Cruising home like a rock star

Backdated. Posted 26/5/2018

Last morning in Sydney; almost time to go home.

After checking out of the hotel, we headed back to the gallery to see if Sunday morning was a better option for looking at the Archibald Prize finalists than Friday had been.

On the walk, the last of the half-marathon runners were coming through, including one old bloke, jogging along to the encouragement of passers-by and event organisers.

Art Gallery of NSW

Ibis at Art Gallery of NSW

First, a bite in the gallery cafe for breakfast, while trying to keep the ibis away from our food. They didn’t seem spooked by the fake owl.

Then we looked around the exhibition. Some great works, both the Archibalds and finalists from the Wynne and Sulman prizes, also on display.

Funny Hahas and Bloody Galahs - by Craig Handley - at Art Gallery of NSW

From there another walk across the park and a poke around the shops for a bit.

Back to the hotel to pick up the bags, then we headed for St James Station — drawing another bum card, as again due to works we went around the City Circle the wrong way (but hey, that Circular Quay view!!) and had to change at Central for the Airport line.

View of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from Circular Quay station

Sydney Airport - Domestic Railway Station

No matter, back at Sydney Airport in plenty of time, no thanks to a faulty escalator at the Domestic station.

Flying home Business Class

As I mentioned, we ended up flying back Business Class on points.

The following may seem trivial to people who usually fly Business, but as someone who has only previously flown Economy, I found it an interesting contrast.

The Virgin lounge was pretty busy, and apart from the complimentary food and drink, perhaps little different to the public areas of most airports these days. WiFi and power for a laptop and somewhere to sit are pretty common.

The really luxurious place in the airport is something I’ve only heard about (and don’t expect to ever see inside): the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge.

Perhaps more advantageous than Virgin’s lounge was priority boarding, skipping the queue. Mixed feelings: guilt for jumping the queue, rock star for walking straight in, but fraud for doing it on points!

Priority boarding queue at Sydney Airport

And once aboard – the seats are certainly much more spacious. And personal service – would you like a drink before we take-off, Mr Bowen?

We got a good view as we took off, but you can get that from any window seat.

Taking off from Sydney

Of the eight Business Class seats in the plane, four were taken, four were empty.

Being much a bigger seat, you get more window. And at the front of the plane you get a better sense of what’s going on, as the flight crew chat among themselves, and you can see the pier closing and moving away before the plane pushes back.

Cruising in Business Class

On the way up to Sydney in Economy (departing 7:30pm), we’d been given a packet containing five cracker biscuits and five slices of cheese.

Coming back in Business Class (departing 4:30pm), it was a full meal with a choice of options – I went for the Moroccan lamb jaffle. On a real plate, with real metal cutlery and a cloth napkin.

Business class meal on Virgin

After landing, one of the hosties positioned herself in the aisle to make sure us high flyers got to leave first, without the hoi polloi from Economy getting ahead of us.

And at the baggage carousel, my bag came out super-quick thanks to the Priority tag they’d put on it. (My usual suitcase is actually small enough to take as carry-on, but I generally prefer not to schlep around the airport with it. Plus I had some liquid in it — I’d bought a bottle of hot sauce at the farmers market to take home.)

Priority luggage allowed me to leave the terminal several minutes quicker, and get on a Skybus sooner (I only just caught it), with an earlier train connection home. So it got me home more quickly. Maybe only ten minutes earlier, but it helped.

Some people yearn for the olden days of air travel. The glamour, the personal service.

This of course was a time when most people couldn’t afford to fly at all. But for those who did, there was more space and better service.

Clearly you can still have it — to an extent — if you’re willing to pay for it.

But it’s not cheap. Checking Virgin’s web site, flights to Sydney start from $125 in Economy — for Business Class you’re paying at least $499 (for a Business Saver fare).

I could get used to travelling Business, but my budget isn’t likely to allow it very often. Perhaps I’ll aim for the occasional points upgrade.

Back in Melbourne

Straight onto a Skybus back to the City. Unlike the slow trip on Thursday night, this was a quick 23 minutes, at full speed along most of the freeway. It could have been a minute or two faster if there was traffic light priority when the bus left the freeway at Footscray Road.

Then straight onto a train home — noting that since the removal of seats around the doorways, there are very few spots in the Alstom Comeng trains where you can sit, and have your suitcase with you, but out of the way.

Back in drizzly Melbourne - Southern Cross Station

After a few days of sun in Sydney, I was back in drizzly cold Melbourne.

