Are you all still bearing with me? The trip is coming to a close, only a few more destinations left! I know! I’m as shocked as you are, who knew a year was practically no time at all?
When we last spoke, I had just survived a skydive (the last ever in my life, for sure!) in Byron Bay. After killing the rest of the afternoon, it was time for another (and final!) overnight bus! This one brought me, at long last, back to Sydney. I’d booked a bed at Blue Parrot in Potts Point, a fun and quirky — if slightly seedy — part of town (read: upscale coffee houses by day, shady-looking strip clubs by night). The hostel was nice though, and full of fun and interesting people.
Sydney is on board with the free walking tours, similar to ones I’ve taken advantage of in other cities around the world. I joined up with a group heading out one afternoon and had a great time exploring and learning about this fascinating city. Far from trying to hide or gloss over the city’s origins as a large, unfenced prison colony, Aussies embrace this unique aspect of their history. We walked for miles all over the city, bad notetaker that I am, I don’t have a lot of details to share, other than anyone visiting should definitely take the tour and hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to have Danica as your guide. She was totally adorable and incredibly knowledgeable about Sydney and it’s history. I liked her so much, in fact, I stayed on after the afternoon city tour to come along on the evening tour of The Rocks, the original neighborhood of the first Sydneysiders. I gave her as big of a tip as my budget would allow, she was that good!
I had a couple of out of town excursions as well, the first to visit a long-time friend who lives in the Northern Suburbs. So, some of you may know this already, but some years ago, I joined an online community of like-minded individuals. At first, I joined solely for the purpose of sharing commentary on The Greatest Show Of Our Time. By which, of course, I mean…Gossip Girl. As time went on, I developed a deeper relationship with many of my fellow online commenters (my sister Nicole has a similar community of “ax-murderer” friends), many of whom I’ve come to know IRL (in real life, for those not hip to the lingo) and many have become a big part of my life. Anyway, one of our number is an Aussie gent who has been part of it all from the very beginning, but whom none of us had yet met IRL. Perhaps because we were largely centered in New York City and he lived in Sydney. Anyway, there was no way I was coming all the way around the world and not meeting up with LBS and his lovely family. We exchanged a few messages while I was out in the world and when the time came close, he invited me to come and spend the day out in the ‘burbs to meet the fam. I was very excited to finally meet him, as well as his lovely wife and 2 disgustingly gorgeous daughters and we all had a fantastic day together. We piled in the car and they showed me all around some great national parkland. We went for lunch at their local pub and then the kids needed to take a nap, but not after the oldest showed me all her favorite My LIttle Pony videos online and the younger brought me every book on the shelf to read to her (a munchkin after my own heart!). From there, L and I set out on our own and he showed me around Manly Beach and some more great national park lookouts before giving me a ride back to the ferry that would take me back to Sydney. It was a beautiful day, neither of us turned out to be actual ax-murderers (always a plus!) and I’m so happy to be the first to manage a transcontinental meetup from our commenter community!
My other big outing was a day trip to the Blue Mountains, which came highly recommended by my sister, Julie. I’m not so good at getting up in the morning, so I started out a bit late, and after a nearly 3 hour train ride, I arrived in Katoomba in the early afternoon. Turns out my late sleeping gave me a bit of a bonus, I only had to pay the half-day rate for the hop-on/hop-off bus explorer pass! There are a lot of different hikes you can get to from the bus, but I had to be strategic in order to maximize my time and still see the most. I decided to skip the touristy (read: extra cost) attractions and just do some walking. And so I did! I managed many of the different walks: Katoomba Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Leura Cascades, Gordon Falls Lookout, and some others that I seem to have lost my notes for. All in all, I think I managed about 8 km or so, many of it across muddy and steep trails, so I felt very accomplished! Needless to say, it was all pretty spectacular, though the photos can just never seem to quite capture it (this is going to be a common theme, as you’ll see once I get the New Zealand post up). The Blue Mountains are so named due to the blue haze that hangs over the forest, which is reportedly generated by the abundance of gum trees.
I was there in off-season, so there weren’t a ton of people out walking the trails. It was also COLD. I was dressed for hiking, and when I was trekking about it was fine, but whenever I stopped moving, I started to lose feeling in my hands and feet. My kingdom for some gloves! Ah, well, it was still beautiful. Most of the time, I was totally alone on the trails and felt like the whole valley was my own domain. The views in every spot were incredible and I kept thinking how much my mom would have loved it, madwoman hiker that she is, so I tried to do her proud.
