The smell of the sea. Hustle and bustle as rowdy customers move closer to their prize. The satisfaction of de-shelling a fresh prawn in the morning sunshine as the hungry seagulls circle overhead.

Sydney Fish Market is my favourite weekend treat. Picking up the freshest fish, deciding which mouthwatering recipe to try out and serving up the results that night. It’s a day-long affair and one of the most enjoyable things to do in Sydney.

The fish market itself now offers lots more than just fish – there’s a fresh deli to start. With cheeses, cooked meats or specialist pantry goods. You can grab a coffee and a baked treat from the mini cafe. There’s also a greengrocers with fresh fruit and veg.

Here’s my trip to the Sydney fish market in images….and the results of my visit that evening in the form of a Sydney-style Spanish Paella…..

Oyster-shucking at the market

One of the larger fishes I spotted

fresh fish to eat at the market

Seagulls tear apart a piece of discarded fish

Fish on ice

Ling fish

Plus, everything else on offer at the market:

Deli cheese

Deli meats

Trying to avoid purchasing any of this..

Finally, the results of my shopping trip….

The final results….a delicious paella

And some sangria with fruits from the on-site greengrocer

Bookshelves with books

Books are pricey in Australia (Image of Berkelouw Books in Paddington, Sydney)

As a keen reader, I took it forgranted in the UK how cheap it is to buy the latest paperback books. Wander into any supermarket and pick up 3for2, 3 for ten pounds or buy one get one half price on best-selling authors.

Over in Australia I had a shock in the local bookstore when I found average paperbacks retailing at around $25 each (GBP15 pounds). Like the cost of many everyday items in Australia, it’s been hard to adapt to books being so expensive.

So, over the last few years I’ve taken to visiting second-hand bookstores in Sydney to pick up nearly new versions of some of the best selling books on the high street. A bonus is that the sellers will often buy back books from you as well, so I try and take in some to sell before I buy any more too. Here’s my selection of my favourite second-hand bookstores in Sydney.

1) Darling Street Books, 648 Darling Street, Rozelle

This really is the treasure chest of second-hand books. Every single nook of this tiny store is crammed with books – fiction and non-fiction. From the latest best-selling chick lit, to autobiographies of Australia’s past prime ministers, you can find anything you want here. Worth the visit alone is the opportunity to see the shopkeeper tally up your sale and pencil it into his thumbed notebook of books sold – there’s no cutting-edge till system in use here and it’s a quaint and traditional shopping experience.

Darling Street bookstore in Rozelle

Entrance to bookstore

The entrance to Darling Street Books in Rozelle

2) Gleebooks, 191 Glebe Point Road, Glebe

Three years ago as a skint backpacker I took a walk out to Gleebooks from my hostel in search of a book to read. I wasn’t disappointed. There’s a huge range to choose from and reasonable prices if you’re on a budget. Plus it’s an easy stroll from most of the backpacker accommodation in the Sydney CBD, which means it’s top choice for the traveller.

3) Sappho Books, 51 Glebe Point Road, Glebe

If you’re visiting Gleebooks, then you’ll also want to pop into Sappho Books a short walk down the street. Settle in to the bookstore for the afternoon as it also doubles as a cafe and wine bar.

4) Berkelouw Bookshop Paddington, 19 Oxford Street, Paddington

Not only does this bookstore sell new AND second-hand books, but it also houses a cafe and is open til late in the evening.

Better still, it also looks completely amazing and is my favourite for a Saturday browse followed by brunch in the local area.


The beautiful Berkelouw Books in Paddington

So, that’s my top picks for second-hand bookstores in Sydney. Where are yours?

Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains on a crisp spring afternoon

Just as Sydney enjoyed the first warm days of Spring, we drove two hours west of the city this weekend to a substantially cooler climate – the Blue Mountains.

Temperatures at this time of year (late September) reach just 11-13 degrees at most (compared to around 23 degrees in Sydney). But the chill in the air and the brisk winds provide the perfect weather to enjoy what the Blue Mountains were made for – walking.

