The Last Post

I write this having been back in the cold, wet and windy UK for a couple of weeks. This has given me time to adjust to what is, quite frankly, a far more mundane existence. It has also given me time to reflect on my trip.

My trip has been an amazing experience and I have many memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Pretty much everything I have done on the trip has been fantastic but there have been two real highlights that stand out.

The first is the 6 days I spent on the South Island of New Zealand. I loved the wonderful scenery and doing some amazing things including whale watching, a heli-hike onto Franz Josef Glacier and jet boating.

Whale watching at Kaikoura

Whale watching at Kaikoura

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Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

The second highlight was the week in India touring the “Golden Triangle” with G Adventures. I loved travelling through such a vibrant country seeing some amazing sights, experiencing the culture and eating some absolutely fabulous food.

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Jaipur

Jaipur

Palace of the Winds

Palace of the Winds

Trying to make a puri

Trying to make a puri

Amber Fort

Amber Fort

I have seen some amazing sights Including:-

Uluru

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The Taj Mahal

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Sydney Harbour

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The cricket obviously didn’t go according to plan. I watched every one of England’s losses to Australia and became increasingly resigned to the entirely predictable nature of these defeats. Disappointing as the cricket was it gave me a base to explore the great cities of Australia. I was part of the world record attendance for a test match at the MCG on Boxing Day.

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Some stats!! My trip took me away from home for 79 nights. I travelled in 5 countries – Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, India and the United Arab Emirates. I went on 17 flights and travelled with 8 different airlines. I stayed in 20 different hotels. So making all these flights certainly means I have had an impact on the environment. All the air miles equate to 4.85 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The driving I did in New Zealand, 1095 kilometres, added a further 0.26 tonnes of CO2 emissions. I am investigating what I can do to offset this.

Best airline – QANTAS. I flew with them more than any other airline. Great service delivered by “real people” not the archetypal young “trolley dolly” you find elsewhere.

Best airport – Dubai. Space age. Roomy. Waterfalls!

Worst airport – Goa International Airport. Dirty toilets and rowing cleaners. Make sure you scan your luggage first! I also had issues at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport with baggage coming off the wrong carousel and lengthy queues for biosecurity checks.

Favourite hotel – The Point, Brisbane. Great service and a room with a fantastic view. Well located for the Gabba and the free boat service into central Brisbane. I also had fantastic service and food at the Resort Terra Paraiso in Goa. Excellent towel and pillow art by housekeeping!

View from my room at The Point, Brisbane

View from my room at The Point, Brisbane

Free city hopper boat service in Brisbane

Free city hopper boat service in Brisbane

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Housekeeping art at Resort Terra Paraiso, Goa

Worst hotel – Great Southern Hotel, Sydney. Room very dated and felt claustrophobic

Favourite cricket stadium – Sydney Cricket Ground. Blends futuristic new stands with well preserved old pavilions.

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Worst cricket stadium – The WACA, Perth. Little shade and needs urgent redevelopment.

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So would I do it again??? The trip has been very much a once in a lifetime opportunity. It has cost a pretty penny and I now need to start earning again. 11 weeks away is a long time and there were times particularly around Christmas and New Year when I was really starting to miss family. Keeping in touch through instant messaging, email, FaceTime and Facebook has been invaluable. When you can talk to somebody and see them on screen the world does not seem such a big place.  I have loved experiencing the different countries and cultures and a much better climate. So yes I would definitely do a big trip again but not for as long.

Has the trip changed me??? Well I don’t feel any different. It may have given me a different perspective on a few things. The trip has definitely given me the desire to travel more and explore further some of the places I have been to.

A successful trip can only take place with help from others. I have had great support from friends and family. They seemed to think my trip was a much bigger deal than I thought myself and showed this with a great send off before I went away. I was worried about my house being left empty for an extended period of time. Thanks to Mum and Dad and my next door neighbours Kathryn and Steve for keeping an eye on it for me whilst I was away. My house remained totally intact whilst I was away but ironically suffered storm damage within a week of my return!

A big thank you to my travel agents, Round the World Experts, and in particular Nigel Wright for turning my dreams into reality.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog. I have enjoyed writing it and it is something I can always look back on. The blog seems to have generated quite a lot of interest – It has had over 4300 views and over 100 comments.

Finishing the blog helps me put the trip “to bed” and allows me to focus on the next phase of my life which starts with the search to generate an income.

