Each year the family takes a long weekend citystay during the Melbourne Cup. Last year, (2009) we went to Hong Kong; this year the city is Sydney. Flying up saturday morning instead of friday night eliminates an after work rush, and the cost of an extra night's stay while still giving us two full days and two half days to see the highlights of Sydney which are:
- The Opera House and Habour Bridge
- Bondi Beach
- Taroonga Zoo
- City markets and shopping
- Darling Habour
Hotel: Marriot on Hyde Park.
Fly into Sydney from Melbourne and check-in to the Marriot.
Get lunch and visit the Opera House, Circular Quay, and the Habour Bridge and go up the Sydney Tower.
Manley Beach. Boat the Harbour.
Darling Habour for dinner.
Chinatown, Chinese Gardens
Shopping in the city at QVB and The Strand Arcade etcetera.
Pick-up luggage, return to Syndey airport and fly back to Melbourne.
We missed our 9:00am flight! Road works, leaving a little late, waiting for the Long Term car park bus meant we didn't get to the check-in until it the plane was leaving. Fortunately there are lots of flights to Sydney and we picked up seats for the 9:30am, but that wasn't the end of the frazzling morning! We had a lot of 'hand luggage' because of taking a 8 1/2 month old infant along including a stroller which I had to check into special luggage. I think Kate Cebrano was there as well and was on the same flight as us (along with roadies checking in big cameras). Then had to go through screening, putting all the luggage and stuff onto trays and the seat tickets being 'lost' as the trays were taken away, then scurrying around trying to find the gate getting a sweaty back in the process.
Eventually we found our plane and got on board, stressed out, and were unable to relax because it was time for Timurlan to experience his first flight and not want to sit down for the full hour!! If we tried he would arch his back and scream so he had to be stood up. Plus he was tired and needed to sleep but wouldn't until rocked on Zarina's shoulder as we were coming into land (he was worse on the way back).
But we had made it to Sydney alive and in one piece, picked up a taxi-van to the Marriot on Hyde Park (the park being much like the idea of New York's Central Park). We were checked-in to a 13th level room overlooking the park and with good views of the CBD including the Sky Tower. The goal of the Melbourne Cup Getaways is to see cities and their skyline at night. The room was big as was the bathroom with an LCD and had an internet port for the laptop I had brought along and never used (note: don't bother bringing a PC to a holiday when a kid is around, you'll be too tired).
Before going on I'll get the room review out of the way: Sydney hotels are expensive, more-so those in the CBD. The Marriot was on cost par with the Sheraton we stayed at in Hong Kong last year. Quality wise it was not up to par. The furnishings of the room were adequate but old, the fabric chairs a bit grimy, the LCD grainy and with a poor hotel menu, the temperature control just abysmal as it didn't remain constant but fluctuated between a user set Low and High and likely just turned itself off in the middle of the night making us all hot and waking us up. Breakfast was buffet and there was a high-chair for Timurlan who was calmed by croissants.
Location wise the Marriot is a bit of a walk from anything as it is on the eastern edge of the CDB and Sydney while having ok North-South public transport in the form of buses and a metro, has no understandable East-West equivalent. The metro station (Museum) clostest to us also did not have an elevator and we had to carry the stroller up and down a lot of stairs.
Back to the trip.
We were hungry and it was afternoon. Today's goal was to see the Opera House and Bridge and that top part of the city. We took a train to Circular Quay (2 stops, $3.20 for a city one use ticket) and had a calming lunch at one of the restaurants along the walk to the Opera House and watched tourists and Sunday-locals walk by in the strong 25c sunny day. After lunch we joined them and took in the big white sails of the Sydney Opera House and the Habour Bridge across from it. There were five groups of Bridge Climbers making their way up the curved span of the bridge. Habour ferrys came and went and a sea plane drifted overhead.
Zarina's goal for this trip was to make a few 'Getaway' style videos in Russian that will go up onto youtube. Because the sun was really strong and that made Timurlan uncomfortable (and he was getting tired again and needed to go to sleep) it took some time finding a good spot to do some filming that gave an unrestricted view of the Opera House and Bridge. It took a few takes to get into the swing of things and we did a few from distance and then panning over to the Bridge.
By mid afternoon the wind started to pick up. One of Sydney's nom de plume should be the Windy City. It was really strong down the Habour so we didn't venture to the otherside of the Opera House. A little bit more walking around and we returned to the hotel for a rest and after that tried to get a taxi with a baby seat to the Sydney Tower. The taxi never turned up (so much for the Hotel service...) and by now it was getting dark and still windy and we were hungry. Timurlan went to sleep in his stroller as we walked across the bottom of the park to 'Korea town' as a block sized area was all Korean owned shops and restaurants. We pulled into one and watched K-Pop dancers while we waited for our meals to arrive. Zarina had a marinated beef and I had a completely tasteless mince and vegetables with rice.
