Sydney – Like London, only Different… and with a Beach

The last thing we wrote was weeks ago… something about flying to Australia and being super exited… And then nothing. No news. Sorry about that! The plane didn’t actually crash or anything. You would have heard about that on the news. We’ve just been super busy! City life has sucked us back in. But lets start at the beginning.

Because our bikes were to be shipped to Port Kembla near(ish) Sydney, we would have to start our Australian adventure in Sydney and wait there till the boat arrives. The flight was terribly long with a stop-over in Delhi. We ignored the deja-vu and curled up in the corner for a snooze just like the locals tend to do. On the flight Aidan worked on his architecture portfolio so it would be ready to apply for jobs as soon as we land. Of course Skunk had stocked up in Duty free, so he quickly had Aidan distracted.

I had been scared to lose my beloved Daytona bike boots as I can’t afford to buy new ones. They are pretty used and scruffy. But I love them and I need the high heel they have (so just any old cheap boots wouldn’t do to replace them). I cleaned them as best I could but some of the long thorns from India that got stuck in the sole just wouldn’t come out, even when I took the pliers to them.

We were lucky though. Arrivals at the airport was hectic as not all of us had been given Ebola forms on the plane and staff were desperately trying to get everyone to step aside, fill them out and then queue to have their passports checked. There was a huge bustle of men with henna-dyed red hair and colourful saris flying everywhere so the staff were just happy that we had ticked all the “nothing to declare” and “no forbidden food or wooden items” and waved us through, ignoring my boots completely. Phew! We won’t mention the Indian incense sticks, Turkish coffee and Bulgarian paprika in our bags. Or Sam, made from not-appropriately-treated wood, who was strapped to the outside of Aidan’s suit case scarcely hidden by the see-through cellophane baggage wrapping! 🙂

Once in Sydney, we stayed with friends for an awesome weekend in Coogee – a part of Sydney with great beach.

Coogee Beach

Coogee Beach

In fact the coastline is amazingly hotel free and some of it is even national park. You can walk (or run) all along the coast to the famous Bondi Beach.

It’s crazy how sporty people are here. Almost everyone goes for a run after work and the you see girls in shorts or leggings and neon coloured running shoes everywhere. I was starting to feel rather unfit and inappropriately dressed in my baggy Kevlar jeans. But I chose to ignore that and enjoyed the yummie pale ales the bars had to offer instead.

One night we ended up at a bowling club (they seem to have loads of them here) to join a few of our hosts’ friends for a birthday party. The place was a little strange and had a local artist painting away in the corner.

Our friends also took us round to explore the city on foot. It’s amazing how much Sydney reminds us of London. Some areas have a very similar feel. There is Surry Hills that is a bit Shoreditchy with trendy cafes, art galleries and vintage clothing shops. Newtown feels like a mix between Hackney and Camden. And of course you get the City too with all its high-rise glass buildings. Kings Cross is a grimy area with red-light-district flair, a bit like Kings Cross in London used to be not too long ago only without the big train station. We absolutely love London and we love Sydney too.

It’s strange though. None of the familiar names like Lewisham or Stanmore correspond to what we associate with them. Stanmore isn’t at the end of the Northern Line, in Sydney it’s pretty central. And Oxford Street isn’t a big, tourist-overrun shopping street, it’s a tiny residential road in Petersham. It all kind of messes with your head if you’ve lived in London for a few years. I wonder if Sydney people experience the same thing when they go to London? There are also rows of detached houses here, though rather than being Victorian, they come with cute little balconies.

And there are lots and lots of awesome bikes and cars around!

We popped by the Beams festival where lots of artists performed or exhibited light constellations on the streets. It was a great atmosphere. A DJ and his purple-haired friend had a small crowd dancing.

Most art was a little strange but it was definitely interesting. And at one end Daisy had the crowd fascinated with her awesome voice and cutesy 80’s show. She was awesome!

On our meanderings I popped into bars and cafes to ask if they were hiring staff and I soon learned about a very non-London side of Sydney (and Australia apparently). They take coffee super seriously so if you want to come anywhere near one of their coffee machines, you better do a barista curse and magically gain at least two years of experience. You can even do several master barista courses. It’s not a casual job here, it’s a career! And apart from one coffee I had, none taste better than those in London!

