The fact that I was completely out for the count for the entirety of my flight from Bangkok to Sydney was without doubt a testimony to the sheer amount of activities I had crammed in to my first four weeks away. My flight into Sydney coincided with the tragic terrorist attack on the Lindt café in the city. Initially, I had expected a huge delay as the Australian government had seemingly stopped any planes flying over the Central Business District. However, we departed less than half an hour after the scheduled time and I woke fifteen minutes from landing, Sydney harbour framed through my cubby window.
After a rather pointless trip through (for want of a better description) through SOMETHING to declare, where I informed a rather bored Australian official that yes, I had been in fresh water in Thailand and no, I didn’t have any muddy walking boots in my bag. Having watched copious episodes of Nothing to Declare: Australia, border security was something of an anti-climax.
I was picked up from the airport by a good friend of mine, who was halfway through a year abroad at Macquarie University. It was so great – albeit a little strange – to see a face from home and not have to tackle the public transport of an unfamiliar city whilst carrying 30kg luggage and a small helping of jet lag. After a sizeable nap in the bed my friend had kindly surrendered, we headed off to the nearest shopping centre. Familiar shops, English-speaking sales assistants, flushing toilets and a distinct lack of rice were among my favourite elements of the day.
I had about four days remaining before the whirlwind Contiki tour (The Big Walkabout) would commence, and Matty’s mum was due to visit the next day. Not wanting to stand in the way of a doting mother who hadn’t seen her baby for six months, I decided to book myself a hostel in the centre of town. The university was lovely, but a long way out of the city, and not ideal for someone as keen as myself to fill my SD card with obligatory sunburnt selfies of the opera house and the harbour bridge. A friend living out in Aus recommended Jackaroo, which was in the Kings Cross area (coincidentally Sydney’s red light district, but in my experience just seemed to be the cheaper area full to the brim with studenty / backpacker types). I would, in turn, recommend this as a hostel. It’s not at the cheapest end of the spectrum, but its not overpriced at all; I would say it’s the perfect trade off between cheap and pleasant.
I spent my first full waking day with Matty exploring Darling Harbour. This is one of the more expensive areas of the city centre – very much London drinks prices – but with a spectacular, iconic view of the bridge and the opera house and, whilst I was there, several enormous inflatable santa clauses. WHAT IS THE PLURAL? Santa clice???
We also took a trip up the Sydney tower, which would have perhaps been a whole lot more impressive had it not been a cloudy day. I also found it to a little too expensive, considering you can get all the great views of Sydney for free from Mrs Macquarie’s seat.
As someone whose priorities undeniably coordinate with the needs of my stomach, I’d have to say the highlight of my day was a visit to N2: Extreme Gelato, just a little walk from Darling Harbour on the edge of the city’s Chinatown.
This is the wacky professor of the ice cream industry, boasting a blackboard full of their own flavour creations: some sounded delicious, others downright disgusting. Either way, the crowds were drawn. Matty and I went for some sort of Ferrero Rocher bonanza, whilst I settled on a similar chocolatey creation, complete with syringe of salted caramel that I was free to inject my 6 dollar pot with. As the name suggests, they use liquid nitrogen to create the gelato, and whilst it’s not the price of your average Neopolitan tub from Tesco’s, it’s definitely worth it. Not sure if I’d be able to say the same had I gone for the ‘beer and prawn crackers’ concoction…
I also made a point of visiting Martin Place to pay my respects to the victims of the Lindt Café hostage attack a few days after my arrival; the whole square was buried under a sea of flowers and notes – peaceful and petal-strewn – a far cry from the horror of the previous week.
I filled the remainder of my solo Sydney days wandering the city and the botanical gardens and splurging a few dollars on exotic sushi from Sushi Hub in The Galleries shopping centre in the city centre. Sushi is one of the only things that seems to be cheaper in Australia than the UK, perhaps as it’s such a big deal here and there’s so much competition driving prices down. Some of the best sushi I’ve ever had was from this very haven – would particularly recommend the mushroom and octopus inari pockets.
I also used this time to catch up on my usual dose of reading; I spent a good deal of time poking around second hand bookstores and stealing Starbucks wifi in order to download a few new treats onto my kindle. You can take the English grad out of the library… I settled down to devour my purchases in Hyde Park , an idyllic park right slap bang in the middle of my walk back from Darling Harbour to Kings Cross.
The sad fact of the matter was that although my intention was to lose myself in my books, I actually spent a good majority of this scheduled reading time getting up and running away from Ibis birds at three minute intervals, much to the amusement of the locals. Aside from this murderous chase, these few days were a much-needed change of pace, but also allowed time for me to realise I was a little homesick.
However, this would soon be forgotten once the ceaseless onslaught of Contiki began on December 21st…