Monthly Archives: March 2014
Last day in Sydney… time to say goodbye… for this trip!
When I flew in early from Melbourne this morning I just knew I had to get the most out of my final full day in Sydney. I took the train from the airport (the fastest route as I am now using public transport like a local) and dropped off my bag at the hotel. Then I made for the top of Sydney’s tallest building (the Skytower) for an aerial view of the city and its spectacular harbour.
At the foot of the tower building is a very exclusive shopping centre where they have very cleverly fixed the escalators so that you need to walk past at least four or five shops to reach the next level.
I had no problem whatsoever passing Prada, Jimmy Choo or Gucci but Chanel caught me unawares with some stunning window displays and then there were the handbag shops….! $5,000 didn’t seem to be an unusual price for anything!!! Needless to say, I reached the Skytower ticket office unencumbered by purchases. Then it was into the 4D cinema to take a very unusual flight across and sail around Sydney. The 4D effect came as an addition to the 3D through the coloured glasses. It began with vibration through your feet, getting sprayed (literally) when you appeared to be in a sailing boat and a fine mist which provided the smell of the sea. Impressive. Then it was up to the top of the tower to step out and look down on one of the world’s most iconic views… although other tall buildings have taken part of the view of the bridge and confined the Opera House to being framed at the end of a street! It was a great experience but….nowhere near as much fun as being out on the water. Decision made and down to the ferries.
Having missed breakfast, a fruit smoothie felt like a good mid-morning option, and where do they do the best ones? In Manly. Therefore, the first ferry ride was to Manly, pick up said smoothie (a ‘Very Berry’), a quick wander to the beach to check that the surf was still in good order, which it was, and head back on the next boat.
The breeze in the harbour was wonderful and took the edge of the scorching sun, so long walks were not really a sensible option. Everyone was out on the water as it was a public holiday.
Back at Circular Key, a Seacat was just about to leave for Rose Bay, Double Bay and Watsons Bay. Having gone ashore at Watsons Bay to explore, I found the next ferry out was not for another hour and by then it was lunch time. Fish and chips sounded a good idea (again) and the restaurant here came highly recommended by my son. Thanks, James, a good call.
The hub for all the ferries is Circular Quay and as I stepped off the Seacat there was another ferry just in and going to Darling Harbour, which I did want to explore properly. Sitting at the top of the boat, right at the back, provided a little shade and some cool breezes and I was cool enough (!!) to have a wander around the Maritime Museum. Then it was back once again to my starting point, just about done and ever so slightly ‘done in’.
I think my one regret is that again I have drawn a blank with a ticket for the Opera House. Next time, I will book online and well in advance. So, with the light fading, I have been back to my hotel and am ready to set off once more for a final look at Sydney by night. I have done as much as it is possible to do within my limited time and, as on my previous visit, I have absolutely loved all things Australian. But now it is time to go home and I am really excited by the prospect. I will take off from here tomorrow afternoon and some 26 hours later (well, there is a refuelling stop in Singapore), I will reach Heathrow. It’s only a day!!
So, that’s it! Travels done (for a week or two at least!) and now it’s back to the real world.
My final day in Melbourne
It was a really hot day in the mid-30’s and it seemed like a good time to brave the trams and head for the beach.
The tram network here is the largest in the world and the trams themselves are hi-tech, air-conditioned vehicles. You ‘swipe on’ with your ticket at one of the numerous terminals on board each tram (the electronic tickets are similar to the London Oyster cards as they can be re-loaded) and sit back to enjoy the ride.
Half an hour from the centre of the city I reached St. Kilda’s Beach and made my way down to the soft golden sand for a walk at the water’s edge. Not a cloud in the sky but with a fairly stiff (hot) breeze just to keep things interesting. The kite surfers were out in force as were the Aussie lifeguards (keeping a very careful watch and strictly enforcing their designated bathing area).
It was a real family day and it appeared everyone had some kind of sport or activity in mind, whether it be roller skating, cycling, demonstrating prowess on some very unusual scooters, running or beach games. My barefoot amble was very low-key by comparison. I decided to sit on the sand and watch the fun going on in the water but it was a big mistake. The soft sand blew in the breeze and before I knew it, there was sand in my hair, my ears and….well, everywhere. I gave up and went to browse the local art and craft stalls all along the esplanade. I could have filled another suitcase with some of the stylish products on sale but, sadly, I must already be reaching the “excess baggage” stage and had to resist.
The crowds were growing and I could feel the sun burning the back of my neck (I never burn but this was fairly intense Australian sun). Time to hop aboard a tram and head back to the city for a final wander before my very kind friends entertained me at their home with a barbecue. And how wonderful that was! With evening temperatures still in the high 20’s it felt blissfully cool enough to enjoy great food and conversation. Alison, Michael and Luke have made my stay in Melbourne both memorable and very enjoyable.
