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  • Writer's pictureAisling Salisbury

My Trip to Australia - Day One #kindafree

Saturday, June 12th 2021 - Freedom Day

At 5:30 am my alarm rings, I'm straight into the shower, get dressed then ensure that everything I brought with me is packed so as not to leave anything behind. Because if I did, it would be quote "destroyed."

Time to take a selfie, whilst I await my all clear to leave.
The waiting is the hardest part.

That is no joke, if I leave the room then realise (even instantly) I left something behind it's not permitted to be collected. Such is the paranoia of COVID in Australia. At 6:45 am I get the phone call from Reception telling me that I am "Ok to leave" between now and 7 am. The premise behind this is to avoid overcrowding in the elevators and reception. With the all-clear, I'm not waiting.

Farewell Cell 1618
And I am outta here!

I sweep the room, grab my stuff and open the door. I'm barely out of the room only to be stopped by the floor's security guard. He tells me to stop and asks for my room number as if I'm breaking out illegally. Despite flashing my colour-coded wristband saying "I'm being released today" it's not good enough. He ensures he remains more than 6ft away from me and radios the police, I'm guessing. They confirm that my room is good to go. He calls the elevator for me and tells me to go to the lobby. He still treats me like I'm a freaking leper though.

I take the elevator down to the lobby. The Hotel Staff were all behind the standard reception counter and their perspex glass but they smile and say "thank you." I go to the Police Counter and hand over my "Release Papers" and Passport. I am reminded that I need to get another COVID test on Day 16 and with that I'm free!

I'm barely off the hotel steps before I rip off my mask and breathe in for the first breaths of fresh air in two weeks. The morning chill of winter is a great delight to my skin and the feeling of liberation as I breathe in the air is an indescribable feeling after two weeks.

I have to walk around the corner to where I was directed my Uber was to pick me up. No, they aren't allowed anywhere near the hotel, it has to be around the corner. As I wait for the driver I get the smell of diesel fumes from Sydney's notorious buses and I proudly breathe it in and I regret to say, I savour the smell of the outside world, even if it is purely fumes.

My Uber rocks up, I was already checked in for the flight but I get to the Qantas counter's with barely any time to spare to check-in a bag which I really only wanted to do to save lugging a carry-on. With the lockdown in Danistan, flights are few and far between. If I didn't get the 8 am flight then I would be waiting until well after 1 pm for any airline to take me there. So hell or high water I am getting on this flight.

The Red Roo sure is a pretty sight, yet missing from the world right now.

Like in the US, masks are required in the airport but I discover that Australian's still haven't learnt to live with this virus. As I wait to go through security, everyone is bunched up and two elderly ladies are right up my backside in the line talking. Clearly perplexed that, although I'm not standing on the spots or two metres away from the guy in front of me I am still respecting his personal space, unlike he is with the people in front of him nor the ladies behind me. I am tempted to flash my wristband to spook them or go "everyone I don't give a crap about Rona but how about respecting people's personal space!"

I get the absurdity of everyone social distancing and then sitting right next to each other for a couple of hours in a tin can. However, even without COVID, there is no need to be up in people's personal space like that. That's one thing that the US has learnt to do now. Americans do give people space now, when they can, such as the Security lines at airports.

The security guy is about to call for laptops etc. but he sees that I'm already pulling that stuff out of my bag and within 10 seconds I've loaded up everything to be scanned. Happily, he goes "I like people who are prepared" and so do I. When it comes to air travel I am always stumped that people wait until the last second, despite being lined up for a couple of minutes, before they start getting organised.

People put down this airline, but it's a welcome sight for an ex-pat that's missing home.
Let's get outta here!

I clear security just as my flight announces boarding. When it comes to boarding, once again, no social distancing was observed. The flight is probably about two thirds full. Regrettably, it's the long taxi to runway 34R in Sydney, the taxi I always dreaded when I worked in and out of the airport. Especially when you just wanted to get home. The plus side is the great pics you can take of Sydney as you climb out and turn towards the Pacific Ocean. Despite the mask-wearing, the service is the standard Qantas service that I have missed on airlines. A hot meal, free of charge, a good entertainment system etc. Australian's are spoilt when it comes to air travel.

Farewell Sydney
Sure beats Pretzels, Stroopwafels or Biscoff?
Yes my celbrity crush is Seth, so I judge inflight entertainment on whether he is on it or not.

After an hour I land in Melbourne. It's been a long-time coming but I'm finally home. As we disembark in Melbourne we are swarmed by Department of Health bureaucrats. Basically, all demanding we "produce our permit" I am surprised by the hostility by these staff, especially if someone doesn't have one. It's usually faced with a "go over there and fill it out right now!". For goodness sake, have I flown in on an International flight or a Domestic one?

Hello Melbourne!

As I head for the baggage carousels the terminal is a ghost town, the departures board has barely any flights.

What a depressing sight. These are all the departures and arrivals for the day!

Before leaving the terminal I head up to the Watermark's book store, one of my old haunts for coffee at Tullamarine airport. It was open thankfully, but the rest of the food court was dead. It is here that I am faced with what Australia has become. As my coffee is being made I'm told to check in with the QR Code system. I don't give a shite if the government knows that I like coffee, but this is beyond a joke. Stop with the elimination process guys. When my coffee is ready she asks me if I would like a cookie as well, to which I replied, "yeah that's the best bit" to which she replies "what about the coffee?" and I say "that's good too but the cookie is the cherry on top". I savour the sips of my first Melbourne Coffee since July 2020, it is divine.

