Sydney showdown.

There’s a bit of a rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. People living in each city defend them loyally, each proclaiming that one is better than the other. Of course they’re biased. And I am too. I love Melbourne, you know I do. So, Sydney had to live up to something to impress me. And well, I guess you could call my time in Sydney a bit of an adventure. It’s hard to compare to Melbourne because 1) I don’t really want to, I don’t think it’s fair and 2) I was only there for just over a week, compared to two months in Melbourne. A week is not enough time to get a real feel for a place, and certainly not enough time to really feel like you’re ‘living’ there.

So, I treated my time in Sydney as a tourist. To see the sights, to tick off some things to see and do, to meet up with people and just have a jolly good time. Now, we all know it started with an accident. The second day I was there I broke a rib falling off a bar stool.

This did impact on my time there. Mainly that I was in pain for the rest of my time there. In fact, not just pain but agony. But, I managed to do everything I wanted to do. See everything I wanted to see. Meet up with everyone I wanted to meet up with (mostly, there was one person that I didn’t because I just ran out of time, sorry Mark). All of it just took quite a bit longer though, that’s all. Oh, and just to let you know it’s really quite hard work to carry two rucksacks (combined weight of probably around 18-19kg), walk and get on and off trains, buses, trams and such with a (at the time unknown) broken rib. It’s even harder when you don’t look injured but are shuffling around, can’t walk faster than a snails pace and get out of breath going up a couple of steps. People have no idea that you’re in agony unless you tell them. I felt very self concious crossing roads as I couldn’t speed up, or if people held doors open for me, I couldn’t do the usual British thing of practically running through it. I’m not always good at asking for help so there were occasions when I had to take my rucksack on and off (like on the train) and it either took about 5 minutes or I had to do it very quickly and nearly pass out with the pain. I did learn my lesson and started to ask for help, especially putting my rucksack on and off; people are generally very nice (I should know this by now of course). Things did get a bit better after I’d been to the hospital and got some very strong painkillers which helped dull the pain a little bit.

So here’s a quick run down of Tara’s Tourist Trip of Sydney:

  • Walking around circular quay. This is where the harbour bridge and opera house are. You know, that famous harbour view. And yes, they are as impressive in real life. Especially the bridge. Although, I was a little tiny bit disappointed with the opera house. OK, when I saw it, it wasn’t bright sunshine. But, still, it was kinda yellow. Little yellow tiles. Not white. I wasn’t expecting that.

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  • Bondi. I stayed with Jason in Bondi, and so I got to briefly live the Bondi life for a while. Which, for me, was buying beer at the liquour shop, having to sort out an order at Domino’s pizza that they got wrong, eating a fry up two days running, watching the Neighbours omnibus and seeing the beach and walking to Bronte along the cliff tops in the rain. Obviously if I lived there for longer I’d be a bronzed beach babe working out on Bondi beach and drinking green smoothies all day in the sunshine at a trendy cafe a.k.a what I think the real Bondi life is like 😉
  • Botanical gardens and Hyde Park. I had a lovely wander around these green bits of the city. I do love a good walk around a park. I saw a beautiful couple in their wedding togs having some pictures taken. They were a stunning looking couple, and the groom had a wicked fedora-type hat with his suit. I probably stared quite a bit.
  • Couchsurfing. I stayed with a guy called Johahn in his apartment which was near to Darling Harbour and had a great view of the bridge from his balcony. He was great fun and took me to a couple of tasty and traveller friendly (i.e. cheap) places to eat. He also re-introduced me to An Idiot Abroad, a show that I’d watched before and hated, however we watched it again and it was much fun. I surprised myself. Maybe it was because Mr perfectly-round-headed Karl Pilkington had a friend tagging along, making it Not All About Him. I like couchsurfing. If you’ve not heard of it before, it’s a website that lets you get in contact with people who offer their spare bed/floor/couch to other travellers. It’s a way to meet other people from all around the world and learn about other cultures, exchange stories and ideas and just expand your horizons and all that. I love it because I get to meet local people and not just other travellers, I find I get a completely different travel experience. I get to see a country in a slightly different light. I’ve done it a bit in quite a few of the countries I’ve been to and loved every minute of it.

