I’ve been in Sydney for about nine days, visiting old friends and enjoying the city I still call home. It’s a return to the grubby backpacking life and I’m sharing a bed with my friend in a shared apartment for $300 for the first 10 nights – feels like I never left!
Cheap beds, cheap bars, dollar noodles and dancing til dawn. In Sydney I am forever 21.
I’d been partying hard… and waiting for Wednesday.
Everything will change on Wednesday when I am reunited with The Boss. He’s 10 years older than me, runs a successful, international business and has a strong aversion to anything remotely ‘cheap’. I worked for him in his diamond studio while on the Working Holiday Visa and we became travel buddies, seeing the world and having great adventures.
Wednesday comes and he sweeps in to Sydney with a strong waft of sophistication and a general air of adult-like ways, his structure and logic casting momentary peace over my haphazard chaos.
Just 15 minutes after the greeting hug, I’m coiffing Champagne in the Moet and Oyster Bar on Pitt Street.
Over a leisurely lunch of cold fizz, 24 oysters and huge, chocolate-smothered strawberries we cover the events of the missing 10 months and it feels like I never left.
We walk through the buzz of the mid-afternoon city. Suited executives mingle with camera wielding tourists and backpackers dressed for the beach. We walk towards the harbour and head over to the hotel that we’re staying in for the evening, the 5 star Shangri La in the Rocks overlooking Circular Quay.
With a couple of hours before dinner, he heads out to meet a client, instructing me ‘make myself at home’.
I casually sit on the bed, barely looking up from the TV and acting like it’s no big deal. “I’ll be fine, see you later”.
I hear the door click, wait 30 seconds and then jump up and down laughing before running to the bathroom to explore. L’Occitaine shampoo, conditioner & body lotion. Loofah, individually packaged toothbrush, razor, comb, hair band, laundry powder, a selection of wrapped soaps, bath salts and those little squishy balls that dissolve in the bath.
I step in to a shower the size of a closet with a showerhead the size of a dinner plate and have a shower that lasts a good 20 minutes – washing away all memories of the previous accommodation of the last 9 nights where a former occupant’s thick, black hair clings to every available surface and the water trickles from the showerhead like it’s being directed through a drinking straw.
It’s long-missed luxury. The bathroom starts to look like a steam-room through the patterned glass. I emerge through the mist, pink and warm and envelop myself in an obscene number of towel combinations.
I snuggle soft toes in to the splendour of the crisp white slippers and pad over to retrieve the TV remote – flung on to a nearby sofa as I made my bathroom dash about an hour ago. I catch my reflection in the mirror. Sporting a heavy, floor length dressing gown, the obligatory ‘bonnet de douche’ – albeit over wet hair, the fluffy white slippers and greased up in every lotion and potion I could find!
I smile at the sight of it before launching myself at the enormous bed in a giant star shape, springing back up with four huge pillows coming to rest at my side.
Dinner is incredible. Seven courses. There’s gazpacho, rabbit, veal, fish, suckling pig, wagyu beef and the biggest selection of mini desserts I’d ever seen. All looking over Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge from the Altitude restaurant with some amazing red wine.
Great end to a lovely day and thankfully I’ve drunk enough wine not to worry about that fact I’m homeless again in the morning.
The Boss is up early for a breakfast business meeting and leaves me to get up and check out. Laughing over his shoulder about how I should stop ‘cheaping out’ on accommodation and telling me to take the free laundry powder – I may need it!’
I make time for a final hot shower before opening my handbag and using my arm to sweep all complimentary items off to the sink and safely inside, glad that he won’t be returning to see my loot.
The walk from The Rocks to mid-town takes 20 minutes and I arrive at Century Tower ready to drag my 25-kilo suitcase down the hill to Base Hostel on Kent Street to check in for two nights. It’s almost half my body weight and the city is already over 25 degrees.
The hostel is full.
I understand pre-planning but I’m a backpacker and I rarely book in advance off-season and I have never heard of a no-bed situation. I try two more, also full, before starting to panic.
I drag the case all over town from Central to Circular Quay, my back is in pain and my ankle is bleeding from a few rough knocks as I smash the case up and down curbs. I’ve been to 9 hostels and not one bed. I duck in to a doorway on Liverpool Street to get some shade as I feel my arms burning. It’s time to stop ‘cheaping out’, if there’s really no room at any backpacker inn, I’ll have a whack a hotel on the credit card.
I trawl through laterooms.com…No hotel rooms available until Monday. Monday? It’s Thursday and I have nowhere to sleep and no clue where to go. I can’t even buy my way out of this, the city is sold-out and everyone’s claiming it’s due to the Coldplay concert!
I sit down on my case in a doorway near the Queen Victoria Building and consider crying but realise I don’t really have time. It’s almost 2pm and I have no idea where to go.
I call one of my friends who I know doesn’t live in a hostel and she invites me to stay with her for the remaining two nights. She is a backpacker struggling to maintain life at Sydney prices and has been fighting for the residency visa in tough living conditions for three years in preferential to going home. We will be sleeping in her office. I accept.
Most of the day is gone, I just need to occupy myself in the city until about 9pm when all the staff will have left and we can bed-down for the night amongst the filing cabinets.
It passes slowly. My luggage is a heavy burden, my skin looks sunburnt, my white summer shoes are covered in black dust from the streets, my feet are killing me and I can’t bear to keep walking around with my suitcase and a cut ankle. I find a Starbucks and wait for it to get dark.
The office is empty but I see a kettle and there are toilets on the same floor somewhere. We need to sleep early so we can get up before the maintenance staff arrive and realise their marketing exec lives in the sales showroom!
I’ve got so many layers of clothes on but I’m cold and wrapped in a beach towel. My skin is sore and everything aches from the wear and tear of the day. I cannot get comfortable and the chairs are hard. I lay some clothes in a pile and take my chances on the floor.
We leave the lights off so we don’t draw attention and try to sleep. I pull my knotted hair from the band and catch the indulgent smell of the L’Occitane shampoo as my hair falls around my face.
2am. 3.30. 4.15. I’m in pain and still so cold.
I fumble in my bag for a headache tablet and smash open the packet of Shangri La laundry power instead. I watch the clouds of white dust swirl around in the shard of light coming from the street below, it smells of summer flowers. I haul myself up, cushion the pain of my feet in my fluffy slippers and amble over to the water cooler which glugs loudly, waking my friend.
I look down at my five star slippers in the morning light. Deftly adapting to their new role, the soft white Egyptian cotton now a sponge. Crimson red creeps out in uneven splodges from my blood stained feet, yesterday’s spa pedicure now unrecognisable.
5am. 184.108.40.206. The streets are coming to life and I hear the rat race begin as commuters pass the office towards Central Station.
A new day.
I’ll be out in the city again until 9pm – on the bright side it’s Saturday tomorrow so the maintenance guys don’t show until 12.
I walk up George street to get some breakfast and notice the beautiful Four Seasons Hotel at the edge of the Quay. I walk over, stand near the lobby, take out my phone, find Facebook and click ‘check in’.
I head for Starbucks grinning, waiting for The Boss to wake up and ‘Like’.