Sydney - 21/12/14-02/01/15

What a cliché! Christmas Day on Bondi Beach - for 15 minutes, including a paddle in the Pacific Ocean!!

So now we are in Australia and our Big Trip has changed in nature.  From being an exciting adventure of exploration of new places and unfamiliar experiences, it has become a time of rediscovery, revisiting old haunts and meeting old friends.  Consequently, the tone of the blog will change too.  We will introduce our friends, but will try not to bore you with too much detail of lives that don't concern anyone but us.

We arrived in Sydney late on a beautiful afternoon after a 14 hour flight of constant daylight in which everyone pretended it was night time.  We took off from Santiago at 1430 and were given lunch soon afterwards.  By 1630, the cabin crew had issued pyjamas, blankets and even thin mattresses to hook over our lie-flat seats, blinds were pulled down and just about everybody settled down obediently to sleep, despite the fact that it was quite clearly mid-afternoon.  Ten hours later, they woke us all up, fed us again and delivered us to Sydney where it was the next afternoon, despite the lack of darkness in between.  The jet lag took a couple of days to get over!  Sydney showed itself off to its best advantage as we landed, which, of course, is quite glorious.  I think Sydney,Vancouver, Hong Kong and San Francisco like to fight over the title of Most Beautiful City on a Harbour, but our money's on Sydney.

John Piccles was at the airport to meet us and we are spending our first period in Sydney enjoying extremely generous hospitality in his apartment in Darlinghurst, a central area within walking distance of the all the main attractions.  Many of you know John, whether you are ex-PNG, or English family and friends who came to our 25th anniversary party.  John first knew Martin when they were both at ASOPA, a college which prepared people to work in PNG, he was Best Man at our wedding, and came to Harberton 25 years later, pretty much to repeat the honour.  He is looking after us magnificently.  On Christmas morning, after visiting John's dad in his nursing home, we were taken for a drive around some of the loveliest views in Sydney, revisited areas which brought back memories for Martin of his early days in Sydney (1968-1971), then ended up paying a brief visit to Bondi Beach - obligatory for Brits on Christmas Day!  Then, amid gathering storm clouds, we returned to the flat and cooked a delicious Christmas Dinner, which was ready just as an almighty storm broke.  It poured with rain for the rest of the day - let's hope all the barbies on the beach had been completed!

The weather has been changeable, and since that storm, not too hot, which suits us fine.  Certainly not the stereotypical image of joined-up Aussie sunshine though.  We've been taking things easy after our adventures over the past few weeks.  A visit to a museum here, dropping in to an art gallery there, a walk through some of Sydney's beautiful parkland or waterfront areas - these things have filled over a week.  On Sunday night John treated us to an early evening performance in the Opera House, which was very generous of him, especially considering my rude remark about opera from Buenos Aires!  It was a fairly informal "Best Bits" sort of show and very enjoyable.  There was hardly any shrieking and we even got to sing along in the encore.  And I got to wear my best dress!  Sally, could you just pop into that nice shop in Ashburton and tell the lady I bought it from?

We've spent quite a bit of time firming up arrangements for the Australian part of our journey.  Some friends have seemed surprised that we are eager to fix dates in February or March, but we have so much to fit in, it's like a complicated jigsaw. Have you ever done one of those big jigsaws where lots of the pieces have a similar shape and when you get to the end you have two pieces left over, but they don't fit the two spaces you have?  Then you have to start searching for the bits you put in wrong and end up taking half of the puzzle apart.  (Sue will know what I mean.)  Well, that's what I don't want to happen with our arrangements!

We have had one completely cloudless, hot day and of course that was the day I (Liz) chose to ask John to take me for a long walk!  We took the ferry to Manly, which is a wonderful trip in itself, from Circular Quay almost to North Head, then walked back around the north shore of the harbour on the 10km Scenic Walkway.  Well, scenic it certainly was, but what John hadn't quite made clear was just how many steps were involved as we wound around the bays and climbed over the many headlands!  It was certainly worth it and the feeling of achievement was considerable at the end, after taking the bus back to Manly, where Martin was waiting for us with cold drinks and sandwiches.  But was I glad I had my walking stick?!  Even if I don't use it again on the whole trip, it earned its place in our luggage that day.

I'm completing this on the morning of New Year's Day, as our friends in England will be just counting down to midnight.  We saw the fabulous Sydney Harbour fireworks from a friend's rooftop, which was terrific.  What I hadn't quite understood was that a large part of the spectacle is generated from a number of barges up and down the river on either side of the bridge, and although our rooftop had a perfect view of the bridge, all of the barges were discreetly hidden behind various high-rise buildings!  Never mind - it was a wonderful experience to share with our friends and because we were in a private space, we were able to have the champagne on hand too!  Once again, our huge thanks to John, for making our stay in Sydney so special.

So, we wish all of our family and friends a very Happy New Year.

.... and a partridge in a pear tree. An animated 12 days of Christmas projected on to St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney. Brilliant!

A joint effort. Pork not turkey for Christmas Day

Not a cloud! On the way to Manly - Liz and John for a walk, Martin for the ride .....

View over CBD Sydney - countdown to midnight .....

You really had to be here! Sydney Harbor Bridge

Rooftop firework viewing with Gauthier and John on NYE