Getting Into Melbourne

Friday, April 27, 2007

My first day in Melbourne had mostly been spent walking around upper downtown (i.e. Chinatown and what remains of Greektown) and Chapel St. looking at high fashion. You know, plus the hen’s night. My first week in Melbourne was likewise packed with getting-to-know-you type activities. After a recuperation day on Saturday, from which we ventured out only to get groceries and dinner from St. Kilda (not to mention the examining the many cakes), I went out on Sunday and walked some more along Chapel St. I definitely am going to be picking up some clothes at this CM Store and there were plenty of other cool stores and boutiques to be seen. I also got some internet stuff done, discovering that my bank was near zero and so it was finally time to sell my Apple stock. Which, I want to add, was done with the utmost reluctancy as I feel it is sure to be up in the $100 range very soon (as I write this it’s up from the $92 I sold it at to $99), but hey, Visa wants to get paid, who am I to say no? This was a reminder that I definitely had to get the job hunt going.

I met up with Marietta later that day, and she mentioned that she had taken a bit of part-time work with a catering company as their secretary, just to help out a bit. She also mentioned they were looking for people and so I’ll probably stop in there and have a chat – my feeling on finding a job right now is to cast a wide net and then see what comes in, so whether it’s really a job I think I want or not is irrelevant. Money’s money, besides which, and if nothing else, I kind of see how things work around here and get my feet wet. On that note, she and I took a drive around St. Kilda, the Docklands, Bay St., and all the way up to Lygon (which is basically Little Italy) where we walked around some more. We wound up chatting with an Italian restaurant owner who asked me to come by on Tuesday if I wanted to and try out his job. I’m not too keen on it, either, as he essentially tries to get people who are looking for somewhere to eat to eat at his place, but I think it would be an interesting experience for a day or two here and there, so I may do it just to see what it’s like and what I can take from it. You know, besides money.

The next day, Monday, I met up with Norm down in Hampton, which was good fun. Incidentally, he drives a black Land Rover which I felt would’ve been a bit better than Great White, but I digress. He took me on a 30km cycle ride around the city, and we saw quite a bit in that 30k. We started off with a bit of tea and meeting up with one of his friends along Beach Rd somewhere, and then set off on the bike trail following the ocean. The metropolis as he likes to call it, or downtown, or the CBD, or whatever you will, was on the horizon and of course ocean surf and palm trees along the way made it a nice trek. I actually wanted to go into the city itself to one of the Greek music stores, as Marietta and I had discovered just the night prior that Thanos Petrelis was in town and playing a show on Tuesday night, and I definitely wanted tickets.

So we biked along the Yarra, crossed up into downtown and towards Lonsdale St, and I managed to pick up my tickets. I also discovered that Stalactites, a cavern-style Greek restaurant downtown, was hiring, so I’ll be swinging by there in the next few days, too. Everytime I’ve walked by it is at slowest steady. I’m not sure what the deal is with Greeks and cave-themed restaurants, but again, off topic. And while I’m off topic, I want to reiterate that, yes, I have tickets to see Thanos Petrelis. Tomorrow. I wanted to see him while I was in Greece but he wasn’t playing, and now he happens to be here. Lots of Greek musicians are coming through, as it turns out. Ploutarhos is here in June, Sarbel in early July, etc. And it sounds like I really missed out not being here for Greek Easter, but I suppose you can’t win them all. Wilco was also here recently, not to mention the Pixies. And there’s an International Comedy Festival going on for a few more days that I definitely want to check out a bit of. So I think I’m going to love this place.

Continuing on with the bike ride, after downtown and all the delights along the Yarra River (including Fed. Square, Flinders St. station, one of the many ferris wheels, plus the views of downtown), we started making our way back. Norm brought me through Kings Domain park, where we saw, besides the parkland, a music bowl in the style of the Hollywood Bowl, the Victoria government house, the Anzac Memorial where the dawn service will be on Wednesday (and I may attend since I have to walk home from Petrelis and the concert ends around 3 AM), and back into St. Kilda. St. Kilda has a lot of cake shops, in fact it’s somewhat renowned for them, so we stopped and had a vanilla slice that was, to quote Norm, delectable, and also stopped at the gates of Melbourne’s Luna Park for a photo. I think I may actually have to try a ride in this one, as they have a wooden rollercoaster. And you know how I feel about wooden rollercoasters.

Norm dropped me off at the train station and I ran but just missed the train. And then the next train was cancelled, which meant I was waiting to catch a train back for almost half an hour. Luckily I brought my iPod. By the time I got back into the city, it was dark and cool, and everyone was walking around in winter jackets while I strolled around in gym shorts and a t-shirt getting funny looks. I wish I had a camera on my back so I could see how people reacted when they saw the maple leaf on my backpack. “Ah! That explains it.” It was chilly though, and I was happy to get home. I did some work on my resume, which I had to start again from scratch since I didn’t put it on my Mac before leaving, and that ended Monday.

Tuesday I went into the city a bit earlier than usual and, while on the internet, looked up the phone number of the stalactite restaurant that had caught my eye. Always busy, lots of Greeks, in what’s left of Greektown here. I called and chatted with the manager and said I’d be in before she left, then did some other internety stuff when I got to chat with most of my family back home. The bandwidth was barely up to the task of IMing, much less video conference, but it was still nice. I resolved to find a good place with decent speed to do subsequent surfing and found one not much after. I went home to print my resume and headed up to Stalactites, and chatted a bit with the manager there. She told me to come in Thursday. Well, I wasn’t thinking, because I had no white shirts and Wednesday is a holiday, namely Anzac Day, so I had to run all over trying to find cheap white shirts for work before all the stores closed. I found a nice Cypriot on Lygon St that had a dress-clothing store and he gave me directions to a place I could get cheaper ones than his ($95 plus) and his cell/mobile number in case I had any questions or couldn’t find the place. Say what you want about their cricket skills, this is really a country of nice people.

Since I had some time to kill in town before heading to see Thanos Petrelis in concert, I went to see Shooter, which was actually a pretty decent movie first, and then called up Dimitri, who was DJing the pre-show. We met up and he introduced me to his brother, Stelios, who hung around with me most of the night and introduced me to some of his friends. Then some guy came on, sang, then some girl, sang, and they were both decent but I an the other three were wondering who they were aloud when Petrelis walked on stage. He gave us a good show, playing all the songs I wanted to hear including H Oraia, Kernao, Thymesies Kati Apo Ellada, and others. Some of which six times. Kernao, in fact. By the way, this photo on the right is my 6000th photo with this camera. Wow.

I didn’t like that he always held up the mic for the audience to sing lots. Who comes to this to hear themselves sing. If I wanted to do that, I’d hop in the shower. And, love Kernao though I do, it kind of seems cheesy to do it again. Especially saying things like “solo” every time. Especially when the solo is the same every time. In spite of those things, though he did it and managed to avoid international scandal. Whew.

