Part of the whole deal coming to Australia was to fit in visits to other areas. A week long sojourn was planned to go to Sydney and Katoomba, in the heart of the Blue Mountains.
The planning is easy with the internet and on-line payments. I now trust this method of paying for goods and services and although some are still sceptical and afraid of losing their money, in reality this rarely happens and if it does, redress is always available. So having paid for the Etihad flights to get put here online, the trip to Sydney followed suit. We decided that to see a bit of the countryside from Melbourne, we’d travel up by train, stay in Sydney for three days, then get a train to Katoomba, stay there for four nights then train it back to Sydney, then fly back to Melbourne. The accommodation was the next thing to organise and I found a B&B in Sydney and booked the YHA hostel in Katoomba, on the recommendation of my eldest daughter who had done the same 18 months earlier. The train from Melbourne to Sydney was scheduled to take 11 hours, as it is nearly 1000 kilometres distant. So our son-in-law gave us a lift to the local commuter station and we caught the train into Melbourne, then walked round to the Sydney train, all very easy. As I mentioned before, Aussie people are the friendliest, most helpful people I’ve come across, and offer their advice and help all the time. The woman on the suburban train who told us an easier way to get to Melbourne Central, the man in the ticket office there who took us in his buggy to the platform, nothing seems to be too much trouble. So we settled into our first class seats (the extra was worth it), and started to enjoy the long journey towards Sydney. We had started the day without breakfast so once we had got going, I decided to explore the buffet car to get some. Unfortunately we were disappointed, it was microwave food; salty, bland and not that good value. Still the scenery was nice and we did see wild kangaroos and wallabies.
We arrived in Sydney at 8.00pm, and knowing nothing about the place and it was dark, we opted for a cab ride to our B&B. The taxi driver was bright and intelligent, and although Sydney is a huge city and multi layered he knew where he was going, not always a necessary attribute required of cab drivers, as we found out later. I had already phoned ahead to told the B&B owner we were on our way. I had installed a local SIM in my phone, with the help of my son in law; it’s always a good idea to get a local SIM rather than use a UK one and rack up their charges which can be extensive. I got a $30 Optus card (£18) with loads of minutes and texts paid for, so for calling our daughter and others, it was the best route. I’m no geek, but changing a SIM is easy. Anyway after a bit of trouble finding the entrance, which we found out later had been blown out of solid rock, we arrived at Linley House, our home for the next 4 days:
The weather in Sydney was lovely and the next few days would remain that way. After a great nights sleep on the superbly comfortable bed, we had a ‘continental’ style breakfast, served by Chris White, the landlord who had retired a year earlier from the finance industry to set up his residence of 20 years into a guest house. His wife Helen worked full time at Sydney University. He asked us what our plans were, and when we said the usual tourist stuff, he offered us a lift to the ferry station, where we could get the ferry to Circular Quays the main transport for Sydney. We accepted gratefully and Chris took us on the 10 minute drive to the ferry. We had a time to wait, so I decided to take some pictures from the ferry pontoon: (excuse the marks on all pictures – dirty lens, I’ll clean them up in the edit)
After doing this, I was packing the camera up and as I did so I dropped my sunglasses which bounced down onto some steps leading down to the water. Of course they found the only gap in the kerb which lead down, and as I scrabbled to recover said sunnies, my reading glasses decided to join the party and jumped out of my top pocket and fell onto the step one down from them. The consequence of doing this was to badly scrape my left forearm, right knee and wrist; very painfully. Blood was everywhere, and a kindly fellow passenger offered a cloth to mop it up. It looked worse than it was, and no I have no pictures of the damage. But although my pride and my arm hurt, my glasses, two pairs off, where intact and unscratched, lord knows how. A good start to the day, not, but at least it got better. This whole story is not meant to be travelogue in the Peter Sellers manner: ‘Bal-ham, gateway to the south’, to anyone who can remember that far back, but more my observations of how we (that’s Fran and I) tackled various aspects of being a ‘tourist’. The ferry trip was superb, we went under the Harbour Bridge and was subsequently to walk and drive across it. Words can’t describe this icon of the world, suffice it to say that it is wonderful to behold.
