Back home! Kinda…

Despite a lack of sleep and a definite non-lack of alcohol in my bloodstream, I got up around 9am to get another lift from Dave. He was visiting his parents then heading into Newcastle itself (via Gateshead). We stopped at a couple of signs so I could get my photo taken in this city with a second-hand name, and had a very brief walk around.

Newcastle is quite small and very expensive to buy property in. There are two beaches, some good surf, a KFC in an old bank building and a port. Dave’s dad regaled us of tales about his youth and described how the streets and buildings used to look. He’s a great old guy – wonderful to chat to for a while. The city’s fairly modern-looking in a seaside-town way and it’s nice to get a perspective on what it was like sixty years ago.

Coal is still shipped from Newcastle, by sea in huge tankers. Looking out from the coast there are dozens of these ships just floating there at anchor waiting to load up. There was a 25km drive from Newcastle to Swansea (where the resort was) and these vessels could be seen offshore right along the route. It was like a waterborne scene from Independence Day – they way they all just sat there quietly as if waiting for some kind of signal.

We also picked up Dave’s brother who’s a bit of an amateur photographer so hopefully some of the pics of me he’s taken will come out better than my self-portraits.

Lunch was back at the resort with a bunch of my new friends. I basically chalet-hopped for the two nights taking advantage of people’s hospitality – something that Aussies are overflowing with as I’ve already mentioned. I tried my best to chip in with food and beer so I don’t feel too guilty!

More partying occurred. Well I just had to make as big a dent in the alcohol stock as possible. It’s the done thing.

I believe karaoke was involved, but I don’t think I was among the guilty.

Free lifts rock

The first thing to say today is another “thank you” to Rachel and Dave for being kind hosts, putting me up and for driving me from Canberra to Newcastle. It was a pretty enjoyable trip and the first time I’d seen the scenery as both times I’d used the buss between Sydney and Canberra I’d slept right through.

Dave pointed a load of things out and I spent a lot of time playing with their younger daughter. Both their kids are fantastic and it was a pleasure to meet them.

We dropped the sproglets off with Dave’s parents before grabbing some supplies and driving to the resort where we were staying. I was to meet up with a bunch of people I know from online who’d arranged a party/get-together. Beer was loaded into fridges, barbequeue food into eskies and people into chalets. Then the alcohol and the BBQ food was moved into the people.

I managed to find some Brown Ale at a bottle shop for a reasonable price and worked my way through it at a scary pace. I think I had a good night from what I’ve been told!

Seen it before…

I managed to get an early start without any help from my roomies. By which I mean there wasn’t one snorer or shouter amongst them for the first time in ages. I got a restful night and rose around 8am to start ploughing through the road atlas I got from Dymocks.

Argh. Now I really am starting to realise what a neckache this is going to be! The number of motorway-class roads I can’t walk down and so on is bewildering. I think I’ll have to do a rough plan and then measure how far I’ve gone day to day and add/remove miles ad-hoc to keep the total near 1000.

After lunch (beans on toast with free bread from the “left behind” food area at the hostel), we walked up to the Australian Museum where I’d arranged to meet Michaela – you may remember her from the Alice Springs trip all those months ago. The museum’s $10 to get in but offers a $2 discount to YHA members… though doesn’t mention this anywhere. I forgot to ask and paid the full whack. Ah well.

As with most of the Aussie museums I’ve been in, it’s very modern and well laid out with plenty to see. It also has a “discovery centre” with loads of hands-on exhibits to tinker with. Great stuff for kids and Belgians… We had to tear Sophie and Jerome away from one of the microscopes!

We – well, I – kind of lost Michaela somewhere around the Wildlife Photography exhibit. Sorry! If you read this, Michi, I hope you have a safe trip home next week!

Back at the hostel we split up. Delphine and I went to KFC. Me to eat far too much food, her to watch me and pinch the occasional chip so I didn’t feel too bad about myself. Then we walked down to the Opera House so we could get some snaps of it and the bridge in the darkness. The city skyline’s pretty neat once the sun goes down and all the office lights are bright.

On our return, Sophie and Jerome had been cooking so out of politeness (and greed) I wolfed down a couple of helpings of pasta as well. Nice stuff.

Then on to packing. I have a bus to catch at 9am tomorrow back to Canberra. Hopefully I’ll get around to seeing the Parliament House and Museum by Thursday!

Dymocks rock!

French-speaking ahoy. Today’s been a very good one. I had to swap rooms this morning, theoretically into the 10-bed I’d originally booked into as it was cheaper. Only I’m in a 6-bed instead, which is strange. It’s more cramped than the 8-bed I just left, but who cares? It’s clean and comfy.

