Saturday, 24 January 2009

Day 612 - More from Melbourne

So my first stint in Melbourne is just about over, I will soon be heading off to Tasmania and return again to Melbourne before heading along the Great Ocean Road. I have hardly done Melbourne justice form a touristic point of view, but I have had a good time.

Most of my time has been spent with Anna, my couch surfing host and cyclist, and Sylvia, another around-the-world cyclist from USA who arrived in Melbourne about 3 days before me having come in from Adelaide and heading north to Sydney when she leaves. They are both a bit of an oddity in so much as they both cycle recumbent trikes, those odd looking things that have one wheel at the back and two at the front and a ‘sofa’ in between….call that cycling? My first day here I didn’t even stray from the St Kilda neighbourhood, I sort of floated between cafes and restaurants, then talked long into the evening and not much of it about cycling either.

The following day Anna really needed to get on with some work at home as she is setting up a business, so Sylvia and I went into the city centre. I rapidly became a replay of the previous day, though in a different location. In fact we spent so long at lunch that by the time we left and went to a group of camping shops they were all closing at it was 6pm. I made my way to St Paul’s Cathedral, right in the centre, and Sylvia made her way home. It had been over a week since I had been bell ringing, I was getting withdrawals symptoms. Once again, when I told them who I was and what I was doing here they recognised my name and took great interest in me, this time helped because the Canberra ringers had told them that I was heading in their direction. Whilst I was there I signed the visitors book, it was a very old one, the first entry being way back in 1923. I looked for my sister Cathy’s name in there, I wasn’t sure if she head been here but I found her name there dated 28/05/1989, though is has to be said that her writing has deteriorated over the last 20 years.

On day 4 of the Australian Open, Sylvia and I went only to see some of the tennis, a what a great relaxed way to watch a sporting event. With so many matches in play as it as still only the second round, you could just wander from court to court as you chose. The Aussies certainly know how to have a bit of fun. We watched two Australians play a doubles match against Canias (?) and Safin, great fun. One section of the crowd was in green and yellow and provided better entertainment than the tennis match. Along with the chanting and Mexican waves came mock tennis (see photo albums), action replays on line calls and even a pass the parcel. The parcel eventually landed with a girl and after chants of “Open it, open it” she revealed a yellow t-shirt and a green hat, the same as they were wearing. Once she had put them on there was a single chant of “She’s alright”. Sylvia left at around 5pm, but I stopped to watch another couple of matches, I could have happily come along for another day or two.

The rest of the time has been spent catching up on odd jobs, but I have managed a bit more bell ringing. I called in again at St Paul’s, then most of the ringers went along to ring at St James. I would like to say they are nice bells, but lets just say they were very challenging to ring, and to be honest the were musically challenged as well. I have never been in a tower that moves so much either. Standing by whilst others rang was like standing on a moving bus. I hope to squeeze in a bit more bell ringing tonight, but the bells in Victoria certainly aren’t as nice as New South Wales, though most in NSW have been rehung in the last 20 years or so.

Tomorrow I take the ferry to Tasmania. So many people have told me how nice it is, though they also tell me how hilly it is too. There should far less traffic around after the weekend. Monday is Australia Day, a public holiday and the final fling of the summer holidays, after that the schools are back and life returns to normal.

Gosh, that’s a short update isn’t it? You have been let off lightly, so to make up for it I have uploaded the latest photos.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Day 609 - Melbourne, Victoria

I am always late to get away when I have been staying with people, partly through politeness, leaving at 6am probably wouldn’t go down too well, but also when I am in a comfortable bed it’s all too easy to have a lie in. When it came to leaving Sue in Canberra I was even later, due to the fact I had lost the house keys that she had entrusted to me, a bit embarrassing. After much searching I found them in a rarely used pocket of on of my rear panniers. I blamed Bailey, Sue’s dog, as I have a feeling she might have knocked them in there as she searched through my bags for food whilst we were out, devouring everything that wasn’t wrapped in a tin, leaving all the wrappers strewn around the floor. I was eventually in the road by 10am, it was already hot. The main road south from Canberra was single carriageway and pretty quiet, very different to the north, I was passing through pleasant open countryside. I filled my water bags in Cooma (The Capital of the Snowy Mountains) only to find the road out was pretty steep. It always happens, as soon as I am fully loaded and over weight the road heads skywards! I passed a campsite, but unless I really need the shade I would much rather camp wild, at one with my surroundings rather than at odds with a busy camping area in high season. I pulled off the road and along an unsealed road looking for somewhere to camp, but with a fence on either side it wasn’t looking good, then all of a sudden a view opened up, the fence went away from the road and I was on the top of an escarpment. I found a nice bit of ground and camped with a fantastic view laid out before me, the nicest spot I have found to camp at in Australia, bliss. There were ants around me, tiny little ones and massive ones, I mean, we are talking big. One even tried to walk off with my bike! There were also a variety of spiders and as I had spotted holes in the ground nearby and didn’t know what the very dangerous Funnel Web Spider looked like, but I knew it lived in such holes, I kept my eyes pealed and tent zipped shut. One of the big ants bit me on the knee, it hurt, but thankfully for no more than 15 minutes.

