Scootin’ to Sydney [2 – 5 Aug 2012]

Prologue

Sometime in March, Scoot started ticket sales to Sydney and Gold Coast with one-way ticket going for as low as 88 SGD. With a close friend studying in Sydney, it was a no-brainer which city to visit. After conferring with him on when I could visit (ie won’t clash with his exams), I managed to grab return tickets for a grand total of *gasp* 228 SGD!

Two weeks before the trip, HT asked if I could help him bring back some of his books, estimated to be around 20kg. It was easy enough to manage my booking on Scoot’s website; besides adding 20 kg of check-in luggage (40 SGD), I also pre-ordered the soya sauce chicken rice meal on the return leg for 16 SGD.

Around ten days before the trip, one of friends SC found out that I would be going to Sydney and decided to come along. Despite the almost last-minute purchase, SC managed to pick up the return tickets for around 450 SGD. Wasn’t too bad in my opinion since SQ’s and Qantas’s prices were easily twice of that.

Day 0 SIN – SYD

Although TZ 2 was scheduled to depart at 2.10am, SC and I agreed to meet earlier at 11pm since both of us would be taking public transport.

Must begin with a ride on Bus 27

Neither of us was on time though and I was the later one who arrived at T2 at around 11.20pm.

Despite the departure time being more than two hours away, the check-in counters were already open.

Check-in

While we were in the queue, an agent approached us for our passports to verify that we had the Australian ETA (20 AUD when applied online).

Verifying our ETAs

It was done in a couple of minutes and the passports were returned to us in time for the actual check-in.

Was directed to the ScootBiz counter

Since we were on different PNRs, SC asked the agent if we could sit together. The agent jokingly asked whether we wanted to sit in one seat; I thought it was amusing and replied that we weren’t slim enough. SC blamed his faux pas on the late hours and my thoughts began to wander to the SQ J seats on 77W (whose width could easily hold two people). Those were the times man…

My boarding pass

Given the Cabin Bag tag but not sure what purpose did it serve

Since it was still early, we decided to grab some supper. The offerings at T2 weren’t too inspiring and we went to Yakun at T3 instead.

Yakun

Mee rebus – not your usual supper

We made our way back to T2 after the supper and I remembered to snap a photograph of the FIDS.

SQ8992 to BWN – explained the presence of NSFs at T2

Although the boarding time was stated to be 1.10am, the agents were not ready when we reached Gate F41. After the gate opened, two long lines formed before the security checks.

We waited till the lines were shorter before joining one of them. The security check irritated the hell out of me; although the metal detector didn’t beep when I went through, I was singled out to undergo a second round of check. Following that, I was asked to take out the liquids that I was carrying in my bag. I wasn’t pleased at all and while taking them out I curtly told the security personnel that it was obvious that my contact lens solution bottle was less than 100ml.

We didn’t have to wait long inside the pen; being seated in 55 D & E (Zone 4) meant that we were among the first few to board. Managed to catch the registration of our plane on the aerobridge – 9V-OTC or Goin’ Scootin’ would be ferrying us to SYD.

Flight: Scoot Airlines TZ 2
Depart: Singapore (SIN) – 02:10
Arrive: Sydney Kingsford Smith (SYD) – 11:40
Duration: 7h30m
Distance: 3907 miles (6288 km)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Registration: 9V-OTC
Name: Goin’ Scootin’
Seat: 55 E

Forward economy cabin- still empty

Before 55 F & G were filled up

My first impression of Scoot was mixed; while the crews were friendly and pro-actively helped passengers with storing of carry-ons, the seat was very narrow and not very comfortable.

I had to place my left leg at an awkward angle as there was a box below the seats in front. Till now I still hadn’t figure out what the box was for.

Leg space @ 55E- a world of difference from SQ J seats

While waiting for the rest of the plane to board, I scavenged the seat pocket.