My first ever camel ride in the Dubai Desert

My first ever camel ride in the Dubai Desert

Book Review – Down Under by Bill Bryson

I absolutely loved this book. I took loads of books away with me on the trip, mainly cricket related, and finished them all but this stands head and shoulders above the other books. Reading it was an absolute joy. I remember loving Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island” about his travels round the UK which I read this many moons ago and “Down Under” was no different. What made reading this book particularly timely for me was reading about Bryson’s travels round Australia after I had recently spent considerable time there myself. “Down Under” was published quite a few years ago in 2000 but I felt that many of his observations about places that I had also visited were similar to my own. Bryson is a fantastic storyteller and brings out some great humour into his writing. There were times I laughed out loud particularly when he told of his experience of getting terrible sunburn in Perth and how people reacted to him afterwards.

I think one place that Bryson really enjoyed that to some degree passed me by was Adelaide. I do not really think my time there did the place justice and next time I visit there I need to check out North Adelaide, the extensive parklands and some wineries. Australia is of course an unbelievably vast country and so much of it is still relatively unexplored. Bryson went to lots of places that I didn’t manage to get to such as Darwin and the Great Barrier Reef. If anything the book has made me more determined to go back to Australia and visit more of this fascinating country. Bryson spent some time travelling across Australia by train and this sounded a great way to see the country.

One area that Bryson explored in some detail was that of Aboriginal Australians. I encountered very few on my travels round Australia. The total Aboriginal population is around 700,000 or 3% of the total Australian population. However in the Northern Territory they are much more commonplace. I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that I found the episode of Australian history relating to colonisation and the treatment of the indigenous Australians very troubling. Bryson detailed massacres of Aborigines that took place in the years of colonisation and in particular the Myall Creek Massacre of 1838. This is notable not so much from the fact that there was terrible loss of life – 28 Aboriginal men, women and children were murdered – but that for the first time in Australian history the killers were brought to trial and hanged. After arriving in the new colony some of the early settlers pushed into inland Australia with the aim of seizing Aboriginal land which the indigenous population had looked after and had sustained them for tens of thousands of years. Of course the Aborginal population would not give up this land without a fight. The scale of the massacres which took place is shocking and perhaps has received relatively little publicity. The journalist John Pilger is quoted as saying “More first Australians were killed than Native Americans on the American frontier and Maoris in New Zealand. The state of Queensland was a slaughterhouse”.

I am left with the feeling that for the indigenous Australians the impact of the arrival of settlers into their world has been like a huge nightmare. Their whole world.was thrown upside down and they are still recovering from this. Bryson detailed his experience at Todd Street Mall in Alice Springs on a Saturday morning. “The people on the street were overwhelmingly white Australian but there were Aborigines about, too – not great numbers but always there, on the edges of the frame, unobtrusive, nearly always silent, peripheral. The white people never looked at the Aborigines, and the Aborigines never looked at the white people. The two races seemed to inhabit separate but parallel universes. I felt as if I was the only person who could see both races at first. It was very strange. A very high proportion of the Aborigines looked beaten up”. Having visited Alice Springs well over a decade later I can say that little has changed. The scene which Bryson witnessed was identical to my own experience. Bryson did say that ” The most ruined Aborigines are those you see in towns”. In Perth I saw a number of Aborigines hanging around on the streets and in one instance a couple of them being bundled into a police van in the main shopping mall late in the afternoon. So there is a big problem in Australia here that needs addressing but I fear the solution is very very difficult. I hope it is high on Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s priority list.

I can’t recommend Down Under more highly and it inspires me to check out more of Bryson’s work.

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Book Review – The Ashes According to Bumble (David Lloyd)

So my next book review goes back to the cricketing theme of many of my earlier blog posts. It feels a little weird to be reading a book about cricket and the Ashes after the series in Australia has been completed. But anyway…

The book is a funny and entertaining read in typical Bumble style. There are many amusing stories and anecdotes. It’s an easy read.

I have two favourite stories in the book.

The first involved a sledging incident between the Aussie batsmen Mark Waugh, one of the famous Waugh brothers.  A number of years ago England selected a bowler called Jimmy Ormond to play against Australia. When Ormond came out to bat Mark Waugh shouted over.  “**** me. Look who it is. Mate what are you doing out here? There’s no way your good enough to play for England.” Ormond replied “maybe not but at least I’m the best player in my family”.

