Archive for the ‘Sydney’ Category

Hot and dry? Ha!

Kirsten’s first words to me this morning were “we ought to get some Feta cheese”. I gave her a baffled look, mainly because I know she has a strong aversion to the stuff (and it’s also a pretty bizarre opening line). It then transpired that she had said “fitted sheets” and all became clear – our next two stays do not provide linen.

We got up and packed by just after 9 this morning and fretted at the sheer quantity of miscellaneous bags we now require to contain our belongings. Seven rucksacks, a cool bag for food, a purple Farmers bag for fleeces and towels, two carrier bags for our walking boots, another for dirty laundry. That’s twelve, I think…

Farewell to AMG Ryde.

Anyway, we took over half of Reception while we waited for the large taxi we ordered. It duly arrived and $42 later we were delivered to the Europcar depot in Granville. Fine, they had our reservation and the car was ready – just the formality of a credit card to pay for it all. Smile Visa – Cancelled. Okay, so let’s try First Direct Visa – Cancelled. What???

Now by this time I had no more credit cards left; Kirsten’s account was inaccessible and the FairFX card had insufficient funds to cover six weeks’ car hire. A grim moment – here we were ready to explore, all our bags laid out in the forecourt, nowhere to stay in Sydney and now left in the lurch with no car. Could we set up the laptop, transfer funds into the FairFX account and then hope that the card worked? But the laptop was playing up again (disk full).

The full implications didn’t really sink in, but this car is a vital link in our travels, getting us from here to Adelaide whence we take the train to Alice Springs. We can’t not rent it. The man at the desk was not especially helpful, apart from suggesting shortening the rental period so the FairFX card would cover it. Not really an option for us. Strongly-worded emails to banks began composing themselves in my head.

In an attempt to rule out any remaining options I handed over my First Direct Visa Debit card, not expecting any joy (this card always gets rejected at Woolworths). And it worked! O frabjous day! We had slain the credit-block; we were on the road. [‘Twas billing and the sly vetoes did mire the rental in the morn. All flimsy were the borrow-codes, nor the motorist o’er-drawn…]

I found the car, a plush new Ford, and checked out the boot space. Ample room for passengers, but not so much for luggage; perhaps we’d have to ask for a different model with a bigger rear. We gave it a go and were pleasantly surprised to find that it exceeded the capacity of our New Zealand vehicle – it swallowed our dozen bags with room for more.

Get Lady TomTom out for her final tour of duty and head off into the remote wilderness of the Blue Mountains. No – stop! Vital to pay our wad of cash into the owner’s bank account to reserve our four nights in Jervis Bay (before 3pm today, or else). So first a detour to the middle of Granville to make our deposit in the Commonwealth Bank.

Heading west at last; such busy roads after NZ, and riddled with speed cameras. The rain set in and stayed with us all day as we drove away from Sydney. Stretches of motorway with traffic peeling away at every junction; soon we’d be surrounded by pure mountain air and be revelling in the breathtaking scenery. We stopped at the information point at the gateway to the Blue Mountains; not just a board with a map on it but a fully-staffed visitor centre. Well, okay, more of a souvenir shop where they’d help you book your accommodation. We piled up the freebies and left.

Maybe one of the maps would show us where we could pause for a scenic picnic by a waterfall. Various points of interest marked along the road – no, wait a minute, they’re all shops and businesses. So we’ll drive on and stop at one of those NZ-style rest areas.

We drove on. An interminable suburban journey at 60kph, built-up zone after built-up zone. Not a glimpse of any mountain, any waterfall. Remote wilderness my [insert requisite part of one’s anatomy]. Lady TomTom ticked down the miles; through Leura and Katoomba in the grey drizzle, stuck behind lorries through to our destination of Blackheath. Nowhere remotely worth stopping to have our sandwiches.

Blue caravan signs led the way to the creatively-named Blackheath Caravan Park where we checked in. Here my Smile Visa card worked without a hitch – yes, the one that failed me just hours earlier. The owner was far more helpful regarding our difficulties – chip and PIN is a new thing in Australia and not all the card machines are set up to work correctly. So perhaps it’s not us, it’s them. Not that it’s any consolation when you’re unexpectedly barred from paying.

