Travelling after a pandemic: Destination Hobart

Hobart in June – Winter – Day 2 – Sunday

It is not raining when we woke, but it had been most of the night.  After a cold start, the weather, seems to have improved, if only for the time being.

Today’s expedition is the Cascade Brewery, which doesn’t have tours at the moment because of staff issues with Covid, but does have a bar and restaurant.  There is also a historic site, an old women’s prison, and botanical gardens.  I’m not sure how far we’ll get in the gardens, but the bar and restaurant is looking good.

We get there and decide on lunch first then a visit to the women’s prison.

Fail.  The bar and restaurant are packed and there are no tables left.  Time for a photograph of the old brewery, and move on.

Instead of going to the prison, just down the road, we go off in a different direction, to Mt Wellington, thinking it might give excellent views of Hobart.

Only a sign says the road is supposed to be closed, but it is not, so we and a dozen others are venturing up the road towards the summit.

The road was probably opened temporarily, but it is getting more treacherous as the snow appears and the road is wet.  We make it about 2km before deciding it’s unsafe.

The adventure continues because at the bottom of the hill we decided to go to Huonville, hoping to chance upon the apple orchards and all things apple.

It was an immense letdown.  There was nothing, except for one innocuous building with a sign out front saying it was open, but for all intents and purposes looked like it was completely empty.

Until you drove around the back to the carpark where there were hundreds of cars, and inside, totally packed.

It’s where everyone in Huonville had gone.

And not where we were going to get a distinctly Tasmanian meal.

We had to settle for another pie from Banjo’s in Sandy Bay.

Travelling after a pandemic: Destination Hobart

Hobart in June – Winter – Day 1 – Saturday

Overnight the rain began and hasn’t stopped.  It is cold, and the heater in the room is not quite adequate for the space it has to heat up.  Fortunately, the bed has electric blankets, and it was warm, lying wake listening to the raindrops.  That warmth makes it difficult to get out of bed, but this is a holiday, and we have to get motivated.

We have a balcony, and from there the bleakness of the early morning is stark, but at least the rain is light if not a fine mist.

Worse, it alternates between this fine mist and a short downpour, which means the umbrella goes up and down until you give up.  Later, the rain is not heavy, and just tolerable.

We head off to the Salamanca markets, happening only on Saturday morning.  Unable to walk long distances, we drive, about four minutes from our apartment, but miss a turn, it takes 10, then and 5 to assess the parking situation which, in the end, was the easiest part of this expedition.

The hardest part, walking among the very large crowd of people defying the rain and cold.  I can tolerate large crowds but today, they seem to want to stop suddenly, and just stand and talk in the middle of the walkways making it difficult to impossible to maintain any sort of continuity.

There were hundreds of stalls, the most predominant, micro distillers for some odd reason, selling expensive spirits for about $90 a 700ml bottle, which I regard as overly expensive.  My son has made Bourbon some years ago and it cost him about $10 for 4.5 liters, so it must be a lucrative sideline, even after you’ve added the excise.

There were a great many food stands, and choices, one of which was a curly potato skewer, which was interesting to say the least.  On a meat pie quest, we found a stand that sold pies, but they were warming a new batch, and the waiting line was about 50 or 60 people long.

I went back a half-hour later and they had sold out.  They must be one of the highlights of the market to be so in demand, and that people would stand in the cold and rain just to get one.

Having been defeated by aches and pains, the cold and rain, as well as the large crowd, and the absence of anything we wanted, it was fortunate that time had expired on our parking space.

We had contemplated finding a restaurant to have lunch, deciding it was time to have a proper meal rather than a snack, there didn’t seem to be any places open, and the cafes were packed.

This sparked off an odyssey to find a decent restaurant.

After leaving the markets, we find a road that follows the coastline.  Aside from houses either side, and at one point a marina and the Wrest Point casino, which was not a place we intended to visit, the further we went, the less chance it seemed of finding what we were looking for.

But we did find a tourist attraction, a shot tower, and a museum.

And a tea room that had afternoon tea.  Not exactly what we were looking for.  That said, and feeling like going any further would not fix the search parameters, I go to Google maps and search for restaurants near us.

There’s a Vietnamese restaurant, 6.1 km back the way we came, and being the best choice out of five or six others, we go.

And here’s the thing, it’s just around the corner from where we’re staying.  Go figure.

 But, there is a twist, we drive past one of the hotels that were recommended to us back at the apartments, so we go there, the Hotel Doctor Syntax.  We figure we’re more likely to get the vegetable component there than the other place.

It turns out to be a master stroke, getting steak, pork belly, roast potatoes, gravy, asparagus, and seafood on the side.  All having generous servings as one would expect from a hotel bistro.

The food must be great because they were full and had to turn people away.  We were very lucky to get the last table but one, and that one didn’t last very long.

After a long, leisurely lunch surrounded by warmth and atmosphere, we had one more stop.  Coffee and cake at Daci and Daci, a café recommended to us.

