That First Summer in Sydney (Part One)

(December 2008-January 2009).

Bondi bliss.

Catching a glimpse of the Opera House as the plane prepared for landing, I felt a strange mix of nervous excitement. After years of dreaming about this day, I had finally arrived in sunny Sydney.

After grabbing my bags, I jumped on a bus to Bondi Junction, then a short cab ride later I was at my new home, the Bondi Beach House YHA, situated between the infamous Bondi beach and the little known Tamarama. Arriving late in the evening, I checked in and went straight to my room. I must admit, that first night, I felt quite lonely. Leaving behind a great group of friends in Thailand and having to start all over again in a new city was beginning to feel quite daunting, but I needn’t have worried…

Bondi bowled me over instantly. That first morning, I packed my beach bag, donned my favourite khaki green bikini and headed straight to Icebergs for a refreshing swim in the saltwater pool. I then spent the morning wandering along the promenade and discovering the myriad coffee shops and little boutiques dotting the side streets.

Later that afternoon, I headed into central Sydney to meet up with Ross – one of my friends from Thailand, who was staying in the city. Straight away we headed to the harbour to take in the most spectacular view – the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

After that we wandered around for a few hours until I was so beat, it was time to head back to Bondi, and bed.

Even in this amazing city, living a stone throw from the beach, those first couple of days still felt quite lonely; I chatted to the girls in my room and had a bit of banter with John, a lad from Sheffield who imaginatively nicknamed me ‘Manchester’. But there wasn’t anyone who I really clicked with and I was starting to feel like I wasn’t going to enjoy Australia as much as I had always imagined.

Then one night, a beautiful blonde girl walked into my room.

Caroline had just arrived from travelling around Asia. Leaving behind her best friends from Sweden, she was also beginning her Oz adventure alone.  With her bubby, friendly nature, we clicked instantly and over the next few days we bonded over our mutual love of food, travel and meeting new people. Together we took our first surf lesson, discovered the nightlife of Bondi and made friends with almost everyone in the hostel;  French, Germans, Canadians and of course, the English and Irish.

Then there was the Swedish boys…

Wanting to perfect her English, Caroline had spent that first week speaking only in English, to the point where no one – other than me – actually knew she was from Sweden. This particularly came in handy when I developed a crush on one of the Swedish boys (Sebastian) and she could listen in on their conversations! We continued with the secret eavesdropping for a while but we soon made friends with them too and so we had to come clean.

The next week passed in a blur – Caro and I would go for a morning run along Bondi parade, meeting up with the group a little later on for sunbathing and swimming. When evening came around, we would sit around in the lounge area, drinking our new favourite tipple – a $6 bottle of Passion Pop – and playing drinking games, until everyone was suitably tipsy. Then we would head to the local backpacker bar – The Shack or to the Bondi Hotel for last orders and a little flirting…

My crush on Sebastian didn’t amount to much but then his friend Jonas appeared as if from nowhere. Tall, blonde and blue eyed with a passion for surfing and playing the guitar…the perfect summer fling!

We had a great few weeks, living the life of students without a care in the world – no job and no responsibilities. After the festive season that would have to change, but for now, life was fun fun fun.

Christmas on the beach.

For a few days over Christmas, I had to move to the YHA in central Sydney as the Beach House was fully booked up. I spent most of my time there travelling back to Bondi or out with Caroline discovering new beaches, such as Manly and Coogee – both popular backpacker spots.

It was whilst staying in central Sydney that I met Callum, who would soon become another great travelling buddy. Being from Liverpool, we played up to the Manchester – Liverpool rivalry and spent most of our days making friendly banter and taking the piss out of each other. So when it came to Christmas day, naturally I spent it with Callum and Caroline, along with a few other friends we’d met along the way.

Christmas in Sydney is a little surreal for the English, and I imagine for most other nationalities used to a cold festive season; wrapped up by the fire or wandering around shopping centres searching for last minute Christmas gifts.

We’d been out the night before – a Christmas Eve boat trip around Sydney Harbour, followed by drinks and dancing at The Gaff and so we started the day feeling a little worse for wear. With no Christmas tree and a distinct lack of festive decorations around the city, I wasn’t feeling particularly festive at all, but we set off on the search for somewhere to get a ‘real’ English Christmas dinner. This proved to be no mean feat and we trekked for what felt like hours; firstly around the city and then through Kings Cross, until we finally stumbled upon a café serving a full Christmas dinner – I don’t think I have ever tasted anything so delicious.

