Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Final Test

After hitting a massive brick wall of tiredness last night I slept fine but also decided not to do anything too extensive this morning so I headed back to bed to try another couple of hours sleep before heading out to stock up on lunch before the warm up for the final test began. I also sorted everything out for the early morning start tomorrow, laid out the clothes, put the piles ready to put in my handbag in the morning. I couldn’t have been more organised if I tried!!

Headed down to Darling Harbour with Sophie’s folks & met her there as we did our usual pre-match ritual of a plate of pasta before heading to meet any of the others, this time for Kangaroo Court in the bar close to where we were boarding the boat. Sadly only part of the group was on time and as we had to help out with wrist banding everyone before they boarded the boat we missed out on it and the court was disintegrated pretty much. Tho I did later see one of the group with his shirt on back to front – I guess not everyone got away without any punishment then!! (Perhaps I should have found some proper rules and set them up prior to ‘court’ such as the ones here)

The timings for boarding & disembarking were very tight due to the sheer volume of people that we had to get on. Loyally all my lot could be seen near the front of the line as it swelled with a mass number of people all joining at once. Finally having got all 351 of us aboard we set off around Sydney Harbour all aboard the Majestic 2.

Majestic 2 - our mode of transport for the evening!

Majestic 2 – our mode of transport for the evening!

The lights of Sydney by night

The lights of Sydney by night

I excitedly collected my ticket off Fliss on the boat, got a drink & headed up to the very top deck where I could see the majority of my group had set up camp. One of them, it transpired, had left his ticket behind at the hotel hence the delay in their arrival! As a result he was, of course, dually trialled! Sophie was also presented with her punishment for her multitude of foot in mouth moments on tour – none of them will be shared as the saying goes ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour!’

Sophie with her punishment for the foot in mouth comments - repeatedly!

Sophie with her punishment for the foot in mouth comments – repeatedly!

Sandra and Chris (with his shirt back to front as part of his punishment!) 8.6 - that's all I'm saying

Sandra and Chris (with his shirt back to front as part of his punishment!) 8.6 – that’s all I’m saying

Nick's punishment leaving his ticket behind & having to go back and get it!

Nick’s punishment leaving his ticket behind & having to go back and get it!

The night soon set in as the boat left the dock and the view from top deck was spectacular. Back over the view of the lights of the CBD and the Harbour Bridge all lit up. It was stunning, simply stunning. The breeze set in quite heavily and soon I was alone with my thoughts. I stood there still pinching myself that this was all happening, and had happened. How lucky had I been? How grateful was I to my checking twitter & seeing that tweet back in May?!! I soaked the sight in, taking the mental pictures in my mind to ensure that they would stick, somehow I don’t think that my photos would come out of the views from the boat. It felt weird that this time tomorrow I’d be part way through the flight home, that the most amazing time would all be over.

As we docked it was a case of directing the passengers in the direction of the right bus. Lots of shouting pointing, smiling & waving and success! Off we headed, in what can best be described as old style school buses. Not quite what was expected, but they actually worked quite well as, being shorter backed it enabled a more relaxed and chatty atmosphere and so it’s really hardly surprising that the songs started up – in force!! Hilarious as we had a few Australian supporters on the coach too & our driver was only on his second ever drive in the bus! Classic. The journey went by quite slowly, or it might be that it was actually longer than planned – either way we got there and after explaining in no uncertain terms were they to hang around after the match in the stadium. We were on such a tight schedule with the mooring for the boat for the journey home we really wouldn’t be able to wait for anyone. Frustrating if we win, yes but sadly we could do little about that.

So in everyone ran, I had to find a loo before I went in which I managed to achieve – always the epitome of relief at every level! I had a feeling I’d be walking for quite a while once I had gone through the gate before I found one.

I took stock once more when I finally made it to the gate that I was due to go in. I paused for a fag & took in the mass of the stadium. Soaked up the moment. This was the third test of the Lions & win this and this evening, that boat home is going to be rocking!!

The exterior of the stadium - taking stock of where I was and what I was about to watch

The exterior of the stadium – taking stock of where I was and what I was about to watch

Having gone through I realised that I had quite some climb ahead. Like the car park at Cabot Circus – I listened to the noise from inside the stadium as I slowly made my way up in my own little world as everyone else had gone ahead. (mas was I glad I’d ‘powdered my nose’ when I did!) I was sat on my own too but – you know me – that’s not going to stop me enjoying it!! I was on my own for the RWC ’07 final after all!!

