As we drove into Sydney we both felt the frisson of excitement that tends to accompany a trip to a big city - the sense that anything can happen...and probably will.
The only thorn in our side was the flower-power campervan, which was, quite literally, cramping our style.
We also hadn't taken into account the fact that the nearest campsite was about 13km's from the city - I don't know what we'd expected..a trailer park nestled conveniently alongside the Opera House perhaps?
It took us a while to ascertain that the campsite was in fact INSIDE the Lane Cove National Park, which was a huge forest full of wildlife. A novelty for ooh, about 10 minutes, until you start getting eaten alive by mozzies and the cockatoos and parrots start squawking at the top of their little lungs. Strange and exotic birds were dive-bombing the van and a couple of turkeys gobbled around the wheels.
To be honest we were fed up with staying on a campsite after 2 weeks in the midi-van, it was all a bit Britney by this point and we were in desperate need of some luxury. I was beginning to resemble Courtney Love after a bender - all smudged lipstick and matted hair. We checked online and managed to find a gorgeous 4 star hotel in Darling Harbour for only 80 bucks (40 quid) a night from 24th-28th December so booked it up and decided to ditch the van a few days early.What a relief! This saved our backs, as well as our marriage. A 3ft square box is no place to spend your holidays, let me tell you.I've seen coffins bigger than that campervan.We still had a week until we could check into the hotel though...
The thought of the luxury hotel to come cheered us up considerably so we didn't complain too much about the planes, trains and automobiles we had to take to get into the city later that night to meet up with Tariq, who we hadn't seen since Patagonia in Argentina.
Meeting in King's Cross several hours of grooming and preening later, we decided to check out The Ivy, one of the coolest bars in town. A converted hotel, it's now a 3-floor chic bar, complete with rooftop pool for VIP's. Tariq managed to blag his way up there and came back raving about how it was like something out of "MTV Cribs man", all perma-tanned waifs and their stockbroker boyfriends.
We drank mojito's, champagne and vodka redbulls as we people-watched and danced to the ever-so-slightly-off-key pop music.
It was like being back in London(only hotter and the crowd may have been a teensy bit better-dressed here) ..it felt like coming home.
We slipped into life in Sydney like a duck to water - this is the first place in Oz I can actually imagine myself living. Melbourne may have also been a close contender, had it not been for the never-ending torrential rain.
At 4am we decided to call it a day and Liam and I traipsed back to the trailer park on the other side of town.
When we awoke the next morning the campervan smelt like a brewery, as all the toxins from the previous night escaped from our pores but could not escape the confines of the tiny van.
Fumigating the place, we attempted to focus,gave up, had a shower and decided that that was quite enough activity for one day. We then spent the rest of the day by the pool (this is the only pool that I've been to where there's more ducks than people in it) and allowed our bodies to recover sufficiently from the previous night's antics so that we could do it all again the following night...
On Saturday morning we got ourselves spruced up for a big night, having decided that it was far too much hassle to go all the way into the city to shop and then come all the way back later to get ready to go out. "I'll just put another layer of make-up on and take a spare top", I shrugged. Anyone who knows us well knows that Saturday nights often last until Sunday anyway, so I'm no stranger to stamina.
Having been knocked back from a swanky bar called The Establishment the previous evening as Liam was wearing trainers, our first stop was to the Queen Victoria Building for the shops to buy Liam some shoes. In London only the most pretentious bars make you wear shoes but over here there's a door-whore everywhere you go, checking that your face fits. "Face police" holding clipboards eye you up and down before flicking you in as if they were swatting a fly.
Luckily, our faces were ok, it was just the footwear that was the problem. And not just for Liam...to my horror and amazement we were told that girls cannot wear sandals or high-heeled open-toed shoes into the clubs. My patent leather platforms! What a ridiculous rule. No-one can believe it when the girls are all turned away, put on their boyfriends trainers and then swan in. I kid you not!! Girls everywhere turn up dressed up to the nines, only to be told their Gucci heels won't cut it. The smarmy smile is soon wiped from their faces as they hurry home to put closed-in shoes on, or the most resourceful/desperate ones wait for their boyfriends to walk in, then get them to "borrow" a pair of shoes from friends inside and sneak them out for their girlfriend to put on and get past the fag-hag on the door. Then said girlfriend will slyly change back into her shoes once safely in the darkness of the club.We even saw girls putting their boyfriend's black socks on over their sandals to try and conceal their toes. Ludicrous.
There are soo many English and Irish here and a real sense of camaraderie, so when we were chatting about our plight to the English shopworker selling the shoes to Liam he gave us a hefty discount and sent us happily on our way.
Later, we took a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly to meet up with yet another of Liam's ex-workmates. Again, that British friendliness came into play and we met a Scottish girl called Briony on the ferry who overheard our phonecall and offered to take us to the Harbard Hotel where we were due to meet Anthony and Virginia (or Pants and Vag as I drunkenly called them later, the first time I'd ever met them..hmm). Briony was so sweet that she even took our number and later texted us all the ferry times back into the city. Would that REALLY happen in London? Maybe..
