Published: November 30th 2010November 27th 2010
Wowza, I've been in Sydney for two months! The first two weeks here passed in a whirlwind of Gumtree searches, CV touch ups, sightseeing and catch up lunches. While the next two were a blur of introductions and inductions, sleepless nights in a noisy dorm and blisters ballooning on my toes. Then the routine and rigmarole of daily life took over and I settled into a pattern of work and wandering around my new city and hanging out with new found friends building a little expat community around myself. With the wind blowing and the drizzle clouding out the skyscrapers I could be back in Blighty!
Exploring my new neighbourhood and meeting the locals
For six weeks I have been hanging out in the hip and happening suburb of Newtown in Sydney's Inner West. The area is described as similar to Camden in London if you need a UK reference point. The throbbing artery of Newtown is King Street, a road lined with Thai restaurants, second hand bookshops, independent clothes stores, 7 elevens, op shops and cafes. In other words it has everything I could ever wish for repeated endlessly along a 2 kilometre strip. The shops and restaurants
are all housed in crumbling art deco buildings painted in pastel shades. Blank walls have been brightened up with arty grafitti advertising local businesses and competing gangs have daubed grotesque faces on garage doors rather than just scrawling their tags. (See my other blogs for pictures of some of the cool grafitti I've seen on my photo walks in the area.)
Newtown certainly attracts an eclectic mix of residents and passers through:
The thousands of students from the nearby University of Sydney hang out in chattering groups, searching for meal deals and sunbathing in the parks. Newtown is apparently the lesbian enclave of the city, certainly there are more openly affectionate women here than I see on Dorset high streets! Wannabe arty and muso types hang out in funky cafes wearing their 1950s dresses from rip off secondhand vintage boutiques while sipping their flat whites and chai lattes. I have seen three guys walking down the street with boas draped around their necks, two of them punks with the reptilian kind, the third is the drunk transvestite with dodgy gold wig and make up who hangs outside the train station begging! Waiting for the train the other day a guy
King Street Newtown
Yet another book shop!
walked past with a full face gas mask on as if it was the most normal accessory in the world for a modern, western city in peace time. These weird and wonderful characters are exactly the reason I love Newtown; you can sit outside a cafe on your own and never be bored with the stream of people to gawk at and the outfits to comment on.
Life as a hostel longtermer
Despite having an extremely comfortable bed, a personal laundry service and breakfast made for me every day, I eventually decided I had abused the Vella's wonderful hospitality long enough and dragged myself out around the suburbs of Sydney in search of a room to move in to. Now I consider myself some what of a veteran of the shared house world having moved around the UK enough times in the past six years. I've managed to complete a house hunt in one day before and never lived with anyone so weird, or anywhere so grim, I couldn't put up with it for six months. In fact I've made lifelong friends and wondered why the hell I was moving to yet another city because I'd found such
My home for the past 5 weeks
great places to live. Sydney is apparently a whole different game and I don't have the insider knowledge, or, more importantly, the income, to play ball.
The Sydney rental market is an absolute nightmare. People didn't show up to prearranged viewings, prices suddenly doubled from the adverts, single rooms became living rooms crammed with bunk beds. One house out west looked promising until we drove past the emergency services dealing with a fire bombed ATM on the high street. In desperation I started searching for hostels online and discovered that some of them do special long stay deals for people staying more than a week. These were the only places coming in anywhere near my budget, and at least in a hostel you've paid someone else to clean up after all the messy slobs you end up living with. With this in mind I resigned myself to living communally again and set off to search for the nicest one within 5km of the city centre.
So that's how I ended up spending six weeks living at Billabong Gardens. As far as location goes it was perfect for my new Inner West sojourn, being set 100 yards back from King Street,
My street in Newtown
a few steps from food, jobs, bus stops and the train station.
