Don’t want to Miss a Thing: Mum in Sydney (Part One)

Saturday 28th December
It had been nice to have a room to myself but when I woke up I was excited because I was finally going to see mum after more than 2 months travelling around. I arrived at the airport before the time of the flights arrival and was very pleased with my organisation. I had a week bus ticket and a train ticket for mum so we wouldn’t have to buy that many to get around after she arrived.

Unfortunately just before I went to bed mum had sent me a message saying the flights departure was delayed and I hoped that time would be made up. It wasn’t and I had to wait an hour just for the plane to land. It was getting quite busy but I was near the front of the arrivals gate and eventually mum appeared and saw me. She was thrilled at feeling the heat as we made our way from Sydney Central by bus to our accommodation at Sydney University.

Mum loves the beach and in order to make the most of the good weather and once we had checked in we caught the bus to Coogee with the intention of then doing the coastal walk to Bondi beach. We’d been travelling about 10 minutes when 3 police cars and 6 officers pulled the bus over. There was a lot of pointing at passengers including what appeared us when they suddenly hauled off two teenagers sitting on the seats next to us. We were held up for a considerable time whilst the police compared a picture on the phone against the suspect and searching through his bag before deciding to let him and the bus go.

By now lunch time had passed and I hadn’t eaten breakfast so when we arrived in Coogee we found a seaside cafe with a couple of spare available seats. We ordered a burger each but through a misunderstanding accidentally also paid for and received a portion of fish and chips as well. The beach was nice though busy, however as it was a Saturday during the summer holidays just after Christmas this was hardly a surprise. Mum went for a swim in the Tasman Sea or the South Pacific Ocean depending on which Source is true.

During the walk to Bondi we passed through a number of lovely small beaches and bays including the picturesque Bronte. Whilst it was getting to late afternoon all of the beaches remained busy whist retraining a fairly relaxed and good atmosphere. We also passed a cemetery overlooking the sea and a “Hanging garden” where the vegetation growing on a narrow ledge under the cliff had formed a swamp. We also looked out for the Aboriginal art work which we thought would be located on the various sandstone formations and believed there would be plaques to alert us however we must have some how missed them.

We arrived in Bondi and had a walk through town to get a drink but the first place we tried on the sea front seemed to have sold out of the milkshakes and juices I wanted to try so we moved on. Neither of us were hungry but we did eventually find somewhere towards the end of Hall Street. We had planned to get the bus back and despite the crowds, which were even larger than when Victoria and I had tried to leave, we got on the third bus and made our way to Bondi Junction. Unfortunately we then found out the direct bus we wanted back wasn’t running. We weren’t sure of the quickest way so caught a train and another bus. On the final bus Mum fell asleep which very rarely happens. All it took was two international flights, a swim in the sea and a 7km walk.

Sunday 29th December
I had checked on Google maps to see how long it would take to get from the accommodation to our hotel pick up, the YHA  Sydney Central I’d stayed at two weeks earlier. I had checked late at night and in a somewhat sleepy state I underestimated the time we needed to get ready and the walk to the bus stop. As it was a Sunday there weren’t as many buses in to the city so we had to run however the one we wanted was a few minutes late so we needn’t have bothered.

We arrived at the pick up place in plenty of time but had realised we didn’t know the name of the tour company as it wasn’t on the paper work that had been sent. It was much busier than I had imagined with lots of different tours and tour companies all departing and picking up from and at the same time. Our solution was to ask each coach and mini bus driver going to the Blue Mountains if we were on their list whilst holding the email confirmation. This didn’t go down to well with one bus driver in particular but eventually we were accepted on to the AAT Kings coach and were told we were doing the tour “Blue Mountains in Style”.

We travelled over the ANZAC bridge named to commemorate ANZAC day on 25th April the first day of the battle in Gallipoli, up Paramatta Road (the oldest road in the country) and in to Paramatta (originally named Rose Hill). The guide told us that Sydney Harbour the largest natural harbour in the world has over 100 bays and that $9 million was being spent on the firework display this year. We were also provided with a bit of history and it was interesting to hear that there were some Aborigines drawings depicting an Egyptian Pharaoh who had come to Australia, got bitten by a snake and had died.

After entering the Blue Mountains region which were first crossed by the new settlers in 1813 we arrived at Leura where we were able to have some banana cake and raisin toast. The coach driver John seemed quite chatty which made the group interact quite quickly both of which in my experience so far are unusual for the big one day coach trips.

