Friday, February 23, 2007

So, the end is near...

Well it's goodbye to the steady office job. Farewell to the apartment. And soon goodbye to Manly and Sydney and our many friends here.

Naturally, there are mixed feelings of excitment and sadness.

Last night (thursday) our office team took us out to Chinta Ria, a Malaysian restaurant, for a slap-up meal (all on the office credit card).

There was plenty of wine flowing and good banter and then it was off to the Shelbourne pub for a few beverages or ten.

They have told us we'll be missed and I think our general stupidity and good humour will be noticeably absent. Which is how, of course, we want it. Not that Danielle's request at dinner to "go around the table and tell us one thing you'll miss about us" was taken up...

We have now returned to the hostel for our final few nights and have our fingers crossed the boys will give us our bond back soon and we can head towards Melbourne.

We're still not sure how we're getting there but hey ho - it'll sort itself out...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Queens of Sydney

People lined every available inch of the central harbourside when the two Queens met last night.

The Queen Elizabeth 2 was due to sail past the Queen Mary 2 at 7pm last night - the first time the two had met in Sydney. During World War II the two orginal ships had met in the harbour.

After the welcome the QM2 had received in her pre-dawn arrival, I anticipated that there would be a lot of interest in this meeting.

But the 7pm ferry from Circular Quay to Manly was more rammed than ever - with people queuing at the wharf from 6.30pm and rushing to the sides so they could watch the QE2 sail into the international dock at the quay.

As we left the wharf at 7pm, people were lined around the quay and all around the Opera House. They stood on the banks opposite the quay and peered over balconies of apartments and bars.

We heard the loud horns of the two ocean liners as they met and then rounded the corner of the quay to see hundreds of boats welcoming the QE2 and watching the historic meeting of the two ships. Small speedboats bobbing dangerously to huge catamarans and pleasure boats scattered the water around and between the two ships.

The QE2 is a smaller, older sister to the QM2 but perhaps more famous if not as impressive. The QM2 longer than the highest tower in Sydney is high.

But the ship is still beautiful. It took us ages to manouevre through all the boats and past the QE2 - but no one cared. Water canons sprayed the ship to welcome her and watch her dock at the quay. There was an atmosphere that something special was happening - not least because there were eight helicopters circling overhead.

The QM2 (below) left the naval base dockland (it was too long to dock at Circular Quay and too high to sail under the bridge) late last night but we saw the QE2 as we arrived for work this morning. How wonderful to be able to sail into one of the most beautiful harbours in the world and have a fantastic city lying right at your feet.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Bondi, films and sunshine...

Dawn at North Head near Manly this morning

Our time in Sydney is drawing to a close - and we are trying to make the most of it.

The past week has been fun-filled and busy as Danielle and I try to fit in all our 'must-do's' before we head to Melbourne next week.

The Sunday before last we went to In Situ, a funky little cocktail bar in Manly, where I had awesome virgin (!) cocktails as we listened to a wicked band and chatted to the rather lovely barmen we had met the week before.

It was a nice and calm way to end the week before heading into the madness of Monday... where our new temps met us. It has fallen to Danielle and I to train them up and, to be honest, it's a bit of a drag. Not that Kirsten and Richard aren't lovely - it's just hard to get on with your job with someone peering over your shoulder and trying to instruct them when time is tight and they have no idea what they are doing...

So meeting up on Tuesday with Dani at the Opera Bar for sun-downers was a lovely stress reliever. She and I watched the sun set behind Harbour Bridge as we sipped red wine and caught up on everything and anything. We later caught the ferry back to Manly, standing at the front of the boat and watching the fairy lit skyline around the harbour. Back in Manly, we met Danielle at the Bavarian Beer Cafe for another drink and gossip. Great to catch up with such wonderful, life-affirming friends.

The following evening, Valentine's Day of course, a large group of us hit The Steyne pub. It was supposed to be Paul and Michelle's final night but the previous evening Michelle, rather intoxicated with goon, had lept onto the beach from the walkway above. Not smart. She has smashed two bones in her ankle and calf and needs surgery - and metal plates. So much for them travelling up the coast...

So they were notably absent from their leaving-do/Jimbo's birthday...

On Thursday we spent a lovely evening round at our old pad - well more accurately, thats

On Friday, our boss Oirish Mark sent around an email to the team: "As your all aware, our brilliant backpackers are leaving us very soon. To thank Danielle and Charlotte for all their hard work Phil has kindly offered to pay for dinner at Chinta Ria. I hope you can find time to see the girls off on their travels and watch them enjoy a meal that doesn’t include 2 minute noodles..." Bless. They are taking us to Chinta Ria for lovely Chinese food. I can't wait.

The weekend has been lovely and chilled out. Danielle and I made the trip to Bondi. It was a bit of a mission by ferry and bus (Manly is north of the centre, Bondi is south east) but we got there on Saturday afternoon - a real scorcher of a day.

