Saturday, 18 February 2012

Sydney to Canberra

In which the pain of an epic delay is mitigated by ignorance.
Starring a real live person reading a broadsheet newspaper.

The worst thing about buying guide books is that the more you read the more you want to see and do. And if you have a tight schedule (visiting pretty much every major Australian city in under two weeks, just for example) you can get yourself rather upset by all the incredible ‘do not miss’ things you are absolutely and definitively going to miss. 

So I deliberately didn’t buy a guidebook for Sydney and my seeing agenda only had one thing on it – to go on the Manly ferry, mostly because I had been told by a guy on the train that it was the best way to see “absolutely everything in one go.  Once you have been on the Manly ferry, you might as well just go home” he said.  He was from Melbourne. 

And just as well because the train from Perth arrived over 6 and ½ hours late (4:30pm instead of 10:15am) effectively reducing my time in the city to 16 hours with a lot of people to see and one very critical ferry to catch. 

I was staying in a lovely old Brewery in an very nice area called The Rocks which I caught glimpses of as I rushed backwards and forward to Circular Quay. There were grand views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge down one of the allies I dashed past and as you came down to the waterfront the opera house was just across the water.  I calmed down. 

Popped into to see some new digital research studios and had a lovely night out at an Italian wine bar with some friends from London. The next morning I was up at 6:00 to meet my old boss for coffee at the luxurious News Australia offices and then back across town to get that ferry.

It was all a bit touch and go and I have to say I didn’t find it a particularly relaxing voyage as we were due to get back 40minutes before my train left Central and I still had to collect my bag and get there through the traffic.  But it was a gorgeous view – you can sit outside on old wooden benching – watching the suburbs pass by.  I’d love to be able to pass on great facts about the bay or, you know, anything like that, but sans guidebook or good wifi access (you have to pay pretty much everywhere in Australia), I have none.  Still I remain assured that having got excellent views of the bridge, the opera house and the city, I’ve thoroughly done Sydney.

All of Sydney in one picture:  (L to R: City, Opera House, Bridge,  Manly Ferry)
Looking at the map, you’d think Sydney and Canberra weren’t that far apart. And indeed I’ve had several conversation on this trip with people who live in Canberra that have included the sentence “I’ll just pop up to Sydney”  (usually not the other way around).  So imagine my surprise that it’s a 5hr train journey.  5 hours! That is the whole damn length of England from London to Edinburgh.  Incredible.   They do have a hot food buffet though and I landed up sitting next to an elderly gentleman who was so polite he apologised for the rustling of his broadsheet.  I resisted the temptation to tell him what a treat it was - almost like seeing someone listening to music from one of those enormous 1980s beatboxes.

I was collected at the train station by some friends met on the Trans-Mongolian trip and driven on a whirlwind (possibly more thorough than Sydney ) tour of Canberra’s quite astounding architecture.  I know the Australians are rather derogatory about their capital city and its rather strange location but it is extremely beautiful.  Plus I’m assured by that the restaurants in the National Archives, National Library and National Gallery are all extremely good.  The parliament building is worth the trip alone – it’s half buried in a grassy knoll with lots of glass and the most incredible flagpole.  Apparently you can usually get in to have a look around if parliament is not in session and until recently you could stroll straight over the roof.

I was only in Canberra for dinner really – another wonderful bbq of steak and lamb – before being dropped at the midnight bus to Melbourne.  Probably because it was the last one I will hopefully EVER take, I slept the entire way. 

Storm coming in over Canberra

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