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Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Forget Sydney's Bondi Beach, Manly Beach is the place to go

Only 30 minutes from Sydney, Manly is a unique destination. A world class beach with consistent waves, towering Norfolk pines and two kilometres of white sand. Surf Lifesaving has its origin on Manly Beach.
Once off the ferry, stroll down The Corso (pedestrian mall) to the surf beach. Manly's plazas and laneway give it a village atmosphere, unlike Bondi's rather tawdry and touristy environs.
Manly Beach 1900
Source: Powerhouse Museum


Only a few minutes walk from the bustling Manly Beach is Shelly Beach. You could be on a deserted island, not suburban Sydney. Great snorkelling spot.
The view from Queenscliff, looking back towards Manly Beach
The best way to get to Manly is by the ferry (30 minutes from Circular Quay - adjoining Sydney Opera House and the International Passenger Terminal. A perfect day trip if you only have one day in Sydney.

The historic quarantine station on North Head is a 40 minute walk or a 5 minute bus ride from Manly Village (featuring colourful plazas and interconnecting laneways)
Sunset, looking back across the harbour to Sydney.



Monday, 14 August 2017

Unique accommodation in Sydney - Q Station

The Quarantine Station dates back from the 1880's. Situated in a National Park, it's part museum, part hotel and conference centre. Because of the heritage-listed buildings, not all rooms have bathrooms but the private bathroom is next to your room. These are termed Heritage rooms and suites. Deluxe rooms have connected bathrooms. Most rooms have spacious verandahs with water views. There are numerous public lounges spread throughout the property, decorated out in furniture and fittings from the period.

Less than a 10 minute bus ride from Manly Ferry Terminal (Sydney Ferries)

If you don't want to take the ferry and the bus, a privately run ferry delivers visitors directly to Q Station's pier (adjoining the private beach).

The sunset view from Room 27's verandah - probably the pick of the views. Ask for a room near Views Restaurant (used for breakfast). These 2 wings are the most central.
Take the 135 Bus from Manly Ferry Terminal, ferries run every half hour. (Sydney CBD is only 30 minutes on the ferry)

Q Station is divided into various precincts. A 24 hr shuttle bus is available but it is possible to walk around the grounds

Walk to dinner at the Boiler House Restaurant - over 200 steps (once a funicular railway)
The trip to Manly by ferry is spectacular, and a bargain to boot.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The cheapest and easiest way to get from Sydney to The Blue Mountains

Costing only $2.50 return for a Senior (over 60) this is unbeatable value. For standard adult fares it's still a great deal (single tickets are around $10.00, Opal Card fare $8.50, 30% less if you travel Off Peak. Travel all day on Sunday for only $2.60 (trains, buses, ferries).
Central Station, Sydney to Katoomba is a 2 hour trip with limited station stops. By car the 102 km journey will take at least 90 minutes. The trains run every hour. Use Sydney Trains "Trip Planner" to work out how much time you need. Local buses (also using Opal Card) leave every 20 minutes 100 metres down from Katoomba Station. The Three Sisters Plaza/Echo Point is 5 mins away.
The Hop-on-Hop-off Bus is $30 per day - seems too much to pay.
There are a wide range of scenic bush walks (10 mins to several hours if you are a day-tripper).

Suggested itinerary (if you only have a day and you like a good walk with heaps of lookouts along the way)
9:18 a.m. train from Central. Arrive Leura Station (2 hours later). Walk through Leura Village along Leura Mall, follow signs to Leura Cascades (via Blue Mts Drive - BMD brown sign). Walking track (Prince Henry Cliff Track) starts at Leura Cascades car park. From there it's a 90 min walk to Three Sisters/ Echo Point, including breathtaking views of the Jamison Valley (including Bridal Veil Falls). You catch a local bus to Katoomba Station for the 2:14 p.m. train back to Central.
Getting off at Leura (one stop before Katoomba) means you avoid the crowds getting on the bus from Katoomba. Leaving from Katoomba means the train is nearly empty when it arrives.

Trains are comfortable, with first and last carriages designated "Quiet"


Katoomba Station

Jamison Valley from Prince Henry Cliff Track
The Three Sisters

Saturday, 29 July 2017

"Top of the Lake: China Girl" Review

The first season back in 2013 was a muddled masterpiece - great cast and atmospheric New Zealand locales. Jane Campion's Sydney-based opus is a hot mess.
Nothing rings true. The dialogue is clunky. The characters are unbelievable and unsympathetic. Yes, I get the 'misogyny takes many guises' message. I don't need to be hit over the head with it (the sniggering police recruits, the slimy geeks in the cafe, Mary's smarmy boyfriend Puss - or should that be Pus).
The situations are unreal, rather than quirky. What was the space helmet bit in Miranda's kitchen all about? If I want surreal, I can go to the sublime "Twin Peaks".
Any good stuff?
The bobbing suitcase, Clayton Jacobson's easygoing persona, Jane Campion's daughter, Nicole Kidman's frizzy grey coiff.