But with such a relaxing flight home, it didn’t matter a bit.

Mini-break in Sydney

Post backdated. Published 21/5/2018.

M wanted to see the Lady And The Unicorn tapestries before they head home to France from their exhibit at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

No big holiday likely this year, so how about we do a short break in Sydney?

Booking the flights

After looking at frequent flyer points on Virgin, mostly from last year’s Europe trip, we went ahead and booked.

Melbourne to Sydney up on Thursday night. Plenty of FF Economy seats available. 11,800 points. Done.

Sydney to Melbourne down on Sunday afternoon. No FF Economy seats available between about 10am (bleugh, too early) and 6pm (bleugh, too late).

Wait a sec – they have some business class seats available at 3pm. That could work. 23,500 points. M had enough, and I almost had enough – a small shortfall could be paid with $20.

Okay. M went onto the web site. Choose one of the eight available Business Class seats on the plane. Click. Booked. Great.

I went onto the web site. Click. Error. No more seats available.

Yep you guessed it — they only allowed one of the seats to be booked by Frequent Flying freeloaders. Perhaps to prevent people flying together in Business on points.

So I ended up a later flight home — 90 minutes later. Oh well. Time to sit in the lounge and write this blog.

Heading up

We planned to head to the airport straight after work.

Given the challenges of Melbourne traffic, I was thinking of opting-out of the Skybus ($18) and instead doing the cheapskate option: train to Broadmeadows, 901 bus to the Airport (effectively free, since I already have a yearly Myki Pass).

Slower? Probably; it takes about 50-60 minutes depending on the connection. But it avoids the traffic, which Skybus would be likely to get stuck in.

Checking the PTV network status shortly before leaving, the trains were running okay, but the buses… A look at the real-time departure information showed uneven frequencies, and there was a delay flagged… due to a landslide in Fitzsimons Lane in Templestowe.

Landslide affecting route 901

So we ended up on the Skybus instead, which was busy, but no waiting at all.

Have you ever noticed how when you approach Southern Cross Station from Bourke Street, the sign for Skybus, one of the things that occasional visitors are most likely to be looking for, is behind a pillar?

Southern Cross Station - Bourke Street entrance

As I suspected, Skybus was faster than via Broadmeadows, but not my much. The Citylink transit lanes should give the buses a good run, but don’t – presumably because they’re not enforced.

It took 42 minutes to get to the first stop at the airport.

No wonder Skybus no longer claim a 20 minute journey time.

Perhaps those new lanes opening soon will help… for a little while.

But really, if they have a priority transit lane, they should use it properly. Of course it doesn’t help that both Transurban (Citylink) and the Airport are lobbying against bus priority. Evidently they really want to cater for vehicles, not people.

Gate 13 at Melbourne Airport

The flight? It must have been an omen that our departure got switched to Gate 13, but at least Terminal 4 has improved in the last few years.

Delayed about half an hour, so we got into Sydney well after 9pm.

Smooth other than the delay. I got time to ponder why they give out copies of The Australian, which being a broadsheet is clearly completely unsuited to reading in a plane, at least in an Economy-class seat.

Trying to read The Australian in an Economy class seat on the plane

And the train from the airport?

Instead of a smooth 16 minutes straight from the Domestic Airport station to St James (at least as quick as a cab), due to trackwork we had to change trains at Central (up and down steps; there’s only one lift per platform), then catch a train the long way around the City Circle, so it took about half an hour all up (about as quick as a cab in peak hour).

On the bright side, the view of the Harbour Bridge from Circular Quay station is a nice welcome to Sydney.

St James station

The hotel

The hotel was a level of luxury to which I’m not really accustomed.

I usually book for location first, then price, then amenity. I like to be near to a busy railway station so we can use the hotel as a base, and stop past between activities.

There was a good deal at the Sheraton on the Park, near St James station, so we ended up there.

When I first started travelling in my 20s, I tended to stay at Youth Hostels for budgetary reasons. It’s fair to say this is the other end of the spectrum.

As we walked up, the doorman offered to help with our bags. I declined. After pulling my wheeled suitcase all the way from my house in Melbourne, I didn’t need to pay a bloke $5 to have him take it the last 25 metres to the reception desk.

That said, if the Sheraton want to remodel their front entrance, a ramp from the direction of the station would be a plus — currently the only ramp from the street faces the opposite direction.

The room itself? Very nice. As one would expect in a nominally expensive hotel.

We hadn’t booked (and paid extra for) the park view… instead it was a “city view” which turns out to be facing onto the back side of a building in the next street.

