Sunday, May 30, 2010

Snakes on Trains and Up the Parramatta

My great neighbour Mark and wonderful partner Kath invited me along on one of their excursions yesterday. As always, it was fun to do some site seeing with great company.

We drove up to the Sutherland train station on the outskirts of Sydney to catch take the train into Circle Quay on Darling Harbour. This is the hub for most ferries that can take you across the harbour to the zoo, Manly beach and lots of other fun places. Besides, it is a very inexpensive way to tour the harbour and take in the sites, some are even free!

Circle Quay is a very hopping place, full of tourists, buskers, restaurants, pubs and souvenir shops. The Opera House is at one end so there are plenty of photo-ops. The big cruise ships dock here as well and it is a short walk to the CBD or a bit of a longer walk to King’s Cross, the notorious (at least a little less so now) entertainment district. Sydney really is a good, walk-able city.

We hopped aboard a catamaran ferry to head up the Parramatta River, going under the Harbour Bridge and passing by other ferries and commercial and dodging dozens of sail boats and other pleasure craft out enjoying a very fine Sunday. In fact, it literally was the calm before the storm as to the south of us, a huge storm was beating the coast and headed our way. We had visions of experiencing a Titanic like adventure on the way back, but fortunately arrived back home just in time.

The views along the water are incredible! There was so much to see, multi-million dollar homes, old historic estates and official buildings, industrial and navel instillations, and parks for all to enjoy the water and views. After about 2/3 of the trip, the harbour became a river, narrow with mangrove like swamps along the shore with restricted access to this narrow and shallow portion. It was so quiet! After the high speed and constant activity of the harbour, we were limited to 7 knots with only the small wake making a little noise as it hit the shoreline.

We rounded a bend and the river ended! There was a wall with a small amount of water spilling over and a large circular turn around for the ferry. We arrived at the town of Parramatta. Really, Sydney is similar to any large city in the US as small towns have been swallowed up as part of a huge metropolis. Parramatta isn’t so different than just another formerly small town although certainly does retain it’s own identity and has a pleasant and small CBD.

Restaurants with sidewalk dining line several blocks and reminded Kath of Melbourne where the managers stand in the door way trying to lure you into their place by offering special deals not on the menu. Our mission was to find a pub after our long and arduous journey. Afterall, we’d left Fairy Meadow around 9:30 and it was 1:30 and we were need of refreshment. Much to our astonishment, we couldn’t find a pub in this revamped and sanitized CBD area. I think just to make a point, we passed up all the restaurants, bound and determined to find a real Aussie Pub! We even asked a couple who said they were local, but didn’t really know where a good pub is located downtown. I would’ve thought the guy knew as he looked to have a nose for a good pub. (imagine one of the greats like W.C. Fields)

We were ready to throw in the (bar) towel when Mark’s head snapped around to an old movie theatre, The Roxy. Sure enough it had just what we needed. At the entrance to the theatre was a good sized plaza with a place to order food on one side and a decent bar on the other. Finally after nearly an hour of fruitless searching, we had arrived. The food was great and the beverages much appreciated.

While eating, they were setting up for music later that evening. We investigated the theatre and it looked very nice inside, very classy and very inviting for rocking time once the DJ started up the music. I snuck upstairs in spite of it being closed off and what they had done was added a ceiling below the former balcony. A smaller movie screen was there along with a stage and floor. They advertised it being available for party functions or business presentations and I could see how that would work. The area below was the main, very classy bar area. It was really impressive what they’d done to the grand old movie theatre, very creative!

We headed back and I took pictures in earnest of the trip. I think I may have nodded off while taking the train back to the car for the trip home. What a great day!

Oh, and the Snakes on Trains? One of Mark’s dirty little secrets (and I hope it’s ok to mention this) is that he loves lollies (candy to us Yanks). He does have a sweet tooth! For the trip, he brought along a package of Gummie Snakes to share. We worked on those, mostly on the return trip after our satisfying tea (late lunch or maybe supper). So on the way home while riding the train, when Mark would offer some Gummie Snakes much to his dismay I’m sure would say, “Snakes on a Train!” He probably was reminded of an obnoxious kid who wouldn’t be quiet.

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