Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sydney --- Some Irritants and Some Downsides

Much as I love Sydney, one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world, like Vancouver, it has its downsides. Some of them are just the Australian way and since I have lived so much of my life in North America, it takes some adjusting to certain things here.

Just take free Wifi access, for example. This is something we take for granted these days in North America. Every coffee shop has it, the airports provide it, hotels all seem to be equipped with it now and they don't even have to be top notch for it to be standard.

But here in Australia, even the better hotels seem to require you use some outside service which is not free, $20 per day or $7 an hour if you choose that route is the going rate at my hotel. Of course all the instructions were for a PC and since I took my courage in my hand and opted to bring the MacBook Pro I wondered if I would get connected but fortunately it went very smoothly. I bought a block of time and it lasts for a year and I can use it in other places where there are Azure hotspots, although they seem to be few on the whole, but fortunately the Menzies Hotel, where we will be staying when we return to Sydney before leaving for Vancouver uses this service also, so I will have to make sure to use all the remaining minutes of my block.

One really, really big downside to Sydney, and at the moment it is a very big issue, are the sharks. The day we arrived a young fifteen year old boy was attacked by what is thought to have been a great white shark while on his board, surfing with his father at a Sydney beach. His father's quick action brought him to shore where he was taken to hospital and his serious wounds operated on. This is the third attack in three weeks in Sydney, none fatal fortunately, but a Navy diver lost his hand and leg in the Sydney Harbour and another surfer had to have his hand reattached after being mauled by a shark at world famous Bondi Beach. This has resulted in the closure of quite a few local beaches for the moment but it won't be long before the intrepid Australians are back in the water and in fact they already are.

Sunday, over 900 swimmers took part in the annual Swim Classic from Fort Dennison, a small island in the harbour to the Sydney Opera House. The organizers went ahead with the race since no sharks were spotted by the lookouts and patrol boats, although a careful watch was held.

When I lived in Sydney, I was never interested in surfing since I was petrified of the idea of those sharks lurking beneath the waters. The father of a young school friend had died in a shark attack and believe me I never forgot that. Of course they travel up the rivers too so the local swimming area on the river near where I lived in my youth had a sharkproof net surrounding it.

I guess that puts some of my other beefs in perspective as they are not life threatening and only involve money. One of my big beefs is that concession or senior rates only apply to Australian residents, who are provided with a special card. That certainly does not happen in North America, senior rates apply to everyone. Yesterday, for example, when we took the Manly ferry, a seven mile journey across the harbour, it cost $25 for the return trip for the two of us, whereas a resident senior citizen could get an all day pass for use on the ferries for $2.50 per person.

I know the next practice happens in other countries too, but it is wasn't always so in Sydney and it still annoys me. It also doesn't seem to happen in the country areas either so I guess it must annoy other Australians too when they visit Sydney. When you eat at a restaurant vegetables are not included with the entree and must be ordered separately. Now the entree prices are already high in Sydney, certainly more than we are used to paying in Vancouver and the prices of the side dishes are quite high also. Desserts really take the cake, at around $15 and while I have not noticed it recently, last time we were here Bread Pudding was a very trendy dessert. $15 for Bread Pudding? I don't think so, no matter how gourmet the recipe, made with brioche and cream, etc.

Well enough of my curmudgeonly ranting for the moment. I do appreciate the fact that the final price is that stated and there are no added taxes and no tipping. However many of the hotels are now adding a 1.5% surcharge if you use a credit card and with prices at $300 plus a night who is going to pay cash and overseas visitors cannot do direct debit.

As always the Australians are very friendly and outgoing, happy to chat at the drop of a hat, which I am myself but they are very laid back and service and standards are not always quite up to expectations. Well maybe one last negative comment. When I was looking at reviews for hotels in Sydney, although I always intended to stay at this hotel where we have stayed before, I was quite shocked at the low ratings for service and cleanliness, even for the better hotels. At this hotel, with rates starting at $300 a night, room only, they do not normally provide room service on Sunday unless requested especially. That probably has to do with the fact that labour rates are double time for Sunday but still that is the cost of doing business here and is surely factored into the price. One of the two elevators was out of service for the whole weekend and so too is the hot tub and sauna. Mmm. Would I stay here again? Well you can't beat the location, although standards have definitely dropped since our last visit so I would have to say yes unless the rates become too outrageous, which happened at the other hotel where we used to stay.

