25 Nov 11 - Moved rather slowly initially, possibly due to the previous night's excesses! We were picked up from the hotel and taken to the airport for our flight back to Sydney. Despite Jo being with us on the flight, it was uneventful(!). Big change weather wise - it was raining and chilly on our arrival in Sydney.
We were met by Caroline at the airport and she drove us to her house in Westleigh, north of Sydney, in the rush hour. Lovely area on the edge of the bush but there is only one road in and out of the community so everyone is on edge when the weather is very hot due to the high risk of bush fires. The miserable weather persisted all evening and it was so chilly that we needed the heater on in the house! Caroline had cooked a fab spag bol which we ate whilst chilling out, watching TV and chatting. It was so good to see Caroline (she has been trying to get me to Oz for the last thirty years!) and also for Mike and I to stand still after our amazing but hectic holiday. Early to bed as were very tired.
26 Nov 11 - It rained buckets all night and was still raining in the morning, but the forecast was for improvement from lunchtime. The birds in the garden were incredibly noisy, it sounded like a crowd of quarrelsome kids from about 4.00 am!
Sure enough the clouds lifted and the sun shone just in time to dry the two machine loads of washing I had done! Mike was helping Caroline to change the salt cell (apparently something to do with chlorinating the water in her swimming pool) when we saw a red-back spider - a live one! Caroline says to just kill them - a quick spray with a powerful insecticide did the trick. Need to study her spider chart. She says a red-backed spider won't kill you but it'll make you pretty ill - it's the funnel web spider you need to worry about!! Aagh!!
As the weather had improved Caroline took us for a drive to show us around the area. We went on a chain ferry to the place where her son, David, was married earlier this year.
We had an ice cream and enjoyed strolling in the sun. Out of the blue I got a call on my mobile from ‘Ian' at MCG to say that my hat had been found! Carol, who had shown us around, had gone back round specially after we had left and had found it - I thought that was above and beyond the call of duty and asked Ian to pass on my thanks for Carol - people have been so nice! Moreover, Ian said he would send it to Caroline's address at their expense - I was quite overwhelmed! [Unfortunately, it never did arrive...!].
On the way back we went to the supermarket where we bought some salmon and prawns which we had for supper - delicious! We again spent the evening chatting and drinking wine (only a little!). Caroline has Lorikeets a-plenty in her garden and is very used to them Mike and I, however, were entranced by them.
They were very tame and it was wonderful to be able to feed them - Caroline put some raw apple on the end of a fork which I held whilst two of them nibbled all the flesh away underneath the peel! And so to bed!
27 Nov 11 - Leisurely start - beautiful day, hot and sunny. Lots of Lorikeets - we took loads of photos. Managed to get two of the birds to feed from a saucer that I held in my hand, which was wonderful. The Kookaburra on the back fence was a bonus!
Nice lunch of cold salmon, prawns and salad. Managed to finish the last e-mail diary entry of the tour. Looked at all my photos on the TV and also watched some old videos of Caroline and her family - can't believe thirty years have gone by.
Ben arrived at Caroline's to pick us up at 5.30 pm - bang on time. He had been in the Hunter Valley for the weekend and had diverted slightly to collect us, which was very generous of him.
We soon arrived at his flat in Greenwich - a very spacious apartment - he has loaned us the 'West Wing'! Lovely terrace - enjoyed a cuppa there and watched the setting sun. Ben went out to get supplies and arrived back with loads of goodies. He cooked us a great meal - a whole roast 'spatchcock' each (in Australia this is a small chicken, known to us as a 'poussin') with small roast potatoes and salad, followed by fresh mango, blueberries and strawberries with ice cream! Aren't we spoilt!
We enjoyed the sunset and marvelled at the upside down crescent moon with Venus shining brightly right by it (have piccies to prove it). Had a Skype chat with my sister Gabrielle and then with friends Rachel, David, Adrienne, James, Lucca and Indigo - Lucca has chickenpox! We sent lots of love and hugs. It was lovely to chat to everyone. Early to bed - temp around 30C.
28 Nov 11 - After breakfast we watched the Brazilian F1 Grand Prix, which Ben had kindly recorded for us, on TV. Last race of the season. We then set out to walk to Sydney Harbour over the Harbour Bridge - hot and breezy but a great walk.
Took about an hour to get across the Bridge and we then walked along George Street to the HSBC bank to finally conclude our banking business.
We sent an e-mail to our friend Jo McD to see if she was free to meet up and, while waiting for a reply, walked to the Rocks and had a very good meal in an Italian restaurant. We had just started eating when we heard back from Jo to say that she could meet us around 5.30 pm. This was perfect timing, so after finishing our meal we walked the short distance to 'Wine Odyssey' (where we had had a lovely meal with Tim and Jen during our first visit to Sydney!) and enjoyed a couple of bottles of red and some nibbles with Jo. It was lovely to see her again and we all had a good chat.
We walked with Jo to Wynyard station (which I don't think we would have found that easily without her) and took the train back to St. Leonards (about four stops) and then walked back to Ben's for a welcome cup of tea and a shower.
