Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas in Sydney, Australia

Sydney pictures

After having such a lovely time in Melbourne celebrating Christmas early with our friends, it was almost a shame that we flew off to Sydney on Christmas Eve. It was more of a practical decision since hotels were cheaper over these days than over NYE.  Julie found us a really nice hotel in Pott’s Point near the famed King’s Cross area which is known for it’s neon-lit nightlife, travellers’ hostels and general rowdiness. Nearby though a new restaurant district has sprouted up and that’s where we were able to find a place open late on Christmas Eve for dinner. It was an intimate little French cafe whose garlic-breaded mussels were quite tasty – a hint of things to come in NZ..

Christmas Day – Canadian Christmas Eve

To make Julie’s mom happy (& my mom somewhat too, but probably mostly my Auntie Kay) we got up this morning and went to church. We attended a standing-room-only mass at the magnificent St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Sydney. It was a grand affair, with multiple priests doing their little bit of the show and choirs and thundering organs.  A strange sight was all of the girls from the hostels wearing their little clubbing outfits to a church – seemed a bit out of place.  Afterwards Julie phoned home on Skype to get a peek at the party going on back home. It was really good to see everyone and say a quick hello as people passed by the webcam. It made Julie homesick, and I would get my taste of it the next day when I kept my family up late in order to video-conference online.

But while everyone back home was digging into piles of perogies (you have no idea how much I miss kubassa and perohy right now!) weSanta hats & shorts @ Bondi beach headed off to the beach! Bondi Beach plays host to a massive  Christmas Day party every year – tickets for the actual event were sold out long ago, but there are thousands of people just hanging out on the beach.  And the weirdest thing is that I've never seen so many people sporting Santa toques as there were here. 

I was quite excited to tour this world-class city and see all of its sights. That meant we did a lot of walking around. Fortunately our hotel was within walking distance of most of the sights, so although a tad long, the walk from Pott’s Point to downtown takes you through parks and the Botanic Gardens with great views of the harbour and the bridge. Downtown Sydney got a bit of a facelift recently with new developments and other improvements to make it more people/tourist friendly. (Cockle Bay Wharf is a new one with loads of restaurants and bars and pretty people – sort of like Clarke Quay in Singapore.)  It is pretty nice downtown, especially near the ferry terminals with lots of people milling about. We wandered over to a big market where it’s basically a lot of Asian people selling cheap Chinese-made knock-offs but Julie did find some dresses for cheap and there are a couple local people who sell their crafts. 

Sydney is blessed with a lot of coastline and therefore a lot of beaches.  Bondi’s the one famous one. Manly is the other. Julie had been to Manly the last time she was here, but she mistakenly thought that the popular beach was the small dingy one near the ferry terminal. You have to walk across the spit of land to get to the ocean-facing good beach. The area of Manly is pretty cool: nice walkways, lots of shops and restaurants and a good vibe, plus there’s the sweet beach. Julie convinced me to rent a surfboard even though I’ve never even held one or had any sort of lesson. But we both gave it a shot. The surf here is like the biggest I’ve been in and for someone who’s not a great swimmer, it’s a bit intimidating.  After 30min or so of getting tossed around in the waves, I managed to catch the first wave I tried and rode it in to shore. With my confidence buoyed I paddled out again…and didn’t catch another one like that for a long time. Julie also gave it a shot but got tossed off the board and had a hard landing on the bottom which left her with a headache, and me with an hour' rental to use up. Eventually I could get myself to stand up on the board, but only after I’d basically made it to shore and the thing had stopped moving and I’d still fall off!  Sunburnt and beaten, we went home.

Our last day in Sydney we met up again with Kelly Stock and her friend Maria to do a little walk around Bondi Beach. it took us forever to get going - are we ready? i should pee. well, if you are then i will too. well if they’ve left I'll go get a drink. and so on. Funny really. But the delays got us in the end for as we started the hike around the point a mean-looking storm front rolled in overhead and the skies opened up on us.  A storm rolls in over bondi beachWe took shelter under a lifeguard stand and questioned the sanity of a guy standing out on the rocks jumping into the waves as they crashed up onto the rocks. At first, yes, he’s got a death wish. But then we see that he’s timing it so that when he jumps in, the surf is going out and then it comes back in and deposits him right back onto the rock he jumped off of. Oh, and then we see the waters turning black and realize that it’s the runoff from the streets and sewers.  We’d seen signs around saying “no swimming after heavy rains” and now we knew why. It’s gross to see the runoff turn the azure waters murky black along with the litter floating in it.

Our last night in Sydney, we went out for dinner to a Brazilian BBQ place. (For those who don’t know, this style of restaurant features unlimited meat. Servers bring around various meats, usually on large skewers, and slice off chunks for you. Fantastic!)  Julie’s friend Candice used to live/work down here and hooked us up with some of her old pals, Nathan & Gemma, who were quite friendly and gave us some tips for New Zealand.

On the 28th we left for Auckland, New Zealand.  It would end up being a bit of a silly move as we left Sydney where we could have seen one of the world’s premier fireworks displays on NYE while the show in Auckland was a giant let down.

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