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memoir: my first encounter with a still-unexplored continent



Sitting in the train from Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport to the city, crossing an old industrial bridge and looking through the triangular holes of the construction, I get the first glimpse of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. Not wanting to look like a typical tourist I try not to look too impressed, but I guess my turned head gives me away if anyone is looking. However, judging from the number of suitcases with airport tags on in this section I’m probably not the only new visitor. The train continues and skyscrapers move rapidly past the window making the glass façades and their reflections of the clear blue sky melt together in a blur.

Having just left the inevitably cold Scandinavian winter behind me – where it takes you five minutes longer to get out of the door compared to the rest of the year, because you have to put on at least three layers of clothes and add gloves, scarf and a knitted hat – it is impossible not to feel a little relieved at the sight of people walking in the streets in t-shirts and shorts. I feel my shoulders agreeing and dropping down a couple of millimetres when they realise they won’t have to be tugged up to my ears from freezing for a while now. Not to mention the winter boots, which I could tuck away before leaving home in the bottom of my closet, that make your legs feel like you have either just been for a long run or not been exercising at all for way too long, because of the extra energy it takes to lift your heavier feet. The rest of the train journey my head is only filled with one thought: ‘How is it possible that I already feel so at home in this city, when I haven’t even set my feet on the pavement yet?’

Little do I know that in the next few days I will be photographing the Opera House from every possible angle, wondering how the building still manages to amaze me every day. Apparently and luckily not alone, but together with a wide representation of citizens of the world using cameras as their eyes and heads tilted backwards most of the time. I will enjoy the sounds from the boats in the harbour mixed with the noise of plates being stacked at the cafés and the street musician on his guitar vaguely in the background. In The Rocks I will find my hideaway on a bench in a small park surrounded by buildings that make me feel like I’ve walked back in time during the five minutes it took to leave the skyscrapers behind. I will enjoy watching the streets between the tall glass and steel buildings buzz with men in suits around noon, considering whether or not I should sneak after some of them and find out where the locals get their lunch; and I will be soaking in the delicious taste of a chocolate cake that cannot be compared to anything I have ingested before.

I will meet the most genuinely kind Australians who in their modern and busy life won’t be too busy to stop and offer their help or just time to talk and curiously learn about a different culture with someone equally interested in their daily life. Being from a culture where everyone seems to mind their own business, it will take me some days to adjust to the fact that people actually look at you on the street – and not because you have managed to paint a black stroke on your cheek from newspaper ink or have leftovers of food between your teeth, but just because that is how it is here. A couple of guys my own age and a few years older will approach me out of nowhere and introduce themselves or compliment me; this is something that will definitely surprise me and even make me blush a bit as I am used to just blending in. Naturally I will be flattered, and being a bit shy I will not really be sure how to respond to it, or be sure of what they are expecting from it and from me. Maybe that will be because I am used to Danish guys who often have a hidden agenda – even though you cannot really call it hidden when it is often the same thing they are after, and the quicker they are able to get there the better. But that is probably another story.

I will find myself in situations where I am actually the one approaching strangers and talking more freely than I normally do, wondering if it is the warm sunny weather, the contagious open culture, my adventurous side that often gets more room when I am travelling or most likely a mixture of all of these things. It is the feeling of daring to be more yourself because no one knows you, which in a way is sad because should you not be able to be more yourself around people who you spend your everyday life with? It is the feeling of the kind of freedom that appears when no one expects you to behave a specific way or say anything specific, and you know that if you mess up or do something embarrassing it won’t be so bad, because you will most likely not see those people again. And the thought that I would not want to be in any other place will appear in my mind, and I will come to the conclusion that everyone should have that feeling more often than just once in a while.

The speakers in the train announce that the next stop is Town Hall Station, so I grab my luggage, walk towards the doors and wait for them to open. When they do I take a step and finally set my feet on the pavement – unaware but ready for whatever I will have the privilege to experience during my stay in the city of Sydney.

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