Dawn made the view from the escarpment even better (photo), what a fantastic little spot. Back on the road there was more climbing before the vista once again opened out with outcrops of rocks scattered across the huge horizon, and with the low early morning sun casting shadows it was a delightful scene. I passed through the small town of Berridale (The Crossroads of the Snowy Mountains), a Ski resort where every other store advertised ski hire, so in the middle of summer they weren’t doing that much business. The mountains around aren’t that high, there are no ski lifts that I could see so I assumed it was mainly cross country skiing. I was heading for Jindabyne (The Heart of the Snowy Mountains), it came into view across a large lake, it seemed so close but was still some way off as the road dipped and climbed its way around the southern end of the lake. I was once again being looked after very well, Sue from Canberra has an apartment in Jindabyne and had offered it to me for a night, it was too good an opportunity to miss and I am so glad I didn’t miss it too. The place was luxury with a nice balcony overlooking the countryside and lake, the only problem is that it was too hot to sit outside. I arrived there early to maximise my stay. I do love camping, I love the simplicity, I love the cooking outside and I usually love the surroundings, the previous night was camping at its best, but all that simplicity makes me really appreciate a bit of comfort and luxury when it comes my way. So camping at its best followed by accommodation at its best, the following night could only be a let down. I caught some of the news, there have been a couple of big bush fires, a real problem at this time of year. The ant bite I received yesterday and now swollen up nicely, probably a good enough reason to have had a shorter day.

Come morning I even caught the news from the UK, there wasn’t much to report but Norwich were losing 1-0 at home to Charlton in the FA Cup 3rd round replay. I set off late, it was hard to leave, I could have easily chilled out for a week, to make matters worse the day started with a steep climb. I crawled slowly enough past a walker to be able to have a chat. The road rolled along steeply through picturesque farmland, turned to a gravel track then dropped into forest and the houses were gone. I hoped I would see at least one more, I needed some water. A long descent started and shortly there was a lookout, so I stooped….to look out. I talked to a German couple who told me there were lots of camping areas and all of them had water, so that was good news. The man told me “The roads drops for about 10k. Here the road surface is beautiful, but further on it is terrible, very rough and very twisty, a tough road”, then after a little thought he added “but it should be easy on a bike”. Oh, right! I must have forgotten just how tough in can be in one of those air-conditioned boxes, being bumped about in the comfy seats. Having to lift your foot off the accelerator and move it all the way across to the brake most take so much stamina. Perhaps I should have offered him a swap so that he could have a little rest. The descent was long and the gravel road good. Down at the bottom the road joined the delightful Snowy River (the wet bit of the Snowy Mountains!) giving some lovely views. It was tough going in the heat up the steep little climbs, I dread to think how tough it must have been in that car. I passed the camping areas, none of them had water, I decided that couple weren’t the most reliable for information after all. It looked as though the road was about to leave the river, I needed water so I stopped and got out the water filter. Having collected some water from the river I filtered ¾ litre. It was such hard work and so slow. I worked up such a sweat that I downed the lot in one, I was back where I started. This cycle could go on forever! Surely it shouldn’t be such hard slow work. I took the filter apart and cleaned it. Wow! What a difference, I filtered the next bottle effortlessly in seconds, I could hardly believe it had become do clogged up when I had used it so little. The spot by the river was fantastic, I decided to camp there for the night. I was very close to the road but it was hardly busy during the day, in fact only 2 or 3 vehicles passed before it got dark, then there was nothing. I sat with a drink on a nice warm boulder beside the river and watched the sun go down, the camping spot of a couple of nights ago had already been surpassed. The ant bite has now turned into a blister, a bit sore.

The mountains seemed to be petering out, I was only at 320m and as the road had only rolled along the river to about 370m I guessed I was in for an easier day and probably wouldn’t even reach 400m. Why do I have these thoughts, I was straight into a climb up to 700m, then straight down again to 450m at Suggan Buggan, a village that consisted of one house and an historic old wooden school house. After a brief stop it was straight back up to 1000m on a very narrow road that was cut into the hillside (photo), quite a drop on one side at times. Once over the top it was back to farmland (photo), a nice headwind had picked up. I had climbed 1000m in 22km, clearly I wasn’t going to get anywhere fast today. By afternoon things had turned a little easier helped by a big decent on tarmac, the scenery remained hilly and pretty. A car passed by slowly, the driver waved then pulled over and got out saying “You are such an inspiration”. She was Ellie, on holiday from Melbourne with her 11 year old daughter Yassie. I was offered a roll, I couldn’t refuse and she set to and made it fresh with salad Feta cheese and chicken, delicious, though it was difficult to talk whilst eating. There was so little traffic on the road that I could use the whole road if I wished. I heard a vehicle coming so pulled back in and a few seconds later a Hercules flew over and it never even acknowledged my gesture. A few kilometres further on I saw Ellie and Yassie again in the nice little village of Buchan. They turned around and told me they were camped in a really nice campsite and would I like to join them. So before I could even say “What’s for dinner” I was heading for a campsite. I had to rethink what I had written earlier as this was a lovely little site, well maintained, not overcrowded and amongst trees where kangaroos came down at dusk as ate the grass, totally unbothered by the attention they received, children even stroking them. My neighbours were also very friendly but at around 5pm I went with a coffee to see Ellie and Yassie, I didn’t return to me tent until gone midnight. Ellie was talking to a friend she had made from another tent, it turned that they had both been human right activists and had even been to the same protests, in fact they had so much in common I as convinced they were sisters. Joe and Mark also arrived from a nearby tent and it was decided that we would all have a fire and barbecue, so they went off in search of firewood and insisted I didn’t have to do anything. The food was pooled from the different groups, though for some reason that wouldn’t accept my offer of a tin of tuna. Dinner was great, amongst other things there was peppered chicken, sausages, salad and potatoes baked in the hot ash and I had the only steak, given to me by Yassie bless her, it all went down very well. The evening was nippy but there was warm company and laughter around the hot fire. Ellie’s sister said “Shhush,shhh, listen, I can hear a koala”, so we all hushed up and listened to somebody snoring in a nearby tent. Wildlife was there though, the possums were feasting off the bits that had been dropped around the table.

