Sydney part 9 (the last bit)

Home now, and I’ve finally caught up on all my release notes, and the diary entries I wrote while I was there, so now I just have to write up the last bit.

Somewhere along the way on the Island Hopping we lost Edwardstreet and Edwardsister, who I think got sick of the rain. We did catch up with them again briefly at the Opera House, but then lost them again in the crowd. Edwardsister had given me her phone number, but either she’d given me the wrong number or I’d entered it into my phone wrong, because when I tried it, it turned out to be for a pest control company. Sherlockfan and MrFan didn’t have a phone with them either, so when I met up with KJH, Skyring and Discoverylover for dinner, we couldn’t contact any of them to let them know where we were. So the final dinner of the convention turned out to be a bit smaller than we’d planned.

It was a good night, though. We wandered around for a while in search of mythical pig-shaped buns for Discoverylover, but eventually settled on an RSL (the Australian version of an RSA). The food was nothing special, but the company was great. After dinner we parted reluctantly to go our separate ways, and the convention was over 🙁

Still, only 6 months until DC! 🙂

On Monday morning I packed up my bags and hired a locker for the day so I could wander around unencumbered. It was still a bit drizzly, but I still had books to release, and the city to explore, so I wasn’t going to let a bit of dampness stop me. I finally got to walk across the Harbour Bridge, and explored around The Rocks area, and had another look through the QVB, where they’d started putting up the Christmas decorations. Not as much fun wandering around on my own as it had been with friends, but it was still a good day, and a pleasant way to end my holiday.

The view from the bridge

Christmas decorations in the QVB

Got home to Christchurch just before midnight, totally shattered. That’s always the sign of a good holiday 🙂

Sydney part 8

Monday 25 October 2010, 9 am

I woke up this morning with the beginnings of a cough and a sore throat. Not surprising, really, after yesterday’s adventures.

The rain continued in fits and starts of drizzle all day, with an occasional downpour to break the monotony. It was still reasonably warm though (on land, at least – it was much colder out on the harbour, so I was glad to have my fleece with me), so the rain was more of an annoyance than anything else.

I met Bargainqueen, Wombles and mini-Wombles at a cafe for breakfast, then we caught the train to Circular Quay, where they headed for the Opera House for a tour, and I headed to the wharves to meet Edwardstreet, Edwardsister, Awaywithfairies, and Goodthinkingmax for an Island Hopping cruise. Newk was supposed to join us too, but never showed up, so there was much comment from Edwardstreet and Edwardsister, his drinking buddies of the night before, about the relative stamina of New Zealanders and Australians.

The Island Hopper cruise was great. It took us around three islands in the harbour which we could explore at our own pace, as the boat returned every half hour to pick up passengers and take them to the next stop. The first island, Goat Island, had displays set up about Sydney’s convict days. Guides dressed as convicts and soldiers wandered around, and there were displays of blacksmithing, 18th century medicine, and music. There was even a flogging, though we missed that.

Next was Shark Island, which was the coldest spot on the tour – an almost bare island in the middle of the harbour, the wind racing across it was icy cold and the rain never let up. There were displays of local wildlife – sea urchins and fish that divers were collecting around the wharf, various creepy crawlies (the spiders were all locked safely away in tanks, thankfully, but I did get to pat a giant cockroach (and it was giant – about the size of the palm of my hand!), which was seriously cool!), a frogmouth (a weird-looking owl-like bird), a fruit bat, a baby crocodile, and a large lizard (I think the ranger said it was a bearded dragon?) which despite the spiky look of its skin turned out to be incredibly soft to the touch.

The view from Shark Island

The last island was Clarke, where there were displays of aboriginal life. We watched displays of dancing of dancing and traditional fishing techniques (and got to taste some of the fish afterwards – very nice), tasted some of the native plants once used as food sources, and I got my face painted with ochre dots (which of course smudged when I blew my nose, and I then made the mistake of trying to wash the smudged dots off. Not a good idea, as all I had was water and a few tissues, so all I achieved was smearing the colour further, and the more I tried to clean it up the worse it got, so that I ended up looking as if I’d applied a particularly bad fake tan. It wasn’t until we got back to Circular Quay and I managed to find a bathroom with soap that I finally got all of the orange out of my face!)

