Monday, January 29, 2007

Sydney's best party...

Australia Day cocktails with Dani

Well another week has flown by in a haze of work, drinks, dancing, dvds and sunshine.

To be honest the days are rolling into one another right now. I'm enjoying being in a work routine but it is tiring. But who can complain when they catch a ferry to and from work in the sunshine everyday?

The last week has included a party at the hostel, a night out dancing at The Steyne (has to have been a Wednesday), a barbecue (where else but Shelley Beach) and delicious Thai food which made me homesick, would you believe, for that crazy country. Or as my buddy Paul calls it, the land of thighs.

Friday was Australia Day - a national holiday to celebrate everything good about the country. There were parties everywhere, barbecue breakfasts on the beach and crazy activities such as thong throwing (that's flip flops to us) contests,a record attempt to get the most people on inflatables in a line (inflatable thongs no less) and all sorts of other crazy stuff.

Being a rare day off, we spent the morning in bed and then wandered to meet Steve, who was patrolling the beach on life saving duty, before lunch at Emily's cafe. As it was her boss's birthday the employees and friends were having a sing song in the courtyard outside. A chap with a keyboard, another with a guitar, some awesome singers and songs from Crowded House to The Beatles to Norah Jones and Counting Crows - it was a lot of fun.

Dani and I then went for summer cocktails at a funky new bar a couple of doors away - lychees, elderflower and gin - yum!

The real peak of the week was Sunday - my housemate Emily's 20th. She's Swedish and it is their equivalent of our 21st birthday.

We woke up and bought fresh croissants and french bread from the bakery and ate them with cream cheese and sweet chilli sauce, drinking lattes and bellinis, wearing paper hats made by Danielle and having a dance in the sunny living room.

Then Dani arrived, followed shortly by the Kiwis - Kylie, Anneka and Chrissy, who had brought a penis-shaped chocolate cake. It was complete with licorice public hair, a piercing and sweets in the shape of lips and teeth!

After a few more drinks, we piled into cabs to take us to Greenwood Hotel where Sounds on Sunday is held. We went to a party here on Boxing Day and this was another massive event - Ministry of Sounds tour and Kid Kenobi playing a live set.

We arrived massively early (just after 2pm) as we didn't have tickets, met a load of other friends from the hostel and sat in the sun listening to wicked music, chatting and drinking wine.

Later it picked up and we danced the afternoon away in a courtyard surrounded by skyscrapers of North Sydney. Man they looked amazing all lit up against the night sky (when rather intoxicated of course). It was an awesome night that ended way too soon so we hopped in a ca back to Manly and made a (short-lived) trip to Ceruti's bar. Work was pretty hard on Monday!

Norway and France do the Blue Brothers at Sounds on Sunday

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bushfires, 40C and fine wine

So we decide to go wine tasting in the Hunter Valley this weekend - on the hottest day this summer. And yes we did get caught up in the bushfires...

Hunter Valley is like the desert. Seriously. Hot, dry, brown and with little shade anywhere. So probably not the smartest idea when it is pushing 40C in Sydney. In Hunter it was clearly over that.

Still we had a lovely day on Sunday. Took us a while to get going (not my fault for a change), picking up people in the van - which has now been named Bruce the bus - and all squeezing in. It was the same group as last week - Michelle, Paul, Dani, Taz, Danielle and Tom plus Michelle's two Irish friends Jan and Karen.

So off we went with the windows down and system up. But with just pure hot air blowing through - it was a sticky but scenic ride over the Hawkesbury River and north to Hunter Valley which is near Newcastle.

We arrived just after midday and headed straight for Peterson's House - the sparkling wine kingdom of Hunter Valley. We'd had some recommendations for where to visit from some friends at work so we had a few places to aim for out of the hundreds of wineries dotted around the valley.

The sparkling wine here was delicious - the house 'gateway' sparkling (just $17.50 - seven quid) was lovely and light and refreshing and they some lovely sparkling reds too. The sparkling Merlot was great - sadly you can only buy these from the cellar door.

