Guest Post: An alternative description of hotel quarantine in Australia

In this guest post by my husband Jeff, he describes the Real Hotel Quarantine experience in Sydney. TL;DR? We fumbled our way through it, he worked and I talked on the phone and did a course, we ate a lot, got a treadmill, did yoga and drank wine.

Chapter 1

The new norm! D minus One. The test,  the passport & the plastic chair

So here we are, almost a quarter of the year has passed in 2021. So many plans pushed aside, renegotiated, or crossed from the diary. Last week marked the anniversary of the declaration of a global pandemic. On March 11, 2020 the director general of WHO declared the following statistics on the COVID 19 outbreak, “81 countries have not reported any cases, and 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less”. Globally there was 118,000 cases, 90% of this total in just 4 countries including China and South Korea. 57 countries had reported less than 10 cases. Wowza, how things change. 

So today marks our first attempt to travel in a global pandemic, Gangnam style. 

Even to consider a trip during the new norm requires an enormous undertaking. Many hoops to jump through and loads of appointments, new packing techniques and considerations never imagined before. So here we are, departure minus one and the adventure is out of this “new world”. Here is the list of “to dos” just to be considered to board a plane.

Firstly, finding a plane is almost impossible. After many bottles of wine, an executive decision was concluded. “As soon as we find a flight to Australia, we go”. It may be the only chance for some time. So, since June 2020, every date night, at least two bottles of wine and the laptop, searching endlessly to find a flight to Sydney. Seoul, via New York, to Sydney (72 hours) nope! Seoul via London to Dubai then Sydney. Probs not! Three months of searching and bingo, Singapore airlines, via Singapore. Booked! 

The checklist according to Australian home affairs and the government of Korea. Contains the following:

Permission to re-enter the country

Valid reason to leave Korea

Permission to enter Australia. Only applied for 7 days prior to travel but no less than 72 hours before departure. (warning on the website not to make a mistake as details cannot be changed). First opportunity to request special requests whilst being a guest of the Australian federal government in quarantine. We requested an upgrade for our room! No response but a message to say we don’t qualify for a quarantine free trip.

We are so excited that we will see you all again (baring a dictator Dan border closure or a Greater Sydney hot spot) we have been packed for a fortnight. 

But today started the real preparation. First off, a barrage of PCR tests. We will have eight in the next 6 weeks, plus the opportunity to voluntarily take one more just for good measure. So, the PCR facility is in SCH hospital. Full PPE attire was contemplated, but not followed through. We had checked 15 times on the requirements for the travel PCR test. Please bring your visa and your travel details and all will be done. 

Today PCR tests and application process only between the hours of 9 and 11 am. We fly tomorrow. So off we go, masked up at 8.25 am for the 15 minute walk to the hospital. Small queue at the entrance of the hospital, normal signatures and security, temperature check and then labelled by a sticker. Up the stairs and glory be, PCR test counter empty. Great decision to be early!!! 

I gleefully said we are here for our travel PCR test, highlighting the “travel” as the stigma of having a normal test due to symptoms was not required. The person asked me for my passport!! I responded, I have my visas. Passport please. I ran immediately from the counter, hurling my jacket and phone to Sue, screaming we need our passports! Sue calmly said I will come home again with you. I said stay here and I was off. 

In full stride, I was closing quickly on the first intersection, when a couple appeared from around the LH corner. To fast to stop, an immediate step to the right, a leap over a plastic chair on the footpath, but the leading foot clipped the obstacle. Almost a face plant, however a sound recovery, as the task at hand was to important to fail. Korea is the land of hills so after the enormous climb up the hill to the house and return at speed to the hospital, I was almost in need of defibrillator. Completely, out of breath I said, passport here. Response was please take a number. Pick up your carefully formatted Covid result here tomorrow at 9 am. Don’t forget your passport with a cheeky grin. 

Test done, results negative, and all going to plan we will attempt to pick up our detailed negative test printed results. Fingers crossed that the plan takes off. One step closer!!!

PPE for the trip

Chapter two: Wheels up in 1 hour.

Pre departure and the long trip to Incheon airport.  “The dropped document”. The final countdown!

