After reading Mac’s vacation e-mails, it made me wish I’d been there for all the…. fun?. This is good stuff and you’re gonna have as good a time reading it as I did. Thanks, Mac. It was definitely worth the wait.
The pictures are great. Sorry there’s no room to post them.
From: Mac Eagan
To: [Undisclosed Recipients]
Subj: Arrival in Sydney
I can’t believe we have finally been able to take this vacation in Sydney. I am sure the sacrifices will be well worth it. Many of you asked us to keep in touch and everyone said, “Send pictures,” so I thought an email recap of each day’s activities would best fit the bill.
The trip started with stress as I turned the key and the van would not start. Even after several tries. We had packed everything the night before, but now found ourselves tossing bags from the van into the hatchback. Wifey and I buckled the kids into the back seat and I cursed myself for not buying a four-door, but we still made it to the airport on time.
The disadvantage of traveling in spring is monster showers can pop up out of nowhere. Half an hour after we were inside the terminal we could not see the planes outside due to the sheets of water cascading in front of us. After a two-hour delay we were finally in the air, headed for a one-hour layover in Chicago.
Yes, only one hour between flights and we started off two hours late. O’Hare had also experienced rain delays, but not to the same severity as Atlanta. We missed our connecting flight to LAX and had to spend the night in Chicago. With no easy access to transportation we ate in the hotel restaurant, which did not serve hot dogs or pizza. In Chicago.
We arrived at LAX at 2:00 pm the next day but our flight to Sydney would not be leaving until 10:00 pm. So we sat in the airport for eight hours.
I know what you are thinking – why didn’t we see some sights? We were going to, but did not want to haul our luggage all over Los Angeles. I asked about a rental locker but was told all lockers were removed after the terrorist attacks in 2001.
There is not much for a family to do in an airport, even one as massive as LAX. After about five hours the whining started, which degraded to crying at six and a half hours. Our kids were crying, too. We finally boarded the plane at 10:30 pm, which was 2:00 am East Coast time. Mari was going delirious from exhaustion and jet lag.
The flight was fourteen hours and coach seats are not conducive to sleeping. The child seated in front of me couldn’t sleep either and decided he wanted to be friends. I tried to ignore him, so he started making tiger sounds. He appeared to be from a country with plenty of tigers. I continued to ignore him.
It was getting hard to keep up with what time it was, with all the time zones we had traversed. At something reminiscent of 4:30 am, the airline served breakfast. The stewardess offered a choice of eggs or ‘French toast just like Mom used to make.’
They’re such liars. Mom never made French toast.
We landed in Sydney this morning at 6:00 am local time. The cab ride to our rental was uneventful, and we were still pretty wiped out. We unpacked the most essential items, then hit the mattresses for a few hours.
The rental is in the city, so after we woke up we walked around a bit and found a grocery store where we stocked up on supplies. We made supper back at the apartment and then went back to bed.
From: Mac Eagan
To: [Undisclosed Recipients]
Subj: First Day in Sydney
We haven’t done much sight-seeing yet. We woke up around 7:00, fixed breakfast and set out for a better tour of the neighborhood. I hoped we would find coffee.
We passed several cafes and other eateries. Lots of espresso shops, but no one seemed to sell just coffee. We finally went into one shop. Wifey ordered a latte and the kids hot chocolate. I wanted a cup of decaf and tried to describe it to the waitress, but it was too complex. Or maybe too simple. I have this feeling if I had said “double mocha cappuccino frappe” or something similar she would have pulled a cup out from under her apron and set it on the table. Instead she walked away trying to look confident but obviously confused. I saw her go to the manager and make lots of hand motions.
She brought the kids their chocolates and Wifey received her latte. I waited. And waited. And waited. I began to suspect they had flown their coffee chef directly to America to learn how to make a simple cup of coffee and now I was waiting on him to fly back. The barrista (not the waitress) brought me a cup of something and said, “Decaf.” If only they had sold fountain soft drinks.
