Sydney Sunday: Doctor Who galore

Sunday! And so we get to the main excuse reason for the trip to Sydney on this specific weekend: the Doctor Who Festival.

I’ve been to Comic-Con in Melbourne twice, but this was a different beast: 98% dedicated to Doctor Who, with little bit of Sherlock (which has many of the same producers/writers/crew members/fans!) getting a look-in too. But its official status meant this event got big guns in the guest department: star Peter Capaldi, former Doctor Sylvester McCoy, semi-regular cast member Ingrid Oliver (as Osgood), showrunner Steven Moffat, writer Mark Gattis, special effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves. These things don’t get to Australia very often — that’s why I was willing to build an interstate trip around it.

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: miniature Dalek props in a Dalek city

But first: Doctor Who is currently airing on Saturday nights in the UK, and in Australia the ABC puts it on iView as soon as the UK broadcast is finished: in this case, 8am Sunday.

So we got up at about 7:30am, showered and dressed and went downstairs to enjoy the slightly bland but plentiful breakfast buffet, then with our unlimited hotel WiFi organised ($9.95 per 24 hours), we fired up iView on the iPad, plugged it into the TV and watched the episode. Which I won’t talk about in case anybody hasn’t seen it.

Then we headed for the bus stop outside Museum Station, where Google Transit told me we needed a 373, 377, 392, 394, 396, 397, 399 or M10 bus. This was a common theme for the inner-city trunk bus routes: as each bus approached, I’d look back at the phone and see if the number matched one on the list.

The bus took us to Moore Park and the Hordern Pavillion, where after a lengthy walk trying to find a way in (like the restaurant the night before, sadly clearly designed to prioritise arrivals by car), and a mild panic trying to find the right ticket barcodes (thank goodness everything was available in my email, and thank goodness for mobile internet), we entered the Festival.

Inside the Doctor Who Festival

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: I feel like I've forgotten something

The main hall was a mix of displays and small theatre areas: a very impressive fullsize Lego TARDIS, sessions on writing, production, Cosplay, a big display of costumes and props, some merchandising, a special effects display, “pub” quiz, and areas for autograph signing and photos with cast members.

People were snapping away at anything that moved, and many things that didn’t. Two uber-fans behind us in the queue for the costumes and props seemed amazed that few people were taking photos of Matt Smith’s actual coat.

A Festival crew member showed us the stick from the recent Dalek episode — actually made of rubber, making it safe despite the pointy end, and had the advantage of not being caught up in quarantine as an actual stick would.

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: Adam Spencer with Sylvester McCoy

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: Adam Spencer with Peter Capaldi, Ingrid Oliver and Steven Moffat

After a circuit, we went into the Sylvester McCoy session — which was very entertaining, as he strolled around the theatre taking questions.

We had pretty good seats despite not having paid the premium for the front section, so we stayed put in the theatre for a short time until the Capaldi/Moffat/Oliver session started. Before it was a trailer for the new Sherlock episode, which got applause from the audience.

On stage, Moffat noted that it would be a good idea not to talk about the climactic events of the latest episode, given many wouldn’t have seen it yet. Oliver said the first time she really appreciated the popularity of the show among fans was seeing lots of people dressed up as her character. They took some pretty good questions… though the one that got the biggest laugh was when one little kid asked Capaldi how much longer he’d be quitting.

After that we grabbed a bite to eat then went back into the hall to join a long queue for photos with Capaldi. These had been pre-booked at $60 a pop, which seems to be the going rate for a photo with a star of this calibre. Churning through one about every 30-45 seconds during a session lasting a bit under an hour must mean a fair wad of cash is collected, though a whole infrastructure of queues and staff is needed to make it all run smoothly.

It must be a bit exhausting for the star, but he seemed to be managing okay. He was chatty with everybody, greeting them by name (with help from assistants), and he seemed to have figured out a range of poses for photos that would make the punters happy.

I told him I was enjoying his stint as the Doctor, and I loved him as Malcolm Tucker too. I don’t know if he was taking it all in, but we posed for a simple handshake (other people got more “in-character” poses). So here’s me making a deal with Malcolm Tucker:

Hatching a deal with Malcolm Tucker... or maybe it's the 12th Doctor Who

After collecting the photos that we wandered around a bit more, before looking in on a special effects presentation.