It was worth the experience, although it took some fortitude to fit it in after such a large lunch.  I suspect before we go back for a second visit, yes, it was that good, we will make sure we are less full of lunch first.  The cake I had was delicious but very filling.  The coffee?  Excellent.

Travelling after a pandemic: Destination Hobart

 Brisbane to Hobart by … is it Qantas or not?

I knew there was a reason why we don’t travel anymore.

And now, everyone is letting go of the Covid shackles, and the airports are overwhelmed.

Yesterday, the Qantas baggage system broke down and caused endless delays.  Today, we’re in a queue that’s literally a mile long, just to be screened before we even get into the terminal.

And, we are in a smaller plane operated by Qantas Link, the main airline’s feeder.  Confusingly, it has two names, National Jet Systems, and Qantas Link, the name painted on the aircraft.

Our plane is a Boeing 717, but it is actually an MD 95, made by McDonnell Douglas before Boeing took them over.


And so, it begins…

Boarding time comes and goes, as it always seems to, this time that age-old excuse, the flight attendants are on an incoming flight that is delayed but is on the ground.

That could mean almost anything, but in this case, we’re told, that they are coming from another satellite some distance away.  Well, at least they will get some exercise.

9:56. The attendants arrived.  They just got off the plane from Newcastle, so it can be confusing, going from destination to destination, well, at least for me it would be.  For them, it’s all in a day’s work.

I asked for early boarding because Rosemary cannot walk very well, so it remains to be seen if this happens.

It does, and it’s a slow walk downstairs, and upstairs, but we have to wait because there is a sewerage spill and while waiting to get clearance to board, we’re getting a birds-eye view of the poor man who has to clean it up doesn’t make the wait any easier.

By 10:10, we were on the plane and seated.

We’re organizing a wheelchair and assistance at Hobart, to make things easier.

Minutes later our traveling companions are boarding.

Some confusion reigns, we are sitting in the wrong seats, row 5 instead of row 6.  A bit of seat shuffling and everything is good.

10:30:  The sewerage spill has been cleaned up.  The front door is still open, but they just connected the tow vehicle.

10:33: Doors closed.  10:35:  Push back.  10:40: Heading to the runway.  10:45: Take off, or is that wheels up? It’s not on the new second runway, perhaps because there are so many complaints from the residents nearby.

11:00: Time for a snack.  It’s Tomato Salsa with corn chips, almonds, and pretzels.  60 grams worth, small but reasonably tasty.

Now we’re left to our own devices, as there is no onboard entertainment, and the plane is too small and too old to have onboard Wi-Fi.

Perhaps a siesta, but the seat is too uncomfortable to find a position that will allow it, so I guess a bit of writing is in order.

That and staring out the window and noticing that we have been hugging the coastline almost all the way south, except for when we were crossing Bass Strait, 32,000 feet above the waves.

Bass Strait is not a waterway you want to willingly cross at the best of times, and I have, once, crossed it at the worst of times, and it wasn’t fun.

1:00: Startin that, you would expect from such conditions.

I had expected, given the forecast for rain and heavy winds that we would have a treacherous landing but it was not, the rain had passed and the wind not as bad, and got on the ground without much ado.

It was exactly as the pilot said, 1:30 pm.

We were the last to disembark, with a wheelchair at the end of the disembarkation ramp, there are no air bridges here in Hobart.

My first impression of the airport, it’s like a country town with a tin shed, though the terminal looks a lot different inside than outside. And they do have international flights.

Our bags we out by the time we reached the baggage carousel, then it was off to the car rental counter for an effortless and pain-free pickup.

The worst thing was the distance from the terminal to where the car was parked.

The Perils of Travelling: Airports can be disasters

Melbourne airport – an underwhelming experience

Let me sum up this experience at the start, in one word.

Terrible.

I know it’s not much past post-Covid, but tell me, what were the airport administrators doing for two years, other than lamenting the lack of plane traffic and sitting on their hands? Did they think no one was ever going to travel again?

Let me suggest what they should have been doing, getting onto every one of the retailers that had to close, and making sure that from day one of reopening, it was back to pre-Covid.

Instead, it’s a desolate nightmare.  There was only one dedicated Cafe and a bar and two bookshops down the Qantas end.

And the food was basically stale sandwiches and muffins. And if you don’t like muffins…

We had to walk a mile to get to the Cafe and get a decent cup of coffee and a toastie, which the Cafe itself and coffee and food scored a ten out of ten.

If you didn’t know it was there, God only knows what you would do if you wanted something decent.

Score out of ten for the Airport Administrators – minus 5 

Since scoring that I had the unhappy experience of going to the men’s restroom.  It was filthy.  How hard could be for someone to check every half hour to clean up the obvious mess?  I’ll let you imagine how that will affect their current score.

My other bugbear about airports is the scanning of bags before getting to the gate.

Melbourne for some reason has been the worst experience in quite literally the world because it is a complete mess, particularly if one thing goes wrong.

I hate it, and it was no better today and left me shaking, which only happens when I’m extremely stressed.

I can only hope it eventually gets better, but, sorry to say this but they’ve had nearly two years to get the process right and run much smoother, but it’s clear they’ve also just sat on their hands.

