There is something sacred, in my mind, about air travel. That moment when the wheels leave the ground and a momentary jolt of downward pressure as the plane embarks on its gravity-defying ascent. Of all human inventions, surely the aeroplane is one of the most marvelous and miraculous.
I am not a particularly spiritual person, but the ascent into the heavens gets me every time. I’m sure those who travel frequently don’t take a second look or give it a second thought. They grumble about the inevitable flight delays. They take the aisle seat. They board first, as regular and valued flyers.
The plebs like me stare out intently at the landscape of plush clouds – just daring us to take a dive into their midst. We delight in the woolly wisps and the dense wads so much like candyfloss. The brief but full whiteout that’s exhilarating, but could turn terrifying. The steep bank that makes you suck in your breath unexpectedly. Every slight change in pressure that indicates something happening altitude-wise. The descent, beginning with the stippled blue of the ocean clearing to the recognisable sheen of water, as the first shadow of clouds materialises on its surface.
Last year I painstakingly planned a tropical birthday getaway in Rarotonga. I spent time splashing in the sea and sunning myself in hedonistic abandon.
This year a business trip offered me my first taste of Australia, and while I spent most of my birthday in transit, a day and a half later I was digging my toes into the brown sugar sand of Bondi. (That type of sand, found in the middle zone between the finest grains closest to the road and the firm, compressed stuff that borders the waterfront, is my favourite.)
I watched parents photograph their toddlers tripping along the beach. Surfers trying to ride the puny waves in. Lots more crazy people venturing out in their skimpiest togs (submerging my feet was enough – midwinter sea is about as icy as it gets. The one time I went swimming in the bitter cold of Raglan, in the crazy month of April or September or some other decidedly non-summer month, I was sick for days). I walked along the Bondi shops carrying my shoes, ignoring the Italian matron out front of her restaurant who gestured frantically and uttered distraught cries of some sort as she caught sight of my unshod trotters, and the other stares from, well, everyone (it’s a beach! Why on earth would you not go barefoot? Granted, I was perhaps a bit overdressed for it, but still. I’M FROM NEW ZEALAND). Oh, and then there was the ice rink up at the top of the beach for the local winter festival. An ice skating rink on the beach, people.
I ate at Mamak. Red Lantern, Luke Nguyen’s restaurant (I walked to Surry Hills from Darling Harbour in the dark and felt a cold stab of terror when I got there only to be told they had no tables … except these two tiny tables outside by the entry. I TOOK ONE.). Coast. Mother Chu’s Vegetarian Kitchen. Miss Chu. Baskin Robbins. All get the thumbs up – especially divine was the coconut mussel curry at Red Lantern, which I couldn’t snap a decent photo of as it was night time and my phone camera has no flash – even Photoshop couldn’t wrangle enough detail out of the shadows.
If there was one colour I would associate with Sydney, it would be this.
Overwhelmingly, the buildings were all brown or shades of beige.
But there were exceptions, like this theatre or these cute terrace houses further out in Darlinghurst.
I kid you not, this was the filming of a music video inside a water feature along the waterfront, one that spirals down into the ground. And seriously, that’s outdoor table tennis.
And of course, there were bridges. Lots and lots of bridges. The very first night, we arrived in the back door of the hotel, and left the same way, none the wiser. We couldn’t for ages figure out how to get across the motorway – we had to turn back to find our way to the main road, and find a footbridge to take us over.
But overall, I was really struck by the good urban planning. Granted, I come from Auckland where the bar is about as low as it can be. But the light rail, the monorail, the buses, the roads that are painted to say ‘look left’ or ‘look right’ on one-way streets for pedestrians, the fact that after every block along the waterfront, there are steps leading back up to the main street … It’s all well signposted, and there are maps all over the place. Even without the throng of azns leading the way to the fish market, I would have made my way there from the train stop with zero problems.
Ah, foreign money. For all the overthinking I did about where to change my cash, I ended going the easy route and stopping at a booth between my hotel and the convention centre. I’ve fallen off the financial bandwagon a bit and need to regroup, including a Sydney tally.
And of course I was amazed by the shopping. Gap! Nine West! And ING Direct! Plus check this sign at the Hard Rock Cafe shop.
Every day I fell into bed with aching legs and feet, muscles getting that tingly feeling from unprecedented exertion. I packed in the sights whenever I could. The zoo, the museums, the parks, the Opera House, the bridge, the free ferry to Cockatoo Island as part of the Biennale – a stunning place, it’s an ex-convict island full of raw industrial beauty, just my thing. I have a ton of photos, so I’ll probably dump those on Tumblr this week. And I then got to come back to this view from my room.
Americans, you have no excuse for postponing a European adventure. Flights are hundreds, not thousands, of dollars. (When looking to see if we could book a cheap flight to Sydney for T to accompany me, we were faced with fares of $500 plus.)
Bridget just wrote about deliberately not cramming in all the tourist sights when you’re overseas. She can always go back, she says.
This is true. Sydney is not far from New Zealand, and T has already been. I don’t feel a need to come back with him, though I’m not saying we never will.
But truth be told, for most of the destinations we will eventually see together, we are only going to see them once. We live at the bottom of the world. We don’t make big bank. And we want to settle down and have a family, not design a perpetually peripatetic life. Places like Spain and Russia are going to most likely be a one-time shot.
On a happier note, though, I have officially earned my big girl pants. I’ve flown alone, travelled overseas alone, and dined in a restaurant alone. *fist pump*