Back to the hotel, bed, annoying temperature control.
While we couldn't sleep in, we could, and did, have a long buffet breakfast. The selection available was traditional western/american heavy foods: scrambled eggs, hash brown, bacon, poached egg, pastries, panakes, toast and cereal, with a a smattering of fresh fruit and juice. I had a mix of both, cleansing the mouth with fruit last. Timurlan was kept quiet with a croissant to pull apart.
Today's journey was to take in Manly beach and go up the Sydney Tower instead of also visiting Bondi beach. One beach is enough and it would be too much travelling. So after breakfast it was back down to Museum station and to Circular Quay where the ferries are.
When we bought ferry tickets the tellar sold us special 'green' cards that meant we were covered for the whole day on any kind of public transport. At $5 they were a real steal and we did actually use them for a bus ride later in the day. The bus driver had no idea about the special powers of the green card but accepted our explanation at face value.
It was Ferry #3 to Manly and plenty of people and families were boarding as well. There were no ramps to take the stroller to the upper deck but we found a spot outside to park ourselves and Timurlan who fell asleep for the ride. The ferry pulled out and off we chugged passing the Opera House and house lined habour. I have no idea how any of the people who live along the habour get to work. No trains and the roads wouldn't be too wide I imagine as well.
The ride didn't get bumpy until we reached the heads and could see out to the Ocean. The rocking lasted a few minutes and by then we were almost all the way to Manly pier.
Now Manly has two sides to it, the cove which is inside the habour and where the Ferry docks, and the Beach side that is open to the Ocean. When we disembarked and got out of the pier there were two small beaches on each side of the pier. If this was the fabled Manly beach then... well the place had good propaganda. Luckily our confusion didn't last too long as everyone was crossing the road and heading in the right direction and we followed down a wide pedestrial mall lined with swim and surf shops, restaurants, cheap accomodation and all the other trinket places you'd expect from a tourist destination where people actually live.
It was pretty windy, threatening rain and the sky overcast. So no swimming. Instead it meant there were a lot of surfers in the water when we crossed the last road and onto the boardwalk (paved) that ran along the length of a long and wide beach. It was time to do some filming again and Zarina also interviewed one of the surfers as he came out. A few souls tried some surfing. We walked up the boardwalk passing local power-walkers going the other way, other tourists, and games of volley ball. On the other side of the road hotels and expensive apartments peered through the tall tree line (to keep back some of the wind). It was a nice place to ramble through.
Lunch was seafood for her, pizza for me and grumbles for Timurlan and a trip to a Coles to get more food and a big bag of nappies (now we had to fit in as local!). The weather had improved a lot, clouds gone away and we sat down on a reserve to relax at the second of the two beaches by the pier. This one was excellent with clear water lapping the sand and hulls of moored private boats. Plenty of other people were taking a stroll or having lunch there too.
It was now mid-afternoon and time to catch the ferry back to the city. We had a Tower to ascend.
Buses at least go up and down the CBD. Any other direction and you have to be a local. At least the CBD isn't that huge so the city can be walked around, as we did when returning to the Marriot after seeing the Tower. Walking saves a little bit of money too (in exchange for sore feet that night).
We got off the bus in the main shopping area which is not far from the Tower. In fact the mall underneath the Tower was being completely redone as a 'chadstone' fashion mall. All the international designer labels were going to have stores there. We had a little look around there, mainly trying to find a lift that would take us to the correct floor as escalators with a pram were out. We made it to a tiny foodcourt that was closing down (not a great thing to do as the Tower is still open for a few more hours) and bought tickets to go up to the observation deck.
The tower is like a bucket on a stick. Small elevators (not square) go up the stick - which is open to the elements. It was raining as we ascended and the rain could be heard outside and some of it was getting inside. A worry! A double worry as Towers are generally high and that puts them close to the clouds and when it is raining it is cloudy and the sky is full of rain. So the doors of the elevator opened and we got out and the sky was grey. Just great.
Great because the show passed by fairly quickly and cleaned up really nice. There were plenty of other observers, of Syndey and of Timurlan (Chinese tourists liked to take photos of him). The Tower can see out to the blue mountains, Manly where we had been in the morning, the airport with planes landing and taking off (and shining as the sun was starting to go down) and the Habour. Timurlan liked to bash the windows... I fimed a full circuit of the view from the observation deck.
We left just before sunset as Timurlan was getting noisy and settled for energy high Hungry Jacks for dinner! All the streets in Sydney's CBD are one way and narrow like Melbourne's laneways (which are inbetween the bidirectional wide enough for two trams streets). Homeless felt comfortable enough to invade the fast food restaurant as well and watch TV and get free drinks.
Back to the hotel. Shower, bed. Temperature control still really annoying.
