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Sunday, July 14, 2013

7th July - Take me home, Country Roads - Olivia Newton John (of course - she's an Aussie!)

Jaded is the understatement. Why did i think it was a good idea, to see the blue Mountains on the day after the last test? 12 hours sleep in 72. At 5.50 the alarm woke me after about 3 and a half hours sleep I was glad I hadn't been drinking as this would have been hell. I'd paid to see the Blue Mountains, so I was going, but I was less than enthusiastic. The rest of the bus were similar. One guy went straight to the back seat to sleep, but was told to pu his seat belt on. A woman ad to sit in the front to calm her nausea.

The day was clear and the Blue Mountains were so beautiful, it would be mean to say that my bed was a more beautiful site, but sadly it was true. As clear as the air was, I couldn't wake up properly, until lunchtime, and several diet cokes and mints, I began to feel alive again.

As has happened on the last day of previous trips, I was ready to go home, so wanted the day over. I had achieved the Holy Grail of a winning tour. Even though I finished it on the Rocks, enjoying an ordinary Sunday night out, home was calling.

On the final morning I felt sad. I don't know if life will give me the money/opportunity to revisit Australia, so I walked round to Mrs Macquairie's  to say goodbye and thank you.

If Carlsberg made touring destinations, it would be Australia. Tomorrow the long grind home. My thoughts on the tour:

1. Nicest story I heard: An old man with a younger companion - yes I thought he was a rent boy but it was his son, told me that he had a lifelong dream to go on a Lions tour. His son had paid for both of them to go for his 70th birthday. Dreams do come true, and a winning tour was the cherry on the icing on the cake.
2. Melbourne is a nicer, more happening place than Sydney.
3. For the welcomes I've received in the other locations, Australians win heads down for friendliness matched with good natured competitiveness and a great sense of humour.
4. It is not a holiday. Expect to come home tired, broke and with an inevitable cold. Playing or not, drinking or not, everything has to be 100% all the time.
5. Sleeping's cheating.
6. Halfpenny player of the series, but game changer was Corbisero. He made me believe.
7. Hibberd's head is made of Welsh Coal.
8. Referees - manage scrums properly - as they make space, alter the psychology of the game. This is only done by northern hemisphere. Southern hemisphere's not the only ones who play the game properly.
9. Mix an Australian holiday with countryside/beach and city.
10. Contact with a head on the floor is unacceptable not accidental.

Thank you Australia. And thank you Lions. Maybe just maybe, you will see me again supporting you........

6 July The final match

The song title today, just has to be one from all four union's countries, played at full time, after all the ceremonies.
Chelsea Tractor - Fratellis
Beautiful Day - U2
Delilah - Tom Jones - couldn't they have chosen something by the Stereophonics?
Wonderwall - Oasis - the hairs went up on the back of my neck, as the Lions fans sang the team's tour song from 1997. This moment I will take to my dying day.

I got up at 3.50am this morning, having woken every 30 minutes at least to check the time. It was after midnight when I got into bed as the opera finished late and taxis seemed to be few and far between. I have never overslept when I've needed to get up early, my alarms have never let me down, yet I still live in fear of not waking up when I have something special going on. This morning I was climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge at dawn. This meant climbing the bridge at 5.30am to be at the top as the sun came over the horizon at Manly. The sun seemed to oversleep this morning, however and we had to wait on top of the Bridge for 30 minutes. Normally, once the photo is taken at the top, its down you go. A cruise ship docked in front of us at Circular Quay. Before the climb, we were all asked who would win the game. I hoped 2 points. No one went for a big score, with the exception of one woman who thought Wales would win by 15. (silly woman).

From then on, the rest of the day was spent kicking around waiting for the kick off. I didn't feel at all confident that a win was on the cards, but was really nervous. All routes to the ground were free, as they are when major events are on in Australia - whether sporting or Rihanna. One of the routes was a leisurely ferry up to Parramatta and the Olympic Park. On a tense day, this seemed the most relaxing way up there.

The stadium looms large at the ground, and around it are different stadia that are still in use, although the venues haven't quite got the aura and of Melbourne, although of course 22 November 2003 and 6 July 2013 are beginning to write that history.

