Week Twenty Nine - Sydney 02/13/2011
I don't know where I'm gonna live
Don't know if I'll find a place
I'd have to think about it some
And that I do not wish to face
I guess I'm counting on his
Matthew Sweet – Divine Intervention, Girlfriend 1991
Day One Hundred and Ninety Seven January 1st
1.1.11 – Many people believe that the number 1111 is some kind of wake up call. A kind of cellular trigger that is imprinted on humanity. A code that points to a higher level of consciousness: an on ramp to another, very positive, dimension. Phew. Well, OK, some people believe it, seriously, give it a Google.
Not that I believe it or anything. After all I am sure it is just coincidence that the all four of us are born on a 1st: me the 31st, Teri 31st, Adele 1st, Vince 31st. The last four numbers put together? 1111. Or, that three different people claiming to be “in the know” on these kind of thing have all suggested to me, at different times in my life, spread across a number of years, in different locations and completely independent of one another, that I need to watch out for 1111. Or, that sometimes I do, and that I take notice of it, frequently.
Not one to question Divine Intervention, this have been my launch date for VinniVooms since I started forming the company. Today we go live online with the photos of images that are inspiring the creative process we are undergoing to launch our patterns and designs. These images are the essence of the brand on which we will build out our eco-friendly, family centric swimwear. 1111 makes sense to me on many levels: positive, constant, current, search, transcend, blend, peace.
The tooth fairy found us! Somehow she managed to track us down and leave Adele a shinny Australia dollar. She is beaming when she come up stairs. Vince’s eyes are wide with wonder.
Flights are cheaper on New Years day and hotels easier to find in big cities so we are finally leaving Western Australia and heading East to New South Wales and Sydney. We were going to head up to Queensland to see the beaches and the Great Barrier Reef but its box jellyfish season so we nixed it. Just as well as the rains is causing all kinds of havoc.
Perth to Sydney equals LA to NYC. Who knew Australia is so big? It’s a four plus hour flight with a three-hour time change. And like LA and NYC the cities are worlds apart. We replace the bright and sunny Perth with a dark cool Sydney. We are staying on points at the Westin downtown in the center of the action. It is crowded, much more so than Perth. There are high-rise buildings here and a central business district filled with banks and insurance companies. It feels very much like any major city in the States. We even have an Apple store, Gap and Starbucks around the corner. Our dollars are even at parity so the only real difference is the pictures on the bills.
I guess its good to be here. At least we are one step closer to New Zealand: one step closer to home. It’s been a long travel day.
Day One Hundred and Ninety Eight January 2nd.
First day in a new territory means a new territory museum. Territories here are like mega states back home. Sort of like our New England, South, Central and West. Over here there are five of them in all and this is our third. If you come this way check out these out as they are a point of pride for the residents and are chock full of all kinds of great exhibits and information. As a bonus this one covers New South Wales as well as all of Australia.
After a few hours of learning about the Aborigines, mining, sheep farming, Captain Cook, kangaroos, venomous snakes, great white sharks, space debris, the Olympics and Oprah its time to wander over to the Royal Botanic Gardens. Why do they insist on calling these parks “Botanic” gardens? What happened to “Botanical” gardens? It’s always been botanical gardens in my book: like the ones off the Van Wyck by Flushing Meadows in Queens. I’ve never even heard of “botanic” gardens until we came here. Nutty Aussies.
The kids and I spend a great afternoon wandering around checking things out and following blue and pink elephant footprints. They are outlined in chalk along the route to the Opera House and seem to be related in some way to the massive fireworks and New Years celebration they had a few nights ago. Try explaining that to a four year old running wildly from tree to tree in search the pink elephant. I have been known to see a few in my day but they remain elusive to all of us this afternoon.
When we round the corner and the Opera House comes into view I get a sudden rush, a feeling of having arrived. It maybe the Pixar influence from watching Nemo countless times but it really does feel like we have achieved a certain milestone. We celebrate with a shout and cheer.
The Sydney Opera house has been a target of ours since we started the trip. At first it was the to mark Adele’s ninth birthday with family but that changed mid-stream. Then it morphed into a symbol of the end of our first chapter in this wacky journey.
Once we get to New Zealand we know we are staying put for a while and that the flurry of constant movement and travels will have ended, at least the first stage of it anyway. The Opera House has always been a bookend or pivot point from the beginning at LAX all those months ago to the next phase in NZ in the not to distant future. And now here we are, standing in the park, checking the place out.
We have arrived safe and sound, on so many levels.
