Sunday, 1 December 2013

Of An Aussie Wedding, Tornado, and Road Trip!

Sometimes, you end your trip to a place with such strong emotions that you know you will never be able to encounter the same again. Today, I am flying back to Singapore from Sydney and feeling exactly like that. My 9-day long trip in Sydney was meant for me to attend a colleague, Matthew Stride's wedding; to catch up with some people I know in Sydney's office; and to enjoy a 2-day break with Sissy, whom I first met in 2009. There was nothing really out of the ordinary planned and one would expect as such. It had been a glorious adventure since the beginning even when I was still in Singapore and here is the beautiful story…
*beep* A notification messages appeared on my TripIt Pro account. I had a quick look and was dismay to read that my 1.45pm flight will be delayed by an hour. I was supposed to arrive in Sydney at 12.50pm and then get picked up by Richard (Rick) Goodfellow - yes, with a last name like Goodfellow, he'd no choice but to be appointed the chauffeur - from Google for the 8-hour drive to Ben Lomond where Matt's wedding will be held. I sent a quick text to Rick and informed him of my delay. The delay was out of my control and he was very understanding. 

Knowing that my flight is delayed, I deliberately made my way to the airport at a later time. My brother, Owen, gave me a lift and we had supper near the airport. It's been a while since Owen and I had a chance to talk - the age difference and me being kept extremely busy at work this year didn't help. After he dropped me off at 1.15am, I rocked up to the check-in counter and the first thing that came to my mind was the visa which I had totally forgotten to apply for! Yes, Singaporeans enjoy visa-free travel to over 150 countries in the world but Australia's not on the list. The helpful staff behind the counter provided me with instructions to proceed the customer service desk which unfortunately was not in operations at this ungodly hour. 

As one can imagine, the usual calm Wynnii was panicking that much at this time since she needed to be on the flight to make the wedding. When the check-in staff came to know about this, they lent me a laptop and I very quickly applied for an online instant visa. I was so thankful that as much as the Australia immigration is nasty and wants Singaporeans to pay for visas, I was grateful for the marvelous technology they have deployed that allowed me to be on my way to the boarding gate very quickly.

When I placed my backpack on the check-in luggage belt and contemplated if I should carry the 7-kg backpack on the flight instead, I asked "Is this luggage going to make the flight?" 

"Yes, mam", came the reassuring reply. 

So I took a leisure walk to the boarding gate and was all smiles knowing that I am going to make the flight. The cherry on the cake was knowing that the $250 ticket (complete with an inflight meal and 15kg of check-in baggage weight) which I got during an online Scoot Airline sale was a deal of a lifetime. When I saw that I had three seats to myself onboard and was able to lie down on the red-eye flight, I thought I must be the luckiest girl in the world! 

Everyone knows Lady Luck's a bitch and my luck turned downhill exactly when I was woken up by the air steward to be handed my meal. 

"Beef goulash" was printed clearly on the label of my highly anticipated meal and I was puzzled. I politely informed the steward that there must be a mistake and since I don't eat beef for religious reasons, I won't have ordered it. The steward listened patiently to me, insisted the order form reflected that was the right order but gladly offered an exchange for me. I went with a chicken Nasi Briyani choice and boy, had I expected tough chicken meat with tasteless rice, you'd have to hold me at gunpoint for me to eat it. The coke I was served made up for the meal which I grudgingly finished.

I arrived as scheduled at 1.50pm and am eager to meet Rick to start the long drive to Ben Lomond. The weather seemed welcoming with sunshine streaming through the airport windows as I cleared immigration - the weather forecast of rain had been wrong. After 15 minutes of waiting at the luggage conveyer belt, I was seeing no sign of my backpack. 

After 20 minutes, I approached the airport crew and said, "I don't see my backpack on the belt". 

Her immediate response, "Let's go make a report then", like she had encountered such incidents all too often and was none too surprised to hear about a missing bag. 

