My Stage is the World

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive

Journey’s End

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Brace yourself

After spending my last day walking around the Botanic Gardens and Chinatown – Lau Pasat is closed for renovations – I spent the evening by the bay with one of my sister’s friends who works in the city. My cocktail was about 50% marshmallow and we shared a mix of breakfast nachos (they had scrambled egg), Parmesan fries and strawberry pancakes. We also took a super fast elevator to her office’s roof garden for spectacular views of the city. A good end to my adventures.

Of course, being me there was more drama to unfold…

Braving the MRT to the airport I was heavily questioned at customs because the last letter of my first name hadn’t quite fitted so they wanted to make sure I was who I said I was.

Finally on the plane, I started watching a film while we sat on the ground for an hour. Slightly worried about my connecting flight I persevered with ‘Broken’. It’s a good, if slightly odd, film, but the ending is pretty graphic. I started to feel sick and dizzy and needed some fresh air… Obviously this wasn’t likely on a plane.

Guess who got to experience an oxygen mask on a plane? Yup, little miss squeamish who faints.

So I spent the first hour of the flight (when the seatbelt sign was still on) laying on the floor of the aircraft with my feet on a box, with an oxygen mask over my face. Just another thing to take in my stride…

However, for the rest of the flight I was treated like a minor celebrity – the stewards brought me extra drinks and biscuits and the first officer came over several times to check I was OK.

After that I played it safe and watched Hercules and To Kill A Mockingbird.

Running out of time

By the time we landed in Dubai, my connecting flight was already boarding and it took ages to disembark. When the couple in front of me decided to have a full-on PDA in the plane aisle I almost stabbed them with my pen.

I ran off the plane, skirting the lady in a wheelchair and skidded to a halt in front of the man shouting “Gatwick? Istanbul?”, ranting at a fellow traveller – a maths PhD student at Oxford.

He and I chatted as about six of us were escorted through the airport to a special security point (one poor girl was then searched, even though there had been no time for us to change our bags’ contents since checks in Brisbane/Singapore).

Not only did we make it, but they held the plane to check our luggage had all been found. So this flight was also delayed… But on the plus side I was sitting just behind First Class and had a spare seat next to me.

The rest of the flight passed fairly smoothly (Pete’s Dragon, Shakespeare in Love etc.) and all too soon we were landing in Gatwick Airport, where both of my parents were waiting.

My dad dashed off to catch a train to London so my mum and I braved the rainy, flooded roads of England.

Remind me why I came back again?

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Total tourist

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Walking in sunshine

With a limited time in Singapore I was determined to make the most of it. To me, this means walking everywhere and finding all manner of things lurking around each corner.

After checking in to my hotel (after tents and hostels, it was the most beautiful room I’d ever seen) and having a shower I headed out into the city. I wandered aimlessly for about four hours and stumbled across a free gig in the Arts Centre. Linden Furnell was a pretty talented Aussie guy who’d studied in Singapore. His songs were pretty deep, with powerful lyrics that made me reflect. Damn him.

I got lost on the way back by following the map – what a stupid idea. I then had what was effectively a chilli crab pot noodle, which I ate with chopsticks in my pyjamas.

The following day I had an agenda – find chilli stingray and go to the night safari. Simple. Google Maps suggested 800m to Little India, but I went the scenic (aka long) way to the travel agent. A very helpful man told me I could just catch the bus to the safari and buy my tickets there. He also told me not to go to Malaysia on my own because I “have the blonde hair and the pretty face. It is not safe. Find some friends.” He even said his son would go with me at the weekend, but I had to decline.

Little India was bizarre. It was colourful and busy, but smelled of cheap mint/bubblegum chewing gum. I somehow found myself upstairs in a salon having my eyebrows threaded after asking the price – a fairly reasonable $4. My eyes watered a lot, even though it wasn’t particularly painful.

I then walked to Chinatown to find Lau Pasat, but I gave up and stumbled into a Buddhist temple. Full of Buddhas I was presented with a spiritual book, which happened to fall open at a page about promiscuity – hmmm.

After perusing hundreds of food stalls, I finally settled for a $3 bowl of Laksa. It was a sixty-year-old recipe he’d learned from a master and he made each bowl separately with all natural ingredients.