T minus a few hours before departure. Looks like we are going to board. Checklist complete. Washing done, fridge cleaned out and house spotless. However, the mood is becoming somewhat strained as a heightened degree of anxiety is in the air. However, would suggest that Sue is feeling the effects of “miss out March”. To explain, Sue declared an alcohol free month in preparation for some fun. Mostly due to the years of excess and FOMO at every event, but a little to do with the little reflux issue when excess has been consumed. 

Well this morning at breakfast “miss out March” was tossed in the bin with the rest of the items in need of disposal. Miss out March in now, “miss out half March’” Suzanna ringing Singapore airlines to check if a full bar service is being offered. I do believe I heard Suzanna say to attending krisflyer person, “but I want to get on it on the plane”. Let’s see, wheels up in 1 hour and I hope the attendants have the Dom Chilled. 

Well, we needed to pick up our medical certificates at 9 am this morning which we achieved. A little panic upon receipt of the report, rules state it clearly needs to mention the “date” and “time” of the Covid test. Sue very politely asked the information guy, in Korean, and he very politely sent her to the English speaking helper who said “page two, just flip over”. Crisis averted. 

We decided to fit in a quick walk to get the blood flowing as the PM yellow fine dust was on the low side which was favourable to a quick scamper down the Han river and over the Banpo bridge. 

The next 14 days will be interesting. At the commencement of the river stroll, there was an incident. Sue was attempting to text, root around in her bum bag and have a sip of water at the same time. The most crucial document in 2021 involving international travel is the medical report and negative Covid result. It was dropped, almost blowing into the Han river. What I should not have done was say take it easy!  Well the build up and excitement exploded all at once and the first storm off of the day. It will be the last opportunity for a storm off in a safe environment. The next 20 hors we are locked in a plane and then 14 days, together in a 20 metre square hotel room. 

To add to the pressure cooker situation, Sue found an article explaining the quarantine inmates of the Sofitel in Sydney have to do extended time due to the little outbreak over the weekend. Omg, for better and for worse!!!

#testtherelationship #needmoretthenonebottleaday.

Well, it is wheels up in 1 hour. Here we go!!!!!!!

Spring was just making itself known on our walk along the Han river prior to departure to Sydney

Chapter 3 – the trip, the bin and the arrival

Well blow me over. In this new world order of Covid, travel used to be an ordered, however now, an anxiety trigger, and nightmare. One positive was an open duty free shop was open for a quick wine purchase. Seoul, Singapore and Sydney airport were completely free of people. Flight one, 17 people on board. Check in, boarding and then push back in a matter of minutes. Sue’s wishes were answered, full grog service available. “Give us one now, and leave the bottle”. (Pre take off).

Hands are an important part of the human body. They actually do a lot. It’s amazing how hard it is to negotiate a visit to the “dunny” on a plane, whilst trying not to touch anything. And the endless hand washing. OMG, between the two of us we used 1.5 litres of sanitiser that we took in 100 ml bottles. I have transparent skin from the endless scrubbing. 

The first leg was incident free. Some absolute classic movies on offer, Creed, Rocky Balboa, and the entire Rocky 1 to 6. Heaven! 

Arrival, in the old hometown of Singapore was an experience. A true “new order!” Do what we say! Wheels down at 10.00pm and the announcement “a warm welcome home to all Singaporeans and residents of the little red dot”. Normal very warm welcome home. However, the rest of the super spreaders in transit for some trivial reason like a holiday, a visit to loved ones or anything fun were clearly told to follow the direct orders. “Please disembark the plane, move to the right of the air bridge and stay 1.5 metres from the person in front”. This was stated just after the drug importation penalty warning in Singapore which says “death”. They were serious. Plane docked at the gate and engines off. As normal I stood to collect my overhead locked items, carefully of course, in case they had moved during the flight. Additionally, I had around 25 kilos up top as the rest of the hand sanitiser for the second leg was there, as well as my beach hat plus the one bottle of RWT penfolds 2016 vintage bottle of red purchased at Incheon airport. We all 17 were off, lined up like obedient kindergarten kids ready for the march to assembly. I suggested to the 9 or so people we should fingertip the persons shoulder in front to ensure safe distance. 

