Day 11: Sydney
I’d set the alarm on my phone to go off at 8am this morning, which is very early for me on vacation. But I did so in order to catch up on writing, since I was a bit behind. I also used it as an opportunity to just hang out at a and cafe and people-watch. Our schedules have been so busy, just sitting and sipping coffee and writing for a couple of hours is kind of luxurious.
So I end up at Cuckoo Callay again. I bring my umbrella since it’s lightly drizzling. And, what do you know, it turns into a downpour not long after I take a seat — outdoors, but under one of those wide Sydney awnings.
I watch commuters scramble into and out of the train station entrance a stone’s throw away, trying to avoid getting wet, as I sip my first flat white. I’ve finally figured out the lingo for getting a double shot of espresso, as I’d unwittingly been getting singles for the entire first week of the trip (the horror!). I need to order it “strong,” that’s all.
I’m also a big hungry, so I get my standard poached eggs on toast, which comes with a side of beetroot spread. This is another thing Kit had told me about, Australians’ love of beets. (“There’s nothing like a nice thick slice of beetroot on a burger!”) I spread some on my toast and it’s actually not bad, kind of like a sweet tomato jam.
I’d let Mike know the night before I might be heading out in the morning, and I texted him my location from the cafe so he knows what’s up when he awakens. But after awhile I’m done with my food and my second coffee and ready to head back to the Airbnb. The rain has all but stopped, thankfully.
I enter our room to find Mike snapping pictures of his comics haul (ha). So I guess we’re ready to head back out soon. Since I’ve already had something to eat, Mike gets to pick the breakfast place this time, and I follow as he leads us up King Street and down a road where… there’s one of the record stores we need to check out! I take a peek in the window and we continue on.
The cafe we arrive at is another indoor/outdoor seating affair. Maybe a bad idea, but I order a third coffee of the day, a long black (tiny Americano) this time. Since I had something to eat earlier, I just get a muffin. It’s a savory muffin, with pumpkin, feta and pesto. Sounds weird, tastes great. In fact, we’d grabbed muffins on the way out of Breakfast Thieves in Melbourne the second time we went, and I’d gotten a savory chorizo and cheese muffin there, too. Non-sugary muffins: I approve!
We walk back over towards he record store, Egg Records and begin our synchronized routine, flipping through vinyl. There are some good things, but nothing that I didn’t already have. Mike, however, finds a cheaper copy of that Contrast 7″ for himself, plus an early Sloan single. We also peek at the various theme cases of toys, some music-related (The Beatles), some not (The Simpsons). This is not the first record store in Australia where we’ve seen toy cases, but I find it kind of random.
Again we text Kit to check in. He’s coming back from the gym but can meet up with us shortly at the Cat Protection Society. Are we going to protect cats? No (though we totally would if needed, obv)… we are going to pet them! Kit had brought us by the CPS building the previous day, but it was not open to visitors at that time. Because he’d explained to the staff that he was with a couple of Americans experiencing kitty withdrawal, and perhaps we could see some cats?
So we walk over to the CPS, but Kit’s not there yet (we’re a bit early) so we check out the CPS op shop on the same block. We don’t find anything, but I’m surprised by the relatively small amount of cat-themed items (though not by the enormous collection of Barbra Streisand and Sting cassettes).
Walking back to the CPS, there’s Kit, waiting for us. He leads us inside and explains the situation to the woman at the front desk, who is very nice and offers to lead us into the cat holding areas.
After slathering disinfectant on our hands, we’re ready to get cuddly with some kitties. We’re asked if we want to see kittens or adult cats. Both, please! So first on the agenda are some kittens. We are led to a corridor where on both sides there are stacked cages, tiny faces peering at us from each. Which kittens do we want to hold? Uhhh… so much cuteness! We start with this little black and white cutie, each of us taking turns holding him:
Then I notice a little brown and tan ball of fuzz in a cage on the opposite side. We need to cuddle him, too. And he’s soooo tiny and fluffy and nestles into my chest when I scoop him up. Not wanting to hog this little dude all to myself, I eventually pass him to Mike, though the kitten has latched on to my arm a bit already. Awww!
As great as that was, there are more cats upstairs, so we follow our CPS guide up the staircase to the room with adult cats. The first cat to greet us, in the hallway, is a fluffy black cat with no eyes. Our guide tells us that he checks people out by licking them, and he does do some sniffs and a couple of licks before darting away. He is a bit skittish, but friendly.
