On The Rocks...Just How I Like It!

Checked in to my favorite Holiday Inn, showered, fed and rested; I met my brother and sister-in-law in the lobby Friday afternoon!
My husband chose this hotel in 2002 for it's rooftop pool, perfect bridge view and proximity to Circular Quay ferries and trains. It was important to come back and I wasn't disappointed. It's in Old Sydney, right down at the rocky water edge; with narrow streets and cobbled footpaths that date back to the 1780s. It's continually rennovated and upgraded with modern rooms, electrical adapters available at the front desk and a staff happy to meet all your needs.

When I noticed my now sandaled feet were still swollen; Elisha brought a bucket of ice to my room. A server in the dining room and lobby bar with a major in hospitality management; she continued to check on me over the next few days. When I returned to this hotel two weeks later, she greeted me by name and remembered just how I liked my burgers (well done and plain) and drinks (no ice.) I now call her my friend! Duty Manager Chris helped me with the correct ship terminology for this piece.

Much of Coastal Australia has gone to self service; even at the white table cloth level. Place your order at the counter, pay and wait for your buzzer to go off. This I didn't like at first, but you get used to it and the food is always good. Luckily, my favorite place to eat is exactly the same and still has table service; Caminetto's Italian Restaurant. Tucked into the sandstone walls behind the hotel, it's mostly outdoor tables with candlight and evening breezes. It's where Jim and I first felt the charm of this historical part of the city, where we found a wine we loved and drank for years after. Tonight it's the first place we headed to toast my arrival.

In between ancient timbered doorways are steep little stairs that lead to who knows where...take the steps and have a look! You'll find cruise ships in the harbor, musicians, street markets, pubs and cafes the size of a closet! Can you see the berthed Radiance of the Seas if you peek through this passage?

Queen Mary 2 was in port the evening we walked the Quay. Holy Huge seeing her up close! Moored between the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House, it's size dwarfed these two Sydney icons! At 9:00 PM the horn sounded, fireworks lit the sky and she was underway to open seas again. There's a precise timetable for these vessels; sometimes two and three are in port at once. If there's no room nor enough depth to dock, passengers are tendered ashore to spend the day.

 Next we were off to another familiar place in the Rocks; the old Orient Hotel Bar. American girl that I am, I ordered a Margarita on the rocks, no salt...and sat outside enjoying my family time. First time in six years we've seen each other.

These are the steps I've always longed to sit on again. The same angled spot where Jim and I spent our last night in Oz. The Opera House over his shoulder, the Bridge over mine. We held hands on the other side of the world and realized how far we'd come in life.

The next day we all ferried to Watson Bay and my brother and I hiked out to South Head; the gateway to the same Pacific Ocean where I'd wave at sunset from California; wishing him a lovely morning sunrise.
The Rocks section of Sydney is my favorite spot on earth. But Australia is my brother's homeland. I'm here now to be with him and his family and make new memories.

Making the Most of Airport Life

Day One was going to be a long one. Awake long before the six AM alarm; I decided to repack and leave out a few tees and shorts; I needed sturdy walking shoes and they take up a chunk of space. Next I quickly went through old family pictures to take for my brothers' grandkids and tucked them in my paperback book. Little did I know I'd be making new friends and learning new things before I ever left the country!
I arrived at Detroit airport at 9:30. My flight to LA didn't leave till 3:00. I was pleasantly surprised that my Delta first class international ticket qualified me for Sky Club; Delta's exclusive lounge for frequent travelers. I was Alice in wonderland awe. Free Starbucks, beer and booze. Breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet and several newspaper choices. Expansive, cozy seating areas, clean restrooms and luggage storage if you want to wander the terminal shops. As I stowed my bags in a locker to get some walking in, the front desk lady suggested a two-mile route around the terminal. If only I'd worn the walking shoes. I fast-walked in my khaki converse sneakers....which meant my feet hurt by day 2.

I must have flown to LA 20-25 times during the ten years my kids lived there; traveling from Atlanta...loving the freeways and Randy's Donuts sign as we landed every time. So as we began descending from Detroit, I was tickled to see the sunlit Santa Monica Mountains from my window all the way in! Another heart-captured Kodak moment.

Terminal 5 at LAX has been beautifully redone! Wow! Here I discovered not all Delta Lounges are the same.... Smaller capacity, no lockers...just leave-at-your-own risk shelves, but a fully tended bar!
I've since learned Atlanta offers private sleeping cubicles and massages in addition to the other amenities....but then ATL is Delta's home hub!

Tired and weary, I had five more hours to kill till my 10:30 PM flight. More walking, visiting with Aussies coming and going for their autumn break, and finally giving in to a free gin and tonic just before boarding time. Just as priority folks were getting settled, the pilot said oops...there's a problem with the engine; we're waiting for maintenance. After several delays, it was cancelled and we were rebooked for 9:00 PM the next night....another 20some hours. At 3 in the morning, it was too late to consider hotels and the gate agent said they were all booked within a 10 mile radius anyway.
I slept about 4 hours on a comfy Delta sofa.....until the morning shift began preparing for the day. My sweet new friend Susan and I shared plans about joining up with family.

I worked out it'd been about 37 hours since my alarm went off and my trip began. And I still had a 14 hour flight ahead of me. I stashed my bags, walked, ate as healthily as one can with airport offerings and made more friends among staff and travelers. I avoided the disgruntled folks and chalked it all up to part of the adventure. My feet began to swell and the Sky Club bartender gave me ice. I showered and changed my shirt and redid makeup, ate their buffet breakfast with fresh fruit and baked goods and I was ready for another day.

