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.


dad said...

pjxThe last paragraph of this posting is just wonderful. The world is indeed full of friendly people always ready to help without expecting anything in return. I am so pleased that you have found this to be so, and put it into words so well. There is a book in you waiting to get out. Love x

aoiffe said...

I had an unobscured view of the sydney fireworks from my lounge. They were great. Shame News 24 cut them short.

Regarding 'I should move on' an author who's name i dont recall said 'beware the shoulds and the oughts'.
And its true they creep into all sorts of unecessary places and situations.

aoiffe said...

Great photo's

Maria said...

Hi John Maria and Michael here in New York at the present. Opted not to go to Times Square with the zillions of others - all are penned and if you need to leave (to go to the loo or anything, you are not let back in!)
We celebrated with my brother Michael (also!) in a typical NY Bar and Grill and had a great night with the young bar staff. Love reading your blog - hope you have a look at ours occasionally. See you in Oxford some time!
Have a great time - travel well and safe. Cheers for now.