We clambered off the bus on a hill south of the beach and saw the fat golden crescent of sand below. It was unsurprisingly pretty packed but the water was a stunning greeny-blue. Dozens of surfers dotted the waves. A green stretch of land lay behind the sun worshippers and the buildings on the cliffs at the other end of the beach winked in the sunlight.

Here it was. Australia's most famous beach.

And my first thought was, "Oh. That's it?"

Bondi is, sad to say, a bit tacky. A bit cheesy. A little bit like a crumbling English seaside. Except it was boiling. And there were hot, tanned, buff surfers and tiny, trim, bikini-clad women. Everywhere.

Bondi is far shorter than Manly but the sweep of sand is much thicker and softer. But the bars and cafes which line a lot of the beach in the North are set a long way back from the sand (for the most part). The wall alongside the walkway has graffiti art with messages about safe sex and RIP messages. Instead of being funky, it looks tacky. Everything from the pavilion to the cheap tack shops look worn and dated and, except for a few modern eateries, the whole place looks tired.

Nonetheless, we had a lovely time. We strolled to the cliffs north of the beach and ate foccacia sandwiches on the small nature reserve on the hill overlooking the beach. We sat in the shade and read. We wandered along the shops and eateries and then went home to Manly. A far nicer, more upmarket, less tacky, more tasteful place to live.

On Sunday - another scorcher of a day - I spoke to four of my best friends in the whole world - Sally, Lizzie, Hannah and Beth - all gathered at Salsa's house. It was great to catch up with old friends and it felt like I was there with them. Great to speak to you guys.

Then it was off to the city to meet up with Dani and Taz. We walked to Chinatown and saw some of the New Year celebrations. A dragon danced in what looked like the doorway to an adult lounge while men from a Kung-fu troop banged drums and clanged bells. Then the loudest fireworks went off while people crammed onto the pavements opposite to watch - a rather dangerous position given that cars were still whizzing across this intersection.

We squeezed through the pedestrianised streets of Chinatown - full of market stalls and absolutely rammed with Asian people. It felt like China. It smelled like China. The weather was like China. Well, what we imagined anyway.

Then we went to Tropfest - the world's largest short film festival. There must have been at least 25,000 people in the park, under the stars, surrounded by lit up skyscrapers, watching fantastic short films after an afternoon lazing with picnics and beers. It was all free, all peaceful, all fun. Australia really knows how to do this outdoor thing.

This morning, Tuesday morning, Danielle and I woke up at 5.20am, dressed, and hauled ass to meet Steve and John (the chaps I met on the plane) to walk to North Head and see the world's largest ocean liner - Queen Mary II - enter Sydney harbour.

But near the top of the hill - about a 20 minute walk from Manly wharf - we saw a steady stream of people coming towards us and a line of cars crawling back down the hill. The bloody thing had arrived 35 minutes early - at 5.45am and by the time we reached the viewpoint had already docked.

We weren't the only ones going in the wrong direction but undeterred, we walked to the viewpoints anyway. It was stunning in the early dawn light. It couldn't have been a more beautiful morning for the Mary to enter. It was dark when she came through the heads and she sailed through the harbour as the sun rose. Wonderful.

As D and I caught the ferry to work, a plane wrote her name in the sky (the ship - not Danielle's - that would be weird) and dozens of people milled at the side of the ferry to photograph her docked at the naval base - she's too large to dock at Circular Quay.

So we were rather pissed off to miss her arrival so went for eggs florentine and coffee before work. But we'll hopefully see the QE2 as she docks at Circular Quay this evening and then, after a nap, climb North Head again with blankets, champagne and snacks and wave farewell to QM2 as she departs at 11pm.

Pictures taken by onlookers this morning... what we SHOULD have seen...

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Canoes, editing and the best brownies ever...

Well I am currently recouping after celebrating Danielle's birthday on Wednesday (Feb 7).

It was a harcore day of fun and I hope we gave her an awesome 21st. The last few weeks, her sister and I had been emailing back and forth and planning her surprise arrival from New Zealand.

Jen arrived on Tuesday afternoon and I dragged Danielle off to the outside bar at Sydney Opera House under the pretext of buying her a cocktail. I was massively nervous trying to look for her sister while keeping up conversation and trying to prevent any kind of suspicion entering her mind.

Then thankfully I Jen striding towards us. I turned to Danielle as casually as possible and mid-sentence said: "That girl looks really familiar..." D did a double take and then burst into tears. After the hugs and questions, we drank bubbly in the sunshine sat next to the Opera House and with the harbour bridge in sight and filled Danielle in on plans for her birthday.

The next morning D woke up bright and early at 7.30am, despite her insistence she needed as much sleep as possible. So we headed for the Honolulu Grill, where Steve records one of his podcasts In Latte Veritas (click here for an episode of The Rules podcast - one of three featuring Yours Truly). During our slap-up breakfast and large coffees, I gave Danielle part 1 of her present - a magazine I had designed and printed for her.

I made up a 12 page magazine with stories and photographs from her friends and family - and I really enjoyed designing it despite the fact that time was really not on my side. D and I spend all our time together - at work, at home, going out... so it was pretty hard to make up excuses for being at work - especially on a Saturday.

