Everybody must take a holiday. Once a year.
It sooo rejuvenates.
I’m at the end of one. The last ten days have been a blast. Except for getting laid and watching naked women dance around, I did everything else. 🙂 But damn, I missed a trip to the Crown Casino!
Anyway, that was about what I didn’t do. And about what I did, there’s so much to write and I dunno where to begin. I’m in the Bangkok airport now with another hour to kill before my flight back to Madras.
And I got to get to work today. So, I doubt if I would ever have time to blog about the trip, if I miss the chance now. So here goes.
Landed in Sydney late on the September 6th evening. We checked into Star City hotel and I got the first taste of how expensive the city was when I used the internet cafe at the convenience store (because the net at the hotel would be much more expensive). Had an interview lined up with Nagesh Kukunoor and it did feel strange to do it sitting far away in Sydney when he was sitting there in Sathyam theatre. So 12 dollars poorer, I sent off the story after the chat and crashed by 1 a.m. only to wake up all by myself by 5.45 a.m!
And till day ten of the trip, I’ve always woken up before 6.30 a.m. That’s like a new record of sorts for me, considering I never ever wake up before ten or eleven. Sometimes, around noon or even later.
On the 7th: We visited Foxtel’s headoffice located at a wharf in Pyrmont (an area around Darling Hourbour). Who would’ve imagined a wharf for an office… it rocked! You got the best view of Sydney skyline from there and the compact office packed with cabins and edit suites seemed to be a cozy place to work. Soon, we learnt that the wharf was gonna give way to million dollar apartments and Foxtel was shifting to a newer base at one of the industrial areas. Apparently, none of the staff were happy about it.
It was also the day when we were introduced to the real potential of digital television.
Split screens with different channels, text updates that could give newspaper business stiff competition, facility to rewind, fast-forward or pause live television (Yes!) and a remote that truly kept you in control of what you want to see. There will be more of this on the stories I will be writing for the paper, so I’ll just move on.
In the evening, we had some free time and I joined a coupla new friends V and H to go around Sydney. V was one of the best and most informed business journalists in the country and H was from the PR firm that was co-ordinating our trip. So, in the company of these ladies and my video camera, we set out for a quick tour of Sydney.
First, we walked to Darling Harbour, then took the monorail (a sort of a toy train that goes around the heart of Sydney… it goes around in circles, as the promotional tag line goes) from one random station and then got off at another random station that said City Centre and the map in hand showed that it was the nearest point to get off to head towards The Rocks village that overlooks the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a stone’s throw away from the Opera House.
At the city centre, we did a quick round of shopping for souvenirs and believe it or not, as I later found out, souvenirs cost more or less the same in Sydney or Melbourne. So putting off buying souvenirs for the Melbourne part of the tour turned out to be a mistake cuz there was so much to do around Melbourne.
You get small boomerangs from 5 dollars but if you look around Melbourne, you will get even bigger ones starting at 3 dollars!
We then walked all the way to the Rocks village and around the Opera House. It was the most romantic place with street-side musicians strumming up their guitars as young groups of women did a little jig. And, soon, it was a dance floor. People chucked money into the guitar case and apparently that’s how the musicians made their money.
It was a little dark, so we didn’t quite get great pics of the Opera House. I hope H and V, who had better cameras than the one I had, got decent snapshots.
We took a cab back to Darling harbour which reminded me of the Quay around Singapore river. Very similar. We found an interesting eat out called Blue Fish and H and V then gorged on sea food which looked extremely exotic… With names like Fisherman’s Basket and Marinara Boat, these huge plates shaped like a basket and a boat, had a quite a huge quantity of squids, oysters, octopuses and all sort of other sea food.
Since I was veggie, I had to eat Garlic bread and raw tomato finely cut and passed off as some exotic salad.
We then walked back to the hotel and crashed early.
On the 8th: We were taken to Foxtel’s new facility at North Ryde and met an engineering expert called Smart who gave us quite an in-depth presentation on the technical side of packaging channels for TV, interactivity and even showed us new gizmos… hand held TV that makes dinosaurs out of palm tops and even the state-of-the-art PDAs.
That evening, we joined the Australians cheer their team on the opening day of the final Ashes test at the dinner hosted by Fox Sports. And for a bonus, we bumped into Allan Border who more than obliged for photographs. I’m just hoping that N, our friend from Dainik Jagran sends us those pictures because he was the only one to have a camera ready.
On the 9th: We left for Melbourne and were taken to the call centres of Foxtel, where we were given a presentation on how they use these call-centres to keep even most irritant subscribers happy. We checked into the Melbourne Mariott that evening and did a quick tour of Melbourne with a free tram ride that runs around the City Loop. City Circle is a special tram service operated for tourists to go around the heart of Melbourne.
