Blessed to be a witness

Tuesday, 23rd August

That's more like it

You may think I haven't been totally fair to Australia so far. While there may be a little truth to this - in that the place we left to come here is one of the most beautiful on earth, to which we now have a deep emotional connection - for the most part I have been really quite disappointed. Part of it is just unfortunate: it's winter, and this is an outdoorsy sort of country, so we haven't been able to experience the country's full potential. Part of it, however, is that many Australian towns genuinely aren't terribly friendly places to the visitor, and they seem to be packed with petty martinets or scary rednecks.

However, none of the above apply to Sydney. This city is amazing. Beautiful, with a harbour that rivals Hong Kong in spectacularness, but is cleaner, with more beaches and better use of the waterfront. In so many countries, people are forced to sacrifice a nice lifestyle and environment to live where the jobs are. In Sydney, the environment and the jobs and the lifestyle coexist: gorgeous public beaches and stunning scenery are just a bus ride away. It's relaxed and tolerant, and if it weren't so far from friends and family, I could see myself living here. It is apparent to me that in most cities around the world, to be rich in them would be a pleasure, and to be poor would be a nightmare. I can imagine here, however, living a decent life while poor would be less of a struggle than anywhere else on earth, and being rich would be utterly fantastic.

We walked the couple of hours from Coogee to Bondi along the coast in the cool winter sunshine, traversing a beautiful cemetary (lest you think me morbid, go to Pere Lachaise cemetary in Paris and tell me it isn't a fascinating place) on a hill above the sea, round coves and beaches and cliffs to the famous beach. In the Bondi surfing lifeguard museum we discovered that in the 1930s, a tsunami-type event had sent three huge waves onto Bondi Beach and sucked 200 people out to sea. Luckily there were seventy-odd lifeguards on duty that day, and nearly everyone was rescued - two drowned, one was known to be missing, and two sets of swimwear were recovered with no owner to account for. Then we hopped on a bus and travelled into the gleaming, Manhattan-esque city centre.

In addition to sightseeing, we also had a goal: to visit the post office and pick up our winter gear for New Zealand, that we'd mailed from Bangkok in April. Alas, despite the website I found that said Sydney poste restante held things for six months, we were informed that it only held them for one. On the computer there was a record of the parcel arriving, and then it was returned to sender - or if no return address, 'destroyed'. Since my return address at the time was 'Jim, Bangkok', I suspect there's some postman in Sydney doing his or her winter rounds in my lovely Smartwool socks. Ah well. I was later advised by the manic Kiwi barber who cut my hair the other day that I should wait to buy new cold-weather gear when we get to Christchurch: "Possum, mate, possum wool socks, that's the only way to go. Get the thick, mate, not the thin. Amazing, mate. Very warm socks they are, mate."

After this minor disappointment, we strolled to Circular Quay, the main ferry terminal for the city, adjacent to The Rocks, the area first settled by Europeans after they abandoned Botany Bay due to the lack of fresh water. We sat at an al fresco café in the sun, with stunning views of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, both of which live up to their reputations. These things are so iconic that you already know what they look like, so I instead present to you a picture of a seagull.

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