After we were fully sated, we finally headed to the beach to join the myriad backpackers for a Bondi Christmas; sunbathing, drinking and dancing in the ‘traditional Christmas outfit’ of bikini and Santa hats.

Thailand Reunion

Shortly after Christmas, my friends Lauren, Ben and Dave (see Thailand part 1 post for the background on this story) arrived in Sydney in time to celebrate New Year. Dave and I started where we had left off – bickering and winding each other up, but this time Kylie wasn’t around. Ben and Lauren warned me to keep away and although I knew I should, there’s something irresistible about the boy you’re supposed to stay away from.

New Year’s Eve Fireworks.

We set off for the city early in the afternoon, catching a boat across the harbour to Cremorne Point where we had a perfect view of the harbour bridge. Like typical backpackers, we were well stocked with beers and goon, enough to see us through until the evening’s firework display. That afternoon Dave and I put our bickering aside and spent the day chatting away as friends. Later in the evening when we were suitably inebriated, he apologised for how he’d acted in Thailand – bickering and teasing me – saying he hadn’t known how to handle my arrival with his new ‘girlfriend’ around.

Then, the fireworks began and we stayed close watching the spectacular display. Buoyed on by the festivities, we shared a New Years Eve kiss.

It was probably the best New Year I’ve ever had, there’s nowhere on earth that does a firework display like the Aussie’s and with the combination of the gorgeous weather and spending the evening with new friends, it felt perfect.

Lauren and Ben needn’t have worried about warning me off though, after that night it was evident that although attracted to each other, Dave and I weren’t really suited and so we went back to being ‘friends’.

Finding a job…

By the end of January, Caro and I were practically inseparable. We continued our morning runs, now stretching them from Bondi, around the coast past Tamarama and on to Bronte. With the sea breeze and breath-taking scenery, running didn’t feel so much like a chore as it always did back at home.

Money was starting to get a little tight and so we stopped going out quite as often, opting instead for nights in the hostel’s TV room. One lazy night, Caro and I were discussing one of our favourite topics – food – in particular everything we missed eating now that we were trying to spend as little as possible. By the end of the evening we had decided to throw a Mexican night! We approached the hostel the next day to see if we could have it there, but they suggested instead that we speak to the owner of backpacker bar, The Shack.

We headed down to the bar and spoke to the owner, Ben. He loved the idea and offered to organise the catering, as long as we could promote it and ensure the bar would be packed. Caro and I relished the challenge and set to work. We designed posters, had them printed up, and then spent the next few days walking around the hostel and pestering everyone to attend. By the time ‘Mexican Night’ arrived, the bar was packed to the brim with hungry backpackers- our first event was a huge success!

That night, Ben put us in touch with Pete – the promotions manager for a backpacker club in the city, The Gaff. Pete offered us both jobs as promo girls – our ‘job’ would involve standing on Bondi Beach for four hours a day, handing out flyers and selling tickets to the monthly boat party. Ben also offered me a similar role, two hours in the evening visiting the hostels in Bondi and encouraging the residents to come to The Shack. I was ecstatic, what better job than spending all day by the beach!

With our new jobs to keep us occupied, the rest of January flew by. I managed to get a third job working as a waitress for an event company, so occasionally after a day at the beach, I would head off into the city to another event – Sydney Film Festival, a Coca Cola Party and an awards ceremony – where I managed to spill not one, but two trays of drinks. Clearly waitressing wasn’t for me!

But as we got into the beginning of February, a lot of our group were beginning to disperse. The Swedish boys had headed to the Hunter Valley for fruit picking work, Jo and Will (a couple we’d become friendly with over the summer) were preparing to head South and others simply left for home. Caro and I decided that it was about time to leave Bondi and set off for pastures new. We’d heard about ‘fruit picking’ in order to a get a second year visa and thought it sounded like a good way to save up some money…

Read more in the second part of ‘That first summer in Sydney’

Bondi’s best bits:

  • For delicious coffee and Frappuccino’s, head to Gusto on Hall Street.
  • Bondi Fresh on Campbell Parade sells delicious and filling salads – go there later in the evening as they are about to close if you’re looking for a discount.
  • Iceberg’s have a stunning restaurant with views over the Bondi beach. Arrive early to get a balcony seat.
  • The Bondi to Coogee walk.
  • Bondi markets are incredible, selling everything from art work to dresses to jewellery.
  • Bondi Beach house YHA on Fletcher Street is the nicest hostel in Bondi, perhaps even in the whole of Australia.
  • Check out http://www.bondivillage.com/ for more things to do in the Eastern suburb.

3 thoughts on “That First Summer in Sydney (Part One)

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