Melbourne as hyped, is definitely among the most livable cities in the world. It is so easy to get around the farthest distances, thanks to their train and tram network that connects even the remotest suburbs with the City Loop. The City Loop is a rectangular area neatly sliced into streets and the grid of clearly marked intersections makes sure you don’t lose your way around.
Me and V from Space TV, hopped into Myer and David Jones (?) and shopped from this music store in Bourke street where we got some neat deals on 10-movies in a pack for 10 AUDollars. I also finally got my Jerry Maguire soundtrack in Melbourne after a major hunt for it in Madras!
We had a wonderful dinner hosted by the CEO of Space TV, the DTH venture of STAR and Tatas in India which will be starting operations in India early next year.
10th: The next day, was the sight-seeing part of the official tour where our hosts took us to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and to an exotic-looking vinery in Yarra Valley. With huge halls, warm couches and a fire-place, with the French windows overlooking the valley, it was one of the most beautiful sights.
We had the most divine lunch there. Yes, they did have some rocking stuff for veggies too. Never knew pumpkin tastes this good. And wine of course. Since, I am not too much of a wine drinker, the CEO recommended dessert wine and yes, that was truly d-wine too!
Yarra Valley has to be among the most romantic getaways and the place for wine tasting. I picked up a coupla interesting jam mixes for Mom and we then headed back to the city as our chauffer Nick told us about Kangaroos and how dumb they were to get run over all the time.
The team of journalists and organisers left the same day, without getting a glimpse of a single Roo. It was Saturday night alright but I was soo dead tired that I just went back into my room and crashed. I saw a busful of extremely hawt babes and more revellers board the pub-crawler that takes you from one nightclub to another. But it didn’t make sense to do that by yourself in a city where you don’t know anyone.
P, my friend’s brother stayed in Melbourne and he was sweet enough to host me for the rest of my trip.
On the 11th:
P came and picked me up with his friend K and took me to their place in Carnegie, a suburb half an hour away from the City Loop. They took me to Chadstone, supposed to the biggest shopping mall in that part of the world. Was quite amazed at the spirit of togetherness that binds Indians in places far off from home. These guys were living so far away from home, missing home so much that the Internet was their only window to peep into what’s happening back home. There was Tamil music playing, and of course the sweet localness of the Tamil language that made me feel at home instantly. They made enquiries for me to tour the Great Ocean Road and we found that there was a bus leaving next morning: A three day round-trip from Melbourne to the Grampians (mountain ranges) and the Great Ocean Road for 175 AUD (exclusive of accomodation priced at about 20 dollars a night!)
K dropped me at the station and I got off at Flinder’s Street, the last station at the heart of the city and the hub for trains to any suburb of Melbourne. Walked to the Immigration Museum, the pick-up point for backpackers who had booked for the tour by Autopia Tours.
It was freezing cold and I got myself a hot cappucinno before the bus screeched to a halt there at 7.45 on the dot. Our driver James was just gonna drive us and those who had booked a daylong tour of the Grampians around till 3 p.m. after which we had to shift to another bus at Halls Gap, which lies at the heart of the Grampians. That bus was coming from Adelaide with a driver called Phil who would be our guide for the 3-day trip.
It took a long time for the backpackers to break ice and that didn’t happen till the end of Day One, after James left. Though we did walk together as a group, everyone was virtually doing their own thing. Bushwalking through Halls Gap, we came across streams, interesting rock formations, waterfalls and the most interesting terrain through the woods. For a brief part of the walk, I used the discman to give me a background score.
It was the most beautiful experience. It was freezing, it was drizzling, we were all trekking up and down the mountains, as a group waiting for the slowest to catch up. Our group had an old couple and I couldn’t help but admire their zest for adventure.
McKenzie’s Falls was so steep but the most breathtaking sight. Nothing like watching a rush of water gush down in full speed. It was during that walk that finally the group began making conversation.
From the moment Phil took over and everyone introduced themselves, we finally knew each other, at least by name.
There were nine of us for the 3-day tour. Nine strangers, all from a different country. Almost, for there were two Japanese girls Yoko and Maya and one South Korean Yong Hi (who called herself Eddie) who had joined us from Adelaide. There was this friendly American guy with a paunch: John, the only other guy in the gang apart from me and Phil, of course.
And there was a Danish girl called Sidsir, who seemed to be some sort of an athlete, she was always the one leading the pack and never ever getting tired. UK-based Zoe was the kid of the gang, or at least seemed it, with her enthusiasm for spotting koalas and also the slowest of the lot. There was Emily from Perth and Anna from Germany to complete the gang.
