We ended our time in New Zealand after a frenzied travel morning rush. Rising at a painful 3:30am, Brian and I went through the bleary-eyed, drama-filled process of getting three kids ready for a 7:00am international flight. I always start off in nice mommy mode on these mornings, whispering angelically in a sing-song voice, “Good morning, sweet girls. I know you’re tired, but remember we have to get on a plane this morning. You have to get it up now.”
This June Cleaver version of myself lasts all of about 10 minutes. Watching the girls stumble around comatose while flashing me dirty looks, as though this early morning wake-up call qualifies as child abuse, inevitably pushes me over the edge. Oh really, you don’t like getting up this early? Maybe wishing you’d listened one of those 15 times Dad and I told you to stop talking and go to sleep last night? I feel so sorry for you. NOT!
Soon my sympathetic June Cleaver alter ego has exited stage left and something resembling Joan Crawford (circa Mommy Dearest) makes her appearance. Shrill cries of “No! No! Don’t even think of laying down until those shoes are on your feet!” and “Why in the world is Pooh Bear NOT in your backpack right now?!” come spewing out of my mouth. I might as well have a wire hanger in my hand. Yep, good times. These mornings always leave me swearing I’ll never again buy early morning tickets no matter what the damn price difference might be.
Despite the lethargic start, we got our taxi, made it through security (where every single one of our carry-ons had to undergo a detailed inspection), and before I knew it we were settling into our seats for our flight to Sydney. As the wheels kicked up from the tarmac, I realized that in all the dramatic hubbub of the morning I’d never said a proper goodbye to New Zealand. We’d loved this country which had been our nomadic home for the last 6 weeks. It’s friendly and welcoming people, gorgeous scenery and easy driving makes the land of the kiwis hard to leave. We could have stayed another 6 weeks.
But it was time for a new experience. And that experience, as the girls described it our first day in the city, was “New York with palm trees.” Residents of Sydney, or New York for that matter, may not appreciate this comparison in their desire to declare their hometown unique and beyond compare, but it’s kind of true. Big new buildings intermixed with old, historic ones. Lots of wide sidewalks and traffic-filled intersections. Harbors lined with restaurants and restaurants lined with tight rows of al fresco tables. Among those tables, a multitude of languages being spoken by people of every cultural background imaginable.
Walking around Sydney was definitely reminiscent of the time we spent in the Big Apple. Yet, admittedly, it feels quite different when one stops to notice the natural environment poking its way through among the concrete and glass. Trees that look like they belong in a rainforest and birds sounding like something synthesized on an electronic keyboard emerge from the urban maze. The bizarre song of a kookaburra bird follows the blast of a taxi’s horn. A massive tree leaking long, twisted vines from its branches stands defiantly amid the blocks of apartment buildings.
We got out of the city as well. One day we visited Palm Beach to hike up its unusual Barrenjoey Lighthouse trail. We stood looking down at the pounding waves of the shoreline, and then a little while later we strolled along in front of them. Another day we used the easy ferry and bus systems to visit Watson’s Bay and Bondi Beach. On these days it was easy to forget we were anywhere near a major metropolitan area.
And of course, Sydney wouldn’t be Sydney without its iconic Opera House. Seeing it in person for the first time was surprisingly thrilling, like seeing the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower. Alison stared at it for a moment clearly wondering why I was so excited. Then a look of recognition came over her face and she said, “Oh yeah! It’s that building from Finding Nemo.” I’m sure Jørn Utzon and the city of Sydney are grateful to Pixar Animation Studios for giving this majestic structure its architectural and cultural significance in the minds of 6-year-olds.
Despite having just a few days in this city, we were really glad we took the time to see Sydney while traveling in this corner of the world. Throughout our time there we encountered friendly and interesting people everywhere we went. They would hear our American accents and immediately ask if we were on holiday. Soon we’d be in conversation and getting advice on things to do or places to eat. We even met up for dinner with some fellow American travelers we’d met on a trail back in New Zealand who also happened to be in Sydney as well. It was a fun, beautiful and social few days in the land down under.