Notes from a Plane: Melbourne to Sydney, Australia

Dave & I are on a one hour Qantas Airlines flight from Melbourne to Sydney. This is our first time flying Qantas. Minutes into our journey, the flight attendants serve us a beverage and meat pies. I promptly give Dave my meat pie.

“Oh wow! They are warm.” Dave happily exclaims.

Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

Now mid-flight, Dave & I begin planning our next Melbourne/Sydney trip. He tells me that he needs to return before the end of the year. Knowing I want to be better prepared the next time I visit, I start scheming a plan. I start talking with my hands, which bump into the armrests and the seat in front of me, as I eagerly suggest that next time I will load a duffle filled with my favorite gluten free food. As soon as I am done explaining how I will smuggle all the gluten free goodness into Australia, I look at Dave with enthusiasm and express the following non sequitur: “Dave, I am hopeful I can talk to our hotel into putting a microwave into our room. Then I can cook my oatmeal each day!”  My mind bounces and I imagine myself traveling Australia’s Great Ocean Road. 

Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

As I type I am rocked by the turbulence. I am nauseous. (Turbulence usually doesn’t make me nauseous.) I am also listening to Michigan-born Sufjan Stevens’ song “The Seer’s Tower.” Achingly hypnotic, this song tugs at all my feelings. My son, Kyle, introduced me to Sufjan Stevens. Now I miss Kyle – of course. The songs I am listening to are playing faster than my thumbs can hit my tiny iPhone screen. Now I am listening to Johnny Cash’s cover of “I’ll Fly Away.” Johnny Cash’s deep, twangy and familiar voice is comforting. Before I finish writing my Johnny Cash sentence, I hear the lyrics, “you better be home soon,” by one of Dave’s favorite bands, “Crowded House.”

Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

Keyed up from a slew of mournful melodies, I feel desperately homesick. I want to be home right this second. I imagine myself sitting at my kitchen counter, eating my oatmeal and drinking my green tea. I picture Dave and myself, enveloped in a sea of Southwestern spring blossoms and smells as we walk around our neighborhood. I hear Eli walk into the front door, yelling his familiar, “Hello! Hello! I am home.” Suddenly I am snapped out of my melancholy with the realization that I will be home soon. I recognize that homesickness really means I am having a hard time and that eventually it will be ok. As such, I decide to remain present in this moment. I (actually) want to be here and here with Dave.

Craig’s Hut, Clear Hills Track, Mount Buller, Victoria, Australia

Suddenly, I am distracted. First, I noticed the light. Then the man. He is in the seat in front of me. He is shining his phone light around his seat. He appears desperate. I wonder what he dropped? I hear the flight attendant announce that the plane is preparing to land and that we can find our baggage at carousel three.

Sydney Harbor Bridge, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

In the last few minutes I think about our last few days: Dave and I have four days left of our (just over a) month-long adventure. I love to travel. I loved our time in London. I have mixed feelings regarding both Melbourne and Sydney. I am sincerely surprised by those feelings. (See, I adored Australia the last time we were here. I wonder if it was because I was safe in our little family bubble and did not really have to interact with the world around me? Perhaps.)

Dave at our friend’s farm, Gembrook, Victoria, Australia

As a result, I also imagine it would be fair to attribute my mixed feelings regarding Australia to the following: After flying eleven hours from London to San Francisco (13 hours on the plane), then waiting six hours in San Francisco, Dave and I hopped on our San Francisco to Sydney flight. (Yes. We really hopped.) I celebrated my birthday for 16 hours on the San Francisco to Sydney flight; a flight we took while crossing the international date line, (hilarious – nope, but a good story). We left San Francisco on April 23 and landed in Sydney, Australia on April 25. My birthday is April 24. My guess is my jet lag was more noticeable as a result of my feeling a wee bit neglected. (Thanks a heap, international date line!) In the interest of full disclosure, Dave did wake me up at midnight and sweetly wished me a happy birthday. He also brought along two gifts, until he realized he left one of them at home. (True story: Dave still does not remember what the second gift was.)

Cake made by my friend Michelle, Gembrook, Victoria, Australia

My extended blue mood was immediately followed by intense PMS, which come on, aren’t I too old for intense mood swings and menstrual cramps? Wait. Don’t answer that. So of course my PMS contributed to my inability, or I should say, my slow-ability to connect with Australia and its  culture.