Then it was on through the vineyard-covered valley - with views of Mount Sugarloaf and the Watagan Mountains around us - to Hungerford Hill (not so impressed though nice building), Tempus Two (pretty posh and bit snotty - pics below), Brokenwood, Lindemans as well as McGuigans cheeses and a small producers place for tasty olives, cheeses, pates, olive oils and preserves... it was pretty heavenly. Even if it was bloody hot.

Rather hilariously (for us), Paul and Michelle had decided, for some unknown reason, not to wear shoes. This meant they had to hop skip and jump from the van across boiling tarmac and red-hot gravel to the coolness of the wineries.

We weren't overly impressed by the quality of the wines - apart from the sparklies at Petersons and some of the very expensive ones - or by the attitude of some of the staff at the cellar doors. Clearly they took one look at us and thought - stingy travellers.

As my friend Dani noted on her MySpace blog, people here can seem very friendly on the one hand, but incredibly narrow-minded on the other. There can be quite racist attitudes here and there is way more conformity to dress styles and the way of life.

People dress fashionably in town but few seem to go out of their way to wear anything unusual - there may be a hint of hippy clothes but it will be hippy chic, there may be an element of gothic but it will be in smoky eye make-up than an expression through clothes or stark make-up. In short, Sydney can seem a little bland, a little narrow and a wee bit unexciting compared to vibrant cities such as London or Paris.

Of course that's not to say I'm not having a ball. I enjoy my job and it really is a beautiful place to live and work.

Anyway... we left Hunter around 5pm when the wineries were shutting up for the day. After a bite to eat, we hit the road for what should have been a two-hour trip.

But near Hawkesbury River we saw huge queues leaving the pacific highway and then hit massive queues up through the cuttings of Ku-ring-gai National Park.

We thought maybe there had been an accident but as we crawled along we began to see smoke on the horizon and realised there were some serious bush fires ahead.

Danielle had recently taken the wheel so I was upfront with her (luckily not sat on the bench over the engine any longer which was hotter than hell itself) and was stunned by the huge plumes of smoke discolouring the sky.

But once we had passed these clouds of grey smoke, the traffic did not speed up and we remained inching forward. The heat was stifling and we saw many people pulled up on the central reservation and hard shoulder with overheated engines.

Dani, Karen and Michelle jumped out and took a walk along the hard shoulder - picking up people who were also taking a break from sitting in their cars, wandering to see how far the queues stretched or trying to make it to the emergency telephones.

The girls running to jump back in the van...

At our junction, traffic was completely diverted from the highway but we sped up for a while only to hit more queues and to see huge black plumes of smoke and a red smudge on the horizon. We passed frighteningly close to red bilious clouds on our left while passing suburbs on our right - the train track and a line of trees shielding us from the flames and clouds of smoke.

The adjacent freeway to the pacific highway was completely shut and we later learned that noise barriers were burned and that flames had been leaping across the section of the Pacific Highway that had been closed off. More than 900 hectares has been raized and the following day at work we could see the smoke clouds gathering on the horizon.

Trainlines and the highways were closed and people were travelling up to Palm Beach to get the little ferry across the water to get home to the north. It was a thrilling but frightening experience and horrifying to think of the people in the nearby suburbs having their homes threatened with little anyone could do. The helicopters flying overhead waterbombing the flames seemed so small in comparison to the raging fires.

Elsewhere, Danielle and I did a few hours in the customer service department at Fairfax on Saturday, we waved farwell to another two friends on Saturday night at Shelley Beach and had a fun night out dancing at The Boatshed in Manly on Friday night.

This week promises the theatre, drinks at the Opera bar and Sounds on Sunday (the daytime party we went to on Boxing Day) this weekend for Emily's birthday, and planning Danielle's 21st celebrations. And work of course...

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Best blog in the world....

... no it's not mine

My lovely friend Dani has a blog on her Myspace site and it is so funny and conjures up the whole spirit of last weekend. Plus she remembers heaps of details I forget. Star!

Her blog on the Blue mountains...