Safety card

Scoot mag

BOB Menu

Hot meals (10 SGD each)

ScooTV – on iPads available for rent (22 SGD)

Scootalogue

The photo-taking (and of course the long day) took a toll on me and I fall asleep (with arms crossed) before the plane took off. In my semi-conscious state, I heard my friend SC purchasing some hot food and drink from the crew but was too tired to check out the offering.

Despite the seat, I managed to catch four hours’ of sleep and woke up around three hours out of Sydney.

Cabin during mid-flight

I flipped through the Scoot mag and spotted someone familiar.

Barberella Posh Beckham

Done with the magazine, I watched an episode of Masterchef Australia before dozing off again. The next time I woke up we were closer to Sydney and the crews were already preparing the cabin for landing.

After landing in Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, the Captain came onto the PA and thanked us for flying Scoot. Being seated in row 55 meant that we were among the last to disembark.

Long walk to immigration

There was a long queue (consisting of mainly passengers from our flight) at the immigration and it took almost half an hour before we got through. Customs check was fast in comparison and we were soon out in the arrivals.

Welcome to Sydney

Day 1 Westmead & Parramatta

Instead of taking the Airport Link, we decided to follow the instructions given on Wikitravel and walk to Wolli Creek instead.

The 25 minutes or so walk had some nice scenery along the way and saved us 12 AUD each.

Cooks River

At Wolli Creek station, we each bought MyMulti 2 for 51 AUD and it would cover our transportation for the next few days. Prior to departure, I’ve downloaded Tripview Lite, a neat iOS application which contained Sydney’s public transportation schedules. Since Sydney’s trains run on schedule, we could plan our journeys with the application.

Waiting for train at Wolli Creek

While waiting for the train, HT sent me a SMS asking where I was. Using Tripview, I was able to tell him the approximate time that I would reach Westmead (where he was staying) and promised to call him when we arrived.

The instructions to his place were simple enough and he had taken time off from his attachment at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead to meet us. After settling down, we followed him to the hospital. While HT returned to his attachment, SC and I had our lunch at the Starbucks there and we discussed what we would be doing the following day.

I couldn’t recall who initiated the idea of skydiving but SC was clearly keen. After debating a bit while having lunch, we decided to take the plunge and call Skydive the Beach Sydney. The friendly receptionist (I didn’t get her name) told us that there were still places available for the 1pm session the next day. The sky dive would cost A$265 and we would need to place a deposit of A$110 each. After paying for the deposit with my credit card over the phone, we were given more instructions on how to get to its location at North Wollongong beach.

By the time we finished with our booking, HT was done for the day at the hospital. SC and I had an army friend J who is studying in Sydney as well and he was having lessons (?) at Westmead Hospital that day. HT and J knew each other back in NUS (see how small Singapore is) and we caught up at HT’s place while waiting for HT’s flatmate to return.

The Sydney lads decided to bring us to the nearby Parramatta for dinner and we ended up in an Italian restaurant The Sicilian.

The Sicilian

The prices on the menu seemed a little pricey but the service was quite good. I ordered gnocchi alla romana which was delicious.

My Gnocchi alla romana

The serving was enormous and I was stuffed by the time I was done with it. However, HT had other plans and decided that proper induction to Sydney would require us to try churros (from Chocolateria San Churro).

Chocolateria San Churro

Sinful desserts

Despite the desserts’ lovely appearances, we didn’t partake on the delectable sweets. We got ourselves some nicely fried churros with chocolate and caramel dips. Despite being deep fried, the churros were surprising light and went especially well with the caramel dips.

Posing without the churros

Posing with the churros

That was the last activity of the day and I was knackered by the time I returned to HT’s apartment.

Day 2 Skydive & NRL

I only realized that we were running late when I woke up at around 9.15am the next day. Although our scheduled appointment was 1pm, Tripview indicated that we would need to set out from Westmead by 10am in order to reach North Wollongong on time. We didn’t have time for breakfast and could only make do with energy bars from HT’s stash of food.

The route was simple enough; we would take the Western Line until Redfern where we would change to South Coast Line for North Wollongong. Since MyMulti2 don’t cover traveling to North Wollongong, we needed to purchase an additional return ticket for A$6.60.