1)   Three Sisters

First stop is the epic Three Sisters. We travel to the Echo Point viewing platform near Katoomba town which provides a panoramic sight of the mountains. It’s worth the effort to walk around halfway down the 500 steps of the Giant Stairway to get an even closer look at the rocks. Be warned the steps are steep, uneven and can get very crowded….that’s why I mention that the halfway point is fine!

Pulling on our walking shoes we then embarked on a two-hour return trip around the ‘upper pathway’. This was an opportunity to see some of the less busy viewing platforms, stretch our legs and enjoy some fresh country air.

Don’t worry about researching a walk to do before you go; a tip is to pop into the Information Centre on site prior to your walk for a tailored suggestion depending on how long you want to walk for and whether you have a car.

The Three Sisters viewed from Echo Point

The Three Sisters viewed from Echo Point

2)   Wentworth Falls

A short drive away is Wentworth Falls. Here, we took a five minute walk down stairs to another stunning viewing platform of the falls from across the valley. Again, you can choose to extend you walk to take in more of the scenery or even walk across the summit of the falls or the foot of the falls.

The view from Wentworth Falls

Wentworth Falls as a rainbow appears on the water

3)   Govett’s Leap

The Govett’s Leap lookout was my favourite of the day. Combining a magnificent waterfall and views of the Blue Mountains, it is also much quieter than the Three Sisters or Wentworth Falls which are packed with tourists. Access Govett’s Leap via the small town of Blackheath and stop off for a cup of coffee and a wander among the vintage shops and art galleries too.

Govett's Leap

The view from Govett’s Leap

Blue Mountains from Govett's Leap

The view of the Blue Mountains from Govett’s Leap

Where we ate, drank and stayed:

Kubbba Roonga Guesthouse: In the small town of Blackheath, Kubba Roonga is a comfortable guesthouse with full English breakfast, complimentary chocolates on arrival and complimentary newspapers and Port next to the roaring fire. A great choice for a cosy weekend stay.

Cabin and co.: As you travel through Blackheath on the way to the Govett’s Leap lookout, stop off on the high street (Govett’s Leap Road) for a coffee. Cabin and co. is a cute homewares shop with a hidden ‘snug’ at the back of the shop serving delicious homemade pastries and hot drinks. This family-run business had only been open three weeks when we stopped by, and the coffee was great.

Keep an eye out in Blackheath for Cabin and Co. serving great coffee in the 'snug' at the back of its retail shop.

Keep an eye out in Blackheath for Cabin and Co. serving great coffee in the ‘snug’ at the back of its retail shop.

Leura town: Avoid the bland Katoomba and stop off in Leura for a picturesque lunch overlooking the mountains. There’s plenty of delicious cafes to choose from and lovely shops to browse if you need a break from the mountains.

Hot chocolate

An indulgent Hot Chocolate and marshmallows from one of the many cafes on Leura mall

Dinner: Ashcroft’s restaurant on Govett’s Leap Road in Blackheath was the perfect dinner choice. It’s not cheap ($78 for two, or $88 for three courses) and you can’t do BYO, but the portions are huge, the wine delicious (even by the glass) and it’s a Sydney Morning Herald award-winning restaurant. Make sure to book before you go.

Anyone who has visited Sydney will have spent some time at Darling Harbour.

And if you’ve been to Darling Harbour, you’ve probably walked across the Pyrmont Bridge, which connects the city to the harbourside.

Living in Pyrmont, I walk over the bridge twice a day to journey into the city. Early on when I moved to Sydney there was a rumour going around among my British friends that the bridge splits in half four times a day to let  boats through.

It was hard to believe that this hundred-year-old bridge could actually separate in half.

I’d walked across the bridge hundreds of times and never seen it swing open.

But then, one sunny weekend, it happened! At the approach to the bridge, wooden gates blocked our path and the crowds watched as the central island of the bridge pivoted around to create a gap to allow tall ships through.