His technique worked – the laksa tasted of the ocean and was delicious. The stall owner explained that cooking was his passion and he had started the stall when he retired from the stage. He and his friends – who I met – still got together on Thursdays and performed in Retirement Homes. He was also a very positive about England and its people, which was very refreshing.

Where the wild things are

Stepping off the shuttle bus to the Singapore Night Safari, S and I started our nighttime adventure with the walking tours, setting off down a dark path, through barely visible jungle into the unknown. All sorts of creatures lurked in the bushes and I was quite jumpy at times, especially when rats crept past, frogs jumped and lizards crawled.

The idea is that nocturnal animals are more energetic at nighttime and it was interesting to see their behaviour in the dark. At one point we were surrounded by wallabies, another time by fruit bats. There was also a dark cave that dripped water with nasty reptiles sleeping behind (thank God) glass cases.

On the walks we also saw civets, tigers, rhinos and deer… Plus sloth bears, invisible night squirrels and night pelicans (I still think the zoo man made this up as they looked more like pterodactyls). There was no crocodile though. We asked and were told “No, no crocodile.” When we later found an ’empty’ river marked Crocodile we figured his story checked out, but we didn’t hang around for too long!

Our first tram ride was a hilarious experience. We got on halfway round and our guide was quite bloodthirsty, explaining that “hyenas can run non-stop for 3km. They are also strong swimmers, so they will bite you until you fall down and die.” “Lions tend to ignore humans, but they will still rip you limb from limb if provoked.” Every animal then became a danger to humans, as we made up ways they could kill us… Including being sat on by a hippo until we die.

Just in time for the last animal show, we watched otters and raccoons recycle rubbish and an escaped Python dominate the stage and a poor Korean tourist’s neck.

Back on the almost empty tram, our new guide was far more positive and we had a much better view of the elephants and lions. The hippos had been asleep the first time, so as we rounded a corner I saw them, exclaiming “Yay hippos!” Which turned out to be buffalo… Hopefully I redeemed myself by remembering a male elephant was called a Chawang… We also saw a giraffe sitting down – which led us to ponder how giraffes sleep.

Returning to the city just before midnight, we finally found somewhere for dinner – a Thai restaurant open until 5.30am. The food was good, although there was no wine and they appeared to be playing Westlife’s Greatest Hits – quite bizarre.

In fact, the whole evening turned out to be “surreal, but nice”.

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The end of the affair

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It’s a small world

The drive back to Melbourne presented no problems (shocking I know) and there were no charges waiting for us when we dropped the keys off. Taxi back to the hostel and we took a tram to St Kilda’s to explore the beach.

Obviously we were both starving, so we popped into a nice looking cafe for a spot of brunch. And, of course, it was the cafe where Hannah (who I met in the Blue Mountains) worked. It amazes me how small the world really is.

After gorging ourselves – and enjoying a free coffee – we set off with Hannah for some cider in Abbey Road. St Kilda’s is very like Camden, so it seemed appropriate that we were in a London themed bar!

Onto the beach – past some hippies dressed in fluorescent tutus, dancing to huge ghetto blasters – and into another bar to meet up with other vagrants from Sydney.

Back to the hostel to beautify ourselves and we headed out – German roommate in tow – first to the hostel bar (hello jugs of sangria) and then to another appropriately named bar: The Berlin Bar.

After entering a door marked ‘No Dickheads’ and going up some steps, guests have to push a little green button and wait to be admitted. We were then ushered past the sophisticated white stools of West Berlin into East Berlin, where there are boxes and bunk beds! The prices were definitely more west though…

After a quick Pie Face (for all three of us) it was back to the hostel to watch our Italian roommate’s brush with death (aka crocodiles) before a relatively early night.

The next morning we visited Victoria Market, which sells all kinds of crap, as well as organic food. We then indulged in homemade muffins and delicious coffee before spending the rest of the morning riding the (free) tram which goes around the city,

Luggage collected, it was a sad farewell that Miss H and I bid as I headed back to Sydney. It had been an epic few weeks, but now I was leaving Australia for the delights of Asia.

By the time the shuttle bus had deigned to appear, dropped me off (last, again) and the receptionist had managed to find me a room – after I traipsed up the stairs, bags in tow, and was told in no uncertain terms to leave: “Sorry babe, this room’s full”, all I had time for was a pot noodle, a shower and a film (The Magdalen Sisters) before attempting to sleep.