Delta compensated us with vouchers toward future travel; but being first class, I was luckier than Tom Hanks living in the airport!  I had the Delta Lounge employees looking after me. And...I received 50,000 bonus points for my discomfort and change in plans.
I was most impressed with all the terminal employees working that night; some stayed beyond their shift, blankets and pillows were passed out, lights were dimmed, free water and snacks were available and the workers did it all with smiles and cheerfulness.....even while confronted with unpleasant customers. Although I had Sky Club access, I walked and talked with folks everywhere; curious where and how they'd get through the chaos. Except for a few complainers, everyone felt as I did: It's always better to fly late and arrive safe!

On board, I sat next to a Kid Rock lookalike and drank mimosas. I asked the flight attendant how the 9 buttons worked when it came time to lower the bed and she said "you can work it out love." And so after a full course meal about midnight LA time...whatever the heck time my body was on by now; I pushed away at the blue buttons,  unwrapped my fullsized pillow and thick comforter and finally slept stretched out on my side just like at home! After five hours I was wide awake....maybe still Detroit time? The bed pushed back up into a chair and I watched two movies, (Spotlight and The Big Short) wrote notes and drafts, walked the aisles from front to back and chatted with my new days-in-the-airport pals.

Weariness gave way to excitement as breakfast was served, we freshened up and watched the sunrise as we descended into Sydney. I left on Tuesday morning and arrived on Friday morning. Yes, a day is lost due to international travel....but it was definitely 3 days in airports and one on a plane!
I was down under the equator and another hemisphere and I was here!
 I bypassed customs....a random selection process to facilitate arrivals and.... voila!
                                                    I'm outside walking in sunshine!

Australia....Why I Need To Return

"I've seen fire and I've seen rain.....but I always thought I'd see you again" was the song running through my head as we made our way over the Pacific and down under the northern hemisphere to Sydney, Australia in 2002.
A gift from my husband to finally visit my oldest brother in his adopted country; the place he's called home for years.

My brother greeting me in 2002
Now, 14 years later, I'm going back. This time I hear the words "when you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way." And I understand why I need to return.
My brother came to the US every few years to visit our parents; they in turn visited him several times, accepting the fact he was an Aussie citizen and embracing his new homeland. But I haven't seen him since 2010 when Mom passed away.

So off I go. Solo. I'm packed and have taken care of last minute details...spray tanned, nails done, bills paid, love notes written to my kids and grandkids. I made copies of my passport, visa, insurance card and driver license for my brother and son...just in case.

21in. luggage/carry-on bag
I'll be checking the suitcase. This carry-on, (my old Land's End briefcase,) holds pj's, a change of clothes, magazines, book and  sandals. I'm spending three nights in the Holiday Inn Old Sydney upon arrival and want to be prepared if luggage is delayed. I'll add my makeup bag and tablet at the last minute.
My cross body-bag fits nicely too. I like being hands free when walking through airports and taking taxis for minimum schlepping!

I've got scrapbooks and journals from my last visit to Straya or Strain (Australia)...Aussies abbreviate or rework every word they can. I'm a Stickybeak...nosy and always asking questions!
Three Sisters; Blue Mountains of  NSW

Katoomba train station, Blue Mts.

After spending two nights in the Blue Mountains with my brother and sister-in-law, Jim and I took the train to Sydney Airport and caught a flight to Coffs Harbour to visit dear friends we met at the 96 Olympics in Atlanta. In addition to touring a banana plantation in this equatorial rain forest region; we pet koalas at the zoo and wandered an animal preserve feeding wallabies and roos. An interesting fact we learned back then was that Australia is a big exporter of sand and camels! I'll have a chance to ride a camel during an Ayers Rock sunrise this trip!

I was teaching fourth grade in 2002; so I hooked up with the lead teacher taking students on a tour of the Opera House one afternoon. Another day I spent in a fourth grade classroom of the Brisbania Primary School; engaging with lessons and securing pen pals for my students back home.

Brisbane Water, Central Coast NSW
My brother's house is just up from this jetty where we'd have our cuppa each morning. His home has been designated historic landmark status and he takes great pride in authenticity and quality.
They've also a studio on the grounds where my sister-in-law paints. An accomplished artist, she's illustrated several books, written articles and has taught community art classes.   

April, 2002 my 58th Birthday
During my parents' last visit in the spring of 2001, my father had a mild heart attack. He finally recovered and became well enough to return to the states. His greatest disappointment was not being able to do the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb with my brother. As the tickets were transferable at that time and good for a year; it became my 'job' to climb for my dad. Climbing it was the greatest thrill of my life....and the scariest thing I've ever done! But the sense of awe and accomplishment created a need within my soul to always be doing, to try new things, to defy age, to overcome fears. Knowing it meant so much to my father was priceless. "I can't believe I did it" I said over and over as we downed gin and tonics at the nearest pub!

Butterflies flutter a bit as the countdown to departure begins. I fly alone often and I've made this long journey before....but there's a sense of emptiness; that something is missing. Grief in disguise? My husband held my hand as we sat on the steps overlooking Sydney Harbor on our last night; the Opera House over his shoulder, the Harbor Bridge over mine. "We're coming back someday, " he promised. I know I'm also going for him. He'll be in my heart, smiling at my brother's jokes and Aussie slang.

In addition to a three night stay at the Desert Gardens Resort and the camel ride; I'm looking forward to meeting blogging friends in real life who've offered to meet me in Sydney for coffee or wine. And how cool will it be to meet my sweet and sunny girlfriend from high school days as she and her husband disembark from their Singapore to Sydney cruise and spend a day with me!  But mostly this trip is about family; about catching up on our lives, about sharing childhood memories and making new ones as the end of our third quarter looms.

Another verse I like from the Crosby, Stills and Nash's song goes like this; "the truth you might be running from is so small. But it's as big as the promise...the promise of a coming day."  I think this fluttering is anticipation in disguise!