Let’s handle these in reverse order.
And first, let me set Sydney’s stage. We flew in from Queenstown via Christchurch and landed around dinnertime in Sydney. Once back on the ground we went through our normal routine of getting our luggage and renting a car. By now, we have this one-two punch down to a near-science. With car loaded we then have to pry Judah’s iPod from him so we can install our GPS device and make it to our final destination for the day. Despite hours of travel and Scooby Doo re-runs, Judah will have nothing of this. He doesn’t understand why he must trade iPods with daddy and his iPod fixation comes with an impressive level of determination. A fight ensues and we end up leaving Sydney International with a bawling 3-year-old and a tense daddy.
No worries, in 40 minutes we will be sipping wine with one of our lifelong friends and her husband, Melissa and Lance. They live in Mosman, a suburb of Sydney and we will be staying with them for (gulp) nearly two weeks. Yes, I know, this goes fully against the 3-day rule and is something I’d be loathe to host…but Melissa convinces me it is okay. I hope we are still friends after the fact.
And if you know Melissa, you know what we are in for. If you who don’t, let me just say that Melissa is the most energetic, organized, social creature I know. After a successful career on Wall Street she moved with Lance back to New Zealand (where he is from) to complete her family and to tackle the role of gorgeous, supportive wife and mother of three. They moved north to Sydney about a year ago and invited us to stay with them for the duration of our stay in this beautiful and well-positioned metropolis.
They live in a rental that is gorgeous by any standards. It is in a posh suburb of Sydney that undoubtedly satisfies even the most particular of requirements, namely good schools, excellent shopping and killer outdoor space (pool, close to beach, workout infrastructure). There’s only one problem with this rental and that is space. Melissa postscript her invite with this fact on several occasions. The house can easily handle Melissa and her clan, but was not built for the Jenkins. What I mean by this is that yes, it fits her family. But this is a family with a revolving door and numerous guests throughout the year. And given the number of guests that she and Lance undoubtedly host, the lack of a full-scale guest wing must (at times) become problematic. Melissa was uncharacteristically apologetic prior to our arrival and even more so once we arrived. I assured her we’d be fine and that we greatly appreciated staying with her regardless of the accommodation. I did not know what we were in for.
The Jenkins fill the top floor and the main floor houses a playroom, living area, dining room and kitchen. All the typical “living needs”. To access the guest room, you descend down another flight of stairs off the living room and into the backyard/pool area. You cross a patio and then enter a hallway that ends in one of three destinations, a bathroom, a laundry room or a bedroom. One bedroom, the four of us. Two weeks. No worries. Armon says to me, “By this weekend, all the kids will want to sleep together anyway.” I am not so sure.
To make life even more interesting, the guest room does not have air-conditioning. Nestled in between the warm laundry room and the wet pool without air-conditioning translates into – you guessed it – mosquitoes. And lots of them. No air-conditioning, one bed, two foam mattresses, four people, six pieces of luggage and lot’s of mozzies. Now in all fairness, the room has beautiful floor to ceiling doors on 2 full sides. Only problem is that I am afraid to open them since Melissa warned us of deadly spiders that come out at night in the yard to mate. That’s a scary thought, but having them enter our room is even scarier. So we sleep with the doors closed and pray for warm days and cool nights.
By night 3, I took the kids and foam upstairs to the playroom. I left Armon downstairs to fend for himself against the spiders and mozzies. He was fine, but then again – he never gets bitten.
Now, this story is supposed to be about sightseeing, shopping and sex in Sydney. So let’s get on with it. As I mentioned, Melissa is well-organized and incredibly social This means that I had barely nipped into my first cracker and perhaps had two sips before she started laying out the agenda for our stay.
