Wednesday dawned with rain. Not terribly surprising as the rain in Sydney is historically relatively evenly spread throughout the year. All the rain was welcome, as the area had been undergoing a severe drought over the last several years. We had been told that Sydney was undergoing a summertime cold snap during our visit. Not that we noticed as we were still a little warm in our shorts and tee shirts.
The big news in Australia was Australian government delivering a formal apology to the aboriginal people for removing aboriginal children from their families creating the “Lost Generations”. Coverage of the event dominated the news broadcasts and the papers.
For breakfast we headed to Paddington and explored the old Victorian neighborhood. The tree-lined streets of Paddington are sided by simple one and two story townhouses. Elaborate ornate lace ironwork porch railings and post supports accent the two story houses. As far as we could tell, the ironwork style was unique to each building with no repeats apparent. The style of the buildings reminds us of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The one-story townhouses we saw were most frequently built in the gingerbread style.
After a visit to an interesting liquid chocolate shop (Chocolate by the Bald Man, Max Brenner), we collected our luggage at the hotel and headed to train station by taxi. We took the train, the Indian Pacific, to Adelaide rather than flying, as the 24 hour trip would give us a chance to see the countryside. The train pulled out of Sydney mid-afternoon and headed through the not-so-mountainous Blue Mountains which were described as scrub covered hills than alpine peaks. The train rocked along at 50 to 60 mph on the uneven track. It seemed slow when compared to European trains. As we headed out onto the gum tree studded, grassy plains, we spotted emus and a herd (?) of kangaroo. All the while, the vegetation gradually became sparser on the arid, red-dirt plain.
Our berth on the train was in a well-maintained, old style, 50’s era sleeper car with fold down bunks. Our room came with a bathroom that featured a fold down toilet and sink to minimize space. We certainly weren’t used to the concept of folding the toilet up to flush before the visit.
We didn’t check everyone’s documents, but I’m pretty sure I was the youngest non-staff member in our class on the train. In some sense, the train ride was the virtual equivalent of a cruise for landlubbers sans the shuffleboard. (Shuffleboard would have been real challenging with the train rocking the way it was. At times it seemed like the fasten seat belts light was about to turn on). We had an early or late option for our meal times. Our cabin attendant told us that the earlier meal was less interesting and had more folks with “dietary restrictions”. Being afraid of what, exactly, “dietary restrictions” meant, we chose the later meal. In the end, we are pretty sure that the later meal was more interesting, not because of the dietary restrictions, but instead because the patrons were better lubricated by the pre-meal reception.
Before embarking, we figured foreign tourists would dominate that train ride, as the Australians would take the faster plane flight. It actually turned out that the majority of the travelers on the train were Australian with only a smattering of folks around the world.
We awoke on the train the next morning to a flat, arid landscape with red soil and well spaced brush. In the night, we passed through the state of Victoria into South Australia. This put us into a time zone that was ½ hour later than New South Wales. Near dawn, the train stopped in the mining town of Broken Hill, and we were able to take a short tour of the town’s sights. The tour included a trip to the hangar for the Royal Flying Doctors, a medical service for extensive remote regions of the enormous Outback area of Australia, and a look at some of the historic mining structures in the area.
Mid afternoon the train pulled into sunny and warm Adelaide. After some mild confusion when we realized that the train station for the arrival was not where we expected (it had recently been relocated), we found our way to our room in the historical downtown area.
Vibrant Adelaide is the largest city in Southern Australia with over 1 million people. During our visit, we stayed largely in the historic downtown area that throbbed with a mix of Adelaide’s locals, local university students, and a motley collection of travelers. 1800’s and 1900’s era office buildings and hotels flanked the grid of wide streets and were interspersed with newer, modern urban business buildings. A large pedestrian mall on Rundle Street functioned as the cultural center of the city.
Having gotten settled in, we picked up the rental car with the steering wheel in disturbingly placed in the passenger seat and headed out to dinner. It was Valentine’s Day so restaurant seats were hard to find. We settled eventually on a choice in a couple of guidebooks, the Universal Wine Bar (UWB). It did not take us long to start looking to see if Gordon Ramsay was arriving to start an episode of Kitchen Nightmares.* The service was slow. Maybe glacier would be a better way to describe it. We had a clear view of the kitchen doors and could see single plates of food moving out every 10 minutes or so for a packed restaurant where all the patrons were waiting for food. The food going out was being sent back to the kitchen at a near equal rate. As we left, we were just hoping we survive the raw oyster experience there as we left after the longest two-hour dinner of our life. As if on queue, we returned to room to find that Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA was on TV. The featured restaurant looked like a better dinning choice than UWB. I guess we’ve been lucky to avoid having many really bad meals on our travels and were due for a bad one.
* For those who haven’t seen it, Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares is a TV show where the famous chef, Gordon Ramsay, travels around to shockingly bad, failing restaurants and tries to rescue them by usually by berating them endlessly (as near as you can tell in the States, as every other word Ramsay uses is bleeped out). The conditions they show in the kitchens he visits are often so bad that it makes you not want to go out to eat ever again.