Do they know it’s Christmas? Bondi Beach

Sunday 22nd December
Since being in that dark place I experienced on my arrival in Moscow when I really had no idea how to read any of the signs let alone understand how to get to my hostel, using public transport has got easier. Admittedly that is because in New Zealand and Australia I can speak and read the language (for the record I speak “perfect English” according to various Germans I have met). Therefore the train to Bondi Junction and then the bus, (fortunately the same journey I took with Victoria two weeks earlier) really didn’t seem a big deal. I arrived at the hostel dumped my bags, and then did what most Brits do when they are at the seaside around dinner time…I looked for some fish and chips.

After walking down the main promenade which I figured would be my best hope I finally came across a place called Surfers Seafood Fish and Chips. This not only claimed to be the best in Bondi but the best in Sydney since 2011. Now that is a field of eating I’d be interested in becoming an expert in (following on from the Vanilla slice story in Tasmania Part 2). Having got my order and with the sun shining and perfect blue skies I found a little picnic area to protect me from the hungry looking seagulls. Like Joey from friends “John does not share his food”. The portions were big and the chips were proper chips so I felt fairly content as I waddled back up the hill to the hostel.

I signed up for the Christmas Eve hostel BBQ and was disappointed to find out nothing was planned for Christmas day itself especially as rain was scheduled for the one day I’d designated for just relaxing with a book on the beach doing and worrying about nothing. Looking at the skies that Sunday night and how hot the room was that night, rain seemed an impossibility.

Monday 23rd December
As before when I was in Sydney the various chores had piled up. They aren’t really chores but I feel I’ve become very lethargic and even simple tasks take longer to complete than I feel they should. I did two loads of washing and having started at 9 didn’t finish until 12. I could have used that time for something else but instead it was a blur of walking up and down the stairs to my room from the laundry room. It didn’t help that after the first load I discovered a few receipts from a night out had snuck in to a back pocket and covered everything in small bits of paper meaning I had to individually brush everything down before putting it in the tumble dryer.

I also phoned Nikon and was disappointed when I was told they still haven’t even assessed my lens so the chances of having it back before I go to the Australian Open and then Adelaide and Perth are getting slimmer. I also went to the shops but as before just wasn’t in the mood for buying in large quantities. I like a variety of foods, I don’t want to only have pasta for a week and I am starting to understand why people go backpacking in small groups or pairs. Still I managed to get 3 meals for under $5 each which seemed reasonable.

Back at the hostel, which I already preferred to the one in the centre of Sydney I went out on the balcony with the intention of finishing the Tasmania blog. Instead I got chatting to two people from Glasgow who were in the process of booking on to an all you could drink cruise with a backpacking tour company called Oz Party. At this stage I’d not really met anyone else and I have to admit this appealed more than a BBQ at the hostel where I was still the only name.

I phoned the company and was told that officially they had just sold out but that as I was only looking for one booking I would be put on the guest list. Basically I assume this just meant the events manager had one less guest as I still had to pay the same price! Still I was going. I went down to reception and asked if I could cross my name off the list and have my money back. I was still the only name and they kindly agreed.

I then spent a number of hours finalising activities mum and I will do when she arrives in Sydney on 28th December. This included a day at Port Stephens, a tour round the Opera House, a free tour around “The Rocks” and the Sydney Tower Eye. The one thing I’ve realised about my self on this trip is I’m a bit obsessed with attention to detail so when everything was booked I recorded all the pick up times/locations in my spreadsheet and saved all the booking confirmations on to my tablet. People from work will be pleased to note I’m saving everything in the “correct” format so I won’t be out of practice when I get back.

During the course of the day two new room mates, one from Germany and one from France moved in. I found them sitting outside with a small group so walked to the nearby beer store to stock up on supplies as alcohol seems to be the best way to break the international boundaries. Perhaps the EU should just sit around the table and do a few shots and say what they really think when they need to resolve the next crisis.

We discussed plans for Christmas Eve as apart from me no one had arranged anything. We decided to set up a Facebook chat to share ideas and to meet up and I had a tinge of regret that I may have been hasty in booking the cruise.

Tuesday 24th December – Christmas Eve
I don’t really remember how I spent the morning but I think it was looking at possible ideas for a mini East Coast getaway for the week before the Australian Open. I had already done the main tourist traps three years ago but both David my tour guide in Tasmania and a fellow traveler had given me some further ideas.