Off we go, good 1 kilometre walk to “the area” nobody lost or gained a centimetre in distance to the person in front. Nobody looked anywhere except the ground directly in front of their feet. A sudden anxiety attack hit me, what are we doing in an airport in a global pandemic!!!

All transit passengers were in one place. A cocktail of Covid variants floating around the hall at gate A4.  A definite varying scale of people’s feelings regarding Covid. Some with masks off, and a few in full PPE outfits. We were somewhere in the mid-range, but definitely had the most hand wash. Good stop over, as they served coke full fat and Coke Zero! Tea and coffee in plastic cups and spoons that at least 100 people had touched. Nope! Zero coke (washed with hand cleaner). 

The hours passed quite quickly, one person had the WhatsApp sound so loud everyone chuckled. 

Boarding call for the Sydney leg. Probs 25 on this plane. As normal in Singapore there was the need to go via a screening process, metal detector and so on. The bottle of RWT was pulled to the side.

A very tall and fit looking border control person called me over. He had my wine and my boarding pass. Question was short and to the point. Did you buy this in South Korea. I answered yes, duty free. His response was not what I wanted to hear. It started with the words “I regret to inform you… .  That’s all I heard. I said are you bumping me off the flight? He said no. However the wine we have to throw away, please follow me to that large bin over there and we will toss it. I offered to consume before boarding. 

 The last word of the transit experience was a refusal to my idea “NO.” and in the bin it went. I went into mourning.

Well, we made it. Touch down in old Sydney town at midday. There was 225 people in the entire arrivals hall. 25 of us and the rest were army, police and medical staff giving us all the once over. Same drill for the social distancing, except it’s a 2 metre rule. One question was about mental health, I explained that I had lost the RWT in Singapore and was a little down in the dumps. 

Extremely, well oiled the whole process. Questioned, baggage collection and then the walk to the back door of the terminal. Another battalion of army officers! They just said, get on bus one. Which we did. Sat there for 29 minutes with the other 25 people. Silently a driver fired the ignition. Before entering, the army personnel took our bags somewhere, don’t know where and I am not going to ask. We are off, into the city, Sue and I were trying to guess the location. We pulled up at the Meriton apartments, police stuck his head in the open doorway and said to the driver, “this bus cannot come here, you have been bumped. Change of plans, you guys go to the Marriott at Circular Quay. Another lap of the city and we arrived. Still not a word. The biggest policemen in the world got onto the bus and said “you will do exactly as I say,  sit until told to stand, identify your luggage and you will be processed.” After his 15 minutes of Dos and Don’ts his final sentence was regarding room keys, “you don’t have to worry about a room key as you cannot go anywhere anyway, you belong to us for the next 14 days at which time you will get a letter from the police commissioner releasing you, do as we say and you will be fine. Enjoy your stay.” 

We asked for the upgrade and got it. Floor 21 of the complex, a corner suite with a view directly onto the opera house. Magnificent! Dinner one done, spaghetti bolognese. Not bad. Two bottles of wine ordered from room service and our personal Uber eats man Timmy MANNERING delivered bananas, porridge plus a few other essential requirements and the count down begins. ETD is mid afternoon Wednesday 31.03.21.

Fully protected and well taken care of in deserted Changi airport
Our digs for 14 days

Chapter 4 – first full day. Setting the quarantine goals! 

One could have thought there was a hotel party going on at the Marriott last night. Plenty of talking in the corridors and doors closing. Why the hell are people opening doors. Come on fellow quarantiners, we don’t need to share the love or the Covid. 

All meals have been great. Chicken Caesar salad for lunch and a fillet steak for dinner. First Woolworths delivery consisting of a dunny brush, an oversized Cadbury chocolate and two large boxes of Coke Zero. Saved 17 bucks on the Coke by buying two 24 packs instead of one 30 pack. Good bargain. 

