Wednesday, 10 September 2014

On the move: To Sydney

Melbourne to Sydney

After New Zealand, Sydney was the first place we had been to that we didn't know anyone, and although it felt strange after being so settled, it felt good to be on the move again.
Our method of transport was on the overnight bus. As this was the first leg we booked, so the closest time-wise to the time of booking we decided to do this rather than flying because of the significant price difference, however, the experience itself was not as enjoyable as we had hoped.
Being used to the National Express and Megabus in the UK, where the system is fairly simple compared to flying, just like the train; you book your ticket, turn up at the station, find the bus/train and get on, where the ticket will be inspected.
However, as became apparent in Melbourne bus station, ‘YOU CANT JUST GET ON THE BLOODY BUS AND SIT ANYWHERE YOU LIKE’ as the driver reminded me when I approached him soon after it became apparent that you should have a seat reservation. In my opinion, and from my experience, I would not recommend the Firefly bus to anyone over Greyhound or flying, as for the price it is hardly cheaper and you are stuck on the bus for the whole night. 
While I am more than happy to not be too comfortable on an overnight bus in Thailand or India, the price there reflects the service you receive. Especially when there is no language barrier, there is, in my opinion, no real excuse for poor customer service when you are paying nearly $70 a ticket with no reclining seats, but come the morning, we arrived in Sydney.

The sunrise that met us when we left the bus station

The weather was glorious as we arrived in Sydney. It was early in the morning so we hit up the classic 7/11 coffee, great value at all hours of the day. As usual, after an overnight bus journey, I felt pretty spaced out, as I can never quite sleep properly unless I’m fully reclined, no matter how smooth the ride may be, or if I’m just sitting in a chair.

The first view of the harbour area

We had to wait till 2 to check into the hostel so we went to check out the Sydney harbour bridge and the Opera House, at least from a distance. Part of our planning when leaving Melbourne was to cut down on baggage so that we didn’t have to rely on checking baggage on flights, but also to avoid having to lug a big bag round all day and get taxis when arriving at a new town. As a result we made our way in the glorious sun to the bridge, which was a fantastic view as the first since Melbourne.
The Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the Botanical Gardens all surround the harbour area which is buzzing with people, mainly tourists, every day. After taking some photos and looking around, we decided to check into the hostel, which was the cheapest one we could find online.

Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House

Chili Blue Backpackers in Sydney is rock bottom in price and offers a free breakfast to guests. If you are looking for cheap, then it’s a good enough option, with no bed bugs and a kitchen, but if you’re looking for a relaxing stay then you might want to check out other options. If you are looking for a 24/7 house party then this is definitely the place for you, although expect for the mess to never be cleared up and frequent defecation on the floor, not always restricted to the bathroom.
The free breakfast consists of the cheapest white bread, strawberry jam and processed cheese money can buy, with a large amount of cold boiled eggs. Enjoy. If you’re looking for any help or advice then you’re more likely to get it from another guest than the staff, who were as useless as a chocolate teapot. It’s worth going out in a group if at all possible as the area can be quite rough and intimidating after dark, especially if you are quite young but it’s easy enough to avoid.

Bondi Beach

Although you can get a bus to Bondi Beach, we decided to make a day of it and get a feel for the city so we decided to walk, although I am not sure that I would recommend it to others as it is quite a long distance. 
Although it is a nice beach, and it was a nice day, I was underwhelmed at Bondi compared to some of the beaches that I had seen on the South Coast, and would see on the East Coast. There is a nice coastal walk which goes around and over the cliff which I would recommend, although the amount of people traffic can be quite tedious as runners constantly try to come through at speed. To avoid this it might be worth going early in the morning or later in the evening, although I am not sure if this would make a difference. Still, there are some spectacular views and the possibility of viewing dolphins and whales if you’re lucky.

The Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains are also really worth a visit if you have time. Although they are a distance outside the city, it is very easy to get a double decker train there and the views are spectacular. I would recommend going early in the morning, as the light was beginning to fade by the time we were leaving and it would have been good to see a bit more of the paths available. Staying in the area would be another option which would make this easier, and the towns around are very friendly, with lots of free tourist information available.

Jon in the forest as the light began to fail

We only stayed in Sydney for a week but I feel that, much like Melbourne, unless you were living and working there that would be plenty of time if you wanted to see everything from a tourist point of view.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Melbourne: Hot Town, Summer in the City

Melbourne Part 2
Thanks to Rhys and Dan Shinners and Karl Shami, it was easy to make friends in Melbourne. I had met Dan and Karl a few years earlier on a trip in America and Mexico, and both hailing from Melbourne, introduced us to people and places which we would not have been able to nearly so easy if we were just backpacking in a hostel. We’re both very grateful to them and everyone else we met in Melbourne for their help and it certainly made everything even more enjoyable. (If any of you are reading thins, thanks very much again!)
Time moved on and Rhys moved into our flat, following the discovery by the boys of a futon on the street. We put this in the front room and went on rotation, so splitting everything by 3 made it even cheaper to live there. Happy days.
Despite being a basement flat, I never saw any spiders or insects which we had feared would be around, until one day when I thought I saw an enormous spider scuttling under the fridge.
After a seek and destroy mission, we assumed that it must have escaped through the hole in the wall behind the cooker, but after several weeks, and a few further sightings we realised that it was no more than a friendly mouse in the house. As a result, I decided to go to Specsavers, where I got a great deal; buy 1 pair of prescription glasses, get a pair of sunglasses free. I also tried out the contact lens trial, but after 30 minutes of repeatedly poking myself in the eye and dropping the lens, I realised that I was not going to get on with wearing them. N.B: I need to try again as I just can’t stop myself from blinking when I go to put the lens in. In the words of Rhys Neild, desperate times.
In Melbourne I learnt to Ice Skate under the instruction of Dan and Rhys, after only ever going to two previous sessions
1. Disco skating in Bradford in 2012,
2. A tiny ice rink in London where I realised it was much harder than I had imagined. 
Although it took quite a long time, I can now confidently do a lap, though I still have trouble with the turning to brake, but I imagine that will come in time.
The four of us drove down the Great Ocean Road, which was a beautifully scenic drive and one that I would say is a must to anyone who has enough time. The roads in Australia are very similar to those in Canada, New Zealand and America, with plenty of space to move, and although it is built into the cliff in places, like the route previously mentioned in my New Zealand post and the West Coast of America, it would be an easy drive even for those not too experienced behind the wheel. If I returned, I think I would get a camper van and stop at a couple of the beaches along the way, where there is a great sense of community and some great surf.
All too soon it was time for us to leave Melbourne and head up the coast. We drew up an itinerary as, although we had originally planned to drive, a surprise trip to Adelaide made us realise just how long and expensive this would be. (Thanks to Adie, her Mum, and all the people in Adelaide who made the drive worthwhile! We had a great time in Adelaide and I would describe it more, but unfortunately we were only there for one night so I don’t feel like I know it well enough to describe it, but from what I saw it see there’s much to see, mainly churches.) I would recommend booking all flights as soon as possible as the cost really does go up massively overnight so forward planning can really save you a lot of money.
The next stop was Sydney, and though it was hard to say goodbye to everyone, we knew that we had to move as the Working Visa was ticking down and we needed to either qualify for the second year or leave the country before November, which would mark 1 year from out original entry.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Melbourne: Work, Life and Chapel Street

New Zealand was a great experience, but all the time we were there, I couldn’t help thinking about the money that we were spending and not replacing. Following the return flight from Auckland to Melbourne, where we were picked up at the airport by our good friend Rhys, the need to find a flat and a job really began to hit home.
I have been in similar situations a few times before, but usually when money began to run short in the UK I could lock down and work as a temp for a few months to build up a fair base of money. However, being unemployed on essentially a holiday, going out was also vital, so all the while we would try to save, we would inevitably be spending out a small fortune every time we went out, even just to the pub.

Rhys had kindly let us stay in his flat where he had a sofa bed on the understanding that we would find our own place as soon as possible and get jobs. This, as we soon found, was harder than we had hoped.

While the majority of backpackers on the working holiday visa would stay in hostels and work in bars and restaurants for a short time, we were keen to get something more permanent. Our plan was to live in Melbourne for 6 months at least, saving up some money before hitting the rest of Australia and south east Asia. After seeing how people on the working visa in New Zealand were living in hostels, crowded dorm rooms with people coming in throughout the night, cooking in cramped kitchens, the idea of getting up for work in the morning after the temptation to join in the party would be too hard.

After being in hostels even just for 6 weeks we knew that while it had been fun, it was not likely to get us any money saved. Luckily, after a few weeks of searching, and just as we were giving up hope, we came across a flat in Prahran, just north of St. Kilda and only an hours easy walk from the city centre. After a walk, which turned into a bit of a trek, through South Yarra at a fast pace, we arrived just in time for another open house off the website and after previous options it seemed that we had found the perfect location. A run down, single glazed flat with 2 bedrooms, a large front room/kitchen and a bathroom, complete with off road parking for a very affordable rent, and as we worked out would actually be cheaper than staying in a dorm room of a hostel. Perfect.

We moved in just before Christmas after saying goodbye to Rhys, who was back off to the UK a couple of weeks before, leaving us his trusty Mazda 3 to use, which was crucial in the moving in process. Although we still had no jobs, we realised that we were unlikely to get any before Christmas so we went about furnishing the house from Gumtree, freecycle and Ikea until it was looking pretty decent. 

The main reason for the low rent was the mould problem, which we quickly went about rectifying by painting over with thick ceiling paint. By Christmas day it was looking pretty good, so we celebrated by cooking a roast chicken and trimmings while watching all 6 Rocky films, drinking a ton of beers and hitting the pub later in the evening. Emotional.
After Christmas came New year, and after New year, thankfully, came employment for both of us. 

The world of Gumtree jobs can be brutal, from starting a job on commission giving out free plugs door to door, which it turns out nobody wants, to the prospect of having to work as a waiter for free for a few shifts before finding out if I would get a job out of it, things did not seem to be going well. 

Then I got a phone call from an agency, Randstad, who seemed like a promising lead. After melting the glue in the soles of some supermarket smart shoes on my walk to the interview, I completed some office skills tests and was told they would be in touch.

Sure enough, within a few weeks, they offered me a well paid position, where I started as a temp for a few days which stretched out to quite a few months, and I was able to start saving for the rest of the trip.

I also signed up to Hays, and they offered me a role the day I was starting for Randstad, as I was walking to work in fact. I would highly recommend anyone on the Working Holiday Visa to try agencies as they are generally better pay than most of the backpacker jobs we encountered, and are usually normal office hours so are quite good for city living. I wish that I had emailed my CV sooner, and I would recommend others to do it as soon as you arrive. Of course, it doesn’t really feel like a holiday if you left an office job in the UK but it does pay the bills very well.