getting very hot and bothered, so went to the shops off Pitt St and got my hair chopped off by a nice Italian girl from Verona who layered it nicely.

Afterwards we got the train back to Padstow and went for a swim in Margi's pool. I have not experienced such hot weather for a long time. However, tempting as it was to sit in the pool all day and night, Day 2 of our trip was actually Sean and myself's fifth anniversary, and we intended to celebrate it properly. We dressed up (sadly we had failed to bring weather-appropriate clothes but we did our best), and went back into the city for dinner at Ippudo, for the tastiest ramen you ever did taste. We got a table (thankfully), and some pork and chicken buns with our huge bowls of ramen and managed to finish nearly all of it. The staff were lovely, yelling loudly in the kitchen in Japanese and putting on a big show of it, and I really, REALLY hope they open one in Melbourne soon (though Ajisen Ramen is also good).

We headed to Circular Quay for ice-cream and a leisurely walk to the Opera House, stopping to take photos and prevent ice-cream dripping all over ourselves. We headed inside the Opera House Bar to collect our tickets and get a drink, I saw MELINA FREAKING MARCHETTA sitting with a friend. For those of you who don't know who she is (but should), she is the author of Looking for Alibrandi and many other books, including one of my all-time favourites, On the Jellicoe Road. I can't think of any living author (except maybe J.K Rowling) who I would like to meet more. I panicked and babbled to Sean about what I should do and if I should say something, and I ended up just approaching her like a creepy stalker and saying something along the lines of "Your books mean so much to me *random gushing and mumbling* can I shake your hand, thank you for writing, I love you". She smiled politely and thanked me and introduced me to her friend she was sitting with who turned out to be her publisher so I immediately asked to shake her hand as well and then backed away with this crazed look in my eye before I asked her to adopt me or something, and I went back to Sean and my face was bright red and I tried not to cry or faint or anything. Absolute bliss.

On a crazy high (my stomach was in knots of adrenaline and I couldn't finish my drink), we headed into the Drama Theatre for a performance of Switzerland, by Joanna Murray-Smith. The play is about the writer Patricia Highsmith and a young man who comes to visit her from the publishing house. It was written like one of Highsmith's thrillers, and Sarah Pierce as Patricia Highsmith was mesmerising. It was such an engaging, brilliant piece of theatre, it even helped me forget about The Marchetta Experience.

We headed to The S.G afterwards, it being one of the places recommended by Ross for good craft beers, and I had a kiwi cocktail and flattened Sean at the Tekken-style arcade games. It was a great little bar, good music that wasn't too loud, tucked off York St with a great looking menu. Then it was home time, back to Padstow in the incredibly hot night.


I think this day reached about 38 degrees, so it started pretty slowly, with a sleep-in, another swim, and lots of reading. Margi drove us all the way to Bounce Hostel near Central Station to save us from being roasted, and we dropped our luggage off. If you ever come to Sydney, STAY HERE. It was fantastic. We had a private room with a private bathroom, and it was better than plenty of hotels I have stayed at. It has a rooftop lounge where you can meet plenty of wonderful people from around the world, and you can ask housekeeping to make up your room every day with fresh towels and toiletries. It's not the cheapest place we've stayed, but for Sydney and for the service it provides, the price is more than worth it.

We headed back to our awesome sandwich shop from Day 1, but I ended up having chicken banh mi from the Vietnamese place next door which was just as good. Then we got on a bus to Glebe. Glebe is a pretty student-y, Brunswick-y sort of place where I'd been told there are some great book shops. We headed in for iced chais and coffees to Sappho Books, which I could also comfortably live in, and next door to Gleebooks which I will one day make my own. Okay, maybe not, but it made me physically sick with envy that I could not visit these bookstores whenever I wanted.

We were, however, roasting, so we headed back to the hostel to check in properly and generally freshen up a little. After cooling off (our room had aircon, Foxtel, and tea and coffee in a hostel!), we dropped past Frankie's for drinks and a slice of pizza - a wonderful little underground bar with hundreds of the owner's family photos pasted all over the walls as decor.

Then we walked up to Cadman's Cottage, to meet for another I'm Free tour, this one through The Rocks (and a bit shorter, at 1.5 hours instead of 3). Our guide, Danica, was lovely. The tour takes you up through The Rocks with plenty of stories about convicts, protests, and pubs, as well as plenty of beautiful photo opportunities. It's less walking than the day tour, but is very hilly, so wear good shoes.  We had dinner at what was supposed to be a nice pub, but we were a bit disappointed - though this was the only time on our trip that we were actually let down by our expectations. Then we went back to the hostel to sit on the rooftop bar, where we chatted to a couple from Montreal on their honeymoon (though I ended up early to bed once more!)


After a sleep-in, we headed to the Strand Arcade in search of breakfast. We sat down at a place called the Strand Espresso, which served chai frappes that have now become my favourite thing. We went for a long, meandering walk (the day was much cooler, thankfully), window-shopping up Elizabeth St and across the Royal Botanic Gardens. We nearly got lost in the grounds of Government House, but it was a picturesque trip! We made our way to Circular Quay for coffee and sat in First Fleet Park watching people and ibis alike.