Maybe one day someone might do something about it, but we’re talking government here, and it takes them ten years just to create a green discussion paper.

So, not holding my breath.

Of course, in reading about the current parlous state of air travel throughout the world, it seems we are not the only ones having problems. I guess we should spare a thought for those going to Heathrow in London. The many times we’ve been there, it’s been borderline organized chaos, and yes, once, we had to wait an hour for our baggage, but now it seems it just disappears.

Glad I’m not going there any time soon.

But, soon, we’re taking the plunge again, and going to Hobart.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

The Perils of Travelling: Every plane trip is different

Brisbane to Melbourne – First time flying after the pandemic

So, it’s the end of the restrictions induced by the pandemic, and against my better judgement, we’re travelling again.

The pandemic is not over, it’s just we’ve moved it to one side and trying our best to ignore it.  Try as we may, it ain’t going nowhere.

But we can’t all stay locked up forever.

It’s been over two years since we’ve been to Melbourne where our relatives are, and it’s going to be a two-and-a-half-hour flight, wearing masks, and hoping against hope there’s no one with Covid on the plane.

It’s a forlorn hope, by the way.

These days people have it but aren’t isolated because they can’t afford to.  All the government handouts are finished, making it impossible for people not to be working.

Of course, the country had a very high vaccination rate, and I’m covered, having just had a booster.  If comes died to susceptibility, and so far I’ve managed to avoid it, even with my better half working in an office where nearly everyone has had Covid at some time or other, and at a stage where it could be passed on 

Perhaps it’s just been blind luck.

Going on this plane will be a good test.

We decided to park the car for the six days in the long-term car park.  We were going to get dropped off but it was wet, raining very hard, and the roads were a nightmare, with ghastly traffic jams.

Our driver would have been out recently licence’s granddaughter and it would have been too much for her, even though she wouldn’t say no.

The walk from the car park was long but direct.  Sometimes it can be convoluted when having to park on the higher floors.  We’re on the ground, and it’s easy just to jump in the car and drive out.

Inside the terminal building, its masks on.  This place doesn’t recognise the end to mask restrictions, so the threat of covid I’d very real.  I hope they got that memo on the plane.

It would be pre-flight entertainment if they had to bodily drag a dissenter off kicking and screaming, or dies that only happen in America?

The food choices are still as appalling as they were before the pandemic, and I still don’t get why all the reasonably good choices are down one end, and, you guessed it, not the end we’re departing from.

I go for a walk, but an angry customer returning half-cooked food puts me off everything until I got a chicken schnitzel roll, which after I got it failed to show any sign of chicken, schnitzel or otherwise.

It did have ham, slightly dry around the edges, cheese, tomato, and lettuce, sad the roll itself was quite tasty, so a three out of ten for trying.

The price, like all airport food, nearly broke the bank.  But here’s the thing, they wouldn’t charge it if people didn’t pay it, so it’s everyone else’s fault!

Of course, we wouldn’t need to buy food, if you could call it that, before getting on the plane if the miserly airlines weren’t cutting costs, i.e. food, to make that extra buck to put in the CEO annual bonus.

Once, the meal options were quite good, but over time, these have got less and less and less, until now if you get a cookie, you’re lucky.

It will be interesting to see how further the standards have fallen, anywhere hearing sane said CEO wailing about not being able to fly during the pandemic, showing that he is more concerned about profits than passenger safety.

All while everyone else is citing the mantra, ‘your safety is our priority’.  I guess one day the message might come from the top down, but I won’t be holding my breath.

I read up on the safety procedures they implement in between flights so I’m expecting to get on a disinfectant-smelling plane with shiny clean surfaces.  It would be a huge improvement over that which prevailed before the pandemic where planes could be anything from apparently clean to don’t look below the surface.

Like I said, having not flown for so long, and the fact the pandemic is anything but dead and buried, there are so many things that could go wrong.

Meanwhile, we’re sitting in the gate lounge ticking off the minutes before boarding.  No matter what changes Covid had brought, that will be the same, people ignoring the seat road loading instructions and others pushing in as though the plane might leave without them if they didn’t.

Good News!

The incoming flight is here, 20 minutes before boarding time, so we’re going to be late leaving.

Or will they sacrifice the deep cleanse?

Stay tuned.

News flash…  9ur crew is coming in on another flight which is running late, no, just landed, so they have to finish up there, and come on over, go through pre-flight, and then we can board.

Yep, we’re going to be late leaving.  Who would have guessed?

Boarding as always is amusing but it’s made even more so by the constant reminder to keep our distance from other passengers, and if you can’t, and as you know sardines have nowhere to go, we should rely on the mask.

Wow.  These people seem to think masks will save us.  Sadly, they won’t, but they know that.  But it looks good and makes them feel better while cramming people into their small planes.

We were supposed to leave at 6:15 pm.  The late arrival of the operating aircraft and waiting for the crew from yet another late-arriving aircraft takes its toll.  

Good news though.  More time to clean the plane.  It looks clean, but there’s no tell-tale disinfectant aroma, so what did they do?

