fortieth birthday sydney trip - day one

the iron general from mca rooftopthe grand dame from mca rooftop
Hello Sydney... I'm back again!

I decided that I really just wanted to be away from home for my 40th birthday (which is tomorrow), so I figured why not come and see Sydney again. Because, why the hell not. And it happened to coincide with The Lion King musical being in town, so it all seemed to come together nicely.

However we may either have passed or are fast approaching the point where I'm not sure if I can travel with Ma anymore. Don't get me wrong, I love her to bits, but she doesn't half drive me crazy on trips... possibly it's just because she really needs a hearing aid, but it could just be general oldness.

It's not like she does anything extra special on interstate trips that she doesn't do that annoys me at home. Or else it's something where she annoys the spit out of me on the first day and then I get over it by day two.

But I'll get over it... or I won't... we'll see.

there's a forty in this photo, i swearthese lion king banners were all over sydney
It was a decidedly early start this morning... I was up at 4:45am in order to be able to have a shower and get organised before Ma arrived at 5:30. I dragged my suitcase, camera bag and messenger bag downstairs, waved goodbye to the cat from Number 8 who likes to lurk on the balcony railing and off we went.

As is usually the case, we headed to the airport in complete darkness. What wasn't so usual was the fact that we took Ma's car rather than a taxi. Given the fact that it's not as easy to leave Ma's car at my place now that I've moved (the old place had a rear carpark which wasn't secure, but it wasn't on the street either), plus the fact that taxis to and from (usually from for some reason) the airport aren't cheap we decided to investigate airport parking which ended up looking like a decent alternative.

When we finally managed to find a park (not the easiest thing in the world, there are a LOT of cars in long term car-parking at the airport) I took a photo of it so that we could remember roughly where it was... only to then realise that we were parked right under the control tower (not sure if it's the current one or an old one that's no longer in use)... so, yeah, I think we'll be able to find it again.

After a bit of a wander from the carpark to then terminal we did all the checking in stuff (as always I "won" the "who's bag weighs more" game we play at the airport... I think I've only lost once in all our trips) and found our spot at the gate.

From there is wasn't overly long before we were on the plane and headed off into the proverbial blue yonder.


forgotten places arrowmca curls
The flight was relatively routine... I did notice that the breakfast meals are now served in little cardboard boxes rather than on a tray. But they're cute little things and although I don't think you get quite as much stuff compared to previous breakfasts, it was more than enough.

Although the tiny banana bran breakfast loaf was all kinds of hideous and the face I pulled (and the fact I kept pulling it every time she looked at me) was enough to keep Ma and I amused (actually it got to the point where Ma couldn't look at me because she was laughing too much) for far longer than it should have done.

I spent the rest of the time listening to episodes of The Nerdist podcast and Adam Savage's Still Untitled podcast until we had to put away electronic devices and prepare for landing.

I would consider myself a good flyer... I don't get airsick the way I used to (although I attribute that more to the fact that I sit in a window seat and tend to keep one eye on ground level whenever possible), but the one thing I really don't like are bumpy landings. We've had worse ones than the one this morning, but that moment when you know that the plane isn't completely level and the ground is fast approaching... yeah, I don't like that. There's lots of knee bracing and grabbing of the seat in front of me at moments like those.

But we made it down just fine, obviously.

boat people behind glassall about the reflections... obviously
We also just happened to time it perfectly (or came into just the right gate) so that as we came down to the baggage area our highly distinctive bags
(Ma's violently pink and mine covered in stickers) were amongst the first to head around the belt (along with something that looked like it was either part of some sort of industrial equipment powered by gas, or some sort of scientific apparatus). Then it was time to descend into the Mines of Moria... or as the rest of the world calls it, the Sydney Airport Railway Station.

Don't get me wrong, I love taking the train from the airport into the CBD... it's quick, it's easy, it's cheaper than a taxi... it's just a little like you're delving into Middle Earth. But it gets us to the city faster than any other version of transport that we've tried, so you can't complain about that.

Once we were out of the station we trundled our way up George Street to our hotel, checked in, left our bags with the hotel and headed back out to do some wandering.

