I mentioned in my previous post about my trip to Blue Mountains and how great the trip was. Meeting up with a good friend, good food, good entertainment, fantastic weather and sightseeing.
I did not have time to blog about it the past few days cause I was busy with housework (pain in the butt) and school. Enrollment started on Monday and I had to choose my units of studies which where: English (Film, Text, Time), English (Grammer, blah blah), Psychology (Ranga wants to do this. That’s why he should come here) and World Politics. I’m not very keen on doing two English courses this semester (the amount of reading and essays) so I’m thinking of dropping one and taking up another course but I’m still not decided yet. I had orientation today which would continue tomorrow, so that left me very little time to blog.
Back to the Blue Mountains trip. I left Sydney last Thursday afternoon. I headed to the Central Station which is about 10 minutes walk from my hostel and for the first time was exposed to the complexities of taking inter-city trains. The ticket machine was simple enough, I chose my destination (Katoomba), chose the type of ticket (single fare) and paid up the fare ($12.20).
I bought the above ticket around 1:30pm but I only got the 3:30pm train cause my friend told me not to go to Blue Mountains too early. Central Station was big and it had all the inter-state, inter-country and metro trains combined. So I had to walk around looking for my platform. My second cousin and friend warned me not to go to the wrong platform and board the the wrong train. One peculiarities of Sydney trains is that they sometimes change platforms. So I had to pay attention to the PA system too.
The other peculiarity is that once you enter the platform areas, you can’t walk back to the station. This happened to me when I needed the toilet. I had a full bladder and was not sure if the train had toilets. As I didn’t want to take the risk of holding my bladder for the next two hours, I tried to walk back to the station area using my ticket. Fortunately, a station officer saw what I was trying to do so after explaining my predicament, he let me through the barrier. It seemed that this happens quite often and is normal. After the toilet business was done, I walked back to the platforms to search for my train (had to let the officer let me through the barrier) and found it.
After the settling down comfortably and showing my ticket to the ticket conductor (I’m on the right train, phew), I prepared myself for a 2 hours train journey.
And the trains do have toilets on them.
It was a long journey, but the changing scenery kept me occupied the whole way. A pity I didn’t take any pictures. The scenery of the sun setting against the mountains were really spectacular. I also had the first experience of seeing my train go through a tunnel hollowed out from the mountains.
I did some people watching on my train compartment. I noticed that many office people work in Sydney but then take an hour or hour and a half commute back home. One guy got off one stop before my station, making his commute almost 2 hours. Phew….
I was suppose to meet my friend at Katoomba station since it was near the hotel he was working at. But he called me later and told me that he knocked off early and told me to get off at Leura station, which was a stop before Katoomba.
Was it Leura or Laura?
One thing about inter-city trains is that they are old and so most of them don’t have any maps on board. Not like Singapore MRT. It means that the PA system is completely fucked up. On Singapore MRT, a loud, robotic voice will announce the stops clearly. But here, it’s the train driver announcing the stop and most of the time he is mumbling the words. He also announces the stops a few seconds before the train pull in. Furthermore, the train will only stop at a station for maximum of one minute before pulling out.
So most of the time, I had to squint through the darkness, trying to make out the train stations’ names. That was how I missed Leura station and disembarked at Katoomba around 6pm.
The first thing I noticed was that my breath started fogging. Moments later, the cold weather hit me. Even though I was wearing a undershirt, one long tee, one wool jacket, a wool scarf, a wool hat and jeans, these didn’t really help. As I stood freezing in the station, I called H (the friend).
I told him that I missed Leura and was now at Katoomba. After throwing a few choice swear words at me, he told me to stay put and he would come to pick me up. He later said that I had to treat him drinks as he would have wasted 10 dollars to make a 10 minutes journey.
I could have take the train back to Leura. But these are inter-city trains and they come every 45 minutes to one hour. And I don’t really fancy freezing for another one hour.
While waiting for H, I took some pictures.
H came about 15 minutes later. He chided me for getting off at Katoomba when I could have got off at Leura, which was just next to his apartment. Anyway, after the usual greetings and hellos, he asked me if I was hungry to which I said YES. I hadn’t had a meal since breakfast, which was 7 hours ago.
