So, we got back to the house from Kalbarri in the late afternoon of the 30th of March, but Gordon and I didn’t have a great deal of time to sit about and bask in the post-glamping afterglow, as we were off to Sydney on the red-eye out of Perth on the evening of the 31st. The evening after we got back from Kalbarri, we did go out with two friends of Gordon and Nancy, JR and Jeanette, to the Cambridge Forum, a food court with lots of different types of cuisine on offer, mostly Asian. I had a Thai green curry. It was nice.
During the day of the 31st, however, we did get something cool done – Gordon, Nancy and I took a drive down to the Swan Valley and visited a couple of the many wineries in the area, the Margaret River Chocolate Company’s factory & visitor shop centre thing, and had lumch at the Mandoon Estate winery’s brew-pub/restaurant, the Homestead Brewery. It was all very nice, and something I’d like to do more of the next time I go over there. WA produces some really nice vino (although I’m not a wine buff by any stretch) and the Aussies can certainly crank out a good beer too.
That night, Gordon and I had our bags packed and scooted off to the Perth domestic terminal and a couple of seats on Jetstar flight 989 to Sydney, departing just after midnight and arriving at about 0620 local time on April the 1st.
This flight was pretty full and we were both sat near the back of the plane, albeit on oppsite sides of the aircraft (for whatever reasons, probably due to Jetstar being a budget airline, we were unable to preselect our seats. I think there might have been a way to do it, but I couldn’t get it sorted out when I was checking us in online).
I spent most of the flight (just under four hours) trying to get some sleep, and failing pretty hard to do so. I might’ve half-dozed off here and there, but nothing you’d call a good night’s kip, which would come back and bite me in the arse later that day.
JST989 touched down in SYD pretty much on time, as I remember it, we got our bags with no hassle, grabbed a coffee in the terminal and hopped on a train into the city proper, heading for the Pensione Hotel on George St, one of the main thoroughfares in the Sydney CBD.
We got off the train and, after a bit of navigation thanks to Nokia’s excellent Here maps app and its ability to preload maps for offline usage (a lifesaver for me not having wireless data due to the previous SIM card SNAFU) we found the hotel. Naturally, with it being very early in the morning (must’ve been getting on for about 8 AM at this point), our room wasn’t ready, but we were able to leave our bags with the hotel, used the small guest lounge area to freshen up, then headed out to find somewhere to get some breakfast.
We wandered along George St, crossed over onto Pitt St and went into the huge Westfield mall to try and find somewhere to eat, but most of the eateries were closed. We ended up walking around the area a bit more and eventually found a really nice wee coffee shop in a side street. I wish I could remember exactly where it was. It was really busy at the time, with lots of folk on their way to work, presumably financial-district folk (as that was what I remember being near this place – banks and whatnot) waiting to get coffee brought out to them – there was so many of them that they waited out in the street. I was stunned we were able to get a table. We got a couple of rolls and bacon, a couple of coffees and we marched onwards to Circular Quay.
For the uninitiated, Circular Quay is probably the iconic Sydney destination – it’s where the Opera House is, it’s right next to The Rocks and Harbour Bridge, and you get the ferry to Manly from there. Not a bad way to kick off my visit to one of the world’s great cities.
The first thing to see was, of course, the Opera House. I couldn’t not, really, being a musician. We nosied about for a bit (and had a bit of a time trying to find the proper way into the place) but eventually we found the main foyer and I booked myself on a tour of the place. Gordon, having seen it all before, went off and hung out for a bit (and ended up playing photographer for a bunch of Chinese tourists, apparently).
The tour was interesting. We went into one of the smaller theatres in the facility, called The Studio, which is often used for performance art and whatnot, but has also served as a fully fledged recording studio at points, hence the name. I wish I could remember who they’d said recorded there.
After the Studio, we saw the two main performance spaces in the Opera House – the Concert Hall, where you tend to get more of the ‘modern’ stuff (bands and whatnot) and the Joan Sutherland Theatre, which is more of the traditional opera house type of space. We were able to observe a bit of the setup and rehearsals for the performances that were there that day – the Concert Hall was playing host to The Last Waltz Revisited, a tribute to the legendary last concert of The Band, and the Joan Sutherland was playing host to the Australian Ballet Company, and we were able to observe some of the rehearsals of the male balletists.
Let me tell you something – if you’ve ever thought men doing ballet was girly, try telling that to some of these dudes that I saw on that stage. They were tanks, zero body fat and muscular as all get-out. They looked like they could pick you up by the ankles and rip you in half like Cheese Strings, and make the whole thing look effortless, all to a background of Tchaikovsky. Those fellas don’t mess about.
After the Opera House, we swaggered our way from Circular into The Rocks, one of the oldest parts of the city, and had a drink at a few of the pubs in the area, starting at the Fortune of War, the oldest pub in the city. We then had a bite to eat at another pub whose name escapes me at the moment, and ended up at the Mercantile, an Irish pub (which I would be at again a few days later, but more on that in the next part of the blog) drinking ice cold Guiness, which is, frankly, a bit odd. I don’t care if it’s 27C and Australia, Guiness shouldn’t be nearly an ice lolly. End of.
After our amble through The Rocks and a couple of frothies, as the locals would say, we moseyed our way back to the hotel, as our rooms were ready by this point. We got into the room and after a red eye flight and an morning/early afternoon of trudging around Sydney’s CBD, we crashed out for a few hours.