After an afternoon and evening on the sauce with Anthony and Virginia and their mates we headed back into town to meet Tariq and hit the clubs.
That's when the serious partying began..The Ivy, The Columbian, so many bars and so little time..the onto a club called Arq. Ok, so it was a gay club with a few too many lasers but the music was rocking and so were we so it seemed like the obvious thing to do.
8am came and went..another bar..we met so many cool people. One of the guys we met was an English ex-boyband star called Scott Bradley, a good-looking dude from Hertford who emigrated 6 years ago once he'd finished his contract touring around Europe.
He lived with his flatmate Steve and they invited some of us back to their apartment, a lovely flat in Double Bay, overlooking the harbour.
He was such a lovely guy and said we could stay at their place for the rest of our time in Sydney. "Don't go back to that horrible caravan park," he said with disdain as he tucked me into his bed, which had gorgeous linen, naturally. (Well, he's gay so I'd expect nothing less).
His neighbours were using the communal barbie area for a christmas barbeque.."I've got a demon guacamole in the fridge", he trilled. What a gay. What a guy.
As it happened, we took Scott up on his offer and ended up staying at his place until Tuesday afternoon. We didn'ty even go back to the van to get changed, he was the perfect host, providing us with board shorts and t-shirts and cooking us breakfast on the barbie.
Having given up on all that boyband stuff (he also sang backing vocals for Take That), he is now a writer and editor for Men's Health magazine. If you're bored google Scott Bradley on YouTube and you can catch his version of "Zoom". Camp but cool, we love him.
We could have stayed all week, but by Tuesday I felt we'd milked it a little and should go back to the dreaded van.
By Wednesday morning we'd had enough of it again but by now it was time to check and hit our 4-star badboy anyway.
We'd been craving the luxury of a private shower for weeks now..on the campsite there are at least 10 other people taking a shower at the same time and I was sick of gagging whilst listening to other women hawking up greenies on the other side of a flimsy division.
Checking into the Great Southern Hotel in Darling Harbour was bliss - an air-conditioned, bright room with a sleek bathroom and huge plasma screen. Yippeee!! We bounced on the bed with delight before looking out at the breathtaking views of the city.
That day (Christmas Eve), we wandered around the city before checking out Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife World. The koalas were my absolute favourites, I could have watched them for hours as they munched their eucalyptus leaves, which take them so much effort to digest that they are drowsy and sleep for 20 hours per day.Such cute little darlings!
That evening Scott and Steve had invited us to a dinner party at their place, and we all ate a delicious meal of roast lamb with all the trimmings and drank copious amounts of wine whilst we watched the lights from the yachts glittering in the reflection of the water. Such a fantastic location, so relaxing with the sound of the water lapping in the harbour. A perfect evening. BUT..you know us, we couldn't leave it there, and Scott, Liam and I met up with Tariq and we hit the clubs again, after a few drinks at The Argyll in the Rocks.
Christmas morning and we've acquired some more friends and are in yet another club, this one called Taxi. We should have been the ones calling a taxi, but hey, it's Christmas, we said as we ordered another round of drinks.
So far we'd seen a lot of Sydney..well, a lot of clubs anyway. Our tans had faded a bit from the lack of sunlight and we were in serious need of some vitamin D..can't you get rickets from lack of daylight??
So we headed to a barbie at one of Scott's friend's house and actually saw the sun for the first time in days. After sucking up our quota of sunshine we continued onto Bondi..along with a few million other Brits...
All that sunshine was going to our heads so we decided we needed another nightclub. Bondi didn't disappoint and soon we were dancing away again in a little club called Sahnia along the promenade of Bondi beach. This place was absolutely going off, with a lively DJ and a pumping house beat.
Dragging ourselves home at the end of the night we concluded that it hadn't felt like Chrsitmas at all. What it HAD felt like was a fantastic party, however, so we certainly couldn't complain. We'd been partying for days on end and it wasn't over yet...
Well, there's no rest for the wicked and we were up bright and early on Boxing Day to meet Tariq and some of the guys from his hostel to go to the races. International Racing Day is an annual event where everyone gets dressed up and goes to the horse racing and anyone with an international passport gets in for free. Being travellers, we sniffed out this bargain and were there like a shot, dressed in our Sunday best and ready to win a buck or two. And that's what we did. We won 4 out of 6 races, which kept us in champers and food all day so wasn't half bad. The sun shone and it was a really great day. We had a nightcap at a bar in the Rocks afterwards and went to bed, ready for another party the next day.
Unfortunately the barbie was rained off the next day but perhaps that was a good thing as our livers really needed a break. Instead, we dosed up on milk thistle to regenerate our liver cells and went to the cinema to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which Brad Pitt plays a baby born aged 80 who then goes backwards, ending life as a child.
It's a poignant film about the speed with which time passes, how we cannot escape the inevitable ageing process. "Nothing lasts", peruses Pitt. How true. Even more reason to enjoy every minute. We left the cinema knowing that this trip is the best possible thing we could be doing.