Sunday, December 21, 2003


Whilst standing on the top observation deck today I was thinking how serene and peaceful heights are; admittedly, artificial heights like buildings aren’t as good as sitting up on the edge of a mountain, but the effect is similar. I understand now why Buddhist monks in Tibet build their monasteries high up on mountains.

I also thought it's a shame that I can't really relate my experiences to you fully; what I mean is, it’s all good and well telling people about what I’m doing and seeing, or even taking photos, but nothing can convey it properly or how it makes you feel.

The feeling of peace and isolation at the top of Marion’s Lookout in Tassie, the breathtaking view of miles perfectly blue ocean or the power of seeing the 12 Apostles in a raging storm on the Great Ocean Road, getting within a couple of feet of wild Kangaroos; it’s all totally amazing!
Age, what is that all about?

Genes, what are they all about?

Well, somewhere down the line I seem to have acquired something that gives me a youthful appearance and I don’t really know where I got it from! One thing is for sure; it is definitely no result of a pious and sober youth, that’s for sure!

Estimates on my age from people I meet are generally around the 23-25 mark, I have had guesses as low as 21 and (only) as high as 28; my coup d’etat though was being asked for ID whilst buying alcohol from a bottle shop recently!

To be honest it was novel at first, but now I am so used to people saying “no, you’re not 31, wow, you totally don’t look it!” it’s getting a bit dull!

But better young than old, so thanks to whomever for my genetic make up!
The next morning, as you might imagine, I didn’t really get up too early, something like 11am in fact.

I was really hungry, so I wandered out into the shopping area, which is right by the hostel; I found a nice little café and ordered cream cheese and salmon on warm English muffins with a flat white (and water, you get water free everywhere in Victoria).

Oddly enough, Canberra CBD isn’t called Canberra CBD; it is generally referred to as “Civic”, that’s it…odd.

I decided today to do some cultural stuff, so drawing on my previous experience, having visited various European cities I sought out the open top sightseeing bus and booked myself on it (these sightseeing buses may look tacky, but no matter which city you are in they are absolutely the best way to get quickly acquainted with the important stuff).

The weather was markedly improved from yesterday and had turned quite sunny, so trekking round Canberra on the top deck of this bus was quite pleasant; the recorded commentary was read by a chap with a stiff English accent which I thought was a bit funny.

When the bus arrived back at Civic I got off and wandered back to the hostel, I decided to grab my Lonely Planet and raincoat, in case the weather turned. Firstly I trundled down the road to have a proper look at ANZAC Parade, this is a long road with the ANZAC war memorial at the end of it, after this I went and saw a big spouting jet of water in the lake that I’m sure was supposed to commemorate something! Then I strolled over the bridge (the bridge spans Lake Burley Griffin, this is a big lake in the middle of Canberra and is named after the original architect of the city) and down to the parliamentary area. I went to the old parliament building (in 1988 they switched from the existing building, which was getting too small, to a brand new one) and got a guided tour, it was quite interesting and looked very English; I discovered that the big old chair (I think the leader of the house sits in it) in the Senate (House of Lords equivalent) was a gift from England and when our big old chair got burnt in the war, Australia donated a new old chair back to us!

After this I went on to the new, or current parliament building. By comparison it was incredibly modern and funky looking, a strangely harmonic combination of glass, steel, marble and wood! As the afternoon was getting on I didn’t manage to get on an official tour, but I wandered around nonetheless and saw the Senate and House of Representatives (House of Commons equivalent) areas. I also perused the roof (the lift to the roof was awesomely slow, I guess that’s politicians for you); the building is on a hill called Capital Hill, but when the building was constructed they chopped off the hill, built the parliament building and then kind of replonked the hill back on top of it. The result being a building that looks like it is half in the hill.

The new parliament building is also only about 500 yards away from the old one.

By now I had spent quite a lot of the day walking (it was about 5:15pm) so I waited for the open top bus to come along and pick me up (the open top bus ticket is valid for 24 hours) and drop me back at Civic.

On my way back to the hostel I realised that I was feeling quite hungry since I hadn’t eaten since this morning. I whimsically popped into a place called Hog’s Breath, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds; it’s actually a chain of places in Australia that are a bit like TGI Friday’s in the UK. I had a nice steak meal and plenty to drink (coke), as by now I was also really thirsty.

On the way back to the hostel I was thinking that I might go and visit the Telstra Tower; this is a telecom tower that is situated on top of the local mountain, it has a viewing area, café, restaurant, etc. So, after checking the route, off I went; by now it was spitting with rain a little bit but I wasn’t too bothered. Once there it didn’t seem quite as high as either the AMP Tower in Sydney or Mount Wellington in Hobart, but it was still quite nice, although a little bit cloudy.