We are in cabin no. 1, right next to the entrance. It’s old but clean, we were informed, and it’ll do us fine for the next few days. Essentially it’s a small mobile home with a double bedroom, a passageway with a toilet/shower room off it along with a triple bunk, and then a kitchen diner with a sofa bed at the other end. We’re well off the road and it’s so peaceful here, with just the sporadic downpours and the odd kookaburra to disturb us.

We explored wet Blackheath to stock up with things for tea and supper before abandoning the latter in favour of fish and chips. When we later returned for our takeaway (the imaginatively-named Blackheath Fish & Chips) we were fascinated to see that our receipt read as follows:

2x Fish & Chips
4x Nuggets
1x no Salt
1x no Lemon
1x Female
1x Blue Shirt
1x Male
1x Dark Blue
1x Glasses

Never seen that before; do they have problems with imposters pinching someone else’s order? Though I would have thought that 1x Girl Pink and 1x Girl Red would have been a more discerning identifier. At least we didn’t have a price on our heads.

Back at base the girls watched their first Australian Children’s TV (a bizarre cartoon about a hypnotised dog called Gooser and ‘Scorpion Island’ – which has been shown in the UK – in which teams of children compete in various outdoor challenges). I struggled with our constipated laptop which now showed zero memory available and refused even to connect to the internet to allow me to search for a solution. We seriously contemplated ditching it for a larger-capacity model that works, but we don’t think we’ll find a Blackheath Netbook Shop.

At length and with great difficulty I tracked down the source of the problem (a series of failed installations clogging things up), but we were precariously close to losing our online banking, accommodation research, let along email and blogging facilities. It shreds the nerves to be on the brink of losing your means of accessing money and your means of accessing the internet, both on the same day.

The forecast looks damp for our entire stay here (thanks to Hurricane Olga) but we might check out the shops in Katoomba tomorrow; we’ll make a dash for the mountains and the views if the weather decides to clear temporarily.

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Let’s go home

On the road for six months (and a day) and things ain’t easy; even that taboo phrase “let’s go home” passed our lips today, however much in jest it was intended. The latest snag came when I attempted to withdraw some cash and we got down to our final bank card (of four!). Kirsten’s bank has recently decided to change from Mastercard to Visa and her new card has just arrived back in England (fat lot of use), so she can’t access her money at all now. Our joint account has hit its daily limit. My Smile card gave the message ‘your financial institution has prohibited access to this account’ (despite telling them our itinerary and there being ample funds). So it was all down to our trusty FairFX card – which got us through South America and has never yet let us down.

We needed the cash to pay into the Australian bank account of the owner of a property near Jervis Bay; lots of emails and phone calls this morning to book the place for four days’ time. After a false start or two we also booked an on-site van in a holiday park in Blackheath (in the Blue Mountains) for the next three nights once we leave Sydney. A mobile phone and an internet connection were essential for all of this – we’d be taking pot luck with expensive motels otherwise, and certainly no self-catering.

So – quite a few frantic moments wondering if we’d have anywhere to stay tomorrow, or indeed if we could get hold of the money to pay for it. Fortunately the girls were happy to occupy themselves; at times like this we can’t give them much attention, however much a trip like this is supposed to bring us together.

The balance was redressed when we went for our promised picnic in the park (just across the road); they had a few hours to enjoy the well-equipped playground (with all the swivelly things), at least until a nearby secondary school invaded the area for their lunch break and took over just about every item of equipment. The girls clung to possession of their fortress cafe, however, and served us all manner of imaginary dishes.

Around 2.30pm it started to spit with rain so we took our cue to return to our apartment. We did a quick dash to the shopping centre (another bargain $6 top for Kirsten, bread, an airtight plastic food tub for the next time we attempt to pack watermelon for a picnic…) and were back in time for tea. The girls caught up with their diaries before supper, leaving them a nice chunk of calm reading time afterwards (as a change from their rather-too-silly games involving their cuddly toys).

So, that was Sydney. We couldn’t suppress a hollow laugh when we read the Sydney Official Guide’s recommended schedule for a week here with children; every day was packed solid from dawn till dark with recommended activities (about 28 for the whole time) for mythical families with superhuman stamina, bottomless wallets and a coterie of travelling servants to do all the boring stuff. What about ‘do washing’, ‘buy food’, ‘book onward accommodation’ or ‘collapse’? I think we did three and a half of the 28 listed activities (Botanic Gardens, Zoo, Manly, Opera House from the outside only), or barely one day’s worth. We’re just not trying hard enough, are we?

