"Let's just get on and then figure it out," was Nick's way of attempting to solve our problem of not knowing how to get back to the train station we needed to be at. While this method of attack worked for us time and time again while we were on The Great Ocean Road, I didn't think it was the prudent action to take now that we were back in Melbourne. Having the campervan made us masters of our domain, so to speak. Able to adjust on the fly and quickly rectify and mistakes or poor judgements we made with the help of our trusty van. However, the last think I wanted to do after a poor night's sleep in the back of a van that was sitting in a parking lot, which preceeded a 6:30 a.m. wake-up, was get lost wandering around the city. I had friends that I was meeting at a downtown hostel and was anxious to get there as fast as possible. So, after a split-second look of trepidation from me, I offered up the option of asking for help from the gentleman in the blue blazer since he looked like he worked for the transit authority. The helpful employee sent us off armed with the information we needed and we were on our way. After one train switch and a short walk to the hostel, it was time to spend the rest of the day catching up with friends, watching tv, and just relaxing. I spent the next two days wandering around the city and just hanging out with friends I had made from my time in New Zealand. And, as was customary of my travels so far, when the last night that I was going to be with my friends came, we would have a night out on the town. Having a few drinks with friends is always a fitting end to a chapter of travel. In fact, it's often how the friendship is forged in the firstplace. Nothing accelerates and solidifies the newfound friendships backpackers make with each other while rooming together for short periods of time than a social gathering lubricated by the effects of alcohol. So, my British and Welsh friends and I had a plan to explore some of the happening nighttime venues in St. Kilda since none of us had a chance to do it while we were staying in the area. The original plan was to hop from place to place so we could maximize our time and see a healthy number of different places. As I travel through life I'm finding more and more that plans rarely follow the form you expect them to. After we got to the second bar, we got stuck. Yes, that's right, after having grand delusions of hitting all of these famous hotspots we got stuck in a cheap little hostel bar. Every time we would talk of moving to a place with a bit more character someone would shout, "The drinks are so cheap here...just one more! Just one more!". So, we stayed for just one more....about ten times. The night ended up being a blast. As is usually the case when friends are just hanging out reminiscing about this or that.
After Melbourne I begrudingly headed to Canberra. I had been told there's not much for a backpacker to do there, but I wanted to stop by the Indonesian embassy and try to get a visa that would allow me to stay in the country longer than 30 days. Now I'm sure Canberra is a lovely city with tons of great things going for it. However, between my adventures with public transport, walking all over the place when the correct information would have kept me from doing so, and the embassy telling me that the paperwork was so much I should just do it at the consolate in Sydney, I didn't have the greatest of visits. In fact, it was worse than the time the raccoon got caught in the copier. If you know what that means, bravo. That's all I have to say about Canberra.
After changing my bus ticket, I arrived, alive, into Sydney at about 10:00 at night. The word 'alive' had to be shuttled into the previous sentence because the bus driver was either just having a rough day or wanted the passengers of his bus and every person he met on the road to die a horrible, firey death. We swerved, we zigged, we zagged, we drifted, and we even took branches off of trees that had no business being meticulously placed on those sidewalks by city workers, no matter how lovely they looked. We were honked at so many times that it sounded like one constant horn from the time we reached the outskirts of Sydney to our stop at Sydney Central Station. It was as if the motorists were handing a baton of horn-blowing to the driver in front of them our entire ride through the city. After the thrilling ride I wearily stumbled around the block, found my hostel, which was located next to the station, and crashed for the night.
After morning found me I immediately started moving to my next hostel. I had decided to stay by Central Station the night before because I didn't want to mess with trying to find a far away hostel in a city that I had never been to at ten o'clock at night. I transported my stuff to an area of the city called Kings Cross. I had heard it was an interesting area that had a lot going on. However, when I emerged from the station and stepped out onto the streets I was not ready for the scene that lay before me. I felt like I was walking down some seedy side street back home in Las Vegas. Apparently when I was reading about the city I failed to find the part that told how Kings Cross was also the red light district of Sydney. While I walked down the street I found topless dance clubs nestled in between backpacker hostels and fast food shops such as McDonalds. None of it was that shocking to see...just unexpected. Hmmm...what's this next place with the neon lights called? The Vegas Hotel. Great. I travel to the other side of the world and I get dropped right back in Vegas somehow. I finally found my hostel and deposited my stuff, ready to explore the city. The dude working the front desk says if I want to see the Sydney Operahouse and Harbour Bridge I should wait for the free tour the hostel puts on in the morning. I hold true to form and buck the tour so I can explore on my own terms. Walking from Kings Cross to the harbour isn't that daunting a task. I thought I was lost several times, but managed to get there in about thirty minutes. Which, I'm later told, is about how long it should take when walking. After wandering around snapping the usual touristy photographs I start my journey back to the hostel. On the way back I see something that I haven't seen since before I left the United States. Wait for it......people playing basketball! I love playing basketball. But, the good people of New Zealand and Australia had not helped me out by providing very many opportunites for me to play. So, I asked the guys if they minded if I play some ball with them and they were kind enough to let me play. After continuing in the Dream Team's mold and upholding America's global dominance in basketball, the guys had to all leave. Because, you know, they all have jobs, families, responsiblities, etc. All that stuff that I gave up (for a little while) to travel. I was hoping to play some more, but Aaron says I can just keep his ball and shoot around with it since they have to go. I tell him that I'm backpacking and don't really have room for a basketball. Aaron just shrugs and tells me to use it while I'm in Sydney and then I can leave it. Wow. My own private Wilson. From what I've experienced New Zealand and Australia have both been full of good hearted people who have gone out of their way to make some stranger they barely know feel welcome and comfortable. It's been a pleasure to meet so many wonderful people in each country.
The next day I catch the train down to Bondi Beach to meet some friends that I made while traveling in New Zealand. Emma, Georgina, Chelsey, and I lounged on the beach all day, doing basically nothing. Bondi was a beautiful sight to behold. I had heard that it was to commercialized now and full of wannabes and posers. But on this day it was a fun time on a pretty relaxed beach. After a day of relaxation I headed back to the hostel, with newfound confidence in my ability to get around on the transit system of Sydney. As soon as I stepped foot in the hostel my roommates Steve, Mike, and Shawn told me there's a two hour cruise through Sydney Harbour for $5 and I needed to hurry to make it. Since the cruise was normally $30 I jumped at the chance. I sprinted up the stairs, changed clothes, washed up, roused our 5th roommate Anton to come with us and made it back downstairs in about 4.5 seconds.....or maybe a hair more. Either way, we all made it. The cruise was a fabulous time. I was able to get some great photos of the Harbour Bridge and the Operahouse during the course of the tour. The next couple days were filled with a few lazy days spent around Kings Cross and a lot of cricket watching. The Ashes was going on at the time and my roommates were trying to teach me a little more about the game than what I already knew, which wasn't much. The Ashes pits England against Australia in test cricket approximately every 2 1/2 years. It's a very celebrated series to the respective countries. On Sunday the guys left for New Zealand while I moved hostels to a place down off of Bondi Beach. I would have had a nice couple days at the beach, but it rained the whole time I was there. I did, however, get a chance to have a Thanksgiving dinner of sorts. Since a relative of one of my friends from Vegas lived in Sydney now, I was invited over for a faux Thanksgiving dinner. It was nice to be around good food and great people, but it also actually made me miss being back home for the holidays a bit more. After hanging out with Nick one more time (who was now living and working in Sydney) I boarded the train and headed out of town. Sydney was nice, but I'll have to give the nod to Melbourne as far as which city was more to my style.
Now on to Byron Bay...........