Posts Tagged ‘Australia



18
Apr
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Bedded Bliss

Four hours and several rounds of Word Hero after the Jarhead had hit the hay I, too, was finally ready for bed. Having metabolized more than my share of sugar, caffeine, and wine—not to mention cortisol and adrenaline—over the past two days, it may be more accurate to say I was ready to crash—and hard.

And so, as quietly as I could and using my phone for a flashlight, I performed my evening ablutions, retrieved my CPAP from its case, and started to set it up. It’s not a complicated process but neither is it easy to do quietly—especially in the dark. And it’s not something I normally have to do myself when we travel. In fact, because it often involves moving one or more pieces of furniture or light fixtures—especially in older hotels—the Jarhead usually sets it up the minute we get to our room.

I can hear some of you now saying awwww and what a sweetheart—if not out loud then inside your head. But let’s not kid ourselves: the Jarhead’s dedication to helping me establish and maintain an open airway at night is as much for his own benefit as for mine. For if he doesn’t make sure upon our arrival that there is in fact a surface on which to position the machine as well as a source of electricity to power it, my ability to sleep and/or sleep quietly will be greatly impaired, which means HIS ability to sleep will be greatly impaired. And nobody wants that—least of all the Jarhead.

I should point out the alternative, which is that I suffocate in my sleep. That, too, might impair the Jarhead’s his ability to sleep—especially as he waits with fingers crossed for the results of the autopsy. And nobody wants that except—just kidding!

Most often, his advance efforts prove unnecessary, as power options are found to be both ample and in close proximity to the sleeping area. Now and again, however, the situation will require a change of rooms or the acquisition of an extension cord, which are burdens best borne by the fully clothed (and preferably while the bags are still packed) or so I’m told. This type of scenario is such a rarity that I cannot recall when last it arose. Nevertheless, it apparently created sufficient havoc for the Jarhead as to warrant his near-obsessive approach to preventing it from happening again.

Despite the playful tone, the Jarhead’s interest in making sure I’m able to breathe (and, therefore, sleep) when we’re away from home is not something I take for granted. It has, however, left me perhaps a little spoiled since it allows me to focus on things like room décor, shower configuration, and word games over sleeping arrangements and outlet placement.

Which is probably why it took me until nearly 3am to realize there were no outlets near the bed.

Notice that I did not write “near my side of the bed.” I make this distinction because the Jarhead had fallen asleep on what is generally considered by all parties to this relationship to be MY side of the bed and, therefore, if there had been an outlet on that side of the bed it would have been useless to me anyway. Unless, of course, I had been willing to drape the cord across his sleeping form and risk having him accidentally unplug it—or worse, strangle himself with it—at some point during the night, which I was not.

But that was a moot point because the fact is there was no outlet near what is generally considered by all parties to this relationship to be my side of the bed or any other. In fact, the only outlets in our room besides those in the bathroom and those behind the TV, were located at the base of the outer wall andapproximately 10 feet as the crow flies from the head end of what is generally considered by all parties to this relationship to be the Jarhead’s side of the bed.

In other words, in order to survive my first night in Australia I had to get down on my hands and knees, crawl under the table, plug the cord into an adapter, plug the adapter in to the outlet, crawl out from under the table, place my CPAP on the table, drag the table as close to the bed as the CPAP cord would allow, put on my mask, and hope:

  • that the distance between my face and the machine did not exceed the length of the air hose (72 inches) and,
  • that I didn’t roll over at some point during the night and manage to pull the CPAP off the table and have it land with a fatal thud on the floor and,
  • that the Jarhead didn’t get up at some point in the night go to the bathroom, forget which side he’d woken up on, and try to climb in on WIGCBAPTTRTB his side of the bed, trip on the cord, hit his face on the table, and land with a fatal thud on the floor

Either way you look at it, it was not an ideal arrangement. Unfortunately, the only other option was to pull the bed closer to the wall on the other side of the room, which would have been almost impossible with the Jarhead already sleeping on top of it. And even if I had been able to move it by myself, I doubted I could have done so quietly or smoothly. In other words, I would have woken him up. Which totally defeated the purpose. After all, if I was going to wake him up anyway, I may as well do so gently and deliberately, and then ask HIM to move the bed for me.

To my sleep-deprived mind at 3am, that sounded much easier.

