The end.

2346951374_b1aca33ff9.jpg

My first glimpse of New York City, from the plane.

The last time I wrote here, it was also the end. I was leaving Sydney in a matter of days, and I couldn’t bring myself to write it down. Soon enough, I was out in the bush, in the middle-of-nowhere Australia, and when I got back to Melbourne I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting down and documenting my last trip. Telling everyone about the last new people I met, about how I felt the furthest, despite being the closest, to New York I’d ever felt, about sleeping out under those billions of stars. And with only a few days to go in Melbourne, I refused to sit down at the computer while what little, precious hours I had left in Australia ticked away.

Even when I got back — it didn’t seem real, I wasn’t home home, was I? L.A. to Austin to New York — they all felt like more destinations in my journey. Coming online to blog about leaving? About it being over? No. I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t over…it wasn’t real.

It still isn’t, to me, but it’s time to finish this blog. I am not 25 anymore, I am no longer under.

And so it goes.

Reverse Culture Shock: L.A. Austin. New York. New York.

 la11.jpg

Stole this from KrisKros on Flickr. Go look him up – cool stuff. 

Top 10 initial observations about America, from an American:

10. So. Many. Houses. SO MANY PEOPLE.

9. That stereotype about Americans being loud? We are loud.

8. More cars = more psycho, angry, bad, bad, bad drivers = immediate stress level increase.

7. Blackberries. iPhones. Business: All. The. Time.

6. Ambition. A lot of it.

5. We have a diverse, diverse country. Everyone truly looks different.

4. Having the same color money is lame. (Yay $5 purple bills!) I miss $2 coins.

3. Celebrity obsession has gone way too far. And I’m an entertainment journalist! They like their celebs down there, but TMZ following ex-Real Worlder Eric Nies in a parking lot to make fun of him for looking like “Jesus”? Too far people, too far.

2. Grey. Smoggy. Hard. Dirty. Everything seems a shade darker. Perhaps that’s because it still feels like winter. Perhaps it’s because it is.

1. We stink at saving this planet. We should be striving to set the standard, and we are years behind everyone else. Complete and utter disdain for the environment by our government. I actually forgot people used Styrofoam. Forgot! Disgraceful.

Melbourne, the last time.

I arrived, fresh on the inaugural Tiger flight from Alice to Melbourne, to find Jackie and Shannon waiting for me at the airport. I hopped in the car and we were off to the house, my final destination in Australia.

I’ve probably talked about this before on this blog, but I feel its my duty to finally suss out my feelings about Melbourne and Sydney. Melburnians and Sydneysiders have serious issues with each other. There’s a level of pride there I haven’t seen many other places in the world. So let me say this. I love Melbourne. It is a city full of alternative, cool people, with many alternative, cool places. The music scene is thriving. The parks are beautiful, the downtown is spotless and its many laneways and secret passages invoke a real sense of adventure. I love the city’s tenacity for sports. Aussie Rules baby, all the way. The thing with Melbourne is that it is difficult. Its surface does not reveal its true personality. It is a city that takes time to discover, and I think that is the appeal for so many Melburnians. However, I didn’t have enough time — I took places for what they were on the surface, as many travelers have to. I got a taste — it was amazing — but if I were to go back, I’d have to choose Sydney. (But I love you Jackie!!!!)

2368162550_5d76920b91.jpg

One of Melbourne’s many laneways. 

As a New Yorker, the concept of Sydney is just astounding. There’s not one beach to frequent, there are many, many, many. There’s posh Manly, the uber-relaxing golden-brown Northern Beaches, laid-back Coogee, teeny Tamarama, surf-heaven Bronte and of course party-town Bondi. And more. You can hop on a bus or a ferry (a gorgeous, gorgeous $6 ferry ride) and in 15-20 minutes reach all  of these places. City to paradise in 20 minutes or less.

I loved that Sydney was on the surface. Bustling George street packed with backpacker bars, posh pubs at the Rocks, hipsters in Paddington & Bourke Street, beach party at Bondi, yuppie restaurants and swanky bars in Surry Hills and total chaos dance party mayhem in the Cross. You knew to go to the Cross after the pubs closed. You knew to go to Harbour Bridge and Bondi for New Years. You just knew. You didn’t have to be “in the know” of the latest secret bar opening on an unmarked street. It was easy to learn. And the Harbour. Every time I saw the Opera House I felt Australia. I felt the distance from home and I loved it.