And Sydney hasn’t yet given us any especial flavour of Australia. It’s another big cosmopolitan city with green spaces and water – but there again so is Stockholm. We’ve seen kangaroos – but only in a zoo alongside elephants and tigers (the platypus and wombats didn’t feel like showing themselves while we were there). Neither do we have any concept of the sheer size of this land; we’ve yet to leave the city limits. The Aboriginal population is conspicuous by its absence (I think Bill Bryson was struck by their invisibility) in contrast to the overwhelming Asian influx; the one souvenir shop sign (a posh hanging one) I saw in Manly was mis-spelt ‘abroginal crafts’ and presumably no-one had ever seen any need to correct it.

So it’s time to venture out into the vastness of this country. I was listing the possible stops along the coast from here to Adelaide via Melbourne and it looks as if it’ll take us the full five weeks we have at our disposal. No time to squeeze in Tasmania, sadly, or else we’ll repeat our New Zealand mistake of trying to do too much and rushing things as a consequence.

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We decided to have a beach day after all today, but not the famous and very crowded Bondi Beach though.  Instead we opted for the quieter Manly Beach.  (Apparently Captain Arthur Phillip saw some aboriginals here and thought they looked “manly”, hence the name!)

We hopped on the bus just down the road from us and bought four day tickets which include all means of transport.  Yesterday we only paid $10 but today being a weekday we had to cough up $54!  It meant a grand saving of … $1 if we had bought separate tickets for bus and ferry.  Oh well, that $1 will be transferred to our “ice cream fund”.

Once at Circular Quay we walked across to Wharf 3 and caught the ferry to Manly which took about half an hour.  Again a nice gentle crossing, until we reached the open sea when it got a little choppier, but still manageable for those of us who usually struggle.

Photos by Hannah and Ellen.


What really surprised us was the huge crowd we ended up in.  We thought it would be quieter because it wasn’t the weekend, but lots of people had the same idea as us.  Having said this, the ferry as well as the beach were not crowded at all, fortunately.

We walked down “The Corso”, which seems to be the shopping street in Manly and reached the beach about 5 minutes later.  As it was approaching lunch time we decided to find a picnic table in the shade and had our packed lunch of tuna sandwiches and crisps.

Once we had filled our tummies we walked across the promenade and found a quiet spot on the beach.  The weather was slightly overcast which made it much more bearable.  We all changed into our swimming stuff (the girls put on their special UV t-shirts) and ran into the sea.  The temperature was lovely and the waves pretty rough.  The girls were happy not to go too far in and jump over the waves which ocasionally knocked them over, to their great delight.


We only came out of the water once to have an apple for snack and a little rest (only the grown-ups, though).  After about two hours we headed back towards the shopping street in search of an ice cream to cool off.  We found a Movenpick ice cream parlour where the girls chose mint chocolate (Hannah), Swiss chocolate (Ellen) and Tim and I shared a tub with capuccino and tiramisu – the $1 we saved earlier didn’t go very far!

There was a twenty minute wait to the next ferry and then a shorter wait to catch the L20 bus back home.

It was the first time we caught this particular bus and I checked with the driver first that it would take us in the right direction and to the right stop.  All was well, so on we got and off went the bus, right into Sydney rush hour.  It took us a good half hour just to get to the other side of the city centre and nearly a full hour to get back home!  It didn’t even stop at our usual stop which meant a slightly longer walk back to our apartment.

It was getting later and we were feeling tired so only corn on the cob for supper, followed by yoghurt and fruit.  Poor Ellen was too tired to write her diary and Hannah managed about three paragraphs.

After the girls had gone to bed, we settled with a coffee and a little chocolate and tried to sort out accommodation for the next few days.  Tim contacted two places in Leura and Jervis Bay, which are within our budget – just.  There are lots of accommodation options available but at much higher prices than we are willing to pay.  This could be trickier than we thought – we’ll keep you posted.

Our neighbours are a small group of teenagers who have been a little noisy over the last couple of nights.  As we were sat outside our apartment, one of the girls walked over to us and apologised in advance for any noise they might make tonight.  Apparently she’s leaving tomorrow (where to?) and had some sort of leaving do.  Tim did point out that we had two small girls, she told us to knock on the door if it got too noisy.  Hmmm, let’s keep fingers crossed it won’t be too bad!