Special effects whiz Danny Hargreaves blew bits off a “stunt Dalek”, and with the help of some audience members and a sonic screwdriver, had sparks flying off a Cyberman.

By then, we’d just about had our fill of Doctor Who.

Was it worth $195 each? Well, you know, YOLO. The boys were delighted. I refrained from paying the $170 additional for premium tickets (which gained you a showbag, access to a “lounge” and a fast track queue to good seats up the front of each session).

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: A Cyberman gets his comeuppance

Bus way outside Moore Park/Hordern Pavilion

Finding dinner

Eventually it was time to go; we headed back to the bus stops, and were about to cross ANZAC Parade to wait for a bus back when we saw a bus approaching on the parallel bus way. I’m not clear on why some buses do and don’t use it, but it took us back to the hotel for a bit of a rest.

Time for dinner: I thought we could catch the ferry to Manly and have fish and chips — especially as we’d hit the ridiculously low Sunday Opal $2.50 cap, so all PT would be free for the rest of the day.

The Manly ferry only runs every 30-40 minutes at that time, so I checked Google Transit for the quickest bus to Circular Quay. It showed a “5 CC” bustitution service that would take us there — but while I’m pretty sure we were standing at the suggested bus stop adjacent to Museum Station, the regular 5 CC buses didn’t stop there. After seeing a few of these zoom by (and other buses not going to Circuular Quay) we walked up one stop and quickly got a 5 CC to the Quay… only to miss the ferry by a couple of minutes.

Circular Quay

Trains at Milsons Point station

Sydney Opera House

Another ferry for Milsons Point was leaving shortly, so I identified via Google Maps that there was a fish’n’chip shop nearby to there, and we caught that instead. Dinner in the park under the northern end of the Harbour Bridge, then we walked back across it at dusk.

A further walk through the CBD, via a supermarket to get some fruit to eat and also something flat for storage of our precious printed Capaldi photos, then back to the hotel for some sleep.

Short stay in Sydney: day one

(Back-dated. Posted 24/11/2015.)

Booking hotels

When I book hotels, I treat location as the highest priority. I’m aiming to make it easy to get around the city we’re going to without a car. For this trip, I was aiming for easy access to: Hordern Pavilion, Sydney CBD, and the airport. Anything else was a bonus.

We’re talking about a situation where being 500 metres further from a railway station may mean a long miserable walk in the rain. Many of the travel web sites don’t make this easy: LastMinute/Wotif/Expedia (and I group them together because they’re all actually the same company — they have the same results just shown slightly differently) make you click around a lot to see different options on a map. Am I the only one who prioritises location like this?

The other difficulty sometimes is finding a hotel that can accommodate three single beds. I suppose I could just book three single rooms, but the cost is likely to be prohibitive.

I ended up booking at the Travelodge in Wentworth Avenue — it was okay last time (way back in 2006); they had available rooms, and in-house breakfast — which would be worthwhile on the Sunday when time was going to be short.

It turned out to be a good choice. It’s not a luxury hotel by any means, but it does the job. The breakfast buffet was good and plentiful, though not terribly exciting. The WiFi worked okay (a 100 Mb limit is pretty low, but I knew we’d need to cough-up $9.95 for 24 hours of unlimited bandwidth on the Sunday — more about this later). The only niggle I have is that they clearly don’t have enough lifts working, as one was out of service for the entire stay, resulting in queues at busy times.

View of plane landing, from the Aircraft Viewing Area near Melbourne Airport

Leaving Melbourne on a jet plane

Flying up

After agonising about how to get to Melbourne Airport, the final straw was discovering the Frankston line was closed for works on the day we were flying out. (Philip left a comment on that blog post that also helped convince me: in short, it’s not a sin to drive once in a while when PT is awkward. What really counts is your daily travel, eg the work commute — which for me is always PT.)

So I pre-booked parking in the Airport long term car park. As I went through the booking process, I noticed it asked towards the end if I wanted to upgrade to the short term car park, at a rate which may or may not have been cheaper than the usual short term rate. That might be one for the bargin-hunters to investigate.

We were a bit early getting to the airport, so we went a little further to the aircraft viewing area, just north of the north-south runway. We watched a Jetstar plane landing. Kind of spectacular to see that close up.

