Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Sydney Tramway Museum

Tram museum
I love a tram ride and have paid many visit to the National TramwayMuseum in the UK, so when I spotted a leaflet for the Australian version, it quickly went on my list “to do”.

Access, from Sydney, is via a train to Loftus on the Illawarra line. Even on a Sunday, these are frequent and formed of the same comfortable double-deck rolling stock operated during the week. I was surprised that behind me sat a couple from England. What are the chance of the Pomms congregating without realising it? As it was I stayed quiet or they might have asked me to join their conversation about suntan lotion and I might have suggested that factor 20 wasn't really man enough for the Aussie sun, even the factor 30 they were considering jumping up to is still 20 short of where you need to be.

Museum shopThe museum is a couple of minutes stroll from the station and on entry you are directed to a grounded tram body to buy your all-day ticket. Along the way there is plenty of tram-related infrastructure to look at including a signal box which hints that the interurban nature of the systems, rather different to the UK.
Beginning in the late 1950s, the museum used to occupy a shed part way along it's current route. This used to be a military railway until this was taken out of use and passed over for tramway purposes. The Loftus site now boasts a small park and large display hall as well as the maintenance sheds.

Operations start at Loftus and the first tram of the day ran to Sutherland, a trip of less then 5 minutes that ends up beside an Army depot. I understand the plan is to run on from here but at present the line needs a lot of work.

In the other direction, the main trip is out, over a major road, to the rangers station in the Royal National Park. If I'm honest, this is a bit of a disappointment as the station is an old railway platform with tubular steel canopy left over from the military days. It sits in a clearing of thick gum trees which hide any sort of view. Apparently there is good hiking to be had but everyone on my trip just got off, took a few pictures an climbed back on again.

The main attraction is simply riding the cars. All have been nicely restored and originate from different cities. During my visit, three were in operation, one from Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. The later was described as having the best air conditioning in the world as it was without windows!
Many more trams can be found in the museum hall where the main fleet lives. The walls have a history of Sydney tramways and some memorabilia. Again, cars come from all over the country.

I was particularly taken by the prison transfer car complete with lockable cells inside and signs on the front saying “No Passengers”. Strictly speaking, there were, but not paying ones! This car saw an audacious escape during its life when a prisoner cut his way through the wooden roof and made off. As this was a one-off, presumably the repairs were a bit stronger.

Prison transport tramWhile not as large as the UK version, over 100 cars are apparently on site and most in pretty good condition. Access is excellent as you can wander around at will and each tram has a small explanatory panel for people like me who want to get anoraky. Restoration work can be seen at the back of the sheds too although this is a cordoned off so we don't get in the way or hurt ourselves.

Outside, the operation is pleasantly home-spun. The aforementioned grounded body s home to the ticket seller and souvenir shop. I enjoyed a long chat with the proprietor, interrupted only when he had to announce the next tram running over the tanoy.

Food comes from a shed and is of the crisps and sausage roll variety although ice cream is offered and was ideal for the baking hot day I enjoyed.

I'd certainly recommend a trip to the museum. Even the kids who you might think had been dragged along by grandparents seemed to be enjoying themselves. It appears that simply riding on a wooden tramcar can compete with modern attractions.
Sydney Tram

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Hong Kong caged bird market

Kowloon bird cageHong Kong is hot, very tall and very, very crowded.

This lack of space prevents people owning traditional pets. When your apartment is under 100sq metres in size and 20 stores above the ground, dogs and cats aren't very practical.

This has lead to a tradition of keeping cage birds that dates back to the Chinese origins of the place.

Birds are kept in traditional bamboo cages with a large hook on the top and handle on the bottom. The hook allows the cage to be hung up where ever the owner is and the handle lets them carry it around.

Carry it around?

Yes. On Sundays, there is a tradition of taking birds for a "walk" in one of the parks. Owners can be seen carrying the cages around in the manner of waiters carrying a tray. If it's too sunny, the cage and its occupant is protected with a special fitted calico cover.

The hook is used for hanging the cage up either at home, or as a film in the Museum of History shows, some of the more traditional cafes.

The other place to take your bird is Yuen Po Bird Garden, or the Hong Kong Bird Market in the north of Kowloon. People visit here to buy supplies including bags of live crickets, and to chat, look at each others pets and even chose a new pet if the cage, which can also be bought, is empty.

Bird cages

Wandering around the market is fascinating. Watch a travel show on TV or read a travelogue in a book and this is the sort of place the presenter/author will drop in to. Most of us are too busy doing the sights and don't have a production crew to search these places out.

Market stalls 2The market isn't large, you could walk through it in a couple of minutes, but it is crowded and atmospheric. A bit smelly too but in an atmospheric way.

I was surprised that tourists didn't outnumber the locals when I visited. OK, there were people with cameras, including me, but not that many and they didn't seem to get in the way much.

There are several shelters where people gathered to meet up and chat or play Go. It's basically an outdoor social club.

Being a tropical country, the birds seemed very happy. Colourful species proliferated, ideal as you'd want something bright in your apartment. The largest birds were parrots and cockatoos but most it was finches on offer.

In a city full of noise and neon, and interesting oasis of calm.