Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Christmas, Cairns and Craziness - my last days Down Under

G'day everyone - one last time from Australia!

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and a Happy New Year in the colder parts of this world. Since I will be leaving Australia altogether tomorrow, I would like to take this opportunity to post one last blog entry before heading off to New Zealand.

During the past weeks, the events came thick and fast. When I got back from Adelaide, there were only three days left until my friend Jackie from the US came over to visit over Christmas and New Year's. The festive decorations in the streets of Sydney may seem rather plain and restrained compared to Germany or America, however, as there is not much of a Christmassy atmosphere here anyway due to the warm weather, this reminded me of my brother and me singing Christmas carols on our swing in the backyard in summer - totally out of context but still surprisingly convincing.
Christmas Tree @ QVB, Sydney
Santa's sleigh in Broadway Shopping Centre 
Christmas Tree on the Corso in Manly
At Manly Beach with Marie
In between, I also met up again with Marie who Franziska and I met on our Outback trip in July. Sydney being Marie's last stop before returning home to her family for Christmas, we did some Christmas souvenir shopping, benefitting from "50% off" sales in Manly. This was also the first time ever that I visited both Manly and Bondi Beach in one afternoon - for those of you who don't know their way around Sydney: it involves a hell of a lot of public transport travel.

Two days later, on the morning of December 20, my long-time friend Jackie from the US arrived in Sydney. During her stay here, we were taken for siblings (pretty much!), a long-distance relationship couple (ehm... okay) and for husband and wife (no comment). Truth is, we've known each other for over 10 years now so it was about time to celebrate our anniversary with some awesome travels, starting in Sydney in the Australian summer (about 60°C / 110°F warmer than the weather in North Dakota). Having arrived at 8:30 am, Jackie wanted to stay up all day to get into the Australian sleep pattern - so off we were to the first day of sightseeing in Sydney.

Jackie at Sydney Uni
At Circular Quay with the Opera House
Close up @ Sydney Opera House
After the obligatory visit to the School of Wizardry (those of you who have been following my blog might know what I'm talking about) and the must-see attractions in the city, the next few days were a bit more relaxed, yet eventful. Christmas shopping and cocktails at the 360 Bar on Sydney's Skytower with Laura, Darling Harbour fireworks, Manly, Frozen Yoghurt and Sushi. At Manly Beach, we were even fortunate enough to hear the sirens and a shark warning: "A shark has been sighted close to the beach, please make your way out of the water as quickly as possible." Some particularly stubborn surfers that refused to leave the water had to be dragged out by lifeguards on jetskis while everyone else on the beach was looking for the infamous dorsal fin cutting the surface of the water. We didn't see the shark but the shark helicopter was flying up and down the beach...

Sushi!!! <3
360 Bar in Sydney's Skytower
Cocktail time! =)
Enjoying 360° views
Darling Harbour before Christmas
Manly Beach
And then there is this picture that I have always wanted to post... we finally managed to get the photos I needed. Sunday afternoon at Manly Beach - take a look:

Christmas Eve, December 24. The day that German children open their presents at the same time as Australian children (due to the time difference) while British children have to be patient and wait. It was not a Christmas on the beach as many of you might expect but a Christmas at home as it was pouring down outside. Although I am living with a Jewish family - who do not celebrate Christmas but Channukah - we organised a Christmas Eve dinner with Laura, Emily and the family. And as necessity is the mother of invention, we ended up cutting little Christmas trees out of pieces of watermelon, decorating a huge fruit platter, making a Christmas Tiramisù and so forth.

Watermelon, pineapple, kiwifruit, grapes, passionfruit
and oranges
The rest of the night was spent partying at Zanzibar in Newtown - where some of us belong to the regulars.

On the way back, we might have found a shopping cart that looked lonely in the streets of Newtown...

December 26. Boxing Day. Instead of some tranquil time with family and friends, Jackie and I caught a 6:30 am flight to Cairns in Far North Queensland. Leaving at 6:30 am meant being at the airport by 4:30 am... and that's what I looked like. Army training must really help with getting up in the middle of the night.

Sydney Airport. 4:30 am.
Descending into Cairns Airport
The Esplanade and The Lagoon Public Pool which is free for everyone!
Santa Chris in a shopping centre in Cairns
In Cairns, which is a very lovely little town with not a lot of stuff to do, we joined guided tours to the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation as well as to the Great Barrier Reef, about 60 km off the coast.

Daintree Rainforest
Panoramic View of the Daintree River Mouth (click to enlarge)
Crocodile Cruise on the Daintree River
Kangaroo Feeding at a Wildlife Park
Cape Tribulation Beach
Out on the Great Barrier Reef
Jackie snorkelling =)
Corals & Tropical Fish

After this short getaway, we returned to Sydney to celebrate New Year's Eve in one of the most spectacular places to be at the end of the year. And this is what "Craziness" stands for in the title of this blog post. In the city, there are a few areas that are fenced off for New Year's Eve and have varying restrictions on bringing beverages (alcoholic - yes or no? glass bottles yes or no? etc.), buying food, access to toilets and so on. For some of the more popular places, people line up in the early morning - and by that I mean EARLY morning. Some would even camp at the gates the night before just so they get a good spot to see the fireworks - which admittedly are amazing. We - that's Jackie, Laura, Nina and her boyfriend Ingmar and Oliver and Azariah from the UK - joined the queue at about 10.30 am at which point we were in for a three and a half hour wait just to get into Mrs Macquarie's Point, right opposite the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge in the Botanical Gardens. It was a hot day, especially as we were waiting in the sun so I decided not to wait around for 3.5 hours to get in and then a further 12 hours to see the fireworks. Oliver's photo of the fireworks, however, was amazing and probably worth the wait:

Sydney New Year's Fireworks - Photo by Oliver Schofield
Instead, I went to the North Shore to meet up with Armand from Switzerland who I had shown around Sydney and spent quite a substantial amount of time with before and after I went to Adelaide in early December. We watched the fireworks from a hill near Lane Cove which was free, open to everyone, not crowded at all and had great views of all fireworks in the Harbour including the bridge and the Opera House (apparently the 2014 fireworks were the first to launch crackers from the top of the Opera House as well). I found that this more relaxed and quiet way to celebrate New Year's Eve was more like me as the huge crowds (17,000 people at Mrs Macquarie's Point alone, 1.6 million around the Harbour) and the character of a mass event like this would not have contributed to my personal enjoyment of the festivities.

New Year's Day, on the contrary, is probably the quietest time of the year to be in Sydney. There is literally not a soul out in the streets and compared to the New Year's celebrations, Sydney almost feels like a ghost town. A great day to have coffee with Matthias and Christina Steppeler from my hometown Rietberg who just so happened to be in Sydney for New Year's and to catch up with friends before finally leaving Australia. Tonight, a few friends came over for a small get-together on the roof, having drinks and sharing stories from the past year. Indeed, 2013 has been a very eventful year of my life - in many ways. In review, I am thankful that I made the decision to live and study in Australia for a year since it has turned me into the person I am now; because - contrary to my beliefs - I have changed and developed quite a bit, particularly on the personal level. Therefore, tomorrow will definitely be a sad day for leaving Australia since it has become an important part of my life, however, I am also looking forward to spending time in New Zealand after 7 years! The many awesome people I have met in Australia, whether it be through my studies or on my travels, have made this experience worthwhile - and with this many friends from all over the world, far away countries have just gotten a little closer and different mentalities have become more understandable.

Thank you everyone who has contributed to this amazing experience and I will surely see you soon! Have a Happy New Year and best wishes for 2014 from Australia!

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