Melbourne, Canberra & Sydney – January 2024

14-21 January  – Australian Open Tennis

We headed to Melbourne for the annual bout of the Australian Open. Melbourne does the event so well that it is hard to say no. The organisation is amazing, the tennis fabulous and almost everything is affordable, except for the drinks of course. We chose to fly Virgin and found it much changed since Covid. The positive is that the flight left on time. However, the food offerings were very limited and very poor value for money. The entertainment system is a WiFi based bring your own device, whcih it always was, but it used to work. Ours didn’t doing everything except allowing a press on the PLAY button. Luckily, we had brought our own downloads. The Skybus from the airport to Southern Cross Sation still works well and we were soon on the train to our accomodation.

We organised an AirBnB in Murrumbeena, south of the city and only a 300m walk to a train station on a line that took us direct to Richmond station for the tennis. It was a basic place, a little small, but having all the neccessary things for comfort. The biggest issue is with Murrumbeena itself. The place is dead. There is no supermarket and most of the shops are shut, even boarded up in some cases. It is a mystery as to why it is like this because the next train stop down the line is Carnegie and supports a bustling and vibrant restaurant and cafe strip that is never empty. We had to walk about a kilometre down the road to shop.

We organised three days of tennis, booking tickets in the John Cain Arena for each day. John Cain is excellent value, because reserved seats on the ends which are in permanent shade are only a little more than a day pass. Between that and a selection of matches on outside courts that don’t require booking, we saw many of the Aussie stars in action along with some big name international players. It was excellent tennis. 

John Cain Arena

Kia Arena

In off tennis days, we wandered around Melbounre, had lunch at Mr San Ramen (a favourtie), travelled down to Mornington on the train to catch up with Azba and Mike (and Evie of course) and caught up with Simon and John in Brunswick. A highlight was going to an iMax version of the Queen Rock Montreal Concert of 1981. It was a memorable experience.

Mr San Ramen

No visit to Melbourne ever fails to impress. The transport system works a treat and is cheap, the food offerings are amazing and so varied that every taste is satisfied, while the organisation of sporting events is superb. The weather is usually the downside, but we were lucky and had mostly mild temperatures with only one day of rain.



Train Trip Melbourne to Canberra

With Week One of the Australian Open over, it was time for us to relocate to Canberra for the U14 Regional Softball Championships, starring the gorgeous granddaughter Kelsie. We shunned air travel and opted for the XPT daytime train Melbourne to Sydney. It does not stop in Canberra but gets close in Yass, with a one hour coach transfer to the nation’s capital. The trip was wonderful, with good scenery, a comfortable train, and a buffet car for snacks and meals. The trip takes 8 hours, quite long by world standards but there are frequent stops along the way. We added an extra 80 minutes due to a delay shortley out of Melbourne when someone had stolen the copper wire feeding the signals. We had to wait for two oncoming trains before proceeding at a slow speed for 20 kms. Despite the long journey, we were never bored, watching the scenery glide by, dozing a little, or watching some downloads. The train is 40 years old and lacks such things as wifi or usb charging ports. Fortunately, we were prepared and had charging pads and fully charged laptops. The ride was smooth on the Victorian side, less so once into NSW. At one point, passing throough some hilly country and climbing up, the train passed through a tunnel, then looped around and passed back over the tunnel again a couple of times as it gained altitude. It is a trip we could recommend and much better than flying if time is not an issue.

The coach transfer from Yass to canberra Central was not so comortable, with hard cramped seats and no noticeable suspension. At least it was only an hour so we were soon in Canberra and into an Uber for transfer to our AirBnB house in Hawker. The house was chosen for its closeness to the Hawker Softball Centre and its ability to accomodate us, Trevor, Emma and Ashton, as well as Simon and John who were flying up from Melbourne. Trevor and Emma arrived shortly after us and we gathered some supplies from the nearby Woolworths before settling in for the night.

24-28 January – U14 Regional Softball Championships – Canberra

The first day was a rest day for us spectators while the team settled in and familiarised themselves with the diamonds. The team is staying in cabins in a caravan park somewhere, so contact is limited to a few brief moments after games, just as it should be. Coach coaches, family watches and supports. Trevor and Emma met up with Rob Keane, a friend from high school days and now living in Canberra who offered the use of a car for our stay, an offer we gladly took up, the public transport being ordinary at best. We organised to retrieve the car while the others headed out to cover some of the ‘must see’ attractions in Canberra, something we did not need to do because of previous visits. The car would be particularly useful because the shops, although close by, are at the bottom of a steep hill, requiring a tough walk back carrying supplies. Simon and John arrived around midday and settled in, our group complete.

The rest of the week was all about softball, with each day revolving around the scheduled matches. Trev and Em and Ashton managed a few more sights in down times and we did take one trip into town, finding it just as dead and dull as we have in previous visits. The softball was great fun, the standard being so much higher than the normal club matches. Kelsie was brilliant, fielding very well at 2nd base and more than holding her own with the bat.

Trevor summarised each day on his Facebook posts.

