Many a trip of mine has been booked whilst under the influence of alcohol and this one is no exception!
For several years I’ve been plotting and planning on returning to Australia to catch up with friends I met whilst I lived there, some who have emigrated since I left and a few that beat me to explore Oz. My last trip was over Christmas and New Year in 2008/2009 – I remember feeling that I needed a break, so my brother covered me whilst I snuck over to Oz for a holiday! However I remember being utterly exhausted on that trip and wishing I’d had more time and energy to catch up with more friends. So since the end of Mum’s life (and the beginning of this blog) Mum’s death and my cancer diagnosis, it’s taken a while to make the time, have the money and feel comfortable being that far away from the medics.
In the past few months I’ve explored options, looked at flights, accommodation, what to do etc but always been stymied by what seems to be increasing airline fares. True to form though a late night/early morning booking was made using the tried and tested technique of Drink&Dial Bookings – in spite of friends present telling me to think about what I was doing and perhaps to sleep on it! Yes my first thoughts the next morning (apart from ouch my head hurts) was I’m leaving for Sydney in 19 days!
A quick scramble to organise a visa, arrange accommodation and announce to friends that I’m arriving and work out the finer detail of the trip before I’m on the plane leaving on the evening of 20th March.
I’ve loved the positive response from so many friends with plots and plans to meet up in different locations. So much so that I’ve added an extra leg into my trip too!
When I lived in Australia, I flew back to the UK at least annually so the long flight didn’t seem daunting at all. Although 10 years later I wonder how I’d managed to fly it so often and go straight to work/out to party when I touched down the other side of the world! Fortunately a friend had arranged for me to be met off the plane in Singapore and to be escorted to the lounge – what a total treat it was to have a hot shower, wash my hair, freshen up and change into clean underwear.
Feeling refreshed, refuelled on fresh fruit and bubbles, I boarded the plane for the last leg into Sydney.
My arrival time was at 7am on a Friday morning and I was greeted by some glorious sunshine and two very smiley faces. Lou and Georgia had met me off the plane and drove me to my ‘temporary’ home on the Northern Shores. I think we gossiped the whole way home where a minute after arrival I disemboweled the ‘goodies’ from my rucksack. Several kilos of English chocolate, a selection of biscuits, Marmite and, of course, PG Tips teabags. I think my status as the ‘best house sitter’ went up when these were delivered.
How blessed was I that when I announced my Sydney dates, Gav & Anita told me that they were leaving for New Zealand on holiday for the first few weeks of my holiday (hopefully not because of my arrival!). Anyway they were kind enough to ask me to house sit for them…. such a hardship as their house is uber gorgeous inside and out. Anita also lent me her car for my time in Sydney on the condition that I gave Georgia her first driving lessons in it! A tough life in Sydney for me then.. uber fab house and a convertible car to drive around in!
A quick turnaround, find out how the house and car work and before the jet lag sets in, I head into Sydney on the bus.
I have an appointment with the best optician in the World, George Skoufis. Seriously, I’ve been to many opticians since returning from Australia. I have many pairs of glasses to prove it too. Sadly most of them don’t really work for me… I’ve also wondered if the constant headaches that I’ve been getting are due to my eyesight – I know I’ve checked this out in the UK already but I trust George. My eyes were tested, pictures taken of my eyeballs and my old glasses compared. Surprise surprise the prescription isn’t right for me and I leave with an order for a new pair of glasses. I am due to return however before I leave Australia as he’d like to take the eye pressure readings one more time. He’s concerned that the pressure is so high and said normally he’d refer me immediately to the ophthalmology department at the hospital but needs to ensure that the pressure hasn’t been increased because of the flights.
Just as I finish up with George, my friend Steve turned up and helps me choose the right frames. Steve now lives in Melbourne and I’m visiting him (and his family) later in the trip. Kindly he’s lent me his satnav so that I know where I’m going in Sydney and also on my Great Ocean Road road trip. Fortunately there was enough time to have a little lunch and catch up before he dropped me off to catch a bus home. I was bushed by the time I got home but I knew I had to keep going a little bit longer to beat the jet lag as soon as possible. Gav & Anita had now set off for NZ. Just time before I fell asleep for Lou and her family to pop over for some PG tips and chocolate before I took a quick hot shower and bed.
Dave, my Sydney flatmate, had told me to keep my first Saturday free for a ‘secret adventure’. My only instructions had been to bring a posh dress and a hat! Hahaha I’ve got a rucksack… Dress I can do but a hat??