6:37 push back.  Overall, it’s not a bad result, pushing back 22 minutes late.  It’s time, they say, they can make up in the air.

They allow 2 hours and 20 minutes for the end-to-end departure and arrival from and at the gate.  The actual flying time, give or take, is 1 hour and 45 minutes, so we have 45 minutes for taxiing.

6:47 take off, so 1 hour 45 minutes added means we have a touch-down time of 8:32.  Our scheduled arrival time was 6:15 plus 2 hours and 20 minutes, so it would be 8:35.  Three minutes from touch-down to disembarking at the gate.

I don’t think so.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

I must have dozed off for a few minutes because the next thing that happens is food service, and it’s going to be arancini balls, which I like, so it sounds good.  But it’s airline food so it will be interesting

Something else that’s bordering me, the woman on the seat next to me gas a persistent cough.  Mask or no mask this is a problem, especially if she had Covid, and doesn’t know it yet.  Or it’s symptomatic or something else. 

I’m immuno-compromised so anything floating around in that tin can I’m likely to be susceptible to.  Time will tell if it’s serious.

Past that fear, the balls were delicious, all four of them, and a coke for a drink.  We’ve moved on from tea and coffee, and polite flight attendants, because they insisted, that we keep masks on till after they passed handing out the food.

It shows the staff have no faith in the company’s health directives, so they know each flight they’re dicing with death.

Scary thought. 

But, all’s well that ends well, and we make up the time and end up being 7 minutes late which is acceptable in anyone’s language.

8:37 on the runway with a bang, the pilot or co-pilot has not fully learned the subtle art of getting the plane on the ground at the end of a gentle drop from the sky. Those asleep are unceremoniously wakened, thinking the plane has crashed.

8:42 at the gate. It’s always a short time from landing to gate, the pilot wants to get an early night. It would not be the first time we are leaving the plane and the pilots are long gone. One of the advantages of being at the front of the plane!

My take on travelling by plane in the post-pandemic world, it’s too soon and vaccinated or not, we are all still susceptible to getting the virus and it is killing us.  I have to travel home yet, but I have to hope the lady in the next seat hasn’t hexed me.

Not after dodging it for so long by keeping myself safe, a proper distance between me and the rest of the world, and keeping away from those in isolation, because those few I could trust would stay in isolation.

For the rest of the world, when money is the driving object to disobey or flout the rules, they become a serious problem, one that nothing is going to overcome, and therefore we will quite feasibly never get rid of the virus.

Let’s hope the trip back is less traumatic.

The Perils of Travelling: Every plane trip is different

Melbourne to Brisbane by Qantas, post-COVID pandemic

The experience coming from Brisbane to Melbourne was interesting, considering that Qantas has been in mothballs for nearly a year and a half.

We’ve thrown all Covid rules into the bin, the plane is at sardine level, no separation and if just one passenger has Covid then the rest of us are in deep shit.

As an example, the passenger next to me coughed for the whole two and a half hours.  I doubt whether people even check these days if they have it or not, so reliant are we on the herd immunity theorem.

It might account for the hostesses being taciturn to the point of almost being rude, they only came down the cabin once to deliver the snack and once to collect the rubbish.

That was it.  The rest of the time they were invisible.  I’m guessing that Covid is on their minds and seeing how easy it would be to get it in such an enclosed environment, the less contact with passengers the better.

Will it be better on the way back?

It is not.

This is a bigger disaster.

It’s 10 minutes past departure time, and they can’t find the baggage handlers to load the bags, so they’re forlornly sitting on the tarmac, and we are squashed into a steel cocoon, hoping like hell someone hasn’t lied about not having Covid.

Something else I find amusing, other than the fact they’re shuffling people around seats after everyone had been seated, is the instructions to maintain a safe distance while loading.  

If 25cm is a safe distance, then we’re ok, but if it’s the one and a half meters that’s the usual safe distance then their airline had suffered a mega fail in social distancing.  Of course, it’s not practicable in a plane, so why do they continually labor the point?

They eventually find the baggage handlers, which, to me, seems incredible there isn’t a roster to tell them where they’re supposed to be, something you think the Qantas CEO would be addressing rather than looking for $19 million houses in upscale Sydney, but apparently not.

It seems that Qantas has fired all of the local employees who used to look after baggage and clean the planes, and it is now in the hands of contractors, who are profit-orientated so less staff to do more work in half the time. So, there might be a wait for baggage, and a longer wait to clean the plane if they actually do ‘clean’ the plane – in the few minutes they have because it arrived late, and because of that the plane lost its slot in the roster!

Everything withstanding, we finally push back at 4:05 pm, 45 minutes late, and, by the way, all that time we were cooped up with no air filters keeping the virus at bay.  It’s beginning to look like the Ruby Princess saga all over again.

Seven minutes later, we take off, the pilot continually telling us they will be making up time, and those with ongoing connections, not to lose faith. Sorry, but that ship has sailed!

