Wake up, kid. This is costing us 33¢ a minute.
In the months leading up to this trip, Sarah planned everything we would bring, down to the last item: toys in Ziploc bags, books, various small stuffed beast, seven weeks of travel-sized formula packets, clothes for a child that would be growing at an alarming rate, et cetera. She was meticulous. But the morning we left for O’Hare, she decided at the last minute that we would not need the stroller.
We need it.
There are a zillion things to see and do in Sydney right now, and instead of doing any of them, I am walking three miles to a department store to buy a stroller. The massive backpack carrier thing is great, and so is the sling, but they’re both a pain in the ass. (And back. And neck. And shoulders.) So while my ladies slumbered in the youth hostel, I got sent out in the hot Australian sun to find another mode of transport for Hannah, preferably one that cost less than $20.
Downtown Sydney has a vague San Francisco vibe—lots of boutiquey stores and modern architecture and charming-looking coffee shops. Everyone knows that the niceness of a city’s inhabitants is inversely proportional to its population, which is why Dubliners (population 505,000) are approximately one third as mean as, say, those in Philadelphia (1.45 million). And they’re 20 times nicer than those miserable bastards in Istanbul (10 million). But Sydney, which boasts more than 4 million people, seems to be the exception to the rule. All the people we’ve chatted with have been warm and approachable. Here’s hoping Bangkok (6.7 million) and Saigon (5.31 million), both of which we’re visiting soon, follow suit.
Normally, I’d say walking the streets is the best way to really get to know a city. But ever since I became a father, I’m in this weird netherworld where things don’t feel right if I’m not with my wife and/or daughter. If I experience things without them, it doesn’t count; if they experience things without me, I just feel sad. Call me a mushpot, but I’d rather be asleep in the stinky youth hostel with them.
The stroller, one of those rickety umbrella numbers, cost $19.78. (And two years later, we are still using it.)
Here are five things we learned in the past two days:
1. Australians are daredevils. While gaping at Sydney Harbour Bridge, the world’s largest steel arch bridge, from a distance we saw what looked like large bugs marching on top of it. They were people. Apparently sanctioned climbs happen up there all the time, and everyone from Will Ferrell to Martina Navratilova has done it. (“Notify your Climb Leader if you suffer from Acrophobia!")
2. Australians are proud of the country’s beginnings as a penal colony. The Hyde Park Barracks, a striking 19th century convict colony that has been around longer than Sydney has been a city, is evidence of this.
3. Australians have style. We stumbled upon some kind of annual judge’s service at church with all these dudes wearing wigs and robes. Hannah laughed, and so did I. It’s a funny look, the whole wig thing, but somehow, while it just makes the British look pasty and ridiculous, the Australians make it look good.
4. History is the same all over. At the tidy, spare Museum of Sydney we got a crash course on the eerily familiar historical indignities suffered by the Aborigines when the British began to land on their shores. Way to go, Brits! You screwed up another continent. (It’s natural to start feeling some anti-British sentiment when you travel here. Though the Aussies themselves don’t seem terribly fussed.)
5. Everything costs about 30 percent more than you expect. The Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour was a whopping $27 a ticket, which bites harder than the sharks we saw. It is a pretty impressive facility, the kind where you walk through tunnels and look up to see massive rays pass by over your head, and we decided to have a picnic on a bench in one of the dark tunnels. Hannah acted like it was totally within the realm of normal to be dragged 8,000 miles to sit in a seal sanctuary and eat pita spread with gross eggplant stuff while Japanese children in need of lithium ran circles around her yelping. Hopefully she’ll grow up to be one of those adults who seamlessly adapts to anything.
Photograph: Jeff Ruby