I finally made it up top and was only about 3 entrances down from the rest of the group. I soaked it all in, took the photos of the stadium on camera & iPhone to be able to savour this for years to come, hopeful at this stage that it would be for the right reasons!! Thankfully the kick off was delayed by about 10 mins and so in my slow moving state I managed to miss not a second of the match.

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The atmosphere was electric. I can’t even begin to describe it. Nothing like that will I ever feel again. The anticipation of what was possible, the nerves – oh god the nerves. From all the jumping up and screaming when we scored in the match and the points totted up. I’m glad my nails are fake, they would have been gone! I didn’t relax fully until the last 5 mins of the match – anything could happen still. Dreams could be shattered. But they weren’t, they bloody weren’t!! I hugged & kissed & screamed with those around me come the final whistle. Close to tears, still not really believing that I was actually here, that this was all happening. That we had done it. We had won!!!

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I left the stadium a few mins after the final whistle, I saw the initial cheers and celebrations – everyone running on. Halfpenny deservedly winning man of the series but listened to the award ceremony as I battled my way out of the stadium against the Australians heading home with a humongous grin on my face. We’d done it. We’d bloody done it, & I was there to witness that amazing moment.

I LOVED that the first person to text me as soon as the whistle blew was Linda. Without her input & support I would never be here walking back to the coach welling up with excitement & tears, desperate to see someone that I knew to bounce around & celebrate with. Getting back to the coach there were the Australian contingent already aboard but watching everyone else roll in jumping smiling & cheering, was something I’ll never forget.

Thankfully the coach trip back to the marina was shorter as we were at a different location to board. The crush of getting everyone on in time was insane but we managed to do it. Even if we had to take a slight detour on route home to pick Vic & a few clients up who were left behind. Fliss, Sophie & I celebrated the win together & the tour success in general with a glass of bubbles before heading onto the boat to share the win with the rest. It’s safe to say that the boat home was indeed rocking!

The Hamster and the mad Irishman with the face paint

The Hamster and the mad Irishman with the face paint

VU girlies enjoying the post match celebrations on the boat!

VU girlies enjoying the post match celebrations on the boat!

Happy Sophie - first 3 live rugby matches and she watches the winning test series - does she realise that there is no going back?!

Happy Sophie – first 3 live rugby matches and she watches the winning test series – does she realise that there is no going back?!

I HATE taking 'selfies' but this. This is funny!

I HATE taking ‘selfies’ but this. This is funny!

Disembarking it was a multitude of hugs saying goodbye to everyone, with my ridiculously early transfer to the airport in the morning I was not expecting a leaving party!! It was so rushed & so sad but still so exciting to have won. I just knew that the come down when I eventually made it home would indeed hit, and hit hard.

We headed into a bar in Darling Harbour with Vic, Fliss, Sophie & Rachel (the official photographer) for some bubbles to celebrate. I can only assume that the others that had said that they would be in there didn’t make it in due to their lions shirts. There were very few (none) in sight in there, that’s never bothered me before why would it now?LIIIIOOONNNNSSSSSS

I headed back to the bar opp the hotel to catch up with a few if my group before eventually hitting my bed at around 4am after final packing & quadruple checking the alarm was set for 730am the following morning. What a three weeks in such wonderful company discovering a small part of a beautiful country I am sure I’ll be back to see more if at some point. To bed, the early morning start & the absurdly long journey home awaiting. One last excitement in the morning of catching up with the Parsons on the flight home.

Thank you Australia. You’ve been amazing. I have 3 weeks of superb memories that will last me a lifetime. Bring on New Zealand in 2017!!

Baby Jensen Parson in his Lions shirt - CUTE as!

Baby Jensen Parson in his Lions shirt – CUTE as!

The Parson Family

The Parson Family

With Tim & Jensen at Singapore Airport (fellow Bath fan living out there & on same plane out of Oz as me)

With Tim & Jensen at Singapore Airport (fellow Bath fan living out there & on same plane out of Oz as me)

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Sydney Harbour Bridge

With such little time in Sydney I was at a loss with what to actually do that I felt that I had used my time sufficiently. Others were talking earlier in the week about wanting to do the Harbour Bridge walk, something that was definitely on my list to do. Not one to miss an opportunity I offered to book it on my iPad ahead of heading down there & so we did. It transpired that we had booked a time slot that was just after some of the others in our group that had booked it separately, almost like we were doing it together!

