I must admit that I wasn’t anticipating Australia with the same level of excitement as Fiji and initially it seemed as if my expectations were well founded. First, since it was summer I was expecting it to be quite warm and to my surprise it was a bit cool (19C or 66F). We arrived around 8:00 pm after a 5.5 hr flight on Jet Star; one of those budget airlines where you pay to watch a movie or have a drink. Fortunately for us, being hungry was a good thing as we arrived at our friends’ Andrew and Dani Warren Smith’s home where we were welcomed with a warm hug and home cooked meal. They made us feel very much at home and by the next morning we were enfolded into the morning ritual of getting the boys off to school. The boys, Nick, Ross and Matthew are miniatures of Andrew in mannerism (cool and self assured:-), and while they might not appreciate my saying so, totally adorable. I’m not sure how Andrew and Dani accomplish it but they play and interact very well together without the typical squabbling that I would anticipate from 3 active siblings up pretty early and needing to get ready for school.
(Andrew with his three boys)
The second seeming mood killer was the high price of any and everything. There is nothing you can buy in Oz for one dollar and with the exchange rate not favouring the US dollar we or rather I began to feel redundant constantly exclaiming, “OMG, how much? no way!” We decided to spend the morning at the zoo and after a bus and ferry ride that gave us a great view of Sydney’s unique harbor and sky line we wondered through the Taronga zoo seeing up close and personal things you can only see in Oz--Koala bears that are truly as cute as the stuffed versions (you can almost touch them as they are uncaged and basically sleep all day in eucalyptus trees), Kookaburra birds, kangaroos, dingos and wombats to name a few. The only thing we didn’t get a chance to see is the duckbilled platypus as they’re nocturnal.
(Sydney Harbour & Harbour Bridge on the way to Taronga Zoo)
(Anna petting a wallaby at Taronga Zoo)
Of course we had another OMG moment when we strolled by the food court where a fast food (not gourmet) hamburger and fries was about $17AUSD which is roughly around 18 US$ at current exchange rate. We absolutely refused to pay such a ridiculous price and walked off in a righteous huff. But after wandering through the city site seeing for the rest of the afternoon we had to swallow our disgust and satisfy our grumbling tummies. We still complained but realized no one including our stomachs cared. Thank goodness Andrew and Dani’s kind hospitality not only warmed our hearts being in a family atmosphere but also our stomachs.
The other thing I would mention re Sydney is that you should get a handle on where you want to go and how you plan to get there as we found street signs, bus lines and even the bus drivers not particularly tourist friendly. If you don’t know your bus route there are no indications in the bus or clear road signs to alert you when you’re approaching your stop or how close or far you are from your intended destination. As we tried to return to Andrew and Dani’s place we were thankfully helped by a friendly commuter who confirmed the correct stop to await the bus and also let us know that queuing is a must if you don’t want to be reprimanded by residents. This includes all public transportation, even boats/ferries. The only problem we had now is we didn’t know when to exit the bus and of course Elmar being typical male didn’t want to ask. I knew I should have checked anyway when as we hustled off the bus the friendly commuter who knew our destination looking puzzled and with raised eyebrows shook his head at us as the bus pulled away. Now what to do? I thought we should just take a taxi but no, that would have meant ‘someone’ admitting we didn’t know where we were or how to get ‘home’. So we just took off walking. The irritating end to this story for me is that somehow Elmar picked the right direction and without making one wrong turn or using any technology, found the house in 30 mins…sigh. I had so wanted it to be a teachable moment for him☺.
For our second day in Sydney we decided to ‘stay home’ and get caught up on some outstanding ‘to dos’ such as laundry, finally getting internet access so we could upload our first blog entry but most importantly connecting with family. Dani graciously allowed me to use some of her international calling card minutes and I was able to talk with my daughters and nieces who luckily couldn’t see my tears of joy….they would have teased me for sure. I miss them so much already! We unfortunately didn’t find this out until later and while it’s not a super easy process, purchasing telephone minutes is one thing that’s not too expensive. Best of all you can make very cheap calls to the US once you’ve gone through the hoops. You also don’t need a contract so via a local service like Vodaphone which we purchased at a local supermarket we were able to talk to the US as long as we wanted, (once connected) for one Oz dollar. I know, that’s crazy cheap isn’t it? We didn’t discover this until we were heading out of Oz but trust me, I used the phone right up until the flight attendant insisted I turn it off.
But back to the second day where we had a big evening ahead of us. Mark Busine, another great friend in Oz invited us to join his family for a real Oz ‘barbie’ or barbecue for those not familiar with the term. There is nothing that helps you get a pulse on real life in a country more than spending time in someone’s home and we were privileged to have two invitations. The Busine family made us feel special and we had a lot of fun sharing stories, comparing pictures of our travels and enjoying an excellent meal. My heart was full as we left Sydney the next day, I was truly thankful to connect with true friends and be reminded that distance doesn’t really matter when hearts are knitted together. On such an extended trip as well such visits take on even more meaning as it provides a deeper sense of connection and a respite. Other than your partner your connections come from your ability to reach out to strangers, share experiences; seeking and swapping the history and motivation of your journey. If your travels can include visits with friends, I highly recommend it.
(Barbecue with the Busines)