Sydney, 30th December – 1st January
I wake up as if at home. Snuggled between the sheets with a cup of black tea with milk in hand. For a moment, I forget that we’ll have to leave this flat any time now. I forget that we’ve been homeless for four months, not on the roads of Australia and will continue with the nomadic lifestyle in Asia. All I think about it how today I can show Sydney to mum and dad because I know it. Because it will remain the only place Down Under that we will step foot in twice. Like home.
We enter the heart of the city with Bertie and park him under Paddy’s Market. This is agreeable with his height requirements and he is happy to stay here awaiting our return. The market’s atriums are already preparing for Chinese New Year, but we don’t stay long. We have the whole of Sydney to see.
We can set off on two routes from here. One of the options is to walk straight through the city, Hyde Park and in between the skyscrapers to get to the Opera House. Or we can rotate 30 degrees to the left and pass through the new neighbourhood by the bay. Dad has received glowing recommendations for its new urban design, so we choose it without too much deliberation. A perfect opportunity for Nic and I to see a part of Sydney that we missed last time. Darling Harbour.
We did well not thinking about it too much, because this isn’t something that should be missed. The neighbourhood truly is stunning with its architecture and design. It is clear yet again, that Down Under they understand what a person needs to live in happiness and beauty. Wonderful open spaces, innovative and fun architectural details, materials of the highest quality. We pass the Chinese Friendship Garden. We see the huge ICC Sydney – this is the event centre of the city and my professional weirdness comes on. A little further down, children are playing in an interactive WATER playground that combines the play with science – pools, canals, Archimedes’ screws, dams, pumps … children! There are still so many projects around us being build that are yet to complete the life of this area.
As can be expected, it takes us an hour and a half to pass 1,300 metres. Everything needs to be photographed, explored in detail and discussed both architecturally as well as philosophically. Every sculpture, innovative façade, fun flooring, decorated underpass … I am happy to see them so involved within this environment, even if I want to walk ahead quicker. But with vegan ice cream in hand, everything comes to its place on this hot day. I can wait until they get to the marina.
The squares are already taken over by fencing – preparations for tomorrow’s celebrations. But that probably means that some of these closed-off areas will be paid and we didn’t anticipate that. Hm …
We pass the bay via the Pyrmont Bridge and we’re almost in the area that Nic and I know from our first-ever day in Sydney. Dad starts to limp from the amounts of walking and so we decide to divide and conquer. Dad and Nic will get on a ferry to Circular Quay while mum and I will walk to it. A tourist activity for everybody. We will meet in ‘The Rocks’ neighbourhood for burgers and ribs – chosen by dad’s preliminary research.
Mum and I set off on the promenade towards Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Surprisingly, not a lot has changed since 113 days ago. Yes, the building sites are much higher and the people are more numerous. But otherwise, we follow in our old footsteps. This time in mum’s company, I notice more of the details around us – she stops to take a picture of everything. We call them “work photos” – the endless architecture albums from near and far that she’s been collecting for as long as she can remember – railings, drainage, pavements. Everything that people have made for people and have made it beautiful.
Slowly but happily, we get out under Harbour Bridge and that can only mean one thing. “Are you ready?” I ask her. She takes a deep breath, squeezes my hand and only in a few steps we see Her! Just as pretty as I remember Her. But this time the Opera House doesn’t stand out against the vivid blue sky but merges in with the beige dome. We will visit Her in a bit. But first, lunch. And as we eat vegan burgers and non-vegan rings while discussing the huge and ugly cruise liner in the Quay, Tom appears all of a sudden.
Tom is one of Nic’s close friends and he landed in Sydney this morning. He is coming from England, not even he’s sure why, but he will stay for as long as possible. Although I knew we were now in the same geographic coordinates, I didn’t expect Nic to summon him right away. Or that he would go for it. So this afternoon, there will be five of us. We stay to catch up with Tom while mum and dad go for a walk into the Rocks.
But it is time now. We can’t keep postponing meeting Her up close any more. We don’t miss the opportunity to take pictures by the James Squire brewery. Tom lies down for them. Well, what else would a person want when they’ve just landed from a 24-hour flight. We walk around Circular Quay and get to the Opera House. Last time She was just for us. Today, it is full of thousands of tourists. I am a bit jealous.
Instead of climbing the steps to the big entrance, this time we pass through the tunnel under and enter the foyer. The tours for the hall are sold out but we can just walk the corridors and see what an interior for the world’s most famous opera house looks like. Visible concrete, wood linings, unique shapes, luxurious and modern chandeliers. The toilets don’t fall behind either with their simple but extravagant sinks or the lit-up nooks for the toilet paper. We also sneak into the smallest of the three shells where the luxury Opera restaurant is. We can’t eat here but we can admire the massive french windows and the incorporated Aboriginal art. Such beauty. I am not sure if it is cosy or if it is on the colder side here. But what does it matter when I don’t want to go back outside anyway?
