Australia Travelogue Day 3: Melbourne Central

December 24th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

We paid a visit to Melbourne Central shopping centre this afternoon, in search of a few last-minute Christmas present, including a pair of R.M. Williams boots, which are my mum’s present to me. They are, without doubt, the finest boots I’ve ever owned. They weigh a ton and feel like you could run over them with a tank several times without a single stitch popping.

Shot TowerThe mall itself is very modern inside, and has a cone-shaped glass structure in the middle, in which is an old shot tower. A shot tower is how lead shot used to be made. You pour molten lead into space a hundred feet or so up in the air, surface tension makes it into spheres on the way down, and it falls into cold water at the bottom. Lo and behold, you have small lead spheres suitable for putting in shotgun cartridges, or, maybe, a blunderbuss.

Queen's HeadCampbell was looking for a Christmas present in Myer, and while we were perusing the housewares department, I saw one of these. I wonder if people buy these with a straight face, with no irony at all. Only the English revere their monarchs by making mugs in the shape of the ruler of the day’s head. According to eBay, these things fetch a mere £22 at auction. I didn’t see how much this particular one was going for.

It was also Bronwyn’s birthday, so we went to an afternoon tea across town, where we were treated to champagne, tea, cakes, and sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Classic.

On the way back, I noticed this fine establishment. I wonder if they still make corsets, and worse, if people still actually wear them.

Australia Travelogue Day 2: Chadstone

December 23rd, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

Running is painful when you haven’t done it in several months. It’s also painful when there are enormous hills. This area of Melbourne, it seems, has both, and this morning my legs are stinging like fire. I’m going to run some more anyway. It’s good for me.

Yesterday, we paid a visit to Chadstone Shopping Centre, “The Fashion Capital”, which is supposed to be one of the largest shopping malls in the Southern Hemisphere. It is, indeed, mind-bogglingly massive. So big, in fact, that I had the same glassy-eyed look while wandering the mall that I get when trying to choose toothpaste: so many choices, in such a massive array of colours, that I wasn’t sure where to begin. I whiled away a couple of hours just wandering through the mall, poking around in the odd shop, without looking for anything in particular.

We ate some dinner at home, then Campbell and I met up with a friend for a few frames of pool at the Cue Club, close to the centre of town. There was an organ-jazz band, with a real Hammond organ; one of my favourites. The club itself is a graffiti-covered, low-lit, dusty, grungy pool hall with a handful of pinball tables and a dingy bar. Perfect for a couple of pints and some pool.

On the way home, the police stopped us at a mandatory breathalyzer checkpoint, where every driver was being checked. I’ve never seen this in the US before, but apparently, it exists there too. I wonder how well it would go over if every driver on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan were forced to take a breath-test. According to Campbell, this is largely a money-spinner for the government, as is the general state of policing in Victoria. American cops are colloquially known as ‘pigs’; Australian ones are known as ‘dogs’–because all they do all day is chase cars. The police spent more man-hours on traffic violations than criminal investigation in the last year, according to Campbell.

Anyway, I collapsed into bed at 1AM, having chalked up a couple of victories on the pool table and downed a beer or three.

Australia Travelogue Day 1: San Francisco, Auckland, Melbourne

December 22nd, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m writing this as a single day, but really, it’s two clock-days and three calendar days. Still, it feels like one unbroken stretch of time to me as I barely slept in the 48 or so hours.

Having abandoned the wonderful DoubleTree Hotel Burlingame, I spent some time wandering around San Francisco, starting at Union Square, heading to the ferry terminal, then walking around the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s been three or four years since I was last in San Francisco, and that was only for a day or two. San Francisco is a fantastic town. It’s nicely-designed, full of interesting things, and generally relaxed. I’m fairly convinced that Seattle wants to be like San Francisco. Some of Seattle’s more recent architecture and design feels just like it was lifted from SF.

I got back to the airport around 5, checked in, had a drink and a bite to eat, and boarded the flight to Auckland. Amazingly, I was seated in an Emergency Exit seat on a 777-200 which meant that there was absolutely nothing in front of me. I suppose about six feet of leg room. I was also seated next to another Guy; only the second one I have ever met beside myself. He was a Royal Navy sailor from New Zealand heading back for a vacation before returning to Iraq next month. He said he did “fleet security” which he described as a “counter-terrorism cell within the Navy”. I have no idea what this means, and I didn’t press the point.

The flight itself was uneventful, except the small baby across the aisle from me, who I later found out was teething. Its parents largely gave up on keeping it quiet after a while which was tiresome after a several hours. 13 hours later, we landed in Auckland, I stumbled, half-awake through a security checkpoint back into the departures lounge, found a cup of coffee, and waited for my flight to Melbourne. After a very long flight, a short three-hour flight for some reason seems like an eternity and by the end of the flight I was agitated, over-tired, and sick of aeroplanes and unruly toddlers.
My mum and Hugh met me at the airport after a long passport-checking, bag-claiming, quarantine-questioning procedure. Australia is very nervous about the potential of bringing in pests and diseases from overseas, so if you have so much as a single box of chocolates or other food item on you, you have to declare it and have it poked by a quarantine officer, presumably to make sure there are no locusts hiding in an otherwise innocent hazelnut praline. The whole process took forty-five minutes from getting off the aeroplane, and, at last, I was free of air travel.