Back to the airport and into the long term car park. The entrance locations encourage you to park up the back, but thanks to Roger’s comment tip, we looked for a spot at the end closest to the terminal, and easily found one. The shuttle buses run every 4 minutes apparently, but we walked to the terminal instead. The route is slightly circuitous, but easy to do, and you get to see the sights — like the taxi queuing area, and the new Terminal 4. Woo hoo.

Personal iPad on Qantas flight

The flight itself was uneventful, apart from a bit of roller-coasting as we took off — well, we were in the back row. They had personal iPads for entertainment, with a clip thing to attach it to the seat in front of you. Hopefully the clip doesn’t cause injuries in the event of a sudden landing.

I deliberately booked the flight up knowing we’d be served lunch, and back knowing we’d get dinner. Not that airline food is ever outstanding. For the trip up it was a spinachy cheesy pastry thing. Very tasty, but not exactly a gourmet lunch.

I had gum to chew during take-off and landing to try and reduce the effect on my ears. I’m not sure it helped very much, but at least the gum serves as a distraction for any nerves. I noticed my chewing sped up markedly during take-off.

Hello Sydney

After landing, we went down to the railway station, bought another Opal card (we had two already) and topped them all up to cover our planned travel (though it’s a bit hard to estimate how much one will use). Onto the train, which terminated at Central as the City Circle was closed for upgrade works.

This meant a 15ish minute walk to the hotel from Central instead of a 3 minute walk from Museum, but the weather was fine, and we got to see the Grand Concourse of Central Station, which was pretty nice. How come they’ve managed to have it looking so much nicer than Flinders Street’s concourse?

Sydney Central station

Sydney Museum station closed

After checking-in and dumping the bags, and a bit of a rest, we headed out again.

We had a detour as we realised some things had been missed during packing: socks, underpants and PJs for one of our number. We walked around looking for somewhere to buy said items, and ended up walking back down past Central and UTS (there’s some spectacular architecture on the way, in particular the Central Park building) to Broadway, were we found a K-Mart to buy said items — as well as a Doctor Who pop-up shop.

Central Park building, Broadway, Sydney
Central Park building, Broadway, Sydney

It was a reasonably long walk, so using Google Transit I figured out how to catch a bus back, which almost worked, though it took a slightly different route through the CBD than expected… hmmm…

We dumped our shopping back in the hotel and then walked a bit more into the CBD, finding Town Hall Station and hopping onto a train headed south.

The plan had been two-fold: visit a shop in Penshurst where they have a retro gaming “museum” display, and then get dinner at Sizzler in nearby St George (near to Carlton station) — which isn’t gourmet either, but the boys had been quite taken with the concept of All You Can Eat after our Perth trip — and they don’t have any Sizzler in Victoria anymore.

Alas, thanks to our shopping detour, time was racing on, so we saved Penshurst for another day, and went straight to dinner. The Sizzler has a multi-storey car park (I’m sure I’ve remarked before that the best restaurants don’t have car parks) and it was actually quite difficult to find the pedestrian entrance. It’s as if having eaten enormous amounts of food, the last thing they’d want is to let you walk any of it off on the way home.

And so we feasted — it’s tasty enough, but as I said, not gourmet — and remember, don’t eat the bread — it’s a trap to fill you up. Interestingly I seem to remember the Perth outlet serving pizza slices, but this was mostly variants on salad, as well as pasta. Afterwards we walked back to the station and caught the train back into town.

A further walk from Town Hall back to the hotel, then we settled down to rest after a full day, and watch O Brother Where Art Thou on SBS — one of my favourite movies.

Total steps that day, according to my phone: 15,890.

Getting to the airport

A short trip coming up soon. Two nights away. Up on a Saturday at lunchtime, back on Monday evening.

Options for getting to Melbourne airport and back, for the three of us:

Train plus Skybus. About 70 minutes each way. Train fares each way $3.76 + 2 x $1.88. Skybus fares each way 3 x $18. No discount for the return leg. Skybus fares add up to $108. Return trip total $123.04

(Because my boys are now both over 16, we’re all adults now according to Skybus, even though the boys are fulltime students with the requisite concession cards, thus eligible for concession Myki fares. This seems illogical to me, and what prompted me to look at the various options. Skybus also offers no discount to Seniors or other concession holders — it appears to aim at being a premium service.)