During the day we did the tourist route, around the Sydney Opera House which is another of those iconic images seen the world over that when seen close up fulfils all the superlatives that ever been bestowed on it. We met a couple from Antrim who had been living in Perth for a year and took this photo of us at the back of the SOH:
The weather for the whole of our Sydney/Blue Mountains trip was lovely, warm and sunny; which always helps. Darling Harbour was spectacular with all the watery things around it; some of the boats, floating gin palaces, were monuments to excess and flamboyance; each to his own I guess. That night we were invited to our neighbours sons flat for dinner. Steve is the CIO (Chief Information Officer) for a very large world-wide insurance company and his office overlooks Darling Harbour so we arranged to meet him at the base of his multistory office block and grab a cab to his apartment in North Sydney. So in one day we went under, walked over and drove over the bridge. Steve and his delightful girlfriend Toni live in a lovely block in sight of the north tower of the bridge:
The views on all sides were spectacular though and their flat is lovely. We had a meal and few drinks prepared by Steve, and got a cab back to the B&B, bypassing some argument going on outside the gate between a man and a car driver where neither were backing down: bizarre. Maybe this is what made the driver forget to put his meter on so when we arrived, he asked me how much I wanted to pay; that’s never happened to me before. I judged it on the cab ride the night before and he seemed happy with that. The next day during breakfast the B&B owner offered us the same lift to the ferry stop, appropriately called ‘Woolwich’. This time I didn’t drop anything and made it to the Circular Quays without a scratch. We had already planned to go to Manly which is a 30 minute ferry ride. So here’s a tip which we found out: buy an all-day transport ticket for $22 (£12) which can be used on the ferries, light railway (tube-type train) and buses and we used all three. The ferry to Manly alone is $14 so you are up immediately. We went over on the ferry and walked around the resort which has the feel of an island, but is in fact a peninsular. At its narrowest it’s only two blocks wide, so from the ferry to the beach is a ten minute walk. Manly is a great place to visit, and like most of Australia, the bits I’ve seen anyway, exude prosperity. This is one hell of a well off country, even though I haven’t seen the less salubrious side of life in the cities; the fact is you don’t see it like you do in say London, where there is a beggar/vagrant on every corner, finishing his shift to go round the corner to jump into his late model beemer and drive home to his Pimlico flat. Not that anyone does that of course.
We walked along the promenade adjacent to Manly beach:
The warm sun and light wind ensured that the surfing competition taking place didn’t produce high waves so the surfers struggled a bit to raise their game. At least the sea gulls had a more successful day grabbing the scraps of dropped food and scavenging from the waste bins. Again, as I’ve found throughout Australia, the place was spotless with nary a loose bit of paper or carelessly spat gum splatter, and I don’t think it’s got anything to do with it being a seaside resort, even the centre of the city was pretty clean.
Anyway after an excellent lunch in what else, a fish restaurant, we headed back to Sydney on this ferry, and made our way to Darling Harbour where there was to be firework display to celebrate the last day of winter, August 31st. It felt strange that was that day because there were temperatures of 24°. The whole of the harbour was buzzing, with thousands of people gathering to watch the display. There was also some sort of charity fun run going on:
But the main event was of course the fireworks:
And they were spectacular! Thus is what Darling Harbour looked like beforehand:
The next day we got up and our landlord again offered us a lift. We packed and he dropped us off at a bus stop to catch a bus to Central station to catch the train to Katoomba for the 2nd part of our New South Wales mini break. We stached the suitcases in the station lock up and toured around Sydney on the excellent, free, 555 bus. We decided to visit the Royal Botanical Gardens which are adjacent to the Opera House. They run a train around the grounds which takes 25 minutes to do the whole tour:
There’s many an interesting plant and trees, plus the original governors house, but definitely one for the train, a walk is bit too far. Then we got the bus back to the station and bought the tickets for the 2 hour train journey. Interestingly just as I bought the tickets, I was asked if I had a concession card. When I offered my UK seniors bus pass, that was never accepted, it had to be a Victoria State concession, only available to citizens. Pity, in some cases I could have saved a fortune, but as it happens, train fares are very reasonable. For example the journey to Katoomba cost us $16 (£9.25) each one way. Compare that to UK prices: 120km for that price, over 100 miles. The trains themselves are interesting as well, nearly all of them are double decker, doubling capacity. So began our journey to the Blue Mountains which I’ll describe in part two.