The one thing we're not actually any good at when we're travelling is really planning out what the hell we're going to do beyond a few specific things that require tickets or planning and some general ideas about wanting to do specific things during the trip but with no actual itinerary.

In some ways it's great because it lets us do pretty much whatever we like and if we happen to find out that something is happening, then we can decide to slot it in pretty much whenever. What this kind of holidaying isn't that great for is that point between getting to the hotel and our rooms being ready.

a knifeblade of glassshooting up from the sydney skyline
I think in all of the travelling we've done there's only been one instance where our rooms happened to be ready when we got there in the morning... there may also have been an instance when one of the rooms was ready. And I much prefer taking an early flight and getting to my destination nice and early, otherwise I feel like I've basically wasted the whole day because there's not much you can really do at home before you leave, etc.

So you would think that we would have learned in all that time that we really need some sort of plan on what to do until our rooms are ready. But no... invariably we end up standing outside the hotel going "what should we do".

And there was a bit of that, although we had seen something on the "what's on" infomercial thing on the plane that was about all these painted rhinos being out near the Opera House... all to do with Taronga Zoo and conservation and whatnot, but we figured they would make a decent photo op. So off we went to visit the Grand Dame.

Unfortunately when we got there... no rhinos... or at least none that we could see in the spot that they should have been (more on that later), so instead we decided to stop off at Guylian and have a little something to drink. Also we got a bit of a rude shock on the way down there, the Wagamama on Bridge Street where we've had many, many happy dinners in Sydney is no more... the place is empty, there's paper up in all the windows and a Danger Do Not Enter sign. A very sad day indeed. Fortunately there's still one up the other end of the city... but it's not going to be the same, or as quick and easy.

I've said it before but one of the things that I do love about Sydney is the fact that you can be served by three or four different people at an eating establishment and none of them have an Australian accent. Thus was the case with Guylian and really set the tone for the trip in general.

the fifty two suburbs exhibition in kinokuniyabigby wolf from fable
Oh, and their banana and chocolate milkshake... divine! Even if it did have little bits of white chocolate (urgh) floating on the top... I just mixed them in and pretended they weren't there. The chocolate and banana flavour covered the taste up anyway.

While we were at Guylian we hatched a vague plan to hop on the free shuttle bus up to QVB and The Galeries to take a look in Kinokuniya at the small 52 Suburbs exhibition. Plus it's the only place in the Sydney CBD I've found that has a range of blindbox vinyl toys (there is another place downstairs in Westfield Sydney, but it's a smaller range and they're more expensive).

When we got to The Galeries we had a brief look in the same shop we look in every time we're in Sydney but never buy anything (they have a lot of really cute things, but nothing that's made me not want to leave without it) then headed up to Kinokuniya.

The exhibition was small but lovely and I left a sticker on the wall and a note in the book. Then we wandered around a bit, I found some Game of Thrones and My Little Pony blindbox toys and the eighth volume of the Buffy Season 8 graphic novel (I have the first seven but just assumed that that was the end of that run).

From there we had a quick look in QVB, realised there really wasn't anything or anywhere we wanted to look in there, so headed out the other end and off to Westfield Sydney.

tasty bento lunchgrumpy joffrey is clearly unimpressed
On the way we happened to see a Google Street View car parked at the lights... so I'll have to keep an eye on Sydney's street view, see when they update it. It's also not like they're particularly discrete cars... they're pretty much emblazoned with Google colours and the cameras are a big blue ball on a stick. Who knew!

Once we got to Westfield Sydney we took a brief detour to the basement to check out the aforementioned place that has vinyl toys then headed up to the food court so that Ma could pick out some things from Happy Lab for the girlies at her work.

Either the dude behind the counter was a little bit bored or liked us or something because he kept offering us tastings of things while he was actually getting tastings for other people. Not that I'm complaining. I ended up getting a pick and mix tub full of various sour jube things and some chocolate bit and pieces and we also got a bag of Hawaiian Salted Caramel Popcorn to split between us. No idea what that tastes like yet but it smells pretty amazing.

