Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Kostas arrives in the land of OZ - Wed29Oct (Day)

(Where I am now: Annick’s beautiful apartment in Dee Why, outside Sydney) What time is it: 06:50am – I couldn’t sleep - What am I listening to: the birds on the trees waking up)
Two days already in this wonderful city, I can’t help but think that this is probably one of the greatest cities in the world.)

Welcome to the land of Down Under… The 3 hour flight form Auckland to Sydney was a piece of cake compared to the long +12hrs it took me to get to this side of the world. Still a bit tired but unable to sleep, I just started thinking a bit about the trip and this second big and very exciting chapter of it.. Australia has always been a place I wanted to see. From the stereotype Crocodile Dundee images, to the immense deserts and beautiful sea, I have always wanted to be here, always wanted to see it. And above all, being more “urbanized” as you’ve realized, I wanted to see Sydney.

Arrivals hall in Sydney airport is immense, people queuing to get passed immigration/passport control – it reminded you a bit of the US but only in the queues. You immediately realize the difference in the attitude of the security officers when you notice how they treat the people. Polite and with respect. Federal police, wearing high visibility jackets and shorts (!) and sneakers wait for you in the hall way. Then as you wait in the queue one of them with the Customs badge (which is a round image of a dog – mega funny) on the side of his shoulder walks around with a big Labrador, sniffing bags and people for drugs: “Cmon, eh, whiiir is it, eh, giid boy” he talks to the dog. I am already smiling. My turn at the counter, lady checks my passports, looks at me and says, “do you mind going with this official please to that area?” Great – the Greek is not going to make it, I thought.
What’s the purpose of your visit?
I am traveling around the world and I always wanted to see Australia, I said with a big smile.
Wait here please (ehm, maybe not the best answer I thought)
She comes back 5 minutes later and with the typical Aussie accent she says, “have a wonderful holiday in Australia”.
Thanks, I say and open my passport, a nice big square stamp – Australia IMMIGRATION, nicely put on a blank page.
I won’t tell you about the thorough controls you go through concerning plants and food – Australia is pretty good at protecting themselves from “imported” pests and diseases.

Outside at the arrivals hall, people waiting for people, a big smile in my face I am starting to realize that I am officially in a different continent and well ahead in time from the rest of the World. My friend K (who has asked me not to share anything further about her – let’s see maybe she changes her mind in a few days) was waiting at the arrivals hall, big smile, “Hello, welcome” she said. «Γεια σου, τι κάνεις» I answered back, sun already trying to make its way through the morning clouds…

Hostel, again but not for long.
I got to Central station where one of the big hostels, Central Hostel (yep original name) is located. The building is an amazing, renovated 8 level building and one of the biggest hostels I’ve ever seen. It’s perfectly organized and clean and it has to be, because it hosts at any time over 450 people! No reservation from my part, I was told that there is a bed but since checkout is at 10:00 it wasn’t ready. I left my stuff there, took some basics in my backpack and a map and off I went to see the city.

Hostel is nice but impossible for me. It is the cleanest and most organized I’ve seen but I admit I’ve had enough of them. This one had hundreds of people, young noisy kids, lonely travelers, backpacker from everywhere you can imagine, I felt it was a bit too many people for me. Am I slowly getting used to being alone? Am I starting to enjoy more the privacy and solitude of just not having another 7 people sleeping in the same room as me? I know I will need to use hostels more in Australia and New Zealand but frankly, if I have a friend that can host me (Annick, thanks so much) I am taking up the offer. Forget the fact that you don’t need to pay for accommodation, it was never about that because these places are both reasonable in cost and I have budgeted for this anyway. Forget the “cultural aspects” of being able to see how people really live and catch up with them especially if they are your friends and colleagues. It’s more about the fact that I think it’s just too big, too annoying for me to have to lock/unlock my bag every time I need to take out something, to climb a ladder every time I need to get to my bed, to shower & change in a tiny little bathroom. When I sent the email to Annick, she was laughing so much with the cry for help. “I knew you would be fed up with the hostels by now” she said and now, sitting at her dining room table typing away while she’s still asleep, I can’t stop thinking that my bed last night was as close as it could get to being home, nice pillow, soft sheets, cover and all.

Go to the city, fulfill a dream.
I left the hostel around 09:30 am on a Monday morning to go towards the waterfront, map in hand, sunshine and big smile on my face. It was turning out to be a “beautiful” day. I have to say that weather makes a whole lot of difference when you are visiting a city, especially on the first day you are here. I remember in Iguazu as well, when I arrived, bright sunshine, humidity, shades of green everywhere could only make you feel you were at the right place. I am saying this because now and since Monday night the weather has been cloudy, even rainy at some point, and I am thinking that I would still LOVE this place but my initial reaction wouldn’t have been the same.

