The best part of living in Hawaii is that when your trip is over, it’s time to go home – to Hawaii. Honestly, I miss my family and am ready to be back with them.
I’m super stoked to be going home to Hawaii where my wife and daughter have been silently suffering (and pretending to have a ball with me gone <wink>) because I’ve missed them – but I just want to say, I really love and appreciate Australia. It’s rainy and grey today – there’s not much I want to do in the several hours between hotel checkout (11am) and airport check-in (3pm) but I’ve bought and filled a bag with souvenir gifts and now am sitting in the remarkable library in Sydney’s Green Square, catching up on writing about my trip, organizing photos, and charging all of my devices before I head to the airport.
This is yet another example of how Aussies get it right. Beautiful underground library with garden in the center, glassed in, cafe at the entrance, beautiful glass pyramid shaped upper portions, plenty of seating, clean, nice, safe, adult and kids sections separated by just enough to allow all to have fun. Meeting rooms, power ports (USB and plugs) all over the place. Great design, functionality, and use. The kids can check out mini commodore 64s, music kits, and much more. Free wifi – it’s really what a library should be.
Sydney Pro Tip: On the way to the airport, hop off at Green Square, go to the Library and charge up all your devices, do your last minute emails, etc. Or, if you have need to work while you are in Sydney, this is better than a coworking space.
Yes, I’m going to miss Australia – I know there are problems everywhere but the Aussies seem to have a better handle on how to live than Americans do.
I woke up this morning and drank some free coffee in the pod hotel before taking the tram to Circular Quay and then catching the ferry to Manly Beach. It’s a grey and rainy day again – great for Australia, not so great for travel. The ferry trip was nice but my shoes were still wet from yesterday and they’ve begun to smell to high heaven – and I’m about to get on a flight for ten hours where it’s nice to take the shoes off. I will have to fix this.
There’s really not much that I want to do and now I’ve got a backpack and a bag. I don’t particularly want to sit in the airport for six hours – nor do I feel like walking around with baggage. I suppose I could have paid to leave my bag in a locker – that would have been smart – but too late now. Plus, capsule hotels are sort of depressing places to hang around – I just wanted to check out.
I spent nearly as much on souvenirs and presents as I spent on all of my Sydney accommodation.
I think all there is to do now is head to the airport, try some of that beautiful sparkling Tazzy wine I didn’t try while in Tasmania, enjoy the free upgrade to a Quantas flight instead of a Jetstar Flight – and get back home to my beautiful family. I’m grateful I had the chance to experience a little bit of Australia. I’d like a lot more – but next time I want to have longer and to have my family with me.
This was the only organized tour I did – and I made sure that it was an active tour so I wouldn’t be trapped in a bus with the cruise ship / baby boomer crowd.
The tour was good – our guide, Gaz was a cool guy and had a good tour with equal parts beauty, history, culture, and message – but the downside (just for the tour, not for Australia) was that it rained all day and the fog obstructed most of the views. Our stop at the wildlife refuge was interesting but wet and most of the animals were huddling away from the rain. There were some nice waterfalls and some great views of cloud filled valleys below us (but obstructed) along with lots of information about aboriginal culture and a lot of wet hiking Lots and lots of steps, muddy trails, and elevation ascent and descent.
It was about 8 miles total with the equivalent of about 65 floors climbed. So, elevation wise it was a better workout than I’ve been getting but not quite as much as I’ve been averaging in terms of distance.
I’m glad it rained – it put out the last of the bush fires – but if you can avoid doing this particular trip in the rain and fog – it’s probably better.
I suppose my travel mantra has become ‘wake early and walk a lot.’ In some cases I’m strolling 16 miles per day – which means that I am seeing a lot that others are missing, not spending a lot, and generally feeling pretty good and seeing attractions, neighborhoods, and sites before most people wake up or get out of the house on their way to work!
Yesterday, my day in Sydney was a travel day, so I didn’t really expect to do or see much – but in Sydney, that’s a lot no matter what you do.
