Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas in Mittagong

I've just got back from Mittagong where I had a really enjoyable stress-free Christmas Day with my dad, Cate and Sarah. After the busy run-up to Christmas, a couple of days in the country was just what I needed. I love it down there; it's so pretty, un-populated and quiet. It wasn't so hot that we had to turn the air-con on full whack either. Everything was just perfect.

Except me. I wasn't expecting any gifts from Dad and Cate or my mum in London for that matter and didn't get them anything in return, although I did ask what they wanted. Will have to make amends in 2009.

As for food, always a particularly sore point for me at Christmas, everyone was very supportive and didn't force me to eat anything (!) and we had a lovely cold Christmas dinner; delicious salads, some cold roast meat, plum pudding with ice-cream etc. It was my first Aussie Christmas for 21 years! The bulimic urges are still there though.

Boxing Day was spent at my uncle's house in Turramurra with all the cousins. My aunt put on a huge spread; lots of steak was eaten and cold beer drunk. I was even able to use their pool for the first time. It was far too cold back in July when Ric and I first came to Sydney. Have we been here five months already?! It's been so wonderful to reconnect with all the relatives over here and I find my self more and more reluctant to leave.

I do miss my mum though.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Shingle Bells

An update on the rash - Ric finally went to the doctor today as the rash was spreading, blistering and beginning to hurt. The diagnosis is shingles. Poor thing. He could have it for some time.

As for me, I've finished up at work and am looking forward to having a few days off. I'm so tired.
One of the staff gave me a beautiful bunch of flowers today so the flat now smells gorgeous.

I'll catch the train down to Mittagong tomorrow in time to wrap pressies with Sarah. Still doesn't feel like Christmas. Perhaps it's the heat or maybe I've finally given up on my childhood fantasies!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

The week before Christmas

It's been another very busy week here in Sydney, but a fun one.

Ric and Charlotte have been doing lots of touristy things with their folks while I've been plowing on at work trying to get things wrapped up before we finish on Tuesday. I'm doing well for presents so far what with thirteen bottles of wine, one bottle of bubbly, a panettone, a basket of fruit and a box of cookies. Most of those are unwanted gifts given to the bosses but who am I to complain?

On Thursday we had our office Christmas party on the Chairman's 60 foot yacht which is moored in the prestigious Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Rushcutter's Bay. We had a fabulous day sailing round the harbours, eating fine food, pulling crackers (or 'bon bons' as they call them here), knocking back bottles of champagne and wine and avoiding shop talk (for the most part at least). The weather was glorious for nearly all of the sail and only started to turn bad as we made our way back to the club. The huge grey billowing storm clouds which loomed over Sydney were quite magnificent. At the boss' insistence we all had a go at the helm and as you can tell from the photos, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

As the weeks pass and the days get hotter, I grow fonder of Sydney and more attached to my job and know now that I'm going to find it very hard to leave it behind in February.

Yesterday Ric, Charlotte, their parents and I visited the stately 19th Century mansion Vaucluse House, the near-by Nielsen Park and the cliffs and beach at Watson's Bay. It is amazing how one can see sea, sand, skyscrapers, park lands and sumptuous gardens all within half an hour's drive of each other. There are so many parts to Sydney I have still to explore and so many gorgeous houses I can only dream of owning.

We've had some great experiences and adventures so far this year but today Ric and I did something which aced all others to date. This morning I was instructed to go and buy a big drawing pad, the biggest I could find, and some pens because as much as we enjoyed going to see Rolf Harris last week, we felt we really should have more of a souvenir. So, off we went back the Opera House where we waited to catch him after his final performance of the tour. There were quite a few people in line (we were second), mainly children and women of a certain age. He looks pretty good for 78 but seemed tired and drew an audible sigh when he saw the fans waiting for him to sign their various CDs, photos, brochures and wobble boards. We were chuffed when he drew Ric a Rolferoo and me a Jake the Peg and were grinning like loons all the way home. We love you Rolfie.

Ric has just developed a bit of a nasty rash on his back and bum - he said I could post this picture - we've no idea what it is as it doesn't hurt yet and we don't think we've got bugs in the bedroom - shingles? It's rather unpleasant whatever it is!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

East Coast Break

After a madly busy week back at work I've only just got round to writing up my two week jaunt around the East Coast with my friend Nicole.

Flying first to Proserpine, which has the funniest departure lounge I've ever seen comprising of just an grassy outdoor pen, we made our way to Airlie Beach. It wasn't the best night to arrive in town as the 'schoolies' (school leavers) were out and the place was crawling with drunk noisy teenagers. This wouldn't have bothered us had we not being staying in Magnums, the cheapest, noisiest and most central hostel in town. We didn't realise this when it was booked for us by the agent in Sydney. I also managed to take the wrong backpack when the airport shuttle bus dropped us off. The driver handed me a bag which in darkness looked just like mine. I only realised it wasn't mine after we'd checked in. What followed was a good hour of running up and down the high street asking in tourist offices and hostels if anyone had lost of handed in a bag. I managed to find the poor Canadian girl whose bag I'd taken but she'd left mine on the bus. I got it back the next day - thank goodness. So that wasn't a good start to the holiday.

After a sweaty and noisy night at Magnum's Nicole decided it wasn't for her so promptly upgraded to a nice hotel down the road the next morning. I didn't want to pay twice for accommodation and can sleep through most things so decided to stay put.

We were heading off on our Pride of Airlie trip that day anyhow so I had time to consider my options but I was inclined to spend my money on some diving later that week.

