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.


Mass, Music, and…McDonald’s?!?!

This Sunday at 2 a.m., Daylight Savings Time ended in Australia. Unfortunately, I forgot this little detail, failed to reset my alarm clock, and missed out on the extra hour of sleep. I did, however, gain an hour of Facebook chatting with Lyndsey about the Cardinals, which was nice. (As much as I love baseball, it is, understandably, pretty low on the priority list right now.)

After getting up too early, I went to the Solemn Sung Mass at St. Mary’s Catherdral. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that it was a nice Mass and that people who use their phones during church services should be excommunicated. After the service, the men’s and boys’ choirs were singing at a fund-raising barbecue across from the church, so they all just walked outside onto the plaza in their choir robes and everything. The talking and laughing was quite an amusing juxtaposition to the solemn music they were performing during Mass just minutes before.

After Mass, I walked over to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, because it’s basically right next door.  Apparently there are free concerts in the 19th century Australian Art gallery every Sunday from 12:30-1:30. I discovered this at 12:30 and spent the next hour in pretentious classical music lover’s heaven.  I also took some photos of some of my favourite paintings at the museum.

This painting, besides being large and colorful and just a lot of fun, has an interesting story. The artist, Australian Robert Owen, painted each square one color to match his mood every 30 minutes for 80 days. I wonder if he woke himself up every 30 minutes or if sleeping time doesn't count.

If you know me, I'm sure you'll understand why I liked this one.

This one's called "The Curve of the Bridge" and was painted by Sydneysider Grace Cossington Smith in 1928-9, while the Harbour Bridge was under construction. I can't explain why I love this painting so much. Maybe because it's so quintessentially, unmistakably Sydney.

I left the museum and took the harbourside path through the Royal Botanic Gardens to Circular Quay. Sydney Harbour deserves its own blog post, and it will get one eventually. For now let me just say that if it were a person I’d marry it.

So sparkly.

By the time I tore myself away from the harbour, I was kind of hungry. I walked to George Street and found…McDonald’s. To Australian’s, it’s Macca’s. To us, it’s Mickey D’s. But either way, it’s the same concept.

Yes, I went to McDonald’s for lunch. In Sydney. But let me explain. The thing about McDonald’s is that they’re not all exactly the same. Each one is a little different. I’ve heard some in Florida serve clam chowder, for example. So I wanted to see how Australian ones were different. Unfortunately, it’s been so long since I’ve been to an American McDonald’s that I don’t really know what a normal menu item is, so I couldn’t really compare. One thing I did notice is this McDonald’s doesn’t have a dollar menu. It has a $2 menu, and there are like three items on it. Gotta love a city where you can buy literally nothing for less than $1.

I ordered a cheeseburger value meal ($4.75) with a Coke. And guess what it tasted like?  A McDonald’s cheeseburger value meal. With fries and a Coke.

So now I know. The buildings and menus may look slightly different, but McDonald’s food tastes the same everywhere. Curiousity satisfied and experiment concluded, I took the train back to college, where I enjoyed some real food–an ice cream sundae.

Oh, and I guess I had dinner too.


Spiders, Sand, and Kangaroo Steak

Another Saturday, another day spent exploring Sydney.  This weekend, Ariana and I woke up super early to make the hour-plus bus journey to Manly Beach.  Manly is one of the two most famous beaches in Sydney (along with Bondi), so a visit there was a must.  When we arrived at Manly, the sky was cloudy, a chilly wind was blowing, and drops of rain were sporadically falling from the sky.  Not exactly great beach weather.  So instead of putting on our swimsuits, we walked along the ocean from Manly Beach to the much smaller Shelly Beach.  From there, we took a path up a cliff and into part of Sydney Harbour National Park.  The views from the clifftop were stunning, and we saw some interesting things along the way.

I wonder what happened here. Lightning strike? Very small forest fire?

Sitting on the edge of a cliff. Don't worry, Mom, there's another ledge right below this one.

I love how cloudy, windy days make the ocean look that much more fierce.

These spiders were EVERYWHERE. They just string their giant webs between trees above our heads. Scott assured us they were harmless.

From the national park, we wandered into an area that appeared to be some sort of former military outpost.  We eventually figured out it served as a military base during WWII.  Today, it contains an artillery museum and various memorials to WWII service men and women.

When it began to rain lightly for approximately the third time since we’d arrived at Manly, Ariana and I decided to look at a map and figure out where the heck we actually were.  As we were doing so, a park ranger named Scott spotted us and asked us if we needed help.  We told him where we wanted to go, and he led us partway there.  Along the way, he told us all about various features of the area–both natural and historical.  He must’ve noticed our accents, because at one point he asked, “So–and I offend a lot of Canadians this way–are you American?”  We both laughed and said yes.  I’m beginning to see more and more differences–and stereotypes–between Australians, Americans, and Canadians, but that’s a topic for another post.