Back at Circular Quay, it was our turn to stand in the queue to tour the Opera House. The free tours are only offered infrequently, so are very popular, but the staff were pretty efficient at moving people through quickly (a bit too quickly – we found out later that people who’d gone through earlier in the day got to see more than we did). It was interesting to see some of the behind the scenes, but the crowds were so big it was hard to see anything properly. I think next time I’m in Sydney I might pay to do a proper tour, which wouldn’t be quite so crowded and rushed.

Looks like the rain has eased off now, so I’ll get out and make the most of it, and finish this later.

Sydney part 7

Sunday 24 October 2010, 7.30 am

I feel like such a New Zealander. After last night’s rain (there was another downpour at 2 am heavy enough to wake me up), it’s a bit cooler today. Just a pleasant temperature for me, so I’m sitting at an outdoor table wearing a t-shirt, while all around me Sydney-types are wrapped up in jerseys and jackets 🙂

Sydney part 6

Saturday 23 October 2010, 10.30 pm

Another incredibly full day. Our first expedition was to Kings Cross, so we could corrupt mini-Wombles 🙂 Unfortunately, at 9 am there’s very little corruption to be had, so we had to settle for a “differently gendered” person in a short leopard-print skirt and knobbly knees.

After a quick look around it was time to meet the others at QVB for the release walk. We stocked up on picnic food then walked for miles through Hyde Park, past the barracks and State Library (where I got to revisit Trim the cat), down to Circular Quay and the Opera House, then back up to the Botanic Gardens where we settled down for a picnic and poetry readings in the shade of a tree occupied by dozens of fruit bats (seriously cool animals!) A highlight of the picnic was Newk high-tailing it across the park in pursuit of a Noddy train so he could release Divorce Express on it 🙂

Our leader on the release walk continued the tradition of wearing a distinctive hat

They have funny looking pigeons here!

A huge cruise ship was in harbour


After a relaxing lunch, a few of us set off for Mrs Macquaries Chair at the other end of the gardens. A lovely walk along the waterfront (during which we counted 6 separate wedding parties – it’s obviously a popular spot for photos!), but the sky was beginning to get ominously dark. About half way back across the park, thunder and lightning were rapidly followed by rain, which quickly became a downpour. We made it out of the park just as the rain reached it’s heaviest, and took shelter in a porch, where we performed experiments on passersby (people *will* accept chocolate from strangers, but not books) and gave Wombles’ Wreck This Journal bookring a good start by leaving it out in the rain. Eventually the rain eased enough that we could walk to the nearest station and catch trains to our respective accommodations, plans to visit the markets at The Rocks abandoned.

Bargainqueen and mini-Wombles on Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

The storm approaches

I decided to make use of the time to search out the book exchange shelf at the YHA (disappointingly small) and register all the books within (I always carry a stock of pre-nums for just such an eventuality), then contributed a few more pages to the journal-wrecking, before Bargainqueen came and found me because it was time to meet Wombles and mini-Wombles and go to dinner.

We’d originally planned to take the train to the restaurant where we were meeting the others, but Bargainqueen’s iphone told her it was only 2.9 km away, and that we’d just have time to walk down there. As the rain had stopped, we thought this was an excellent idea. Of course, the phone forgot to mention that the 2.9 km was all uphill (but of course, it’s Sydney – we’ve already established that *everything* is uphill!). Still, we made it in 39 minutes, only 2 minutes more than the phone’s estimate.

Dinner was at a pub that specialised in exotic (well native, really) pizzas. I ended up eating the Australian coat of arms – kangaroo on one side of the pizza and emu on the other. Imagine doing the equivalent in New Zealand (well, maybe not with our coat of arms, considering it has people on it…) – kiwi pizza, anyone?

Once again, a great night, with lots of laughter. Skyring spread out the map of the USA on the table to tempt me (yeah, like that’s hard) and gave me a couple of guidebooks with instructions to start planning. I think I’m going to America…

A few of us talked about walking across the Harbour Bridge in the dark, but the rain started again, so we might try again tomorrow night.

