Sep 142019
 


After getting to my hotel it was still relatively early, so I figured I had a bit of time to head out and get some drinks with friends. Couple of pints and a relatively early night, and I was hoping that I would finally be more or less adjusted to the time zone. Tried to make sense of cricket at the pub, but it still completely mystifies me.

Woke up, found a decent-looking place I forgot the name of that made a pretty respectable french-press coffee, and I was caffeinated and ready to make the most of my full day in Melbourne!

Friend picked me up in the (wrong side of the) car, and off we went to the Yarra Valley for a day of exploring outside Melbourne. One thing I think I never make enough time for is getting out of large cities when I travel, and it seems to be where I always have the best time so I was looking forward to this mini adventure!

First stop was the Yarra Valley Dairy which served up an amazing and huge platter of fresh farmhouse cheeses. I can’t believe I neglected to take a picture of all the cheese, but possibly that’s because we were so busy devouring it.

I did, however, remember to take a picture of the amazing cow at the entrance to the tasting room:

After stuffing ourselves with cheese (and of course a couple more delicious flat whites) it was down the road a bit to go to the Chandon Winery. For those of you who don’t know (like me) Chandon is indeed related to Moët and Chandon, and was born when they decided to try and produce some sparkling wines outside of France. The Chandon Winery is the result.

It was truly a gorgeous day to be out in the vineyard (although a bit chilly and windy) but was nice to walk near the vines before headed to the main event…the wines!

Decided the most proper way to explore all they had to offer was the tasting tray…and I swear I didn’t do this just because it made an amazing picture!

Super tasty wines, and even better company. It’s always great when travel allows the opportunity to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a very long time, and honestly that was much more fun than any sparkling wine or cheese…and if you know how much I love sparkling wine and cheese that’s like the biggest compliment possible!

Back to Melbourne, walked around a bit, and I was starting to get a bit sleepy, so what better than another flat white…and a delicious mango and lemon tart. A bit more on the posh side than it needed to be, but absolutely delicious nonetheless!

Fuelled by caffeine and sugar, it was off to stroll randomly around Melbourne a bit more, and ended up outside a theater where some Harry Potter nonsense or another was just ending and it seemed half the city was outside taking pictures of some things I had no idea why I should be interested. So, I just took a picture of all them taking pictures instead.

More walking, random palm trees, seemed very out of place on this evening that was becoming rather cool and windy.

Ended up at some place that a colleague wanted to go where we literally ate squid, drank beer, and were entertained by aged hipsters. It was a rather strange environment, but also one of those cool and unique experiences you would only have when traveling!

Off to bed, more catching up on sleep….and after a good long rest it was time to get up and randomly stroll around trying to find somewhere intriguing to find a good coffee.

This random sculpture on the street was far too terrifying before I’d had a proper caffeine fix:

Caught the tram to the train station (cool fact about Melbourne: trams in the City Centre are completely free!) and then the bus to the airport which was rather convenient. In no time at all I was at the terminal and through security, and ready to enjoy one final Qantas lounge.

It was just about lunch time, and I was rather hungry, and the Qantas buffet definitely didn’t disappoint. Can you imagine a selection like this in the US, on a domestic flight, solely by virtue of purchasing a business class ticket? Oh, that’s right, in the US you’d get no lounge at all!

Qantas, however, had a make your own toastie machine, proper sparkling wine, and delicious pickled veggies and lemon bars. Grilled cheese? Beetroot? Sparkling wine? AND lemon bars? I was honestly in heaven…

Off to the gate, where we were a little behind schedule in boarding. Our incoming aircraft was late from Tasmania due to some weather nonsense or another, but soon enough we were aboard our 737 for the rather short hop up to Sydney.

Qantas flight 440
Melbourne, Australia (MEL) to Sydney, Australia (SYD)
Depart 14:30, Arrive: 15:55, flight time: 1:25
Boeing 737-800, Registration VH-VYH, Manufactured 2005, Seat 02D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 63,187
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,755,775

Super impressive three choices of meal on a flight that was barely an hour long, however, despite being in the second row there was only one choice when they got to me which was a “vegetable lasagna.” It wasn’t all that impressive, except it was a hot meal with great bread on a one hour flight! That alone was impressive!

