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.


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 7: Glad I’m not living in Auckland

My last post left off with me preparing to catch an 11 pm flight from Cairns to Auckland, New Zealand.

When I arrived at the Cairns airport, my flight was the only one open for check-in in the international terminal. (The place isn’t exactly LAX.) Checking in took a little longer than I anticipated, because the person working the counter apparently wanted to ensure before I left for New Zealand that I wasn’t going to be deported once I got there. Before she gave me my boarding pass, she asked if I had plans for leaving New Zealand. Luckily, I had my itinerary in my bag for my flight back to Sydney a week later. When she saw that I had an American passport but was flying back to Australia, she asked me if I had a valid Australian visa. Luckily I had my visa confirmation with me as well, but really, how did she think I got into Australia in the first place? She was friendly enough, but I just wanted to get to my gate so I could sit down and think about taking a nap.

Eventually, I got my boarding pass and proceeded through security. People complain about the TSA, but Australian airport security is pretty much the same ordeal. You have to take your laptop out of your bag, and the liquids rule still applies, except here’s it’s 100 millilitres instead of 3 ounces. The main difference is in Australia, you get to keep your shoes on. They also don’t do pat-downs, as far as I know. Oh, and no one asks you for your passport. Okay, maybe it is easier in Australia.

Once I passed security, I was directed to the customs area, where I had to fill out a “departing passenger card.” The card asked for some random information about my stay and made me swear I wasn’t exporting any contraband from Australia. (This is where I’m glad I left that coral on the beach in Palm Cove.) It wasn’t a difficult process, but I don’t remember filling out anything like that when I left America. I presented the completed card to a customs officer, who put a “departing Australia” stamp on my passport.

It was sometime during this process that I realised New Zealand is, in fact, a different country. Intellectually, I knew that, but the whole customs process reminded me that I was in fact leaving the country I’d spent the last three months in. Not nearly as dramatic as leaving (for the first time) the country I’d spent the last 21 years in, but still notable.

When my flight was ready for boarding, they didn’t even bother to make a real announcement. It was the only flight leaving from that part of the terminal, so the crew pretty much just looked at all the tired people sitting near the gate and said, “Okay, y’all can get on the plane now.”

Once I got to my seat, I was delighted to find I had the entire row to myself. I guess not many people were clamouring to take a red-eye flight from Cairns to Auckland on a random Saturday. I was able to get a little rest by lying down across the three seats, but still airplanes are airplanes and I can’t sleep on airplanes.

The plane landed in Auckland at around 5:00 a.m., just in time for me to see my second sunrise of the trip. (Four-hour flight plus two-hour time difference, for those of you keeping track at home.) I proceeded through customs in a sleepless stupor, passed the giant “Kia Ora – Welcome to New Zealand” sign on the airport wall, and found a shuttle bus to take me to my hostel.

Because it was 6 a.m. when I arrived at the YHA International, I couldn’t really check in yet. The desk attendant looked about as awake as I was, but he gave me some change for the washing machines and the key to the luggage storage room. My first task was to do my laundry, since I’d only brought enough clothes for a week and they were all pretty much dirty by the time I left Melbourne. Once that task was complete, I stumbled out into the street in search of a cup of coffee. Along the way, I was surprised to find a record shop near my hostel open so early on a Sunday morning. The store reminded me of Vintage Vinyl, except it was much bigger (!) and sold music books and c*** colouring books and things as well as records and CDs.

As I wandered around downtown Auckland, I felt like I was at home–but not in a good way. The city reminded me of St. Louis. There are some nice parts, but it’s not. quite. there. The interesting things, like the record store, coffee shops, and museums, were scattered amongst vacant buildings and deserted sidewalks.

I don't know who Deloitte is, but I do know we have a building with the exact same sign in St. Louis. Point proven.

The Auckland Domain was okay, but the walk from the CBD was full of construction and concrete and not all that pleasant. In my wanderings, I came across the Auckland Institute of Technology. I remembered very briefly considering studying in Auckland this semester, and was quite glad I didn’t give that thought any serious attention.

