I flew down to Sydney despite the COVID lockdowns, for a highly anticipated consular meeting. I would only need to be in Sydney for a few hours for the actual interview, but with the canceled flights and strict quarantine rules once I flew back to Brisbane, I had to stay in Sydney for three days. But sometimes the unexpected happens and our plans change.
On the day of my departure from Sydney, to head home, I woke up sick. Really sick. I was struggling to get out of bed, I was weak and tired, and had vertigo. Not severe, but enough to make walking tricky. I phoned a friend for help, and we decided that I’d have no choice but to cancel my flight home and extend my stay. It was announced the same day that mandatory quarantine in Brisbane would be lifted on the 1st February, so I decided to extend my stay by four days. It would give me time to recover and rest.
I spent the first couple of days in my room and then made a few short trips out each day to buy food. There was a lot I would have liked to have done in the time, but I thought it would be wise to not wander too far away from my hotel.
I stayed in a budget, but very comfortable hotel opposite the Queen Victoria Building, right in the city. I was close to Town Hall Station, the tram line and loads of arcades and shops. Each morning I’d cross the road to a little coffee shop called Workshop Espresso which made a nice flat white, and served simple take out breakfasts like croissants and banana bread. As I had a late breakfast and wasn’t well, I either skipped lunch and had an early dinner, or had a late lunch and skipped dinner.
Much of George Street from Town Hall Station down to Haymarket is now Asian food places or shops, which is very different from the eighties and nineties in Sydney. So many different types of food— Korean, Japanese, Thai etc. I ate some delicious Thai street food and had mouth-watering thinly sliced Wagyu beef in teriyaki sauce in an underground sushi restaurant. I found a little cafe in World Square that made a nice coffee and a toastie for brunch, so I’d sit quietly over my small meal and watch people go by. As COVID restrictions were still in place, a mask had to be worn in most enclosed places, like shopping centres and arcades.
On my first night in Sydney, before getting sick, I managed to catch the tail end of the Australia Day fireworks at Circular Quay with a dear friend. Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up, and green and gold lit catamarans sailed through the waters against the backdrop of the Sydney Opera House. It was intensely humid, and the drizzle did not help at all. It was a fantastic night but the humidity was very uncomfortable— every time you’d move you’d sweat, and that included breathing! But as it’s possibly my last Australia Day in Australia, it was worth every minute. I haven’t been to Sydney Harbour for years, and to actually catch the fireworks on our national day was exhilarating.
Sydney has changed so much since I was a child. I miss the city I grew up in, but forty years have passed and things change quickly. I don’t dislike all the changes; they certainly add a different dimension to the city, but I do miss a lot of what made Sydney so iconic. Homeless people are still there, some have set up actual beds in George Street, and they are still up for a conversation over a free cup of coffee. The things I don’t like about the changes are feeling like I am now unwelcome in the city I grew up in. I can’t speak the Asian languages or read the signs in shops. I can’t read the menus and I don’t recognise the city I once felt such a part of. That saddens me. However, I still enjoyed the time I spent there, and the changes allowed me to rediscover the city all over again. While I no longer live in Sydney, or even in the state, Sydney will always be a part of me. My family on my father’s side have been there for generations, and most of my childhood was spent there. I think I’ll always be a city girl at heart.