All this makes me think I’d like San Francisco/Oakland. Maybe someday. Everytime you see that big red bridge, right?

But still, Melbourne Melbourne Melbourne. I tried my best that last week to penetrate the city’s outer shell, and I feel like I did. We went for amazing cocktails at Polly, a seemingly divey bar on the outside, really red, plush and fabulous on the inside. We went to a dance show at the casino and had an amazing last dinner there as well, and Jax and I got cocktails with Shannon at a secret-y garden roof patio bar.

2368163118_fd89c8023e.jpg

Jax and I at the cocktail bar. 

George and I went on runs around the park every day and I watched A LOT of So You Can Think You Can Dance Australia. I bought a lot of souvenirs. I yearned for these shoes every day.

2367328325_d9b502060c.jpg

$250. Anyone want to buy for me?

And the Victorian beaches. Sydney may have beautiful beaches, but drive an hour or so outside Melbourne and you will find some of the most beautiful beaches in Australia. Pure blue ocean. Not a person in site. Sheer, natural beauty.

2368162406_84dbfb1485.jpg

Portsea 

I left Australia with that vision in my head. Clear, blue clean Australia. I tried to sleep. I couldn’t. Not when I was going to the exact opposite.

L.A.

Between A Rock And —

2346034191_c563aa9c1e.jpg

Uluru at sunset.

A hard, hard place. Home.

Most people don’t realize that Uluru is a five hour drive from the closest city, Alice Springs. They also don’t realize during this 5 hour drive they will pass one, maybe two, gas stations. Out there in the bush, you do not want to break down.

This concept, for me, even though I’d traveled the whole east coast, was terrifying. I like people, I like buildings and I like seeing, you know, stuff, around me. 300 Ks of nothing but bush desert? Yikes. But it was something I’d meant to do from the beginning, and because of my stint at Wanderer’s Travel (thanks guys!) I was able to go.

Funny enough, it was actually my first time truly alone for a VERY long time. It felt weird. I had come back to Sydney with the van, back to the house and back to a city full of friends. Before Sydney, I’d traveled in the van with my brother, Crystal and Daniel — all people I knew and loved. Before that, I was in the house in Sydney, again, in a city full of friends. Before that, I was with my Dad in Sydney and New Zealand. And before that, well, 7 weeks with Adam, Dan, Matt, the other Matt, Jules, Amy, Lorna, Will, Lewie, Chris, Sean and the rest of my Oz Experience crew all up the east coast. Even when I arrived to Sydney, the very first time, I was with my Oz Experience crew from Melbourne. Tarina, Gethen and Tom, of course. I walked into my first hostel there and met Jenni and Karen, already moaning ‘n’ groaning in bed. I was never alone in Sydney again.

The last time I had felt alone was October 3rd, 2007, when I stepped on my first Oz Ex bus in Melbourne. It was now February 26, 2008.

So yeah, it felt weird. When I arrived in Alice Springs — a smallish, outback desert town — I was supposed to get picked up by my hostel. Little did I know, my hostel had closed down, and I’d been transferred to a different one! Lucky for me, they had my info. and I hopped on the bus and showed at up at Toddy’s Place 1/2 hour later. There I met a sweet German girl who walked with me to the supermarket. We ate dinner at the hostel at a picnic table out back and talked about her boyfriend in Germany who she missed very much. She’d just come back from The Rock tour, the one I was going on the next day, and had an awesome time. I was leaving at 6 a.m., so I watched a bit of stupid Aussie reality TV and went to bed. (FYI: Do not watch It Takes Two.)

I woke up bright and early and hopped on The Rock bus with many other bleary eyed travelers. I grabbed a seat by the window and promptly turned on my iPod. Waaay too early to make friends. Thank God our guide agreed. Bree (young, blonde, beautiful) told us to sleep for two hours, then she’d wake us up for intros.

2346862796_28a5e825fb.jpg

Robin: NYC: Rock -> Melb -> Texas -> Home!