Despite the late start we got to Sydney right on time, and it was time to catch the train back to the Marriott again and enjoy the first of several nights in Sydney.

Sep 122019
 


Since my last visit a couple years back, a new Bonvoy hotel option had opened in Perth, and I liked the location a bit better than the Four Points, so I opted to give the Westin a try. I’m usually a fan of Westin’s clean aesthetic (and a sucker for the white tea scent they blast throughout the property) and along with Renaissance and AC they tend to be my preferred Bonvoy brands.

This property was no exception, and I had an upgrade to what I believe was called a junior suite, but regardless it was pretty spacious with a nice sitting area as well.

After a long walk to stretch my legs I stopped by the room to clean up a bit, and enjoy the gorgeous nighttime view from the room. This will do, this will definitely do!

Some small snacks in the lounge which was nice and had a pretty reasonable spread (but as is usual at international Bonvoy properties the lounge was packed with American business travellers and their families…and yes I realize this is the pottle calling the kettle black, but hey, at least it was just me…) so I enjoyed a glass of wine before heading out for an evening walk.

You know you’re in Australia when you walk by the Kangaroo Inn….

Found a good, happening pub with several local craft beers on tap, but with all the time changing I didn’t last long and it was off to the Westin for a good night of sleep to try and catch up after all the travel from Tunisia.

…of course, what did I wake up to? Yup, my evening flight from Perth to Melbourne was canceled, and I was supposed to “call Qantas to rebook.” I can’t do that without caffeine, so off I went to find breakfast at a quirky little coffeeshop I’d found on the previous trip.

La Veen Coffee serves not just amazing coffee (I am a huge fan of their rocket fuel cold brew) but also delicious brekkie: (I mean come on, when you’re in ‘Straya you can’t really call it breakfast can you?)

While enjoying a delicious eggs benedict with bacon and fresh spinach on homemade sourdough (and a couple of delicious cold brews) I did a bunch of searching, and it turns out supposedly Qantas has a text messaging service where they will answer customer service problems.

I decided to text them despite my 50 cent/text roaming fee, and see if I could accomplish this for just a couple dollars. Based on looking online it seemed there was a flight a few hours earlier which had not been available on points when I booked, and a bit more sleuthing revealed why. It only had two seats left, and was the continuation of the “world’s longest flight” from London to Perth which continues to Melbourne.

I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask since there were two seats left, and my flight had been cancelled. It took them about 45 minutes to answer my text, but after they did the back and forth took only another 15 minutes or so, and about six texts later I was confirmed on the Dreamliner. Cool!

Unfortunately, this meant my nearly full day in Perth would be reduced to a morning, so fortunately I’d had a couple of very powerful coffees to power me through it. Right, off we go!

First stop was a wander down to the river, where an ice skating rink had been set up! It was chilly (maybe 10C?) or so outside, but not cold enough for this. The condition of the ice definitely showed it…plus $24 to go skating? Yikes!

That’s so punny of them….ig-loos…get it?

I totally wanted a picture as the kangaroo or snowman, but unfortunately (or fortunately) maybe, there was nobody around to assist me.

Scenic stroll along the river…it was slightly overcast, but a great day for pictures.

This reminded me of the Dragon Blood Tree from Socotra Island Yemen, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the same.

Beware of giant, bronze statues of Skippy!

After walking for almost two hours it was back to the hotel for a quick shower and freshen up before heading to the airport to check in for my flight to Melbourne. I would have cut it a bit closer, but unfortunately the Qantas app wouldn’t let me check in online.

When I got to the airport, I found out why. Because this is the continuation of an international flight, all domestic passengers have to go through special procedures since passengers continuing from London to Melbourne don’t clear customs until Melbourne! I got the appropriate sticker on my boarding pass, and headed up to security and the lounge.

As usual, despite being a domestic lounge the Qantas lounge was fantastic, and had nice fresh pizza and good Aussie shiraz to enjoy while I waited. For some reason, we’d been warned to leave the lounge an hour before boarding to head to the gate. Uh, ok?

