Sydney and Canberra Seriously easy living!

T he last story that I posted was about Blue Mountains. In my mind, I considered that I would come back to the journey in Australia at a later point but then I happened to talk with the father of a good friend of mine. He told me something that got me thinking. Andreas you need to turn the pages of your life and move on to the next chapters; dont leave open issues behind and make sure you progress as you move forward. What I was told shook me and made me realize that it is time to finish things up and stop leaving open things behind. So here I am now, trying to finish the australian chapter of my life (and I wish that this means that I open again the opportunity to go back there one day)!

If there is one thing I can say about Australia, before anything else, is that it is far away. Very far away. It is so far away that even after almost 15 hours of flight to get to Singapore, I still had an 8-hour flight to reach Sydney! I felt I reached the other end of the world. I left summer and reached winter. But Matt, my australian friend, put it in an even better perspective: when his wife was in Greece and he was in the UK, they could go outside in the night and look in the sky and they would see the same stars; if he is in Australia and she is in Greece, then they would look at entirely different stars… Interesting…

This distance maybe tired my luggage, as it deemed that it needed a rest in Singapore and decided not to get aboard for the last flight. So I arrived in Sydney, got past security controls (and a lovely little interrogation) and I was left looking the empty luggage belt as all other passengers were long gone till I realized that now I could call myself a real traveler; who is traveling around the world and never lost a luggage? There is a first time for everything. For example, the first time to make money in a foreign country! I got 120 australian dollars as a compensation for the luggage and a big promise that in less than 24 hours I would have everything delivered in my place.

Great! Eleni had just arrived to pick me up and I happily announced her that Singapore airlines is buying us dinner! And so the adventure of Australia starts!

Normally, I would continue this story in the same way as all other stories published here on the blog. The storyline would be based on the time series of events as the journey unfolded. But there is this thing. In Sydney, I felt as if I was not traveling but I was staying there for a while. I am not sure if I convey the difference properly. For almost 20 days,  my dear friends who are living there, welcomed me in their home and made me part of their everyday lives. Even the initial reason for traveling to Australia was business, so I had to work some days. So for the first time in a journey, I had been staying in a real home and I was engaged to everyday life “activities” (from working to going to the supermarket, from going for a walk around the city to socializing with friends in clubs, dinners and barbecues, celebrations and even family gatherings). This gave me a (small indeed) glimpse of the life there as a local and apparently makes the story-telling here kinda similar to writing about my own place. I cannot write about the traveling events, I can only write about my impressions living there.

The prevalent impression that would accompany me throughout my stay in Australia is the feeling of distance that I started this text with. I felt that Australia is at the same time connected and disjoined with the rest of the world. On the connected side, Australia seemed to be a mix between America (US that is) and England, with a lot of herbs and spices from all the other countries of the world. Sydney in particular is a metropolis and while roaming its streets and landmarks, felt like walking in any modern western city.

A modern and really lively metropolis though! The city seemed to be blessed by a wonderful light that I felt was present even when the sky was cloudy and rainy. Everyone was out, fooling around, joyful. I could say that Sydney is a hipster capital, but then I haven’t traveled to many hipster-y cities around the world to declare it the champion. Let’s just say it is the most hipster city that I have been, leaving San Fransisco far behind.

Talking about people and city life, one of the main contrasts compared to any other really significant city that I have visited is the seriously easy living. People for some reason (I do not have any proof of this, it’s just my impression) didn’t seem to have the anxiety or the rush, characteristic of other metropolises. It was as if everyone was waiting for the clock to tick 5, to get off work and go to the beach or start preparing for the night out and the endless parties.

This was also the biggest misconception about Sydney. Before going there, I had heard from multiple sources that life ends at 9, people go to bed and rubbish like that. To my surprise I can attest that it was exactly the opposite. In fact, never have I been somewhere outside Greece and partied that much. Ok, Matt is the party animal and the most restless guy I know, but hey you cannot party alone and the night Sydney was full of life.

Oh night life…. 🙂 While I claim to have partied, now that I look at the photos, I dont seem to have a lot. There could be many reasons for that, but there is also this thing. Australians drink. They drink a lot, they are not kidding. And there is this habbit? custom? game? I dont know how to call it. Whoever finishes his drink first goes at the bar and brings another round of drinks to everyone. So as I was struggling to keep up with them, I would find myself surrounded with two or three extra drinks! Wtf??