I wasn’t “alone” for long. We awoke to find dry-erase pens roaming around the bus. We were supposed to write our names and our travel plans on the bus window. In back of me was Ed, going to the Rock for the second time with his friend Laura, who’d never been. He’d been volunteer scuba diving to save the reef in Figi, and was now back in Oz for a bit of traveling. In front of me was Julie, a vet-in-training from Vancouver. Next to me, the adorable Irish gals from Dublin. We all chatted, Bree asked for an iPod, I gave mine, and then proceeded to sing along to Peter’s Best of 2007 mix for the next hour 1/2. I hope everyone else enjoyed.

Day 1: We saw the rock. Did a bit of walking, watched the sunset, took a ridiculous amount of pictures with every known camera setting on my camera (thanks Ed, my camera sage) and slept under the stars. I’ve never seen so many in my life. Not even on Fraser.

2346863152_c784b70187.jpg

Ed and I. Hi fiiiiiive!

Day 2: We woke up pre-dawn to see sunrise at Uluru. Sunset is better. We sped off to walk Katja Tjuta for two hours, then made it to our campsite. Played by the pool for a while, drank a few by the campfire, cooked dinner on the campfire and played a few silly games by the campfire. Night two under the stars. 10 shooting stars a minute, it seemed. Amazing.

Day 3: Wake up pre-dawn once again, and drive to King’s Canyon. Gorgeous 3 hour walk over and around the gorge. Stop to ride camels and eat ice cream at the Camel Farm on the way back to Alice Springs. Spend the night in Alice Springs at The Rock Bar getting silly on champagne from the posh, young British boys.

2346035549_e3efc5639c.jpg

Sunrise at King’s Canyon.

2346036195_a0371f4efc.jpg

Bree, our guide, Laura and Julie.

Day 4: Goodbyes, again, and off to Melbourne. Funny enough, I was on the very FIRST flight from Alice Springs to Melbourne on Tiger Airways. Hence, party in the terminal! Free food and drinks — can’t beat that, hey?

Leaving Sydney.

2346880642_d9c81f20cc.jpg

My amazing housemates at 30 GB.

It felt like any other night at the house, except this was my last night. I pushed the thought out of my head, as it was the first (and last) party I’d ever thrown at the house, and for a night, I truly felt what it would be like if I lived here. I mean, I was throwing a party. And I had friends, real friends in this city 10,000 miles away from home, to invite.

The Oscars were on that night, so my little get together turned into a bonafide Oscar party. We made popcorn, I bought Tostitos and salsa and a few bottles of wine and we were good to go. All the roomies shuffled into “my” room except for Natalie (at her parents) and Linda (on business). Luke, Briyah, Magnus, Armond and newbie Anne joined my friends Karen, her brother Owen, Fabrice, Anne and the Italian whose name I always forget in the lounge room for the show.

We watched, we laughed, we (fine, I) “shushed” a lot and sure, I had a great time. But I was flying out to Alice Springs the next day and I wouldn’t see some of these people for months…years…or ever for all I knew. I refused to think about it. I laughed with Jon Stewart and pulled for Juno.

I am not good at goodbyes. When Karen got up to leave I begged her with my eyes not to go, but she had to. She and Owen were leaving on an East Coast tour that week and they needed to get some sleep. I knew it — the East Coast tour will sap you silly. Hugs, a few tears…then they were gone. Oscar, bless him, distracted me from the rest. Bidding my newest close friend Anne goodbye and vowing to visit her in Germany, saying au revoir to Fabrice, my Frenchie. They went too. Eventually the show ended and I curled into the comfort of my floral couch…my home in Australia for 5 and a half weeks, total. In the morning I bid farewell to Magnus — my party buddy — so hard, and to Briyah, my best friend and housemate in Sydney — not so hard — I’d see her in a month in NYC.

It’s funny. I remember sitting in the movie theatre on George Street, in the heart of Sydney, watching movies starring New York. Enchanted and Definitely, Maybe — watching those scenes of my city, my heart yearned to walk those streets again…to go home. I was ready. And now…here…those same streets feel comfortable and yet not. They don’t necessarily feel like home just yet. Instead, now I long for the normalcy of hopping on the 333 bus to Bondi. To feel the breeze in my hair and Australian sun on my face and the euphoria that comes from leaving a major city and ending up at the most amazing beach in a mere 15 minutes. Now I want that long walk down Crown Street home. One more look at Sydney Harbour.