Despite everybody telling me that I should visit the caves here I was once again on the move the following morning, though not before I had downed a cuppa with my fellow campers from the night before. They all tried lifting my bike and were amazed by the weight, which reminds me, I must have a clearout, I am still carrying 3 stoves, countless used maps and filled diaries that need to be sent home. The ride still rolled but eventually left the mountains behind. I was back on to busier roads, one of which showed Aussie driving at it worst, 3 logging lorries coming so close that I couldn’t think that it was done of any other reason than intimidation. To make matters worse there was a really strong headwind, the going was really tough, at times I was struggling to maintain 9kph on the flat main road. I decided to call it a day, if the wind dropped tomorrow I could cover the ground twice as quick with half the effort, but first I needed some water. I went down a long track to a very posh house with nobody in. I went around the back and helped myself from a tap in the lawn but felt like an intruder. Down another track brought me to an ideal spot, nicely sheltered from the wind by trees. Once set up it was time for a brew, but I didn’t prime the stove properly. I was tired and just wanted a coffee, so couldn’t be bothered to let it cool down and restart the process, so I botched it and eventually had it fired up inside the end of the tent. As I sat in the tent thinking just how easy it would be to start one of those bush fires I had seen on the news when there was a big flash from the stove, “SHIIIIITE, shit, shit shit” all of sudden the grass was on fire as was the fuel line and the fuel bottle, all blocking me exit from the tent. I too was up in a flash, leapt over the flames, dragged the stove out and thankfully was able to put the flames out after a few attempts, then realised the grass was still burning, but quickly stamped it out. Thankfully it was all sheltered from the wind by the tent otherwise it could have been far worse. Lesson learned: never take short cuts when trying to light a petrol stove. I think when I botched the lighting some fuel must have escaped and dripped down the fuel line, though why it didn’t ignite at the time I don’t know. The ant bite blister has gone down leaving a brown scar, very odd!

Thankfully by he following morning the wind had dropped, though my legs were really feeling the effects of all the effort of the previous day. I hoped to make up a bit of ground today, but already I was thinking it just wasn’t going to happen. I passed through the towns of Stratford on the Avon and Sale where I didn’t my food shopping as I assumed it would be cheaper. It’s not often I am right and I was wrong again. The day warmed up nicely, the road was flat for a change and I got into my stride, normal service was resumed. I covered 135k, it was time to find a place to camp, though there were few options as it was all farmland and few trees. I found a row of pine trees along the edge of a field and camped underneath them. Later on Kevin the farmer came over. Now at this point he had no idea that I had been given permission to camp there by his mother and sister. His opening line was “I am sorry to bother you, but would you mind moving into the next field as I am just about to move 200 cows in here for the night”, he seemed so apologetic, I am sure if that had been at home the opening line would have been “Clear off!” or words to that effect. We chatted about life the universe and everything, he was a lovely guy. By the time he left it was all but dark, he said “Oh, you might as well stay here for the night, the cows usually follow me but they haven’t tonight, so they can stay where they are and I will move them tomorrow”. He was great to talk to, I didn’t want him to go.

Now it turned out that my arrival in Melbourne on Sunday was very difficult for my Couch Surfing host, so I had an extra day to kill. I planned a nice longer route into the city, but come morning and a few k under my belt it was so hot that I really didn’t fancy heading into the hills just for the hell of it. Plan B came into operation, buy an enormous pack of crisps (250g), eat the lot in one sitting and fall asleep under a tree. The plan was executed with precision. By 15:30 I really thought I ought to move on a little further, I did just that, moved on a little, then sat under another tree and ate some cake. I looked on the map for some small roads where I thought I might find a place to camp as it was all agricultural where I was. On the little roads there were few signs, so I stopped and asked a couple for directions, “Is this the road to Vervale?”, “I have never heard of it” was the reply. “It’s on my map, look”, so the woman had a look at my map and immediately said “Gosh, that is so confusing, how on earth do you manage with the map upside down?”, “It’s not upside down, north is at the top and all the writing is the right way up” I replied. I have heard it said that woman always map read by turning the map, certainly this woman did. I cycled beside them chatting for a while and the guy said “That’s a lot of weight you are carrying” to which he wife chipped in “Yes, but he is cheating, he has an engine on that bike”. I found a spot to camp beside the river, just 10m from the road but with a large bank separating us, just the job.