H and I walked through the main street of Katoomba. It’s a very small town. Very peaceful and there were few cars on the road. It was getting late (it was only 6:15pm!) and most of the shops were closed. H showed me the 5 star hotel where he was doing his F&B placement: The Carrington. That hotel is almost over two hundred years old and is an heritage. I didn’t take a picture at that time cause it was too cold (the town is 1000 metres above sea-level) so I’ll show you a picture I got from Google:
We headed to a small cafe to have a light snack. The cashier who took our orders was a Chinese man and half the time we couldn’t understand him. But at least we got our food. H, if I’m not wrong, had an egg roll while I had a cheese burger. The cheese burger was fantastic and better than any fast food restaurant; it had two patties of beef with melted cheese and chili sauce. It was piping hot and had the melt in the mouth taste. Just what we needed to warm our body.
We later headed to a small pub where we had a pint of golden ale. I can’t remember the name of the pub except that it was next to The Carrington. I can’t really remember the name of the ale. All I remembered was that the beer was cheap and had a crisp and refreshing taste with not too much hops in it. It certainly helped to wash down my burger snack. Of course, I treated H to drinks for the taxi fare.
We were waiting for H’s friend to finish class around 8pm. So after drinks, we decided to kill time by heading to Coles Supermarket. We wandered around the Children’s Section aimlessly before doing something idiotic. We bought (more accurately, H bought) a large container of gumballs. There was no reason to it. We saw it and it looked so big, so colourful and so tasty that we just bought it on the spot.
We still had time, so I offered to pay for the cab ride back to H’s apartment in Leura. Cost me 10 bucks for a 10 minutes ride. Cabs in Blue Mountains are expensive. I suggested walking but H said we would probably die from hypothermia first before we even reach his place. Quite true.
We spent the next half hour killing time at his apartment before heading over to the Blue Mountains Hospitality School to pick up his girlfriend after her classes. This time, H paid for the cab ride. Quid pro quo after all. After picking up his girlfriend, we headed to a Thai restaurant for dinner (H paid for cab ride). By then, my stomach was rumbling and I was on the verge on eating anything within my sight. The burger was only enough to quell my hunger pangs.
Unfortunately, the Thai restaurant was closed. The whole Leura main street was deserted and it was only 8:30pm. All the stores were closed and there was certainly no restaurants we could go to. After a few minutes deciding (the cold speeded up our decision-making) H suggested to have Domino’s. At that point, I couldn’t care less what we had for dinner. Pizzas, hamburger or steak, anything that was edible, I would have agreed.
So we walked back to H’s apartment (it was very close by) and promptly called the delivery line.
Unfortunately, there was no more ham or bacon.
And what’s pizza like without ham or bacon? Vegetarian. Damn…..
H apologized to me, saying this was not what he expected and I just told him to get my dinner pronto. So in the end, we decided to head back to Coles Supermarket (me footing the cab bill) and shop for food stuff (H’s girlfriend footing the food bill) and head back to H’s place to cook (H’s girlfriend footing the cab bill). Well, H, that bloody bugger, forgot his wallet.
Dinner was a feast. But a very weird feast.
H is making his minced chicken with onion omelet. The white bowl on his right contains the omelet. Verdict: tres delicious.
Beside the omelet, we had store-bought pizza, which we almost burned it:
Zuii, H’s girlfriend, demonstrates how a pizza should be cut. Luckily, the pizza was still edible and we finished the whole pie. You see the white bowl and avocado next to Zuii on the basin? And the soy sauce bottle at the top of the pizza? Zuii taught me how to mix raw avocado with soy sauce to get a sweet and salty meal. Very filling and delicious!
We also had roast chicken:
I apologized to Vivian here. I know this is not a very glamourous shot of her and just wanted to say that she look better in person. And that’s the chicken she eating from.
Beside the omelet, soy-sauced avocado, pizza and chicken, we had instant noodles too. By then, we were not hungry but filled to bursting point. Weird but satisfying meal.
We slacked around for a bit until midnight before H bought me and Zuii along to a pub at Alexandria Hotel, which was near his place. Vivian was not in the mood so she stayed at home while H’s housemates (two girls, sorry no pictures and I can’t remember their names) went later.
