Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Not As Easy As We Imagined

In my family we go by the motto,  Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.

I love that saying. It's a healthy mixture of pessimism and optimism.

Unfortunately, I usually lean a little too much towards the preparing for the worst--worrying too much about all the bad things that might happen.

I was different in Australia though.

I was extremely optimistic. I gave new meaning to the word Rose-colored glasses.

So when Tim told me it should take about two hours to get from Sydney to Port Stephens, I believed him.

I thought all would go well for us.

But if it did, I guess I wouldn't have a blog entry to write.


We left my most favorite city in the world on December 20. A few days before that, Jack and I returned to the Taronga zoo while Tim searched the city for a booster seat, so Jack would be safe on the ride up to Port Stephens. We figured we'd buy one and then hand it over to my cousin who'd need it one day for her kids.

Poor Tim.  While Jack and I watched bird shows in close to unbearable heat, he went on some awful grail-seeking adventure.

And he came up empty.

No worries, he said--because by now we were totally using the Aussie lingo.  We'll just rent a seat from the car rental company.   (okay actually I don't know if this was his exact words because all this happened months ago and I can't remember the exact dialogue.  But we can PRETEND this is what he said.   The general idea was there)

On Thursday morning we packed up our belongings. Then Tim went to get the car while Jack and I went to Wildlife World. (Do you spot a trend here?   I make Tim do the work and meanwhile Jack and I enjoy looking at animals)

We figured it would take about an hour or less to get the car.

Jack and I hung out at Wildlife World. After some time, I pulled him away from the butterfly exhibit saying we needed to get back, because Daddy will be back soon with the car.

He wasn't back.

No worries.  We waited in the lobby.

And waited.

Finally, he came.

The thing is the car had the much needed navigation system.  But it didn't work.  Once Jack and I got into the car, I got to see this for myself.

Jack sat on the booster seat that wasn't high enough--so we augmented the thing with the telephone book that came with the rental company.   I mean really.  Who were we going to call? Better to let our son's butt rest upon it.

I complain about my husband a lot, but he does have some great qualities--one of these is the ability to drive in a bit city.   He drove in NYC.   I admire anyone who can do that--including my cousins who manage to drive in Sydney and San Francisco.

Okay, but driving in a big city,on the side of the road you're not used to driving on, without a navigation system is NOT easy.

I don't know why we imagined it would take us only two hours to get there.

I'm kind of unclear of what happened next. I just remember driving around looking for the bridge.

You know that big bridge in Sydney that I climbed up?  I loved that bridge and I still love it today.  But for that moment, I hated the damn bridge.

I mean yes we could SEE the bridge. But seeing it and knowing what road to get on to get your car on the bridge is a whole other story.

We tried to find a gas station so we could buy a map.

No luck, but I guess we found someone who told us how to get across the bridge.

Then at some point, we went to a second gas station.  We looked around for maps.  Nothing again.

I'm thinking now.  Okay, Australia.  Still love you.   But what is the deal with the no maps.   Are Australians equipped with some kind of inborn navigation system?

The man working at the gas station was incredibly friendly and helpful.  He said he had a book of maps, but it was expensive.   When we took it out, Tim gasped.  It was the book Jack was sitting on.

Not a phone book after all but a book of maps.

Ah! Okay.

We replaced the book with some towels or something and then found the map we needed.

We were on our way.   I think by now the two hours it was supposed to have taken to get to Port Stephens had already passed.

Tim drove. I daydreamed. Jack slept.

Then at some point, Tim saw a sign that said something like "Tourist's route."

He said we should try it.

I said he was crazy. Don't you dare.

He didn't listen.

We got lost.

I gave him a lot of I-told-you-so's.

We found our way back; and eventually we found our way to The One Mile Beach Holiday Park in Port Stephens.   I think we had expected to get there a little past lunch time.  We ended up getting there at dinner time.

Jack wanted to go swimming, but the pool was already about to close.  Tim and I wanted to eat dinner.

We fought about it.  Tim and I used our age and parental leverage to win the fight. We all went to eat.

Soon it was dark and there didn't seem to be a lot of people outside. The pool was closed.

Nothing to do.

We were bored and not tired enough yet to go to sleep.  I missed Sydney.

I took Jack outside for a walk.  In the dark. Without flashlights--or torches as they call them in Australia.

We saw a redback spider--our first encounter with dangerous Australian wildlife outside of a zoo setting.

I suggested to Jack that we return to our cabin and go to sleep.

We all hoped that things would look better in the morning.  