The following day was just perfect, another glorious day with a clear blue sky and the wind had changed direction. It was very light but behind me, it made such a big difference, I bowled along effortlessly into Melbourne, cut across to the road beside the bay and ambled along towards the city. There were lots of cyclists, the lycra brigade on racing bikes. I said hello as they passed me, but I only got a response from one rider, not the most sociable bunch here then. I easily found Anna’s apartment. Anna is another cyclist, she rides a recumbent trike, had set off from Perth, stopped in Melbourne, loved it so much that she is still here 2 years later. A couple of days ago she hosted another around the world cyclist, Sylvia from USA, also on a recumbent trike, who is still in town. I can see I am going to have a good time here, it might be hard to leave!

When I arrived in Australia and left Darwin, Sydney seemed so far away, the country seemed huge. But now Sydney is behind me, I am already about 1000km south of it in Melbourne and I can hardly believe how quick I have got here. Now I look at the same map and think Australia doesn’t seem so big after all. Having said that it has taken more than 3 months to cover the ground, it is a big place, it just feels different that’s all.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Day 599 - Canberra

Before I left Sydney I had one last visit to make, a visit to see Craig who worked at Anaconda, a sort of outdoor warehouse. I had met Craig on Christmas Day, he worked in the cycle department as a mechanic, I said I would pop in and see him. I had already been there once before, last Friday, but he wasn’t working that day. But the visit had extra meaning as the previous night when I did all my washing I was alarmed at just how see through all my cycling kit had become, I knew I needed a new shirt and shorts, but I didn’t realise it was quite that desperate. This time he was there, I had a look around the clothing whilst he was on the phone, hmmm….it might have to wait a little longer, it was good stuff, but at a price. When Craig had finished on the phone we had a brief chat, then he called his manager over and asked if anything could be done to sponsor my ride through Australia with some Anacondar cycle clothing. A few minutes later I was trying it on, all very comfortable, and before I could say “Gee Mate, it’s a long way to Adelaide, especially if you take a long detour around Tasmania and stop off for a bit of ringing on the way” I was the proud owner of 2 pairs of shorts, 1 jersey and a water bottle, all valued at $280 (£140), and all absolutely free. My only concern that this will do nothing for my image as a travelling tramp, clearly I will need to put it through a tough journey, and pretty quickly. I left with a big smile on my face, I am only too pleased to cycle along advertising the store. Now motorists stuck behind me will be seeing “Anacondar - the adventure starts here” written across my backside, though I guess they will appreciate that more than my hairy arse peering at them through an ever increasing window of very thin lycra. But what a parting shot from Sydney. In my last post I said Sydney has been good to me, and that has been true to the very end, I shall take away many warm memories with me. It was then a bit of a dash to buy some maps of Victoria, I had bought them before but lost them before I even got home. Task completed it was then another dash to Christchurch as I had said I would be there at 5pm for the 6pm service ringing. After ringing we paid a trip to the Crystal Palace Hotel (Harpo would appreciate that, but he doesn’t read this anymore, why should, he is only my brother!). As we were leaving I even met somebody I knew, Malcolm, another ringer, Sydney has been a home from home, I felt slightly sad to be leaving.

