30th January – Sydney, Australia

Becky’s friend Ellie kindly gave us a free promotional pass to Taronga Zoo yesterday so today we’re going to the zoo (insert song here). Unfortunately the trains aren’t running into the city from Bondi junction today so we’re forced to catch a replacement bus. Going to the zoo in the city is fun as we have to catch a ferry. All ashore and aboard another bus we are forced to wait 15 minutes. A lavish wedding fills the road, a white Rolls Royce, 2 white Lamborghinis and 6 Harley Davidsons are displayed behind the bride and groom who pose for photograph after photograph much to the dismay of the disgruntled bus passengers all too eager to get a selfie with a koala.

It was a concern of mine coming to a zoo after being lucky enough to see most of the inhabitants in their natural habitats on my world travels, and I was right. I felt so sorry for the poor creatures locked up in their pens. And as lovely as Taronga Zoo is, how it’s educating people to the harsh realities of man’s effect on the environment, and successfully breeding their animals in captivity, I left not wanting to visit any more zoos in the future.

As we leave the Sydney skies darken and downpour upon us. I am soaked in a matter of seconds, running to seek shelter from the wet, thunder and lightening at the ferry dock, Rachel had the foresight to bring an umbrella. As I stand there dripping the lady next to me says, “Excuse me? Soul and Surf?”, “pardon?”, “Soul and Surf, Kerala, India – your James aren’t you?”. Yet again I find myself thinking what a small world it is. Mel and her partner only spent 2 days with Rachel and I at the surf and yoga retreat in India. I can’t believe that she recognised me, let alone remembered my name. How very weird that we bump into them here, they are going to an evenings concert at the zoo.

Talking of small worlds tonight we have arranged to meet Emily from our India tour for a catch up, as she too arrived in Australia last Sunday. Emily is officially an International friend as we met in India, almost bumped into each other in Sri Lanka and are now to meet up in Sydney. First Rachel and I need feeding so gorge on burritos in the city before walking in the rain to Darling Harbour. The storms are worsening so we wait for the rains to decrease under the shelter of the highway along with hoards of others who too cannot believe the thunder and lightening flashing, cracking, rumbling and echoing around us.

At the Watershed bar we sit outside undercover watching the amazing light show the storms are creating in the skies above the cityscape. Thankfully the rains stop and the storms pass in time for us to leave the bar and stand harbour side for the 9 o’clock fireworks. They are so impressive.

We meet Emily and her lovely friend Emma at the Blackbird Cafe and have a really nice evening catching up, getting to know Emma, sharing stories of our travels, talking about Sydney and reminiscing about India and Sri Lanka. After a drink we walk around the harbour in search of another bar but due to my attire (shorts and trainers) and the astronomical door charges to enter the bars we decide to head home. The girls are both working at a very posh boarding school in Double Bay for the next 6 months so I’m sure our paths will cross again.

29th January – Bondi/Manly, Sydney, Australia

Today we have planned an epic walk from The Spit to Manly. We fuel ourselves with porridge and fruit and Rachel makes a packed lunch to munch during our morning’s activity. All begins with good intention, we walk to Bondi Junction, catch a train into the city, transfer to a bus that will take us over the harbour bridge to The Spit and then the rain starts spitting, and by spitting I mean chucking it down, torrential in fact. So much so that the thunder and lightening become one, with no counting of elephants in between to predict how far away it is, we are directly under the storm and it is angry. One bolt of terrifying lightening shakes the bus and us within, I would suggest that we were hit and glad I have on my rubber soled trainers, but I think it just shook the air pressure nearby and we felt the repercussions. Anyway, decision made, we are staying on the bus and going directly to Manly. Or so we think. Unfortunately our bus has other ideas. It turns out that we will be taking an hours indirect scenic tour of the northern Sydney suburbs before finally arriving at our Manly destination. On realising this we open our bag of tortilla chips and comfort eat.

It is all good though, the walk was only a small part of today’s happenings, as I’ve arranged to meet Becky, James and Finn in Manly. Luckily the horrendous storm bought Becky and Finn’s morning at the zoo to an early finish, so our dinner date becomes lunch. Rachel and I meet them, Becky’s friend Ellie, Caroline and, a little later, James at the Wharf Bar on the esplanade. We eat, drink wine and spend the afternoon catching up. So lovely to be reunited with everyone, it’s almost like being back at home on an afternoon down Cardiff Bay! Little Finn is such a cutie and runs riot. We say goodbye to Caroline and take a relaxing stroll along the beach enjoying ice creams. Becky, James and Finn walk Rachel and I to the Ferry dock (It’s not the last I’ll be seeing of them), thanking them for a lovely day.