Changing at Redfern

At Redfern station’s South Coast Line platform

En-route to Wollongong

After arriving at North Wollongong station, I called the operator who arranged the 5-minute transfer to its office.

Skydive by the Beach Sydney

We were served by the friendly Sophie who first got us to fill up the forms and then proceeded to convince us to add-on the photos and DVD package (129 AUD). The total cost was 394 AUD each; it was not an inconsiderable amount but skydiving isn’t a daily activity either (unless you’re one of the tandem instructors).

We paid the balance of the fees and were told that we would be in Group 6, the final group of the day. The skydivers in Group 5 were still kitting out then and we would need to wait for them to go off first before starting our preparation.

The fact that I would be skydiving didn’t sink in until I put on the gear and strapped on the harness.

Nervous behind the smile

Harry, the staff who picked us up at the train station, gave the seven skydivers in Group 6 some lessons on how to position ourselves during the different stages (pre-jump, descending, landing) while waiting for the previous group to return.

My tandem instructor was Max and he started filming my DVD after introducing himself. From time to time he would ask me how I was feeling and injected some humour to make me less nervous.

Max & me

The bus ride to Illawarra Regional Airport took twenty minutes and Max and I were the first up the plane.

First time on Cessna 208 Caravan

VH-PTX

Inside the plane

Taking off

It was a day with fantastic weather and there was no turbulence to spoil the experience.

Gaining altitude

2,500 ft

Awesome scenery

6,500 ft

Damn bloody nervous

After about 20 minutes of climbing, the pilot announced that we had reached the required altitude. The cold wind gushed in as soon as the door was opened. Being the first in, Max and I would be the last out and I could see the guys in front of us dropping out of the door.

Up next…

That’s it!

Before I could even think Max slid us both out of the plane.

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

The free fall feeling was indescribable. I could feel myself dropping very fast towards the ground; with the strong winds contorting my face. All the things from the earlier lesson were forgotten and I just screamed my head off.

Put your hands out

Contorted face

Halfway through the free fall I realized that I wasn’t able to close my mouth due to the strong winds. I knew that I would look hideous on the DVD.

After around 30 seconds of free fall (although it felt forever), the parachute was deployed.

Parachute deployed

Couldn’t contain the excitement

Got to manoeuvre the parachute for a while – the field in the background was where we would be landing

Preparing to land

Tucking in my legs…

Hitting the ground….

Landed!

Max congratulating me

I survived the skydive, albeit with some dizziness from circling in the air before landing. After catching my breath, we boarded the bus which would bring us back to the office. On the bus, one of the staff (she’s Slovenian I think) who went along for the jump remarked that the instructors had probably done jumps with every nationalities. Well not quite. One of them replied that they have yet to meet a North Korean.

Upon arriving at the office, we were issued our certificates.

Certified skydiver!

Although it was quite pricey, the entire experience was unforgettable. Looking back I still can’t believe that I actually did skydiving; it was so surreal and SC and I still talk about it till now. A recommended activity if your wallet and heart are able to withstand it!

After de-kitting, SC and I headed over to the nearby cafes for our lunch while waiting for our DVDs to be ready. Despite being a weekday during winter, there were still people hanging around the beach.

North Wollongong Beach – Pretty!

After we had checked that our DVDs were in working order (while reliving the crazy experience at the same time), Harry gave us a ride back to the station. Unfortunately for us the next train to Sydney Central would not be until half an hour later.

North Wollongong Station

While on the train there, I had made a mental note to sit on the right side on our way back (for ocean view).

The mighty Pacific

SC needed to use the washroom urgently while on the train and the ones on board were locked. As the train ran only every hour, stopping at one of the South Coast line stations meant a long wait for the next train. He had to hold until Waterfall, the last station on the Illawarra suburban line and I jokingly said that there would be two waterfalls instead of one when we reached there.

After the short delay at Waterfall, we hopped on the next train to Central. I found a copy of the day’s mX (a free daily newspaper) on one of the seats and it kept me entertained for rest of the journey.