Highlight of the day was the exercise regime. Goal 10,000 steps. That required 256 laps of the room or thereabouts. I am the only person in the world to see the opera 256 times in one day as one turning point was the harbour facing window. I will submit this feat to the Guinness book of records. Suzanna set up the yoga studio in the middle of the room with a view. Carefully placing the mat in the dead centre of the room. The designated walking path went around many a downward dog, warrior one, two and three as I flirted with the narrow track between walking area and yoga area. Every lap meant a different angle, shape groan or stretch and some laps a comment such as “you are so annoying”. Fortunately, I had my AirPods in and was mostly oblivious to the cursing. Suzanna managed the step goal and the one hour yoga, self administered online class. To be really honest, form looked great! Well done Sue. The first heated discussion experienced involved the review of the walking track. Every lap I looked to improve the speed, the turning angle, the stride and the lap time to maximise the calorie burn and direction efficiency. I tried to explain the optimal room route to Sue who immediately shut me down.

Work was also a highlight today. View to the harbour for the 13 hour stint online. Ate lunch and dinner at my laptop in back to back zoom meetings. 

Our daily call from the medical staff was interesting today as Suzanna took the call. I was sitting at the desk in the second room as the house phone rang. I noticed after some time the room door was closed. Suzanna used the opportunity to discuss some issues with the complimentary mental health service which is provided. The door was closed for ages. After a long period of time Sue declared she had spoken at length to the counselling service and spent much of the time in tears in the bedroom. I immediately rang the same service to explain the feelings I experienced yesterday in transit. What happened was the question that was posed to me. “I lost a bottle of RWT due to an illegal importation of a banned substance and it was tossed into a bin”. I was told I could not be given any coping strategies to handle my emotional state. 

The first full day can be classified successful. We did not need the free legal service that specialises in divorce. We have not tried to push each other through the window, I cleaned the dunny with the new brush and Sue made a bowling alley using the Coke Zero as the pins and the rule was to toss a bread roll as hard as possible from one room to another to try and knock down the cans.

The stories will get shorter and shorter as my prediction of the future will be like Groundhog Day. Tomorrow may have a new highlight. Compulsory Covid test! Ooh dear!

Example of the meals provided in quarantine.

The wash out, the treadmill, the fall and the planned evacuation! 

Chapter 5 and 6

Chapter 5 

cancelled due to inclement weather. All stories washed out. Rain so hard we could not even see out of the window. 

General mood on Saturday – 3/10.

Heavy rain during the first few days of quarantine

Chapter 6 – lazy Sunday 

Well just a wrap up on Saturday. There was a positive development. The treadmill was delivered. However, major logistics issue! The remodelled room furniture was blocking the hallway entrance. Do you realise how hard it is to lift a treadmill over a cabinet in a mask and a face shield? Job done. However, as the mood yesterday was only 3/10, multiple discussions on the placement area of the treadmill were both heated and nasty! Enough of the negatives, 30,000 steps later the treadmill is a godsend.

The rain cleared a little, Sydney city is still in place. Many places of greater Sydney are in a little more bother as is the whole east coast of NSW. Coffees ordered and breakfast consumed things were going quite well, yoga was complete and lunch about to arrive. The three best times of the day are breakfast lunch and dinner. I consumed my ham and chicken fried rice lunch, two biscuits, a peach and mine and Suzanna’s bread roll in exactly three minutes. I was secretly eying the untouched rice box as well!!!! 

Things were going great today until the fall. After lunch, and whilst on cleaning duties I quickly spun around to walk towards the designated area. The treadmill is quite long and blocks half of the entrance hallway. Unfortunately, I miscalculated the turn into the hallway, tripped on the rear end of the walker, fell onto the bench I had placed into the hallway in the remodelling project, rolled over into the large plastic bag which is the garbage bin. Dropped a half-drunk coffee, two partially finished soy sauces from the rice and displaced all of Sue’s water colour tools onto the floor and all over the wall. Badly injured I was wallowing in self-pity on the floor cover in food scraps and paint. Bleeding profusely from a deep gash to my foot. Sue somehow found the lighter side of the incident. I required two bandaids the damage being so bad. I may be off the treadmill for three or four days due to injury. (Not sure the entrance hallway is safe in case of an emergency evacuation due to a fire).

I hobbled to the bed in agony, brushing rice grains and banana peels of my body, cursing everything and everybody, well just Sue! “I have to get out of here”. My mind went into overtime as I planned many escape methods from quarantine. As every method of escape was absurd, the phone rang. I had a new idea. The exhaustive questions on my mental state of mind and physical condition were not going to cut it today. I said to the assistant on the phone that we are ready for evacuation due to the flooding in Sydney. We had packed and were waiting for the SES to rescue us. We now have a senior sergeant placed at our door for the protection of every person in Australia. I had a little sleep, just poured us both a wine, dinner is on the way and things are a little better now! Love our holiday so far!

