It’s A Sweet Life Family Road Trip – Day One

Day one of our Renault Koleos road trip dawned dank and rainy in Canberra with promise of more dank rainy-ness in Sydney for our arrival. We didn’t even pack coats, we were so hopeful the weather man got it wrong.

Three-quarters of the way to Sydney, we were thankful we’d at least packed a couple of brollies. And it was eight degrees outside most of the way. Talk about unprepared.

Luckily, the Koleos kept us warm and dry. And the sacks of books, mags and nibbles we hauled along certainly kept us comfortable. I must admit, though, I stood at the back opening of the car early this morning with an uneasy swirling in my tummy. The space looked so teensy and we had soooo many sacks.

You see, when our family takes road trips, we take the liberty of hauling along every home comfort we can. Hey, when you’re not paying baggage allowance, why not take a turbo charged hairdryer (as opposed to those bizarre hotel contraptions that provide the equivalent air power of an exhaling asthmatic)?

So, we packed heavy. And as frequent air travelers, this is a luxury we cling to like fingers on upgraded boarding pass. It was with trepidation, then, that I stared at the vacant gap at the back of the Koleos and panicked a little.

“You may need to leave Claribel the Cow behind, Ella,” I said grimly to our wide-eyed nine-year-old, tears a-brimming. Dabbing my eyes, I went inside and began hauling out the feed sacks and sporting gear and pillows, but – miracles of miracles, everything fit. And with room to spare. A 450 litre boot is deceptively large.

This neat little compact of a car (indeed, the back pops open like a powder compact of yore) is surprisingly roomy inside. This fact occurred to me again when I slipped into the front passenger seat. I found myself sitting up quite high and, preparing to graze my scalp on the ceiling, my hand instead flailed about wildly in the considerable space between scalp and ceiling. Better and better.

It was just on 9am when we finally clicked on our seatbelts and headed north. The kids were already starving by the time we reached Canberra airport (15 minutes from our house), so the stash of nibbles were quickly popped open. I didn’t mind. Due to the teeming rain, I knew the idyllic sunny strolls in search of sweet shops amongst the string of country towns on the way to the Big Smoke was probably going to be a washout, anyway.

It’s been a long time since we’ve travelled by road on a public holiday weekend. This is mainly due to my sheer terror over traffic jams, as well as people falling asleep at wheels and wiping out our entire family in a nanosecond. Coupled with persistent, slippery rain, I can honestly say I was extremely heartened to flit through the Koleos handbook and learn it is one of Renault’s 11 vehicles to be awarded a 5 star NCAP safety rating.

I also learned the car has an electronic stability programme (ESP) which controls the grip on each wheel. Basically, it’s a traction control system combined with ABS that honestly made me feel a whole lot more confident about this entire trip. A reinforced frame with crumple zones to absorb impact and 6 (yes, 6) SRS airbags also eased my tendency to hyperventilate and grip Husband’s leg until he yelps in pain.

ON THE ROAD IN THE RENAULT KOLEOS

Speaking of Husband, he was happy with the easy-to-operate cruise control and everyone thought the sound system was great (it’s always too loud for me and I quickly scrabbled to lower the bass, to the alto strains of much family whining). What I don’t like, as mentioned in a previous post, is the LED stereo display in the front top dash. You just can’t see it unless it’s dark or really overcast and it’s a right pain not being able to see the time or the radio station without having to pull over and virtually press your face to the glass.

It is the tiniest things that matter in a car, and I do like the fact that the arm rests on the Koleos’s doors are padded. Padded! So lovely, I actually gasped when I discovered this totally unexpected squishyness under my weary elbow. What isn’t so nice is the fabric on the headrest, which snatches the odd hair on the back of the head and gives a little scratchy tug. Perhaps I just need to get this bird’s nest of mine trimmed, but it was still something that mildly irritated.

My other gripe is over my most anticipated feature – the aviation style tray tables for the kids. Built into the back of the driver and passenger seats, they flip up for the kids to store a drink and to complete that all important colouring-in. But the tables are too shallow to place a colouring book of any size, and forget colouring pencils. Plus, the drink hole can only fit the bottom of a cup – and I’m not sure any parent would hand any child under 18 any kind of open-topped cup on a road trip.

The kids nonetheless used the trays to put food and bits and bobs on, so the novelty wasn’t completely lost. I imagine the depth of the tables was carefully strategised by Renault due to safety issues, but I can’t see how, with a seatbelt firmly in place, a child could be thrown against a table just a few inches deeper.