Soon it became clear why: we had to go through security again and clear immigration to “leave” Australia despite not “leaving” Australia. Spoke to the immigration officer, he saw the sticker on my boarding pass, gave it some official stamp that said “domestic passenger” and off to the gate it was. We didn’t actually clear immigration (aka they didn’t “check us out” of Australia) but we had to be cleared to go on an “international” flight as domestic passengers. Confused yet?

The gate area was quite small, and was filled with the passengers continuing from London, and there was a really nice outdoor area next to the gate where you could wait to board:

Boarding was pretty quick, and while business was completely full, economy class seemed to be nearly empty. Maybe there’s a lot of economy traffic to Perth, but business class folk tend to continue to Melbourne? Who knows.

Qantas flight 10
Perth, Australia (PER) to Melbourne, Australia (MEL)
Depart 13:25, Arrive: 18:55, flight time: 3:30
Boeing 787-9, Registration VH-ZNC, Manufactured 2018, Seat 03K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 62,748
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,755,336

Upon boarding the seat was similar to the seat on the A330, but I’d managed not only to get one of the last seats, not only to get a window seat, but also to get the kind next to the window instead of next to the aisle. Score!

What’s not to like about a printed menu for a barely three hour flight?!

Plus pre-departure champagne…real champagne since it was still an “international” flight, but unfortunately the cabin was quite steamy and warm according to the temp sensor cube….

Sourdough bread, artisan/craft butter, and a nice salad to start with more champagne. Jacquart Mosaique was the bubbles on offer for this short flight. Not sure if it’s the same for the longhaul segment.

Poached egg, bacon, and spinach on sourdough. No hollandaise sauce, so you can’t claim I had eggs benedict twice in one day! I decided I’d stay with the champagne as long as I was on the brunch theme.

…and a cheese course. Perfectly lovely. I should have switched to red wine maybe, but hey… Maggie Beer ice cream again, today was burnt fig, honeycomb, and caramel – I think it’s their tastiest flavour.

Sun setting on approach to Melbourne. I love how the orange bounces off the engine and wingtip!

Landed right on time, and being a few hours earlier than expected I figured if I hurried I might have time to still go out and get a bite to eat. Making lemonade from lemons, I might have lost my lunch in Perth, but I’d be gaining dinner in Melbourne!

Unexpectedly, we landed and everyone was sent to immigration – including domestic passengers. Had to show passport and boarding pass with the stamp, and still got questioned as if we were entering Australia…a bit strange. This was definitely a unique experience!

Fortunately, didn’t take more than a few minutes and I was off to my hotel by Uber and ready to enjoy Melbourne!

Sep 122019
 


So, I’m very aware I’m a bit overdue with a post. Sometimes, work and life get in the way, and there are priorities to regaling folks with tales from magical places and magical flying machines.

Other things that get in the way? Waking up the day before your birthday, looking at award availability not really intending to go anywhere, and eight hours later you’re sitting in Lufthansa First Class headed around the world. Totally normal. I know all y’all have done it. Almost took four days too….so, that’s where some of the time has gone. Anyways, back to writing!

Landed in Sydney at 0h-dark-thirty, had no queue at immigration and the train to the hotel was super quick, and soon I was in the lobby of the Marriott begging for a room at something like 6am. This was a new property to me, having stayed for years at the old Four Points Darling Harbour, then at the Westin, and now with Bonvoy…trying something new.

Not only did they allow me a 6am check-in, I was upgraded to a nice bridge-view room. Got to the room, quick shower, napped for about three hours, and woke up to this. They’re not kidding – what a view:

After a slow start the first thing on my mind was coffee, so I set out to find that…with no real plan for the day. After coffee, I found my way to the Manly Ferry, and got an even more close-up look at the bridge on this cool late morning:

Bit of a walk around Manly and I was getting a little hungry, so stopped for some salt and pepper squid and a beer at Four Pines Brewing:

Wandered a bit, and the single beer had made me sleepy, so I stopped for what I was sure would be the first of many, many proper flat whites over the coming days:

After a couple of hours walking along the coast I eventually caught the ferry back to Circular Quay, and ended up lazing around for an hour before walking out to dinner.