I went down to the waterfront near Darling Harbour (isn’t that a cool name). This is not too far away from the famous Oyster-shaped opera house and Harbour bridge, however because of the different little bays, you can’t see them from there. I walked, east, my left side to the water, until I arrived close to them. As I made the turn, right there in front of my, high up, stood the wonderful Harbour bridge, two big Aussie flags at the top. I looked and looked in disbelief, I was finally there. It’s true for me: the most persuasive way to realize you are in a specific place is to actually see the landmarks that define it. As I made my turn further down the road and just saw the Opera house, this unstoppable amazing feeling of warmth filled me inside. Almost with tears in my eyes and a big smile on my face, “I am in Sydney” I said to myself for the tenth time but now there was no question about it.

Stand left, walk right, LOOK RIGHT!
It’s the little things that make the difference, especially the ones that you are used to doing by habit, that when not the same, make you realize you are in a completely different place. I don’t need to tell you that cars in Sydney drive on the other side of the road (“The correct side”, as K said) That is fine, as long as you are aware of it and for me, frankly, after the visual and emotional overload that I went through getting here, this was the last thing I noticed. Until I had a bus mirror pass inches away from my head.

You see, I sometimes don’t walk on pavements, especially in big cities when they are full, I prefer to walk right next to them on the street always facing the direction of traffic of course. When you see the car coming, you step on the pavement. This was particularly useful in busy Buenos Aires, especially since the first lane was usually reserved for taxis & buses only. Well, all is fine as long as you can see the bus coming because this time the bus came from behind me. It also won’t help if you want to cross a red pedestrian light and you are looking for the cars coming from the wrong direction. As of now, I’ve decided to be a good boy and whenever I cross the street I look, Right, Left & Right again. I was thinking I have plenty of time to get used to this, as one of the funniest coincidences ever, all countries I am visiting until I get back to Europe are driving on the “correct” side of the road: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong and South Africa. Maybe I’ll try for a driver’s license…

Manly beach vs. Bondi Beach: 1-0
After visiting the Harbour I decided to take a ferry. With plenty of time to kill and wonderful sunshine, I took the ferry to Manly beach up North. “It is also the best way to get views of the city”, K had pointed a while ago and she was right. As you leave the port, you get to see beautiful Sydney and the bays around it, the Opera House and Bridge, looking so wonderful as you slowly make your way towards the other side, near Manly.

Manly was an amazing surprise for me. It felt that you got all the surf/beach culture you’ve been seeing in films and reading about all in one place. Busy, full of people in shorts, bikinis and thongs, walking about, cool sea breeze blowing in your face and the unmistakable smell of suntan oil in the air. Walking down the Corso (the main street) full of little shops that sell beachwear and any type of food one can imagine (yes also fish & chips! Am I in heaven?) I made my way to the beach. The roar of the sea, so loud, the waves big and white, the sand golden-brown, I felt this is truly the beginning of my “perpetual summer”.

Ill-prepared and badly equipped (no bathing suit, no thongs, no sunglasses) I still decided to take my shoes off and walk by the beach front, freezing Pacific Ocean wetting my feet. I walked up and down for about an hour, looking at the seagulls and people just going by, a perfect summer day.

My beach excitement didn’t last more than a day… Yesterday (Tuesday) I woke up fully determined to enjoy another day at the beach, this time Bondi (pronounced bond-aye, like “aye captain” – don’t be a tourist like me) beach. This is one of the nicest and busiest beaches you’ve seen but not that day. Wind and low temperature and a completely cloudy sky prevented me from enjoying it as much. I know I am biased because of the weather but in the great debate Manly vs. Bondi (think Athens vs. Thessaloniki, Sydney vs. Melbourne) my first point goes to Manly.

But Bondi was special for a different reason and boy do I have a story to tell you…

Some more photos from Beautiful Sydney
Sunset over the Opera House
Wagamama, no corriander please (inside joke)
Ferry ride to Manly Manly beach
Self portrait - Beach pattern
Surfer's paradise
Remember the Seaguls in Nemo? Mine, mine miiiiiine
Opera House view

3 comments:

George "Teriax" T. said...

Kalimeeeera !

I got to run to a meeting... One comment... LOVE THE BEARD !!!!

AGOOOOOOORAREEEEEEEEEEE !

:P

Kali synexeia !

Tellince Cript said...

Grrr, where is the story for Bondi????? Go on pleasee. :)
Hope you enjoyed the bridge climb.

Yannis Lagouranis

Nikos said...

Kosti,

Kalimera for you, kalinixta for us :)

I am glad to see you are having so much fun. This seems to be an absolutely amazing experience for you. I must say that you are quite an inspiration for my little adventure that begins soon in the US West Coast. I fly tomorrow to NY and then to San Fransisco. We have planned for a roadtrip San Fransisco-LA-Arizona/Grand Canyon-Las Vegas. Of course it looks like a joke compared to your deeds but still I hope we could live through some "unexpected" situations :)

Enjoy Aussie,

Nikos K.

PS: Since you are a bit of a "genuine" gambler, any tips for the gampling capital are more than welcome! :)