It all takes just a few minutes, and then the bridge swings back into place allowing the tourists to carry on their way.

So, now I know. Pyrmont Bridge does still open to let ships pass. Every day without fail at 10.30am, 12 noon, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm. What’s more, it’s one of the world’s oldest surviving electrically operated swingspan bridges. It really is a sight to behold.

Last weekend, I captured the bridge opening in photos from the other side of Darling Harbour. See for yourself:

Pyrmont Bridge opening

The centre island of Pyrmont Bridge swings open to let ships through – yet the monorail still passes overhead

Pyrmont Bridge opening

The bridge begins to close, as the monorail approaches overhead

If you’re interested in reading more, the Darling Harbour Pyrmont Bridge history is available here.

Despite living in Australia nearly two years now, this ANZAC Day – 25 April – was actually my first in the country (owing to our trip back home last April).

And I must say, it’s been a complete eye-opener.

I’ll explain exactly what ANZAC Day is all about, but firstly, I should confess that sadly I wasn’t able to participate in any of the activities due to a monster cold that hit me out of nowhere on ANZAC Day Eve. But, a day in bed feeling sorry for myself, did give me the opportunity to write this blog, so it’s not been a total failure.

Here goes….

1)   ANZAC Day is basically a ramped up version of the UK’s Remembrance Sunday

It’s celebrated each year on April 25 to remember the armed forces in World War One. The best overview of the main traditions of the day is here, on this government website.

But, what struck me most is the (rightful) prominence Australia gives to this day. Allowing people to have the day free from work to celebrate just that – freedom – and everything the armed forces did for today’s people.

It means that it’s hard for anyone to ignore the day and to understand its importance. However people choose to spend their time, the ANZAC celebrations will play a part. Pubs are decorated and themed with ANZAC remembrance and the TV stations, newspapers and radio shows will be filled with coverage of the remembrance events.

2)   ‘Two-up’ isn’t just an extra drink in the pub

When I first heard people at work saying they were going to spend ANZAC Day ‘two up in the pub’, I just assumed they meant they would be drinking lots of alcohol.

But after the third person had said this phrase to me, I decided to google it and found out that 2UP is actually a game of odds, where players bet on whether coins will land heads or tails. The link to ANZAC comes because the Army would play this game during the war. It’s actually now banned in many pubs because of the fear it encourages gambling.

And 2UP isn’t the only tradition of the day to help get Aussies into the spirit of the event. Delicious oatey Anzac biscuits have been a staple in the office this week too. Yum.

3)   It’s good to get up early.

I did set my alarm, I really did, but this cold just got the better of me. The Dawn Service of Remembrance took place at 4.15am(!) in central Sydney, attended by thousands of people from all across the region. Public transport opened early for events to help people easily get into town. And, if that was too difficult for people, hundreds of similar ceremonies are held in local suburbs too.

4)   It’s for all ages

I watched on TV the crowds gather in Sydney for the parade which began at around 9am this morning. Young and old together joining to cheer the servicemen travelling through the streets. Whilst the older ones were able to remember grandparents or great-grandparents they had once known to serve in the wars, the parade is a way to educate the young, in a fun way of what has passed into history. That seems the greatest outcome of ANZAC Day: that it will live on for generations to come.

5)   It’s a great day to be in Australia

I thought Australia Day was Australian patriotism to its best, but ANZAC Day has been something very special to have witnessed….even if it was just from my bed.

”]One DirectionCelebs from all across the world have flocked to Sydney in recent months.

The lovely Leo DiCaprio set up home over the summer to film scenes for The Great Gatsby.

In recent weeks Will.i.am and Paris Hilton were in town for the opening of Marquee, the city’s newest nightclub.

And this week we’ve been spoilt with Rihanna, Zac Efron and the latest boyband on the block One Direction all flying in for a visit.