Sightseeing. “You must see the Opera House, I will take the kids and the two of you go together one afternoon. It is an hour-long or so, but definitely not child-friendly. You go by yourselves. I will take the kids to the zoo or something. You must take them to the aquarium. We must go to the beach – Balmoral and perhaps Manly. We have to go shopping. There are some museums too that the kids would like and Luna Park is a hit with kids too. I’ve made the haircut and facial appointments you asked for Rebecca. Judah’s haircut too. And we will see a chiropractor on Tuesday – you for your ear and me for my shoulder. On Monday and Friday mornings I have boot-camp. Rebecca – you must come to that. On Saturdays, Charlie has cricket. Armon and Lance can take the boys to that. On Tuesdays, Abi has sports-time. Judah should go with her. Charlie’s birthday is next week – we’ll have a little party. One night, we will do a girls’ night in the city. We need to find a hotel to stay in. We can leave in the afternoon, shop, go out for dinner and then get a real night’s sleep. We can shop more the next morning and then meet back up with the family. We also need to get babysitters one night and meet Lance in the city for dinner. Perhaps you and Armon can see a show too before you leave. And there’s the Pirate in the Harbor trip…”
The girl had it all planned out. And so the Sydney whirlwind began. It was fabulous and had all the frenetic energy of a big city visit. Armon and I did leave the kids with her one afternoon. Melissa took them and her youngest to the zoo (while her eldest two kids were in school). We grabbed lunch at a swank city-pier restaurant and then hit the Opera House in what was to be our most touristy day to date. Sydney’s iconic building is a marvel to look at and walk through and the story behind it is fascinating. The fact that Eero Saarinen was involved piqued my design curiosity even more. I loved the content of the tour, but like most tours – it catered to the lowest common denominator which means that its physical and mental pace was significantly slower than ideal in my book. One of my weaknesses is a lack of patience in these environments (I don’t suffer fakes or fools as well as I should) so I had to constantly resist zoning out and sarcastic commentary. I finally gave in to temptation. Once Armon and I both agreed that the tour guide served as a caricature of “over-zealous, wanna-be-on-stage tour guides”, we had a grand time taking-the-piss (as they say in England).
We hit the Aquarium one afternoon with the kids. It is grand and nothing like the dinky NYC aquarium that we grew accustomed to over the last 6 years. With tubes that you can walk through which allow you to be all but surrounded by all kinds of aquatic life, the kids were in heaven. Standing underneath a shark or a stingray or a huge tortoise as it swims through the water is amazing at any age. One day, Armon took the kids to another museum while I had my monthly infusion (a different post on this coming shortly). We also took all 5 of the kids on the Pirate Cruise in Sydney’s harbor one weekend morning along with both Melissa and Lance. Afterwards, the boys took the kids to the botanical gardens to see some of Sydney’s wildlife – bats. You see, in addition to deadly spiders, Sydney is home to the world’s largest bats. And lots of them. If you take the time, you can even seem them sleeping in trees during the daytime, right in the middle of the city. Amazing. While the boys and kids went in pursuit of bats, Melissa and I took off for our girls’ night away.
Shopping. I like shopping just as much as the next girl. Hunting I can do without, gathering is just plain fun. Melissa is a pro and no visit to Melissa or Sydney is complete without it. We got our first shop in one afternoon in Mosman. She snuck me away to run one little errand, next thing I knew we were hitting shop after shop after shop. Kids clothes (presents for T and J and for friends back home), toy stores (more pressies), jewelry (I successfully resisted) and women’s clothes galore. I was coming out of a dressing room set to purchase a pair of pants when our initial foray came to a screeching halt. Armon had called Melissa and Judah was screaming in the background. His ear-infection was back.
We rushed home and then Armon and I departed with a barefoot and discombobulated Oz. He didn’t have a fever but was clearly in pain. He had a bout of it in Hawaii and again in NZ. This time we needed to get him to a doctor. Melissa rang her pediatrician and secured us an appointment for “when we could get there” – so off we went. Within the hour, we had seen a kind older doctor who diagnosed tonsillitis, prescribed antibiotics, decongestants and pain-killers and handed Oz two wine gums. One of which he shared with me. Ten minutes later, we had our meds in hand, paid our $20 bill and were on our way home. Foreign healthcare amazes me, we have it so wrong in the States. But again, that’s another post.
