Going Home

Sue
Sue
(Corfu, ex Sydney)

The Departure

Flying Thai for the first time, out of Athens, was a pleasant experience, although, in the past I found most Asian airlines to have excellent service. It was economy all the way as my entire frequent flyer points have been earned solely by European airlines, but I did get a row to myself!

Tuesday a.m.
Loved Bangkok's new airport and the whole arrivals procedure was so painless. To be honest I was, kind of, dreading that 'wet blanket' heat that hits you in Asia but again pleasantly surprised, it wasn't too bad. The Hotel Asia sufficed for my brief stay, directly connected to the Sky train it is located for shoppers. The Bangkok sky line was dark and thunderous which proved soothing for a few hours 'catch up' sleep.

Then I hit the shops. Fortunately by brother was my guide, an expert in all things Asian, especially at getting around Bangkok at lightening speed and finding the best food and bargains. I was determined to do all my Chrissie shopping here. Success, by Friday midday, it was done including a morning spent at Bangkok temples in the grounds of the Royal Palace. So time for a couple of hours at the hotel spa, foot massage, swim in the pool, a chance to relax pre flight.

I had forgotten just how Asia appeals to the senses, the fragrant smells of the stunning floral arrangements everywhere, the tantalizing taste of the spices, the touch of Thai silk, the noises ... oh the noises, and the sights from crowded street markets to master peace gardens, it was great to experience it all again.

Arriving

The lovely man at check-in whispered that the flight was only half full and he would put me at the back where there were only 12 other passengers. How true that was! another row of 3 to myself, so it was lights out after my midnight departure and lights on again just outside of Sydney.

We flew low and wide over the inner west, passing over the blue squares of backyard pools bought me into a very familiar landscape. There was Ryde, Gladesville... Riverside Girls High!!!! (it still stands) Hunters Hill (Bill I was thinking of you!), the Gladesville Bridge, Victoria Rd, Balmain loomed...Bighgrove, Cockatoo Island, Long Nose Point, the Bridge in all its glory (tears were now rolling) and we were down. Despite being told to prepare for Sydney customs of hell, I picked up my Dads, Captain Morgans, and was heading for the car park with my teary parents within 35 minutes of landing.

The First Days

It seems I bought more than Chrissie shopping from Bangkok. Spent the first week doubled up in pain with some kind of stomach parasite (ow's yer bloody luck). The weather was pretty good. I did venture down to Terrigal beach for a stroll and into Erina shopping centre to oogle the shelves at Coles but kept a low profile and just caught up with local news.

Now recovered I have had a couple of drives around the local area, checking out the surf shops for pressies for the boys. Bit of a family reunion yesterday so in preparation we, almost, bought out the entire stock of Sara Lea. Had my first meat pie (with sauce of course)...yum. Met my great nephew (8 months)shed a few tears, it is wonderful, all of it. It is very leafy up here in Terrigal and the Christmas bush is in bloom, although the frangipanis are not out yet. The kookaburras wake me at 5 each morning and then at around 7 I get woken (again) by the bell birds.....I am in heaven.

We had two white cockatoos in the gum tree down the yard yesterday and Lorikeets scream across the garden every day. This is what I miss, this is what I tell people when asked what I miss, the sounds, smells and sights, this is when I know I am home. Driving is weird, on the wrong side, the local high school car park is full of P platers, so different to Greece where licenses are obtained from 18 years up. Had lunch out today, Pumpkin lasagne...such variety.... Next will be fish n chips from the Snapper Spot on Terrigal Beach.

People are friendly, chatty, everywhere you go. Kids facilities are great and safe and mums have plenty of places to go that doesn't cost them money to entertain their little ones. The architecture is diverse, Mediterranean style villas to majestic colonial homes and dotted amongst them still stand a few old fibro beach houses with combis out the front and beach towels draped all along the verandah. It is Waterways and Busways instead of Dept of Transport and Maritime Services. Far too many coffee varieties for me to even comment on, I haven't found coffee as good as back in Greece yet.