First Melbourne Coffee in 11 Months with a "Cherry on top".

I then leave the terminal to go and collect my bag, I still have to wait about 20mins for it. Seriously? There was only one flight these guys had to unload. Melbourne airport is still Melbourne airport, even if it's a ghost town. I go outside and wait for the bus to the city. There's no one around. As I head over the Bolte Bridge and see my home city for the first time it has this sense of gloom to it. Cold and flat and I doubt it has anything to do with the chill in the air or the clouds hovering above it.

Airports in the US were like this in March 2020, but certainly not anymore, because it's June 2021.
It's a surreal feeling returning to a landscape now a little unfamiliar.

As I pull into Southern Cross (formerly Spencer Street Station) I pull out Google Maps to see what is the quickest way to get home. It is now that I discover that my train line is out of action for the weekend. Perhaps life in Melbourne really is back to normal then. For those that don't know, my train line is always closed on the weekends for some form of "improvement works."

I hop on a Tram and it's crowded with barely any space to move. I take it up to Elizabeth Street to swap over to another tram. I am deeply saddened to see a once busy Bourke Street Mall just as dead as the airport was. As my next tram goes past Flinders Street I'm amazed at how quite a bustling city of Melbourne is at 11:30 on a Saturday morning now. We cross the Yarra River and I get a glimpse of the MCG, where I hoped to be on Monday. As we head down St Kilda Road, an automated PA from Brett Sutton comes on the PA about masking up and staying safe. I laugh my head off when I hear a passenger onboard exclaim "Shut the F*ck Up Sutton!"

I get off the tram and walk towards my home. As I walk up the path I hide my bag behind the fence as I'm sure my mother is in the lounge room watching TV and would see me approach the door. If I had my luggage in tow I would have it a guess she would know who it was approaching. I ring the doorbell and I hear the leg rest of her recliner slam as she gets up to answer the door. As she opens the door she exclaims "what are you doing here?" I receive a massive hug and my mother explains that she thought I was a Mormon. She calls my father and says "we have a delivery" my old man comes up the hallway and also gives me a hug. My parents don't show a lot of emotion, but they didn't have to. The hug I received from my mother, my father especially, was so tight I will never forget it. Those hugs will be etched into my memory until the day I die.

I then call up my boyfriend who is overjoyed I'm now in the same city. Despite trying to agree to the rules and meet up with my folks at a coffee shop he is already in the car on his way to my parent's place. As we talk on the phone I make mention that we could head up to Sydney on Monday for the game according to NSW Health's latest rulings. It is sadly with trepidation that he points out the fact that it's more so the Victorian rules over the 25km travel limit that would be the issue. As he said, how would you explain it on return to Victoria as to why you were 25kms away? But believe me, when I tell you this, he said he was working on it, especially now when I said there was no restriction for a Victorian (according to NSW) to go there.

That afternoon we all meet up at my family's favourite cafe. The owner was somewhat shocked to see me. The standard question was "when did you get home?" to which I said "today" and the concern of the owner was raised. I don't know what she was thinking. Did she seriously think I landed and smashed up the guards to escape from prison? The thought of her running to the phone to report an 'escapee' did cross my mind. It's sad how that was my first impression and how that was the suggestive untold body language of a fellow citizen. What is wrong with you Australia? I allay any concerns by adding, "but I've been locked up in Sydney for the last two weeks".

The conversation then turned to the US. I was quizzed about how it was over there and there was genuine shock from her when I said:

"It's back to normal and pumping right now."

The response was of genuine shock and she said "well their vaccine rates are so much better than ours" to which I replied "that has nothing to do with it, I don't deny that it sped things up, but America was re-opening again in September" to which she makes it Political "yeah and they had so many deaths and hospitalisations back then because of Trump"

So I just replied, "if you want to make it political then the best thing the Democrats ever did was to deny him another employment bailout package in Congress. They did it politically to make him look bad. Why was that good though? Because unlike here in Australia, on September 1st the US version of JobKeeper ended there. So people realised they had to go back to work, they had to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families. So they began to adapt to life, if they had to wear a mask they did. If you wanted to hide under the bed until it was all over you did. But even those people eventually starting going 'I miss going to my favourite coffee shop' so these folk started going out, they might've been double-masked, gloved up, face shields etc. but they started heading out. The fact is the country starting learning to live with the virus."

Almost in denial at hearing these facts, the response was "so the hospitalisation rates and death numbers have nothing to do with it because they are down now" I replied "because it's summer right now, cases will go up in winter, but I don't see the country ever locking down again. They don't fear it, they live with it."

I wouldn't be surprised if she spat on my food for sharing these cold hard facts. I am stumped how Australian's believe the US is still a basket case. It's almost as if they have to keep believing it to justify the destruction that Australia is still doing to itself when the world is moving on. Australia just has to keep doing this because all the damage being done must be right, it has to be, it can't be wrong, it just can't.

Anyway, if she had spat it my food I didn't notice it. But then again it could've been the ambience of being with my partner and parents having a late lunch together for the first time in 11 months. The only way we could all legally be together under the new Victorian regime.

On the subject of legality, I won't report anything further for the day. Needless to say, it was spent having dinner at home with my parents and getting some quality time with my sweetheart.

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