We arrived at the pylon where the booking centre is well ahead of schedule to ensure that it was all sorted to avoid any bitter disappointment. At this stage I had not seen the iconic harbour view or indeed the actual bridge. As we walked down to grab a coffee and soak up the scenery as it was a simply beautiful day. We have been so so lucky with the weather in general it is ridiculous. For the last 14 days or so Sydney has had the most vial rain which has been very persistent and heavy.

It was on the way down to The Rocks that I actually first caught sight of not only the bridge but also the Opera House. Wow! What a sight! They are both massive! It must be one of the most iconic landmarks in the world & here I was, little old me, standing looking at it. I took a few moments just to soak it all in. Pinched myself that this was all real!

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The way in which they sort out all of the kits that you have to wear to comply with the obvious health and safety precautions was incredibly well set out and very clear. We had pretty much everything that we could possibly need attached to our belts which went on top of the really in attractive onesie – but needs must and all that! I led the way behind the guide just in case I was going to need my inhalers which she was carrying as I was not allowed to carry anything. Even all of our watches and bracelets needed to be taken off?!

Kitted up to the nines, off we went. For some stupid reason I thought that we would be walking all the way over and then back rather than up one side to the middle and then back down the other side. Being first meant that I had my photos taken first and then had to wait for the rest of the group to catch up and be done. Good shout. Meant that I had a few moments all on my own each stop to take in the sights before me. I could have spent all day up there soaking it all in. I cleverly tout not to put the lenses in this morning, if I was struggling with them drying out on my eyes normally with the 65km per hour winds up there, I think that they would have literally blown out of my eyes!! It wasn’t really cold as such, just pretty bloody strong. The day was beautiful with an amazing blue sky in the background to make the pictures look even more extra special. Well, sadly they didn’t exactly come out beautifully as we were looking into the sun when they were taken my hair was blowing ALL over the place and my eyes were watering like mad!!

At the start of the Bridge Walk - easy to stand up with out being blown over here!!

At the start of the Bridge Walk – easy to stand up with out being blown over here!!

My poor eyes were not doing so well on the top of the bridge where the wind was blowing at around 65kmph and I was looking RIGHT into the sun for this photo!

My poor eyes were not doing so well on the top of the bridge where the wind was blowing at around 65kmph and I was looking RIGHT into the sun for this photo!

Coming backdown was a little more traumatic than going up to be honest. The ladders were vertical and the winds had grown, coming down the first two sets were pretty hairy. The worst part by far was sort of shimmying across from one set to the other as part of the handrail sort of disappeared. By the time we had got to the bottom it was all just a distant memory. It’s sad that you can’t take photos from up there to be fair but I guess the website will hopefully show you what some of the views looked like. I was tempted to buy half the shop out of souvenirs but in the end I just got a fake Pandora charm for my bracket as I have one space left, it seemed only appropriate that I filled it with that.

A day in the rainforest

Our second day in North Tropical Queensland took us up to the Rainforest, something we were all very keen to see – again there were 10 of ‘my lot’ as well as a few others too. The day was beautifully sunny and warm, just what we were expecting from the weather up here. Very handy having them pick us all up from the hotel I have to say, the location of the hotel (the Shangri-La!)being right in the middle of the marina was wonderful.

We headed up to Kuranda on the sky rail and booked to come back on the train – another day trip with a good 10 or so of my group members joining. The village is tiny with only a population of around 1,500 people but it is a set of markets selling pretty much anything that you need as a tourist. A total tourist trap in my opinion but it was more the travel to and from the we were all going for.

We headed up in a cable car which stopped off at a couple of points on the way up so that you could get out and walk in amongst the rainforest on one of them and see the breath taking views out. One of the things to look at was Barron Falls, as you would expect from the name – a waterfall. It was merely trickling at the moment owing to the time of year but you can tell at it would be quite a spectacular sight.

This youtube video (not mine!) gives you an idea of the sights as we went up. I’d suggest turning the sound down though as the wind is pretty much all you can hear – there is no running commentary!

