Sydney 2014 Toxic Custard newsletter

Sydney trip day 1: Thursday

Posted 10/11/2014. Backdated to 6/11/2014.

On Thursday I flew up to Sydney for a few days. After umming and ahhing about whether I should take a small backpack or a wheely-case (I opted for the latter), I caught the train into the city and Skybus to the Airport — pretty quick and easy, thanks to each having frequent services, though the PTV online timetables don’t seem to know that trains from Frankston continue through to Southern Cross. Not very helpful.

There were plenty of people on the train dressed to the nines heading to Oaks Day at the races, and from the bus on the freeway I could see a lot of traffic down on Flemington Road towards the racecourse.

There was time at the airport for a quick bite to eat, as I’d been warned that even at lunchtime, a flight on Virgin is only likely to get you a token amount of food.

Some people boarding the rear of the plane (myself included) did so via the tarmac, which always feels a bit rockstar to me, despite the lack of red carpet. The flight left on time, and sure enough, the food was limited to half a sandwich and a drink.

Sydney airport train ad at Melbourne Airport

Boarding plane to Sydney at Melbourne Airport

Sydney Airport - bag claim

Sydney Domestic Airport railway station - queue for tickets

On the train from the airport, Sydney

Landed in Sydney. Down to the airport railway station, I noted the large numbers of people queued to buy tickets, and waltzed past them to try out my shiny new Opal card, which worked a treat. A report on that later.

A lot of fellow travellers caught the train. Canadians Todd Litman and Gordon Price have noted that the invention of wheeled luggage means people are a lot more willing to use public transport and some walking, rather than automatically default to driving from home to the airport, and catching taxis in distant cities. I suspect there’s something to that, especially in the bigger cities where traffic congestion for cars and taxis is a real problem.

Caught the train to Central, changed to the Eastern Suburbs “T4” line for Kings Cross, which is where the hotel was booked. It’s interesting that Sydney is moving to branding their rail lines T1, T2, T3… but the signage (particularly in the stations) is quite inconsistent at present… presumably it’s in transition. Ferries are F1, F2, F3… buses are B, and the single Light Rail line… well, that’s L1, though a second line is about to start construction.

In any case, it was a quick trip and I found the hotel easily, then headed back out to explore before meeting Marita, who was finishing up a conference near Circular Quay.

View of Sydney City from Kings Cross

Dulwich Hill Light Rail stop

I thought I’d make my way to Dulwich Hill by train (on the T3 line), and then catch the new Light Rail extension back into the City. Obviously my mastery of the train map needs some work, as I missed a couple of things: it’s quicker to change at Central than Town Hall, as the T3 services run clockwise around the City Circle then back out (not marked on the map). Even better, I could have stayed on the first train, as it runs express to Sydenham (which is marked on the map), and I might overtake a train before changing.

Anyway, I soon made my way to Dulwich Hill, and found the light rail stop. Intriguingly some of the warning signage referred to trains, rather than trams or light rail vehicles.

It’s a slightly odd place to terminate Sydney’s only light rail line. It’s close (but not adjacent to) a railway station, so connections are possible but not convenient, but it’s also in a suburb that (as far as I could tell) has no particular traffic generator.

The automatic sign said the next service was in 1 minute. It continued to say that for several minutes… then it changed to note that there was a service disruption along this part of the line, due to a signal failure. Wait, a signal failure? Clearly there’s more to this than a simple tram service.

View from Circular Quay railway station, Sydney

I ended up catching the train back into Circular Quay — which has perhaps the world’s best view from a railway station. A scruffily-dressed bloke with an expensive-looking DSLR camera was snapping lots photos of graffiti on walls along the rail corridor. Hmmm.

It was peak hour by now, and the city platforms were getting impressively busy, though I was surprised to see no less than 12 Sydney Trains staff (possibly more) standing on one platform at Central. Do they check each door to make sure everybody’s aboard?

