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Monday, 7 May 2018

Lunch in Springwood

On this trip to the mountains, we took the M5 because it was the most convenient way to get there. We entered the tunnel at the airport ramp and went with the heavy traffic to the exit, near Bexley, after which the pace picked up a bit and the traffic flowed smoothly. There are roadworks that make the carriageway narrow for a stretch further west. I drove at well below the speed limit, as is my wont, and kept an eye out for indications informing drivers of the distance still to go before the right-hand turn onto the M7. There was a sign over the roadway I think near Bankstown that told me how long it would take driving to the turn-off.

The ramp to the M7 is approached from the left-hand lane and proceeds in a gradual curve up over the approaching lanes, leading north into the two-lane M7, which is considerably narrower than the M5. The roadway here is better-quality and there is a gateway with cameras and RF sensors attached that takes the tollway fee from your ROAM account. The blue lights that light up the roadway at the gate are distinctive and are the same colour as you get on other parts of the tollway.

As before, there are indicators showing the time left to elapse before the turnoff to the M4, which leads out to the mountains. I was driving defensively, as usual, expecting someone else to do something stupid that I would have to immediately react to. I have learned to drive this way after years of experience on busy roads and streets. When I lived in Queensland it was a particularly useful habit for keeping out of trouble because of the way some people abuse the freedom they have on the Bruce Highway, which is a terrible road for driving.

We crossed the Nepean and headed up the hill into the mountains, stopping at Springwood to have lunch in a café. The corn fritters were fresh but the food took a long time to arrive. When we had finished, I paid using EFTPOS and we got back in the car and kept going up the hill to Katoomba. Once there, I parked the car on the main drag and we went for a walk, heading down to a steep park that lies in a valley near the train station. The steps leading to the grass at the bottom were wet with stray moisture from small rivulets exiting the rocks at various points on the hillside. The grass at the bottom of the valley was lush and green, and the soil underneath was damp and spongy. It is a natural amphitheatre with houses all around the outside.

We climbed back up the hill to the shopping centre and bought coffees at a café then got back in the car and drove down to the lookout, where I managed to find a parking spot. The parking here is paid for using slightly unorthodox metering machines that are planted every so often on the footpath. You have to insert your credit card with the magnetic stripe facing upwards in order to get the reading properly done. After looking at the spectacular view we got back in the car and attacked the traffic. At the train station the cars were bumper-to-bumper all the way across the bridge over the tracks to the traffic lights on the highway.

Once we got onto the highway the traffic was start-stop all the way down the mountain to the river. The blinding sun shone straight into my side- and rear-view mirrors as we descended slowly to the plain that is bounded by the mountains, where Sydney lies spread out like a crazy quilt. After crossing the river, we drove through the late afternoon on the M4. My palms sweated with the sustained effort involved in controlling the car for such a long period of time. The occasional idiot swerved in and out of the heavy traffic, no doubt saving a few minutes on his journey but unquestionably putting the lives of other people at risk. By the time we had arrived at the M7 it was dark and I regretted not bringing my more recent glasses. It was a struggle to see the turnoff, and you have to stick to the right-hand side once you are off the main carriageway, in order to get on the ramp heading south.

On the M7 I drove slowly as usual, watching for the signs showing how long it would take before the turn-off to the M5. I noted the empty spaces between the occasional roads and reflected as I have done on other occasions that there is plenty of room for new cities the size of Parramatta to be built in Sydney if only the government could be persuaded to build the train lines that such urban centres rely on. After we got to the tunnel at Bexley, we crawled along at about 50km or 60km with the heavy traffic and missed the exit ramp, so we had to go out and use General Holmes Drive to get back around to the Princes Highway. I got home soon enough and felt refreshed for having taken the trip. Getting out of the city from time to time helps to reset your internal compass, and gives you a broader idea of the place you live in. It is so easy to become complacent and ignore the rest of the metropolis when you largely stay within set boundaries.

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