Arriving at Sydney airport on Christmas Eve was quite an experience. Heading down towards customs, all the huge posters on the walls basically said “Welcome to Australia, oh and here are pictures of all the stuff that wants to kill you. Be careful. Have fun!!” Coming through arrivals, it was like the pictures you see of when the England team arrives back at Heathrow! The waiting crowd was about 6 rows deep, packed with friends and family eagerly awaiting love and hugs. And there was me. One man, and his bag (.com) – haha!
Within minutes of arrival I quickly learned how much of a ‘budget buster’ Australia is. Thirsty from the flight, I headed to a kiosk and got a bottle of water.
“Er, sorry, just one bottle thanks.”
With the current exchange rate, that worked out at over £3 just for a small bottle of water! My previous night’s accommodation in Bangkok had only cost me £2.50! Bye, bye budget.
Driving through the city on the airport shuttle bus en route to my hostel, Jackaroo, it felt like coming home! It was a bizarre feeling to be half way around the world and yet feel totally at home. Check in at Jackaroo was pretty straight forward, and after all the changes with the flight I only ended up losing one night accommodation (but still, that was $60 down the drain!)
My room for Christmas and New Year was a 4 bed dorm, with en suite! When I arrived there was only one other person in the room, a guy called Jack from Bourne in Lincolnshire so just down the road from me! He’s 18 and on a year trip to Aus, working while he goes. We didn’t have heaps in common, but he was a nice enough chap and we chatted whenever we were in the room together.
Between Bangkok and Sydney, you lose 4 hours. The jet lag wasn’t as bad as London to Bangkok, but due to lack of sleep on the plane I was pretty tired. Still, I had a buzz about being in Sydney and, knowing my hostel was only a 20 minute walk from the Opera House, I couldn’t wait. I took a shower, grabbed a map and headed off on the walk around Macquarie point.
It’s difficult to describe how I felt when I finally turned the last corner on the Macquarie headland and caught my first glimpse of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. I think the first thought was “hmm, smaller than I thought!”
There was a Dutch couple taking pics of each other, so I offered to take a pic of them together in exchange for them taking one of me! Like everything in life, travelling solo has positives and negatives. I knew there would be moments on my travels when, being on my own would be weird. This was one of the first moments that this was true. Standing in front of one of the world’s most famous scenes, and no one to say “well, would you look at that!” to. This boy from Corby on the Sydney Harbour, halfway round the world on his jack! Weird. After all the excitement I lay down in the botanic gardens overlooking the harbour and must have fallen asleep, really unlike me! I’m not sure how long I’d been asleep, but when I woke up there was an army of huge ants marching over my tummy in a line about 2″ thick!! Unfortunately, my first instinct was to brush them all off otherwise it would have made a cracking picture!
Before I’d set off on my trip I’d tracked down the Sydney Salvation Army website and discovered that they hold an open air Christmas Eve service at Martins Place in the Sydney CBD. After a proper sleep back at the hostel, this time thankfully without the ant parade, I headed off in to the city in search of the giant Christmas tree under which the service was held.
It didn’t take too long to find and what a great event the Salvos’ put on! It was still pretty weird thinking it was Christmas yet it was something like 20c at 7.30pm and everyone was in shorts and flip-flops (or thongs as the Aussies prefer to call them!).
It was so nice to hear the brass band and to sing along with the carols. During a brief break the bandmaster stepped away from the band and I took my chance! I approached him, and told him that normally at this time of year I’m wrapped up in all my woolly clothes and going round the streets of Corby playing carols. I cheekily asked if there was any chance I could have a play in the band, even for just one carol. He was a really lovely bloke, called Ben and he told me that a guy who plays 2nd cornet hadn’t showed up. If I kept my eye on him, they were going to play a march at the end and he’d give me a nod and I could come over and join in! I was made up!! They sorted a chair out and as promised, he called me over at the end and I got to play. I’d asked one of the collectors to take a pic so I could look back on this moment, as it was pretty special and really made my Christmas!
I spoke to the officer in charge and found out about the carol service which was to be held Christmas day at the Sydney Congress Hall starting at 9.30am. I got some directions and headed off to find it, ready for the morning. But, not before I got a pic of me in front of the famous Martins Place Christmas tree. It’s a bit like watching Neighbours at home with my blog, slightly behind the times and you’re getting the Christmas stuff at the wrong time of year! Haha!
As it’s all in the past now and I’ve moved on, I don’t mind letting you know that Christmas Eve was a pretty tough time overall, as you could probably imagine. Home sickness truly reared its ugly head and I didn’t have a great sleep that night.