I walked home, which was quite a bit farther than I expected. I intentionally strolled by the ANZAC shrine hoping they would be starting the dawn service soon, but it was still an hour away and the night was chilly. Still, there were many huddled around a fire and getting ready for the big holiday, and I strolled around a bit before continuing my walk. Well, I walked and I walked and hit, I think, Toorak road and walked some more, until finally I decided I wasn’t going to get home until 6AM at that rate, and hailed a cab. It turned out I’d made it pretty close, but it was still a $10 cab ride. Marietta had been out and arrived home shortly before me, so she was still up and we talked about the concert and how her night out was for a bit and went to sleep. Then, Wednesday, we walked all over trying to find cheap but decent white shirts before the stores closed at 5:00, and I finally found a few that were more decent than cheap but still only about $70 for the two of them, and got some cologne samples to try since I’ve run out. I think RSVP is my choice but I have a few to try out first. There’s an international comedy festival going on in Melbourne, and I wanted to see an act, so I took Marietta out to see a comedian and have dinner as thanks before heading home as it had been an exhausting day and I had an early morning to come.

8 AM to be exact, as I had to be at work by 10. One hour to get ready, 30 minutes to get downtown on the tram, and that gave me 30 mins early. There was nobody there in spite of it being a 24/7 restaurant aside from the cooks, the grandfather, and a few assorted people. So I studied the table numbers and reviewed the menu again and then one of the cooks gave me the prep list. So I cleaned and set up for lunch, alone, until almost 11:00 when finally others started to come in and I got a little assistance. I worked until 7PM instead of 4PM because it was busy, and it was a piece of cake. Yeah, I’ll have to get used to their system, table numbers, and so on, but it’s pretty straightforward. No soup/salad first, it’s just a question of whether or not they get bread and side plates with cutlery, which they do for everything except gyros (which they call souvlaki here).

My biggest complaint about the place is that the focus is more on getting food out than customer interaction, which means that everyone does everything for every table, but it seems to get the job done. We also split tips which, on the first day, I think I did pretty well with considering Aussies don’t tip. One guy tipped $11 on a $50 meal, telling me to buy a Mythos with it since I couldn’t drink with him and his wife during work. As it was coming up on 7:00, one of the waitresses, Marjolla, came back and told me to come next door with her to the bakery, so when my shift was done and we hung out with ?? and Stelios there with a Kok and some good hot chocolate and getting to know more people. Then she and I went for a beer, which I’d been craving once in a while since PC2, and I caught the 11:20 tram home. I was due back to work tomorrow, this time noon to midnight. That should be a long day indeed and I’ll be ready to celebrate my first week in Melbourne long before midnight, I’m sure.

And so, my final day in week one, or maybe my first day in week two, but Friday came and I was back at work. The shift went well mostly, except for me giving a table the wrong bill because I hit the wrong button and didn’t double-check, but I’m definitely starting to get comfortable. I met the owner (the manager’s father) today and he seems a really nice guy, too, as do most of the staff here. Plus, because so many of them are Greek, I’m getting a little practice too. This place is definitely busy. It slows down between about 3:00 and 5:00, by which I mean that we only have three or four tables, but from 5:30 on to when I left at 1 AM, it is lined up. Sometimes only a couple tables, sometimes out the door. I worked with Paris, a Greek guy that seems pretty nice if a little stress-prone, Marjolla again for the afternoon (she made me a little coffee-making booklet since flat white or skinny long bla mean nothing to me), the French couple, and Kirsti, who is an absolutely excellent waitress (really, she’s on top of EVERYthing) and very nice as well.

We were busy enough that we didn’t get the waitress station restocked by midnight and she told me to go and she’d do it, but obviously if it was supposed to be done by us, I was going to do it. So we restocked everything, plates, glasses, water bottles, pop, etc, and as we were in the middle of loading the fridges, a fight broke out between two tables. Nice. Who needs bar work? I ran over and a table was flipped and I went and broke them up and helped the owner send the one table packing. I guess this is what happens at a 24 restaurant. I should ask Touly about that. It was getting late to catch a tram and Kirsti gave me a drive back, which again, was very nice, and I walked upstairs to find Mariella in pyjamas. I’d been sure she’d be out, but on account of the fatigue gripping her, no. And so, with a few night-out options for tomorrow (Greek dancing competition, Greek night, live Serbian music, etc) and an AFL game in Geelong (jah-long) on Sunday, I concluded my first week in Melbourne. Not a bad week, though.

Melbourne Photos

Millebournes to Melbourne

Saturday, April 21, 2007

This was it. The great three day trek from one shining Australian city to another. So it was fitting that, in my attempt to take the tunnel and faster route out of Sydney rather than the bridge into city centre, that I took a wrong turn. There would be no fast way on this trek, it was all about seeing as much as I could en route and I was starting right in Sydney whether I meant to or not. It took a couple more turns and getting stuck going the wrong way looking for somewhere to turn around before I found myself on the expressway out of Sydney, and it was worth it. The trip out was pretty smooth and the traffic kept flowing quite freely, contrary to previous drives through Sydney. My first stop was a place called Loftus, where I was to take a left and head into the Royal National Park south of Sydney. So I was quite fortunate to see the turn off considering that it was actually still in the sprawl of Sydney and not some small town outside of it. Thus began my trip down the Grand Pacific Drive.

The Royal National Park itself was a pretty nice drive. It never quite reached the coast, so I took the liberty (in spite of not having a pass) of driving down towards Wattamolla to look at the beach there. It was actually pretty nice, a little peninsula of sand at the mouth of some forest river. I also jogged to the curve in the Sea Clif Bridge, a bridge floating over the ocean along a cliff face. Unfortunately, as I was running behind because I tried (and failed) to switch my phone to Telstra and then decided to top it up before my trip and, long story short, I left Sydney at noon with some Krispy Kremes and using Vodaphone. So, although the itinerary Dave gave me called for me to arrive in Thredbo Village and spend the night in a YHA there, it was already dusk by the time I reached Shellharbour. I used the last rays of light to gets some photos of the Crooked River vineyard and then decided I wasn’t going to drive through all the scenery in the dark, so I went along to Bateman’s Bay and spent the night there. My roommates were Dutch and German and both computer programmers and project leaders. I chatted with both of them for a while and read my new novel, Michael Connelly’s The Closers, before going to bed. Since I was now behind schedule, I resolved to wake at sunrise and hit the road shortly after, which meant an early sleep.