Ed, Kay & Steve in our 'pod' on the way up & over the rainforest on the Skyrail

Ed, Kay & Steve in our ‘pod’ on the way up & over the rainforest on the Skyrail

Me with Sandra & Chris in the pod

Me with Sandra & Chris in the pod

The first look out on our way up gave us a great view out over the top of the rainforest

The first look out on our way up gave us a great view out over the top of the rainforest

One of the massive trees that we saw whilst walking along the boardwalks at the first stop on the cable car trip

One of the massive trees that we saw whilst walking along the boardwalks at the first stop on the cable car trip

Barron Falls - one of the stop on the way up on the gondola (as it was called)

Barron Falls – one of the stop on the way up on the gondola (as it was called)

Just slowly making our way up and over the rainforest was simply amazing, with a birds eye view of the place as we all soaked in the views back over Cairns as well as just looking down into the actual rainforest itself. I didn’t see as many birds as I thought that I would though, which I found rather odd (unless you of course count the turkey which was gobbling around at the Barron Falls stop?!). We saw quite a few very large butterflies including the impressive Ulysses butterfly which is a bright turquoise colour.

After a pint at the top a little meander around the town and a snoop at some of the markets and shops we headed to the train station as we were going to be getting the scenic railway back to where we were dropped off. The station in Kuranda is a very quaint little place, I could almost see a Miss Marple or a Poirot being filmed here! Of course the train that we were on was a very old fashioned one, with very old school carriages, I most definitely would not like to do this trip in the scorching heat, it would be seriously stuffy. It’s a 34km stretch that seemed to take forever to travel with 15 tunnels but most importantly some pretty spectacular views out into the rainforest and back over Cairns. We were all tho definitely looking forward to disembarking when the time came.

An art gallery in the shapre of an old boat selling (but I didn't buy) Aboriginal Art & decorated didgeridoos!

An art gallery in the shapre of an old boat selling (but I didn’t buy) Aboriginal Art & decorated didgeridoos!

The train station at Kuranda - very quaint!

The train station at Kuranda – very quaint!

Finding Nemo

The final Monday saw 10 of us head out on a catamaran style boat to visit the marvel of the Great Barrier Reef. It was a beautifully bright day and we were all incredibly excited about our forthcoming adventure. Me, perhaps a tad too excited about the possibility of seeing Nemo more than anything – it was going to be a massive let down if I didn’t see one!

My lot & I ready to find Nemo!

My lot & I ready to find Nemo!

The sea out was pretty choppy at times, but thankfully I was ok with it. I had also taken the suggested ginger tablets when I got on the boat which may or may not have been a massive help! It's not a pleasant after taste tho I will warn you if you drink them with coffee!! The way out to the reef took about an hour and a quarter – not too bad in my view, some of the others started to feel somewhat queasy and disappeared for some air. We were on the top level of the boat inside which was fine, apparently it's meant to be less rocky below deck – I beg to differ, the amount of people throwing up down there would have totally done me in! Had I seen, heard or smelt sick I would have been following suit & I'm not sure I'd have actually made it out in time either.

We moored up on the first reef and had been given the instructions on what to do i.e. in how to put on your snorkel and flippers and were told that wearing a lycra suit was not a must as its not jellyfish season so we would be very unlikely to be stung. I put one on anyway as I wasn't entirely sure quite how cold the water was going to be – even tho they had told us that it was about 23/24 degrees.

Snorkel on flippers on and I was away. I could actually see the bottom and so it didn't feel quiet as bad as when I got scared by the depths out in Egypt. There were loads of quite large fishes out near the boat – I guess that they must have put done food in or something for so many to be there. This particular part of the reef there was a bit that looked like the shape of Micky Mouse's head. I think I got out as far as that – it was easy to spot from the boat but not quite so much when you are bobbing around in the ocean!!

There were some beautiful fish swimming around, I scoured the coral to try & find Nemo – we had already been told that one like actual Nemo was very shy and not really all that common. I was buggered if I had come out ALL THIS WAY not to see the little blighter in his own place?!! I think for the first session in the water I was definitely the last of our group out the water. I was having a total ball. The sights to take in underwater were quite something. I was trying so hard to just take the photographs of the experience of seeing this entire new world under the water all in my mind so that I could savour them for years to come. I even managed to get my photo taken with Nigel – this massive fish, I can't remember what he actually was apart from being HUGE!

Nigel & I - he looks photoshopped - honestly he isn't!

Nigel & I – he looks photoshopped – honestly he isn’t!