"blue mountains, possums, a light house and a steep railway ride

".,,We arrived at about 7, they [the mountains] are stunning, not really mountains at all (they are but are not really high) the range is just very extensive and covered in pristine forest. We bumped along the dirt roads to find a great secluded spot under the eucalyptus trees - a massive canopy of eucalyptus, blanketed above us. We set up our tents, collected firewood ever so wary of the world renowned venomous Australian creatures, the spiders, snakes and of course drop bears ready to attack with only the slightest provocation we cleared the area of any available wood

"The fire starter himself, Mr taz set to work on what has to have been one of the best camp fires in the history of camping. The first beer was cracked open very swiftly and the conversation began to flow, rather loudly to compete with the sounds of the wild echoing through the canopy and tunneling into our clearing. Hunger however began to creep in, taking over everyones senses...

"We got out the saussies and realised that we had no grill, well done, ten points to us. But then the boys had an idea, like I have never seen before.. The rocks around the fire had heated up pretty quickly, so they moved two rocks into the middle of the fire, cleared the flames to the sides and cooked all the saussies on the rocks, rock on. delicious. a couple of rounds of I have never ensued ( very clean I must add, we just wanted to hear each others traveling/ camping/ life stories more than anything) and by the time the rain started to fall we were ready to lay down our contented heads. As we were eating our sausies and bread we saw a little visitor eyeing us, timidly shuffling around the outskirts. However he very quickly sussed out the mellowness and good vibes and ventured into the circle of friends, he wandered around and decided on taz... walking up to him licking him on the back. the POSSUM licked him!

"I woke up to sounds like I have never heard before (pun intended). The sky was cracking open . cockatoos , millions of them were squawking in the trees above, every now and then they would all do call together and then it sounded like I was underneath a volcano. I stuck my head out of our cozy tent to smell the fresh, clear morning air and saw all the birds littering the roof of the canopy, stunning. After a brekkie of samies with cheese, sausages and chips we packed up and headed for the heart of the blue mountains.

"Golly its stunning, charlie, danielle and I walked down into the valley, its a steep vertical downward walk through the forest, past the waterfalls, into the depth of the jungle, so so cool. but lost tom half way, where does he always go?

"At the bottom we took the scenic railway up, its awesome, but very freaky a sheer climb straight up, its the steepest railway in the world. and we sat in the front, looking over, I held on tight, my heart exploding out of me and my legs jelly.

"We spent the rest of the afternoon driving and walking through the little towns, up a few more hills and had a delicious lunch on the grass in a very quaint, however superficial town called Leura. the drive back was a much quieter affair in contrast to the very loud, out of tune, excited drive up (we got through every show tune, played a bit of famous names and even got onto old MacDonald, the best rendition I have ever heard- what sound does a kangaroo make?). We went to the hostel last night for a bit of a jam with hostel friends and to say bye to some people leaving for aussie travels today, it was a great ending to a super cool weekend."

It's a great week - weather-wise at least. It is very very hot and beautifully sunny now. Summer really is here with temperatures in the high 20s and Sunday set to be 36C or something ridiculous like that. It's all very well when you can jump in the ocean of course.

But this Sunday Dani, Taz, Paul, Danielle, Paul's lady Lindsey and possibly Tom or Michelle, and I are taking ANOTHER road trip. We are heading to Hunter Valley for some wine tasting. Paul has kindly offered to be the designated driver so the rest of us are going to have a jolly day tasting the best of the regions wine :) Can't wait.

Apparently there are lots of places to sit outside, sip wine and look over the vineyards so if it's a scorcher it's going to be great. We were supposed to go up on Saturday after Dani finished work for the Starlight cinema (movies under the stars) but Danielle and I are being responsible. We have been offered well-paid work in a different department at Fairfax publishing from 12 to 8pm and it's probably going to be mind-numbing - though that's ok with us after the stress of our week-day jobs.

Danielle at work today...

The view from our office window - the aquarium and wildlife world in the foreground. Sometimes we see anjimals!

This week has been CRAZY busy and I swear we are not well-paid enough for the high-level of responsibility. I mean I'm responsible for getting whole magazines to press, making sure everyone is on deadline, setting deadlines and all this malarky for a whole host of magazines... EVERYTHING was going wrong like my Mac breaking, deadlines out of whack, adverts not coming through on time, problems with pages... still, keeps me busy...