I’m not sure if everyone else is the same, but when I go back to a place I tend to spend most of the first day visiting places I’d been before that I really enjoyed and missed. This time, it was dinner at the Australian Heritage Hotel for some crocodile, emu, and kangaroo pizza:

Fairly early night after the pizza since despite the nap I was definitely feeling the impact of two straight “nights” spent trying to sleep on planes, and I was out cold for a good long time.

Woke up relatively early the next morning, headed out to get some coffee, and on the way realized that someone is trying to Make Australia Great. Seems a rather sad situation, since at least America has been great before and we’re trying to make it great again! *wink*

After a nice relaxing coffee it was time to pack up and head back to the airport. It was time for my whirlwind tour of Australia to begin!

Quick stop in the Qantas lounge in the domestic terminal which was nice, but really nothing special, then off to the gate to board my widebody with proper business class to Perth.

Qantas flight 577
Sydney, Australia (SYD) to Perth, Australia (PER)
Depart 12:20, Arrive: 15:25, flight time: 5:05
Airbus A330-200, Registration VH-EBA, Manufactured 2002, Seat 07K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 61,017
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,753,655

Can you imagine if US airlines had seats like this on domestic flights frequently? I was surprised when I booked a month out that the last row was the only window seat left on this flight (indicating that a good number of folks book domestic business class way out) but despite a seat next to the aisle instead of next to the window, it was a treat for a relatively long domestic flight:

Wow, even a proper menu! I had heard Qantas had been slipping, but there was no sign of that yet:

Plus, a footwell even in the last row with plenty of space for the feet…despite the seat being a little bit beat up.

Delicious roasted almonds to start. Everyone seems to get excited by the “warm nuts” on US airlines, but I often find them kind of mushy, as if they’ve been severely overheated. These? Nice crunch to them and just a little bit of salt.

Soup and salad to start…with artisan butter…and super tasty fresh bread…not like the poor excuse for bread we often get in the US. Stop me now, before I go on a rant about the quality and “realness” of food in the US compared to Australia, Canada, etc….

Presentation sure wasn’t beautiful, but the chicken tagine was really flavorful and a great meal: (yes, with a big more of the good Australian shiraz, of course):

Wait what, a proper cheese course? By this point in the US you usually get a cookie if lucky, and if luckier it’s “freshly-baked” and not pre-packaged. (Though I do love me some Dancing Deer Cookies…are you listening Delta?)

Everyone knows I love a good cheese plate, and while small it was perfectly appropriate for a domestic flight, especially with dates:

…oh yeah, and there was delicious chocolate and salted caramel Maggie Beer ice cream as well. I was in Heaven.

All in all, it was an amazing domestic flight, probably one of the better ones I can remember ever taking, and I arrived in Perth feeling relaxed and rested despite the rather terrible jetlag I was surely dealing with. The sunny and cool day probably didn’t hurt, but I was wide awake and feeling great!

Used Uber to get to my hotel which was a piece of cake at the relatively quiet Perth airport, and soon I was ready to head out on a walk and enjoy the late afternoon in Perth. But first….time to end this post and move on to the next.

Sep 022019
 


So, right, off the plane in Singapore after back to back flights and straight for a walk around the airport. Singapore is cool because T1, T2, and T3 are all connected, but if you have a long way to go and don’t feel like walking you can take the train between terminals.

After back to back flights I definitely needed the walk, so walked for about 45 minutes around the terminals to stretch my legs before heading to the lounge. Fortunately, I had done my research online before visiting, and knew that there was no dedicated first class lounge in Singapore for Qantas. It will be opening later this year, but for now I would have to share with the masses in business class. Oh the horrors!

Now, that said, if you have to spend time in a business class lounge, a Qantas lounge is an excellent place to do it. I was feeling the need for a brief detox at this point after two flights of back to back champagne-fuelled nonsense, so went with the coke light along with a little bit of curry and some dragonfruit.

After a quick snack, I felt like I should walk a bit more, so went out for another 30 minute or so stroll around the terminal before coming back for a shower. Fortunately, the Qantas showers were a much more reasonable temperature than the horrendous Emirates ones, and I actually would be heading to my Qantas flight feeling a bit fresher.