Then we move into the main room, where there are cages with cats that still need to be socialized as well as more relaxed cats just walking around free. Two especially playful dudes, both named Archie, provide entertainment by running around, chasing each other and wrestling.
This charmer is super-shy, refusing to exit her cage, only going so far as to put both paws outside:
We pet some of the cats wandering around, and open a few cages to try and pet those that aren’t too shy, all while our guide gives us a little info about the personality and background of each. Such cuties! Hoping they all find loving homes soon.
Now feeling the feline contentedness, we thank the CPS staff and exit into the sun. Great, no need for umbrellas (for now). Kit has some work to do now but will meet up with us after we check out the one other record store in the neighborhood on our list.
Revolve Records is a 15+ minute walk away, and we follow Google’s directions down behind the Newtown station and through a narrow alley that empties onto a larger road where we find this coffee bar, as earlier mentioned by Kit.
Oh, you silly Australians.
A little further on is Revolve, a dusty old shop with some decent records, almost all older stuff and fairly high-priced. But the stock is just interesting enough to get us to dig through all of the relevant bins, even though the only item of note to me is the Australian cassette edition of the Go-Betweens’ Tallulah album in the checkout counter display case. Oh well.
By this time we are very hungry, and Kit has promised to take us to a place where Lebanese manooshes can be found. They were my $1 street-vendor breakfast almost every day when I visited Beirut in 2007, and they are fucking delicious: a fresh-baked flatbread, brushed with olive oil and rubbed with zaatar spices, rolled up with pickles and tomatoes or other fillings. I text Kit and we arrange to meet at the restaurant at 4pm.
We get there early enough to scope out the menu, where I quickly decide on the “Beirut-style” manoosh with pickles, tomatoes and halloumi cheese. Mike chooses the same, then scopes out the freezer case to try to determine if Australia has any country-specific Ben & Jerry’s flavors. (Kit, later: no.)
Then Kit arrives and we order. And when the sandwiches are brought to our table, they smell and look so good that I am most of the way through mine before I remember to take a picture. Oops.
Then I think: maybe I can get a picture the next time I’m here. Because… maybe we could come back to Sydney again this trip?
Ever since Mike and I saw that poster at the Union Hotel listing that gig on the 25th with Mines, Hideous Towns and Mope City, we’d had a few conversations about returning for that gig. It may seem crazy, but the major reason for this trip is to see bands. And Auckland, the city we’d planned on being in that weekend, seems to be shutting down for the long Easter weekend. There are no interesting gigs scheduled that we know of, and two of the main rock clubs will be closed multiple days.
Finally, if we change our flight to return from Sydney instead of Auckland, we get to avoid a grueling 33+ hour journey with a 7-hour layover in Beijing, flying direct to LA instead. (We booked the tickets using miles, so we couldn’t be picky.) Having a shorter flight also means being able to stay one more night in Sydney than we would have been able to in Auckland. And we can still visit Auckland, of course. We’ll just spend a little less time there.
We mention our potential plans to Kit and he offers to hold on to some of my records if we know we’re going to be returning. Tempting offer, but it’s far from certain that the airline will let the change request go through. We’ll see if we can book it later that night and let him know how it goes.
But right now I need to walk off some of this food, and Kit leads us on, pointing out various local landmarks on the way to a nearby park, where the trees are filled with scores of wild cockatoos. Mike and I are bowled over by this and immediately start taking pictures as they fly from tree to tree. But Kit is all yeah, whatevs. Apparently this is as normal in Sydney as seeing a bunch of squirrels is back home. (And squirrels do not exist in Australia, so oh, the excitement when Kit sees them in our country!)
The park is on the way to a supermarket in a small, semi-hidden shopping complex. We are on a mission to scope out local foodstuffs, including the selection of the ubiquitous Tim Tams, chocolate-covered Australian cookies that can be had at every convenience store and market. And this supermarket has a lot of Tim Tams:
I am also feel compelled to check out the hot sauce section. While a bottle of Tabasco, at minimum, is de rigeur at the table of every egg-slinging eatery back home, not so in the breakfast places of Australia. Can you even get decent hot sauce here? Well, kind of. There are a couple of shelves’ worth of sauces, including one of my faves, Cholula. But the mayo section far rivals the hot offerings.
We don’t buy anything at the store because we are (hopefully!) coming back to Australia before we head home. And it’s time for our next stop: a local brewery, where we are anxious to sample their fine wares.