The Pride of Airlie was a booze focused three day sail around the Whitsundays with two nights sleeping on South Molle Island, some snorkeling and visits to a couple of the Whitsunday islands including the silica sand Whitehaven Beach. There were nearly 70 of us crammed on the catamaran so it was a good job we could get off and sleep in proper beds at night. Not that we did much of that what with all the drinking games, pool parties, dancing til late and getting up early. In fact I was up at 6am every day of the trip, mainly because of the intense heat in the tropics which starts as soon as the sun comes up at 5ish.

As far a social events go, this trip was a lot of fun and I didn't feel too old for it, but I was a bit let down by the snorkeling and everyone agreed that the food was just dire. We had the same tiny portions and basic meals for three days in a row (that's cheese sandwiches and veggie burgers for me) and the staff even rationed our milk and bread! I was worried that if she didn't like Magnum's Nicole would hate this but she had a great to time too!

Upon my return to Airlie I was eager to do some diving so booked another boat trip. This time I really lucked out. I went for the FantaSea Reefsleep, a two day/one night trip to the slightly cheesy sounding 'Reef World' on the Great Barrier Reef, some 70 miles out from the Whitsundays.

What I didn't realise when I booked was that when the 100 or so day-trippers went home at 2.30pm there would be only 4 of us left on the pontoon over night and that we would be treated to extra guided snorkeling trips, first class service from our personal steward and other staff, endless drinks and snacks and a three course meal with wine under the stars. Heavenly. They even threw in two extra dives for me! The other guests were great company. There was a lovely National Geographic journalist who was doing a whistle stop tour of Oz and arrived by helicopter and a couple from Proserpine. The trip was a surprise 50th birthday present for her from her husband- they'd never tried diving or even snorkeling before but were so keen to do everything and were really good! We all kept marvelling at how lucky we were to find ourselves in such an obscure but wonderful location and being spoilt rotten! I didn't really want to go back to the mainland the next day...

By the end of the week Nicole and I were ready to leave Airlie. This was compounded by the fact that I had a panic attack on the day we were to fly back to Brisbane. After months of my OCD getting the better of me more and more I just felt completely overwhelmed by it all. I just kept thinking I should be having a great holiday but was instead being constantly dragged down by irrational thoughts and the resulting behaviour and depression. I went to a local doctor who gave me some anxiety pills and anti-depressants but now I'm seeking help in Sydney. Just can't understand where this all comes from. Ric reckons I have bad genes. I think it's a hell of a lot more complex than that.

Onwards and southwards, we flew to Brisbane where we spent the night with a dear school friend who has settled here. It was a great evening of catching up, discussing natural health therapies (she's training in that field) and some awesome Thai food!

Next it was off to Dingos on Rainbow Beach where our three day Fraser Island experience began. Dingos is a pleasant enough and well organised hostel - you couldn't ask for better management for the Fraser Island tours but it felt a bit like a boot camp especially when you get given your plastic cutlery and crockery in a sack and are told to wash it up after every meal.

We were put in to groups of 11, given a humorous and comprehensive briefing (or three) by a passionate (almost evangelical) tour manager, given our crates of food, booze and a map and sent on our way to Inskip Point where a small ferry took us over. Our group was a mixed bunch comprising three German and three English girls, two Irish lads, a Welshman, Nicole and I. Most of us had a go at driving along the massive expanse of white sandy beach (we were advised to drive close to the water to avoid getting stuck or rolling over). We got on well and made an efficient cooperative team and managed to visit the incredible pristine Lake McKenzie, Eli Creek, the impressive Maheno Wreck, Indian Head and couple of other places besides.

Along the way we saw lots of dingoes prowling for food, we were savaged by horseflies as we emerged from our furnace-like tents in the early hours, but failed to spot any Brumby ponies. I did a lot of cooking which I enjoyed. I even rather liked washing the pots and pans in the sea in the morning. Better than putting tents up anyway. I also swam in the sea each morning even though we were warned of the jelly fish and sharks. How easily I am enticed by the roar and mesmerising movements of the sea.

The evenings were great fun too when we camped with all the other groups - felt a bit like a music festival back home, except it was warm, dry and there was sand in my knickers instead of mud! I was surprised how much there was to do on the island and how little time we seemed to have. We even had to miss out Lake Wabby in order to hurtle back to the ferry pick up point on our last morning. The ferry was due to leave at 11.30am and with drove up at 11.29.

I would happily return to Fraser Island one day - an absolutely beautiful place which fully deserves it's World Heritage status. I just hope it stays that way and that the tourists don't wreck it with their rubbish and toilet areas.

Upon our arrival back to Rainbow Beach the car was inspected for damage. We held our breath nervously for an hour praying that we wouldn't have to replace anything that we may have inadvertently bumped, broken or scratched. Much to our relief we got an all clear - we didn't even lose a piece of cutlery!

Exhausted but elated by the whole experience Nicole and I relaxed for the rest of the afternoon before catching our 7pm bus to Hervey Bay that night. We were there for such a short time that we didn't really have a chance to check it out but I did go for a nice long run along the sea front in the morning and was watched by a curious possum as I took pictures of it on the veranda at the hostel!

The flight back from Hervey Bay was easy and quick and we got in to Sydney by mid-afternoon with all the right bags this time! It was quite a shock going back to work on Monday but it was lovely how much they seemed to miss me. I also realise now how much I need to work in order to make me feel settled and happy. It's going to be hellishly busy now in the run-up to Christmas.

Nicole is now in New Zealand and we have just welcomed Ric's parents to Sydney. It's great to see them after all these months. They even managed to sneak some Marmite in which has just been smothered on toast and devoured by their twins.

Another friend gets in to Sydney in the morning and we're all off to see Rolf Harris at the Opera House in the evening!

Unfortunately I lost a memory stick with half my photos on so only the second part of my trip has photos: