1. Arrival in Sydney

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The final family farewell

Overwhelmed with an impulsive, nervous excitement and feeling like an emotional, sentimental wreck after waving goodbye to my life in England for a year, I touched down in Sydney airport on the 1st June. I had signed my resignation letter to the secondary school I worked, had the usual ‘sorry you’re leaving’ shindig, packed a few essentials into an oversized Northface backpack, notified the bank, cancelled some direct debits and a gym membership of which I never saw full use (you know, the usual must-do’s before you throw yourself below the equator), squeezed my morbidly obese cat in a crushing goodbye hug (I was the one that was crushed) said a fond farewell to friends and family, and without hesitation, hopped onto a long awaited flight to Australia. It was only after the 25 hour ordeal that left me so disorientated, I was practically dead, (I don’t exaggerate), that I thought oh God I’m really doing this… I’m on the other side of the world now, and thousands of miles away from my mum’s home cooked dinners and that heavenly double bed…

 But I was instantly comforted the moment I saw my boyfriend Matt standing there at the arrivals gate clutching a koala cuddly. We had met through a friend at a party a couple of years prior to this, and after little persuasion (“you should come to Australia”), I had booked a flight and decided to chase him out on his travels. It was set to be an impulsive, life-changing move, but one I could not resist.

Crippled with exhaustion and a little confused as to where I actually was, Matt led me to the train station an hour or so after arriving in Sydney. It was night time and rush hour; the trains were like hives, buzzing with swarms of commuters. I was determined to maintain a comprehensible conversation with Matty despite the jet lag, just to reassure him that I was excited to see him again after four months… but really, the only thing I could envision at that moment in time was the tantalising image of a double bed waiting for me at the hotel, all ready to induce me into a coma for the next 24 hours. At that moment, a train rumbled into sight. Mouth wide open, I gawped in disbelief as an all-mighty double decker screeched up on the tracks in front of us. A double decker train?! Had we just travelled a few decades ahead?! (I was soon to find out that unlike Sydney transport, Australia is pretty much backwards with everything else – for God sake, they still have a Blockbuster!) Like an excited child, I hopped on and bounded up the steps to sit on the top deck. I bought an Opal card (a bit like an Oyster card for the London Underground stations) just to feel truly part of Sydney civilisation. We rattled into Sydney city centre a while later, and made a beeline towards the Park Regis hotel. The city was glittering with light from the tall cosmopolitan skyscrapers and elegant street lamps dotted around the various parks. The blast of car horns and screeching traffic was sonorous on the air as we sauntered through Hyde Park. I was surprised to see that the park had become an athletic haven and I began to doubt whether gyms even existed in Sydney. There were scheduled fitness classes on the grass, ample joggers breaking a sweat on the guided paths, others using the water fountain to stretch (and probably refill their sport bottles); the park was practically glowing with lycra. 

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Sydney Harbour Bridge during the Vivid Light Show

After we reached the hotel and settled in (i.e dropped the colossal backpack on the floor and scoffed the chocs on the pillows), we ventured to the hotel roof top. It was breathtaking. Sydney was illuminated with light bursting from the grand scale installations built for the laser light show called Vivid. It is a annual festival that celebrates the wonders and power of light, music and art. It runs for a good couple of weeks so I was fortunate enough to see Sydney at its most radiant. Suddenly, I was wide awake and keen to see more of this beautiful, resplendent city.

The rain found us; I had packed the British gloom. But I was in Australia – down under but on an emotional high so no amount of rain could have dampened my spirits. Matty and I walked briskly to Darling Harbour in the chilly drizzle, all to sample some of the Australian cuisine.. (no crocodiles or kangaroo on the menu for me that night). For anyone travelling down under, or anyone who has an unhealthy love affair with fish and sushi like I do, head to Sydney. The city is wriggling with fresh fish served in every food joint you find. There must be at least one sushi restaurant for every two Australians; I was half expecting to turn a corner and find a street carpeted in spicy tuna rolls spilling out from all the shops. My favourite fish is the glorious Barramundi. Intrigued and curious with this new delicacy, I ordered it that night at Darling Harbour, ignoring the raised eyebrows from the waitress after asking what it was. I soon discovered it was a simple white fish, much like sea bass but with more succulence and flavour. Complemented by a colourful assortment of fresh roasted courgettes (known as zucchinis here), sweet peppers (known as capsicums), and creamy avocado, it took the title as my favourite meal in Australia… and it was only the first night.

While splurging out on a few celebratory cocktails, we became locked in conversation with three men from Brisbane. We had noticed that many Australians in Sydney were wearing blue rugby league shirts, but these three men were dressed in maroon colours. They explained that Queensland were celebrating their victory in an annual sporting event known as the State of Origin. This comprises three rugby league games between Queensland and New South Wales (two states in east Australia; Sydney is part of NSW). We soon realised that Sydney, having just been defeated, deflated and flooded by the pouring rain was really the wrong place to be.

The following morning, the rain cleared so we meandered through the Royal Botanical Gardens. Here I had my first encounter with Australian wildlife; a strange, knobby-kneed, tall, black and white bird. It skulked around in front of me as I frantically tried to snap photos of it. Poor Matt trailed along in my wake and became increasingly irritated that I was so fascinated by a bird that was as common as a pigeon (the bird was called an Ibis). Speaking of which, Australian wildlife is so wild that even the pigeons here are different. Bearing many of the same features as your average grey dove, Australian pigeons are… well… cool; they have bloody Mohicans, little spikes at the tops of their heads giving them the distinct impression as they coo and cluck, that they have ‘attitude.’ This only leaves me to speculate that they must have rebelled against their pigeon ancestors a long time ago and flocked to Australia with the other convicts.

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Matty and I enjoying our first cocktails at the harbour

After ambling around the city for the best part of the morning, Matty then led me to the iconic Sydney Opera House. The sheer size of it alone was staggering, and certainly something that can only be appreciated when you see it up close. We perched on the water front of the harbour, gazing out at the infamous Sydney Harbour Bridge and watching as a grand cruise liner drifted on by. We ordered more cocktails (do not be fooled into thinking we had the money to do this; we both realised after a week in Sydney that we had almost drained our banks dry with our ‘just one little cocktail can’t hurt’ thought process… Sydney is too damn expensive.) After accepting defeat from a flock of angry seagulls at the water front, we left the beautiful opera house and wandered around Circular Quay and then onto the Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney. As night fell and darkness descended, the lights from Vivid festival burst into life. The city was ablaze with a spectacular display of bright innovation and ingenuity. Matty and I watched as the roof of the Opera House became a illuminative canvas of Aboriginal art; somewhere in the distance, a projector was reflecting the bright tribal patterns onto the opera house for all of Sydney to marvel at.  If you are travelling to Australia during the winter months, do not forget to flutter like moths to the Vivid laser light show between the end of May and beginning of June; it will certainly warm and inspire you.

The final few days in Sydney were spent in a suburb called Jannali. Matt has family friends that kindly invited us to stay with them. It was there that I finally became acquainted with Jenny, Matt’s cheeky, troublesome and loveable Land Rover. This was she: the beauty and the beast that would carry us on two unforgettable adventures along the East coast and through the outback to Adelaide. She was soon to be our most loyal, our most loved and equally, our most difficult companion.

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