Caught in the snow

(Post backdated to the day it happened. Posted Tue 10 Oct 2006.)

Over breakfast we pondered if we should go up Mount Wellington. The night before we’d rung about a bus tour, but looking at the weather that day, with snow forecast for the peak, and a lot of fog visible around the top, it wasn’t looking good. (There’s also a bus up, bike down tour which would be fantastic on a nice day). Eventually we decided to hire a car. Thrifty had one for about $80 plus fuel — the last one they had left, in fact. And as a bonus we could pick it up in the city and drop it at the airport, for no extra charge.

The car was going to be ready at 11am, so first we headed down to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery for a look around. A dinosaur greeted us at the door, and didn’t even charge us admission. Some interesting displays of Hobart’s past (including the whaling — mmmmm… blubber!), Aboriginal culture, and a few other less-related displays too. A notable bit of colonial history was a blue gum couch dating back to the early 1800s. Yep, a couch older and rattier than mine.

Thrifty is just a stone’s throw from the museum (slightly further if you initially walk in the wrong direction, like we did). We picked up the car (a little manual Hyundai jobby) and tried to get back to the B&B to pick up the luggage. Central Hobart is awash with one-way streets, and it took us a little while to figure out which particular combination of them we needed to get to where we needed to be. Add to this unfamiliarity with the car, and the dread of having to do a hill start in traffic, and I wasn’t having a good time during the initial few minutes of driving.

Thankfully there didn’t seem to be many differences in road rules. I’d already noted the UK-style yellow lines indicating parking restrictions, but apart from the one way streets, otherwise nothing seemed different. (As a pedestrian I had noted the pedestrian lights seemed much more responsive than most Victorian ones, and at many intersections they wisely gave pedestrians a few seconds’ head start over cars.)

We managed to find the road up to Mount Wellington. Quite soon we were seemingly beyond the main residential area, the only signs of life being the occasional house and the Hobart “Metro” bus stop signs. A little later even these were left behind, as the road wound its way up the mountain, me gripping the steering wheel and trying not to look over the edge of the road past the guide rail to the plunge below.

View from Mt Wellington

The little car did well climbing the mountain, and nearing the top, we found trees with some snow on them. Right at the peak is a comms tower and a car park, and we stopped and parked, then added whatever layers of clothes we could find to have a quick look around.

It was bitterly cold up there, and we initially took shelter in the observation shelter, before braving a couple of the lookouts to take some pictures. The fog had lifted a bit, and we could see some of the city below. Then it started spitting, followed by a little snow, and we high-tailed it back to the car, and headed back down the mountain.

Stopping momentarily about halfway down, it started snowing. The kind of snow you see in movies: big, visible snow flakes. I’ve never been snowed upon before, and it was a nice moment, even if most of them were melting as they hit the ground.

The snow falls on MaritaCascade brewery

We kept on driving, but instead of going straight back into Hobart, went to the Cascade Brewery. They do tours there, but we hadn’t pre-booked so that wasn’t going to happen. But we did have a rather delicious lunch, accompanied of course with Cascade Lager.

Then onward, back through central Hobart, and out again across the rather impressive Tasman bridge. Down the freeway for a bit then we turned off and headed to Richmond. More and more the country was reminding me of West Sussex where some of my relatives live — very green, but mostly farmland. We initially drove through Richmond and found the bridge: the oldest bridge in the country still in use, in fact, built in 1823.

Richmond bridge

Some ducks were quacking away nearby, and when the drizzle stopped and the sun came out, it was all rather glorious. Quite soon more tourists arrived, and soon they (and us, I suppose) were swarming around taking pictures. We strolled up to the nearby Catholic church (again, the oldest one in the country) and had a look inside and around the graveyard, a very picturesque location on top of a hill, with graves both old and new dotted around.

Richmond church

We went back into Richmond proper and had a little look around, before driving to the airport, watching out along the way for a petrol station. I thought I saw one in Cambridge, just before getting onto the freeway, but thought “there’s bound to be one at the airport.”

