Sydney trip day 1: Thursday

Posted 10/11/2014. Backdated to 6/11/2014.

On Thursday I flew up to Sydney for a few days. After umming and ahhing about whether I should take a small backpack or a wheely-case (I opted for the latter), I caught the train into the city and Skybus to the Airport — pretty quick and easy, thanks to each having frequent services, though the PTV online timetables don’t seem to know that trains from Frankston continue through to Southern Cross. Not very helpful.

There were plenty of people on the train dressed to the nines heading to Oaks Day at the races, and from the bus on the freeway I could see a lot of traffic down on Flemington Road towards the racecourse.

There was time at the airport for a quick bite to eat, as I’d been warned that even at lunchtime, a flight on Virgin is only likely to get you a token amount of food.

Some people boarding the rear of the plane (myself included) did so via the tarmac, which always feels a bit rockstar to me, despite the lack of red carpet. The flight left on time, and sure enough, the food was limited to half a sandwich and a drink.

Sydney airport train ad at Melbourne Airport

Boarding plane to Sydney at Melbourne Airport

Sydney Airport - bag claim

Sydney Domestic Airport railway station - queue for tickets

On the train from the airport, Sydney

Landed in Sydney. Down to the airport railway station, I noted the large numbers of people queued to buy tickets, and waltzed past them to try out my shiny new Opal card, which worked a treat. A report on that later.

A lot of fellow travellers caught the train. Canadians Todd Litman and Gordon Price have noted that the invention of wheeled luggage means people are a lot more willing to use public transport and some walking, rather than automatically default to driving from home to the airport, and catching taxis in distant cities. I suspect there’s something to that, especially in the bigger cities where traffic congestion for cars and taxis is a real problem.

Caught the train to Central, changed to the Eastern Suburbs “T4″ line for Kings Cross, which is where the hotel was booked. It’s interesting that Sydney is moving to branding their rail lines T1, T2, T3… but the signage (particularly in the stations) is quite inconsistent at present… presumably it’s in transition. Ferries are F1, F2, F3… buses are B, and the single Light Rail line… well, that’s L1, though a second line is about to start construction.

In any case, it was a quick trip and I found the hotel easily, then headed back out to explore before meeting Marita, who was finishing up a conference near Circular Quay.

View of Sydney City from Kings Cross

Dulwich Hill Light Rail stop

I thought I’d make my way to Dulwich Hill by train (on the T3 line), and then catch the new Light Rail extension back into the City. Obviously my mastery of the train map needs some work, as I missed a couple of things: it’s quicker to change at Central than Town Hall, as the T3 services run clockwise around the City Circle then back out (not marked on the map). Even better, I could have stayed on the first train, as it runs express to Sydenham (which is marked on the map), and I might overtake a train before changing.

Anyway, I soon made my way to Dulwich Hill, and found the light rail stop. Intriguingly some of the warning signage referred to trains, rather than trams or light rail vehicles.

It’s a slightly odd place to terminate Sydney’s only light rail line. It’s close (but not adjacent to) a railway station, so connections are possible but not convenient, but it’s also in a suburb that (as far as I could tell) has no particular traffic generator.

The automatic sign said the next service was in 1 minute. It continued to say that for several minutes… then it changed to note that there was a service disruption along this part of the line, due to a signal failure. Wait, a signal failure? Clearly there’s more to this than a simple tram service.

View from Circular Quay railway station, Sydney

I ended up catching the train back into Circular Quay — which has perhaps the world’s best view from a railway station. A scruffily-dressed bloke with an expensive-looking DSLR camera was snapping lots photos of graffiti on walls along the rail corridor. Hmmm.

It was peak hour by now, and the city platforms were getting impressively busy, though I was surprised to see no less than 12 Sydney Trains staff (possibly more) standing on one platform at Central. Do they check each door to make sure everybody’s aboard?

Meeting M, we walked up George Street, towards Martin Plaza station, rather than have to change trains to get back to Kings Cross. It also allowed us to see a bit of the CBD in rush hour. The footpaths and streets were very busy, as one would expect.

Train back to the hotel, then we went to look for somewhere to eat.

This was not something I’d done much research on unfortunately, and we ended up in a Thai place in Darlinghurst that was… well, a bit mediocre, actually. I mean, what kind of Thai restaurant doesn’t serve roti? And I have a new rule for any sort of Asian cuisine. If it looks like they don’t offer chopsticks, don’t go in.

But I can highly recommend Gelato Messina next door, which seemed to be very popular. One flavour I had was Steve Jobs (“caramelised white chocolate and macadamia gelato with macadamia but crunch. Knows a thing or two about Mac-adamias”) which was utterly delicious.

Gelato Messina, Darlinghurst

Daniel enjoys a gelato

After dinner a bit more of a walk around Kings Cross… my conclusion is that the northern part of Darlinghurst Road is the Kings Cross people know from any number of news reports — lots of strip joints and various other rowdy and dodgy establishments. Behind it, Victoria Street is a little more gentrified, but has lots of backpacker hostels and so on.

The southern parts of Victoria Street and Darlinghurst Road are quieter, and less rowdy, though I noticed a Daily Telegraph story on Sunday which noted the presence of street sex workers in the area — I can’t say I noticed them, but we stuck to the main streets, and perhaps they are in a different part of Darlinghurst.

Anyway, we went back to the hotel room and watched the wonky television — for unknown reasons, it was firmly mounted on the wall at a slight but noticeable angle. I tried not to let it bug me.

Wonky TV in the hotel

The old railway line to Rutherglen and Wahgunyah

On the road to Rutherglen a few weeks ago, we came across this: the old railway. Some photos below.