The second involves a game of golf between David Lloyd (Bumble), Mike Selvey and Christopher Martin-Jenkins (CMJ). The game took place, in Queenstown, when England were touring in New Zealand. CMJ, who is sadly no longer with us, had a reputation as a delightful eccentric. As they were warming up before the round he remarked. “Marvellous place this, isn’t it? Did you know it was designed by Ray Charles. You know the famous New Zealand golfer”. Selvey, carried on the conversation. “Yes and I believe there are a number of blind holes on this course”. “So I understand” replied CMJ who was totally oblivious to the gag. The famous Kiwi golfer is Bob Charles…

The book was written before the series in the English summer. There is a section where Lloyd is castigating of the Aussies and some of their players which he may now regret writing… “They’re not very good it’s as simple as that. They’ve got one batter in Michael Clarke, they haven’t got a spinner and this lauded pace attack I keep hearing about must be a drastically different one to the one I’ve witnessed over the last couple of years because it’s not much cop”. Having just witnessed the 5 nil whitewash I beg to differ…

Another book to be donated to the hotel library. Not sure what they will make of it in Thailand…

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Bangkok City and Temples Tour

After an uneventful 8 hour flight from Sydney I landed in Bangkok. My first experience of a different culture was in arranging a taxi to take me to my hotel. On the way to the taxi queue I had already been approached by a number of guys offering what I presumed was non official transport to my hotel. I declined and took my place in one of a number of separate queues. At the head of the queue was a woman sat by a desk. When it was my turn I gave the name of my hotel. She then wrote something on a form which I was then to hand to the next available taxi driver. Soon he appeared and I was on my way. We headed away from the airport on a motorway. Because of the smog there was no sign of Bangkok ahead. After a while the driver, who clearly did not know much English, said to me “Expressway”? I had managed to glean from the form that there was an additional charge for using this toll motorway of 75 baht (around £1.50) so I gave him the go ahead. What I hadn’t appreciated was that he wanted me to pay it directly! Anyway the rest of the journey was uneventful. I was clearly staying in a busy part of town. The bill for the taxi journey which took around 45 minutes was the equivalent of about £7. Somewhat cheaper than Australia!

I settled into my hotel room. A much nicer room and hotel than the rather depressing one I had experienced in Sydney for the previous week….

The next morning I was up bright and early for a “City and Temples tour”. The local female tour guide wore a face mask which she explained was due to her having flu which she attributed to recent temperature swings. Currently it is winter in Bangkok although daily maximums were in the low 30’s. Apparently temperatures had been significantly lower in recent days and weeks. I did see a number of people in Bangkok wearing masks to avoid the smog. On the day of the tour the skies were clear. Certainly much clearer then when I arrived in town the previous evening.

The first stop was at the Wat Traimat Temple to view the Golden Buddha that is displayed there. It is mightily impressive, solid gold, weighing 5.5 tons and is 16 feet high by 12 feet wide. It’s valued at £28.5million. It was held elsewhere until 1955 and was covered in plaster. It was only when transported to this temple in 1955 was it discovered to be golden. In visiting all temples here you have to remove shoes before entering.

Outside the Temple of the Golden Buddha

Outside the Temple of the Golden Buddha

The Golden Buddha and me!

The Golden Buddha and me!

After leaving this temple there was a stop to view roadside flower and fruit markets. The tour guide led us across a busy road with motor cycles, tuk tuks and cars all flying past. It felt a little hairy!

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The next temple was Wat Pho – The Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This was even more impressive than the Golden Buddha. The reclining Buddha is 46m long and 15m high. It’s modelled out of plaster around a brick core and is finished in gold leaf. The grounds to this temple were extensive and in side buildings there were golden Buddhas everywhere.

The reclining Buddha

The reclining Buddha

The back of the reclining Buddha's feet

The back of the reclining Buddha’s feet

More Buddhas

More Buddhas

In what the guide described as the "Ordination room"

In what the guide described as the “Ordination room”