Episode 2 (not directed by Campion) was an improvement due to the N.Z. flashback, interesting plot twists and two standout scenes - Robin vs Julia (poor hubby Pyke) and Robin meeting Mary.
Ray, the Medical Examiner (Geoff Morrell), is stealing every scene he is in. I'm warming to Elizabeth Moss's understated performance.
Random weird stuff:
  • The New Zealand police acting like 6 year olds on the suspension bridge.
  • Miranda's 'open-door' therapy.
Episode 3's florid highlights:
  • The overwrought restaurant scene complete with embarrassed customers, the 'c-bomb' and Alexander's chandelier rant. Terrific seeing Marg Downey ("Fast Forward", "Kath & Kim") as Julia's partner. She seems to be typecast as the new age nutbag.
  • The return of David Wenham (Al Parker) - wheelchair bound Bond villain transforms into Hitchcockian psycho-killer.
Episode 4 (the nose-biting ep).
No mention of Parker's fate, just more cringeworthy developments.
Just when you thought Alexander couldn't get more detestable, he excels himself at the Father-Daughter bash; then pimps out Mary. The show defies logic. The nose biting scene got more gratuitous by being set on a nudist beach with sweeping views of Sydney's skyline.

Episode 5 (Jane Campion is back in the director's chair) - 59 minutes of my life I will never get back. More tortuous dialogue, implausible situations and a "Taxi Driver"-like denouement that you could see coming mid episode.

Episode 6 (final)
The Bondi Beach manhunt was another unbelievable scene. Why hide on the beach on a 35 degree day?  Because it was cinematic, that's why.
"Top of the Lake: China Girl" should have been a four-parter at the most. This story of loss, parenthood and surrogacy could have been more economically told. The production was ham-fisted and ponderous.

P.S. Small quibble: How could Alexander get a bag of bottled water through airport security?

Monday, 3 July 2017

Australia's best hotel club lounge?

Sofitel Melbourne On Collins has the best club lounge experience in Australia in our humble opinion. Forget The Langham, Pullman hotels or the Crystal Room in Crown - the views, choice of food and beverage are better at Club Sofitel. 
Good old Melbourne Sofitel still has the option of serve-yourself drinks (beer, cider, wine and premium spirits or staff will bring your preferred tipple to you (between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.). Evening canapes is more like a 3 course meal: 2 or 3 hot dishes, seafood (usually king prawns and/or oysters), gourmet salads, sushi, cheeses, bread, antipasto, desserts and a chocolate/Turkish Delight/nougat platter to finish.
A light lunch and afternoon tea (Le Gouter) is also complimentary. Breakfast is an elaborate affair with a full buffet as well as a la carte menu (no extra charge).
Staff are friendly and efficient without being cloying.
The lounge is on the 35th floor (hotel rooms are from level 36 to 50) with sweeping views of the city.
Sydney and Brisbane Sofitel are great, but Melbourne's club ticks more boxes.
Visit the gym after all this indulgence. Pamper yourself with the high tech massage chairs.

View from reception desk

Light lunch, dessert to follow - views toward Parliament House
Some of evening food options 
A range of premium spirits available
Lunch buffet

Gas fireplace



The club is L-shaped with separate rooms for meetings/reading/games. Shower facilities available
A la carte breakfast - Poached egg on wilted spinach and field mushroom, truffle sauce and rosti potato
Delicious lunch treats

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Swimmer's ear in Bali

I always end up with "swimmer's ear", in the surf and in swimming pools.
Prevention: ear plugs (Blu-tak works if you don't have the expensive gel ones)

Treatment:

  • 2 drops of vodka in the affected ear, every few hours
  • 2 Panadols every 4 hours
  • Ear drops, if Vodka doesn't work.  After 24 hours of treatment, all good.  Price 55 000 rupiah (50 000 rupiah on Jalan Legian, near Jalan Melasti)  A bargain.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Nusa Dua or Nusa Don't?

Public land adjoining 5 star hotels tends to be used as rubbish dumps. This is particularly noticeable in neighbouring Tanjung Benoa.
View from the beachfront walkway that links Tanjung Benoa to Nusa Dua



Conrad Hotel - front view
Conrad Hotel - side view

Bali tourist spots in 30 words

Tuban - airport, bogans, no accessible surf
Kuta/Legian - bogans, surf
Seminyak -  sunset beach bars, villas, funky shops, dodgy surf
Tanjung Benoa - water sports, petrol fumes
Nusa Dua - sunrises, resorts, weddings
Tanjung Benoa
Nusa Dua

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Bali bodysurfing: Legian vs Seminyak

Legian - near Pullman Hotel

Legian has more consistent surf and fewer red flags. Seminyak seems to be prone to more rips and dangerous currents. Red flags (swimming prohibited) are seen on a daily basis - not that anybody takes any notice of them. Whenever you see surf schools in Legian, you will find medium waves suitable for body surfing with the chance of a long run to the shore.
These comments relate to the April - May period.