Next morning, bright and early I headed off to the Salvos. It was a really nice service, and I even got a small present! The officer was talking about how her husband hadn’t bought her anything for Christmas; she asked a general question to the congregation if there was anyone else out there who hadn’t got a present yet. I kept quiet!! However, we’d already had a discussion before the meeting so she knew my story. As she walked around the hall handing out gifts, she called out to me “Gordie, I bet you didn’t get anything did you? Here ya go mate!” and she threw me a sweetie (or a lolly as they’re known here!). Woo hoo!! I kept the wrapper for my picture I will make when this is all done. I also got a Christmas card from Tracey which was lovely, delivered to the Salvos. My parents had also sent something, but in true Woollacott style sent it late and it didn’t arrive in time! Haha! I’ve since had an email from the Salvos to say it’s there so maybe I’ll pick it up before my flight.
The rest of Christmas day was spent with about 5,000 other people on Bondi Beach! It was proper hot, and I now know how the turkey feels at Christmas. My first experience of the searingly hot Aussie sun left me slightly red faced! As this was a Christmas like.no.other (don’t sue me Sony!) I decided that my Christmas dinner would also be like.no.other. FISH n CHIPS!! Top drawer, followed by a mint feast. Man, I know how to live!
The following pic was a random event! I’d asked a couple of girls to take the pic of me at the beach, and then also asked if I could borrow the santa hat for that magical Christmas effect! They thought this was hilarious and gave me some sparkly sunnies aswell. After they’d taken the pic, one of the girls ran up and asked to have her pic with me. So, I also got her friend to take one of us. Basically, about 20mins after having asked them to take my pic I was on my way again, haha!
It was a bit of a mad scramble for the bus back in to town but, having got back I logged on to facebook to send a few messages and that’s when I picked up the video message sent by my family and friends. I’m man enough to admit that it made my eyes really wet, and it was most probably not hay fever this time. It’s the most beautiful present I ever had. Thank you SOOOOO much for doing that guys, I LOVED IT!
So, here I was on Christmas night. As I’d arrived halfway through Christmas Eve I hadn’t really had the chance to meet anyone so initially, Christmas night was not looking good. I’d had a really nice day though so took a shower, rolled out the glad rags and found a bar. This was another budget shock as I ordered a bottle of beer that will go down in my history as the most expensive I have ever ordered!
That equates to £6.46 for a standard bottle of beer, so something like £12 a pint! But, as it turned out it was more than worth it. As I sat there, hardly wetting my lips with each sip, a girl leaned over and asked if I was on my own. I guess, on Christmas night more than any other night, someone sitting on their own is a pretty obvious and possibly quite sad sight! I really didn’t want her to take pity on me, but then again I didn’t much wanna sit on my own and I had come out to try and meet people. She was with her boyfriend too so I just said, “No, it’s cool. I don’t want to interrupt you and your boyfriend”. I genuinely didn’t! But, she said “oh, he’s not my boyfriend. I’m a prostitute”. I wish I could write how a record sounds when it suddenly comes to a stop, but imagine it and that’s the sound I heard. Here I was, thinking wow another travel angel and she turns out to be a hooker! Oh well, why the hell not I thought and joined them. Michaela, as I soon discovered, then proceeded to order the drinks (and did so for the rest of the evening!) I got chatting to her ‘boyfriend’ Barry and eventually found out that Michaela has a very wicked sense of humour and is, in fact, not a prostitute at all! Sitting a few tables away I spotted another ‘Christmas loner’ and suggested to Michaela that perhaps she might like to invite this chap to join us too! Which she promptly did, and that’s how I met Koen the Dutchman. This is when Michaela cracked open the Bundaberg rum, and this is when things get hazy! That stuff is lethal, I had a Bundy and coke and every sip was like a shot. I can’t imagine how much she was spending on the rounds, but I was very grateful!! Koen and I got on great and eventually Michaela and Barry had moved on leaving Koen and me with a Swedish guy and an Aussie couple. Was Michaela another travel angel?
The Aussie couple were great fun and eventually convinced me and Koen to join them at a club they knew of. The hostels me and Koen were staying at are in a place called Kings Cross in Sydney. Unlike London, where its namesake is full of red lights stopping trains, the Sydney version is full of red lights stopping ‘gentlemen’. You get my drift? So, this ‘club’ our new Aussies friends took us to wasn’t really a club for dancing. Well, it was, but just for one girl. You get my drift? Haha, anyway, we didn’t stay long as the standard was pretty low. Obviously, had it been higher we would have had to endure the rest of the show totally against our will you understand.
My Christmas wasn’t quite over yet. As Koen and I swapped contact info and agreed to meet up next day, I headed back to the hostel where Christmas was still in full swing! I logged on to Skype and got hold of my family and they got to witness the full effects of a Gordie on Bundy! I must admit, most of that conversation is lost but by all accounts it was worth seeing.
So, what did YOU get for Christmas? I got a sweetie from the Salvos; a card from Tracey; sunburn from the er, sun; a video message from home; drinks from Michaela and a Koen from Holland. Not bad! All that remained was for me to throw up in the en-suite, clamber into bed and fall asleep.