There wasn’t. The Thrifty people looked shocked that we would have even dreamed that there would be such a thing as a petrol station at the airport, and warned us of the surcharge for filling up the car: basically you pay about double the price per litre that you’d pay if you did it yourself. Well, it was only a quarter of a tank, and a small car, and I couldn’t be arsed going and finding a servo, so I said they could do it themselves. And it turned out to be $20 all up, so for the avoidance of effort, $10 wasn’t so bad. Different story if we’d been driving a 4WD and the tank was empty.

Checked-in and were told the flight was delayed 30 minutes. Sigh.

Went through security and I got randomly scanned for explosives.

Got to the lounge and found…

The soccer club boys. Sitting around a table, drinking beers and possibly looking a little the worse for wear after two and a half days’ rampage through Tassie.

We got a newspaper and some drinks and nibblies and filled the time until the flight boarded. Thankfully we were booked on the Qantas flight, whereas the soccer club boys were on the Jetstar flight that left just behind us. The flight was uneventful. Being Qantas, they had what they claimed was a “dinner service”, though it was just an elaborate ham, cheese and salad roll, plus a small chocolate bar. Better than nothing though.

We flew over the rest of Tasmania, Bass Strait and then over metropolitan Melbourne (with me, bored of the Qantas magazine and having checked-in my novel, trying to spot landmarks), then touched down at Tullamarine, before heading home.

All in all, it was a terrific few days. Hobart was really nice. The people seemed friendly, the traffic (even in peak hour) was okay, and, having recently read the book about Whelan The Wrecker’s career, which documented many of Melbourne’s historic buildings, it seemed to me that the city is being similar to what Melbourne might be if it had stopped growing in the 1890s or so, with so many beautiful old buildings remaining in use.

Maybe I should have predicted this before we went, but it seems like I’ve only had a small taste of Tasmania, and there’s plenty more to see. I look forward to going back.

Market and the lockup

(Post backdated to the day it happened. Posted Tue 10 Oct 2006.)

When it comes to hotel accomodation: there’s a few different variants. First is your budget place: backpackers and so on. Ugly, perhaps not comfortable, often pretty bare, but cheap. Then there’s your corporate hotels: often ugly, but comfortable and functional. Soemtimes quite expensive. Then there’s your Bed & Breakfasts, often quite expensive, very comfortable, and covered in lace and Laura Ashley prints.

Where we stayed was a place called the Edinburgh Gallery B&B, which was quite different to any of these. The decor was unlike anything you’d see in most places — comfortable, but quirky. The bedspread was a 70′s style shagpile carpet. There was an African mask above the bed. A huge vase was in the sunroom, which had a floor that sloped down to the window, as did the bathroom.

The bathroom was, in fact, tiny — barely bigger than the bath itself. Careful manoevring was required to get in and out of the shower. While brushing my teeth I had to bend down almost double to fit my head between the sink and the shelf above it. And the shower head was a good 20cm below my height, meaning I had to stand in a very odd position to wash my hair.

Those gripes aside, the room and bed were comfortable, breakfast (a help-yourself job in a kitchen downstairs) was delicious, and the hosts were friendly and helpful. Location was good, too. The only thing missing was the Gallery part of the name — much of the artwork apparently disappeared when the place changed hands recently.

Bedroom, Edinburgh Gallery B+BSalamanca Place, Hobart

On Saturday morning we headed down to Salamanca Place. The sun was shining down gloriously, and the crowds had come out for market day. Some of the Rutherglen Netball team were out shopping. I suspect the soccer club guys were busy drinking, somewhere.

Salamanca market, for you Melbournites, was a little like a cross between the St Kilda Esplanade (arts, crafts, nice handmade stuff, upmarket touristy things) with a touch of the Vic Market (downmarket touristy things, a small number stupid t-shirts of the type that few people laugh at, and even fewer people wear, and everyday things like hardware).