That was the last of the temples. I had been expecting one more but when I queried this the guide explained that due to the political protests going in in Bangkok currently we would not be able to visit one temple. Political protests have been ongoing in Thailand since November 2013. They were triggered by an amnesty bill taken through parliament by the ruling Pheu Thai Party led by Yingluck Shinawatra. The law would have led to the potential return to Thailand of the former prime minister, and brother of Yingluck, Thaksin Shinawatra. He was a former prime minister of Thailand between 2001 and 2006 before being removed in a military coup. Since then he has lived in exile apart from a brief return in 2008. He has been convicted of abusing public power by helping his wife buy public land at an auction and was sentenced to two years in jail. The new amnesty bill, as I understand things, would mean this conviction would no longer be a barrier to Thaksin returning to Thailand. The Democracy movement who have organised the protests are unhappy about the amnesty bill and the perceived influence on Thailand politics of Thaksin. The protests so far, in Bangkok, have been relatively peaceful but appear to be growIng in size and intensity. There is a major protest going on in Bangkok on 13th January in a number of locations and seems to have brought the roads to a complete standstill. The protestors aim to indefinitely occupy Bangkok. In response to the protests the government has dissolved parliament and called a general election for next month. I saw no direct evidence of the protests when I was in Bangkok although it did appear to be exorcising the locals. There has been an impact in reduced tourist revenues in Thailand across Christmas and New Year compared to the previous year.

The last stop on the tour was unexpected and involved a trip to “The worlds largest jewelry store”. On arrival we were ushered into a small cinema for a 10 minute long film about jewelry. Following which we were taken into a huge room full of rings, necklaces etc… Any efforts to sell to me got short shrift and when it became clear that I was single I was left alone!

My Last 48 Hours in Sydney

So with the cricket finishing 2 days early this gave me an opportunity for extra sightseeing.

On the first spare day I fancied time at the beach but to begin with went to Darling Harbour for a spot of breakfast at one of the harbour front restaurants. This also gave me the opportunity to check out some of the boats moored there including the worlds largest operational steam ferry “South Steyne”. It used to operate as the Manly Ferry. There is also a full replica of Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavour at Darling Harbour as part of the maritime museum.

South Steyne

South Steyne

Replica of HMS Endeavour

Replica of HMS Endeavour

The famous Sydney beach is Bondi but another beach, Coogee, had been recommended to me. I travelled there by bus. The journey takes around half an hour and takes you past the Sydney Cricket Ground and through the suburb of Randwick. On the way through Randwick I spotted a racecourse, the University of New South Wales and Sydney Children’s Hospital.

It was an absolutely glorious summers day with cloudless skies and a temperature in the high 20’s. On arrival at Coogee I headed to get a view of the beach. It’s a belter! Wide golden sands and crashing waves. Like other Aussie sea side resorts the early settlers tried to replicate what they were familiar with from England. So Coogee had at one time a pier, a tram, separate baths for gentlemen and ladies and a Palace Aquarium which featured a whole host of different entertainments. One thing quite different which you won’t find in Blackpool was a shark net. Now the only visible sign of these remaining that I could see was the Palace Aquarium which has now been redeveloped as the Beach Palace Hotel. The pier and shark net have long since been claimed by the sea.

Coogee Beach

Coogee Beach

Coogee Beach facing South

Coogee Beach facing South

The Coogee Bay Hotel sits just across the road from the beach. I had been told that it has the biggest bar in the Southern Hemisphere. I’m not sure about that but it does have the biggest beer garden in Sydney and certainly the biggest I have ever seen! The website says it has 7 bars and a 1,750 capacity venue where bands such as INXS and the Foo Fighters have played. Well I think I missed some of these bars and the venue but as well as the beer garden bar I saw a beach bar and a sports bar. The sports bar area in particular was massive and included an area for gambling on horses and greyhounds. There was also a separate “VIP lounge”. The “VIP lounge” is something I had not noticed in any other part of Australia so I am guessing it only applies in New South Wales. I was rather excited to discover that my hotel in Sydney had a VIP lounge and wondered who the VIP’s may be that frequented it. Kylie and Danni Minogue?  Shane Warne? Tony Abbott? On further investigation after checking into the Great Southern Hotel I rather disappointingly discovered that a VIP lounge is actually a room full of fruit machines. Every pub and hotel in Sydney seems to have one and suggests that this part of a Australia has a real gambling culture. So anyway back to the Coogee Bay hotel. I settled into the beach bar and enjoyed a Chaucer golden ale and a fish and chip lunch. Having done further research into the Coogee Bay Hotel for writing this blog I found a story from 2008 entitled the “Coogee Bay Hotel poo scandal”. I won’t go into the gory details here but google it and you can see what it’s about. Suffice to say had I read that before going to Coogee I am not sure I would have chosen to eat at the Coogee Bay Hotel…. The fish and chips were fine though.