The following morning I made my way out of Sydney, for the first time since I left home 19 months ago I was cycling in a different shirt, blimey, that’s almost worth a photograph. I had even thrown my old shirt and one pair of cycling shorts away and I can tell you, when you own so little clothing and have worn some of it for so long ,it was a difficult thing to do, though I had drawn the line at giving them names. Heading out of Sydney was easy and uneventful, though I was passing by familiar places such as Chipping Norton and Liverpool, I had never realised they were so close together. I was out of the suburbs and soon in countryside, though it didn’t take long to reach Campbelltown, where I took refuge from the sun under a covered picnic table beside a skating park. The schools were off, so it was getting good use, and I was very impressed with the skills on display from skateboards, scooters and bikes alike, though one lad on a BMX bike really stood out from the crowd. One of his best tricks was to ride up a ramp and take off at the top, spin through 360 degrees, then land stopping instantly, balanced on just the front wheel. I couldn’t help but wonder how many cuts and bruises it took to be able to perfect that little stunt. I carried on to Menangle, it wasn’t that far so I got there early, though I had already had enough. The first day on the fully loaded bike after 3 weeks made it tough going, the 38 degree heat wasn’t exactly helping either. I intended joining the bell ringers on their practice night in the evening, so I needed to be able to camp nearby, and I had found a nice little spot by the derelict Arts Centre. I popped into the little store with the petrol pumps out side displaying “Sorry, no fuel” and judging by the cobwebs they hadn’t sold fuel for a long time. I never learn, I had left it to the last minute to refill my stove fuel bottle and had once again come unstuck. I asked if there was anywhere around here to camp at which I was told “Whatever you do don’t camp by the Arts Centre, the locals call the police and you will be moved on”. Now it just so happened that I was stood next to 2 police officers “You wouldn’t move me on would you?”, “Yep” came the reply. The places they recommended were 8km out of the village, so I told them why I needed to be close by, so they recommended I go and see Craig, the Minister of the church as he would probably let me camp on the church land. These were good country folk, before I left they had filled up my fuel bottle from their lawnmower fuel container and filled up my water bags ready for a nights camping. I rang the bell of Craig`s house and was soon welcomed with open arms “Are you interested in the cricket? The 3rd test has 6 overs to go and the Aussies need to get one last wicket, do you want to watch it?” I am sure poor old Craig regretted inviting me in as I was immediately bombarding him with questions. He had watched all 3 test matches whilst recovering from an operation, they had lost the first 2 and I totally distracted him from the winning wicket with just a couple of overs to go. Craig, Red and their family were delightful, and I made the most of them by trying to understand and enhance my spiritual journey. At dinner Craig asked “If I give you a book, will you read it?” Graig and Red had been so interesting to talk to that I would love to read any book the they recommended to me, but I was already on full capacity and told them so. Later having thought about it I decided to give them the book I was currently reading and struggling so much with, so I think I did much better out of the deal. Even though I was just a few yards from the church, I still managed to be late for the practice. Funnily enough the treble bell had come from the church in Headington, Oxford, but I suspect I hadn’t rung it before. Afterwards there was coffee and food in the little kitchen area in a building behind the church, so as with all the towers in Australia, bell ringing is a very sociable event.

I had hoped to be on the road by 8:30 the following morning, I failed, all my own fault as I just kept on talking. I seemed to have developed into a right old gas bag. Craig and Red said I could stop as long as I wanted, but having struggled to get away from Sydney, another stop after just one day seemed a bit too soon. The route to Canberra on the back roads looked tricky and long, so I took to the highway, not the nicest of roads but it generally had a good shoulder and the draft from the passing lorries gave me a push for most of the day. The problem with this sort of road though is finding somewhere to camp as there are nearly always either crash barriers of fences in the way. I was tiring so took a side turning, but it was all fenced and privately owned land. One of the houses had some lovely looking camping ground so I went in along the gravel track to the house only to find it was all but derelict and surrounded by rusty old farm machinery. I guessed nobody was going to turn up, so I made myself at home, in the tent that is, not the house. I camped away from the house but in view of it, I wasn’t trying to be sneaky, but I made sure I was out of view of the roads, hmm…I guess I was being a little bit sneaky after all. It was cold and soon started to drizzle, though I was lovely and snug cooking in the tent, back to basics, wonderful.

Early the following morning I had a couple of tasks to perform in Goulburn, firstly heading to the police station to hand in a wallet found the previous day on the highway, then to check my emails to see my response to couch surfing requests. All were negative, though one had suggested I post a request on the Canberra group which I did. The ride into Canberra was pretty easy going, 20k was alongside Lake George, something I had been looking forward to, but somebody had pulled the plug on it, I think I could see a small patch of water way off in the distance. Heading into Canberra was very different to entering any other town of city in Australia, there was very little sign of it, no sprawling suburbs in the north, in fact I had a bit of a view of it as I descended a hill, then saw a sign saying “City - 9km”. Talking of signs, I have seen no end of signs saying “Injured wildlife - ph 09 135582”. Now you have to be impressed with any salesman who can sell a phone to a kangaroo, though now I know what their pouches are for. The road into the city was pretty quiet, very wide and tree lined. You could have easily passed through the centre of the city without even seeing a single shop as they were tucked away to the side. It all rather reminded me of Chandigarh in India and Milton Keynes back home, all planned cities with wide green streets and concealed housing and shopping centres. I went to check one of the hostels, I didn’t like it, very busy with a rowdy bar outside, and it was only 4pm. I checked my emails again and I had been offered a bed for the night 20k to the south of the city, definitely preferable. Heading out there was down a main road, but I was soon surprised to find myself passing through countryside. By pure luck I arrived one minute earlier than I had told Sue when I called her, I was welcomed with open arms and shown around her spacious bungalow in a quiet leafy cul-de-sac. She was about to be heading out to a friend whose birthday it was and asked if I wanted to join her. When we arrived there were about 10 others there, all very friendly with the usual bombardment of questions about my travels. Even whilst I was there they checked my blog and gave me 10 out of 10 for the photography.….ah, friends for life! I heard how they had been having a regular get together every Friday evening for the last 30 years, a large circle of friends who just turn up on an adhoc basis, normally down by the lake but at David’s house on this occasion as it was his birthday, the birthday cake was absolutely delicious, though you could probably be have been stopped for drink driving after a couple of slices.