So, tomorrow it’s back to Sydney for the final day of this grand adventure. My bag is packed for the early morning flight and it’s time to say goodbye to Melbourne, a city so very different from Sydney but full of beauty and charm now I know where to find them!
Melbourne – Eureka!
When I arrived here on Friday morning I did what I guess most visitors do and grabbed a street map, general information leaflets and set out to explore.
By now I am very used to Sydney’s visitor information which divides the city into sections and provides detailed information on exactly what you can expect to see there, together with specific transport information. I could find nothing remotely like this here and set off to shop, to wander and eventually came across the city circular tram which gave me a free ride around a large square area and told me a bit about what I might expect to find somewhere in the streets to the right and left. It was confusing.
However, today was a very different story and my great friends, Alison, Michael and Luke Whittaker, came to take me on a tour of their adopted city and to share their enthusiasm. It was, indeed, infectious. How had I managed to miss the fact that the banks of the Yarra River are so entertaining and so incredibly beautiful? Street entertainers, some of whom were very young indeed, sang, played and performed all along the way. There was a food and wine festival with people enjoying country music whilst lounging on bean bags with beer in hand, but we were off to the Skydeck on the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower. I seem to be enjoying the tall towers of the world and this was no exception as it was billed as ‘the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere’. What it did offer was ‘The Edge’. This was a glass cube which projects 3 metres out of the building, 300 metres up – with you in it. When you step inside, with special ‘socks’ to cover your shoes, the glass is frosted and as the cube moves outwards the frosting clears, leaving you standing on clear glass looking either straight down to the street far below or ahead to the most spectacular views of Melbourne and its surrounding area. It can’t have unnerved us too badly as we went off for a lovely open air lunch.
There was so much to see along the river bank that we ambled for some time, explored the offerings in the F1 promotional tents, marvelled at the quirky statues, benches, etc., and strolled across the Yarra footbridge. Here we found hundreds and hundreds of padlocks attached to the bridge. Were they the same idea as in Paris where people attach the secrets of their hearts and lock them to the bridge? We discovered that these were a little less complicated and were merely ‘locks of love’ or declarations of undying love. Some were engraved with names but others remained the secret of the donor. How incredibly romantic!
We then took an hour’s river cruise to see more of the river and see the docklands area. So many decorative and unusual bridges cross the Yarra but nothing taller than our French style “bateaux mouche” could reach the city by river. We glanced upwards as we sailed beneath and initially were tempted to duck until we became used to the height clearance above us. Then a quick walk by the iconic spire which sits above Australia’s largest performing arts centre, past the Southbank Theatre and back to Alison’s car.
This is a quaint little place, to the north of the city and beyond the reach of the city tram service. It is home to the Australian shipbuilding business of BAE Systems which shares its harbour space containing naval vessels “in production” with a marina full of pleasure craft. The small town retains its ‘olde worlde’ charm (a bandstand graces the gardens which join the town to the harbour) and the bars, cafes and small shops are probably largely unchanged for many, many years. Possibly the only things to change are the homes which have increased in size, elegance and price.
“What an enormous thrill…”
What an enormous thrill to be taken for a drive around the actual circuit. There were the pit lanes, all marked up with the manufacturers’ logos, the names of the drivers and already full of sealed containers (presumably the cars, spare parts, etc.). Round to turn one and marvel at how narrow the track actually is, see how close the stands are to the track and avoid the gravel pits already filled and waiting for any of next weekend’s drivers who over-steer on the bends. I already know that I will be watching the event, not so much to see the race, but to remind myself how it looked and felt when enjoying today’s track experience.
Day 2 in Sydney
I was off to a flying start and, although yesterday’s violent storm had gone, the air remained humid and it was very much a day for a slower pace. However,… I wandered across to the outdoor cafe across from my hotel and was delighted with the fresh orange juice, the toasted ham and cheese croissant and the two cups of ‘flat white’. Ahh…. great coffee – how I have missed you! People on their way to work came and enjoyed a variety of different options, which all looked excellent. I can so easily understand why people love living here in this relaxed open air environment and people went to work with a smile. A bus passed by declaring “Smile, you’re in Sydney” and who wouldn’t?
Having walked down to the Harbour to purchase my $22 “all day – go anywhere on any transport ticket”, I was flabbergasted to find that the guy in the kiosk not only remembered me, but recalled that I had bought a ticket for Manly yesterday. I didn’t think I was that memorable! He had all sorts of recommendations for my day (for a lady enjoying her own company!). These were in addition to the ones I had planned, so I found myself first of all on a 40 mile bus ride to the north beaches to see what Aussies really like.
Palm Beach was almost deserted (apart from its two steadfast lifeguards) and I could see the attraction. Miles of sand and some quite good surf with a couple of bars and a surf shop for completeness. I could have hopped off at any number of similar beaches and harbours, but would have to save these for another time.
