Heading home from Vermont: July 2017

30 07 2017

After my 8-day stay in Vermont, which became a 7-day stay because of a cancelled flight from Washington DC to Burlington, it was time to leave for the long trek home. I eventually made it home, only 20 minutes after the scheduled arrival time, but there were a few dramas along the way.

Burlington, Vermont to Ronald Reagan National Airport, Washington DC

This 90-minute noon flight left a tad early and arrived early into DC. We had to wait for a gate. By the time we got off, the rain was bucketing down (it was also very hot, so it was very tropical). It was a small plane, so most carry-ons had to be gate checked, and every one of them was soaked coming up to the jetway. Fortunately, mine is a hard-shell carry-on, so that didn’t affect me much. Those with soft-sided bags weren’t so lucky… 2+ hour wait at Reagan Airport for the next flight, which I spent in their nice Admirals Club. Weather turned nice and sunny, with some clouds.

Reagan Airport to Dallas Fort Worth

About a 3.5 hour flight. From memory, it left on time and also arrived a tad early. As my bags had been checked through to Australia from Burlington and I’d gone through TSA screening there, I only had to get myself (airside) to Terminal D. Had a shower and waited for the 10:15pm flight in the Qantas First Class lounge (yes, I got another points upgrade to First Class for the long leg!).

Dallas Fort Worth to Sydney

About a 17-hour flight, but it ended up being close to 20 hours sitting in the plane. They loaded all the passengers, then we had an announcement from the cockpit that we were still refuelling and loading bags, then another about 15 minutes later that DFW air traffic control had grounded all flights until a big thunderstorm went by. And a big thunderstorm it was! Lots of lightning, thunder, rain. The pilot kept us updated on the situation, and kept all the power and air conditioning on so it wasn’t oppressive in the 90F heat. It was getting later and later and still we sat on the tarmac, while the lightning raged around us. The pilot was great at keeping us updated, and reported that a couple of flights had taken off in slight lulls but those pilots were reporting it as ‘pretty bad’. Our pilot told us ‘we’re not having any part of that’, and so we waited. No-one seemed perturbed by this — it was darned obvious that flying into that mess was not a safe thing to do.

I did ask one of the flight attendants about the time and how it may go over their rostered hours and what would happen then. She said the pilots only had 30 minutes left of their rostered time and if we didn’t leave soon, the flight would have to be cancelled and we’d be offloaded and put onto other flights (that meant the next night at the earliest as there’s only one flight a day from DFW, unless they shuttled some people to Los Angeles, where there’s three flights to Australia each evening). She said the flight attendants’ rostered hours could be overriden as long as 18 of the 24 attendants agreed, but not the pilots’ hours. Fortunately, we left within that 30-minute window — I guess the pilot thought the risk was worth it considering the cost to cancel the flight. The lightning was abating by then too, though it was a pretty rough ride for the first 20 minutes or so of the flight until we passed/got higher than the storm cell.

Our scheduled departure time was 10:15pm — we didn’t get away until well after 1 am. For me, that wasn’t an issue as I had a 6-hour wait at Sydney Airport (based on the original schedule), but I’m sure others missed their connecting flights on landing. We left about 3 hours late, but obviously made up some time as we arrived only 2 hours late into Sydney.

Then came the debacle known as Sydney Airport and transferring from international to domestic — what a mess that is! Anyone with a tight connection would have missed their next flight — immigration with the Smart Gates was easy, but our bags were offloaded onto the smallest carousel (have you seen what 400 people around a small luggage carousel looks like?), luggage carts were some three carousels away from where the bags came out, customs was a long line as we were competing with passengers from other recently landed flights, and then the walk across the crowded international arrivals area then outside to the other building where we could drop our bags for the connecting flight.

