Sydney/Sin-ney

The first memorable glimpse of Sydney that I have is crossing the Harbour Bridge to the City core.  At first I thought that Sydney was a peninsula sticking out to the north proper, but the entire land mass area is more of a very spiky letter “E” if you can imagine it.  The different inlets to the shorelines make up the various bays, and the City core is just a bay that happened to be big enough and calm enough to make a decent quay. 

While entering the city we passed by my hotel (more on that later) and I sighed as I was taken further and further away from where I eventually needed to go.  But the group photo must be taken!  Couldn’t miss that :).  We headed to a peninsula of the Botanic Gardens that had a fantastic view of both the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge in the background, and a photographer named Dave took our picture.  He told us to say “Moneyyyy!” instead of the standard “cheese”.  I thought it was appropriate considering the rate at which cash has been dissolving in my wallet along the east coast part of the trip.  You would think, for example, that $150 would be enough for my last two days in Sydney, considering my credit card was also available.  But poof! One night later and hellooo ATM.

But I digress.  Back to happenings.  We were brought the hotel that many of the group booked with Contiki (it was full when I booked my trip) and left to our devices from there, the tour (not-a-vacation) was officially over!  How sad… but incorrect-sad for most of us.  Because most had planned to stay in the city for a few nights after the trip like I had.  But, we’re all pretty sad sentimental stupid people anyways and said goodbye in any case.

I shared a cab to my hotel and took a breath, because the Marriott entrance was just fantastic.  It was pricey but after the lack of privacy and truly good sleep for the previous month, it was absolutely worth it.

After doing a little jig after seeing my king-sized bed with six, count ‘em, six, pillows (who actually needs six?), I ventured out for the first time in my life into a brand new city, alone.  I stared at the inside of my room door for a little bit steeling myself for it too.  It was trivial, but there you go.  I didn’t even end up spending too long by myself, I got some dinner and then headed out to meet up with the rest of the contikites that were still in town.  By extreme chance I met up with a whole group of them on the train platform that I was taking to get there – and its strange, but that sort of thing kept happening over the following days.  Even in a large city like Sydney, you can still bump into people you know.  I’ve been living in Montreal for a very long time and stuff like that happens, but not often.  It probably has something to do with how dense the city center is, which is very.  Traffic is a nightmare…

Speaking of dense… so, let me paint the picture: Kings Cross area of the city.  This is the party district, and I mean that in every sense of the word.  Lots of clubs, adult stores, red light corners, bars, everything.  All the girls wear as little as possible and all the guys wear whatever will get them laid most often.  Drinks are a reasonable (!) $9 or more for anything and the floors have superb gripping action due to the sugary cocktails that get spilled on them.  Barkeepers wear rain boots while they thrash around behind the counter.  The density of nightlife is staggering with everything that comes with it.

Got it?  So you’ll have to admit that it was pretty stupid of me to try and ask someone directions to a bar.  The best possible answer in that situation would have been a “fuck off”.  Unfortunately I got something else.

Me: “Do you know where World Bar is?”
Dude looks over, his eyes are unfocused
Dude: “No man, but you gotta have some of this!”
Dude has small blue pill in his hand
Dude approaches hand with pill to my mouth
Me: “Uh, no thanks, I’m good.”
I back away
Dude stumbles towards me, pill extended
Dude tries to put pill in my mouth
Dude: “Its fucking amazing man! Try it!”
I move further away and Dude turns back to his buddies 

Ahh, Sydney.  You’ve got some dirty underwear on.

Moar Sand

Just because I couldn’t get enough of SAND at Fraser Island…

I had signed up for something called 4WD Sand Duning or something – I rarely actually look at what I’m putting my name down for these days.  Turns out they take you to an area around Port Stephens that’s slowly being taken over by… you guessed it, SAND!

The SAND here has created some of, if not the largest sand dunes in the world, and the locals celebrate this by strapping plastic shingles to their asses and throwing themselves down the steepest ones.  And then they make us do it too.