Amusing moment tonight – Bargainqueen and I were discussing conventions we’d been to, and realised that this is the first one we’ve both been at, which means we’ve never actually met before this weekend. Yet we’d both been under the impression that we’d known each other for ages. The power of bookcrossing strikes again!

Sydney part 5

Saturday 23 October 2010, 7.30 am

Sitting outside a little cafe having croissant and hot chocolate for breakfast – how cosmopolitan 🙂

Wombles had arranged to meet Awaywithfairies at the evil bookshop – which truly is evil – just standing outside it while we were waiting for her I somehow managed to buy a book! Bargainqueen got sucked into the evil too – and then had to dodge the camera crew filming an ad (we assumed) at the checkout, in case anyone saw it and noticed her in the background buying more books 😉

Awaywithfairies led us through what seemed like a maze of streets to Servalan’s building, where we stocked up in the handy bottlestore, then (pausing only to acquire a couple more bookcrossers, who none of us knew, but who somehow gave off a bookcrossing vibe) we were led by Servalan through an even more complex maze of lifts and long corridors to the courtyard, where she proceeded to set up a huge array of salads and nibbles to accompany a barbeque.

More and more bookcrossers arrived, and in true Australasian fashion, the few men were soon happily occupied with the cooking of sausages, while the rest of us were busy with the more important task of searching the rapidly-growing piles of books for treasures. I may have found one of two… (ok, so my bag is going to be just as heavy going home as it was coming over, despite all the books I’m releasing!)

It was a wonderful evening – as I told Servalan, probably the best convention dinner I’ve ever been to. Totally relaxed, easy food (though it was obvious she’d spent a *lot* of time pre-preparing everything!), no having to compete with loud music or worry about annoying restaurant staff by swapping seats when you spotted someone new you wanted to talk to. We could talk, and share books, and laugh, and just enjoy each others’ company. Lakelady told us about her bookcrossing novel (Crossing Paths), and I reckon she could have sold a dozen copies that night if she’d had them with her, but unfortunately the publisher couldn’t supply them except with exorbitant postage attached. But we all promised to hit Amazon at the first opportunity.

After a desert of (NZ :-p) pavlova, and exotic macaroons made by a Masterchef winner (I had one flavoured with vegemite, which worked surprisingly well), Servalan led us through another maze (involving a garage and a swimming pool this time) to a fantastic book exchange shelf, where we unloaded the leftover books, and then all ended up filling our arms again with even more books as we browsed the shelves. My bag was very heavy walking back to the hostel!

One of my noisy German roommates was in the room when I got in, and she told me she’d been kept awake by my snoring the night before. I thought about mentioning that she’d woken *me* up with her loud talking, but instead I just apologised nicely. Not much I can do about it though – it’s spring, so despite the best that antihistamines can do, my breathing isn’t going to be good.

Wombles and mini-Wombles have just arrived, so time to set off on another adventure!

Sydney part 4

Friday 22 October 2010, 11 pm

Sydney: City of Steps

Ok, it’s official – everywhere in Sydney is uphill (George Street manages to be uphill no matter which end you’re walking from, which is quite an achievement), and most of it involves steps. Lots and lots of very steep steps.

Our first expedition this morning was to Wendy’s Garden, which Wombles had heard about and wanted to find. It’s an unofficial public garden that’s kept as a very private secret by the locals. It’s not owned by the council, but was created from railway wasteland by a local woman who converted the land into an amazing terraced garden, which she still works on (we spotted her there today). To get there we took a ferry across the harbour then walked around the waterfront (we saw jellyfish in the water!) past Luna Park (which we thought about visiting, but it was too early so it wasn’t open yet) to Lavender Bay, where we climbed a huge stairway and eventually found a likely-looking path that led to the garden. A lovely place, but because it’s on a steep hillside, exploring it involved even more steps… and it was rapidly developing into a very hot day. My water bottle was empty long before we started the slog up yet another long staircase to the railway station, where we caught a train back (across the Harbour Bridge!) to the central city.

