Hidden 2018

It being the final week of the Hidden Sculpture Walk, Joanne and I journeyed out to Rookwood Cemetery in western Sydney. Things would have gone much better had I been brave enough to drive.

Remembering full well the struggles I encountered two years ago when I went to Hidden 2016, I still chose public transport over driving in the city. My (ir)rationale was that I’m in better physical shape for the long walk from the train station, across the vast continent of Rookwood, and then back again, and also thinking that I had a better grasp of the public transport routes than I did two years ago.

When I came back from my recent trip to the US, I was overly eager to return to my gym routine. Having spent a sedentary ten weeks, I just wanted to feel my body move. I overdid it and ended up hurting myself, making my first assumption about walking a complete fairy tale. And while my understanding of train routes has improved, I still underestimate walking distances and what I’m capable of.

Rookwood is one of the oldest and largest, operating cemeteries in Australia, and covers over 314 hectares. We entered the cemetery in the northwest corner, somewhere near the end of the sculpture walk. But where? The tiny map on my phone, pulled from the website, was a snapshot of the area of the exhibit. Hidden was truly hidden from us, but we stumbled about until we found the tail end of the walk. I will admit, it took entirely too long for it to register with me why the arrows were pointing the wrong way.

I should have taken my real camera, but couldn’t be bothered, plus I worried it was going to rain. The wonderfully tempestuous sky hanging over the crumbling gravestones deserved better than my i-Phone camera.

I was beyond pleased to get to the end that was the beginning of the walking tour. The uneven ground meant I was in a good deal of pain. Add that to my full bladder and worrying about my dying phone battery, and I’m afraid I was a poor exploring companion that day. Unable to figure out the disappearing bus schedule on Google maps, and too exhausted to walk the twenty minutes back to the train station, I gave up and called an Uber to the rescue.

Discovering Alexandria

After coasting along for nearly four years now, I’ve become intensely aware of the looming expiration date on our Australian stay. Granted, it’s still a fuzzy expiration date; kind of like buying a tub of yogurt and the sell-by date says, “ehh, sometime in the next year or so.” Anyway, my point is, I feel motivated to experience as much of Australia as I can before we leave. Day to day, I can’t travel far, can’t take a quick jaunt over to Ayers Rock or Darwin. What I can do is absorb all the interesting bits of Sydney and surrounds.

The trouble with trying to find interesting things to do here is when you do a google search all you come up with is the same list of “ten best things to do in Sydney” over and over. Most of that involves drinking, beaches, or drinking by the beach. I love the beach, with or without alcohol, but I want more. I want to find all the quirky bits and curiosities Sydney has to offer. I want interesting neighborhoods to explore, with history and beauty. I’m searching for places that invite a deeper exploration, that spark wonder. I know they are there; it’s just a matter of finding them.

My exploring buddy, Joanne, is always eager to visit new locales with me. Because so many of our excursions involve shopping or running errands, or just eating, we’re making an effort toward a more creative examination of our city. We were all set last week to do something different by making the trek over to Rookwood Cemetery and the Hidden Sculpture exhibit, when my knee started screaming at me. My search for something interesting that didn’t involve too much walking kept coming up empty, so finally I said, “there’s this pretty little coffee shop I’ve been wanting to go to since I came here,” which took us to Alexandria.

Alexandria is an inner-city suburb, just south of the CBD (central business district). A historically industrial area, Alexandria is now experiencing the evolution to hip suburb. Completely by accident, we found one of those places I asked for, the ones that invite more exploration, and we barely scratched the surface.

The suburb is easily accessible by public transport. We hopped off the train at Green Square Station and headed toward our destination, The Grounds of Alexandria. It should be about a ten minute walk if you don’t stop at the Mitchell Road Antique & Design Centre, which we did. It took us a bit longer.

A smiling crocodile greets shoppers when they enter the massive space that is brimming with retro yumminess and a fair bit of Australiana, some of which is perhaps a little distasteful for modern sensibilities, but definitely a curiosity. I am by no means an expert on these things, but it seemed like much of their wares were priced quite a bit higher than what I’ve seen for similar items in thrift stores or my mother’s basement. Still, it’s tons of fun to look and say, “oh my grandma had that!”

A little dizzy from the smell of dust and old ghosts, we continued on up the road to The Grounds. I was expecting good coffee and fresh food, some sort of garden room and maybe a greenhouse or something. I wasn’t really sure. But wow! I wasn’t expecting what we found. I had read on the internet that people come from far and wide to experience this. It was clear why.

The lush garden atmosphere encompasses several venues in one sprawling location. The Cafe is a hopping place with a retro vibe, where you can get amazing coffees to go with your breakfast or lunch, and they have beautiful pastries to drool over. If you’re feeling more fancy, in The Potting Shed you can dine on fresh, local harvest, while surrounded by hanging plants and fresh flowers.

The Garden is an enormous space where you can sit at long tables under the flowering arbor, or in one of the many other courtyard or intimate nooks, and sip a cocktail or a fresh squeezed juice from the Garden Bar or have take-away lunch from the BBQ, or pizza from the Wood Fired Kitchen. To be honest, we couldn’t find the Wood Fired Kitchen. It’s in there somewhere, but the place is huge! And we were hungry. We had delicious design-your-own salad bowls from the BBQ.

Having a little taste of Alexandria, I do want to go back and finish exploring. The Grounds alone has so much more to experience! Just a couple blocks from there is the green expanse of Sydney Park where you can stroll the walking path, have a picnic on the grass, or bird watch at the wetlands. Another great spot for coffee and inspired breakfasts, that I have been to, is Mecca on Bourke Road. I’m keen to see what other treasures can be found on my next visit to Alexandria.