I am sick of saying 'no thanks, I don't want a Greek salad!' I love that my feet 'squeak' as I walk through the sand, it is so crisp and clean. I watched the kids fossicking in the rock pools, feeling it was only yesterday that my two did the same. Will be off to Sydney for the day this week. We will take the train from Gosford and enjoy the Hawkesbury as we travel. Then across to Balmain by ferry and wander my old neighbourhood and catch up with friends over lunch.

Sydney

Traveling to Sydney from the Central Coast by rail is really the best way to go. The Gosford express takes just one hour and tem minutes to Central and you follow the Hawkesbury most of the way. Passing through wonderful places such as Koolewong, Woy Woy, Brooklyn, Kuring-Gai and watching the houses go from water frontage with loads of land to the semis of Redfern. There are still a few water cottages, dotted on the shores of Brisbane waters, where owners can only gain access by boat. I was impressed by the renovated homes of Petersham, grand federation homes that have been bought back to life beautifully. Coming along the Hawkesbury I noticed the oyster farms have depleted in number and from the train I could no longer see the old Oyster Bar down in Brooklyn. The amount of craft on the water has increased tenfold.

It was a quick hop from the country train to the City line and onto Circular Quay. The day was drizzly but muggy, not cold but grey skies. The Quay was packed with ferries, from Jet Cats to the grand old lady's painted in traditional green and cream. Our destination was Balmain East and we traveled via Milson's Point, McMahon's Point then Darling St wharf (Balmain East).

Friends were waiting on the wharf; I love Aussie wharves, the wood that creaks with the tide and great fat wooden pylons holding the whole thing together, usually with a one-legged gull stood atop.

A leisurely drive around Balmain followed and again I was delighted with the amount of, sympathetic, renovations that had been completed. The old Colgate-Palmolive building, now listed, has been converted into waterside units, all within the original walls, it looked stunning. There is still a lot of sandstone in evidence, the old watch house, the churches, the now defunct Christian Bros school in Thames street - more residences, sandstone blocks, sandstone bricks, picket fences, fretwork, lace wrought iron and it is leafy and green and looks a lot cleaner than I remember. There were certainly less dogs roaming the streets.

The shops of Darling St were so different, gone are the grocers, only one butchers, lots of specialist deli's, boutiques, coffee shops, eateries and home wares. There is still a pub on, almost, every corner but now sporting names like Monkey Bar (ex Cricketers' Arms) or Cat and Fiddle (ex Star) but the old William Wallace is still sporting its name and is the only pub still in its original state, I lived opposite the WW for 11 years and used to love listening to all the 'old girls' singing by the piano each night. The Forth and Clyde has closed, a landmark for me where I had my first beer at 14 amongst the Hells Angels and the Hippies, for some reason those two groups drank peacefully side by side.

Whizzed by Birchgrove Oval and Birchie Primary school, Elkington Park and its majestic Morton Bay Figs, the bandstand and Balmain Pool built into the water of Port Jackson, it is officially named the Dawn Fraser Pool. Then through Rozelle and over to the eastern suburbs. The new city tunnel takes you underground from just beyond Pyrmont to Rushcutters Bay in a matter of minutes. Lunch was at the Bondi Icebergs club where you can sit overlooking one of Sydney's premier view points and eat fresh fish 'n chips with salad for $18. Bondi beach sweeps out in front of you and below you is the 50m Iceberg pool with the surf crashing over the walls. I used to compete against the Icebergs when I swam for the Sydney Shiverers, winter clubs and we all swam in outdoor tidal pools throughout the winters ... brrrrr!

We ended the day with a stroll through the Queen Victoria Building, steeped in Aussie history, stunning stained glass windows, colonnades, arches, balustrades, the Great Australian Clock and all housed under a glass dome, beautiful. All in all what I saw of the city was not much different to what I remember, different trends, new generations but Sydney is Sydney and forever will be.

Pelicans

Just had an old buddy up from Sydney yesterday, the weather was pretty miserable but we chatted and caught up and laughed late into the night. We woke to Kookaburras and glorious sunshine today and started our day with an hours walk along the beach then an hour on the beach testing the water, it is cold! but I did venture in at last and got dumped! Ended up with sand in my hair, ears, nose and cossie. Later we had lunch at The Cove cafe overlooking The Haven. The Pelicans were out in force and the Flathead fillets were fresh and sweet.