Me under the Sydney Harbor Bridge, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

Perhaps the following observation is the reason for my disconnect 🤣: Australians don’t much care for Americans (people from the United States, to you and me  😉). I can’t say that I blame them. I mean, when Americans are brave enough to actually leave our exceptional country, we are loud, we like ice in our water, and then we send said glass of water back until it has enough ice. To prove my point, while traveling through Australia, (and other countries), if I had a dollar for every time a non-American proclaimed, “You are an American. You must need ice in your water,” I could buy a small, lukewarm lake. As we sit in their countries, they are equally incredulous when I say, “I prefer my water room temperature.” “Really? I mean, we have ice. We keep it for the Americans.” “Nope. Just water.”

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

In truth, on week four of our adventure, I admit (and as an American) I became tired (weary/sad/oddly protective) as a result of the onslaught of put downs: our coffee sucks, said a woman who has only been to one Hawaiian island. Our pizza is gross, said another who had a slice in Sacramento. Our stores are too big and so are our serving sizes, said someone else. I will give the Australians the benefit of the doubt. I imagine they usually can slam on America without an American present.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Nevertheless, I must admit that beyond my Tall Poppy Syndrome bewilderment, I gained a greater and more positive understanding of Australia geographically and its culture. As Dave and I reflect, we recognize that because we spent a significant amount of time in each place, we became quite acquainted with each city. In Melbourne, for instance, I was delighted to find that the larger Collins Street was parallel to the smaller, Little Collins Street, and that similarly the major Burke Street was parallel to the minor, Little Burke Street. Naturally I assumed that Flinders Street, which was near our hotel, would obviously have a parallel Little Flinders Street. On our last day my mind was blown when I realized that what I thought was Flinders Street was actually Flinders Lane, (which should be Little Flinders Street, if you ask me).

Sydney Opera House from the ferry, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

 In each city, we actually talked to Australians, meaning we socialized. Socializing with Australians was amazing. We learned about cultural pride and not just pride in Australia itself, but pride in each region. I heard strongly phrased sentences such as, “Melbourne is better because it has more culture. And Sydney sucks, except for the harbor!” I also heard, “Melbourne is cold! Sydney has beauty! I hate Melbourne.” I admit I felt a little pressured to pick a side. That is why when I am pushed against the wall I will take the advice regarding the Tall Poppies and proclaim, “I love them both – equally!

Dave, Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

By the way, travel is never bad. In fact, Australia was pretty great! For starters, they say, “Brekkies,” for breakfast and “Maccas” for McDonalds. (Ok. The McDonald’s abbreviation was a little weird.) I connected with two long lost college friends and their beautiful families. One of them called us, “Beth-O,” and “Dave-O,” because they say that’s what Australians call their friends. (Pretty cool.)

Even at the grocery store, they call it Brekkies. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
McDonalds, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

On a lovely Mothers Day drive, visiting Phillip Island, Dave and I saw a penguin hiding in its little penguin hole. We also have seen so many kangaroos and wallabies. We saw a lyrebird twice, one near my girlfriend’s farm in Gembrook in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges, and then again near Mansfield, in Melbourne’s high country, at my other friend’s cabin. Both of my friends declared, “do you know how rare it is to see this bird? Most Australians never see one.” Dave and I saw it twice.  We also drove up a crazy mountain road to see “Craig’s Hut,” where the movie, “The Man from Snowy River,” was filmed. It was stunning to see the undulating mountains fade into the rosy purple sunset.

A wallaby at Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

In the end, travel is always ok (better than ok, really). It is, however, challenging, (and probably why I was so homesick just a few minutes ago). Nevertheless, the hard part is ultimately why I love leaving home. I love problem solving after problem solving after deep breath after mispronouncing a word for the fourth, fifth and tenth time, cultural nuances, unexpected delight and deep, soul crushing sorrow.

Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

Travel is doing laundry on a Sunday night at a crowded laundromat. It’s packing and repacking, bringing the wrong shoes and remembering the right adapters. It’s meeting people, seeing how they live, how they love and learning that lamb is consistently fresher and better in Australia and apparently beef is better in the USA. It’s talking about Australian history with Bernard, the kind cheese vendor, at the local grocer. Then as you exit the local grocer, deep in conversation regarding self love and self acceptance, you look across the street and the heavens open up and you see a gluten free bakery. “Let’s go show ourselves some love.” my friend and I gleefully said as we jay-walked ourselves across the street. (Australians are cool with jay-walking, by the way). Traveling is magical. It really does help me appreciate what I have and who is holding my hand when I have anxiety on a Tuesday evening flight, halfway around the world ❤️.