Again, there are no roads because there’s SAND everywhere.  So the truck gets stuck often and usually is travelling at some angle other than neutral.  We saw plenty of SAND dunes and we climbed up and down them for a pretty fun but shaky ride to the first real large one – its quite impressive how high they can actually get.  On the far side of the dune (towards land) the SAND drops off quite rapidly.  We could get up right to the edge and its actually quite safe because the SAND is like a giant handbrake for you if you fall, since you sink into it.  So people started jumping off the edge… not saying whether I did or not because my mom reads this too.  Hi mom!

We also got to strap on the previously mentioned “sleds” and torpedo down a particularly steep one.  Not to be outdone by regular winter snow sledding, the guides also have a waxing stick that they grease your sled up with before you head down.  Its fast, but not as fast as snow!  But its a lot warmer and you don’t get soaked if you fall off – you only get sand in places that you never thought sand would ever, ever go.  Like in your ears.  I swear, a shower and 6 hours later I was still finding sand in my ear canal.  Not to mention the copious amounts that I ignorantly carried back into my hotel room in my pockets.  The bathroom floor looked like a sandbox.

On the actual beachfront we hunted for some small clams called Pippis by doing a very complicated maneuver christened “The Pippi Dance” which involves twisting your feet back and forth in the wet sand until you hit something with your foot.  I found a big’un!  These guys are a delicacy and these days also carry a $22,000 (not a typo) fine if you are caught taking one away from the beach.  So we just found some and tried to see if we could get them to dig themselves into the sand while we watched.  And we got one too! Its actually kind of neat, they stick this foot out and pull themselves down into the sand very easily.  Cool beans.

That was as far as the fun went on the travel-to-sydney day… next: Syndey!

Hotel Californiacrap

The last night before Sydney we stayed in what was touted as a “4-star resort & spa” in a place called Port Stephens-something (warning: memory failing, town name may be inaccurate).  From the front, it actually looked quite nice!  From the front…

Hey, we’re in the hotel driveway, why are we pulling out? And turning down this street? And driving for 2 minutes? And pulling up to a motel-looking building?  Oh, its the same hotel?  What do you mean, we have to cross a concrete multi-level parking garage to get to reception?  Oh, and there’s 4 security doors to pass through just to get to the main area? Fantastic.

In other words, we were right smack in the center of things.

I take one star off the rating for the parking garage “Path”.  I take another for the cot in the room that one of the 4-share people is supposed to sleep on.  And I take one more because the name of our “wing” was Zenith, or peak, tip, end of the line.  Woo! One-star spa!

At least they have one, right?  Hang on to your britches.  Or hot pants.

Its not really a happening place.  The only place to really drink is the hotel bars, so most of us head there for the night.  Its actually quite cheap drinking for once, and a decent enough bar.  Unfortunately they close at midnight… and that’s when the trouble began…

At quarter to twelve I’m wondering when they are going to announce last call, but it doesn’t come until 10 minutes later.  So with very little time left until closing they want people to buy their last round of drinks, drink them, and leave.  Never mind the official closing time itself, just this is pretty absurd.  In any case, midnight rolls around and they want people to leave.  Its quite obvious these guys get their power trips of the day during this time because they start getting verbally aggressive and abusive about it.  Our tour manager has about 5 cm worth of a drink left in his glass a little after midnight and there was no concession, he had to leave.  They ended up grabbing him by his shirt and pushing him through the door.  At least his glass emptied – but it was on his shirt.  Not only that, but a few other girls were finishing up a game of pool and one of the bouncers swore at them to get the f*** out.  Classy.

So, it was with heavy hearts that we had to leave the hotel whateveritwas.  The next morning, however, more than made up for it!

Surf Camp

Or, how I learned not to try to surf ever again!

But before we get to that, a detour to the Carrumbin wildlife sanctuary!  Where you can “Get Closer” to a bunch of Aussie animals.  But don’t fucking feed the Dingoes!  Sorry, ongoing joke there. 