My first walk was across the Sydney Harbor Bridge – so, I left Chinatown and began moving towards the bridge. My wanders the day before had brought me to the other side of the Sydney Opera House and through the Botanical Gardens. Now I went into the neighborhood called ‘The Rocks’ – which is Sydney’s oldest. I wasn’t there to stroll the markets, have a meal, drink coffee, or have a beer though, I was there to walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
A walk up a hill and then three flights of old brick and stone stairs and I was on the causeway.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a heritage-listed steel through arch bridge across Sydney Harbour that carries rail, vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic between the Sydney central business district (CBD) and the North Shore. The view of the bridge, the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera House is widely regarded as an iconic image of Sydney, and of Australia itself. The bridge is nicknamed “The Coathanger” because of its arch-based design.
It is the sixth longest spanning-arch bridge in the world and the tallest steel arch bridge, measuring 134 m (440 ft) from top to water level. It was also the world’s widest long-span bridge, at 48.8 m (160 ft) wide, until construction of the new Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver was completed in 2012.
The views were magnificent. With my morning exercise done, I set out on my next task – Exploring a bit of The Rocks. There was a weekend street market where I bought licorice from a gentleman who has been making and selling licorice in Sydney for 40 years! Licorice is one of my favorite sweets and I thought Dutch Licorice was my favorite, but his blew the Dutch stuff out of the water. Another win for Australia!
In The Rocks, I browsed the bakeries until I found the one that appealed to me and bought a sausage roll to go- then I went and sat on the rocks looking at the famed Circlular Quay and enjoyed my budget brekkie. It was nearly time to check out which meant it was nearly time for lunch so I figured getting a small gelato wasn’t going to do any harm – plus, it was starting to get hot.
I got back to my pod just in time to check out. Then I faced a dilemma – should I push the limits of airport check in time and try to see a little more or should I be my usual very early check-in guy. This time I threw caution to the winds – I checked out and grabbed my 7 kilo pack and set off for Circular Quay again. Once there I caught a ferry across Sydney Harbor to Luna Park – which is a magnificent art-deco themed amusement park. Sort of like the pier at Santa Cruz.
I was really pushing it but I caught the ferry back, caught a train to the airport, and actually made it on time. The only thing I missed was my usual sitting in the airport for three hours – which, to be honest, is usually time I enjoy and use well – but in this case, I was happy to have had a nice ferry trip and some site seeing instead.
My flight from Melbourne was a little bit delayed but I got back just before sunset. It was nice that I had the capsule hotel waiting for me – and it was worth the roughly $30 to have had it the night I was in Melbourne.
I met a new friend, Sally from Waga Waga – a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and we joined forces to go to dinner in Chinatown. Like me, it was her first time staying in a capsule hotel and we both laughed about how strange it was. Dinner was great conversation and an okay meal of Chinese food and then back to our capsules for what turned out to be a not very comfortable night of sleep for me – someone in my capsule room had gotten cold and turned off the air conditioning by unplugging it – this person more or less was just thinking of themselves since the AC is shared by all. When I complained about the temperature in the morning the desk person complained about people unplugging it.
Anyway, up early for another 15000 step walk. As usual, I set off in a random direction with no plan. After a long time of wandering up and down byways, I ended up in what is now my favorite neighborhood anywhere – Glebe. Mellow, leafy, lots of cafes and restaurants – and lots of super yachts parked nearby in Blackwattle Bay.
I walked to the Fisherman’s Wharf, checked out the fish markets, then crossed a crazy pedestrian bridge to Darling Harbor before crossing a more tourist oriented bridge back to downtown where I went straight to the Sydney Eye tower and paid too much to go to the observation deck – it was cool, but even though it is the tallest building in Sydney – it’s like the 35th tallest in the world – so I’m not sure it was worth $29 to go up there and take a few photos – but I think I would have regretted not going – so, I suppose it was worth it.
