Sydney trip day 2: Friday

Posted 12/11/2014. Backdated to 7/11/2014.

On the morning of day two in Sydney, after a sleep-in, we breakfasted. I’d looked at UrbanSpoon and concluded that every venue reviewed has its share of whingers — it’s a matter of identifying who is complaining about Real Stuff and who is complaining about trivia or a freak bad experience. The Royal in Darlinghurst seemed to have fewer whingers than praisers, so we headed there. They served up some very nice eggs on toast, and a (I’m told) superlatively tasty mushroom dish.

Paddington, Sydney

Escape attempt? The old Darlinghurst Gaol

We then strolled the short distance through Darlinghurst (past the old gaol) to Paddington to have a look along Oxford Street. Although it’s something of a traffic sewer, it’s also got a lot of shopping. A specific shop was M’s aim, and it did not disappoint — though we were highly amused when a delivery bloke asked if she was Judith Lucy. Despite only a passing resemblance, this is in fact a semi-regular occurence.

Next we walked to the Art Gallery of NSW, which on the map isn’t very far from Kings Cross, but in practice involves cutting through numerous backstreets. Thank goodness for Google Maps and GPS on my phone.

Brougham Street, Woolloomooloo

Match sticks (Almost Once, by Brett Whitely), near Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Art Gallery of NSW

The Gallery is in a spectacular building set in the gardens. We’d aimed to do this on a weekday as we wanted to look at the new “blockbuster” exhibition: Pop to Populism — I figured it’d be packed out on weekends.

It had all the greats of the pop art world… Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and many others including Australians like Brett Whiteley and the not-as-well-known-as-he-should-be Mike Brown. I found myself admiring Brown’s work “Hallelujah”, which scandalised the art world in the late 60s, and then I remembered that he is Age reporter Clay Lucas’s dad, so I couldn’t resist letting Clay know they had four of his works on display.

In a neat coincidence the exhibit shop had Robert Milliken’s book on rock music journalist Lilian Roxon on display, which has a section on the influence my dad played in her story.

Art Gallery of NSW: Roy Lichtenstein: In the car

Art Gallery of NSW: works by Mike Brown

We had lunch in the gallery cafe — delicious but a tad overpriced, as gallery lunches often are, but you can’t help but hope the profits go back into the institution.

From there, a quick walk around the eastern side of the CBD, then back to the hotel. (Have I mentioned how handy it is staying in a hotel that, if it’s not in the city centre, is at least close to a frequent fast train?)

Sydney Hospital

The plan (on local friend KW’s recommendation) was to see Sculpture By The Sea, an event on its final days, at Bondi Beach.

Given we were close to the station, the logical route seemed to be the train to the terminus at Bondi Junction, then the bus.

Bondi Junction wasn’t planned to be the train terminus — various plans had it contining on to North Bondi and Rose Bay, or Randwick, University of New South Wales and Kingsford. Later proposals have suggested extending closer to Bondi Beach, but it hasn’t happened.

While the terminus is well set up as a bus/train interchange (up the escalator from the platforms and you’ll find yourself in a bus interchange, making transfers theoretically easy, unlike say Melbourne’s Box Hill), there were so many people heading to Bondi Beach that the well-advertised route 333 bus connection had a queue of perhaps 150 people.

We joined the back of the queue, slowly shuffling along each time a bus turned up, which according to the timetable was every 10 minutes — on paper that’s frequent for an Australian bus route, but in practice completely inadequate for the passenger numbers.

After perhaps 15 minutes (im)patiently queuing, it was our turn. I watched a bloke come up and queue-jump, and growled at him: “mate, the queue starts over there“. He mumbled something back. He didn’t back off, but he certainly didn’t get aboard ahead of me.

The bus was one of the extended, articulated variety, and was packed to the gills. But at least I could overhear travel advice from that most reputable of sources — English tourists who knew their way around Bondi — so I knew which stop to get off at.

Bondi Junction: Queue for buses to the beach

Bus 333 to Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach: Queue for bus back to Bondi Junction and Sydney city

Bondi Beach: Queue for bus back to Bondi Junction and Sydney city

The queues for the bus back were just as crowded, as you can see from these pics. It seems to be a classic case of where the buses are inadequate for the loads — there’s obviously scope to increase bus services, but in the long term if the popularity of Bondi Beach continues to increase, extending rail might make more sense.

