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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I have 12 days left in this country.

I’m sure you’ll understand that I don’t want to spend them blogging. I still have a lot of posts that I want to write that I’ve been putting off all semester, and I certainly plan to gift you with those when I get home.

But for now, I’m working at my internship, spending as much time as possible with friends, eating Tim Tams, finishing up a few papers, and trying to avoid being overly conscious of every plane flying overhead. So I’m going to put the blog on hiatus for a few weeks.

But before I go, I just want to share something that’s been on my mind.

I wasn’t nervous about coming here at all. I slept fine the night before I left and had no trouble boarding that plane in St. Louis. When I got to Sydney, I felt confident. Excited, yes, but also calm.

Now, as I face the return journey, I’m petrified at the thought of going back home.

At first glance, this makes no sense. But upon further reflection, I think I’ve figured out why.

When I came here, I had no expectations. I knew everything would new and different. I was expecting an adventure, simple as that. I didn’t know what my room would look like or who my friends would be or what the next four months would hold, and that mystery was all part of the fun.

On the other hand, I know exactly what to expect going back home. I know the stretch of I-270 between the airport and my house. I know the voice of Mike Shannon on the radio and the taste of a Sacred Grounds mocha. I know what St. Boniface looks like on Sunday morning and the sounds of my family’s big and glorious get-togethers. I’m going back to the place I grew up in. The place that’s familiar, always the same.

Except here’s the problem: It won’t be the same.

My family and friends have grown up and experienced their own adventures. Edwardsville probably has some hideous new mural on Main Street, and there might be a new tree in my backyard. Sparky’s will have come up with some ridiculous new ice cream flavour. The place itself has changed.

But more importantly, I’ve changed.

I’m not going to pretend I’m some sophisticated world traveller because I lived in another country for a few months. I’m not. But this experience, this living 9,000 miles from home for a semester, meeting new people, seeing new things, and experiencing completely new perspectives, has changed me in some way. In what way? I don’t have a clue. But I know it has, and the uncertainty scares me.

Of course I’m excited to go home. Intellectually, I know that home is home, no matter what.

But I can’t help but feel nervous about what I’ll find when I get there. Sure, it’ll probably be positive. In a few months I’ll be talking about what a great, wonderful life-changing experience study abroad was.

But for now, I just know that when I arrive back home, it won’t be the same home I left. And I know that even though my study abroad experience will technically be over, I’ll still have a lot of growing to do as a result of it.

Does that make sense?


Royal Botanic Gardens Post #33547

That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I like this place a lot, and I know you can tell from the number of times I’ve mentioned it.

A few Saturdays ago (yeah, I’m a little behind on the blogging), a bunch of us went down to the Rocks Weekend Markets, then spent an hour or several wandering around the Royal Botanic Gardens. We saw lots of tourists, lots of plants, and at least three couples taking wedding photos. Topped off with lunch at Breadtop and some bubble tea, it was a pretty perfect day.

A giant birdcage?

Walking.

A succulent garden with a bunch of American cacti.

Climbing on things. (Photo courtesy Alicia.)

This sign sounds like my mother when I was four years old.


Koalas and Kangaroos: a cliche coming true

Okay, okay, I went to Koala Park Sanctuary just so I could feed some kangaroos, pet some koalas, and look at some emus. Now that we’ve got that Australian cliche over with, y’all can stop bugging me. :)

Hoosier wallaby.

Pretty bird.

Kangaroos.

Feeding grass to the kangaroos.

Adorable koala.

Aww...

SO SOFT.

Photos of me by Alicia.


Illinois State Fair–I mean, Sydney Royal Easter Show

They’re basically the same thing.

The day after I got back to Sydney, Ariana, Alicia, Karen and I went to the Sydney Royal Easter Show at Olympic Park. I expected the event to resemble an American state fair–and I was exactly right.

All of the important elements were there: fried everything (including cheesecake–Mmmm), booths selling useless junk, carnival rides, cooking shows, displays of cakes and crops, a lumberjack demonstration, etc. etc. etc.

There were a few uniquely Australian things too, though. I haven’t seen a polo match at any American state fair, and most of them don’t have contests for the best wool either.

Here are some photo highlights from the show:

First-prize winning wool.

Pretty cool display made entirely of natural products.

Poodle grooming at the dog show.

Straight from the Illinois State Fair...

A cow show of some sort.

A giant inflatable cow of some sort.

Meat pie-making demonstration.

Alpaca fashion show.

The showbag hall. Each booth sells themed bags full of useless goodies.

There are always way too many pictures of the Arch entered into the photo competition at fairs near St. Louis. Here, of course, there are way too many pictures of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

I'm not sure which is worse, Illinois' SPAM cooking contest or Sydney's fruitcake baking contest.

I haven't seen a calligraphy division at any mid-American fair.

A small afternoon parade featured the Marching Koalas. Aww...


Best Break Ever Part 9: Like a rolling stone

This year, I went to Easter Vigil Mass in one country and Easter Sunday Mass in another.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s pretty awesome.

