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Published: June 30th 2013
On March 13th, exactly three months after leaving Heathrow, we waited in Singapore Airport, eagerly anticipating the arrival our new accomplice, Sarah Rook, who would be joining us for our final three months in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand. As she walked through her arrivals gate and was suffocated by three very excited girls, our stint in Asia truly ended and we stepped on board our overnight plane to Melbourne, happily carrying its memories with us and overly excited at what would await on the other side.
I wouldn't like to use the word 'unlucky' because it probably has much more to do with a lack of research or common sense than any sort of higher power acting upon us, but we do manage to find ourselves in some rather sticky situations......We arrived in Melbourne and all seemed well; we walked along the river getting our bearings and breathing in what felt like the cleanest air after months of stifling humidity and profuse sweating. After celebrating our arrival with some bubbly in Federation Square we checked into into the room that we had booked for our first night at Urban Central Backpackers. "Great
," we thought "let's go and ask to
stay over the weekend too"....Unfortunately, as we realised an hour later, frantically scouring the web for some form of dwelling under $1000, we had managed to arrive in Melbourne on the Thursday afternoon before Grand Prix weekend and not only was everything triple the price but more worryingly, there was not it seemed, a single room left in the whole city.
And so it came about, that the following afternoon we got onto a train, laden with backpacks and headed to Gateway on Monash
, a strange hotel in an odd suburb called Clayton. It was clearly not a place frequented by backpackers very often as was made clear to us by an anonymous commuter with "What the hell are four English girls doing visiting Clayton??!!!"
and a wobbly of expression of both horror and confusion. The taxi ride involved a driver with a rather excessive bodily odour problem that has etched itself into my memory but once we arrived, our rooms were actually very nice (private jacuzzi bath anyone???). Perhaps a little (a lot) out of our price range but it was this or sleep in a cardboard box under a bridge and we felt that this might not
commence the best start to our time in Australia. Clayton was a strange place but certainly not unpleasant and in true Aussie backpacker style, we spent our first night in the bath sharing a refreshing cup of goon.
I made my way back to the airport early the following morning to welcome our fifth and final memeber, Sammy B into Melbourne arrivals and this time he would be joining us not for four days but for nearly eight weeks, travelling all the way up the east coast with us to Cairns. His birthday was the following day so on Saturday night, of course, we made our way to Chapel Street to take in our first hit of Aussie nightlife. I will say it once and then dwell on it no longer but......Australia is EXPENSIVE!!!!!This was not unexpected of course, as friends along the way had continuously reminded us, one in particular stating in horror "You guys are gonna die out there!!!!!"...
a little excessive perhaps. Our first night out in Melbourne proved him absolutely correct but we had an amazing time in 'Blue Bar'
nightclub celebrating everyones arrival and discovering the many dangers of taking your bank card
out with you whilst under the influence. A very hungover Sunday was spent watching the Grand Prix on a big screen by the river in Melbourne Central and on Monday, after our detour the Clayton, we made our way back to South Yarra, checkd into St. Arnauld Hostel
(a strong favourite) and spent the afternoon soaking up some sun in the Botanical Gardens.
Arriving in Australia's autumn, there seemed to be a pattern of cloudy mornings followed by sun filled afternoons which gave us the perfect opportunity during our week, to head down to St. Kilda beach on the city tram and sample our first taste of glorious Aussie sunshine. With the Grand Prix having just finished in Albert Park, we took a detour through it on our way home and wandered alongside the track, watching the flocks of early evening runners and cyclists parading past us. Melbourne was without doubt the most exercise concious city that I have ever visited and compared to Vietnam where walking through the park, flailing your arms about your head was considered a hardcore daily workout, the Melbourne folk took things very seriously, seemingly heading out for a sprint before work, again on
lunchbreak and once more before bed. In a moment of ludicrous inspiration by this heavy regard for one's physical health, I rather fancied myself as a lithe athlete and dragged Sam along on what was to be my first and last run of the entire trip. On our final evening in Melbourne we headed out to meet up with some friends that we had met dancing on the beach all the way back in Koh Phi Phi and hit a few bars in central Melbourne and Federation Square. Finding ourselves homeless the following day, myself and Sam took a stroll to the ICC and just kept walking, Forrest Gump style, covering around 15km all the way from central Melbourne to Chapel Street and down to St. Kilda, wearing ourselves out sufficiently for our first overnight Greyhound bus up to Sydney.