Coogee Bay Hotel

Coogee Bay Hotel

Beer garden at Coogee Bay hotel

Beer garden at Coogee Bay hotel

I decided to walk off lunch and headed north on the coastal path and passed through Gordon’s Bay before stopping for a sunbathe and paddle at Clovelly Beach.

Gordon's Bay

Gordon’s Bay

Clovelly Beach

Clovelly Beach

On day 2 I spent some time on chores ahead of the next leg of my journey. Laundry, haircut and a bit of shopping. With that out of the way I headed for one last time to Sydney Harbour. This time I went a slightly different route which took in the Queen Victoria building which has been lovingly restored to include shopping and eating places. A bit like the Victoria Quarter in Leeds. I also visited briefly the St Mary’s (Catholic) Cathedral before heading for the mightily impressive Royal Botanical Gardens which stretch right down to the Opera House. Earlier that day the Aussie cricket team had been at the Opera House celebrating the 5 nil whitewash but thankfully by the time I arrived they were long gone.

Interior of Queen Victoria building

Interior of Queen Victoria building

St Mary's Cathedral

St Mary’s Cathedral

Royal Botanical Gardens

Royal Botanical Gardens

After getting more photos of the opera house and harbour bridge I headed for the Rocks area. This part of Sydney, which as it turned out where I had been to see the fireworks on New Years Eve, is the oldest part of Sydney and has recently been transformed into bars, restaurants and shops.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

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The Rocks

The Rocks

So my time in Sydney and Australia had come to an end. I can’t believe it’s now 7 weeks since I arrived in Brisbane. My time in Australia has been fantastic and Sydney has been a fitting end to it. But now it’s time to move on. Next destination Thailand!

400 Richie Benaud impersonators!

The highlight of day 2 of the second test match was not the cricket!! It was a group of around 400 Aussie guys all sat together, dressed in the same outfits as a tribute to the legendary commentator Richie Benaud. They all had light suits, grey wigs and carried a Channel 9 microphone. It must take a lot of organising and I’m not sure how they do it. They were a lively bunch and by the end of the day many of them seemed to be struggling to stand up due to alcohol. When Mitchell Johnson came into bowl they stood up and shouted “Mitchell, Mitchell!” whilst waving their microphones in unison. At one point there was a commotion involving someone sat behind them in the entertainment area. From tv coverage next day what happened was that the “Richie’s” got former Aussie Prime Minister Bob Hawke to skoll a beer. “Skoll” is Aussie for “down in one”. He did it successfully. Not bad for a man in his 80’s!

The Richies!

The Richies!

More Richies!

More Richies!

Two Richie's

Two Richie’s

A Richie and me!

A Richie and me!

Bob Hawke skolling a beer in front of the Richies

Bob Hawke skolling a beer in front of the Richies

Bob Hawke gives the thumbs up after downing the beer in 10 seconds

Bob Hawke gives the thumbs up after downing the beer in 10 seconds

 

Richie Benaud has been away from the screens this summer. He suffered a car crash last October in Coogee, a Sydney suburb where he lives. He crashed his beloved 1963 Sunbeam Alpine into a parked car and then a brick fence. He suffered a cracked sternum as well as back and shoulder injuries which continue to hamper him. He is currently back in hospital whilst having further treatment on the lingering back problems. Best wishes Richie!

The Sydney Cricket Ground

Having now visited all 5 of the grounds in Australia that have hosted the Ashes fixtures I have to say that I think the SCG is my favourite. I love the way that the two beautiful old stands have been retained whilst the ground is redeveloped. These old stands the Ladies Pavilion and Members Pavilion sit next to a huge new Northern Pavilion within which are contained the MA Noble and Don Bradman stands. The new stands were completed on the eve of this test match – actually more work is needed to 100% complete the work as the roof is not fully finished. This new stand was getting rave reviews from the SCG members who were using it for the first time. I was seated in the lower tier of the Brewongle stand. It was a decent view. The facilities were not the best that I have seen in comparison to the Gabba, Adelaide Oval or MCG but there plans to redevelop this stand along with the Churchill and O’Reilly stands. On balance the SCG gets my vote as my favourite of the 5 venues for the way that old has been retained whilst redeveloping new stands. I also had the best view of the scoreboard at the SCG. That’s important!

