Follow me!

twitter icons
For corresponding blog photos, please visit my website:

Post to Twitter

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Simon Says...

At 7:20 AM, Sarah and I awoke startled as my phone rang. Simon the Stranger. Downstairs. “You don’t have a big bag, right? I’ve got my bike in the back.” Uh, now you tell me…? Scraping the last vestiges of sleep from my eyes, we wheeled me down to meet Simon. “Ah, he looks lovely,” remarked Sarah from afar. Ok, sure. Temporary big goodbyes to Sarah (she’ll meet me in Melbourne and I might come back to Sydney for Australia Day (equivalent of July 4th – yeah, I’m a bit hooked), I focused back to my driving partner. Pleasantries exchanged, Simon and I set off in his black hatchback. (I don’t know what he was worried about, the bag fit beautifully…)

After peripheral small talk, I started to wonder how should one act on a 9-hour road trip with a stranger? On no sleep. My biggest road trips were to and from Michigan with Lukoff where I rationed her Snapple to avoid abundant pee breaks (the girl’s got a bladder…and while I wasn’t tolerant of frequent urinators then, I’ve started to soften). With Jen, we’d take turns driving, playing DJ, choosing the snack of the moment, waving at hot passerby in 300Z’s. Road tripping was easy. What to do with Simon?!?!

Could I take off my shoes? Could I put my feet on the dash?
What if I fell asleep?
Would I do the “oh-I’m-not-sleeping-head-snap” to mask or would I embrace the nap?
If I embraced, what if I drooled? Worse, snored? Worse even, both?
What if my head lolled onto the window where I made hot breath marks as I slept? Should I share my food? Would he partake or refrain?
Could I eat a banana? Where would I put the peel?
Could I hum, better sing quietly, if I liked a song? What if I sang the wrong words?
And what was the limit on questions?
What were within “getting to know you” boundaries?

All of this filtered through my head as I decided to just run with…gulp…being myself.
It worked. Not 2 hours into the trip, passing “The Hunter”, I had my bare (!) feet on the dash, had consumed a banana (peel in a garbage bag that I was keeping for the duration) and was sharing gummie worms with Simon, formerly the Stranger, now the Sweet. He took a lot of the orange ones, the leftover color, how considerate. Simon was quiet, at first. But soon enough, we were laughing like old friends. I even nodded off a few times and while I’m sure he was too polite to tell me, I think a snort or two might’ve escaped my lips on the reawake. By 5 hours into the trip, we were comparing war stories on relationships, both of others and our own. Simon’s trip north was a spur-of-the-moment one; he needed a moment to just clear his head on his life, away from the confines of his apartment with his girlfriend in Sydney. Josh would call every so often to check status. He had a date with “Mexico” the night before (girl of Mexican descent, for the less clever readers out there…) and was keen to dance around the details via mobile, giving Simon and I something to speculate on.

The landscape was lovely, really pretty. The Blue Mountains then the Great Dividing Mountain Range were to our west the entire drive and they offered quite a spectacular view. What impressed me the most was just how much of the land we passed was untouched, wholly natural, and completely green. Australia has a population of 20 million (Total! If you need perspective the U.S. just surpassed 300 million…) and it’s here, riding through the unmanned wilderness that I realized how such a concept is possible. And we were traveling the coast, not the outback. I can’t imagine how those drives will be, the outback drives. Solely animal country, I reckon. Though the road signs (and roadkill) indicated kangaroos and koalas abounded, we had no spottings. Simon pointed out a wombat, or was it a sloth? Maybe I should’ve made that sidetrip to the Sydney Zoo…

By the time we reached Byron, we were golden. Golden enough, seemingly, that while Simon dropped me off at hotel after hotel “that he deemed Marie-worthy” to check for vacancy, he was comfortably working up to the question: Wanna just split the night? Um, sure. So, now it’s a car ride AND a shared hotel room with Simon the Stranger. What would my mom say? We found a great little beach side vacancy right off of town and settled in. Simon left me to rest for a few hours while Simon did what, I’ve come to learn, Simon does. Bike, dip, then shower. A guy after my own heart, he also scouted a great little restaurant called The Balcony overlooking the main drag in Byron. After a few beers off the beach, we had dinner, a great bottle of New Zealand white (I’m a buyer), and laughed our asses off. Then, off to bed for a continued road trip further up the coast in the morning, after a bike, dip, and shower in the stunning setting of coastal Byron Bay.

A new friend made, the 29 hours I spent with a random Aussie stranger were great. The next day, after Simon left me at the very cheesy Versace hotel along Queensland’s Gold Coast (I promptly returned to the hippie enclave of Byron Bay after 24 hours), he texted me a note that proclaimed me “the funniest and very good value,” a term that loosely translates to quality which I plan to make my own over the next months. Nice! Being myself worked. Sometimes you forget how satisfying that simplicity really is.