But still not ideal. Because even if I had succeeded in moving the bed without waking the man of my dreams, he may still have gotten up at some point in the night to use the bathroom, tried to climb back in bed, which was now on the other side of the room, and landed with a fatal thud on the floor.

With that option sounding no better than the other, and finding no viable alternative, I strapped on my mask, put my head to the pillow, and tried to fall asleep.

And sleep I did. Until precisely 4:43am when the sunlight came streaming through the south facing window and patio door of our room.

That was a bit of a bummer—until I remembered that we were in Australia and on vacation.

Then it was bliss.

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28
Mar
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Sleepy Seconds

By the time the Jarhead had awoken from his nap, I had showered and fixed (literally) my hair, and was ready to take on the day. Since it was nearly 6pm by that point, there wasn’t much of the day left to take on, so we decided to head over to the waterfront in search of sustenance.

Fremantle Waterfront

That’s kind of our modus operandi. When we can’t think of anything else to do, we eat.

Unless we can’t decide what or where to eat, that is. Then we don’t eat. For hours.

If you think I’m joking, ask my kids. Or our friend Nancy. She once sat imprisoned in our car as the Jarhead and I tried to decide where to go for dinner one Saturday in 1993. She had the same reaction to that experience that she did after witnessing the birth of the Princess six months earlier: Never doing that again.

I can’t say I blame her. After discussing, debating, and eventually discounting nearly every casual dining establishment in south Minneapolis area only to settle for carryout pizza, I, too, was disgusted with us and questioning my reasons for staying in this relationship.

But we’re older now. And presumably wiser. Plus, it was getting late, and if we didn’t choose something we would eventually run out of time and either have settle for overpriced junk from our snack bar (shown below) or go to bed hungry.

Room Snacks

Under those conditions, I was sure we could find an acceptable place to have dinner, and make it back to our room before sunrise.

We crossed the Esplanade Park and Preserve and headed up Mews Road, vowing to stop and eat at the first place we both found acceptable. It went against everything we believed in, of course, and had a high probability of failure. The greatest threat to its success lay in the what ifs. What if we eat here and later find out we could have had something better/cheaper just a few blocks away?  What if we DON’T eat here, and then find out there’s nothing better/cheaper elsewhere? We had been burned by this strategy in the past, obviously, and were loath to try it again. But the clock was ticking, so we decided to give it a shot.

Our trip started, like any worthy quest, at a brewery. The Little Creatures Brewery, to be exact. Since the place was deserted and looked an awful lot like an actual brewery, we naturally mistook it for a brewery and gave it a miss.

Continuing up the street, we came to Cicerello’s. Offering a “unique eating experience in the heart of Fremantle’s Fishing Boat Harbour” and providing not only “the best fish and chips” but also “freshly caught seafood, including oysters, mussels, crabs, and crayfish,” the place would have had me at hello. But for the fact that, even on a good day, the Jarhead is barely lukewarm when it comes to seafood, we might have stopped there. But instead we moved on.

Next up was Kailis’ Fish Market Café Waterfront.  This place had everything going for it that Cicerello’s had, plus cafeteria style seating and piles of freshly caught seafood on display and available for purchase.

In case you missed it, that was irony. The combination fish market and café may have been an attractive novelty for some but it was a definite deal-breaker for us since, one sure way to ruin the Jarhead’s already limited appetite for seafood is for him to see it before it becomes food.

The last option—or at least the last one that we could see due to the road blocks and other evidence of construction further up the road—was the Char Char Bull   Unfortunately, its décor and menu gave the place an air of hip elegance that posed a major threat to my self-esteem.

So back down the street we went, hoping to discover options that we had missed along the way but coming up with nothing new. Turning around again, we walked back up the street and wound up—again—at the Char Char Bull.

“At least we can get something besides seafood here,” the Jarhead observed as we read the menu on the door for the second time. Nodding, I took note of our reflections in the window and compared our hair and clothing to that of the patrons I could see inside. Noting that we looked less hip than the hippest people we could see but definitely more hip than the rest, I agreed to go inside.

And with that, our choice was finally made.

We had taken less time deciding to have a baby. And what to name him.