Train to Broadmeadows plus 901 Smartbus. About 100 minutes each way, but varying according to connection times. Frequency of Smartbus on weekends and evenings is only half-hourly. Same as the train fare only. Return trip total $15.04.

(Evening 901s from the airport arrive at Broadmeadows every half-hour: 9:08, 9:38, 10:08, 10:38. Train to city is scheduled to depart one minute later. Genius. Any little bus delay, and/or if you’re not an Olympic sprinter, and you’ll have to wait half an hour for the connection. Not very Smart.)


Taxi to airport. About 50 minutes each way. About $85 each way says the Taxi Fare Estimator. Return trip total $170.

Train to Essendon, then taxi to airport. About 70 minutes depending on train connections. Train fare as above, plus taxi fare about $32.77 each way. Return trip total $80.58. Is there a taxi rank at Essendon? All I could find on Google Streetview was a paltry one space rank.

(Moonee Ponds might have more chances of getting a taxi quickly. Other options might be staying on the train to Broadmeadows, or instead going to Footscray, which is further away, but generally doesn’t involve a change of train on weekdays.)

Train to City, then taxi to airport. About an hour. Train fare as above, plus taxi fare about $55 each way (so, about the same as Skybus, but less environmentally friendly).

UberX to airport. About 50 minutes. $71-93 says the Uber fare estimator, depending on demand. You can’t get UberX from the airport. So comparing apples for apples, the return trip would be a cab.

(UberX from Southern Cross to the airport is estimated at $46-61. Essendon Station to the airport $27-37. So pretty consistently, UberX is from 20% cheaper than a cab, to 20% more expensive than a cab.)

Private Airport bus (Frankston to Tullamarine). Pick-up point in Moorabbin, with a travel time of 80 minutes, so including getting to Moorabbin plus the bus time is about 95 minutes. Fare is $59 return per adult, so $177 total plus train fares — perhaps $20 less depending on their definition of a child. But this isn’t really an option coming back as they have no trips back from the airport after 6:55pm.

Drive to airport. About 50 minutes + perhaps 15 for the bus from the long term car park. Pre-booked parking for 2.5 days is $34, plus $7.35 in tolls (using an eTag) each way plus petrol. It’s 40 km each way. If we use say 5 litres of petrol each way (which is probably over-estimating) at $1.40/litre would be about $7 in petrol. So a return trip total of $62.70 excluding wear and tear on the car, and the fixed costs of owning it.

(The costs of owning a car are not insubstantial, but I have it already. It’s paid for. Whether it sits in the driveway or sits in the airport car park makes almost no difference. This, of course, is not an unusual consideration people make. That said, all things being equal, I’d prefer to have my car in the driveway when I’m away from home. I’m not the paranoid type, but I wonder if it helps discourage burglars.)

What options have I missed?

Car and taxi options are basically a fixed price for fewer than 5 people. Car parking obviously varies according to how long you leave your car in the carpark. But public transport options can multiply up quickly as your party gets bigger unless discounts apply for groups — Skybus has a Family option, but over 16s don’t count as kids.

Ultimately the issue is that my default choice, Train plus Skybus, a nice balance between quickest and most environmentally friendly, is a good option when 1-2 people are travelling, or with children under 17… but once you have 3 “adults” (even though for other public transport they are considered concessions) the cost is substantial.

I don’t know yet which option we’ll take, but I’m sure I’m not the only one put off by the price.

Photos from ten years ago: Canberra

Almost all my photos from August 2005 seem to be from a three day Canberra trip (actually the only time I’ve been to Canberra). I remember it being cold but fun.

And many of the photos are from around the Parliament Houses (old and new).

Old Parliament House:
Old Parliament House, Canberra, August 2005

Old Parliament House, Canberra, August 2005

New Parliament House. I think this was the approach from Canberra Avenue. Obviously there were works going on at the time.
Parliament House, Canberra, August 2005

It’s rather impressive up close.
Parliament House, Canberra, August 2005

At the time there seemed to be pretty free easy access to the top. Can you still go up there?
Parliament House, Canberra, August 2005

Inside: the House of Representatives.
House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra, August 2005

The Senate. In contrast to some of PM Abbott’s appearances, only two flags — almost seems unpatriotic in comparison.
The Senate, Parliament House, Canberra, August 2005

A panorama from the roof of Parliament House. Use the scroll bar to move across, or view the large size at Flickr.