Unfortunately I was no longer basking in the peace and stretching space of my own room, but cramped into the coffin sized space of a bottom bunk (I am at least grateful I wasn't on the top bunk with the vertiginous climb in the dark to negotiate every night). Around me five other people lived in completely different time zones to me, crunched crisps at 2am, rolled over above me so violently I felt sea sick, snored, snivelled, smelt of cheesy socks, and slammed doors. Ear plugs became my most treasured item in my backpack. At least the dorm was ensuite so I could get my revenge by staggering back from work at midnight and waking everyone up by showering off the smell of grease and sugar.
The hostel was actually not that bad. Most of the time I had lovely roommates, some of whom have become good friends who I meet up with now we've all moved out. The place was clean and the staff were friendly. There was a pleasant, sunny courtyard with a pool and the internet worked most of the time. It was spitting
Sydney Chocolate Co.
Wish this was still in operation then I could work opposite where I live and be an even bigger fatty!
distance to my jobs and easy to get into town. I could afford the rent and there were loads of cheap food places on my doorstep.
...But if that girl rocks my bunk one more time I am going to scream!
Girl, unused to hard work after 6 months bumming around, seeks employment
Finding a job proved much easier than the house hunt. An hour spent squeezing the multitude of casual hospitality jobs I'd had as a school kid and student back on to my CV and I was ready to go job hunting - I knew all those wasted Saturday nights as a teenager spent scrubbing pots and running plates at The Virginia Ash would serve a purpose one day! Walking down King Street looking for a place to get a cup of tea and lunch, ads for waitresses and bar tenders lept out of windows at me. It took me approximately 14 minutes to complete interviews at two cafe/bars on King Street. I didn't even take the time to decide which looked best I just handed my CV into the first two I saw and got myself trial shifts the next day! Every other establishment is
Max Brenner bevarages
Yummy hot chocolates and cappacinos at the chocolate shop/bar I work at
looking for casual staff and if you can walk, talk passable English, smile and carry three plates you are in! Well a RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) certificate is pretty handy too, but luckily I'd already paid my sixty bucks to sit through six hours of lectures on how to identify if someone is intoxicated, so I could flash my certificate at anyone who cared to look.
So I have two jobs, which is quite a shock to the system after having none for six months! The first job I got is at a gourmet burger bar. The manager, staff and customers are lovely, the food is pretty good, if overpriced, the décor is funky; but the owner is an arsehole with absolutely no manners or people skills and the pay is crap! I've been meaning to quit this job since my first week but the manager is too nice to let her down and I've been too lazy to look for something else.
My second job is at Max Brenner, an Australian institution that keeps the nation's chocolate addiction sated. This place does about 16 different kinds of hot chocolate and the shelves are laden with drool-inducing deserts. I
thought it might cure my sweet tooth working here but I can't get enough of the stuff. My staff meal consists of a velvety pot of molten chocolate and a cake – or, if I'm feeling like a virtuous vitamin boost, a few strawberries to mop up the chocolate with. Needless to say my waistline is reflecting this nutritious diet that I am following and my first wage packet will be going on bigger trousers!
Waitressing isn't exactly a challenging job, (I believe I possess perhaps a couple of working brain cells and occasionally display common sense), but man I'd forgotton how physically demanding it is. By the end of the night every muscle in my body aches like I've done a six hour body pump class. My fingernails are destroyed from washing up and I have scars from being speared by fondue forks. But everyday I give thanks that I'm not sitting in a stuffy office gazing out of the window going slowly insane!