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  • Manly and the Manly ferry. I took the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. It’s the best way to see the harbour in all it’s glory, and a lovely little relaxing half an hour ride. Well, it would be if you don’t end up sitting next to an old guy who talks to you all the way (but you can’t talk back because he’s deaf and can’t hear you), and who slips racist comments into the conversation now and then. It was glorious sunshine on the ride over, which quickly turned into clouds and rain by the time I got to Manly. So all I did there was have lunch with Jo (and I also had my FIRST oyster. Surprisingly nice. I would have one again.) before she drove me up to the Northern beaches on a mini sightseeing tour. She also introduced me to Chai Lattes. Oh.Yum, yum, yum.
  • Home and Away filming. Jo took me to Palm Beach which is where they film H&A. I’ve not watched it in years but still got a little bit excited when I realised they were filming (at the SURF CLUB!!) and we could watch quite closely. We had NO idea who the actors were but I think they were probably some famous teen heart throbs in Oz. At least I like to think they were.

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  • Blue Mountains. I spent a few days here. I couldn’t really do much walking because of my rib, after only a few steps it would be agony and I’d not be able to breathe much. It was here that I had a little trip to A&E for the day, and where I found out I’d broken a rib. It actually ended up being a nice little relaxing break (the few days, not the time in A&E). I got to see the mountains and even managed a little walk in them (despite the pain). The hostel I stayed at was one of the best I’ve stayed it, just because it was so friendly and laid back, I met some great people there and it was just really homely.

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  • Wine tasting and a weekend with friends. I met up with some great girls for a weekend filled with fun, laughter, food and lots and lots of wine. I had a truly BRILLIANT time (so brilliant it warrants capitals) and have not giggled like that in ages. Which, when you’ve got a broken rib, is quite painful but I couldn’t stop.  It included airport delays and confusions, late night crispy bread, picnicking in a helicopter landing area, a pilot getting a telling off, innuendos with a wine seller, bridesmaids the film, the Australian national anthem, take out curry and an amazing breakfast. This was one great bunch of people who really helped make my last weekend in Australia a special one to remember.

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So Sydney, it was a bit of a whirlwind tour. I did the touristy bits (although I didn’t climb the bridge). I had a wander around your streets. I made it up to the Northern beaches and out to the Hunter Valley and Blue Mountains. I laughed more than I’ve laughed in a long time. I drank more than I’ve drank in a long time and broke my first bone on your soil.

You’re loud, noisy and brash. You put your best bits out there for everyone to see and admire. And admire we do. Yes, you’re pretty, and you know it. You’re a bit of a nightmare to get around. You’re so big, and your transport isn’t all joined up. But, it doesn’t matter. I’ll let you off. Your beaches are stunning and you have some of the nicest people.

I had a great time, and although Melbourne still wins for me in the ‘where could I live’ competition, I’d gladly come back and visit for a while. I didn’t even scratch your surface, but I knew I wouldn’t. One day, I’ll come back for much more.

So, until we meet again, ta-ra Sydney!

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Great Ocean Road.

Talking about Great Things, I nearly forgot to blog about the Great Ocean Road. Near Melbourne, it’s a 150 mile stretch of road to the West of Melbourne. It was built by returned soldiers and dedicated to soldiers killed in World War 1, making it the world’s largest war memorial. It’s also incredibly scenic, which is probably the main reason why people go.

There’s loads of different ways you can visit. Hire a car or a campervan, Camp along the way. Stay at hostels, B&B’s or hotels. Drive it all in one day, just stopping off every now and then, or take your time. Or take a tour. Do a google search and there’s millions of tour companies offering trips. I decided to take a two day tour with a company that my friend Moz went with about a year ago. They do the road back to front compare to a lot of tour groups, so they don’t hit all the spots at the same time as millions of other buses. Perfect for me, who’s not a huge fan of organised tours or being herded along like a sheep.

There’s not a huge amount to say about the GOR. It’s one of those things you have to do. It’s beautifully, stunningly scenic, and filled with wildlife. I saw kolas, emu’s, echidnas and roos in the wild, as well as all the funky birds in Oz (you know, the ones with the cool hairdos). If you’ve ever driven Chapman’s Peak Drive in South Africa, it reminded me of that (CPD is classed as one of the most scenic drives in the world, and I was lucky enough to do it back in 2011).

Rock formations, amazing beaches, rainforest, wildlife, the lighthouse from ‘Round the Twist’; it was all there. I think photos can show more than I can try to explain.

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I <3 Hong Kong.

Yes I liked it. Actually I loved it. A lot. There’s lots of reasons why (apart from the humidity. Let’s skip over that bit).

#1. It’s so pretty. During the day but especially at night. All the buildings, the parks, the mountains and that harbour view. Especially from the top of the Peak. Awesome.

