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

1 comment:

Yanni said...

Hey Dean, I just wanted to comment on your apple contest,as an imparchal judge. I believe my voice has to be heard on the subject, since I have extensive knowledge on the material. Im very fussy about my apples and by far the best apple I have ever had would have to be the Royal Gala. Just a superb peice of fruit. Anyway, you tell Nick that I like the cut of his gib. Talk to you later.