Apparently it opened in 1879, with passenger trains running until 1962, and freight trains until 1995. These days the nearest operating railway is at Springhurst a few kilometres away, on the main line to Albury and Sydney.

If you take a look at Andrew Waugh’s excellent VRHistory web site, you’ll see maps that show just how extensive the Victorian Railways were. By 1940, the network reached most populated parts of the state, before it contracted in the decades following.

By the way, it’s notable that some argue that not only should the South Morang line be extended to Mernda, but also another 10 kilometres to Whittlesea where it used to run. I’m not convinced. Just because there used to be a line to Whittlesea doesn’t automatically mean it should be rebuilt. The Urban Growth Boundary doesn’t extend out that far. Serving the population, not empty fields, is the priority for public transport upgrades.

The old railway line to Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, Vic

The old railway line to Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, Vic

The old railway line to Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, Vic

Nagambie’s new life-size statue of Black Caviar

On the way up to Rutherglen for the wedding, we detoured past Nagambie on family business and to stop for lunch.

Nagambie’s bypass opened earlier this year. Traffic between Melbourne and Shepparton therefore no longer goes via the town, and it’s obvious that they’ve been trying to work out how to ensure some people still come through and patronise local businesses.

Their answer? Black Caviar!

The undefeated champion horse was born in Nagambie in 2006, and for some time now there have been signs up on the highway approach into town proclaiming this. But last Thursday they went one better, unveiling a lifesize statue of the mare, in a prominent position on the main street, by the lake.

Black Caviar statue, Nagambie

As you can see, it’s an impressive piece of work, with a lot of detail.

Its spot by the lake is handily located right next to the V/Line bus stop, also used by private buses from Melbourne airport. (V/Line trains also serve Nagambie a few times a day; the station is a few hundred metres away. The V/Line buses help fill gaps between trains in the timetable.)

Black Caviar statue, Nagambie

When we stopped past on Friday, so were others. There was a light but steady stream of people coming past, taking photos, reading the plaques.

Each side of the pedestal the statue is on has a plaque, and each has different information about the horse. This one is down the back end:

Black Caviar statue, Nagambie

It appears special solar-powered CCTV has been installed to protect the statue:

Black Caviar statue CCTV

Around the town, there were still balloons and signs up, and some businesses had Black Caviar specials for the week.

Nagambie: Black Caviar colours around town

(One for the gunzels: a picture in a nearby noticeboard of a diesel engine in Black Caviar colours.)

What the national media might have missed when covering the story on Thursday was the controversy around the location of the statue.

Angry residents gathered at Nagambie yesterday vowing to fight the decision to put up a statue of super horse Black Caviar on the site of the former Chapel of the Lake.

The church, built in 1885, was destroyed in 2003 when a truck crashed through the middle of it.

Where the church stood, bricks from the original building have been formed into a cross and a small display explains the history of the site.

Shepparton News 22/6/2013: Black Caviar statue fury

One family member who is a local couldn’t figure out why the Black Caviar statue wasn’t placed further along, leaving the church memorial in place. It’s not like Black Caviar had a specific link to that exact spot by the lake.

Oh well, if you’re driving past Nagambie and fancy getting off the freeway, or are coming past in a V/Line bus, check out the statue.

(Note for geeks: Black Caviar is, of course, not to be confused with Caviar Black hard drives, now known as Western Digital Black.)

Video from my trip to Europe in 1998

15 years ago I got back from my first trip to Europe. Here, finally, are the video highlights.

Daniel’s 1998 Europe trip highlights from Daniel Bowen on Vimeo.

Includes England (south-east, London, and York), Scotland (Edinburgh, Inverness, Plockton), Brussels, Bruges, Amsterdam.

Worth noting…

  • The blog posts written at the time are available here: Europe 1998.
  • This was pre-Oyster. Most of the travel around London was old mag stripe travelcards.
  • I can’t help noticing how red my face got when walking in the wilderness of Scotland.
  • Sorry about the picture quality. This was filmed on Video 8, and has come via VHS. This edit excludes most of the footage from visiting my family in England.

The long and winding road

We went to Walhalla for a night to camp on Sunday (it’s been about a year since last time). Apart from a little rain on the way up, nice weather — though a little hot when the sun got going.

Camping at Walhalla

The rain didn’t affect the camp site when we were there, but had other consequences.

After you get off the freeway and head through Moe towards Walhalla, you end up on twisty, windy roads for quite a way. A ute with a P-plate came up behind me… I figured it was a local driving who would probably know the road better than I, so I came to a straight section and slowed down and indicated left to let him overtake me, which he did.

Only a few seconds later he skidded down into a tight curve, and smashed into a safety barrier.

We stopped and I called out to him to ask if he (and his passenger) were okay. He said yeah, but he didn’t sound too happy. The barrier was bent, and so probably was his car.

The barrier wasn’t saving him from falling down a ravine or anything, but it does emphasise the importance of driving to the conditions… no matter how well you might think you know the road, it’s not a great idea to zoom along when it’s been raining and is slippery.

Late-night camp food

Camping itself was terrific fun, just like last time. Good company, fun times around the fire, and improvised camp food which this time around resulted in a wondrous creation: chocolate and strawberry jaffles. Yum.

On the way home we had the honour to stop off at the prestigious BP Officer inbound freeway service centre, opened by Mr Dean Salter (vice-president of BP Australia) himself in 2011. Gosh. Such an honour.

Wow. So prestigious. Almost makes up for the Gulf Of Mexico Deep Horizon spill, doesn't it.