After having a light lunch/late breakfast I realised I was still hungry so joined Dom, Adrian, Simone and Jici for more food at a fairly cheap Thai restaurant. Again we discussed possible plans for Christmas and looking at the clouds overhead and noticing it wasn’t that warm as we shivered in shorts and t shirts it appeared the forecast of rain the following day would be a reality. I mentioned the Horse Racing that I’d arranged to go to with Duncan on boxing day and as it was free for those with international passports it seemed a decent activity especially as none of us had ever been before,

I returned back to the hostel and realised I had absolutely nothing even remotely festive for the boat cruise. I therefore decided to go smart casual and as I got to the bus stop in saw a group which included the two from Glasgow and decided to tag along with them. I’d brought a ticket which meant I had to change at Bonding Junction to get the train however we met at Darling Harbour to a sea of people in various festive and ummm not so festive costumes. This included a group of guys in bikinis, guys dressed as female elves, various super heroes and some what predictably lots of Santa’s.

The cruise itself was really good fun, those in fancy dress were down to earth like i consider my darts group to be and everyone just chilled out talking about home (mainly what they didn’t miss), where they were working (fruit farms) and where they were heading (Gold Coast). The free punch was fairly nice despite being packed full of sugar but the beer was imported from somewhere bizarre (Mauritius?!) and it didn’t taste that great. We had a lovely view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House lit up at night and all in all the whole night was certainly a memorable way to start the festive celebrations (even if it seems Australian Christmas DJs haven’t heard of and therefore don’t play Fairy Tale of New York).

On my way home I stopped at the Christmas tree in Martin Place where a spontaneous group appeared to have started singing carols and took a picture of myself appearing to hold the star so I could send it as my electronic Christmas card. When I got back to the hostel Jici was still up but he’d been moved the room and although it wasn’t quite 12.00 those that i was still sharing with had gone to sleep (though in Adrian’s defence he had only arrived earlier in the day).

Wednesday 25th December (Christmas Day)
Throughout the night I could hear the wind causing the rain to rattle against the window and imagined I was back in the UK (though it sounds those storms have been particularly violent). I woke up to some great news. My colleague who had been quite unwell since the beginning of December had been told she could be discharged so she wouldn’t have to spend Christmas day in hospital (it was still Christmas Eve in the UK).

I was up fairly early as I had arranged to have another Skype conversation with Caroline. I set myself up in the corner of the lounge and after a while my room mates came down for breakfast. I introduced them to Caroline, gave her a tour of the kitchen and as before there was a lot of laughing.

Unfortunately the rain effectively kept us prisoners in the hostel. As far as I’m aware pretty much everything was shut and like me people had booked Bondi for the beach yet despite not being far from it we could barely see it from the hostel’s windy roof top. There was a festival happening somewhere on the beach called “Sunburnt” but there was no chance of that happening and whilst I had initially been tempted I wasn’t in the mood to get drenched. Instead I spent the time planning and booking events for my east coast adventure which had gone from idea to intention in the past 24 hours.

I retuned to the lounge for dinner and the group I’d gone to the cruise were at least trying to create a festive mood. I joined in the singing and dancing of “Fairy Tale of New York” and as it was now Christmas Day in the UK shared some messages with my house mates (I guess technically not my housemates at the current time) who were having their own orphan Christmas Dinner. I also had a Skype conversation with my dad and Jenny and attempted to speak to my mum, auntie Sue, uncle Pete and Grandma but apart from hearing them sing the connection unfortunately wasn’t that good.

Thursday 26th December (Boxing Day)
The rain and wind looked a distant memory. Bondi beach was again a golden sand with blue skies. I had already laid out my clothes for the races expecting more cold wet weather and therefore had to find something new. Being boxing day, and as Watford were playing later that day I decided to finally christen the shirt I’d brought especially for the trip but which I’ve forgotten to take with me when ever I’ve done activities. It was meant to have been photographed at all the famous land marks. Dom and Adrian  had a little toy dog and we joked that they should set up a Facebook page recording its adventures.

With the entry being free I’d allowed myself $15 spend/loss on bets ($5 per race) and with 8 races I hoped I’d eventually “get on a lucky one, at 18/1”. It was the first time for all of us though I’ve bet on the Grand National and was able to explain the different terms such as win, place and each way. I made my first bet each way on the second favourite, Simone bet on the favourite and both Luke and Duncan bet on the one with the best sounding name. The race started and we had a good view as the horses came to the finish line. Mine looked like it was either 2nd or 3rd and Simons’s was in 1st whilst the other horse we had an interest in trailed in second to last place. Mine managed to cross in second so two of us had “won” though when I collected my “winnings” I realised to quite a bit of laughter I’d still made a 30c loss!

