Sunday, 14 July 2019

Christmas in Sydney

Time to go home... for a little while.
My first A380.
Amazing how these huge planes move so silently!
Winter was here in Europe and I'd just got back from a very cold time in Poland. Although there wasn't any snow, it was icy and cold, but the weather here in Barcelona wasn't a lot warmer to be honest! Christmas was just around the corner, and as much as I love the idea of a 'white' Christmas, I also miss the baking hot weather of Sydney at this time. It had been nearly 4 years since I'd last been home, I left in February 2015 and moved to Chile. I decided that it was about time, to see the family, see a bit of Sydney, and maybe even get a bit of a cheeky Winter tan for when I get back. I spoke to my family to line up days and make sure I could be picked up from the airport, as nobody likes walking through those doors, seeing the smiling faces and excited cheers of people meeting up with their friends and family after so long, and you're there alone and have to get the train. Tickets were next on the agenda, and although I'd been looking for a while, the prices hadn't gone down any, so I just had to bite the bullet and book. With everything done, packed, booked and ready, there was only one more thing to do - get to the airport and board that plane! I left straight after work and made it with plenty of time (leaving time for Spanish trains), managed to chill a bit at the airport and see and photograph the plane I was getting on (a little tradition of mine), before I was finally on my first A380 back to Australia! I'd never been on one of these 'behemoths of the sky,' even thought they'd been around for year, and I was excited. When I saw it through the airport windows, it looked huge! This plane was a like a 747 on steroids, or a over-sized beluga whale with wings. To get on, there are 5 different doors, top floor for first and business-class, 3 entry points for the rest of us, and it was a bit of a maze of corridors getting on. Once on, I realised just how big they are - people everywhere as well as an army of flight attendants! Sadly, the service was a little slow, even though the crew did their best, there were just too many people to make it any faster. The bathrooms were nice and there were plenty of them (at least no waiting there), and the seats comfortable. I had a window seat, so I put on my travel music that I listen to at the start of journeys (my little routine), looked out the window, looked out the window, over the massive wingspan and watched Barcelona get further and further away... and Sydney getting closer.
Flying out of Barcelona.
Merry Christmas Sydney!
The beautiful Queen Victoria Building in Sydney's centre.
Clovelly beach.
The journey went by quickly and painlessly, which is always a blessing for a flight from Europe to Australia, nearly 24 hours and multiple time-zones. Movies on the go, food and drink, trying not to think about the fact that you're 30,000 feet in the air in something that weighs too much to be cruising through the skies. Even though landing and take-offs are the dangerous parts, I don't like the long part in the middle - I hate not being able to move around much, having to ask for anything that I need rather than doing it myself, and being so close to other people for so long. Landing in Sydney is always exciting though - I love looking out the window and seeing the suburbs go by, seeing the ocean, and trying to pick out specific beaches and landmarks. I always get tears in my eyes when I come back to Sydney - it's my city, where I was born and grew up and lived for the first 24 years of my life. A lot has happened in this city with me. Even though it's just an airport, there is something about it that I love - hearing Australian accents again, walking out into the sun, or meeting family at the gates, I'm not sure. This time I landed as although I wasn't greeted at the gates (this, sadly, rarely happens with me), but I was picked up by my sister just outside, with her husband and young daughter who I was meeting for the first time. We went to have lunch together, sitting in a nice restaurant in one of Sydney's leafy, southern suburbs near the river, and had a few beers and caught up. Unfortunately, between me getting on the plan in Barcelona on Thursday and me landing on Saturday morning, my dad had been checked into hospital and was seriously ill. Not the news you expect or want when you just get back home after being away for 4 years. I won't get into the details, but it was a near miss. He spent 3 weeks in Intensive Care and nearly died from a disease that has a mortality rate of more than 50%, but has now recovered thanks to good health and fitness (he's a young, strong 70), family support as well as the great medical staff at Bankstown Hospital.
Hot summer in Sydney.
Gordon's bay - my favourite beach in Sydney.
Sydney's rocky cliffs.
Beach time.
So I was back in Sydney for 3 weeks, including Christmas and New Years - the first thing that needed to be done though was head to the beach. Bondi Beach is Sydney, and even Australia's, iconic beach. Tourists flock here to swim in the blue waters, surf the waves, soak up the sun and just enjoy the Aussie Lifestyle. It's been made famous my tourism ads featuring actors and singers, TV shows about vets, and by word of mouth - everyone knows about it and everyone who comes to Sydney spends at least a day here. Although it's not my favourite beach, it's worth a visit simply because it's a beautiful stretch of city beach, even if you don't swim. Like any busy tourist spot, there are loads of cars and people everywhere, and of course, high prices. I don't usually swim here, as the beach is too full, but I enjoy a walk along the promenade and over the rocks at the North end. As a kid I used to clamber over these rocks, picking up little starfish, collecting shells and enjoying the sight of the Pacific Ocean rolling in, and I still enjoy it now. Here you can see the huge boulder that washed up way back in 1912 during a storm, which weighs 235 tones - it still amazes me how the ocean here can be that fierce and powerful, but this is something every coastal Australian is taught, a real respect for the ocean and nature. Back over the South side, there is the famous Bondi Icebergs club, established in 1929, and is now one of many ocean baths in the city. The first day of Winter, the members get in their swimmers and all jump into the cold water, made even colder with chunks of ice added - no place for wimps here! My family took me here when I was a kid, when it used to cost 20c to get in. Back then it was old and run-down, but I didn't mind as a kid as you could still walk out on the sea-edge of the pool, hold onto the chain and wait for a freak wave to come in and sweep past you. You can still do that today and it's still just as much fun now as when you were a kid! Nowadays the club is fully renovated, there is a bar and fancy restaurant, and the entrance fee is slightly higher, but on the up-side, it's no longer an eye sore on the landscape. Everything changes.
Sydney Harbour.
The rock at North Bondi.

