Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Lost Weekend - Part One

I have two very different blog posts to write about this last weekend.

One is about running and redemption.

One is about solitude and experience.

I had big plans for this weekend, looking forward to spending time with an old friend, sharing what Sydney had to offer. Mariah, one of my oldest friends from my university days, was going to be in town on a conference. We'd booked a double room and were both looking forward to a night at a decent restaurant and a bit of luxury. Mariah's a single mum with an autistic son. Nights away are rare for her.

Unfortunately, plans at her end went by the wayside with her respite care for her son falling through, meaning she had to go back to Brisbane early, leaving me on my own for a day.

Okay, no biggie - but the disappointment of my 'birthday weekend" not going to plan was palpable. I had a week to get used to the idea that I would be on my own for this time, but the disappointment wasn't shifting.

So Friday came - my planned last day off until the rest of the year. I got up early to get the plane, stowed the car at one of the car parking places near the airport, boarded and pretty much everything was to plan - although the plane was delayed for an hour due to some slacker not making the gate in time. We went back to the terminal from the runway and picked him up - the sheepish passenger doing the walk of shame down to the very back of the plane.

The flight was non-descript until we reached the outskirts of Sydney when the cabin crew were ordered to take their seats immediately. Okay, never a good omen.

What followed was probably the most terrifying forty-five minutes of my life.

I'm a seasoned flyer and don't have any issues on planes. On Friday, Sydney was being pummelled by 100 kilometre an hour winds. The plane was bounced all over the sky on the final approach. Nearing the airport we made our way into land, you could feel the strain on the plane. The runway in sight, the plane banked steeply to the the right and went back up into another turbulent holding pattern.

To say the last part of the flight was awful is an understatement. With passengers holding sick bags, scared, screaming kids and silence from the cockpit, we tried once again to land - thankfully this time, without error. Needless to say, I arrived in Sydney disappointed and now very shaken.

On the good side of things, Mariah and my hotel room was booked and paid for. Arriving at the Swissotel in the city centre, I was delighted to find out we'd been upgraded to the executive floors - a view of Centrepoint Tower and a bit more space. It was lovely. It went a little way into unfraying the nerves.

A medicinal brandy, a proper lunch and some fresh air and things began to feel a bit more normal. I've never felt like I was going to die on a flight before. It's the first time I've had my mortality bought into question thanks to Qantas - which lead to even deeper questions being asked later in the next 24 hours.

See, next weekend is my birthday. I'm turning 44. I keep looking at where I am in my life and thinking, 'What the hell have I done?" Then you think, "Oh, there is more than a chance that I've lived half my life - and things keep speeding up! Argh!"

Cheery thoughts, mixed in with a bit of loneliness.

Never one to wallow for long, I took myself off to the Sydney Aquarium, battling the wind and the rain to get to Darling Harbour.

Here is where the crappy flight and it's aftermath really set in. I was really looking forward to seeing the fishies, not having been to an aquarium for years. What I thought I would love turned out to be something that rattled me even more. Okay, Sydney Aquarium felt rather outdated - whether this was because a lot of it is under scaffoling in preparation for a relaunch in a few weeks, or my mood - I felt a bit freaked by the fishies looking at me - the huge crabs and manta rays floating around me - it cut me to my soul. I think the only bits I really enjoyed were the penguins, the vogelbekdier - oops, sorry, platypuses (I could watch them for years), and the tropical tanks where I spent quite a while looking for Nemo. I was through the joint in just over an hour. Enough.

Back at the hotel, a long hot bath and some thinking time. Time to work out how to lift this funk. Time to start to put some plans in place to get things moving. I may be stuck in a city that I don't particularly like without anybody to talk to, no point in wasting the time.

A quick salad dinner was ordered off of room service and an early night. My frazzled nerves couldn't have done much more.

Morning came with the resolution to have a day of sensory fun. A day to soothe and nurture. A day to murder and create - kill of the glums and create a new life.

First up - a swim. The hotel has a pool on the tenth floor. An outdoor arrangement set behind tall screens. Sydney had served up another dreadful day - cold, wet with howling winds. Before leaving my room, I ran a bath in preparation and made my way down to the spa.

The next half hour was the start of the restoration process. The pool, lightly heated, proved the a most wonderful oasis. With the air temperature around six degrees, swimming laps on this grey day felt amazing. After five minutes I'd adjusted to the water temperature and had a lovely half our swim. Even more amazing was going back to my room for a long hot bath. Serious bliss.

After dressing and a spot of shopping, I checked out of the Swissotel and made my way down to my hotel for the night in the Rocks area in readiness for a night out with Trin and Kez at a favourite restaurant. My room not being ready, the suitcase was left at the concierge and I schlepped out to entertain myself for a few hours.

Gallery-ing was on the cards. The weather still inclement, the thought of being bounced around on a ferry out to Manly didn't appeal, Zumbo cake or no. The first stop was the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in the Rocks.

All I can say is that the place is fantastic. Though traditionally not a fan of Modern Art, this place blew me away. Spending a decent two hours with my thoughts, looking at all variety of objects really started the soul on its upward track. Pieces to ponder:

Peices to make you uncomfortable.Really uncomfortable:

(There was a room full of these types of items. Needless to say, moved on quickly from this room)

Pieces to bliss you out:

It's a place I'll be going back to. It's a wonderful space to think and contemplate and enjoy.

With half an afternoon up my sleeve I went for a walk to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, tucked away in the Botanical Gardens. More time to contemplate and enjoy.

It was here the loneliness of the weekend finally abated and the blessed solitude arrived. Finally, it twigged - how blessed is it to get some time on your own. Time to do exactly what you want, when you want. A time to enjoy the silence and the noise - to not have to communicate or meet deadlines or meet commitments. It was a time to just be. Walk in the wind. Look at pretty pictures. A time to allow myself to feel and grow.

There is something about being alone that allows for every sense to be fulfilled - a heightened, altered reality where you can see what you feel, hear what you see. Eveything is taken in, from the sounds of the wind to the vibrations of small buddha statues made out of Thai bank notes (the fact that destroying images of the Thai king is illegal made this all the more satisfying) to enjoying a walk in the park on a blustery day.

A little bit of ordinary magic.

Another hour in the state Art Gallery taking in the sights it was time to go back to my hotel, have a bath and get ready for dinner with Trin, Kez, Kez's new partner and some of Trin's friends. The location, Sake restaurant. Once again, another wonderful dinner with wonderful company. After some great food and conversation before a fairly early night in.

For the morning held the annual 14 kilometre City to Surf. Another long, hot bath and a good sleep was needed for this run that I really wasn't in the mood to do.

And that is another story for the next blog.


The Elephant's Child said...

Down time/alone time is an imperative to me to maintain even the smallest grasp on sanity. And your swim and your gallery time sounded magical.
I think I would still be velcroed to the tarmac after a flight like that.

Jackie K said...

Being in a non-familiar environment also shakes things up for us and is good for us - even when the experiences are unsettling, lonely or disappointing. The hotel sounds wonderful, and I LOVE the sound of that gallery (love modern art).
Glad you managed to find some peace amid the doldrums- messed up special plans are so disappointing.