I met Dave nice and early (no problem with jet lag) and we were driven out of town. All dressed in our finery (well I didn’t have a hat and foolishly was wearing a UK summer dress in the Australian summer heat!).
Dave had organised a truly Aussie day. Passes to the Directors Box at Rose Hill Racecourse for Ladies Day. You’ve got to love the races with free flowing champagne and canapés! I even won several bets so came away with the same money I’d taken – a great day all round.
I had arranged to spend Sunday with Lou and another friend, Kath, who’s living in Sydney for the year. We met in The Rocks area of Sydney, perfect in the sunshine for a wander around the markets before lunch. We had chosen a little Thai restaurant with a small balcony that overlooked the harbour. Perfect.
After lunch we wandered down toward the harbour with a quick coffee and cake stop on the top of the museum. Fabulous views and.. great cake!
Finishing off our day with a glass or two of bubbles in the Opera Bar.
Tuesday’s delicious treat was to meet up with Lou and Georgia, frocks on and ready for a splendid afternoon tea (with bubbles, of course) at the Queen Victoria Building.
Nothing better than being part of a surprise birthday party.. the other side of the world! My lovely friend Rich turned 40 on Wednesday and there was a little surprise supper party for him planned… together with the most divine Tiramisu Smash from Gelato Messina.
Thursday evening I’d planned a drink (or several) with a mixture of Sydney friends, ex-colleagues and ex-clients. Some of whom had lived here when I did and others had since migrated to Sydney from London. I figured The Opera Bar would be an easy place for everyone to meet. Everyone knows it and it’s a Thursday night – easy, right? Not so… firstly it’s Easter Thursday so no work tomorrow… ie everyone out for a cheeky drink. Secondly, it started raining so the already busy outside bar area was now crammed into the small area of shelter meaning I was impossible to spot. Annoyingly because I’d had difficulties with the Australian SIM card too (and had no WiFi on my UK mobile) I wasn’t able to get messages to everyone to say exactly where I was. I found way too many messages later from friends who’d not been able to find me in the bar ;-(
However there was a posse of people that did find me. Lots of gossip and drinks with some gorgeous colleagues from jobs I’d had in Sydney and London. A few old drinking buddies from Sydney and some more from London too. A wonderful evening and I feared a wonderful hangover on Friday too!
Friday is a super special day. Lou kindly gave me a lift to the train station and dropped me off at this sign (don’t you just love the Aussie ways!)
I got the train into town and waited for my very special friend, Colin, to arrive. Colin was the Sales Director at the company I worked with in Sydney. During my time in Sydney, Colin and I went on many business trips together and had a great bond during our working lives and since I left the company and the country. I’m always so chuffed when he makes time to meet with me when he’s visiting the UK every few years and love it when we’re able to meet in Australia.
Today we chose to eat at a restaurant on the harbourside and took these little snaps after lunch.
That’s us in the reflection!
Rich, my newly 40 year young friend, have a little penchant for bubbles – you may have noticed that I had already from this blog. Rich was keen to show me 360* Bar in Sydney Tower in Market Street and share some bubbles there. There wasn’t a bar there when I lived in Sydney and apparently it was now the place to be. Frustratingly today though they were only open to a private booking… grrrrr. Aha but then I remembered the Blu Horizon Bar in the Shangri-La. Rich had never been there so I felt like the tour guide!
It had always been the go-to place when I had friends and family visiting in Sydney… after I’d been taken there for pre-dinner drinks by a handsome man who’d flown over from the UK one Valentine.
It truly does have some spectacular views of Sydney, a wonderful selection of cocktails (try the Strawberry Cloud… or bubbles) and really is a special spot. I loved taking Mum there all those years ago and again loved showing Rich this bar too.
Easter Sunday I was spending with my old flatmate, Dave. We had decided to truly revisit some spots, including meeting up at my old home. Dave bought our apartment after I left but boy has the development expanded!
We then headed to my favourite Thai restaurant, Doy Tao in Newtown for their Volcanic Chicken. Some things remain the best no matter how many years you’re separated! (see top left of above picture).
An early Monday morning flight to Perth and a time difference meant that I still arrived at silly o’clock…. and was greeted by a grinning Jax. Jax and I were best of friends in the early 90s and did much adventuring, travelling, bubbles drinking, partying and general misbehaving together! In fact there was little of the world or Chelsea that was undiscovered by us at the time!
Now I’m pleased to see that at least one of us has become vaguely sensible!