Back to shopping. Shop 2.0 came the afternoon we left the boys in charge of the kids. After our Pirate boat jaunt, Melissa and I grabbed our overnight bags and hoofed it over to our hotel. We dropped our bags, turned straight-around and jumped into a taxi to head to Paddington, one of Melissa’s favorite shopping areas. Mine too, now. We didn’t have nearly enough time for the hundreds of shops that she wanted to take me to, so we had to be focused, productive and particular. What looked like imminent rain threatened to curtail our afternoon too – so we doubled down on our efforts.
Boutique after boutique after boutique. Melissa knows her stuff. In less than a year, she’s scouted out some of the best shopping Sydney has to offer. And while it pains me to admit that my first purchase was a dress designed in California and made in China… I did strike gold with several Australian designers over the course of the next several hours. By the time the stores were getting set to close, the rain was pouring down and we and our bags were drenched. What are two girls to do but find the nearest pub for a quick glass of wine before heading back to the hotel.
In we flew. Us and our loot (sans umbrellas). As the water dripped from our noses and hair and shoulders and bags we tested out several flavors before she found one to her liking and before I found one to mine. Down we sat with wine in hand. Unencumbered by rain or bags, we began to reminisce. Unfettered by screaming kids and noses that needed to be wiped, we could just “be”. Heaven. Back in NYC, before she left and we had husbands or kids, Melissa and I had many a good shopping day. Sneaking down to NoLiTa, she was always the one to scout out new designers, convince me I HAD to have those Sigerson Morrison shoes and encourage me to open my wallet. We were back at it and hadn’t missed a beat.
Drinks downed, we taxied back to the hotel. Dried off, changed and checked in with the dads. No one left for dead yet – so off we went. We found a lovely little Italian spot on the water with a nearly-cute waiter who flattered us two aging moms and served us great food and some more yummy wine. Our conversation ranged from the topical to the political; from husbands and kids to Wall Street. It was a mini-vacation that I cherished throughout. Dessert wasn’t bad either.
Back to the hotel. No kids. Sleep. 8 hours. Unreal.
The next morning – off we went again. We had until midday. We left our loot from the prior day at the hotel, to be picked up later in the day. This time, Melissa took me to another area of Sydney. With equally wonderful boutiques. Again, my wallet seemed to spend more time out of my purse than in it. It was raining, but no matter. We bought sweaters to keep us warm and kept on going until our time ran out.
Shop 3.0 came on the afternoon of our last day in Sydney. It was an unanticipated windfall. I met Melissa and Armon in Paddington once again and she took me to a shop that we had missed during 2.0. Flannel is the name. Just like a pro real estate agent, Melissa saved the best for last. I was right-foot in the door and in love. Armon had run into another store just down the road and would join us shortly. As I headed to the changing room, I asked the lady to tell the handsome dark-haired bloke that comes in shortly to “grab a seat and get comfy”. I’d be a while.
When Armon did come in, he took one look at the wares and asked the woman, “Is there a pub nearby?” He excused himself and we told him we’d see him shortly. He knew we’d be a while. 45 minutes later, I left with bags in hand – including the clothes I’d worn that day. On me was a fab new dress, necklace and shoes. One shop, multiple outfits… Big-time smiles. Sexy and shopped out – we headed to Bondi Beach for dinner at a trendy see-and-be-seen restaurant.
Now, there are a few things you should know about this dinner. First, Melissa and I were jacked-up by our good ol’ fashioned shop. Two, Armon was thrilled to have a night out. Third, this was our last night in Sydney and our last night with Melissa. And lastly, it was a quintessential Sydney evening. Warm and sunny. Add Bondi surfers into the scene and well, it doesn’t get much better. Champagne was in order and the tuxedo clad waiters wasted no time in letting it flow. Pretty soon our conversation was flowing too.
This time it was the three of us – reminiscing about Wall Street, our old friends, our old nemeses, our old bosses. Wall Street gossip is always a fun topic to come back to. Once we tired of that fluff, the conversation turned to our trip, our kids, life in Sydney. We even got around to the fact that Armon had thrown his back out (yet again; earlier in the week playing cricket with Judah). He’d been to a physiotherapist twice in Sydney and was starting to walk with a semblance of normality. Melissa asked Armon what the doctor had to say and the conversation basically went something like this:
“So how ya feeling? What’d the Dr. say?”