Too much effort

It used to be the case that Sydney, as with all of Australia, didn’t get much of a look-in when it came to promotional touring or A-list attendance at events.

For a country of 20 million people and around a day’s travel time from the US or the UK, it was always easy for Aussies to be pushed off the list of important crowds to please – versus the effort, cost and time required.

Reading the celebrity pages of the newspapers and magazines when I first arrived here in 2010 I was struck by how distant everything showbiz seemed from this place. The duopoly of the UK and the US in terms of the celebrity world became so much more apparent since I wasn’t in either of those places, but rather somewhere else, looking over.

Giving the thumbs up

But now, the shift is happening.

Zac Efron – here for the world premiere of his new film (yes, a world premiere in Sydney!) gushed to breakfast TV on Tuesday morning about the surfing, the laid back lifestyle and his love for Australia. Rihanna was spotted taking snaps of the Opera House from her hotel bedroom. And those One Direction boys have been spending their days off cruising on the Harbour and this weekend plan on doing the infamous Bridge Climb.

And Aussies love this. They love that when the celebrities come to Australia they aren’t just hiding in the hotel room, but are checking the place out, just like a regular tourist. They are flattered and proud when an A-lister – in fact any visitor – chooses to come here and gives the thumbs up to everything that they find.

Australia can’t be ignored

So why has the shift taken place?

  • The rise of social media has no doubt had its impact. No longer can you ignore the Australian fans when that fanbase is so actively demanding attention through the likes of facebook and twitter. According to a Nielsen study last year, Aussies are topping the list of social media users in the developed world, meaning that a higher proportion of the population are speaking out via these mediums.
  • Celebrities who do come over get greater cut-through and exposure across all media platforms as there’s much less competition for coverage. I doubt there’s an Australian who doesn’t know about One Direction right now. Amongst everything else, they headlined the 7pm news here tonight and were interviewed at prime time on every breakfast show, both radio and TV.
  • Businesses and key influencers are doing everything they can to use their positions of power to bring celebrities to Australia. Australian tourism was hit hard in the last few years because of the strong Aussie dollar discouraging overseas visitors and because of natural disasters in key markets such as Queensland. Oprah back in 2011 was a highlight for Tourism Australia, and set the benchmark for others who know they need to do their bit. Australian Director Scott Hicks’ insistence that the world premiere of The Lucky One took place Sydney last week is another testament to that.
  • On the flip side, the economic crisis has not hit Australia as it has done in Europe. Those key markets for filmmakers and pop starlets are not quite as lucrative as they once were. Australia in comparison is doing very well. We’re now seen as the opportunity to fill the income gap for the music and film industry.

And finally. Let’s just state the obvious. Australia’s a beautiful place to visit with citizens who love making visitors feel welcome.  Maybe it’s not that complicated a reason after all. Maybe it’s just that the celebrity world is finally getting it.

Attack of the bats!

St George Open Air cinema

St George Open Air cinema

A beautiful evening in Sydney last night to watch the film ‘Carnage’ at the St George Open Air cinema in Sydney.

The recent heavy rain had us worried that we’d have to forfeit our tickets (the cinema doesn’t refund for bad weather). But with mostly clear skies, perhaps someone should have told us to watch out for the other liquid falling from the sky – bat poo!

The Open Air cinema, temporarily established during summer in Sydney’s Domain, is home to a huge number of ‘flying foxes’, large bats weighing up to 1kg. According to the Royal Botanical Gardens and Domain Trust website:

They sleep during the day and feed on pollen, nectar and fruit at night. In the wild they are important pollinators and seed dispersers of native trees. Seeds are discarded in the faeces or fall where the fruit is being eaten. These seeds germinate when conditions are suitable and ensure that dispersal occurs in a wide area.”