But, sometimes, there isn’t a lot of time between plane arrivals and departures at connecting airports, and there is one on arrival in Brisbane causing major concern, a flight to New Zealand around 7 pm.  With our arrival after 6pm, that rule of arriving at the airport 2 hours before is looking very shaky.

Glad it’s not me.  I’ve been there and it’s not good for either nerves or heart rate.

On this flight the aircrew are more visible, checking if everything is stowed before take-off, and then when snack service is upon us.

I often wonder who comes up with the idea, four corn chips, some nuts, three pretzels, and some tomato seltzer.  And a soft drink in a small can. There used to be tea or coffee once, but that seems to have disappeared, along with the cake and/or biscuits.

Despite everything, we are tracking to arrive in Brisbane ‘on time’, sorry, the new ‘on time’ of 6pm, with the plane suddenly heading for the ground a half-hour before touching down. Always a heart-stopping moment when the engines make a sudden and ‘funny’ noise.

Touch down at 5:57 pm, this one was relatively smooth, if not very fast. It seems the 737 can’t land at anything less than what feels like 200 miles an hour.

Terminal by 6:00 pm, but getting off the plane, getting to baggage collection, wait for the bags, then head for wherever you’re going, that can be up to another hour before you get out of the terminal. Today it was not so bad, there weren’t 5 planes arriving at the same time!

As for the international connection passengers, they got a bus directly from the airplane, which would save a lot of time finding the transfer desk, then finding the bus, if there was one waiting for them.

Searching for locations: We’ve just arrived in Beijing International Airport, China

Instead of making a grand entrance, arriving in style and being greeted by important dignitaries, we are slinking in via an airplane, late at night. It’s hardly the entrance I’d envisaged. At 9:56 the plane touches down on the runway.  Outside the plane, it is dark and gloomy and from what I could see, it had been raining.  That could, of course, simply be condensation.

Once on the ground, everyone was frantically gathering together everything from seat pockets and sending pillows and blankets to the floor.  A few were turning their mobile phones back on, and checking for a signal, and, perhaps, looking for messages sent to them during the last 12 hours. Or perhaps they were just suffering from mobile phone deprivation.

It took 10 minutes for the plane to arrive at the gate. That’s when everyone moves into overdrive, unbuckling belts, some before the seatbelt sign goes off, and are first out of their seats and into the overhead lockers.  Most are not taking care that their luggage may have moved, but fortunately, no bags fall out onto someone’s head. The flight had been relatively turbulent free.

When as many people and bags have squeezed into that impossibly small aisle space, we wait for the door to open, and then the privileged few business and first-class passengers to depart before we can begin to leave. As we are somewhere near the middle of the plane, our wait will not be as long as it usually is.  This time we avoided being at the back of the plane.  Perhaps that privilege awaits us on the return trip.

Once off the plane, it is a matter of following the signs, some of which are not as clear as they could be.  It’s why it took another 30 odd minutes to get through immigration, but that was not necessarily without a few hiccups along the way. We got sidetracked at the fingerprint machines, which seemed to have a problem if your fingers were not straight, not in the center of the glass, and then if it was generally cranky, which ours were, continue to tell you to try again, and again, and again, and again…That took 10 to 15 minutes before we joined an incredibly long queue of other arrivals,

A glance at the time, and suddenly it’s nearly an hour from the moment we left the plane.

And…

That’s when we got to the immigration officer, and it became apparent we were going to have to do the fingerprints yet again.  Fortunately this time, it didn’t take as long.  Once that done, we collected our bags, cleared customs by putting our bags through a huge x-ray machine, and it was off to find our tour guide.


We found several tour guides with their trip-a-deal flags waiting for us to come out of the arrivals hall.  It wasn’t a difficult process in the end.  We were in the blue group.  Other people we had met on the plane were in the red group or the yellow group.  The tour guide found, or as it turned out she found us, it was simply a matter of waiting for the rest of the group, of which there were eventually 28.Gathered together we were told we would be taking the bags to one place and then ourselves to the bus in another.  A glance in the direction of the bus park, there were a lot of busses.

Here’s a thought, imagine being told your bus is the white one with blue writing on the side.

Yes, yours is, and 25 others because all of the tourist coaches are the same.  An early reminder, so that you do not get lost, or, God forbid, get on the wrong bus, for the three days in Beijing, is to get the last five numbers of the bus registration plate and commit them to memory.  It’s important.  Failing that, the guide’s name is in the front passenger window.

Also, don’t be alarmed if your baggage goes in one direction, and you go in another. In a rather peculiar set up the bags are taken to the hotel by what the guide called the baggage porter.  It is an opportunity to see how baggage handlers treat your luggage; much better than the airlines it appears.


That said, if you’re staying at the Beijing Friendship Hotel, be prepared for a long drive from the airport.  It took us nearly an hour, and bear in mind that it was very late on a Sunday night.

Climbing out of the bus after what seemed a convoluted drive through a park with buildings, we arrive at the building that will be our hotel for the next three days.  From the outside, it looks quite good, and once inside the foyer, that first impression is good.  Lots of space, marble, and glass.  If you are not already exhausted by the time you arrive, the next task is to get your room key, find your bags, get to your room, and try to get to be ready the next morning at a reasonable hour.