In London I never struggled to find work in one pub or another. But here they want certificates for everything! You need an RSA and an RCG (Responsible Service of Alcohol and Responsible Conduct of Gambling – in case there is a fruit machine in the pub). You see, in Australia the responsibility for acting like a drunken idiot or stumbling out onto the road to get squashed by a bus does not lie with you, the drinker. It lies with the person that serves you the alcohol. These regulations seem to be something that the government here has dreamed up but which no Australian I have spoken to actually agrees with. Least of all the guys that teach the RSA course as I was soon to find out.

Unlike most states in Australia, New South Wales demands that you do a six-hour in class course before you receive the certificate. So a couple of days later I found myself in an awesome, super big and tall old building with brass post box by the lifts. The course was a breeze (as it’s all pretty much common sense anyways) and the teachers are pretty cynical and lots of fun. So not a waste of time, if a waste of money.

Eventually it was time to leave our friend’s hospitality, so we moved to a Hostel in Kings Cross, where most of Sydney’s hostels seem to be.

We stayed at Funk House and promptly got upgraded to our own room. I think the cheaper dorms sell better, so in order to book more people in, they put us, a couple, into a two-bed room. It was a bunk bed, not a double, so we cuddled up in the bottom one. But hey, it was our own room and we had the luxury of spreading our stuff out without worrying about things going missing. Awesome!

The hostel’s website advertises that they find you odd jobs – one of the reasons we chose it. Regrettably that’s not strictly true though. They do have a couple of job boards and pin up all the jobs that get emailed in to them. And they also take down your number, in case work comes in. But very little does. And when someone calls them because they need an extra pair of hands for a couple of hours, the hostel staff announce it over the microphone. So then it’s a race to reception – first come first served. It’s great, if you can bag a few of these casual jobs. But it’s not a very reliable source of income and you’ll be extremely lucky to cover the hostel bills.

(Un-)Luckily I managed to get an online writing job. Little did I know how much it was to rule my life over the next few weeks. I’d obviously been awarded it because I totally underbid. I had overestimated how many 100-word descriptions I could write in an hour and there was 1000 of them! At lease there was some money coming in but it was a bit of a conundrum… It kept me too busy to go looking for other, better paying work. Each hour spent handing out CVs was an hour not earning even a little bit of money. But that little bit was not nearly enough to pay the bills… So while Aidan was out meting our friends and going to interviews, I was stuck in the hostel room writing enthusiastic product descriptions for stuff people really don’t need.

Aidan had a chance to see the famous Sydney Opera House too (I still haven’t been).

One great thing here is that yummie, healthy food is a lot cheaper than we expected. So after the free breakfasts at the hostel we weren’t spending much money on food and we were still feasting on in-season avocados and fresh fruit. And we sussed out the cheap clean skin wines pretty quick. It’s wine so bad, that the producer won’t put their name to it. So the label just says “Merlot” or “Cabernet Sauvignon” and not much else. But skunk insisted it would do nicely for us 🙂

The time came to move into a house share, which can be a lot cheaper than a hostel. And since there are always loads of backpackers around, you can easily find a short-term room that people are renting out while they are on holiday. The first place we viewed was super central but literally rotten and had another “room” in the living room area hidden by a few drapes suspended on a washing line. And it wasn’t even much cheaper than the hostel! Well, we’re not fussy, but surely there are better places around?

The next place was on the south coast in Marouba. The day of the viewing we got soaked in pissing rain and the buses refused to turn up so we arrived late, sodden and freezing cold. The place was a huge house share with a grandpa opening the door, a mentally ill person lingering about and a couple of guys watching TV in a damp living room. Not quite the arty hippie commune we had been led to believe that it was. And this one wasn’t too cheap either, even with the free included food. The owner running the place like some kind of refuge that gets delivered free food but given the rents we charged and the fact that we were all backpackers and not aborigines, I am pretty sure it’s some sort of scam. It could be quite interesting on a better day, but the fact that we couldn’t find a bus back into town for ages had us looking for better places.

My emails via Gumtree hadn’t received any replies. My brother, who’d been in Australia recently, had already warned me that somehow Aussies seem to prefer doing things more directly via the phone. So I got calling and txting and soon enough our luck changed. A pretty room in an awesome house share within walking distance of awesome Newtown turned up. We popped over to have a look and got chatting over a cuppa tea. Awesome. It was supposed to be so cheap, I had to double-check the price wasn’t per person!


view down our street

view down our street

So a couple of days later we moved in to be greeted by Agnes, who immediately investigated all our belongings.

