Sydney: The First Encounter

Buckling up on the plane from Darwin, I felt like a bit of snob for being surprised at seeing the cabin crew wearing t-shirts, ‘even Ryanair can kit their staff out in suits’, I thought. On the other hand, I was glad to find nobody sitting beside me so got to lie down on my makeshift 3-seat bed and get some half decent sleep through what was left of the night. The peace came to an abrupt somewhere round about 5 though, as the bunch of 4-6 year-old sisters in front of me uncannily sprung to life as at the first sign of dawn. The landscape went from agricultural plains to rugged mountainous land to a carpet of forest with the occasional house tucked in the corner of a river valley, so I was quite thankful to be woken and not have missed it but I could have done without the running commentary, dominated by the girls thinking (well, shouting) obscure usernames and passwords for their future facebook accounts and then battering the seat tables in what turned out to be an exercise in e-mailing each other. I was through Sydney airport and on an expensive train – $15 single to roughly the same corner of the city – to Bondi Junction, doing my usual staying at the door just in case I missed the two stops although in hindsight, I’d have done pretty well to miss Central Station and even better, Bondi Junction, where the train terminates.

So, I’d made it to what was originally going to be the half-way point of my trip, although with quite a bit of cheating seeing as I’d missed the whole the east coast through Queensland and most of NSW, but all that could wait for now as I’d found there were still spaces left on a 9-day paragliding license course in Victoria and it was time to act on what was, before I’d got distracted by this whole year out in Australia, my main goal for the year. It’s great to be staying with an uncle and auntie who I’ve not seen for 11 years, and my cousin who I’ve never had the chance to meet before. Obviously having my own room in beautifully restored house (and the only one on the street that hasn’t been sub-divided into a semi, or worse, too) in the afluent eastern suburbs, with a view to a bit of Bondi beach was a bonus. Round the corner, I checked out the car adverts in the YHA and found one or two of interest. As is often the case, a few of the numbers rung out or just didn’t connect but eventually someone answered and I sorted out a test-drive for the next morning. The Ford Falcon was exactly what I was looking for, with plenty room in the back to leave a permanent sleeping space and with the peace of mind that it’s reliable and can get serviced almost anywhere. I don’t like automatics but the car drove well so I shook on it and was the proud owner by the end of the week.

In hindsight, I should have done a lot more homework before looking to buy a car, never mind actually handing over money for one, but I’d never owned a car before (not bad for over 4 years driving) and was blissfully unaware of the complications of buying a second hand car in Australia. For a start, each state has it’s own rules and cars have to be registered, generally yearly, in any one state to be driven anywhere in the country. When selling a car, the seller should provide a current safety certificate with the car, as one is usually needed to officially transfer the registration to the new owner. Also some paperwork should be filled in to prove transfer of ownership. There’s other stuff about ownership transfer tax and that sort of thing, but those are the main ones. If the car’s registration isn’t due for renewal any time soon then these things aren’t so much of worry, since as long as you’re displaying a valid sticker on your windscreen the police aren’t going to bother you, although you technically have 14 days to transfer the ownership. Also things, tend to get more confused when trying to transfer the rego of car interstate. Anyway, you might guess that not much of the above happened during my buying experience, so next month things could get interesting when I’m in Victoria, trying to get a safety certificate and registration for a car that I can’t legally prove that I own and that was previously registered in Queensland. Fun times.

Between the Tuesday that I viewed the car and the Saturday that I bought it, I did fit in a bit of sight-seeing around the city. The was a bit pants for photos on my first trip into the CBD so I took a fairly direction-less walk around through the main streets, spending a lot of time just gawking up at the size and beauty of the buildings – every building seems to have a bit of appeal either through architecture of previous eras or through sheer size of the current one – and then found myself having a seat in Hyde Park, finding it slightly odd that although I’ve been told I’ve been to the one in London many times, this is the first time that I’ll remember being in a Hyde Park. There was an American guy, on a much shorter holiday than I, sitting next to me so we both headed through some massive cathedral and on to the botanic gardens as a map promised a decent view of the opera house and bridge from there.

Another sunnier day, I went back and headed for the Harbour Bridge as I now realised that I could climb one of the pylon towers, which are still pretty high, for a lot less than a full-on bridge climb, where I wouldn’t even get to take photos with my camera. Deciding to let my instincts lead me on a fairly convoluted route through the city, round by Darling Harbour and up past the observatory. The view from there is great, looking along level with the road over to North Sydney instead of peering up at it from the water. Eventually I was on top of the south-east pylon tower taking in stunning views of almost all the city and the harbour, watching boats zipping about all over the place and a constant flow of people doing the bridge-climb. I must have been up there over an hour – there’s just so much to see – before the wind started feeling a bit chilly and a remembered I was supposed to be earning my keep by cooking tea that night.

My auntie took me on part of the east Sydney coastal walk through Tamarama and Bronte beaches, both of which look way nicer than Bondi, I’d say, and on Saturday I helped with a garage sale we held to to get rid of some of the mountain of cds and books that were lying in boxes around the house – remnants of when my cousin ran a shop in the city. It was pretty quiet so I took the chance to discover some new music before I got the call that my car was ready to collect. Even on a Sunday, I didn’t like the thought of trying to find my way out of Sydney, especially I was going to try to avoid toll roads, so before 7am – pretty much a week to the hour since I’d arrived – I was leaving Sydney in my first car, on my first road-trip, getting my first taste of true freedom in Australia..

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