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Published: March 20th 2012
By the time most people read this I'll be back in the arms of my friends and family. After nearly two years on the road I'm almost home! Back when I booked my flights seven months ago I thought I'd want to extend the adventures as long as possible and planned for time in Sydney and Hong Kong to break up the journey. Now I just want to click my fingers and be there, let this emotional rollercoaster accelerate to its finale and try to bring my nerves and excitement back down to a level my body can cope with!
Arriving in Sydney was a homecoming in itself. On the train ride out to the western suburbs everything was familiar, the skyline recognisable, the names comforting. I even nearly forgot to double-take at the double-decker trains, something I've somehow never get used to. A week in my old hometown went by in a blur: catching up with friends and colleagues, searching for subtle changes to the shops on King Street, taking the ferry to Manly for drinks on the beach, and trying to repack my bag for the hundredth time. I finally saw the Blue Mountains, third time
lucky with the weather! I ate the most amazing seafood overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Rick Stein's restaurant in Mollymook. And I fulfilled another ambition and saw an opera inside the world-famous Sydney Opera House! My week in Sydney went out on a bang with a mighty thunderstorm which kept me awake all night and convinced me my journey to the airport would be chaos – luckily Sydney is getting used to her crazy weather now and everything ran smoothly.
And so briefly to Hong Kong, a skyscraper shaped segue between my antipodean adventures and my return to the Mother-land. If nothing else, three days in Hong Kong has taught me I would struggle in China. After 45 minutes being bumped around in the immigration line, sandwiched between Chinese families with terrible haliotosis, no volume control and zero sense of personal space, I was ready to turn around and get straight back on the plane direct to London. Thankfully privacy and rest awaited me in my funky chicken-themed hotel room, and I awoke better prepared to take on this bustling city. I think if I'd come from months on the beaches of S.E. Asia, Hong Kong would
My funky chicken themed hotel room
Hop Inn on Carnarvon, I definitely recommend it if anyone's looking for somewhere safe, clean, friendly, central and fairly cheap.
be amazing, or maybe it would be totally overwhelming. Instead I arrived on my way home with a bulging suitcase already half a kilo over weight and having been fed so well in Sydney I was almost bursting myself! M&S was incredibly exciting in Kuala Lumpur when I hadn't bought a new bra in 18 months; it is less exciting when next week I know I can go to their factory outlet and find everything half price. The clean and efficient transport system was pleasant, but not remarkable. It was much easier to find Western fast food than authentic Asian food stalls. Not to dig Hong Kong too much though, it's an exciting metropolis heaving with people and bright lights, just a case of right city, wrong time. Sorry HK, it's not you, it's me!
So before me and HK go our separate ways, I did actually explore the city and discover her charms. One of my favourite places was the Boulevard of Stars, not for looking down at the handprints of local actresses, but for looking up at the incredible skyline. There are not many places in the world with a view like that, and it
just gets better at night! The light and sound show wasn't much more amazing than the regular night scene, because just seeing all those buildings lit up in bright colours is incredible, without them flashing away to tinny music. The skyscrapers just go on and on. Most cities have a token tower or two in their CBD, a handful to prove their credentials as an important conurbation. But in Hong Kong the skyscrapers stretch as far as the eye can see, and then keep on going beyond that. They clamber up the steep hillsides and cluster along the waterfront, a veritable forest of flats and office blocks, competing with the real forest clinging to remnants of unbuilt islands in the harbour. The views are remarkable wherever you are in the city: from the lower deck of the Star Ferry as it chugs across the grey harbour waters, from between the trees as the tram hauls you up the near vertical slopes of Victoria Peak, straining your neck up from the outdoor escalators conveying weary tourists up to the Soho bars.
Unfortunately the views are not guaranteed and I was lucky to do most of my sightseeing on
my first day here. After that the cloud, mist and smog rolled in and the harbourfront became a less than remarkable uniform hazy grey. I turned to less conventional attractions to fill my day. Luckily I had planned ahead and spotted on the map a must see attraction for me – the Museum of Teaware! This turned out to be even better than I expected, full of exhibits from a competition for local potters to create the most weird and wonderful tea sets. I also learned that across China there are innumerable ways to brew a cuppa. Far from just pouring hot water on a tea bag, the tea making ceremony can involve rinsing the leaves, whisking, de-frothing, adding the ingredients for a stir fry, and other methods not recommended on the back of your average box of Tetleys.
After learning everything there is to know about tea, I joined the hoards of camera-toting Chinese at the Hong Kong Flower Show to photograph some flowers. Chelsea it was not, but there were some intriguing displays here! Who would have thought of making flower sculptures of Easter Island faces, purple penguins, dragons, and hula dancing fruit?! The locals
and Chinese love it and it was almost impossible to get a photo without them posing in front of the displays. More flowers awaited me as I strolled along the aptly named 'Flower Market Road'. Nearby was the Bird Market and a street lined with pet shops. If you live in a tiny flat squashed into a skyscraper there isn't much space to swing a cat, so Hong Kongers favour goldfish and caged birds.
What Hong Kong is really famous for is SHOPPING. Unusually for me, I wasn't really in the mood for it. I visited the Temple Street Night Market and the Ladies Market and was uninspired by the mass produced souveniers and fake handbags on display. At least the 'Made in China' labels are less disappointing here than in other countries. The sterilised malls were full of Rolex and Calvin Klein, and, bizarrely, several branches of Clark's shoes, with prices no different to stores in Europe. On the plus side, these malls were temperature regulated and had free wifi, a positive sanctuary from the crowded, humid streets outside.
My other refuge has been Hong Kong's parks. Step off the pavement onto the
grass and it's like a magic switch has been pressed, the traffic sounds are suddenly drowned out by vibrant bird song. The city's feathered inhabitants are obviously better aware than me of the sanctuary these parks offer and cluster there in flocks. Unfortunately Hong Kong's obsession with caging birds is evident even in these open spaces, with huge aviarys in most of the parks.There are still a few wild birds around, curiously peering into the cages and singing to their enclosed cousins.
And so the time has come, I must collect my bags, jump on the airport bus and squeeze into a sardine tin for 12 hours of stale air, cricked necks, complimentary booze and back-to -back movies. Great Britain here I come!!!
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