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The Fun day Sunday

I was so tired last night that I went to bed around 9pm and fell asleep almost immediately. This is never a good idea, as usually I will sleep for a couple of hours and then lie awake. Our neighbours were pretty noisy and after checking that the girls weren’t bothered by the noise I then switched on the fan in our bedroom which drowned out the other noise and made it possible for me (and Tim) to go back to sleep.

After having been at home for the last couple of days we were all keen to get out. But where to? Bondi Beach was mentioned, but after Tim told me it would take 1.5 hours and two buses I didn’t feel all that desperate to get there. We also though it might be quite busy …

Another option was to visit the Circular Quay and the Rocks districts, pop into a couple of museums and parks and take it from there. So on the L20 bus we get where Tim tried to buy four single tickets (one of the girls would be free) for $10.70. The driver asked us if we wanted to return by bus, and when we answered positive, he offered us a “Family Fun Day Sunday” ticket. It only runs on Sundays (hence the “Sunday” in the name of the ticket!!), it costs $2.50 per person (we had to buy tickets for both girls), but it gives you unlimited access to all trains, buses and ferries for the day. It’s pretty obvious we chose this option.

Whilst on the bus to Circular Quay, Tim gave the girls a couple of brochures to look at and maybe choose somewhere to go. By the time we arrived at Circular Quay we were still none the wiser as to where we wanted to go. But while we were here we might just as well go to Wharf 2 and investigate prices for the ferry to Taronga Zoo.

A ferry would be leaving in about 20 minutes, and after I double checked that we definitely could use our special tickets for the ferry we decided to visit the zoo today, instead of tomorrow as initially planned.

The crossing of Sydney Harbour was a very smooth one and only took about a quarter of an hour.


Once at Taronga we hopped on the bus (also included in our ticket) that took us to the top of the zoo. A family entrance ticket was just over $100, but it also included a ride on the Sky Safari (gondola) and more importantly we did save ourselves about $30 with our Fun Day tickets.

Almost immediately we headed toward the seating area where we could watch the bird show. I loved the beginning of it especially. Through the loud speakers a man was telling us a story about how the birds got their colours. The story goes like this : A long, long time ago, all the birds of the air were black. One bird lands on a rock and hurts its foot. (Meanwhile in the arena arrives a black bird which lands on a rock) All the other birds (except for the cranky crow) try to help him get better. (Lots of birds fly over the arena and seem to swoop up the black bird.) The birds pop the rainbow blister on the black bird’s foot and get splattered. (This time a group of white birds with pink colouring under their wings and on their tummies fly over us.) And this is how birds got their colours – except for the crow who remained black.

My telling of the story and describing what happened in the arena really doesn’t do it any justice. The story was lovely and the birds’ interaction was really beautiful.

After this we saw a black breasted buzzard opening up an emu’s egg using a little rock, a barn owl flying extremely low over the audience and a white and pink bird called Jasper. He interacted with a little boy in the audience who was holding up a $2 coin. Jasper landed on the boy’s arm and collected the money, then flew back to the bird keeper and put the coin in his shirt pocket. Later on the little boy was asked to stand on the bench again with one arm held out and his hand held open. Jasper then landed on his arm and returned the coin in the boy’s palm. The show ended with a South American Condor – now where had we seen that one before?

Once this enjoyable show was over, we needed to cool off and headed to the food court for a snack. The girls chose a healthy snack pack (cheese/salad wrap, fruit juice, apple and apricot cereal bar) and a lollipop and Tim and I shared a Moroccan chicken roll.

We had just under an hour left before the start of the Seal Show. The girls really wanted to see some Australian animals so we walked down to “Wild Australia”. There we saw short-beaked echidnas, emus, tree kangaroos and ordinary kangaroos, which were too lazy and hot to hop.




Then it was a rush to get to the pool in time for the Seal Show and unfortunately by the time we got there all the seats were taken. Luckily we were still allowed in and Hannah and Tim ended up standing at the back, while Ellen and I stood/sat on the steps. It was a good show which both girls said they loved. The seals were Ellen’s favourites and Hannah liked the elephants and koalas best.

Because of the hot weather we were in need of ice cream, which seemed a lot harder to find than expected. The first stall did not have any Calippos left, so we ended up going back to the food court where they only had one Calippo left. Hannah then opted for a vanilla Cornetto and the grown-ups shared a bottle of coke.