Day One Hundred and Ninety Nine January 3rd.
Why go all the way to Beijing to see the famed warriors when they are out touring with a stop here in Sydney? Sounds like a good way to spend a rainy morning, checking out a few warriors at the Art Gallery of NSW across the park.
When we arrive the ticket line is around the corner and growing by the minute. It seems everyone else has the same idea. The kids are in no mood to stand in line so we decide to pass for today and to tour the rest of the museum instead. It has an assortment of Australia landscape artists, a few works by famous people, a floor devoted to more modern stuff and a great collection of Aboriginal artists.
Downstairs, tucked into a far corner, is the “members only” private area. Adele and I stop in to see if they will print tickets for the exhibit upstairs if we buy them online. The lady takes one look at the two of us and immediately serves up a family pass. It turns out she is from New Zealand and one of her family members lives in the town we are headed to! It always pays to strike up a conversation: you never know what will come of it.
Armed with our pass we march off to see the warriors. Actually they should call it the “warrior” tour, singular not plural. Ok, there might be two of three but it’s a lot of hype for a few stone guys. The movie about the excavation is very interesting and really makes us want to head to China to see the real deal before we come back to the States.
I had no idea that the main mountain that the warriors are there to protect is man-made. It is an ancient burial city built for this lunatic Chinese ruler way back when and one that China has elected NOT to disturb. The entire mountain is a tomb and no one knows what lies beneath the big mound of earth. If what they have uncovered thus far is any indication it must be incredible. Hats off to management to have the will power to restrain from plundering the site. It must be hard, knowing so much is there.
The crowds here in NSW are so thick that we can’t actually see any of the exhibits. It must be five or six people deep at every display. Teri and Vince leave immediately. Adele and I slug it out with the rest of the foreigners trying to catch a glimpse of something, anything, but it is just too much so we bail as well. Someone needs to tell the Australians how to do crowd control. It’s a free for all here. I can only imagine what sporting events or big outdoor festivals are like. It must be bedlam.
Day Two Hundred January 4th
I spend a frustrating morning dealing with our CallMeCuffs start up. The frustration has been building for a while with the web developer back in the States. What is supposed to be a fun, turnkey operation is turning out to be a logistical nightmare. Dealing with folks we don’t really know and have not built up a level of trust with is proving to be far more challenging than I want or need it to be.
So, following our initial test we are bringing the project back in house and putting it on hold until we can get to a place where I can spend some time reviewing the work done to date and finding a more efficient way to approach the market on a large scale. In retrospect, the effort needed to manage a start up while traveling is too much to juggle with our touring schedule and the lack of down time. Next time the key pieces will be in place before we leave port. No need to stress though, NZ is right around the corner and the feedback thus far indicates that it CMC will be as successful as we want it to be.
The rest of the morning is spent with Fidelity trying to get the NZ house payment wired overseas. Sounds easy enough right? Not so fast. You need access to a broadband connection to Skype them to set things up, a secure machine to download forms, a printer, a fax machine to return signature copies for the transfer, a phone line on file that they can call you at or you can access via voice mail so they can leave a secret code that you can then pick up and call them back to verify that you are truly the one making the transfer, a fairly solid understanding of the Forex market and the fees they charge to convert to NZ dollars, enough money, some kind of intermediary bank on the receiving side, at least a week to move the money, and on and on and on.
Now I have been a fan of Fidelity Investments for twenty some odd years. In fact, we have tried other houses over the years and always found our way back to Fidelity. However, this experience and the level of frustration they have caused for no good reason is beyond acceptable. The account manager even acknowledged that the transfer system is set up to take full advantage of the client and to charge as much as possible. That is client, as in customer, or maybe former customer, after all of this. No joke, Fidelity took full advantage of the situation and we paid accordingly.
To liven up the afternoon we head to the Powerhouse Museum of Science and Design. It’s a short train ride way and we get a new, elevated view of Sydney en route. What strikes me is how small the harbor is. For some reason I pictured a big wide harbor with miles of docks and slips filled with fancy yachts, maybe a row of high-rise buildings lining a promenade and the Opera House gleaming in the center. Not the case. Instead it is a small little inlet with a few tour boats and a bunch of tourist seafood restaurants. Oprah must have been in shock, though she probably never left the Four Seasons.