Nevertheless, we had come to a decision, and soon were being shown to a lovely table for two, which happened to be last open table by a window. Sa-weet, I thought as we took our seats. Then I wondered if maybe window-side tables were not considered prime real estate in Australian restaurants. Especially waterfront Australian restaurants. Maybe we should ask to be moved…

Fortunately, the arrival of our server halted that train of thought and put it squarely on the menu where it belonged. It was a much better journey, I concluded, as I took in words like:

  • mac and three cheese croquettes with spiced sea salt, Dijon and truffle mayonnaise
  • ciabatta loaf with whipped brown butter and sea salt
  • crispy tempura with wasabi tartare sauce
  • pork belly with sherry shallots, charred nectarine, almond skordalia, & vincotto
  • butternut pumpkin gnocchi

And the list went on and on.

We started with the mac and three cheese croquettes and some crispy calamari with watercress salad, white bean hummus and pomegranate dressing. I remember drinking wine as well, but since I drank much of it before any food came, I don’t remember what kind of wine it was or how it tasted. Given how well it went down, however, we can probably assume it was pretty damn good.

For my meal, I had an eye filet with smoky bourbon green peppercorn sauce and brown butter potato puree. I remember enjoying it very much, and wishing I could have tried everything on the menu while we were at it.

Meanwhile, since we were in Australia, the Jarhead decided to take the plunge and try the kangaroo loin. It was also served with brown butter potato puree, plus salt-baked beetroots, pearl onions, poached pear, and caraway jus.

To our surprise, the kangaroo loin was virtually indistinguishable from other high quality red meat. I don’t know what we were expecting, to be honest, but we were well and truly surprised. It looked and tasted delicious, but it was no better or worse than a venison loin or a good old-fashioned American T-bone or porterhouse steak.

By the time we had finished our meal—and our bottle of wine—we were both fit for nothing but our bed. And yet, our bed was about a half-mile walk through a chilly seaside park from our table in the nice warm, fireplace lit restaurant. So rather than get up and leave, we decided to delay our departure by ordering dessert.

That proved a mistake, as the Jarhead was soon snoozing lightly with his chin precariously perched in his hand, and his elbow precariously perched on the edge of the table. Oh my god, I thought, as I saw him through the sliver of an opening at the bottom of my own closed eyelids. Realizing that I, too, had fallen asleep, I shook my head a couple of times and took a good long drink of ice water.

“Hey you,” I whispered to my comatose companion as I looked around to see may have heard me snoring.  “Wake up.”

The Jarhead blinked a few times, then looked around guiltily and apologized. “They haven’t brought our dessert yet?” he wondered aloud.

“No,” I replied, although I wasn’t sure. They could have brought it over, found us asleep, and taken it away again for all I knew. But I wasn’t going to tell him that since doing so would have clued him into the fact that I had fallen asleep, too. “I was going to say something, but I don’t know how long ago we ordered it.”

“It’s been at least fifteen minutes,” he announced after looking at his watch. “I wonder what the holdup is.”

Looking around, it became clear that at some point between the arrival of the wine and end of our nap, the restaurant had gotten slammed. Not one table was empty, and the servers and other employees were racing around like bees in a hive.

It took us ten more minutes to get someone to stop at our table, and she did not have our dessert.

“We’re looking for our server,” the Jarhead told her.

“Do you need your bill?’

“No. We’re waiting for our dessert.”

Not sure how or why, but apparently our dessert had not arrived because our dessert had not been made. We learned this a few minutes later when our server came back to apologize and to assure us it would be out momentarily.

A few minutes later, the Jarhead was sleeping again, and I was fighting the urge to close my eyes as well. Knowing how hard it would be to get him on his feet and back to the hotel once he was down for the count, I scrambled toward the kitchen, and stopped the first person who looked me in the eye.

“Do you need your bill?” she asked.

Boy, these people sure wanted to get rid of us.

“No. I mean, yes. I mean, that depends,” I stammered. “We want to go, but we ordered dessert but it didn’t come, and now they’re making it and we really need to leave.”

At that point, she offered to pack the dessert to go and bring it to the table with the check. “I’ll do you one better,” I countered. “I’ll give you my credit card now and you can bring over the dessert and the slip for me to sign as soon as possible.”

Moments later, we were sleepwalking down Mews Road toward the park. Or sleepstumbling, to be more accurate.

By then the air had grown cold and the wind had picked up. I shivered and tried to use the Jarhead as a windbreak, but could barely keep my eyes open wide enough to see him as we made our way through the park and to the hotel entrance. Fortunately, it was enormous and well lit, or we might not have found the place, and would have ended dying of exposure in the park (assuming the spiders didn’t get us first.) Not exactly how I’d like to go, if it’s all the same to you.