The Ladies and Members Pavilions with the Sydney skyline in the distance

The Ladies and Members Pavilions with the Sydney skyline in the distance

The new Northern Pavilion

The new Northern Pavilion

The scoreboard and the Bill O'Reilly stand

The scoreboard and the Bill O’Reilly stand

My second favourite ground is the Adelaide Oval. They have built some massive magnificent new stands there. But all the old stands have gone. The main item that had been retained to preserve history is the lovely old scoreboard.

Third is the MCG. It’s massive and I had a fantastic view. However it is all a bit the same. It’s a huge bowl. It is gob smacking when you first see it.

Fourth is the Gabba. To a large degree a smaller version of the MCG. I had a great view of the pitch but not of the scoreboard. Also this was the one ground where I was in the shade all day. That is very welcome when your watching cricket. It doesn’t have much character though.

Fifth and by some distance is the WACA. It desperately needs redevelopment. There are a hotch potch of old and temporary stands. There is also little shade which is a big issue given the heat experienced there during the Australia summer. The facilities are also by far the worst I experienced. I like the grass banks though! The WACA needs to work hard to retain it’s test ground status. I hear the ground at Hobart is in better shape to host test cricket although it’s more likely to rain there!

Ashes 5th Test at Sydney – A 5 nil whitewash

The outcome of the 5th test was entirely predictable given the gulf between the two teams that I had witnessed in the earlier 4 fixtures. In fact the script could almost have been written before the match started.

So we saw 2 England batting collapses and in both innings they failed to score over 200 runs. A number of terrible shots were played often by England’s most experienced batsmen. It really looks like the intensity of this series has got to them. Decision making over which balls to play and which to leave is generally much much poorer than you would expect from players of this talent and experience. I think their brains have become scrambled meaning they can not think clearly out in the middle. The England tail yet again failed to score many meaningful runs when the top 5 had failed.

Yet again we saw England’s bowlers getting us into a good position. On day 1, after Alastair Cook won his first toss of the series and put Australia into bat on an overcast morning and with a green tinged pitch. just after lunch the Aussies were 97 for 5. Then we saw a combination of poor England bowling, they bowled too short after lunch, and another fantastic innings from Brad Haddin well supported by Steve Smith. So Australia are let off the hook and managed to compile a score of 326.

Michael Clarke departs the field after being out for 10 on the morning of day 1 with England on top

Michael Clarke departs the field after being out for 10 on the morning of day 1 with England on top

Broad bowls to Harris as England let a good position slip on day 1

Broad bowls to Harris as England let a good position slip on day 1

What was particularly galling about this defeat was that it happened in under 3 days. The England batting performance in the second innings was particularly pathetic. They were all out in only 31.4 overs. There was little fight and it looked like they couldn’t get out of the SCG quickly enough. Did they have a plane to catch?

England’s cricket supporters who have travelled to Australia at huge cost and in big numbers deserved far far better.

At the end of the game I did not linger for long. I watched the immediate celebrations of the Aussie team and headed out of there. I felt strangely emotional for a few seconds knowing this was my last day at the cricket on this trIp. In total over the last 7 weeks I have been to 20 days of ashes cricket and have only missed the last day in Perth and a couple of sessions in Melbourne. Although the results have been incredibly disappointing I have found much of the action compelling. The most memorable sessions have been the England batting collapses often when Mitchell Johnson was steaming in bowling at 145 km/h plus. He rightly was named man of the series. When England collapsed on day 2 at the Gabba amidst some incredibly hostile, fast and accurate bowling from Johnson the die was cast. Johnson had the X factor and England have no equivalent bowler. The speed of the bowling they faced unsettled the whole team and I don’t think they ever recovered from the shock of what happened on day 2 at Brisbane.

Oh dear!

Oh dear!

Boyd Rankin is out to confirm the 5-0 whitewash

Boyd Rankin is out to confirm the 5-0 whitewash

The Aussie players celebrate

The Aussie players celebrate

Jubilant scenes

Jubilant scenes

Steve Smith applauds the crowd

Steve Smith applauds the crowd

My last look at the SCG

My last look at the SCG

Trip to the Blue Mountains

I was very much looking forward to the Blue Mountains trip and as it was being run by AAT Kings who had delivered an excellent 3 days in the Red Centre earlier in my trip I was expecting it to be high quality.

