AUS/NZ Trip Diary: Day 10

March 15

Day 10: Sydney


We awake to the sound of rain… and loud bird chirping and wailing coming through the open window, open because our Airbnb has no air conditioning, just a ceiling fan, and our room is hot, hot, hot.

This bird we see everywhere; it is particularly, uh, expressive:

Damn tweety bird
Damn tweety bird

We roll outside into the heat and wet in search of the next Great Australian Breakfast. Current candidate: West Juliette, a short walk away. But the rain is picking up and we decide that maybe we need to finally break down and buy some umbrellas, especially since we plan on doing a lot of walking.

We walk towards the station and find a pharmacy selling umbrellas, get one each, then head back in the direction of breakfast. We don’t get to use our umbrellas too much on the walk over, thanks to the wide, block-spanning awnings hanging over the sidewalk. Then the rain lets up a bit and we’re better able to enjoy the residential Sydney neighborhood we walk through to get to the cafe.

Shortly after we sit down, the rain starts thundering down in sheets. We watch rivers of it flow along the curb as we wait for our meal. Good call, those umbrellas.

Food arrives in the form of two artful mounds of deliciousness, one savory (mine), one sweet (Mike’s). In fact, we’re both agog at Mike’s plate of French toast with salted caramel sauce, ricotta, nuts and grilled pear:

French toast explosion
French toast explosion

My smoked salmon with eggs and lemon ricotta on toast is practically hidden under a heap of fennel, sorrel and pickled shallots:

Salmon brekkie deluxe
Salmon brekkie deluxe

We take our time eating, waiting for the rain to die down. Umbrellas or no, walking in that kind of rain is no fun. I text Kit letting him know we’re ready to take off shortly, and we agree to rendezvous at Newtown station.


We’re able to leave under just a light sprinkle and meet up with Kit, who helps us buy Opal cards we can use to take the bus. We then top them off at a newsagent’s, where I briefly get a scare when my credit card is declined. (Turns out the clerk just didn’t know how to run my American card and had me remove it from the reader too soon.)

We then walk down King Street in a direction we hadn’t yet been, first stopping at a record store which has mainstream-ish new releases and used CDs/DVDs — think Strawberries, Coconuts or similar now-defunct, fruity chain music store. The next stop, a bookstore, initially doesn’t look all that promising, but it turns out to have a good selection of indie comics, and Mike finds a couple of things.

Kit has our next destination planned: a good indie record store called the Record Crate that’s a short bus ride away. We hop on a bus and head on over only to find… it’s closed! Bummer. Like a like of stores and restaurants in Australia, it has what I’d consider eccentric hours, opening around 5pm on that day, even though Kit says it is often open earlier.

Well, at least there’s an op shop nearby, and we say sure, let’s check that out while we’re in the neighborhood. It has boring records and CDs (no surprise), but on the t-shirt rack I score a lady-sized Devo Australian tour t-shirt. And for only $6 Australian. Sweet.

Expert street cat-spotter Kit then leads us down a side street known for its prevalence of lounging felines, though the recent rain does indeed a prove a wash in that department. But we’re about to meet a different kind of animal.

A few blocks away is a pub that, as Kit explains, is very old school Australian. And indeed there’s the worn carpet, a couple of older dudes at the bar and… a cockatoo?

He’s just chilling above one of the bar doors, and we try to coax him onto our arms. O e of the barkeeps helps out by getting him down off his perch and onto Mike:

Mike and cockatoo
Mike and cockatoo

Then Kit:

Kit and cockatoo
Kit and cockatoo

By then, though, the bird has had enough and hops back to his perch with a sulky look. Time to go.

Our remaining stops are in the central business district, so we again transit it over to a different part of the city. Mike and I had passed a comics shop on our first day in Sydney a week ago, but we had just gotten off the plane, and had heavy backpacks (and the online reviews were bad), so we’d passed on by. But now Kit was taking us over to this place, Comic Kingdom, as they’re going out of business and everything is 40% off. Worth a look, eh?

The store is filled with tons of old comics, magazines and books, many of which look like they’ve been there for years and years. Kit informs us that the store used to have a lot more stock, including in an upstairs area that is now closed. But the ongoing sale has cleared out a lot.

I peruse a few early 80s-vintage copies of Mad magazine, hoping to find one I remember from my childhood. (Nope.) As I’m casually scanning the racks — I dig comics, but I’m not a full-on comics geek — I notice Mike’s browsing getting more methodical and intent. I head to the back of the store to browse, and then spend a good chunk of time reading an interview with Robert Forster in a recent issue of Uncut. Mike is still at the front of the store.

Mike is a full-on comics geek, and he’s fallen into a comic-browsing trance:

Mike digs
Mike digs

I see he’s already accumulated a small stack and, is probably going to continue to add to it. Hm, so I guess this is what I look like in a record store?

Anyway, it’s all cool. (Collector solidarity!) It’s just that I’ve reached my comics limit and decide to grab a coffee. I tell Mike to keep browsing, I’m headed out and will text him with my location once I find a good coffee joint.

