#8// Sydney, cockroaches & Canberra
We arrive in Sydney pining for New Zealand ("My new favourite country in the world EVER" - Nat) and head to our Air BnB in Surry Hills. Yes, you read that right - Nat and I splashed the cash and opted for a cushty Air BnB experience instead of a hostel dorm room. Ironically, after staying in hostels for the past eight weeks it is actually in the Air BnB that we have our first cockroach encounter. I'm pretty chilled with bugs (or have always been, up until now) - I find little spiders rather cute, I love woodlice and bumblebees. Ants have been my heroes since I read that they can carry up to fifty times their own body weight. But COCKROACHES. I am NOT cool with cockroaches. When you see one scuttling across the room towards your bed it's only natural to adopt a frenzied manic panic. I don't know if Australian cockroaches are any bigger than UK cockroaches (this is the first time I've ever seen one in real life) but I can tell you that this one is LARGE. We manage to find it and kill it (still unsure of the ethics on this one, but I can't lie, I was relieved) and then Nat remembers that they actually expel a smell if you kill them. You can probably guess that cockroaches do not emit a floral chorus of magnolia and vanilla and all things fruity when they die. It's called a 'death stench' for a reason and at this point I am ACTUALLY SURE that cockroaches come from Hell. Unfortunately, that evening's googling leaves me very unsettled - I read on Yahoo Answers that "if you see one cockroach, you can be sure that there are hundreds more in a nest not very far away". Fantastic.
That's not all we get up to on the first evening - we're minding our own business wandering down a street when we are accosted/harassed by a woman standing outside a travel agency. Nat and I are not easy targets for travel agencies but this night is different - I don't know if it's because our brains are hunger-befuddled, or because we're in a vulnerable place after leaving the beloved pastures of New Zealand, or because we've just murdered a cockroach and murder is tiresome work - but we are lured into the travel agency. We change our entire Australia plan and swap the idea of finding work in Sydney for finding work in Cairns, pay a hefty deposit on an itinerary entirely recommended by the travel agent and leave the shop feeling pretty sure we shouldn't have done that. The travel agent's name is Evil Kate, and this is not the last you will hear of her.
The next day we explore Sydney and my impression is that it is really nice. It's got beautiful old architecture, high rise buildings with modern malls and plazas and Darling Harbour totally lives up to its name; it's a darling harbour. We head to the botanical gardens (Australia has some SERIOUSLY good botanical gardens - they're as good as National Trust but without the fees!!!!!!! Multiple exclamation marks!) and I'm busy angling my shots of Sydney Opera House so that the silly bridge isn't in the picture when Nat informs me that that's Harbour Bridge, and that it should definitely be in the picture.
We go to the Sydney Anzac Memorial which is this beautiful old stone building in the middle of a park surrounded by skyscrapers. It's especially touching to see the soil of Ypres, Menin Road and Passchendaele amongst the ring of soils brought from First World War battlefields, all in the heart of Sydney which feels worlds and lifetimes away from my time in Belgium. Later, already over an hour's walk from our accommodation, we walk across the Harbour Bridge and make the rookie error of not considering the time of the return journey. We are a two hour walk away from our accommodation by the time we reach the other side of the bridge (it's now night-time) and after a futile search to buy the elusive Opal card (the Australian Oyster) we are forced to trudge all the way back. Fun fact about Sydney though - there are bats everywhere (from dusk til dawn. I imagine. They're definitely around at dusk, anyway). We walk 40,000 steps in total and develop blisters. Turns out we actually could have just purchased train tickets without the Opal card, but hey, we're idiots.
Included are the before and after shots of realising Harbour Bridge is a landmark
Pretty much all of the food we consume in Sydney over the period of four days is Lord of the Fries. I know what you're thinking "Chania has such a huge readership - this is the best blog in the world! - Is this a sponsored post?" It is not. Lord of the Fries is this TOTALLY COOL vegan fast food chain. Nat is astounded, I'm astounded, and we eat there twice a day everyday (once it was even thrice). Unfortunately, as with all good things, I ate SO much Lord of the Fries I cannot physically face any of their food anymore. But I wanted to mention them because if you're in Australia it is worth a pit stop (or fifteen). I recommend the Parma with parisian (but do not try this order in Queenstown, New Zealand. You will be sorely disappointed).
We head to Canberra on a day trip; it's a 3.5 hour bus journey out of Sydney, the capital of Australia and the new hometown of my good pal Ben. I've seen Ben about twice since we finished Imberhorne but nothing has changed and I'm thrilled to see him, especially somewhere as exotic as Canberra. We quickly learn that Canberra is the weirdest capital city we've ever been to - it's a Saturday and there's nobody on the streets, barely any cars on the roads and yet we're walking around the city centre. It feels about as busy as West Hoathly (read: as busy as a tiny village near East Grinstead which I swear has more people buried in its quaint little graveyard than alive living there). We spend a loooong time (multiple hours) in the National Australian War Museum (of course). My friendship with Ben is built on a mutual history fascination and years of trying to beat each other for top marks in history classes, and I think we both enjoy enlightening Nat about particular historical events as we go around the museum. Not sure about Nat's enjoyment of our unprompted history lessons though.
I'm particularly excited to meet the original Menin Gate lions. The lions guarded the entrance to the city of Ypres for nearly a hundred years before the First World War, when they were damaged and eventually lost in the extensive German shelling of the city. Whilst in Belgium I learnt all about their history and their significance to the Allied troops who would touch them for luck as they passed through heading to the battlefields. In 1936 the lions were gifted to the Australian War Memorial Museum and they have lived in Canberra ever since. It's moving to finally meet the lions on the other side of the world after living in their city for four months. We explore Parliament Building with Ben - it's all open to the public and free but is still NOT THAT BUSY. When we walk back into the city centre it's nearing the evening, still relatively few people on the streets and there's only one main shopping mall. One! It is absolutely bizarre that this is a capital city, but Ben explains that Canberra was chosen as a compromise because both Melbourne and Sydney wanted the capital title for themselves. Nat and I spend our remaining few days in Sydney exploring the Blue Mountains and at Bondi Beach (which is INSANELY busy). During this time we also spot a baby cockroach crawling out of Nat's rucksack.
It's a relief to leave our Air BnB and we catch our first overnight bus to Byron Bay (a deep cleanse of our bags is undertaken at our new hostel, and luckily we find no more cockroaches, they're all still in Sydney waiting for the next lucky guests). In the next blog post I find my true calling and become the surfer I always knew I would be.
P.S. If, like me, you've ever wondered what the Sydney Opera House feels like - it is silky to the tiled touch and would act very well as a slide.