As you may recall, I went to Easter Vigil at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland. I then spent the night at the Auckland airport, wherein I found a surprisingly comfortable bench and actually got a few decent hours of sleep.

I woke up at 4 a.m. to check in for my flight. For the first time on the trip, I ran into a little problem: my carry-on bag was about twice the maximum permitted weight. I’d known this all along, but no one else had bothered to weigh it until now. Therefore, I had no choice to check the bag. Luckily, I was flying Qantas, so one checked bag was included in my fare. (If this would have happened on either of my earlier flights, JetStar and Virgin Blue would’ve charged me about a million dollars.) I handed over the bag and prayed it didn’t get lost–though even if it did, I was going back to Sydney and all my clothes anyway.

After that little issue was resolved, I bought a cup of tea and a sandwich and tried to pretend the 4:00 on my phone was actually referring to 4:00 in the afternoon. This worked surprisingly well until I looked out the airport window. Oh. Right.

I considered sleeping on the plane. But then I remembered I was flying Qantas, which meant I got all the free movies, TV, and games I wanted. I broke the Solitaire record for my seat, then watched “Secretariat” instead of sleeping. An hour or so into the four-hour flight, a lovely hot breakfast was served, free of charge. I sure didn’t see Virgin Blue and JetStar doing that on my other flights. The meal came with a Cadbury cream egg for dessert. Happy Easter to me.

Basically, I spent the entire flight reflecting on how wonderful Qantas is. Sure, it’s a little more expensive than the other carriers, but I think it’s almost worth it. (Especially when you can pay part of the fare with frequent flier points as I did.) Seriously. Free meal, free movies, free Cadbury egg, free checked baggage, free pillow and blanket. It’s like flying back into the 1950s or something.

I arrived in Sydney at 8 a.m. and picked up my (thankfully, not lost) bag from the exact same carousel that I picked up my luggage from when I landed at the airport on February 11. Is it weird that I remember that?

Then I caught a train from the airport to the city, hoofed it to St. Mary’s Cathedral, and was only a few minutes late to join Ariana for Easter Sunday Mass.

I stowed my luggage in a corner, found my seat, and realised an hour ago I was sitting on a plane. In other words, I went through customs and quarantine, picked up my luggage, got some Australian currency from the ATM, bought a train ticket, caught a train, and walked to St. Mary’s Cathedral–all within an hour. I’m still not sure how that happened.

In fact, that’s how I feel about my entire break. It was at times improbable, but always incredible. I took four planes and one train and got a few stamps on my passport. I saw the sun rise four times. I met people from all over the world. I lived out of a suitcase, sharing rooms with complete strangers for two weeks.

What’s even more amazing is I met people who were doing this for seven, eight months. Just taking their backpacks and going wherever the road may lead. I don’t think I could do that. I’d miss having a home to go back to. All the amazing things I saw and did would start to run together, and none of them would be as spectacular anymore.

For me, two weeks was plenty. Of course, there’s still much more of Australia and New Zealand I want to see. I didn’t make it to the Outback, I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about Tasmania, and it takes a lot more than five days to properly experience New Zealand.

Nonetheless, these two weeks were quite a beautiful journey–and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Best break ever, indeed.

Ariana and I outside St. Mary's Cathedral on Easter.


Best Break Ever Part 8: New Zealand real quick.

Okay, here’s the deal. As much as I’d love to tell you every detail of my five days in New Zealand, I only have three weeks left in Australia and I’m waaaay behind on blogging. So I’m just going to give you a quick highlight reel of the awesome stuff I saw and did. If you want to know more, well, as I said, I’ll be home in three weeks.

For now, I’ll only say the country is just as brilliant and green and wild and beautiful and enchanting as you’ve always imagined.

Hot Water Beach

Wherein I dipped my feet in hot water pools created by digging holes in the sandy beach, then went for a walk with a couple of Danish women from my tour group.

Gemstone Bay

I’m just going to leave these photos here for you, k?

Somewhere along the road

Pretty scenery this way. And everywhere else, too.

Buffalo Beach, Mercury Bay

Wherein I had the best fish and chips possibly ever, watched the sun set on a beautiful beach, slept in a hostel by the ocean, and watched the sun rise again the next morning.

Twin Kauri Scenic Reserve

Wherein I hugged a giant Kauri tree.

Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway

Wherein I explored an abandoned gold mine and crossed a really, really wobbly bridge.

Matamata

Wherein I pretended I’d seen more than zero “Lord of the Rings” movies and just generally had fun saying “Matamata” a lot.

Rotorua

Wherein parks are built around bubbling mud pools and steam vents come out of people’s back yards. The entire town smells like rotten eggs and I’d never seen anything quite like it.

Rotorua is home to lots Maori people, and I had a wonderful cultural experience/dinner there.

In Rotorua, I also went zorbing. My tour guide described it best when he said, “Zorbing is like your first time. It’s wet, warm, and over in 30 seconds, but you’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Waitomo

Wherein I went on a cave tour and saw a magical array of glowworms, but didn’t take photos because really there’s no point.

Lake Taupo

Wherein I watched the sun set and that’s about it, because I didn’t have time to go kayaking or skydiving.