As incredibly eye-opening and thrilling as Asia had been, there were absolutely no guarantees on where the day would end up and we left Melbourne refreshed, at least for the first few weeks anyway, that life in Australia would be a little more organised and a little less unpredictable. It was extremely novel at this point for buses to
be on time, food to not make you vomit and you could fall asleep without the fear that cockroaches might crawl into your mouth while you were out. With this in mind, it was much less likely that we would be jumping off of buses into crowds of shouting men luring us into their hostels with promises of the cheapest price in town, so 'hostelbookers.com' became our new friend and in a newly organised fashion, we booked our first few nights ahead of time. The only downside of this process, as we found out arriving at Chili Blue
hostel in King's Cross, is that pictures can be extremely deceiving. That comment I made before about the cockroaches....disregard it COMPLETELY. They were under the pillows, in the showers, in the toilets, on the ceilings, and you would be lucky not to crunch down on one which had crawled into your dinner. Its not in my usual style to shame these places but between the roaches and the douchebag at reception, its worth a warning not to make a stop here on your travels.
Sydney itself however, could not have been better. We left Melbourne considering it an unmatchable energetic hub
of activity so arriving in Sydney to find even more things to stimulate our ever-increasing search for adventure, resulted in lust at first sight and not once in twelve days did we find ourselves bored with each other. Staying in the centre of Kings Cross, our first port of call was stroll through the Botanic Gardens directing us through to Circular Quay where, from nowhere, appeared the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, around which a bustling harbour, laden with restaurants, cafés and bars went about its daily lunchtime routine.
Kings Cross was described by a number of different sources as both the centre of the red light district and simultaneously a fun-clad assembly of significant clubs and bars so on our first evening we headed to check out this irregularly presented hype. It was indeed exactly as described; an odd and vastly contrasting array of people passing us by as we sat in the doorway of a dingy bar, wedged between neon doorways advertising 'hot, naked girls'. The most fascinating part of this was observing the prostitutes, their pimps and their drug dealers working the evening shift amongst a sea of tipsy travellers, Sydneysiders and one particular dog
in a cowboy hat begging for money. Definitely a place not lacking in character or diversity but equally applaudable in its lack of conflict, violence or judgement.
Having moved on from the slightly unpredictable Melbourne weather, Sydney seemed to be experiencing something of a heatwave which was perfect therefore, for a trip to Bondi Beach the following day. An imfamously appealing beach, made more beautiful by the throngs of surfers and how much it felt reminiscent of home, the Saturday sunshine ensuring that it was alive with locals and backpackers alike. We spent the following few days exploring Sydney on foot, strolling through food markets in The Rocks, watching some first class street performers working the crowds in Darling Harbour and on Tuesday, laden with a picnic, we took an early ferry from Circular Quay over to Manly for a day on what was to be my favourite of Sydney's beaches. After a glorious afternoon lazing in the sunshine, we stopped to share a bottle of wine before before catching the ferry back, the early evening air cooling and growing darker as we pulled away from the harbour. Turning the corner and stood in a stunned silence, we were
hit with a spectacular view of the sun setting behind the Central Business District, capturing a silhoutted image of the harbour bridge and opera house before us to finish off what had been a perfect day. There was only so long that we felt we could stay at Chili Blue
before just looking to see if we could find anything a little cleaner nearby and perhaps not surprisingly, we stumbled across a friendly, pest-free hostel on our doorstep called Eva's
with a rooftop terrace overlooking central Sydney and welcoming staff and guests alike. Rook donned her climbing gear and we watched enviously from the Botanic Gardens as she climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, capturing unrivalled views across Sydney at sunset and to finish off the week we once again fled to Bondi, taking in the beautiful bays and surfers along the stunning coastline walk to Coogee.
Easter weekend at home is probably one of the most 'sociable' of the year and Sydney obviously followed the same rulebook knowing that we wouldn't want to miss out. Saturday evening began at our hostel sharing some extremely potent vodka (provided to us by German Freddie) with a new friend Adam, before making
our way to 'The Ivy'
on George Street for PACHA!!!! Definitely one of the best nights out so far, dancers dangled themselves from the ceiling, the music was incredible and Sam spent his evening terrorising an innocent group of Asian girls with his own special variation of moves which could only be described as 'The Marching Robot'. Sunday was by no means a day of rest or rejuvination as myself, Rook and Jess headed once again into central Sydney to meet two friends in 'Broadway Bar'
before coming back to Kings Cross to end the Easter festivities where it had all begun.
On Tuesday evening, we sadly waved goodbye to Eva's
and fled the cities, making an overnight greyhound trip up to backpacker hotspot, Byron Bay. Sydney was without doubt one of my favourite stops of the whole trip. I loved the atmosphere; a huge city buzzing with business, commerce and growth, which has simultaneously retained a blanket of calm, devoid of chaos or urgency. Sydney has got itself something extremely special and I was sold without question.
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