  1. This surprises me not at all, navigating in Sydney is bloody difficult at the best of times. It's taken me nearly 20 years of driving to be merely stressed rather than terrified by having to drive into the city. Friends of mine from Melbourne kept ending up on the wrong side of the harbour when they were visiting.

  2. Mim,

    That makes me feel better. I don't think I could ever drive in a big city.
    I'd be terrified.

    Glad to have a husband who doesn't mind it : )

  3. Dina

    1) Sydney's bad enough. London's worse. And we didn't even try to drive in Paris!

    2) Port Stephens is rally nice in summer. Some student mates & I used to to go to Fingal Bay, just south of Nelson Bay. We used to go in Feb after school holidays were over & the caravan park was cheap.

    3) I read somewhere that the new season of McLeod's Daughters will be the last! :(


  4. Try Melbourne next time - it's all in grid squares and (sometimes) civilised.
    Except for the hook turn for trams....those would give you the willies!

  5. John,

    We went to Port Stephens in the summer. It was really nice--once we adjusted. We went the week of Christmas. There was a lot of people, but not too crowded. We heard it got more crowded/active the week after. I guess because school holidays are in full swing.

    The next time we visit will be February. We're not doing Port Stephens again, but it will be interesting to see if hotels/lodging have a nice reduction in price. I hope!

    Jayne, how the public transportation in Melbourne. Do most people drive?

    When we lived in NYC, my husband had a car at first. It was such a pain. It would sometimes take over and hour to find a parking space. I finally made him give it up. It's so much easier to just use the subway and buses.

    We did think of taking a train to Port Stephens, but then decided that would be too much of a hassle. Who knows? Maybe it would have made things easier.

  6. hell, I got lost driving in Sydney last week!! Don't tell my hubby, but I ended up getting myself turned around and having to circle blocks, back track and u-turn numerous times after dropping TJ off to him and trying to find my way back into the city on my own.

  7. Bettina,

    I get lost in my own little city. It's NOTHING compared to Sydney.

    A few months ago, we went to a playdate at a friend's house. We hadn't been there for awhile, but I figured I'd remember where her house was.

    I got directions to the neighborhood and figured once we got there, it would be easy to find her house.

    What I had forgotten was her neighborhood is HUGE. We drove around for about thirty minutes. I finally remembered my car actually has a navigation system. I never use it, but that day I did.

    I usually hate that navigation system. It's so damn bossy. I start talking back to the computer voice.

    I'm not good at the whole driving thing.

  8. I think I said "no worries" after some expletives.

    The worse thing is we reserved a mid-size car (from Avis) that was supposed to have a removable GPS device (the modern ones that navigate with a map, points of interest, etc).

    What we received was a full-size car (used more gas/petrol) and a crappy GPS system that's akin to an 8bit graphic (think the old Atari game systems) game system to something like the new Nintendo Wii. The GPS system was so bad, even in a place where you should get a signal - it wouldn't work!

    This was after I argued with them that I didn't want this car - but they told me they didn't have any more removable GPS systems.

    Oh, I could go on and on...next time we'll buy a GPS system if we can't get the right one!

    We'll still get lost but I'll just blame it on something else....

  9. I think next time we should kidnap an Australian and force them to show us how to escape Sydney.

    Then we'll release them with cab fare and a lolly.

    OR we can just take them with and have them be our tour guide!!!

    I bet they'll be much less annoying than the voice on the gps system.

  10. yeah, they have crappy signage - one day I was trying to get to the airport and following their shitty signs, and ended up taking two hours to cover what should have taken about 45 minutes.

    I drove in L.A. SanFrancisco, and all the way from San Diego, through Grand Canyon, route 66, Yosemite on the wrong side of the road, and it's not that bad once you get used to it - i made a mistake in Hawaii once and drove out of a carpark, starting on the incorrect side, but soon realised and swapped over.

  11. I'm so glad I finally got the whole story. I'm so glad we weren't with you. I'm so glad you'll be back soon!

    Oh, and so now I know who gun-bae!!! is-- hi.

  12. I'm an aussie on an exchange year in Denmark, and loving your blog! Reminds me dearly of home...
    The One Mile Beach holiday park is one of my favourite memories of growing up. So many sweet days spent chilling on One Mile Beach and then eating delicious works burgers from the kiosk just behind the beach...
    cheers, dan

  13. Dan,

    Reading your comment made me "home"sick for One Mile Beach!!

    I miss it there.

    When we were there, we talked about going back. But then we changed our mind. Now I'm wanting to go back again. We probably won't though.

    A month or so after we got home, I found the holiday park on google maps. You can see the beach and everything. It kind of feels like you're there. It made me miss it so much!