Adrian, Dom and Jici had turned up just before and Adrian had also picked the winner. He spent the winnings on another bet only to realise it was for a race at another track and unfortunately he lost. After the result of my each way bet i decided i might as well go all out to win and my new tactic was to bet on the apparent favourite “Sweet as Bro” and Duncan did the same but also put $1 on the outsider. I mention this because his outside bet one and the favourite came somewhere in the middle. This should have told us that the odds weren’t necessarily an indication of who would win but we didn’t care and were just having fun. Like Adrian, Duncan then accidentally bet on another track but luckily for him the favourite won, though for a time his underdog had led the pack.

Luckily I pursued with my new tactic because in the 3rd race the favourite won and having received $18 I was finally up by a massive $8. This was probably the one race I hadn’t paid much attention to so it was only as they passed I realised mine was in the mix to win. Sadly for me this would be the high point and after race 4 and 5 I was back to -$3. This was the point Duncan and Luke decided to call it a day (Luke without any wins) but I’d come for the day and I knew I’d already missed the only other event I was tempted to witness – the Sydney to Hobart boat race. I did have a tinge of regret that I hadn’t made a diversion on my way to the horse racing to see the hundreds of yachts lined up in the harbour but I hadn’t been sure what type of view (if any) that I’d get.

I opted not to bet on race 7 just because there were two favourites and instead decided to listen to what the pre match expert thought at the “theatre of horses”. This was a small arena where the horses were paraded around. Whilst i took pictures everyone else in the crowd were making notes and appeared to be doing calculations on their mobiles looking pleased when they thought they’d worked something out no one else had. Ironically neither of the favourites won much to the clear frustration of everyone around me except one guy that was spinning his partner around in jubilation.

I wasnt going to bet on the final race but I saw on the internet there was a tip on “Big Money” and at least two separate groups I’d overheard said what a beautiful horse it looked. I have to admit apart from being a bit ginger it looked the same to me but as one of the groups (not to stereotype) were Irish I followed them on the bet. I have to admit I also liked the cheesy name. Big Money started off badly but as it approached the final corner it had worked its way in to second then first but for some reason it then gave up. Maybe it was a beautiful looking horse but all it did was remind me of Watford and how whilst they play nice football still haven’t won a match in a whopping 10 games…

I returned back to the hostel and couldn’t contact the others so after dinner and sorting my East Coast transport and accommodation went to bed. I woke up an hour later and realised some football matches had already begun then noticed the Watford match was one of them. Millwall were down to 10 men and we were 1.0 up. I felt confident the horrid run might finally end and when I woke again it was 4.0 and full time. Victory. Relief.

Friday 27th December
I had to make a few early calls because I noticed my train ticket had me listed as a 16 year old student in a Queensland secondary school rather than a international backpacker. I’m fairly certain this was their system and not me and luckily as it was the same cost they were happy to transfer it with no fee.

I felt a bit bad that I’d spent 4 whole days at the beach and not actually set foot on the sand but the weather hadn’t been great. There was also a nice coastal walk I’d planned to do but I decided to save that for one of the days with mum. It’ll be nice to explore Sydney properly with someone else rather than alone and there seemed little point in doing everything twice in a month.

I arrived at what will be our accommodation for the next week, The Wesley Colleges Sydney university halls which are being used as a hotel during the peak season. Compared to Aberystwyth Penbryn Block 7 which seemed more like a prison block it is a hotel and it’s certainly nicer than a hostel but it is basic. I hadn’t appreciated how full up Sydney became just for New Years Eve until I heard the receptionist at the Bondi hostel say they were full and it sounded like the person she was talking to had tried everywhere. It also seemed everywhere had also put the prices up so for the price we’ve paid it’s probably fair.

It’ll be lovely to see mum again as it’s now over two months since I left and I haven’t seen a familiar face since meeting Victoria at the Jack Johnson gig over two weeks ago. I think I probably also need a bit of TLC and being able to talk to someone priperly about how much I’ve achieved out here will help me prepare for the next chapter. I just have to remember everything happens for a reason.

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