During sober hours, beach life was at the center stage. Sydney is a coastal city, but so are many others. The difference is that the beach was an integral part of the life and mentality of everyone. No matter the weather. I started walking the Bondi to Coogee walk on a day that the weather was changing from sunny to rainy every five minutes and I cannot remember walking any of the six kilometers of the trail alone in the trail. People were all around, sitting at the beach, surfing, swimming, walking, hanging around as if it was the most normal thing to be at the beach in winter, on a rather bad day. After finishing the cliff top coastal walk though, I had to admit that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in Sydney that day…

I really loved this coastal walk. Even today I can remember the smile on my face when I sat on a bench just before taking the bus home. And, although I didnt realize it, I must have communicated my enthusiasm to others because when I sat for a coffee near my house, they didnt let me any money. Either they thought that I was the idiot of the village or they were simply happy that a foreigner liked their city so much.

I tried to control my temper a little bit better when I took the boat and visited Manly beach.

Life was really nice and simple and easy going in the land down under. This is the part where I felt that Australia was disjoined from the rest of the world. Coming from a country in turbulence, here, so far away from everywhere else, everyone was living the vida loca, totally unaware of the troubles of the world at the other side of the sea. We better go surfing, life goes on

Life indeed went on and on and as I mentioned earlier, my stay in Sydney involved all kind of activities including family stuff. The most funny of which was taking Matt’s little nephews to the zoo. I have to admit that most probably I would not have gone to the zoo otherwise, but in the end I kinda liked it.

Eventually we had to leave the city. The first getaway was along the coast line going north. Cliffs, forests and terrible rain all the way, but in the end when we reached Barrenjoey beach and lighthouse we were greeted with the best sunset that I have ever seen. Remember what I said about the wonderful light?

No, I didnt mess with the colors in the photos above.

Second stop was Blue Mountains. And the third, a weekend at Canberra.

Those two places made me realize one thing. Australia is a wild land. People have mastered the places where they have settled, but then the rest remains a wild place. I have never been to any other place feeling that. It’s a strange feeling. Exciting and a little scary. Beware of snakes said a sign at a stop on the highway. Proceed at your own risk another.

Speaking of signs at the road, all messages were pretty straight forward. No kind words or indirect approaches. Straight to the point and harsh. Drink and Drive, Die in a Ditch… whaaaa?? An image of a skin cancer and the message You know what to do. Do it. Ok! Talk about cultural differences…

Leaving the signs at the road behind, we arrived in Canberra, the capital. The city felt very… artificial. Ok, I understand that I dont make real sense by writing that, since all cities are man-made and artificial. But most of the cities provide a sense of evolution. There was something there that attracted people to create a settlement and then a village was formed that grew to a town and the town to a city. In Canberra I felt as if it was a decision “ok, we have to built a bureaucratic center for the australian federation, let’s build it here, put some white-collar workers there, a shopping center there, a road, a monument and there you have it”. Anyway, Canberra could be nothing special, but the surrounding areas were magnificent.

However, Canberra was really really important for my visit in Australia mainly for one reason. Our visit to the national museum. I wrote earlier that Australia is in a sense cut off from the rest of the world. Geographically that meant that the Australian ecosystem was completely separated from all the other continents and ancient plant and animal life had survived there. When european started to settle, a biological bomb exploded. Over 90% of the species that used to be here vanished. Speaking about ecological balance…

The other and far more shocking story unfolded as we passed through the corridors and exhibits about the aboriginals and then talked to a historian working at the museum. I have to admit that I practically knew nothing about what has happened there. I knew some vague facts and things that have surfaced in the press when some historic public plea of sorry was expressed by the official state a few years back and thought mainly that aboriginals were violently moved away from their territories. The reality is far creepier. And very very recent. This is not ancient history, these are atrocities and monstrosities that were a reality until just a few years ago. While this is not the place to expand the topic further, I would suggest reading and learning more about it.

The more I read, the smaller I feel” was written in a sculpture in the city center. I find it very fitting.

Last night in Canberra was the winter (or summer for us from the north hemisphere) solstice. Another opportunity for a party! My last one before packing and leaving for good.

As I wrap the last words about this journey, I realize that it was much more significant than I thought when I got in the plane on the way back. I feel that following the advice of my friend’s father was a good thing after all.

Till the next adventure,

Australia, 2014.

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