Sadly, my fellow hostellers were having their traditional Sunday night rave, so when I got up at 6.30am I’d barely slept a wink and had a flight to catch!

After two minutes in Sydney airport I was being made over by a Benefit lady, so I bought some eyeshadow. I then saw that my flight was delayed by three hours, meaning that my Singapore trip was cut by half a day. I stormed off to get a coffee and then realised that it wasn’t my flight that was delayed, so had to run to my gate. It wasn’t until I was on the plane that I noticed that I’d left the make-up in the airport.

Ah well – It would be far too hot for make-up in Singapore!

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Final destination

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The Lonely Island

We’d technically completed the Great Ocean Road but we had one more stop before we headed back to Melbourne – Port Fairy. This ‘sleepy little fishing village’ is pretty quaint, with old style buildings present throughout the town and a cute little harbour.

We walked through the harbour and across the causeway to Griffiths Island and walked around towards the island, hoping to see some Kangaroos. But, yet again they didn’t want to show themselves, despite there being plenty of them around. The island had beautiful white sand, but it was ridiculously hot so we didn’t hang around.

Our original plan was to go to Hanging Rock (and have a picnic) as it wasn’t too far north of Melbourne. It was however a five hour drive and we’d have been cutting it quite fine to get there in time to see it and find a campsite. So we changed our plan and drove inland towards Melbourne for about 3 hours, stopping instead for a picnic at Red Rock.

As the name suggests this area (a 10km detour from the highway) has an unusual red rock and is surrounded by pools left by volcanic eruptions. This being the hottest day I’d had in Australia, it didn’t surprise me that there wasn’t actually any water at all. Each pool was a dried up hole, yet together they were eerily beautiful.

Driving further up we posed for a quick self-timed picture in our new T-Shirts although we took them off afterwards as it was too hot for anything but shorts and a cami. My feet were boiling in my Converse but they were the best shoes for driving so I swapped to flip-flops every time we got out of the car.

Running out of time

After that there was nothing for it but to head on to Colac singing our little hearts out and decide where to spend our last night. We settled for Geelong as it was only an hour or so past Colac and less than 100km from Melbourne. We were also told by the woman in the visitor centre that it had a pretty waterfront and lots of restaurants and bars. She rang up a campsite for us and booked us in. What could possibly go wrong?

As we’d been told to “return the car empty” I was reluctant to give it back with much petrol, but after filling up initially had put another $15 in that morning. We had half a tank and less than 200km to drive. No problem.

Averaging 90-100kmh on the highway by itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but having a lot of luggage and a tent on the roof affects the fuel economy. Suddenly, the petrol gauge flashed to empty and the promise of ‘169km of driving’ switched to ‘—‘.

“Find me a petrol station” I shouted! According to the SatNav our nearest one was 17km away and we were on a single lane highway where the speed limit was 100. We turned everything off and I slowed down to 80, ignoring the cars overtaking me and the drivers beeping at me. 10km to go… 5km. I was cool but slightly tense… If I had to stop the car, would it start again?

With 2km to go we entered roadworks and thankfully the traffic slowed to 40kmh. As the metres ticked down we saw several demolished buildings at the side of the road – had that been the petrol station? My heart sank, but luckily as we rounded the bend we saw it! “Turn left!” screamed Miss H, but I was already there.

“Need petrol darlin’?” asked the helpful truck driver. “Just a bit” I replied through gritted teeth, as I whacked in $20 just to be on the safe side.

Stupid SatNav

After that I’d had enough of driving and just wanted to get to the campsite and have a drink! But of course, that would’ve been too simple. It turns out that our campsite was 10km away from Geelong, near the ring road. So we couldn’t really walk down to the waterfront… Which was what we’d really wanted to do.

Not that we could find the campsite anyway. We drove along Ballarat Road and it just wasn’t there. After a few turns the SatNav lady tried to lead me through a row of houses and over a fence. We were big getting a little bit stressed and hungry now so used Google Maps instead.

Surprisingly, that was better and we got to the campsite in one piece, despite the car stalling several times on the way. We parked and went straight to the pool to cool off.

With no food (or patience) left we ordered takeaway pizza, although unfortunately they didn’t deliver alcohol, so we made do with Solo instead. Our last night in the tent was sleepless thanks to the lorries on the highway and some weird clicking bugs.