…which was definitely a good thing, because I think my Qantas flight was boarding from Malaysia the walk to the gate was so far! Oh well, it was good to get more of a stretch in before boarding!

Qantas flight 2
Singapore (SIN) to Sydney, Australia (SYD)
Depart 19:30, Arrive: 05:10 next day, flight time: 7:40
Airbus A380-800, Registration VH-OQK, Manufactured 2011, Seat 03A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 59,026
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,751,614

The signs in the boarding area weren’t clear, and I hadn’t researched, so I followed the jetbridge to the upper deck…only to discover the saddest first class seats I’d ever seen in the front of the plane. Fortunately, it was just a momentary confusion and I was able to trudge back downstairs where I found a seat much more to my liking!

This definitely takes the cake as the most unique first class seat I’ve ever been on. Faces forward for takeoff and landing, but then you can swivel the chair about 45 degrees to the light so it lines up with the monitor and foot rest. Definitely unusual, but I really enjoyed the spaciousness of it!

Nothing says welcome aboard quite like a glass of Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 2004. This is actually one of my favourite champagnes, and I know I’ve said it before but it’s always nice to see airlines taking a “risk” in first class and deviating from the common offerings of Dom Perignon or Krug.

After takeoff, I must feign confusion. I remember the amuse bouche of a caviar tart…but I have no idea what this glass of what appears to be white wine is. Maybe it’s the angle of the pic, but I’m certain I would have been enjoying champagne at this point!

So what’s to eat? That’s a good question, because I also don’t have a picture of the menu! I know I was exhausted on this flight, but it’s very not like me to forget to take so many pictures. At least you can see what’s to drink!

Note that despite serving the Sir Winston during departure, they actually had Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame during the flight. That much I remembered and actually added in my trip notes!

Probably one of the largest tables I’ve ever seen, even in first class! I do remember switching to the rather nice syrah for the main event.

Delicious appetizer, if I remember right it was a thai style spicy shredded chicken salad.

After all the eating the past few days I decided to go with the lighter fish option, which was absolutely outstanding. I’ve been ordering fish a lot more lately on flights, and so far have had mostly excellent luck with it!

Of course, I couldn’t skip the cheese. It pales in comparison to Emirates’ or Lufthansa’s offerings, but was a reasonably solid showing.

The desert, however, was a lemon tart that was out of this world. If I wasn’t so stuffed from all the flights I might have shamelessly asked if there were more, but my waistline thanks me. Plus, despite all the time zone confusion I was feeling pretty tired so decided to chance a bit of sleep.

I must have been exhausted, because I had absolutely no trouble passing out for a solid four hour nap. At this point, after two consecutive redeyes, my body had no idea what time it was anyways, so I was definitely in “nap when you can” mode.

Woke up with just enough time for a light breakfast, and enjoyed some muesli and a tasty cinnamon roll. Before anyone judges me, yes, that’s Coke Light and not red wine with breakfast. Unfortunately, the strawberries with the fruit were seriously underripe, but other than that it was the perfect light breakfast right before landing.

…and just like that it was 5am, and we were arriving into Sydney. Fortunately no queues at immigration at this hour, and had no trouble catching an airport express train straight to my hotel.

The stop was just about a three minute walk from the hotel, and despite showing up at 6am they were ready for me, and let me check in super early. Another solid four hour nap, and around 11am I was ready to head out and make the most of my day in Sydney!

Sep 012019
 


Eventually found my way to the A gates, and from there to the elevator up to the First Class Lounge/Floor. I say floor, because the A terminal is one long pier, with the entire second floor being business class lounge, and the top floor being first class. Given that first class on most planes is 20% the size of business class or less, you can imagine just how spacious it is!

I really needed a shower at this point, despite having read multiple times online that you’re almost better off skipping it due to the heat and humidity in the shower rooms due to lack of good ventilation. Well, out came my temperature cube while I took an ice cold shower. At the end it was reading 81.4F in the room with 77% humidity….and that was 10 minutes post-shower. Yeah.