“Feeling better. He says the problem is actually with my transversus abdominis.”
“You’re what?” we both proclaimed.
“Yeah, exactly”. “He says that my back being thrown out actually has to do with my transversus abdominis muscle and that if I strengthen that part of my stomach I won’t throw my back out anymore. I’ll stand straighter, have fewer back problem.”
“Your abdomnis erectus?” she laughed. I did too.
“No, my transversus abdominis.”
“Ha, abdominis erectus!” (this seemed very funny at the time).
“Yea, evolution of man,” I choked. “From Turkey Boy to Abdominis Eructus!” Now both Melissa and I are starting to tear up. “So how do you strengthen that?” we ask through our tears.
“Well, believe it or not…(and now Armon’s laughing too)…I am supposed to do Kegel’s. Remember those?” This was the final straw – Armon’s statement sends us out of control. Melissa and I are laughing hysterically and on the verge of peeing in our own pants (and wishing that we ourselves had done more Kegel’s.)
Melissa manages to muster something along the lines of, “Yeah, I didn’t do nearly enough of those…” and then she blurts out, “Wait, I’m confused, I get how women do them. The whole squeeze the uterus thing, but how exactly are you supposed to do them?”
Through tears himself at this point, with neighboring diners and penguined-up waiters all around, Armon musters to gasp out the following, “I am supposed to lift my scrotum up to my right shoulder!”
“Abdominis Erectus!” we chortled. “Evolution of Man!”…I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time. We were still laughing when we poured ourselves into the taxi to head back to Mosman. The unlucky cab driver. Melissa and I in the back, having a grand ol’ time at Armon’s expense. Armon being a great sport and putting up with our cackles. We finally reach Mosman and Melissa decides the night is young and that we absolutely must stop at the Pickled Possum. I give an outright, “no way”. Armon says he’s up for anything. Next thing I know, we are standing in the middle of upscale, swanky Mosman, Melissa banging on the door to the Pickled Possum. Melissa wants to play and partake in some karaoke. “For old time’s sake,” she demurs.
I acquiesce. And as soon as I did, my silent prayers were answered, The Pickled Possum, though open, was empty save the rather large, gruff manager who had to unlock the doors to let us in. I think he scared even Melissa off to a certain extent. Finally, it was time for some shut-eye. I couldn’t wait to get home and horizontal.
We arrived home ten minutes later and just shy of midnight. Talia was up waiting for me like I will do in 10 years for her.
By now you may be wondering – how does Melissa have such endurance as to host us for two weeks, take the kids sightseeing, take me shopping, go out for late dinners and still want to attempt karaoke? Much less, how does she do it and take care of her three kids as well? Here’s her secret. Like her ability to scout out the best boutiques, Melissa knows how to find a good workout. In Mosman, she does a boot camp several times a week and she has a running club. Endurance, stamina and the ability to stare pain in the face and scoff – Melissa is my idol.
I tagged along one day to boot camp. I have been in better shape and I have been in worst shape, but I felt confident I could survive 1 hour with a hunky Army sergeant. The warm up was a 1km run followed by knee-high running and then butt-kick running. I handled that with finesse. OK, good to go. The workout was a different challenge all together. 2 teams of 4 women, set to race against each other on the beach. The challenge: run to station A, do 30 squats; run to station B, do 30 military presses, run to Station C (a boat in waist deep water) touch it, run to Station D, do 30 push-ups; run to Station E, do 30 unassisted stand-ups (no hands) in the sand, run to Station F (a tree at the end of the beach), touch it and run back to Start. Repeat 4 times. All while carrying a 30 pound, 4in thick rope. Yeah, right. I visibly hobbled for days.
Sex. Well if you hadn’t already guessed, there was a lot more sightseeing and shopping than sex in Sydney. Between spiders, different bedrooms, back pain and intensive-care worthy workouts… sex was in the air, but the theoretical kind was about as good as it got.
P.S., Thanks Melissa, Lance and crew. We loved your place (can’t wait to see your NZ real estate!), your family and our time in Sydney. You guys rock with the best of ‘em and we hope that we can repay you the favor one day soon.