Seminyak - Royal Beach Hotel

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Is Jetstar Business Class worth the money?

This post covers Jetstar flights on Dreamliner 787, ex Melbourne, Australia. Flights to Denpasar, Singapore, Bangkok, Osaka (Business Class ex Cairns) and Tokyo (Business Class ex Gold Coast).

Pros 

  • Cost - Jetstar frequently have International Business sales (e.g. one way MEL-DPS, MEL-SIN, MELB-Bangkok for around $499). This compares favourably to 'cattle-class' for around $199.
  • Small business cabin (3 rows of 7 seats) means speedy service from crew and better ratio toilet to passenger (1:21) than Qantas Dreamliner.
  • Usual perks - priority boarding, express card for immigration (in Australia), handy amenity pack with skin care products, socks, toothpaste, etc.
  • Surprisingly tasty and varied meals (see below). Plunger coffee with cabin attendant circulating with giant selection box of premium chocolates (weird?).
  • Help yourself to snacks in the forward galley.
  • Copious bottles of water.
  • Champagne (Piper-Heidsieck or Henri Laurent) served in tumblers rather than flutes throughout flight - but, hey I ain't complaining - or choice of wines, beers and spirits.
  • Baggage (checked) 30 kg included and generous carry-on. When travelling in Asia for 1-2 weeks, we prefer to just use carry-on only, avoiding that dreaded wait at the carousel.
  • Seating perfect for medium haul/day flights. No need for lie-flat beds.
  • It's "old school" business class seating, so you can chat with your partner over lunch, unlike some newer seating configurations that box you in for privacy.
  • Less kids
  • Champagne/water/juice served before take-off.

Cons

  • "Business-lite" and more like Premium Economy on some airlines.
  • Row 1 has the most legroom but you have to use in-flight entertainment stored in armrest.
  • Limited but adequate range of IFE, if you don't mind U.S. television series rather than U.K.
  • Avoid middle seats unless you are want to travel as a trio. Hard to exit middle seat, limited wriggle-room.
  • No guarantee your baggage will come out first.

Starters for Lunch menu
Salmon steak with salsa (tastes better than it looks)


Choice of cheese platter or dessert (or both if you are lucky)

Monday, 10 April 2017

Is the paper book dead? Or just creatively reused? Books become visual art

The ultimate example of style over substance? Or is it stunning visual art?

Entry staircase
A closer look at "Reader's Digest" 
With the use of e-readers, hard cover and paperback books are now being used as decorating items.

We found this wall of pre-loved books in Melbourne's QT hotel foyer. The feature was created by Sydney artists Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro. Their "Reader's Digest" combines books 5.5 metres of books, glue and MDF. Some might say the best place for Jeffrey Archer is to be tightly wedged into a wall cavity.



The Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit doesn't bother using real books. It uses giant mock ups for its decor in the club lounge.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

"Bates Motel" Final season - the best bits

This frustratingly inconsistent show is going out in style.

  • Episode 1's opening sequence was masterly, thanks to writer/producer Kerry Ehrin (eps 2-5  have different writers). There's even a shower curtain reference, with tongue firmly in cheek.
  •  The show is at its best when Norma and Norman duke it out (e.g. the scene in the woods with them both brandishing flashlights).
  • Chick's viking funeral in Episode 3 was just plain weird. No kimono needed.
  • The cheerily lit Bates house with dining room table elegantly set for dinner, contrasting with the reality of Norman's squalid existence.
  • Marion Crane (Rhianna) walks past a sign for real estate: "R. A. Bloch" (shout out to the original novel by Robert Bloch).
  • Episode 6 was a clever reinterpretation of  key "Psycho" scenes. Not a dud scene. The series most consistent episode. Respectful of its source material, then improving upon it. Producers Ehrin and Cuse scripted this episode. Note: "Sam Loomis" was John Gavin's character in the original movie.
  • Episode 7 (scripted by Freddie Highmore) demonstrates Highmore's black sense of humour (see early scenes - bathroom clean-up and dumping Loomis in the well: "Make a wish").
  • The intrepid sheriff (Brooke Smith - so good in "Ray Donovan") has some great scenes with Norman in Episode 8.
  • Episode 9 had one decent scene - Emma visiting Norman in jail - the rest was tedious padding.
  • Episode 10's climax was more like a Greek tragedy. Max Thieriot acted his socks off. The dinner table scene was truly macabre. The show went out in style. (Small gripe: If you were Emma - 30 mins into episode - wouldn't you ignore Dylan and ring the police yourself?)

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Bangkok's Underground - MRT

Booths at Lumphini Station
Cheap, clean and efficient. Why can't Australia have a system like this? Spotless carriages, no graffiti, no smells of someone else's junk food. Food and drink are prohited.
Fares start at 16 Baht (60 cents). You can travel to the other side of the city (e.g. Chatuchak Market) for 42 Baht ($1.57).



Beat the traffic!