We were getting quite tired from all that walking around and the heat, but at the same time came to the conclusion that we really needed a whole day at the Zoo if we wanted to see everything. We finished our visit to Taronga by seeing the penguins, seals and koalas, before heading up to the Sky Safari which would take us down to where we would catch the ferry back to Circular Quay.


We only just got on the 4.07pm ferry, squeezing ourselves through the closing sliding doors, and reached Wharf 2 shortly before 4.30pm. We had hardly any trouble finding the correct bus stop and hopped on the 515 about half an hour later.

Back home the girls and I visited the local park again whilst Tim offered to buy some bread and other necessities from Woolworths in the shopping centre up the road. There had been a birthday party at the playground in the park, which meant the girls didn’t really have much opportunity to go on their favourite wheel as it was quite crowded. On the way back home we agreed we should come back on Tuesday and have a picnic lunch in the park.

We all had a wonderfully busy and tiring day – just wonder what Bondi Beach was like today?

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Techno rant

For last night and much of this morning I was in the grip of a deep despair brought on by futile battles with technology; what an unnecessary waste of time and effort it all is. Yesterday we bought a little USB gizmo to give us an internet connection via the mobile phone network – the salesman showed us a nice coverage map showing we’d get a connection all the way from here to Adelaide and in Alice Springs too (even parts of Tasmania), and it seemed to solve the problem of wanting little bits of access whenever necessary as opposed to buying expensive chunks of non-deferrable time.

So I plugged it in and a whole hour went by as it failed to install – low disk space or something. Delete some rubbish and try again; yes, it installed. Next, try to get a connection. Well, from inside the apartment the best signal we can manage is ‘very poor’, and outside on the front balcony we get ‘poor’ if we’re lucky. A few initial victories, such as checking our emails, but when I gave the girls their long-promised time on the laptop, their Disney Channel sites refused to load and the machine got so bogged down it ground to a halt.

More wasted time rebooting, waiting to re-establish a connection, searching for advice on how to create space on the C drive (all of this at a tortoise pace because the computer was so full that is was doing the equivalent of shuffling squares in one of those slidy puzzles with a piece missing). It was an entire evening’s work to upload our latest three blog entries (text only) and I conceded defeat around 11pm for my own sanity. I went to bed depressed at the sheer amount we still that need to do (the barest essentials being: renting a car, researching and booking accommodation for the next seven weeks and sorting out our declined credit cards with the bank, never mind all that backlog of photos). How wrong of me to suppose that anything would be better than no internet connection at all; at least with no connection you’re not stuck in front of a screen tediously frittering away the hours you should be using to explore and enjoy your present surroundings.

This morning it took a further two hours to free up enough room to get the laptop back to something approaching its normal self. The rest of the morning was taken up by a trip to our local shopping centre to get a SIM card for Kirsten. Straightforward, surely? Well, it took a good 45 minutes in the end – numerous calls to the phone company, ten-minute waits while each batch of credit went through the system, misunderstandings with the Indian call-centre staff. Once again, the sheer waste of time in achieving a basic necessity. [For the record, we chose ‘gotalk mobile’ with overseas calls for 6.5c/minute; the SIM card costs $2.]

And later, when Kirsten tried to send text messages home, they refused to leave the out-box. Would this mean another trip to the shop where time stands still? Would this knock yet another day out of our stay in Sydney? Would we entirely lose the will to live? Eventually we established that the problem was down to a quirk of Australian telecommunications; in most countries you dial ’00’ for overseas numbers, but here you need ‘0011’.

Right, rant over. After lunch we walked down Victoria Road for 20 minutes or so in the full heat of the day to find the Ryde Aquatic Leisure Centre. A sizeable complex that was one of the Sydney 2000 Olympic venues – for water polo. We purchased our $20 family admission and passed a cooling hour in the kiddy pools; we’re not talking puddle-sized paddling areas here, but a vast shelving expanse complete with a wave generator, two everlasting rivers and exterior tube slides. Good fun, but a little too cool for our tastes – when the girls ended up shivering it was time to wrap up in our new fluffy towels and come out.

Back for tea (banana cake) and a rest before returning to Ryde Park by popular request. Quite a good mobile signal here so I uploaded the rest of our recent photos to Flickr while the girls merrily revolved.



Improvised washing line.