We found another grocery store and picked up a few more items that we needed, then went back to the apartment and rested for a while.
We went out for lunch and found a little eatery that looked appealing and featured local Australian dishes, such as meat-pies and sausage rolls. We ordered and, as we were waiting, I noticed a wall-sized poster with pictures and descriptions of various coffee drinks from around the world. Most looked the same – thimbles full of a dark liquid that had been reduced down almost to paste. Then I saw it – a picture of a hefty mug filled with steaming, black, sippable liquid. It was called Espresso Americano (or something similar). It said an Espresso Americano was just an espresso that is weaker than normal with lots of water added. Also, it comes in a larger cup to hold all the extra water.
After lunch, we walked up to the nearest “Woolies” (slang for Woolworth’s, a popular grocery store) to pick up the last few supplies we hadn’t been able to find so far. It was about 3 miles from the apartment. Uphill. Woolie’s did not have the supplies we needed, either, so we made the three mile return trip. Also uphill. On the way back we found a mall of sorts and went in. Near the rear entrance we found another grocery store with all the items we had been seeking. We left there out the back entrance of the mall, finding ourselves directly across the street from our apartment. I wish we had known this six miles earlier.
Back at the apartment we met our neighbors, Ricky and Faye. They are on “holiday” (Queen’s English for “vacation”) from somewhere north of London. We chatted a bit and they asked if we would be visiting the beaches. We told them we hoped to and they looked at our children.
“Well, since you’re from America you will want to mind your eyes,” they said, “many of the beaches here allow toplessness.” We had a good chuckle and thanked them for the warning.
From: Mac Eagan
To: [Undisclosed Recipients]
Subj: The Museum
We did our first real sightseeing today. Yesterday we saw a poster for the Powerhouse Museum. It is a museum with lots of interactive displays. They currently have a special exhibition – Star Wars: Imagination to Reality. There are tons of Star Wars props, models, costumes and stuff from the various movies. Along with those items are areas that show how the technology portrayed in the movies is being developed and used today.
As an example, there was a section on the droids and robots. After seeing the ones from the films and also a short film explaining the challenges of programming robots in the real world, there was a “lab” where you could program a small robot to navigate an obstacle course.
Then there was a display with pod racers. A documentary film showed the discussions as to how a pod racer could “float” in the air. The basic idea was magnetic levitation. Then there was a lab where you could assemble magnetized Lego’s into a mag-lev car and move it down a track. So the idea was pretty simple. See something from the movie, learn what it would take to make it work in the real world, then build your own. Naturally, I ran to the light saber area.
Fat men should not run in eager expectation, especially in crowded areas with small children.
Number One – being out of breath makes it impossible to speak, therefore impossible to apologize for any injuries to others – I’m sorry, my court-appointed solicitor says I am supposed to say any “alleged injuries.”
Number Two – after running the length of a museum a fat man is too tired to be disappointed when he finds out there are no build-your-own-light-saber exhibits. He just wants to lie down as soon as possible and stop wheezing. Which may or may not have resulted in any “alleged injuries” to small children occupying the space where the fat man tried to lie down.
Number Three – the wheezing, groaning sounds made by an exhausted, disappointed fat man after lying down subjects him to the unkind remarks of others. I distinctly remember two boys, 10 – 13 years old, turning to ask, “What’s that noise? It sounds like a dying tauntaun.”
“He kind of looks like a tauntaun, too. Too bad they don’t have working light sabers, we could cut him open and watch his intestines spill out.”
“This place is lame. Let’s go to the beach – I heard a plane from Sweden landed yesterday.”
A blaster, a blaster, I thought, my kingdom for a blaster.
