I am sitting in Flagstaff Gardens as I write this, or at least I was, writing it in my notebook. A real pen and paper: imagine that!
It’s supposed to be 32 C, but it’s cloudy and considerably cooler than it was 30 minutes ago, but that’s Melbourne in a nutshell. Away from the madness of Bourke Street, I sit on the grass in the square shaped gardens with Saturday traffic rumbling past on each side. I can hear the cars, but I am at peace. There are some Asian girls in front of me chatting in a tongue I cannot comprehend, a group of people my age to my left enjoying each other’s silence and in another patch of grass a group of men of varying nationalities kicking a ball around. One is wearing a Chelsea strip a few seasons old, with Frank Lampard on the back, and sandals on his feet.A interesting backdrop for my Saturday thoughts.
And I sit here, cross-legged, with two days left in Melbourne pondering over what I have done, wondering where I am going and reminiscing on where I have been. My blog by my standards is way overdue – is it possible that I have had so much to say, it’s become too much to write about? My family say I write posts that are far too long, so I resolved to write little and often, but that doesn’t seem to have happened at all.
I have not had the opportunity to write about my fourth, yet by far the most fun trip to Sydney; my terrifying yet fabulously rewarding sea kayaking experience in Byron Bay; what it was like to return to a much hotter cattle station and all I realised I had learned about myself as I left again; the return to a city that has the familiarity and comfort of a place that I daren’t call home; the experiences I have had dressing in my suitcase finery and posing as a mystery shopper in Melbourne; eating all day and dancing all evening at a Latin festival; my impression and ideas about Melbourne and my thoughts on my nomadic life so far.
There really is so very much to write about and seemingly little time. I do not know where the last 3 weeks have gone. I do not know where the majority of my audience is based, nor fully understand their interests or what they/you want to read. I know one of my fans will tell me to write it all, write it all Grace!
Here is my train of thought for today, sitting in Flagstaff Gardens on Saturday 24th November…
I am thinking right now about the people I have met so far on my Australian Adventure and indeed on the literal and spiritual journey I have been taking to get to this very place today.
I feel that there are people who come into our lives for a purpose – yes, this is not a very profound statement to make, but there is more to it. There are the people who are in the background, setting the scene, playing the extras if you want a film analogy. They are the people in the park with me right now, the people that serve you coffee, sit next to you on the tram, the person who brushed past you in the street. The passers-by or passengers have, in my opinion, every importance to your day.For, without them, your day has no colour or sound.
Then there are those who are placed in your life because your purpose is to teach them something – they are the student. I don’t say this because my profession is teaching, but because they will learn something from you perhaps without either of you realising. Then, and perhaps it’s arguable that these are interchangeable, but there are the people who came into your life to teach you something. Again I refer not to the didactic role of a teacher, but more the passive role you play as you learn something, very often about yourself, through something this person does or how your relationship develops.
I also strongly believe that some of these people are planted in front of you to serve you a purpose and nothing else. They are passengers who get off at the next stop and need not stay on your train for any longer than necessary. You may never see them again, but you are pleased that they sat next to you for some time. Then there are the others who will continue the journey some distance with you, maybe until the very end because they have touched your soul in a way that the others didn’t. You therefore understand the importance of holding these people close either physically, or in your heart after geographical locations separate you.
As I sit here today, in my pensive mood, I am mentally flicking through the catalogue of amazing people who have coloured this journey and created endless lists of moments to laugh, cry and wonder about. I can clearly categorise the teachers, the students and the extras in my movie. I know who is going to continue on my journey: who I’ll hold onto dearly, and who I will smile at and say a fond farewell when I depart. I also remember those who have already passed through, those who have moved on and those who are coming with me, metaphorically. I remain optimistic about who is around the corner waiting to bump into me, or who will get on my train at the next stop. And I smile wholeheartedly from deep inside at the wonderful people who I’ll be certain to meet again soon or one day in the future.
It’s sad to say goodbye, better to say see you soon and oh so wonderful to say Hello again.