Day 1. Great day from the girls – took NSW Sky down to the wire, going down by one with a series of great defensive plays. They got the bats going in game 2, winning by 10 over ACT. Great to see them putting what they’ve learnt in their training into action on the diamond! Kelsie was clean in the field and had a solid day with the bat, particularly in game 2!

Day 2.  Another 1-1 day, with a great win over SA as we got on top of their best pitcher early with some power hitting. A loss to NSW Navy was a good learning curve, and the girls will be stronger having faced some quicker pitchers. Kelsie has a great hit to RF but was caught, a mixed bag at 2nd and a rest for the majority of the NSW game. Sitting 4th after day 2 with VIC and QLD Metro to come on Day 3!

Day 3. Began with a win against Vic, although not overly convincing. Then played a great game against QLD Metro, but going down by one, 7-6. It leaves us needing a win against QLD Country tomorrow and NSW Sky beating SA to make the top 4. The girls will give it everything. Kelsie’s had a great day with the bat, and was flawless in the field. She has also destroyed two socks and plenty of bark off her knees and elbows as her compulsive sliding and diving habits continue…

Day 4. Great victory today, and things fell our way! We are into the minor semi (3vs4) tonight at 7pm EDST (4pm WST), with the prize a spot in the preliminary final tomorrow! Kelsie was great in the field at 2nd base, and did her bit with the bat. Had a nice hit that was caught at CF.

Unfortunately, we lost the Elimination Final against Queensland Metro by a narrow margin, putting us out. THe girls played a terrific game and Kelsie excelled, taking two amazing catches and a couple of excellent takes at 1st Base. The girls can be rightfully proud of their performance across the carnival. The parents and families certainly were impressed with the dedication and effort of all the team members.

Australia vs South Africa – Women’s T20 International

With a lay day to to not making the Preliminary Final, we took the chance to go to the cricket at Marnuka Oval. With a small crowd of around 2000, good seats were easy to find and excellent value at $20. Unfortunately, the cricket was not so good, with a lack lustre performance by Australia and an easy win to South Africa, their first after a 6-0 head to head. It was a relaxing day, compared to the tension of watching close fought softball matches all week.

29-30 January – Train to Sydney

With the softball over, we all went our different ways, Trevor and Em to Perth via Sydney, John direct to Perth on the same flight as the team, Simon to Melbourne on the Sunday and us to Sydney via the Southern Explorer, run by NSW Railways. It is a four hour trip through the Southern Highlands and offeres some scenic delights. There are vast areas of woodlands, beautiful farmlands and a number of quaint small towns, as well as a couple of regional centres such as Goulburn and Bowral. It was a comfortable and enjoyable trip, and not overly time consuming when one takes into account the requirements of air travel and the convenience of finishing the trip at Sydney Central Station, only a short walk from our accomodation. We stayed at the Wyndham Hotel, which features rooms with a kitchenette, allowing basic meal preparation. It is very well appointed, if not a tad small, but is very well located witht the Museum underground station 300m away.

Once settled in, we headed out to catch the underground to Circular Quay for a ferry to Manly. When in Sydney, fish and chips at Manly is a must do, and the perfect weather made sitting by the water at sunset enjoying a feed a wonderful experience, except for overeating. When will we learn that one serve shared is enough for us these days?

The next day was a full day to sight see. It started out wet, but the weather steadily improved and gave us plenty of time to walk. We followed a chain of parks, starting at Hyde Park, and followed through the Royal Botanic Gardens on a series of pathways that would lead us to the Opera House. The BOtanic Gardens are a must visit location in Sydney, with beautiful plam groves, garden beds and ferneries. At one point, we passed a bench and there was a very classy looking Italian leather handbag lying abandoned. There was no one around so Christine guarded it while I set off to find a staff member for help. I soon found a gardener, who radioed for a ranger. Hopefully, someone’s bad day would turn out for the better.

As we neared the Opera House, I was stunned at how small it looked. However, it turned out to be an illusion caused by our elevated approach, and once down at ground level, it assumed its imposing look once again. The walk around to Circular Quay was crowded with tourists from a large P&O cruise ship in port. We stopped at a cafe to have an iced coffee and watch the passing parade. We had planned to catch the ferry to Parramatta, just for the ride and to see the sight of the middle and upper harbour. By the time we got to the correct wharf, we found we had over an hour to wait, so we grabbed a kebab (shared this time) for lunch while waiting. A check of the timetable revealed that the trip to Parramatta would be 3 hours return, so we changed instead to the ferry to Pyrmont Bay (Darling Harbour) via Luna Park and Balmain. The views were spectacular, and at $2.50, would have to be the best value harbour cruise anywhere in the world. We just stayed on the ferry and returned to Circular Quay and an underground back. A wonderful day.

This has been our fourth visit to Sydney and our best, even though very short. Every other time has been hot or we have had somewhere we had to be but this time we got to just walk and and sit on ferries. The central streets of Sydney hold little appeal. The open spaces, beaces, parks and harbour are all delightful.

Tomorrow, it is a flight home. It is an easy train ride from Museum Station to the airport with our backpacks at a civilised time of 10am so things are working out well. Hopefully, the flight won’t be cancelled.  Note: THe train to the airport took about half an hour, including the walk, and the plane was on time. We caught a train to Kinglsey to get home.