The ferry ride back to Sydney Harbour is lovely. We sit outside on deck and watch the hundreds of sail boats gliding past, the towering Carnival Spirit cruise liner slowly approaches and passes throwing us into it’s imposing shade. Then we sail by the opera house and the harbour bridge, it’s like being in a postcard, before arriving at the port.

A bus takes us to Centennial Park where we disembark. Making our way through the park I notice flocks of birds taking to the dusky air, flying high across the grassy expanse. On closer inspection I am rather taken aback by the discovery that it isn’t birds at all but a colony of bats. Big, black bats. An abundance of big, black bats with their rubbery wings spread displaying that instantly identifiable webbing. It is spooky and disconcerting, they squeak and swoop making massive circles in the sky. Other park patrons continue to carry on with their park pleasures seemingly blissfully unaware of the horror mise en scéne engulfing the skies above us.

We find a bench under a tree and in the dim light of dusk eat our tuna sandwich lunch and chocolate tim-tams. At the moonlight outdoor cinema we poke our faces over the security barrier for a cheeky snoop before walking home.

28th January – Sydney, Australia

We walk to Bondi junction for our first yoga session since India and I have come dressed for the part in my new shorts. I even have a hair band to create a man bun for the 90 minute Bikram Hatha yoga class! I am not fully prepared for the stifling 40 degree heat that hits me in the face on entry to the studio. I lay down my mat, lay a towel on top, lay my body on top of that, close my eyes and just want to go to sleep – it is boiling in here! Then I realise that Rachel and I have positioned ourselves at the front of the class – bad move for beginners. I need to copy the other experienced yogis so quietly move to the back of the class. I’m already sweating and the class hasn’t even started yet. Cue Jan. Jan is our instructor, has got to be in her mid 70’s and is eccentric. She leads her class like a boot camp and I think I might love her. The hour and a half is hot and arduous. On several occasions I consider passing out but decide to stay in the moment and ignore the sweat dripping from absolutely every single wingle part of my entire body. We are encouraged by Jan to check our posture and positioning in the mirror but I keep getting distracted as all I see is a tomato, a perspiring tomato, that looks a bit like me. Hot, dizzy and tired I feel a great sense of achievement at the end of the class but I am unable to leave due to extreme heat overload so lay in Shavasana – corpse pose!

We treat ourselves to coffee on the walk home, on arrival I scoff a brunch of scrambled eggs and smashed avocado on toast. Energised and with a general feeling of satisfaction that I have survived my first hot yoga class, Rachel and I head into the city on the train. As soon as I spot the Sydney Harbour bridge and opera house it finally sinks in – I’m in Australia! A giant cruise ship is docked towering above the crowds of people. I follow Rachel to the harbour bridge lookout pylon. 2 of her friends who recently visited left complimentary tickets to the lookout. Inside is an informative museum telling of the history and building of the bridge. From the viewing platform we have panoramic views of the whole of Sydney. Luckily the weather is nice today so we can see for miles.
We make our way back through the dock to the famous Opera Bar to enjoy a glass of wine and take in the magnificent view of all things landmark.

If you’re going to buy yourself an early birthday present of tickets to the opera, where better in the world to do that than at the Sydney Opera House? Happy birthday me! And it also fills that awkward Valentine’s Day evening.

Rachel and I sit on the grass by the botanical gardens and watch the massive Royal Caribbean cruise ship leave Sydney Harbour. Then catch the bus to Bondi junction for a pizza with a beautiful cityscape of Sydney at night, even with an impressive fireworks display thrown in. Another brilliant day.

 

27th January – Bondi, Sydney, Australia

If yesterday was a g’day, today is a lazy day. Rachel and I clean and tidy the flat, then walk to Bondi junction. After a bit of shopping picking up the essentials we sign up for yoga classes at the Pure Bikram Yoga Centre. $39 for 30 days! – bargain. We have a Japanese dinner of ramen noodles sitting outside then do a supermarket shop before catching the bus home.

26th January – Bondi, Sydney, Australia

It’s Australia Day! Celebrating the anniversary of the British fleets arrival to Australia, but more importantly a national bank holiday. Rachel, Claudia and I, along with the hoards, are headed to Bondi Beach. Luckily for us even the sun has made an appearance. We find ourselves a spot on the beautiful white sand, slather up in factor 20 and get busy laying down to tan. The Australian sun burns, unlike the sun in Bali, I can actually feel it penetrating my skin. After a short while I have to go and cool off in the ocean. The girls make it ankle deep as the water is cold and the waves are pushy. The water is busy with people, I bob about in waist deep water, I would go deeper but I am actually a little petrified of sharks. The day before yesterday Rachel and I heard the shark alarm being tested in the bay and the fact that they even have to have a shark alarm fills me with enough fear to keep me in the shallows.