On Tuesday night, we had a barbecue down at Shelley Beach again. Well, we ate at home for cheapness and then joined Dani, Taz, our housemates and other hostel people on the beach for a really lovely and chilled out evening with a few glasses of wine as the sun went down and then under the stars. They were really bright and we stargazed at Orion's Belt and Saturn - strange that the constellation is upside down here. Dani laid out her rules for life, which included friends come first, always say yes to friend's suggestions, and don't compare yourself to anyone. I can't think of the others but I'm sure the two of us had an epiphany...

Freshwater Beach

Last night (Thursday), Emily, Danielle and I walked to Freshwater Beach and sat with a bottle of red wine near the beach and chatted about everything and anything. It has been a good week all in all.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Camping it up...

The sun is shining, summer is here. So what have we been doing? Camping! Oh and getting horrid colds of course.

Had a stinker of a cold - horrible to feel that ill and not be snuggled up with a duvet - because it's too hot! Danielle and I moved into our flat two weeks ago. It's a bit of a squeeze - there are four girls in one room and officially two lads in the other but we currently have two friends staying with us as well! It's lovely - got a balcony and big living room and the people are great. Unfortunately we can't use the pool or gym as the lads were banned when they first moved in - due to friends of their's 'making out' in the pool. ho hum.

But this weekend, a group of us decided to head for the hills - or more aptly - run to the mountains. On Saturday afternoon, seven of us loaded up Paul's van and bought supplies for the trip...

This is officially the best thing in Australia - drive thru booze shops. Amazing.

The campsite felt a bit Blair Witch when we got there - an almost deserted clearing at the end of an immensely bumpy track and many kilometres from civilisation. What, we pondered, would happen if one of us was bitten by a spider in the dunny? Luckily, we did not have to find out.

Taz had the boy scout skills and got us all collecting twigs - the girls (apart from Dani) gingerly picking our way through the bush trying to avoid anything creepy or crawly which may do us some damage. Once the two tents were up, we lit our fire and cracked open our cider (me), beer (most people), whiskey (Irish Michelle).

It was then time to attempt to cook our food. Suddenly cooking sausages on an open fire seemed a tricky task. Using our best Ray Mears skills, the boys put a rock in the middle of the fire and we flambed our sausages - it was a long, slow process but eventually we all got to eat some sausage sandwich.

It was a great evening, sat around chilling and chatting. Playing 'I've never ever..' and telling stories about where we had been and so on.

Danielle and I slept in the van. We were all up early the next morning and re-lit the fire for some more sausages. This time we had a new method of cooking them - placing the sausage in tongs and resting it at the side of the fire - a quicker way to cook them but it did mean we had to do them one at a time. Crisp sandwiches suddenly seemed very appealing...

We then jumped in the van and headed for Katoomba - site of the Three Sisters (below). It was a beautiful day - hot and sunny and we started a walk around the cliff tops. Taz, Paul and Michelle headed back to the van to drive around and meet us and the rest of us continued on. It was a lovely walk - looking down into the valley, hearing birds calling and walking through rainforest and scrubland.

Dani, Danielle and I lost Tom among a group of Asian tourists but continued towards the bottom of the valley and the train back up. It is the world's steepest railway (52 degrees) and it is pretty scary. The carriages are open, there is nothing to hold you in and you get into it and are almost lying down in the seat so that when it goes almost vertical, you don't fall out. We sat right at the front so we could see the ground dropping away below.

At the top we met the group and headed off to Leura - a nearby town. It's very touristy but quite quaint. It was almost like being in a touristy part of the UK - Bouton-on-the-Water or something. We had a picnic under the shade of some trees on a strip of grass in the middle of the road. we then decided to see where the road took us and directed ourselves randomly - ending up in the middle of nowhere along a bumpy dirt track up into the moutains.

High up, we disembarked and climbed to the top of a flat mountain. It was scorching up there and with no shade - just a withered tree and lots of short, stubby grass and boulders. The view was great though - across valleys of very dry and dead-looking trees to purpley mountains in the distance. Easy to see how bushfires start and spread so quickly.

Then it was homeward-bound for a friend's leaving party. Many of our friends have left in the last two weeks with a large contingent leaving on Jan 6. We lost Christine and Kim, our fab fab fab Canadian friends who went up the coast and the Welshies (including the guy I had been seeing, Gareth) among others.