After being picked up by the tour bus at 7.30am we headed west out of Sydney on the Parramatta road and then joined the M4 motorway. We made a stop at the Featherdale wildlife park for an hour. The tour had been billed as “Blue mountains and Australian wildlife” so this was the wildlife part of the day… Having already seen koala, kangaroo, wombats and tasmanian devils back in Brisbane I looked for new species. It was a whistlestop tour as we only had an hour but in that time I saw little penguins, red necked pademelon, echidna and a crocodile. There was also the quokka which I had seen earlier in my trip at Rottnest Island.

Little penguin

Little penguin

Red necked pademelon

Red necked pademelon

Echidna

Echidna

A croc

A croc

After leaving the zoo, we headed to the Blue Mountains via the great western highway. We were travelling across the same route that the early settlers used when first crossing the blue mountains. They had to begin with found the mountains impenetrable but this seemed to suit some of those in charge of the early settlement as it meant it was difficult for the convicts to escape through the mountains! These days it is easy to cross the mountains. There is an excellent dual carriageway most of the way and this runs parallel to a railway line.

Having heard back in October about serious fires in the Blue Mountains which had destroyed 230 homes I was expecting this to be visible at some point during the tour but the mountains looked pristine.

We stopped for lunch in the pretty garden village of Leura.

Leura

Leura

After lunch we headed to nearby Katoomba to an attraction called Scenic World. It was a kind of theme park. There were 4 main attractions. A scenic railway at a 52 degree incline – the steepest passenger train in the world! A scenic skyway – the highest cable car in Australia. A scenic cableway – Australia’s biggest cable car. Finally a scenic walkway to stroll through the rainforest. It did feel a little tacky having “rides” that you queued to go on. I was given a wristband. Anyway putting any Blackpool pleasure beach thoughts to one side I went for it. I descended into the forest in the cable car. This lasted but a few seconds. I then had a very pleasant stroll through the rainforest before getting the train. This was a little scary – you basically were facing down into the forest whilst the train went upwards. At one point it felt like I was going to be thrown onto the row of people in front! But it was a short trip – a minute at most.

The view from the cable car

The view from the cable car

Australia's biggest cable car

Australia’s biggest cable car

Walkway through the rainforest

Walkway through the rainforest

The scenic railway

The scenic railway

View from inside the railway carriage

View from inside the railway carriage

We had an excellent coach driver, Chris, really funny and very knowledgeable. But rather bizarrely when we got back on the bus he suggested heading straight back to Sydney to visit the Olympic Park rather than going to Echo Point where you get a fantastic view of the most famous landmark in the Blue Mountains – the Three Sisters. This was over-ruled and we had a short photo stop at Echo Point. Anyway, in case you were wondering the Blue Mountains are so named because of the colour of the vapour that comes off the Eucalyptus trees.

The bluey tinged blue mountains

The bluey tinged blue mountains

The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters

The Blue Mountains are very pretty but perhaps I am spoilt with the scenery that I saw in New Zealand as they didn’t really wow me.

We headed back into Sydney and Chris got his wish by driving us past the Olympic stadium and other sporting facilities from when they had the Olympics here in 2000.

The Olympic stadium

The Olympic stadium

The real highlight of the day was a boat trip along the Paramatta river from Olympic park and back into Sydney with a stop at Darling Harbour and then under the harbour bridge to Circular Quay. Even though it was raining the views of the shoreline and the different parts of the estuary were stunning. I stood in the top deck snapping away although my camera battery chose to die just before going under the harbour bridge!

Stunning waterside properties

Stunning waterside properties

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Heading towards Darling Harbour

Heading towards Darling Harbour

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Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour

Ferry trip to Manly

My New Years Day in Sydney started with doing laundry…. The hotel I stayed at in Melbourne did not have one and with my last laundry being done in New Zealand things had started to reach crisis proportions. Feeling much better when this chore had been completed I headed to Circular Quay to catch the Manly Ferry.

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Lots of others had the same idea. The ferry was packed. I got some great views of the opera house as we sailed round it.

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Manly was given its name by the first governor of New South Wales, Captain Arthur Phillip. He thought that the aboriginal men that he saw sunning themselves on the beach there were, well, manly! The resort has back to back beaches. A sheltered harbour beach on one side and an ocean facing surf beach on the other. The two beaches are linked by a lively promenade called the Corso. Even though the weather was cloudy it was warm and the surfers beach was busy.

The Manly Ferry

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The Manly Ferry

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The surfer's beach

The surfer’s beach

Manly surfer's beach

Manly surfer’s beach

The Corso

The Corso

So Manly gets my seal of approval as somewhere to go and visit when in Sydney.