If you remember back in Sweden we blew off Stockholm because the Abba museum wasn’t ready. That is real dedication Fernando. Well, it turns out that the traveling Abba exhibit is here, at the Powerhouse, on the fourth floor, Waterloo hoo, hoo! Adele almost faints, Vince starts singing Take a Chance On Me at the top of his lungs, Teri stands below the big screen in awe of the sparkling one piece jump suits and I deny ever wearing corduroy bellbottoms. Knowing me, knowing you, baby!
If that’s not enough, Adele finds a Top Secret Spy Exhibit with all kinds of spy stuff, interactive games and learning tools for kids her age. She spends an hour or so totally enjoying the moment. Vince and I head down stairs to see trains, cars, space ships, airplanes and the like. Plus, we sneak in some time on the outside playground to try and burn off some energy.
To top it all off they have a ‘80s exhibit. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. My generation is on exhibit! In a museum! These are my people! It all feels so natural. From the tribute wall of record album covers, most of which I still have and play repeatedly, what, you mean The Flock of Seagulls stopped recording after “I Ran”? There’s ABC, Madness, Ian Dury and Blockheads, the Talking Heads, Culture Club, Duran Duran, Billy Idol just to name a few. To Reagan, big hair, ripped jeans, and exercise videos. They had a dance tank with music videos, big TVs with footage running of major news stories of the decade. The exhibit has an Australian slant that makes it all the more interesting and fun.
This is a business waiting to happen. The place was packed with parents telling kids about “life way back when.” It crosses generations. You could put this in any major US city and make a fortune. Plus, think of the fun it would be to put the thing together. People would probably pay and lobby to have their stuff on display! You could hold concerts and do live meet and greets with ‘80s icons. I am not kidding, this would make a fortune in Vegas, Times Square or at Hollywood and Vine. If I had anymore bandwidth I would launch it. Since I don’t I’ll offer it up for a small cut on the backend and promise to buy the first ticket.
Still humming Abba we wander over to the waterfront to watch a street juggler and grab a Starbucks. It’s Australia after all and as you would expect they have great bars here. We belly up to an outside, dockside table and order up fish and chips and a pint or two. The kids run wild and we kick back and relax. Our guard is up since it’s a big city but we give them enough rope to run and play. Vince is now used to posing for photos for Asian tourists and he plays the part to the hilt. Pretty soon we are going to start passing the hat. Adele chases seagulls and runs laps.
By 9p we are back at the hotel, I try and get the kids down and Teri heads to the lobby to find a WiFi signal so she can connect back home.
Day Two Hundred and One January 5th
Another morning with a broadband connection, another morning huddled in the hotel lobby and another morning working on the start up: only to find more hurdles and frustration. Sometimes the less you know the better. After six hours of back and forth its time to throw in the towel, patch what needs to be patched to get through the next few weeks and move on.
The Royal Botanic Gardens really are a treat. They are lush and deep green with all kinds of trees and plants. They wrap around a point that jets out in to the harbor and seep out into the central business district as if they are trying to take back a part of the city. With Subway sandwiches in hand we settle in under a shady tree for lunch.
You can judge a city by its gardens and parks and the people that use them. They offer a relief from the chaos that has grown up around them, a kind of relaxed freedom where you can run and hide for a while. Many of the people picnicking around us are on lunch hour. Other mid-day runners and walkers scurry about. This is a usable space that serves a need.
The large black things hanging from the trees look like pinecones from a distance. As you lie in the grass looking up at them you start to wonder why Oak and Palm trees have pinecones. This is Australia after all so it all seems natural enough, more of a curiosity than anything else, a “we should Google that” moment. It’s only when they start to flap and fly that you get the willies and do a double take.
Bats. Really, really big bats! As big a Vince, an observation not lost on the big man, and there are more of them hanging around than you think possible. Its like there has been some mistake: it’s mid-day, sunny and warm. Did someone forget to tell them they are supposed to come out at night? They freak us out.
Post lunch we take Teri over to the opera house. Vince leads the way carrying a large branch searching once again for pink elephants. Adele is close behind doing her best to stay ten steps ahead of mom and dad. She is nine going on fifteen.
As I watch her walking off ahead of us I realize that this trip is timed perfectly. It is happening at a time when we can still get away with it. Our Adele that left home is long gone: left in bits and pieces around the world. Those bits and pieces have been replaced by other ones creating our new Adele, a young woman: loving, independent, intelligent, engaged, and evolving. It has been an incredible transformation and a privilege to observe.
We snap a few photos and head back to the hotel.