For Sean's birthday, my parents had bought him a craft beer tour in Sydney, and we met our guide, David, at 2pm. He was friendly and knowledgable, combining his interest in beer with some great information on Australia's history and how it tied in with the historic pubs we were visiting. A lot of the pubs on the tour we had actually heard about on The Rocks tour last night, but we hadn't actually been into any of them yet. We visited six pubs - the Fortune of War, the Australian Hotel, the Glenmore Hotel (the best and most affordable view in Sydney), the Lord Nelson, the Hero of Waterloo (with a haunted piano, a creepy history, and an utterly delightful jazz band with a singer who played the saxophone and looked about 85), and the Argyle. The tour is inexpensive, and as a result, the beer is not included in the price of the tour, however they do provide the Coat of Arms pizzas to share from the Australian Hotel, which has kangaroo and emu meat on the pizza. As a lot of you know, I don't actually drink beer, so it was a cheap day for me! I had a cider and a wine along the way, but was more content to listen to the tour, take photos, and enjoy The Rocks on a less-sweltering day.

Afterwards we went out for more drinks at Phillip's Foote with some great people we had met on the tour from England and the Netherlands, all of whom were now living in Sydney. Meeting other people has always been one of my favourite parts of traveling and Sydney did not disappoint. We actually had to leave sooner than we'd liked, because we were on our way to dinner with a Swedish girl we had met on the day tour on Wednesday! We had invited Paulina to have dumplings with us and Mel, our friend from Melbourne who is studying in Sydney. We headed to World Square and stuffed ourselves full of dumplings while catching up with Mel, then headed to Yogurberry for frozen yoghurt (not Sean's favourite thing, but he was outvoted 3 to 1). Then it was back to the hostel. Sean socialised, and I went to bed early and read my book like the Nana I am!


It was another stinking-hot day, so we dressed for the heat, and headed to Circular Quay for a quick, greasy breakfast before jumping on a ferry to Taronga Zoo. It was perfect ferry weather, with beautiful sunshine, lots of excited kids, and sea spray cooling us down. We took the Sky Safari up over the enclosures and I didn't even get scared. Yay me. We saw heaps of animals, so many that I'm just going to list them cos this blog is getting loooong:

- reptile presentation with black-headed python and blue-tongued lizard
- reptile house with about a million different reptiles (and I actually managed to glimpse all of them, usually they are too well hidden)
- chimpanzees with tiny BABIES clinging to them and coming right up to the windows!
- giraffes
- elephants
- aviaries of birds with beautiful coloured koi fish in the ponds, close enough to touch
- deer
- pygmy hippo
- gibbons
- leaf monkeys
- otters (sleeping! boo!)
- fishing cat (who was a show-off)
- the seal show, with clever seals, and a very loud wailing seal in the actual exhibit
- amazing animatronic dinosaurs
- wombat burrow with bonus hopping-mice
- free-range chickens, ducks, emu and kangaroo (Sean followed the emu around and I ran away from it)
- QUOKKAS! (sleeping! boo!)
- backyard to bush house including beautiful stick insects and spiders
- gorillas were not on show due to "family bonding"
- penguins
- tigers
- lions
- fennec foxes (I really would love one for Xmas, guys)
- tapirs
- meerkats
- the ever-elusive dhole, which is apparently a dog? But we never saw it...
- koalas
- komodo dragons
- corroboree frogs
- the bird show (including clever, well-trained birds such as a barn owl, a brolga, cockatoos, some kind of buzzard that breaks open emu eggs with rocks, and a galah that flew to an audience member, took a gold coin from his hand, and then returned it)

Sufficiently hot and exhausted after a brilliant day, we caught the ferry home, headed back to Bounce for a shower, then back to Frankie's for more pizza and drinks. We took the bus to Darlinghurst on a quest for Gelato Messina, which seems a tad more organised than the Smith St store because there is less space to fill in the shop. Then back to the hostel for more socialising!


Our last day! We checked out and left our bags at the hostel while we went out for one last Sydney breakfast. We went to the ANZAC War Memorial in Hyde Park, which was just as beautiful as I remember, and was opened exactly 80 years previously, so they had a function going on in one area we couldn't access. Then we walked back up Macquarie Street to visit the Museum of Australian Currency Notes which is free and contains a surprisingly interesting (to me) exhibition on the history of our currency. I had one last chai frappe at the Strand Espresso before we headed back to the hostel to collect our bags and took the train to the airport. We were home by 7pm that evening, and it felt strange to be back so soon. I loved seeing more of Sydney, having the time to relax between racing around sightseeing, though there are plenty of things that we have saved for our next trip. Hopefully it won't be too long, but in the meantime, planning is half the fun!

Thanks for reading, by the way. If you got through that whole thing, congratulations!

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