The world doesn't really need another shot of Sydney Opera House, but I'm giving it one anyway

Sydney (or Dom Down Under, Part 1)

I’m back in the Northern Hemisphere (where did all the light go?) after spending two weeks with its brighter, warmer southern twin. To avoid blogging overload I’m going to split this trip into two and talk about Australia first!

With Jeff, Carolyn and Maria

With Jeff, Carolyn and Maria

More cousins!

More cousins!

The impetus for this trip was Claire and Mitesh’s wedding in Sydney, which I rashly promised to attend back in the feel-good cousin vibes of Jamie’s San Francisco wedding of 2014. To have a family scattered across the world is a wonderful thing, but to have a global family where everybody actually likes each other is even better. Deborah and Rob, Claire’s parents, were incredibly generous and hosted two evenings of family reunions – including a Sydney harbour cruise – before the main event. (I didn’t take photos of the wedding itself, so until the official ones emerge, you will have to believe me that I dragged a new suit around in my backpack for two weeks. But I did!)

From the London branch, Carolyn and Maria turned up with a bundle of Cadbury chocolate to tide me over until my next UK visit: it looked like we were smuggling drugs. Many many thanks also to David and Ginger, who took me out for dinner on the first night even though I was probably frazzled and incoherent from all the flying. I also got to meet a wide selection of new cousins (at least, new to me!) which continues to expand my network of people to beg sofa space from in the future. And, of course, thanks and congratulations to Claire and Mitesh for making the whole thing happen. Never have I heard wedding vows quite like theirs.

The world doesn't really need another shot of Sydney Opera House, but I'm giving it one anyway

The world doesn’t really need another shot of Sydney Opera House, but I’m giving it one anyway

On the Bondi to Coogee beach walk

On the Bondi to Coogee beach walk

Cool birds in the Botanical Gardens

Cool birds in the Botanical Gardens

More of the Botanical Gardens

More of the Botanical Gardens

After the family jamboree was over, I hung out in Sydney for the rest of the week and was really impressed by the city. It’s a delicate balance to be an obviously ‘working’ city and yet have so much going on for tourists, and Sydney is helped in doing this by a network of ferries and beaches. I checked out Manly and Watson’s Bay, but my favourite was easily the Bondi to Coogee beach walk, pictured above, which I did on Australia Day and so was surrounded by families picnicking and young people drinking and/or not-drinking on the beaches (there was some divergence between the flashing prohibition signs and actual behaviour). This stunning walk was also one of Emilie’s top recommendations, and her suggestions formed an excellent guidebook while I was there.

In the spirit of serendipity, I also want to put in a word for Sydney’s Justice & Police Museum, which I ducked into at random and fully embraces the “yes, we were originally a convict colony” history of European emigration to Australia. It’s one of those museums where you can wander around and interact with an old police station, cells and courthouse, force random strangers to take photos of you looking judgement in the judge’s seat, and admire the history of the Australian TARDIS police box. I realise people don’t go to Sydney for the museums, but if you happen to be walking past, you should check it out.

At the falls, making incorrect assumptions about how much of the hike I had completed

At the falls, making incorrect assumptions about how much of the hike I had completed

Without a doubt, however, my favourite Sydney excursion was to the Blue Mountains, a mountain range which – despite being a two hour train journey out from the city centre – is ludicrously cheap and easy to get to. After tapping out my ‘Opal’ card at the other end, I really did feel ashamed of the comparative cost on Britain’s railways. My Airbnb host, Mark, had recommended the trip and directed me to Wentworth Falls as the best place to go. (Tangent: I really, really love Airbnb. Especially if you’re travelling alone. This was one of the highlights of my whole trip and I only did it because I had a real resident to chat to.)

Although I knew I would get a waterfall – obviously – I was deliberately ignorant of what exactly I was going to see. This led to a lovely moment where I thought I’d got to ‘the’ waterfall, took a bunch of photos, and then realised that the path continued to a much, much larger drop overlooking a beautiful wooded valley. I was absolutely not wearing sensible shoes and had no idea how far away food would be (later a kindly hiker brought me up to speed) but I still decided that it would be silly to come all this way and then not do the ‘hard’ hike with signs like ‘Valley of Waters Slacks Stairs’ and ‘descend ladders facing inwards’. So I did, and I descended the ladders facing inwards, and it was an immensely satisfying and scenic trail with some fun challenging sections (i.e. “now get through this river somehow”) which concluded, mercifully, with a café serving restorative lunches for hungry walkers.

Looking out at Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains

Looking out at Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains

Beyond these trees, the universe ended

Beyond these trees, the universe ended

After lunch, my day at the Blue Mountains descended into farce as I moved on to the Three Sisters rock formation – getting mightily drenched in the process – only to discover that mist now rendered them completely invisible. And I mean, literally, to stare out from the ‘viewing station’ was to gaze into a pure white void, which still didn’t stop tourists looking and taking photos and (most confusingly of all) taking selfies against nature’s blank canvas. It was hilarious, and felt like a postmodern art project, and was probably more fun than actually seeing the designated sight to begin with.

On my last day in town, I also went to see Groupon people who usually exist solely on video conference calls. Cassie took me to lunch to try some of the laksa which Nolan had insisted I try in Sydney, and later I went for beers with the famous Bobby, a fellow ex-UK colleague Dan, and others from the Australian office.

With Bobby Mulligan

With Bobby Mulligan

To round off, I would like to praise Australia most sincerely for its predominance of pies. After living in a desert of pies for so long, this was a joyous reversal, and to the extent that even the café on the ferry – where I’d expected crisps, drinks, maybe sandwiches – offered a selection of hot meat pies and sausage rolls to eat. If you live there, I guess you take this for granted, but it really is the most marvellous achievement and made me very happy while.

In my next post, I will ‘cross the ditch’ to New Zealand and continue my adventuring…

Carolyn Regan, Randi Lawrence, Julie Ann Self, Beth Dubowe-Lawrence, Stephanie Francesca Pereira liked this post

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