Because catering is a bit limited at the Park, a variety of concessions set themselves up in tents on the walkway to the ground, there are sponsors tents, tented shops etc, and the two bars opposite the stadium extend out into he square in front - covering areas as big as the pitch itself. Aussie food is geared to protein, I asked for for chicken and chips and was given chicken chips - we'd call them nuggets, and no carbs!

The Brewery bar was taken over by Lions fans, which was attached to the Novotel, which was where the Lions players would be having a nap. In true Aussie fashion, (noise to create sleep depravation), and also to get things going,  there was a disco blaring out rock music, an Aussie Scottish bagpipes band. Everyone knew the plan - smash the Aussie scrum - no Plan B. Gatland had put everything on red, but did the Aussies have the answer?

I went to the final Lions Den in the badminton arena - it lacked a bit of atmosphere after last week. It could be because of the huge size, but I also think it was because of nervousness. One of the guests tonight was Donal Lenihan. He was negative saying that the Lions would lose (a dropped Irishman was the reason why). No wonder his team were known as Donal's Donuts', he could cause Tiger to want Prozac. Ickle Shane was nervous, and tried to be funny, but wasn't - it could have been tension rather than dumbness, although you never can be sure. Andy Nichol tried to break a superstition by wearing a different shirt to break a losing habit. The Manic Street Preachers came on again and pumped the crowd up. We could win. I left believing.

Yet again the stadium record was broken, (it had been remodelled since 2003). The Lions support had grown from last week, and this time we wee in bigger blocks, so could make more noise. Corbs' try set the tone and volume in the first minutes, and I began to believe. All 4 nations songs were sung willingly, even though the rest of the years it was the song for the opposition. The Aussie PA was so loud, there was feedback, but it didn't drown us out. This was Lions history in the making, and boy did the team deliver.
After the formalities, the crowd went wild, running down to the front to get closer to their heroes on their lap of honour. The four songs mentioned at the start were the party music with players and fans singing. We were all one big pride, singing and dancing late into the night. As for the rest of the night.... What goes on tour, stays on tour......

5 July Forza del Destino (Overture) - Verdi

With so little time in Sydney, I had to do it in a day. Beyond the shoreline, the city is very much like any other city - lots of shop signs, cars, buses, a grid system and just couldn't get my bearings. I am usually really good - find a few landmarks, yet I couldn't find them to get myself going, and this remained the case whilst I was there. Eventually I found Hyde Park, walked through the Domain and Botanic Gardens to the view of Sydney from Mrs Macquairie's Chair. this is the view that everyone has seen in travel brochures, and thinks of Australia. A jogger takes my photo. She asks me to return the favour and tells me that she can never get enough of the view and has loads of photos of it on her phone. Her friends think that she is mad.

As I round the corner of the Opera House, I see the tide coming in (Sea of Red). Everywhere is red on Circular Quay, the bars and cafes, the pavements, the ferries. The Opera House itself is a beautiful building - inside it is even more remarkable, as the angles and lines make what could be quite harsh exposed concrete, funky. Tonight I am going to my first opera. It will have sur-titles (titles above the stage), and I've researched the storylines, so I will know what is going on - I hope. All the main characters die in the end. It also has a reputation like Macbeth, the Scottish play - unlucky. Those involved have something horrible happen to them. I hope that the final twist of fate is not an Aussie win. The story tells us that whatever life throws at us, we all suffer the same fate in the end. I justify this as a reason to have gone on all my expensive mad rugby trips.

The Rocks is like a living museum. Famous for English sports fans, as the place to party after 2003 World Cup win, and Ashes wins - more frequent in recent times, it is also the first settlement of Sydney, with a range of Victorian buildings, including traditional pubs and restaurants, some converted from the warehouse, when Britain traded with the world. It bustled with a street market, and interesting street food. It was crowded with workers looking for lunch, and Lions tourists preparing for the big match with a beer or two outside.

4 July Leaving on a jet plane - Peter Paul and Mary

I just had to see the sunrise one last time. Thank goodness everything on view is free. Australia is a really expensive place. the poor exchange rate doesn't help, but even so, 2 dollars for a bottle of water 4.50 dollars for coke, is frightening, it doesn't matter where you drink it, supermarkets are no cheaper. refilling from the tap is part of the morning routine.