Meeting M, we walked up George Street, towards Martin Plaza station, rather than have to change trains to get back to Kings Cross. It also allowed us to see a bit of the CBD in rush hour. The footpaths and streets were very busy, as one would expect.

Train back to the hotel, then we went to look for somewhere to eat.

This was not something I’d done much research on unfortunately, and we ended up in a Thai place in Darlinghurst that was… well, a bit mediocre, actually. I mean, what kind of Thai restaurant doesn’t serve roti? And I have a new rule for any sort of Asian cuisine. If it looks like they don’t offer chopsticks, don’t go in.

But I can highly recommend Gelato Messina next door, which seemed to be very popular. One flavour I had was Steve Jobs (“caramelised white chocolate and macadamia gelato with macadamia but crunch. Knows a thing or two about Mac-adamias”) which was utterly delicious.

Gelato Messina, Darlinghurst

Daniel enjoys a gelato

After dinner a bit more of a walk around Kings Cross… my conclusion is that the northern part of Darlinghurst Road is the Kings Cross people know from any number of news reports — lots of strip joints and various other rowdy and dodgy establishments. Behind it, Victoria Street is a little more gentrified, but has lots of backpacker hostels and so on.

The southern parts of Victoria Street and Darlinghurst Road are quieter, and less rowdy, though I noticed a Daily Telegraph story on Sunday which noted the presence of street sex workers in the area — I can’t say I noticed them, but we stuck to the main streets, and perhaps they are in a different part of Darlinghurst.

Anyway, we went back to the hotel room and watched the wonky television — for unknown reasons, it was firmly mounted on the wall at a slight but noticeable angle. I tried not to let it bug me.

Wonky TV in the hotel

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

18 replies on “Sydney trip day 1: Thursday”

I don’t think your gelati was big enough! Yummo!
Do you know how much your wheely bag weighed (were you over 7kg)?
What food/drink did you get on the plane? Was it BYO entertainment? (Qantas you get a meal and TV/movie is provided)
How much did Melbourne airport bus and Sydney airport train cost?

I’m not sure if its a Sydney thing or not but the ‘Thai’ places here that have Roti are usually Malaysian.

Also, the Thais have been using spoon and fork for a long time, only the Thai Chinese use chopsticks.

I love your trip reports and it has been a while since I have seen one. Sometimes I can never work out if your are taking the piss or not though. The lack of Roti (Indian food) in a Thai restaurant – haha good one. ;)

I love that Sydney Airport rail link map. It is fantastic. Quite informative in deed.

I am about to head off for the boat to Tasmania tonight. What a contrast. Firstly the transport links to the boat at the Melbourne end is better than the Airport at the Melbourne end. But when I get to Tasmania……….

T4 line. Interesting. I had not heard about that. Roti in a Thai restaurant? Roti is Indian bread but it was on the menu in a Chinese restaurant we went to recently and I thought that very strange. I gather you underwent the debacle of travelling to Bondi Beach by train/bus. Nice to know it is as bad or possibly worse than ever.

@Roger, I only had two scoops! I didn’t weigh the bag, and it’s quite possible (as I also put the laptop inside it) that it would have been over the carry-on weight limit. Entertainment was available “on your own device”, eg install Virgin’s app and use that. It was half a sandwich and a drink (juice, water, tea or coffee). Other stuff could be bought.

Melbourne Skybus is $18 one way, or $30 return. Sydney’s airport train was $14.91 from Domestic to Kings Cross, but other train trips in the following hours were free thanks to Opal – I’ll talk about that in a later post.

@Will, perhaps it’s a Melbourne thing for roti to be served at Thai restaurants, though that type of bread is common across much of south-east Asia.

@Marcus, I didn’t even notice :-)

@Jim, note that advert for the Sydney Airport rail link was snapped in Melbourne Airport. They had the same on display in Sydney.

@Andrew, yeah I’ll get to Bondi in a following post!

Gelato Messina in Darlinghurst is a Sydney icon and now has a number of branches (including one in Melbourne – Fitzroy).