Breakfast was a $6 eat-all-you-can continental affair downstairs, so I wolfed through some Coco-Pops and raisin toast smothered in jam while talking to a girl from England on a gap year before she start on a Events Management degree. Smart cookie – she’s timed things so that her placement year will be 2010 so someone with her skills will be ripe for the picking for the Olympics!

Next up was a quick walk down to Dymocks, the bookstore. I’d spoken to a nice lady on reception last week about scrounging a free European road atlas for the 1000 Mile Walk, and as I was staying less than five minute’s trudge from their head offices, thought I may as well make an appearance.

I was greeted by a nice lady called Janet O’Hanlon who’s PA for one of the big cheeses in Marketing (if I picked things up right). They’d basically decided “hey, why not? He’s not asking for much and it’s a good cause”.

It took a bit of a trawl, but another the nearby branches had the exact tome I was after and it was handed to me gratis for which I am hugely grateful. Anyone in Australia – buy all your books from Dymocks because the rule!

Back at the hostel I popped online briefly and tried to book cheap advance tickets for the Opera House walking tour tomorrow. Unfortunately, their web page was chuffed so I might be skipping the tour again. I’m not paying $26 to walk round a theatre!

Then I caught up with Delphine and Sophie. Sophie’s parents and another random Belgian (Jerome – hi!) are visiting, and I spent the afternoon with them. We bought an all-day monorail pass and circled the small area it covers twice before getting off at Darling Harbour to walk around the Maritime Museum. All very pleasant – it’s a decent way to spend an hour or two.

Somehow, Sophie located a box of treasure in one of the exhibits which contained a note to inform the staff at reception. This netted the whole group of us free tickets (worth $18 a pop) to walk around the submarine and ship they have moored up outside. Bonus!

On the way back, the heavens opened again and we got drenched. All in good fun, though. I wonder if Australia would refund the cost of my visit because it rained?

Sophie’s parents located a nice pub restaurant near their hotel and we went there for dinner. Mixed grill, $12.95. Bargain. And it was nice!

We finished with a couple of beers and wandered “home” in the comparitive warmth and delightful lack of rain.

Drought? How?

Today was stinking hot. And humid. I woke far too early and enjoyed a bacon sarnie for breakfast/lunch followed by an absolutelty divine chocolate cake laced with raspberries. Will someone please explain how Dion is not someone’s wife yet? A PhD student with a great sense of humour and the ability to bake and cook circles round Delia – and she reads comics. My thanks to mein hostess for the last couple of days!

Dion gave me a lift to the station via a milkshake and chips at a cafe and I suffered the sweltering journey – more uncomfortable than Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, I swear – before arriving at the Town Hall stop in Sydney and strolling to the xBase backpackers’.

After checking in, I walked to Hungry Jacks and wolfed down a $5 meal and several refills of Coke. I desperately needed the fluids. Got to love a country with free refills on soft drinks.

Back at the hostel a lovely American girl called Sarah fed me spaghetti so she could use up some of the food she would otherwise be chucking out – and gave me a Dean Koontz book I’ve not read yet. Thanks, Sarah! Enjoy the WWOOFing in Byron Bay!

I’d booked into the same hostel as Delphine and Sophie who I met in Tasmania, and I met Delphine in the lounge for a natter. Lovely to see her again, though we were both exhausted. With any luck we’ll catch up again before I shoot off back to Canberra.

At that time I intended to crash in bed, but Lorna (an Italian girl in my otherwise German dorm) convinced me to go out for a beer. It didn’t take much convincing, I’ll be honest.

The bar at the hostel was closed for two nights, so we started walking towards the harbour. After five minutes, I stopped a random man and asked if he knew where there was anywhere open to get a drink. I chose my source of information well – the man turned out to be a Geordie so was obviously very capable of locating alcohol.

We ended up not far from the Bridge in the Oldest Pub in Sydney. As we enjoyed our single bevvie, the rain started. It had been threatening on the walk down with flashes, flickers and sheets of lightning showing through the clouds and buildings. The rain was torrential, flowing down the gutters and splashing up onto the pavement.

Fortunately, most of the walk back was under awnings so we didn’t get as wet as we otherwise would have, but it still makes you wonder why this place has water problems. In fairness, this is one night of rain after two days of scorching sunshine, but still. The rain was welcome, though. Ignoring the amazingly loud thunder which would disturb my sleep if I cared, the air is now a lot less humid.