It was also the day Danielle's father Brian and sister Laura left for the UK. So the Friday night was a big farewell party which began with a lovely meal at the Bavarian Beer Cafe - Dani, taz, Danielle, her father and sister, Kim, Christine and me - before heading out to Cerutti's.

The previous Wednesday was supposed to be Team Canada's last night so we had celebrated at The Steyne in our usual style...

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fireworks and fun

It has to have been the best New Year's Eve.

To be stood on a hilltop at Sydney Harbour, looking out toward the bridge and Opera House, among dozens of my friends and watching $4 million of fireworks was just spectacular.

We congregated at Bradley's Head in the late afternoon - a picnic area near Taronga Zoo (see photo of the view on previous post) - with champagne and enthusiasm.

The weather, though sometimes grey, was not raining as predicted and it was warm. We sat on blankets, over 50 of us from the hostel, and watched twin boys fighting on the grass, older people complaining about our loudness and the slow ascent (or decline - depending on your view) of everyone into a merry mood.

We sat and chatted and drank cider (me) or beer (most people) or vodka (the hardcore) and watched as a red question mark lit up the centre of the harbour bridge.

Waiting for the fun at Bradley's Head on NYE.

The theme for the NYE 2006-7 celebrations was Diamond Night in the Emerald City and later the question mark turned into a huge glowing diamond in the middle of an illuminated coathanger - the name Sydneysiders allegedly give to the bridge. Steve has just pointed out to me that in 17 years here he has never once heard it called that. And neither have I. But nevertheles, it celebrates its 75th anniversary this March.

As dusk fell, hundreds of twinkling boat lights dotted the harbour and the opera house shone out bright as a beacon.

The first firework show at 9pm was awesome and we whooped and cheered and then carried on our fun and games, running behind the toilet block to avoid hour-long toilet queues and getting scratched to pieces, playing with an adorable little boy called Tom whose family took dozens of photos of us, trying to set our friends up or laughing at those already taking a 'nap'.

Midnight suddenly came up upon us and the whole field got to its feet and whooped and cheered through the countdown before the skyline infront of us blazed into colour for a ten-minute spectacle of light. The harbour bridge erupted and even the skyscrapers burst with fireworks. It is supposed to have been the biggest ever firework display at Sydney Harbour Bridge and we all felt awed to actually be there.

When the show was over and we had all wished each other happy new year, we all started to flood out of the field in search of taxis or buses home.

Welsh Gareth (Cheeky face) and I managed to lose everyone and started to walk home when we realised we were moving a lot lot lot faster than any of the free buses or taxis.

As we walked through Mosman, we passed the Lawn Bowls Association and two men were calling out to passers-by to come down as the bar was open and we could learn the game. Our ears pricked up and we bounded down and spent a good half hour learning the tricks and tactics of bowls with the director Pete and the chairman.

It wasn't long before a few fellow stragglers found us and Nelson, Danny Jones, Kate and Rueben joined us to master the game. It was truly comic and we all threw ourselves into it with good humour and gusto. Rueben's attempts to throw us the bowls back saw him banned from the green and later, we decided we had enough bowling experience under our belts and made our way up through Mosman and eventually caught a bus home on a comedy ride.

Everyone made their way home in dribs and drabs - some catching buses the whole way or walking miles to flag down a taxi. Some walked the whole way home - a three hour hike before starting the party up at the hostel again.

Since then, the mood at the hostel and in Manly has been somewhat sober. Apart from the Welshies 'finding' a cardboard cut-out of Robbie and adopting him as their new drinking partner, most people have been recovering or just simply preparing to leave.

A whole contingent of our friends leaves over the next few days so, as Danielle and I finally move into place with friends this weekend, everyone moves on. The irony.

Still, with seven of us sharing a two bed flat - life is going to be interesting in our new place. I have been spending most of my days there recently, either scaving a bed at the hostel or the sofa at the flat until Team Canada move on.

Sounds on Boxing Day with Dani and Danielle

Christmas with the Devlins

Christmas shrimp on the barbie

Dinner with the Devlins