After we had been back from Australia for less than a week, the whole trip was already starting to seem like a dream. But as I read the travel section of the newspaper last weekend - which was filled with references to Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong and New Zealand - I felt of pang of longing (Fernweh) and realized in that in my two short weeks there, I developed a surprisingly strong connection to a part of the world that was utterly alien to me before. I’m hooked on the southern hemisphere.
The Australia trip was fantastic. The comforts of Virgin’s “Upper Class” service certainly got things started off on the right foot. We were picked up from our flat and driven to Heathrow, where we were quickly checked in for the flight and ushered off to the Virgin Clubhouse: a vast, retro-futuristic lounge with a restaurant, deli, bar, pool table, library, spa, salon, and numerous little nooks, crannies and chill-out zones.
It was hard not to be awed at the lavish space and all the complimentary food and drink. As Jeremy and I poked around the library, we overheard a young woman talking to a friend on her mobile: “Oh. My. God. This place is wicked!” And it was. It was so wicked, in fact, that we lingered somewhat too long and then had to hustle for the plane. Our “hustle” turned into a flat-out run after we made a wrong turn heading for the gate and were forced into an enormous detour back through a security checkpoint and along what seemed like miles of corridors to finally get to the plane for the final boarding call. Even the Virgin Clubhouse does not change the fact that Heathrow is a hellish airport.
Our flight to Sydney was actually two flights: a 9-hour leg to Hong Kong, and another, somewhat shorter leg to Sydney. We ate, watched movies, and tried to sleep a bit to Hong Kong. An hour or so before landing in Hong Kong, I lifted the window shade in the darkened plane and peeked out to see what appeared to be sunlight glinting on distant rivers and rice paddies - and my heart nearly bounced out of my chest. China!
Unfortunately, the most we got to see of China was the inside of Hong Kong airport. After a brief hour-and-a-half stopover, we were back on the plane and winging our way to Sydney. We landed early in the morning on a gloriously sunny day. We dropped our bags off at our hotel, freshened up a bit, and headed straight out to breakfast at Darling Harbour. In fact, the bulk of our first two—somewhat jet-lagged—days in Sydney was spent sipping lattés in the sunshine at Darling Harbour in the company of friends from around the world. It was utterly blissful.
The ultimate purpose of our trip to Australia was so that Jeremy could speak at the Web Directions conference. On the two days I had to myself while Jeremy was occupied with the conference, I hoofed it all around Sydney on my own. I window-shopped and real-shopped, I ate sushi and drank Boost juice, I had a sublime muffin at the Museum of Contemporary Art, I poked around the lovely old Sydney Observatory, and I got locked in a vintage clothing store (I was hidden in a rack of suits from the 1940’s—not deliberately, mind you—and when I emerged, I found myself all alone in the locked shop. Luckily, the girl running the shop was back within about 10 minutes, and she was absolutely mortified when she realized what she had done. I just laughed—after all, there are a lot worse places to be stuck than in a shop filled with fabulous vintage dresses and hats!).
When Jeremy wasn’t at the conference, we walked endlessly around the city in pursuit of good food and touristy fun. We found both in abundance. We explored the Opera House and the Rocks, we went to the zoo (where I flipped out when I finally saw a koala), we walked along the coast from Bondi Beach with friends of ours, and we spent a good deal of time being total geeks and going to great lengths to recreate scenes from the Matrix, which was shot in Sydney. It was ridiculously fun (and no, I didn’t bring the red dress with me specifically for that purpose - but I sure was glad I had it).
Towards the end of our time in Australia, we flew down to Melbourne for a few days on the recommendation of—well, just about everyone who knew we were foodies. Melbourne is brimming with cafés, restaurants and culture, and we spent two days doing pretty much nothing but eat. I enjoyed Melbourne a lot, though because we had such a limited amount of time there, I didn’t feel like I got to know the city as well as I would have liked. Which just means that we’ll have to visit it again.
And in between the activities I did by myself and the activities Jeremy and I did as a couple, there were many, many activities which took place in the company of all the fantastic people associated with the Web Directions conference in one way or another. There were a lot of great social dinners (a Chinese feast in Chinatown, an extraordinary Japanese tasting menu in Potts Point, an extravagant Thai meal in King’s Cross), a lot of fun parties with tasty Australian beer and cool canapés (satay sticks, miniature cartons of Singapore noodles, and sushi, sushi, sushi), several late nights in pubs of varying degrees of dodginess, and a long, sunny Sunday afternoon sitting on the water at Watson’s Bay, with fish and chips, frosty beverages, and old and new friends.
It was this social element that really made me feel so happy and at home in Australia. Sydney and Melbourne are wonderful in their own right, but what made the trip truly extraordinary was the people. I’m not a social butterfly by any stretch of the imagination, but I felt amazingly comfortable amongst the Australians we were hanging out with. Everyone seemed to go out of their way to make us feel welcome and make sure we were having a good time.
And it worked: we did feel welcome, and we had an amazing time. It was another sunny day when we took off from Sydney for the long haul back to the UK, and we got a great view of the city after taking off. I looked down at all the sparkling water, the sunlight glinting off the Opera House, the sandy beaches and blue bays along the coast, the bobbing white boats in the harbor and the cluster of high-rises in the city center, and I felt myself getting choked up at having to leave it all behind. I guess now I just have to content myself with the memories of two solid weeks of fun down under.
And with the thought that I am absolutely, positively going back there someday.