Now back in beautiful Byron Bay. Lowdown to come…



Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sydney, City Redefined

Continuing from where we left off post-New Years, my days in Sydney have been nothing short of thrilling. Taking the ferry from Sarah’s flat in Abbotsford (a suburb) each morning was divine. I’m sure the novelty wears off, but seeing the Harbour Bridge loom large against the backdrop of every color of sky never ceased to amaze this city girl. I’ve always defined city by the bar of Manhattan. We all do, us New Yorkers. But, Sydney raises that bar a bit. Sydney is city redefined. I spent a day walking it from end to end. From the wealthy, leafy streets of the suburbs of Darlinghurst, Potts Point, and Paddington on high, through the sea-level neighborhoods of waterside Woolloomooloo’s (say THAT three times fast) Finger Wharf of trendy restaurants, past the lush Royal Botanical Gardens that open onto the Opera House and the Harbour, to the oldest part of the city, the historical Rocks district. Yes, I wore flip-flops. No, I shouldn’t have.

But past the city center, in every direction, are the beaches. Glorious, glorious beaches. The eastern beaches (Bondi, Coogee, Bronte, Tamarama) face off with the northern beaches (Manly, Palm Beach) and you belong to one school or the other. Each of them offers a different vantage point to take in the amazing coastline, but also each caters to a certain slice of life. Bondi is the original, the mack-daddy (who even says that, sorry…) of Sydney’s beaches. Expansive and eclectic, Bondi caters to all. Tourists mingle with locals on the surrounding strip, peppered with restaurants and cafes, of both cheesy and classy varieties. On Bondi, the energy is always magnetic (as well as the surfer boy bodies…). Tamarama is the see-and-be-seen beach, while Coogee and Bronte (my favorite) are laid back and gorgeous, without as much attitude. Then, there’s (touristy) Manly Beach, farther north. A ferry ride away, Manly is chock-full-of-foreigners (as if I should talk…). I closed my eyes for 20 minutes and woke up nose-to-nose with a Spanish contingent that deemed it perfectly acceptable to invade my personal breathing space. Regardless of which beach, everyone carries a surfboard, everyone “dips” in the water, and everyone loves the sand. Sydney’s a total eye-fuck, all of it.

Deciding to get out of town for a bit, Sarah, Tim, Sally (Tim’s sister) and I went up to the Hunter Valley for the day. “The Hunter” is the Sydney’s local wine region. I’ve never done the Napa thing (shocker…) so, this was a whole new ballgame for me. Miles and miles of vineyards, far as the eye can see. At noon we started at Audrey Wilkinson, where I discovered verdelhos and semillions. Forget the shiraz, who knew white could taste so good? By midmorning we were tipsy, by mid-afternoon we were “blind,” as Sarah would say, bolting out Celine Dion ballads in the car ride home, making a visibly annoyed Tim (our designated driver) pull over on the side of the road to go “clear his ears” a time or two. How we made it out that night is beyond me, but these Aussies don’t EVER turn down another cocktail or a good party, so onward we went to meet Sarah’s friends. All great, Leigh stands out as I’d heard so much about her over the past year (and she presented me with a Harbour Bridge bookmark for my travels, aww…). She’s headed to South America for the next 5 months. Not that I can actually be jealous…but, well, let’s be honest, I am.

My last days in Sydney brought the Harbour Climb, where true to the name, I climbed the Harbour Bridge. While it was a perfect day and the views were astounding, reaching every nook of Sydney’s landscape, the climb itself was a little anti-climatic. I wanted trembling knees, rickety steel girder passes, drop-offs that gave me a birds-eye view into the art of suicide. Nope, nothing so dramatic. I guess the tip-off should’ve been that my group was largely comprised of 65-year old with hearing aids and a couple from Ohio that won their trip to Sydney from Visa (yes, those sweepstakes pay off sometimes…), but I was still craving the adventure aspect of the morning. No dice. I couldn’t even bring my camera so had to shell out tourist robbery prices for the “official” Harbour Climb produced photos. Yes, I had to do the Climb (it’s one of those things you have to do here), but afterwards, I totally felt like a sucker.

I went out of Sydney in style. A true Saturday night out with the girls. Dinner was Thai (Australians eat thai like we eat sushi) at Longrain (yes, it was on my “list”) where I felt right at home when Lachlan Murdoch walked out of the restaurant as we were walking in (I just can’t get away from Harper…but he’s adorable in person). From there we went to Hugo’s in King's Cross, an indoor/outdoor lounge/club where we partied until about 3 AM. Then, went with the runner-up from Rockstar Supernova (I never heard of this show, am learning…) and a former hook-up of Miss Leigh to Lady Lux, some after-hours bar. When I looked at my watch, it was 5 AM. OK, I don’t know the last time I was out until 5 AM in New York. Maybe at Star Room in the Hamptons, circa ’99? Limelight circa ’96? Bedrox circa ’91? Regardless, I had a date at 6:30 AM! I was driving up the coast with Josh’s friend, Simon. Never met him, but had committed to a 9 hour drive with Simon the Stranger. And now, it was 5 AM. Shit, shit, shit. I’d only have one chance to make a first impression. I’m not exactly charming without sleep. Let’s face it…I’m NOT AT ALL charming without sleep. Uh-oh.

Gotta sleep, sorry…nap.
More soon,

~ M