I land at a tiny takeaway place near a mall complex, which happens to have no seating. But there are benches in the plaza where I can sip my drip coffee (mixing it up, yo) and get a little writing done.

A little while later, Kit wanders along, saying Mike is still in the store. So we head over to a burger place together, as Kit is hungry.

At the restaurant, Kit mentions having suggested to Mike that perhaps I should get a head start browsing at one of the record stores on our agenda. He relayed that Mike was not that into that idea. Ha, no kidding. One of us having first crack at the records just wouldn’t be fair. I mean, if the tables were turned I’d have had the same reaction.

As Kit is finishing his burger, Mike texts to say he’s finally done, and he head back to the store to meet up. Mike is carrying a large paper bag and is quite pleased. Now we’re ready for records…

The first record store in the CBD is mainly older, mainstream vinyl (no indie stuff), so we idly flip through some of that before agreeing we’re done. The next one, though, is the main attraction: Red Eye Records, onetime label and now main independent music retailer in Sydney. Oh yeah, we’re gonna find stuff.

There is a good selection of vinyl, but by this point I’m mainly seeing copies of things I’ve already bought at other stores. The CD section, however, yields a used Ocean Party CD and a new copy of the Go-Betweens comp Quiet Heart with the bonus live disc.

We usually browse vinyl together, taking turns as flipper/onlooker. But I’m generally less interested in CDs, and feeling kind of tired after browsing all the vinyl, so I idly flip through discs while keeping one eye on Mike’s progress. And then I see him pick it up: a copy of the previous album by Melbourne band The Ancients, whose 2013 album Night Bus, we both loved. Damn, good score. And yes, I will be demanding MP3s.

While checking out, I spy a cassette rack. On it is a tape by a band that, as the sticker on it says, features “members of Twerps.” Okay then — purchased!

This is a pretty good record shopping finale for the day, and boy is it time for a drink. Kit knows just the place. We follow him for a few streets then turn into a slightly sketchy-looking alley. Uh, okay. Now past some spent kegs through an unmarked door, down an empty concrete staircase… ummm…

Then through another door and into… a totally swank whisky bar with a mile-high bottle selection.

Wall o' whisky
Wall o’ whisky

We’re at The Baxter Inn, one of the best bars in Sydney. Very well hidden! We get some fancy cocktails, including a fan-fucking-tastic cognac and cherry heering concoction for me:

From left to right: Mike's Old Fashioned, Kit's cocktail, and my whisky-cherry heering cocktail
From left to right: Mike’s Old Fashioned, Kit’s cocktail, and my whisky-cherry heering cocktail

Drink game: upped.


Mike and I still haven’t had food, and the rest of our stops tonight are back in Newtown, so head back over in that direction. The dumpling place we’ve now passed a couple of times on King Street is sounding pretty damn good at the moment, so we head on in.

I get chicken and veggie dumplings in a spicy miso chicken soup broth. And I should have gotten a side of a jug of water and a box of tissues, because DAMN was it ever hot. To be fair, I was warned by my server, and I do like really hot foods. And it was so, so, mouth-burningly good, even if I did have to blow my nose and/or gulp down some water every few bites. Hottest food since I accidentally ordered a dish 4-star-spicy at Thai Tom in the U District.

What is good for cooling the tongue? Beer! After dinner we walk down King Street to the Union Hotel, where… hey, wait. What’s that sign by the door? Upcoming gigs? Let’s take a look:

Upcoming gigs at the Union Hotel
Upcoming gigs at the Union Hotel

I let out a groan on seeing the Miners/Hideous Towns/Mope City gig on the 25th. All those bands are really good, especially Miners, which would in my top 10 of new Aussie or NZ bands to see on this trip. But we’ll be in New Zealand by then. Dammit.

Anyway, we go inside and order more sampling paddles, this time five beers in a sampler. Things get pretty chatty at this point, and oh, this beer is tasty. And we hear the story of the failed Burger King expansion in this part of the world, a,one other deep topics.

At this point we are yes, tipsy and yes, tired. We walk back down King Street with Kit towards the direction of the train and our Airbnb and we think we’re calling it a night when Kit walks us a couple doors past our turn and opens the door to what looks like a butcher shop from the outside. Huh?

Another hidden bar — of course! And with amazing cocktails — of course! Can we say no — of course… NOT. We’re on vacation, after all. And there is an espresso bourbon cocktail on that menu that’s calling my name. Bottoms up!

My espresso-bourbon cocktail at left, next to Mike's and Kit's
My espresso-bourbon cocktail at left, next to Mike’s and Kit’s

It is a good thing we need only stumble around the corner to bed, because we are now sleeeeeepy. Kit says he planned our drink-a-thon for tonight since the next day we’ll need our sleep that night for an early flight the following day. Pretty sneaky!

It’s still pretty hot in our room when we get back, but whatevs! Zzzzzzz…