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Clare’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 10 Aug 2008

Location: Melbourne, Australia

MapAdvance Australia fair...and then some.

Three weeks in to Australia and I feel I have been re-embraced back into the bosom of Westernity. Within hours of my arrival I had a properly hot, totally fresh water shower, made a cup of tea made with fresh cows milk, brushed my teeth with actual safe, running tap water, been to the loo and was able to flush the loo-roll instead of putting it in a bin, and snuggled on a really comfy sofa under a blanket to watch day-time TV - things I have not done for 9 and a half months!

It was strange to arrive at a house on the other side of the world, find the key under a plant pot and let myself in, but there you go! I've been lucky enough to be staying with friends in both Sydney and Melbourne so I've been treated to having a kitchen, a duvet, a really nice clean bathroom and all the comforts of home life... after 9 months of backpacking it was a really pleasant shock to the system! Have to say though, a bigger shock is how COLD it is here! Winter temperatures are between 10 and 15 degrees (colder in Canberra & Melbourne sometimes) and I simply don't have any clothing for being in a city (instead of halfway up the himalayas) and being cold! Luckily my friend Caroline is letting me borrow some things of hers so I don't look like a street urchin when we go out places!

Sydney though, is great. Carrie and Jeremy live in Balmain which is a lovely little suburb near to the centre of the city - just across the bay from the Opera House, its a really nice little community which hasn't been overrun by mass market retailers - everyone stills shops in butchers and grocers and little boutique stores and if you speak to people they are genuinely helpful rather than avoiding eye contact like in London. I haven't gone mad doing loads of touristy stuff around Sydney yet as I will have some time here to explore over the next few months but since Amy got to town we've done some lovely walks along the coast from Bondi & Manly Beaches and we did a big group trip up to the Blue Mountains near Sydney to a rented house for the weekend to celebrate Yulefest. This is like a mock Xmas which is celebrated in the depths of winter (June/July) as December is the height of summer and temperatures can reach 40 degrees.

I've also been going to job interviews and trying to sort out some gainful employment in between attending Jeremy and Caroline's social engagements with them! Things are beginning to some together on that front so I've headed down to Melbourne via Canberra to see my friends down here. I'm currently staying at Haley and Craig's new house in the 'burbs of Melbourne and getting to know their two lovely kids Connor (3) & Hannah (1) - its the first time I've really stayed with a young family and its a really pleasantly different experience to any I've had over the last year - probably only marginally less tiring then going to the Himalaya, and I don't even have to get up in the night! I think I'm winning them over bit by bit, even though Hannah burst into tears when she first clapped eyes on me!

I came down here via Canberra which, to be honest gets a bit of bad press as a tourist destination. I have to say though, although the city itself is dull as dishwater, I had a brilliant time at the Old and New Parliament houses and could have spent hours longer than I had at The National Gallery and Museum of Australia. Its a purpose built capital so the whole place is only about a hundred years old and still only had a population of just under 300,000. There's a big university there too but the city centre is a bit of a concrete jungle which seemed wierdly empty when I was there - and the charm of the place wasn't added to by the fact that it was absolutely freezing! Have to say though the days were crisp and sunny and the city's location is a beautiful spot in a big bowl shaped valley filled with a man-made lake and surrounded by snowy hills. I managed to time my visits perfectly to swing from one guided tour to another and there are no entry fees so the whole thing has to be the biggest bargain of two days sight-seeing so far... I ran out of time to get to the war memorial which I hear is a very well put together look at ANZAC involvement in armed conflict, but all in all it was a really worthwhile stop on the way down here. I learned all kinds of things about politics down under, as well as that one Aussie Prime Minister disappeared while swimming in the sea off the Victorian Coast never to be seen or heard of again, and that a government in the seventies was dissolved by the Governor-General and forced to the polls to seek re-election. All heady stuff in the world of global politics.

So I'm here in Melbourne for about a week, staying here with the Bigley family as well as with some other friends I've met while travelling - Helen who I first met in Mysore back in January in India and Joenie who I met on the truck through Southern Africa at the end of last year. I'm also going to head off to see The Great Ocean Road as it stretches out along the coast towards Adelaide before heading back up to Sydney to tie up the job negotiations. Things are going very well though, Haley cooks a mean curry, spring is on its way and though I have suffered the indignity of being pecked by a Cockatoo I was trying to feed yesterday, I hope to be back in full strength before I need to rely on my typing fingers for my daily income!

I can only hope that high summer finds you all happy and well and congrats to Nina and Kyp on their nuptials... Mrs Kyp it is from now on!