Something I did appreciate is the flip-down child minder mirror so mum and dad can adjudicate fights without having to crack a neck vertebrae, the deep drink holders in each door (that will fit drink bottles), the enormous (chilled!) glove box for keeping food and drinks cool, and the continuously variable transmission (CVT) is really amazing – even Husband commented on it. Essentially, it means the transmission can change steplessly though an infinite number of gear ratios, making engine efficiency and fuel economy super-doo for everyone.

And speaking of tiny details, one thing I love love loved was how I could stretch my legs out – all the way out, and onto the dash, with the windscreen laid out like an IMAX cinema and I was in Gold Class. Loved it.

All in all, our trip into the centre of Sydney was a real breeze in this car and I’ll bring you some more stats and comments on the return journey. It’s a shame we didn’t get to make some country town stops on the way, but we’ll attempt this on the way back.

Didn’t stop us from heat-seeking sweets, though. Our first sweet treat on this trip was interesting – a skanky old chocolate-iced donut from a Shell service station that came free with our coffee. There’s a reason it came free.

But we were soon in for more savoury (I mean ‘sweet’) treats. As soon as we checked into the Medina Grand on Kent Street, we put on our walking shoes, hoisted our brollies high and ventured out into the pelting rain, skipping merrily through the puddles to Darling Harbour, only ten minutes walk away.

Our first stop was the Sydney Aquarium we were SO excited to see the new Dangerous & Deadly exhibit. Being the first official day of the NSW school holidays and being wet enough to keep anyone and everyone at home for the day, we strode confidently into the foyer only to see everyone else in Sydney with a pram and a child under twelve had suffered the same delusion – and was aptly queued in a lineup longer than the Great Barrier Reef.

We waited eleven minutes and tolerated two queue jumpers (shameful!) before giving up. We’d taken three steps forward in all that time. Seems ticket sales at the Sydney Aquarium involve filling in an eight page questionnaire beforehand. Yes, I’m annoyed.

Back out into the relentless rain, we took our soggy selves over the walk bridge to Darling Harbour, on a mission to find the legendary British Lolly Shop, which appeared like a sugary mirage before us upon entry to the shopping complex.

Meant to be.

We quickly snaffled up Old English jelly babies and bon bons and sherbets and jelly tots and raspberry licorice and tutti frutties and pineapple cubes and more. Husband even found a childhood treat – a chewy ‘Drumstick’ lolly that had his eyes rolling into the back of his head. He almost inhaled it.

Next stop was the The Fudge Shop, 480 calories down the concourse, where clever people rolled and sliced massive logs of creamy fudge in a multiplicity of flavours. We grabbed a handy sample bag of several types (mint, cookies and cream, chocolate nut, coffee, coconut ice, classic caramel) because it was simply impossible to decide – and two classic toffee apples for good measure.

Then it was Baskin Robbins for an ice cream (mango and rainbow sherbet, respectively) then a monorail ride into George Street to the Cupcake Bakery below Myer. Like stepping inside a dollhouse, this musk-stick coloured, dolly-like treatfest had us boggled over flavour choice. After much umming and drooling, we toted away a box containing choc mint, strawberry vanilla (resplendent with a dollop of strawberry jam on the inside), lemon poppy seed (my favourite) and of course, during grand final weekend – an NRL cupcake. NRL flavour.

Back to the Medina, we shed a considerable amount of self-imposed calories with a lollop in the heated pool, and a brisk walk in search of dinner (in the rain). It was Sakura Japanese Kitchen on Pitt Street that sucked us in – gyoza, aki bento, teriyaki chicken, lotus root chips, edamame (fresh soy beans) and warm miso soup – followed by a stroll to Chinatown. In the rain.

Why Chinatown? Well, I was on the hunt for one more sweet treat to round out our day – a traditional Chinese mooncake served in China during the mid-Autumn moon festival in August. Did I find them? Yes, I did. But after being spoiled with four years of traditional mooncakes during our time in Beijing, I couldn’t bring myself to purchase one. It didn’t help that they were priced at $10 a pop (and have a lesser circumference than a tennis ball), either.

So, after retreating to our hotel room (in the rain), I had to settle for a soda lime and bitters (I’m currently ‘competing’ in Ocsober) and some Bassett’s oldy worldy English jelly babies. And kisses and cuddles from our kids over such a fun, albeit soggy day.

Now, that’s sweet.

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