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Goodbye 2008. G’DAY 2009!

2009 October 4
by rob

December 29, 2008 – flying from Brisbane to Sydney

The agenda today was simple. Get things wrapped up in Maroochydore, drive back to the airport in Brisbane, drop off the car, and fly to Sydney. We were supposed to be staying at Bendegúz’s place in Sydney. I had met him in Cairns back in July. I tried to find a hostel or cheap hotel to stay at in Sydney, but the city seemed completely booked up over New Year’s. It seemed that everyone else, just like me, wanted to be in Sydney for New Year’s!

Anyways, I gave Bendegúz a call before we left Maroochydore to remind him that we were supposed to be arriving at 6:30 that night, but all I got was his voice mail. Hmm… maybe I should have called the day before. Oh well, just like always, I just assumed everything would work out.

We had a few extra beers, so we donated them to a trio of Canadians in our hostel who were going to DRIVE all the way to Sydney that day (1100 km — 13 hours of driving). That’s a lot of driving in one day. I’m glad that Meps and I were flying instead!

There was still a bit of time for sightseeing along the way. We stopped at the picturesque Glass House Mountains to look around. There was a visitor’s centre, lookout, and picnic area built on top of one of the mountains. Here’s a panoramic photo of the area (click to see a bigger version):

Glass House Mountains Panorama

Glass House Mountains Panorama

We had a little picnic (comprised of last of our food: some bananas, buns, and beers (XXXX Gold of course)) and walked the hiking circuit around the top of the mountain (where Meps pretended to be a mongoose):

Meps being a mongoose in the Glass House Mountains

Meps being a mongoose in the Glass House Mountains

The drive to the airport was interesting. When we picked up our car (which Meps dubbed “Little Larry”, but I referred to as “Wee Lawrence” in a terrible Irish accent) a week ago, Hertz convinced us to prepay for our fuel. It was a good deal since Hertz’s rate for the petrol was AU$0.90/litre whereas the average going rate was closer to AU$1/litre (wow, gas was cheap in Australia…). Because of this, it was our goal to return the car with the fuel tank as close to empty as possible. The fuel light started flashing about 30 km from the airport. I shut off the air conditioning and started driving a bit slower. Then the fuel light started flashing frantically faster about 10 km from the airport. We were running on fumes! While it would have been glorious to pull into the Hertz car park and run out of petrol, it would have been far less glorious to run dry while still on the motorway! Meps tried to be evil and run the air conditioning more so that I would have to push the car myself into the parking spot, but I wouldn’t allow it! As such, we made it to the airport without any further incident.

I still hadn’t heard back from Bendegúz, even though it was now getting on into the afternoon. Our flight to Sydney was only about an hour-and-a-half long, though we landed in Sydney about half an hour late due to storms.

Upon landing and turning my mobile phone back on, I finally heard from Bendegúz. Good thing, too, since we didn’t really know where we were going! He had left me a voice mail. He sounded frantic. Apparently he had forgotten that we were coming to stay at his house for six days. Ack. Him and his parents were feverishly preparing for our arrival. Ack ack! Anyways, Meps and I took the train from the airport, across the awesome Sydney Harbour Bridge, to St. Leonard’s station in North Sydney, where Bendegúz picked us up and drove us to his house in the Castlecrag neighbourhood. His house was super nice! It was built on the side of a hill overlooking a tree-filled valley. His parents extended some gracious Hungarian hospitality. They were very accommodating. Bendegúz’s father, Laszlo, used to work at a coffee company fixing coffee makers. He took his coffee very seriously and had several espresso machines. He always served his brews with a little piece of chocolate on the side. Bendegúz mother, Marta, was a kitchen designer — it showed, since her kitchen was fantastic. We had takeaway Thai food for dinner (they said it was a “great Sydney tradition”).

Meps and I felt pretty awkward. Things had gotten kind of mixed up. Bendegúz’s parents didn’t think we’d be staying there for six days and they didn’t know when we were coming (though I had communicated this with Bendegúz over email several months before). I guess I had failed to perform my due diligence by reminding him in the shorter term. It was true, though, I really couldn’t find a place for us to stay in Sydney that wasn’t ridiculously expensive. It seems that most accommodations in Sydney jack up their prices for New Year’s. Doh.

Anyways, they gave us our own guest bedroom and key. We tried to make the best of it. We vowed to take them out to dinner to help make up for the inconvenience — though they didn’t give off the impression that they were being inconvenienced.

December 30, 2008

Meps and I discovered early in the morning that the neighbourhood was completely overrun with cockatoos that announced their presence with violent screeching noises and terrorized the airspace after the sun rose at 5 AM. It seemed like these birds like to hang out right outside the guest room window.

Marta and Laszlo served us a fantastic breakfast with fresh bread, jams, cream cheese and excellent coffee. The cream cheese was some kind of Hungarian-type and really blew me away. I wonder if I can find anything like it at home.

Anyways, Bendegúz gave us a ride to the train station on his way to work. We took a train into the city and met up with Edouard and Inna (both from my legendary bus tour across Western Australia a few weeks before). We also met Inna’s friend Harula. Edouard was from France. Inna and Harula were from Germany.