29 Nov 11 - After an excellent late breakfast of muesli and fresh mango we walked the ten minutes to St Leonards Station and took the train two stops North to Chatswood where I had made a hair appointment to have my colour done (just the roots). I had researched where in Sydney stocked the products I use at home and this was one of only two, the other one was in Manly. The salon was located in a shopping mall about a ten minute walk from the station - the area was like being in little China
We got there early and had a very nice snack lunch in the food hall in the Mall and I then presented myself at the hairdressers where a very pleasant receptionist showed me to a chair and gave me some magazines to read and I thought I was in for an hour or so of pampering.
Not so... A thirty-something lady introduced herself (but I didn't catch her name) and then proceeded to subject me to 45 mins of Hell - it was unbelievable!! I felt as though I had been assaulted. First of all she put on the colour at breakneck speed and then turned the heaters on my hair and told me I would be ‘done' in 20 mins. At home I never use heaters (the ladies here will understand - sorry guys, you may switch off for a mo!). Anyway, after five mins I felt my scalp start to burn but couldn't find her or anyone else to speak to although she did appear soon after to enquire if all was well. Seeing all was not well she faffed around for a few minutes and then eventually rinsed off the colour - after only eight mins - and then proceeded to blow-dry my hair like a mad woman. She had the hairdryer on at maximum speed really close to my hair drying it out horribly - she was absolutely dreadful!
Eventually I had had enough and told her to stop - I didn't want her to do anything else to me. Unlike most hairdressers she didn't do any small talk and seemed to have had what I can only describe as a charisma bypass! The salon owner saw that all was not well and came over to enquire what the problem was. On listening to my list of complaints he said there would be no charge (it would have cost me around £80 to £100 - I know, extortionate, but what can a girl do when her hair needs doing?!) and I escaped. Instead of looking like a glamour puss I looked like I had been dragged through a hedge backwards! I was quite traumatised - luckily the colour after all this was not too bad even though my scalp still felt very tender and my hair felt quite straw like!
Once outside I rang Mike and he managed to calm me down (although he agreed I looked like I had gone through a hedge backwards!) and took me back to Ben's where I had a stiff cup of tea to aid recovery.
When Ben came home we all went out to a nearby local Indian restaurant (Ben goes there a lot, he just books in as ‘Ben'!) where we had an excellent meal of Barramundi fish, lamb shanks and a potato and spinach dish preceded by pancakes with a prawn and coconut sauce. Absolutely delicious and very filling! The end of an eventful day, and so to bed.
30 Nov 11 - After another excellent breakfast of muesli and fresh mango (you will have guessed by now that we like mangoes, they are in season at the moment and are mouth-wateringly delicious; no comparison with those we buy back at home!) we again walked to St Leonards station and took a train into the City and walked to Darling Harbour where we spent the day.
We sat enjoying a fresh orange juice and a coffee overlooking the harbour and watching the world go by and after walking all round the Harbour went round the Maritime Museum which was stuffed with all things maritime and was very interesting.
Being peckish we ate at the Maritime Museum Café where we had an absolutely excellent fish meal (also one of the cheapest meals we had had in Oz) overlooking the old warship and submarine in the Harbour.
After finding a Coles supermarket, where we bought food for supper, we walked back to the Town Hall station and took the train back to St Leonards. It was really hot and humid - around 32°C - and the train was airless; we both arrived home at Ben's drenched in sweat and completely done in! After a shower and change of clothes we felt a lot better.
Ben had been to Melbourne for the day and arrived back at the flat at around 8.00 pm - a long day for him as he had left home around 6.30 am for the 8.00 am flight to Melbourne. The evening was very warm so we all sat on the terrace chatting with a glass or so of very good red wine each in the company of lots of insects, in particular some very fast moving cockroaches! There was a little bit of rain about but the predicted big storm did not materialize - maybe it would appear overnight as it felt very stormy and humid.
1 Dec 11 - The first day of summer in Oz! No rain overnight but the temperature this morning was much cooler - around 20°C. We had arranged to meet Jo Walker (our erstwhile 'Scenic Tours' Tour Leader) at St Leonards Station at 11.00 am. We arrived there a little early to find her waiting having already obtained for us Senior Travel Cards (Pensioner Excursion Tickets - PETs, to which we were not strictly entitled!) and chivvying us to hurry up to catch a train to Bondi Junction, from where we caught a bus to Bondi Beach.
The weather was improving - sunny with clouds and pretty windy - very bracing! Jo blagged her way into the very exclusive 'Bondi Icebergs Club' overlooking the famous beach. The Club has around 4,000 members, all of whom have had to have passed an initiation test by swimming 50 metres in their outdoor salt-water pool to which buckets of ice have been added! They then have to swim in the pool at least four times a year to maintain their membership, which is a very reasonable A$50 a year. Apparently more men than women drop out of the membership. We were signed in as temporary members and went in and had a coffee overlooking the pool and the fabulous and iconic Bondi Beach. With the strong wind, the waves were quite impressive and a few hardy surfers were out braving the surf.
We also had a sneaky look in at the exclusive and apparently stonkingly expensive restaurant attached to the Club - it did look very nice I must say.
