Julia and I didn’t have much time to say goodbye when we parted ways at Sydney International Airport this morning. A good friend I made in college, Julia is the first person from home to visit me Down Under.
We both departed the city by plane, but since her flight was international and mine domestic, we only had a few seconds for a hug and thank for visiting/having me on the bus to the airport. It’s fine though, because we spent two weeks together doing some pretty amazing things.
Climbing, driving over and walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge (now all we need to do is fly over it). Hanging out in Darling Harbour. Peeing up at manatees at Sydney Aquarium. Watching baby orangoutangs play at Taronga Zoo. Crashing an Ad Tech convention. Jumping out of an airplane (for Julia). EATING heaps tuna and PB&J sandwiches, ice cream, gelato, pizza and rice. Walking endlessly on George and Elizabeth Streets. Stuffing ourselves at Pancakes on the Rocks. Lounging at Manly Beach. Trying meat pies and ginger beer. Meeting local artisans at The Rocks Market. Celebrating St. Paddy’s Day at Fortune of War and The Ivy. Meeting random people on the street. Hiking in the Blue Mountains. Trying to figure out how to work the remote at Big Hostel. Sampling wines in Hunter Valley. Reading subtitles at the French Film Festival. Shopping at Paddington Market. Walking through and lounging in Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Walking along the Sydney Harbour. Catching ferries at Circular Quay. Discovering breathtaking views on the North Shore. Trying Indian and Malaysian food. Screaming at Luna Park. Having our minds blown at the biggest iMax screen in the world (Alice in Wonderland at the iMax theater in Darling Harbour). Getting caught up in different cultural celebrations around the city (Irish, Greek and I think Scottish). Figuring out how to get to Pittwater. Being rescued by Bob and Maureen at Sydney Central Station (more on this later). Kayaking amongst massive jellyfish. Hiding out on “Cast Away”-like beaches. Weeding. Talking politics. Slowly getting closer to a wallaby in the wild. Getting lost while hiking. Burning our bodies then cracking our sculls at Bondi Beach. Tasting kangaroo. Munching on nachos. Acting classy at Aria restaurant. Trekking up multiple hills to YHAs (why do all their locations require walking up some sort of incline?). Listening to classical music at the Opera House.
Julia and I sampling wines on the Hunter Valley Boutique Wine tour.
Obviously, we did quite a bit, more than I even planned on the itinerary I sent her weeks before her departure.
I kept asking Julia all week what was her favorite thing we did. It changed a lot, as did mine, but as I sit at the airport at the end of it all I know for sure my favorite thing during her trip was meeting Bob and Maureen.
I had experienced the Bush in Australia during my six weeks prior to Julia visiting and found it to be a much more special Aussie experience than the city can offer. I wanted Julia to see that side of the country, but with only two weeks to travel together, our options were limited. I learned about Pittwater YHA either traveling around or surfing the internet. Located no more than an hour and a half outside Sydney city center and boasting beautiful views, beaches and hiking trails, it seemed like the best option.
All I had to do was figure out how to get there.
First let me say that the directions on the YHA website are in no way clear. The site makes it seem as though backpackers can reach the hostel via bus, ferry or by walking.
Really what they mean is all of the above.
They suggest people take a bus from Central Railway Station, but the bus they suggest only ran hourly after 4 p.m. the day we were traveling. The bus stops near a ferry dock, where ferries only run every so often and cost a ridiculous $11 for a one way ride. Then people must hike 15-minutes up hill to reach the hostel. I never did the hike, but judging by how lost Julia and I were hiking with a map around there, I don’t think it would have been a pleasant experience while carrying three bags each.
Luckily, we didn’t have to do any of that and Julia got to see how friendly and helpful people in this country are. We arrived at our bus stop in Sydney about 30 minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive. There was a long line so I asked a couple in the front what bus they were waiting for.
“Where are you going,” the gentleman asked.
“Pittwater,” I replied.
“Are you going to the YHA,” the lady asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well they’re our neighbors,” the pair said almost in unison. “Just stick by us and we’ll get you there.”
“Don’t we need to take a ferry also,” I asked.
“No worries, we have a boat,” they said.
May I introduce Bob and Maureen.
A view of Pittwater from the top. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
The pair were visiting the city with friends for the day. However, they don’t come often. Moving to Pittwater in the 60s or 70s (I can’t remember), they prefer the beauty and stillness of this area of waterways and mountains to a busy city. In a book about the community, Bob was quoted saying, “I don’t know about this business of going to heaven. I think I’ll just stay home.”
