Sometimes, very occasionally, you'll have a day which you never want to end. You know, when everything seems easy and you end up with a stupidly big grin across your face. Well, Saturday was one of those. Picture the scene, I'm in Sydney and it's warming up after weeks of cloud and rain on the south-east Australian coast. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...
We spent the weekend with Matt and Michelle Wright - staying at the home of Michelle's parents. Rachel knew Michelle from a previous visit to England and although they are now based in California, the girls have kept in contact. Matt and Michelle had flown back to Oz for the birth of their daughter Sierra and it was brilliant to spend time with the three of them. They made terrific tour guides, as had Rob & Jan in Melbourne. As soon as we stepped off the train in the city on Saturday morning, the Sydney Harbour Bridge loomed large in front of us. There is a photo with us all looking more sociable but this one has a handy gap to show the bridge. As I recall, the camera was balanced precariously on Sierra's stroller.
Plenty of people were paying big bucks to climb to the very top of the bridge but we took a different option. Nudging into view above Michelle's right shoulder (see previous pic) is one of the pylons at the edge of the bridge. We lugged the stroller up the steps inside and emerged on a viewing platform which gave brilliant views of the harbour and city, now bathed in glorious sunshine. Of course, the Opera House was the focus of everyone's attention - although the Wrights pointed out loads of other good stuff including Taronga Zoo, Fort Denison and the Prime Minister's Sydney residence.
Back on terra firma, we walked around the water's edge and boarded a ferry to Manly ("grrr"). Midway through the voyage, we passed the entrance to the harbour, which opens out onto the Pacific Ocean. It would be quite daunting to float out into such a vast expanse of water. Next stop America... The beach at Manly was pretty packed with surfer dudes. We played a quick game of 'spot the European tourists' and noted that no-one was playing the bat-and-ball game at the water's edge, or anywhere for that matter. They can't get enough of it in France and Spain.
One of Matt's mottos is "if you can't see the ocean, don't eat the seafood", so we walked no more than 200m down the main street before stopping for fish and chips. The food was tops although I was caught out by a smoothie made almost entirely of yoghurt and milk (see photo). I did make amends the following day by ordering an ice-based fruit drink. There were tons of people on skateboards although this picture offers no evidence of that. Manly felt like a holiday resort compared to the city, despite being so close.
Our return boat journey was lent a phenomenal backdrop as the daylight started to drain away behind the towering office blocks of Sydney's financial district. Riding the waves back through the harbour with such artistry all around was quite magical. Melbourne may be the sporting capital of Australia but it doesn't touch Sydney for beauty.
There was another extraordinary episode still to play out. All day, the monstrous cruise ship 'Diamond Princess' had been docked in the harbour, dwarfing the ferries and looking more at home next to the glistening skyscrapers. While we stood next to the bustling outdoor Opera House bars, the captain gave three massive toots and slowly maneuvered her around before stealing away into the night. Cameras flashed around us and on the towering cruiser decks. The atmosphere was electric - we truly had been in the right places at the right times.
Before heading home on Sunday, we drove to the beach at Cronulla. Like Manly, it was really busy - even more so because of the 'nippers' surfing club for kids and a big surf competition in the afternoon. It could have been super-hectic but Matt and Michelle walked us along the coast to a quieter spot for our picnic. We shared the driving on the way home and were treated to another spectacular sunset. For the first time, it felt like we were coming 'home' to Albury.
I have one other story to share. Our lawn/back yard is a decent size and we have a petrol mower, which I attempted to use for the first time the other day. You can set the length you want to trim the grass to and I notched it straight down to the lowest setting. Seconds later, there was a crunching noise and the mower turned itself off. I had obviously set it low enough to maintain the wicket at Lord's, taking all the grass off the ground and some of the soil as well (note: it is fine). I did take a picture but thought you might instead enjoy this - taken in the back garden of our university house in Chichester when we went the whole hog and varnished a proper wicket, complete with nets and covers.
Plenty of you have commented on the blog so far, which has been amazing. It's good fun writing it and seemingly it is being read around the clock - not only because of different time zones, but parents waking in the night to look after kids and needing something to read in those small hours. Keep getting in touch, we love it.
It's hard to comprehend the images of snow in the UK and across Europe given the summery conditions here, but I remember all too vividly the chaos of driving too and from work in treacherous conditions over the last couple of winters. Take care and here's hoping the full football programme resumes asap. Snow news and snow pics both welcome.