Eventually, we go outside and start the typical photoshoots but unfortunately, we can’t get close any more. Bit by bit they are surrounding the buildings with the fences for tomorrow. This will be one of the free firework areas but will also be open from 10 am. Imagine how many people will volunteer to stay here all day to reserve the perfect spot for observing the show. Should we rethink our plan? With an apple in hand, we sit on the step so we can rest, enjoy the euphoria and discuss. And Tom decides to leave us, it might be time for bed.
We climb the steps opposite and enter the Botanical gardens. Hmm, Melbourne is unreachable. Not that the gardens here aren’t beautiful, but they lack the perfection and the simple grandeur of those in Victoria. We finally see a kookaburra to show mum and dad what the crazy monkey laughter bird is. By one of the lakes we notice a unique display of nature - fish are jumping in the air. No, I’m not crazy. There really are fish jumping out and splatting back inside. We have video proof! There is a young man approaching us - he’s overheard us and wants to introduce himself. A Bulgarian that has been travelling the world on his own for a long time and you can tell. He is so excited to be communicating with people that he can share his experiences with and in his native language.
With a slow pace, we dive into the heart of the city towards Bertie. We pass under every skyscraper, visit Victoria Building, take pictures of the small cathedral, the Queen Victoria statue. I am probably starting to repeat myself, but the atmosphere really is different. Because of the smog, because of the tones of people, because of the festive surroundings, maybe even because there are four of us this time. But that might just be strengthening our bond with Sydney. We do one last shop together and get to Bertie. We pay the painful 46 dollars for parking in the heart of the city and set off once again.
The drive to the AirBnB is about an hour because it actually isn’t in Sydney at all. But that was the only one we could find at a good price at this time of the year. The big surprise comes when we arrive at the address. We are surrounded by huge posh houses. Nic points to the biggest one - it’s ours. What? No, that can’t be?! How could we be sleeping here?
We were right - it can’t be. We will sleep in the … garage of this house. Yes, you read that right - the garage. The interior is nice, but it is a garage! The kitchen reaches to our knees, there is a double bed and within arms-length from it - a sofa bed. It is true we don’t mind being in close quarters, but when we remember how nice we had it last night, we can easily get claustrophobic here.
It is probably a great place, but not for four people. Especially when we have to empty the entire car to ensure mum and dad will take everything to Bulgaria that we won’t need in Asia. We’ll just have to make our peace with it. It is not like we have a choice. We quickly eat our microwave meals and get to bed. Tomorrow will be a good day. The last of 2019.
We start the day slowly. We prepare sandwiches, wrap presents for Perth, separate the many items spread throughout the entire room and sit down for a big lunch. It is only after one o’clock that we manage to get out of the garage and onto the train. The first step out of the doors shocks us. It is at least 40 degrees outside. Well, what can we do - we have to leave. It is the most important event of our trip together - we won’t miss it because of some heatwave! Fortunately, the temperature cools down slightly by the time we reach the central business district. Which takes a long time anyway.
We roam the streets going from shop to shop. Australia is big - you can never be sure you’ve got enough souvenirs. It isn’t the best plan for tired feet, but what can you do. That’s what happens when you travel 16 thousand kilometres away from home. No one brings presents from Germany any more, but here you can’t get away from it.
Now, we all need some time to relax. The skyscrapers don’t quite offer that, so we will move to Hyde Park. Amongst the green and wider spaces. From there, we follow our steps from four months ago and enter St. Mary’s Cathedral. Today my grandma Maria celebrates her 76th birthday so this is the perfect place to honour and congratulate her. While within the cool walls of the church, we manage to find a few minutes to sit. To feel the last few hours of the year.
Before we return to the business outside the park, we pass through the local ANZAC war memorial. It shouldn’t surprise me any more how big this place is, since I’ve seen so many others in the country, but I still can not quite understand its size. The war victims are so respected here - you can’t make a single step without “remembering”.
It is time to send two of us up high - mum and dad are going up to the lookout platform of the Tower Eye while we stay in the shopping centre to wait. Not that it is an entertaining activity, but we don’t have a good connection and we might get lost and separated. I’m not sure either of us can find their way back to the AirBnB on their own. They come back down an hour later half-impressed and half-disappointed. The views up there were as grand but the amounts of people ruined the entire experience. Plus the sky isn’t the best colour and it doesn’t get dark early enough to see the night lights. Yes, we’re sorry it wasn’t perfect, but we hope it was still a memorable experience.