After this I scooted back the hostel with the intent of having a relaxing night and a sober and perhaps an early night.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

I was out of the hostel by 10am the next morning, there wasn’t really a lot to see in Bateman’s Bay, once again, a very pretty seaside town but that was about it.

So on the road once again, toward Canberra, the nation’s Capital!

The journey was only a short one, about 2 hours; but it was up and down some very steep windy roads and it was raining the whole time. When I got to Canberra I checked into the City Backpackers; it’s a very large hostel and inside gives the appearance of a hotel, I got a bed in a 4 bed dorm and seemed to be the only person in it! For the night fee ($24, about 10 quid) you also get free use of their swimming pool, Jacuzzi and sauna, not bad!

I decided to have a wander around Canberra town, to be honest it looks a lot like Stevenage. For the whole time I was wandering around it was absolutely pissing down, so I ducked into a pub for some beef and guiness pie and a couple of pints, to warm my cockles.

Back at the hostel I decided to pay the pool and stuff a visit. It wasn’t quite as great as I was expecting, the pool was small, neither the Jacuzzi or sauna were hot enough and there weren’t any proper changing facilities except for the bar toilets! It was OK though, since most hostels don’t have anything; I chatted to an English woman who was in Aus on a long holiday, she was pleasant enough.

I then had the fortune to bump into yet another person in my increasing collection of weirdos! A woman, she looked a bit weird in a somewhat indefinable way; she claimed to be from NW NSW and was in Canberra because she was escaping a “psycho dyke” and an “arsehole millionaire” from her hometown that were trying to kill her (they had already made an attempt with the Herpes virus…?) because the dyke fancied her, but she was straight. She also claimed that gays ran most of the criminal organizations in the world and she was planning to become a politician (hence, Canberra) to put a stop to it. Needless to say I didn’t stay and converse for too long!

By now I was a bit hungry, so I decided to have some Coco Pops, but I discovered that my milk was off, so that idea went out the window; I ended up eating junk from the vending machine. I decided to have a quick go on the Internet before doing anything else, but it kept packing up all the time, so that idea went out the window too!

Since I had time on my hands I decided to wander downstairs to the bar (“The Church”); it looked as though there was going to be music on later in the evening. I had a quick couple of beers but the place seemed really empty, so I wandered back up to my room and took a shower instead.

By the time I had done this and fannied around with stuff like jotting notes in my journal time was getting on, so I decided to pop back down to the bar again.

There was a band on (well 2 guys), they seemed to be having loads of fun, especially as their mates were in the crowd; unfortunately their music wasn’t too good, they were both singing and playing acoustic guitars, a bit like a cross between the Proclaimers and Coldplay but nowhere near as good as either!

The atmosphere in the bar wasn’t great, in a fashion symptomatic of large hostels the patrons were almost all cliquey social groups, this made it quite hard to get talking to anyone. In the end I started chatting to a German guy who was standing next to me, he was called Stefan, was from Dortmund and was travelling the world and he was 38!

As the evening wore on I got drunker and the bands got better, but it was getting quite annoying having to yell all the time; so Stefan and myself took our drinks up to the roof garden, the fresh air and peace was nice…that was until a bunch of guys swooped on us! To be more precise, 4 skater boys who were down from Melbourne for a few days to check out the local skate parks (oh, and 1 fat guy who was tagging along with them and telling wild lies about what a stud he was), so now as a group of 7 we drank more, smoked a few spliffs and messed around in the gym (the hostel’s got that too). By now the skater guys were looking to go out to a club or something, we were all a bit out of it and Stefan & the fat guy had disappeared so I made the sensible move of ducking out to bed; I’m not sure if the skater guys went anywhere, they were probably too trashed to have been let in anyway!

The next day I recall that the skater boys were calling me Cory, because apparently they thought I looked like Cory Feldman and calling Stefan, Ralph, just because they thought he looked like a Ralph.

I listened to music a bit and then went to sleep.

Friday, December 19, 2003

The next morning I got up and checked out at a reasonable time. The weather was very hot and I was feeling peckish, so I wandered over the bridge to see what 90 mile beach looked like and also to see if I could grab some food.

I immediately located a café called the Surfside Café at the other side of the bridge and ordered a cheese and onion toasted sandwich; the sandwich was lovely, but once again today the flies were out in major force! I took my sandals off and wandered down the beach for a bit, it was very nice but there wasn’t much else to do, so eventually I hopped in my van and set off for Bateman’s Bay.