Back in our room, the Jarhead quickly stripped down, got into bed, rolled up in the covers, and fell back asleep. Rejuvenated by the cold wind and the promise of chocolate cake, ice cream, and caramel sauce, I traded my clothes for pajamas, flopped down in a chair, propped my feet up, ripped into my dessert.

It definitely was not a pretty sight. The ice cream had melted and all that jostling had left it looking like something a child had created in the yard after a rain. But it was still cake, ice cream, and caramel sauce, and—thanks to jet lag and one lost order ticket—it was ALL mine!

14
Mar
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Arachnophobia

When we last saw our weary travelers, they had landed in Perth, picked up their rental car, and arrived safely at their hotel in Fremantle. While we wait for them to check in and take the elevator up to their room, let’s take a moment to reflect on the fact that they are riding an elevator in Australia.

When you think about it, going up in an elevator in Australia is, in effect, like going down in an elevator in North America. Or close to it anyway. Since (according to peakbagger.com) Wisconsin’s polar geographic opposite—aka antipode—would be somewhere in the Indian Ocean, it’s not a precise equivalency, but it’ll suffice.

But, as usual, I digress.

Now when some folks think of Australia, they imagine cuddly koalas, cute kangaroos, and beautiful sandy beaches bounded by a big blue ocean where one can swim, snorkel, and surf the day away, while laid back Aussies wander around saying things like “g’day” and “no worries.” When other folks think of Australia, they imagine a dry and dusty place landscape literally crawling with a vast and deadly array of spiders, snakes, and scorpions.

Regular readers of this column are likely to assume—and reasonably so—that I am among those who equate the continent of Australia with the imminent, constant and entirely inconvenient threat of danger, death, and doom. So it may come as a surprise that, as we made our plans to visit Australia, the idea that some of its non-human inhabitants might have it in for me never crossed my mind.

Maybe I was too focused on getting there. Or maybe, I was too obsessed with the thought of never coming back. Or maybe I was just too enamored with the word “biodiversity” to fully appreciate its meaning. Either way, in the course of planning this trip I apparently failed to consider some of the more likely means by which I could meet my end.

That is, until I mentioned it to my doctor about four days before we were scheduled to leave.

I was there for a routine checkup but decided to take the opportunity to inquire about any additional immunizations the Jarhead and I might need, or if there were any areas of the country we should avoid, or any epidemics that might justify cancelling the trip and allow us to qualify for a full refund. Having been a patient of his for five years, I fully expected Dr. J. to nod and smile patiently in response to my queries, and then to gently allay my concerns while jotting down a few notes to add to the mountain of evidence he and the Jarhead would rely upon when the time finally arrived to have me committed.

But that did not happen. Or, more accurately, that’s not ALL that happened.

For although he did in fact nod, he most definitely did not smile patiently. In fact, he did not smile at all. At best it was a grim grimace. And while he did attempt to allay MY concerns (while jotting down a few notes to add to the mountain of evidence he and the Jarhead would rely upon when the time finally arrived to have me committed, of course) he then proceeded to—gravely and resolutely—express a few concerns of his own.

Like the fact that Australia is home to some of the deadliest creatures on Earth—including the single most venomous snake in the world (the inland taipan, in case you’re wondering) and the redback spider whose bite can send you into anaphylaxis and kill you in less than five minutes. Not to mention all the scorpions, sharks, and other life forms that have evolved in isolation and whose impact on visitors to Australia has yet to be fully quantified.

How’s that for a plot twist? I go into the guy’s office just a little worried about one or three minor things, and come out of there completely terrified about five or six others. It was like going to bed with the faint sense that you may have forgotten to lock all the doors, and waking up to find your normally sane and supportive spouse speculating in rambling fashion about how many armed intruders may be rummaging around and wreaking havoc downstairs.

Yikes!

From there he advised me as to the places to stay away from and the activities to avoid. In the interest of time, I’ll put it in these terms: Wilderness, bad; urban areas located near medical treatment facilities, good. Alone, bad; crowds—especially crowds comprised of licensed medical professionals—good.

Although I took his advice very seriously, I also took a moment to have a brief panic attack in the privacy of my own car before calling the Jarhead to tell him what we were up against. He laughed and said we would be fine. We had no plans to go hiking in the outback, after all; and snakes were not likely to venture into the city. As far as deadly spiders were concerned, he reasoned that we would be staying at the largest and most popular resort in the area, and that the place wouldn’t enjoy the ratings it had if it were infested with spiders of any kind.

