I wish I could say it was a conscious choice to stay at a grungy youth hostel like the one we picked in Sydney (“Yeah, man, we’re keeping it real on this trip"), but the truth was we didn’t have the money for anything better. Australia is ridiculously expensive, and this is a long trip, and I’m a journalist, and Sarah’s a teacher. That’s how we ended up at the Footprints Youth Hostel right downtown.
It honestly hadn’t occurred to me that we were too old for youth hostels until we checked in. Techno music blasted in the lobby, and the heavily pierced girl behind the desk took one look at us with our baby and our masses of Stuff, and tried not to smile. A pair of tan Spaniards hanging out in the lobby stared at Hannah curiously, as though we had smuggled a rare marsupial into the hostel.
Our room is tiny, our bags are large, and the whole fourth floor smells like a wet golden retriever. But we’re happy, because this place feels familiar. No matter what part of the world you’re in, youth hostels are the same: the big backpacks, the nutella, the Birkenstocks, the bunk beds with sheets that have been washed so many times you can see through them. Doesn’t matter if you’re in Australia or Zanzibar.
While we planned our day, Hannah napped on the floor in the little mini-tent we brought with us. As usual, I had been skeptical (“We’re putting our baby in a tent?"), but Sarah insisted it was the way to go. And sure enough, Hannah fell right asleep in there. When she woke up two hours later, she had plenty of reasons to wail her head off: the strange surroundings; the drastic time change; the nagging cough; the fact that she had been stuffed in a tent, et cetera. But she didn’t cry; she poked her head out, glanced around the room, and looked at us like, “Well, this is interesting. What should we do?”
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First impression of Sydney in January: hot and crowded.
Second impression: Where are the Australians? We see lots of Asians everywhere, interracial couples, varying shades of skin. I feel extremely white. This idea that we have, of everyone down under as some kind of craggy, sunburned roughneck? Not so much. I’m beginning to suspect that Crocodile Dundee was not entirely accurate.
Third impression: This is an extremely cosmopolitan city, but it seems like everything here has a quaint name, like Cockle Bay or Darling Harbour (note the charming Anglo spelling).
Fourth impression: Didgeridoo music, the droning, low-pitched hum that Aborigines have been sounding for 1,500 years, must be an acquired taste. A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal reported that practicing the didgeridoo helped reduce snoring and sleep apnea by strengthening muscles in the upper airway, thus reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep. Sarah has declared it sounds like people farting.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the city, with Hannah in a big backpack carrier on my back. She seemed happy up there, with a great view of everything and her chubby little legs dangling. There was a stop at a legendary place in Chinatown called BBQ King for lettuce wraps and braised beef in black bean sauce. Then there was a totally unnecessary monorail ride, which only added to the weird Epcot-ian vibe we’re feeling, and finally, a picnic involving steamed buns and lychees in Hyde Park (“where you can’t hide, and you can’t park").
As Sarah and I sat on the grass, gazing at each other, looking up at the perfectly blue sky and at our perfectly happy little daughter cooing at her lychees, we were all so happy that numerous passersby looked nauseous at the very sight of us. Soon, fatigue set in. Before the sun had even set, we all fell into bed. Or tent.