Another weekend, another trip to Sydney. Might as well call it our third home. This time, the journey was significantly quicker as we flew from Albury Airport (a hive of furious activity, as you can see) rather than tackling the six-hour drive again. Air travel is definitely the way to go over here.
We stayed at the house of an English couple, Dave and Sue Toft, who ventured to Australia on a teaching exchange in 2008 and subsequently extended their stay. Dave is a Birmingham City fan and it was refreshing to launch into a rambling football conversation which took in Morecambe, Milton Keynes Dons and Maidstone United. They were great hosts and it made our three-day stay so easy.
On Friday, Rachel and the other exchange teachers (largely from Canada, UK and USA) attended a conference at the Department of Education in the city centre, leaving the 'other-halves' and children to choose their own entertainment. There was a walk organised but I lasted only as far as the tourist information centre before changing course and catching a ferry down the Parramatta River to the Olypmic Park, where the 2000 Games were held.
The main athletics venue has since changed in appearance, and name - to ANZ Stadium. I joined a tour and we stopped off at all the usual points: corporate boxes, member suites, press area, changing-rooms, warm-up zone etc. The stadium's most impressive feature is its versatility, hosting cricket, rugby, AFL and soccer at different times during the year. As we looked down from the stands, the ground staff were treating new turf in the centre of the field, completing the transformation from a cricket oval to a rugby league pitch. All very good and a sure-fire way to recoup the money spent on building the Olympic facilities, but with so many clubs using the stadium, I don't think anyone could really call it home. Grounds like Anfield, Lord's and Twickenham have crystal-clear identities but not so ANZ. Images of Jonny Wilkinson's drop-goal and Cathy Freeman racing to 400m gold offered a tinge of sporting history but in short, the stadium had quality without character.
I walked around the rest of the park and stumbled across the Australian Olympic table tennis qualification tournament in the sports hall. I had a chat with the national fifth seed, Trent Carter, but couldn't stick around long enough to see him in action.
As Brits, we were in the minority on the harbour cruise the following day, although we did make friends with a girl from York called Rachel Dickenson (pictured). The exchange has placed her in Broken Hill, way out in the west of New South Wales - get on Google Maps - and her house is a mile from the actual desert. From her home to Sydney is a vast distance, 13 hours by road (although, wisely, she flew). Such mammoth journeys seem so alien to us. The famous Land's End to John O'Groats trek is 16 hours, but Rachel's trip home was only a fraction of the way across Australia. Mad.
We were blessed with brilliant weather again. Loads of sailing boats were out in the harbour as we made our way back to Circular Quay - between the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
On Sunday we crossed the city to visit Amy Lamont, who we had met on our first Sunday in Albury. Amy is studying and living at Moore Theological College, south of the water, so our paths had only just crossed before she moved out of town. We convened at Erskineville Village Anglican Church, whose name is shortened to 'Erko' on the church's website. This seems common practice in Australia. Paramedics are 'ambos', bin men are 'garbos and I am now 'Stevo'.
It was great spending time with new friends and a privilege to be back in Sydney. On arrival back in Albury, we hit Skype and caught up with several of you lovely people back home. Keep your comments, letters, pictures and postcards coming.
Rachel has already got herself into our local paper, the Border Mail. Click the photo to enlarge and read the story.
JOB UPDATE: Rachel is enjoying life at Albury North Public School, who held their swimming carnival last week. I have been writing for myfootballclub.co.uk and conducting interviews with players and managers via Twitter (SEE HERE). I also had a constructive meeting with the editor of the Border Mail last week. They are happy for me to do sports writing for them, although initially it will be on a work experience basis. I expect to pick up temping work to off-set these other ventures.