Since the food court wasn't overly packed we wandered around to see what seemed interesting... neither of us were overly hungry so we decided to split a bento box from Sushi Hon. I thought it was going to be cold, which was fine, but it turned out to be warm, which was actually much better. And it was also really tasty. It was missing some pickled ginger (I think they had that available as an optional extra) but otherwise a nice lunch.

I brought an original 1980's Lego Spaceman minifig with me as my avatar this trip (and also to take part in MinifigMarch on the "soshulmejas") and wanted to take a photo of him with the food court in the background. Which I did... set him up on the back of the bench seating... but the three Japanese folk sitting at the next table over were overly interested in what I was doing. There were a lot of not very furtive looks and some discussion at their table over it. Which amused me... it's happened a couple of times today actually when I've been taking his photo. And after all that I didn't even end up using that particular photo...

the view of george street from my balconypacha the painted rhino
After lunch we headed back down to Pitt Street Mall and wandered back in the direction of the hotel. As we crossed over from the mall to Pitt Street proper, what should we see on the street corner... one of the painted rhinos! So I took a couple of photos and figured that was that.

As usual we stopped off on the way back to the hotel to grab some fruit from one of those little curbside kiosks (love those, especially since there's one right outside the hotel) and I took a brief detour to grab some of those fresh fruit juice drinks. And I say again... why the hell don't we have one of those juice shops/stands/stalls in Adelaide? I would go there all the damn time!

When we got to the hotel they'd already taken out bags up to the rooms, so they gave us our swipe keys and we headed up. We kind of randomly chose the keys, so I ended up with what I think is the slightly nicer room. It's facing a different direction from last time, which is nice and the lounge area is a bit more funky.

Ma actually ended up with the room that's exactly one floor up from the room she had last time we were here, which is kinda weird.

After I unpacked all my bits and pieces I opened up my blindbox toys from Kinokuniya... as I was opening the Game of Thrones one I thought to myself... "anybody other than Joffrey is good". Which I should have known was the kiss of death... you guessed it, Joffrey.

mantra hotel room - bedmantra hotel room - lounge
Although he could be kind of fun to take places and pose in front of things (see the photo earlier in the post)... "Grumpy Joffrey is not impressed by X" or "Grumpy Joffrey doesn't have time for Y"... that kind of thing. I may still go back and pick up another one though (JonSnowJonSnowJonSnow). The MLP is interesting as all the pony bodies in the range are black but with their original mane and tail colours. They're also a decent sculpt on the hair too.

Once I was done with that I wandered down to Ma's room with a handful of bits and pieces (managing to lose my room key in the process, which we found later, but not before they gave me a new one) and we plotted our next move. We needed to get some public transportation tickets of some description, but I know that Sydney is in the process of changing over to the Opal system (which seems to be a variation of the one we're using in Adelaide) so we wanted to get some more info.

And where do you get info? From the Information Centre of course. So we headed down to The Rocks to talk to the nice folks down there.

Turned out to be a good plan, thanks to the Gay Mafia... we were looked after by a lovely boy whose name I really don't remember right at this precise moment, but who was actually a former Adelaide boy (so we're rocking both the Gay Mafia and Hometown Boys vibes at this point) and he let us know that basically the Sydney transport system is pretty much shit and/or incredibly expensive (although moreso if you're doing the ferry thing... which, seriously, if I lived here, would be the only public transport I would ever want to catch) but explained all our options.

We decided that we should probably work out exactly what trips we wanted to take to where and then buy tickets accordingly. Which is something of a shame, because I very much enjoyed our random jaunts on ferries during our last trip. Although we've now been on just about all the ferry routes, so it would have been a matter of going somewhere and actually getting off the ferry this time.

asnc clock towerlittle gold rhino
From there we took a wander up Playfair Street, only to find another painted rhino in the little courtyard area in the middle. We paid slightly more attention to the information on the base the rhino was standing on... turns out that there's a iOS app where it tells you where the rhinos are and you can check them off via a QR code as you find them. So I've now got the app on my phone. Doesn't mean I'm going to find them all (a little hard since a number seemed to have been "removed from display"), or even try, but it'll give us something else to do as we’re wandering around.