Mini-Wombles wanted to shop, so after an early lunch (and very cold drinks) that’s what we did. Mostly window shopping at first (the offerings in Cartier and Jimmy Choo’s didn’t appeal ;-)), but we still had a fun time wandering around the malls and seeing the odd sights that a big city takes for granted (two people abseiling down a building attracted a small group of spectators, a cenotaph ceremony (in aid of United Nations Day, apparently) none at all). Eventually we found Paddy’s Market, an enormous indoor market full of unfeasibly cheap souvenirs and clothing. Mini-Wombles found a few items different enough to impress her friends at home, I found a cheap hat (after walking in the sun this morning I decided a hat was a necessity for tomorrow’s release walk!) and Wombles found a bigger bag to carry her books, so we declared our shopping trip a success.

By this time (about 3 pm) our feet were suffering, so we retired to our respective hostels to rest them before we had to meet Awaywithfairies to walk to Servalan’s place. As I was walking through my hostel’s foyer, I noticed a few bookcrossing-labelled books on the table. “Aha!” I thought, “Skyring or Bargainqueen must be here!” But the labels, when I checked, showed the books were registered by a Queensland bookcrosser, who (as far as I know) isn’t coming to the convention. So they must have been here for a while.

I was noting down their BCIDs when I sensed a hug about to land. This time it was Skyring and Bargainqueen. They’d only just arrived, and were eager to explore, so I called Wombles, and she and mini-Wombles met us by the statue of Donna, a dog with an unusually strong bladder, and we wandered down to Chinatown. The street where we’d had dinner last night was filled with a street market, with all the attendant clamour and excitement. I think Bargainqueen was impressed with her introduction to Sydney 🙂

(Too tired to continue this now, so I’ll try and finish it over breakfast.)

Sydney part 3

Friday 22 October 2010, 7 am

Mini-Wombles said last night that even though she’d only been in Sydney for a few hours, it felt like about a week. I know what she means – we certainly managed to pack a lot into those few hours. (Bookcrossers: we get more done in an evening than most people do in an entire holiday!)

Wombles and mini-Wombles arrived at the hostel just after 4, and after they’d checked in an got organised we headed back to the station, where, equipped with weekly passes (even though I’m only here for 5 days, I’m sure I’ll get more than $40 worth of travel out of it, especially as it’s also valid for the ferries), we headed to Circular Quay. We wandered along the waterfront releasing books and admiring the scenery. Behind the Opera House our way was blocked by a huge group of waiters setting up for some sort of function, so we turned back and made our way back to the hostel to meet the other early arrivals (KJH, Sherlockfan and MrFan, and Edwardstreet and her sister).

They’d decided waiting for us in a pub was more convivial than a street corner, so (sneaking the very underage mini-Wombles in), we joined them there, then the 8 of us went on to Chinatown to find dinner. MrFan spotted a restaurant his son had recommended, so we decided to try there. A new experience for me – they had a tank full of live fish and lobsters you could pick your dinner from. As the prices for them started at $45 (and went up to $168 for the lobsters!!!) we decided to opt for slightly less pricey dishes. We did think of just asking the waiter to bring us a selection of dishes for the table, but he gave us a long and complicated explanation of why that was a bad idea, so in the end we just bought individually. Wombles, mini-Wombles and I shared a crab omelette, garlic prawns, and dry-fried green beans (a delicious dish we were introduced to at the Christchurch convention). Another new experience for me – fortune cookies! (Chinese restaurants in NZ never do them, for some reason.) Mine said something about me being intelligent and creative (well, of course! ;-))

After dinner, the other NZers were beginning to fade, so headed back to their apartment. I was starting to get my second (or third or fourth?) wind, and of course for the Australians it was still early, so we decided to go for a walk, and headed towards Darling Harbour. Through overconfident navigating on my part we somehow ended up walking along what may or may not have been a footpath beside a big and scary road at the back of the convention centre. Wombles saw giant rats lurking in every corner, but the highlight was coming across a vending machine that dispensed safety vests!

I couldn’t help myself from eyeing all the huge underpasses we were walking under, trying to assess their earthquake worthiness…

Eventually we found ourselves back in civilisation, in the heart of Darling Harbour – gorgeous with all the lights sparkling off the water. We walked a loop around the harbour (there’s a bridge across it, so it is possible to walk a loop) then eventually all decided we were tired enough to call an end to the day.