By morning I was feeling the effects of a long break from riding the bike, after just 3 days I was feeling tired, my legs ached and I felt as though I had been in the sun too long. I opted for a leisurely day. Sue was working from home and I was hardly helping her, she was very easy to talk to, so all too easy for me to distract. Helge, another couch surfer from Germany arrived, so I volunteered to do the cooking in the evening for Sue. For a change I cooked pasta, well, it makes a change from rice anyway.

Now this is just an observation of mine, but I would say, at a rough guess, that most capital cities contain about 10-15% of the country’s population. Obviously that won’t always be the case, and it’s certainly not the case of Australia. With about 320,000 people here in Canberra it comes out at a little over 1%, very low indeed. It was designed to be the administrative centre, somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne as the two were fighting it out to be the capital city, like two kids fighting over the television, in the end neither of them get what they want. But once again it has the space, consequently everything of interest is a bit spread out, a difficult place to visit on foot. So I hopped on the bike, with the first call being a bit of Sunday ringing at the only church with bells in Canberra. Afterwards we went for coffee. I was asked where I was staying and when I told them they said “Oh, you should have contacted us, we often put up visiting ringers. You seem fairly normal for a ringer”, I took that as a compliment. It was then just a few yards to visit Parliament House (photo), unfortunately not in session these days as they are on their summer holiday. But it’s a fantastic place, a place for the people, you can sort of feel democracy working here, parts of it were more like a museum, they even have one of only 4 copies of the Magna Carta on display. It was all high tech stuff in the chambers. When somebody is permitted to talk by the speaker, their microphone comes on automatically so that he can be heard through the loud speakers, the others being switched off, also 2 cameras automatically turn and focus in on them. Jolly clever what? You can even head out on to the roof for a good all round view. Then I visited the National Carillon, a set of 55 bells weighing from just a few kilos to 6 tons, though I missed the recital. It was worth a trip onto the island in the lake to see it though. Then I was off to the Australian War Memorial, a moving place (photo) and a fitting memory for those that have given their lives for their county. There was also a huge and impressive museum attached. I then climbed up Mount Ainslie, the view over the whole city were fantastic. It’s a very green city, the suburbs are split by large areas of countryside and hills, so it is all very spread out, but each suburb is a maze of roads and filled with trees, quite pleasant really. I made it to the National Gallery with just 20 minutes to spare. The only National Gallery that you can really do justice to in 20 minutes is the one in East Timor, so this one I gave a very quick walk through. I made my way back to Sue’s, it always seems so much shorter when you know where you are going and have no baggage on your bike.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Day 594 - Farewell to Sydney

New Year ’s Day was a quiet one, most people seemed to be staying at home nursing hangovers, and those that had been in area where alcohol had been banned seemed to be staying at home out of sympathy. I went to St Philips for their Friday evening practice, I even got there 10 minutes early, but as it was a public holiday I guessed it was unlikely they would be ringing. I guessed right, so after 20 minutes I wandered home and did not a lot other than try to work out why the week had seemed to go so fast.

It was early the following morning that I realised it was now Friday, not yesterday, so that’s why the week had gone so fast and why there had been no ringing. I haven’t really got the hang of this ringing lark, if I am not waiting outside the wrong church then I am waiting outside the right church 24 hours too early. At least those turning up 24 hours before the fireworks got the best viewing points, I turn up 24 hours and just get to return the following evening. Actually, the weather looked like rain, I almost didn’t bother to go ringing in the end, but I was glad I did. With just 15 minutes of practice left Paul Doyle arrived. I had met Paul a couple of times before including having Christmas dinner with him and he had offered a tour around his workplace, the ABC, Australia’s BBC and as it just happened he was on a lunch break. After joining Paul at the pub for lunch, which consisted of beer as all the food seemed to be of the menu, I was taken to the ABC. Having been shown around the News studio, which was surprising tatty, the camera shows you no more than you need to see, I was taken to the production area where they were preparing for the 22:30 new bulletin which I saw go out live, a nice slick operation, everybody knowing exactly what they had to do with precise timing. Once the news was over I was shown around all the Radio stations, you could tell the type of station, pop music, classical music etc merely by the furniture, d├ęcor and layout. The only station broadcasting live at that time of night was the pop station. I was also shown around the comms and IT areas, a very thorough tour which didn’t finish until about 1am, long after Paul’s shift had finished.

The following day I took a visit to the Gallery of New South Wales, really good, I loved the modern art some of them very clever. There were sections of Australian impressionists, Aboriginal art and also some European. I even found a Van Gogh, that really made my day. Actually, when I say I found it I suspect they already knew about it, it was just hanging on one of the walls! There still remained a strangely quiet feel about the city. Unlike back home when everything returns to normal after Christmas, over here it is the start of the summer holidays, schools have finished and families have packed themselves off to the beaches leaving the city feeling very quiet.

Sunday I went off ringing again, but all the service times have changed during the holiday period, it’s all very confusing to somebody who struggles to even be there on the right day in the first place. I caught up with a bit of bike maintenance, so when I set off again I will be using my 7th chain.