Nigel & I

Nigel & I

Me & Nigel

Me & Nigel

We had lunch on board which is what looked like THE most amazing seafood (obv not my cuppa cha!!) they had a hot and cold buffet on board and I have to say I was very impressed with the quality – I had some delicious sushi rolls with tuna & cucumber in but no peppers! Needed some form of energy to keep me going to get back in the water for more time trying to find bloody Nemo. As the water was still pretty choppy we didn't actually move to the second reef but stayed moored where our first snorkelling session was. Again I failed to see Nemo, I could tell that I was going to be more than disappointed with the whole trip if I never actually ended up in seeing one.

We moved on a little to a different area of the reef for our final snorkelling session. Winky (yes, that was her real name) led anyone who wanted to do a guided snorkel and a few of us headed out with her. Bloody glad I joined in! She showed us some of the different type of coral, the clams – huge thing which she got to shut by pushing the water at it. We saw a Sea Cucumber which was the most random thing. She went down to the bottom to pick it up so that we could touch it. It felt very much like old worn leather. We saw a Nemo!!! Swimming in and around some spaghetti coral – I nearly choked with excitement & as a result managed to take in shed loads of water & even managed the nose trick with it all too! Ouchies! Just before she finished the guided tour we spotted a turtle which was amazing. It looks so like a grumpy old man!! The others that had been following the tour too all sort of dispersed and there was myself and one other girl (not from our group) who turned back a little to go and watch the turtle nibbling away on some food. It was quite some experience I can tell you. I had to control myself at one point as I really thought that I was about to cry in the mask – that would not have been much bloody use. The emotion & reality of what I was doing just welled inside me like an overflowing pot. It was truly breath-taking watching this amazing creature in its natural habitat going about its own business, which included peaking to the surface for air as it does every 20 mins or so. Seeing it underwater as it swam up arm distance from me, so close that I could actually touch it. See it taking its breaths and then heading back on down for food again. It totally took my breath away. I was happy. Job done. Great Barrier Reef you were all I had imagined, hoped for & dreamed about for years.

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Catching some rays on the front on the boat before the ride home

Catching some rays on the front on the boat before the ride home

The evening was spent taking onboard some Aboriginal Culture at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park where we were having dinner as well. To be honest with the cost of food out here with wine at a meal too – it was possibly only 10 bucks more. Stupid really but there we go. I’ve eaten well, don’t get me wrong but the price of food is WAY higher than I anticipated. It’s relative to the Australians apparently for the wage that they get. I guess that for us in the UK the Aus dollar has gone down against the pound and so it probably wouldn’t have seemed so expensive a few years back.

Our evening included the Didgeridoo blessing as well as having our faces painted, listening to Aborigine folk tales as well as watching them make fire from rubbing a stick (no, really). It was dewy underfoot but thankfully not too cold as most of the evening took place outside.

Some Aboriginal tales told with a random dancing monster!

Some Aboriginal tales told with a random dancing monster!

The start of the Aboriginal Evening

The start of the Aboriginal Evening

A lit arrow was sent across the lake which set this flame alight

A lit arrow was sent across the lake which set this flame alight

With my face paint on!

With my face paint on!

When it came to coming back inside for the buffet meal there was further entertainment to focus our attention on. More singing and audience participation. There was a distinct lack of audience members wanting to be on stage with them, dancing and such the like. The teacher in me had my hand up straight away, I think much to the shock of those that I was with!! Initially we were on stage (myself & some other chap) helping the dancers to make fire by rubbing a small stick up & down between our hands – taking it in turns with the bottom of the stick staying in place on a wooden ‘fire block’ when you rub the stick up and down – after doing it for a while between the two of us one of the dancers warmed the palms of his hand and did it a couple of times too, obviously much more quickly than either of us! I then took over from him & a speck of lit ash jumped onto the bundle of dry grass. My name is Keith – I am a fire starter, a twisted fire starter!! We then had to participate in some form of Aboriginal dancing. 2 left feet Em whose dance moves include the funky chicken & the elbow dance did indeed look like a flaming galah!! It was very sweet of them, for my participation I was given a plain returning boomerang – that saves buying one!!

Getting ready to start making the fire

Getting ready to start making the fire

Starting to make fire using a stick which you rub between your palms, yes it was as random as it sounds!

Starting to make fire using a stick which you rub between your palms, yes it was as random as it sounds!

With the performers before heading home for a well earned sleep

With the performers before heading home for a well earned sleep

Some of the Aboriginal art around the restaurant area

Some of the Aboriginal art around the restaurant area

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