01.06.2014 - 02.06.2014 20 °C
My ghost has been exorcised, I realize as I enter the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, finding the entire second level of the terminal, the one where my ghost stares down at the massive network of ticketing stations with anxiousness, anticipation and hesitation, has been completely eradicated. A sad end to one of my ghosts.
I proceed through security to the gates to find why the entrance to the terminal has undergone such a face lift, discovering a massive and elaborate shopping mall style gate complex that I have no interest in really, aside from the fact that I'm able to get a last-minute glass of Cabernet from Starbucks...yes, Starbucks. This, I say to myself, is pretty awesome.
The apprehension is muted this time boarding the plane that will take me to Australia, though the apprehension is still there, hiding behind the cloud that has followed me this entire voyage, and in fact before I even left. The cloud is the question why: why am I returning, especially so soon? Is it simply because I loved it? Re-reading my blog from the first time would certainly suggest as much however one need not read too far deeply into it to find a consistent theme of isolation, confusion, and a persistent state of discomfort. Do the positive feelings of freedom and discovery and adventure eclipse the negative feelings of my first trip, or are the negative feelings simply easier to forget?
These are all natural emotions I decide, taking my seat next to a gentlemen and his 16 year old son who is a bit of a cross between Michael Cera and Sid, the nasty kid next door in Toy Story. The boy lives up to first impressions, snarking at the fact that he is not allowed to have his cell phone on during take off, and no, the in-flight monitors do not work during take off. He is clearly perturbed about anything he can get perturbed about, huffing and sighing and trying to get comfortable, making nasty faces and the "wtf" hand gesture at the woman in front of him who immediately reclines her seat and goes to sleep upon takeoff. His actions and exasperated exhaling make it clear that it is everyone else's fault on the plane that he is stuck in a middle seat and can not find a comfortable position.
Tough shit, kid. Welcome to the real world
To break the ice, I tell him that if at any point during the flight he has to get up and use the can, elbow me so I can go at the same time to avoid having to disturb him. He grunts and nods.
Of course the joke is kind of on me since both he and his father have cast-iron bladders - the kid only finally went after hour 13, and as far as I can tell the father never went - at all. I endure my own pain born of some misplaced politeness.
We land after 15ish hours and the kid strikes up a friendly conversation with me. Nothing like a 15 hour flight to suck all the air out of a privileged kid. Maybe he isn't all that bad after all.
I am nervous filling out the customs form, because the question I have to answer YES to (due to my 14cm camping knife, as I found out last time) is something to the effect of "are you in possession of narcotics, illegal pornography, weapons or anything that may be subject to restrictions?" This should make customs interesting.
It doesn't. The customs guard pulls me aside and asks what I have. I answer, and off I go. No additional screening or even x-ray of my luggage. Apparently this is how to get illegal pornography into Australia. I kid. Please do not flag me.
And so I make my first mistake. Being in an elated, undoubtedly semi-delirious state of mind, I decide to get off the train one station early and walk through Sydney since the morning is so magnificent. Note that despite the fact that at home I am a clutter-Nazi, a trait that I am sure my family is enjoying a welcome respite from at this very moment, that I do not pack light. I am hauling more shit than an overburdened fully trained Shirpa. I am not a fully trained Shirpa, and have not had a shower in 22 hours. The morning may be 'cool' but it is still 17 degrees Celsius. And humid. By the time I reach my hotel I am a sweaty, sticky, smelly disgusting sack of man-slime. And what do they mean a room isn't available...six hours before check-in? I make my second mistake - I beg them to allow me to use the gym/fitness centre shower, which they are more than willing to do (surprised they do not plug their nose while handing me the temporary key) and so I haul my suitcase into the tiny, single shower in the men's change room and rinse off as best I can.
Did I remember to grab a towel?
I am still scraping the paper towel remnants off myself as I find ways to waste six hours in the city before being able to check in. And as it turns out, it is really hard to find some place that serves not-breakfast before 11:30am. Being someone who truly believes there is a limit to the number of eggs you should take in within a twenty-four hour period (and having already having had...'eggs'...on the flight in) I instead have toasted banana bread that is served with butter and syrup all French-Toast style. Much healthier.
Continuing to describe my first day in Sydney accomplishes very little. All I can say is that mathematically speaking not getting a proper lunch does not permit a free ticket to have two dinners...particularly within an hour of each-other. The first, on a rooftop terrace at a cool place in the Rocks called the Glenmore, a dish of baked barramundi in a ham broth which is awesome and expensive and, well, small...So I wander back to Darling Harbour to find most places stop serving food past 9pm on Sunday...so I end up back at Crinti's, which I swore off of last time because of the sucky service. The service is way better this time, but I still feel gross after wolfing down a chili chicken burger and maybe three of four fries, after which I'm sure I will need a wheelchair to get back to my hotel. I hate being 40.
(The picture above is from the Vivid Sydney light festival and has no bearing on pretty much anything from this blog).
Day 2: I have nothing planned today. This should be nice. Over a nice cup of instant coffee I open up a travel magazine sitting on my coffee table (I should add a quick note here that my hotel room is amazingly awesome with a balcony overlooking Darling Harbour where I can sit and not come up with any really good blog ideas) to find an article describing something like 100 awesome things to do in Australia. Item 1 is a walk from the Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach, in Sydney. Hey, I'm in Sydney! So I wander to get breakfast from a cool little outdoor cafe in Chifley Square that rated highly on Tripadvisor, after which I proceed to take the ferry from Circular Quay to the zoo. I would love to go to the zoo, but I've already overspent...in only one day...and besides I have an eggs benedict and two dinners to work off.
When I left my room the weather was typical Sydney winter - overcast, maybe threatening rain, maybe not, and not overly warm. By the time I start my walk along the Bradley Head trail the sun is a peeping-tom through the clouds making the sub-tropical forest around me sweat as much as I am now sweating. Long story short, I stick to my walk but it costs me. Mistake three - going on a city hike with a jacket, pants, and long sleeved shirt - and no sunscreen. By the time I ooze into Balmoral Beach I'm positive no self-respecting restaurant or cafe will let me through the door. I can literally scoop handfuls of sweat off the back of my head. My shirt is glued to my body. But I have gotten some fantastic pictures, and the walk was worth it.
I dry off and grab lunch - and a bus back to the ferry wharf. I had planned to walk back, but I know when to give up. After arriving back in the city centre I head straight to the Botanical Gardens, which I swore I would not miss this time. I take more pictures. Yay!
For the record, I walked a bit over 11km today.
I enjoy a glass of Cab-Merlot at Circular Quay and visit my now-favourite expensive but knowledgable place place to buy wine, and head back to the hotel. The city is inspirational tonight, the sunset reflecting off the buildings with unreal colour.
Tomorrow I will fly to Alice Springs to begin part two of this endeavour. I cannot say I am not nervous, though for different reasons this time. I'm not worried about driving on the 'other' side of the road - in fact, I'm looking forward to it because I remember the first time that being one of the most exhilarating and amazing experiences of my life. I'm concerned about where this trip is going to lead me. As I have previously pointed out I have options, no lack of them. But it is the not-knowing I think that preys on me. I have prepared for all of them, but it feels like I have prepared for none of them all at the same time. I'm probably just getting delirious again, because really I don't think my internal clock adjusted quite as well this time.
I am heading off now to find dinner (number one) tonight. Right after I acknowledge the ghost looking at me from Crinti's across the harbour, enjoying his veal and chicken marsala and Longview Cabernet...I don't think he's looking at me though, I think he's looking at the other ghost, the one sitting in my chair right now.