The treadmill

Chapter 7 

The rain continues. Three daily highlights plus one. The incident! 

Could it possibly be true that ground hog day is actually a reality! The opera house drenched in pelting rain from daybreak until sundown. The morning walk on the treadmill for 10km. The push-up and sit up challenge the large full fat cappuccino. Quick tub and then sit in front of the laptop work away. 

What are the three best times of the day! It actually is the knock on the door as a signal of a food delivery. Breakfast, no knock, however after a peep hole scan to ensure no neighbours are lurking in the hallway, a search of the serving tray placed on the small black plastic legged table every 30 seconds or so to check the delivery. 

Sometimes, loitering in the entrance hallway is a front to try and hear footsteps coming down the hallway. The delivery sound is clearly identifiable. 4 steps, a scrapping noise of boxes being shuffled onto the delivery trays, 4 more steps, another placement and the knowledge that the closer the noise, the closer the grub! A bonus is that we have discovered an app and the entire incarceration menu is available. Sue is now discussing what is coming for the next 6 meals in detail. 

A new activity broke the monotony today. An inmate zoom. Apparently, we have 650 people at various stages of quarantine. Very similar stories, anxieties and worries. Some sad stories some happy stories but pretty similar themes. Questions such as “where is the oxygen coming from?” into the rooms. Everything is closed, no window to open! Some people have been in quarantine 6 or 7 times, some more. There was one guy who is a freighter pilot and is constantly in quarantine. 

This morning the room phone rang! Usually we sprint to answer for the thrill of the outside conversation. However, it just so happened that Sue was on the treadmill and I was on a work call. I knew it would be the health care workers asking about our current, health and mental stability. Not to worry, they will call back. The lunch knock on the door raised the mood. Bails off for lunch. 

However, there was a bark from the other side of the door. He said “this is the police”. We were both were elbowing our way done the hallway to collect lunch. Emergency stop, Sue ran and hid and I said hello through the door. He again announced he was a policeman and said “open up, it’s the police”. “Put on a mask and open the door”. What’s up, “mask up and open the door sir”. I opened the door and the 18 year old Constable (who I thought had his hand on his side arm) said “two issues” 1. You didn’t answer the phone this morning and we are just checking there is not a quarantine break. “Where is the other inmate” I am here says Sue from behind the treadmill. “Great” was the response and an all points bulletin, “sector 23 clear, all accounted for”. Next topic sir, a small bead of sweat ran done my brow, “We don’t seem to have your mobile details on our file”. OMG, are you kidding, once again hand on gun!!!! Thanks for helping us with our enquiries sir. Have a great day. As he walked down the hallway I death stared him and muttered under my breath, are you kidding mate. I thought you were delivering lunch and it was a police raid. In reality I wanted him to stay and chat for a while as this was a great interaction with the outside world!

So today we ran out of bananas, milk and chocolate. Help!

Our son, Timothy, waving at us on the 21st floor, from Circular Quay train station. His deliveries cheered us up immeasurably

Chapter 8 – a new challenge, a flirt with danger and a new feeling. 

What is this new feeling? Well yesterday I stated that the three best times of the day were breakfast lunch and dinner. However, upon reflection and another 24 hours in solitude has somewhat changed my perspective. There is a new feeling today that meal time was somewhat like feeding time at the zoo. The “quarantiners” are the caged animals and the masked keepers are merely the zoo keepers roaming the dark and dingy hallways, throwing the pieces of meat into the lions cage or the fish into the captive dolphins pool. I have a feeling that I am Pavlov’s dog being trained to salivate at the knock of a door. I had been tricked into a false sense of joy at meal time.

This new feeling of deception has led me down a dangerous path. Placing the rubbish outside the door, a regular daily task, stimulated an urge to take a risky step into the hallway. Instead of just placing the large plastic bag over the table, I walked (fully masked and shielded) into the abyss of the hallway. I felt the need to take a risk and take three full steps into the unknown. Scanning for CCTV cameras I felt a sense of freedom, I had entered the danger zone. (in reality I still had my hand blocking the door shutting as I had no door key to get back in.) 