We found a cafe to eat some brunch (mmmm… Eggs Florentine), enjoy the sunshine and watch the passing parade, then did some shopping ourselves, followed by lunch — just a sausage in bread from one of the market stalls. I noted that some of the other stalls sold Dagwood Dogs, a sausage and batter creation that has apparently recently vanished from the Melbourne Show — probably due to health worries I reckon.

Later we headed for the Penitentiary Chapel, a historic jail. We just got their in time for the 1:30pm tour, with two others and a very enthusiastic National Trust guide. It was terrific stuff, full of interesting trivia about the building, but also providing the context for its creation and use, and anecdotes of the of the personalities involved — convicts, free settlers and government figures.

The building was constructed in 1831, and our guide was at pains to point out that it includes the oldest still standing room in the country, and that it pre-dated the more prominent and popular (with tourists) Port Arthur. In fact there does seem to be a bit of envy/tension with Port Arthur. All in all, a terrificly interesting tour.

Daniel locked up, Hobart Penitentiary ChapelSailing ships, Hobart

After that we roamed around a bit more around the city centre, through the Elizabeth Street mall (which has a very Spencer Street Station-like wavy roof), and the waterfront, then a walk down to Battery Point, with its charming park and grey monolithic CSIRO facility.

After that we headed back to the B&B to rest for a while and watch the last episode of Doctor Who (natch), then out again for dinner at Fish Frenzy — very tasty — then the ice-cream place (forget the name) a few wharves along, before walking back in the drizzle.

When I get down to Hobart Town

(Post backdated to the day it happened. Posted Sun 8 Oct 2006.)

I thought Jetstar liked me, when the lady at check-in suggested I not check-in my bag. It was light enough, she said, that I could carry it with me on the plane, provided it didn’t have any sharp objects in it — which it didn’t. Great, I thought. It’ll save me time.

But soon I discovered that Jetstar does, in fact, hate me. Why? Because not only was I booked on a flight on which there were two football teams and the Rutherglen netball team all going on their end-of-year trips. No, not only that. I was placed in a seat right in the middle of one of those teams.

They were a soccer club from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. And during the flight I discovered just how loud a soccer team on their end-of-year trip can be.

I also discovered that there is one thing louder than a soccer team on their end-of-year trip. And that is: a soccer team on their end-of-year trip after being served alcohol.

You’d think the Jetstar practice of charging $6 for pre-mixed spirits or crappy beer would have put them off. But no — this was their trip and they were determined to enjoy it.

As the booze flowed, the noise level rose, and I attempted to bury myself further in my book. There was laughing, there was joking, there was walking around the cabin, there was lesbian pr0n on one of their video iPods. And don’t for a minute think that there was a lack of politically-incorrect comments in reference to the stewardesses.

The soccer club boys were enjoying themselves so much they were wishing it was a longer flight, perhaps to Perth. I was silently thanking the gods that it was a nice short flight.

We landed in Hobart pretty much on-time, and give the soccer club boys credit, they did recognise my status as a civilian, and let me out first. I told them I hoped they’d have a good weekend, and they assured me that that was their intention.

We all climbed off the plane down onto the tarmac (no sky docks at HBA) and I very nearly kissed the ground at having made it through the din with my ears still functioning.

Hobart airport
Disembarking at Hobart Airport. The soccer club boys can be seen in their matching t-shirts.

I had decided to catch the airport bus into town, since I knew it went past the B&B Marita had booked, it would be cheaper and almost as fast as a cab. Given I hadn’t had to wait for baggage, I was the first to board, and I watched as the soccer club and the netball club came out of the terminal building and into their various hired buses. A small choir group also came out — I’m betting their section of the plane hadn’t been as loud — or if it had been, it was probably more harmonious.