Having enjoyed my jaunt over to South Australia through the Grampians in a house on wheels I very much wanted to repeat the experience going in the opposite direction. Visa granted, I was heading back to the bush for a few weeks to fill the visa-shaped hole in my bank account and because I can: enjoy getting there!
The beauty of Australia for us foreigners is perhaps its size. The sheer vastness of it means you can drive for hours then look on the map and realise you have made no progress. The frustration of this, to me at least, adds to its awe. The European concept of distance and time couldn’t be more different to that of the Australians. London is a “long way” from my house in the UK. A three hour drive! I would never just jump in the car on a whim and go there, but out in the bush you travel that far just to get to a decent supermarket!
So this time, I decided to take a campervan from Melbourne and drive to Sydney, swinging through Canberra on the way, and dropping down to the coast of southern New South Wales. This was achieved… but only just: thanks to a number of hiccups that I am not responsible for.
We arrived at the campervan place in Footscray, Melbourne. A really charming part of the city. Not. Slightly out of breath from the copious amount of luggage needed and excited to start another adventure my heart dropped out of my chest and splashed into my stomach when the manager informed me that I had cancelled my reservation. It seems too long ago now to bother with the details of the what-fors and the whys, but rest assured it was NOT my fault. Several phone calls were made and my Firm-But-Fair-I-Deserve-What-I-Paid-For voice was employed to speak to several people, some more helpful than others to resolve the situation. One of the “excuses” I was presented with was that I had called to cancel my reservation due to marital problems and the cancellation of my trip! Don’t get me started on how I responded to that one!
At 4:45pm, 7 hours after arriving, when we eventually let the handbrake off and steered out of the car park into the rush hour traffic in the 6-Berth Mercedes Sprinter, we were ridiculously happy, yet considerably weary and about at least 500km off target.
I drove until the articulated lorries overtaking me at 110kmph pissed me off more than I could muster and we started to search for a truck stop for night one. Nowhere near where we wanted to be, we pulled off the road in search of a campsite we could not find and settled for a side road just off the highway. There’s a first time for everything, and this was the first time I had “camped” on the side of a highway.
An early start the next morning to head to Canberra. Lucky I asked the nice lady in the petrol station for directions and good idea to get a second opinion in a café, and also to buy a road map. This was a sans technology route, since lack of campsite the night before had meant no electricity to charge all electrical devises we had between us. Fine by me: I grew up reading maps and asking directions and learnt to drive reading signposts.
Canberra’s arrival was much later than hoped, but then Australia is MUCH larger than most of us realise. With a shortage of time we screeched into the tourist information and told the smiling man we were just passing and probably had 30 mins to have a quick look around. The look on his face was priceless. He was visibly pained that someone would spend such little time in the capital of Australia and I felt obliged to give him a run-down of why we our schedule was so off kilter. We whizzed up to Parliament House, parked the van, ran around taking silly photos and then spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get OUT of Canberra. (They clearly don’t want you to insult them by spending such little time there, so make it impossible to get off that darn roundabout). I embarrassed myself painfully at the petrol station, twice, which I blamed on my “marital problems” – running joke of the trip.
At 8:30pm… only 4.5 hours after leaving Canberra (!) we arrived at a campsite, whose destination was changed at least 4 times en route. Our descent on the Robertson pass into Kiama was coupled with the smell of brakes as I manoeuvred our HUGE automatic, rather unhappy van down its very steep hairpin bends, complete with traffic backed up behind me.
Kiama looked pleasant enough, but exhausted and a bit pissed off, we pulled into our quite-expensive-but-we-no-longer-care campsite and raced over the barbecue area to crack open the box wine and cook a semi decent meal. Easts Beach was beautiful in the morning. The hour or so we had on the beach was well worth it before hitting the highway to Sydney.
We swooped into Wollongong, struggled to find a parking spot, but my newly developed “white-van driving” skills would make my father proud as we edged into a space. Just enough time to jump out, for a picture and some sand between the toes before again hitting Highway 1 north-bound. A few more cars with surfboards strapped on the top this time passing us, we were in full holiday mode.