I woke at 6AM, showered, and hit the road. Unfortunately, today was mostly overcast, but it really didn’t ruin anything. I took the turn from Bega towards Cooma along the Snowy Mountain Highway and … yes … into the Snowy Mountains. Which, given the season, the weather, and the fact that they were burning a lot of brush to prevent wildfires, should’ve instead called Smoky Mountains instead. Still, it was a beautiful drive through green hills and purple wild flowers and small rustic cottages with windmills spinning. Plus, it being fall, or autumn as they most certainly call it here, there was a lot of colour in the drive. I got to Jindabyne, which is actually on an alpine lake, and took a little walk before grabbing lunch at Banana’s Café. The best burger I’ve had since Fergburger, oh so long ago. I also stopped at the information desk, luckily for me. Dave had told me to drive from Tom Groggin through towards Mt. Beauty, but the people there informed me it was a 4WD track with a decent river crossing right at the beginning. Plus I’d need maps and so on. So, new plan. Up to Khancoban, across to Corryong, and then see where the wind takes me.

It was a beautiful drive along the Alpine Way. Some parts had trees completely devoid of any leaves, others were covered in vines and still others were full of fall colours. I wasn’t supposed to stop anywhere in the park either, but I did several times for photos. I passed through Thredbo Village, which was pretty quiet for the time being but looked like a great little ski village, and also at the Murray 1 Power Station, which had free tours. I figured I’d take a look and see if they had any Startco equipment. Unfortunately, the tour wasn’t with an engineer and I couldn’t see much for security reasons, but it was a worthwhile stop. The Snowy Mountains Scheme is an intricate system of dams and pipes stretching kilometers and kilometers to feed them, and all told, the dams in the Snowy Mountains produce something like 45% of all of Australia’s power. Consider that in terms of Canada, and imagine all of the power coming from one place as a result of this plan. Environmentalists might bemoan its success, but I think it’s terrific and the long term effect will definitely be more positive than all of that energy coming from coal.

Anyway, at last I crossed the border into Victoria, arrived in Corryong, and got some idea of what lay ahead from the tourist information. A very lovely woman helped a lot and showed me where I could camp and things to see, and as I sat in my car with maps splayed out she ran out one more map of a drive I could do called the Snowy Valleys Way, and I was set. Not far in the road was following a little stream lined with trees overhanging it. Eventually, I’d had enough of this gorgeous little stream following me along and took a small dirt road to walk along it. It was hard to capture, but a really lovely stream passing through who knows how many peoples’ land and I strolled a path on the side of it for a while looking for the picture I had in my head. I didn’t quite find it, but it was a nice walk anyway.

I continued the trail through, past Tallangatta, a town whose sign exclaims “The town that moved in the 1950’s!”. I didn’t stop to find out why, but I did stop for petrol and discover that Betsy’s radiator must be leaking as I was out of coolant. I gave her a big drink of water and we carried on, stopping outside the town to see a valley full… FULL of charred black trees surrounded by green grass and snaky ponds and lakes; Very spectacular to behold. It was all the more so because most of the surrounding land had gone from green hills into more dry and arid ones. Already, I was racing the sun, and I debated carrying on to Yackanandah and camping versus heading down to Mt. Beauty (my original destination for the day) to spend the night. I decided Dave must’ve had a reason for recommending it and that they did have a hostel (according to him), so I turned off the path arriving there just after sunset. No hostel or much of anything, but they did have a campground. I decided to decide over dinner, which was some Chinese food, and when I stepped back outside, it had gotten quite chilly. Over dinner, I read in the Lonely Planet that Bright had a hostel, and it wasn’t too far, so I trucked over there and spent the night.

Friday, I was due into Melbourne by 3. I woke up plenty early and hit the road at about 8:30. The man running the hostel had recommended taking a shortcut through Milawa to get back to the main highway (the Hume), and I followed his advice, soon finding myself in the Milawa Gourmet Region. I remembered reading about the area in Lonely Planet the night before, and decided that since I was so ahead of schedule, I’d explore the area a bit. It was too early for wine, so my first stop was a cheese factory. I tried a bunch of cow’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses and picked up some peppery goat’s cheese for the road. The girl there told me I should check out EV Olives, nearby, and also recommended stopping at the mustard shop in Milawa. I drove off to check out the olives and was greeted by the owner of this large olive grove, who drove off on a tractor. I liked that it was so big and yet he was still there working with everyone else. I tried all sorts of oils and olives and wound up buying a bottle of oil and olives and getting a good price for them. Good for salads I’d be making.

Then, I stopped at the Brown Brothers vineyard and did indeed taste some wines. Nothing really stood out, but I tried a Merlot I enjoyed and decided to pick that up as thanks to Marietta for letting me stay with her. I also wanted to stop at a walnut grove and for some fresh honey, but the former was closed and I didn’t know what I would do with the latter without some of dad’s yogurt, so I drove into Milawa and stopped at the mustard store. Which, interestingly, was probably one of the better places I’ve stopped. Though I didn’t buy anything, again because I had no idea what I’d do with it, I did try all their 15 or so mustards, which were delicious. They didn’t grind the mustard seed and they were flavoured perfectly. Lemon-dill, hot honey, some with horseradish, and one mustard so hot that it made me cry. I probably could’ve bought some crackers, in retrospect, and just ate them with this mustard, but too late now. You also have to remember that I’m not really a mustard fan, so when I tell you these were good, they were good.

But time was dwindling, so I followed one last recommendation from the woman at EV Olives, and had lunch at the King River Café, further along towards Melbourne. It was aubergine parmagiana, a really neat idea, and pretty tasty, with a pear salad which was less interesting but still tasty. And by now it was 11:30, and Melbourne was still about three hours away, so I set off. I made good time for the most part, although their speed cameras here average speed between two cameras so I had to, at great difficulty, not speed, even though other traffic was. I wound up following traffic anyway, so hopefully I don’t have a pile of tickets waiting for me when I got to register my car again. I got into Melbourne at 2:15 and made my way through the city, following Marietta’s directions, and met her on Chapel Street. They have some really cool clothes here, had I money and an unlimited backpack, but I’ll definitely be picking up some stuff before leaving. In particular, I stopped at a store called CM’s that is a local designer and saw some stuff I’ve never seen back home that was actually pretty reasonably priced.

And so, I’m now here. I’ve met with Marietta, who, in case I hadn’t mentioned, is friends with a cousin of mine, and have a nice little bed in the living room. She took me out last night to a place that was huge and lined up further than you could imagine, and we walked right in which was pretty nice. New here and already strolling right in, though, let’s be honest, I can’t even do that at home. I met a bunch of her friends, many of whom are Macedonian, and we had a good albeit late night (considering I’d had a long day). My recompense for her hospitality was being the DD for the night, which was fine anyway and much cheaper besides. Plus, at Marietta’s suggestion, we got some HJ’s (BK’s for those back home now), which meant the tradition was being carried on. And now, after some exploring, it’s job hunting time. I just hope it doesn’t keep raining the whole time.