Today broke with routine. An additional knock mid-morning on the front door. Could this be a second police raid? Was it the emergency delivery of bandaids for the deep gash to my arch after the nasty fall on Sunday? No. It was clean sheets. Omg, housework today. A new activity. A full complement of fresh towels, sheets and pillowcases. Very strict directions on how to remove and replace the items. A clearly identifiable red bag to place all used items in, and very precise instructions on bag knots to stop the transfer of COVID. This activity made for an interesting shift in the room dynamics. Who was going to take the lead in the housework.? A massive discussion on the doona cover. Inside out or not. A scuffle broke out and the direction of the sheets was hotly debated. A complete shambles. But done. 

]Midnight tonight marks halftime. Waiting for a special delivery from Timmy. An amazing loving generous boy, ready and on call for any need! Hold the press, delivery received! Love you Timmy 

Chapter 9 – The longest day. Same but a little different. 

The song of today is David Bowie’s “Major Tom”. The words “here sitting in my tin can, far above the earth, floor 21 and the harbour is blue. And there is nothing I can do” are very apt for the situation. Day 8, “gotta get out of this place”. Mood on a score out of 10 is a low 4. Beautiful sunny sky and the harbour is magnificent. Today is so hard that breakfast was forgotten. It stayed on the delivery tray until 11.00am. So we called it brunch. 

Usual call for the medical staff, same questions, however today I answered before the question was posed. I have no headache, runny nose, sore throat, temperature (a guess as I don’t have a thermometer) or any of the one million Covid symptoms on the list. The question I did not expect was, “and your mental health?” I said fine and hung up immediately and ordered a coffee. I was half expecting a further police raid. 

Today everything was annoying Sue, the room was too hot, then too cold, I chewed some food and the death stare was spine chilling! The sun was beaming through the window directly onto the fruit bowl. I moved it out of the sun to alleviate any fruit rot. I was told in no certain terms that was a dumb thing to do. 

At one stage, during s zoom conference call and staring at a power point presentation, I scanned our room. Sue was talking to her sister, phone beside her, with her head planted onto the bed and kicking her legs. She also was in the day 8 blues. 

Chapter 10. The emergency  Announcement and burning down the house!

Very short story today. Everything was humming along, me on the treadmill, Sue meditating, both exercising the morning and the boredom away. Around 10.00 am an announcement throughout the hotel! 

“A fire alarm has been triggered in your part of the hotel, please remain calm and do not leave your allocated room. Please wait for an update from NSW fire officers, police or hotel staff.” Four announcements in 8 minutes meant we did not remain calm.

HI checked out the windows looking for smoke billowing and Sue declared she could smell smoke. We gathered our passports, phones and masks ready for evacuation. My mind was not focused on a potential fire and death! My mind was focused on an evacuation and a potential additional 14 days quarantine. I would fight this fire myself just to stay on day 9. 

Twenty minutes passed, several checks for heat from the other side of the front door. I was trying to calculate the height of a ladder required to save us. The phone rang! Sue answered! Same standard questions! Any Covid 

Symptoms, any fever…. Suzanna quickly said “are you aware the building is burning down? 

Answer – no 

Statement by Sue – we have our basic essentials standing by the front door waiting to be evacuated. 

Answer from nurse – are you for real? 

20 minutes have passed and no further information! 

End of phone call!

I rang reception and asked WTF is going on guys. 30 minutes now and no information. What do we do. 

Unofficially every thing is fine. The police are doing a door knock and will explain. It’s is now 10.0pm and no door knock! Except for the normal lunch and dinner. 

Chapter 11 – the day of nothing, the chicken, the show and the competition.