Now it is time to get ourselves organised. It is time for SydNYE. A few texts ago, I unnecessarily remembered the name of the new year’s celebrations in Edinburgh - Hogmanay. Well, now it is useful. In Sydney, the name of the huge event is a wordplay. Clearly, when you switch the places of the last to letters you get the abbreviations NYE - New Year’s Eve.
As we said, the observation areas for the fireworks are both paid and free. We, of course, are choosing the free ones under the Botanical gardens. Meaning the ones that have been filling up since 10 am. But even with a capacity of 13,500 people, the signs are already saying that the cap has been reached and no new people are accepted. Well, no … We won’t give up this easily. We continue confidently as they simply can’t keep us out. The “Area Closed” signs get more and more frequent while the crowds of people walking in the opposite direction get bigger, Okay, we might have to accept our fate.
I go to the first volunteer to ask what the situation is and whether any of the free zones in Sydney are still open. She says the Rocks is still accepting new people. After a quick consultation, we call a taxi. We have no intention of taking the risk of it closing before we get there plus none of us wants to walk that far, dad especially. The driver drops us off as close as he can as a large part of the roads is already closed so the remaining distance we will have to walk. We pass the Four Seasons hotel and announce that this will be our meeting point after the fireworks if anyone gets separated from the group.
5 hours to midnight.
We speed up towards the heart of the Rocks until we realise that we won’t actually find a “very” nice place to watch from. The best ones are paid and have been sold out for weeks. We stop at the top of one of the hills where there is a good enough view towards the Bridge and sit on the plastic barriers. At least they are sturdy enough to withstand us all.
4 hours to midnight.
This zone, like most of the others, is alcohol restricted. Therefore, we can’t just visit the closest supermarket for a couple of beers and neither of us wants to risk losing our spot to go to a pub. It is already clear this will be a very sober NYE. We haven’t had one of these - at least not since we were 16. Mum and I walk before the big crowds arrive to check the area and see if there is anything to be done to better our situation. We only find hot chips - to go with our sandwiches.
At 9 pm we get a surprise. Small fireworks start from the hill next to us. Well, okay - standard ones; I just compare them to the ones we are yet to see. They aren’t anything too special but are distracting us from the sober waiting. We can’t do anything else anyway. On the columns of Harbour Bridge, there are colourful survey-planned projections. Why did we not bring our books?
3 hours to midnight.
After these mini fireworks, the oddest thing happens. People start leaving. Hundreds of people that were sitting on the asphalt in front are now moving out. Yes, some of them with small children - that was enough for them and it’s time for bed. But most of them are without children. Where are they going? Don’t they know these weren’t the big fireworks and there are three more hours to the show? Are they hoping they’ll find a better spot? Do they think that is possible? We will never find out …
They left so we manage to widen our area before the next wave of people arrives. They clearly are also in the opinion that the last place wasn’t good enough and this one will be better. And so we wait again. The Internet is horrible! Everyone wants to be on it, so now no one can be. Well, we’ll just look at pictures from the last two weeks and play games on our phones.
2 hours to midnight.
First interesting fact: Because of the uncontrollable fires in New South Wales, the government was close to cancelling the new year’s fireworks. We are extremely grateful that didn’t happen.
1 hour to midnight.
Second interesting fact: In Australia, New Year’s Eve is celebrated (almost) only here in Sydney. As it is the first place to welcome the new year, the other time zones just watch the show on TV and go to bed. And that is why Sydney’s NYE fireworks are incomparable within the country.
10 minutes to midnight.
Third interesting fact: Tonight, there will be 8,500 kilograms of fireworks used. It is expected that over a million and a half tourists will visit the event and that they will leave 133 billion Australian dollars for the local economy.
1st January 2020
There was no official countdown. Just all of a sudden, the sky was filled with fireworks. It is a pity as we all know that the preparation for an event is a bigger excitement than the event itself - a countdown from ten would have been nice.
The fireworks continue for 12 minutes and alternate between the bridge and the hill to the left of us. We know there will be some from the Opera House too, but we can’t see those from here. I will spare us all the description - this thing can’t be shared in words. The entire time there is pop music all around us and we sing and dance to it. The hill around is full of phones up in the air, recording the event. Perhaps just a bit of alcohol would have been a good addition to the experience. But I think the wait was worth it. Now, we have all seen the SydNYE fireworks and 2020 will be the longest year of our lives. (Back then we didn’t know how we’d wish for it to be the shortest.)