Once I’ve dried off back at our spot I take a walk in search of caffeine for the girls and I. There are lots of cafés dotted along the seafront street. Back on the beach we drink coffee, people watch, see a film crew filming Bondi Rescue and follow the tall sail boats race across the horizon.

When we’ve had enough of the sun and the busy beach the three of us stroll up the beach and along the street for take out salads and a couple of beers from the bottle shop. We find a new spot on the grassy slopes that climb up from the beach. We while away the afternoon, taking in the fabulous view of the beach and ocean. We feel like teenagers hiding our beer from the patrolling police who move anyone on caught drinking in public. A stunt plane flies high above the sea, loop-de-looping, sky rocketing, stall falling and barrel rolling. Claudia calls it a day when she realises that she has sunburn, shortly after Rachel and I take another quick dip in the sea and head home too.

We make sandwiches and sit out on the balcony until it starts to get dark, watch a movie and call it a day.

Today is a g’day!

25th January – Bondi, Sydney, Australia

I wake from 11 hours of sleep feeling refreshed. We have a lazy morning doing laundry and watching tv. After a very late porridge breakfast, eaten at lunchtime, Claudia arrives and the three of us begin our healthy mission – a walk from Bondi to Coogee.

It’s overcast today, ideal walking weather. We follow the 6 kilometre coastal path around the 6 bays of Bondi, Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly, Gordons and Coogee. Breathing in the sea air, watching the waves crash and feeling the salty spray. Chatting and laughing and generally feeling smug about doing something healthy and invigorating. We of course spoil all our hard work with a celebratory spritzer at the Coogee Bay Hotel’s bustling courtyard. On the beach front we dine on salads and souvlaki, a gastronomic delight before making the astronomical decision to retrace our footsteps and make the coastal walk back to Bondi instead of lazily catching the bus. The walk back is lovely, the clouds have lifted, the sun has set and the dream houses and desirable apartments, clustered on each bay’s headland, jostling for a sea view, have their lights on making aspirational lounge peeping much easier for us nosy passers by. A huge glowing orange moon skims the ocean’s horizon as we finally turn back into Bondi Bay. At the Bavarian bar Rachel and I try the small glasses of craft beer on the sampler menu while Claudia sips a cocktail, then we walk her to the bus stop and climb up Bondi Road and back to the apartment.

24th January – Bali/Bondi, Sydney, Australia

We board our plane at 1am and I’m asleep before we even take off. I’m reminded of my last budget flight with Air Asia when the incessant announcements begin, seriously, are they never going to stop? I manage to fall back to sleep when there’s another announcement and another and another! All pointless and annoying and repeated in another language. I’m glad when we land in Sydney just to get away from the air hostess seemingly glued to her microphone with an unhealthy love of her own voice!

Bleary eyed, sleep deprived, luggage spied, customs complied, we search for transport settling for a Bondi bus ride. Hilariously a surfer queues for our bus with a 7 foot surfboard, confirming my definitive arrival in Australia! The journey takes us on a meandering route through Sydney’s suburbs with glimpses of the cityscape coming into view as we climb the hills leading to Bondi Junction. A swift effortless change of buses and we arrive at Rachel’s abode, a tall block of flats on the cusp of the Bondi Road hill that leads down to the shore.

Laura and Keith, Rachel’s friendly housemates, welcome us in Essex accents and we collapse on the bed. We shower and change and walk down the road, I can’t help but get excited when Bondi Beach comes into view. We stand on the lookout platform to take in the scene. The beach is littered in sunbathers, people frolic in the shallows, swimmers swim and surfers impressively surf on the gigantic waves that surge then crash into the bay. We walk down to the beach front then up Hall Street stopping at La Paris Cafe for lunch, taking a table at the open windows looking out onto the street. The perfect people watching spot – and the people we spot are perfect. Everyone appears to be coming from, or going to the gym, at least that is what their toned torsos suggest, or they have a surfboard under their arm and are heading to the beach. I guiltily ram another nacho in my open mouth.

We stroll back down to the beach and around the rock pools to the north head of Bondi. We stop and watch a single surfer, way further out than most, dangerously surfing very close to the rocks. A lady sits in an evening frock meditating on the cliff top. A young couple eat a picnic on an evening date. We make our way back through north Bondi to the Ravesi’s Hotel for a well deserved wine spritzer on the bar balcony. The walk up Bondi Road hill makes us hungry so we grab a bite to eat at the Chicken Grill opposite Rachel’s flat, a very healthy wrap and salad.

At the apartment we chat with Keith, as pregnant Laura has already gone to bed. It’s not long before sleep catches up with us too. I can’t believe I’m in Australia, I don’t think it will sink in until I see the opera house or maybe a kangaroo – one or the other!