Went to have a nibble to eat (not so much because I was hungry, but because who can pass that up?) and was still warm…and getting a little sweaty. Ugh! Probably the most extensive made-to-order lounge dining menu anywhere in the world:

I love a good poke bowl, although I was really reluctant to risk raw fish in an airport. Oh well, if a first class lounge can’t get it right who can! In fairness, it was super tasty!

If they’re going to go through the trouble of having a signature sandwich (the Emirates Sandwich) I had to give it a try. The sweet potato fries were actually really good, and the sandwich was pretty meh. Only ate a little of it for the novelty factor…and to have something to soak up the champagne. I’d heard the catering on the next overnight segment would be sparse (and being honest, I was getting really tired so hoped to sleep a fair amount).

So, how about a quick tour of the lounge? When I said it was enourmous, I wasn’t kidding. The “features” like the restaurant, showers, etc were in the middle, and down the sides by the gates (yes, there are gates and if you leave from the A Terminal you get to board directly from the lounge) there are nooks with chairs and such.

I had time, and the bar area was calling, so I decided to have some bubbles. It was also the most populated and social area of the lounge, so it looked inviting. Sometimes privacy is nice, but this lounge was so huge it was almost too much. Lovely bartender from Kenya, who instantly became my best friend when I wished “asante” after getting the champagne. Refills were very quick to arrive…

Sadly, at a fairly late moment, my A380 got moved to the B gates (I thought A was supposed to be the A380 terminal and nearly all A380 flights leave from there? Boo hiss!) but it wasn’t too bad, so took the underground people mover over just as boarding was starting.

Emirates flight 354
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (DXB) to Singapore (SIN)
Depart 03:05, Arrive: 15:00, flight time: 7:55
Airbus A380, Registration A6-EDV, Manufactured 2012, Seat 03K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 55,118
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,747,706

I really wasn’t looking forward to a 3am flight, but given I was going from Tunisia to Australia I’d be crossing so many time zones I’m not sure my body would know where it was anyways. Plus, I’d take a flight in this seat any day of the week! …even at 3am!

Not sure if it’s a known fact, but I’m convinced that Emirates caters their wine lists by destination, with “cheap destinations” like Tunis catered with nice stuff like Dom Perignon, but not ridiculously nice stuff like 2006 Dom Perignon Rosé – was nice to have something a little less common!

Shower orders were taken right before takeoff, and I was informed that I only had one choice of time left – 3 hours before landing. There was a large family of eight in the cabin, and apparently they’d reserved the eight closest slots to landing. Ugh. I told the flight attendant I’d take it if awake, but please don’t wake me up three hours before landing just to shower.

More interesting than a shower, the food and beverage list. Confirmation it would only be light snacks on this flight. Probably good, more incentive to sleep!

Crew was fantastic, and right after takeoff I asked for more rosé, and he said he’d just located a second bottle despite telling many other passengers they were out….so I’m guessing this was to make up for the shower disappointment. The FA serving my section was from Belarus, and when he found out I spoke (pretty awful) Russian we became even better friends…

Decided to snack on the nasi goreng which was actually delicious, and have some of the Château la Mission Haut-Brion 2004 which is an excellent bottle that’s quite hard to find. Generally receives ratings of 98-100 from many of the large wine raters lately, and was shocked when asked “maybe you’d like it decanted into a carafe?” Are you kidding me? Forget the shower, this is onboard living!

I’m not certain if the carafe was refilled or not…maybe it was…the wine was definitely delicious…so I’m guessing it was. Passed out for several hours…and must have tossed and turned a bit because I remember being gently asked if I wanted the shower or not…and saying no and falling right back asleep. So long that I actually missed any pre-landing food. I would have said breakfast, but when you land at 3pm it’s hard to think of it as breakfast.

So, yeah, it was honestly a super rough schedule on the body, and when we landed it was 3pm and I was staring yet another redeye in the face. I was starting to feel a bit out of it and not great again just like I had in Tunis, so decided the best strategy instead of going to the lounge in Singapore would be to walk around the terminals…all three of them…and then go to the lounge for a cold shower.

Turned out to be a good call, because after a stroll I was starting to feel more human. (Yes, I’m sure two long flights of good eating and drinking had nothing to do with this…) I’m getting ahead of myself, however…