My initial distaste for Auckland may have been caused partially by my tiredness resulting from a sleepless overnight flight. (Not that that stopped me from loving Sydney the minute I got here.) Despite the exhaustion, I decided to try to make something productive out of my day. First I went to Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was very nice. I even managed to stay awake through the 1.5-hour service.

The inside of the church. It was pretty in a clean, simple way.

Leaving the church after Mass.

The front of the church. It was pretty tiny by cathedral standards.

Then I went to the Auckland Museum, which was pretty cool. The Museum is located in the Auckland Domain, a big grassy area in the middle of the city. (Like Forest Park. Except smaller. And uglier. But the St. Louis analogies continue.) Next to the museum is the Winter Gardens, which consist of a few greenhouses full of pretty flowers and stuff.

Water lilies.

Some flowers. (Obvious caption is obvious.)

After visiting the Domain, I decided I’d had enough adventure for the day, so I got a sandwich for dinner and went back to check into my hostel and sleep. It was 6 p.m., but that was highly irrelevant.

The next day, I left Auckland on a Kiwi Experience tour. Our first stop was a lookout over the city. It was cold and rainy but the city looked slightly less lousy from the top of a very dormant volcano.

Rainbow provided for your enjoyment.

I spent a wonderful five days exploring the North Island. But at the end of the tour, I ended up–guess where–back in Auckland.

When I arrived in the city on Friday afternoon, I had the benefit of a full night’s sleep. On the other hand, it was Good Friday, which is a public holiday in New Zealand, so EVERYTHING was closed. Plus, it was raining. Feeling epically lame, I spent some time on the internet at my hostel, then ventured out for a falafel kebab, some chips, and a bottle of L&P from a shop down the street. The kebab shop was pretty crowded, because it was one of the few places open on Good Friday. Kiwis take their public holidays very seriously. I also got a chocolate chip cookie from an “American-style” cookie store. It’s funny–I don’t think of chocolate chip cookies as particularly American, and it wasn’t until this store pointed it out that I realised I hadn’t really seen them anywhere else in Australasia.

On Saturday, I decided to give Auckland one last chance, so I ventured down to the harbour. There, the St. Louis comparisions ended and the Sydney ones began. Let’s face it: Auckland just wants to be Sydney. Their Harbour Bridge looks like a smashed-down version of Sydney’s, and they have a Bridge Climb too. (To be fair, you can’t bungee jump off the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But this is New Zealand–you can bungee jump off everything.)

Harbour Bridge fail.

I took a ferry to Davenport because, as I’ve mentioned before, ferries are awesome. Davenport is the historical area of Auckland, and there were lots of pretty buildings and parks there. I climbed to the top of the dormant volcano we drove up at the beginning of the week. I walked around with the tourists for a while, then slid down the steep grassy side and back to the bottom. That was pretty fun, even if the only other people doing it were under the age of 6.

After killing some time in Davenport, I went back to the Auckland CBD and has a delicious Chipotle-style burrito at a Mexican restaurant. Then I walked around the harbour for a while and became further convinced that Auckland is trying to be Sydney. Unfortunately for the city, it is failing. Miserably. If I had gone there first, I probably would’ve thought the trendy restaurants and fancy boats on Auckland’s harbour were pretty sweet. But because I’d lived in Sydney for three months, I was not impressed.

The harbour from the ferry.

The city from Davenport.

The city from the top of the volcano (in sunlight this time).

Then I went to church, because that’s what I do when I’m alone in a city with time to kill and no money to spend. (Actually, it was Easter Vigil, so I probably would have gone anyway.) It was a beautiful service, and it lasted until 10:30 p.m. After Mass, I said goodbye to Auckland (not entirely happily–even if it was a lousy city, few things are more enticing than a city on a Saturday night) and took a shuttle to the airport. There, I found a comfy bench and slept until it was time to check in for my 6 a.m. flight out of the New Zealand knockoff version and back to the real Sydney.


Best Break Ever Part 1: I’m on a Train!

