(Backdated to the day it happened.)
After mixing it with the race-goers on the train and at Southern Cross station, the 1pm train to Warrnambool left right on time, with only one catch: an old bloke who reckoned he should have one of our seats. We compared tickets — my handwritten one from Bentleigh station vs his more authoritative-looking one courtesy of V/Line’s computers. Neither of us were wrong. No matter, there were spare seats, so he found one and happily settled down for the ride.
A lady with a huge psychology textbook got on, also querying the seats. Sigh. She too found another spot to sit, though a little later this caused more confusion when someone else with that seat turned up. And at each station, the conductor could be heard reminding people that this was a reserved seat service and that people should please sit in the seats written on their tickets. Well, we couldn’t all do that.
In due course the conductor arrived and took a look. Indeed, apparently multiple people had indeed been allocated seats 80 and 81 of car B. (A little later the third double-booking also showed up). The conductor checked her manifest for car B. We weren’t on it. Sigh. She blamed whoever took the booking, and suggested we check the return seats at our destination.
The train rolled on. Either the cars on the Westgate Freeway were going slowly, or we were going fast. I think the latter.
The snack bar opened. The old bloke got a chicken burger. It looked pretty horrible, and given he had only just got out of hospital, I wondered if he wasn’t tempting fate. We’d eaten superior chicken burgers at Nando’s just before we’d got on the train. But the kids and I did get some train snack food, coming away with junk. Delicious, but junk. A later foray was more successful, coming back with a rather tasty slice of fruitcake.
Apart from eating, a variety of time-passing mechanisms were employed, from books to iPods to Nintendo DSs to gazing out the window at the passing landscape. But I enjoyed the trip more than driving — in my book, 3 hours on the train is better than 3 hours on the road.
After rolling into The ‘Bool just after 4pm, we quizzed the booking office. It appears the bloke who wrote out the ticket made an error, writing car B when it should have been car C. Ahh, that explains it. We got re-issued tickets out of the computer for the ride back.
We loaded up with our backpacks (1 x big, 2 x small) for the walk up the hill to the hotel, the very silly named Best Western Olde Maritime. It was rather nice though — the boys particularly liked the multi-level room — and ideally located for the station, Flagstaff Hill, the shops and the Adventure Playground.
A quick run for supplies was in order: negotiating the many roundabouts, in and around Liebig Street we found a bank machine (and noted the Warrnambool way of marking out the queues for them — why they don’t do that elsewhere is beyond me), and a Coles to buy some snacks and, following Eva’s advice from last year, breakfast supplies. Why bother with having to shower and dress and pay exorbitant amounts for hotel breakfasts when you can buy a few bowls and spoons and fruit and cereal for a fraction of the cost, and eat in your PJs?
Then we headed for a brief visit to the Adventure Playground. That was what we’d really come for, and over the following days, rain or shine, we spent a great deal of time there, riding flying foxes, slides, merry-go-rounds, as well as other equipment which I have no idea what to call. But this was only a quick go, as we had an appointment up the hill.
It starts with a video presentation introducing the Loch Ard and some of the passengers and crew, then a walk in the darkness through the village, holding lanterns. Very atmospheric. (For wimps or those with limited mobility, you can get a ride down in a wholly non-atmospheric carnival ride train thing. Bleuch, you miss half the experience. I thoroughly recommend the walk.)
Then they seat you down at the bottom of the village, facing the lake, and project onto water the story of the Loch Ard’s sinking on the 1st of June 1878, and the only two survivors. A terrific presentation, which had the kids impressed at the special effects.
I have my doubts about how “world-famous” the Loch Ard peacock is, but if they’re right about it being the country’s most valuable item recovered from a shipwreck, it was amusing to hear our guide noting that as a junior employee several decades ago she used to casually dust it off each day.
Anyway hopefully we all learnt some history. I was impressed that the two on-site lighthouses aren’t just for show — they are actually operational, and still used as navigation aids.
Flagstaff Hill was great stuff, and after that we headed straight to bed for a well-earned rest.