Us riding the ferries, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia
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My Travel Advice: Learn From US

Us The Coliseum Rome November 2013
Us The Coliseum Rome November 2013

I am often asked how we make travel work.

Here is what I say, and honestly, I cannot say these things enough.  First, please learn from my dumb.  I sincerely hope my own experience can prevent any undue pain in your own life.  Know that these words come from every misstep, impatient move, miscommunication, inconsiderate choice and completely unnecessary fight I instigated. And because I am so slow, it was only recently that I got it.

Where it happened will stay with me forever. We were standing on Rome’s Palatine Hill.  It was an unusually warm late November day. Instead of looking at the amazing Roman structures, Dave and I only notice our anger. We stood shouting at each other while boys slowly backed farther and farther away. I am sure they were bowing their heads, rolling their eyes, and saying, “can you believe those crazy loud people? I wish they would stop.”  Consumed, I actually did not see the boy backing away.  Instead, I was transfixed with my fierce rage. I was screaming, “Dave, shut up! Stop it!” He was mad at me for something I cannot even remember now.  Isn’t that how it often goes?  And somehow in that utterly consuming moment I stopped myself. I started connecting the dots. And in my mind I said, “Beth, come on.  Stop. Think. You are in freaking Rome! You are standing on Palatine Hill. You are with your family. You are with Dave.”  My lovely and controlled thoughts are not as glorious as I make them sound. Nevertheless, they were there. The clicks and connections continued. And as we stood on the birthplace of Western Civilization, I got it. Life does not escape any of us. And somehow the simple knowledge that life-continues-no-matter-what moved me past my rage.

Dave and I were looking down here when we were having our epic fight.
Dave and I were looking down here when we were having our epic fight.

Staring at Dave, and listening to him yell, I began seeing every single trip we had ever taken together. On Palatine Hill, he was mad, and I understood. I shut up.  I stood motionless.  And as remembered all of our travels, I also saw our home life. It was all making sense.  I wanted Dave to see it too, and that is when I blurted out, “Dave, stop saying that we cannot travel anymore! Stop saying you will not travel with me!  We will fight here! We will fight in Moab! We will fight in Hawaii! We will fight at home. It is not the trip. When we are mad at each other, we fight. The end. And I love you because you fight for me.”  Ah-ha, it is not the trip, or even the place. It is the “us.” It is not what we do; it is how we do it.  I am still crossing my fingers, but our travel has never been the same.

Me Standing in the Coliseum Rome November 2013
Me Standing in the Coliseum Rome November 2013

My advice continues, and if I can save you any discomfort now, especially while traveling, please remember this.  This is your trip, not mine, or anyone else’s.  It is not what you do; it is how you do it. Remember that every personality is different. Do the things you like to do. Do not stress about making your trip perfect. If you are traveling with other people, remember their needs will be different.  They always are. Communicate and compromise. Do not assume  — no matter what. This is a big one. It is also what I like to call it-is-too-late-to-do-anything-about-it-but-nevertheless-I-am-still-going-to-punish-you backend guilt. Instead, remember to measure expectations ahead of time. People love knowing what to expect, especially when traveling to a new and unexpected place.  Bottom line is this. We are not mind readers, especially under the duress of jetlag or a new culture.  Ask when you need to ask. Be patient. Forgive yourself and forgive your fellow travelers. I promise that forgiveness will move you quickly past the uncomfortable moments.

Mostly, remember this. Even when you are far, far away, and even when you are on your fantasy vacation trip of a lifetime, lower your expectations. Seriously, lower them right now! Do not fall apart when we do not live up. I promise you we won’t. You will fight.  You will get hungry. You will be tired, and I will have PMS.  No matter what, we will let you down. It is ok.  Seriously, do not let the humanness of humans ruin your trip. Don’t. Instead, make these unexpected moments delightful, the fights on Palatine Hill an epic tale of love and learning, getting lost in Kowloon a hilarious and most bizarre memory. Laugh. Breathe it in and enjoy.

PS And we loved Rome so much we went back a year later.


Side Bar:  The Forum and The Coliseum tickets are purchased as a package. The secret short line is at the Forum. Not the Forum entrance close to the Coliseum, but the one up the street from the Coliseum. I will find more accurate directions once Dave wakes up 😉

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