Still Sydney is one of the most vibrant cities in the world and culturally there is always something of interest happening. After all this is a city which has an opera house with over 2500 performances each year on its various stages. These feature not only opera, but comedy, drama, ballet, pop concerts, recitals and symphony concerts. There is even an opera about the Sydney Opera House, called " The Eighth Wonder".

Don't let me put you off visiting Sydney. It is a wonderful city, has a delightful harbour with the most amazing variety of ships, boats, watercraft and ferries which always seem to be in motion. You can spend many hours sitting on the shore watching them and never be bored. The many outdoor cafes are pleasant for the Australians certainly know how to enjoy the great weather in this part of the world.


Gledwood said...

You have to PAY for wifi Down Under? Now that's just a scandal!!¬!!
I heard Australia's woefully nonbroadbanded/etc etc... I wouldn't know, except there's a daily TV prog called "A Place In The Sun: Down under" or something like that. Australia's such a popular destination for emigrating Brits that we have our own TV show. They said "telecommunications engineers" were a "specified vacancy" thing, meaning people in that line of work got ultra-priority in the immigration queues. The wages, however were even LOWER than here in the UK. That's hardly what you do, is it? throw up hands demanding "We need more of these people" then pay them LESS~??!?
I've only just found out that mobile broadband can mean me buying a laptop and plugging into the USB port a dongle, which looks like one of those data cards and logs me onto broadband via the mobile phone network. I get 40 hours a month for about £15, which is, I do believe about the same as internet caffs provide. It has nothing to do with using a hopelessly small mobile phone handset for going onlline, it's laptop all the way, you get really good coverage and no need to get the house butchered and 12 month contracts when like me you never know when you're going to be moved. Do you have that thing your side..??

Moggs Tigerpaw said...

JMB, This sort of sounds like a conversation we had already about Wi-Fi. ^_^

Most places I have eaten anywhere, in the UK, or internationally, have usually included veggies where appropriate and you can do side orders of extras.

I really don't like it when a restaurant loads on a service charge for a meal. Like compulsory tipping. They do that they get no tip. I prefer to tip based on the level of service, and with cash, that way my server gets to choose what they do with it. Though I don't think that was quite what you were talking about.

I am surprised they don't accept debit cards in Australia. I don't remember any problem using mine in the US or Europe.

As for sharks. I saw that on the news it is terrible.

I think I would be very cautious about swimming where they swim. I can't help feeling all this extreme tourism diving with sharks, that involves diving in cages and shark food isn't just another way of teaching them that humans mean food.

"Oh look guys, humans. Chow time..."

lady macleod said...

Crimey! I go off to have a bit of nip and tuck and you leave for Down Under! How fun (in spite of prices and sharks - as a Scot I'm not sure which one of those elicited the largest shiver) for you! Huzzah. I'm going to backtrack here and catch up on your trip....

Oh by the by for YOUR READERs - she does tell the occasional untruth - she had the gall to say on my Blog that she had never been "pretty". Ha! I've met the woman you understand, she's a 'babe' NOW! That didn't happen overnight eh?

Crushed said...

From what I hear and see, Aussie cities spread out for miles. They don't compact up like our cities. That you still have lots of space in the cities. Certainly talking to people, aussie cities seem a whole different experience. Birmingham is about fifteen square miles all told, I reckon.

Sun, sea, beaches...


All right for some :)

Janice Thomson said...

There's ups and downs to every city isn't there. One gets comfortable with a certain way and it's always a shock when it's different - perhaps you are more Canadian than you realize :) Yay for our side, LOL.

jams o donnell said...

The odd irritation aside I hope your trip goes well JMB

Liz said...

You really haven't made it sound awfully appealing, jmb! We'd heard about the shark attacks on the news here. Terrible and very scary.

Hope you are having a good time overall though and that your cruise and the rest of your trip is wonderful.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I didn't know you had free Wifi in N. America. The desserts sound outrageously expensive and I'd run a mile from the sharks! But maybe you could tell me where they serve a good g&t?!

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