On Monday, May 23rd, fellow longhorns and I embarked on what already has been and will continue to be a trip of a lifetime. For a month this summer we will be travelling through some of Australia’s diverse ecosystems and learning about the changing climate in each. But in order to do that, we first needed to get to the great country.
From Austin, we took a four-hour flight to San Francisco where we would then get on a connecting flight to Sydney that would be 15 (yes, you read that correctly) hours long. We safely arrived to California and wandered around looking for the terminal where our second flight would be departing from. San Francisco International Airport is a nice and big airport; there were stores everywhere within in it, countless restaurants and even a yoga room which we sadly had not even known about until minutes before we had to board our flight. Once we found the terminal we went to look for some snacks and dinner, did some group stretches and exchanged American dollars for Australian ones.
Before we knew it, it was time to board our flight (which was already more spacious than the last one). We found our seats and made ourselves comfortable. A lot of people were travelling to Sydney that night, whether to visit like us or to get back home. There were a few Aussies sitting near us and hearing their accents when they spoke confirmed it, we were actually going Down Under! The flight went pretty fast, there was a wide selection of entertainment we could choose from on the flight, many movies that I had been wanting to see which was perfect because I wanted to stay awake long enough to where I fell asleep once it was the evening in Australia because maybe, just maybe, I could beat jet lag (I did not). The flight attendants served dinner, I finished the movie I was watching and then decided it was time to catch some sleep. Before I knew it the lights came on and breakfast was being served, pancakes and a fruit salad. The sun was beginning to rise and although I did not have a window seat the kind couple next to me took a picture for me of the breathtaking view. T-minus an hour until we were set to land, AHH!
We arrived at Sydney Airport around 8 a.m. Before passing through customs we decided to go to the restroom and everything in it was so different. As if I needed more confirmation that we were in Australia, this was it. As silly as it sounds these were no longer American restrooms but they were Australian ones! The toilets are almost square, there are two flush options, you wave your hand over the trash bin for it to open, and the locks turn the other way. We freshened up and then got in line to pass through customs. I was a little nervous because I had never had to do it before but all they had to check was that I had a visa to be there and that I was not bringing anything illegal into their country. All checked out and we were set to go! We then went over to retrieve our luggage. Most of ours came pretty quickly but when our friends’ luggage did not show up we knew there was a problem. Unfortunately, their luggage was not sent to Sydney. After they worked out how they could get a hold of it we parted ways (we were staying in two different hostels) and looked for the best means of transportation, the train!
We purchased our ticket and got on. It was a big train full with people going about their day. We got off at St. James station and probably looked like lost puppies because a kind lady came up to us and asked “where are you headed,” in her amazing accent (which to this day I have not gotten used to and love so much). We told her we were trying to get to our hostel and she gave us suggestions on how to best get there. What an angel. We followed her suggestions and had a little way to walk however it felt like the longest walk because of all the luggage we had. I quickly fell behind everyone else because I was in complete awe of our surroundings. The city was beautiful. I could not stop looking all around me at the amazing architecture, the people and cars. Thankfully I would be able to catch up when we hit stop lights. We made our way to the hostel and although we could not check-in until 2 p.m. we stored our luggage in a locker and went off to explore the city. Our first stop was the shopping center in Queen Victoria Building, which was the most beautiful center I had ever been too. There we got some clothes and took a small break to see where we could head to.
We were in a short walking distance to Darling Harbour so we headed there. It was a bit of a chilly day, while it is summer in the states it is winter here but thankfully it has not been too cold… yet. While walking to the harbor we quickly realized we were walking on the wrong side of the street. In Australia, you walk on the left hand side, which explained why I kept running into people with my suitcase, my apologies! The harbor was beautiful. There was a mall, restaurants, a ferris wheel and amazing buildings all around. We walked around and then decided to see the Chinese Garden of Friendship. It was a very serene and lovely garden situated in the middle of tall buildings and construction sites, the calm in the chaos. We saw some huge koi carp swimming in the lake, many plants, rock formations, a waterfall and amazing pavilions. After taking time to breathe and recollect we made our way to the mall at the harbor to get some lunch, but first we rope climbed in the park.
While walking around we noticed many kids out and about, whether it was at the garden or in the park, they were enjoying their time and having lunch while playing and taking a break from their studies. For lunch I deiced to eat a slice of pie (not the sweet kind but the savory) basically a slice of pizza with feta cheese and spinach, delicious. It was almost time to check-in so we headed back toward the hostel and made a quick stop at Woolworths, the Walmart of Australia, or so it seemed like. It was huge, there were three floors and it had many similar brands of products and food as we do back home but also had very unique ones. We got the essentials and made our way to the hostel. Another thing we noticed was the noise the stop light makes when it is okay for pedestrians to cross, it almost sounds like something out of a video game. Back at the hostel we were able to check-in and everything was set. Only problem? The lift was broken and although thankfully we only had to go up one flight of stairs I was already trying to figure out how I would manage to get my suitcase up there. I got my purse, backpack and suitcase and made my way up (or at least I tried). I made it a whole to steps when a nice guy offered to take it up for me. I was really embarrassed because of how much I was struggling and at first said “oh it’s okay, thank you” but when he asked again I agreed and thanked him. Everyone so far was so nice in Australia, I felt both comfortable and safe to be there even though it was a completely foreign country that I did not know much about. We settled into our dorm-style room and took a few minutes to just take everything all in and also to rest for a while, it had already been a long day and it was only 3 p.m. We needed to connect to Wi-Fi to communicate with friends and family and figure out what we would do the following days. We went to a café not far from the hostel and ordered two pots of tea, one chai and the other peppermint, to split among us. Afternoon tea, anyone? We headed back to the hostel where we learned that that night they were having a dinner and some games for the guests so we decided to get ready and get us some free food. The word free on this trip is like music to the ears. Dinner looked great, they had sausage schnitzel but Eileen and I instead paid a trip to Subway and got a sandwich then went back to eat with Cameron, Ivey and Jade. We ended the day by enjoying some music and dancing. That night we fell asleep faster than you could say “g’day” which it definitely was.