Sydney greeted us with not too much traffic and a not too difficult to find drop off point with much more time to spare than my last delivery. We rolled out of the van into the Sydney heat to begin the next leg of the journey…
Monday 30th July
Weather: Beautiful sunshine!
I woke up at 6am to catch a 7.30am train express from Brisbane to Sydney. I was getting off at Casino, NSW.
My taxi driver arrived early, and I think started the meter as soon as he arrived, as I felt the charge was rather steep considering the fact that we met no traffic and sailed through all the lights.
I tried not to let that bother me, and was pleased to have time to buy breakfast and a coffee on my way to the platform. I wasn’t pleased to walk up the broken escalator, with all my luggage, and find no café on the platform and have to retrace my steps back to the entrance to buy said coffee and toast. But I tried not to let that bother me either.
In fact, my spirits were high indeed. I was getting an apparently very scenic train to stay with a relative who I had never met to spend 5 days on her small cattle stud in the heart of New South Wales north coast.
I found my seat next to a boy with headphones. Let a man much older than suitable help put my bag above and settled in for the ride. The boy with headphones didn’t seem to mind me sitting there, although he was in my window seat. Again, I let that go over my head and started on my spilt coffee and soggy toast.
As the train sidled out of Brisbane announcements were made regarding our arrival times at each destination. This seemed a bit futile since we were departing later than scheduled.
Tickets were checked, and people moved seats to make themselves more comfortable. For some reason I didn’t bother to do this and I still can’t really understand why.
The countryside was beautiful once we had got out of suburbia and into NSW. The hills were rolling in almost mountainous shapes as we swung through valleys, past farms with horses and cows grazing on the lush green pastures. This is a novelty to me, since despite the bush being relatively “green” at the moment; it is incredibly dry in comparison with where I was racing through.
The journey went relatively quickly and pleasant though it was, I was quite pleased I wasn’t going all the way to Sydney, which was another 11 hours!
Easter Weekend in Sydney…
I took myself to the “other capital” for Easter weekend. There is a certain rivalry between these two cities, and a feeling of competition as to which is cooler. I think that neither is comparable, as they are so different in lifestyle and location. Sydney – usually bathed in sunshine boasts sea, surf and one of the most iconic buildings in the world. Melbourne is less focussed on beach life and offers more culture in its detailed diversity or so goes my opinion.
This was my third time in this city, and as the last two times were 8 years ago with a different frame of mind and with another person, I was able to enjoy the city by myself and for myself entirely, which I thoroughly did.
I enjoyed the freedom of going where I wanted, when I wanted, changing my plans if I wanted, spending longer somewhere if I wanted or just sitting down and doing nothing if I wanted. It really was just what I wanted and needed.
My first evening was spent at Hard Rock Café, having dinner surrounded by some of my rock heroes and gorging on my favourite Hickory BBQ bacon cheeseburger. Doing this alone was a first, but the HRC is a place I enjoy visiting and eating in and decided I felt comfortable enough to do it alone. I was indeed the only person eating alone, but it honestly didn’t bother me in the slightest!
The next day I visited the Chinese Garden of Friendship as I hadn’t had a chance to do that last time and took a trip down memory lane by visiting Paddy’s market and China Town. I wound up in the Art Gallery of New South Wales somewhat by accident later on and enjoyed a happy hour or so pottering about enjoying European, Australian and Aboriginal art.
The botanical gardens I had done before, but were worth a second visit and some time taking in the sights of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House were necessary items on my unwritten Sydney to-do list.
The next day I made it to Manly, which I hadn’t done last time and enjoyed an afternoon with a relaxing beer, some beach time, a good walk along the Manly coastal path and a good dose of me-time. On the ferry trip back to the city I was entertained with the most spectacular storm across the bay. Fork lightning coming from left and right and reaching horizontally over the horizon. I stayed on deck as long as I could bear to watch something that used to terrify me and then knowing I didn’t exactly have a warm cosy hotel room to go back to once I had got cold and wet, I ducked back inside to enjoy it from behind my book.
I meant this entry to be a photo blog rather than descriptive, so here are my best views of Sydney.