Agree that roti is not Thai. About three Thai restaurants on that Vic Rd strip – Eat Thai (across the road in your gelato pic – which is basic canteen style), S Thada, which is OK, and Spice I Am which is towards the station which is more upmarket but excellent. But that strip is a real nice restaurant/cafe strip without any of the vice of the cross.

Note also that for the moment (until 2015 at least) Opal is not valid on the Sydney light rail (it is last on the rollout schedule). As of today it is now active on all buses in Sydney (as well as trains and ferries)

Great that you discovered the benefits of the Opal transfer window (tapping on again on the same mode within the hour). The $15 cap (excluding airport surcharge) is also very useful for tourists, particularly if you say do a Manly return on the ferry during the day.

It’s good to know I’m not the only one who secretly (or not so secretly) feels like a celebrity whenever they board a plane via the tarmac! That was one of the things I used to love about the old Canberra airport – you almost always had to walk on the tarmac to get to your plane.

Also: I’m surprised to hear roti is uncommon in Thai restaurants in Sydney, given how common it is in Melbourne. For those interested, here’s the wiki entry on the Thai version of roti: I’m not a huge fan of Thai food, but roti is probably the one thing I look forward to.

@Matt, you mean you have to use the same *mode* for a free transfer on a smartcard!? And here I thought melbourne wasn’t that well co-ordinated between trains, trams and buses….

You mention that “the PTV online timetables donโ€™t seem to know that trains from Frankston continue through to Southern Cross”. As I think you’ve mentioned before, neither do the destination signs on the trains or the displays even at South Yarra and Richmond, let alone further down the line. And unless you sit at the back of the train (as you’ve tweeted, I think), It’s pretty hard to see the display even when you do get to Flinders St.
I know that Metro regard each trip starting from Flinders St as a “new journey”, but surely they have some idea what the train will be doing next before it actually pulls into Flinders St? Why keep the information secret?

Last time I flew on Virgin they had changed it so you had to download Silverlight to play anything, who has time for that? Lucky I had charged my iPod. Much prefered watching Looney Tunes on the back of the seat the previous time.

I did get the airport train the last time I flew to Sydney, only to find the train out to Newtown wasn’t running and I had to get a taxi from Central. Turned out to be cheaper to get a taxi going home. Buses were a bit confusing but I worked them out. The trams in Sydney are regarded as a joke and not that many people use them despite the “trials” in other suburbs.

The tram goes to Dulwich Hill because it is a disused freight railway. And they have signals, because in Sydney a tram is a very slow train rather than an electric bus on rails.

Few Eastern Suburbs line trains stop at Sydenham any more, so using that plan to pick up a Bankstown line train to Dulwich Hill seems like a bad idea.

Contrary to the claims made in “The Age” yesterday, that the Sydney Airport train is twice as expensive as the Skybus, it is actually slightly cheaper.

Enno: what I was going to add, only “electric bus on rails” sounds funnier than what I was going to say.
Melbourne’s streetcar tram system treats trams as large, fixed buses and thus they run using normal road signalling. However other places around the world have fully signalised light rail systems (but I presume these don’t interface directly with car traffic in the same lane). Dedicated light rail in Melbourne is an oddity, somewhat sadly (but where trams run on streets, the urban environments of those suburban streets are often enhanced! Where there’s a tram, the shipping strips are often more vibrant, probably because of history, but also because they are seen as important).

*shopping strips, not shipping!

Gelato Messina finally made a move to Melbourne, ended up on Smith St (it is Smith St, right?), Fitzroy. Bloody good stuff. And very innovative flavours. The place is often packed, even (especially?) late at night (say 10:30 pm on Fridays), with queues out the door. But worth the visit of you’re in the area and looking for great gelato!


Last time I checked the Eastern Suburbs train timetable (just now) every train stopped at Sydenham.

The Sydney train from the airport may be cheaper than the Melbourne bus, but it is worth remarking that Kingsford Smith is a lot closer to the city than Tullamarine is. The airport station fee is a gouge: cf Heathrow, where you pay a normal fare.

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