As I stepped off the train, I felt the cold air on my face and hands, exposed and vulnerable. I hurried off the platform and unzipped my bucket bag, reaching out for the beige woolly frock I’d reluctantly borrowed from a friend. She warned me about winters in Katoomba and I should have listened.
I was unprepared for what came next, too. Google Mapping my through what felt like a 1950s ghost town, I wandered off into a narrow, lightless alley. Fleeing the echo of barking dogs and the clattering of broken glass trailing behind me (the tinkle of wind chimes, I would later learn), the only thing I could see was a canvas of glimmering stars, thousands of tiny lanterns floating on the surface of the night sky. I wanted to stop and stare at them but kept walking instead, aware of my disorientated state and the burning feeling in my fingertips.
Pacing from one wooden cottage to the next, I flashed the screen of my iPhone against the timber walls, searching for number 42. It was a laughable sight, really: a clueless city girl looking for her Airbnb in the middle of the night, unable to Uber herself out of oblivion.
There’s a reason for why I ended up there, and the reason is this: I decided to go to the Blue Mountains for a weekend. Alone. I craved to get out of the city and the small town of Katoomba seemed like the perfect escape – old-fashioned, whimsical and quiet. Tucked in a mountainous region known for its array of Eucalyptus trees, Katoomba is a place where stressed-out Sydneysiders come looking for silence and serenity.
I eventually found the lodge I was looking for. It was a homely, wooden cottage built in the 1890s, adorned with white and nautical blue walls and loose wooden beams for floors. The house smelled of pines and smoke, a little bit like Christmas. I sipped on the vegetable broth my host kindly prepared me, thinking about the generations of strangers who’d lived in this house and sat in this same spot, gazing out of windowpanes and resting their hands against warm porcelain bowls.
I spent the weekend in that state of borrowed nostalgia, trying to make sense of how I was meant to feel about this town. Wandering from bistro-style cafes to dark, musky Irish pubs, Kindle in hand, I didn’t feel like doing much sightseeing apart from a trip to Echo Point where I watched the Three Sisters, a rock formation attracting hoards of buses and selfie-sticks.
On Sunday morning I stopped by the Yellow Deli, an Amish cafe where the waitresses wore thick round glasses and grey, skinny braids. Taking in the chilly breeze of the revolving doors while picking at my plate of maple syrup waffles, I felt a sudden urge to return to the city.
While I waited for the Sydney train on the platform, I wondered whether Katoomba’s charm wore off this quickly for others too; or if maybe, I just hadn’t given it a chance.