On the way back from the museum we looked for a place to eat. It was late and a lot of the cafe’s were closed. We did find a Mexican restaurant, but we weren’t quite sure where we needed to catch the bus to make it back to our apartment. Not knowing up from down since we are in the Southern Hemisphere, which makes north now south (or does it?) makes reading a map very difficult. We continued onward. “New Orleans Cafe” caught my eye and was still open. The original cafe owner was from New Orleans, but now it is run entirely by Aussies. At least, that’s what the Canadian waitress told us.
Tomorrow is the petting zoo. I have already promised not to run, although I do hope there aren’t too many small children around.
From: Mac Eagan
To: [Undisclosed Recipients]
Subj: The Beach
Today was too sunny to pass up the opportunity to go to Bondi Beach. We are still having difficulties with the buses, trains and maps. Finally we just said, ‘Let’s be adventurous’ and we got on the train we thought was right. Another woman must have thought it was the right train also as she boarded at the same time we did. A kindly man pointed out our train was not leaving the station for half an hour. We switched trains, which was a good thing. Not only was the first train going to sit idle for 30 minutes, it was also going in the wrong direction.
We arrived at Bondi mid-morning and grabbed some brunch at the Lamrock. Then we walked down to the sand. I keep my sunglasses with me but only wear them when I find myself squinting. There was some sun once we got on the beach itself, so I decided to put them on. It was then that I discovered that Wifey had evidently gotten up in the middle of the night and spray-painted the insides of the lenses solid black. Also, she put some type of super-glue on the ear tips and nose pads of the glasses, so that once they were on they could not be removed. Curse you, Ricky and Faye, for telling us to “mind our eyes.”
I started to object that now I couldn’t see anything and would probably end up stepping on more people (umm, allegedly) or walking into stuff. Wifey said, “Don’t worry, I’ve already thought of that. Here, hold out your hand.” I cautiously held out my hand and felt her place what felt like a long stick into it. She told me it was a blind man’s cane and having it would explain to others without them even having to ask.
I can only assume that everyone else in the family enjoyed their time at the beach. Once back in the apartment, it was only a short amount of time before everyone was asleep. Well, almost everyone. I was up late trying to get my glasses off. I finally just stuck my finger between the glasses and my eyes and popped the lenses out of the glasses.
From: Mac Eagan
To: [Undisclosed Recipients]
Subj: The Zoo
Today was our last full day in Australia and, since our flight leaves kind of early, this will be my final email. We met Ricky and Faye as we stepped out of the apartment and they invited us to have breakfast with them. They both stared at me as if something was wrong but they didn’t want to say or weren’t quite sure themselves what the problem was. I put my hand up to my mouth and made sure I hadn’t accidentally shaved off half my mustache again. Wifey and the kids told me last time that they were tired of bringing that to my attention. My upper lip was good and I put my hand back down at my side.
We all walked down to the patisserie where the kids and I ordered sausage rolls, Wifey got a cheese danish, and Ricky and Faye opted for toast with Vegemite. They asked what our plans were for the day, and we said we wanted to go to a zoo. Ricky recommended Taronga as one of the nicest zoos in the world, and Faye agreed. Ricky said the ferry could take us straight there from Circular Quay, and Faye advised that when we arrived we should enter at the rear of the zoo and take the cable tram to the front and work our way back to the ferries.
It turns out the reason she recommended that was because the zoo is built on the side of a mountain. Most people start at the front entrance at the top, make their way to the end at the bottom, then have to climb the mountain to leave. By entering at the rear of the zoo from the ferries and cabling to the top, we only travel the mountain one time, and downhill the entire way. Faye is a wise woman.
The zoo is also on the side of the mountain that faces the sun. There was a gift shop there at the top and I went inside to buy new sunglasses. When I attempted to try on the first pair, I figured out what Ricky and Faye had been staring at. I still had the lensless frames of my old glasses glued to my face. I bought clip-on lenses and wondered why my life has to be this way.
We have done a lot of walking this week and it must have finally kicked in today because I kept having minor issues with my blood sugar. Basically, I found myself heading over to every snack cart in sight. At one cart.I saw a stand with potato chips, which sounded appealing.