My old iPhone 6s is ready to be upgraded. The batteries die far too quickly and it is getting harder to charge. Since the battery was at 1%, I went back to the old capsule and plugged in for an hour or so to charge up. My plan for the rest of the day is to head down to the Rocks, maybe book a show at the Sydney Opera House for Tuesday night when I get back from Tasmania, and then head to the big LGBTQ Mardi Gras Parade. Everyone tells me it’s going to be an amazing parade and show – since I’m here, there is no way I’m going to miss it.
Tomorrow I fly out to Tazzy for a couple of days – then back here where I’ll most likely catch an opera house show, take a day trip to the Blue Mountains, and then head back to Honolulu. Time is going far too fast here.
Just after I finished writing the above, a bizarre old American woman in her 70s walked into the common areas of the hostel and started tearing through her bags. She said she had been arrested after being falsely accused of stealing some Englishman’s Nike pants – and now she had to move to another accommodation. It was her who was being arrested when the police woke me up the other morning.I tried to ignore her. She went behind me and said loudly, “I’m going to dress up as a dominatrix and go to the parade, do you wanna be my dog?” I declined the offer. The she came over and began giving me a head massage – which I resisted but then said “Fuck it, this feels pretty good” She had been a masseuse at some point, and a slumlord landlord, and a Santa Clara train operator and now her kids had moved in with her so she was on her way around the world. She noticed an odd bump on my head that I noticed recently as well and said – “You might want to get the doctor to check that out – it could be a tumor.”
Maybe it is, I hope not, but I will get it checked out.
I saved my work and went on my way.
The Sydney LGBTQ Mardi Gras was a huge parade and party – without a doubt the biggest party I’ve ever been to. I bought a $10 stool to stand on and watched with a group around me that quickly became a sort of street family as we were all pushed and shoved by the massive crowds struggling to get from one point to another. There was a sweet couple of Persian girls, a bunch of binary locals, and a couple of middle aged gay dudes in our ‘fam’ and it was cool how we all took care to watch out for one another. Crowds like that, not my favorite. It was my first time at a Gay Pride event and I have to admit, LGBTQ people know how to have fun and enjoy life much more than most people. I’m glad that our world is changing and becoming more acceptable of people being and loving whomever they choose. It was inspiring to see the surviving marchers from the first parade in Sydney back in 1978 – they were met by police back then, beaten, and arrested. Today, the Sydney police had a section in the parade as well – there were gay and lesbian cops, footballers, rugby players, firefighters, and lots of unicorns, rainbows, fairies, and leather/bondage men as well. I don’t know what percentage of the tens of thousands in the crowd were LGBTQ, my guess is that most of them were not, but it was amazing to see the support, the spirit of fun, and the camaraderie of the event. I feel very fortunate to have been here during this event. It must be interesting to be coming of age during this time of greater acceptance – when I was in my teens and twenties there was no acceptance, in fact, a person coming out was more likely to be beaten or fired or mocked or even killed for their sexual or gender identity choices if they didn’t conform to the binary ‘norm’. Then being in the hyper-macho Marine Corps during the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ period – there were no gay people around me. I’m sure some of my friends and colleagues must have been queer through the years, but I was never aware of it because it was a hazardous time for anyone brave enough to come out. Add to that the stigma of AIDS/HIV in the 80s and 90s and it’s no surprise that the first gay men or lesbian women I met were after I got out of the Marine Corps. I worked as a waiter and bartender at a hotel bar in Raleigh, North Carolina that was notorious for queer clientele – and a strange cross category – conservative southern politicians. This was where I made my first gay friends, but I never let them become close friends because 20+ years of anti-gay indoctrination had made me
prejudiced and scared. I look back now and I realize how terribly brave they all were and recognize how much I lost by not having them in my life. By the time I left that job, I was somewhat comfortable with gay culture but I still recognize that there is some part of me that retains those old learned fears – which is so silly. Last night was a great step towards actually getting over it.
I didn’t party the night away like many did – once the walkway was navigable, I walked back to Chinatown, grabbed a beer in Charlie Chan’s Bar, watched the fascinating crowds, and then made my way back to my pod.
I used to tell people that my ideal city was if you could take Vancouver, British Columbia and combine it with Quebec City – then put it in Hawaii. That’s pretty much what Sydney, Australia is. I can’t believe no one ever told me.