Happy campers!

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Stalkers, songs and shipwrecks

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Just our luck

After a proper breakfast of egg sandwiches, we made lunch and set off (with only a little bit of help packing away our tent).

The morning was devoted to scenery – spectacular rock formations including the Arch and London Bridge… Which has fallen down and is no longer a walkway, but an island. When the adjoining pat of Rock fell in the 90s two tourists were left stranded and had to be rescued by helicopter. I couldn’t help feeling that was the sort of thing that would happen to me and Miss H. How long would our luck hold out?

Passing by the shipwreck coast that had destroyed perhaps more than 600 ships, we saw the Bay of Islands , including the Bay of Martyrs which had a beautiful beach, but was covered in sand flies.

After that we drove all the way to Warrnambool, singing along to summery songs and just enjoying the view, which continued to be amazing, even after we headed inland (more 25kmh bends for me).

Our next campsite was a hostel that had grass available for tents, plus free tea and coffee and a bar – hurrah! I’d barely touched coffee since being in Australia, but I managed a few sips before giving up and ordering a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc which was a steal at $3.50.

By lantern light

After dinner we grabbed a jumper and headed into town for Shipwrecked! – a laser show in the historic Flagstaff Hill maritime village. On the way we had another ice-cream (Champagnums yay) and posed on the cannons. Two lads got out of their car and offered to take a photo of both of us. Too kind… As they then proceeded to chat us up (badly) and invite us to the pub. They were quite inquisitive, but we thought nothing of it, said our goodbyes and headed off to the visitor centre for our nighttime tour of this historic village.

Lantern in hand we followed our guide through the dark, deserted village past the nineteenth century church and shops and shivering with anticipation. The history of British emigrants was a tragic one and by the time we got to the theatre we were quite excited.

The show was a series of photographs and interviews projected onto the water, told from the perspective of the captain, a passenger and a seaman. Those on board had to endure the heat of the Tropics, the icy blast of from the Antarctic, plus seasickness and bad food. It was a perilous journey through the ‘eye of the needle’ to land safely in Victoria.

Sadly this voyage was unsuccessful and only two survived – the seaman and one passenger. They were swept to sea and caught the current through the eye. Thomas found Ethel and rescued her, before climbing the cliff with his bare hands and getting help. Everyone else perished, except for a giant statue of a peacock…

Slightly wet from the spray of the ‘sea’ that attacked out boat we continued on foot with our lanterns, past the pigs and back to the shop (where we bought a Great Ocean Road T-shirt).

As we walked back to our campsite, a voice called out “How was the laser show?” Yup, it was the two boys, waiting for us outside the shop where we’d bought our ice-creams. Creepy!

Declining their kind offer to go to Breakwater, we carried on with their car following us briefly before giving up. Several other cars made comments, but we ignored them and went to bed.

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Girls will be girls

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International rescue

After waking up to a semi-naked man sleeping on the floor outside of his tent, we showered and got ready to leave (helpfully watching the guys put our tent away). But not before the semi-naked man came over to say goodbye… Now dressed as Bananaman (seriously).

Anyway, with Miss H once again behind the wheel we set off back to Lorne to find some blankets. Even the Op Shop had nothing so we drove on to Kennet River to try and spot some koalas. Fifteen minutes later and I was back behind the wheel, driving up a very steep hill. We parked up and got out – success! The trees were full of koala bears, although we couldn’t figure out if they were cute or not…

Back up the hill to turn around when the older couple in front of us slowed right down… Our poor little car didn’t like this and suddenly stopped. Sighing, I restarted the car, but it just gave a little ‘phut’ and wouldn’t start. I thought it might have overheated as the bendy Ocean Road required a lot of gear changing (or not in Miss H’s case), but I’d not been driving like a loon. We left it 20 minutes and tried it again. Nothing. We checked the water and the oil. All fine.

With no other option, we called Roadside Assistance who phoned the RAC for us. He told us he’d been out to Kennet River twice already but he’d have to go back for the tow truck(!)

So we waited. We ate chocolate, put on some make-up (in case that swayed the cost of the problem) and considered calling it quits and going back to Melbourne. I tried the car again – nothing.

As expected, the RAC man rocked up, watched me try the car unsuccessfully, got in and wiggled the gear stick. Then, with the clutch down he started the car. Le sigh.