The Bondi Beach Icebergs.
Chilling at the Icebergs.
My favourite beach in Sydney is called Gordon's Bay. Back in the 90s and early 2000s, it used to be a quiet, unofficial nudist beach not well known to many people. Everything changes, the beaches become busier and busier and Sydney's population skyrockets, and now every beach in the city is packed on the weekends, and still busy during the week. Something I have noticed is the amount of people in Sydney and how busy it is getting. I thought that maybe this was part of getting older, or just that I'm not living here day to day anymore and notice it more when I come back every 3 years. I have since checked the numbers and it's staggering - when I was born, in 1980, Sydney had a respectable population of 3.2 million, and has since blown out to just over 5.5 million. This to me is staggering! No wonder you can't find a parking spot in front of your favourite little cafe anymore, or a spot at the beach. World population has nearly doubled since I was born 39 years ago. This is scary and really makes me want to run away to the mountains and live a semi-hermit life... but I'm worried there'll be no parking spaces left! Anyway, back to the beach! The bay itself isn't the easiest to get to and you probably wouldn't know where it was if you weren't a true local or had someone tell you. There's a small path leading down the hill to the little patch of beach, which has old boats mored up on sun-worn wooden planks. The beach itself isn't fantastic - not terrible just not spectacular - but that's not what makes this place special. Here, you find a nice, sunny spot on the rocks that surround the bay, then jump straight into the blue-green waters of the Pacific Ocean! There aren't many waves as the bay is fairly protected, there is always sunshine, but now sadly it is a real struggle to find a place for your towel with any privacy as there are so many people, their dogs, snorkelers and tourists. Everything changes.
The good life - in Australia, it's just called Life.
Bondi Beach.
A cheetah within reaching.
Have you ever touched an alligator?