Bateman’s Bay was quite a long way away and I spent a large portion of the day driving. When I got there I booked into one of the local hostels, it was like a converted house and seemed quite nice, although my “room” was like a sectioned off bit of the hallway with a curtain in front of it, very weird!

There weren’t many people in the hostel, a group of 4 English people travelling together, 2 sisters and a girl + boyfriend, they were really friendly, we ended up chatting and playing cards and stuff. They were all travelling together in an old VW camper van; it looked quite cute, in a vanny sort of way.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Once again I was up early enough for breakfast this morning, which was cool. I went over to my van to get it organised, clear some shit out of it and drive it around to the hostel on the other side of the road. In a moment of chaotic tidying, I managed to lock my keys inside the van (again) and had to call out the RACV to unlock it (again); luckily it doesn’t cost me anything!

Whilst waiting for the RACV chap to turn up I notice the bin van driving round the park emptying rubbish bins, the van was all done out in tinsel and stuff and the driver was dressed like Father Christmas! I still can’t quite comprehend that it is nearly Xmas; it totally doesn’t feel like it at all!

Anyhow, back on the road again, my first intended stop was Lakes Entrance; by all accounts a nice little tourist town on the Victoria coast. On the whole my journey was long-ish but fairly uneventful; although I did accidentally (well, it was unavoidable) hit and kill a bird that flew across the path of my van, it was black and white… and dead. I also saw, in support of Bill Brysons view of Australia, a giant sized (15 ft tall) bird advertising a business by the roadside; it looked like a cross between a parrot and a cockerel.

When I got to Lakes Entrance I went to the information centre, found the local hostel and checked myself in. The hostel was OK; it was laid out a little bit like a caravan park with individual huts and stuff.

Other than having a wander around Lakes Entrance, buying a new, cheap raincoat because it was raining, I didn’t really do much else. Most of the people at the hostel were German and didn’t seem to be interested in chatting to anyone other than other Germans. I did meet the guy that I was sharing my room with though and we agreed to go down to the local (only) pub and have a few swift ones.

I don’t recall his name but he was a pleasant guy, from North Yorkshire. We chatted about finances and stocks and shares and stuff; we also discussed the cost of food in Australia compared to the UK and agreed that bread and chicken are very expensive here. Being from North Yorkshire, he was reasonably familiar with aspects of farming and proceeded to explain that we get ripped off with the price of lamb in the UK; according to him (and his father) you can buy a lamb for about 5 quid, fatten it up (presuming you own a small-holding that is) and send it off to be slaughtered and dressed for about 25 quid. So barring some cheap lamb feed, you would get 4 whole legs, plus the rest of the lamb for 30 quid!

Well, after a night of scintillating conversation we wandered back and went to bed, we didn’t drink too much. The pub had horse racing and gambling going on in it, so it was only tolerable for a short-ish period of time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

This morning I met some of my new room occupants, a couple of (different) German girls, one whose name was Fritzi and an English chap called James. I got a casual invite from them to go to the Moonlight cinema that evening; it’s an outdoor cinema that plays classic movies.

I was actually intending to check out today, but I got up late and I didn’t feel like exerting myself too much, so I extended my bed for another night.

Once again it was awesomely hot today and I didn’t really want to spend it all out in the sun, so I ventured down to the South Bank in the direction of the National Gallery of Victoria (I think that is a self-contradictory title, how can it be the “National” gallery of “Victoria”???). I wandered over the river and past the gallery, but there wasn’t much else there and the flies were proving to be more than a little weary!

I went into the Gallery, it was supremely air conditioned and had a pretty groovy water wall at the entrance. The gallery itself wasn’t bad, possibly not the best art gallery I have ever been to, but it did have paintings from people like Picasso, Rembrandt, Van Gough, Turner, Constable, etc. When I left the gallery the heat hit me like a brick wall since I had got so used to the air-conditioning inside!

Later that evening, being a Wednesday and all, I went down the Commercial for a few drinks. I hung out with Jackson and a couple of girls, Georgie and Aaliyah, a half-Iraqi girl; A few people went on to Brunswick St after the pub, but I didn’t want a large one so I just went back to the hostel and got an early-ish night.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Today was intensely hot, not so much sunny but just plain roasting hot and very humid. I didn’t do much in the morning as I didn’t get up ‘till 11am, but I had a cup of tea and a bite to eat.

After breakfast I realised that I still had an outstanding parking ticket that I was supposed to pay in person ages ago; luckily the place was only a short drive away on Sydney Road.

So I wandered over to my van, only to discover that my stereo had been stolen. This pissed me off on two accounts, one, that I would have to replace it with something else and also that I wouldn’t be able to listen to any music until that point; the thief did however lock the door again afterwards! It did though, illustrate to me how insecure my van is, that my van in itself is not a particularly desirable target of theft and also that what goes around comes around (having been a recipient of stolen goods myself in the past).