Sorry, that boat has sailed.

We were lucky, we were told, that our plane arrived on time, and we still arrived at the hotel at 12:52.  Imagine if the incoming plane is late.

This was taken the following morning.  It didn’t look half as bland late at night.

This is the back entrance to Building No 4 but is quite representative of the whole foyer, made completely of marble and glass.  It all looked very impressive under the artificial lights, but not so much in the cold hard light of early morning.

This the foyer of the floor our room was on.  Marble with interesting carpet designs.  Those first impressions of it being a plush hotel were slowly dissipating as we got nearer and nearer to the room.  From the elevator, it was a long, long walk.

So…Did I tell you about the bathroom in our room?

The shower and the toilet both share the same space with no divide and the shower curtain doesn’t reach to the floor.  Water pressure is phenomenal.  Having a shower floods the whole shower plus toilet area so when you go to the toilet you’re basically underwater.

Don’t leave your book or magazine on the floor or it will end up a watery mess.

And the water pressure is so hard that it could cut you in half.  Only a small turn of the tap is required to get that tingling sensation going.

It’s after 1:30 before we finally get to sleep.

As for the bed, well, that’s a whole other story.

Searching for locations: Sydney to Beijing, China – Every flight is different

Sydney to Beijing – Qantas A330-200
Boarding 11:45, everyone on board by 12:02, for a 12:10 departure. Pushing back 12:12 Take off 12:27

Lunch
Airline food is getting better but the fact they serve it up to you in a metal tray with a thick aluminum lid does nothing for the quality of the food inside.  I get what the chef is trying to do but often there is too little of one thing and too much of another and what you finish up with is slop in a tray.  Sometimes it’s edible sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes the meat is tender and other times it’s like boot leather.  As it is today. I think it’s pork, I should have had the chicken.  Or perhaps it was chicken.  I hate it when you can’t tell what it is that you’re eating. But, the drinks were good.

Rest or Sleep, maybe
It’s going to take 11 hours and 20 minutes from Sydney to Beijing, a long time to sit in a plane with nothing much to do other than crosswords, read a book or newspaper or magazine, listen to music on your own device, or the in-flight entertainment, watch a movie again by the in-flight entertainment – if it works – or try to get some sleep. I started with the crosswords but got bored quickly. I fiddled with the in-flight entertainment, looked at the movies and tv shows but none really interested me, not then at least, so I set it to the flight path. Not exactly stellar entertainment, but it’s always interesting to know where the plane is. Or is it? If we crash, what good would it do me to know it’s somewhere over the ocean, not far from Manila, or somewhere else.  It’s not as if I could phone someone up, on the way down, to let them know where we are. But, just after dinner, we still haven’t left Australia

However, by the time I’ve finished fiddling with and dismissing all of the entertainment alternatives, it’s back to the flight path and now we are…

Somewhere approaching the Sulu Sea, which I’ve never heard of before, so it looks like I’ll have to study up on my geography when I get home.

OK, Manila looks like somewhere I’ve heard of, so we have to be flying over the Philippines.  Not far left of that is Vietnam.  Neither of those places is on my travel bucket list, so I’ll just look from up here and be satisfied with that.

Working, or not
Chronic boredom is setting in by the time we are just past halfway to our destination. We are over 6 hours into the flight and there no possible way I’m going to get any sleep. I brought my Galaxy Tab loaded with a few of my novel outlines, and planning for missing chapters, thinking I might get a little thinking time in.  Plane rides, I find, are excellent for getting an opportunity to write virtually unhindered by outside interruptions, if, of course, you discount the number of times people brush past, knocking your seat, the person in front lowering the seat into your face, or people around you continually asking you to turn off your light because they’re trying to sleep. Sorry, I say, but you can suffer my pain with me.  It’s one of the joys of flying with over two hundred others in a claustrophobic environment.  Besides, aren’t the lights supposed to be slanted so only I get the rays of light?  Except, I guess when the fixed light doesn’t line up with where the airline has fixed the seat (usually so they can squash more people in).So, sorry, not sorry, take it up with the airline.

Back to work, and I put in some quality time on a part of the story that had been eluding me for a while.  I knew what I wanted to write, but not how I was going to approach it, so that blissfully quiet and intense time worked in my favor, something that would not have happened back hope. I won’t bore you with the synopsis, just suffice to say it’s finally down on paper, digitally that is, and it’s a huge step forward towards finishing it. There is, of course, the end play, the reading of the will but not before there’s a few thrusts and parry’s by some of the players, but all in all the objective was to showcase a group of people with their strengths and weaknesses pushing their characters in various directions, some at odds with what is expected of them. But enough of that.   A quick check of our position shows we’re still over water but closer to our destination, so much so, we might start the pre-landing rituals, starting with food.