One last walk around and then off to the airport. 180 Lions tourists on one plane, all arriving at the same time, we had to queue outside. These numbers are unknown, and it was also the first time the equivalent of Ryan Air had flown the route. (Jetstar) The first passenger went through at 12.20 and the last at 2.20. The flight was delayed by half an hour. I didn't get my passport out the whole time - just like it used to be when you flew internally pre 2001. The bar and cafe sold out of refreshments - obviously drink, but also food -only crisps were left. With a four hour flight to follow, I thought that there would be a meal and a drink, but no, asper Ryanair - a captive audience leads to even more breathtaking prices - I remained thirsty and hungry.

I was summoned to meet my Welsh friends in Darling Harbour, Sydney. They had been drinking, so conversation was quite repetitive, as my short term memory remains good. We awaited another friend. She had managed to take and collect the right baggage this time, but unfortunately not the right passport. The gift of the gab, managed to get her to and from Cairns, and the other friend up from Melbourne. I got to Darling Harbour through a shopping centre, and the row of bars felt plastic and new, not my scene, but lively enough. It could have been anywhere by water. My initial thoughts were disappointing.

3 July River Deep Mountain High - Ike and Tina Turner

As I was awake before dawn, I wallked up to  a sand dune to watch the sun rise over Uluru. The colours of the sky changed over the hour that I was there, from dark blue tinged with orange at the skyline, through orangey pink and violet eventually blue, with the sun turning Uluru orange. It was easy to understand why the Aboriginals consider it such a spiritual place.

I went on a Bush Tucker Tour this morning to learn about Aboriginal food. Three miles away from the hotel, mand it fel like we were in the middle of the desert, flat and nothingness around. It is incorrect to think that deserts are barren, it was teeming with life and vegetation. I saw a bulldog ant that was an inch long. Women suck nectar ants' abdomens for the sweetness within. Me, I prefer a Worther.

The previous week's rain, had brought quite a bot of greenness to the landscape. With it come the flies, damn flies. They buzz around your head incessantly, and no amount of waving them away frightens them, Insect repellent doesn't work. How Aussies manage to stay sane I don't know.

In the afternoon I walked the Olgas. These are not one piece of rock like Uluru, but a conglomerate. Burton is built on Bunter conglomerate - small gravel held together by clay/sandstone, but this conglomerate contains huge boulders. Its less of a tourist attraction than Uluru. IT is a sacred place where Aboriginal men go for rights of passage, away from women, so there is a conflict with modern society, where women, who should be banned are allowed to walk them.

On the way back, remember I am here for the rugby, news broke that O Driscoll had been dropped for the final test. With Warburton out, I had expected him to captain the side, although, I thought his form had been poor pre-tour and he was lucky to be there. It would have been his last international game, but sport is about winning, and Gatland had gambled everything on the core of Welsh players he had taken, so he had to put his money where his mouth was. The side was possibly too Welsh, Youngs (hooker) unlucky, and I'd have had a back row of Croft, OBrien, Heaslip. Lydiate hasn't done a lot wrong, but there's no X Factor. He tackles players, that's it. Phillips owed the fans a big game so has to deliver. Gatlands Strategy is easy to see - smash 'em in the scrum and then smash em again. But all the same - Go Lions!!

I ate in the hotel restaurant - the best in town. Price £70ish (Kerching), and no wine.....
Starter: Smoked Kangaroo Wattleseed Crepe, ith Thyme scented mushrooms and Kolkadi Plums.
Mains: Fillet of Kingfish with Pak Choi, ginger and carrot emulsion and reduced orange glaze with rocket, pine nut and parmesan salad.
Dessert: Drambuie chocolate mousse with wild rosella flower dacquiose (biscuit), almond curd, and pistachio fondue.
Pepeermint tea to finish, made with actual leaves, and a diffuser.
Blimey what are Sydney prices going to be like - I'll find out tomorrow.

