The sun in Australia has an uncanny brightness to it. It casts a spotlight on the entire city of Sydney, illuminating everything it touches with the sort of brightness typically reserved for sandy white beaches or big open spaces. Coincidentally, I’ve heard multiple times that this is the skin cancer capital of the world, but when I woke up to a world of potentially deadly rays streaming through my open hostel room window, I smiled and immediately scooted myself into the warmth to lazily watch people on the streets below go about their morning routine.
At breakfast, I was quickly pulled into a plan to go visit the elusive Rocks Museum with Doug, an American who got a job at the hostel for a couple of months before he returns to the U.S. for grad school. I was happy to have a partner in crime and tour guide for the day so we set out, Doug leading the way with credible conviction. We wound our way through the shady (literally and figuratively) streets of Kings Cross and emerged at a small bay inhabited by military vessels and small cafés. From there we climbed a disturbing number of steps which led to a quiet street; directly across from where we stood was a gate leading into the Botanical Gardens. Walking through the imposing iron rod structures was like stepping straight into the set of Jurassic Park-minus the beautiful fountains, wide brick path, and abundance of relatively civilized people as opposed to T-rex, of course. There were screeches and howls and buzzing and a distinctive bird call that sounded disturbingly like a young boy hitting puberty at the exact moment he was being punched in the gut. The vegetation was thick, lush, and colorfully diversified in collection. I walked around in wonder, looking up through the greenness of the trees to spot the hundreds of Flying Foxes (gigantic furry bats) that inhabit the Gardens. They were extremely loud and I might have had time to contemplate the possibility of an organized air assault if it weren’t for the dozen of shiny webs that caught my eye, each of which was inhabited by a spider the size of my fist and, given it’s Australia, probably capable of administering a painful and deadly bite. What Doug didn’t know-and I wasn’t about to tell him-is that he was navigating this danger zone with a walking magnet for disaster, and we were both lucky to have made it out alive. But make it we did, and onwards we pushed, past the iconic glaring white Opera House and the majestic grey steel of the Bridge, towards the museum.
The Rocks is a very historical part of Sydney, and is really attractive in its quaintness. The streets are lined with old buildings, stone pubs with secrets to tell, and historic landmarks. It’s also a pretty small area, so when we couldn’t find the Rocks Museum despite multiple attempts and changed directions, I suggested that we ask someone.
“What’s the place called again?” I asked Doug, determined to put an end to our wandering.
“Sydneysider.” He answered without hesitation.
Not two seconds later, an unsuspecting man in a construction worker’s vest crosses the street towards us. Under my breath, I proclaimed that this is the individual that I’d decided to ask, disregarding the sarcastic remarks from my companion about how he was obviously a great choice. I quickened my pace a bit and met the guy head on, blocking any hope he might’ve had of sidestepping us.
“Excuse me! Hi! Um could you please tell us where the Sydneysider is?” I ask in a hopeful and friendly (aka American) tone.
In the second that immediately followed my inquiry, two things happened. The first is that the construction worker furrowed his brow in a look of extreme confusion. The second is that Doug, standing beside me, made a sound halfway between a cough and quiet “NOOOOO!” said in slow motion like someone who’s just realized he’s falling off of a cliff. While this all happened, I started to second-guess my decision to ask this particular individual; maybe I should’ve looked for a business suit or something.
“No, the Rocks….the Rocks Museum. We’re looking for the Museum.” Doug says apologetically, maybe even slightly embarrassed. The guy doesn’t know where it’s at, and quickly excuses himself from the conversation. It is then that I’m informed that “Sydneysider” is a term (although thankfully not derogatory) that the locals in Sydney are known by, and that I had somehow been misunderstood when asking what the museum was called. Right.
All of our efforts having failed, we decided to retreat to one of the inviting bars, the Hero of Waterloo, for a few drinks.
So that’s where the Sydneysiders are, I thought as I glanced around. Next time I’ll know.