After leaving Leura we headed for the main purpose of the trip, “Scenic World” which Nathaniel had taken me to 3 years ago. That day there hadn’t been a cloud in the sky but today there seemed a fair amount of cloud. Luckily by the time the coach driver hasd found us a place the cloud had near enough completely. It was also a lot busier than 3 years ago when I’d gone before the Australian Summer holidays and when it hadn’t been a weekend.

The main geographical feature in this part of the Blue Mountains is the “3 sisters”. Aboriginal legend says they were 3 sisters turned to stone to protect them when two tribes went to war however the magic couldn’t be reversed because the caster of the spell died. The area that is now scenic world had previously been an old mine on the outskirts of the nearby town Katoomba. One of the rides down in to the valley was the old incline used by the mine to transport the minerals and it is therefore the steepest railway line in the World.

We had been given one hour to do all 3 of the scenic rides but immediately it became this wasn’t just optimistic but impossible due to the wait times. We started by getting the cable car down which provided a nice view of the 3 sisters and the Jamison valley in the distance. We didn’t have time to do the long walk around the forest floor so took the shorter route to the incline ride which we got back up to the top. Finally we joined the queue for the final scenic ride across the valley to the opposite side where the coach would collect us. I told mum to stand in the centre and to keep looking down at the floor. She couldn’t understand why because the windows were frosted over but as soon as we departed they cleared and we were effectively standing looking down over the rain forest and waterfall below.

We ended up at Echo Point but didn’t really have anytime to take in the views nor sadly was there time to do the walk to the 3 sisters as the coach driver said we were already leaving about 1 hour later than planned. We headed for lunch at Wentworth Falls however we didn’t actually have the opportunity to do the walk to see the waterfalls themselves. The waterfalls are named after one of those who took part on the 1813 expedition and the guide seemed to indicate they weren’t that impressive. I saw the falls 3 years ago but cannot remember how they appeared and since then, especially in the past few weeks, I feel I’ve overdosed on waterfalls.

After lunch we started the long journey back to Sydney and on the way we stopped Featherdale Wildlife Park. This was mum’s first opportunity to see some of the native animals even if they weren’t actually in the wild. We didn’t have a lot of time but I wanted her to at least have a photo taken with a Koala and for her to feed a kangaroo. Mum kept being distracted by every creature, especially the birds, but eventually we got to the Koala enclosure and as expected she found them incredibly cute. Feeding the kangaroo was funny, previously in my experience you’ve fed them from your hand but this came in a ice cream cone. Mum held it out for the photo and the grey kangaroo knocked it out of her hand before I had time to say “smile”.

We tried to see everything as quickly as possible, including the Tassie Devils and Quokkas but knew we had been pushing the time to get back to the coach. When we returned we realised we were two of four that had misheard the amount of time available to us. We weren’t last but we were late and with no sign of the two Italians we’d been chatting to at lunch the driver had no option but to leave as we were now 15 minutes late. Luckily the driver had taken a warming to us earlier in the day and we had had a number of private conversations with him however It’s likely had he not taken such a liking to us we’d have been left behind as well. The reason that there was an urgency to leave on time was because there was an option to take an evening cruise from Parramatta back to Circular Quay.

We decided to take up the option because it felt like a  pleasant way to re-enter city and I knew it would be the first chance for mum to see the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House from a boat. It perhaps wasn’t the most scenic river cruise as the journey passed through the suburbs of Sydney on the river bank but it was still interesting to pass some of the sights like Cockatoo Island.

By the time we got to Circular Quays it was approaching after 7pm for most people that would be the day over but not for us. We walked towards “The Rocks” area to get some food and because as it wasn’t very cloudy we thought we would be able to see the sunset from the Harbour Bridge. Unfortunately by the time we’d finished eating and got to the bridge the sun had set and some clouds had come over making it cooler. Still it was nice to see the Opera House and Circular Quay lit up.

Unfortunately again we had some public transport issues as the buses we wanted home didn’t seem to be on the main street. Unlike in London there are no “Destination Maps” so if you aren’t at the right stop there is no way of knowing where you need to be. I know my way around the CBD fairly well, especially Circular Quay back to the station so the advantage of not knowing where the bus stop was meant that I could take mum to see the Christmas Tree in Martin Place. After walking for about 30 minutes towards the hotel, we found some free WiFi at the Apple store and we realised we needed to be on the road parallel. What should have been an early night had ended up later than the night before.

