This week we have begun walking to school from our house. Before we had driven up the hill to a local park and walked from there, but now we make the entire trek. Let me just say--it is a haul, and since I haul Elise in my Super-Light Sherpani backpack (while the backpack is light, Elise is a good 27 lbs.) I mean that quite literally.
To go to school we take a steep "trail"--and that is using the term loosely--that involves clambering over rocks that are part of the Sydney National Park. Once we finish the climb we can turn around and see over the hills of the district, the rocks around fairlight beach in the harbor, and then across to the ferry wharf. A nice treat after a rather grueling climb. Sometimes if the neighbors aren't walking their kids to school, I'll pretend I'm Rocky after he's climbed all those steps leading to the Liberty Bell. The rest of the walk through the neighborhood, past the oval, past the outdoor bowling club and tennis courts and well manicured lawns is easy. And I feel it will be quite pleasant if we leave at 8:25. At 8:30 I find myself barking like a marine drill sergeant at Caleb saying we need to make it up the hill before the long hand gets to the eight to keep on schedule. These are invariably the days he needs to stop every few strides to slay the Sea people with his imaginary light saber. All in all, the walk is worth it. It is a nice walk, different flowers bloom during the different seasons, currently there are some very pretty red ones. Caleb always picks a flower or two for his teacher. We use the time to talk about his memory verse from scripture class or the new Japanese words he's picked up. Sometimes we talk about friends and what happened on the play ground. Elise likes to sing and except that she and the backpack weigh 30 lbs. she's sort of like an IPOD. Well, I'd probably not put Row, Row, Row your Boat on constant replay though.
Communities in Sydney are designed for more of a walking culture. Actually, city planning in Sydney is, well, it would be hard to drive through Sydney and recognize any city planning. For one thing, the harbor is it's greatest attraction and greatest obstacle. It's beautiful and craggy and has an amazing number of small inlets and private beaches and hills, oh, the hills! But on a map it looks like God gave scissors to a two year old and asked her to cut out a maple leaf. Add to that fact that to Sydney siders heaven means drinking your morning coffee from your outdoor patio with a water view, and well, it makes for crowded living conditions in even the toniest of neighborhoods. Last year a 120m lot of land went for 3.52 A$ in Bondi. At those prices, people are loathe to dedicate patches of land to parking lots. That is what streets are for. And not just neighborhood streets, major thoroughfares will have lanes that are only clear during peak traffic hours leaving a needed six lanes of traffic to make do with four.
Traffic solutions come in all shapes and sizes. The greenies, have put some bikes around Manly, sadly, someone vandalized them. A new twist on the rental car business allows people to pay a fee for the use of cars parked in convenient locations around the city. Of course there are buses and trains and ferries, but my favorite so far is the Hop, Skip and Jump Bus. The buses were part of a plan to accommodate people who had moved close to Balgowlah Shops. Many of the elderly and people without cars generally live in apartments and housing that is close to shops. When Balgowlah Shops closed so that a new shopping mall could be built, temporary buses were brought in to take these people to other shopping centers. The buses run along set routes (though one made a bit of a detour during a slow period to accommodate a couple of elderly women that needed to be a bit closer to their destination) and stop whenever they are waved down. This is nice because you can just start walking and board the bus when it catches up to you. I hope they stay.
I've come to realize a few things by walking. Yes, it takes longer, but loading the kids in the van, buckling the seat belts, finding parking, unloading the kids, walking the rest of the way to the school, then loading and unloading Elise again, all of this takes time as well, especially when Elise decides to play civic protester and resist any attempts at my getting her into or out of the car. By walking we forgo the car hassle. The has taken some getting used to, but for me it is easier to maneuver than a pram and I don't feel the need for a separate exercise time after walking a good couple of miles in the morning. The other thing I've learned is that having a 30 min walk to the school allows for 30 min. walks elsewhere as well. Now I walk to school, then walk to the shops, hop a bus to swim lessons and then a bus back home. I've begun to meet the other mom's on my walking route, I always stop to talk to the guy with the giant sunflowers in the front yard. The bus driver always chats up Elise as we hop on the bus. His name is Bruce and people on the bus use it. "Stop here, Bruce!" "Hi, Bruce." "Thanks, Bruce." It's nice.