Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Lured (again) to the Sydney Waterfront

Sydney International Airport has a very well signposted 'Pick Up' area, so I follow the bright yellow signs where, within moments, my hostess for my stay arrives in her car. Well not actually her car which has blown a cylinder head gasket or some-such, so she's had to press a family member into action.
I am using for the accommodation on this leg of the journey. It's a site which lists properties which have a spare room or two available. Hence I have discovered Liz Kean, whose house in the Sydney inner-west suburbs is only a quarter of an hour or so from the airport.

For a charge of just $20 Australian, I am met and transported direct to the house. For $85, I get a nice room in a family home, a smashing breakfast and, as it turns out, three sensational evening meals.
Liz was, like me, brought up outside Glasgow and despite being in Sydney with her English partner Nick for many years, hasn't lost much of her accent.
The house is only ten minutes walk from Dulwich Hill railway station on the Bankstown Line. There, a very friendly member of staff sells me a $21 ticket which gives me unlimited travel on Sydney's trains, trams, buses and ferries for a day. There's an even better value $60 weekly ticket.

I have been to Sydney on a couple of previous occasions, so I have done most of the main sites. But the lure of Circular Quay, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge is huge and the double-decker train delivers me there in under 25 minutes.
I have never had the time before to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens, which is a pity, because it turns out to be a delight. Tucked into the space between the Opera House, the Garden Island Navy base and the Central Business District, I find it easy to spend several hours exploring the varied flora and fauna in this lovely space.

Mrs. Macquaries Chair in the Sydney Domain, just beside the park, provides an excellent view of the iconic Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, much loved as a photo opportunity by tourists and Japanese newly-weds alike. However, taking an afternoon ferry a couple of stops towards Darling Harbour and getting off after a couple of stops at McMahons Point is, to my mind, a much better option. No crowds and one of the most wonderful harbour views in the world. 

The ceramic tiles on the Opera House are currently being painstakingly removed to replace the waterproof membrane underneath; I am staggered to learn that eight million people a year visit the attraction.

Possibly the most popular ferry trip in Sydney is the 30-minute journey to Manly. Dread-locked and tattooed surfers flock to the Pacific Beach to enjoy their sport off a beach which is so much nicer than the dreadfully over-commercialised and tacky Bondi. I am impressed with the drinking stations; water fountains are available everywhere in Sydney. 

The Aussies are much more sensible about dealing with the sun than we Brits; they drink lots of water and always wear sun-hats. You never ever see a school child without one, they are a compulsory part of the uniform.
Manly is geared up for the tourist hordes and is not really my cup of tea. Much more so is the Eastern Suburbs service, where you can reach posh places such as Watsons Bay. That area first came to my attention in my Naval Reserve days as the place where, in 2002, we floated the crippled HMS Nottingham onto the Dutch heavy-lift ship Swan for the 6-week journey back to the UK for repair after she tried to sink Lord Howe Island.

The same ferry takes you to the Australian Navy base at Garden Island, where there's now a great Heritage Centre.
Confident that I have won a major slice of the $50 million Oz Lotto, I head to Town Hall station to engage in some retail therapy. It is very easy to spend this or any other fortune in the area around Pitt, Park and George Streets in the shadow of the Centrepoint Tower. 

The architecture of the two-storey glass and stainless steel Apple Store is simply stunning; I am told that the exterior panes of glass are the biggest in the world. In Lowes, I am served by an Irish girl from Limerick, one of a huge number of Europeans I have encountered working here.
One surprise since I was last here is the increase in the number of Asians living and working here; at times I have been with more Chinese, Vietnamese and Koreans than folk from other parts of this increasingly multicultural planet in which we live.
Sydney's Central Station opened in 1906 and is well worth a visit just to see the architecture. I discover a bonus in the exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of the luxury Southern Aurora train service. But, much as rail travel interests me, the eye-watering price of nearly $2000 for a three-night journey to Melbourne and back on the Heritage Express recreation of the Southern Aurora service is one offer I will not be taking up!

At home, Nick and Liz's daughters Isabel and Kirsty arrive in time to enjoy some of Liz's quality catering, which even includes Apple Crumble and custard in my honour. But this is custard with real vanilla and a crumble which includes fresh ginger. It's no wonder the plates are cleared!
My hosts have been concerned that three days is not enough time to 'do' Sydney. It's true, but, to me, it is the perfect length to remind me what a truly lovely part of the world this is.
I wonder if Sydneysiders realise just how lucky they are?
This afternoon I will take a short Jetstar flight to Melbourne. It's the one sector of my trip for which I won't have the luxury of my 69 kilo, 3 bag, business class allowance. The $76 Jetstar ticket gives me no luggage at all, so I have booked and paid another $40 for 40 kilos; I hope it is enough!

Photos at: