From the day i arrived in Australia my mum was asking me to visit her long known friend Phyllis Foscolo who lives near Sydney. I brushed it off since Sydney is 900km away and flights were expensive, but after considering it i realised that its an excellent opportunity – why travel across the world and not attempt to cram everything in, especially when I had an invite to stay with locals who were willing and eager to show me around.
So I found myself waking up at the ass crack of dawn on that Monday morning to get an early flight down south. It was raining torrentially in Brisbane, and i arrived in Sydney in scorching sunsine and blue skies – I knew i’d made the right decision then. Phyllis and her husbane Len were waiting for me, and the first surpise was that Len was Italian, who had moved over when he was 15, however his accent was still strong. We started the day at Circular Quay where you could get a clear view of both the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Opera House looked greyer and dirtier in real life, and I didnt realise each ‘sail’ was a seperate unit, nonetheless I was happy to see it. It is an overwhelming feeling looking upon a building in real life that you have seen in movie posters and on tv countless times (my head will explode if i go to New York), I believe it is one of the most important reasons for traveling.
I couldnt have finished visting Sydney without going to Bondi Beach, so i went on a mission to find out the bus times and how to get there. $4.60 later Phyllis, Len and I were on the bus trundling past the skyscrapers and hoardes of pedesterians on the pavements on our way to Bondi, and the closer we got to each stop the more bikini and boardie clad youngsters stepped onto the bus, with towels draped across their shoulders and my excitement grew. As soon as the bus cornered around Bondi Road and onto the top of the cliffs I couldnt stop grinning – it all looked so familiar since I am mildy obsessed with the TV show Bondi Rescue. The Beach was a dark golden colour, and the sea a mix of turqoise and dark blue, set this against a cloudless bright blue sky and you have paradise. Since it was a Monday the beach wasnt busy, there must have been about 200 people on the sand and another 300 or so in the water which was a relief for me since i was expecting hoardes of crowds. Phyllis and Len went to chill on the grass under a tree while i went exploring along the prominade. There was a camera man filming near the lifeguard tower for Bondi Rescue, and while I was standing at the rails watching, this brazillian guy comes up behind me and asks me to take a photo for him. We struck up a conversation about Sydney and travelling, and what we were both up to. Instances like this are perfect examples of why you shouldnt fear traveling alone, and since the lifeguards were holed up in their tower i got Mr Brazil to pose with Kermit.
Roger, my new Brazillian friend with Kerm
After a while I had to tear myself away from the beach, since the journey back to Phyllis and Len’s house was 3 hours away. The train took us south down past Dapto, Wollongon, Kiama, Gerringong and finally arrived in Berry at 6pm. Phylis and Len bought a house 30 years ago that was dilapidated with an overgrown garden, and from scratch they created the most beauttiful smallholding I have ever seen. There was a gently sloping orchard at the bottom of the property which had about 50 trees of all sorts of fruits: apples, plums, lemons, limes, oranges, permissions, figs, pears, macadamia nuts – you name it they grow it. Near the house was a small vineyard that was bursting with perfectly ripe, juicy, dark red grapes which were getting picked the following week to make wine. Across from that there is an avery housing some colourful parrots, and a large chicken coop which was home to a handful of hens and a very proud cockrel. Len took me to feed the “sheeponis” in the field behind the house, and on the way we passed several beehives – in case you haven’t realised Phylis and Len like to live as self sufficiently as possible. Have I mentioned the vegetable patch? There is a large patch close to the avery which grew lettuces, tomatos, cucumbers, beans and an assortment of herbs. Phylis was upset because apparently it was 48 degrees C recently, and some plants had perished because the tops of their leaves burnt, but the garden looked immaculate to me. There are 2 pets as well, a 12 month of dog called Pippa who was still at that “naughty puppy” stage, and a tortoise shell rescue cat named Shelly who was shyer than Phillip Green is about paying tax so i didnt see much of her.
I spent that evening eating proper spaghetti bolognase(Italian husband) with salad from the garden, drinking homemade wine and listening to Phylis and Lens stories from the past. Both are fascinating and it is interesting to hear how they have built up their lives from the ground up, having both immigrated to Australia when they were children(Phylis was born in Glasgow). After apple pie for pudding and some of Phylis’ homemade liquer I collapsed into bed at half 9 and slept so soundly, since there are no street lights nearby and the place is completely silent… until the cockrel decides to wake up at 04:30am.
The following day I was up bright and early, and despite this Phylis had breakfast waiting for me of scrambled eggs from the hens, 4 slices of toast, ceral and fresh honey to spread on the toast. I think it is fair to say that Phyllis is a feeder! I dont think i’ve ever had such a filling breakfast, and with my belly stuffed full we headed out for the day in Phylis’ Ford Ghia. We drove to Berry, which seemed to have a bustling heritage centre, and then up to the mountain behind to a vantage point where you can see 180 degrees of New South Wales coastline and hinterland. The sight was spectacular, and the cunning locals had set up a restaurant and cafe at the view site which probrably boasts the best view of all the land. On the way back down we stopped at Coollangatta Winery to have a look around and to see the home of the founder of Berry, Alexander Berry. The winery is a popular wedding venue, which is dotted with holiday cottages. It was so hot that i was tempted to dive into the pool there to cool down but i resisted, since i knew that we were going to Kiama beach later. We had a quick stop home for morning tea where I was fed more of Phylis’ delicious homebaking and applied more sunscreen. Again, with a full stomach we hit the road, this time up the coast and visiting all the towns that i passed on the way down the previous day. This area relies heavily on tourism, and there were plenty of caravan parks and holiday homes about – I can see why it is such a popular destination. For lunch we had fish and chips literally on the beach. It was my first time eating this dish in a hot climate and I have to say, I much preffered it to eating it in the UK with your nose streaming into it because it is so cold. The meail came with some homemade tartare sauce and a huge lemon wedge, much more exotic than the bog standard salt and vinegar back home. We spent the afternoon in Kiama, and I got to cool off in the rock pool which was fantasticaly refreshing.
I remember last May my brother Kyle, his wife Kristen, my good friend Jenny and I went camping on the Isle of Isle on the west coast of Scotland during the Whiskey Festival. The temperature was only about 16 degrees but we were determined to swim, since the beaches are so stunning – pure white sands, clear aquamarine water and gentle lapping waves. If you saw a picture of it you’d think it was the Bahamas. Of course, the water was icy cold and we literally had to dip in and out and nearly caught hypothermia running back along the sand to get our towels. That evening, I hung my wet bikini on a wire fence to dry overnight, however in the morning to my dismay my costume was still nowhere near dry. Imagine the delight I got when emerging from the rock pool in Kiama, where it was pushing 30 degrees, my costume dried in about 15 minutes. Once you’ve had the bitter, the sweet is so much sweeter.
After the swim, Phyllis wasn’t finished feeding me yet. We stopped at a local ice cream shop and I enjoyed a cone with scoops of chocolate ice cream and macadamia nut ice cream – in case you haven’t noticed macadamias are popular in Australia since they grow so freely there. We had a barbeque that evening, with salad from the garden and a special bean salad that Phyllis was known for. Phyllis also showed me how to make delicious fried potato slices on the Barbie, a recipe that I will definitely take back to Scotland. After another walk around the garden sampling the odd fig here and juicy permission there, we settled down for the evening.
Wednesday 20 February was my last day with this wonderful couple, and we got up early to get the 09:30am 3 hour train back to Sydney. When we arrived we headed to St James park to have a picnic and a walk around. Phyllis and Len needed to go home so after an emotional goodbye I set off exploring with a map in one hand and a waterbottle in another (it was another hot day). I walked from St James park along to the Botanic Gardens and whiled away a couple of hours marvelling at the plants. One plant which was particularly memorable was this ground cover which was nicknamed ‘Cherry Pie’, since the flowers unbelievably did smell like cherries. Bizarre. Whenever I am in a new city I try to visit their Botanic Gardens, it is a comfort thing I suppose, since I spent many happy weekends of my childhood having family picnics at Durban Botanic Gardens.
When it was two hours before my flight I walked along to Circular Quay thinking that would be a good place to get the bus(a train ticket was $16, buses were only $8) since the guidebook said that it is one of the busiest but terminals. Wrong. Turns out that there are no buses there which go to the airport. After a mild panic I was advised to get 2 buses, the first one taking more than an hour. In a way I am glad that I got the bus, it took me through a variety of districts from the bohemian village of Surrey Hills to the suburbia of Waterloo and to the downright ghetto of Mascot. Eventually I got to Sydney airport, which by the way is pretty confusing to navigate, and it was a relief to finally sit down in the departures lounge and reflect on my previous few days. Wollongong and New South Wales in general is a haven for holidaymakers – endless beaches, blue skies and winerys. I am so grateful to Phyllis and Len for opening their home up to me and letting me stay with them, the memories I am taking away will last a lifetime and I will definitely be back if I move over.
Peeping out at the Opera House