We had VERY EXCELLENT Thai food for lunch. Of all the Thai restaurants I’ve ever been to, at least outside of Thailand, this one impressed me the most. The green curry had the CORRECT Thai-style eggplants. They had real glutinous rice (a rare treat that I fell in love with in Laos). I ordered some Laotian-style laap (a salad made with ground chicken).

After lunch, we wandered around for hours. We wandered through Hyde Park and the Botanic Gardens. We sat bats sleeping in trees. We walked up to Macquarie Point and took pictures of the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

Edouard, Inna, and Rob

Edouard, Inna, and Rob

We stopped to rest at a cafe near Circular Quay for beers. After that, we walked up to a pub up on The Rocks (the neighbourhood under the Harbour Bridge) for more beers. I wanted to hang with Edouard and Inna more, but we had to part ways (don’t worry — there would be many more opportunities to see them). I had promised to take Bendegúz and his parents to the Polish restaurant in Glebe for dinner. Meps and I planned to walk there, but had to take a taxi part way because we were about to be late. We drank kompote (Polish home-made fruit drink) together. I had bigos and naleśniki (sauerkraut and meat stew; crêpes). It was all fantastic and delicious. Since Bendegúz and his family were trying to show us Hungarian hospitality, I tried to return some Polish hospitality, in my own way.

December 31, 2008

Today was a big day! It was New Year’s Eve! Bendegúz was going to work during the day, but Meps and I made plans to meet up with him and his friend Reuben later in the eastern suburbs of Sydney.

Meps and I took the bus into the city that day and went to the Lindt Chocolate Café for treats. I had an ice-dark chocolate. Meps had a chocolate milk shake which we both agreed was the best chocolate milk shake either of us had EVER had. After splitting a slice of chocolate cake we walked up to Circular Quay, bought some cheap wines at a very-very-busy wine shop and took the ferry over to Watson’s Bay. We walked up towards South Head (the last bit of land on the south side of Sydney Harbour before the ocean) to see the lighthouse and giggled at the nude beach at Lady Bay. We enjoyed some veggie burgers and cheese plate for dinner at Watson’s Bay. There was still time to kill, so we sat around in the adjacent park under the trees. We drank our cheap wine straight from the bottle and watched people play cricket. Some airplanes were trying to write the words “CALL MUM! TELSTRA” (Telstra is the big Australian telephone company) in the sky, but the letter just blew apart. I guess it was too windy up at altitude.

At ground level, though, the conditions were perfect. It was a glorious afternoon. I felt it was a fantastic way to wrap up 2008. I was supremely happy.

Eventually, daylight started to fade and it was time to walk to Strickland House, where we were going to meet Bendegúz and Reuben. We got lost a bit on the way and got directions from the drunken Aussie teenage girls who were walking to a party somewhere else. They gave us “best friend stickers” which were just the little coloured sticky tabs that you’d use as bookmarks when studying. Cute.

Strickland House was a historic mansion with a huge lawn, a little beach, and a fantastic view across the harbour back to the city. There were hundreds of people picnicking and drinking. I guess this is where “the locals” come to see the fireworks. I know that Inna and Edouard were partying somewhere closer to the city centre; but I felt it was really cool to be out here with the locals.

Strickland House

Strickland House

Bendegúz and Reuben already had a blanket laid out and a picnic set up: potato chips of different flavours, different soda pops, beers, some bubbly. Meps and I added a pack of Tim Tams that we bought along the way, and topped it off with the rest of our wine. Bendegúz and Reuben seem to greatly enjoy board games (war games in particular), so the three of us (not Meps) played the game Dust. There were lots of entertaining, drunken, rowdy people around. We were highly amused when we saw a couple getting escorted away by the police after trying to have sex in public right under a light (super obvious!). There were some preliminary fireworks at 9 PM (probably for the kids who had to go to bed early), but the real show was at midnight (of course!). I could tell you about it, or, you could watch this video that I captured:

STUNNING! HAPPY 2009! I apologize for the shaky camera work.

When the midnight fireworks started, I immediately rushed away from our picnic area and down to the beach to see the show. I had made a small mistake, however.

As the night was wearing on, there was less light, obviously. We were using our mobile phones to try and make enough light to continue playing the board game. I also sent some text messages back to Canada to wish people a happy New Year (a whole 13 hours before they got their own New Year, of course!). I also let Meps use my phone to text people, too. With the phone getting passed around so much and then the sudden excitement and confusion with the fireworks, it seems that I left my phone on the picnic blanket when I rushed off. I had ran off first, but everyone else followed. No one else brought my phone with them. Although I was probably not more than 20 metres away while the action was going on, my phone was sitting by itself on the blanket. In the five minutes that we were watching the fireworks, someone decided to steal my unattended phone. NOT COOL.

It was my fault, and there wasn’t much to be done about it. Oh well. It was a bit of a bummer, but it didn’t bother me that much. I’d have to buy a new phone after flying to New Zealand in a few days.

Anyways, 2008 was over. I can say, with confidence, that it was probably the best year of my life, so far. I had been to so many places, seen so many, tried so many new things, met so many people, and find out so much about myself. How could I ever top it?

Rob Szumlakowski
Woodstock, Ontario, Canada

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