After spending 3 hours sleeping, what’s the best way to spend some time?  Why, walking around a gigantic compound full of animals!  Actually the first part was kind of cool – they started to feed these birds whose name I didn’t catch and there were probably about a hundred of them screeching and fighting with each other over… spilt milk.  Or that’s my best guess at what they were feeding them anyways.  I got a sick picture of one using my head as a perch.

Nothing too much else of interest there…  there was a giagantic saltwater crocodile in a very tiny pool though.  He had an electric fence.

On the way to surf camp we stopped at Byron, another surf town like Noosa, but this one seems to have kept its village-y feel much more.  Apparently there’s not one traffic light in the city, all roundabouts.  Maybe the secret to friendliness is not to make anyone ever have to stop in their car?  Anyhoo.  On to surf camp.

Arrawarra or something is a camp dedicated to surfing… and surfers run it.  So it has a bit of a stoner thing going on.  After a night by the campfire we got up with the morning dew and a little bit of sun for some surfing.  Oh boy! If I like it I can quit my job and go live in California and surf all day and rob banks like Patrick Swayze!

Looks like I won’t be quitting my job anytime soon…

I mean, it doesn’t look hard.  But holy fuck.  I could not stand up on the board.  I got everything else down pretty much, but my center of gravity feels abnormally high – I think its in my nose.  So getting out  from the crouch just put me overboard every time.  Not to mention how exhausting it is to be constantly under a barrage of waves – just so you know, they never stop coming.  SO even if you want to take a little rest you’re not really resting until you get tossed onto the beach.  Which, by the way, hurts too.

I didn’t like it very much, but almost everyone else did.  No big deal though… now I know another sport that I will never spend anymore time on.  Another example is cricket.  Fucking boring ass game.

So Danny ain’t a surfer.  Awww.  I don’t think I like the sea very much in general either.  That sailing trip was cool but I don’t think I’d go back anytime soon.  And lots of things in the water here can kill you… very severely.  Like a jellyfish can enter your mouth and choke you to death as it stings your esophagus.  Just use your imagination and it can probably happen.

Next! The very last full day of the Contiki trip (awwwwww!)

Draculas

I think I need an entire post just to describe this place.  But its a little out of chronological order from the surrounding posts, so you’ll just have to take it as it is.  OK herewego.

Draculas is a cabaret restaurant in the GC that we had the option of signing up for – and it was superb.  The theme of course is vampires and goth and etc etc etc that even remotely looks like it might have to do with anything like that.

We enter with a small group at a time and we’re greeted right away by a cryptmaster-type guy who looks like an intelligent Igor, and then you get to the common area that has one of the coolest bars I’ve ever seen…  the walls have these animatronic half-torsos chained up and they jerk and look around at you while you drink.

But the next part is probably unique in the world – a ghost train ride is what actually takes you to the the ampitheatre eating area!  Stuff pops out at you, air blows at your face (ahhh my hair!) and someone comes out of the shadows to slap your cart while you’re looking the other way.  The best part is that they film it all and then show it to the crowd during intermission so everyone can watch you scream like a little girl.

The food was really great – my veggie dish was served in a ceramic human skull floating in green “brains” (blended peas).  And they make a whole bunch of different cocktails with scary names and taste pretty good, even if they are $14 or more each… you just gotta try one :).

The play itself was fun, but it didn’t really have a overall story like they promised (“Vampirates”).  It was also opening night so there were a lot of bugs that they have to work out – for instance the floating singing mermaid had her crotch zipper get stuck open, so she was hanging there with a fairly large hole in front of her crotch while she was singing.  All I have to say about that is how impressed I was with her ability to go on with her performance with that… what a trooper.

There were some really cool special effect, including a swimming pool and a giant screen of lights flashing a light show while they sang, danced and insulted the audience with jokes.  It was a lot of fun.  Meanwhile the “Vampirettes” or waitresses went around the theatre yelling insults at the customers and at each other from across the room, staying in character the whole time.  Really cool place :).