Monday 30th December
A slightly more relaxing start as we didn’t have anything booked until a tour of the Opera House at 15.30. After a fairly lazy start we caught the bus to Circular Quay where we had a late breakfast/early lunch. There was a big cruise ship in the harbour which appeared to be longer and taller than the bridge. We then headed up to the Botanical Gardens where we walked around for a couple of hours. Unfortunately we had all ready missed the free tour but a very helpful lady gave some useful tips on what to look out for.

Another lady asked us for directions and after having a brief conversation asked where we were watching the fireworks. At this stage we weren’t sure but Nathaniel had suggested Cremorne Point though no final decision had been made. The lady then told us it was possible she’d have 2 spare tickets on the Freeway viewing platform over looking the harbour. It sounded a bit to good to be true but I handed over my mobile number on the off chance her friend and daughter decided to miss a display people travel 100s of kms to see.

We saw an area that was meant to portray how the native vegetation would have looked before the arrival of the settlers. This included a Wollemi pine a tree that was thought to have been extinct as it only existed as a fossil but which was discovered in the Blue Mountains in 1994. To ensure it does not become extinct nurseries have cuttings so it can be grown outside of the Blue Mountains. There was also an area that depicted some of the early crops the settlers attempted to grow without success.

I also remembered walking to Mrs Macquarie’s chair, a lovely lookout with views towards the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The view was as inspiring as I remembered especially as the sun was shining brightly. After a number of attempts at getting a new profile picture for Facebook we made our way along the path towards the Opera House.

We arrived at the Opera House to a scene of chaos. There were a number of tours in different languages starting at the same time but luckily we had allowed enough time to collect tickets and even had time for a very quick cocktail. This sounds rather exotic but it was actually quite stressful because it took an eternity for them to bring the drink out and when they finally did the tour was about to begin.

Our tour guide was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable but for some reason our group did not receive a head set. This meant the guide had to talk loudly but because the group was so large the slightest bit of noise caused a distraction and made her inaudible. This included the guide of the group behind us who spoke so loudly that her voice echoed around the first theatre even though her audience were wearing the headsets. Next, a bride and groom and some of their guests, who I assume were on a private tour were introduced to us as our guide was speaking. She seemed unfazed by the surrounding chaos and carried on professionally.

We saw a walkway that is normally closed to the public but which we had to use because as a result of the preparations for New Years Eve the usual route was not accessible. We also saw a number of the theatres that were currently in the process of switching over performances and a balcony overlooking the harbour. One of the theatres had been designed so that it did not require microphones and apparently the seats have been designed to help with the acoustics. We were also led outside to get close to the panels where we noticed the tiles aren’t actually white but more a cream or opaque colour as pure white would have made it to reflective and blinding in the Sydney sun.

We had planned to do a tour of the rocks however the guide had told us we’d receive a discount if we booked a show so we decided to investigate the possibility. The only show was “Wallace and Grommit’s Musical Marvel”. Whilst I enjoy Wallace and Grommit I was apprehensive as I thought it might have been a cheap production for children but we went ahead knowing it would be our only chance to see something together.

We dashed back to the hotel in a taxi so we could both change in to something which looked slightly more fitting for a show at one of the most famous buildings (the most famous according to our guide) of the 20th Century. We arrived back with enough time but didn’t need to buy dinner as we were meeting Paul and Clare from my Vodka Train trip at Hard Rock Cafe after the show was over.

The show itself was good fun, with typical Wallace and Grommit humour but it was actually centred around a live orchestra. The first half of the production centred around some pieces that the conductor and Grommit had especially chosen and which ended with a piece called “My Concerto in Ee, Laaad”. The second half was the full length version of “A matter of Loaf and Death” which I had seen before but with music performed by the live orchestra.

After the show we made our way by ferry from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour. This in itself seemed like a nice way to end the night especially as mum hadn’t been on a ferry at night so hadn’t seen Luna Park all lit up. Despite it now being nearly 9.30 the evening still wasn’t over. We met up with Paul, Clare and two of their friends. We over indulged on the food and before we knew it the restaurant was closing as it was 12.00. It was great to see them both again and to share travel stories we’d experienced over the past month. We managed to get another taxi as the bus journey seemed complicated and both joked the nights were getting later. The next day wouldn’t be any earlier – it was New Year’s Eve and we’d agreed to meet Nathaniel at Cremorne Point for the fireworks on the other side of the city.