I’ve only spent less than 24 hours in Sydney so far – but I love it. It has everything – ferries, boats, skyscrapers, surfing, beaches, museums, big green parks and botanical gardens, and every type of restaurant you can imagine. In many ways, it feels more like an Asian City than a European or North American one – which makes sense, but it feels clean, safe, fun, technologically advanced, and easy to get around. Everyone speaks English (obviously) and even though I changed money, I could easily have just used my credit cards and Apple Pay for everything. Okay, I didn’t actually physically change money, I just used an ATM to withdraw some cash in Aussie dollars.
Customs was a breeze. I caught the train to the city and walked to my hotel. Okay, I’ve said before that I was doing this trip on the cheap – the thing is, I’m 48 years old and hostels aren’t as fun as they were when I was in my twenties – so I didn’t want to do that. Plus, they were more expensive than I remembered – so I was looking at options and I found something cheaper – and it was something I’ve wanted to experience for a long time – capsule hotels. I thought I would have to go to Japan to experience capsule hotels (when I was in Japan, I stayed in hotels because money wasn’t so tight at that point).
On this trip I’m in Sydney, then to Melbourne for a day, then back to Sydney for three days, then to Launceston in Tasmania for a couple of days, and back to Sydney for a couple more days. With the exception of Melbourne – I booked my whole trip in capsules. I’ll review capsule hotels later – for now suffice to say they were a super cheap way to make sure I had a private bed, a bathroom, and a place to stash my gear if I needed. Total expenditure for capsules was less than $250 for ten days.
It was evening when I arrived and the train was mostly underground until just before my stop at Central Station. I grabbed a kebab (because you can’t get a good kebab in Hawaii) and walked around Sydney in the dark – went to Chinatown, wandered some streets, and saw that I was staying in the district that could easily be called the massage district. Thai massage, Japanese massage, etc. It was incredibly windy and the temperature was perfect. I didn’t get hit by any cars or trams – but the other side of the road is hard to get used to. After a 10-hour flight and days without sleep, I wasn’t up for getting a meal, going out, or anything else – so I crawled in my capsule and went to sleep.
I woke at 5am fully refreshed and decided to take a walk through Sydney before I went to the airport to catch my flight to Melbourne – a 10:40am flight. I wanted to see the Sydney Opera House and as usual, instead of looking at maps or reading a guidebook, or checking the distance – I just set off on a wander and figured I would go in the right direction. I grabbed a lovely cappuccino from a Georgy Boy’s, a local chain, and set off walking.
Somehow, I managed to wander to the Anzac Memorial, Hyde Park, the Botanical Gardens, and after about an hour was at the Sydney Opera House looking at the Sydney Harbor Bridge and marveling at how much bigger things are in real life (except the Mona Lisa and the Sphinx) than they look in pictures. The skyscrapers, the towers, the colonial buildings, churches and more. Australia isn’t an old civilization – but there are areas in Sydney that certainly have some history.
It was amazing to walk back to my capsule and be among the amazingly good looking people in dresses and suits on their way to work. It sort of felt like maybe you aren’t allowed to live and work in Sydney unless you are very good looking – but of course, that can’t be true – but none the less – I was struck by the fashion and fitness of the majority of the people I passed and walked with.
I was back at the capsule by 8am, had a quick shower, grabbed the train to the airport and was ready for American style department of homeland security – nope. This was a domestic flight and in Australia – that means that I checked in online, got texted my boarding pass, walked through security without having to show it or my ID to anyone, and went to the gate. The only question the X-ray people asked was “Do you have any aerosols?” to which I honestly replied nope.
With that, I drank a coffee and boarded the aircraft. Next stop, Melbourne, which I know nothing about except that my friend Gaye lives there.
It seems like the only times I really travel are when the world is in turmoil. September 11th, H1N1, Arab Spring, the Great Recession, and now – coronavirus. I don’t plan it that way, but it’s what happens. Also, for some strange reason, the world resists my attempts to see it – so there is always a bit of a personal struggle.
