Monday, February 10, 2014

Homeward Bound

I landed into Heathrow on Thursday lunchtime, and have spent the last few days in a jet lagged heap on the sofa: it was a long flight, and it's been an exhausting month, getting to grips with city after city in the space of a few days. But I promised one last entry about my trip, so working on the premise of “better late than never”, here it is.

I decided to spend my last day in Australia doing something which is supposed to be pretty much compulsory if you ever visit Sydney: catching a ferry out of the harbour. So, having packed up all my stuff for the final time and checked out of the hostel, I headed down to Circular Quay, and boarded the Manly ferry.

Why is catching a ferry compulsory? Essentially because of the incredible views as you sail out of the harbour. As illustrated below:

Manly is a town about a 30-minute ferry ride from Sydney, with a wonderful surf beach amongst other things. I had a walk around, and went to sit on the surf beach for a while, appreciating that this would be my last taste of sunshine for a while. It was really lovely.

About 3pm, I caught the ferry back to the city, which turned out to be an adventure in itself: the water was very rough on the return crossing, a fact I failed to realise when I sat right at the front of the boat. A few minutes into the journey, several huge waves splashed all the way into the ferry and I got drenched. Nice!

Back in Circular Quay, I sent a final postcard, and finally got round to doing some serious souvenir shopping, including purchasing one of those cheesy T-shirts with a koala bear on the front, as well as a real-life functioning boomerang (well you've got to, haven't you?!) Then, after one last look at the bridge and the Opera House, I set off on the long journey home.

Initially, this meant catching the train to Sydney Airport, finally saying goodbye to my enormous rucksack at the check-in desk, eating waffle fries from Hungry Jack's (that's Burger King to you and me), sitting on a plane to Melbourne for an hour, and finding a remote corner of Melbourne Airport to spend my last hour in Australia drinking one last frozen coke (they are so good!) and, fittingly, watching a BBL match.

And then there was a 14-hour flight to Doha and an 8-hour flight to Heathrow, which meant three dinners, two breakfasts and two lunches in the space of 24 hours. Finally, at 12.30pm on Thursday, UK time, I was home.

As we touched down on the tarmac it was already peeing it down with rain. Welcome home, Raf, London seemed to be saying.

So here I am, back in the UK, and reflecting on my adventures. Already Australia feels like a long time ago. But, as well as leaving me with some lasting, wonderful memories, my month there has taught me a lot: about cricket journalism (I still think it's the best job in the world), about being on tour, and about myself. Mainly that I am quite capable of finding my way around a strange country and strange cities if I put my mind to it, and that I quite enjoy doing so. As someone who'd never even flown by herself before this trip, those are some pretty big revelations.

I want to end by thanking some people:
1. The folks at ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket, who made the trip possible in the first place.
2. Amy, who made Perth so much more enjoyable, who always calls it as she sees it, and who, along with Mel, risked getting locked in the WACA for me three nights in a row.
3. Brad and Matt, who generously showed me the best of Hobart and its surroundings, as well as what a real Aussie BBQ is like.
4. All the journalists I spent time with out there who treated the women's game with the respect it deserves, and the whole way along made being in the press box fun, especially Eliza and Jesse.
5. All the other lovely Australians I met, who even when they were making fun of the England men's cricket team did so with great affection, and who made me want to come back to their country as soon as I possibly can.
6. And last but not least, Mel, who showed me the best places to eat and the best beaches, who made me laugh on countless occasions, who made sure I was never lonely, and who remains my Favourite Australian.

I can't say that I'll miss sleeping in a dorm room, sharing a bathroom with a million other people, breaking my back and shoulders dragging my enormous rucksack around, or having to apply insect repellent every time I ventured outside for more than five minutes. But I had the best month of my life Down Under, and I've fallen in love with Australia. I will definitely be back, with any luck sooner rather than later.

For now, it's back to the PhD.