Wednesday, 30 November 2016


A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to visit Australia – never a country on my bucket list, but I had finished a cruise in Hong Kong and since my daughter was temporarily working out in Australia, I thought I would tag a quick week onto the end of my trip.

How I wish I had allowed longer – not just spending time with my daughter, whom I hadn’t seen for six long traumatic and miserable months as she worked her way round the country fruit picking – but because I wish I had seen more of the country.

I absolutely loved Sydney, and had to pinch myself as I stood on Bondi Beach.  It really wasn’t how I had imagined, though I don’t really know what I had expected.  Certainly there were no Kiss Me Quick Hats or fish and chip shops, but it definitely had a seaside flavour with surfing shops and ice cream parlours - but much more up market than Bridlington and Scarborough in winter!  The cove was clean and clear, the water a little chilly but the surf was gentle near the shore, though a little choppy out at sea. And this was a Monday in March - a gloriously warm day and a million miles away from a dreary working day at home.

I had looked for an inexpensive option for our stay and since the hotels were quite pricey, we decided on an airbnb apartment in the suburbs.  Fortunately my daughter knew which suburbs were safe and we found a cute little one-bed apartment in Surrey Hills for a very reasonable rent.  Since my daughter was strapped for cash by this time, she walked everywhere, and although initially I baulked at the “stroll” into town, by the end of the week I had got the walk – which took an hour on the first day – down to 35 minutes and I also started to feel fitter too! As it turned out it was a great way to see the real Sydney - walking past the bars and restaurants, sampling the wonderfully laid-back atmosphere.

On our first day, we walked through the Royal Botanic Gardens and came out near Sydney Opera House.  Standing next to this amazing building we could see Sydney HarbourBridge and then amazingly, the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship in dock!!  Given that I had recently stepped off the small and intimate Silver Shadow cruise ship – the Queen Mary was enormous – but what a sight to see!

The Opera House and surrounding paths were surrounded by scaffolding and hazard cones as they were obviously repairing and repainting.  I was not surprised to read that a couple of weeks later, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were visiting Sydney - I guess the world is just perfect for them!

Our time together was brief but packed as much in as we could – often eating in our bijou apartment.  However, there are some fabulous restaurants along the water front.  We ate Italian right next to the water’s edge, drinking cocktails from jam jars and watched the sun go down.  It was a magical first evening.

Obviously there were several shopping centres as Sydney is a major city.  We visited the Capitol Theatre which was showing The Lion King, one of my favourite ever shows.  Daughter Louise had seen it in London probably 15 years prior but couldn’t remember any of it, so we spent a nostalgic evening at the Capitol Theatre, which was refurbished in the 1990s with a bizarre faux 1920s interior.  Originally built as a fruit and vegetable market in 1892, it was just a single storey until the 1920s, when a second storey was added and it was used as a circus venue, cinema and theatre until falling into disrepair. I am all for rejuvenating old buildings, and it is very comfortable, but the decor is truly over the top!

Of course in Australia I wanted to hold a koala bear, so we visited the Sidney Wild Life Centre in Darling Harbour.  In New South Wales it is illegal for members of the public to handle koalas – which aren’t actually bears – because it is deemed to stress them out, even though in the rest of the country, it is allowed with a handler close by.  I did manage to get very close and personal however, and was delighted when the little fur baby opened his eyes to look at me as apparently they sleep for up to 22 hours a day.

We also saw some Tasmanian devils, which look like huge rats and which unfortunately are an endangered  species now as many of them get facial cancer.   We saw kangaroos and some fairly horrible snakes – and I must admit I am not a fan of zoos, though most of them today claim to be protecting endangered species. Darling Harbour is also home to a shopping centre and a number of bars and restaurant chains recognisable throughout the world.  Since my daughter had rarely eaten a full meal for the previous two months, she opted for a burger at the Hard Rock Cafe – though the service was dreadful!

However, during a shopping day (when I had to replenish said daughter’s wardrobe!) we discovered a little gem in the Tea Salon.  Tea and scones served on vintage china – with a choice of sweet and savoury scones and all were delicious!

The lifestyle in Sydney was very laid-back and relaxed – yoga on the beach and roadside cafes for breakfast were the norm, and of course there was sunshine!  My visit was during March which was the beginning of Autumn, so summer clothes were in the sales and Ugg boots, although new season, were much cheaper than they are in the UK – although why you would want Ugg flip flop slippers is a bit beyond me.

I would  go back tomorrow –  absolutely!  I would love to have visited the beautiful Blue Mountains just a short distance away, with its dramatic cliffs and eucalyptus forests.  Australia has so many beautiful cities and history to explore. Louise had been lucky, she had been swimming with dolphins, snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, had visited The Gold Coast and visited Easter Island, and even jumped out of a plane for her 23rd birthday (she didn’t tell me about that until after she had done it because I would have flipped out!) She also climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge - one of the must-do tourist attractions, but not one I have ever fancied, since I am petrified of heights.  I would have loved to have seen Madam Butterfly performed next to the lake and the Opera House in the Botanic Gardens, unfortunately opening night was the day I flew home.

Sadly I don’t believe I will ever make it back there – the 24 hour flight was a nightmare and I sobbed all the way home to leave my daughter there (with thanks to the kind gentleman who helped me through security because I was so distraught I fumbled my way through passport control with my suitcases).  However, she is safely back home now and settled in a career, so I have a lot to be thankful for.


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