Fortunately, I knew where to go. Anyone arriving in Sydney for the first time would be lost as the wayfinding signage is small, and the logic of transferring isn’t explained. Add to the confusion the crowds of people waiting in the arrivals hall. Then, when you get outside, you walk along the covered veranda and to the line for transferring your bags. But there’s only one line, no matter what class you’re flying or frequent flyer status you have. It’s not until you get through that line that you get pointed to the line for your class/status for the bag drop. That’s just not good PR for Qantas’ most frequent flyers — sorting out the lines first would make more sense. After baggage drop, it’s through security and then the wait for a bus to take you across the tarmac. Yes, a bus. In the late 1990s, they did a lot of work on the airport prior to hosting the 2000 Olympics, but one thing they didn’t do, and still haven’t done, is sort out the transfer debacle from international to domestic (or vice versa). Other airports serving much smaller populations than Sydney (pop’n 4+ million) have automated trains/monorails, elevated or below-ground walkways, etc. for transferring passengers. Not Sydney. You have to catch a bus, and invariably it fills up before you can get on and you have to wait for the next one. Sure, it’s free, but it has no room for more than 10 people’s carry-on luggage, so it’s a real bun fight for space for the 50 or so people on board and their carry-on luggage. Add to that the frazzled nature of people just coming off a long flight, who are naturally anxious about making their connections. Then when you get to the domestic terminal, you have to get off the bus (a big step down) then walk up a short flight of steps in the open to get to the escalators to go into the terminal. Once you’re in the terminal there’s no-one from Qantas to help you — you’re on your own. A great welcome for visitors to Australia — NOT! And I don’t know what anyone with a mobility issue does — steps to get on and off the bus, steps at the domestic terminal, then an escalator, with no assistance. I have a friend who cannot go on escalators — what would she do with no-one to help/guide her to an alternative way to get into the terminal? There are NO signs for elevators. This transfer time can take up to an hour, so even if you have a 45-minute connection window after finishing with customs, you’d be unlikely to make it, which just makes for some very upset and angry people. My advice if you’re connecting from an international to a domestic flight at Sydney is to allow AT LEAST 2 hours between your scheduled arrival time and scheduled departure time. Even then, it could be tight, especially if there’s any hold-up (late arrival, long queues for immigration, people not moving out of the way in the duty free that you are funneled through whether you like it or not, waiting for bags, long lines for customs even if you have nothing to declare, finding your way to and negotiating the transfer process and baggage drop for domestic, getting through security, waiting for the transfer bus, dealing with others on the bus and disembarking it, finding your gate for your domestic flight, and HOPING you make it!). I allow at least 3 hours. And then I collapse into a shower at the Qantas Club or Business Lounge to refresh my batteries for the last leg.

You might wonder why I go through Sydney, and not Melbourne or Brisbane where the international and domestic terminals are next to each other — that’s because the flight to Dallas is ONLY via Sydney. Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney all fly to Los Angeles, but only Sydney has the Dallas flight. If I’m going to the midwest, the east coast, etc. then the Dallas flight is really the only option, otherwise, I have downtime in Los Angeles (or San Francisco) to catch a domestic flight.

Sydney to Perth

About a 5-hour flight. We left about 20 minutes late and weren’t able to make up that time. My husband was there to meet me, and then we had the 2-hour drive home.

No wonder I’m wrecked for a few days afterwards!

More movies watched on the flights:

  • Miss Sloane – Loved this one. Jessica Chastain is perfect in the role.
  • Loving – Another that made me want to shout at the racism; I thought Aussie actor Joel Edgerton was very wooden as Richard Loving, but maybe that’s how the real Richard was. Still worth watching.
  • The Zookeeper’s Wife – another with Jessica Chastain. I enjoyed it, if ‘enjoy’ is the right word for the subject matter.




Qantas food

16 07 2017

In the past two days, I travelled on Qantas and American Airlines (AA) from Perth, Western Australia to Burlington, Vermont (via Sydney, Dallas, and an unexpected night in Washington DC owing to an AA flight cancellation). I wrote last year about the points of difference between Qantas and AA (https://rhondabracey.com/2016/10/14/comparing-qantas-and-american-airlines/). This time I’ll talk about the food on Qantas, both on their domestic and international flights, and in the Qantas lounge.

NOTE: I travelled Qantas Business Class domestically — AA call this class ‘First’, but there’s nothing ‘first’ about their meagre food and drink offerings compared to Qantas for similar length journeys! And as a Qantas Platinum Frequent Flyer, I had access to the Qantas International First Lounge at Sydney Airport.

