Monday, 19 September 2011

Day 15: Goodbye Sydney

So, goodbye Sydney, and I will miss you.

Upon arriving back in Sydney after the entertaining, but ill-fated, road trip from Sydney to Melbourne with Matt, I had four more days in Australia's biggest city before flying away to Singapore. After spending the previous week-and-a-half with Matt, Emma and Xavier in Bondi, with a room to myself, and often a toasted breakfast placed on my lap, this last gasp in Sydney was in some ways the beginning of my actual backpacking experience. No more luxury, now it will be cheap hostels and guesthouses, and the joys of sharing rooms with multiple strangers, and lamenting how old I am compared to the hoards of horrifying youth around me.

The Funkhouse was certainly horrifying. It was where I stayed on my first night back, and where Burness had been for the previous four days. It was also where myself and Matt had illicitly slept on the night before the road trip - their door security is notably lax. Burness had only stayed there because his first few nights had seen him enjoy a four-man room all to himself, but by the time I had arrived two Swiss had joined us. I'd love to tell you a bit about them, but I can gather only that they enjoy sleeping. I arrived at 6pm on Thursday - they were in bed. They were still there when I myself went to bed at about 11, and when I checked out the following morning, at 10am, they were still obstinately refusing to budge from their beds. And it's not as if the beds were comfortable - they were bunkbeds that shook and creaked, in a small stickily-warm room with noisy floorboards and crazy squawking birds in the morning. But Swiss will be Swiss, and I'm sure had no opinion on all of this.

The Funkhouse was dire, truly dire, so much so that I hope that I find no worse accommodation in the eight months that follow. Every door of every room was painted with a cartoon character, the whole place reeked of "let's be wacky youth!!!!" and the guests were all a bit odd and unfriendly (the staff, in fairness, were nice). The decor was faded, the communal bathrooms basically clean but shared, the whole venue noisy, and the atmosphere in general uncomfortable. Which is why Burness scouted out a better hostel, which we moved to after my first night.

It was called Eva's Backpackers, just around the corner, and was a whole world of improvement. Fresher, cleaner, friendlier, and with more subdued decor that made allowances for the possibility that the residents might be intelligent and discerning and 15 years old, it also boasted a superb rooftop terrace with barbecues. Plus, lots and lots of young Germans - but they were a nice bunch.

After a pretty busy first week or so in Sydney, racing around and enjoying the sights, this great rooftop terrace set the scene for a leisurely few days to follow. Burness and I bought lots and lots of meat - chicken, lamb, kangaroo, crocodile, prawns, octopus and good old beefburgers - and barbecued the hell out of it. With views over the Sydney city centre skyline, and plenty of beer and gin-and-tonic, this was an excellent way to spend the evening. Too excellent sometimes, as we spent all Friday afternoon and evening drinking excessive amounts, thus reducing our Saturdays to a ruin (Burness went to a tiny club for hours afterwards, leaving him an even greater shambles than me that day).



That's not to say we spent our entire time barbecuing. On Saturday, almost fully recovered from the night before, I went into Sydney's Darling Harbour area to meet a friend of mine, Julie. Julie I know from way back in first year in university - let's not think how many years ago that is now - but moreso from regular poker Tuesdays that used to take place in Aberdeen a few years ago. These games eventually broke up when I moved to Edinburgh and she moved to Sydney, just over a year ago, where she is teacher and in the ongoing process of trying to get a resident's visa.

We ate at an Indian restaurant, upstairs and outside, with a terrific view of the city at night, and of some large outdoor TV screens showing the Australia - Ireland rugby game, which Ireland won to some surprise - and to a favourable reception from the crowd watching (there are a lot of Irish in Sydney). Julie happened to be quite a fiendish poker player on occasion and so there was a casino just around the corner - "The Star" - which had recently reopened to fireworks and fanfare, so we took a look in there. It was quite some spectacle, with rather a lot of people, and we took part in a little roulette. I was quite excited about this and thought it might be my lucky day, as earlier on in the street I had found AU$10 floating about, and absolutely nobody around who might have been the owner. Coupled with my previous 100% roulette record - played twice only ever on two different occasions, getting number 18 first time on each - I thought fate was blowing in my direction. It wasn't, and 18 resolutely failed to materialise. This boded poorly for my AU$10, but bodes well for what may otherwise have been an extravagant waste of money at my upcoming destination, the Marina Bay Sands casino complex in Singapore.

Mine and Burness's final full day in Singapore was on Sunday, and enjoyed an early start as we wandered down to the Opera House area to watch the Sydney Marathon. I quite enjoyed the overall spectacle of this, but it turns out that ultimately watching a marathon just involves a bunch of people running by. Just as I grimly suspect that the Singapore Grand Prix, which I'm due to attend later this week, will just involve a bunch of cars driving by.

That more or less sums up our final few, leisurely, days spent in Sydney, as backpackers, residing in the notorious King's Cross area. Apart from a large Coca-Cola sign, which ridiculously is a tourist attraction and even more ridiculously is now Australian heritage listed - it's just a big advert, guys - King's Cross is known for being the red-light underbelly of Sydney. Or so it tries to be. It's true, it does have loads and loads of stripper clubs, and brothels too I believe, but it's more of a seedy commercial district than a genuine underbelly. It does, in fairness, have a very high proportion of headcases - walking down the street at any time of day will allow you to avoid eye contact with numerous obviously disturbed people talking to themselves, or with anyone that will vaguely listen.

I had a sly affection for Kings Cross and its masses of backpacking hostels, cheap pubs, crazy people, and garish lewd neon, but am very glad it was only my final taste of Sydney as I don't feel it represents the city. No doubt, the residents will have a fuller insight, and not all of Sydney will be honey and blossom, but for a visitor the impression is strongly of an affluent, confident and attractive city, that is very welcoming, if hideously expensive (£5 for a small beer was commonplace). It still feels a young city, and will gain depth with time, but is a city that I would highly recommend visiting, against my prior expectation.

As a final note, more to the road trip than to Sydney, there was some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the missing spare keys to Matt and Emma's car were found - in Matt's rucksack. It appears that I put them in there for "safe-keeping" before entirely forgetting. So that's a relief. Worse news is that the estimate for repairs to the car - which will not be a quick job - will cost well into the four figures. Ouch.

Anyway, goodbye and thank-you Sydney. Welcome Singapore - you've got a hard act to follow.

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