After breakfast we headed out to cross the CBD and see Chinatown and Darling Habour and to hitch a ride on the Monorail somewhere. I expected to see more people around in the morning because it was the start of the working week but it wasn't really that busy. It was windy though, and in a way the wind seperates tourists from locals. The locals wear what the weather is (i.e. short sleeved shirts if it is sunny) an tourists wear jackets and warmer garments to cope with the wind.
Our first stop was to pass through Chinatown. It must open late as the area was deserted when we passed through before 10:00am. Unlike Melbourne, which has a distinct Chinese area with lots of signs and gates, Sydney's Chinatown is a lot less noticable... less touristy. It was pretty much likey everywhere else, just in a different language. We walked through and didn't spend any time loitering.
Next up was the highlight of our short trip: the Chinese Garden. This place was unmistakably Chinese. Walled, it offered the tranquility and silence for a calming slow break while being inside the heart of a city. Rooms, pavillions and paths wound around up to a commanding 'mountain' before heading down again through a stone forest and more open but secluded rooms; all around a large carp filled pond. Groups of school kids and some other families were our company. The nice thing about Chinese gardens is that they use space exceptionally well and offer something different to see at every angle. Although taking up the foot print of less than a city block the nature of the path and all the little detail meant that it took time to move through. We spent 1 1/2 hours, including a jam scone and green tea break in the aptly named Tea House (that also held the attention of hungry birds).
Just before lunch the Imperial Costume pavillion opens and people can dress up and have their photos taken in all sort of Imperial Chinese costumes. After finishing tea (and changing Timurlan, the garden also has a sort of parent's change room) we returned to the costume pavillion and dressed up! It was a lot of fun posing in front of a moon gate and sitting on rocks with the pond or a small waterfall in the background. Zarina dressed up as an Empress and Princess and myself as a Tang Emperor.
It was midday and we were all getting hungry. Timurlan gets feeding preference because he gets noisy. Again it took time to find a parent's room, hunting up and down the Darling Habour arcade, a shopping and tourist mall opposite the CBD. We had lunch there in the busy and underchaired food court. Pricey. Zarina tried to check her email using McDonald's free WiFi and I went hunting harbour prints.
Afterlunch we meandered through the mall and further up Darling Harbour. There is a maritime museum and aquarium, both of which we skipped because they would take up time. So we walked around, looked at the horrible facade of Star City casino (so cheap) before heading back, getting more pure packs for Timurlan from a Coles and then hopping onto the Monorail for the trip back into the CBD.
The Monorail is different from the one I had been on before. Instead of a train/tram like open cabins, each cabin was a booth with facing couches. We managed to fit into a cabin near the end and were whisked back the way we had come and up into the city centre.
The rest of the afteroon was looking for sandals for Zarina, a sad visit to the Apple store, milkshake break, and a rained on walk back to the Marriot. Dinner was take away, I tried out the Thai place on the corner and had a really nice red duck curry (couldn't find any reviews of information about it on local food websites). Zarina who doesn't like spicy food settled for Subway.
The last day was always going to be a slow day. The heavy rain from the night before made me hesitant to go to far and while a scenic tour bus ride could have been an option it was almost two hours just for the ride and no walking around or siteseeing and we'd already seen a beach.
Again we had a long breakfast. The buffet had either run out of croissants or had something else so Timurlan had to suffer regular bread instead. After breakfast we returned to the room to pack up and check-out. The luggage put away it was a short walk back into the city to visit the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), a 'heritage' scenic mall.
Wandering up and down and along the four levels of QVB did take up the afternoon. Timurlan got hungry just as we arrived and it took a while to find the parent's room which was in the bottom level and the old lifts (real old cage lifts) didn't go down there. After Timurlan was satisfied we went started touring the mall from the bottom up.
Even though it was just the start of November Christmas decorations hung from the huge ceiling and a big white-light covered Christmas tree blocked the middle of the mall and rose up three levels. We took a few pictures, Timurlan still a fair ways away from understanding Christmas and how to exploit it.
Because the mall is heritage style (which keeps the teenagers away) there were funky clocks: one being a castle that had trumpeteers on the hour, and a globe which a (dusty) sailing ship circumnavigated. The ground floor contained the usual suspects for mall shops: clothes, shoes, etc. but things got interesting with each level scaled until at the top there were antiques, photographer, and old fashioned kids toys and a train hobby store. I bought another Sydney at night photograph - from the photographer - and Timurlan received a Paddington Bear. We had lunch there at one of the cafes that ran along each end of the mall.
The end of lunch meant end of our three and a half day getaway. It was back to the hotel, pick up our luggage and drag/carry it all down the stairs of Museum station to get a train to the Airport. We were able to get an earlier flight (and there was a family on it that had gone up on the same flight to Syndey) which was good so were able to get home and unpack without being exhausted. Timurland and all the other children didn't cope with the landing this time at all. Again he wanted to stand up all the way and screamed on the way down. It was good to reach terra firma! Next year when we go to New Zealand - a four hour flight - Timurlan had better be a bit more managable or we might not survive it!!