The question was, “Which flavor?” Regular, Barbecue, Sour Cream or Chicken? Chicken? That’s right, chicken! They actually have chicken-flavored potato chips over here. Of course I bought a bag. I just had to find out. And sure enough, they tasted just like . . . yep, chicken. More specifically like a rotisserie chicken. Mari and Sam tried them and said they tasted like broth. Sam wanted more. “Get your own bag,” I said. I then wondered to myself how these chips would be with syrup. You know, chicken and waffles.
We continued on our way and, of course, half way through the zoo the battery ran out on the camera. We bought memory card after memory card to make sure we could take plenty of pictures and it was the battery that killed us. We did get some nice shots, though. I think the most impressive animals were the larger ones. When the big male gorilla came out with the females and little ones, he walked with great authority. The lions and tiger must have also known picture-takers were coming; I could not have posed them myself any better. Mainly because if I had tried I would have gotten eaten. They are wild animals, after all.
In one small part of the zoo, they had replicated a section of beach. It was only about 20 feet long and the water was no more than ankle deep. It was there so those who wanted could kick their shoes off and walk around and cool off.
A park bench was about twenty feet
away and that is where Wifey and I stopped so I could get something out of the camera bag. I had set the bag down on the bench and was searching through it with my back to the “beach” when I heard Wifey say, “Someone should tell that young lady this is not a real beach and she should put her top back on.”
I am of a conflicted age; I am still young enough that the idea of a topless girl gets my attention, yet I am old enough to know that acting on that information is really not in my best interest. So there I was, with my brain firing off two equally powerful but conflicting commands:
I had already stood up and turned my head, but only about forty-five degrees or so. Out of the corner of my eye, Wifey was staring at the object of her commentary but I noticed Wifey was smiling.
“Take a look,” she said.
I carefully continued my rotation, with the beach area coming into view but my eyes darting back to Wifey just to be doubly sure I had not misread her face or misunderstood her statement. Wifey was still smiling, in an almost approving way.
I turned the last remaining bit and my eyes fell upon the girl, prancing about in the ankle-deep pool, arms swaying above her head, globules of water leaping off of the small waterfall and exploding on her tan skin.
She was blonde.
She was topless.
She was . . . about three years old. There is great beauty in innocence and her smiling face radiated a peace and happiness we adults do not often experience anymore. She spun about, kicked arcs of water as far as her chubby little legs would launch them and shrieked with delight.
From a nearby path I saw Mari and Sam running back to meet us, their faces, although older than the water ballerina, displaying that same pure essence of happiness.
“Guess what?” they asked.
“What?” I asked back.
“They have deer.”
“Really . . .“
“Yep. In a display, here in the zoo.”
Nearly eighteen hours in the air, not to mention the layover time, and my kids are excited because this zoo has in an exhibit the exact same animals that will walk freely through our backyard on a cool, autumn night.
“Y’all go look at the deer,” I said. “We’ll be there in a minute or two.”
Mari and Sam took off down the path and I watched Sam leap into the air with arms held high, shouting, “WOO-HOO!”
I sat down on the beach and put my arm around Wifey when she sat down beside me. We watched the water ballerina for a few more minutes, with her father sitting on another bench nearby her, reading a paper and glancing on occasion to make sure she was still okay.
Somewhere down the path I heard another “WOO-HOO!” and I gave Wifey a squeeze. We looked out from the side of the mountain at the shimmering water below us and the sun sliding down behind the horizon. Somewhere behind us the darkness was chasing away the daylight and we knew it would be upon us soon enough. I kissed Wifey on the cheek and she laid her head on my shoulder.
“This has been a great vacation,” she said.
“Yes, it has.”
“I’m sorry your glasses won’t come off.”
“It’ll be alright.”
I pulled the lenses off of the frames and stuck them in my pocket.
“Guess we better catch up with the kids,” I said, “we have to catch a plane tomorrow.”