I’ve always wanted to come to Australia. It’s been a dream since I was a child. When I was in high school, I lost faith in the system I was in and my father motivated me by offering a trip to Australia if I got straight A’s. I was up to the challenge, but he, unfortunately, was not. It wasn’t the first nor the last disappointment I felt in my life – but it was certainly formative. I’m not sure why I waited this long to come here, maybe I was waiting for him to make good on his promise – but I think after 32 years, he’s unlikely to fulfill it. I sometimes joke that I am so sure that Australia will be the place I want to stay that I avoided going there so I could see everywhere else first. So far, it hasn’t disappointed, but unless the pandemic blossoms and flights are cut off – there is nothing besides death that would keep me from getting back to Hawaii because my wife and daughter are there.
I bought myself this trip in December when I saw an incredibly low fare from Honolulu to Sydney. My wife had work, my daughter had school, but there was nothing I needed to be doing in Hawaii – so I went for it. My mantra has been ultra-budget because this is a luxury – I’m not a rich person by any means – at least not in the sense of money.
I’ve been getting excited about this trip and knowing that I would be taking it has helped me through some minor depression and anxiety about life in general. One week before takeoff – I was munching on some macadamia nuts and suddenly felt what might be the most excruciating pain of my life. I cracked a tooth and for the next three nights didn’t sleep a wink but lay hunched up in a little ball of pain, hoping the pain would go away. I’m American and I don’t have dental insurance, I can’t afford it. It’s either after school care for my daughter so my wife and I can work, or dental insurance. This was too much to bear though – I went to the dentist and had an emergency procedure done that should have helped – it was $1000, but after a few more days, the pain was still there, though not as bad as it had been – now it only hurt when I ate or drank anything. A second trip to the dentist confirmed that I would need to see a specialist but that doctor wouldn’t be available for nearly two weeks – not until after I had returned from Australia – at least there was no reason to cancel my trip.
So with less money and chronic pain, I went to Honolulu International Airport which was a scary place to be with nearly every Asian person there (which seemed to be the majority) wearing coronavirus masks. The good news is that we don’t have any COVID-19 cases yet in Hawaii and Australia is also on the low end of things – but still, one can’t help wondering if one of those many people might be a carrier.
My budget flight (Less than $200 each way! Less than a trip to the USA) which was a JetStar flight – here’s a measure of how I travel without doing much in the way of research – I didn’t realize that I had to have a visa for Australia. Luckily for me, the flight was delayed and the very nice desk agent arranged my visa for me (a $70 value) and gave me a free meal voucher ($12) for the inconvenience of the delayed flight. She also, very kindly upgraded me to a window seat with an empty seat next to me which enabled me to sleep for a large part of the flight. Sleep that I desperately needed.
The flight was uneventful until just before landing. I had tooth pain, but in general, the meal before the flight carried me through and between reading and sleep, it passed without much event. As we got close to Sydney, the clouds looked like nothing I have ever seen before. I was struck by a dark cloud that looked like a devil and a light cloud that looked remarkably like an angel. As we made our final turn and descent into Sydney, we suddenly entered the dark cloud and hit turbulence like I’ve never felt before – the lights went on and off, the engines made some very strained sounds and the plane was thrown around like a toy. Some passengers screamed – I didn’t but in my head I said “I guess this is it. I’m not ready to die, but please look out for my little girl.” I’m not religious, but I guess I was praying to the universe. The plane shook again and then came out of the clouds. The small white cloud that looked like an angel was there. I said a mental thank you as we landed. For a moment there, I thought my time had come and it was a similar feeling to when they told us that nuclear missiles had been launched at Hawaii from North Korea a few years ago – I looked around at the people around me and thought “Huh, this is it.” A mixture of sadness and disappointment, but no regret.
Australian customs and security is much more civilized and easy than U.S. – I was through in a breeze with my 6.5kg of baggage (the free allowance) which consisted of a small backpack, a laptop, cords, phone, kindle, water bottle, toiletries, and a few changes of clothes.
Next post I’ll write about my first impressions of Sydney.