Flash forward a week. We have arrived at said hotel, entered our room, kicked off our shoes, and set down our bags. At first we just stood and marveled at the layout and the modern décor. Then we spent some time commenting on the differences between the furnishings and fixtures in this room and the rooms we’d seen in North America and Europe. Like the toilet, seen here, attached to the vanity, with the flush buttons (one for when you go number one, and the other for when you go number two) at the far left side.

Aussie Loo 3

And this tub/shower combo, with two water outlets—one for when you want to stand, and another when you want to sit or lie down.

Aussie Tub

We were just about to flush the toilet to see which direction the water would spin when I made a startling discovery: a big, juicy—and most assuredly deadly—spider was clinging to the ceiling above our open suitcases.

My first instinct was to run over to my suitcase, slam it shut, drag it out the door and onto the elevator.

Okay, that was a lie. My first instinct was to scream.

But I didn’t want to make a scene, so instead I clasped one hand over my mouth and shrieked through my fingers while pointing at the ceiling, all the while RESISTING the urge to run over to my suitcase, slam it shut, and drag it out the door and onto the elevator. I resisted in part because slamming it shut would not be enough to keep the contents inside as I bolted from the room, but mostly because I KNEW that no matter how quickly and masterfully I could dash over, grab the bag, and whisk it out the door, that spider would have rappelled—even more quickly and masterfully—from the ceiling and down into my shirt, and instead of streaking out of the room with my suitcase in tow, I would have wound up running and jumping up and down in place while screaming and crying at the top of my lungs and tearing at my clothes until I was naked and they were little more than a pile of fabric scraps on the floor.

The Jarhead, as usual, failed to grasp the gravity of the situation. “It’s just a spider.”

“In Australia, there is no such thing as ‘just a spider,’” I informed him.  “It needs to go,” I added, turning and moving my arms as if trying to disperse an encroaching mob, “They all need to go.”

“ALL?”

“You know what they say. For every spider you see there are hundreds more you don’t.”

“I think that’s cockroaches.”

“Whatever,” I breathed. “Just kill him.”

“I can’t kill him.”

“Why not?”

“This is a vaulted ceiling. I’ll need a ladder just to tap him with a broom.”

Crap. He was right. So I grabbed the phone and called the front desk.

To my delight, they promised to send someone up right away. Okay, I told myself. They are on the ball. They know that spiders don’t belong in resort hotels, and they are going to dispatch this one tout suite.

Relieved, I sat down on the bed to keep watch over the eight-legged invader.  I wasn’t about to let him disappear before help arrived.

The Jarhead wasn’t happy about this turn of events. He had been in the process of stripping down to his skivvies and laying down for a nap when I noticed the spider. Now he would have to remain both clothed and awake until the spider was removed. Normally I would have felt bad, but this time, I was tickled pink to know the beast would soon be exterminated.

Until I met the exterminator.

He was old, tired-looking, and none too thrilled to be assigned to spider duty. He showed up with a dirty, cob-webby broom and a can of the Aussie equivalent of Raid.

My confidence flagging significantly, I thanked him for coming, and then pointed at the spider.

“Oym gunna nade ah ladda,” he informed me, before setting down the broom and departing the room. A short time later, he was up on the ladder, swatting at the spider but not quite hitting it.

Oh my god, I gasped, as I imagined all the ways this could go wrong. At best he was going to knock it down and allow it to find a spot to hide. At best I was going to live to die another day. In another room.

Just as I said it—but before the Jarhead could get our bags out from under the area, that sucker literally jumped off the ceiling and landed godonlyknowswhere.

“Well, he’s gone now,” the man announced as he climbed off the ladder.

“No he’s not.”

“Yeah he is. Oy got eem with the broom.”

“Show me.”

The man held up the bristles of the broom but it bore no corpse.

That was it for me. Bags or no bags, I had to get out of there. I grabbed my purse and my CPAP case from the nightstand and bolted out into the hallway.

“It’s okay.” the Jarhead called. “I found him.”

Poking my head back into the room, I saw him move his suitcase to reveal the still living, breathing juicy black spider. I could only hope it was the SAME living, breathing juicy black spider.

