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!

Aug 292019
 


After getting to my hotel around 2am, it took a little bit of time to fall asleep, but I still managed around 5-6 hours before waking up in time to get some coffee and meet up with friends. London would be my second very brief stop in a row on this trip where I maximized the time meeting up with friends, and that was something a little sleep wouldn’t stop!

But first, off to get coffee. I was staying at the Great Northern Hotel right by St. Pancras station for two reasons: first because I really enjoy the property, but secondly it would be a short walk to catch my train to Paris. Looking at the posters in the hallway, it’s as if they were expecting me!

Coffee consumed, I took a quick walk through St. Pancras to re-familiarize myself with the lay of the land so I could maximize my time before darting to my train later. I love the architecture of this place.

At 11:00 (per the super cool reservation bottle below) I met up with Michael and the lovely Ellen at the Champagne Bar at St. Pancras for some celebratory bubbles. I’m not sure if this was the brunch excuse or the vacation excuse to begin consuming champagne before noon….but hey, does one really need an excuse for champagne?

Beverages and amazing conversation are two things that never seem to last as long as you’d like them to, and all too soon I had to head back across the street to grab my bags (cases if you will since we’re in London) and cross back across the street to catch my train.

I hadn’t taken a train out of St. Pancras in almost ten years, but was glad to see absolutely nothing had changed in that time, except for the waiting lounge after immigration. Oh yes, security and immigration. If you have a European passport, nice and slick, but if you have a non-European passport and are in the premier queue, they don’t seem to plan for this, and there’s lots of ducking under ropes and such to bypass the queue. Honestly, wasn’t bad, ten minutes tops, and I was in the lounge to wait for the train.

Lounge was nice but way too warm (around 24C), and the crystal glasses for water and wine were way too obnoxiously heavy and elaborate for my tastes. I’m just a simple redneck…it’s not like we’re having tea with the queen!

Soon enough it was time for boarding, and it was a mad rush with the rest of the proletariat to get on the train. Business Premier was at the very far end of the platform (I guess this is so that when you arrive you’re first off?) but honestly it all worked out well. Slightly sexier and curvier figure than Amtrak if you ask me….

Legroom wasn’t amazing, but was much better than I remembered from previous trips where even business class felt rather like a sardine can. The other good news is that Business Premier on this train was maybe 25% full, so there was plenty of room to spread out!

This is probably a good place to mention how the trains work on Eurostar. There’s economy which is, well, exactly what you’d expect. Business which is some sort of middle ground I guess? …then there’s Business Premier, which is the most comfortable way to travel. Complete with real Champagne and printed menus:

…and off we go, at 226 kph!

Not only was a meal served, but it was served in proper courses with an appetizer first and then the main event. The most disappointing part? Despite only being 25% full, by the time the attendant got to me the fish was the only thing left. Good thing the French are about the only ones I’d trust to get plane and train fish right, and it was delicious! Definitely the best meal I’ve ever eaten on a train!

Haddock with cheddar and tomato, turnip gratin, pea and majoram puree – fancy french eats!

Upon arrival, Paris was a bit on the toasty side at 35C on the front end of the canicule – or heatwave. The metro was barely tolerable as I headed off to République to my hotel, the Renaissance Paris République. For the one night stay they had upgraded me to a gorgeous suite on the top floor with wonderful views of Paris:

Simple but elegant design. I hate old and stuffy, and this room struck the perfect balance for me.

It was late afternoon at this point with the time change, so I decided to do my favourite Paris activity: head out for a walk. I didn’t really have much of a plan this time, but found myself wandering by Notre Dame where I ran into the gilets jaunes just hanging about, and fortunately not making too much of a protest.

She doesn’t look terrible from the front, despite the terrible damage from the first just a couple of weeks prior

I walked for nearly four hours around Paris (15+ km) until the sun began to set, and I found myself somewhere down on the Left Bank.

At this point I was about 3km from République, so I decided I could walk the rest of the way back, and grab a very late dinner around 10pm before heading to bed. With only one night in Paris, there was no stopping me from having a croque madame and some wine while people watching from a bistro and despite it being four-five weeks after I’d been there previously, the waiter at the bistro remembered me and was super chatty. Who says French waiters are rude!

Off to bed at a semi reasonable hour – I had to get up in the morning and make my way to a new airport I’d never been to before in order to fly to Tunis!