Embarrassed, I drove up the hill and turned around. At the bottom I tried the car again and it was fine. Typical. The man grinned at us, said he couldn’t explain it and drove off. No charge. Girl power!

Onward and upward

After a very necessary ice-cream we set off to make up for lost time and rocked up at Apollo Bay for a walk. This is another beautiful area of Victoria – a wide bay with a perfect beach, village shops and cafés. Plus a harbour and sand dunes. We bought a couple of sleeping bags and continued on our way.

After a short walk around an area of rainforest (free, as opposed to the expensive Otway National Park) we stopped briefly at Gibson’s Steps – named after the man who carved them into the cliff as he struggled for survival.

We then wandered around the 12 Apostles Visitor Centre (after belting out some McFly). These ‘twelve’ rock formations used to be known as the Sow and Piglets but the name was changed, despite there being maybe six or seven ‘apostles’. These are on all of the Ocean Road postcards and they are very beautiful.

As the day had been quite stressful we got to our next campsite – Port Campbell Recreation Reserve, which was remote to say the least – quite early and pitched our tent ALL BY OURSELVES!

After swapping some website/SEO tips with the site manager (all the camping fees are ploughed back into the reserve, but they had no website), we wandered into town for a well-deserved dinner.

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Nature – it’s all over me

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Climb every mountain

After a fairly cold night, we got ready to explore the area around Cumberland River. But before we set off one of the ladies came over to see if we wanted to climb the sides of the valley with her son Jeffrey. He wanted to go, but not by himself – a fair point in this treacherous country. It seemed like a good idea, so we made some sandwiches and went to get some water.

Stepping through an area marked “Do not enter: revegetation area” we began to clamber up an almost vertical, unmarked track, keeping a close eye on the ground as we did so (apparently he’d seen a few King Browns the week before). We had to use our hands for the first few metres, grabbing hold of trees and roots to stop ourselves from sliding back down the hill.

Trees whacked us, bushes scratched our arms and legs and the journey was hot and tiring. The path kept disappearing so we kept skirting around fallen branches to try to find our way. We were glad we had our ‘guide’ with us as we would never have found our way without him! After a while we started to walk down, but then the track veered sharply right and once again was almost vertical.

However, after almost half an hour of climbing we pushed our way out of the bushes and into the sunlight.

We were very high up and the view was amazing. The campsite lay before us with tiny tents and caravans tiny below and the sea stretched away to the south. To the north were endless trees, covering the hillside beneath the bright blue sky. It was also very windy!

After catching our breath we descended, a much quicker journey – and not just because we ended up sliding part of the way down the hill (I was the only one who remained standing), getting covered in earth (and more scratches) in the process.

Water, water everywhere

Feeling slightly hot and bothered, we sat by our tent and ate our lunch in the sun, listening to our Woolloomoolloo playlist (Field Day bands). We then set off through the wood at the back of the campsite towards Jebb’s Pool. This was a short walk, but involved crossing the river twice – once on stepping stones and once along a fallen tree, but the water hole was beautiful.

A shallow natural pool from the river with waterfalls (used by the kids as slides) cascading down into the main pool. From there it flowed through the campsite, into the other water hope and under the Great Ocean Road to the sea.

Jeffrey had told us earlier that a few years ago he’d been swimming in the main camp watering hole when a kangaroo had fallen in from the hill we’d climbed earlier. We vowed to go and look around at dusk to try and spot some.

But after a quick paddle in Jebb’s Pool we set off to the beach that was used only by the campsite. The river flowed under the road surrounded by bushes, yet when it became the sea there was nothing but sand.

After crossing the road we followed the path to the beach when suddenly Miss H swore and stepped briskly sideways – Tiger Snake alert!

Kum ba yah

Luckily the beach was almost deserted, but it was getting cold so we stayed a while and paddled before heading back for dinner, noting our new neighbours with interest. Two Australian guys who were already a few beers down.

Of course once we started cooking they invited us to sit with them and use their chairs (as we had nothing) and offered us beer… And chicken on a stick. And sausage sandwiches. We were so good at this camping lark!

Once again we fire sat while they went off to get more beers, making the most of their chairs and speakers. When they got back some friends joined them and the guitars came out. Then of course people flocked over to join in – there was even sheet music.