Then we headed down towards the water so that I could snap some photos of the Opera House and harbour then circled around to the MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) so we could have a poke around in their shop (one of these days we're actually going to look in the gallery itself), but because we came in from the harbour side we took the elevator up... and given that it went up to level 4, I just wanted to go all the way up and see what you could see from up there.

So we did... turns out there's a café with incredible views of the harbour, perfect for snapping a few shots (two of which are at the top of this post) and pulling out the iPhone for some panorama photo action.

The MCA shop is a little bit like the store in The Galeries... lots of interesting stuff that you could very possibly buy, but nothing that screamed at me to buy it instantly.

We headed back down George Street, stopped for a bit of a rest near Alfred Street to work out what the hell we were going to do for the rest of the evening (which mostly involved Ma mishearing what I was saying and me looking things up on my phone) before heading back in the direction of the hotel. Last time we were here, we didn't work out until the last night that there was a Woolworths just across the street in the train station arcade, so we headed over this time to pick up some bottles of water and some random bits and pieces. It's a weird little store... oddly shaped because it's squashed into the available space in the basement, but it would be ideal for stopping off to get a few bits and pieces on the way home from work.

the e panded museummca corner shadows
Once we got back to the hotel we both headed to our individual rooms to have some alone time before dinner. For my part that mostly consisted of writing the first 1500 words of this blog post and spending far too much time staring at Grumpy Joffrey.

Dinner was at a place we've been past about a billion times (although to be honest I don't know how long it's been there) but that I only discovered after Hex (from ABC's Good Game) Instagrammed a photo of her empty plate saying "I think I just had a religious experience"... she didn't say where though, but fortunately the wine glass in the photo had the place's name on and I was able to track it down to Fratelli Fresh... technically it's the Café Sopra side of the place, but it was our destination for dinner.

Clearly it has a great reputation because it's in a basement with almost no signage apart from one little blackboard that doesn't seem to say anything especially helpful... but the place was packed when we got there. So much so that we had to take a number and go hang out to wait for a table.

I'm not going to lie, the place is incredibly noisy... especially since it was packed with people and full of hard surfaces... but I would go back there in a heartbeat. In fact, since Wagamama is no longer down the street, I think we've found our new favourite restaurant on Bridge Street.

It didn't seem to be all that long before we got seated, and it was near the door which gave ample opportunity to people watch.

Depending on where you're sitting I would suggest ignoring the printed menu as the type is kind of tiny and the place has very low light in places... but they have big blackboards with the menu in various spots that come in handy provided you can read the handwriting.

harbour viewharbour gull
I can't find a copy of the actual menu online, but we decided on the zucchini flowers stuffed with four Italian cheeses for entrée. I have no idea what the cheese were, but they were soft and melty but still strongly flavoured... mmmmm.

For mains I had the tagliatelle with meatballs and Ma had the gnocchi ala romano. The meatballs were enormous which can be a tiny bit daunting, but there were still very tasty... but the pasta was tossed with, I think, lemon and olive oil and it was AMAZING! Ma's gnocchi was like nothing I've ever seen... and I'll be honest with you I'm not completely sure which bits were the gnocchi but it looked and tasted amazing. Having had a bit of a Google image search I think I know what was going on, but it was an incredible dish.

Then for dessert we split a passionfruit, kiwi and raspberry meringata... which was... wow. There wasn't all that much of it, but damn it was tasty. And simple as hell... it's very similar to Eton Mess in that it’s just meringue, fruit and cream... I think the passionfruit was combined with the cream or something but it was just so good.

I also grabbed a coffee, which isn't something I usually do after dinner, but this was proper coffee... good and strong!

So, happily full, we traipsed back to the hotel, tried to decide where to have breakfast tomorrow (I'm pretty sure we decided but it's just that my memory of the place doesn't match what I wrote in my blog post for that day... which is weird) and then went our separate ways.

And in between writing this I've been looking at maps of Newtown and Chinatown and chatting with Twitter buddies looking for recommendations for breakfast on Saturday... and spending too much time looking at and being amused by Grumpy Joffrey. I hate the character but the figure just amuses me.

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