Aussie humour

Bye Sydney, Hello Melbourne

Royal cuddle

Aren’t unicorns just horny donkeys?

Catching an NRL match was high on my things-to-do in Sydney and the most convenient match during my time there was the one between Sydney Roosters and St. George Illawarra Dragons at Sydney Football Stadium.

It was scheduled to start at 7.35pm and we only reached Central at ten to seven. Although it was only minutes to kick-off, both of us decided to have dinner at a random Thai place first.

My 7.50 AUD Thai dinner

We were a few blocks away from our dinner place before realizing that both our hands were empty. Our Skydive DVDs were forgotten and we wasted time returning there to retrieve them. If we lost them, most probably we will have to skydive again…

The route to the stadium required us to climb the steep slopes of Surry Hills and took us around 20 minutes from Central Station.

Sydney Football Stadium

Fortunately the match hadn’t started and there were still plenty of fans outside the stadium. I located the ticket office and bought two General Admission tickets (30 AUD each).

First NRL match

Although my knowledge of Rugby League is minimal to say the least, I am a big fan of live sports events and was pretty excited about the match.

Pre-match

Although it was a Roosters’ home match, we found ourselves surrounded by mainly Dragons’ fans.

Game on

While the game was going on, Roosters’ mascot was at the sidelines posing for photos with the fans.

Rooster buddy

Fan boy

Our lack of knowledge didn’t prevent us from enjoying the game. Rugby league is definitely a real man’s sport. Unlike football where players go down at the slightest of contact, these rugby players are tough lads who tackle and get tackled without a minimum of fuss. Respect!

We got to see the home side score two tries and up 14-0 by half-time.

Cheerleaders celebrating after Roosters’ try

Need a close-up

We decided to switch to the other end during half-time and en-route passed by a Roosters Store.

Expensive merchandises for sale – 130 AUD for a jersey!

Behind the goal during half-time

More Rooster-friendly end

Dragons started the second half well and managed to reduce the deficit to 10-14. We thought that a comeback might be on the cards but it was not to be as the Roosters scored three more tries to win 28-10.

Celebration in the stand

Celebration on the field

Final whistle

Heading home

In all I thought it was a nice experience. While the 12,000-odd crowd was way below the stadium’s capacity, the atmosphere was still quite good and very family-friendly. Even to my untrained eyes, rugby league is quite an exciting game and I wouldn’t mind watching a live league match again.

Day 3 Around Circular Quay & Manly

It was a Saturday and HT decided to bring us around. As usual it was a late start and it was close to 11am when we reached Circular Quay.

Customs House

Harbour Bridge

Opera House

The Rocks

Opera House from the Rocks

Honouring Australian soldiers who fought in WW2

The Rocks Market

Scoot’s ads on scooters

HT recommended that I should try a typical Aussie breakfast and we spent some time in the Circular Quay area finding a cafe which still serves them at noon.

Finally found Swagmans Post Courtyard Cafe which is located near the Rocks Market and has a nice court yard.

My 18.90 AUD Swagman’s breakfast – toasts, eggs, bacon, hash brown, mushroom, tomato and chorizo

After the hearty meal, we headed to the Circular Quay ferry wharf for the ferry to Manly. Turned out that we missed the earlier one by a few minutes and had to wait around half an hour for the next.

While waiting, we made the best use of our time and shattered the image that Asians are awesome table tennis players.

Challenging HT aka Sydney’s best in front of Customs House

The ferry to Manly boasted some great views of the Sydney’s skyline as it sailed out of the harbour.

Skyline

Further away

Half an hour later, we arrived at Manly. We weren’t the first people whom HT had brought here and unlikely to be the last.

Walking through Corso

Manly Beach

Manly Life Saving Club

Pacific Ocean (again!)

We walked to Shelly Beach and up the headlands. HT had seen a dolphin from there once but no such luck for us on that day.