Ariana and I walked back down to the beach along a road lined with beautiful city houses.  We discussed which area of Sydney we’ll live in when we hypothetically inherit money from long lost relatives/win the lottery.  Manly is definitely near the top of my list.

Our planned lunch spot–and really, the only planned part of our day–was Manly Grill, a beachside restaurant that serves kangaroo steaks, among other things.  Like most restaurants in Sydney, Manly Grill offers both indoor and outdoor dining.  We chose to sit outdoors so we could enjoy the oceanfront view.

As we perused the menu, I realised this was the first time I’d been to an actual restaurant in Sydney.  My college fees include unlimited food in the dining hall, so I eat most of my meals there.  When I’m out during lunchtime, I often stop by a bakery for a meat pie.  They’re $4 or less, they’re everywhere, and they’re delicious.  Furthermore, many restaurants charge more for dine-in meals than takeaway (carry-out) ones.  It doesn’t make sense for me to pay a few dollars more to eat a sandwich in a restaurant when I can just as easily walk down the street to a park bench and enjoy it there.

Anyway, back to the restaurant.  I ordered what I’d come to the restaurant for: kangaroo steak, medium rare.  The steak was marinated in a mild flavoring and served with a small salad and some very delicious chips (french fries).  Ribeye steak is one of my favorite foods, so I wasn’t sure what to expect as I cut a piece of kangaroo steak.  As it turns out, it tastes almost, but not quite, like beef steak.  It’s also leaner and has a much milder flavor.  The steak was juicy and cooked perfectly, but it lacked the melt-in-your-mouth tenderness of a ribeye.  Overall, it was a very good steak.  Was it better than a good ribeye?  I don’t think so, but I bet many Australians would disagree.

After lunch, Ariana and I walked down to the beach.  It was still chilly and still cloudy, so we just took off our shoes and walked along the beach.  It was nearly empty of swimmers, but dozens of surfers were out riding the waves.  We watched them for a while, marveling at the skilled ones and giggling at the not so talented ones.  Not that we could do any better.

By this time, it was mid-afternoon and the sun showed no signs of reappearing, so I decided to go back to college and get ready for Mardi Gras.  Instead of taking the bus back, I took a commuter ferry to Circular Quay, then rode the normal train back to college.  The journey didn’t take any longer, and ferries are infinitely cooler than buses.

Leaving Manly by ferry.

Overall, I had a great day exploring Manly.  Hopefully next weekend, it’ll be warm enough to go back and enjoy the beach.  Autumn and cooler temperatures (we’re talking 60 degrees Fahrenheit) are just around the corner, so I want to take advantage of the beach weather while I can.


Sydney Harbour Cruise

Last night, Macquarie University invited all 400-some of its study abroad and exchange students to a free cruise on Sydney Harbour.  A few others and I took the subway to the departure point outside the Opera House, and my first Sydney public transit experience went smoothly.  We had a slight moment of confusion on the way home, when the boat unexpectly dropped us off at a different dock than we departed from.  But we were able to get directions from a University employee on the boat and easily found our way back to the subway station.

As for the cruise itself, well, it was lovely.  Packing 400 study abroad students onto a boat with drinks and music isn’t usually my idea of fun, but we escaped to the upper deck and managed to avoid most of the debauchery.  We also took in some wonderful views, like these:

I wouldn't mind living in one of these buildings.

Does this scene even need words?

Crossing under the Harbour Bridge

I can't wait to go to Luna Park

My next goal is to befriend someone here with a sailboat.

I've taken a lot of pictures of the Harbour Bridge. This trend will probably continue.

Sydney (and the Australian flag) from our boat

Sunset over the Opera House

I wish you folks in St. Louis could see this moon. No, really.

Mmmmmmmmm.


Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens

It’s past midnight, but blogging is more fun than sleeping.

Tonight, a few people and I took the subway downtown for a harbour cruise for international students (which I will blog about later, in an effort to keep you in suspense).  We intentionally got there early so we’d have time to explore a little.  We took pictures of the Sydney Opera House with all the other tourists and walked around the Royal Botanic Gardens.  I’m sure I will be visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens several more times.  Why?  Here’s why:

Free range and free of charge. Gives the Missouri Botanical Garden a run for its money.

And here’s some more motivation for me to visit this lovely spot again in the future.  We only covered about half of the park.  If that.

A tree.

Some more trees.

One of several iconic Syndey views.

The birds are quite friendly.

The Botanic Gardens are adjacent to the Sydney Opera House, so we walked around it.  I hope to go to a performance there sometime this semester.

Lots of steps.

The Opera House's seashell alter ego.

This is what the sails look like up close.

Tourists doing their touristy things around the Opera House.