Life

Notes From Abroad: I Went All The Way To Australia And All I Got Was The Best Customer Service Of My Life

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I had to travel all the way across the world to Australia to experience the most memorable customer service experience of my life. It was in Sydney, specifically, at the Old Clare Hotel, a 62-room boutique in the heart of the city’s vibrant Chippendale district. Like many of the hyper-cool neighborhoods in the world’s great cities, Chippendale was once a slum that has transformed over time into a mecca of art, design, and food. I was there during Vivid Sydney, a three-week long arts and culture festival held each May/June that bills itself as “the world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas.”

Now, here’s the scenario that produced the aforementioned bit of memorable customer service: The night before I was to fly to Australia, the Golden State Warriors beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in game six of the NBA’s Western Conference Finals, forcing a game seven. Based on everything I’d seen, I knew that game seven would be one that I just couldn’t miss, no matter where in the world I was. So without really thinking too much about it, I tossed a line out on Twitter, hoping that maybe someone who follows me might be able to assist in pointing me in the direction of an American-basketball-friendly bar.

“Now I’ve got to find a bar in Sydney to watch game 7,” I tweeted. “Anyone know of one? I’m guessing the Warriors have some fans there because of Bogut.”

In the past, I’ve found this to be a quite effective recommendation-gathering tool when traveling, but in this case I really didn’t get much help from anyone. I suppose my base of followers doesn’t consist of many NBA fans who’ve traveled to Sydney during the season. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll figure it out.” Surely, there would be a way to stream the game online or something. I’d worry about that later, as the next day I was to board a Virgin Australia jet for my 14-hour flight Down Under.

When I checked in to the Old Clare and made my way to my room, I discovered that someone on the staff had apparently checked my social media accounts prior to my arrival and noticed the tweet about a place to watch game seven. My tweet was printed out and framed and accompanying it were some hotel coasters with recommendations listed on them. They also tossed in some facial products from Triumph & Disaster (which I loved) for extra measure. I can only presume that digging though my Twitter archive they must have also noticed that I’m a man who loves a good exfoliation every now and then.

I later learned that this sort of thing is something the hotel does regularly. The Old Clare social media staff will often check the social media accounts of people with upcoming reservations to see if they can spot any way to proactively enhance the guest’s stay prior to arrival. It’s so simple, but so uncommon, and rather genius at the same time. There’s also something about it that’s mildly creepy, but hey, this is the world we live in. In 2017, anything we post online is there for the whole world to see, so why not have merchants that seek to make our lives easier and more pleasurable use what we post to do just that?

With that anecdote unpacked, here are a few more of the things I did/saw/heard/felt when I spent a week in Australia in June of 2016.

Speaking of the Old Clare Hotel in Sydney, the robe in my room was the most luxurious-feeling hotel robe I’ve ever experienced. I loved mine so much that I bought it and brought it home (It cost me just over a hundred bucks to do so). I’m actually wearing it right now as I type this! And the scrambled eggs served at breakfast — which Australians call “brekky” — at Kensington Street Social, one of the hotel’s two great restaurants, were arguably the best I’ve ever had.

Visiting Sydney during Vivid Sydney turned out to be an extraordinarily fortunate occurrence for me. I got to see two of my favorite musical acts — Bon Iver and Polica — perform at the Sydney Opera House, one of the world’s iconic performance spaces, and I found myself utterly mesmerized by the displays of lights all over the city each night. Think of it this way: one of the world’s most beautiful cities was literally lit every night. I can only imagine how much better it would have been had I experienced it on acid, but I refrained. The timelapse video below demonstrates how captivating this was much better than I could possibly convey in words.

— When I tuned in to the local news that first night at the Old Clare, news from America dominated the top of the program. The top news of the night was a story about Harambe (Australians were obsessed with the killing of Harambe), with the second story of the night being about Trump and whatever ridiculous things he said on the campaign trail that day. (Interestingly, Australia had its own presidential election that would take place just a few weeks later, in July, but it was dwarfed by interest in the U.S. presidential race.) The third story on the news that night was about a woman who had died in a crocodile attack after she and a friend were at the beach and ventured out into waist-deep water for a night swim. (Coincidentally, I did everything I could to avoid going into the ocean during my time in Australia.) Oh, and another story on the news when I arrived in Australia — a kangaroo attacked a woman riding a bike, causing her breast implants to rupture. I am not making any of this up, I swear.