Sydney isn't all about beaches and sunshine though! Even though there are amazing beaches to be had - in fact, in the city alone there are well over 100 beaches to be enjoyed! Yes, 100! Another amazing fact is that if you went to beach for 1 day, every day of the year, around Australia, the trip would take you 24 years! Just after Christmas Day I decided to take my two nephews to a wildlife park to see some of Australia's amazing creatures, something else Sydney has in abundance! Walking the streets of Sydney you will come across all sorts of wildlife, something that surprises people from other cities. There are possums, a cat-sized animal with little hands as paws, tails that they use like a monkey, and they are often found in roofs and raiding rubbish bins. You won't see koalas in the city, other than in zoos, but you may stumble across the odd kangaroo on a golf course or maybe even on a quiet street close to a national park (of which there are 4 in the city itself!). Birds are abundant, none more so than the Rainbow Lorikeet and the Cockatoo - both beautiful, cheeky birds that are often very friendly with people, if you're feeding them. The city is full of parks and green spaces - more than 400 parks keep Sydney green, along with her tree-lined streets in every suburb, totalling 188 hectres of recreation areas, barbecue cooking spots and places to relax on the weekend. The Symbio Wildlife park is a great place to take the kids as well yourself, located on the outskirts of the city in the suburb of Helensburgh which backs onto the Royal National Park. Although a little pricey to get in, which is the case of most things in Australia unfortunately, it is worth it and you get to see many animals up close and sometimes very personal. We got in at the right time as the reptile show was just starting, so we moved right away and grabbed a seat in the amphitheater. A talk was given about different reptiles by a very lively keep, giving information to the kids about the Blue Tongue Lizard, a large Boa Constrictor and an American Alligator. While he was talking, his assistant brought each animal held in her arms, allowing the audience a chance to see the animal up close and even have a touch. At one point the snake was even allowed to go free on the sand arena, and although it was watched and controlled, it was still a little nervous as the snake was nearly bigger than some of the kids in the crowd! We also got to see the beautiful (in an ugly way) Tasmanian Devil, some Red Panda and plenty of other animals, including kangaroos and a few wallaby that you could pat. A new animal at the park was a cheetah - a creature I've never actually seen before apart from on TV. I was unlucky to have missed them in South Africa, and it was great seeing this powerful, majestic cat so close!
Christmas time in the city.
Stained glass windows in the QVB building.
Kangaroos chilling.
Hot days in Sydney.
My time in Australia was already running out - 3 weeks go by very quickly! It was New Years Eve though and a party had to be had. I was invited to a friend's place in the lovely suburb of Erskinville, deep in the heart of the Inner West, for a barbecue party. I don't place a lot of emphasis on NYE like most people do, they try and make it the biggest night of the year. It's always great when you can be with friends, have some good food, conversation and enjoy the night in a relaxed and civil way, rather than forcing your way into the city with millions of other revelers, then the nightmare of getting transport home. This is something I've done far too many times in the past and now I'm completely over it. We had a great night, a small amount of people made for a more intimate ambiance, we ate and drank and watched the famous Sydney firework show at midnight. It was a great night and was fantastic to see my best friend after so many years. We don't see each other every year, nor talk that often, but when we do catch up somewhere in the world, it's like time hasn't passed at all. This is how it is with great friends.
The Sydney CBD.
A little devil from Tasmania.
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I had time for a trip to the CDB and walk around, getting in my last little bit of my city before I left. I always love seeing art galleries and I like visiting the State Gallery of New South Wales. Although not as large as anything in London, it does have some great paintings and sculptures there, and is free - like all good museums should be. I spent the last few days seeing my Dad in hospital, making sure that he was recovering before I left. My boss was very understanding and gave me another week off. Although it wasn't the Christmas and family reunion I'd expected or wanted, it was something, and I was able to see my Dad alive and on the mend, as well as family and friends that I haven't seen for ages. The weather was also amazing, very hot, reaching 38c some days, but I love the heat and the sunshine and it was a nice Winter break. You can't ask for much more in life - thing may not turn out as planned, but take what you get and see the positive side in it. Be thankful for what you have and treasure the important things in your life - people over possessions. Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2019!

Thank you Sydney.
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UncleTravellingMatt. January2019.

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