It might also be possible to re-organise bus routes so that they duplicate the trains less. Many Bondi routes go all the way into Sydney’s CBD. But the fare structure penalises bus/train transfers, so this is difficult. (I’ll have more on that in my post about Opal and Sydney public transport.)

Bondi Beach

At Sculpture By The Sea there where some terrific artists display sculptures, as the event name would suggest, by the sea. It was busy, but not as busy as was expected on the closing weekend. (For that, authorities actually recommended people walk three kilometres from Bondi Junction instead of wait for a bus.)

Unfortunately one work had been removed due to vandalism, but there were still dozens on display.

As in any great gallery, there were some terrific works to admire and reflect upon, and it was a very scenic walk from Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach.

Sculpture by the sea, Bondi, Sydney

Sculpture by the sea, Bondi, Sydney

Sculpture by the sea, Bondi, Sydney

Rather than walk back and catch the packed 333 again, we caught a local bus from Tamarama back to Bondi Junction station. It too was packed, but the bus driver managed to squeeze everybody on, rather than turn people away. From there a train back to the hotel.

For dinner we stomped around Victoria Street in Darlinghurst looking for something to inspire us, and eventually settled on Sel & Poivre, a French restaurent. All the wait staff seemed to have authentic accents, and the food was utterly delicious.

From there we had a walk around Paddington, and a long exploratory detour via Rushcutters Bay to get “home”.

Darlinghurst’s lovely old fire station

I couldn’t help but hum Paul Kelly’s “Darling It Hurts” almost constantly while walking around Darlinghurst on our short break in Sydney. Likewise “From St Kilda To Kings Cross” came to mind when in the Cross, and Australian Crawl’s “Restless” when catching sight of the Manly Ferry and Circular Quay.

In the middle of Darlinghurst, still in use, is the fire station, a lovely old building built in 1910. In Melbourne a lot of these old fire stations have been re-purposed as flats, or are in use by the fire brigade, but with a more modern building next door for actually parking the fire engines — which over the years I suspect have grown too big for some of the old facilities.

In Darlinghurst though they still seem to use the original buildings. The fire fighters stand in the road to stop traffic while they back their vehicles in when returning from jobs.

On Sundays however a sign (reminiscent of Victoria’s ambulance dispute) is on display saying that the station is closed due to budget cuts. ‘Cos fires don’t happen on Sundays, right?

Sydney: a fire engine being backed into the Darlinghurst fire station

Sydney: Darlinghurst fire station

Sydney: Darlinghurst fire station: closed on Sundays

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

My smartcard collection – I’ll report on Opal soon!

Here is my collection of Australian public transport smartcards.

The ones I’m missing are Adelaide, Canberra and Tasmania — all of which have been introduced since my last visits there.

Smartcards: Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney

Notably Perth’s SmartRider is the only card that is blank on the back, which is why the card number (which I’ve blacked-out) is on the front.

Some friends and family have also given me cards from overseas, though what I find most interesting is not the card designs themselves, but how the systems work for users — the response times in particular, but also the opportunities to top them up, the availability and pricing of single tickets, and so on — and to judge those, you really need to use the systems.

Expect a report on Opal soon!

Photos from November 2004

Continuing my series of old photos from ten years ago

Southern Cross Station under construction. The bridge with yellow on the right is the Collins Street extension, so this must have been snapped from close to where Etihad Stadium is. Note the “Park and Ride” sign, a misguided attempt to get people to drive most of the way into the city, then catch a tram to work. This might become prevalent again when CBD and Docklands trams become free.
Southern Cross Station under construction (November 2004)

Port of Melbourne. I must have looked a bit suspicious taking photos, but the sight of containers stacked up (always empty when stacked like this, I’m told) must have caught my eye. You can see the Melbourne Central tower in the distance.
Port of Melbourne (November 2004)

Lee Lin Chin from SBS News on my old Loewe CRT television. Original X-Box in the cabinet, along with VCR and other old equipment. It’s only a few months ago that I got rid of the brown speakers… they went on Freecycle to a lady whose housemate uses hi-fi odds and ends to build “new” (retro!) systems for his friends. This photo was snapped for my here is my series of photos back then.
Ye olde CRT TV (November 2004)

Street art in Prahran. Authorised? Not sure. Naturally it was the trains (Hitachi and Harris) that caught my eye. The Nylex sign also features.
Street art, Prahran  (November 2004)

Even in the “dark years” between 1996 and 2005, there was Doctor Who merchandise around the place. I’m betting this wasn’t authorised. It was also in Prahran somewhere.
Toy Dalek (November 2004)