Monday, December 07, 2009

Sydney Harbour Youth Hostel

Terrace Sydney Harbour YHAThe Sydney Harbour Youth Hostel at the Rocks opened last week. I visited yesterday and was given a tour by John Bowles, YHA NSW director and met Yin Chen, General Secretary of China YHA . Do not be put off by the label "Youth Hostel"; this is accommodation to a similar standard to the best budget hotels, but with million dollar views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House from its rooftop terrace. If visiting Sydney you should check if there is a room at the hostel.

Screen around the Big Dig Archaeology Education CentreSydney Harbour YHAThe hostel is a project with the Sydney Harbour Foreshores authority and incorporates the
Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre. The hostel building is on high columns over the remains of historical convict era building. This arrangement resembles the New Acropolis Museum in Athens. However, the YHA was built on time and mostly on budget, unlike the Athens museum which was years late and billions over budget.

The YHA building has a steel frame and ribbed steel sheeting on some surfaces. The outer walls are clad in terracotta coloured panels, which give it an up market look. There are hard wearing by but stylish materials used, such as cork for the floors in the reception area and stainless steel kitehens. The design philosophy of the building was featured on ABC Radio "New 21st century youth hostel accommodation" (2 December 2009). The architects are Tzannes Associates. Unfortunately, like many architects, they have a very poor quality web site and I was unable to find any details of the building.

Atrium Sydney Harbour YHAJohn Bowles and Yin ChenThe archaeology below and next to the building is protected by a perforated metal screen. The claim is that this has been sized and decorated to echo the terrace buildings which were on the site. To me they looked oversize and intrusive. It would be too late to change the design, but the screens could be repainted from white to a less conspicuous colour, perhaps with a photo mural of terrace houses on them.

The ground floor of the building is open to the archaeology site, with walkways from the street and to the education centre, which has an exellent small meeting room which can be hired. Walking up a flight of stairs you reach the reception desk of the YHA, which also looks out onto a cyber cafe and the DIY kitchen and eating area. This is a much more open and comfortable arrangement than YHAs in converted buildings, where the kitchen is usually hidden in the basement. One wall of the reception area is glass, looking out onto the atrium. You can order an espresso from reception (or make your own coffee in the kitchen) and then sit down and watch people go past, up and down the stairs.

The walkways for the rooms around the atrium are open to the air, which gives the building a seaside feeling. However, this is a little too open for me and I would have liked to see chest height glass partitions to give more of a sense of security. All share and double rooms have their own bathrooms, as well as extra common bathrooms. The rooftop terrace is accessed via a card swipe lock.

The terrace is the highlight of the building. This reminded me very much of the rooftop cafes of the hostels of Istanbul. To one side is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, directly out is the Sydney Opera House (feeling so close you could reach out and touch it) and to the other side the sykline of the Sydney CBD. Below are the historic buildings of the Rocks. At present the terrace looks a little bare and exposed. There is a BBQ at one end and a few sun lounges. But it needs to accumulate some more furniture and perhaps a cafe. It was a little windy during my visit and a glass chest high screen around the outside would be a welcome addition. At present the terrace must be closed at 9:30pm most nights, due to possible noise for the neighbours. A glass screen would block most of the noise and should allow later access, as well as making it more comfortable.

Artist Impression of Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANUYHA should build more of these style hostels. They might like to talk to
Quicksmart Homes, who have built student apartment buildings from shipping container modules at the Austrlaian National Unviertsity and Sydney University. 3D rendering of a modular apartment at Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANU by Quicksmart HomesThis would suit sites with limited access for building. Simple steel foundations could be placed and then the modules dropped in by crane (or in difficult locations by helicopter).

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Booking Rental Cars in Tasmania via the Web

After my difficulties with booking accommodation online a short trip around Tasmania, car hire was very easy. Europcar offer a discount for YHA members, so I just had to click on the bottom of my room booking to go to the car rental site. This already recorded that I was a referred and gave me a discount. I still had to enter my name and address details, but this was reasonably easy. Selecting a car is complex and the small, enviornmentally friendly car I wanted was not avilable, so I had to settle for a larger less fuel efficient one.

What is still a problem with Tasmanian bookings is the YHA accommodation. While YHA offer a central online booking service, the smaller hostels do not appear to be covered. I emailed Strahan Backpackers YHA and Cradle Mountain Backpackers YHA getting very prompt, useful and friendly replies.

I wrote to YHA's travel service to ask if it was possible to book the smaller hostels online and was told: "I would suggest that if the web does not work, I would try to call them ...". YHA seem to have a problem with their web site and a more serious problem with their customer relations. This will be harming Australian tourism.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Booking accommodation in Tasmania via the Web

After my difficulties with booking airline flights via airline web sites for Jetstar and Virgin Blue in the end I gave up using the airlines web sites and use and using the WebJet airline booking website. Now I have started booking accommodation online for the same short trip around Tasmania.

After a pleasant stay at the Newcastle Beach Youth Hostel I thought I would try Tasmanian hostels in the system. YHA have a very good online booking system. This worked well for the central Hobart based Montgomery's. One catch with the system is that YHA members get a discount when they book a room, even if it is a shared room with non-members. But you have to separately account for the members and non-members on the booking web page.

One point of confusion is the smaller hostels, such as Strahan Backpackers YHA. There does not seem to be any way to book this via the web site. The hostel has a "Rapid Room Number" (0245) which is supposed to be used to identify the hostels to the system. But this number doesn't seem to be listed in the system.

There are no YHAs in Launceston. The Arthouse
in Launceston taks a minimalist approach to booking, having an e-mail address to send a query. What they do have on their web site which is useful are google maps to places, such as the city Transit Centre. These links are more useful than the maps usually found on hotel web sites. You are able to customise the map, for example, to see how long it will take to walk, rather than drive.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Newcastle Beach Youth Hostel

Newcastle Beach YHAMy be a bit late in life but I have discovered the wonders of Youth Hostels Australia. having stayed at Newcastle Beach YHA last weekend. This is in a converted 100 year old hospital, which looks more like a gentleman's club than a backpackers, with high pattered ceilings, fireplaces and chesterfield sofas. A double room at the YHA costs about half that for a budget hotel and a genuinely friendly atmosphere. The YHA is not age limited (but young people get a discount on membership).

The Newcastle Beach Youth Hostel is a few blocks from the Newcastle railway station, with regular trains from Sydney along the picturesque coastal route, including the not to be missed bridge over the Hawkesbury River at Brooklyn.

Train Signal Box by Vivienne NelsonWhile in Newcastle visit the Renew Newcastle projects. Artists and craft workers are temporarily vacant shops in the CBD. These include artist Vivienne Nelson, with watercolour works of Newcastle industrial and port scenes using coal dust from the ceiling of her home for the black wash. This seems appropriate as coal is the main industry of Newcastle. There is an ABC video clip about the project.

carry-on size wheeled backpackFor getting to a low cost hotel by public transport, I have found an airline carry-on size wheeled backpack very handy. Otherwise it can be difficult to wheel a bag, particularly over cobblestones and up stairs. In Istanbul I found myself surrounded by carpet sellers. The backpack changes you from a tourist, to a traveller so you can quickly escape the sellers.

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