My First Solo Trip: Australia, A Summer Vacation In The Winter Down Under
The months after booking the tickets rolled on, eventful in their own ways, with a rather pushed-to-the-back-of-the-mind, excitement for the upcoming trip…I don’t know if I’m lucky or extremely careless, either ways, after being on the tenterhooks for my Australian tourist visa, it arrived TWO days before my trip which almost didn’t happen…The fact that I might have bought myself a white elephant struck much later when the rupee plunged 55 to an Australian $ at an all time high and for a fat wad of Indian currency, I got TEN small notes of a hundred Australian Dollars each which meant this trip meant tightening the shoe-strings.
My first pittstop in my trip was at KL, a city I had been to exactly 5 years ago, except this time, I was no tourist with a group of 80 people, but a solo traveller. I had all of one day to re-explore this city, so immediately after landing at the LCCT ( that’s the exclusive airport for low cost airlines! Way to make one feel poor Malaysia! ), I got a hassle-free and generally free TWOV ( Transit without Visa) pass and took a bus to the city. I must say, no Asian city I’ve been to has impressed and surprised me as much as Kuala Lumpur has: right from it’s beautiful and tech-intensive airport to its brilliant civic infrastructure ( read : wide, well manicured roads running smoothly alongside landscaped hills and highlands, triple-tier flyovers) to its vast public transport system and world class shopping malls, it has it all….After spending a day in KL, visiting the majestic Petronas towers and other rather familiar sights, I took my final flight to Sydney.
In Sydney, an acquaintance from Bangalore ( bless him) and his lovely, newly-wedded wife opened up their sweet red-bricked apartment to me and made me feel truly at home in a country much away, and colder ( literally ^& figuratively) from my own. On the first night in Sydney, a friend from Hyderabad and I got to the the famous Sydney Harbour bridge and had a first look of the iconic Opera House, in the freezing night in all its illuminated glory of the city centre!
After a 2 hour midnight walk on the walkway along the harbor bridge and clicking some arty pictures, i took the train back to Burwood and slept off my travel fatigue and first night in Australia.
From a slight experience in travel that’s short on time, I’ve learned that the trick to get the best out of time and a place is to start early, so at 8 am, all winter-suited up and raring to go, I took the train for the central and made it in perfect time to meet an interesting, yet not much older than me, girl in a bright green tshirt, who took a group of eager (and pocket-conscious) travellers like me on a “free walking tour” of the city. We walked and walked and walked some more. She took us to many heritage buildings and landmarks, beginning with the town hall to the famous hyde park, the talking dog, the art gallery, the NSW financial district, the British colony called the “rocks” ending perfectly at a point offering a scintillating view of the busy darling harbor.
After the tiring walk, which left me exhausted & famished, I landed up at the Sydney Branch of my company! ( Yeah who goes to office on a vacation? )You would too if the office offered a brilliant view of the harbor while savoring the free gourmet lunch and chilling in a colorful, art-decor-ed office environment, located conveniently opposite a casino (!) and in the middle of all the action in the city.
After a very soothing noon spent at the office, I met up with a few of my friends in Sydney at the Darling Harbor. Basically this is a C shaped bay choc-a block with diners, cafes, pubs all, against the high rise CBD….in the night this place just.. glitters. No other word to describe the fun of sipping a coffee on the staircase overlooking the view, with your feet almost touching the water, and devouring the lights & sounds of the city on a Thursday night, which as I learnt later, is the day when Sydney-ers get their pay and indulge the most in the week! Perfect.
The choice of a place to unwind that night was the much-recommended “opera bar” right at the entrance of the Opera house, which is a stunner, with live music, the perfect blend of of the yippies, the arties, and the travelers all revelling in the great view of the city and good times… After some great local wine and some yummy finger food here with my friends, Sunny and I trailed off on the roads filled (freshly-paid) Sydney-ers, and got back home….And i knew i was in love…with the city…How I lost my boots ( what would have been a winter saviour) that night would always remain a mystery that I’d never unravel.