They looked after us on the bus. Then when we got off. They grabbed some of our bags and Bob said to wait for a second with Maureen while he pulled up the car. He drove us to the dock where all the people in the community keep their boats. On the ride they told us a bit about themselves and asked us about our travels. Then they loaded us in their boat and gave a tiny tour of the waterways en route to our destination.
We got out and they helped us with our bags on the hike up to hostel.
Who does that for complete strangers?
This wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced such extreme generosity in this country. I don’t know how people like this still exist in such a hectic and sometimes scary world, but they act like it’s only natural to do this kind of stuff.
I was really happy Julia got to see that side of the country for herself, because sometimes it’s lost in the major cities. I’ve found most of the people in this country to be so genuine and inviting. I know there are probably people like this in every country, but there are heaps of them in this part of the world.
I was also happy to experience such kindness with someone else. In fact, having Julia here made me realize how much I miss traveling with people. Traveling alone is thrilling and freeing, but sharing things with other people, especially good friends, will always be better in my opinion.
So I am sad to see her go, but once again, I won’t be alone for long.
I am joining Bobbi-Joe O’Gilvie for THE WORD Australia’s Best Backpacker Job in Australia.
Some of you may have watched my entry video to the contest on YouTube in late January. Some may even have it memorized by now as I begged everyone on Twitter and Facebook to view it over and over again since he person with the most views would win the competition. Thanks for that by the way.
Well I didn’t win. In fact, I didn’t even come close. The other Bobbi beat me by about 2,000 views/votes. Still I thought it was fun to go semi-viral, racking up around 2,000 of my own views/votes, and I thought it was really odd to find another female named Bobbi in a competition with so few people.
The defeat didn’t burn too bad, since I was leaving for Australia anyway five days after the competition commenced. Still I wanted to see if THE WORD had any other opportunities so I kept in touch. Then a few weeks into my trip, they came to me with the most amazing opportunity. They asked me to join Bobbi-Jo for the last two months of her three-month journey to backpack the east coast of Australia (from Brisbane, Queensland up) on them, while blogging for their website.
Without hesitation I replied, “Yes!” As I wrote this post I was on a Jet Star plane to meet Bobbi-Jo in the Gold Coast. It’s weird, but I kind of feel like a rock star, which brings me to my final bit of praise for Australia today.
Australia embodies the “a place where all your dreams come true” slogan that America in known for. I’m not saying all you’re dreams can’t come true in America (I wouldn’t be here if that was the case), but it seems heightened security in the past ten years makes dreams a lot more difficult to become reality for immigrants to the States, which is who the “dream” was always directed at.
But it’s still very much true and tangible in Australia. For instance, flying from and in America is not fun. I’m not complaining about it. It’s just the way things are and I’d rather be safe than have my bath bag on me in the plane anyway. But let’s just say the days of epic goodbyes at a gate in JFK airport or hip Pan-Am stewardesses are long gone in America. (In fact, now their called flight attendants.)
While airport security in Australia is probably a bit more intense than in the past, it’s still an exciting experience. I arrived at the airport around 11:45 this morning and was at my gate by noon. Not once was I frisked or stared at for wearing a hat. In fact, no one even asked me for identification, ANYWHERE! That boggles my mind.
Loading the plane was actually thrilling as they opened both doors, allowing me to walk around the runway and up stairs to my plane. The wind blew my scarf sideways and I held my fedora down as I made my way to my plane. This was always my image of flying, which usually played out in reality to me sweating in the hallway for ten minutes then giving people in first class dirty looks for looking windswept.
That’s Australia! A place where all your dreams come true and I’m not the only one. I met up with Lauren, the first friend I made Down Under and a fellow Jersey girl, in Sydney a few days ago for the first time in about a month.
She asked, “What has Australia been like for you?”
“Like anything is possible,” I replied to which to responded, “Me too!”
I don’t know if it’s timing or this is just how things go here but for the first time in my life my expectations were actually dull compared to the reality of my travels.
I’m not sure what to expect in Queensland. I hear it’s pretty wild up hear. Bill Bryson used the quote, “Madder than snakes,” to describe the people in this territory of Australia. I’ll admit I’m a little nervous. Boarding the international flight to Jersey probably would have been much safer, but I’m glad I was the one flying domestic when Julia and I parted ways.