Back in Sydney, some of Doreen and Malcolm’s friends had arrived so I had a like-minded travel companion for the week – partial to the ‘when-on-holiday- mid-afternoon beverage and fine food’ kind of thinking. Continuing on this theme, we toured the Hunter Valley, sampling some of the finest Australian drops in several vineyards whose fields were populated with wild kangaroos.
Onto the sights of Sydney, we took the iconic ferry to the golden sandy shores of Manly. Despite the name conjuring images of Hitchcock’s Manderley every time it was mentioned, this place was more haven than haunted house. The ferry took half an hour and although Manly is actually situated a bus ride away from our house, it felt like we had traded in the city for a sleepy seaside resort. The main road between the ferry pier and the beach was exactly like Terminus Road in Eastbourne if you swapped the pramfaces and chavs for flat-stomached beach babes and bronzed Adonises. We ambled along the length of the promenade, spotting surfers, snorkelers, paddle boarders and the odd water dragon, whilst picking out our dream waterside home from the array of impressive mansions.
That evening I met a friend of my neighbour here in China. Not knowing what to expect and slightly dreading a very awkward drink for an hour I went down to Darling Harbour to meet her. The one drink turned into a few, which turned into a stroll down to the rocks as the sun set, which turned into pie and mash (for $7!!) in the oldest pub in Sydney, which turned into coffee and desert in Max Brenner’s back in town. Five hours later I strolled home after the most interesting, fun and engaging date I’d had in years!
Wednesday evening was girls’ night so Doreen, Rachel and I went to the open air cinema to watch The Sweeney. Seeing others with giant hampers in the queue Rachel and I panicked and urged Doreen to massively stock up, apocalypse-style, on her way down. However, we should have known the Aussies would know how to put on an outdoor event. Inside were comfy director-style chairs that you could reserve with a civilised name tag. No need to elbow past grandma to spread the entire contents of your bag across a row of chairs and then proceed to give the stink eye in the manner of a territorial bulldog to anyone who so much as looks at them as is the norm at home. Further in were several picnic tables with parasols, a fully stocked bar offering Oyster Bay wine complete with ice bucket and a mobile food vendor selling pulled pork pitas, Mexican-style wraps with homemade salsa, and cheese boxes with an assortment of local chutney. A far cry from the usual extortionately priced greasy sausage plonked in an oversized bun smothered with ketchup and, if you are feeling fancy, charred onions to garnish all washed down with a slightly warm Carlsberg. The whole affair really put Blighty to shame and Doreen, with a gigantic hamper in tow, arrived to find us tucking in to lightly battered fish and hand cut chips. The film, however, restored the balance as it was actually pretty funny. Judging by the deathly silence that emanated from the person sat next to me, a lot of the British humour was lost on the crowd. At least they could enjoy the view if nothing else; the cinema was located just off the Botanical Garden and the screen was flanked on one side by the skyscrapers of the city’s skyline and the Bridge and the Opera House on the other.
The rest of the week was spent reclining on an assortment of Sydney’s beaches. First was Bondi. The water was a beautiful blue, shallow for miles out which made it perfect for a casual mum-style breaststroke but that was about it. The famous gym is not that impressive and its style is ubiquitous in China where old people would give some of the weeds I saw a run for their money. The beach itself was littered with cigarette butts, rubbish, and Bogans (Chavs). I didn’t stay long and instead enjoyed a coffee and banana bread in a café at the Icebergs Swimming Pool which offered a much better view. I then wandered around the charity shops and boutiques whose owners exuded that quintessential laid-back Aussie vibe; one shopkeeper upon seeing my skin called to her pal in the shop next door to come and have a stroke. Excitedly they asked if they could do my eye make-up but considering my shabby clothes and sandy hair I politely declined their enthusiastic offer for fear of looking like a prostitute on my journey home. The next beach was Palm Beach a.k.a Summer Bay. There was no filming but I did watch an over-the-top rescue performed by a 15 year old life guard to save the board of a kite-surfer who had lost his battle with the wind and the sea – a dramatic yet elegant performance. The next day was spent racing Doreen in the gentle waves of Balmoral beach rounded off with a classic Aussie Barbie and THE best steak sandwich ever made nom nom nom.