It started with an observation from one or both of my offspring: “I’ve never been on a sprinter train!”
So I thought ah, one more week of holidays for me, I’ll take them on the train down to Geelong. They’re well-versed with travel on the suburban trains (it’s all part of my “Dad’s taxi”-avoidance scheme for coming years when they explore the world on their own) but we don’t venture onto V/Line very often.
But what’s this? Temporary Geelong timetable? All trains replaced by buses during works? Ah yes, the slash and burn approach to infrastructure upgrades. Pah, to hell with that. Shame though. No strolling along Eastern Beach, no sitting by the seaside eating fish’n’chips.
Revise the plan. Head east. Don’t even have to get in to Spencer Street to catch the train then, can pick it up at Caulfield. What’s the closest major town out of Melbourne? Check map. Warragul. Okay, that’ll do.
As an acquaintance recently observed, compared to the metropolitan trains, the regional operator V/Line is like an old-fashioned railway. It has conductors, some with old-style whistles. This is good. It still has an arcane fare system. This is bad.
Lucky you still buy your ticket from a human not a machine, because they probably have hundreds of different individual fares depending on precisely where you’re starting out, where you’re going to, how many people are in your group and if they’re adults, concessions or kids. I thought I had it sussed out by checking their fares web page in advance, but the guy at the booking window triumphantly defeated me by pulling out the $6 “family saver” fares for the kids, thus saving me $7 and confusing the hell out of me.
Over to platform four to await the train, which duly arrived. The kids were thrilled to be riding in a Sprinter train, and this lasted for very nearly 15 minutes.
As the metropolis gradually left us behind I tried to perk up their interest by doing a kind of reverse “Simpsons go to Capital City” set of amazed observations. Look! Cows! Sheep! Hay bales! After that wore out, they entertained themselves by trying out the train’s water dispenser and toilet.
After an hour or so, we got to Warrigul, accompanied by exclamations of hunger. We wandered out of the station, through the park and up Victoria Street. A unanimous vote for chicken and chips overrode the earlier plan for fish, so we moseyed into Jayes Chicken And Chip Emporium.
My food ordering was critically flawed. The request for half a chicken was fine, but the large chips? Too large. A humungous number of chips. But what really caused problems was the failure to grab any cutlery on the way out of the door. Obviously I’m too used to those times when we get chicken and chips and take it home to eat.
At home, we have cutlery. In Warragul’s park next to the station (whatever it’s called) there is no cutlery.
We did find a picnic table, and spread the food out on it, then for the next 15 minutes as we ate, I pulled bits of hot chicken apart and shared them round. We got through perhaps 40% of the chips. The flies were loving us, buzzing around continually. When it seemed like we’d had enough, I made the last call for chips then threw what was left into the bin.
Messy, but yummy.
We’d just missed a train back, so strolled around the shops for a bit to kill some of the hour. Nothing terribly interesting, to be honest, the usual mix of country town shops, which are much the same as suburban shops. Back to the station to explore the waiting room, read the V/Line newsletter, and have pictures taken in the old ticket check booth.
The train rolled up bang on time at 13:58 and zoomed us back into the city. I took the opportunity to have a little snooze. We got home by about 4pm, via ice-creams at the milkbar, having nicely filled the day.
Now I’ll be waiting for demands for another outing, along the lines of “I’ve never been on a 747-400!”