Thursday, 7 August 2014

Jolly jaunts in July: Part 3, the fully faux festive edition

After warming up for the festive season with Kym and her family, we launched into full-on Chrimbo celebrations last weekend.

After a rather odd first Christmas in Australia, with only the rain to remind us what time of year it was, and no Christmas tree at all (OH, THE HORROR) I had booked us a trip to the Blue Mountains in July, where they have a Yulefest celebration in the cold months for those of us who associate Christmas with freezing your chestnuts off, instead of sweating them off on the beach.

And so Jan (much against his will, and insisting this would be the tackiest of all the tackies) and I set off for our winter weekend. 

On Saturday, we took a trip to the Jenolan Caves. They are a really spectacular system of caves in the mountains, with some great Aboriginal Dreamtime stories associated with them about how the rivers and caves were made. Before we left the hostel, Jan asked the owner about them and he advised us it was a pretty drive and we would find a lake on the way that had a platypus in it. I wasn't there for the conversation, though, so all I could get from Jan regarding the location of the lake, was it was "somewhere on the way" and"definitely on the left".  Hmmm.

The drive was really beautiful and they had even laid some snow on for us! Not quite enough for a snowman, but definitely enough for a cheesy picture!

Sunglasses and snow!
We reached the caves via a long, steep and windy road which Jan loved driving. At the bottom there was a huge tunnel into the cliff and, after going through it, this suddenly appeared:

Jenolan village
It's a really pretty village, mainly based around guest facilities for the tourists. We bought some tickets for the caves, then asked about the mysterious platypus lake. Excitingly we found out it was just on the left of the entrance to the caves, so we went down to have a look.

As we reached the lake, there he was, splashing about in the water just for us - Percy Platypus! Yeah, ok, I made the name up. But I was very excited! It can be quite hard to spot platypuses (platypii?!) in the wild, so to see one right away was awesome. In fact I was so in awe, I totally messed up my beautiful new blue Uggs, stepping in mud whilst trying to be the intrepid wildlife photographer*.  

* This story was met with bemusement in my office - who wears Uggs outside?! Let alone to the mountains! Silly English lady!

And here was the spectacular picture I got as a reward:

A rather blurry Platypus bum... 
Ahem. So yeah, turns out they are even more difficult to photograph than they are to spot.  But I pinkie swear, it WAS a platypus and not a floating log or something...

Anyway, after that thrilling but muddy encounter, it was time to go down under in Down Under.  We had a cave tour guide with us, who was clearly a retired man who loved to talk. ALL THE TIME. Mostly interesting, cave-related things, but boy that bloke was not averse to a completely irrelevant tangent.  

Normally, I am not claustrophobic in caves, but I have to admit I started getting nervous when he kept pressing his little light control and mumbling to himself "that's not supposed to happen" or "it worked last time I was here".  The culmination of this was when he turned ALL THE DAMN LIGHTS OFF in the cave to give us a talk about how the first explorers would have found the caves, with just a candle to see by. He flicked on a lighter at this point to show us how much they would have been able to see, which was all very atmospheric - until he couldn't turn the effing lights back on again! Gah! I was gripping on to Jan's arm, wondering if, a-la-Nirvana, we would be condemned to living off of moss and the drippings from the ceiling forever, in the PITCH BLACK, whilst this man kept pressing various buttons and telling us he'd been away on holidays for a few weeks and this was his first time back and he wasn't sure why the emergency lights had gone off as well...

After several nail-biting minutes** he managed to get some lights on and, after spitting out the moss I had been nibbling (you know, to get used to my new life), we carried on with the tour. 

** Well, you know, seconds. But in the blinding darkness it could have been a day or more...

Despite the trauma of the lights, it was a really good tour and there were some fantastic views:

Spooky weird formations - can you see the bat wing?

Stalactites and stalagmites - if they join together, they become a 'column'

Can you see the Angel Gabriel?
But enough of this cave talk, beautiful though it was. It's time for the main event - Christmas! Off we went to the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba for a festive evening. Jan was very excited about celebrating Christmas in July:

'The Grinch' - Jan war sehr Froh, Weihnachten im Juli zu feiern!
The place was all decorated for the occasion:

And a had an, erm, traditional bagpipe band to play us Christmas songs:

Hark, the herald bagpipes play...
Because there's nothing as festive as a few Christmas ditties being banged out at 180 decibels. There was also a choir and a visit from Santa! Now you know what he get up to in the summer months!

By the end (and after a bottle of wine and some 'festive spirit' on the Christmas pud) even the Grinch had to admit it was a fun time:

Merry Christmas everybody!!