#2. Awesome food. There are so many places to eat. Like most big cities, there is pretty much every kind of food you can imagine.

#3. It has beaches. Just over the hill from the main part of Hong Kong island or on the islands.

#4. The running scene. I saw a glimpse of the Hong Kong running scene and I liked what I saw. There are running groups, lots of people out and about running. It has trails, and pavements and running tracks to run round.

#5. There are islands. 263 of them to be precise. All of them different, all of them easy to get to and explore. Some have trails, some have buddhas, some have beaches, some have fishing villages but all have their own character.

#6. The people are lovely. Well, the ones I met are anyway. And, generally people seem to be very polite; they wait at pedestrian crossings if it’s read, even if there isn’t anything coming. No jaywalking here.

#7. There’s so much to do. Again, like any big city there’s always something going on, something to see, places to do, things to keep you occupied. And a lot of them are free! Top tip: Hong Kong History Museum is free on Wednesdays, and is really interesting. If you’re there, you should go.

#8. It’s a fairly clean city. My hostel was kept super clean, there were bins everywhere and public toilets I used were nice and decent. I even saw a dog walker pick up their dog’s crap, go and put it in the bin, then wipe the dogs bottom. Now that’s clean.

#9. Everything else. I’ve probably missed loads of things. The vibe. The atmosphere. The things you can’t describe but you know they are there. The things you can’t put your finger on but make you happy.

It’s the first place I’ve been so far that I could see myself living. Apart from the humidity. I’m not sure I could cope with that.

I was there for a week. That seemed like a long time, and was longer than I’d planned on staying there; it’s just the way the dates with the China trip had worked out. And there’s no getting away from it, Hong Kong is expensive. Especially for a backpacker on a round the world trip with a limited budget. But, I managed to find a really good hostel that was fairly cheap (just under £20 a night), in a great location and nice and clean with brilliant wifi. However, I didn’t end up staying here for the whole week. Nope, for two nights I lived it up in a 5 star hotel suite with harbour view. No, I hadn’t won the lottery or blown my budget. The Stride family who were on my China tour found out they had a spare bed in their suite and kindly invited me to stay. They treated me like one of the family and I had a wonderful couple of days with them before they went back to the UK and I stayed in Hong Kong. And a week wasn’t too long in HK. In fact, it probably wasn’t long enough. There was still so much more I could have done.

A quick recap on my Hong Kong adventures (by no means an exhaustive list, just some things I remembered to note down – there are more):