I honestly believed I wouldn’t be back for a long time when I left Sydney that morning. Maybe I’d take my kids someday in the future.

Now I know better.

2346880598_0ce28e6bac.jpg

The view, my last view, of the harbour from North Bondi.

Just one more week

2272065077_c11f7f4939.jpg

I’ve only got one more week in Sydney — one more week!

To make the most of it, I figure I better get out there and see everything I previously thought I’d have heaps of time to do. This includes visiting new neighborhoods, shopping for souvenirs and going to as many gigs as monetarily possible.

What I love about Sydney, it should be noted, is its endless dedication to free entertainment. There have been events all month for the Chinese New Year, and Saturday I finally made it down to Darling Harbour to watch the dragon boat races. It’s a serious rowing sport, and teams ranged from senior citizen clubs to school teams. Even better, the $60 Bondi Lifesaving Club sweatshirt I wanted was on sale for $20 in Darling Harbour. Looks like the year of the Rat will be a lucky one!

Sunday brought Sydney the annual Tropfest — billed as the world’s largest short film festival in the world. Some 150,000 people participate in every state capital around Australia, and the judging panel this year included Geoffrey Rush and Naomi Watts. It’s all free (take that Tribeca), and it’s a fantastic day. Karen and I bought picnic stuffs from Woolie’s and set up our feast in the park. We spent the day lounging around, eating, drinking and watching 16 extraordinary short films about murder, mouse racing, young love, sharks and more. In the end, Marry Me, a short film about what we do for love, even when we’re young, won the big prize: a trip to LA to meet with industry big-wigs. Karen and I also made a date — Tropfest NY will be held October 11 in Battery Park.

On tap this week; making the most out of Sydney:

Souvenir shopping at Paddy’s Market

The Essential Tour of the Opera House

Pubs and markets in Balmain (a cool nabe in the North)

A gala dinner with Briyah Tues night

Rocky Horror Picture show opening night

Dan Deacon at the Oxford Arts Factory

Pics and more (VDay, Tropfest, etc.) on Flickr.com/photos/sillyrobin 

So Long, Farewell, Auf…nope, not trying that one.

n1156320569_30145333_9130.jpg

Mick, my BBQ host Sunday!

Well, Nomalita is off on her next adventure, leaving Daniel and I once again in the throes of public transportation.

Sydney was a welcome homecoming. Briyah and the other housemates welcomed me back to 30 Great Buckingham with open arms, and once again am I blessed with a room, a couch, a full-on kitchen and unlimited internet.

But it has been a week of goodbyes. Daniel and I bid farewell to the van on a gloomy Wednesday, now one week ago. I bid farewell to Daniel Sunday, only a few days later. He was off to the Sapphire Coast to spend a week at the beach, while I’d be staying in Sydney soaking up the city life. I never thought it was possible, but I have reached my beach saturation point. Though the exceptional beaches of Sydney are minutes away, I’m perfectly content to hit the rooftop pool (compliments of Briyah’s former housemate’s former apartment key, if you can grasp that), lounge in the park and wander the streets. I washed the sand out of my bag, people. I washed the sand out!

So Sydney. Our first night back was spent at Daniel’s friend Fabrice’s in Darlinghurst. We stayed up late playing Texas Hold ‘Em, and I lost — badly. Fortunately it was just with chips, unfortunately I apparently still cannot play poker.

By Thursday, I was truly in “city” mode once more. Briyah and I went to the Opera House to see a caberet show starring the indefatiguable Camille O’Sullivan. A veteran of the infamous Spiegeltent and a chanteuse truly in her own category. Friday I was out on the town in Paddington, Saturday at the movies with my housemate, Sunday at an apt. BBQ in Annandale and Tuesday out to dinner and to see a gig at The Annandale Hotel. (Sidenote: The Annandale was grimy, dirty and smelled like 3-day old fermented puke — I loved it.)

I have a coffee lesson Saturday at a small cafe, and various dinners, events and galas until I leave for Ayers Rock Feb. 26.

Here’s the calendar, as well. Everyone keeps asking me what I’m doing the rest of my time here!

Feb. 13 – Feb. 26: Sydney

Feb. 26 – March 1: Alice Springs/Uluru

March 1 – March 7: Melbourne

March 7 – March 16: Austin, TX, for SXSW

March 16 – ?: NY