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April 7, 2002  (Sydney, Australia)

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Thoughts of a Solo Traveler

I had only a few more days in Australia before I was going to fly back to America, and as I drove out of Coffs Harbor heading south on Highway One, I thought about my travels during the past few months.  Overall I had a really great time seeing Australia for the first time and I was definitely glad I came over here, as I've mentioned several times.  However, my trip wasn't always rosy.  As I discovered, there's a big difference between traveling alone in your home country and traveling alone in a foreign country.  

 

If you've been reading my website, you know that I really enjoy traveling alone.  That's because I enjoy doing what I like to do, when I like to do it, and I don't like being tied down to someone else's schedule (yep, I'm a crusty ol' curmudgeon and I'm damn proud of it).  I especially love driving alone around the U.S., because I'm familiar with just about every region, having traveled through all the states and having lived in many of them.  Wherever I go in the U.S., I'm within a day's drive of a friend or relative.  Indeed, visiting friends is one of the reasons I love to travel around America. 

 

In Australia, though, I was totally on my own, things were a bit different, and I didn't know anyone.  This past fall before I left Bellingham, I spent several weeks preparing for my overseas trip:  getting film, clothes, books, etc.  What I didn't prepare for, though, was the prospect of being completely alone and having to be totally self-reliant for the next four months.  While I really enjoyed my trip overseas and am glad I went by myself, I was surprised to discover that traveling alone, overseas, and for a long time was a bit of a challenge for me at times.  Fortunately, though, I'm a person who definitely enjoys his own space, so I dealt with the solitude better than most folks probably would have.  

 

Traveling alone definitely has its advantages because it exposes you more to your surroundings, since your focus is on the place you're traveling through and not on your partner.  Furthermore, I think solo travelers are more approachable than pairs or groups, and consequently I met a lot more people than I would have otherwise.  In those respects, then, I definitely learned more about Australia and New Zealand than I would have if I'd gone with someone else... and that was the point of my trip.  Yeah, it's nice to travel with someone else so you can have a "shared experience," but on the other hand, I figured that I was "sharing" my trip with my website readers. 

 

I actually had a chance to visit Australia with another person -- a cute woman, no less, whom I met shortly before I left Portland last spring.  Traveling with another person (and a person I didn't know very well) would have been interesting, I'm sure, and the experience would've been a lot different -- for better or worse!  She was a nice person and I think we would've gotten along all right, but overall, I'm glad that I decided to come over here alone.

 

In general, I had a great time traveling alone overseas, and that was largely due to two things.  One was e-mail.  The messages that I received from my friends and from people who stumbled across my website, taking a few minutes out of their day to send me a note made a big difference, and those encouraging notes kept my spirits up during the whole trip.  I won't forget the kind messages that folks sent to me while I was overseas, or the people who sent them.

 

Second, the hospitality of the people I met during my four months in New Zealand and Australia was overwhelming.  I'm thinking back now on many of the pleasant conversations that I had with folks in both countries, and there are just too many to list.  I was constantly amazed at how often total strangers would go out of their way to help me.  I don't know if that was because I was a solo traveler who looked like he was lost (which I often was), or if that's just the way folks are there.  Either way, I'm glad that I chose New Zealand and Australia as my first overseas countries to visit.

 

Friends Across the Sea

Last year, before I left my job with Parsons Brinckerhoff in Portland, I sent e-mails to about a dozen folks in PB offices throughout New Zealand and Australia asking if I could drop by their office if I happened to visit their respective city.  I just picked these names from a staff list and had never met any of them before.  As testament to the good will of Kiwis and Aussies, though, I received a nice reply from each... and some rather humorous replies, as well.  A fellow in Wellington, New Zealand wrote back suggesting that I stop in for some "chokky biscuits" (which I later translated to "chocolate cookies"), and a cheerful chap in the Sydney office filled his reply with all sorts of Aussie-isms, like "Gday, Mate!" (i.e., "Hello") and "Just give me a bell" (i.e., "Call me").  

 

To celebrate my last entry from Australia, here's my favorite Aussie singer, Kasey Chambers, once again. This is On a Bad Day.

Requires a RealPlayerIf problems, see Help.

 

Over the following months, I exchanged several e-mails with a guy named Peter Horn who worked in the PB-Newcastle office in Australia.  From his e-mails, Peter seemed like a pleasant fellow and I was looking forward to meeting him if things worked out.