|Little birdy with the Opera House, Sydney|
Sydney-Coastal: A chilly, sunless day this and after luxuriously sleeping in, I was off to the coastal part of the city to visit the famous Bondi Beach and embark on the iconic Bondi-Coogee coastal walk….I don’t think I can do justice to this walk by putting it in words but if you’re from India, you’ve seen nothing like it before. My definition of a coastline, but more than that, coast-life changed forever after this walk. This 7km walk starts at the Bondi beach and goes along a well paved walkway alongside the coast , passing on one side, the rocks, never once losing sight of the turquoise pacific ocean… Even though the entire walk is one big landmark, there is a spot every 5 minutes you’d want to stop at and let your eyes just soak up the infinity of the sea beyond and the path along ahead…
Towards the end of this walk, I passed through of the most poignantly beautiful- cemeteries, perched on a hillslope, overlooking the blue sea( Remember Dil Chahta Hai?) If life and death had to merge this beautifully ever, this was it…
The sun was about setting, it was getting colder and I was alone I came back to the hustle of the CBD hung around at the circular quay, watching the happy people just done with office, out to enjoy the weekend….Sydney – Melbourne
As planned, the same evening, I landed in another big city – Melbourne to see my good friend from college -Yamini. Resting off my travel weariness for the night, next day, going with my starting early traveling-tenet, I dragged poor Yamini out of the comfy bed on an extra-cold Melb morning. Even the 8 degrees and the chronic rain couldn’t wash away our gung-ho to explore the city & with our freshly purchased umbrellas, and a tram ride, we first started with the local Queen Victoria’s market which is just like the Paddy’s market in Sydney. Here we came across an aboriginal centre where the shopkeeper was a rare surviving abo himself. After an hour long conversation and 3 CDs of didgeridoo solos later, we were out of the market and hopped on a quaint tram that’s a free service to explore the popular landmarks of Melb.We were drenched and our craving to get some warm on was satiated with freshly made “pintxos” , coffee and smoke sitting on the patio of the very curious place called “Naked For Satan” at the very-happening Fitzroy street. We followed by a walk-in a bookstore called “really weird shit”, an antique store called “Shag” and a browse in the local artisans market. The street walls around Melb city are the most beautiful assortment of colorful graffiti with everything from grunge art to manga to famous cartoons , the walls are a sight in themselves.
A little more walking done, Yamini got me to the famous federation square which is where you see the central Melb at its best. We sat on the steps of the Moving Images museum, flanked by imposing British-style buildings, churches with tall spires, the classic Flinder’s street station on one side and the modern financial giant buildings and the art-dekko spike of the art gallery on the other. Not to describe any more, you want to see, hear and feel Melbourne in all its bigcity-ness, cosmo-ness, lights , sounds, and business, grab a beer and sit on these steps, right here.
Now that I was ready to drown myself and die happy,we did some beach bumming, shell-picking at the Kilda beach and 2 hours later I was in the flight back to Sydney….
Sydney felt like coming back home, for a place I’d just got to 4 days before….Tired from the traveling, I decided to spend the day at my friend’s in the hood and go to bed early for another action-packed tomorrow…Kangaroo spotting: Ever since I knew I was going to Australia, I’ve wanted to see 2 things.
I had to make the best use of my day so I planned a trip to the locally-recommended “Blue Mountains” – a hill station located about 2 hours away from Sydney City and did the ‘Featherdale National Park” located enroute. I finally had my first sighting of a Kangaroo here! But hold on just 2 puny Kangaroos for a $25 is not what I signed up for! But as a further trail into the park would reveal, there were Kangaroos every step of the way! Eating, playing, mating, trying to mate ( oh yeaaah…..them Kangaroos are horny animals!), running about, there were kangaroos everywhere….Small kangaroos, large kangaroos, albino Kangaroos….I think watching a joey ( as a kangaroo baby is called) jump in and out of the mother’s pouch is one of the most amazing nature’s wonders you’d ever see….One moment you see a bit of the kangaroo baby leg and the next you see its head rearing out of the pouch and Lo! It jumps out, trots around and hops back into the safe haven with the mother licking the baby to comfort at every chance!
When i was done plotting plans to abduct a koala & smuggle it back home to India with me, I checked out a few other exotic animals at the park and came back to the station to travel further up to the blue mountains….The remaining day was spent at the Blue mountains and visiting the famous 3 sister rock formations. After spending a very emotionally-charged last day in Sydney with a dinner at a friend’s whose house offered a brilliant view of the Sydney Harbour, I bid farewell to the Australian land, and once again got back to Kuala Lumpur, realizing that it was exactly 5 years before on the date I’d been in KL!It’s been almost a month since I went on this trip and mind is flooded with so many emotions but mostly of gratitude towards people who helped make it smooth ( not to mention economically-feasible) for me. Safe to say, I went on the trip solo, but in my paths met some amazing people, reconnected with some old connections and came back with some great new friends…I Wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I’m hungover on the beauty that Australia was, I’m hungover on all the trains/buses/ferries i took to explore the country (or a tiny part of it as it were) the people, the zillion roadside cafes, even the expensive $4 coffee…I miss asking people to “Can you take a picture please” , I miss saying ” have a good one, mate” when getting off another bus in the city…. but above all, I miss feeling at home while being 1000s of miles away from home…