As the rolling road disappeared beneath us, we powered towards Sydney. We were desperate to get to a hotel and away from our wafer like camper mattress and into a real bed.
With steep cliff faces of rock wither side of the road, we twisted and turned along the motorway when the winds started to pick up. Between steep faced pillars of earth, the winds would crash into the side of the campervan, shoulder barging us to the edge of the road. Wrestling the steering wheel sent butterflies through my stomach as we tried to cling to the road . Every so often, I would hear a whimper or a wail from Holly as her side of the vehicle inched towards the motorway barrier or bridge railings.
Into the city we headed as the winds diminished and our fears turned to frustration. Oh the fucking joys of satellite navigation technology. For some reason it refused to take us over the Harbour Bridge and we settled for Anzac bridge to take us to our lodgings.
The hotel was distinctly average, but we didn’t care. All we wanted was space and a bed, and that we got. With our bags dropped off we set off to take the campevan back to the hirers, and face our impending doom for the scrape along the top. As we sat waiting, being tortured by the staff as they carefully examined the van, then getting a manager to counter inspect, we feared the worst. Restlessness set in as the lady approached, clipboard in hand.
“Everything seems OK, that damage will probably buff right out. You’re free to go” Free? As if we had been sitting awaiting news of our impending sentence? Anyway, we left with a sigh of relief and headed out towards the train station.
As we explored the neighbourhood, we noticed a plume of smoke climbing from behind the buildings and masking the sky, transforming the sun to a bright red fireball on the dark grey sheet of smoke. As we deliberated about the origins, we settled for a factory smoke stack and board our train to the city.
After another long drive all we were good for was some decent food and the ferry home as we were staying on the other side of the harbor. As we ate, we questioned the waitress about the treacherous smog engulfing the Sydney sky, “Not sure, maybe a fire” she answered, unconcerned.
As we waited for our ferry, the terminal conveniently sat in the middle of the harbor, with Bridge to our right and Opera House to the left. With a backdrop fitting for Armageddon, the two major landmarks seemed to have had something taken away from them by the devious smog. As if they weren’t showing their true self until the weather permitted a good show.
Back at the hotel, we flicked a news channel on to find that the smoke was caused by the worst bush fires in New South Wales’ recent history. Oh great, another natural disaster for us to contend with. A few nervous minutes on the edge of our seats ended when the newscaster convinced us they would not effect us in Sydney.
Oh the bed. A seemingly standard bed, double, not even queen or king, held us aloft like a crowd carrying a hero. Wriggling into the duvet in exchange for the sleeping bag I had been used to, and two pillows like huge marshmallows instead of one, engulfed in comfort, eyes shut and grin wide. And off we sank, into the land of nod, happy and content.
Breakfast followed the next day. To not even have to make our own breakfast was a royal experience. I woke up with a spring in my step. An energy that the campervan life had previously sapped out of me, had returned in full force like I had been injected with life.
Shopping today was on her majesty’s list, a task I often detested. Not today, today I would be a shopaholic, her wing man.
Oh the fateful surprise awaiting me that morning. One I should have remembered. The ferry bobbed around the corner, slowly revealing a tremendous skyline. The most photographed landmark in the southern hemisphere, the Opera House, stood magnificent, gleaming in the new days sun, a different specter now standing proud to welcome me to the city. His close associate, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, stretching over the harbor in his stern glory carrying his citizens to wherever they want. This place was magical. It had me at hello.
I knew tonight was the night.
The city catered for all types. We were astounded by the diversity of people roaming the harbour, well dressed business men, Buddhist monks on their mobile phones and a man with a mechanical arm with working fingers were all intwined.
The decadent and antiquated arcades now housed high fashion, beautiful boutiques and generally cool out-of-our-price-range shops. We perused the stores gleefully; including the coolest hat shop I have ever seen, even affording time to visit their local topshop.
Grabbing lunch and sitting in the sun looking out of the harbor, I was in love. This place didn’t seem as big as I had thought, after exhausting trips in places like New York, I feared the same troubles would surface. We walked to the depths of the map to find a market, to the highest point in the city to see the observatory, and covered most of the main areas. Exhaustion wasn’t an issue, I walked wide eyed and lustful, drinking in this luscious city.
Tonights boat ride was different to the last. A new respect for everything had me peering around fascinated by every inch of the harbours surroundings.
I booked a table at a highly rated resteraunt when we returned to our little abode, telling Holly I had found somewhere to eat. This was the small surprise of the night.
I needed to carefully locate the little black box in my bag, concealing the ring I had been smuggling this whole trip. Don’t get me started on when my bag went missing through the airport. With Holly’s reluctance to leave the room, a sneaky move was in order. I carefully slipped it out the hidden inside pocket of my bag and stealthily into my trousers. Turning around, a huge square box could be seen sticking out of my pocket. Ah shit. Aha, back pocket. This of course meant I couldn’t sit down. Oh man this was getting tough.
After some advanced pocket switchin and general misdirection, we took a stroll down to the side of the harbor to watch the sunset. We arrived ata small platform with only a couple of people near us, who eventually dispersed leaving us all alone.
I didn’t feel any nerves, I just knew.
We milled about the area, taking snaps and taking in the views, before sitting down to admire the picturesque scene. Holly peered out, beyond the bridge where the sun was slowly disappearing behind the horizon, lighting the sky with an orange hue, and I slowly reached into my pocket and carefully wrapped my fingers around the rings little home.
I started to slowly pull the box out.
“FUCK!!” Holly shouted.
My grip didn’t loosen, but the box dragged my hand deeper into my pocket.
“I forgot to take my cod liver oil this morning!” This laugh out loud moment was one that perfectly illustrates how any moment can be instantly transformed into me being in creases.
Nevertheless, the sunset was enough to calm Holly of her lack of vitamin consumption, and she quietly stared out again. In a flash I took the box out, opened it and sat it on her lap before another extravagant outburst took over the situation.
This was the movie moment. The time when she would turn around, see the ring, a smile would dangle from her ears and bright teary eyes would look into my soul as she screamed Yes!
“What’s that? Is this a joke? Is this real?”
Yep, that movie moment alright.
I dove into my unprepared but undoubtedly heartfelt speech ending with the delayed reply from Holly, “Yes! Of course”
We celebrated well that night, first infront of the harbor sipping some bubbly before our lovely meal deeper in the city.
Back at the hotel, skipping up the stairs, Holly could smell something. “Can you smell shit?” she asked. I thought that it was something she had made up, scoffed it off and just headed for the room. As I sat on the bed to take off my trainers, there appeared a huge dollop of dog shit, hanging from the sole of my converse. Perfect end to the night. Once cleared up, we could now tell the world of our news, as a frenzied hour or so of messaging ensued, leaving us totally exhausted.
Our last day in Sydney was a relaxed one as we spent the morning and early afternoon soaking up everything around us again. The best moment coming on the way back to the ferry when Holly tripped over, landing flat on her face on front of the whole of the wharf. As I insisted no one saw, she teared up embarrassed. I could barely contain my laugh and insisted we have a drink at the bar by the side of the Opera house.
Staying in Kiribilli we decided to try out the local restaurants that night and explored the small area, ending with us on the harbor bridge, looking out over the sparkling city at night.
After a perfect few days, our time in Australia had come to a climactic end. Each memory flashes by as you mentally follow the map from the North point of Port Douglas down to our final stop in Sydney. I didn’t feel like we were moving on but like we were going home and leaving something behind.