This pub is one of the oldest in Leura and it had a mini disco area for people to dance. Every Thursday night, most of the students from the Blue Mountains Hospitality school and the other schools would congregate at the place. It was also where I had a minor problem.
The bouncer (huge guy) asked us for identification. H pulled out his student card while Zuii produced her passport. Me, being the usual idiot, produced my Singapore Pink ID. The bouncer glanced at me and asked if I had a passport. Damn, my passport was all the way in Sydney.
H explained to the bouncer that I didn’t have my passport with me so the bouncer, being understanding, let me in but advised me that I should either carry my passport or a photocopy of my passport with me.
To be frank, I had not encountered this before. The pubs and clubs that I go to in Vietnam, I was not required to show any identification, much less a passport. In Singapore, all I had to do was to produce my pink IC or military IC or driving license. This bringing passport thing to a pub or club is actually quite new to me.
It was fun at the pub. Not too crowded but it certainly had the vibe and atmosphere. As most of the people there were H’s friends (and he being the usual Mr. Popular), I was introduced to the load of them, with most of the girls cooing in wonder when they found out we were army buddies. Of course, we didn’t tell them we were only clerks. Some stuffs are better left unsaid. H’s housemates came down later and we had a chat and they recommended me to go down to Melbourne (they’re from Melbourne) since in their opinion, Melbourne is better than Sydney. I don’t mind Melbourne as it is easier to get around and much cheaper. But what I can’t stand is that during winter, its very cold and wet and I don’t really like cold and wet weather. So Sydney it is.
Zuii treated me to this drink called Black Russian, which was the first time H and I had it. Quite a sweet, tangy drink. It’s vodka mixed with coffee liqueur. Later, H treated me to a Jagerbomb. I seldom drink Jagerbomb so I can’t really draw any comparison. But what I can say is that a lot of the drinks are very cheap.
For those who are reading these, and you know who, I did not pass out. I did had a lot of drinks but no, no passing out took place. I did not bring my camera along, which was a waste. I should have bought it along and took some pictures. I like the pub, it’s an old school building with wooden stools, tables and walls and even the bar is wooden. Even though there was a lot of students making merry, it had an old school vibe to it. The fact that it was in a secluded area facing the highway and mountains added to its charm.
I did have a close shave with a guy who was either drunk or just trying to attract attention. I think it was the later because the bouncers didn’t throw him out when he punched one of them. He didn’t exactly punched them, just hit them in the way a child would hit an adult. Basically, he was just going around and hitting people in that joking, drunken way.
Later on, when he stopped to take a sip from his drink, he made eye contact with me for a few, long seconds. I smiled at him to acknowledge his greeting (so I thought) when he slowly prowled to the table where I was sitting.
As I was sitting opposite him, the guy had to walk around H and Zuii to get to me. By then, I was extremely tensed, I could tell by the way he move: slowly and calmly, with his gazed fixed on me constantly, that this was no friendly greeting.
He stood between H and I and by then H was staring at the guy, wondering what the hell he was doing. Still, that guy concentrated his glare at me and just stood there for the next 5 seconds. That were the longest 5 seconds of my life. My left arm was slight raised, to deflect any blows that guy was planning to rain on me while my right hand balled up into a fist, ready for the counterattack.
Then he strike.
I reacted by leaning back. Instead of landing his fist into my face, his right palm landed on my left shoulder and he gave me big grin.
“You all right, mate? Want to play a game?”
I just gave him a tight grin, the nervous energy still wound up in me and said no. H butted in and calmly told the guy that we were doing just fine and thank him for the invitation.
With that, the guy smiled at both of us and told us to enjoy our drinks before walking off. H and I discussed this the next day and I told H that if he had punched me, I would had retaliated. H told me that the guy would have been dead cause nearly all the international students were there and they would certainly beat the crap out of him if he did that.
H advised me that during my stay in Blue Mountains and Sydney, I would come across these people frequently. The only way to handle them was to just smile and politely decline anything they offer. He also told me not to give them any reason to fight me.
We stayed until closing time (2am) before heading back to H’s apartment. I slept in the living-room on a fold-out bed. The bed was big, almost queen size and quite comfortable. As it was cold, H provided me a electric heater and a blanket and I turned in for the night.
Part two coming up tomorrow. It will have more pictures than this post.