The weather has been weird. Wild and windy, rain, lots and lots of heavy grey cloud and thunderstorms over the pacific giving us a fabulous light show at night. From the back deck I can see out over the ocean and there are always at least four tankers sitting out in the distance waiting for room at Newcastle. Through the binoculars I can see they usually carry Asian flags, have not yet seen an Aussie flag on one. Speaking of Aussie, I have been asking myself, what is Aussie now? What is it to be an Aussie or to live in OZ? It is such a varied lifestyle and culture now, to me, foreign in many ways.

Changes

The thirteen years away has bought many changes. Don't get me wrong, it is still so familiar, I feel so much at home. But the wide range of cultures, languages is amazing. People here are now exposed to so much. Do they like it or not? I wonder. The central coast is very Aussie, to me that is the best way to describe it. It is beach culture, mostly English spoken on the streets, fish n chips, sports orientated, bowls, craft and art fairs, it feels old Australian. My visits to Sydney though were a real culture surprise, it felt like Europe and Asia all wrapped up in one. I loved how many cultures are now evident in the every day life of living in Sydney. It is fabulous that you can get both lifestyles within one and a half hours of each other. There are obviously people who love it and others that disapprove. Some have reaped the rewards and some have just up and moved away.

Anyhow, I spent some time up in Port Stephens, stayed at Salamander Bay - www.theoaksgroup.com.au it was a well laid out accommodation, you can step from your decking into the pool, very luxurious but I would not want to be there over Christmas, it is very geared up for little monsters. The drive up was lovely, passing through towns like, Wamberal, Tumbi Umbi, Kangy Angy, Watanobbi, Wyee, then coming off the freeway just after Minmi and heading out to the coast on the Pacific highway, onto Nelson Bay Rd, Salt Ash, Bob's Farm, Anna Bay and down into Sally.

Driving Around

It was so cold we had to put the heating on when we got there. So much for diving into the pool from your deck! We hit the bowling club at Soldiers Point for dinner, had a memorable T bone, cooked to perfection (don't eat much beef in Greece). We did some sightseeing, Nelson Bay lookout with panoramic views from Lemon Tree Passage to Hawks Nest. Found a wonderful art/craft centre, did a bit of chrissie shopping there. Ate a 'hamburger with the lot' on the jetty at Nelson Bay. Drove over to Fingal Bay, still one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen. Was amazed at the stunning homes that now face the beach. The milk bar has gone, as a 16 year old it was favourite place to meet the Fingal surfies. Drove along the coast from Nelson Bay, through Dutchman's Beach (Dutchies), Bagnals Beach and Corlette. Picked up some wine coolers and fish n' chips and ate in.

Next day we took the ferry over to Tea Gardens, I was 8 last time I visited here. Saw Dolphins as we crossed, a Sea Eagle perched on a pole, Cranes and Swans. Unfortunately on arriving at the jetty my mum had a nasty accident leaving the ferry and our time there was spent at the medical centre having her leg stitched up. I was totally knocked out by the helpfulness of the locals. A lady from the real estate office left work and drove us to her husband at the ambulance station, he treated the leg and then she took us off to the Dr and sat and waited to return us to the ferry. The skipper held the boat (full of passengers) so we could make the return journey and had bought us a couple of muffins and juice to boot, ahh country folk, there is nothing like them.

I commandeered the car for the return drive which was a hoot but once I got used to not reaching to the left for the seat belt or to the right for the gear stick I was fine. Driving an automatic is such a breeze.

Australia the movie

I saw the film Australia; it was showing at the Avoca Beach Picture Theatre www.avocabeachpicturetheatre.com.au which is 60 years old this year and has defied the developers and still stands almost on the sands of Avoca Beach.