A moment later, the Jarhead had him flattened with one of our travel maps, and was flushing him down the toilet. “He’s dead. You can come back inside now,” he announced as he and the maintenance man approached the door.

Backing up to let them join me in the hall, I looked up and nearly fainted.

On the wall above the doorway to our room—the doorway in which I had been standing only moments ago, were seven—yes, SEVEN—juicy black spiders. I thought I would literally crack up and melt away.

In desperation, I grabbed the Jarhead’s arm. “I can’t stay here,” I whispered as if I feared the place was bugged (pun totally intended.)

“It’s okay,” he replied with a nod to the departing maintenance man. “I’ll protect you.”

I guess I wanted to believe him more than I wanted to find another hotel—and definitely more than I wanted find out what might be lurking at another hotel. Because I didn’t argue and I didn’t flee.

Instead, I popped open my laptop and a bottle of water, and sat down to draft a killer political rant while the Jarhead napped. Outside in the park between the hotel and the water front, some crazy bird I’ve neither seen nor heard before squawked wildly from a tree.

View 1View 2View 4View 5

Against that backdrop, I took a vow not to obsess about the spiders, and to make the most of this trip of a lifetime. I knew my commitment to that goal would be tested repeatedly over the next week—along with the Jarhead’s patience—but with a little effort—and perhaps a little wine—I knew I could do it.

28
Feb
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Planes, Brains, and Automobiles

The flight from Abu Dhabi to Perth went pretty much the same as the flight from Chicago to Abu Dhabi, only instead of spending twelve hours facing the front of the plane, I spent them facing the back. Oh, and about four hours into the flight I had to give up both reading and playing Scrabble in favor of watching movies because I was so tired that I could no longer comprehend the written word—much less devise one out of a set of seven letters.

By the time the third movie started—ten hours after we had boarded—I could no longer comprehend the SPOKEN word either, but that was partly because the actors were speaking Japanese and I didn’t have the wherewithal to read the subtitles. And so, by the time the captain announced that we were starting our descent into Perth, I was more than ready to deplane and eager for a change of scenery.

And a change of scenery is what we got….

For starters, there was the immigration and customs area of the airport, which basically looked the customs and immigration area of any other country I’ve visited except that it was practically deserted. I don’t know what happened to all the other passengers that were on the plane with us when we landed, but they most definitely were nowhere near us at that point. I’ll admit we hadn’t exactly sprinted there from the baggage claim, but it isn’t as if we had dawdled either. And even if jet lag and sleep deprivation had kept us from dashing through the airport like O.J. Simpson in a Hertz commercial, certainly SOME of the folks on our flight were just as worn out, so it’s unlikely that ALL of them were capable of walking faster than we were.

It felt kind of eerie to be the only people in the area. I kept wondering if we’d gone to the wrong place, or if the others had all gone to the wrong place. Or if instead of getting off the plane and walking through immigration and customs, I had fallen asleep and was only dreaming that I was walking through immigration and customs. Or if instead of dreaming that I was walking through immigration and customers, I was walking through a virtual immigration and customs deep within the Matrix.

“I doubt it,” the Jarhead reassured me, although I suspected he would not have minded if my brain had gone offline. “We probably just got here after the solitary, young, and childless people, and before the slow, older people, and the people traveling in groups and with children. Most of them will have brought a few more bags than we did, so it will take them longer to get their luggage off the carousel and wheel it over here.”

That sounded reasonable, I’ll admit. But if that was the case, it would have been the first time in our entire lives together that I had walked that far and that much faster than that many people without the promise of chocolate or pizza, or the threat of bodily harm as a motivator.

At any rate, we made it through the maze and soon were standing in front of a friendly red-haired agent at the rental car area. Her name was Gail—a fact which I remember only because it is also my dad’s name—and after discussing the details of the rental with the Jarhead, she took one look at me and asked if I had brought any sunblock. She then went on to tell us how easy it is to get a sunburn in Australia, especially for those of us from the northern tier of the United States.

Gail then cheerily asked the Jarhead if he’d ever driven in Australia or anywhere else where they drive on the opposite side of the road. When he admitted that he had not, she said “I see,” with a deliberate smile and more than a trace of gravity. “I’m sure you’d do just fine,” she added. “Just make sure to keep her in the gutter.”