  • Going for dim sum breakfast with pensioners. It was a strange experience: 7am, a full-to-the-rafters restaurant and we were the only westerners, and the youngest by miles.  The order book was like a bingo card (perhaps we had stumbled into a breakfast bingo hall by mistake?) and some of the things we ended up eating were not what I’d class as breakfast. I’m not sure I’d eat some of them at lunch or dinner either (slimy slug-type roll thing anyone?). An experience; but one not to be repeated.
  • Seeing the light show on the harbour. At 8pm, some of the skyscrapers have a synchronised light show to music. So, not only do you get to gaze at that fabulous harbour view, but there’s some pretty lights. It’s all free, and on every night, so worth a look.
  • Running down The Peak with a headtorch. One of my favourite runs to date, with the lovely Nic and Rachel. Read more about it here.
  • Strolling around Stanley. I had a lovely day with the Stride visiting Stanley beach on Hong Kong island. We had a very British day; we took sandwiches which we ate on the pier, paddled in the sea and had a beer on the promenade.
  • Running the wrong way up an escalator. I’d never done this, but always wanted to. Forced to Egged on by Robin, I gave it a go, and pretty much got to the top. It’s harder than you think. A travelling achievement.
  • Visiting Cheung Chau. Reached only by ferry, we had a nice little walk around this little higgledy-piggledy island that is quite up and down with lots of buildings seemingly perched on top of one another, all in the same place.
  • Staring out at that view from The Peak. This was my favourite place in HK. I loved it up there. From getting the little #1 green minibus bus up (I never got the tram in the end), to looking out at that view, to walking the Peak Circle walk (more of those views), to walking down to Pok Fu Lam Reservoir and back up (to then walk back down to Central – I did a lot of walking that day), to walking up to a deserted Victoria Peak Garden, to running down the Hong Kong trail, to going back up there at night with Mike the friendly NZ guy (and meeting the odd posing Korean girl) to look at that view just one last time, I loved every single minute I spent there.
  • Getting my Thai tourist visa. I’m going to stay in Thailand longer than the 30 days you get with a standard visa-on-arrival visa, so I had to go and get a visa from the Thai Consulate in Central. It was fairly easy to figure out the address; however, it was smack bang in the middle of skyscraper city. No big deal, apart from the fact that all the buildings seem to be connected by walkways, shops, bridges and you can’t cross any of the roads on the pavements. Yep, I got a bit lost, walking through the maze that is Corporate Hong Kong. Even though they’re pretty good at signposting there, it still took me a while to figure out which walkways I needed to take to get to the right building.
  • Exploring Lantau Island. Ok, so I didn’t run up to the 85 foot high Tian Tan Buddha like The Marine suggested I did (it’s very steep; he’s a machine) but I did walk the 240 steps after getting the bus to Ngong Ping, which, in that humidity, was a challenge in itself. Photos taken and view absorbed, I hopped on another bus to a little historic fishing town called Tai O which has been there more than three centuries. This was a little gem of a place. Really teeny tiny houses, houses on stilts, lots of fish hanging up to dry and a general smell of seafood. Despite it being a busy little place, it was actually very peaceful and I walked up to a view point where you have the chance of seeing Chinese white dolphins (which can be pink or white). And see them I did; beautiful sight! Really pleased I did, and it made the trek up there (up yet more steps) worth it. Sat at the top, in the shade of the pagoda with no sounds apart from the odd bird chirping, I had a bit of a giggle out loud to myself, as I had a bit of a realisation that I’m really travelling. I’m really doing it. And that the world, Hong Kong, and everywhere is actually pretty amazing, isn’t it? How lucky I am to be seeing all these places, to be experiencing all these things. Not quite sure what I thought I’d been doing for the last 3 months but I finally got it.
  • Hanging around Hong Kong park. This little oasis, in the heart of Central Hong Kong, isn’t a big, open park, rather it’s quite small, on different levels with lots of paths, trees, plants and a small lake. It’s somewhere to go to walk or sit. There’s an aviary, vantage point and a tai chi garden. In the tai chi garden there was a memorial to healthcare workers that had died helping others in the 2003 SARS outbreak. I vaguely remembered hearing something about this in the news back then, but didn’t realise it was as epidemic and devastating as it was. And of course, it’s one of those things that is happening in another country so it’s easy to disregard. I found I was actually quite moved by the memorial. The park seemed to be the place where office workers in corporate HK go at lunchtime. I was strolling around half listening to conversations about breakdowns, spreadsheets, contacts and networking. Bleurgh. Dull. At this point I decided it was time to leave.
  • Making my own sandwiches. I got to the point of being fed up of going out to eat all the time. I know, it sounds amazing to do that but in reality it gets a bit wearing. Sometimes it’s nice to get your own food. So, as the hostel had a fridge I bought bread, ham, cucumber, museli, milk and fruit and so could make my own breakfast and sandwiches. Oh, lovely multi grain ham and cucumber sandwiches. I swear, they were the best sandwiches I had ever made. For sure.
  • Visiting the Hong Kong museum. I have to admit, this wasn’t on my itinerary. Museums aren’t usually my kind of thing. But, on my last day, a Wednesday, it was raining, I didn’t want to go too far and Mike asked me if I’d like to go along with him. Oh, and it was also free on Wednesdays. So, I did. And I’m actually really pleased I did. I learnt all about Hong Kong’s history, from the very beginning to the present day, including the 3 year Japanese occupation which I had no idea about. Always something new to learn in life.
  • Swishing about with my Octopus card. Like the oyster card in London, this is a travel card for Hong Kong which you load up with cash and can then use at on the metro, buses and trams. But, here, you can also use the card in some shops and other places. Which is very handy if you go to a supermarket and buy food and find you don’t have enough money to pay for everything. Not that that happened to me, though, oh no…
  • Not feeling so much like a tourist. This was a working city. Yes of course there were tourists, of which I was one, but there weren’t hoards of people trying to sell you shit. There were swathes of British ex-pats living here. I could have been one of them. I did live a bit of a Hong Kong life for a little bit. And I liked it.

I saw everything I wanted to see and experienced everything I wanted to. I met some great people and eventually, when it was time to move on, I found I was sad to leave. I completely underestimated Hong Kong. It’s beauty, it’s diversity, the vibe, the differences, the people. I was blown away and it’s left a imprint. A permanent one.

I only wish now I’d bought the I ❤ HK t-shirt. Because I do.

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