— Around the corner from the Old Clare is a street called “Spice Alley” that features literally every kind of Asian cuisine imaginable. Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese…you name it. It was heavenly.

— The morning I landed in Sydney everyone was consumedby how “cold” it was. As I was being driven by a livery driver to my hotel from the airport, I heard a morning radio host say that it was the coldest day Sydney would have in five years. Curious because it didn’t really feel all that cold to me, I checked the weather app on my phone to get the temperature — it was 46 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, a mild fall day for most Americans.. By the afternoon the temperature would rise to the mid-60s, but the locals were running around in heavy coats and scarves and mittens and whatnot.

— Public wifi was oddly difficult to find in Sydney. Most coffee shops do not offer it, unlike in the U.S. Because of that, presumably, this is a place where internet cafes continue to exist and thrive. It was very surprising for one of the world’s most modern cities.

— It’s not usual when traveling abroad to see American 7-Elevens all over the place, but Sydney is chock full of them.

— Bars in Sydney close early — at 1:30am. If you want to drink past that time you have to go to one of the local casinos, where booze is served deep into the night. I wonder how much the casino companies paid off local politicians to make this a thing?

— One of the cab drivers I had in Sydney was an Indian man who had a gazillion questions about the gun laws in America. I think he was hoping that I could help him make sense of them, which I could not. He mentioned that he had family members living in the U.S., including a daughter who was attending a university to get her Ph.D in physics. He told me that he worried about them and has been asking all of his family to leave the U.S. and move to Australia. “America is just too dangerous,” he said. And to think that this was before two Indian engineers were the victims of a shooting spree in Kansas at the hands of a man who thought he was shooting Iranians.

— After a few days in Sydney, I took a short flight up Australia’s Eastern coast to the town of Byron Bay. It is here that I have determined that I would like to die. Specifically, at the beachfront resort I stayed while in Byron, the Elements of Byron. Embedded below is a video tour of the property. Perhaps after viewing it you’ll understand why I favor it as a place to die. For the record, I would not mind living here, either. To both live and die in Byron Bay, Australia would not be all that bad. Maybe this could be the town’s new slogan: “Byron Bay: a great place to live, but a better place to die.”

— The property that the Elements of Byron sits on, and is surrounded by, is one of the most breathtaking stretches of land I’ve ever set foot on. The resort features just over 100 villas that are spread out along miles of coastline which feel somehow virtually untouched by man. Even better, because it was “winter” in Australia and few people were staying at the resort while I was there, I had miles and miles of stunning beach to myself each day I was there. I literally never encountered another person on the beach at any point during my time there, and I went for hour-long walks on the beach each morning and afternoon. It almost didn’t seem real.

I was so moved by the scenery that I even tried doing yoga and meditating for the first times in my life. I mean, when in Rome and whatnot, right?

On the last day I was there — after having not seen another human being on the beach for days — I stripped off all my clothes and walked for miles naked that morning. I discovered that walking naked on the beach as a cool breeze blows while the sun rises over the horizon is intoxicatingly liberating. Any walks on the beach for the remainder of my life will pale in comparison to this one. So yeah, I love Byron Bay, Australia and I recommend staying at the Elements of Byron if you go there. (Also, go during the winter. Trust me on this.) If the beach isn’t your thing, the pool situation at the resort is way above average.

And this is what sunrise looks like from the beach at the Elements of Byron. I was naked when I took this photo, btw.

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Byron Bay is quite small, with a total population of around 9,000. To drive there from Sydney would take about 10 hours because of the rugged terrain one would encounter along the route, while a flight only took about an hour and a half, if that. The area was first popularized due to surfers flocking to the area once word got out about its pristine beaches and crystal clear waters. The area’s most famous local landmark is a lighthouse that was built in 1901 and it situated on the most eastern part of Australia’s mainland.

— And here’s the view of the ocean down below from atop the hill where the lighthouse sits. I almost plunged to my death to get this shot, so I hope you all appreciate it.

— After spending a few days in Byron, I returned to Sydney where I experienced the only real disappointment of my trip. I was to spend my last two days of my trip in Bondi, the beach-y part of Sydney. For weeks leading up to my trip, everyone I spoke to who’s been to Sydney raved about Bondi and told me how much I would love it. But a bad weather system passed through upon my arrival and stuck around for the remainder of my trip. And when I say “bad weather system,” I’m talking dangerous winds and torrential rains, weather so extreme that the local surfers — who usually flock to the sea during storms for the big waves — were implored not to go out. Things were so bad that multiple motorists drowned in their cars after being stranded by floodwaters. One man was apparently sitting on rocks near the ocean and was swept into the sea by a huge wave.