A walk along the coastal path to Tamarama Beach, which was very rocky with a fierce surf, and then on to Bronte Beach where we had a great salad lunch at a roadside restaurant overlooking the beach.
From there we took buses back to Circular Quay where we diverted to go and visit the 'Customs House' which had a huge 3D map of Sydney CBD set underneath a glass floor in the entrance - very impressive. We had a look at the three floors of Library including a display of photographs that Jo found particularly interesting. Then Jo again blagged her way in to get a look at the expensive and fairly exclusive 'Café Sydney' restaurant on the Level 5 rooftop with views over Sydney Harbour.
Time then to take the ferry to Cremorne Point which had a great en route view of the Harbour Bridge - maybe a venue for watching the fireworks on New Year's Eve? It was a beautiful area with a wonderful garden all along the waterfront which had been lovingly and laboriously created by a local married couple between the 1960s and the 1990s and which was now preserved in their name.
We walked from here along a very picturesque path past some amazing houses (if only ...!) to Mosman Bay where Jo's, by now proven, prowess at blagging got us all into the Mosman Rowing Club, yet another temporary membership for us! There we sat overlooking the very pretty and busy Harbour, Jo and I had glasses of red wine and Mike had a couple of beers and we all shared some wedgie potatoes as a snack meal - most pleasant.
Jo very kindly invited us back to her flat for supper so we took several buses back to her apartment in Naremburn which is not too far from where Ben lives. Stopped en route to buy provisions and wine and then Jo did us proud with a delicious meal of barbecued salmon with salad followed by strawberries and crème fraiche, which we ate on her balcony. She also loaned us lots of leaflets, books and brochures to help us on our Motorhome trip, with lots of advice as well. All very welcome and useful.
The evening sped by and at 11.00 pm we walked back to Ben's, exhausted but very happy. It had been a brilliant day - what a great way to see some of the non-touristy parts of Sydney. Thanks so much, Jo!
2 Dec 11 - Mike begged for a day off! Accordingly we had a quiet day, watching the cricket on Ben's TV - an Australia v New Zealand Test Match from Brisbane - and reading and generally relaxing. It was quite cool and windy.
Ben's cleaning lady arrived - Ben had prepared us - he referred to her as a ‘mad woman'. She was an Indian lady called Begum who said she was known as ‘Angela'. Angela was very efficient and three hours later the flat and terrace were sparkling. We spent the time she was there trying not to get in her way and decided eventually to go out to give her a clear run at the place.
We braved the very gusty wind to walk to Coles (the equivalent of Sainsburys/Tesco) to buy food for that evening - we knew that Ben planned to be out. On our return we enjoyed gorgeous fillet steaks with salad followed by strawberries for supper. I then set to ironing all of Ben's shirts as my 'thank you' for putting us up. Thirteen shirts later, with the place looking like Widow Twankey's laundry, we retired to bed!
3 Dec 11 - Leisurely rising. Ben appeared around 10.30 am after his early morning exercise routine and swim, showered and then very kindly drove us to Caroline's in Westleigh through pretty heavy traffic. After big thank-you hugs he left to go off to an all day barbecue (oh, to be young again!) and we settled in for the weekend with Caroline.
After a lunch of quiche and salad we all went shopping in Hornsby - Mike bought some very nice, very cheap cotton T-shirts and a super duper mocha coffee pot with which he was ecstatic! We went into another Coles where we stocked up with basic essentials for our motorhome trip. Caroline cooked us a delicious supper of lamb and green pepper kebabs, potatoes and salad followed by a berry pavlova - we have certainly eaten like kings (and queens) this holiday! General chatting in the evening and then an early bed as we were all pretty tired.
4 Dec 11 - Woke to a beautiful blue sky - lots of lorikeets feeding from the plate and arguing between themselves. They are so pretty. Weather then deteriorated - it felt a lot cooler and looked like it might rain! Put a load of washing on the line and then shortly afterwards dashed to remove it just in time to avoid a fairly impressive thunderstorm together with hailstones and pretty torrential rain.
The day remained cold, dismal and raining and we just sat inside watching the rain falling until late afternoon when Caroline and I decided to go to her church for the evening service. On the way whilst just sitting in the car minding my own business one arm of my glasses fell off onto my lap - the screw had come out and of course had disappeared! Luckily the glasses stayed on my nose with just one sidepiece.
Caroline drove for about half an hour to her church - which was more like a concert hall - masses of people of all ages but mainly twenty somethings, around 3,000 people! On the stage there was a full band with singers, guitarists and a drummer who played and sang during the service which lasted about an hour and a half. It was quite uplifting. There were people who were baptized during the service and for this service there was an ‘anointing' when those anointed have some oil pressed on their foreheads whilst being prayed for by one of the church elders in the hope of a good 2012. This particular event only takes place every now and then. Christianity seems to be very big in Australia and these numbers of people are not unusual. Caroline said there are three services at her church each Sunday and every one of them has impressive numbers regularly attending. With lots of singing and clapping it is a very happy atmosphere. Very different from that which I'm used to in UK!
On the way home we picked up a Chinese take-away which we enjoyed when we got back to Caroline's. An early night in preparation for our motorhome debut the following day...!
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