Hanging out in the great outdoors
One of the things I dreamed about when I was sitting in a stuffy office staring out the window at a wintery British car park, was that
I would be in Sydney next year going to the beach after work and on my days off. Well unfortunately the reality is not quite so sun kissed and surf drenched. It turns out the beach is quite a long way from the Inner West. And it turns out that in 2010, Australia has not been sun kissed as usual. Instead the drought ravaged country is experiencing unseasonal rain and even flooding. The reservoirs are rapidly filling and storm clouds have shadowed my path when I have made it as far as the coast. This hasn't stopped me enjoying the great outdoors whenever the sun does come out and I have a couple of hours off. The beach may be an hour's bus ride away, but there are plenty of parks to hang out in within a few minutes walk of anywhere in Sydney. The city is incredibly green and as soon as the sun comes out everyone flocks to their nearest park to sunbake and picnic. My local hangout was Victoria Park, a twenty minute stroll away. Close enough to a supermarket and bakery to grab some nibbles before selecting a shady spot to lie back and doze. The
park also boasts an outdoor pool so I've at least jumped in some chilly water for some exercise, even if it wasn't quite as glamorous as catching waves on Bondi beach.
Another favourite spot of mine in Sydney is the Chinese Friendship Gardens, an oasis next to the CBD and the tourist trap of Darling Harbour. As soon as you enter the high walls of the gardens the roar of traffic and construction dims to a muted muffle. The air is fresh with the scent of sweet flowers and you are calmed by the reflection of blue sky and fluffy clouds in the still ponds. I defy anyone to not be de-stressed by half an hour in these gardens. You can see the tops of skyscrapers all around you but the city seems miles away. Your mind and footsteps slow down and your eyes gaze gently upon interesting shaped rocks and gnarly shrubs. There are perfectly placed pagodas dotted around the gardens to shelter from the harsh sun and just pass the time or read if you're feeling particularly energetic. It is a wonderful place.
Food glorious food!
Sydney has some excellent street markets. Unfortunately most of them
are on the weekend when I am working, but I have managed to coordinate my Saturday mornings off for some browsing. The first market I was introduced to was the Everleigh Farmers Market, probably the best food market I have ever been to. About fifty stall holders take over the old carriage works between Redfern and Macdonaldtown every Saturday morning and ply their organic, home made and delicious fares. Almost every stall offers samples so you can have a good feed just wandering up and down trying out all the goodies on offer: olive oils and dukkha, yogurt and muesli, stinky cheese, spicy sausages, fresh apple juice, ice cream, cookies...the list goes on. I prefer to use these samples as a free starter before deliberating over the main course of blinis or porridge or egg and bacon butties. Such a good way to start the day!
Another good market I've wandered around on a Saturday morning is Glebe Market. Full of cheap secondhand clothes, funky jewellery, unusual trinkets, vegan iced chai and Turkish golzeme I find it very hard to keep my wallet in my bag at this market. I much prefer Glebe to Paddington Market, which is more designer
at the Farmers Market near Newtown
and expensive, and most crucially doesn't have as good food stalls!
Full days off from work have been fewer and further between than I would like, but I have managed a good few days out and about exploring more of Sydney. Most of these days have involved meeting up with friends and eating...no surprises there I'm sure! In the name of research I am sampling tea and cakes at as many cafes as possible, stealing ideas for the day I finally turn my dream of owning a tea shop into reality. As well as tea and cake we've got the ferry over to Watson's Bay to have world famous fish and chips from Doyles. Sitting on a park bench by the water - eyeing the spectacular view of the city across the harbour and being eyed by greedy seagulls - I scoffed a platter of battered fish, calamari, prawns and scallops. Not quite the British dish, and not quite as good I'm afraid to say Australia!!
Another ferry expedition took us to the Sydney Fish Markets. To see the real action here you're supposed to be touring around the markets at 6am. Hmm, that's never going to happen so
I rocked up at 3pm and had a bowl of seafood Laksa and discovered how many kinds of prawns and lobsters there are in Australia, but that they don't have smoked mackarel disappointingly.
The next chapter
So I am writing this on some distant shore, having moved on from Newtown. I am now living 10 km away in the oldest part of Sydney, The Rocks, where the first convicts sailed into Sydney and set up their homes. I promise I'm not living in a cardboard box, but my house is almost literally under the Harbour Bridge and I have a postcard perfect view of the Opera House from my front door! But more of that another day and another blog, once I have more stories and pictures to show you. For now I'm going off to explore my new surroundings!
There are more photos below