Having assumed that the “her” in question was the car, I wondered why she thought driving it through the gutter was a good idea. Then I wondered if perhaps the word gutter meant something different in Australia than it did in every other English speaking country in the world. Then I realized that the “her” was me, and that by advising the Jarhead to keep ME in the gutter, she was trying to help him avoid drifting out of the left lane and into oncoming traffic.

It was good advice. Disturbingly delivered. But good just the same.

I pondered that advice all the way through the terminal and across the parking lots to our rental car. I was able to forget my concern long enough to take note of the pleasant breeze and snap a quick pic of the Jarhead behind the wheel, but it came flooding back again as we were fastening our seatbelts.

“You’re going to need to drive around the parking lot a while,” I informed my chauffeur. “You’re not ready to be on the road yet.”

“Sure, I am,” he replied.

“Okay, then I’M not ready for you to be on the road yet. All I can think about is you forgetting to stay on the left side of the road and driving head on into a semi.”

“Do they even have semis here?” he asked as he simultaneous ignored my request and missed my point. “Or do they call them something else?”

I couldn’t tell if his was a genuine inquiry designed to ignite a lively debate or just some sneaky attempt to distract me from my fears, but I wasn’t about to fall for it. I needed a shower more than I wanted to argue or assert my verbal superiority, after all, and our room at the Esplanade Resort in Fremantle was still about 45 minutes away. So, in the interest of time, and lacking another viable option, I slapped on my “sunnies” (“sunnies” as in protective summer eyewear—not the ubiquitous Midwestern lake fish) then closed my eyes and braced for impact.

Every few minutes I would tell myself I was being an idiot and scold myself for not opening my eyes and taking in the sights. You didn’t come all this way to see nothing but the inside of your eyelids, after all. So now and then I would open one of my eyes or cover them both with my hands and peek out through the gaps between my fingers—as if seeing only a sliver of the underside of a semi or witnessing a bloody murder with only one eye would make the whole experience less traumatizing—but that failed to quell my anxiety. If anything, these tactics made the situation worse because it seemed like every time I would venture a peek at the wonders to beyond my knuckles, the Jarhead was changing lanes and coming within a fraction of an inch of hitting a nearby bumper.

Same thing happens whenever I watch a scary movie, by the way. Just as I get brave enough to look out through the gaps between my fingers, I immediately find myself face to face with a slimy alien, a slobbering zombie, or an ax wielding lunatic. It’s uncanny how it’s never a basket of puppies, a litter of kittens, a bunch of baby goats or a bouquet of shiny balloons. And if it ever IS a collection of puppies, kittens or goats, you can bet they’ll be zombie puppies, kittens or goats, and the balloons will be shiny because they’re covered in blood.

At any rate, by the time I was comfortable enough with the Jarhead’s driving to keep my eyes open and uncovered long enough to get a good look at our surroundings, we had arrived at our destination. Not knowing our way around well enough to find a parking garage, and not wanting to run out to the street every two hours for the next 24 to drop more coins in the meter, we pulled up the valet, handed him the keys, removed our belongings from the vehicle, and trudged into the hotel.

17
Jan
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Best Laid Plans

Once we had decided on Australia as our 2016 vacation destination, the Jarhead and I then had to buy our plane tickets. We knew they would be expensive since Australia is so far away that you can’t even get there from here without stopping off to gas up somewhere in the Middle East. But we knew they were going to be even more expensive since there was no way I was going to survive 24 hours in economy class even with a layover in Abu Dhabi.

I mention this not because I hate strangers or enjoy wasting money, or because I’m filthy rich or delusional and expect to be waited on hand and foot like some spoiled heiress. Rather, I mention it because I knew that after just six or seven hours confined to metal chair in a crowded cabin teeming with screaming children and coughing, sneezing, and snoring adults, I was going to be, either,

  1. the first woman in the history of air travel to die of acute monotony, annoyance and discomfort,
  2. the first woman in the history of air travel to be shoved out of the emergency hatch in mid-air by her own husband, or
  3. the first woman in the history of air travel to be shoved out the emergency hatch in mid-air by an angry mob that included her husband.

Either way, I was not going to live to see Australia and the Jarhead would have been left to wander around the place by himself for a week (which would have been a shame) and then return to the States alone (which would have been a bigger shame.) On top of that, he still would have had to explain my absence to the authorities and/or break the news to my loved ones, and take time out of his busy schedule to plan one killer of a memorial service. Given the cost of funerals nowadays, and the fact that, without me, he essentially would have paid double to fly alone in coach—not to mention lawyers’ fees if the cops didn’t like his story and the jail time he might get if the jury didn’t buy it—we (that is he, I, and/or my estate) would be money ahead by flying business class.