It felt kind of stereotypical to be sitting around a fire on a campsite, singing songs and toasting marshmallows, but it was pretty awesome. Apparently Shane had been chased by a kangaroo the previous year after “catching it drinking at the water hole”. He swore that the kangaroo had jumped over five bins as it chased after him…

As the two guys had been coming to the site for years and years we weren’t told to quieten down until almost midnight. The rest of the campers dispersed and we declined the guys’ offer of ‘going to the beach’ with them. I did borrow Shane’s fleece lined hoodie though as it was freezing in that tent, despite many, many layers of clothing.

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I like driving in my car

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Fill my little car right up

Up bright and early (although I still missed breakfast), we walked back to South Central Station, via a Hungry Jacks for a frozen raspberry Fanta ($1), and after topping up our Myki cards, boarded the train for Kensington.

With Google Maps as our guide and a LOT of luggage between us, we confidently strode off down the road, realising after 15 minutes that once again we were going the wrong way. Typical. Turning around, we eventually rocked up at Wicked Campers to pick up our little yellow Holden Spark, complete with roof tent.

Sitting behind the wheel for the first time in just over two years was a little daunting, but I took it all in my stride and set off… Realising five minutes later that “there’s not much petrol, you’ll need to fill up soon” meant “the tank is empty”. After ten minutes of quite stressful driving, we managed to fill the car up and set the SatNav for the Great Ocean Road!

On the road

Thankfully Australians drive on the left (something they remind you of constantly), so once we got onto the highway, I was absolutely fine driving, although struggling not to speed (it’s too easy). In just over an hour, we were approaching Torquay Visitor’s Centre, so I parked (perfectly) and we got our bearings.

List of campsites, leaflets and a week’s worth of food in tow, it was Miss H’s turn to drive… For 20km, until I made her swap back to me. It’s just a small issue, but she couldn’t change gear and we were at the top of the hill on a very busy road (speed limit 100 kmh), with lots of cars behind us – slightly terrifying.

Back behind the wheel, I had to be aware of the sudden ‘viewpoint on your left’ signs or we’d have missed them. We almost missed the Memorial Arch, but I managed to swing the car into the car park at the last minute. Perfectly legally… Ahem.

Our cameras were constantly in use as we stopped off at as many (interesting) points as we could. In fact, we’d only just passed Lorne when we realised it was almost 6pm and we needed to find a campsite. This we did after another less than legitimate right turn off the highway.

The campsite wasn’t the cheapest, but it was possibly the most beautiful. Just beyond the sea, the Cumberland River ran into the campsite to form a water hole that was framed by huge hills either side. The showers used rainwater and there were trees and bushes everywhere, plus woods and a private beach. It was peaceful and friendly and full of Australians.

Everybody loves Raymond

We parked up and set about putting up the tent: “You just take the cover off, pull the ladder out and boom. Mattress etc is in there. Have fun.” wasn’t quite accurate…

After ten minutes of giggling and struggling, watched by amused Aussies, about twelve of them came over to help us. The men scratched their heads and pulled bits and pieces, whilst the women who also came over offered helpful advice. The children just looked stunned. I helpfully took photos.

Eventually though, he was up! But there was no bedding and no tent pegs. We did have several poles though that were completely useless. Back to the office I went to beg some bedding and some kind man lent us two tent pegs so – finally – we were all set up.

We were the talk of the campsite! Everyone was coming over, taking photos and asking questions – they all loved it! Most people had been coming to this campsite each year for decades and now brought their own families. They made the area sound so lovely that we decided to stay a second night to explore.

Feeling more outdoorsy now, we got out our stove, ready for our packet pasta (with tinned chicken and veg) and it was all going well (once a nice man turned it on for us), until it ran out of gas. Apparently “you’ve got loads of gas” means “you’ve got no gas”. Luckily the nice couple next door overheard our cursing and gave us a gas canister, also inviting us to fire sit for them while they looked around.

Obviously fire sitting led to a nice evening with them, drinking (their) beer and roasting (our) marshmallows. We even found a use for the redundant tent poles – toasting forks!

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Moving on to Melbourne

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Not so smooth sailing

The rest of our time in Sydney passed in a blur – I took the ferry to Manly, sat on the beach and bought a bikini. As Miss H’s time was drawing to a close, we spent Friday night with her friends from her last hostel, lapping up the free drinks and making lots of new friends wherever we went, ending up in O’Malleys.