Being in a particularly bad mood now I drove down to the parking ticket place, the weather was very hot and I had to sit in traffic for quite some time. The parking ticket office was in a very officious looking building and when I got to the counter the lady was very courteous; then, much to my surprise I discovered that my ticket had been cancelled! The lady didn’t know exactly why, but she hazarded a guess that it was because they couldn’t find me and they thought it would be easier to right it off than pursue it! Touch!

After this I thought I would drive down to St Kilda to chill out and unwind by the beach, not thinking ahead properly I drove. I sat in traffic for ages getting down there when I should have dropped the van back off at the hostel and got the tram in! Oh well!

When I eventually got back from St Kilda I wandered down to Brunswick Street and went on the Internet for a little bit and then on to the local pizza place “Umago” for a cheap meal. It was something like $7 for a small pizza but it was so bloody big I couldn’t even eat it all!

Later in the evening I went down the Pump House with Jackson (a cool Aussie guy at the hostel) and a few people for a jar or two. A few later we (Jackson, myself and a couple of German girls) decided to go down to Brunswick St in search of a bit more fun. I think we ended in at the Evelyn and then onto a place called Bimbos; all in all it was a pretty groovy evening.

This is my observations, not so much on women but relationships with women in a backpacker environment as it is strange and not quite what I am used to.

First, some factual points.

- Most backpackers are in hostels for short periods of time.
- Most backpackers are travelling in different directions and have their own itinerary.
- Most girls or women are not dirty slappers.

So what happens is, you meet some really lovely girl or woman that you get on with like a house on fire and then the next day she moves out or you move out. Romancing a lady takes time; see factual points 1 & 2.

Then you go down the pub, get drunk, meet another (drunk) girl that you get on really well with (to be honest I get on well with everyone when I am drunk, so this doesn’t really qualify for much) and end up having a drunken one night stand. By this stage factual point 3 has got very blurry and often completely negated by alcohol.

It’s rare that anything romantic will stem from a drunken one night stand, so the next day you are probably courteous to each other. Worst case scenario she will secretly blame you for taking advantage of her when she was drunk.

How funny?!

Monday, December 15, 2003

This morning Caroline was feeling much better, including her ankle, so we decided to go up to Mariners Lookout as Caroline hadn’t seen it yet. By the time we got back from Mariners Lookout (about a 500m up hill walk) Caroline’s ankle was hurting like buggery again.

So back on the road, Caroline sat in the back of the van so that she could keep her ankle up. We passed through a few places that weren’t particularly interesting, until eventually we reached Torquay and stopped for lunch. Torquay is a massive surfers hang out, there isn’t really a lot to do there but surf and 9 out of 10 shops are surf wear or surf board shops. The food was nice though and we got back on our way.

As we were getting closer to Melbourne now we decided to make a whimsical stop at Geelong, which from flyers we had seen looked like it had a nice harbour type area. It’s quite a big town; we stopped at the harbour area and wandered up and down it for an hour or so. It was very pleasant, the weather was boiling hot and the seafront was nicely looked after and decorated with big wooden figurines, which was novel. There were loads of boats and the sea, as it had been our entire trip, was crystal clear and as blue as the sky.

From Geelong we drove back to Melbourne, I dropped Caroline off at a cheap hostel in town (she was flying back to Sydney the next day), we exchanged pleasantries and email addresses and agreed to meet up in Sydney for a drink. I drove to the Nunnery and booked myself in for a couple of nights.

Later that evening I hooked up with an Aussie bloke and a couple of German girls, so we went next door to the pub for some beer and good conversation. After the pub we came back to the hostel again, drank red wine, conversed and had fun.

At about 2am I went to bed, or at least tried to. I discovered a bloke in what I thought was my bed, I woke him up and he claimed that it was his bed, I told him that I had checked in and made the bed earlier that afternoon, he said that he had checked in at midday but just hadn’t made the bed up. Now every backpacker knows that when you check into a dorm room in a hostel the only way you can tell which beds are free is by seeing which ones aren’t made up so I told him it was his own stupid fault for not making it up when he checked in! I also discovered that he had re-made the bed (with his bedding) over the top of my bedding, if he hadn’t have done that then I would just have made up another bed and bothered nobody – what an arse! By now (being 2am-ish and all) some people in the room were starting to complain that we were making a noise, so basically I forced him to move (with his bedding) to another bed. Had it not been 2am I might have had a little more of a set to with him, he checked out the next morning anyway.