Phil took us to this place near a mountain called the Asses. And it was right in the middle of the far, run by a chap called Steve, who looked like a healthier version of Glen MacGrath. But for that eggplant veggie thing he brought me for dinner, it was truly the most enchanting stay. We had wooden cabins with six beds in it. But since John and me were the only guys in the gang, we had the cabin to ourselves. The common room was the hub of activity as the Japanese girls played an interesting game of blocks, some of the others played pool and Phil and me watched the beginning of the last day’s play of the Ashes for a while, before I went off to sleep.
We did more walks of the Grampians. And Phil put us into quite an adventure when he made us climb a mushroom-shaped rock formation where one wrong step would lead to a free-fall. We took some really cool pictures (I haven’t seen them and just hope my camera hasn’t failed me. Will know when I head back home and download them to the machine. Watch out for the pics.)
We walked down the Grand Canyon and there was this narrow little gap between the two walls of mountains called the Silent Street. We then headed to the Jaws of Death for more pictures before Phil took us to the Great Ocean road on the afternoon for a coupla lookouts.
I had read quite a bit about the Great Ocean Road being among the top ten best road trips in the world. And inspite of the hype, the sheer beauty of the locales exceeded my expectations. The best part of the trip apart from the marvellous sea-side lookouts are the charming small towns. We stayed at this little town called Port Campbell in a YHA hostel that provided backpackers acco for 18 dollars a night.
Phil’s idea of having a barbeque was a nice little idea that saw each of us contributing to the cooking process. I cut veggies for the salad! A bunch of us cooked and the rest washed the dishes. Being a part of a backpacking group is so much fun.
Then we had a nice meal together before we all got together as a group and watched the video footage of what I had shot during the day and had quite a laugh recalling the rock climbing adventure at the mushroom-shaped rock formation when I apparently made the easiest climb look so tough.
Signed John’s travel book that night and we crashed at the dorm.
14th: The last day of the trip, Phil gave us the option of taking a chopper ride to get an aerial view of the 12 Apostles (only 11 are left since one fell off in July). A chopper ride is the only way you get to see all the apostles in a row. From one lookout, you can see seven together and from another, you get to see four. And apart from these 11, there are two more rock formations called the Rocksters (?).
Before that, Phil set us on another adventure as we went down a beach into a cave from one of the lookouts on Great Ocean Road. It was near Loc Ard’s Arch if I remember right. The rocks leading to the cave were slippery and I had my video camera on me in one hand as i tried to get a grip with the other. And the waves only made it a little more difficult. It was great fun as the Japanese girls screamed every time a wave came and hit their feet as they jumped from one rock to the other.
The chopper ride at the 12 apostles was on out of the world experience. I kept the video on the whole while. It’s something I will cherish for a long while to come.
The Great Ocean Road is divided into three stretches… The Shipwreck coast that boasts of some amazing rock formations including the twelve apostles, the London bridge, Loc Ard’s Arch etc and then a stretch along the Otway ranges where the road is not along the coast but through the mountains. It’s a great place to catch Koala bears and Kangaroos and Kookaburras and Cockatoos… I got them on camera too. And Emus too. And we did a walk into the rainforests to catch the biggest trees in the world, second only to the Sequoia. We all took a group snap in the gap at the base of one huge tree.
And the last stretch of the Great Ocean Road is the classic stretch, the original stretch that runs right next to the sea. It runs through Apollo Bay and Lorne, quaint towns where tourists stop to buy souvenirs and postcards. We stopped by Kenneth River for some more Koalas and finally headed back to Geelong and Melbourne after exchanging email addresses.
It was a rather weird experience to watch all of them get off the bus one by one and disappear forever, from each others lives. We had been together for the last three days, not got to know each other that well, thankfully… So, it was good to have known these bunch of people as companions for while. We signed Phil’s book. Only glad to, he made such a great travel guide.
That night I got back to P’s place in Carnegie and the next morning, i woke up at 11. Finally, on the last day of the trip, I get back to normalcy.
I caught up with a friend’s friend for pizza at Pizza Hut in Melbourne city and she helped me with a little souvenir shopping.
Came back by eight and helpful K dropped me at the stations. Both of P’s friends are called Karthik. And the two Karthiks dropped me at Caulfield station from where I got off at Spencer Street to take the connecting airport shuttle bus. Pulling the 30 kilo suitcase up and down the stairs and 300 feet turned out to be quite an adventure. When I finally got on the skybus to the airport, it finally struck me that I will miss the place. But I had had my fill.
I’m only too glad to be returning home now. I had a sound sleep on the plane and now I’m awake, all rejuvenated to resume work again.
It’s time for my flight and I’m happy to head back to Madras. Home is just three hours away! Here I come!