 

As I traveled through New Zealand and Australia, I'd only been able to meet with one PB person because of scheduling conflicts.  As I got closer to Newcastle, though, I kept in touch with Peter and it looked like a visit might work out.  He and his wife Helen even offered to put me up for a night or two, which I thought was exceptionally kind since he knew me only from reading my website.  Newcastle was just a few hours north of Sydney, so based on their kind invitation, I decided to spend my last weekend in Australia visiting the Horns before flying out of Sydney on Monday morning.

 

I drove into Newcastle Friday afternoon, found Peter's office and introduced myself.  Peter, as I had deduced from his e-mails, was an exceptionally nice guy and he gave me a tour of his office.  After work, I followed him out to his house in the country where I met his wife Helen, his dog Iva and Helen's cat.  Peter and Helen were both super hosts and unbelievably kind to this total stranger, and the next day they showed me around the beautiful rolling foothills of the Blue Mountains, one of the most scenic areas that I visited during my two months in Australia. 

 

Not only did Peter and Helen put me up for two nights, they fed me, entertained me, and even showed me the correct way to spread Vegemite on my crackers.  Getting to know Peter and Helen was one of the real highlights of my overseas trip, and I'm looking forward to seeing them again someday.

 

2-3344_Peter_and_Helen.jpg (42597 bytes)    2-3340_Driving_Back.jpg (44231 bytes)   

Above left:  Peter and Helen during an all-day tour of rolling hills near Newcastle.  Like just about all the Aussies I've met, Peter and Helen were exceptionally hospitable.  I wish Americans were a lot more like Aussies!

Above right:  Riding with Peter and Helen on the beautiful backroads north of Sydney.

 

2-3349_Hotel.jpg (48261 bytes)    2-3352_Rotary.jpg (48656 bytes)    2-3351_Horse_Poo_Sign.jpg (52772 bytes)

Above left:  A "hotel" in Australia has a pub on the ground floor and basic rooms on the top floor.  Just about every town in Australia, no matter how small, has at least one hotel.  

Above center:  Roundabouts are common throughout Australia but they freak out a lot of Americans.  They're simple, really... just yield to the traffic on your right.  In fact, they work a lot better than 4-way stops.  Just remember to get off!

Above right:  Heading into Sydney.  Hey, only 2 bucks for a big bag of Horse Poo!  Such a deal!

 

Completing the Loop in Sydney

I left Peter and Helen's house on Sunday morning (Peter even washed my windshield for me -- what a guy!) and drove into Australia's largest city, Sydney, thus completing a two-month, 9,000-mile drive around the country.  Although I'd spent my first few days in Australia on the periphery of Sydney, I didn't have much of a chance to check it out then because I was packing up and getting ready for my drive around the country.  I was flying out of the Sydney International Airport the next morning, so I had exactly one afternoon to see the city.  I figured that would be enough time since, not being a real "city person," I didn't have high expectations for Sydney.  My impression of Sydney from my brief visit in February wasn't very favorable.  It seemed to be a lot like Los Angeles -- big, hot, sprawling, and smoggy. 

 

I headed across the Harbor Bridge Sunday morning and drove smack dab into the middle of downtown Sydney.  Good thing this was a Sunday and traffic was light, because the street system in downtown Sydney is really convoluted, a holdover from the early settlement days.  I quickly realized that Sydney, like Boston, isn't a great place to drive around if you don't know where you're going -- which I definitely didn't.  Melbourne was big, too, but at least the streets there were in a grid and laid out logically.  

 

I drove around downtown Sydney for about 20 minutes looking for a parking garage, too busy driving to glance at my map and figure out where the heck I was.  Finally, though, I found an underground garage at a place called the Queen Victoria Building.  Harried from the drive, I really wasn't looking forward to exploring Sydney but figured I better, or else I'd regret it.

 

And I'm really glad I did.  

 

As I walked through Sydney during the next six hours, I discovered that it's a utterly fascinating city.  The most interesting part is a section called "The Rocks," Sydney's Old Town area which juts out into Sydney Harbor, with lots of curving cobblestone streets and charming old brick buildings.  From the Rocks, you can stroll across the 70-year old Harbor Bridge.  If you're adventurous, you can walk up inside one of the bridge turrets for a great view of the city.  If you're REALLY adventurous and have 50 bucks (I'm not and I didn't) you can join a guided "Bridge Walk" and walk on TOP of the entire bridge from one side to the other.  By the way, you can do the same thing now on the bridge in Auckland.  