I spent another 15 minutes trying my luck at the oversized luggage belt and back at the original luggage belt. I gave up and filed a report after the airport crew informed me that there was only one Scoot flight a day, so if it ain't there, it just ain't. To add icing to the cake (I thought I can have cake and eat it but guess not!), she also informed me that if the baggage is delayed and not missing, the earliest day it'll be couriered to me would be Monday.  

At this point in time, I was trying to analyse the situation quickly in my head. I was attending a wedding the following day which was a Saturday and Australia is infamous for work/life balance - this meant shops closed at 5pm on weekdays and throughout the weekend. My priority then was to get a dress for the wedding and some basic items to tide me over the weekend. I walked out of the gates to find Rick waiting and related the missing baggage story to him. The decision to drive back into the city so I can grab the essential stuff is one we will not repeat if given another chance. You'll find out why soon enough. 

Since Rick doesn't usually drive - he rented a fancy BMW X5 for the road trip, he doesn't know where to find parking in the city. "That's a tall building, so there must be basement parking" when I saw the Hilton/Citibank building. Typically, I would be delighted to be shopping but after 1.5 hours spent buying a wedding-appropriate dress, PJs and undies, I was exhausted. My credit card not being accepted at the shops didn't help the mood a bit because that meant I have to borrow money from Rick, within an hour of meeting him! The best part about the shopping is always the bill that comes to you after. Imagine the shock I got when I saw the AUD$59 parking charges for the brief shopping trip! The word "exorbitant" took on a new meaning in Sydney. I must admit that I did pick a darn good wedding-appropriate dress within such a short period though!

We finally started driving out of the city center at 4.30pm and as one would expect on a Friday evening, we were caught in slow moving traffic heading out of the city and no matter how the car company may advertise its unbeatable speed, the BMW still had to crawl at 20km/hr. 

Have you heard of the saying "When it rains, it pours"? Well, it literally did. It started pouring cats and dogs as we inched toward the freeway. Rick indulged me and we stopped at a McDonald's for a very late lunch, or if you prefer, a very early dinner. I have now added McChamp (a delicious chicken burger) to my McJourney and this was a happiness blip on the luck-o-meter. As the sun set and the downpour continued, we found ourselves at a town called Moriesette after 4.5 hours of driving. 

Our destination seemed further and further, almost not reachable even - the estimated time of arrival on the GPS was 2.15am! Rick was uncomfortable with driving through the night with such adverse weather conditions so we checked into Bay View Hotel at Moriesette. I assumed this must be the most famous hotel since Richard Clapton stayed here once and there was a signed photograph that hung proudly at the reception. You don't know who Richard Clapton is? I don't, either. 

We then made our way to the hotel restaurant for a quick supper, but was, not surprisingly, informed that the kitchen is closed and they were only serving drinks at the connecting restaurant cum bar cum pool room cum pokies room cum dance club. Seriously, I was so over being surprised by the streak of bad luck by now - Lady Luck had to do better than this to evoke a reaction from me. 

We decided to make the most of it and went to the dance club for some drinks and to enjoy the old-fashioned dance music blasting from the definitely-not BOSE speakers. There was all of one Asian girl on the dance floor (that's me!) moving to the music and I was sure the 15-year olds underage Moriesette drinkers never had it so good. It was 1am when we called it a night and retired into our rooms. Oh, what a day and night it has been! 

The following day saw us waking up at 6am and being on the road by 6.30am to make up for lost time. We had a good bitter laugh when we saw that the remaining journey will take another 7 hours, which meant we didn't make a lot of progress from when we first started. Anyhow, it has to be done and off we went, cruising along the freeway and through many small towns that slowly but surely brought us closer to Ben Lomond. 

When Rick mentioned the day before about how funny it would be if my "amazing" luck brought snow to Sydney in Summer, it most certainly didn't seemed funny when we witnessed icy snow by the roadside along our drive. At 2pm, we find ourselves at our destination, the elusive Ben Lomond village, in the nick of time for the 3pm ceremony. Yes, it only took us about 24 hours to get from point A to B...

