After seeing many faces from her lowest points yesterday, I would see Sydney from some of her highest points today. Accompanied by Cheesedrummer, we would walk along Harbour Bridge, grab some history at Sydney Observatory and a try the Skywalk atop . I had booked myself on the XPT for an overnight journey to Melbourne in the evening, giving me all day to stay in the centre.
Cheesedrummer proposed a train from Cheltenham to Milsons Point. That would give us an opportunity to hit our first two targets - a walk across the Harbour Bridge towards the CBD, and time at Sydney Observatory at The Rocks. From there, we would walk into the heart of the CBD towards Town Hall and climb Sydney Tower.
Milsons Point is among many spots favoured by Sydneysiders during the annual fireworks extravaganza on New Years Eve, an event watched by millions around the globe. It is easy to see why. One gets a spectacular vantage point from there for most of the Sydney skyline. Luna Park is on that bank of the harbour, to the west of the Bridge. I had settled for just a walk along the bridge rather than the more challenging Bridge Climb. I had rather more in my rollaway than I had envisaged for Melbourne and didn't fancy lugging that all the way to the top of the climb.
With frequent stops en route to enjoy the vista, the walk took the best part of an hour. During the walk, Cheesedrummer pointed out a few more buildings on either side of the Harbour housing some famous residents. Like Kirribilli House, the PM's residence with a view to kill of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge further along the banks towards the ocean at Milsons Point.
You arrive above The Rocks at the other side of the Bridge, from where we descended steps for the short walk to the Observatory. One of Cheesedrummers's favourite spots in Sydney, we walked through the site, taking in the city sights from beautiful gardens and reading up on the history of modern astronomy in the Southern Hemisphere inside. Not surprisingly, the Southern Cross is an important guide to sailing in southern skies as the North Star is North of the Equator. There was a large group of primary schoolchildren on a school trip marauding through the museum. Alas, it meant that some rooms were out of bounds to other visitors. That meant the two of us as the only other visitors. We sulked a little, but too much.
I had spoken to Newsvine's Red Wolf before about a possible opportunity to meet up during my visit; today seemed ideal. Alas, my timetable had been somewhat erratic that morning. Following a short chat on the phone, it would prove impossible to meet up. We carried on walking towards Town Hall where we stopped for lunch at the food court in the Plaza there.
Next stop after lunch was Sydney Tower in the heart of the CBD for a view of Sydney from her highest point. The Tower has 3 attractions; Observation Deck, OzTrek and, as an optional extra, Skywalk. OzTrek is a virtual journey across Australia’s landscapes, history and terrain to explore her national treasures. For the walk, you get tethered to a harness hooked to an outside wall to walk all around the Tower some 880 feet above sea level.
Of the 3 attractions, the deck is no different to anything similar on a modern tower, anywhere else in the world. Obviously, the view is different (and Sydney does offer breathtaking views) but the experience may not necessarily be that unique for some. OzTrek pretends to be a theme park ride but somehow doesn't go far enough to thrill its visitors. Perhaps just my view.
Skywalk promised to be a unique experience. And it was. However, Cheesedrummer and I were not overly impressed with the dramatics involved. You get dressed up in a wrap-around costume (they call it Skysuit) nor can you take anything loose (including camera, watch, cell phone, etc). Safety is used as the reason but I sensed a hint of commercialism stretched too far. What is the one thing a visitor wants to take away from such an experience? Memories. Well, the only memories you can take are photographs they take which you pay a small fortune to own. We refused to be bought! If they can provide a string to tie your spectacles, they can improvise with a similar solution for cameras. As I said to the attendant when seeking the photographs at a reasonable price without success, "Sydney Tower is fleecing visitors through hidden extras."
After the Tower, Cheesedrummer and I parted company; he had a band rehearsal to get to. I still had plenty of time for my train to Melbourne. I wanted to get a spare battery for my camera and asked at a few places in the Plaza. As one of the salesmen mentioned, it was arguable if it was worth it; a spare battery costs half as much as the camera itself. So I made my way to Central Station by CityRail, keen to get my rollaway stored for a couple of hours. Once that was done, I had time to stroll through Chinatown near central Station. I must have come across as a coffee freak to a casual observer; I had coffee from two different places in the space of 30 minutes. Even had time to get a foot massage for tired feet. The guys were not that busy and wrapping up for the day anyway. They offered to do my neck and shoulders for a fraction of the standard fare. Boy, was that good!
By the time I was heading back towards Central Station, it was turning dusk. The tall glass towers of Sydney strike some pretty shadows at that time of day. I was not that surprised to learn that the XPT train, operated by CountryLink to Melbourne was late arriving. I think it was a hangover from the delayed run on the train I had arrived on from Brisbane some 5 days earlier. Being an overnight journey with my stay in Melbourne for just 24 hours, I had sought a sleeper (which is only in 1st class) and had been told that these are not allocated to rail pass holders. So I had booked a seat in 1st class. I was banking on being able to recharge my camera battery on board the train and had calculated that 1st class carriages would have that.
As soon as the train crawled out of Sydney, I started the hunt for a power socket. These had been easy to find on all the other services I had travelled on in Australia (apart from the XPT from Brisbane when the need was simply absent). The search was to no avail. My walk through the train had taken me past the sleeper berths (mostly empty) and I noticed those did have power sockets. I asked the conductor about an upgrade to a sleeper and was told this was possible. So I paid the difference and soon, made myself comfortable in my berth - a bed for the night! However, the power sockets there are only for shavers etc. I couldn't recharge my camera battery there. So I gave up and resigned myself to arriving in Melbourne with very little camera juice. That was a challenge to face tomorrow. After a quick snack from the diner, there was little else to do other than sleep. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.