Millebournes to Melbourne Photos

Off to the Races

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I was back in Sydney to meet up with Mike and maybe do a few things I hadn’t gotten to that would be fun with company. Plus, there was the Sydney Cup, a famous horse race that was quite the social event if what I’d seen of the Melbourne Cup was any indication. In Melbourne, they even have the day off to attend it, if you can imagine. Anyway, I met up for lunch with Mike on Friday, though I was late thanks to a missed train and directions to get off at the wrong stop. We didn’t really have a plan and he’s seen lots of things I’ve not and vice versa, so we decided to walk the other way along the waterfront from the Harbour Bridge (i.e. not towards the Opera House). It was a nice walk and I realized that when Chris, Brad, and I were looking for things to see in Sydney, Darling Harbour should’ve been high on the list, but how were we to know? A lot of walks, some tasteless and pricey juice, and a bit of Macker’s later, we’d walked enough and decided to hit up the kind of evening only an RSL (Veterans’) Club can provide – cheap. We were there for some time before meeting up with his sister’s friend Fiona at her place, where we had the first North American beer I’ve had since leaving – Coronas. But, we had the Sydney Cup tomorrow, and we didn’t want to get too wild, so we called it a night and I was on my way home by 11:30. Tomorrow? My first ever horse race: The Sydney Cup. And one of the most fun days I’ve had in Australia.

Since I’d been late to see Mike and his family twice, I made a point of getting to Central Station where we were to meet nice and early, though that wasn’t easy. See, Mike didn’t message me until 9:30 that we were supposed to meet there in an hour, and I hadn’t showered, eaten, or anything. I showered, shaved, got as dressed up as I could without a dry cleaner or iron, and ran out the door, arriving at 10:15. While waiting, I grabbed a bacon and egg sandwich from a Greek and a Bangladeshi guy and some juice. Mike called me at 10:25 to say they were there and I was to meet them by a park near where I was dropped off yesterday, so I headed for the nearest exit. There was a park, there were busses (which I remembered from yesterday night), and it seemed to be the place, but no sign of them. I called again, though I got no new information other than it clearly wasn’t where I was now and there were indeed busses. So I walked back through the station, under all the rails (a long walk and a big station) and back outside another exit. No park, but there were some trees over the hill at the front of the station. I walked towards them but no sign of anyone, and I went into the station again to get a better look or else directions. Standing on the second floor, I could see what was most likely the place, but again, no sign, so I called and asked for a street name which took some thinking but they found it. Then I saw him down below and started walking.

I finally reached them by 10:40 and I think they were miffed because they missed their bus, but I really don’t know what I could’ve done and we were on another bus even as I walked up to them. Everything went back to normal pretty soon though as I explained my own frustrations trying to find them and that I HAD been there fifteen minutes early and we stopped at a classy pub nearby and had some champagne, meeting more of their friends and Daniel’s family (Daniel is Mike’s sister’s boyfriend). Everyone was dressed in suits and dresses and that alone was something I enjoyed, even if I was in my pre-wrinkled white shirt, jeans, and dress shoes. We headed out to the races on a beautiful and sunny day that was just right as far as temperature goes, found a spot on the grass by the track, and sat around our table sipping drinks with thousands of other well dressed and beautiful attendees. Ah, Sydney.

Well, we were at the races, and it was my intention to put some money on a horse or two to make it more exciting. One of the women we were sitting with showed me how to read the racing papers, though in the end, I placed my bets largely on the name, the odds, and how they’d done in prior races. So it was that my first horse, whose name I’ve already forgotten, was a 35:1 shot and I put $5 on him. I was on the way back from the ATM as the race started, so I watched it on the TV in the big hall with hundreds of others, and I watched my long shot advance up the ranks and reach first place. He held it and held it and man, was I getting excited, but I thought he couldn’t keep it up. Well, he sure came close to it. At the very end he slipped the lead to another horse but it was close and he placed second. $5 lost or $175 almost won, it didn’t matter. You can’t get that kind of excitement for $5 in many places. I returned to the table pretty excited still and I think that convinced Mike to try a bet, too, eventually.

Being that many of the people with me were from New Zealand, when the Sydney Cup title race came on, everyone was betting on Gallic. And I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we were all backing that horse and it won?”. Well, it did, and it earned me $90 on another $5 bet, and Mike took $180 from the bookies. We did some long shot bets. I put $1 on a 500:1 that was clearly not going to win, and it didn’t even come close to breaking last place. And for the last race of the day, we again bet on a New Zealand horse collectively, though I also put $5 on another horse that I like the sound of. A side bet, I guess. Well, we didn’t win as a group again, but I did, and that $5 won me $160. Well, that was pretty darned exciting. It’s not everyday you can sit at a table on the grass sipping drinks in the sun, surrounded by all these well-dressed people and eye-candy, getting really excited about something you spent $1 on, and make $150, but that was just what had happened. Even if I’d won nothing, it was a beautiful day and very social, and definitely worth the return to Sydney. We were all feeding off each others’ excitement (Mike’s sister also won in that last race) and hit a club on Oxford Street (I would soon discover it was fortunate I had locals choosing the club) and celebrated until pretty late.

They took a cab home and I walked down Oxford Street until I hit George Street, passing some interesting clubs that are definitely not places I’d really hang around in, and some interesting people to go with them. I tried to find out from some drunks what time the night bus would next reach Town Hall and got nothing from them, so I decided to just walk it instead. Then, I realized the only thing I’d eaten had been that Bacon and Egg sandwich in the morning, and decided to cap off my night with an HJ run, as always, in honour of my PC friends. I got it to go, thinking I’d eat and wait for the bus, and if it didn’t come while I was eating, I’d walk, but as I walked back, it was there. I hopped on, didn’t have to pay because I’d bought a return ticket for the subway, and was conveyed home nice and quickly. It was a lucky day all around.

It was another beautiful day the next day and I sat looking out Diane’s window and chatting with her for about half an hour. The breeze was just lightly bringing in scents from the harbour, and I could occasionally smell marine exhaust wafting up and the smell of wet cedar from her exterior. Kids were laughing and screaming in far off Luna Park, and ship horns were sounding from the ferries and they navigated the sailboats and motorboats plodding through the harbour. I headed to Manly to hit the beach (though I only spent about an hour there in the end) and most definitely sit at a café typing this journal, where I am now. I had an Octopus salad for lunch and listened to a guy playing classical guitar to some accompaniment as I write this and watch the people stroll by and kids play in the fountain. Plus I picked up some groceries for the next few days and my upcoming road trip and got some other things done.