I was due to be in Perth only a few days and Jax and her hubby kindly offered to host a party in my honour. As well as allowing me to invite my Perth friends, it also gave them an opportunity to invite their own and show off their newly acquired home. I’d forgotten how well my friends get on with Jax too… last time I visited Perth we’d all had a blast and since my departure a few had met up!
Jax also spoilt me rotten surprising me by taking a few days off work so we could spend the time together. How special to be able to do that and really truly catch up. In the mornings we took their dog to the beach for a long walk and play in the sand. Giving Mischa a runaround but also allowing long uninterrupted chat time for us. Utterly beautiful and precious times.
My final evening in Perth I had arranged for friends to meet up at the Garden Bar in Perth. So fabulous was my timing that an old Young Farmer friend from home, who now works in the mines as a fireman, was passing through Perth on this very evening!
Sad to say goodbye to Jax as she put me on my early morning Thursday flight to Melbourne – so wish we lived nearer. I had one night in Melbourne on my own and was staying in the Adina Apartments in St Kilda. With the time difference there was only a short amount of time for me to re-explore St Kilda before bed.
Friday was another early morning start and I headed back to the airport to collect the hire car and meet up with Kath, who was flying in from Sydney. We’d chosen to do part of the Great Ocean Road together… it was something I didn’t do when I was in Australia and it’d always been on my list.
Whilst waiting for Kath’s delayed flight, I organised the paperwork for the hire car. I was pleased as punch that they’d upgraded our hire car to a four wheel drive. However whilst walking through the car park, one rucksack on my back and my daypack strapped to my chest, I failed to notice the speed-hump until I tripped over it. To my horror I fell like a sack of spuds onto my front, sunglasses went flying and was then pivoted spreadeagled resting on my chest/daypack. I was mortified. Not because I felt like an idiot for not seeing the speed-hump. Nor because my knee was bloody killing me. But more because I couldn’t get up or move… I was pinned to the ground by my rucksack! Oh the shame!
Some kind young men from the car hire company helped detangle me from my rucksack and back onto my feet. They even managed it without laughing!
The good news from this episode though was that when I spotted there was no parcel shelf to hide our luggage in the car, I returned and asked for a car that would hide our stuff as we’d be doing a road trip and getting in and out of the car for walks and site-seeing… the Europcar manager was very quick to offer us a red Mercedes sporty little number! Hehe I couldn’t help ask if it was because of my ‘incident’. He shrugged and said he’d not seen a thing 😉 So Thelma & Louise set off on our trip.
Our route was along the Great Ocean Road with two nights stay along the way.
After running Kath to the airport so she can fly back to Sydney, I dropped the hire car off and returned by train to the Apartment. A few chores (washing and ironing!) and I noticed the state of the bruising on my leg. It’s most definitely more colourful.
A special evening with friends in Armadale. I first met Nik and Darius in the UK and spent many evenings dining out in London, escapes to the country and a spot of polo. Great partners in crime. Was so sad when they returned to their hometown of Melbourne but pleased to see them so settled with two magnificent children.
A bonus of spare time in Melbourne is their fabulous coffee. I’m sorry but they really really know just how to make the best coffee ever. Several visits and much time drinking fabulous coffee and people watching from DeGraves Coffee Bar.
On my final evening I was able to meet up with a new friend I’d met in Chamonix, Deb. Always a joy to meet up and have a jolly good catch up over a glass of sparkles and then some wonderful Japanese food. Great fun and we would be in so much trouble if she lived in the UK or I in Melbourne!
Early the next morning I headed out to Flinders Station to get a train out to Hurstville to see friends, Steve and Val. (More about the train station later!) All I knew about the day was that Steve had told me they’d planned my perfect day. Turns out they were right!
First stop, I got to have a cup of coffee at home and catch up with their gorgeous kids.
Next lunch… at Yering Station Winery. What a stunning location for lunch beautifully situated in a architect designed glass building with views of the surrounding vineyard. The food was exceptional. Most recommended.
A short stop in the wine vault after lunch for a little tasting session and purchase.
Next stop: Domaine Chandon. We did a short tour of the bubbles making process before a tasting of their fine fizz.
WARNING: The world is way smaller than you can possibly imagine. Remember I said earlier that I’d be returning to my visit at the train station? Well whilst I was stood on the platform I looked up to see (at a distance) a chap that looked like someone I’d met in Spain on the Walkactive Retreat. Only he travels with his wife and I couldn’t see her anywhere. Look at the picture below at the chap with a daypack on his back… no wife in view. Just then a train arrived and I didn’t get the chance to approach. I spotted his wife then stand up and join him in getting on the train. Just time to say hello and goodbye before the train sets off in the opposite direction to mine. Small world indeed.