Her friends and family wrote some of the most amazing things about her - which is a reflection of the fun-loving, happy person she is - but it also made me reflect that we don't realise what our nearest and dearest actually think of us until an occasion like this - or upon someone's death...

So when merry later on in the day, I resolved to tell people EXACTLY what I thought of them - cue many overemotional displays of hugging and love. Luckily, I didn't bump into anyone I disliked...

After breakfast, D opened her presents and she and Jen went for a massage. It was then time to hop on a bus to Spit for an hour of kayaking around Middle Harbour. It was absolutely stunning canoeing across this part of the harbour - Danielle and I sharing a two-man kayak, Jen speeding off in hers.

Our friends thought it rather hilarious that I had my mobile with me on the trip and that when they called (to sort out plans for the evening), I was sat in a canoe chatting to them.

Then it was delicious fish and chips from a shop next to the kayaking place before rushing home to get glammed up. We sped to catch a ferry to the city and Minus 5 bar.

The temperature of the bar is actually -15C so we had to get kitted up in huge jackets with furry hoods, gloves and Ugg boots. Inside, the bar is quite small with everything made of ice - chairs (covered in animal skins), tables, sculptures, chandeliers...

We spent quite a lot of time fondling them and getting our 'free' cocktail - a wonderfully alcoholic concoction involving peach schnapps and most probably vodka and mango juice. Jen seemed to be suffering from hypothermia as she kept telling us how hot she was and pulling her jacket off, while I shivered inside my hood and looked a lot like Kenny.

It was certainly an experience - the alcohol hits you pretty quickly at those temperatures. After we finished our drinks we attempted to eat out ice glasses and caused havoc trying to break them into chunks and smashing mine all over the floor to the disgust of the barmaid.

Minus 5 only allow you to stay in the bar for half an hour (employees can only work for two hours at a time in the cold zone), when a pager around your neck begins to beep and you have to leave. Good job really - I was freezing me wotsits off.

So we warmed up with some more cocktails downstairs in the Lenin bar with John and Steve - the barman accidentally making me the world's most alcoholic raspberry and champagne mojito. Tasty.

Then it was back to the ranch to properly beautify and meet our friends and supposedly make faijitas. We never got around to that and instead drank wine and champagne, lit a sparkler or two and D opened some more presents from our friends. Obviously it was then time to meet the crew at the hostel where we drank and danced and I told everyone how they touched everyone's lives in positive ways (eek!) and then on to the Steyne. Danielle even got up to sing Counting Crows at karaoke - with a little help from the rest of us.

Then at 2.30am we went for our swim in the sea (Danielle had even bought special pants for the occasion...). Jen decided to head for the worst rip on the beach and be oblivious to our shouts to come back into shallower water, whereupon a random naked aussie chick called Fiona decided to demonstrate how strong the current was by sitting me down in the sand at the water's edge as the waves washed in and out. There was half a beach in my underwear after that.

So this has been the main focus of my week - prepping D's magazine and events and keeping everyone informed. That and eating Thai food, fun afterwork drinks (where we told our bosses rather emphatically that we aren't paid enough - well we aren't!) followed by an RnB night out, dvds, an afternoon of drinking and catching up in the sun and work...

We finish up at Fairfax two weeks today (Friday) and next week will be training temps to take our place (ha ha ha!). Think they will genuinely miss us here - our stupidity and jokes rather than our actual work though...

Oh but how could I forget our 'criminal' fun recently...?!! Last week one of the lads mentionned a friend of his from the hostel would be kipping on the floor for a few days. "His name's Sonny, do you know him?" Nope never heard of him.

However, the following day, the whole of Manly was due to hear about him. On the front of the Manly Daily newspaper was a large article on how two British backpackers had been fleeced by a guy called Sonny after staying in his apartment. They said he'd taken all their money...

I was reading this on the ferry on the way to work and nudged Danielle - surely this couldn't be the same guy? But yes, of course, anyone knowing our little wheeler dealer Max would know this is EXACTLY the kind of person he would attract...

So when I got home after work I was not that surprised to find a group of lads sat watching dvds and for Max to announce that Sonny was a criminal and had I seen the Manly Daily?

Sonny was mortified and said he had been to see the police and straightened it out - something about a misunderstanding and borrowed money...

However all the girls felt uncomfortable with him staying - especially when many of the lads we knew said they wouldn't trust him. It erupted that night when he refused to leave the flat in case he was recognised, the lads left and we girls were stuck with the dilemma of staying in to make sure this unknown didn't make off with our 'valuables' or going out and having fun... we chose the latter of course but it pushed our Swedish lovelies over the edge - they moved out the following day.

But sad as we are, my life has been perked up immeasurably by the discovery of the world's best brownies. Downstairs at Darling Park there is a coffee shop. It sells moist, crumbly, nutty and wonderful wonderful brownies. I said I was travelling to widen the waistband... I am succeeding very very well, thanks for asking...

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