I heard on the news last night that western Queensland has had floods, getting more rain in 4 hours than it had had in the last 12 months. Mount Isa and Cloncurry were flooded. I know it is the wet season over there and they do get flooded from time to time, but it reminds me of just how lucky I have been with the weather on this trip. I have lost count of the number of times there has been news reported of places I have just been through or will be heading to, the most noticeable being the cyclones in Myanmar and Banglsdesh. I shouldn’t really be saying this should I?

So tomorrow I head of from Sydney, I feel quite ready to move on, I am looking forward to riding and finding a nice quiet spot to camp. But Sydney has been good to me, I have enjoyed my time here even if I haven’t utilised it as well as I should have done, though hanging around to see the fireworks was well worth it, something I will never forget. I have met lots of people, met some old friend, made some new friends and the place has once again begun to feel like home. Each time I go ringing I am sure to meet somebody I have already met, in fact they all seem to know and use my name, even if I don’t recognise them. So I can’t leave without saying a big thank you to the bellringers of Sydney who have made me very welcome wherever I go, but there is a special thank you to Paul and Elaine from Randwick who always seem to be there and who so kindly invited me to their Christmas dinner. Thanks to them all.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Day 590 - Sydney, Happy New Year

Let me start by wishing you all a very happy New Year, may 2009 be a successful and enjoyable one for you.

So it’s New Year and I am still here in Sydney. I have been here a while now, seen a few things, met a people, so it was now time to call up a some old friends who are here in Sydney. Firstly I sent an email to Bob and Beryl, I didn’t know if they would remember me, I wasn’t even sure if the email address I had would still work, but it was worth a go. I was surprised to find that they did remember me, mind who would not remember a daft Pommie in Liechtenstein who set up his tent right in the middle of a group of tents belonging to German bikers, but in my defence I hadn’t realised they were all together, there was nobody at home at the time, and secondly I assumed that as all the tents were there, that is where I was expected to pitch mine. I met Bob and Beryl again a few days later at another camp site in Innsbruck, Austria. They were touring Europe in a camper van, we exchanged email addresses. I rode the 30 odd kilometres out to Hornsby, I had almost passed their front door when I rode into Sydney. Their instructions were easy to follow and soon enough I was in another wonderful self built Australian home, backing onto woodland. 2 of their 3 sons soon turned up with 2 of their grand children. Then I was whisked off in the car for a tour of the local National Park. This was just perfect, they were spots I had looked at on the map but decided they were too far away for a day trip by bike. The roads were lovely twisting roads through the woodland, for once I didn’t care how long the road climbed. Unfortunately it started to rain, so I didn’t see it its best. We made our way up to West Head were it rained even more, but we could still see across to Palm Beach, the film location of Home and Away. On the way back the rain stopped, we were able to do a short walk out to some Aboriginal rock carvings, a joy to see, though I would have struggled a bit without the nearby illustrations. We talked about all sorts, Bob admitting that when I told him that I was cycling to Sydney that he thought I had no chance of getting there, clearly he didn’t realise how stubborn/determined I can be. They asked me what had been the highlights, a question I am often asked, but in reality I was living one of them right at that moment, to be in the company of a couple I had met way back in Europe almost 18 months ago was very special. Back at the house we spent some time in the garden where they have resident but wild Sulphur Cockatoos and King Parrots that have been in the area for over 10 years and can even be fed by hand, though judging by how hard it clamped onto my finger, they like a bit of variety in their diet. We had a barbecue, eaten in their fabulous lounge, kitted out like an English pub in precise detail, though it contained a full size snooker table. Their company was very good, they are very easy to talk to, consequently I left later than intended, I had others to meet in the evening. I departed with hugs all round, I really didn’t want to leave, not so soon anyway. The next stop was the church at Turramurra. I was recognised when I walked in, though I explained to them that I wasn’t even sure if I could ring properly as my arms and hands were still numb. I explained what had happened to them and was told “You are lucky, if you were a dog you would be dead by now”, well that makes me feel better! In fact ringing was fine. Back in the centre I stopped of to take a few night photos.

I had also emailed Gerry who I had met in the hostel I stayed at in Singapore, she worked there, she had told me at the time she would be in Australia soon, but I had always thought it unlikely that we would be in Sydney at the same time. But she was here, and what’s more she was staying with a friend in Manly, a ferry ride from the city centre and an area I had wanted to visit. I arrived a little early and walked across to Manly beach. Straight away this part of Sydney had a very different feel to it, here it felt like a holiday place, everybody was here to relax and enjoy themselves, many on the beautiful long sandy beach. We met up in front of the wharf and soon I was introduced to John (JJ) who was back at the car. Once again I was taken on a tour in the car, this time on very hot day to the northern beaches, much bigger, with that relaxed feeling that seemed to be lacking in the southern beaches around Bondi. Gerry and JJ knocked up a picnic and we stopped off at Manly Reservoir, a lovely picturesque place with plenty of birds and lizards on the move. Come evening we met Vera, a friend of JJ’s and we ate out at a little restaurant in the centre of Manly, and if I remember correctly, it was the first time I have eaten out whilst I have been in Australia. Being as we are pretty close I hope to meet up with them again before I leave, but I set off for the ferry. The Jet Cat was about to leave, but being tight I opted to wait 30 minutes for the cheaper ferry. I took a stroll around, the beach right next to the wharf was closed off, a very busy area, people coming and going the whole time whilst others use the beach and more fill the bars, but the beach was closed off as some Little Penguins were nesting there, though unfortunately they didn’t reappear before I was off. On the morning news I heard that the Jet Cat that was running at 10am was to be the very last of the service, closed down as it was too expensive to run.