But I did find the other football group got onto the bus. They were older, and less rowdy. The bus zoomed down the freeway, over the bridge and into Hobart proper. First it made a stop at the Customs House, where the footballers were staying. Then, with Marita SMSing to ask where I was (for we had a dinner engagement) I found myself being taken on an involuntary tour of Hobart, around the waterfront, along Sandy Bay Road (by which point I was tracking our position on the map, and silently protesting “But now we’re going away from where I want to be!”) down to the Wrest Point casino, where more people got dropped off.

After that we went back and finally got to the Edinburgh Gallery B&B, my destination. Lesson: if going to Hobart, the airport bus is a good cheap way of getting into the city, as long as you’re not in a hurry, or you’re heading to the waterfront. Otherwise, a cab may be a better option.

Marita was waiting and there was just enough time to drop my bag off and use the facilities (more about that later) before hopping in a cab to the restaurant. The B&B man, Felix, had very helpfully called the cab, then went outside to wait for it. Then he locked himself out, and had to use our key to get back in…

Dinner was at Annapurna, an Indian restaurant in North Hobart, a spot the cab driver knew straight away, without even having to be told the street or the suburb. We shared dishes between four of us, and it was thoroughly delicious, and surprisingly cheap.

Having no time constraints afterwards, we walked back in the dark, pondering how quiet most of central Hobart’s streets are after dark.

Off to Hobart

I’m off to Hobart today, for the weekend.

The first thing people have asked me when I mention it? “Are you hiring a car?” — as if Hobart is so horrible that as soon as we’ve arrived, we have to escape it.

Maybe it’s just that Hobart is small. That’s the verdict from the advance party (Marita, going to a conference down there), who let me know within hours of getting there that we should consider hiring a car to see more of what’s out there in Tassieland.

I’ll find out shortly.

The other thing some people have asked is if I’m flying or boating. Hobart’s on the wrong side of Tassie to go by boat… it would take all weekend.

Oh, and since my camera has gone to Europe, I’ve borrowed my sister’s. I guess she’ll be borrowing one from someone else if she needs one…

How much are Frequent Flyer points worth?

I’ve been planning some activity for my many frequent flyer points, many tens of thousands of which were earnt over several years of paying for childcare on a credit card several years ago. It adds up, I can tell you.

Firstly I’ll be jaunting down to Hobart for a few days in October with Marita. Then I’ll be taking the kids on a little holiday over the Melbourne Cup long weekend. Their preferred venue? Sydney. Because although they’ve been there before, they want to (again) ride the monorail and the double-decker trains.

Poking around on the Qantas web site, I found tickets were available on points for all those flights. Who’d have thunk? Mind you some of the flights to/from Hobart involved going via Sydney — hardly a logical proposition. I managed to find some direct ones though.

In the small print on the site it mentions government taxes, fees and surcharges, but it gives you no clue as to the magnitude of them. This is only clear when you’ve worked your way through the booking, and I suppose it doesn’t know the precise amounts until you’ve said where you’re flying, but it’d be nice to have a clue early on, because it turned out to add up to about $50 per sector.

So for instance I could fly to Hobart for $49 plus 8000 points. Or alternately I could just book on Jetstar for $79 all-inclusive, if I was willing to put up with a rigidly enforced 30 minute check-in and no free food en-route. Eventually I decided to fly down on Jetstar, and back on Qantas. (And hopefully Marita can book onto the same flight home; she’ll be in Hobart before me on a work-paid conference trip.)

And the Sydney flights? Well I compared the costs of Qantas versus Qantas on points versus Jetstar versus Virgin Blue. Bearing in mind that kids don’t fly for any less money than adults on the cheapest flights, the totals for three passengers on return flights came out at:

  • Qantas on points, fees $300
  • Qantas on paid tickets $740
  • Virgin Blue paid tickets $594
  • Jetstar paid tickets $621 (bleuch, flying out of Avalon, what a pain that would be)

So using Frequent Flyer points is far from free, but assuming there isn’t some super-dooper-mega sale later down the track, it’ll still save me about $300 (and with the benefit of free nibblies thrown in), so given how infrequently I fly anywhere, this time round I’ll go with the points.