Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Queensland's cheap public transport - Go Card Senior

It even comes with a card wallet and instruction leaflet

Our Senior Go Cards just arrived in the mail. Couldn't have easier.
My wife and I are living in Melbourne, Victoria. We plan to use public transport in Brisbane when we visit next month. We applied online, citing our Victorian Seniors Card numbers. The system in Sydney is more complicated and your Opal Card (Senior) only last 2 months for interstate visitors.
The card is free (you pay $10, but the $5 deposit is refundable and the card comes with $5 of pre-stored value).
You can use the card for 50% off travel on trains, buses, light rail (new Gold Coast link) and Brisbane River ferries/Citycats. If you travel off-peak ( between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., after 7 p.m. on weekdays and all on weekends) it is a further 20% discount.
You can use the card in Queensland tourist areas (Sunshine Coast and Cairns). Once you get your card (posted to any state or territory in Australia within 10 business days,) you can register online for auto top-ups. Validity of the Go Card Senior is 10 years. Queensland is certainly tourist-friendly.

Go to
Comfortable train journey to Brisbane from Varsity Lakes (closest station to Gold Coast Airport). Easy bus transfer from airport (Route 760).

City Cat ferry - great way to explore Brisbane 
You can travel to all stops on the Brisbane River for around $1.30 (round trip, if you stay on board). The red "City Hopper" ferry (limited stops) is a free service.
City Cat interior

Friday, 10 November 2017

"Trigger Mortis" (2015) A James Bond tribute by Anthony Horowitz

Better known for teenage fiction "Stormbreaker" series, Horowitz has tried to stay true to the Ian Fleming books with his 2015 stand alone novel. 
It is 1957. Bond having just polished off Goldfinger and Oddjob, returns to London for a bit of R+R with, you guessed it, Pussy Galore. But things don't go as planned.
Horowitz takes some excepts from an unfinished Ian Fleming television script about Grand Prix racing and then moves the action from a Swiss castle to east coast U.S. The rocket launch sabotage plot pays homage to "Dr No". This time it's a Korean millionaire/psychopath/super villain (nicknamed Jason Sin). His backstory is just as interesting.
SMERSH rears its ugly head. Bond's new female companion/ally is the feisty Jeopardy Lane (also possessing a cool back story). Attention to 1950's detail - locales, social mores, transport, food, alcohol - is a delightful pastiche to Fleming.

"Solo" by William Boyd (2013) is also a cracking read and probably the best written of the James Bond spinoffs. Faithful to Ian Fleming's James Bond, it is less spectacular but more believable.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

"Doctor X" 1931 From the Video Vault

I have mixed feelings about this campy horror pic. It is bizarre, corny, tedious and confounding in equal doses. Its 77 minutes running time seems more like 107 minutes. The two-colour Technicolour adds to the the film's weirdness. Production design is very German Expressionist. The sets are the stars (seedy waterfronts, spooky manor, dark corridors, strange staircases), although Lionel Atwill ("Son of Frankenstein") has fun.
Forget the grating main hero's (Lee Tracy) vaudevillian antics. When the villain starts his "Synthetic flesh! Synthetic flesh" scene, your jaw will drop.
First National (Warner Bros) tried to jump on Universal's horror bandwagon (after the release of "Dracula" and "Frankenstein"), so we have mad scientists, a full-moon killer, rape and cannibalism. This film was made pre- Hays Censorship Code. But the film doesn't really work as a horror movie or a who-done-it.

Image: courtesy of

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Bagan accommodation Unbeatable location and value - Thande Hotel in Old Bagan

View from outdoor bar - sunset 

Buffet breakfast under the giant Acacia trees - river views

5 minutes' walk from the hotel, climb a temple for the sunrise

Pool and spa area - perfect for cooling off after morning touring

We stayed in a very comfortable Superior Bungalow (Garden view). No need to pay double the rate for a River view room (they face west so you cannot sit outside - too hot in the afernoon). The killer view is in the outdoor bar and restaurant under shady trees. Agoda price was lower than hotel website.
Rooms spotless, comfy beds, excellent toiletries for a 3 star hotel, even gowns in the room. The location is unbeatable. Free wifi.
Buffet breakfast catered for all. Dinner meals around from US$10. Five minutes walk to Uncle Lay's Restaurant (Delicious meals from $AUD2.50, $1 Rum Sour, $2 beer!). A torch is available at Reception for night walks.
You can hire e-bikes from hotel or down the road (a bit cheaper). ATM on site. You can pay in US$ (no change given so do your maths) or kyat or credit card. Great to relax by the attractive pool after a morning of touring. Loved watching the squirrels from our private verandah.
Just be wary of the foot of the bed. My wife and I knocked our feet on the exposed wooden edges.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Climbing the temples of Bagan and other travel tips

We thought the Myanmar Government had cracked down on climbing temples but as of October 2017, tourists can still climb numerous temples in Bagan.  Many temples have access to upper levels via internal stairways (watch your head and bring a torch). Souvenir sellers are only too pleased to lead you in the right direction (just look at their wares afterwards). No pressure, though.

Remove shoes (climbing is easier anyway), no shorts, no socks, no singlets. Wear long pants or sarongs.

This temple (5 mins walk from Bagan Thande Hotel) is perfect for sunrise viewing

The 13 storey viewing tower on the edge of the historical area is an alternative. Views are comparable to views from balloons (a Bagan bargain at $US5 admission vs $US 350) Balloons can not fly over temple area.

Go to the Bagan Viewing Tower (near Nyaung-U Airport) before 9 a.m. so the sun is behind you for best view of the temple area.

Waiting for sunrise

Bring a torch and mind your head.

Follow the e-bikes for the best view

e-bike hire is cheap , top speed 40km/h, easy to ride

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

New Sofitel City Centre, Singapore - Review

Accor's newest hotel in Singapore opened in October 2017. Singapore now has three Sofitels: the funky, boutique style Sofitel So; Sofitel Sentosa (resort style) and now the 20 floor Sofitel City Centre, sitting half in the business district and half in Chinatown.

* The hotel is located above Tanjong Pagar MRT (which has direct access to Changi Airport rail line).
* Interesting locale - heritage area
* Adjoining huge Virgin Active Gym

* Lacks the wow-factor that Sofitel is renowned for.
* Small Club Lounge, seems cramped. Self-serve wine gizmo dispenses room temperature white wine???
* Many of the staff are overly friendly rather than professional.

Magnificently restored shophouses, 2 minutes walk from the hotel

Expansive pool/spa area. Rooftop 30 metre infinity pool. Limited shaded areas.

Old meets new

Opt for the Chinatown shophouses view (rather than pool/skyscaper view), no direct sunlight in your room throughout the day.
Barrel-aged cocktails in 1864 Bar

Racines restaurant
Every room gets a Smartphone with free calls and data. Great for ordering sightseeing tickets at discounted prices.

Club Lounge (Club Millesime) adjoints the pool area. The lounge is quite small compared to other hotel lounges.
Afternoon Tea at Club Millesime

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
Chicken and king prawn salad - is this a 'light lunch' (as described by Sofitel)?

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