The next day was more of the same. I did meet up with Dave and another ex-PCer in Manly for dessert and a chat and we discussed my upcoming three day trip in detail and I got some tips on scenic drives and places worth checking out. There was free wireless from somewhere nearby, so I was actually able to put together a bit of a map on Google Maps. In fact, here’s a really rough outline of it: Sydney to Melbourne. We also talked about the Pacific Challenge website and maybe I’ll be having a look at that in the near future. I also, finally, got a hold of Mike, and got the details for our Hunter Valley wine trip tomorrow. I had to be at Central Station at 7:45, so it was definitely going to be an early night.

I woke up at 6:00 and made it there with plenty of time to spare, so I grabbed a spanakopita from the same Greek guy I’d met previously and waited. They actually couldn’t find the place, so I had to give them directions this time. Luckily, the bus was late or they may not have made it. We set off on a loooong trip to the Hunter Valley – the bus ride was almost two hours and I actually got a little nauseous in the back of the bus. Because it was a bigger tour we actually did mostly large vineyards, and our first stop was Lindeman’s. They actually had some nice reserve wines and I tried a sparkling shiraz which I’d never heard of before. I’m not really a sparkling fan, but it was not bad. They also had a very nice Sauv. Blanc that had some fruitiness to it. And I’ll stop describing the wines before this blog also has some fruitiness to it. Our next vineyard was pretty poor, Tempus Two and I wasn’t a fan of any of their wines and more importantly, of the guide that we had. He was yelling at poor May, an 82 year old woman we were traveling with and Jess’ grandmother, because we were taking some time to get to the tour. “I’m going to shorten the tour if you don’t get moving now!” and so on. A total jerk.

We did have a nice dinner with our not-so-nice wines, though, and they also had beer tasting there, which is always a lot of fun. Mike and I both got a paddle of beer and went to town. Blue Tongue, I believe, was the name, and it was actually pretty good, especially the lager. We stopped at a third place which wasn’t a vineyard at all but a collection of shops and I felt a little ripped off by that but we did end up getting quite a bit of tasting done in one of the stores anyway. Then back to Sydney, with a snooze on the bus for good measure. We went out for pizza and drinks and Doug, who had just come in from Byron Bay, brought in Dave’s tent and gave it to me. Mike and I returned the tent to Diane’s so I didn’t have to carry it around and wound up having a glass of wine with her and Jen. Which was lucky because as we were there, as a result of a cruise liner being in, we got to see some fireworks. What a way to send me off from Sydney. Wrapping up, Mike and I went in search of Krispy Kreme and found a good Bavarian Beer House and had a last glass of delicious beer before parting ways. And now, I part ways from Sydney. This morning, I’m in town to upload this, recharge my phone (and maybe change to the better-covered Telstra) and get some Krispy Kreme for the road. And then the trip to Melbourne begins. As if I weren’t south enough.

Sydney Cup and Hunter Valley Photos

Canberra Bit

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Actually, I Can berr a lot (yeah, sorry about the title) of Canberra in spite of what I’d heard from others. This oft talked-down Australian capital was my next destination, in spite of being warned it was a hole, dead, cold, hollow, and not worth the time by many locals. So maybe I went in with my expectations low, but I did think it worth at least a full day’s attentions. I had initially planned to stop there en route to Melbourne, but with Mike coming in to Sydney and going to Hunter Valley for some wine tasting (something I’d rather do with a friend than alone), I decided to take a couple days and head out there before he arrived. I left before lunch and, it finally being a hot and beautiful day, stopped off at Bondi beach for a couple hours first. The surf was really up and the beach, with no tsunami warnings, was pretty packed with surfers. I waded in and found myself getting tossed in all directions from the waves. They’d come in from the ocean, they’d come in from behind, and occasionally would crash together and produce sideways waves. It was interesting for body surfing because sometimes, you’d miss a small front wave but it would give you enough momentum that you’d catch a bigger wave following right behind it without even trying – or knowing what was going on. And then you’d be surfing along that wave and it would collide with a wave going back out to sea and you’d be unceremoniously and immediately ejected. Such fun! But, on to Canberra.

I left Sydney’s snarling traffic and took the inland route towards Canberra, leaving the city at 4:00 and driving mostly after dark. Oh, I almost forgot. While in Bondi I stopped at a nice little French café called Le Paris and also got a spare key cut for my car. Anyway, the drive there was uneventful and uninteresting as a result. I pulled into town expecting to get lost – I’d been warned by everyone that it was confusing – and doing the speed limit (I’d also been warned that due to lack of crime, there are radar traps everywhere). I found my way right to the YHA with neither ticket nor misdirection, and checked in beside some friendly and nice-looking German girls. So far, so good. I made my way upstairs and there were two English girls painting a mural in the stairwell, and I excused myself as I snuck by.

On the way back down to retrieve my other backpack and move my car, they stopped me to ask if I was American as I’d apparently said “my bad” or something walking by them and then we talked for a bit and they invited me out with them and their Cirque du Soleil group (no, just vendors, not performers – sorry Larissa) to the bar downstairs, which was having a karaoke night. I also met a fellow Canadian, Doug, from Winnipeg, and chatted with him a bit as well. He’s studying in Melbourne and had a line on a 4 weeks on, 1 week off type job that paid extremely well. One month of working there would basically replenish my funds to the point they were at when I left in January, and bear in mind I was doing a LOT of extreme (and expensive) adventure stuff in New Zealand.

So it was that we hit the karaoke bar around 10:00. Doug and I got there first and had a couple beer, and whatever he’d eaten for dinner, well, the two definitely weren’t agreeing. I was a little embarrassed when we joined the Cirque group a little later as I didn’t want to get credited with the rather constant odour supply. We sat with them for the rest of the night and though we did eventually put our names down to sing something, it was too late. It wouldn’t have been the same without my PC mates anyway.

I had seen a sign offering a free nights’ stay for a couple hours of work, so the next morning, that’s what I did – changed and checked light bulbs all over the place with a guy from Finland. It was time consuming and tiring because every bunk bed has its own light so you’d have to climb or jump up to check it, and it’s not a small hostel. Plus my Finnish friend seemed to have trouble changing a lot of the lights and I’d have to go and help him. They were, admittedly, a tricky sort, but once you saw how they clipped in it really wasn’t. Anyway, that was my morning, but it helps. I was up early anyway to plug the meter for my car. Ah yes, the unimagined fun of driving yourself. It may have been a mistake to have a car (time will tell). First of all, parking it a headache. Secondly, it can be expensive unless you can find somewhere free to park. I spent the equivalent cost of a meal on parking my car that day. And finally, unless you’re traveling with others, it’s more expensive than by any other mode of transport except maybe flight. Maybe. You have the gas costs plus keeping the car running (hopefully the last of my woes for a while have been seen on that front). BUT, it does give you the flexibility to go where and do what you want, when you want, most specifically off the beaten path. National parks, remote beaches, that sort of thing. Since I’m paying the price anyway, I intend to start getting my money’s worth out of those advantages.