Then it was back to the train (an incredible piece of transport with 3 decks). Why on earth do we not think of doing this sort of thing. My station was right by the ferries, so, without further ado, I was off to Darling Harbour. Having gone over the Harbour Bridge in the bus an hour or two previously, the ferry took me underneath it this time. From Darling Harbour, it was time to walk and take in even more of this vibrant city on foot, via The Rocks and various significant buildings. A bit like London, some of the modern tower buildings have sprung up around the historic ones to the point of almost swamping them. A quick stop by my hotel to ask the receptionist for some help with the printing of boarding cards for my flights to and from Melbourne and a check-in with the concierge to see if he had any luck with getting me a ticket for tonight’s performance of The Magic Flute at the Opera House. No luck so far but I have not given up in spite of refusing to pay the top price of $359.
Lunch happened rather late for me (5 pm) and in short order I was surrounded by guys exiting their offices and stopping for a beer. Good natured ribbing followed because I was on my own and “a Pom” at that!! They wanted to tell me all about the last Ashes Tour but still feel the pain of Johnny Wilkinson’s boot and say that he will never be welcome in Australia again! I didn’t think their suggestion that I bring back lots of t-shirts celebrating their cricketing whitewash would be well received! Sport is taken very seriously here and losing is extremely painful for them, so they only joke about their victories.
No matter where I go (and I have certainly been to a few places in the world in the last year or so), the place which holds a very special place in my heart is Sydney. I wondered if the magic would still be there this year, but watching dawn break, seeing the sun come up over the Opera House and turn the Harbour Bridge to gold, I was once again totally captivated.
Saying goodbye to the floating palace which is Queen Victoria, and which had been my home for the past six weeks, mattered not a jot. I wanted to plant my feet firmly on the quayside and once again enjoy this wonderful city.
Disembarkation and the transfer to my hotel were speedy and smooth and I was off like a greyhound out of the traps and back down to the harbour. How strange was that? After longing to get ashore, I was back on a boat again in no time, but this time it was the Ferry to Manly. Last year I had paid it a very quick visit but had promised myself a very happy return were I to ever come back. Manly was full of tourists heading for the beach and surfboard carrying young men and girls with just one thought – to get straight into the blue/green water and the pounding surf. Not so dramatic as Bondi Beach but its golden sands were just as much a draw as the waves.
I hadn’t come to swim this time and enjoyed a leisurely wander, stopping for a coffee in a pavement cafe along the way. I had no need to check my watch and for the first time in weeks, I had no concern about missing the ship’s departure. I settled at another cafe by the beach and did what most people do when they come here….I ordered fish and chips and a cold beer! Forget the lobster, the steaks and all the fabulous food I have been served on the cruise…this was the real deal!
Finding love (and Rainbows) in Brisbane
It was such a welcome and very happy return for me to find myself once more in Brisbane for the second time in 12 months. This time I was determined to do something I had missed on my first visit to Australia – to go and meet some of the country’s wildlife.
Last time I found out about the city’s cultural opportunities but today I wanted to do something different.
Because the ship is a little on the large side, we were moored at the grain and coal dock way out of the city. This dock provided the water depth we needed but meant a 45 minute ride into the city, and the tour which was intended to take 5 hours was stretched considerably further.
The warm, pleasant start to the day became hot and sticky and on occasions we were introduced to the liquid gold of Australia – rain showers.
Our first stop was to see sheep rounded up by dogs, separated into individual pens and then sheared. Whilst I have seen such demonstrations before, I had never seen one where the ‘yard dog’ actually got into the pen with the sheep, jumped on their backs and eye-balled the one she wanted to separate. There was nothing dumb about these animals! There are millions of sheep in Australia and one dog can handle 500 at a time. Merino fleeces were stripped, sorted and bundled in no time at all and the newly shorn sheep were pure white and incredibly soft to touch.
Then it was time for the eagerly awaited cuddle with a koala. These dear little creatures are docile for much of the day and apparently sleep for 18 hours out of every 24. My slight nervousness came from the clear evidence all around that waking or sleeping they made a mess and much defecating went on. Perhaps not the ideal day for a white top!
They sit on your hands for the photograph and, on being introduced, Orinoco immediately decided to get his paw under my t-shirt. Cheeky boy! Duly reprimanded by his handler, he sighed, returned his paw to an acceptable place and moved in for a cuddle. It was love! He was happy to stay and I was happy to hold him but our time together was over too soon as he was moved on to the next person in the queue. But there was immediately a squeal and Orinoco had emptied himself! He turned his head in the confusion which followed and I absolutely swear he winked at me!
There were fresh water crocodiles (allegedly frightened of humans but I wasn’t hanging around to find out), dingos, wombats, emus, Tasmanian devils, platypus, etc., etc., but we still had the tour of the city to do, a potential river cruise or shopping. I wondered if they might have missed one little koala…..