 

For legal reasons, I'm sure, they don't have these kind of bridge walks in the U.S., which is a real shame because I'd imagine that walking on top of, say, the Golden Gate Bridge would be pretty awesome.  That's one of the big differences between the U.S. and Australia, by the way:  lawsuits.  Compared to America, Australia and New Zealand are not litigious countries at all.  Folks there take a lot more responsibility for their actions and, unlike a lot of Americans, they don't go whining to a lawyer or judge every time something bad happens, which is a refreshing attitude.  

 

Anyway, the newer sections of downtown Sydney are also interesting.  The Sydney Opera House, one of the most famous icons of Australia, was pretty cool too.  After a few hours, I decided that I really liked Sydney.   

 

2-3363_Sydney_From_Above.jpg (64979 bytes)    2-3359_Inside_Tower.jpg (44787 bytes)    2-3367_Lion_Statue.jpg (45833 bytes)

Above left:  Sydney from above.  

Above center:  Inside the AMP Tower, where you can get a 360-degree view of Sydney.  I don't know what AMP stands for... and neither did the AMP Tower tour guide.

Above right:  At Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens, with the AMP Tower in the background.

 

Although the day was sunny and pleasant, for the first time during my visits to Australia and New Zealand, it was a little chilly and fall was definitely in the air, which made me automatically think of... Football Season!  But wait, this wasn't September, it was April.  Oh that's right, I was in the southern hemisphere.  It's funny how fall weather makes you think about football, even if it is April.  With winter fast approaching here in Australia, this was a good time, I decided, to head back the U.S.

 

As I walked back to the parking garage at dusk, I regretted having only a single afternoon to visit Sydney because I could have spent a whole week there.  I made one last stop that evening, at a street-side cafe to buy a "meat pie."  In case you've never seen one, a meat pie is a small pie stuffed with meat, gravy, potatoes and things you'd prefer not to know about, completely enclosed in a flaky crust.  Back in the U.S., they're called "pastys" (which shouldn't be confused with "pasties" which are what female strippers wear in certain intimate places... but not that I would know).

 

Anyway, I'd seen meat pies on sale nearly everywhere I went in Australia, but for some reason I hadn't eaten one yet.  The night before, Peter told me all about meat pies, so I decided to try one.  Actually, it was pretty darn good -- better than a pasty (and much better than a pastie).  So as I walked back to my car that evening, I decided that next time I came to Australia, I would:

  • Spend more time visiting Sydney, and

  • Eat more meat pies.

2-3355_Fountain.jpg (62899 bytes)    2-3371_Opera_House.jpg (44781 bytes)    2-3376_Silhouette_of_Bridge.jpg (30278 bytes)

Above left:  The Hyde Park water fountain on a Sydney Sunday afternoon.  

Above center:  And, of course, the Sydney Opera House.

Above right:  Those little specks on the Sydney Harbor Bridge are people.  For about US$50, you too can climb across the bridge. 

 

2-3372_Circular_Quay.jpg (52865 bytes)    2-3394_Opera_House_From_Above.jpg (35489 bytes)    2-3389_Climber_on_Bridge.jpg (59429 bytes)

Above left:  Circular Quay and the Sydney waterfront.  

Above center:  Opera House from the Harbor Bridge.

Above right:  Another shot of the Harbor Bridge (built in 1932) and a few bridge climbers.  They affectionately call this bridge "The Coat Hanger" because... well... that's what it looks like.

 

2-3401_Circular_Quay.jpg (45327 bytes)    2-3404_DT_Sydney.jpg (49071 bytes)    2-3409_Inside_Queen_Victoria_Bldg.jpg (48064 bytes)

Above left:  The Sydney waterfront from the Harbor Bridge.

Above center:   Walking back to my car late Sunday afternoon.  I stopped here and got a meat pie for dinner -- an Australian classic.  

Above right:  Here's the Queen Victoria Building.  I had a great time in Sydney and wish I could've spent more time here.

 

2-3410_Motel_Room_Near_Airport.jpg (37543 bytes)   Left:  Packing that night in a hotel near the Sydney airport.  This would be my last night in the wonderful country of Australia.

 

 

 

Next News

May 22, 2002  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

Previous News

April 4, 2002  (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

April 1, 2002  (Hervey Bay, Australia)

March 28, 2002  (Airlie Beach, Australia)

March 25, 2002  (Port Douglas, Australia)

March 16, 2002  (Winton, Australia)

March 13, 2002  (Alice Springs, Australia)

March 11, 2002  (Ayers Rock, Australia)

March 8, 2002  (Coober Pedy, Australia)

March 5, 2002  (Port Augusta, Australia)

March 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Robe, Australia)

March 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Robe, Australia)

February 18, 2002  (Bega, Australia)

February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 2  (Taupo, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)  

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

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