Anyway, noon came and I set off from the hostel. As I’d moved my car to all day parking, I was already on the same street that led to the parliament buildings, so I decided to venture there first. Well, let me tell you, Canberra is not a city designed for walking. There are plenty of bike trails, and the roads are laid out expertly to avoid congestion (the beauty of a planned city), but there are some decent distances. Doing it again, I would definitely have what they like to call a ‘push bike’ around here. But I walked, and it was nice regardless. The man-made lake was pristine and had a huge (almost 150m high) water jet in honour of Captain Cook. I like all these things in honour of old sailors and explorers, it adds a lot to the sense that when you’re in Australia, you really are in the middle of nowhere.

My first stop was the Old Parliament building. It was in a direct line with the War Memorial, which I could see across the water, and also with the New Parliament (built in the 1980s) further up the hill. I strolled up and checked it out. Very Australian. The whole place was tightly knit and you really could feel that being in the building. Press and prime minister shared hallways and toilets and there were no such things as secret meetings because, well, there are no secrets in a building like that. It reminded me of that Simpsons episode where Bart makes a long distance collect call and charges it to a kid in the outback, whose father goes to ‘call the prime minister’ which means sticking a head outside and yelling at a man floating on an innertube in a little pond (which I really want to call a billabong, strangely). There is none of this ‘ruling class’ nonsense here, and you really get the sense of that in these walls.

Finishing there, I traveled up the hill to the New Parliament building. Well, I didn’t like it from the start. First of all, I walked up the grassy hill which the building actually sits beneath. It’s a decent walk up, especially tired and hungry as I already was, and as I neared the top, there was a small fence that declared no trespassing, commonwealth property, criminal act, etc. And five metres further up the hill, another fence behind which were plenty of tourists wandering around. It was not my desire to go all the way back down and try to find a way to the top elsewhere, and I would easily have hopped the fence but for a security guard pretending not to be watching me. I didn’t like the sound of “Criminal Act” either. So I turned down the hill wondering what could be so precious in that five metre strip of grass and walked around the building trying to find a way up. Nothing.

I had earlier tried to go in, but there was a long line up through security and I’d seen enough political interior for one day. As I was leaving, having given up on finding a way up the hill, I took a look back and noticed there was no longer a line. Figuring I’d regret not going in, I decided to take a quick peek and went inside. Where I discovered that the route to the top of the hill was FROM inside and since 9/11 they had to secure that entrance from access. I recommended a sign at the bottom saving the walk, but we’ll see. Maybe someday that will be my claim to fame in Canberra. “No hill top access” or something. My fingers are crossed.

Inside was actually quite remarkable and lavish, especially for something built so recently. Lots of marble and exotic timber and all those things that drop jaws. I did finally walk up to the hill top for some nice views of the city and there I ran into my Finnish friend who persuaded me to go on a tour with him of the building. So we did and learned some interesting tidbits about the city itself as well as the building and parliament. For example, the city was designed with a water axis, crossing perpendicular to a land axis which housed the parliament. The building itself was on a time axis, and the walls, floors, and ceilings tell the story of Australia as you pass through it. Their government seems to work much like ours, except with an elected senate and a few other peculiarities.

The two of us grabbed a bite at a local pub he told me was cheap – I should’ve remembered he was traveling from Finland, but oh well. It’s funny how unhealthy food is always the cheapest, and it’s definitely time for me to get doing groceries or something. I was pretty tired from the day’s walking not to mention hopping up and down bunk beds, and resolved to stay in at the hostel and relax – maybe read or watch the featured Aussie movie of the night in the hostel lounge. I had no sooner laid in my bunk and got out Cell, the new Stephen King book I’ve been reading and loving, then a girl from Hong Kong walked in the door. She was friendly and we chatted for a bit before she went in the shower. “Finally, I can read,” I thought, but she’d no sooner walked out then a couple from Austria came in, and they were also exceedingly friendly. We talked for quite a time and then they invited me to play cards with them. I played for a while and as we were all getting tired, we decided to show each other a bit of magic. I showed them my simpatico trick and he showed me one I unfortunately already knew, and then the Aussies came in.

The Austrians were too polite to say that they wanted to go to sleep and so we all stayed up until about 12:30 when they went to bed despite the noise. That didn’t stop the Aussies from talking and joking loudly, and at a bit after 1 AM, as I was reading, I decided I should say something on their behalf, so I mentioned that people were trying to sleep and they should probably keep it down or go in the lounge or outside, at which point they agreed and decided to go to sleep themselves, though they did continue to talk in bed for a while. I know it’s crazy to think people might want to sleep in their room, but there you have it.

I left for Sydney the next day to meet up with Mike, but before doing so, I had a few more things I wanted to see. Having learned my lesson from the day prior, I drove out to the war memorial and found a free parking spot and checked out the place. It’s actually a memorial, museum, and archive all wrapped into one, and at free admission, it’s easily the best thing there is to do in Canberra. It really was a terrific historical document of Australia’s part in the wars, complete with shows, dioramas aplenty (not something I normally would think of as amazing, but they were excellent), and lots of cool artifacts. Including, and this was an unexpected thrill, some stuff scavenged from the Red Baron and his plane, which apparently went down over Australian lines. From there, I went to the equally free but much less impressive National History Museum. I should’ve learned my lesson when in Vienna, but never go see what a building is just because it looks interesting. Last time, a recycling centre some 10 km walk. This time, something utterly forgettable. It would probably be good for kids, but I was bored and out of there pretty quickly.

At last, I hit the road to Sydney, stopping in Goulburn to look around. It’s Australia’s first inland city and that’s about all there is to say about it. After checking out the world's largest Merino and looking through its eyes, I stopped at the information centre hoping for some hints and actually got quite a bit of help, at least I think so. See, he gave me some information on the coastal drive I plan to take to Melbourne in a few days. However, I’m not sure how good that information is given what he told me to see in Goulburn. First was Australia’s oldest brewery. How can you go wrong, you ask? Well, imagine this: you park your car beside some old building in a completely barren lot. You walk in and there’s a solitary old and wrinkled man nursing a Victoria Bitter ale (NOT the beer of this particular brewery) who takes you to the bar, gives you a map, and tells you to follow it around. Feeling negligent, he then mentions that the stills are at the far end of the room and extends a crooked finger. You walk over and see nothing that is even remotely involved in the brewing process, only some curtains and dusty floorboards. Perhaps they poured the beer through the floorboards? Or, more likely, he said it “was done there”. Past tense.