A few day later we met another of our housemates – a giant huntsman. Apparently they eat cockroaches so he’s my new best friend!

In the meantime our ship had come in at Port Kembla. According to the info we found online, all we had to do was to rock up, get the relevant customs and quarantine stamps and ride the bikes out of the harbour.

Turns out that wasn’t it at all and we wasted a long train trip to Port Kembla. Once there the customs officer’s accent had us chasing all over town for Allen Street. Once we’d reached the mountainous, residential suburbs on the brink of exhaustion (walking round in bike gear in 30 degree heat kinda kills you) hours later, another phone call confirmed that the office was in fact in Ellen street not far from the train station!

I won’t bore you with the details here (I’ll write up exactly what we had to do on the Motosloth blog). Suffice to say we got our stamps and a few trips back and forth to offices in Sydney and Port Kembla finally had us picking up our bikes a few days later. Or rather, a tow truck had to pick them up as we weren’t allowed to ride out of the harbour at all.

Normally the tow truck would charge AU$130 per bike and would have to bring them back to their official deport to safely unload. But we got lucky! A couple of tow truck drivers were already at the harbour and told us they’d charge AU$150 all in if we paid cash. Of course they dropped us off on a quiet industrial estate road, happy to have made a couple of bucks on the side. Well, we weren’t complaining 🙂

Of course Lea wouldn’t start. Her battery had been flat a few times in Germany and I thought it was the external plug for charging gadgets I’d attached. So I’m pretty sure I’d left it disconnected. The fact that the battery was fine over night in Bremen would speak for that. But when she arrived the plug was re-attached. Maybe they disconnect the battery on the boat and when they re-connected it, they connected everything? Anyways, so we were pushing Lea up and down this road in 35 degree heat, jeans and T-shirts soaked through until she finally started and skunk hopped on!

Arrived in Sydney engine revving so she wouldn’t cut out mid-traffic (after having to push-start once more at the petrol station) and pulled up at home super happy to be bikers again 🙂

A few days later Aidan bought Lea a new battery and she seems fine since. I haven’t dared connect the plug yet…. probably should check it for a bare, shorting wire first.

Now most of our time is spent job hunting and going to interviews. Competition is fierce, even for casual jobs, as there are lots of students and backpackers around. You are lucky if you can bag a job or two like cafe work, removals or even cleaning and ironing for a show flat designer. These jobs don’t pay much but they can keep you going while you look for something more secure. And then of course there is still that writing job keeping me busy every waking hour… Man it takes a long time to write 100,000 words!

At least it’s at home on a comfy sofa where I can listen to awesome music and drink clean skin wine.

Me: “hm… this is sit-on-he-beach-in-Goa-sipping-cocktails music. Let’s go down to Coogee beach!”

Aidan: ” How about we sit in the shower and sip wine from the box?” Hm….

Aidan is loving having his own kitchen again so he’s baking banana bread and cheffing up gourmet meals. We’ve even found a source of lots of free fruit and vegetables. It’s amazing how much perfectly ok food people chuck away. And if we’re lucky there is even some bread and flowers!

Of course we have to make the most of this awesome city so I take time off here and there to trawl the pubs handing out my CV. The famous Deus Ex Machina place was obviously a must-visit and would love to have nicked almost every one of their awesome bikes! I wish they’d let me help tinker on their bikes…. the workshop is right there behind the ex-bowling-alley-floor counter.

It being Sunday that day, they soon closed though and we wandered through the rain (yes, it rains here sometimes in spring!) and came across a tiny metal gig at a small record label place called Blackwire Records. It’s bring-your-own-booze and since it was the end of the gig we got in free. Awesome lil place!

So there you have it… that’s the kind of stuff we’ve been up to. In about a week’s time we’ll be presenting at the HU-Meeting in Victoria. It’s our first presentation and I’m a bit nervous. But I’m also looking forward to it. It’s gonna be AWESOME 🙂 And now I best get back to finishing those 1000 descriptions…

One response to “Sydney – Like London, only Different… and with a Beach

  1. Pingback: Last Days of Sydney Summer | followingtarmac·

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