Domestic flight Perth to Sydney, approximately 4 hours

On this afternoon flight, we were fed dinner — see the menu for the food options. I had the soup (with sourdough bread), the lamb chops (two of them!) and the citrus baba.

Qantas lounge

After staying overnight in Sydney, I forgo the breakfast at the hotel, instead choosing to eat at the Qantas lounge. My choices from that menu — eggs benedict with smoked salmon, bircher muesli with hazelnuts (?) and apple, an apple julep (delicious! [non-alcoholic]), and sourdough toast with Vegemite. All very yummy!

Flight from Sydney to Dallas, 16+ hours

Next was the flight from Sydney to Dallas. We get served dinner on that flight not long after taking off, and then breakfast some 12 or 13 hours later, about 2 hours before we land. Because I’d had such a big lunch, I opted for soup (cauliflower I think), the ‘light’ steak sandwich dinner offering, followed by the MOST AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS passionfruit tart with fresh cream. It was SOOO good, I asked if I could have another — and I’m NOT a dessert person. The sharpness and acidity of the passionfruit perfectly balanced the creamy sweetness of the tart. (I didn’t take any photos of my breakfast.)

 





Day trip to Augusta

13 04 2017

We went for a drive down to Augusta and Cape Leeuwin on Monday, just ‘cos it was a GORGEOUS day and we could. Drove down Caves Rd, popping into Gracetown and stopping at Lefthanders car park (there are tiny people with surfboards on the beach in the photo, with other surfers in the Indian Ocean that you probably can’t see), then on into the magical cathedral-like Boranup Forest full of towering karri trees (note the size of the vehicle in relation to the trees). We stopped for lunch in Augusta, then went on to the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse precinct, where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet (I’m not sure if this was the setting for the novel ‘The light between two oceans’, but it’s close enough). Back home via Margaret River (the town is just a Subiaco/Claremont clone these days) and Cowaramup, where the cow sculptures have overtaken the town!





Blackwood River in flood

22 02 2017

The Blackwood River in south-western Western Australia doesn’t flood very often, and rarely in February. But the catchment area had a lot of rain in first two weeks of February and so the rivers rose. By the time I drove down to Bridgetown for a quilting retreat with friends, it was nearly at its peak. I stopped in at the park near the bridge at Bridgetown to see it — it was sure moving FAST. I also stopped at the bottom of Greys Hill Rd, near the intersection with Mattamattup St, and the water was lapping the footpath. Friends who came by a couple of hours later said it was lapping at the road when they came through. This was Thursday 19 Feb. By Monday 21 Feb when I headed home, the river was back to almost normal levels.

Blackwood River at the bottom of Greys Hill Rd, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

Blackwood River at the bottom of Greys Hill Rd, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

 

Blackwood River at the bottom of Greys Hill Rd, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

Blackwood River at the bottom of Greys Hill Rd, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

 

Blackwood River at the bottom of Greys Hill Rd, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

Blackwood River at the bottom of Greys Hill Rd, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

 

Blackwood River at the bridge, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

Blackwood River at the bridge, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

 

Blackwood River at the bridge, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

Blackwood River at the bridge, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

 

Blackwood River at the bridge, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

Blackwood River at the bridge, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

 

Blackwood River at the bridge, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)

Blackwood River at the bridge, Bridgetown (19 Feb 2017)





Albany for the weekend

8 12 2016

We went to Albany (Western Australia) last weekend, as an early birthday treat for me. We stayed in a lovely fully furnished apartment near Middleton Beach, and ate well at Rustlers Steakhouse (both nights!), Hybla Tavern, and then Plantagenet Winery in Mount Barker on the way home.

I spent a couple of hours at the very sobering National Anzac Centre, on Mount Clarence overlooking the harbour where more than 40,000 troops and 13,000 horses sailed from to fight for Britain in World War One. Many of those men died at Gallipoli, with more dying in the Somme, and still others coming home ruined for life, either mentally or physically or both. Only one horse came back to Australia… It’s well worth a visit but allow yourself several hours to do it justice.