So, it made sense for us to bite the bullet and spend the money. At least that’s how the Jarhead and I rationalized it. It may have been the wrong call since flying coach may have proven more interesting from a writerly standpoint. More drama and darkness, and all that. But this way, we both got to fly in comfort and style, and no one died—not even the woman who had the nerve to join us in business class accompanied by three young children with no other adult to assist her. Were it not for the all the delicious gourmet food, the reclining seat with padded foot rest, the expansive audio and video library, and the noise cancelling headphones, one of us may not have lived to tell the tale—especially after the middle child whined and screamed for hours and then coughed so hard that she threw up all over her seat just two rows behind the Jarhead. Thank goodness for the free and abundant champagne.

Of course, we didn’t know when we were booking the flight that we would be traveling with a crazy woman bent on flying with two children and a demon, or we may have chosen a different departure.

Speaking of the unknown: there were a few other pieces of information we did not have when we blew a small fortune on our once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Australia that may have made a difference in our travel experience. For example, we were not aware that one needs to obtain a visa from the Commonwealth of Australia to enter the Commonwealth of Australia. We were also unaware that to obtain a visa from the Commonwealth of Australia, one needs to complete and submit a form to the Commonwealth of Australia, and have it approved by the Commonwealth of Australia. Without a visa from the Commonwealth of Australia, one cannot even board a plane bound for the Commonwealth of Australia.

I guess it should have occurred to us. One needs a visa to travel to the United States from other countries, after all. So why shouldn’t US travelers have to get visas from the governments of their intended destinations?

In our defense, the only place to which we have traveled by plane—apart from when we moved to Italy and the handful of countries to which the Jarhead has flown for work, which are handled entirely differently from leisure travel—is England. So we had insufficient experience with international travel to know there had to be a paper trail. That and the fact that the visa I needed when I flew to England in 2004 consisted of a slip of paper about the size of an ATM transaction receipt and was completed just before we disembarked the plane rather than prior to boarding.

At this point, I invite you to guess as to when we became aware of the need to have a visa prior to boarding a plane bound for the Commonwealth of Australia. Go ahead. Guess.

Was it upon receiving confirmation of our ticket purchase from the travel agent?

Uh, no.

Was it upon receiving our electronic boarding passes from the airline?

Nope.

Was it upon receiving an email from our credit card company congratulating us on our plans to see Australia, as evidenced by the purchase of two very expensive plane tickets and inviting us to contact their fraud unit if we had not recently booked two very expensive tickets to Australia?

Not even close.

In fact, we found out from the ticket agent at the counter as we were cheerily checking in and eagerly waiting to hand over our bags. Oblivious Americans I’m sure she was thinking while simultaneously apologizing for the inconvenience and describing the potential legal consequences to both her and us if she allowed us to board a flight to Australia without a visa.

My stomach churned as I thought about the extra money we might have to pay if we had to change our tickets to buy ourselves more time to get a visa. It churned even harder as I contemplated how much time and money we might have wasted if they denied our visa and we couldn’t go at all. Seriously. I nearly threw up my breakfast just hours before that little demon child did it on the plane.

But while the financial manager in me was growing sicker by the minute at the thought of all that wasted money, the hodophobic part of me was celebrating the fact that by not leaving for Australia, I didn’t have to worry about never making it back home from Australia. Meanwhile, a third part–the small, quiet, and rarely taken seriously mature part–was listening to the agent who, having stopped apologizing was now offering to have another agent explain to us the process by which we could obtain a visa.

Online.

And in about 20 minutes.

Sah-WEET!

I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I was that I had tuned into that conversation when I did. Or how grateful I was that I’d taken St. John’s Wort with my breakfast that morning, which is probably the only reason the whole shebang didn’t come back up on me right there and then.

And for a change, I was grateful that the Jarhead can be a bit *cough* rigid when it comes to time and travel since that’s the only reason we wound up checking in three hours ahead of the flight instead of two.

It’s not often that we’re early for anything, so I don’t know what benefit is ordinarily derived from punctuality. I only know that this time, it definitely paid off. Because less than a half an hour later, we were back at the counter with our boarding passes and visa confirmations, and on our way to the Land of Plenty!

 

 




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