Happy New Year!
I’ve landed safely on the other side of the world (again) and I feel great. It was such a natural recapturing of self to get off that plane, don my travel hat, and do my post-plane five check (computer, phone, Ipod, camera, wallet), making sure all were properly stowed with me. Around a corner, I heard an Aussie twang of “Marie Elena!” (pronounced 'Marry Elennah') and turned to find Sarah’s familiar smile and energy barreling my way. Sarah, for those of you keeping track, shared Bariloche with me; enhanced my time in Hoi An in Vietnam, and now part of a more permanent plot, will heavily color my Australia.
After a quick window-aisle seat mix-up at the United counter in NY, where I was informed that I wasn’t going to be “flying window” until my Auckland-Sydney leg, I was told to recheck at the Air New Zealand desk upon arrival into LAX for a possible seat reassignment. There I met a watermelon-flavored Bubble Yum chewing, bottle-blond divorcee from Larchmont on her first solo venture overseas at 55 (passport hanging around her neck on a rope, but…good for her!) who was in the market for an aisle seat. So, we swapped. I was gracious, utterly happy to have a window at all, albeit in row 65. Bubble Yum Barbie was irate. She’s “nevah sat that faahr back in a playne.” Snap the gum, chew-chew-chew, snap again. The watermelon wafts my way. I tiptoe off, leaving Barbie to harangue the desk attendants, hopeful that they don’t change their mind about me. At boarding for Group 10—Row 60 and higher—they aware me that I’m being upgraded for “my troubles.” Premium Economy instead of the cargo class economy ticket I booked. Great. “It’s a window, right?” No. No, it’s not. “Thank you very much but I’ll stay in cargo class, I need the window seat.” Out walks an official to demote my upgrade back down. “I’ve never had that happen,” he says. “What,” I say, a bit dumbfounded. “And upgrade refusal.” “Oh, it’s all about the window, for me.” “Well,” he says, as he ticks away on the airport keyboard in front of him, “how’s this, then? 7K, a first class window? Now, that’s an upgrade, don’t you think? Merry Christmas.” Huh? Really? I know I have a lot of dumb luck, sure. But this? Talk about starting off on the right foot. For the 13 hour flight to Auckland, I had my own little cubby of an area – complete with desk, TV, wireless access, bed, linens, and lest not forget the champagne to chase my Ambien. In the world of first class, who has ever heard of jet lag? Not me. Fresh as a daisy, I arrived into Sydney for Sarah.
I’m now a few days into my Australian adventure and let me tell you, Sydney does not disappoint. I’ve been wracking my brain for a comparison city, even had conversations with other travelers about it. Closest I can come is a bit of San Francisco -- with the bays, the Pacific, the bridge centerpoint, the nearby vineyards, the top-rate cuisine, the culture, the weather and the upscale feel of it all -- but better. So much better. Sydney is one of those cities that you have to see to really appreciate. It’s hands-down one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. Inlets leading into inlets, bays to bays to ocean, all navigated by ferry, sailboat, catamaran. Hilly green blocks of original architecture (no two houses are the same) that sit perched atop cliffs overlooking both city and water, skyscraper backdrop, beaming sunshine. I had no idea. I didn’t expect that from Sydney. At all. I usually fall for the cities that are quaint, more weathered, more UNESCO World Heritage declared, but Sydney’s modernity is surprisingly fresh, even pleasant and the views just don’t get any more spectacular. In addition, add in Sydneysiders. Since I’ve yet to experience other Australian cities, I can only speak to Sydney’s population, but they’re divine. As Sarah’s friend Lou, girl, from London said to me the other night when comparing NY and London to Sydney: “Aussies just have the time.” And, that’s just it. Everyone here is happy to chat with you, to say hello, to ask about your day. Everyone is approachable, but more importantly, everyone approaches. Set that against the landscape (and I haven't even mentioned the beaches yet!), add in some amazing food, and a penchant for cocktails – you get the wonderful world of Oz (so far…)
So…terrific to see Sarah. We picked up right where we left off in Vietnam. A year ago. Crazy to wrap my mind about the fact that a year ago today, I was in Nha Trang, on a beach, partying with a rock star. She’s huge, the rock star, now that I’m here to see just who I spent time with in Vietnam. All over MTV and the radio. But, that’s Melbourne. Another city, later in the month. First night was with Sarah (where I’m staying). Maybe we were delirious with being in each other’s company, maybe it was the jetlag, but we were “blind,” as she says, by the time we got home. Just story after story accompanied by wine glass after wine glass. BYO here is big, be it beer or bottles of wine, even in the nicest places. Keeps it cheap. We went for Thai food, of course. I’ve been waiting for my Thai, this part of the world corners the market (outside of Thailand, of course). Oh, perfection...
New Years at Josh’s (another meet in Argentina) was outrageous. In the States, we all grew up in the 80s with Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years Eve. Surely in the course of the evening (before we had the fake license from Vermont and snuck into New York City against our parents wishes), likely in the den of either a mothy-smelling cousin or aunt, or possibly at the home of the neighbors down the street (when befriending your neighbors was in vogue), we’d see images of Sydney – the Harbour Bridge aglow, the Opera House silhouette, the fireworks illuminating the sky. The first major city, televised, to move into the New Year. I had to pinch myself a little. There I was, in a flat in Kirribilli (the Prime Minister’s ‘hood), staring across the harbour at that very Opera House, aglow in celebration, fuzzy warm hues reflecting off the water as the sky lit up over and over and over again. BREATHTAKING. Sarah was even pinching herself (and she’s Sydney-born for godssake), yelling “Score, Marie. Score,” over the plans that I’d secured at Josh’s. Each of Josh’s friends was more wonderful than the previous one I was speaking with; each of them “had the time.” It was a terrific night, a night that made me remember why I love doing what I’ve chosen to do with my life. Equally as important, though, were the people that carried me through each new experience, this one included. A new year, with new friends, and a continued reason to look forward with optimism. I think 2007 is going to be a very good year….
More soon. There’s just so many Sydney stories to share.