So imagine when I heard the dulcet tones of Maureen and Jeff sampling the bubbles too…. wow a really small world!
Lastly on our adventure day out was a new venue… and where we can get our dessert. Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery.
They were right… my perfect day!
The final few days of my Australia trip was spent in Sydney. I’d extended my dates and returned to Sydney so that I’d be able to catch up with a friend, Ness, who travels for 9 months of the year and was returning to Sydney just as I was leaving. However not really a hardship as it gave me the opportunity to spend some quality evenings and daytimes with some special people.
A day with PJ and his family. Loved their new home that has been designed and built since my last visit. Great to spend time with their boys who are now so much more grown up!
Taj on the monkey bars… his first time the whole way across.
Kai on the new slide.
My old buddy, Guts, joined us for our evening meal in the local RSL. Truly Aussie!
Next stop and such a treat. The afternoon with my lovely friend, Mini and her hubby, Alex and little Daniel. Aussie barbie with more old friends in the evening.
I also had a bit of a medical day. Collected my new glasses from George Skoufis. Love them and can see again! Then a visit to the skin doctor. I don’t understand why in the UK there’s very little done to check moles and skin for melanoma yet it’s on the rise. In Australia I remember clearly dropping into the skin clinic in your lunchtime, stripping down to your underwear and standing on a podium whilst your skin is inspected by a Dr. It was just something you did every year. In about 2000 this ‘check’ picked up a dodgy mole that was removed quickly. I’ve asked at my UK doctors about a check and they don’t really understand why I’m asking or deem it necessary. As someone who is prone to moles, freckles and lumps and bumps, I’d like to know if there’s anything odd… I also can’t see my own back! So whilst in Australia I figured I’d pay for the service.
Gavin and Anita are now back from their overseas travels and I’ve moved upstairs. The house is a buzz with birthday celebrations. Little Patrick is no longer little! To celebrate, a day spent out on the boat with Gavin (captaining), Anita, Georgia, Patrick and Issy. Although to be honest Patrick spent most of his time hanging off the back on the donut or a wakeboard. Then again it was his birthday!
A short break in proceedings mid-afternoon when the girls headed home and left the boys to it… well boys and toys!
There was a short break in proceedings and a little gasp when Anita noticed that my ankle was very swollen and foot had turned a rather unwelcome black colour. Given that I was due to make the long flight home in a few days we thought it prudent to visit a Dr. So off we went. My foot didn’t hurt at all. My knee only hurt when walking up stairs and if I put any pressure on it but otherwise I was fine. I felt a little like a fraud really but I was urged to be sensible.
The Dr I saw at the medical centre was British. He took one look at the colour of my foot, ankle and knee and after hearing what had happened in Melbourne (and trying hard not to laugh at me!), suggested that I shouldn’t fly home. He talked about DVT, blood clots, bruising etc etc. Apparently the discolouration of my foot was the bruising travelling with gravity downward. He asked if I had insurance. I did. He then asked why I looked disappointed… most people would be delighted to extend their trip to Oz under insurance. So I told him we were recording with the Rock Choir in Abbey Road a few days after I returned to the UK. His eyes lit up and he confessed to it being a dream of his to record there. He sings and writes songs – who knew? He suggested my giving myself an injection on the flight home. I didn’t feel comfortable with this. He then suggested that I take regular aspirin from now until a few days after I land in the UK. I felt OK and wasn’t in pain. I could do this! He wished me luck with my knee/leg/feet but more importantly with the upcoming recording.
In the evening, I was able to thank Gavin and Anita by taking them out for dinner somewhere special. So very grateful for the use of Anita’s car in Sydney and having such a des-res to stay in. This also meant that Patrick could have some of his friends over for a barbie ‘without the parents being home’.
My final evening was all a little squishy. Ness was only able to see me on this final evening (having rescheduled) and I’d planned dinner with Lou to say thank you and farewell. So a quick drink in Manly with Ness – sadly not long enough to find out what’s really happening and then dinner at Hugos with Lou. A lovely spot and perfect for a girly evening out.
Well that’s the end of my marathon trip.
One last picture that I took. I arrived in Sydney just after Mardi Gras – love this pic
A long flight home ahead and no club lounge or shower half way round…