Well how lovely it has been to stand still and sleep in my own bed and pop around the corner to a coffee shop where they know my name. How enjoyable to see familiar faces and some new ones too, sharing an overload of barbecued food and leftover Christmas decadence that never seems to dwindle. How civilised to be able to pop to the National Gallery to see some Lichtenstein and snigger at some political cartoons at Old Parliament House before checking out the roses. How satisfying to traipse up and around pockets of bushland here, there and everywhere and watch the red sunlight fade from Canberra sights and sink over the Brindabellas.
Familiar things that became less familiar but are now familiar again. Much like losing badly in the cricket. Lest familiarity brings about too much comfort there are a few doosras thrown in to keep things interesting: new developments in Kingston creating wannabe Gold Coast glamour; minor changes to the aisle configuration of the supermarket; previously unexplored hillocks in the south of Canberra. Plus, of course, the interjection that is Christmas, which is the ultimate break from the norm…apart from the tradition that is a sausage roll, cheesy marmite, cold ham, cheese, pickled onion, cracker tasting plate.
It was actually quite a change to spend Christmas in Canberra; in recent years Sydney has hosted the festivities and provided random assortments of hot beach picnics, torrential downpours and moist grey gloom. Such was the picture again in January for a few days of further catch ups and re-acquaintance. Pleasingly, with time on my hands, I could take a detour from the familiar, yet pretty dull, Hume Motorway and revisit such delights as Fitzroy Falls – currently a thin summer sliver – Kangaroo Valley, Berry and the Illawarra. Again, time for some enjoyment of the old along with discovery of the new – a short rainforest and waterfall walk at Macquarie Pass National Park an additional find in this luscious little corner of New South Wales.
Sydney was a mixture of iconic waterside delight blended with a tinge of inner city grime and sweaty congestion. Fortunately staying with friends on both of the plush sides of the harbour I could fairly easily potter down to the water and share it with the millions of other people on holiday. Having been away from here for quite a while there was a little bit more of a tinge of excitement at seeing that bridge and that opera house and an inevitable taking of pictures that have been taken hundreds of times previously. Though wearying in the afternoon warmth, there was a thrill at boarding the Manly ferry, and a rejuvenating half hour ride watching the eastern suburbs pass by, thinking about what ice cream or treat to have back on landfall.
All this is familiar again, but there is still chance to do something new. After gorging on chocolate brownie and cappuccino I was keen to make amends by walking from Manly to Spit Bridge, an up and down tramp following the watery alcoves and rather untainted bushland fringing Middle Harbour. And it is here that you notice that despite being a large city, with concrete overload and oversized cars and millions of people, the geography of Sydney often wins out. Bushland and rainforest pockets are much like they were before boatpeople came, and small inlets offer cosy beaches unreachable by modern means. True, never far away is a luxurious home with a view, and the noise of a freeway as Spit Bridge nears, the harbour a buzzing playground for those pesky boatpeople. But it is also true that in the midst of a city, within sight of its lofty heart, it is a wonder to be able to walk in parts untainted; a wonder that pervades in patches throughout Sydney.
North shore opulence is kept in some rein by its geography of steep hills and snaking inlets. In the Eastern suburbs there is less to get in the way, although large parks and reserves are scattered besides the sea and across to the fringes of the city. This is once again familiar territory with familiar walks down to the ocean and along its beaches and cliffs. It is a place of great appeal, though I think I prefer it in winter on a pleasant sunny day with fewer people and their detritus. Still, there is much to be said for sitting beside Bronte Beach and having a coffee, before dodging ridiculously fit runners all the way to Coogee for lunch.
All this familiarity comes in pretty handy when sizing up a final breakfast before the drive back to Canberra: a tricky choice between the Haloumi Stack and the Love Eggs. It doesn’t really matter, because whatever you choose, you will be full and happy and ready for negotiating the steadily declining state of the M5. Eventually, finally, Sydney will fade and you will be back on a familiar drive which is slightly less boring because you haven’t done it for a while. And with a full belly and a cruisy drive, all that waits are the comforts (and – this week – sweltering discomforts) of a home.