BBQs at Shelly Beach

Back at Manly Wharf

We missed the 4.15pm ferry back to Circular Quay by a few minutes. With time to spare I grabbed an ice-cream from Gelatissimmo.

My 4.90 AUD Lime sorbet ice-cream

I had missed out on taking good photographs of the Opera House on the previous ferry ride and managed to make up for it on this one.

Basking in the sunset

Back in central Sydney, we stopped by at a shopping mall for me to buy some macadamia nuts before meeting some of HT’s friends for dinner at En Casa, a Spanish restaurant.

Busy evening

Sangria reminds me of Luis Garcia

Science students engrossed in their medical talk

Since I love seafood, the place was a great choice. The paella came with different types of them (clams, prawns, squids, etc) and was worth the wait.

After dinner we headed for Darling Harbour where there is fireworks display every Saturday evening. However it was cancelled on that day due to a boat show. We ended up having some drinks and desserts at Blackbird Cafe; although J wanted to show SC and I more interesting places after the drinks, we had to decline his kind offer as we would need to pack for our trip home.

Parting shot

Day 4 SYD – SIN

After having breakfast at the Subway below HT’s place, SC and I took the trains to the airport.

Since we were traveling with 20 kg of HT’s medical books, we used the Airport Link. Upon reaching the International Airport station, we needed to get the airport access ticket (12 AUD each) to exit the station. Since our MyMulti2s remained valid until following Wednesday, I gave them away to a chap who was buying his ticket at one of the machines.

While there wasn’t any line for travellers without any check-in luggage, there was quite a long one for those with them. Although the books weighed 22.5kg, the check-in agent didn’t say anything and issued us seats 49 H and J.

After passing through the immigration, we picked up some souvenirs (read nougats) to bring back home. There was still time before boarding and I managed to do some spotting.

Fiji B744

Qantas A330

Being in Zone 3 we were the last to be called to board.

Boarding

Flight: Scoot Airlines TZ 1
Depart: Sydney Kingsford Smith (SYD) – 12:50
Arrive: Singapore (SIN) – 19:00
Duration: 8h10m
Distance: 3907 miles (6288 km)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Registration: 9V-OTA
Name: Barry
Seat: 49 J

View from 49 J

Seatmate in 49 K was a Singaporean Indian lady heading home too.

Qantas A388

An hour or so into the flight the crew went around distributing the pre-booked meals and conducting BOB sales. I had pre-ordered soy chicken rice meal and it came with water or soft drink and a cup of fruits.

Meal set (16 SGD)

Soy chicken rice with quail eggs and mushroom

SC purchased a similar meal with lasagne as the main course (17 SGD). Service-wise seemed quite haphazard; the items were not delivered at once and SC didn’t get any utensils with his lasagne until he got the attention of a crew who passed by.

The meal wasn’t exactly gourmet stuff but it was filling enough. The rest of the flight was spent finishing up the remaining episodes of Masterchef Australia and I was really surprised by the identity of the eventual winner.

Like its more prestigious sibling, Scoot turned off its IFE (to be more specific, the crew collected the rental iPads) an hour before landing. Closer to landing, the captain came on to the PA to give us update on the arrival time and made a faux pas by thanking the passengers for flying Singapore Airlines.

We could only wish that it was true…

Epilogue

Scoot
If six months ago someone told me that it was possible to get return tickets to Sydney for only S$228, I would probably thought the person was loony. Now that I had done it myself, my verdict was simple: you really get what you pay for. The seat width was my biggest complaint; I had to cross my arms during the flights to avoid elbow contact with the passengers beside me. Service-wise was alright; the crews were helpful and friendly enough although they seemed to be still struggling with the operations.

Sydney
Sydney is definitely a nice city to visit. I was surprised by how cosmopolitan it is; it seemed that everyone is from somewhere else. The service standard was refreshingly good, especially compared to the countries (read Russia and China) that I had visited some time earlier. The cost of living was very high and the strong Australian dollars weren’t helping. Not sure whether I would return soon; other Australian cities such as Melbourne might be stronger attractions.

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