Teri has found the latest “hot spot” in Sydney for dinner. It is a Thai restaurant, Longrain, a short cab ride way. They open at six, perfect for nine and four year olds, and don’t take reservations. When we arrive, five minutes after the hour, we get the last four seats at one of the long community tables. The place rocks. It is by far the best meal we have had in months. Maybe since Istanbul.
As we leave, at about 7p, I overhear that the wait for a table is over two hours. And that is for someone that claims to know the chef.
Day Two Hundred and Two January 6th
Another morning with a broadband connection, another morning huddled in the hotel lobby and another morning working on the Fidelity house payment. It takes all morning to wire the money. I am so unhappy with Fidelity that I am fit to be tied. Transferring funds directly from BOA back home would have been essentially free and much easier to deal with. But I had to be there in person. Again, think twice before using Fidelity.
I grab a cab over to the rental car place to pick up transportation for our drive to the Blue Mountains. When I tell the guy where we are going he looks at me like I am out of my mind. “It’s raining a bit.” He says watching me in the rearview mirror, offering it up not so much as advice but more of a warning. “In Queenstown.” I shoot back trying to seem in the know. “And the Blues, mate, and the Blues.”
He lives outside the city in a neighborhood for working people (his description, not mine). I learn that tourist traffic is off because of the strength of the dollar: those overseas can’t afford to come here and those here can afford to go there. So no one is in Sydney. At least not by taxi driving standards. Apparently Oprah didn’t do much for the locals. He complains about the escalating cost of living: that simple things like the cost of housing and feeding the family are making life more difficult. If I close my eyes I could be in the BQE heading for JFK.
I am sure that the drive to the Blue Mountains is everything the guidebooks say it is, when the sun is shining. When’s its not, the drive is like any other on wet, windy roads. We are heading to an eco-lodge in the middle of the woods some three hours outside of Sydney.
“Eco-lodge”, not to be confused with “econo-lodge”, is code for solar power, a wood burning stove, some kind of advanced indoor pit toilets, mud covered cinder block walls, rustic furniture and National Geographic magazines from the mid-80s. The one with a twenty seven year old Steve Jobs talking about the new found power of the microchip is a collector’s item for sure. I think I graduated from college the year it was published: wish I had the foresight to buy Apple shares.
We need food so I head up to the town center to shop. Walmart has not made it to this neck of the woods. Here, everything has its place. There is a grocer, butcher, baker, wine shop, vegetable and fruit stands. There are a few cafes, a small movie theater, a book store and some “antique” dealers. Several places are offering up “homemade” crafts. It looks like small town America in some Hollywood rendition of the 1950s.
By early evening we have a fire going, food cooking on the stove and a house of cards made from four decks combined that is three stories high. Per our power meters our output is low and our reserves should get us though the night. Now, lets hope for a sunny day tomorrow.
Day Two Hundred and Three January 7th
Today we are off to the Zig Zag railway in Lithgow. A bunch of railway people have created a cooperative that runs and maintains a non-profit steam train that “zigs” and “zags” its way up and down a mountainside. Even better, sometimes they dress the train up as Thomas and pretend to be on the island of Sodar! They drink a lot there in Australia. Did I mention it’s raining?
We arrive at the station with time to spare and stand around the platform, peering around the corner, looking for Sir Topem Hat. At long last the train pulls in and we climb aboard. It is great fun: old wooden seats, the smell of coal burning, hot steam and ash flying by. To the kids delight we get to stick out heads out the windows, sit in the pitch black as we go through tunnels and get on and off several times as we “zig” and “zag” our way down the line. The entire trip takes about an hour.
Did I mention its still raining? The Blue Mountains are not much fun in the rain. Everything is wet and soggy and damp. We try and make the best of it but it does feels like it will never end.
It’s time to head back to the “eco-lodge.” All is not lost. We get a fire going to warn the place up and set off to play some tennis in the rain. Yes, even the eco-lodge has a tennis court (put in by the previous owners).
Digging around for rackets and balls in an old tin shed with spiders lurking about is an adventure. The spiders here are big and brown and poisonous so it makes it all that more challenging. It would be easier to play “do-not-get-bit-by-the–giant-poisonous-spiders” but that does not have the same rings as “tennis-anyone?” Plus, ever since we stood courtside at Wimbledon Adele has been very focused on her tennis career.
We play in the rain for a while, hitting balls over the fence and jumping around to avoid the puddles. When it starts getting dark we retreat to the cabin to end another rainy day settled in around a fire.
It feels like we are winding down somehow. Slowly coming into port like one of those really big ships. It is time for us to move on from Australia, we seem to be done.
In only a few more days we land in New Zealand!