On the walk to the brewery, we encounter not one, but two adorable street cats. The first is very friendly, running through the gate in his yard to the sidewalk and our waiting hands. Scritch, scritch, scritch! The second cat, further down the block, just gives us a cool appraisal from his porch, immune to our entreaties. Okay, be like that.
When we arrive at the brewery, we can see there are a number of different options on tap, with some available in bottle or jug size in addition to glasses. We each get a glass of whatever sounds good, and for me that’s another sour.
While we drink, we check Sydney gig listings in a local freebie paper, but there are virtually none. Kit again laments the state of live music and clubs in general in Sydney, which has taken a rather large hit due to stupid laws that limit operational hours and prevent patrons from re-entering clubs if they leave after a certain hour. We also peruse the program guide for a Melbourne comedy festival that we’ll be missing, just to get a sense of who is performing. Unsurprisingly, I recognize only one or two names; Mike IDs a few more.
There is one more planned stop for the night: a bar where a couple of bands are playing that none of us have heard of, but whom were advertised (according to Kit) as “indie non-yacht rock.” Sure, interesting enough to check out, so we walk in the direction of the bar.
And wouldn’t you know it, right next door is a record store. And it’s open until the decadent hour of 10pm. Heavens! We’re a bit early for the music, so we flip through the bins. We don’t find anything, but it’s fun nonetheless.
The bar itself is very quaint and old-timey, with a stage at the front and a cozy sofa and some chairs at the back where we take a seat. The cocktail list features offerings from a local distillery, so I go for the one with rye and cherry heering. Mike gets a local beer with shot of rye. My cocktail is tasty, but does suffer in comparison to similar one I had expertly prepared for me at the Baxter Inn the previous day.
The band starts to play and it is… banjo music? Kind of folky Americana stuff. Hmm. Not really my (or Mike’s) bag. I think the combination of liquor and nonstop activity over the past few days has gotten to me, as I’m suddenly feeling very tired. So I ask to call it a night, and we depart.
After taking the bus back to Newtown and saying our goodbyes to Kit, we make it the flat and prepare ourselves for the now-familiar ritual of packing for another flight, this time north to Byron Bay. Plus I need to call United and see if we can switch our return flight home. I also need to figure out whether we need a rental car in Byron Bay (probably) and how much that is going to cost (a lot) and whether I can handle driving on the other side of the road (I sure hope so).
This last-minute travel planning is all part of the drill when you don’t find out about gigs sooner than two weeks before they happen, and often with much less notice than that. And it is another task we need to add to our to-do list in the midst of more enjoyable activities. In Melbourne, for example, we spent our Sunday evening booking more Airbnbs and flights and determining the best airport transport options. And how early do we need to get to the airport? Are checked bags included in that price? What is the carry on bag weight limit? Yeah, fun stuff like that.
Anyway, I call United and am connected with a somewhat robotic representative who seems to know less than I do about how this flight change stuff works. (I’d already changed our flights once before, a couple of weeks prior to our trip when we decided we wanted an extra week.) He tries to tell me no seats are available on the main SYD-LAX leg even though I am looking at an online seat map that indicates otherwise, even though the seats aren’t next to each other. I tell him as much and he is all oh, but aren’t you traveling together? YES. Are you both adults? YES. Oh, I guess that’s okay then. (No kidding!)
Robotic United rep finishes the booking and, even though there is a change fee, we are now all set to depart from Sydney on the 28th. Yay! Then I scope out online car rental options for the following day and get angry at the prices and finally just book a damn car while grumbling under my breath the whole while. Since we are dropping the car off in a different city (Brisbane) there is of course an extra fee. A large fee. Of course.
But now we have easy transport from the airport in Byron Bay to our Airbnb in Bangalow, a quaint town not far away where the next night’s show — a Milk! Records showcase with Courtney Barnett and others — is happening. And we can take our time heading up to Brisbane the following day, stopping at Byron Bay on the way to spend a little time at the famed Gold Coast beach.
Travel agent duty over, it’s time for bed. And bedtime is later than planned because the other residents of our Airbnb have been hogging the shared bathrooms. And I will only mention in passing the resident who felt that peeing with the bathroom door was a-ok. Shared bathrooms: never again!
Setting the alarm for way-early, but excited to be off on the next part of our journey, we try to get some shut-eye.