Finished examining nothing, he then recommends going upstairs. You walk down an ill lit hallway, passing a room with a locked door that has some casks in it. At last! Brewing equipment. You can’t see much though, as there is a curtain on the window of the other side of the door offering only a small glimpse. You press on up the rickety staircase and furrow your brow – it’s like an attic shrine to the Egyptians. They talk about the golden ratio and Australia fighting the good fight near Giza’s pyramids and you wonder not only what this is all doing up here, but whether you turned some wrong turn and moreover, how this ties in to the brewery, but discover no hints among the various diagrams and posters. Having had enough, you decide to just sample the beer and be on your way, but back downstairs, the ancient caretaker smiles wanly and says that you shouldn’t miss the brew hall, and somehow you don’t dare disagree. In the brew hall, you find two large wooden kegs (more beer stuff!) and posters and displays on ancient imperial measures. Cubits, furlongs, rods, it’s all here! And at last, the final piece of the puzzle. It turns out that the architect of this brew hall didn’t believe the golden ratio was the square root of two, but instead 2.54, the number of centimeters in an inch and, somehow, relevant to the human foot as well. Ruefully, you turn back, meet the kindly bartender and owner, and try the three ales, which are certainly not bad, but not the sort of thing you buy a 3L stubby of, however novel the idea. I actually debated buying one to send home, as they’re basically oversized Grolsch-style bottles and I thought my dad would like to see it, but I can only imagine shipping costs. A photo should suffice, I imagine.

So that was the brewery. Worth every penny of my $5.50 admission. I drove up to the war memorial on the hill, again, nothing too fantastic, and pressed on. I took the scenic highway from the inland route to the number one along the coast through Moss Vale. A very nice trek and the towns were really quaint along the way. I fought through traffic and managed to meet Mike, his sister, mom, and his sister’s boyfriend at a restaurant on King’s Wharf after some difficulty. They were having mussels that smelled pretty good, but it was pricey and I stuck to water and a beer. We chatted and they were all very nice and then parted ways, Mike and I planning to meet tomorrow. I was going to go out since it was early and I was in the city anyway, but nothing appealed and you have to be in a certain mood. So, for the first time, I took the train back home to Diane’s, but stepping from the station, I heard music pumping. Convenient. A place I could stay at and still not have to walk the hour long trek back. So I checked it out for a while, a not bad place at all, and finally went home.

Canberra Photos

Blue (Sky) Mountains

Monday, April 09, 2007

The next morning I awoke with the others at 8:00. Dave was to pick us up at 9:00 or so and take us canyoning, which was largely the reason I’d spent 17 hours the day prior getting myself through train, bus, and car down to Katoomba from Brisbane. When I had last been in Katoomba, by the way, Brad and I checked out this really cool YHA with a life-sized chess board, art-deco stylings for the lounge area, pool, a theatre, and other fun stuff. This was where we were staying. But enough about the hostel. Dave came and grabbed us and we finally got out of Katoomba around 10:30. Two of the girls had to get back by 3:30 to catch a train up to Byron Bay, so this didn’t leave us a lot of time. Plus, getting to the canyon itself was something of an adventure. I followed Dave’s car in Betsy and we wove up dirt paths through the forest in what most certainly would’ve been specified a 4x4 track were there any markings at all, but we dogged along and finally got to a sign that announced we were in some national park.

Dave led us down into the canyon, where we walked, climbed, slid down natural waterslides, jumped from ledges, and basically did everything that makes canyoning so much fun in the first place. Sadly, it was over before we knew it and we hiked back up to the cars to return the girls to the train. Then we went out for dessert and hot chocolate as the canyon was a little chilly, returned to the hostel and showered and got some things done, and then went out for Thai. Dave loves Thai, it turns out. Afterwards, Katie, Dave, and I hung out in the lounge and I played a couple of games with Dave before we retired for the evening. Which, I should point out, was somewhere around 10:00. And man, was it chilly up in the Blue Mountains. Those back home will scoff at me, but it was only 7 degrees in the night and the wind sucked the heat right out of you.

The next morning, after getting our room straightened out, Dave took Katie, Kylie, and myself up to the Three Sisters. We’d seen them before, but today we had much more favourable weather and it was a beautiful view. We also walked onto the one sister and Dave showed us where he used to take groups climbing before they put a stop to it. I can understand not allowing commercial climbs but individuals? It seemed a bit much to me and Dave was likewise inclined, rather hilariously. Dave and Kylie were also Sydney bound that day, but they walked us partway along and then turned around, leaving Katie and I to walk the trails up to Ruined Castle. We walked all around the valley until we were on the opposite side of the Three Sisters and then up, some 7km. Ruined Castle is basically some rock remnants that you can scramble up, offering a full 360 degree panoramic view of the valley. I obviously took this opportunity to take such a panorama and several other shots on the rocks before Katie and I headed back down. In total, it was a 5 hour hike and well worth it. We went back, sat in a pub for a while and had burgers and beer, then went to the hostel where I attempted to outline the general strategy for chess on the big chessboard. Then, both of us tired, we returned to the dorm and went to sleep.

The weather was even better the next day, and we set out to find a hike that Dave had told Katie about. I’d also been asking around and heard good things about a hike of Wentworth Falls. We drove looking for a ‘C’ sign, found a fruit stand instead (mmm, fresh mangos, cantaloupe, and peaches), and then decided to do the Wentworth Falls hike. There are several tracks one can do, but I have to imagine that we chose the best of them. We hiked down to Wentworth Falls, which was absolutely beautiful (rivaling Earland Falls on the Routeburn) and hung around there for at least half an hour just watching the water mist and wisp and catch the sun. Then we set off on the National Pass track, which took us on a ridge midway up on the sheer cliffs that make up this valley. The cliffs themselves were spectacular and it was an amazing walk just to walk alongside them. Being halfway up meant that, essentially, every moment was a terrific lookout onto the valley below and the distant mountains.

We came to the end and found some people abseiling in another waterfall and that looked like a lot of fun, too. Then up a lot of steps where we found Conservation Hut, which was apparently the hut Katie had been on the lookout for in the morning. She had seen a place on the maps called Edinburgh Castle Rock and, I thought, had been hinting that she really wanted to see it, so we set out for that. It was a long hike to basically nothing, and we were both getting pretty tired by the time we encountered the rock, so we trekked back, taking the Shortcut Track instead of the Overcliff Track and went back to the car. I have no idea what we did for dinner that night, but I do know that I was in bed and ready to sleep before 9:00. It had been an exhausting few days since coming down from Brisbane on 3 hours of sleep, and I was paying for it. I would, it seems, pay for it with the equivalent of jet lag for the next few days.

