Home making

This is not the first time I’ve used this title on a post – and far from the first time I have put together a new home. It’s enjoyable, but also tiring.

Moving in (two weeks ago) was stressful, even though all we were actually moving was our suitcases and a few other items we’d bought since arriving in Australia (such as a printer/scanner, which we’d needed to get essential paperwork done). We had booked a wagon type car on the premise that this would give us enough cargo space for what we most urgently needed to buy, but would not be too big to park in our new garage.

The car rental place texted me that morning: “The wagon won’t be back in time, so we’re giving you a van.” This turned out to be a huge Toyota Hiace which, had we had a crew of six, would have been ideal – we could have bought everything we could possibly need and brought it home in one day. But there were only the two of us, so the van was mostly just a huge headache to drive and park. Brendan had driven something even bigger than this before, but not often, and Sydney’s streets are not as easy to drive in as American suburbia. (Turns out that the smaller roundabouts are designed for semi trucks to just drive right over – no way they’d be able to negotiate those turns otherwise.)

Looking for a new home

We knew we’d have to hit the ground running on finding a home to rent. Before we left quarantine, we had already engaged a relocation specialist (Marcelle of Sydney Rental Search – whom I warmly recommend), who gave us abundant advice and insider information on the Sydney rental market. Long story short: it isn’t easy. Over the course of 10 days we visited about 10 places, in a wide variety of styles and locations. It was exhausting work, and we were under time pressure: the new school year started Jan 29th, and we wanted Mitchell back in school ASAP. (One of our non-negotiable criteria was that the school district needed to be good, which ruled out some neighborhoods that would otherwise have been interesting.)

Unleashed upon the world (well, Sydney)

We were up early on January 6th, all of us eager to get out of quarantine. We still had those 10 suitcases we had left the US with (plus our backpacks), and now added to the load the leftover quarantine food that we thought we’d still eat – fruit, cereal packets, and a few grocery items we’d had delivered. We somehow got all this into an elevator and down to the lobby, checked ourselves out of the Meriton, and then rolled it all out of the hotel. A big van-type taxi was parked across the street (I assume the driver knew about quarantine release times) so we piled everything in there and went on to our next place, an apartment-style hotel in Woolloomooloo. 

signs spelling out "Wool" (icon of a sheep), "loo" (icon of a toilet), "moo" (cow), "loo" (toilet again)
Neighborhood spelling aid

Arrival and Quarantine

We arrived in Sydney on Dec 23 – a day later than originally expected, but that was far, far less delay than many have suffered. As I was filling out the immigration card just before landing, it was an interesting feeling to tick “Yes” for “intention to permanently emigrate.”

Though there were only about 40 passengers on the plane, before landing we were asked repeatedly to allow plenty of space when deplaning. While we were taxiing to the gate, we were told that we would be met and given instructions by a health official, and should stay in our seats for the time being. Then it was announced that there would be a further delay because another flight had come in just before ours, and we had to give those passengers space in the terminal. 

Flying/fleeing from California

We had tickets, all our paperwork was in order, we were packed and ready to go. In ordinary times, everything should have felt easy and straightforward after some expected stress trying to get out the door to SFO. For this trip, we knew that we wouldn’t really feel safe until we were on the flight from LAX to Sydney and well out over the Pacific, too far for the plane to turn around and go back for any reason. This may seem like overreaction, but our fears were not unfounded. There are, and had been for much of the year, only three flights a day from the US to Sydney, all of them booked as fully as quarantine caps would allow: maybe 40 passengers maximum. I had been keeping an eye on international arrivals at Sydney airport and had not seen any of those direct US flights get cancelled, though I had heard about one or two cancellations in the Facebook quarantiners group. 

This airline scarcity is unaccustomed in our lifetimes. And we feared it might get even worse. Australia is currently allowing in only Australian citizens and their family members, subject to quarantine. International tourism into Australia is shut down (although international students are now being allowed back in, with quarantine). Many thousands of Australians want to return home from all over the world, but once all who wish to return have done so, will there be any flights at all? (Until the blessed day that tourism again becomes safe.) For a while we wondered if we’d be able to get a flight anytime in the next six months, let alone by the end of 2020.