"It's Only A Paper Moon", Ella Fitzgerald
Second semester is around the corner and I'm actually starting to feel my time here in Australia slipping away. With fewer days remaining than have passed by I sense that the next three months will disappear on me and I'll be back home again. In the meantime there is a lot to do but I've been on vacation from school since mid-June and so I figured I should get out and see some of this country I've landed myself in.
First, I hopped a 45 minute plane ride to Sydney (I was barely on the plane before having to get back off again). Melbourne has to be one of the only cities in the world that has no train or bus services to and from the airport. Instead, one travels downtown to Southern Cross station, and then takes a shuttle service ($16) from there to the airport (about a twenty minute drive). When I got to Sydney it was cool but much nicer than in Melbourne where it was kind of rainy and cold. I lugged my suitcase through a couple train stations to get to my hostel in Surry Hills, about a twenty minute walk from downtown Sydney. The hostel was really nice. Rooms were single or double, and were all very clean and newly renovated. The whole place actually looked renovated and there was a really good breakfast supplied every morning. It was also pretty quiet which means I had no trouble getting to sleep after it got late. Most of the people staying there were not English speakers, or at least not English as a first language. In the end I didn't spend much time there aside from sleeping and breakfast in the morning. I spoiled myself on this trip and actually ate in some restaurants and bars for a change, which is something I don't do often because it is really expensive. What the hell though, right? Vacation!
Sydney was great. Darling harbour, and the whole waterfront in general, is really nice. I did the museum thing, took some photos, and basically behaved like a tourist. I also saw a guy beat-boxing with a didgeridoo. It was kind of badass in that really kitschy way. I made my way to the opera house, which to me felt like the closest thing to a pilgrimage I've ever experienced. It's an undoubtedly cool pair of buildings. It's also mobbed with tourists doing the same thing I was doing. The aquarium was really great; I'm sure anyone else who likes looking at fish can attest to that. Sharks, rays, penguins, and all kinds of other odd sea creatures hovered above me in this one spot where the observation galleries were actually underneath the tanks. I also went to the wildlife world building which is like the aquarium only it houses land creatures. They had a crocodile that was the size of a pickup truck. He sat there and did nothing which I thought was kind of disappointing but I checked my ticket and admission did not include seeing the croc tear a kangaroo in half so I really couldn't blame anyone for the lack of excitement. What else did I see? A cockroach the size of my hand (no joke), a spider the size of my hand, a lizard that could bite off my hand, and one of the world's most poisonous snakes; the aptly named "death adder." Australians don't screw around when they name things:
"See that snake? It killed a guy."
"Then it's a death adder. Case closed."
I bet it went down just like that.
One of the coolest things in Sydney was that I was there during Canada Day and I happened to be walking by a bar after dinner where there were all these Canadian flags out front. I went inside and they were having a full-on Canada Day celebration. That meant every tired Canadian stereotype was dragged out and put on display but it actually did make me think of home. They had Moosehead, clamato caesars, and Canadian Club at the bar, poutine on the menu, a big TV showing clips from Olympic hockey and images of bears, moose, plaid, mounties, lumberjacks, etc., an ice sculpture of a moose and live sled driving huskies walking around the bar, the entire staff wore fur hats, and at 9 there was something called "The Full Mountie." At first I was kind of insulted by it all but the whole thing was done in such a good humoured way and there were so many other Canadians just drunk off their asses singing the anthem and bragging about hockey that I just went with it. Plus I knew that if we Canadians were to throw an Australian party it would be just as full of stereotypes. Anyway, the bar eventual ran out of beer. It was a ridiculous night.
After a few days in Sydney I jumped onto the Indian Pacific, a train that was going to take me from Sydney to Perth. The total journey is something like 4800km and takes nearly four days. Why did I take a four day train ride? It was cheaper than flying, I had ample time to do it, and it promised to be more interesting than taking a plane. It was. I was lucky enough to have two seats to myself so I managed to spread out a little bit when sleeping, which probably saved me from having to visit and acupuncturist. The remarkable, albeit not entirely unexpected, thing about most of the trip was the sheer nothingness of the landscape. A few hours out of the city and it was just an endless sea of mossy scrub and orange earth. Then after leaving Adelaide there wasn't even scrub anymore as the train pushed across the Nullarbor Plain (aptly named since there really are no trees to be found anywhere…Latin is so useful for making very simple things sound more interesting). We crossed over the world's longest stretch of straight train track; 480km without a single bend or turn. It was so monotonous that it was actually interesting. We passed through a few ghost towns along the way and I managed to spot a few kangaroos, some dingoes, emus, Australian eagles, and one camel. I talked to some people along the way on the train. One guy was from Sydney, owned a cake store, and had the worst smoker's cough I've ever heard. There was also this couple who had never taken the train before and wanted to get the full experience, whatever that meant. Overall I was comfortable, especially considering the price. Sleeper cabins were outrageously expensive but a bed would have been a nice bonus. I was happy to get to Perth.
It was happy coincidence that a very good friend from Canada, Leah, is at uni in Perth so she was kind enough to let me stay with her for a few days. We were both glad to hang out and talk about home, about our year at school so far, and all kinds of other things. Murdoch University is I think a little closer to Fremantle than it is to Perth and so apart from my arrival at the train station I never made it back into Perth and instead spent my time exploring Freo. It is a much smaller town and right by the ocean and still retains that aesthetic of a European seaside town from many years ago. I wandered the streets through bookshops and historic stone structures like the old prison and round house but while I had a few days of unseasonable warmth it suddenly turned cold and very rainy until Friday night when I left. Leah took me to Little Creatures with her flatmates for dinner one night and in general we had a grand old time. It was then finally time to get to the airport to fly back to Melbourne.
And now back to reality.