My roommates at the hostel are two Germans and an Asian woman. The Asian woman was asleep when I came in, and still asleep when I left this morning, whereas the Germans came in (very loudly!) at about midnight, and were out again even earlier than me this morning.

I slept a bit fitfully – maybe staying in a hostel beside the railway station wasn’t such a clever idea. It wasn’t the noise (I live beside an airport – noise doesn’t wake me up!), but the shaking – the trains pass right beside the hostel, so everything shakes as they pass, and you can imagine what my earthquake-raddled brain made of that!

Oh well, I managed to sleep in until 6 at least (6 counts as sleeping in when you’re two hours ahead of your time zone – I normally wake up at about 5 when I’m in Australia!) then went for a walk in search of breakfast, which I found in a French bakery a few blocks away. I just got a text from Wombles saying that she and mini-Wombles have just got up, so I’ll wander back to their hostel soon, and meet up with them for our day’s adventures. The actual convention events don’t start until tonight, so we’re going to spend the day exploring, releasing books (me), geocaching (Wombles), and shopping (mini-Wombles). I’m sure we’ll manage to combine all those activities into something fun!

Sydney part 2

Thursday 3.40 pm

I’d originally envisioned spending today exploring and maybe hitting a museum or art gallery. Instead, I sat in the Chinese Gardens reading until nearly 2 – still, that’s what a holiday is all about 🙂

I sat in this pavillion for a bit, until I looked up and noticed the spiders living in the lamp above my head!

Someone told me later what this lizard was, but I’ve forgotten the name – water monitor, perhaps?

Goldfish feeding frenzy!

I don’t remember seeing this last time we were here – it’s a cart made completely (except the wheels) from jade

After steamed pork buns and jasmine tea in the tea pavillion, I wandered back to the YHA to check in and sort out my books (which are now piled all over the floor – hope my roommates don’t mind!) By then it was about 3, and I’d arranged to meet Wombles at her hostel at 4, so I thought I’d better not wander too far in case I couldn’t find my way back in time. So after a shortish walk around the area (I found a wee park, but it didn’t look too promising for releases, and a few homeless people were already starting to bed down for the night on the benches, so I didn’t stay long), I’m now in the lobby of Wombles’ hostel where there’s a comfy seat where I can read my book while I wait (hey, it’s been a long while since I’ve been able to just sit and read without feeling guilty about all the other things I should be doing! …pity I have to go to another country to achieve it…)

Sydney part 1

Thursday 21 October 2010

This is a bit of an experiment. I’ve failed miserably at properly blogging trips in the past, because by the time I get home to my computer I’m usually exhausted and the last thing I want to do is sit down and try and bash words into shape. When I’m most inspired to write is while I’m actually having the adventures, when I’m thinking “I must remember to blog about this”. The obvious solution, of course, is a laptop, but I found travelling with a laptop on my world tour annoying and stressful. By the time I got the laptop out, found somewhere to plug it in, figured out which of the adaptors I’d need for the local powerpoints, and waited for it to power up, the urge to write had usually left me. And the rest of the time it was just a big heavy lump to carry around and worry about someone stealing. So, for this trip I’m going old school – I’ve got a pen and a notebook, which I’m going to attempt to write fully-formed entries in, which I can then type up when I get home (I’m a good enough typist that copy typing takes a *lot* less processing power than composing an entry from scratch!)

So, here I am in Sydney! Got up at the disgustingly early hour of 4 am so I could be at the airport by 5.30 to check in for a 7 am flight, so I feel like I’ve had a whole day already, and it’s only 10 am local time. The flight was uneventful – the most exciting thing was getting to go through the new automated customs process when I got to Sydney. They were directing any New Zealanders and Australians with the new chipped passports out of the normal customs queues to self-service kiosks where you insert your passport and answer a few questions on screen, then it spits out a ticket which you take to a special gate where your face is scanned and somehow magically matched to your passport photo. If you match, the gates open and a sign flashes “Welcome to Australia” (if you don’t match, a siren sounds and a red light flashes, and customs officials come scurrying – I know this because it happened to the person behind me in the queue).

I managed to catch the train into the city and discovered that the Railway Square YHA, advertised as being right next to Central Station, is actually a very long walk down a tunnel from it. My 20kg bag of books (actually, I think it was only about 17 kg – I forgot to look at the display when they weighed it at check-in) was feeling incredibly heavy by the time I reached the hostel!