Finally, we left Katoomba the following morning, or at least got in the car to do so. It wouldn’t start at all. It seemed to be a dead battery, though we’d left nothing on, so, since we were on a hill, Katie and I pulled a Little Miss Sunshine and pushed it down the hill and popped the clutch. Betsy was revived by our little ECG and we decided to drive to Syndey and hopefully charge the battery again, but as we were coming into Sydney, I gave the car a test and it still wouldn’t start. Another bit of CPR and we rolled on until we came to a sign for a Children’s Hospital. Katie postulated that anywhere that fixes kids must have a place where they can fix cars, so we hopped off the 4 near Wentworthville and hung a left at Olympic Batteries, where we found a small service station. Sydney Auto Repairs (for my reference, 02 98963599). Paul Raj, the manager of the shop, took a look at the car with me and changed the battery out, he was convinced that was all it was. He also pointed out a few things for me to keep an eye on and showed me some things I could try if the car died in the middle of nowhere. I mentioned the car had been hesitating a bit and he checked the fuel filter with me, which was disgusting. He did it all for pretty much nothing and I decided I’d come back and have him look over the car more thoroughly and give it an oil change before setting off south. It can be hard to find people who aren’t out to rip you off.

New battery and fuel filter installed, we made our way further into Sydney. We stopped on Bondi Beach and were laying in the sun when the lifeguard drove by announcing there'd been an earthquake in the Solomon Islands and there were tsunami warnings for the east coast. The beach was closed and all of us were there at our own risk. Very few people seemed bothered and he added a final, "If you see the water being sucked out, run." Needless to say, it wasn't a problem and we were on the beach for a few hours before heading to Manly, where we pulled into Dave’s and stopped for a shower and rest while waiting for him to arrive. He had said he might be able to take us climbing somewhere in Sydney, but he came in looking pretty beat and frazzled, so we didn’t bother to ask. We all went out for Thai again with Kay, a nice woman/semi-retired teacher, and then went back to Dave’s to get our stuff. Then we made our way to Diane’s, another friend of Katie’s who’d done Pacific Challenge sort of unofficially with Katie a few years back, having some trouble finding it on account of fatigue and more importantly, Dave’s directions. Quite tired (though it was only 10:30), we finally arrived at Diane’s to find she wasn’t home. We tried to call her but only got voicemail, and then decided to take a walk along the waterfront while we waited. Sydney harbour was on the horizon with the Harbour Bridge arcing over the Opera House and Sydney’s downtown reaching for the sky on the right and we strolled down to Luna Park, watched the boats for a while, and then walked back.

By now, it was almost midnight and we couldn’t even reach her voicemail. Of course the hostels would have shut down reception and we were kind of in a spot. Katie called Dave to ask if he knew where she’d gone or remembered where she’d put the key exactly, and as luck would have it, Diane came to the door, hearing Katie’s voice as she’d gotten up to use the washroom, and let us in. What a view she has. Her house sits right over the water and the living room faces in towards Sydney. We sat for a little bit with the lit up skyline of Sydney out the windows and then went to sleep. The next morning, Katie’s last in Australia, we walked to downtown, and what a great walk it is. You walk around the waterfront, past Luna Park and with Sydney’s opera house just across the bay. Then up, crossing the Harbour Bridge and into the heart of downtown. We walked around, along George St. and Pitt St. and, passing by a cocktail bar called Establishment, popped in to see how much a drink was. $13, and it looked it. We went further on to a place called the RSL club that the bartender had recommended for more reasonable fare. We had to fill out a day membership card, but drinks were $3 for a pint and we could sit on the fourth floor looking over George St, so we stayed there. It turns out, by the way, that RSL is a fancy acronym for veterans here, but it was actually a good time. We ventured back to Diane’s via train and had dinner with Dave, Kay, and Diane up the road, and then when Dave and Kay left, the three of us sat in the living room with some wine and chatted until midnight, which I really, really struggled to stay awake until. Tomorrow, after all, I’m on my own for the first time since leaving.

And that happened rather smoothly. Dave and I dropped off Katie at the airport the next morning and then went downtown. He had a doctor’s appointment so I got dropped off after an unsuccessful parking spot search, and there I was, on my own, on some street in Sydney. That’s how it happened, almost without me noticing. And now that I was alone, it was time to begin catching up on things. That day, I bought myself some new shirts and shorts and a pair of jeans. I got myself a long overdue haircut. And I got my pictures uploaded as far as I had captioned them while taking care of some internet stuff. Then I went to a movie, Hot Fuzz, starring and by Simon Peg, that was pretty hilarious. I didn’t know he had a new one coming out. I found my way back, eventually, up on the Harbour Bridge and crossed back home. The next day was equally busy. I did a whole bunch of laundry in the morning, then found my way to Paul the mechanic’s (no problem), and got my car looked at and serviced. New oil, new filters, new spark plugs, and the brakes seem to be good for some time. I also got it clean, finally, getting rid of all the dirt and sand and dog hair in the back seats particularly. I also had no problem finding my way back to Diane’s from there, though the traffic in both directions was pretty heavy. I picked up some hot cross buns for Easter and some supplies for Greek salad, did a last load of laundry, made dinner, and chatted with Diane for a while. Good Friday, and a hearty chunk of Saturday I caught up on my journal and photos some more, and also managed to watch Chinatown (great movie with Jack Nicholson), Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (also good, Kevin Spacey and John Cusack), Dark City (I watched this one with Diane), and 300 (a movie about Persia's failed attempt to rule Greece). Molly Maguires and Presidio (both Sean Connery flicks) as well whilst captioning... it takes a loooong time and I almost gave up more than once, but it's done and I feel good.

Wrapping up the weekend, I spent one afternoon exploring the southern harbour, basically from McMahon Point to Watson's Bay (go ahead and zoom on the little map on the left sidebar), then met Dave for some juice in Bronte. I went out for breakfast with Diane and Terry. And I discovered that Mike, from Christchurch, is coming over to Australia this week, most specifically Sydney. He's coming for the Sydney Cup (horse races) and then doing a Hunter Valley Tour. Which, given my plan was to leave Sydney on Tuesday for the south, means a bit of a tweak. I will leave tomorrow for Canberra and check it out for a few days and then come back into Sydney to meet Mike on Thursday. I'm not sure if I'll stick around for the Cup or even go see it (I saw coverage of the Melbourne Cup, it looks like horse racing is HUGE here so maybe I should), but if it works out I'd love to do the Hunter Valley tour with him and his family assuming they don't mind a stray backpacker. If not, I head south and can skip over Canberra on my way down since I'll have covered it already.

And now we're up to date and you may have missed some posts. My pace has been rather frenetic and you could hardly be blamed. How do you go back and view older ones, you ask? Well, there are a few ways, and they're all on the left sidebar. You can go and select the month you want to read from the archives section. If you didn't get too far behind, the Previous Posts section might be enough. Or, supposing you want to just start from the beginning and read your heart out, you can use the labels (AKA tags) to read posts related to Pacific Challenge, New Zealand, Australia, and so on. Those are also on the left and the labels for each post are at the bottom of the post itself as well. Hopefully that's not confusing, there are lots of ways to find the post you want! See you in another week or so.

Blue Mountains Photos
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