And ‘disperse’ they did, with hundreds of pellet-shaped poo drops being missile-launched onto the unprepared crowd as night fell. The most under-attack seats are at the back of the auditorium, under the trees, as the bats settle in the branches above. Within a 15 minute gap whilst we bought drinks before the show, our seats became covered in their droppings. Thankfully, this gave us time to move to safer ground at the front of the auditorium. The intermittent yelps from (mostly females) indicated that a lot of people hadn’t been so lucky to escape the poo. When you consider that a single bat can disperse up to 60,000 seeds in just one night, this isn’t a surprise!

Bat circle the Domain

A view of the bats circling overhead as they descend at nightfall in The Domain

The bats provided more amusement during the film, from time to time flying through the vision of the projector screen, adding an eerie touch to visuals and a random and unwanted ‘extra’ to the scenes of the film.

Great film by the way – ‘Carnage’ is based on a play and tells the story of two sets of parents who meet to deal with a fight which has taken place between their sons. Starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly, it’s a great comedy which is unusually set in mostly one room for the entire duration and features just the four main characters and a couple of extras.

St George Open Air cinema is one of the highlights of the summer season in Sydney, with gorgeous views overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Doors open early and you can sip champagne as the sun sets over the city. 

Just remember to choose your show seats carefully – and watch out for the ‘Domain rain.’

Bondi Open Air cinema screen

Bondi Open Air cinema screen

Yesterday was opening night of Bondi Open Air cinema 2012.

Held on a grassy bank overlooking the beach, the Open Air cinema is scheduled through until early March, taking advantage of the warm summer evenings and everyone’s inclination to get outside as much as possible.

We watched Bill Cunningham New York, the story of New York Times fashion photographer Bill and the life he has dedicated to his work. It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen; I knew nothing of Bill before I sat down to watch the film last night and left feeling like I’d known him for years and heart-warmed by the passion he has for what he does.

Ben and Jerry's ice cream, a picnic blanket and biscuits...

Ben and Jerry's ice cream, a picnic blanket and biscuits...

We were given free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for the movie, along with a goodie bag to take away filled with Sonoma muesli, Aesop body balm and the latest Time Out Sydney magazine. Not bad for a $12 ticket!

There was also live music prior to the film and a random magician act which was a bit pointless as by the time he came on it was dark and no one could see anything!

Okay, there were a few technical hitches with the sound and the lighting, but there’s plenty of time for this to all be ironed out over the next few weeks.

It’s a different story for the wet weather Sydney is currently experiencing as this now looks set to play havoc with the success of the Open Air cinema. Even last night, a few people left the film because of the blowing wind, before crowds got up to exit several minutes before the end when the rain did finally come. Films will go ahead in the rain, so it’s best to be prepared unless you’re happy to leave without a refund.

By the time summer is over I will have experienced all three of the main Sydney outdoor cinemas: this one at Bondi, along with the Moonlight Cinema in Centennial Park and finally the most popular – St George Open Air cinema in the Domain where the screen rises from the water and the audience overlooks the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. What better way to watch a film!

I love Australia!

I love Australia!

For most of Australia, yesterday’s public holiday was just an extra day off work.

Enjoy the sun, have a few drinks and a bbq and spend time with family and friends.

Then the Prime Minister lost her shoe and not only this country, but the world was once again distracted by the uncomfortable history that surrounds 26 January in Australia.

Because ‘Australia Day’ will never be just another public holiday. Created as a way to mark the anniversary of the arrival of the first convict boats, it will forever be also known as ‘Invasion Day’.

There is nothing Australia can do to change its past. Of course it must recognise the struggle of the indigenous people of Australia and apologise to the descendants of the Aboriginal people who were treated without respect by those who arrived here. It can continue to acknowledge that Australia is Aboriginal first. Australia can continue to give Aboriginal people, as well as everyone who lives here, a voice in the future of the country.

Because Australia should belong to everyone now. We should celebrate what it means to be Australian no matter what background you are from or who was here first. Let’s enjoy Australia Day today and look forward to its future. Celebrate the fact that people from hundreds of different backgrounds now live here and call it their home. That I can be one of those millions who came to live here and feels a part of the nation.