Salmon parcels for supper and a slightly more positive frame of mind, even if I’m going to have to sit outside our front door in the night air to upload this entry…

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PINs and SIMs

Another fairly good sleep, but Bruce Springsteen’s “Girls in their summer clothes” suddenly woke me up as someone phoned my mobile phone (and I had forgotten to switch it off last night).  When I sleepily answered it all I could hear was someone tapping away on a keyboard and talking – but obviously not to me as he didn’t seem to answer me.  I couldn’t make any sense of it so switched off my phone, pretty annoyed that I had wasted money by simply answering it.

Might just as well get up now that we’re awake.  We decided to take it easier today and stay in the vicinity of our accommodation.

After breakfast we headed out and down the road back to the Top Ryde Shopping Centre in search of a SIM-card and a little more food.  It was the first time we visited the shopping centre in daylight and with most shops open (as opposed to our first evening here, when only the supermarket was open), and it’s quite a pleasant area.

The girls needed a new t-shirt so we popped into Big W where they each chose a short sleeved top (they still have to decide which of their old t-shirts to dump in exchange), I picked up another t-shirt as well and then we all treated ourselves to … (wait for it) … brand new big towels! 
We might be hitting some beaches in the near future and thought it might be nice to lie on something comfortable.  Tim’s towel and mine are 1mx2m big!

Then off to the phone shop for some information.  Now, all these different tariffs, talk plans and caps are all gobbledegook to me, but the one thing I picked up was that it is much more expensive to phone home from Australia than from New Zealand.  It is the end of the day as I’m typing this and we still haven’t decided what plan to go for – probably something like the Straight Talk Plan.  Any helpful suggestions are always welcome here!

We popped into the Vodafone shop in order to compare prices but quickly came to the same conclusions as before – too expensive.  When we enquired about internet connection using mobile phone and bluetooth, the assistant explained to us about Prepaid Mobile Broadband.  It’s basically a USB stick you plug into the laptop and whenever we have a mobile phone connection we should be able to use the stick and connect to the internet. 

By now it was well after 11am and we were all getting quite peckish.  We popped into “Golden Bananas” to buy drinks and biscuits.  A nice shop it was, more like a posh little supermarket. They did overcharge us though by $3.50 but they were happy to sort it out and gives us a refund.

The girls weren’t too keen to carry on with the shopping trip, so we decided to leave the mobile phone for now and check different companies and rates on the internet first.  Tim took the girls back to our appartment whilst I carried on with our food shopping.

Well over an hour later I was queueing at the check-out, had all my shopping scanned and then paid with my debit card.  Declined!  Ok, try my HSBC card.  Not recognised!  Hmmm, visa card?  Declined!  “Oh, dear”, I said, “That’s all the cards I’ve got!”  Then the check-out person asked if I preferred signing the receipt rather than using my PIN-number, and fortunately that seemed to work.  It is a worry though as this has happened several times with both Tim’s cards and mine since arriving in Australia!

Back home for lunch and most of the afternoon was spent in our rooms.  The girls were happy playing, reading and drawing.  Tim used the internet to look into mobile phone rates and look up car rental places nearby (as neither of us feels happy about driving *in* Sydney centre) and I found out about washing facilities.  We don’t have a washine machine in the apartment, but can use one of two washing machines one floor up or down from us.

Using the washing machine or tumble drier will cost us 3x$1 each, I had four $1 coins so we ended washing the load and then drying it in our bedroom.  Tim had hung up a cord from the window to the wardrobe and back.  This meant we saved energy, $3 *and* it made the bedroom smell nice!

It was late afternoon and by now the girls needed to get fresh air so we ventured out to the nearest park.  It has a bowling green, a cricket pitch and further down the path a nice small playground where the girls had fun going on things that made you dizzy or made you lose your balance.

Back home for the usual evening routine of supper, diaries, reading time and bed.

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A day at the Opera

So here we are in Sydney, or ten miles to the west of it. We enjoyed our two bonus ‘jetlag’ hours of sleep, but awoke to another grey, muggy day. Well, might as well get out there and explore. The man on reception is certainly helpful and he not only told us which buses to get and where to find them, but he also looked up the timetables for us. Not that it mattered; they are so frequent compared to Devizes. And so cheap compared to Devizes; only $10.70 to get all of us to the Town Hall. The friendly driver cheerfully tolerated our cluelessness; no, they don’t do return tickets and that small coin is actually $2 – the big one is $1, illogically.