You will either love it or hate it, personally I loved it. It was a true Baz Lurhman film with sweeping landscapes, dramatic backdrops, romance and yes there was some over acting and yes some of the back drops, at times, looked like massive sets rather than real life but it was set WW2 and Baz, in all his interviews, has said it is a fairytale, a mix of Gone with the Wind and the Wizard of Oz and that is exactly what I got from it. The aussie landscapes are stunning and Hugh Jakeman is gorgeous, that man does not have to act, he can just stand there for all I care (preferably with his shirt off!). I didn't expect it to be a film of critical acclaim but I did expect it to be entertaining and that it was, for me. The theme is more about the lost generation which is what will surprise most people as this has not been focused on, in the interviews and trailers.

Last minute shopping

Friday was spent doing last minute shopping, Tim Tams, Arnotts mint slice, cherry ripes, freckles, violet crumble, twisties, a few last minute tree decorations for home, bonds undies for the men and a bag of passion fruit, the usual stuff. But was I actually going to leave? My route is via Bangkok and it is closed. Thai have been telling me daily to 'ring back tomorrow' would I be here for Christmas? Finally today I got them to transfer me and now I will be traveling via Singapore and London, transfer to Athens and onto Corfu getting me home, still the same day as originally booked, but 12 hours later ugh! Better than nothing.

Leaving OZ

So it is with heavy heart that I leave my homeland tomorrow and travel back to Greece where my spirits will be lifted when I see my boys, all 3 of them.

It is hard to go, hard to leave my parents, not to be within cooeee of them, not to know when the next visit will be. I know the trip to Greece is too much now for my mum so it is up to me to get home occasionally.

I will miss them all, the sights, the sounds, the smells and my family. It has been a wonderful time.

The Flight Back

Arrived home around 21:30 after 44 hours travel (door to door). My transfer to BA - Athens/Corfu via Singapore/London started as a nightmare. Although I had confirmed a 'good' seat they did not recognise that at check in and I ended up, way down the back, in between two rugby sized guys for seven hours to Singapore.

Out of Singapore we were delayed one and a half hours which meant I might not make my connection at Heathrow. I had a word with the BA crew, asked to be moved forward if possible (to disembark more quickly). They came up trumps and moved me into the world travelers club section ahh bliss....two seats to myself, semi recliners and lots of pampering, the next 13 hours flew by. Missed the connection, next flight to Athens 12:25 but this only gave me 30 minutes for my connection to Corfu, so booked the next flight which gave me an extra 30 minutes. Spent a couple of hours pacing around terminal 5 at Heathrow.

Air traffic was backed up so despite the plane being ready to go we were queued up for take off for 30 minutes....more delays! Another upgrade to Club class to Athens, BA crew are most sympathetic! On arrival in Athens was met at the door by Olympic ground staff and rushed through to the departure gate, only held up the flight for 10 minutes and we were ready to go....so why were we still sitting there 15 minutes later with the doors open? My name was called, to contact crew, apparently they didn't realise I was onboard and were waiting for me!

Coming home was great, it is wet and windy but not too cold. The boys were hovering over the bags so I doled out a bag of Twisties each and have the Arnotts mint slice in the fridge, I wonder how long it will take them to find them? I passed out at 22:30 only to wake up at 4 a.m. made some cheese on toast and tea, couldn't go back to sleep so have been pottering around since. It is now 14:00 and I am still wide awake.

The whole trip seems to have gone by so fast, I will need to start planning a trip for hubby now as he has been holding the fort for so long and needs a break....thinking Bangkok for him, if they get the airport open that is.

Memories

On the subject of food, I was out to try many things I hadn't had for years and got a few surprises along the way.
Nenish and Pineapple tarts - way too sweet, were they always that way? Custard tarts - delicious
Cherry Ripes - to die for
Coconut rough - overly sweet milk chocolate
Best supermarket meat pies - Herbert Adams
Bakery meat pies - Bakehouse 2000, Kincumber
Potato Scallops - greasy
Oysters - fresh, salty, best off the Hawkesbury
Sara Lea - anything and everything, but they stopped making Apple and Cheese Strudel!
Chicko roll - smaller than I remember but delicious
Aussie wine - all good and loved the little bottles of west coast coolers for something light
supermarkets - too much variety - how do you choose?!?
Potatoes - a potato for any occasion
Dips - could live on them

Sue Christie
December 2008