Oliver is…

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man

…done with Sydney

Much like you supposedly get people who sit firmly on one side of the cat vs dog debate (I’ve never had any preference, so you can tell that this is clearly a well thought out intro), I’ve been told that you get ‘Melbourne people’ and ‘Sydney people’.

The bridge again

After enjoying Melbourne for quite a few weeks, I presumed I knew which category I fell into. Most of what I’d heard beforehand had also made Melbourne out to be the nicer city, but my friend Martin visited both before me and fell in love with Sydney as soon as he got there, telling me it trumped Melbourne in so many ways.

He was wrong. He fell in love with it for one thing, and pretty much only for one thing. The Sydney Opera House.

To be fair, it is a very impressive building and definitely worth going to see. This is despite its poor planning – it was way over budget, it took much longer to build than anticipated because people weren’t quite sure how they’d get the roof to stay up and the now world-famous design had actually been rejected at first by town planners. Luckily they asked for a second opinion and what is now on postcards, placemats and other generic memorabilia was selected. It didn’t fare too well with early opinions either, and was nicknamed the New South Whale.

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While great, it’s just not enough to make the city amazing. Once I’d viewed it from all manner of angles and seen a show in it, I was surprised at how little else there was to do in Sydney.

There’s a lovely Chinese Garden of Friendship, as recommended to me by Mel. However, as complained about by Mel, the surrounding urban sprawl spoils it a bit, especially when you’re looking at bamboo, ponds and water dragons only to turn a corner and see a massive hotel with its corporate logo blazing in your face.

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There’s also quite a nice zoo — that takes a ferry trip and a cable car ride to enter — which is quite fun, and one of the nicer parts of the trip is looking back towards town and seeing Circular Quay. As with many of the places to go, it’s looking over Sydney and towards its iconic harbour that make it special.

Not including the Opera House, I did a few other things in the city centre. I watched a film on the world’s largest screen. Not content with just viewing on the third biggest (in Melbourne), I went to see Megamind in Sydney’s IMAX. Strangely, I don’t think I would’ve known that it was the world’s biggest from visiting. Melbourne was very proud that it was the world’s bronze medallist, but without my curious searches to see where trumped it, I don’t think I would’ve known just from visiting the Darling Harbour branch that it was number one in the world.

Darling Harbour also provided me with the opportunity to help build the world’s largest fan-made Lego mural (I can’t get this to load on my rubbish connection right now, but if you search for square 9823 you can find my contribution), an opportunity I gleefully accepted, and was the location of a pretty fireworks display on Australia Day.

Because I was spending time (more time than I expected thanks to the Indian Consulate) with an old friend in Sydney, I went out drinking more often than I have been. Some highlights included watching midgets wrestling, a wet T-shirt competition (I didn’t know these existed outside teen films) and tasting an Australian pint of Guinness. Absolutely bizarre. With this and my baked (boiled) potato in Melbourne, I’ve been forced to conclude that they just don’t do Ireland right over here at all.

Another iconic attraction I visited was Bondi Beach. Normally I’m a bit dubious of claims that you just have to see somewhere — surely it’s just going to be a really crowded beach? I already know what a beach is like, after all. However, it was actually really nice. The sand was lovely, the water was beautiful and the waves, more for the surfers than me, were great. Although busy, it wasn’t as heaving as I expected which was made it all the more enjoyable. Apologies to any kind friends who may have given me some bobbles before I left Edinburgh, the last remaining one was lost in the sea at Bondi.

The highlights of Sydney for me are more accurately described as highlights of New South Wales, although seeing purple when my hair was blown across my line of vision will remain a highlight of both. As well as enjoyable trips to Asquith and Sutherland, I visited the Blue Mountains and Newcastle (plus surrounding area). Interestingly, no one’s really sure why James Cook named this area New South Wales, as he doesn’t seem to have told anyone or left any clues. It’s also not clear whether he means this is a new Wales of the south, or whether it’s just a new version of the south of Wales. More confusing is that as a Yorkshireman, he doesn’t seem to have had any connections with Wales in his life (although he probably saw some whales on his travels).

Apparently I’ve been to the Blue Mountains (there is a definite blue tinge to them) before — when my family came for a holiday over here when I was 12 — but I don’t remember it and I’m told it was foggy and we didn’t see much. This time was different — despite being caught in a small thunderstorm — we had perfect views as we climbed and descended and looked and waded and stood in a waterfall and just had a great day. This trip (which we did ourselves for about $10 getting a train out to Katoomba, rather than paying some of the ridiculous tour prices to see) is one of my favourites in Australia so far.

Newcastle, on the other hand, was a little disappointing. One of my ex-dormmates said he’d seen it mentioned in a Lonely Planet list of places to see before you die (and assured me it was the New South Wales version, not the Tyneside one) but I have no idea why it’s there. It was quite nice, but it lacked any real memorable locations and had nothing that really made it stand out, which is something I would generally expect from a place on such a list. Save your money and hop over Hadrian’s Wall to see a better Newcastle.

The drive out was much better. We went through Hunter Valley, a prominent wine making region over here, and visited a winery, a cheese factory and a fudge shop. All three had splendid produce and offered free samples which was very agreeable. The only downside to this trip was the discovery of a massive spider on our hire car as we stepped out of a tourist information place. Martin reckoned it might be a huntsman, but wasn’t very sure. I thought huntsmen wanted to kill me. We jumped in the car reckoning it’d easily get blown off on the journey. It didn’t. Just to taunt us, it even moved from its cosy spot on the back number plate to crawl over the roof, down my window, across the windscreen, onto Martin’s window before going back on the roof and down to the windscreen again. Even when it was on the roof, it didn’t seem at all affected by the winds produced by a car travelling at around 100k/h. This spider had the hallmarks of a killing machine. Luckily the windscreen wipers saved us from certain death.

I did something else in Sydney, but it’s below in white because it’s probably going to give you horrible mental images. Highlight if you want to read it, but you’ve been warned.

Twice (once quite early on, once before my mad dash to pack and get a train) I visited a nudist beach. This was mainly to try to colour in my white areas(the first visit gave me a couple of odd tanned patches, the second is currently making sitting on a train quite uncomfortable) but also because I’ve had a longing to be naked in public for a while. It was started off by someone mentioning life drawing classes and I decided that if I could pose for one of them, with a room full of strangers staring at me and my bits, then I could do pretty much anything. It turns out I can’t do that because no art schools reply to speculative e-mails asking if they want a naked laddie for an evening. Not sure what I’m doing wrong.

There was no special feeling of being nude in front of, what was pretty much 100%, a bunch of other naked guys, but it was pretty ace swimming in the sea with nothing on. The view from the bay was amazing: the CBD to my left, some posh houses in front of me and some of proper Sydney to my right. Although some will disagree, this was all rather spoiled when I turned to swim back to shore to be confronted by a load of willies. Still, I’m sure my emergence from the water would teach Halle Berry a thing or two.

A lot of tour boats thought it a good addition to their itiniery to take their visitors past the beach to wave and scream at us. At first this was a bit weird, but then I figured I’m just standing around with my winky flopping about, why not give them a wave back?

According to the internet you can see naked pictures of me here (I think this is a scam, by the way, as I’m not a gymnast as claimed. You’ll probably get viruses and stuff if you follow their instructions), but if you so desire you can see spyware-free pictures from my day at the nudist beach here.

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Filed under: australia

3 Responses

  1. Jemma says:

    This is such an amazing blog post on so many levels.

  2. James says:

    I guess I should be thankful for the link.

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