And so to New Years Eve. I had intended to leave, but I had underestimated just how big an event the celebrations are here, it would have been foolish to move on. So after two long days I had a lie in, did a few odd jobs, then at 6pm set off to find a suitable place to watch the Sydney Harbour fireworks. I had been asking people the best place to see them and it seemed that Mrs Macquires Chair was the best place, the next point after the Opera House. When I arrived there was a massive queue, though I had no idea what it was for. I found out soon enough that it was the queue to get in to an area of limited entry. I joined the long queue, the talk all around was questioning if we would get in before the 20,000 limit was reached. I was about 100 people away from the bag search when it all stopped, no more were being let in, though we weren’t being turned away either. After a couple on minutes the queue moved again, a massive cheer went through the crowd, I had made it in. It didn’t take long to discover that not only was it a popular place to view the fireworks from, but it wasn’t the greatest of views. It was basically the botanical gardens, which meant that there was always a tree blocking part of the view somewhere. The only places with a clear view required tickets, expensive I am sure, and no doubt sold out weeks ago. The bars near the Opera House apparently sell tickets for entry at $250 a piece, though they do give you 3 free drinks for that. I made my way to the furthest end of the point, along with thousands of other. I found a square inch of grass and sat myself down having enquired if it was anybody else’s spot. I got talking to the family beside me, they had already been there for 6 hours, clearing only arriving 5 hours before the event I had little chance of getting a fully clear view, though on reflection I guess one of the only ways to achieve that would be from one of the hundreds of boats that were parked up in the harbour, Gerry had managed to get an invite onto one. I had a great view of the harbour right in front of me but the bridge was partly obscured by a tree. Tracey next to me had seen the fireworks a number of times and said this had been the best spot so far. A small display was put on at 9pm for the younger kids and families, that was followed by lit up boats parading the harbour before the main event at midnight. The main event was $5m worth of explosives weighing over 5 tons and taking 15 months in the planning. It was something very special too, about 5 spots along the harbour firing off identical displays in perfect timing, with occasional and massive displays off the bridge. The best bit for me was the fireworks “dripping” off the bridge making it look like a waterfall, fantastic. The theme had been creation, though I struggled to grasp that one, it was just a very impressive firework display, it was great to hear the gasps of delight coming from the crowd, all very good humoured and friendly throughout. Some of the 1.5m people had been in their spots for over 24 hours, most were probably in place with 8 hours to go, then after 12 minutes of flash, boom, bang, bang, they were all off home again. I am not sure it was worth that sort of dedication, but probably the best display I am ever likely to see and a display that will make others suffer in future when they are with me at a firework display as I say yet again “It’s nothing compared to New Year at Sydney Harbour!”, it was well worth seeing once, so I glad I have stopped in Sydney a little longer. The organisation was phenomenal, areas fenced off, streets closed, bag checking for alcohol which was banned in certain areas, loos, food, security, all for 12 minutes of entertainment. Getting back was easy, no traffic, just moving masses of people, I was just glad I didn’t need to use the public transport, Tracey waited 3 hours for a train last year.

I have another few days here yet here in Sydney, I have booked myself in for another week, partly because I want the numbness I have to pass over a bit more, though I think that is just a bit of an excuse, partly because I like it here and partly because I fancy seeing some of the 3rd Test Cricket match against South Africa that starts in Sydney on Saturday, a good opportunity to watch a sporting event in a sports mad country. I do have a problem though, when ever I stop for a long time I have a terrible feeling of guilt, I feel I should be moving on. I know it’s a silly feeling, the wrong feeling, but I don’t seem to be able to get over it.

I am still amazed by how many people hear what I am doing and say “You are brave travelling alone”. No, no, no…..NO. I am not brave at all, there is nothing dangerous about travelling alone, though it could be argued that it would not be the case for a female. The only bravery required is to free your mind from the chains that you and the media have placed it in. There are bad people out there in this world, I have even met one or two of them, but the world is full of good people and some are of those are just wonderful people. I have lucky enough to be able to immerse myself in the kindness that is offered by so many from all walks of life, and I just don’t want to stop meeting the wonderful people I have met on this journey. It’s a great feeling to know that my path will cross with many others, it may just be a short conversation, may be somebody will point me in the right direction, it may be a longer conversation that makes me think about what has been said or even something that I will remember for years to come, but it may also be the start of a new friendship. No, I am not being brave.