Nothing new today. Work, the view and the treadmill. However, the monotony ended at dinner time. Up until 6.00pm, one could have believed it was still yesterday. Then a flurry of change, a new dawn and something to write about. The knock occurred right on time 6.08 and 30 seconds. Manly and the Dragons had just started, and the first red wine in the glass. But tonight there was a new event. The belly dancing performance during dinner. From 6.30 until 7.30, our room was transformed into a magic oasis, a magical sunset desert camp in the magnificent sand dunes from a distant memory ignited from our past. Dinner happened to coincide with the Friday belly dance lesson. What more could you want thana classic clash of cultures. Friday night footy and a belly dance lesson. Truly an extravaganza of entertainment. The dinner tonight fully complemented the entertainment. Chicken Parmigiana! Red wine and the usual bread roll. Exquisite! However tonight, there was a further twist. A dinner competition was part of the boxed yummities. The Colouring In Competition. First prize a 50 buck voucher from the restaurant down stairs. Sue is desperate for the voucher. She has decided to water colour instead of pencil colouring the Mandela. Like many other art marvels from Sue, it is now sticky taped above the illegally moved cabinet in the entrance hallway.

Sue busied herself with watercolour on occasion. It’s good to be prepared.

Chapter 12 – the second weekend, the friendly offer and the cheese. Plus the loss!!

Another beautiful day on the harbour. The untouchable view of the Opera House and arguably the most beautiful harbour in the world. Equivalent to a Picasso hanging in the Louvre. So close, yet so far. What to do! Hundreds of sailboats in various organised regattas were speckled across the waterway and the ferries bustled past commanding right of way. 

The day presented the normal door knocks for meals time. The normal phone calls, Covid symptoms, fever………….. 

standard answer –  no. 

Then a message from our friend Kerrie. “Do you need anything dropped off as Julie and I will be in the city.” The offer made Sue cry. Firstly, for the contact from the real world and secondly, we had been debating the rationing of the remaining bananas and now, problem solved. The package arrived. We immediately identified some surprises in the bag. Chocolate and the most amazing wheel of French Brie cheese ever. We had inhaled two chocolates, the entire cheese, the wine and the cranberry and pumpkin seed crackers and additionally we were eying off the bananas. We could have easily ended back in the shortfall of banana predicament. Common sense prevailed. However, the room was a crime scene from the earlier frenzy with wrappers and scraps all over the table and the floor. Hilariously, Sue’s sister, Julie, wanted to give room 2123 a wave. Unfortunately, the directional messages and discussions didn’t quite achieve the goal. Ooh well. Thank you anyway, the packages were really appreciated.  Just the knowledge that the items were sourced from “the outside” gave the whole experience an air of magic.

Since 4.30pm we had showers and prepared for the award ceremony. For the readers or the daily updates, you will remember that the colouring in competition was to be awarded at 5pm. It’s now almost 6.00pm and no call. We are currently planning our appeal! 4 sleeps to go.

Our view of the Opera House- tantalisingly close!

Chapter 13 – the cake, the security breach and some future planning.

Andy Warhol said: “you need to let the little things that ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you,” how true. The excitement and thrill of the door knock at 6.15pm for dinner immediately increases the heart rate and fills the body with endorphins, triggering joy and anticipation for the minutes ahead. The harbour, as beautiful as it is at sunset, over the past days lost a little of it charm. I can tell you that on a Sunday there are thirteen arrivals and thirteen departures of the Manly ferry  bringing a thrill and a knowledge that soon we too will experience the freedom of the “little ferry boat that can.”

Dinner was fillet steak. Perfectly prepared and paired with only the best Barossa can offer. tonight’s discussion focussed on the pack up. There is light at the end of the tunnel. What bags should we take. We need to pack carefully. Need full access to our swimmers. Even the Wyong stop over on the way to Shoal Bay was planned. Sue is deciding between chips and a Maccas thick shake. I definitely will have the chips and probably upgrade to a mcchicken burger meal. Large!!!!’

Today’s phone call included some exciting news for tomorrow. Day 12 Covid test between nine and midday. What should I wear!!

Tonight’s dinner collection came with a security breach. It is well documented that you should not open your door at the same time as your neighbour across the hallway. Tonight, a mass opening. 4 doors at once. Immediate emergency protocols and extensive quarantine training kicked in. Hold breath and slam door shut. Use peep hole, and utilise the sense of hearing and count the door openings and closings in the neighbourhood. Once again room 2123 was last to collect dinner. However, dessert was questioned. At the last “shovel” of the second dessert, Sue declared, cake not good tonight. The usual routine is that I get the bread rolls and she gets the desserts. 

