I love a sunburnt country: Saying goodbye to Sydney

Highly original title courtesy of this poem, which you should be reading right now.

My last weekend in Sydney was rather anticlimatic, actually.

I spent Friday night in the common room of my college, watching TV and chatting with friends.

Saturday, several of us went to the city to walk across the Harbour Bridge, because one of my American friends hadn’t done it yet. The trains were out of service due to trackwork, so we took a bus to Wynyard, then walked back across the bridge. We stopped for gelato at Milson’s Point, which was a very good decision. We then began the journey back to college, as it was quite cold and starting to rain. We caught one of the trackwork buses, which took FOREVER–at least 90 minutes, compared to the usual 45. We amused ourselves by drawing pictures on the foggy windows with our fingers, but lesson learned: never take a trackwork bus.

Once we got back to college, we gathered around the gas heater in the dining hall to warm up (yes, really), then enjoyed a delicious–especially by college standards–dinner and dessert. After dinner, most of my friends had homework or other commitments, and it was freezing cold and pouring outside, so I regretfully decided to stay in for the night. I bummed around the common room, talked to people, and tried to forget it was my last night in Australia. Eventually, I went to sleep.

The next morning I woke up and–guess what–still raining. I got soaked on the walk to the bus station, but the rain stopped by the time I got to the city and caught the airport train.

One of my other Sydney friends, who left a week before me, said it took a while for her to fully realise she was leaving. That was definitely not the case for me.

The view from Circular Quay station 26 February 2011.

As soon as the train left Circular Quay–the last place I’d see Sydney Harbour–I burst into tears. The harbour is my absolute  favourite part of the city, so leaving with no idea when I would see it again broke my heart.

The sobfest continued as the train passed through St. James, Museum, Central, Green Square, Mascot, and Domestic Airport. When I arrived at International Airport, I decided I should probably pull myself together. I checked my luggage, acquired a boarding pass, cleared customs and security, and made my wait to gate 9.

The city skyline from the international airport terminal.

Vera Bradley bags and North Face jackets: Yep, definitely at the USA-bound gate.

The flight was long, of course, clocking in at about 12 hours. To pass the time, I took advantage of Qantas’ excellent movie selection and also slept a little bit.

When I arrived at LAX–four hours before I left Sydney–I was greeted by Alex and James, two of my best friends at Mizzou. We spent the day cruising around L.A. It was fun to try In-N-Out Burger, see the other side of the Pacific, and enjoy one last adventure before heading home for real.

The next day, Alex took me to the airport and I got on a plane to St. Louis. As much as I loved SoCal, and as much as I loved Sydney, it felt great to be finally going home for real. Every time someone said “Flight 768 to St. Louis,” I smiled. I couldn’t believe it was really happening.

The flight was only about four hours long, but it felt much longer.

The sunset on the plane from LAX to STL.

The moon over Lambert Airport.

When I arrived at Lambert, I was greeted by my mom, dad, and sister. We definitely did one of those cheesy movie run-into-each-other’s-arms things. Then, because it was 10 p.m. and I’d only eaten one meal that day, we went to Ted Drewes for dinner.

Ted Drewes banana split = happiness.

I arrived home on Monday night. It’s now Thursday, and I still feel like I want to sleep forever.

I haven’t even gotten over the jet lag yet, but I’m already having Australia withdrawals. My family, in turn, is probably already sick of hearing about them.

At some point this week, I also realised I left a piece of my heart in Sydney–and I’m pretty sure no matter what I do to get it back, it will stubbornly refuse to budge.

This is probably the part where I should do some cheesy sentimental wrap-up about how amazing my time abroad was, how much fun I had, and how much I grew and changed as a result. Blah blah blah. But in the interest of not writing a study abroad brochure, I’ll just say all those things are true, and leave it at that.

I will, however, include a cheesy song: one that’s been running through my head all semester, and almost exactly captures my feelings toward the people I met, things I saw, and experiences I had in Sydney.

That’s it for this blog. Thanks to everyone who supported me with their advice, encouragement, and finances (that’s you, mom and dad) throughout the semester. If I know you, I look forward to a joyful reunion sometime this summer. If I don’t, make yourself known–I’d love to meet you!

One last thing, and this goes for all of y’all: if you’re thinking about embarking an adventure of your own, DO IT.

No excuses. None of this “I don’t have time/I can’t afford it/I’m too scared/I have responsibilities” nonsense. I couldn’t afford to go to Australia either. I was nervous too. I have responsibilities as well (Even college kids know what those things are, so hold the snarky comments, grown ups). But I went anyway, and it was the greatest experience of my life. Of. my. LIFE.

So whether you’re looking to move halfway around the world or just head out of state for a weekend, do it. You’ll be glad you did. And whatever you choose to do, I look forward to hearing all about it.

Okay, off you go. Stop reading about my adventures, and start making some of your own.

Until next time,

Angie

Some friends in front of the Sydney Opera House during the Vivid lights festival 28 May 2011.

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Ferries, Churches, Vegemite, Bagpipes, and Pubs: Saturday in Sydney

Yesterday I felt like riding a ferry and had nothing better to do, so I went to Watson’s Bay.

According to one of my Australian acquaintances, Watson’s Bay is where Sydney’s really rich people live. The homes are gorgeous, the clifftop views are beautiful, and it’s only a ferry ride away from Sydney’s CBD (central business district). In my little hypothetical world where I am rich and live in Sydney, I live in Watson’s Bay.