I can’t check in until 1, but I was able to at least drop my bag off. Then it was off into the hustle and bustle of the big city. My plan was to wander around for a bit and get my bearings, then find somewhere peaceful to sit for a while and peruse the visitor guide I picked up at the airport to decide what to do with the day.

But then I saw a sign for the Chinese Gardens, which Lytteltonwitch and I discovered during the first Sydney convention (is it really 6 years ago???), and I knew exactly how I wanted to spend the next few hours. So, I’m sitting here in the gardens on a bench under a willow tree, with the sound of a waterfall behind me (and somewhere beyond that, the sounds of the city, but they somehow don’t fully intrude into the garden), with a book to read, and weird (to me) wildlife to watch, and I can already feel my mental batteries recharging.

Signs I’m in a foreign country: from where I am sitting I can see ibises perched in a tree, turtles sunning themselves of a rock, and huge lizards scuttling across the paths.

Signs I haven’t figured out yet that I’m not in Christchurch: I saw a brick building being demolished from the train and my first thought was “must be earthquake damage”. And when a train rumbled past overhead as I was walking down the tunnel to the hostel, I froze… (and wondered for a second why nobody else reacted!)

Face ache

Stupid %$#@ wisdom tooth has chosen to make its semi-annual reappearance, so for the next few days I’ll have an unusual amount of sympathy for any teething babies I encounter. It hurts!!! (And to make it worse, the pain has transferred itself to the rest of my face in a lovely generalised neuralgia – what fun!) It’s not worth taking it to a dentist (I know from experience it’ll calm down in a day or two once it’s fully emerged, and an extraction would leave me in pain for about that long anyway (and in wallet pain for a lot longer!)). Just as long as it’s better by Thursday – I really don’t want to be in pain for a 3 hour flight to Sydney!

It’s probably just my body’s way of telling me it’s about time I slowed down a bit (I’ve got the beginnings of a cold sore developing too, which is usually another good warning sign). It has been a busy and stressful few months, so I’m not surprised, really. This week *should* have been my “breathe a sigh of relief and finally relax” week, because term was supposed to end last Friday, and then I’d have a couple of quiet days at work to regroup before a holiday in Sydney. But of course the earthquake messed all that up, so now term doesn’t end until this Friday, so I’m going to have three very busy days at work this week doing all the frantic end of term stuff by Wednesday evening so that I don’t feel too guilty about the fact I won’t be here on Thursday and Friday… So I’ll probably get to Sydney and collapse!

Oh, and I’m panicking because I’ve got a huge amount of work still to do on my final assignment for my linguistics paper, which is technically due this Friday (though when I told my lecturer about Sydney she said I could have an extra week, because she didn’t want to ruin my holiday!). I was hoping to get a large chunk of it out the way this weekend, but I have to wait for my Spanish-speaking informant to email me with some more data, so I’m sitting here trying to think happy thoughts in her direction (if you’re reading this, pretty pretty pretty please email me!!!!)

So please, body, hold out for just two more weeks, then once I’ve handed in my assignment I promise I’ll rest for a bit. Really truly I will.

(Well, apart from the aftershocks, of course, which aren’t particularly restful. We’ve had a few more big ones in the last few days (the biggest was a 5.0, which would count as a significant earthquake in its own right), just when everyone was starting to think the worst was over…)

Anyway, in happier news, I’ve *almost* definitely decided to go to DC. The more I investigate costs, the more affordable it seems (it’s still going to be a ginormous chunk of money, but not debt-inducingly big), and I’ve talked to my boss about getting leave and he thought it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I haven’t gone so far as to actually book anything yet – I’m superstitiously holding that off until after Sydney. Not that I’m likely to change my mind at this point – in the last week I’ve gone from talking about “if” I go to DC to “when” 🙂 And I’m sure once I’ve sat down with Skyring and Discoverylover and a map of the USA next weekend I’ll be even more completely hooked on the idea than I am already.

Right, time to get some stuff done. If I can’t spend today writing my assignment then I should at least be spending it sorting out books for Sydney.