2nd July - Road to Nowhere - Talking Heads

I was up early this morning to travel by Alice Springs to Ayres Rock (Uluru). Just 450km to travel on straight roads that stretch far into the horizon. Even the hill ranges are few and far between. Just miles and miles of sand and shrubbery. The coach driver informed us not to worry about the weird noise - the mechanics had ensured that there were no problems with the suspension - 450 km with one side of the coach lower than the other, and nothing in between the two destinations. Hmmmmm. Our first break was 90 minutes in at a camel farm. Camels were used to cross Australia before the railway, and once built, the Afghan handlers were told to shoot them. They didn't and now there's a million of the things eating their way through the vegetation, causing kangaroos etc. to starve. It was the first building we had seen in the meantime. Actually in the 5 and a half hours we were travelling, we'd only passed six cattle stations, each over 1 millions acres, and the driver knew the names of the managers of everyone. Last week it had rained, but he told us the story of one of the station manager's 8 year old son. He saw rain for the first tie when he was 8, and he was so traumatised by the experience that he fainted.

We came round a corner (or should \I say, the corner) and into sight came a large red monolith. I got excited - there was Ayres Rock. In fact it was Mount Connor. There are miles and miles of nothingness with huge red hills every now and then. There was a lookout here and a toilet. The other thing you noticce, are the flies, the bloody flies. They don't bite, just buzz around your head incessantly.

 When Ayres Rock finally does come into site it's the colours that strike you. Deep red against a blue sky. Nothingness around it, no foothills, no lead in, no background, just a gigantic rock. nearby, maybe 20 miles away, are the Kaja Tjutu or Olgas. There are globe like mountains, almost like a pile of horse manure in shape. They look like from another world, perhaps they are - the shock that split Godwana.

In the early evening, we were picked up for the Sounds of Silence dinner. This is world famous and has featured in all the travel magazines as the 'thing' to do before you die. We were driven to a spot with a perfect view of Uluru and the Olgas to watch the sunset change the rocks to different colours. This was close to he wild, but we were served canapes and wine, (lemon lime and bitters in my case). Crocodile was one of the flavours I tried, along with kanga

roo, barramundi and desert rat (tastes like chicken), followed by lemon myrtle sponge.

In the meantime, the stars had come out in the night sky, with the Southern Cross, Scorpio and the Milky Way in full view. There were two telescopes set up, one on Saturn, with its rings and moons, and one on a black nothingness, that through a telescope looked like diamonds on velvet - another galaxy beyond our own.

Monday, July 1, 2013

1 July- Tequila Sunrise-The Eagles

The sunrise this morning was stunning. A clear blue sky, with an orange base turned the local MacDonnell hills pink. With a dry day promised, as the sun rose in the sky, these hills turned back to their orange colour.

Yesterday, I booked a bicycle to ride over to the Alice Springs Desert Park. It was about four miles outside Alice, and no easy route to get there by public transport. I expected to be there for the morning, but it was so good, I spent the day there. David Attenborough rated it as the best desert wildlife centre in the world.

The flora was planted in themes, a salt bowl, gypsum bowl, dry river bed, desert woodland etc. the animals and birds, were placed in situ, so that you could imagine what it was like in the Outback. There were two bird displays. At 10am, I sat next to an English woman, and all of a sudden, a variety of birds flew or ran in. There were these pigeon with quiffs, that looked like punk pigeons, as they had attitude, as they scuttled in, spoling

. Above a variety of birds of prey flew in, including a kite, a barn owl, a falcon, to be hand fed by the park ranger, who was so knowledgable he could well have been an professional ornithologist. He led the birds by flight or walking through the audience whilst explaining how they hunted or fed.

The woman suggested that we go together as a family, so that we could see the eagle, and have pictures taken with it, as it would be cheaper for both of us. Again an amazing experience, as we shuffled closer to the eagle. No jerky movements.

She invited me to lunch, in her campervan, whilst I  downloaded the photos onto her computer. I felt quite nostalgic, as it was the same sort as I'd lived in for seven weeks in New Zealand. After lunch we went around the rest of the park, seeing endangered marsupials, which seemed to be crosses of rats squirrels and mice. It did make me wonder if they started as the same animal, but evolved differently.

After being on my feet all day, I cycled the five miles home.  Don't think I will be up much longer!!