A typical Canberra bus shelter. They look funny to this Melburnian’s eyes, but you can’t deny they’d provide actual shelter from the weather, unlike the glorified advertising billboards we often get here.
Bus stop, Canberra, August 2005

This was snapped out of the plane window as we left Canberra. Makes you realise how low-rise it is (or at least, was).
Canberra from the air, August 2005

The Black Mountain/Telstra Tower. Shame we didn’t get a chance to go up there.
Canberra from the air, August 2005

Sydney day 4, and wrap-up

Backdated. Posted 17/11/2014.

Day 4 — Sunday

Not much to report. Breakfast at Darlinghurst’s Jekyll & Hyde — which was a bit meh. M’s order came with unwanted eggs, which I adopted. Afterwards I realised it was one of the breakfast places I’d ruled out because some of its Urbanspoon reviews didn’t sound that great (though it had a respectable score of 89). I’d happily go back to The Bunker or The Royal, but not this one.

After that, packed up, got a taxi to the airport (M had a Cabcharge). The traffic was okay, though going the other way it was jammed up due to a crash.

Got to the airport in plenty of time. Checked-in the night before online, and used a boarding pass on my phone for the first time. Flight and Skybus/train back was uneventful (though I must remember to walk to the Qantas Skybus stop in future to save time) — back home by mid-afternoon Sunday.

Loading our plane home, Sydney airport

Virgin boarding pass on mobile phone

Short holidays

Long-term blog readers would know I’ve taken a few short 4-5 day breaks over the years. I quite like that style of holiday.

You’re not going to see everything, but you’ll get a good taste of a place without having to organise things like laundry.

I like having a few things planned each day, but nothing absolutely essential, and the flexibility to change things around — add stuff if you find there’s extra time, skip things if it feels rushed.

I’m also a fan of the centrally located hotel. It’s good to have a base that’s close to the action, making it easy to stop back past there during the day if desired. Walking distance to a supermarket and cafes/restaurants is also a great thing for breakfast and dinner. Hotel breakfasts are often an option, but generally quite expensive compared to a local cafe.

In our case, this time the hotel wasn’t right in the CBD ($$$), but a very short walk from a nearby railway station that has frequent services — every 10-15 minutes every day until midnight — and as often as every 3 minutes in peak hour.

The transport system

Which brings me to some random thoughts on Sydney’s public transport system, which we used fairly extensively while visiting. (See here for the blog post all about the Opal card.)

The trains have impressive capacity. They never seemed too crowded, though our use was mostly outside peak hour, and I did see other trains passing that looked pretty packed. (It’s unclear if double-deck trains overall can carry more people, due to generally slower dwell times — see this ABC Fact Check article).

The rail network as a whole seems very staff-heavy compared to Melbourne. Guards on trains, and on one platform at Central in peak hour I counted about a dozen staff… to assist with boarding?

It’s a shame the City Circle direction isn’t shown on train maps. That would have saved me some time.

The buses are extensive, and at least in the inner-city, are impressively frequent. But as noted, they often duplicate train routes, and at key locations such as Bondi Beach, are clearly inadequate for the task they’re given.

The ferries were a lot of fun, and quite practical given the geography (the same reason they don’t really suit Melbourne) though I suspect some routes are much more economically viable than others.

333 buses following each other, Paddington, Sydney

The new(ish) numbering of all modes and routes is interesting, and makes it much clearer when trying to remember which route you have to take, rather than memorising a lengthy line name (eg line T4, rather than the Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra Line). At present there’s still a fair bit of confusion with inconsistent signage though. And it does result in some slightly confusing overlaps with F being used for ferries and freeways, and T being used for trains and airport terminals. It’s all about context I suppose, though a sign mentioning T1 and T3 at the airport that appeared to be pointing down to the trains threw me momentarily.

Airport rail is terrifically convenient, thanks to it being fast and frequent. It’s expensive given the surcharge, but even at that near-exhorbitant price, I’d rather have it than not. Being able to get to a major destination such as the airport without being at the mercy of traffic is a godsend.

The monorail is gone. I used to ride it as a visitor, but honestly, can’t say I miss it, and nor do I suspect does most of Sydney.

In conclusion

I really enjoyed Sydney… again. Can’t wait to go back!