I finished the last hike just in time to make the last bus back to the railway station, but those 5 minutes I waited were some of the chilliest I’d ever experienced. I sat there at the bus stop and sang songs out loud to try to take my mind off how numb my fingers were. Back in Katoomba, I stopped off in the pub for a warming beverage before boarding my (long, long) train back to Sydney.
My next stop was Melbourne, but in order to break up the trip (and avoid another overnight bus journey) I decided to stop off in Canberra, Australia’s capital city. I’d been told by many people (including several actually from Canberra) that there was really no reason to stop there. Sadly, they mostly proved to be right. I arrived at 4 pm and the whole place was already shutting down. I had an early bus the next morning, so I really just had one evening to kill and so, I fell back on my old standby: finding an Irish pub. I ended up at King O’Malley’s, had some disappointing nachos and several more pleasing pints of ale. Out of sheer boredom, I turned to Tinder to try and find someone to come hang out with me. I know TInder is primarily a hookup app, but I figured at worst, I’d persuade someone to come have a few beers and enjoy some conversation. It didn’t take much to persuade a lovely gentleman named Paul to abandon a work drinks event and come meet me, along with his (identical twin!) brother and their boss. We ended up having a great time hanging out together listening to the pub band and it wasn’t at all awkward. Paul and I exchanged email addresses and promised to keep in touch and I went back to my hostel. And that’s when it happened.
So, turns out there is another pub directly downstairs from my hostel (that I somehow hadn’t noticed before, or I would have just gone there in the first place). It was still a bit early, so I decided I’d pop in and see if anything fun was going on. Those who know know me best are aware that I have a somewhat adversarial relationship with stairs. In short, they are always out to get me and I need to be on my guard at all times. Sadly, I forgot this in that moment and bounded down the stairs with abandon…and then somehow missed the last step, wrenched my ankle and collapsed in a heap at the bottom. Peering up, I saw that — miraculously — no one inside the pub had witnessed my humiliating disaster and so I turned right back around and crawled up the stairs the way I’d come, hobbled into the hostel and went to bed. I feel right to sleep and when my alarm went off bright and early, I moved my foot and realized I was in trouble. Gingerly peeling back the covers, I took a look at my left ankle and saw that it had swelled up to about double its usual size and even wiggling my toes was an agony. This was not good. I needed to be at the bus station in a little over an hour and, while on two good feet it was an easy walk, with one out of commission, it was going to be an ordeal. The bus station was only about a half kilometer from the hostel, really too close to take a cab (if I could even have found one in the ghost town that is Canberra. I guess everyone drives?). And so I set out on foot, and for the first time, was SO grateful I’d gone with a rolly bag instead of a backpack! I used the suitcase as sort of a crutch, leaning on the handle as I limped my way up the street. Honestly, if I’d had a backpack, I never would have made it. The progress was slow, but I made it little by little. Next door to the bus station was a chemist, where I procured an ACE bandage and some anti-inflammatories. Boarding the bus, I was lucky to have my own 2-seater and also no one in the row in front of me, so I was able to prop my foot up between the window and the seat in front. I wouldn’t say it was the most comfortable 8 hours of my life, but the painkillers helped and I made it to Melbourne.
I arrived at Southern Cross station and was to take the tram to meet Devarni, Jenaya’s sister who lives in Melbourne (and whom I’d never met) and who had kindly offered me her sofa for the time I was in Melbourne. Devarni was already out at a birthday celebration for a friend, but had given me detailed instructions how to get to her place and how to find the key to get in to her apartment. Managing the trams with my luggage and my gimpy foot was no easy task, but I made it to the appointed street. Aussie addresses are backward (like their steering wheels) in that the apartment number comes first, followed by the street number so I spent a bit of time looking for the wrong house. After a text to Devarni (and a phone convo where I apparently sounded pretty grumpy, sorry!!) I managed to get myself and my bags upstairs. I’d been invited to come along to the birthday celebration, but my foot was in no shape for wandering the streets, so I begged off. When Devarni got home, she was so incredibly welcoming and made me feel a-ok for not having made it out. As it happens, she was planning to go out to the country for another celebration the next night, so left me alone in her place most of Saturday and Sunday. This turned out to be perfect, as I was not very mobile and I didn’t have to feel bad for monopolizing her sofa all weekend! She took off and I spent 2 lovely days watching Netflix, ordering delivery and resting my foot. Almost like being back in New York!