Saturday was much the same – a late brunch, followed by sunbathing and packing up. We then drank some Kopparberg, ate a $10 steak, drank some Binends and went out with some of the gang from New Year’s Eve – nothing too hardcore. Just lots of dancing in O’Malleys (standard).

Of course, certain circumstances meant that we didn’t have time to sleep before our flight, so exhausted and a little worse for wear we caught a taxi to Sydney Airport. Upon arrival, Miss H realises that she’s left her phone somewhere. I ring it – yup, it’s in the taxi. The driver refuses to come back to the airport, even though she offers to pay the fare, as he wouldn’t make it in time.

Then he rings back to say his friend is on her way to the airport and has the phone. We manage to collect the phone (only a $10 charge), get through security and onto our flight with time to spare.

Once we get to Avalon, it’s an hour on the coach to South Central Station and a good 25 minute walk to our hostel. But, we make it and are able to check in. After showers (where I embarrassed our roommate who walked in to find me wearing just a towel, muttered hello and promptly exited), we set out to explore.

Mooching in Melbourne

Just a short walk from our hostel, we stumbled across a new restaurant called Pepper Lunch, which served traditional Japanese food. By this time we were starving, so we tucked into huge plates of sizzling rice, chicken and cheese.

Following the Lonely Planet guide to Melbourne, we walked around the city, past a lot of theatres (I could live here), beautiful old (for Australia) buildings and colourful graffiti. We also wandered through some alleyways full of shops and cafés and even saw Woodlock (a band Sarah told us to see if we could) perform in the street.

Then, of course, it rained. So, aware of the fact that we had to drive in the morning, we headed back to the hostel and chilled out in the living room, before a ridiculously early night, interrupted by the delightful voices of two Spanish girls who were enjoying their own personal karaoke session.

Even once they were politely told “you have beautiful voices, but shut the hell up” they continued to sing, shout and giggle with their window open so that everyone could hear them.

Hardly the peaceful night we had envisioned, having had just three hours’ sleep in almost three days.

Ah well – c’est le vie.

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Moonlight becomes you

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Park life

After a well-deserved sleep and an exciting trip to the mall to buy Miss H a new rucksack, we put together yet another epic picnic for our evening’s entertainment, recommended to me by the two Welsh girls I’d met on the walking tour. We had olives, sundries tomatoes and feta stuffed peppers, plus some pumpkin and Harissa hummus, crisps and a baguette. And of course some maltesers and popcorn.

After meeting Sarah we walked to Oxford Street and hopped on the bus to the Millennium Park. Or at least we thought we did. The very helpful bus driver told us we needed to get off after two stops, but a friendly passenger said actually four would be better so we could ‘just’ walk down the road towards the park.

So, off we got and headed into the park – the very, very large park. Google Maps suggested it would take us 40 minutes to walk to the Ampitheatre, but we shrugged that off and headed across the park, ignoring the hundreds of bats circling overheard. Past a few lakes, under some trees full of very angry birds for about 20 minutes, we cursed the lack of signposts, especially when we realised that we were going the wrong way (of course!

We changed direction, back under the shrieking birds and onto the right path (marked by a statue of Charles Dickens). Suddenly we were surrounded by tiny parrots who started to follow us (or the bags of food) and got quite aggressive as we tried to run away!

Luckily we suddenly heard cheering and saw our destination. Inside we went, past some lovely ladies handing out free fake Baileys and set up camp on the grass in front of the screen, ready for the Moonlight Cinema.

The time of my life

Now I don’t go to the cinema very often, but I have to admit some of the trailers looked pretty good, especially The Book Thief with Geoffrey Rush – all of us decided to download the Kindle book later.

Shortly after the trailers, the film began and everyone was singing along to Be My Baby. The atmosphere was fantastic – mostly girls, but a few couples and some larger groups.

The first time Patrick Swayze appeared, a huge cheer went up from the crowd. This happened almost every time he appeared on screen, as well as during some classic moments: “I carried a watermelon”, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” and of course when they did the lift. There were also high pitched screams whenever and Swayze had no shirt on. I have to agree – it’s not a bad sight.

As the film ended everyone clapped and cheered. Voices hoarse from singing and shouting we walked five minutes to the bus stop. A stop that of course we could’ve got off at from the bus we were on earlier…

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