No matter. Escaping a Melbourne weather forecast of grey and drizzly, instead getting Sydney’s sun and top temperatures of 20-21 degrees every day we’d be there? Priceless.

Perth trip day 1

(Scroll down to skip the words and get to the pics)

Before we left I prepared by cancelling the newspaper (oddly, by phone is actually better than online; the deadlines are more relaxed), pre-purchased a Skybus ticket (you can print it yourself; very handy), and totally failed to even start packing before departure day.

Thursday 5th July

We got out of the house a little later than planned, caught a train into the city, then (thanks to the Skybus pre-purchase) straight onto a bus to the airport. On the way I checked-in with my mobile phone; the concept of checking-in when you’re not actually at the airport is still a concept that I find somewhat intruiging.

When we actually got to the airport, the AirportAutoQantasCheckinMachine wouldn’t let us check-in our suitcase because we were running late; given it’s not too large and we had no sharp objects in it, a Qantas person recommended just taking it through with our hand luggage. A queue at security didn’t help, and the screens indicating “Flight closed” caused me to panic a bit, but we made it the gate with… oh, a minute or two to spare.

One of the runways was being dug up or vacuumed or something, causing a delay taking off. After that the flight when smoothly; entertainment was some news (including a long Higgs Boson Particle story, which caused me to remark “Yay science!”), an episode of Big Bang Theory and some Brit movie starring Harriet Jones MP, Professor McGonagall, and Bill Nighy.

There appeared to be an entire footy team (or at least, some young-uns from some WA AFL training academy) on the flight; they were pretty subdued, some of them watching videos of footy matches on their laptops (that’d be yawn-o-rama for me) though they did perk up/get a little noisier towards the end of the flight.

We landed in Perth pretty much on time, and met my aunt outside.

Into the car for a whirlwind tour of Perth, we headed initially into the Swan Valley, to the Margaret River Chocolate Factory (the branch that’s not actually in Margaret River, but in Perth) to have some hot chocolate and a snack and watch a continuous series of tourist buses rolling in.

Grape vines... and a distinctive suburban Perth bus shelter, Swan Valley
Grape vines… and a distinctive suburban Perth bus shelter, Swan Valley

From there we headed past central Perth to Kings Park, a quite amazing open space overlooking the CBD and had a walk around.

We took a look at the war memorial (smaller than Melbourne’s Shrine, but with a view — at least from ground level — more spectacular), and a walk with views across the Swan River. Peak hour was just getting underway, and we watched the traffic slowly moving along the Kiwana Freeway, overtaken regularly by trains heading out along the new Mandurah railway line. Nice.

Memorial, Kings Park
Memorial, Kings Park

Jeremy gets arty with the camera at Kings Park
Jeremy gets arty with the camera at Kings Park

Kings Park
Kings Park

Kings Park
Kings Park

Saturday: Additional picture added:
Kwinana Freeway, Perth (viewed from Kings Park)
Kwinana Freeway, Perth (viewed from Kings Park)

My aunt pointed out the honour avenues around the park, with trees planted in memory of those fallen on the front line in WW1. Even more sobering was the list of more recently fallen soldiers.

Then we headed south for a bit to look at the ritzy riverside suburb of Mosman Park, and also at Cottesloe beach – where we arrived just in time to watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean.

On the Swan River at Mosman Beach
On the Swan River at Mosman Beach

Sunset from Cottesloe Beach
Sunset from Cottesloe Beach

Perth skyline, from south of the river
Perth skyline, from south of the river

This was followed by another riverside stop at South Perth, for views of the city. My aunt remarked that there are only half-a-dozen actual skyscrapers in Perth, though it looked like a few more to me.

After that we headed to her house, where she made us very welcome, cranked up the wifi, and cooked a huge meal for us to celebrate our arrival in WA.

Proof that Skybus was intended to be on Myki one day

Got back from Perth last night. Had a great time, which you’ll hear about in due course, but first: something we spotted on the Skybus on the way home: Myki reader mounting points — and just like those that first appeared on trams a few years ago, they’re being used as brochure holders at the moment.

Myki reader mounting point on Skybus

Proof, if any was needed, that it’s intended that Skybus is planned to join Myki at some point.

(This particular bus might have been brand new — it also had softer seats than the rock-hard bucket seats most of the Skybus has.)

Update: I’m told some of the Skybus fleet has had these mounting points for a while… which means the status of future Myki support for Skybus is uncertain — it may not have survived the Coalition government’s review of the system in 2011.