By Sunday night, I was feeling up to hobbling a bit more and so we went for dinner at Devarni’s local, the Windsor Castle. I had an awesome chicken parm and was introduced to Irish Dave, an acquaintance Devarni had met at a charity horse race some weeks before. The three of us had a great evening and Dave invited me to join his team for pub quiz in town in a few nights time. I am an absolute nut for pub quiz (trivia of all kinds, really) so of course, I was in! I spent the next day wandering the St. Kilda suburb near my lodgings and booked a day trip out to see the Great Ocean Road.
The Great Ocean Road was originally created as a public works project for men returning home from the Great War (WWI) and is thus considered the largest WWI Memorial in the world. It is many, many miles (kilometers?) of windy road carved into the coastline along the south of Australia and is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in all my travels. The day trip is quite a long adventure, but we managed to see and do a lot! I can’t say specifically all the scenic points we visited, but some highlights included seeing a mama and baby humpback whale frolicking right off shore, FINALLY spotting some koalas in the wild, and of course, seeing the 12 Apostles rock formations. It didn’t involve too much walking, so my ankle held up pretty well and, all in all, it was a truly beautiful day.
On our way back to Melbourne, we made a pit stop in the town of Colac, which happens to be the hometown of my dear friend Michael Day! Naturally, I had to take a photo and send it to him.
The next night, I met Irish Dave for pub quiz at College Lawn (Devarni couldn’t make it, she was at her harmonica class, of all things!). I pride myself on being a master at all things trivia, but didn’t perform particularly well in the first round. My team was solid though, so we went into the second round in first place. As I had predicted to the team, in round 2 I totally crushed it! We were unstoppable! Well, until the other team who ended up scoring our 2nd round sheet “forgot” to turn it in at the end and the awards were handed out without our being mentioned. We raised the ruckus and the “oversight” was discovered. The 1st place team was demoted to second and we, “What’s Quiz Got To Do With It” were awarded our prize, a $100 bar tab! I obviously won’t be around to enjoy the spoils, but the pride of supreme WINNINGNESS is really all I need.
I also got a chance to meet up with Dylan and Mairead, another couple of friends I’d met in Argentina. I spent the day exploring downtown Melbourne (mostly on the free city trolley, out of respect for my ankle) and then we met for dim sum in Chinatown. D & M have just recently gotten back from their own incredible journey and we had fun exchanging stories about the things we’d seen and done since we last saw each other way back in January.
My last night in town, I met up with Irish Dave again for a final jaunt in Melbourne! We started on the South Bank for buckets of beers and free chicken wings (!!) before heading down to the local casino. I’m not a big gambler, but it’s always fun to check out a casino. Dave’s game is the Wheel of Fortune, which is a bit like roulette, but you place your bets on various odds coming up on the wheel. His strategy is to play $5 on the 23-1 slot, which appears only 4 times on the wheel. He lost his $5 right away and we all commiserated the loss. I wasn’t going to play, but looking in my wallet, found that I had exactly $5AUS in coins. I was leaving the next day and since you can’t change coins, decided what the heck? I placed my coins on the felt and the dealer gave me a look like I was the lowest scum of the earth for placing coins on his table, but whatever. He gave me a single $5 chip and I played it on 23-1. I watched the wheel spin and as it started to slow, it was miles away from my spot so I shrugged my shoulders and started to walk away. 3 steps later, Dave is looking over my shoulder and says, “Holy ****, you won!!” Spinning around, I see the wheel stopped at 23-1!! My $5 dollar bet was returned as $120!! I’m no fool, so I cashed in my chips and we took off, stopping to watch the amazing fireshow on the riverfront on the way out. At the next stop (a dance club, not so much my scene) drinks were on me!
It was a great way to end my time in Australia, made some great new friends and walked away a winner!! Only one country left to go before my year of adventure bring me back to the good old US of A. Onward to New Zealand!
(Don’t forget to check out — and Like! — my Facebook page for full photo albums from every destination and follow me on Instagram @itskimonawhim for the most up to date info on where I am at any given moment)