And then we start leaving … We wanted to go to a pub and get a pint, but no - I don’t think we’ll get that opportunity. Every one of them is full of people and it doesn’t seem like there’s space for us in there. It takes us about an hour to walk to the first subway station. I am, as an expert, astonished to see how long they keep the crowd together instead of dispersing us early on. Perhaps, especially if you are a part of my family, you have always wondered what the bachelor’s degree in Event Management entails. Well, this is one skill - crowd control for maximum safety. We have been presented with many scary events in our lectures - for mass deaths in such spaces. So I am further stunned when we enter the subway station and the automatic escalators continuously feed a stream of people into the restricted space of the station. This is exactly one of the biggest dangers with such enormous crowds. I quickly turn on my “safety” mode and my first reaction is to push the emergency button and stop the escalator. The station staff weren’t very happy with me, but it was a necessary action when the people at the bottom are uncontrollably screaming to the ones at the top to not get on the escalator. “A Bulgarian saves 5,00 people from crowd crushing on the New Year’s night!” Those were probably the headlines in the newspapers in the morning, but we don’t read them.
Safe and sound we get into the empty carriage and get comfortable for our long trip to the far-away flat/garage. We text our hosts on the way, asking to be allowed to stay a bit longer in the morning so we can get some sleep in.
There is only one thing on our minds - this is the biggest event any of us has ever been at. Mum can’t stop considering what will happen next year. And the year after that. At some point, Sydney’s maximum capacity will be reached. It continues to host more and more people every year for a 12-minute fireworks show. And just like that, as we commented a few days ago, 2020 has created the precedence that would severely limit the crowd. From a million they will go down to … well, zero. Sometimes such unimaginable problems get resolved on their own.
And still, when the time comes for Sydney to again become SydNYE, I would advise that you are more thoughtful than us and buy tickets for the paid zones. As far as I know, they weren’t expensive and I can imagine it was much more comfortable there. They, at least, had bars.
Okay then ...
Happy New Year! 2020! And happy name-day to me!
We got an extra hour from our hosts in the garage. Although we are certain none of us are hungover, we don’t want to get out of bed. Mum and dad are flying out to Perth after lunch - it is their turn to visit Eli and Bogi. They need to pack in full for the airport and we need to get everything back in Bertie. And so - we manage to leave the garage on time and set off for Manly Beach.
On the way, we stop in a queue of cars - the bridge that we’re about to drive on lifts up. Under it, an endless procession of boats begins - everyone that was in the bay last night watching the fireworks from the best location. The celebrations are over so they are all going home.
Manly Beach got its name in typical Australian fashion. When Captain Phillip arrived on the shore, he was welcomed by Aboriginal men whose behaviour he thought to be manly. He decided that was a suitable name to be given to the region. Today, Manly is the second biggest beach in Sydney but its urban planning is far from Bondai. The shops are fewer and of much lower quality. And the restaurants aren’t the most welcoming ones. But we still find more “needed” souvenirs and a wonderful lunch.
The main beach is long and very windy, full of surfers and sun-bathers. Mum and I are eager to get in the water, but not here. We will walk back to the small beach by the marina - it is better sheltered there. The two of us get settled on the beach, while dad and Nic stay at the benches behind to wait. They are meant to get some coffee but the laziness never subsided enough for them to get off the bench. After endless chatting, mum and I decided to test the GoPro in the water. But we don’t stay long - it is too cold and salty, even for us.
A quick shower, a coffee break, last ocean views and we are ready to head off for the airport. Bertie has once again built up a huge parking fee - don’t go to Manly in a car! We decide to go on the panoramic road and pass on Harbour Bridge for one last look (for mum and dad) of the Opera House low down.
A few tears roll down the cheeks at the airport. But the vacation continues for all of us, so we have nothing to be sad about. Hugs, kisses, thanks and love. And one last goodbye!
And … this chapter of the trip is over!
Perhaps this is the time to express how grateful we are to mum and dad for agreeing to join us during these two weeks. I will leave the financial aspects aside, although, without their participation, we aren’t sure we would have made it that easily back to Sydney. But their company was incredibly valuable. Not that Nic and I can’t entertain ourselves, but it is so much better to be able to see things from a new perspective. Plus we would have had a “blue Christmas” without them. It is so much better to have mum and dad with you. We love you so much and we are eternally grateful for these wonderful two weeks!
Additionally, I will not be summarizing Sydney at this point. Nic and I have another week here before our flight to Bali so we will not be saying goodbye yet.
Vassya (Svetla, Boyan and Nic)