Australia

It’s actually not that often any more I feel the thrill of going somewhere new, or the thrill of travel in general. I guess the past 5 years of airport hopping and working on the move has inured me to the sheer excitement of going somewhere you don’t live, and that actually kind of sucks. I think part of it is that I haven’t felt as free as I used to lately, but for a variety of reasons (to possibly be explained later) I hope that is changing. In any case, leaving for Australia for the first time was thrilling. Yes I was going for work, but its so damn far away and I have never seen it and have heard an awful lot about it and it was a beautiful day… whatever the subconscious or conscious set of reason I was literally singing to myself in the airport. I have an embarrassing tendency to sing “I’m leeeeaaving, on a jet plane, don’t know…etc” whenever I am about to go on a big trip (Yes, I know I am a corny loser) and it was stuck firmly in my head that day.

It was a long journey, but pleasantly punctuated by free wine, champagne and a meal that did not at all make me want to projectile vomit hard enough to shatter a plane window. I had a flat bed and had a most enjoyable sleep, did a little work, and was feeling rested and quite excited to touch down in Sydney. So I was mildly disappointed when in the middle of an Australian summer it turned out to be overcast and raining steadily if unenthusiastically.  My first impression of Australia went something along the lines of “what the fuck is this shit? Its like landing in Ireland”. In a way, this was a fair assessment at the time, excepting the fact that Sydney airport is like walking through a giant industrial tourist manufacturing facility.

First impressions – For a country founded by convicts and crazy people Australia is pretty damned expensive. I do not just mean there are not enough asian immigrants to lower the price of dry-cleaning either (there are tons), I mean a 3 person round exceeds $20 and apartment rental cost is worse than Manhattan.  One of my biggest gripes with Ireland is that you pay so much for bloody everything and get so little for your money, and I thought Oz must have a similar problem. I spent my first 2 days wondering what the bloody point of it all was. Ok, its far away, but ten thousand miles for a country like home but with more poisonous indigenous wildlife? What the hell has everyone been thinking? What is so goddamn great about this place? Ok, there are some parks and Sydney is on a harbor but the TV is almost as bad as America, the food is expensive and after my first day I could pretty much sum up my feelings with the sentence  “It is raining, and I see not a single kangaroo”

Then the sun came out.

I claim not to be affected by the seasonal depression shit everyone in the world now seems to use as an excuse not to get out of bed in the winter (I don’t need an excuse not to get out of bed). But there is no denying that sunlight makes pretty much anything beautiful even when it doesn’t have much to work with, and in Sydney it turns out that it has quite a lot. For not only does the city with its semi-tropical plant life start to look stunning as soon as those rays hit, but as soon as a hint of warmth is in the air all the incredibly attractive people suddenly materialize from every direction in constant waves of envy-inducing perfection.

Let me not be misunderstood here, there are ugly people in sydney, as everywhere. But the beautiful people are distinctly emphasized by the weather, because their perfectly muscled torsos tend to be uncovered and their fabulous tans are really showing.  My standard mental image of Australians is not necessarily all that flattering (as a former Londoner, they are the international equivalent of a football team at a frat party) but it always includes a degree of physical fitness presumably because in my head sheer proximity to beaches automatically creates individuals who swim like fish and windsurf every afternoon. So far Sydney hasn’t really been disappointing me in this respect.  People just seem to be healthier here.

I am astonished to discover that I like it here. The harbor sparkles, the countryside is stunning, the city itself is beautiful and clean. The atmosphere is nothing to write home about, but since I am working in the Central Business District and staying in a swish hotel I can’t really judge that one particularly well.  I’ve also been told that Melbourne is the cool young city and that Sydney is a kind of staid banker hangout.

The fact that the country largely consists of a giant wilderness has a lot of appeal too. A few hours outside any major population centre will see you in the middle of bloody nowhere. I have a love of cities that means I will probably never live outside of one long-term, but the sheer freedom of seeing the world rolling out in front of you for as far as you can perceive is an amazing feeling. It’s part of what brings me back to the desert every year, and it definitely exists here too.

Sydney isn’t perfect. Cost of living is sky high, and the population in general has a reputation for nationalism and casual racism that is distinctly off-putting. Not to mention that it is a million miles from the rest of the world and in one of the most inconvenient time-zones possible for communication with Europe and the US. But walking along the waterfront of a beautiful city in the sun with a cool breeze blowing and the beach a half hour away can kind of make you forget about all that.  So much as I was not expecting it, Sydney makes the list of places I want to live, though probably the 6 months or less version.

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