Yes, there is still work to do to give indigenous people a proper and rightful place in this country. And as a Brit, my experience of finding my way was always going to be easy. But don’t let the world only hear about the protests, the disagreements and that lost shoe.

Let’s share the positives of Australia Day. The traditions of communities coming together all across Australia for events and good times.

As the official Australia Day slogan summed up so well this year ‘Celebrate what’s great.’

As 2012 begins, so will my second full year in this country. I reckon this one will be even better than the first.

Arriving from England back in late 2010, I can look back now and admit how hard I found my first year in Sydney.

I never expected the culture shock I got when I moved to Sydney. This blog has been one way to cope with that. Writing about some of the peculiar things I’ve observed has helped to understand it in my own mind.

Surely Australia would just be England with sunshine I thought? No, not at all. From the serious matters, such as Australia’s uneasy history with the Aboriginal people of this country, through to the silly – like the sight of kangaroos hopping down the streets in Victoria. Every day has shown me something new.

It’s taken me over 12 months to adjust to having so much sunshine for a start. Being able to explore far flung beaches, go kayaking, walk along the coastline on weekends. Instead of arranging afternoons that actually avoid going outside in the rain like I was doing in the UK.

My diet has changed. I was used to casseroles and pastas. But here, year-round we eat barbecued meat or fresh fish from the market and salads almost every evening. I’ve never eaten so much Sushi or Thai food or Banana Bread either.

I’ve stopped complaining too much about the price of everything. Though I still feel like I’m being robbed every time a can of soup costs me $4, or a bottle of water on the street $3.

My dad told me last week my accent was changing. He hates it when I go up at the end of every sentence, Aussie-style. It’ll go I said, ‘No worries mate.’

I know not to get offended when I see ‘Coon’ written on a packet of cheese, or hear Wog used in the workplace. I know my Rangas from my Bogans. I still call my ‘thongs’ ‘flip-flops.’

I’ve met some great Australian friends now, not just ex-pats. People who’ve lived in Sydney their whole lives and with whom I can have a conversation without talking about what we miss from home.

Yes, I still shop for clothes online at Dorothy Perkins, but I also find a lot I like in Marcs, and Myer and Sportsgirl.

I’ve experimented with the sunrise exercise routine, getting up at 5.30am in the mornings, when the heat is just bearable in the summer. I’ve still felt inferior to the gorgeous Aussie girls who just seem so lean and glamourous and blonde.

I don’t really miss Eastenders or Strictly Come Dancing anymore. But I’d recognise Dani and Hayden from Australian Masterchef in the street.

I check smh.com.au in the mornings now, instead of bbc.co.uk. I subscribe to Mumbrella for my media news. We’ve got the Gruen Transfer boxset.

I can get stopped on the street and offer a tourist directions. I can tell you where to get the best cup of coffee on George Street and where serves the best Mojito (not too sweet, not too sour).

I keep my mosquito repellent at the side of my bed, and I make sure I’ve got my Factor 30 on for the morning walk to work.

I can tell you that it’s a nightmare trying to catch a bus home from Bondi on a busy Saturday…but the North end of the beach is your best bet.

I’ll know where’s best to stand for a good view at the Chinese New Year parade. I can tell you not to forget to arrange a meeting place for your friends at Future Music Festival. I can tell you what radio station to listen to on Australia Day.

I know my NRL from my AFL. My CBD and my QVB. My capsicum from my eggplant. I remember to ask for no beetroot on my burger. 

I know that I would have known none of the above without living in this country.

Am I changing? Am I losing the person I was when I arrived here?

I hope not. I think for the first time since I arrived here I’m finally feeling like I belong in this city. Not feeling like some outsider visiting for my holidays, not really ‘getting it’. But a true resident, like I’ve turned it from my house to my home, like I’ve been invited into the party.

Yes, it’s great to do new things and discover new adventures each and every day.

But I reckon there’s also a lot to be said for doing things the second time around too…..

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