Needless to say, I didn’t get in any good beach time at Bondi and spent most of my time there in my hotel room. On the bright side, the hotel I stayed at — the QT Bondi — was utterly fabulous with a staff that was extraordinarily helpful and accommodating. I’d put staffs of all three places I stayed in Australia — the Old Clare, Elements of Byron, and the QT Bondi — up against any hotel staffs in the world. I remain to this day completely blown away.

— On my last full day in Sydney I had had a private tour of the city with a man named Richard Graham, who runs a local tourism company called My Detour. Richard typically conducts his tours in a 1964 Holden, a classic Australian car, but because of the shitty weather and risk of flooding we had to do this one in an elevated mini-van. Richard was an encyclopedia of local knowledge and just a really fun dude to spend four hours in a vehicle with — something I can’t say for most human beings. My only regret is that I didn’t do the tour with him at the beginning of my trip. Having the knowledge I received from him would have helped me appreciate parts of Sydney so much more.

It was a vital lesson to learn though: I know schedule any guided tour at the beginning of any trip I take rather than towards the end. A good guide will help you get an immediate grasp on a city, the highlights and quirks of its various neighborhoods, not to mention its history.

— The best meal I had during my entire time in Australia was probably the dinner I had at Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta. The pizza was f*cking fantastic, everyone in the place looked like they’d walked out of the pages of a magazine, and a thickly-bearded DJ played disco tunes at a set of turntables next to the restaurant’s cappuccino machine. It was kind of an absurd scene, which made it perfect in my eyes.


— The best bar I visited while in Australia was a delightfully weird little dive called The Bearded Tit. It was pretty much everything you’d imagine it to be, something you’re more likely to find in a place like New Orleans or Amsterdam than you would Sydney. You never know what to expect each time you walk in there.

— You may have heard that Australians are extremely friendly people. I can confirm this. In the just over a week I spent in the country, every person I encountered was impossibly warm, polite, and welcoming. There was not a single asshole to be found. Look, I’m sure Australian assholes exist, but I certainly didn’t run in to any.

— The portions for every meal I had in Australia were strikingly huge. Now, I say that as an American born and raised in the South, so I’m used to ridiculously large portions of food. But some of the portions that came with meals I ordered in Australia were simply too much for me to eat. I’ve no idea how they do it over there and manage to not have the obesity issues we have in America.

— I’ve determined that there needs to be some sort of worldwide governing body whose sole purpose is to conceive and enforce universal coffee drink terminology. It took me a hot minute to figure out how to order coffee in Australia because of the coffee terminology that’s unique to the country. I find this is often the case in just about any foreign country I visit.

For example, the most popular coffee drinks in Australia are the “Long Black” and the “Flat White.” Aside from “Long Black and Flat White” sounding like the title of a video you might find on Blacked.com (a very NSFW site that is exactly what you’d imagine it to be, FYI), making it difficult for me to order either without breaking into a giggle fit, the first Australian baristas I encountered seemed completely incapable of explaining to this dumb American what they were exactly. I had to use the computer in my pocket to Google for answers and, quite simply, a “Long Black” is an Americano and a “Flat White” is a cappuccino.

Also, I’m a simple kind of guy when it comes to coffee. More often than not, I just want a cup of plain old drip coffee with cream and sugar, which isn’t an option in most coffee shops and cafes in Australia, or anywhere abroad.

— I wore an LSU cap on one of the days I was in Australia and I was stopped numerous times by people wanting to talk to me about Ben Simmons, the Australian basketball prodigy who played his college ball there.

— Residents of Sydney are called “Sydneysiders” in Australia. I found this endlessly amusing for reasons I’m still not quite sure of.

— At lunch one day I heard an Australian woman tell her male, British dining companion, “We only get twenty days paid time off per year here.” To which the British man replied, “Yeah, that’s not a lot.” It was yet another reminder of how much more the rest of the world values and encourages workers to take time off.

— Finally, you know the whole “throw some shrimp on the barbie” thing popularized by Paul Hogan so many years ago? It’s bullshit. Shrimp are call prawns in Australia. And now you know.

And here are a few additional photos from Vivid Sydney, just for good measure.

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