After the museum, I needed to reconnect with nature, so walked to the viewing area at the top of the hill near the Anzac Centre. Hidden in amongst the bushes are gun emplacements from earlier times (likely World War Two, when the Japanese came well down the Australian coast), which was a surprise. And of course, the King Skinks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egernia_kingii). I’d seen them before so knew what to look for when I heard rustling in the leafy undergrowth! They’re big sods!! Speaking of lizards, we saw a couple of big guys (looked like bungarras or monitor lizards, but probably weren’t) on the drive home — we swerved to miss one on the side of the road.

Some photos from the weekend:

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Spot the gun!

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King Skink

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From the National Anzac Centre

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The names scroll by slowly under the water

More photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/albums/72157673671910723

 





QV2016: Day 20: Heading home

11 11 2016

It’s all over. I said some goodbyes at dinner last night, expecting to see many of the group later today because we were catching the same flight from Dallas to Sydney. However, it was not to be. I had an early morning breakfast commitment with some Houston friends, so checked out of the hotel early. After breakfast, one of my companions drove me to the airport where I had a long wait for my 2:10pm flight. Except it was an even longer wait than expected.

They boarded us, then told us we’d be waiting on the tarmac for at least an hour because of weather delays at Dallas. We took off about 3:30pm, getting in around 4:30 — Dallas was shrouded in heavy rain and low cloud and visibility was very low. I had plenty of time before my flight to Sydney, due to leave at 8pm, so cooled my heels in the Qantas Premier lounge. Most of the group were scheduled to fly out of Houston around 4:30pm — the hour-long delay saw them racing to get to the gate on time (one missed the connection as she was coming in from Hobby airport in Houston). I saw them briefly at the gate, fully expecting to see them on the flight. But Qantas doesn’t encourage fraternisation between different classes on board! I had received my points upgrade to First Class, but it was impossible for anyone in Economy to join me, or for me to go to Economy. And when we arrived in Sydney, most were on the 8:30am flight to Perth, so they had another dash from one terminal to the other to make their flight. I was booked on the 10:30am flight out of Sydney, so had a leisurely transfer time, allowing me to shower and relax in the Qantas Business Lounge. Which meant I missed saying my goodbyes to a great group of ladies!

The flights home were uneventful — just as I like it! There was a bit of turbulence leaving Dallas, and some midway across the Pacific (usual), but otherwise there was nothing out of the ordinary about the flights. I even slept a few hours of the DFW to SYD flight!

Some photos taken from the plane going across Australia:

Salt lakes in the Western Australian wheatbelt

Salt lakes in the Western Australian wheatbelt

Straight line of clouds

Straight line of clouds

The Cooyong, South Australia

The Coorong, South Australia





Middle of winter, 2015

29 06 2015

Yesterday was one of those magic winter’s days we get here — clear blue skies, green grass, dry, mild temperatures (about 19C [66F]). I took a few photos through the car window (yes, naughty, I know!) while driving to and from Perth, and a few more quite close to home to show my North American friends, in particular, what winter is like in my part of the world.

(Click on a photo to view it larger)

Forrest Highway, heading south, near Myalup about 4pm

Forrest Highway, heading south, near Myalup about 4pm

Forrest Highway, heading south, near Myalup about 4pm

Forrest Highway, heading south, near Myalup about 4pm

Forrest Highway, heading south, near Myalup about 4pm

Forrest Highway, heading south, near Myalup about 4pm

Near top end of Leschenault Estuary, Western Australia, around 4pm

Near top end of Leschenault Estuary, Western Australia, around 4pm

Cathedral Ave, near top end of Leschenault Estuary, Western Australia, around 4pm

Cathedral Ave, near top end of Leschenault Estuary, Western Australia, around 4pm

Near top end of Leschenault Estuary, Western Australia, around 4pm

Near top end of Leschenault Estuary, Western Australia, around 4pm

Cathedral Ave, near top end of Leschenault Estuary, Western Australia, around 4pm

Cathedral Ave, near top end of Leschenault Estuary, Western Australia, around 4pm

Near top end of Leschenault Estuary, Western Australia, around 4pm

Near top end of Leschenault Estuary, Western Australia, around 4pm

Heading towards Perth on Forrest Highway

Heading towards Perth on Forrest Highway (if you view the photo at full size, you’ll see horses in the paddocks alongside the road)