Dinner
7:00 – Dinner is served, well, the lights go on and a lot of tired people try to shake the sleep, and sleeplessness, out of their systems. Then flight attendants that are far too cheerful, and must have beamed in from somewhere else, serve another interesting concoction that says what’s in it but you can’t really be sure of the ingredients.  It comes and it goes.

9:10 – We begin our descent into Beijing, you know, that moment when the engines almost stop and there’s a sickening lurch and the plane heads downward. 9:56 – We touch down on the runway, in the dark and apparently it has been raining though from inside the plane you’d never know. 10:10 – the plane arrives at the gate,  the usual few minutes to open the door, and, being closer to the front of the plane this time, it doesn’t take that long before the queue is moving.

Early or late, it doesn’t matter.  After clearing customs and immigration, we have to go in search of our tour guide, waiting for us somewhere outside the arrivals terminal.

Searching for locations: We’ve just arrived in Beijing International Airport, China

Instead of making a grand entrance, arriving in style and being greeted by important dignitaries, we are slinking in via an airplane, late at night. It’s hardly the entrance I’d envisaged. At 9:56 the plane touches down on the runway.  Outside the plane, it is dark and gloomy and from what I could see, it had been raining.  That could, of course, simply be condensation.

Once on the ground, everyone was frantically gathering together everything from seat pockets and sending pillows and blankets to the floor.  A few were turning their mobile phones back on, and checking for a signal, and, perhaps, looking for messages sent to them during the last 12 hours. Or perhaps they were just suffering from mobile phone deprivation.

It took 10 minutes for the plane to arrive at the gate. That’s when everyone moves into overdrive, unbuckling belts, some before the seatbelt sign goes off, and are first out of their seats and into the overhead lockers.  Most are not taking care that their luggage may have moved, but fortunately, no bags fall out onto someone’s head. The flight had been relatively turbulent free.

When as many people and bags have squeezed into that impossibly small aisle space, we wait for the door to open, and then the privileged few business and first-class passengers to depart before we can begin to leave. As we are somewhere near the middle of the plane, our wait will not be as long as it usually is.  This time we avoided being at the back of the plane.  Perhaps that privilege awaits us on the return trip.

Once off the plane, it is a matter of following the signs, some of which are not as clear as they could be.  It’s why it took another 30 odd minutes to get through immigration, but that was not necessarily without a few hiccups along the way. We got sidetracked at the fingerprint machines, which seemed to have a problem if your fingers were not straight, not in the center of the glass, and then if it was generally cranky, which ours were, continue to tell you to try again, and again, and again, and again…That took 10 to 15 minutes before we joined an incredibly long queue of other arrivals,

A glance at the time, and suddenly it’s nearly an hour from the moment we left the plane.

And…

That’s when we got to the immigration officer, and it became apparent we were going to have to do the fingerprints yet again.  Fortunately this time, it didn’t take as long.  Once that done, we collected our bags, cleared customs by putting our bags through a huge x-ray machine, and it was off to find our tour guide.


We found several tour guides with their trip-a-deal flags waiting for us to come out of the arrivals hall.  It wasn’t a difficult process in the end.  We were in the blue group.  Other people we had met on the plane were in the red group or the yellow group.  The tour guide found, or as it turned out she found us, it was simply a matter of waiting for the rest of the group, of which there were eventually 28.Gathered together we were told we would be taking the bags to one place and then ourselves to the bus in another.  A glance in the direction of the bus park, there were a lot of busses.

Here’s a thought, imagine being told your bus is the white one with blue writing on the side.

Yes, yours is, and 25 others because all of the tourist coaches are the same.  An early reminder, so that you do not get lost, or, God forbid, get on the wrong bus, for the three days in Beijing, is to get the last five numbers of the bus registration plate and commit them to memory.  It’s important.  Failing that, the guide’s name is in the front passenger window.

Also, don’t be alarmed if your baggage goes in one direction, and you go in another. In a rather peculiar set up the bags are taken to the hotel by what the guide called the baggage porter.  It is an opportunity to see how baggage handlers treat your luggage; much better than the airlines it appears.


That said, if you’re staying at the Beijing Friendship Hotel, be prepared for a long drive from the airport.  It took us nearly an hour, and bear in mind that it was very late on a Sunday night.

Climbing out of the bus after what seemed a convoluted drive through a park with buildings, we arrive at the building that will be our hotel for the next three days.  From the outside, it looks quite good, and once inside the foyer, that first impression is good.  Lots of space, marble, and glass.  If you are not already exhausted by the time you arrive, the next task is to get your room key, find your bags, get to your room, and try to get to be ready the next morning at a reasonable hour.

Sorry, that boat has sailed.

We were lucky, we were told, that our plane arrived on time, and we still arrived at the hotel at 12:52.  Imagine if the incoming plane is late.

This was taken the following morning.  It didn’t look half as bland late at night.

This is the back entrance to Building No 4 but is quite representative of the whole foyer, made completely of marble and glass.  It all looked very impressive under the artificial lights, but not so much in the cold hard light of early morning.

This the foyer of the floor our room was on.  Marble with interesting carpet designs.  Those first impressions of it being a plush hotel were slowly dissipating as we got nearer and nearer to the room.  From the elevator, it was a long, long walk.