3 sleeps to go 

Chapter 14 – down to an hourly countdown. 

At the time of publishing, there is 41 hours to release. News from the outside world is not positive! Brisbane in lockdown, the UK strain of Covid running through the city and thousands instructed to stay at home. Close contacts identified in Canberra and many parts of NSW.

A nervous countdown and fingers crossed all is OK. 

This morning was our last Covid test whilst incarcerated. I swear the swab stick was so for into my nose cavity I was literally nailed to the wall. Result communicated tomorrow, and our final pre-release interview with the the NSW police, the defence force, mental health workers, the doctor, hotel management, cleaning staff, concierge kitchen staff and forensic specialists. Should be some sort of a final interview. 

Two more walks on the treadmill to go. 2 sleeps to go. 14 cans of Coke to go! We can nearly taste the fresh air! 

Chapter 15 – the finale, the results and some great news. 

Tuesday the 30th March at daybreak meant the hourly countdown was estimated to be 31 hours remaining. For the “unquarantined” this may seem like an insignificant time, but for those that have experienced the solitude of 14 days straight would understand the potential length of that span. Luckily, the treadmill workout and the push up and crunch session easily killed 3 hours. Work was about to commence and from tomorrow I am officially on holidays! 

The estimated exit interview was scheduled between 12.30 and 3.00pm. Firstly, as you are all aware 12 noon until 1 is lunch hour at the Marriott zoo. Lunch arrived promptly at 12.17pm. A magnificent north seas Scottish red salmon salad quinoa with a green “gunky” sauce was delivered. The gunk was superb. A phone call (on sped dial) to reception requesting the recipes was denied. 

A few zoom calls finalised and a check of the time revealed 2.49pm. Where was our exit interview? Finally, the cast of 1000 people to give us outlet to freedom arrived. The navy seals were hanging around the hallway, the doctor and nurse were fumbling for documents, the hotel staff were snapping photos of the out of place cabinet in the hallway!!!! Sue was asking where the the fire escape was and giving feedback to the entire exit group. 

The exit interview was better than expected after the door opening. Please state your full name and date of birth. Which we did of course. Sue was still looking for the fire stairs. A constable barred her exit as she tried to walk out into the he void of the corridor outside the room. The exits are clearly marked on the map behind the door explained the constable. Sue’s response was outstanding, I checked the map and it made no sense to me at all. The defence force guy explained that the exit signs, which are green and white are clearly visible! Problem solved, Sue did have the last sentence and said that she was giving feedback for future detainees.

 The policeman (who really wanted to extend our stay) said you are free to leave the establishment tomorrow. He handed us our parole letter signed by commissioner Mick Fuller. The doctor again asked our names and took our temperature. The defence force representative said the most amazing sentence heard in 14 days. “There has been a change of schedule and you can leave between 4am and 10am. Omg we leapt with joy! 

Wednesday is going to be our rebirth into the free world. We will rise from the torture of incarceration. Car arranged for early pick up, optometrist appointment changed to tomorrow. Packing commenced. The hallway cupboard is back and the screw holes are aligned. CSI would not know what took place in this room. 

Due to the late exit interview, dinner arrived a little later than usual. Sue passed the time by redesigning the mandala and drawing it freehand. She has submitted the appeal documents and mentioned a “no checkout stake” if there is not a podium place. The mandala is amazing. It has brought a zen to the last night. The wine is finished and the bags are packed. But back to dinner. What a treat. The dinner itself was a repeat of night zero. Penne paste and bolognese sauce, with a magnificent farewell and congratulations cake. 

Just to finish on a fun fact. On a Tuesday, the manly ferry arrives and departs 21 times. “The toaster” at circular quay does look like a toaster and the Sydney opera house has 1,056,000 white granite tiles loon it’s roof. 

I would like to give a special mention to the Sydney opera house, NSW police, the health care workers and the defence force for making our stay comfortable as possible in a room with no balcony of opening windows. A special mention to our wonderful coffee delivery staff and of course the judges of the colouring in competition.  

We did it.

A celebratory cake from The Marriot the night before our release from quarantine. We got one each. Sue ate both.

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