Now, let me tell you a little something extra about Ben Lomond - it's population is a more accurate anecdotal estimate of about 30 persons in the village, and approximately a further 70 persons in the surrounding district. Yes, the wedding party tripled the population of the village.
The ceremony held in the backyard of Matt's parent's farm was a simple, elegant and very wet event. Yes, the untrustworthy weather forecast of sunshine strikes again! The rainy affair was accompanied by thunderstorm, hail stone and a rare tornado even made a guest appearance on the hills behind the farm. The night was made amazing by the drinks that flowed freely, lamb shank that was fresh from the farm, dessert that was served English-style on a tiered tray, and good ol' country music. People often talk about beautiful Summer weddings for months, but I reckon we will be talking about Matt's tornado Summer wedding for years to come!

After hitching a lift from Matt's friend back to Sydney on Sunday, I found my way to my rental - a room from a Googler who lived 10 min away from the office. On Monday morning, I strolled through the hood and found myself in front of the building with huge words "Accenture" on the facade. I knew Google's office was hidden somewhere in this building. Oh, may I add that I absolutely loved staying so near the office! 

Mind you, till now, I have not expressed any anger at the airline for not bringing my luggage to me because I know how inefficient most things can be in Australia over the weekends. When I called the airline helpdesk, I was informed that the hotline is a reservation hotline and they won't be able to help. I was then directed to another helpline which informed me that "there was no driver to bring your luggage to you today". I offered to make my way to the airport to pick it up and instead of the airline paying for the courier, they can pay for my cab fare instead. I was told "no, we don't do that". I was really getting pissed off at this point in time. To cut the long story short, my beloved luggage finally was by my side on Tuesday afternoon. Yes, a whole 5 days after I arrived!  

But I promised to write a beautiful story and thus, I shall not bring the luggage incident up anymore. Let's just put it this way - I got an excuse to shop in Australia so I should really look on the bright side, though the shopping caused an arm and a leg...
So came Thursday and it was really meant to be a good break for me from work and to hang out with Sissy. Sissy and I have always wanted to make plans to travel together but never got around to it. We had planned to go on a road trip to the southern beaches and Blue Mountains, and more importantly, painting the town red on Friday night! She came for breakfast at Google on Thursday morning and off we went. 

Our 2-day road trip took us to Jervis Bay where we enjoyed the softest white sand and 2 hours of sun; Wollongong lighthouse and blowhole where the wind never stopped howling; Echo Point @ Blue Mountains where we see clouds among the mountain top (reminded me of Table Mountain @ Cape Town and brought back memories of Chewy); Leura village where we had the most delicious hot chocolate to warm us up. We even took a dip in the freezing cold rock pool which we stumbled upon near the lighthouse - such is the surprise when you don't plan for it! This rock pool has the sea water splashing into it and I must pat myself on the back for braving the water. 
I posted this line on Facebook "Roadtripping along south coast of New South Wales with Sissy = The boys better watch out! ;)" 

Boy boy (no pun intended!), did we meet boys or what! Yes, when the two of us are together, we get up to no good! Haha. I'm going to stop right here and say no more...
The last night of any trip is always bittersweet. Sissy and I dressed up in our best cloth and met up with Rick and Mark (one of her ex-colleague) to hit the clubs. We started with greasy pizza and drinks @ Paradiso before ending the night at Bungalow 8. My luck changed for the better when we met a guy who got us out of a tricky parking situation. Toldcha Lady Luck's a bitch!

Saturday couldn't have arrived any faster and all good things must come to an end. While I slept in, Sissy drove to get McDonald's breakfast for me. She really loves me! I definitely sense my luck turning for the better again with so much maccas. :) 
When Sissy dropped me off at the aiport at 12pm on Saturday, we bade farewell with plenty of hugs, tears and promises to see each other more often. Did I hear someone say a roadtrip in New Zealand next year?

All the emotions in a trip - surprise, happiness, anger, sadness, disappointment, frustration, joy, delight and then some. What more can I ask for on this trip? :)

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