We’re staying with our good friends Bronwyn and Hugh, and Hugh drove us straight home, where I took the most-needed shower of my life, changed my clothes, and had a cup of coffee. I was introduced the pets of the house: Siegfried and Roy, a pair of parakeets; Apollo, a large retriever; and Grimy, a black-and-white, two-toned cat.

Mum and I caught the train into the city, which takes about half an hour, and drops you in the centre of Melbourne. We had a look around the downtown area, did a little shopping, and stopped for some lunch at an outdoor café called, I think, The Empire Coffee Palace. Department stores are pretty much the same the world over, but I did find some interesting local differences that I couldn’t help taking a picture of.
We headed back home, where it was just about time for a drink. Hugh was vacuuming out the pool following heavy rain the previous day. Suzannah and her huband Joe were home. I finally met Joe, having heard about him for the last few years.

Rain

Then, it began to rain. I’ve never quite seen rain like this. It pounded the roof of the house, made the gutters overflow, and quickly ran down the back patio, making a small lake about three inches deep appear next to the pool. Hugh decided that now was a good time to unclog the drainpipe, so he ventured out into the rain with a ladder.
We ate dinner, and I managed to make it until about half past nine before I collapsed into bed, utterly exhausted. I woke up at about six thirty this morning, joined by Grimy, who is now sprawled out next to me, purring loudly with his whiskers twitching slightly.

I’m heading off for a run in a few minutes, I think; my first in weeks. Hopefully, I’ll make it back in one piece.

Hugh Battles the Drainpipe

Australia Travelogue Day 0: San Francisco

December 19th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

I think by now I may have let so much time elapse between postings that I have thoroughly alienated anyone who may have read this blog even on a semi-regular basis. Nonetheless, I thought I’d post some notes from my trip to Australia as it goes along.

My planned trip:

Northwest Airlines flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul
Northwest Airlines flight to San Francisco
Air New Zealand flight to Auckland
Air New Zealand flight to Melbourne

This long, long itinerary was suggested to my by the real, live travel agent who did the booking for me, and so I trusted her judgment of taking an extra stop in Minneapolis rather than a direct flight to San Francisco and waiting an extra three hours at SFO.

I left this morning from the West Side at about 7:20AM ET. Took the 1 train down to Times Square, transferred to the E train (where I was squashed against a rather malodorous gentleman until, mercifully, he alighted the train at Lexington Avenue), and settled in for some time zoning out listening to some Car Talk podcasts while the train took me to JFK. Or so I thought. The doors opened at Ely Avenue, and there we stayed for twenty minutes, due to “signal problems ahead”. Another five minutes go by, and the word comes: the train is heading back to Manhattan, and there’s no E service going any further into Queens. I ask the conductor if he has any better ideas for getting to the airport: Take the G to the L to the J train, he suggests. Three more trains? To hell with that. I emerged from the subway station, and hopped into a cab. I then proceeded to wait in the cab while the driver went to get himself a bagel. I can’t make this up.

I’ve been in the cab for all of two minutes when he sees a guy standing on the street about a block and a half away from where we started. He asks if I mind if we pick up the other guy and we’ll share the cab to the airport, leading to a lower fare for both of us. This is, I know, completely against the law. I’m too bleary-eyed to argue, and I assume that we’ll just split the $45 right down the middle, which isn’t so bad considering I hadn’t intended on spending this money at all. Naturally, the driver wants more money, there’s some arguing between him and this guy we just picked up, and we finally settle on $40 each: remarkably unfair, and totally double-dipping for the driver, but by this time, I was just happy to be going to the airport, so I just shut up.

We make it to JFK Terminal 4, I go and check in for my flight, and am assured that my bags are checked all the way through to Melbourne. I make it through security mostly unscathed, though the family of six in front of me had trouble understanding the ‘no liquids’ directive and had to be sent back several times.

Made it onto the flight, passed out, and awoke about an hour out of Minneapolis. Upon getting into the terminal I checked the monitors, to see that my flight to San Francisco is delayed by 90 minutes. I got some food, and milled around the terminal for a while in the way that only bored air travelers do. We ended up boarding around 3:40, and leaving at about 4:25, meaning that, tops, I’d have about 40 minutes to make my connection at San Francisco.

The flight itself was a classic, involving an overly-chatty, consumptive elderly lady to my left, who informed me as I sat down that she had a pacemaker and under no circumstances could I use my cellphone. Meanwhile the guy in front and to my right were chatting away on their BlackBerrys. I gnashed my teeth a bit but decided it wasn’t worth the fight, so I settled into my book. Naturally, this was the cue for the triplet toddlers three rows up to begin bawling in unison. This continued throughout the flight.

When we finally landed at about 6:25, I had about 30 minutes to fight my way off the aircraft from the back, get out past security, sprint to International Terminal G, check myself in with Air New Zealand, and ostensibly make it back through security, sprint to my gate, and board the plane. I managed to get to the Air New Zealand desk to be told that it was “too late” and the flight would be leaving without me. Next flight? 24 hours away? Rerouting possible? Nope. Hotel paid for by Northwest? No sir, it’s weather-related. Can I get my bag back? Maybe if you ask at the Northwest desk back at Terminal 1.

So I come to you from the unparalleled luxury of the San Francisco Airport DoubleTree. I have a day to kill in San Francisco, apparently. I think I’ll wander around downtown for a little while and see if I can find an interesting place for lunch and perhaps a drink before returning to the airport for the 7PM flight.