Anyway, back to reality. The ferry ride from Circular Quay to Watson’s Bay was pretty awesome. Most Sydney ferries are big and ugly and yellow and kinda slow and I love them. This one, however, was less ugly, white, and surprisingly fast. Shortly after the ferry blasted off from the wharf, the cloudy sky opened up and rain began to fall. I stood on the aft deck and enjoyed the rain and ocean water and wind in my face. It was absolutely exhilirating. (Sydney’s ferries do have inside seating. I just refuse to acknowledge it.)

Sign on the Circular Quay wharf. Was anyone actually planning to do this?

A typical Sydney ferry coming in to dock at Circular Quay.

Look guys, I shrunk the city!

When I got to Watson’s Bay, it was, of course, still raining. Blustery days in Sydney are good for three things: surfing, having national parks to yourself, and making the ocean look fierce. They are not, however, particularly good for photography (at least not amateur point-and-shoot camera photography). So I walked around and explored the bay, trying to get some decent pictures.

I found the Watson’s Bay portion of Sydney Harbour National Park and wandered around there for a while. Sydney Harbour National Park is a unique concept. It’s actually a bunch of small parks spread out in various places on the harbour, but collectively they’re all one national park.

Layering: not just for clothes anymore.

Fierce ocean is fierce.

This lighthouse, like most, was built after too many ships crashed themselves into the rocks along the shore. It's still used today.

In case you haven't noticed, I really like palm trees. I think it's a result of spending my entire life in a place where they don't grow.

At some point as I was walking through the park, the rain let up. It was still cloudy and windy, but at least I wasn’t getting soaked. I made my way to Gap Park, which I first visited on my third day in Sydney. At the time I thought it was one of the most beautiful places in the city, and I wanted to go back just to make sure. Yup. It is.

Sydney has the most beautiful coastline I've ever seen. Then again, I've only seen three and the other two were in Florida.

Gap Park is stunning, but it’s also kind of depressing. The sheer cliff unfortunately makes it a popular place for suicides, so signs like these are everywhere. There’s also a free phone that connects to 000 (the Australian equivalent of 911) and Lifeline.

I wonder how many lives these signs have saved.

Turning away from the ocean, I saw the steeple of Watson’s Bay’s Catholic church, and beyond that, the city.

Breathtaking views everywhere I turned. No wonder everyone wants to live here.

Up close, the church is absolutely charming. It was built in 1909, and it looks exactly like you’d expect a 100-year-old coastal church to look: a small, strong building constructed of perfectly weathered stone and intricate stained glass windows.

The front of the church.

I'd love to go to Mass here sometime, but Sunday, Thursday, and Friday at 9:00 a.m. is not a real Mass schedule. That's a...I don't even know what kind of schedule that is.

I was just thinking about how it would be a perfect place for a wedding when I looked in the door of the sanctuary and, oh hey, a marriage ceremony was in progress. One can only get so close to a stranger’s wedding without being a total creeper, but I did my best. Saturday was a state election day and there was a polling place next door, so plenty of people were coming and going. I tried without much success to blend in with the well-dressed Watson’s Bay residents.

Looking through the fence into the church.

Wedding guests gather as the newlyweds make their dramatic exit.

After I’d had enough of watching pretty people and looking at pretty buildings, I caught the ferry back to Circular Quay. I stood on the front deck of the boat this time, and struggled to stay on my feet against the hurricane-like force of the wind.  Here’s my Sydney tourist tip of the day: You could pay $65 to take a jet boat ride around Sydney Harbour. Or you could just pay $5.30 to ride the Watson’s Bay ferry to Circular Quay. It doesn’t go quite as fast, and doesn’t do the wild acrobatics, but I’d say it’s close enough.

After disembarking from the ferry and attempting to put my hair sort of back into place, I took a train to Central and walked a few blocks to Bourke Street Bakery, which I heard about from somewhere. The internet, maybe. Anyway, the line at the bakery was out the door, but the service was super fast. I ordered a meat pie and a chocolate cookie. The meat pie was amazing–beef and mushrooms encased in a flaky crust sprinkled with poppy seeds. The cookie was delicious as well. It had raisins in it, which I wasn’t really expecting, but they were good raisins (is there such a thing?) and the effect was quite nice.  After devouring the late lunch, I took a train back to college. But wait…this story isn’t over yet.

At dinner that night, I told one of my friends I hadn’t yet tried vegemite.  She encouraged me to do so…so I did. I remembered Ryan’s advice about having a good-tasting drink on hand, so I poured myself a glass of limeade. That was a very, very good decision.

At DLC, the vegemite is served in little packets, right alongside the peanut butter, jelly, honey, and other such condiments that normal people eat. I opened a packet, spread some very thinly on just a corner of my toast, and corageously took a bite.

I’m pretty sure it was the worst tasting thing I’ve ever had on my tongue.

The rumours are true. It was absolutely hideous. Ariana says it’s better mixed with butter. Somehow, I don’t really believe her. According to Australian Geographic Outdoor, vegemite can act as a substitute for salt when removing leeches from the body. I think that pretty much says it all right there.

That evening, with my mouth still tasting slightly of vegemite, I went to the city to visit a few bars pubs with some friends. No one says “bars” around here–it’s one of those lingiustic differences that after six weeks I’m still getting used to. Anyway, it was fun to see what normal Sydney twentysomethings (i.e., not nerdy me and my nerdy friends) do with their Saturday nights. The pubs were great, I’m sure, if you like pubs.

Personally, my favorite part was the street musicians. Walking down George Street, we saw a guy in full Scottish regalia–kilt and all–playing the bagpipes. The six of us just turned to each other and busted out laughing. It was so ridiculous.

My favorite, though, was in Town Hall train station. A man was performing a very good, very energetic version of Katy Perry’s “Firework.”

On the flute.

It pretty much made my night.