The flower festival is one of the most well known Festivals in Australia, and every year thousands travel across the country to see it. We took the XPT from Sydney to Kingston Station in Canberra and walked for an hour or so to the Floriade event.
On the way we checked out an interesting local market where many artistic works were on sale. This was very similar to places like Paddy’s Markets or Flemington Markets but a but smaller.
We enjoyed a Laos lunch in their multicultural cafeteria to take a break from the blazing sun.
We also enjoyed the walk through the nice park that surrounded the man-made Lake Burley Griffin, before heading over the bridge.
As we’d arrived just a couple of days after Floriade 2015 had started, many of the flowers were not yet in bloom. Also, as I’d been to Floriade in 2005, I was a bit surprised that ten years later it was a bit smaller and had a LOT more stalls wanting to sell you things. I was also worn out by being in the hot Canberra sun. Not one to handling more than 15 minutes of sunlight a day and not having put much sunscreen on, I was exhausted by the time we reached the displays. (I thoroughly recommend grabbing a taxi if you get to Kingston station. Don’t walk an hour in the hot sun unless you’re a sun lover!) A brief respite from the sunlight was in a makeshift restaurant with a long queue and tiny counter and only two people serving. No alcohol was prominently advertised, being a child-friendly venue, so it was necessary to ask for some under-the-counter house wine. Cheap pinot noir and shiraz did the trick on a bright day.
We visited a number of stalls at Floriade which featured everything from specialty tea, soaps, plants and fabrics to roasted nuts and ice-cream.
We then toured the area, avoiding the queues at various stalls and displays.
The toilets were clean and efficient, though there were queues for those too.
Past all the stalls were large patches of tulips and other flowers surrounded by hundreds of people taking selfies with them. We even had to queue at one patch of tulips to get our own selfie in the right spot (and moments after doing it realised a queue had formed behind us!) Selfies with flowers was definitely the trend and it was amusing to see the amount of excited girls (and resigned guys behind them) walking around with selfie sticks and multiple cameras.
There was an interesting archway made for the Floriade night festival which wasn’t going to be on until the end of September, so we weren’t able to see it lit (This review is from the opening weekend). It featured lots of little flower lights. There was also an electric train taking families around the park and through the arch. (You’ll see the train in the video below.)
Throughout the park there were similar bars and restaurants all selling much the same basic beer and wine so, once we’d taken the photos there really wasn’t much else to see. We probably spent 2 hours there, including the half an hour spent escaping from the sun in the restaurant and the half an hour spent looking at stalls.
We then grabbed a bus into the city centre then walked to a really neat craft beer brewery called Bent Spoke that had opened in 2014. They had some great craft beer choices that we hadn’t had before, and the bar was quite stylishly decked out with unique tap handles and paddles.
It certainly made the trip worthwhile!
We then took a taxi back to the station, grabbing some pictures and video on the way.
Probably the most disappointing part of the trip was the XPT. It wasn’t just the low seats (bad for tall people like me) or the jolting and rocking even at a slow speed) it was the lack of services on board for what you pay for. When we were on board in the morning we went to order wine and were told that the XPT could only serve wine after 12pm, and that we can definitely have wine on the evening train. (The morning train from Sydney arrives in Canberra just after 11:00am so ‘no wine available on morning trains’ should be advertised.) I can order wine on a plane at anytime and wine at any morning pub in Sydney but I can’t have wine on a train before 12pm???)
(Note the maximum speed. LOL. It still shook enough to give us motion sickness!)
The advertising had said that there was wine, and the materials in the back seat said there was wine. The website said there was wine. The ticket sellers said there was wine. Also the promotions suggested it would be like international train travel in Europe where wine was plentiful. So, on the way to Canberra on a short one day holiday and we can’t have wine? Well, it was a bit disappointing. I like the romantic idea of sipping wine while watching the scenery go by and it was the main reason I had asked my international guest along for a trip in the XPT. I really enjoyed my travels around Europe for this reason and was hoping to do so again in Australia. It was upsetting and I apologised to my guest. We had consoled ourselves with the idea that I would buy wine in the evening when we were on the way back and watch the scenery then.
When I went to buy a glass of the wine on the evening train, minutes after boarding, I was told that they had sold out. WTF??? And the lady that told me almost yelled it at me. I guess she’d got sick of people asking. I didn’t say anything and walked back to my seat in shock. The brochures even said that we couldn’t drink our own wine on board. Talk about reducing the chance of ever getting anyone on the train again. Customer service at its worse. I decided that was the last day I would ever take the XPT to Canberra.
I was pretty angry about the situation and was prepared to write an old-fashioned letter to management about misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to advertising, but then noticed that their advertising said something along the lines of ‘Some menu items may be replaced by similar products if not available.’ I was offered xxxx gold beer (!!!) which I personally wouldn’t consider to be a ‘similar product’ but I guess they fulfilled their legal obligations.
I also remember that since 2013 in Australia we’ve had a political party named ‘Bullet Train for Australia‘ so I guess I’m not the only one upset with XPT’s 1980s service. It definitely wasn’t worth spending over 8 hours and over $200 on the train that day.
So, if you like flowers, join a travel group or take a bus tour to Canberra. It should only take you 3 hours to get there and 3 back and would be a lot more fun and probably work out cheaper. Don’t bother with the XPT. If you prefer trains, wait for the Bullet Train to appear. Then it’ll only be about an hour to Canberra.
Quick video below
NB: The XPT was ordered in 1978 and went into service in 1983. The Australian Government has allocated $7.5 million to upgrade the service so I guess we’ll get better trains in 2020. I would have preferred some of that $89 billion allocated to the military to be spent on some new bullet trains crisscrossing Australia. $7.5 million would barely buy a good house in Sydney! It certainly wouldn’t be enough to upgrade all the tracks, let alone create some modern trains for the country. So sad. 🙁 Maybe by 2050 we’ll have a bullet train.