So…Did I tell you about the bathroom in our room?

The shower and the toilet both share the same space with no divide and the shower curtain doesn’t reach to the floor.  Water pressure is phenomenal.  Having a shower floods the whole shower plus toilet area so when you go to the toilet you’re basically underwater.

Don’t leave your book or magazine on the floor or it will end up a watery mess.

And the water pressure is so hard that it could cut you in half.  Only a small turn of the tap is required to get that tingling sensation going.

It’s after 1:30 before we finally get to sleep.

As for the bed, well, that’s a whole other story.

Searching for locations: Sydney to Beijing, China – Every flight is different

Sydney to Beijing – Qantas A330-200
Boarding 11:45, everyone on board by 12:02, for a 12:10 departure. Pushing back 12:12 Take off 12:27

Lunch
Airline food is getting better but the fact they serve it up to you in a metal tray with a thick aluminum lid does nothing for the quality of the food inside.  I get what the chef is trying to do but often there is too little of one thing and too much of another and what you finish up with is slop in a tray.  Sometimes it’s edible sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes the meat is tender and other times it’s like boot leather.  As it is today. I think it’s pork, I should have had the chicken.  Or perhaps it was chicken.  I hate it when you can’t tell what it is that you’re eating. But, the drinks were good.

Rest or Sleep, maybe
It’s going to take 11 hours and 20 minutes from Sydney to Beijing, a long time to sit in a plane with nothing much to do other than crosswords, read a book or newspaper or magazine, listen to music on your own device, or the in-flight entertainment, watch a movie again by the in-flight entertainment – if it works – or try to get some sleep. I started with the crosswords but got bored quickly. I fiddled with the in-flight entertainment, looked at the movies and tv shows but none really interested me, not then at least, so I set it to the flight path. Not exactly stellar entertainment, but it’s always interesting to know where the plane is. Or is it? If we crash, what good would it do me to know it’s somewhere over the ocean, not far from Manila, or somewhere else.  It’s not as if I could phone someone up, on the way down, to let them know where we are. But, just after dinner, we still haven’t left Australia

However, by the time I’ve finished fiddling with and dismissing all of the entertainment alternatives, it’s back to the flight path and now we are…

Somewhere approaching the Sulu Sea, which I’ve never heard of before, so it looks like I’ll have to study up on my geography when I get home.

OK, Manila looks like somewhere I’ve heard of, so we have to be flying over the Philippines.  Not far left of that is Vietnam.  Neither of those places is on my travel bucket list, so I’ll just look from up here and be satisfied with that.

Working, or not
Chronic boredom is setting in by the time we are just past halfway to our destination. We are over 6 hours into the flight and there no possible way I’m going to get any sleep. I brought my Galaxy Tab loaded with a few of my novel outlines, and planning for missing chapters, thinking I might get a little thinking time in.  Plane rides, I find, are excellent for getting an opportunity to write virtually unhindered by outside interruptions, if, of course, you discount the number of times people brush past, knocking your seat, the person in front lowering the seat into your face, or people around you continually asking you to turn off your light because they’re trying to sleep. Sorry, I say, but you can suffer my pain with me.  It’s one of the joys of flying with over two hundred others in a claustrophobic environment.  Besides, aren’t the lights supposed to be slanted so only I get the rays of light?  Except, I guess when the fixed light doesn’t line up with where the airline has fixed the seat (usually so they can squash more people in).So, sorry, not sorry, take it up with the airline.

Back to work, and I put in some quality time on a part of the story that had been eluding me for a while.  I knew what I wanted to write, but not how I was going to approach it, so that blissfully quiet and intense time worked in my favor, something that would not have happened back hope. I won’t bore you with the synopsis, just suffice to say it’s finally down on paper, digitally that is, and it’s a huge step forward towards finishing it. There is, of course, the end play, the reading of the will but not before there’s a few thrusts and parry’s by some of the players, but all in all the objective was to showcase a group of people with their strengths and weaknesses pushing their characters in various directions, some at odds with what is expected of them. But enough of that.   A quick check of our position shows we’re still over water but closer to our destination, so much so, we might start the pre-landing rituals, starting with food.

Dinner
7:00 – Dinner is served, well, the lights go on and a lot of tired people try to shake the sleep, and sleeplessness, out of their systems. Then flight attendants that are far too cheerful, and must have beamed in from somewhere else, serve another interesting concoction that says what’s in it but you can’t really be sure of the ingredients.  It comes and it goes.

9:10 – We begin our descent into Beijing, you know, that moment when the engines almost stop and there’s a sickening lurch and the plane heads downward. 9:56 – We touch down on the runway, in the dark and apparently it has been raining though from inside the plane you’d never know. 10:10 – the plane arrives at the gate,  the usual few minutes to open the door, and, being closer to the front of the plane this time, it doesn’t take that long before the queue is moving.

Early or late, it doesn’t matter.  After clearing customs and immigration, we have to go in search of our tour guide, waiting for us somewhere outside the arrivals terminal.