That evening, we met up with another Stewarton refugee, Jacqui Ross, whose father Wullie Ross worked with mine waaay back in the day and was a bit of a local legend in Stewarton. I think everyone knew Wullie Ross, at least to see, and his classic Mini was a fairly familiar sight trundling around the streets of my town. Her and Gordon both came to Australia at about the same time and did a fair bit of travelling together back in the day, and the three of us had a good time gassing about Stewarton, my brothers, her dad, my dad, and the stories of her and Gordon’s earliest days in Australia.
After this, we found an RSL club relatively near our hotel and got some dinner. Those RSL clubs are pretty awesome for cheap grub – kinda like a cross between a working men’s club and a Vegas casino. Cheap food and drink subsidised by slot machines (or ‘pokies’ as the Aussies call them). One of the ones I was in a few days later was enormous, with several bars and restaurants, a gym and a large underground car park.
After dinner, Gordon headed out to meet up with Dean, the son of Sandra, my mum’s cousin and our host for the second half of our stay in Sydney. I was absolutely wiped out by this point, so I just vegged in the hotel room and watched Pacific Rim, which happened to be on the telly at the time. Good movie. (It’s just occurred to me that I was watching Pacific Rim on the Pacific rim. Heh.)
The next day I wanted to see a couple of other iconic bits of Sydney – Bondi Beach and Manly. A bus ride took us to Bondi first, where I probably had the most STRAYA moment of the entire trip while eating breakfast – sitting in a cafe on Bondi Beach, eating a kangaroo burger while AC/DC played in the background. Strewth.
Bondi was lovely, and it was a nice day for it. Gordon and I took the opportunity to cool off our feet by having a bit of a paddle as we walked along the iconic beach, waves lapping at our feet as we strode along. I was almost distracted from the entire ‘holy shit, I’m on Bondi Beach’-ness of it all by the cornucopia of stunning, bikini-clad ladies (and, for the straight ladies/gay dudes out there, there was plenty of handsome speedo-wearing fellas there as well). It was a real trip. I felt quite out of place in my pudgy, pale, hairy Scottishness.
After we plodded along the beach, we washed the sand off our feet and headed up to the Icebergs Club, which looks out onto the beach from the raised hillside along the southern edge of the beach. We supped a couple of beers there, then hopped on a bus back into the CBD on our way to the next stop – Manly.
We hopped off the bus and headed back to Circular Quay, but we had some time to kill before the next Manly ferry, so there was only one thing for it – into one of the bars on the Quay for a quick brewski. Our whistles wetted, we hopped onto the Manly ferry and made our way across the harbour.
Once back on land, Gordon and I strolled up the Corso, the main touristy strip of shops and bars heading between the ferry terminal and the beach. Once we hit the beach, Gordon strolled down onto the sand for a bit of a paddle while I sat on a set of stairs leading down to the beach to rest my tired and sore feet, and took some photos.
As an aside, I’m absolutely kicking myself about the photography situation I put myself in while in Sydney. I brought my RX100 with me but for some reason, I never took it out once when I was in Sydney, I just shot pictures with my phone. Now, the iPhone 6S Plus is no slouch when it comes to phone cameras, but I really wish I’d pulled the Sony out of my bag. Next time.
After Gordon had his paddle and I took pics, the weather was getting pretty toasty, so there was only one thing for it – a beer or three. We found ourselves at the Sugar Lounge right on the beach for a swifter, then we headed back down the Corso to the New Brighton Hotel in the hopes they’d be showing the footy, which they were. Brisbane Lions vs North Melbourne.
A couple of beers in and we were getting peckish, having basically skipped lunch, so we decided to grab a quick bite before we were to meet Dean at the 4 Pines Brewery. We found the Ser-Bar kebab shop practically next door to the pub we were in so we decided to grab a big filthy donner kebab for dinner. This is where things take a turn for the painful.
We were sitting on the benches outside the kebab shop, noshing in the late afternoon sun, trying to figure out where the 4 Pines Brewery was so we could meet Dean. I was trying to find the place on my offline maps app, but couldn’t recall if the pub was spelled with a number 4 or the word ‘four’. However, the New Brighton had been selling 4 Pines on tap, so I decided to head back into the pub to take a look at the taps to get the right spelling.
What I didn’t notice, though, was the step up going into the pub (through a different door to the one I’d used previously), and I tripped. i tried to catch myself, falling kind of awkwardly, nearly managed to right myself, but ultimately wound up basically headbutting a bar stool. Ow. I brushed myself off, checked the spelling of ‘4 Pines’ as planned and went to the bathroom to run some cold water off my scuffed dome before heading back out to the benches to finish my kebab.
After this, we found out where 4 Pines brewpub was (down at the other end of the Corso, not too far from the ferry terminal, so we headed back that way, stopping at a souvenir shop for me to pick up a t-shirt. We met up with Dean, had a few pints at 4 Pines, then hopped on the ferry back into the city. Once again, I chilled in the hotel room for a couple of hours while Gordon went out to find somewhere to watch the Fremantle Dockers game. They got pumped. Again.
And with that I’ll cut it off here. Next time, I’ll talk about my time out in the leafy suburbs of Sydney with my mum’s cousin Sandra, and my climb up one of the world’s great landmarks- the Sydney Harbour Bridge.