My mid-semester break started way too early in the morning on April 9, when I caught a train to Central Station in Sydney to meet another train that would take me to Melbourne.  I arrived at Central approximately ten minutes before my train to Melbourne was due to depart, and thus learned the first reason that trains are better than planes. Can you imagine arriving at an airport ten minutes before your plane is taking off? Yeah, not gonna work. You’ll need at least an hour to check in, go through security, etc. But at Central Station, there was none of that. I just found the correct platform, showed my ticket to the guard, and took my seat. So simple. So refreshingly simple.

As soon as I sat down on the train, I was instantly enamoured. I got a window seat (yay!) and miles of legroom: another thing you won’t find in your average economy class airline seat. I had the two seats to myself, so I got to stretch out and relax as we travelled through the suburbs and out of Sydney.

I had neglected to eat breakfast before getting on the train, so when the conductor announced the dining car was open, I got up so fast I forgot I was in a moving vehicle and ended up running into a gentleman sitting a few rows ahead of me. Sorry, dude.

I ordered a ham and cheese croissant and a cup of tea, both of which were very satisfying. By the time I finished, we were out of the Sydney area and travelling through gently rolling farmland. It struck me as the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen, and I realised that’s what two months in a city has done to me. Besides the one day I spent in the Blue Mountains, I’ve been surrounded by lights and tall buildings since I arrived here in February. So it was lovely to see green again.

Trees! Grass! Water!

Telephone poles!

The scenery remained unchanged for the entire 11-hour trip to Melbourne: cattle farm, sheep farm, cattle farm, sheep farm. We passed by rolling hills and tiny ponds, and through leafy patches of trees. We also stopped at about a dozen small-town stations along the way.  At each station, a few passengers disembarked and a few more joined the train. In fact, I’m pretty sure most people on the train didn’t go all the way from Sydney to Melbourne–most people who want to do that take a plane, because it’s faster and cheaper. This train primarily served people who lived in the small towns along the way and wanted to get to or from Sydney or Melbourne.  We only stopped at each station for a few minutes, so I didn’t get to explore these towns like I would have liked to.  Still, even the stations themselves were charming.

Excuse me, conductor, could I hop off here and travel back to 1949? I need to send a telegraph.

As we approached Melbourne, the sun was setting and rain was beginning to fall. By the time we got to Southern Cross Station, it was completely dark outside and definitely raining. Luckily, I’d done a little advance planning and knew which tram would get me to my hostel. I walked out of the train station and found the tram stop immediately: another advantage of trains over planes. When I flew out of Melbourne later that week, I had to pay $16 for a 30-minute shuttle ride to the airport. But when I arrived, all I had to do was walk out of the train station, and there was a $3 tram ready to take me on a 15-minute ride to my accommodation. Once again, the simplicity was refreshing.

I successfully located and checked into my first-ever hostel, The Nunnery. The building, a converted convent, is quite paradoxical. It still has lots of charming original features, like decorative moulding on the ceiling and stained glass windows above the doors. But it’s a hostel, so the bedrooms are furnished with bunk beds and littered with clothing, travel guides, miscellaneous possessions, and the occasional guitar. I slept there all four nights in Melbourne, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, even though it turned out to be probably the least fancy of all the hostels I stayed in. Some of my room-mates were pretty interesting people, which made the experience even better.

So stay tuned for more about them–and more about Melbourne–in the next post!


I’m baaaaack!

After more than* two weeks of bus rides, hostel beds, beaches, bushwalks, meat pies and muddy jeans, I arrived back home in Sydney this morning. I know, it’s not technically home. But crossing the Harbour Bridge on my way back to college, it sure felt like it.

I’ll begin a series of proper blog posts about my adventures on Tuesday (hold me to that, okay?), but until then let me just say it was quite a trip. I saw the sun rise four times (if you know me, you know that NEVER happens). I took photos of so many beaches that they all kind of started to run together. I got a couple new passport stamps and crossed at least one thing off my bucket list. I went to Easter Vigil Mass in one country and Easter Sunday Mass the next morning in a different one.

And that’s just the beginning.

I know you can’t wait to hear all about it, so as soon as I get my computer back in a couple days, we’ll get this party started.

And if you don’t want to hear all about it, why are you reading this blog anyway?

*Edited to correct “over” to “more than.” Amy Simons, if you’re reading this, you taught me well. :)