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.)

Skybus

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!

Sydney trip day 3: Saturday

Backdated. Posted on 16/11/2014.

Saturday! The weather was warming up — have I mentioned how I’d jetted in on Thursday, a day after a huge storm passed through the city? Good timing (well, luck) is essential to any holiday, even a short one.

After breakfasting at The Bunker in Darlinghurst, we caught the train across the Harbour Bridge to Milson’s Point — and walked back.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Harbour: water police

From the station it’s only a couple of minutes walk to the footway over the bridge. Plenty of others were out and about doing it as well, and there were also a few security guards around — I don’t remember their presence last time I did this, but that was about 20 years ago.

The roadways were busy. Some of the old toll gates still seem to be in place, though I assume in the age of the eTag, they’re not used anymore.

Also still present: what appear to be support structures formerly used for tram overhead wires, until trams were removed from the bridge in 1958.

Sydney Harbour Bridge pedestrian walkway

The sun was shining, making me wish I’d packed my hat. Despite the presence of many safety fences, there are some great views from the bridge. I could see the grey-suited bridge climbers as well, who no doubt were getting an even better view. Perhaps on my next trip to Sydney I’ll try that out.

As usual, the harbour was busy with boats: everything from Sydney ferries small and big (cue “Reckless”) to sailing boats to a tall ship. A police boat and one marked “Maritime” (some other authority no doubt) were circling someone who had taken a dunk in the water, presumably to rescue him.

It was only a few days until the G20 in Brisbane… I spotted one sign from Sydney’s APEC meeting in 2007 (perhaps best remembered for the Chaser motorcade) still on display stuck to part of the Bridge. It said you had to obey reasonable directions of Police. Not sure about unreasonable directions.

APEC signage, Sydney

Rhapsody of the Seas, at Circular Quay, Sydney

Sydney Harbour: Cruise ship Rhapsody of the Seas, and a tall ship

A gigantic cruise ship named “Rhapsody of the Seas” was docked at Circular Quay. M said it had disgorged thousands of passengers earlier in the week, and there seemed to be plenty of them wandering around The Rocks, Sydney’s historic harbourside suburb.

After a quick walk around The Rocks, from Circular Quay we caught a ferry to Cockatoo Island, formerly used as a prison and a shipyard, now a heritage and cultural site.

A ferry comes into Circular Quay, Sydney

Bangaroo precinct under construction, Sydney

I was a bit disappointed that it was a newish, modern ferry, unlike the “traditional” type I always picture (the equivalent of a Melbourne W-class tram perhaps), and which seemed to be operating on some of the other routes. Not to worry; we ended up getting one of those on the way back.

On the way the ferry stopped off at Darling Harbour, passing the massive new Bangaroo Barangaroo precinct, which at the moment is a huge construction zone, but is planned to be a casino, hotel, cultural area and apartments. From what I hear, the transport planning around hasn’t been well thought-out, with no mass transit options provided except a long walkway to the nearest distant station at Wynyard — about 300 metres from the southern end of the precinct, but over a mile from the northern end.

After about half-an-hour we landed at Cockatoo Island, and started exploring. The island has various areas showing off the different aspects of its heritage, and we explored for quite a while, discovering tunnels, convict areas, old shipyards (some parts still used, it looks like). There’s also an area full of tents, where you can camp, and if you prefer a more civilised place to stay, a Bed & Breakfast.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney

In some spots there were also a large number of very cranky seagulls — extremely noisy and some trying to swoop to scare people away from their hatching areas.

In one spot there was one of those fake owls, perhaps to try and calm them down. It clearly doesn’t work — in fact they’d pooed on it.

Seagulls at Cockatoo Island, Sydney

Seagulls at Cockatoo Island, Sydney

We then went to the Island Bar, and snacked on a pizza for lunch over a drink or two. The view was glorious, though once again I felt myself getting sunburnt.

It was enjoyable just lazing, eating and drinking there for a while, though for the middle of the day, the staff just seemed a teensy bit over-zealous — for instance the security guy asked specifically if we had food or drink in a bag when we entered (would they have made us chuck it out before entering?), and the wait staff seemed very quick to descend and straighten-out any unoccupied deck chairs which had been moved out of position.

The jukebox was playing music, and at one point “Brazil” played, making me think of the movie of the same name, and I pondered whether this paradise was in fact a bit more authoritarian than it needed to be. That said, the ambience made it clear that some people were there not sightseeing, but partying, so I can understand why there was a security presence, and perhaps it helps explains the vigilance.

Island Bar, at Cockatoo Island, Sydney

Sydney Harbour

Train crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge

We headed back on another ferry — on the other route that serves the island, so seeing a few different sights on the way back.

From Circular Quay (after topping up our Opal cards, which as I’ve noted, it turned out we didn’t need to do as we’d hit the daily fare cap by this point, and wouldn’t be using PT on Sunday) we headed south to have a bit of a look around the shopping areas of the CBD. By this point — Saturday afternoon — it was pretty packed with people, especially in Pitt Street Mall.

There were also large numbers of pedestrians along George Street, and I found myself appreciating that Sydney (like every other Australian capital city other than Melbourne) doesn’t allow motorbikes to park on the footpath, instead providing areas on the road for them to park. This especially helps on narrow streets, but even George Street with its wide footpaths benefits.

George Street, Sydney

QV building, Sydney

While in the area, I thought we might duck into Uniqlo, whose signs were prominent around the MidCity centre, but they hadn’t actually opened yet in Sydney. Looks like it opened a few days later.

We caught a train from Town Hall back to the hotel to relax for a short while, then headed back to Town Hall to catch a bus to my friend KW’s place for dinner in Drummoyne. Google Transit and Transport for NSW’s journey planner agreed: several reasonably frequent bus routes could take us there, but we still ended up waiting about 15 minutes, and when we got off the bus I noted two others in close succession. Sigh.

Kings Cross, Sydney, Saturday night

One mighty fine dinner later, we headed back by bus/train. Being Saturday night, Kings Cross was super-busy, and noisy. About as noisy as the seagulls, but less aggressive.

I must say though, little of the noise penetrated the hotel room, and we slept like logs until morning.