The bus took us from the end of our street right into Sydney city centre, so no tiresome connections and waiting around. Once there we availed ourselves of a big Woolworths store to buy some new water bottles (the old ones had to be jettisoned before our flight yesterday). Easy enough, one would think. But could we find small half-litre bottles with a sports top (to keep the contents clean)? No problem in darkest Bolivia, but here not a sausage.

We walked down Park Street towards Hyde Park with its Minotaur fountain and views of the 300-metre-high Sydney Tower, then north across the Domain past Parliament House to the Royal Botanic Gardens. We took our time wandering the paths, encountering huge swooping fruit bats and exotic (to us, anyway) birdlife.





Kirsten bought a new sun hat from the shop in the centre of the park, then up to Mrs Macquarie’s Point with its classic view across to the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.


Watching the watchmen…

We stopped for a snack from a kiosk and a welcome sit-down in the shade; the sun was penetrating the cloud by now and even the locals were complaining about the close heat.

As we munched our sausage rolls, an old man in a four-wheeled electric wheelchair trundled up to the kiosk and asked for a bottle of Coke, and assistance in opening it. He then shattered all our preconceptions by turning on his iPod and zooming off tilted back on his two rear wheels, yelling out ‘stunt driver!’

The girls wanted to see the Opera House up close so we looped along the shore, dodging the constant flow of joggers. Why are so many people running around the park on a work day, and a hot and humid one at that? And taking it ever so seriously, stopping for extra exercises, sprinting up flights of steps three at a time. Is there some forthcoming Marathon of the Unemployed?

We approached the Opera House while compiling a mental list of other world-famous landmarks; Hannah trotted out the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben (only one of which she’s seen for real). The building in front of us had impinged on the consciousness of both girls before our trip and it ‘meant something’ for them to be here.

We walked around the structure, into the foyer as well; we couldn’t any of the rest of the interior without signing up for a $90 tour, but my wallet was still bruised from yesterday’s expenses (I forgot to mention that my card was declined in the supermarket yesterday evening). Nor were there any children’s shows forthcoming for the next few months, although a booklet advertised no end of performances for littlies during the winter season. Good views of the Harbour Bridge, though, as well as the visiting cruise ship, the Diamond Princess.

You hear about the roof of the Opera House echoing the sails in the harbour, but a small plaque revealed the prosaic origin of the curves; as slices taken from a sphere – a purely geometrical inspiration (but one that took three years of searching to find).

Our legs were starting to get tired so we made our way back south, hoping to find somewhere to stop for an ice cream and sit down. But just as with those elusive water bottles, none of the cafes offered the cold stuff. Too chic to lick? We were eventually directed to a newsagents selling a limited range of cones, along with the first ‘pink’ lolly I have ever seen, the let’s-not-be-too-subtle-here ‘Golden Gaytime’.

We dragged our weary limbs along busy Sydney streets towards the Town Hall and our bus stop. Except there’s no stop by the Town Hall, so where is it? Just what we need; a random exploration of the neighbourhood looking for an L20, a 515 or a 518 listed on a timetable. At last we found one, except we had to buy our tickets in advance. Where from? A nearby 7-11 shop came to the rescue and shortly after 4pm we were able to flop while the bus took us home.

Spaghetti and meatballs for supper, and yet again we had near-empty plates; we’ve certainly wasted very little food while on our trip. Three days of diary for the girls to catch up, after two busy days of travelling. A thunderstorm and now heavy rain tonight – it must be us…

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Not a bad night’s sleep in the Youth Hostel, once Kirsten had silenced the Dutch backpacker who decided just before midnight that she’d make a lengthy phone call from the corridor outside our room. (That sounds a bit sinister – we’re talking polite requests here, not body bags…)

Down to the spacious communal breakfast area for our muffins and fruit. Next to the Post Office on this end of the Burger King street; we tried various envelopes for size before settling for an A4 box which we stuffed with booklets, brochures and leaflets for all the touristy things we’ve done since we left North America – all to be stuck in a bigger scrapbook once we get home. Nearly three kilograms for $70, even at the super-extra-slow-economy rate, delivered some time within the next century by a team of sea-snails.

We cleared out of our room and returned to our car just before it turned into a pumpkin at 10am (well, when the free parking ran out) and set the SatNav for the Apex car rental depot. All very efficient there; we handed back the keys and they offered us a lift to the airport – no other formalities.

