Australian Escapade: Sydney in the Summer

23 Jan

Series of emails sent to my best Australian mate – who now lives in Ireland – from her favorite city…

Page 1 – Target Reached
Page 2 – Celebration du Chocolat
Page 3 – Hills Hills Hills
Page 4 – Law-Abiding Citizens
Page 5 – At Long Last We Meet, Tiger Pie
Page 6 – Hop Hop Hippity Hop
Page 7 – Fishy Fishy
Page 8 – Close your Eyes
Page 9 – Loose Ends

Target Reached
13 January 2011

I love Target. I just left the shop where I wanted to buy everything, but ended up with just two items. You know what that means? TREAT!! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw an LPQ (for the non-addicts: Le Pain Quotidien, a Belgian chain of joy that spread through DC, a city who didn’t know bread before their arrival). They also have a raw hot cocoa… and a dozen little things that will make you come back back back. Brunette anyone?

I am at an Internet “station” between these Target and LPQ, in the Westfield Mall in Bondi Junction. How did you get here, you wonder? On foot – about an hour from my little lodge in Potts Point, armed with my Google map and a bottle of water. I enjoyed the downhill section at the beginning, thinking I am glad I’ll take the train on the way back. Then I saw the lovely sailing boats giggling on Rushcutters Bay: mmm unless I get my feet wet this is the end of downhill and I wasn’t halfway to my target destination. But it was early morning, sunny and breezy. I am on vacation. My feet couldn’t resist the enthusiasm of my head: let’s all sing along “Target lalala Target lalala Target lalala!”

I went though some nice residential areas. I walked along busy roads and along lanes without names but I trusted my Google map and hunting instincts to get me to the target (ok, I am almost done with my puns). I reminded myself a few times: “You are not in Vila, do not look at people, do not smile. This is big world, look at your feet. Serious. Focused. No idiotic smile.” See, Vila is like the village I grew up in: you look at people and say hello or nod, and they do the same. You smile broadly and you get rewarded (usually) by another bright smile. Try that in DC and you’ll be arrested. It did work on homeless people though. Anyway, big town so behave.

Oh yeah what’s wrong with these Sydneysiders who won’t cross a street when the cars’ light is green but the pedestrians’ is red?! All this good behaviour (notice the extra u – I am writing in Australian now) is rewarded how? I just have to be bad and cross whenever I deem it appropriate! Even if there was no light in my village, I have learned early on that I do not have the patience to wait for lights to turn green, especially when the cars going in the same directions have a green light. Dis-cri-mi-na-tion. O-ppre-ssion.

Here, pedestrians have to press a button if they want the light to turn green, It doesn’t come automatically when the cars get it. Do you see what I mean? In the US, lights for both streets users change around the same time; here if you don’t “ask” by pressing the big button 20 seconds before the cars’ light change, nothing happens. You press, hope the system got you in time for the next round (tic toc tic toc) or you wait wait wait and it’s maddening! “Target lalala Target lalala Target lalala!”

Then there it was… the big bold and beautiful sign on top of a grey building. But I couldn’t go in. Not just because I felt some pity for a UNICEF girl looking for kind ears to start her pitch – ambushed. Bigger obstacle than imploring eyes: money. Before leaving PV, I went to ANZ (pronounced ‘zed’) to make sure my debit card (brand new account for my hard-earned vatus) would work in Ozland. Yes yes yes, Ma’am. Well, it didn’t work when I tried to pay for my hotel room. Thankfully the card with the hard-earned dollars was working. I still wanted to find a branch of my bank to sort things out before breaking all spending spree records. I resisted the call of Target, and walked around the neighbourhood to find it.

Ah the wonderful smells – Pasteleria (Portuguese pastries, who knew?), fresh bread here, a huge chocolate muffin with chocolate chips calling my name (chocolate everywhere pronounces my name without an accent), but I wanted to be good. Focus focus: ANZ ANZ. Oh a yoga place, oh a shoe store, oh an ANZ ATM … temporarily out of order. Have I chosen the worst Australian Bank ever? I could see plenty of other banks, including one that does have a branch in PV. As far as I know there are two Australian Banks, a French one and the local banks in Vila. Should have gone with the other Australian bank

My fruity breakfast + yogurt was melting. Auto-digestion had started. Oh a pilates and yoga and aqua place in one… downward facing dolphin? starfish warrior? Focus focus. Oh cute guy who wants directions to an office supply store. Mmm racking brain but no, I don’t remember seeing one in my wanderings — eyes not really attracted by paper. Sorry cute guy.

Oh a KMart. Resolve dissolving as I was walking around the building with the target sign. Hunger! Surrender. Avoiding chains and looking at friendly places was the new objective. I rested my feet eating a hummus and veggie sandwich reading the paper – no good news. Well, it is good news that the water peak level was lower than in 1974 when the worst flooding happened. It stopped raining and Queensland can spend the next five years recovering. It was over all the TV channels last night and this morning: yeah, I have a TV again!!!

I love my room: TV, sink, fridge, microwave, basic kitchenware, drawers, cupboard, big window facing a back alley, did I mention the TV? The shared bathroom is next door and there is another one down the hall. I am on the first (second if you are American) floor – no elevator. Australians are like Europeans in that way: they love their free exercise. I got to Macleay Lodge at almost 9pm on Wednesday (12 January) even though my plane landed shortly after 7pm. The shuttle driver was waiting for more passengers – two German teenagers and moi were not enough. I talked a bit with the girl since we waited for so long. They are taking a year off before university and have been travelling for more than four months (India, Nepal, NZ). They are spending their last five days in Sydney, which they had already visited last year. To be young again.

I couldn’t believe that it was still daylight when I landed and it was sunny! I left a depressing Vanuatu fighting off a cyclone: winds and rain all day, worse than in the past week when the sun was playing “hide and don’t bother seeking me.” The cyclone didn’t hit Efate thankfully; it was closer to southern islands of the archipelago and New Caledonia. I was worried that my flight would be cancelled or delayed and called in the morning to check. “Call at 2:30.” With a flight taking off at 3:20?! Pacific cool. I called three times between 2 and 2:10 to be told: “They are checking in passengers, come now.” So I got to the airport thanks to a friendly colleague who has the URA car and arrived around 2:40 (detour on the way because of bad potholes) to find a closed check-in counter and unhappy passengers. We were told to go to the Air Vanuatu office to rebook our flight and that we should have come two hours ago. Grumpy left and a nice employee came out to check us in. The plane was delayed anyway! A little bit bumpy but as usual the “plane effect” hit me and I was dozing off until the smell of food woke me up.

Time flew by fast because I started chatting with my neighbour Janneke (beautiful name, no?) about where to eat in Sydney. Her husband is a chef and they used to live there (now in Brisbane, very worried about their dogs and belongings since their house is near a river and the coast). We also talked about life in Vila, after ten weeks there I am an expert!

Sydney welcomed me with open arms and a sunny smile… but that won’t last if I don’t get some vatus to transform into Australian dollars. I had overpriced sashimi last night, and spent about AU$30 at Woolworth’s getting the essentials: six bars of Lindt — less than AU$3 each, it was on sale: I told you I was warmly welcomed. The sun is hiding again now — yes, I can see the sky from here. It is a cool mall but I had forgotten how noisy those places were. Now it’s time for dessert at LPQ’s before taking the train home. I may take a little nap or just listen to silence (aaah), and then head towards the harbor, oops harbour to meet with Judy for drinks at the Opera bar. Sweet life.

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