Last Friday morning Kelly and I woke to our final full day in Australia. I knew two weeks would pass with lightening speed, and my attempts to slow time have never worked so I don’t know why I thought this trip would be any different.
We met Ulla and Carlos in the hotel lobby and walked to the GPO Grand for breakfast. The GPO Grand is a collection of restaurants, bars and entertainment venues located at the former Sydney General Post Office. This historic building was opened in 1874, relatively old by Australian standards. We found an outside table at the Intermezzo Cafe which gave us a great view of the plaza where they were setting up for a military memorial service. The Market Street side of the building has steps, but the GPO is wheelchair accessible via a ramp on Pitt Street. Once off street level, you can wheel around to the outside of the building, as we did, or continue up another ramp to enter the atrium.
Carlos left us for a meeting after breakfast, which left Ulla, Kelly and me free to spend a leisurely day shopping and exploring Sydney. I am not a shopper. I am the person who goes to a store with an idea of what I want or need to buy. I get frustrated if I can’t find what I am looking for quickly and easily. I hate spending time having to go through racks and racks when I am know what I want. The idea of spending an afternoon shopping for the sake of just seeing if I can find something is close to my definition of torture.
Wandering the pedestrian mall in Sydney, I had one goal: a new Country Road tote bag. These canvas tote bags have been my ‘go-to’ bags since I bought my first one in Melbourne in January, 1991. That khaki green bag lasted until my second trip to Australia in 1996, when I dragged Ulla into a Country Road store to buy a replacement blue bag. After nineteen years, my trusty tote now has tiny holes at the seams and is past ready for retirement. Yes, I know I could just go online and buy a replacement bag. I could easily find a different bag at home. There are many stores which sell canvas tote bags. But if I’m going to Australia, I have to return home with a Country Road tote bag. I’m sure there is a rule for that. Besides, I needed a larger bag for my carry-on for the flights home. So, as soon as I spotted the Country Road store, I was in like Flynn and on the hunt. After searching every level, we found a wall of tote bags right next to the door. I am now the proud owner of a new navy blue tote bag. I reckon this one will last until my next trip.
As an exchange student, I took a trip to Melbourne with a fellow exchangee, Susan, from Canada. We spent a great afternoon in the Melbourne David Jones shop. We went directly to the foodhall and ate our way through samples, finding foods from home (crispy dill pickles and real maple syrup) which we purchased with glee. We also treated ourselves to a trip to the salon. It was, up until that point, the best haircut of my life.
When we saw the David Jones store last Friday, I convinced Kelly and Ulla we should go inside to find the foodhall. We tasted our way through the displays, sampling chocolates, cheeses, chutney and fruit. I discovered these adorable penguin chocolates which sounded yummy (white mango ganache liqueur – because the sign is blurry when you take photos through the display case) but decided they were better off staying behind the glass at $130 (Aus) per kilo. In addition to a tempting array of chocolates, the foodhall also has an oyster bar, a sushi bar and a wine bar. I could be converted to shopping if every store had a wine bar. Although they probably have some rule about not letting you take the wine out of the bar area.
We left the store and found ourselves near the Sydney Tower. Since it was a clear day, we decided to take a trip up to the observation deck. The tower is the tallest building in Sydney, standing at 309 meters (1013 feet). There is an outside observation deck, the Skywalk, but we stayed inside behind the glass. Trivia fact: there are 420 windows on the tower and they are cleaned by a semi-automatic cleaning machine named Charlie. It takes Charlie two days to clean all the windows.
The views from the observation deck were spectacular! There were no clouds, so we could see for miles – towards the Blue Mountains, Botany Bay and out to the ocean. We pointed out our hotel and watched airplanes leaving the airport. On a clear day, it is worth the elevator ride.
We decided the afternoon was too nice to say inside, so Kelly and I went to claim a space in Hyde Park while Ulla went to grab “lunch.” Hyde Park was verdant green and filled with people enjoying their mid-day break from work. I was basking in the sun when I heard Kelly calling to me. I walked up the hill and discovered a lively chess game taking place in the dappled sunlight.
Kelly and I sat in the shade, watching the chess game and waiting for Ulla. After a few minutes, she returned from her trip to Lorraine’s Patisserie with the most divine flourless chocolate cake. I am not much of a cake person, mainly because I don’t like sickly sweet icing. But this cake – oh my! It was moist, with a perfect crumb, and swirls of dark chocolate on top. The three of us easily polished off half of the small cake while sitting on the steps behind the chess game. It was the perfect “lunch.” If you are visiting Sydney using a wheelchair and want to try some of Lorraine’s baked deliciousness for yourself, bring an able-bodied friend. Ulla said the shop is very tiny, and she is not certain a wheelchair user would have much success. I was quite willing to let her battle the crowds. Ulla and Carlos had been talking about Lorraine’s cakes since we arrived in Sydney. After having one, now I know why.
Andrew joined us once again on Friday night. We played tourist and joined the crowds at The Opera Bar for wine in the evening sunshine. There was a cruise ship in port, lit up against the city skyline. The bar gets crowded, and I was nominated to be “line leader” and clear us a path when we decided to walk back to The Rocks for dinner after dark. One of the staff saw me and decided to help us push through the crowds. Half-way through, he turned around and said, “You probably do quite well at this on your own, don’t you?” Yes, I do. But it’s nice to let someone else get the looks of annoyance now and then.
I live with my disability and the gradual changes in my physical abilities every day. I am aware of the decline as time passes, but the differences aren’t forefront in my mind. However, friends who only see me occasionally often comment on these changes. Andrew and Ulla have never known me to use a power wheelchair because I used a manual chair on both of my previous trips to Australia. Both of them made comments about my increased independence, and the change in our interactions caused by the improved mobility I now have with a power chair. I will have to spend some time thinking about this for a more in-depth discussion in a future blog post.
We said good-night to Andrew in the hotel lobby after posing for several more photos, and went upstairs to finish packing. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect ending to my Australian adventure than to spend two days with great friends, in a beautiful city, with brilliant weather.
**This post is brought to you by my dear friend Ulla. Ulla – you made it possible for us to spend another two phenomenal days together in Sydney. Thank you so much for everything you and Carlos did to give Kelly and I a fantastic end to our trip. It’s your turn to come see me! And bring Andrew!