Since our flight was scheduled for 3.30pm, we had ample time in hand at Wellington Airport – indeed, the Qantas desks wouldn’t open until noon, a full hour after we got there. Time to get magazines for Kirsten and the girls, and I tracked down (at last) the Rough Guide to Australia – it’s generally Lonely Planets everywhere.

Another dent to the wallet as we were requested to pay a whopping $70 in departure fees. I thought they were a South American thing, with all other fees being included in the ticket price; I was clearly mistaken. We dropped off our hold luggage (two big rucksacks plus our new cool bag stuffed with fleeces) and sat in the departure lounge for a couple more hours. The one saving grace is that we got free internet access for our $70 (even if it wouldn’t let us upload any more photos – they are on the way, though…).

A nice cappucino.

At around 3pm it was time for the self-loading freight (as I believe we passengers are termed); we had a block of three seats and one in front (Kirsten today) about half way down. We sat and waited. The take-off time came and went. Nothing happened. Then some barely-decipherable announcement that they needed to take all the hold luggage out to be weighed back in the terminal before reloading it all. We were never quite clear as to why.

In the meantime, a selection of humorous videos for our entertainment. I thought Mr Bean would have run his course by now, but here he was again. And his ‘suitcase packing’ episode does hold an extra resonance now that we have faced a similar situation (weighing items to the nearest gram). Although we never resorted to trimming our toothbrushes down to the head…

We took off perhaps three-quarters of an hour late, but favourable winds over the Tasman Sea would gain us half an hour to Australia, they cheerily informed us. A beautiful day in Wellington, with clear views from the window of such-and-such an island (I really can’t remember – anyone care to identify it?).

The usual customs and immigration forms to complete in blue or black pen in your very best handwriting. Any fruit? We hurriedly scoffed our dried apricots and final banana. ‘Do you have any criminal convictions?’ Of course I didn’t stoop so low as to reply ‘I had no idea that it was still a requirement’.

An uneventful flight; a scattering of clouds below us, and featureless blue below the clouds. As we neared Sydney we were warned that we’d be stacking for a while – cloud and a light drizzle slowing things down there. Great – we drag the bad weather everywhere we go in Australasia…

So the final descent showed us little of the city’s magnificence (we recall the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in brilliant sunshine from our previous flight here), just grey suburbs once we came below cloud level ready to land.

We touched down at 5.45pm local time (watches go back two hours); just over two hours to reach our apartment in Ryde – would we make it? But fortunately things were exceedingly efficient: our quickest-ever baggage reclaim, no queues at the passport desk and hardly a pause at Customs where I flashed our bag of Freddos and fruit strings. I extracted a wad of Australian Dollars from an ATM and by 6.15pm we were in a taxi, our ‘ticket to Ryde’. And it was a relief to see big signs stating that cabbies should never approach us to solicit business – we still haven’t got over the Sucre scrum when they mobbed us, forcefully attempting to prise our bags from my grip.

The meter flicked up five cents every second, $20, $30, $40 – oh, and there would be an additional $12 charge for the airport fee and toll roads. Did we really once complain about paying £7 for a taxi in Bolivia? A glimpse of the Harbour Bridge to the east as we crossed the water, but otherwise more grey, wet suburbs in the rush hour. After perhaps half an hour we were there. $60 fare, plus $16 (he ‘remembered’ yet another toll). Ouch!

Yes, reception was still open so we got our key and dragged our seven bags up the stairs. Room 42. But who’s been sleeping in my bed? The sheets were dishevelled, dirty towels on the floor. ‘Er, that room hasn’t been serviced; do you have an alternative?’ ‘So sorry, yes, I’ll just check it first.’ So we traipsed down to Room 21 on the ground floor. Marginally smaller, but at least it’s ready for us.

I looked at TripAdvisor after we booked this place, and several of the comments made me uneasy. It looks like they’re spot on, yet again. The apartments are tatty and run-down with some items missing; the website is misleading (the promised washing machine is in a communal laundry); Ryde is a long way out from the city centre. It would rank in the middle of our South American accommodation – we had some better, some worse. But I suspect that a nice apartment in Sydney would be way beyond our budget – you get what you pay for.

One final gripe – there is WiFi internet access here, but it will cost us an outrageous £8.50 every time we wish to connect (you can only purchase three-hour blocks of time, which cannot even be used up bit by bit; the time runs out whether you’re on line or not).

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