Category / Travel

United – What are you doing to loyal business travelers? August 24, 2008 at 4:10 pm

I am a loyal frequent flyer on United Airlines, mostly due to their p.s. service from San Francisco to New York. For roughly $450 round-trip plus the equivalent of $250 in frequent flyer miles, I can usually upgrade to the largest domestic business class seat in the US and get a hot meal on the way. I find this a pretty reasonable fare to pay for a seat and service that is akin to business class on an international flight (and better then first class on most domestic flights), and since I hate flying, I’ll do just about anything to make my experience more comfortable.

Now the reality is I fly about 20 times a year so I probably generate roughly $10,000/year in airline revenue. Half those flights are NOT on p.s. because I’m not going to New York. But I still keep my business with United so that I can maintain my flying status within the UAL Mileage Plus program. In doing so, I must endure many “normal” configurations of United planes, especially annoying on Ted where business class cabins are not available. This is still a reasonable trade-off to me. Again, the tickets are usually more but the long-term benefit is the EQMs and the increased upgrade availability due to frequent flyer status.

And the upgraded seats really do help me conduct business. I use the extra space to spread out papers, go through old contracts I have yet to review (though sometimes I’ve already signed), and on a really crazy week I occasionally go through old personal mail. If I’m with a coworker, we can talk business without having an occupied seat in the middle. The value is high to me, because I ultimately save time and energy while I travel, and I also get some good focus time for thinking about difficult problems.

This latest trend of nickel & diming, however, has now begun to irritate me. It seems that United Airlines has finally gone from catering to business travelers to treating everyone like they are on a Greyhound. As one SF Chronicle article puts it, “The savings they will get doing away with lunch in business class – they will lose more than that when corporations yank business.”

So what am I so annoyed about? Well yes, it looks like I must finally admit it. I like my airline food. It’s not unusual that I’m catching a 6am flight and haven’t had a chance to grab breakfast, or a noon flight that was directly after a long-running meeting. Does the money actually bother me? No, not really – what bothers me is having to have cash on board. Or having to settle for a shrink-wrapped selection of garbage. Or having to ask a flight attendant for a receipt if I plan to file an expense report for said meal. Or maybe I’ll just absorb the cost out of pocket (as small as it may be), which annoys me further.

For the first time ever, I am now looking at other airlines mileage programs. This is the worst thing for you, United.

I really wish you’d just raise the business class fares by $10-20 to cover my meal. Isn’t that reasonable? We business travelers don’t mind. We want to fly without thinking or reaching for our wallets. We’re busy people.

So please stop with the nickel & diming – it’s fine in coach, but we don’t want “a la carte” in business class.

Australia Trip – Day 8, 9, 10 and 11! August 28, 2007 at 7:44 pm

Traveling to Hamilton Island and Shute Harbor
Our day started early, leaving from Cairns to head to the airport for a flight to Hamilton Island. Hamilton Island is apparently a place for both tourists going to the Great Barrier Reef to arrive from, as well as people heading to Hayman Island, an exclusive island for very rich and/or famous people (rooms start @~$700/night and go up to $10,000/night apparently). The flight we took was on a short propeller flight in a tiny little plane with only twelve rows (eek!). Both the airport we left from (Cairns) and the airport we arrived at had tiny airports with only one runway and only a few planes. In fact, the airport we landed at had a runway so small that after landing the pilots had to turn around and taxi back down the runway itself in order to get to the airport’s gates. And some of the gates were outside – with just a green painted line on the ground to follow.

The trip was uneventful and smooth, which we were super happy about. It took only about an hour to fly from Cairns to Hamilton Island. When we arrived, a luggage cart drove up and we basically picked up the luggage from a giant stack on our own. Then we took the FantaSea express ferry from Hamilton Island to Shute Harbor. The ferry was what they called a “sea cat” or an express ferry that drove extremely fast through the water, shuttling people from one place to the next. When we arrived at Shute Harbor we boarded the Whitsunday Transit public bus until we arrived in downtown Airlie Beach and found our hostel – the Airlie Beach Waterfront Hostel. The hostel was terrible – located above a chinese restaurant and a seafood restaurant that served cheap alcohol, the place was noisy and furnished completely in tile, causing everything to echo. We were quite unhappy with the room and stayed out of it as much as possible. Unfortunately, we weren’t too happy with the town itself, either. The beach seemed manufactured – at high tide it looked nice even though you could tell the sand had been imported and wasn’t natural, but at low tide there was this unnatural beach followed by tons of ugly rocks everywhere. The beach was also quite small. There was a really cool lagoon, though, which I was impressed with – there should be more of those – where you could wade around and swim just off the ocean. Pleasant and safe, it seemed like a nice way to hang out on the “beach”.

Airlie Beach
Other then that Airlie Beach was unimpressive. In fact, it was less then unimpressive. Two of the biggest hostels were situated over very loud bars, which I suspect made for a poor experience for those backpackers actually wishing to sleep. In addition, the bars were sleazy – featuring cheap pitchers of beer and “special events” like pole dancing after 10pm, where folks from the audience can win prizes for dancing almost nude. Needless to say, we weren’t impressed, and having to get up at 7am to meet a boat didn’t make us all that excited about this place. In addition, all the restaurants were mediocre at best and expensive. This was the biggest tourist trap I’ve ever been to. An unfortunate start to our Whitsunday Islands adventure.

Kiana on the Whitsunday Islands
Things improved dramatically the next morning when we boarded the vessel that would take us on an exploration of the Whitsunday Islands over 3 days and 2 nights – the Kiana. The Kiana held 14 people and had cozy but comfortable double-bunk cabins for all, with an ample saloon room for hanging out, especially when the weather was poor, and a top deck that was perfect for enjoying the outside sun (and occasional clouds) while eating a meal or two. The folks on board with us were from Canada, England, Germany and France, and most spoke excellent English. They were all friendly, mostly couples, and most traveling for months on end. In fact we seemed to be the only folks traveling for just two weeks, and people were rather surprised to hear how short we were staying. We ate meals together, went diving together and some folks shared bunks together (though Dave & I had gotten the “private” room, which consisted of a flimsy sliding door between us and the rest of the boat). The boat had two bathrooms which each acted as a shower as well, and the boat was generally comfortable for everyone.

Meals were excellent, fresh cooked daily by a lady named Abbi – a very friendly Australian who was the cook on the boat. They usually consisted of three or four things you could play with – stuff you could make into a sandwich or eat on it’s own, pastas, meats, etc.. There were also plenty of snacks during the day.

Driving and diving were handled by Brent and Dave. Brent was the captain and Dave was the dive instructor. Brent was probably my favorite staff member, though saying so may make it sound like I didn’t love the other ones, which isn’t true. He was always upbeat and understood the importance of comforting those newbies (like myself) who were inexperienced and had preconceptions that everything in the water was out to get us. Or maybe I’m just paranoid. Either way, he was way nice and way funny.

Our First Day
Our first day sailing consisted of a tour of Whitehaven Island, some diving and snorkeling instructions, some playing at the beach and some sailing. Whitehaven Island was by far the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. The pictures of it should speak for themselves, but to be clear, the white everywhere was sandbars and minerals that have gathered to form a fascinating and brilliant spectacle. The sand was actually considered to be the finest silica found on any beach, and was soft to the touch and comfortable to hang out on. We also put on some wet suits and went swimming in what was considered (by some) to be warm water. There was a lookout point at the top of the island where you could view the beauty of the entire island from above. It was truly awesome.

We spent a good few hours sailing as well, and I had to get accustomed to the constant rocking back and forth of the boat. It was very powerful and could easily throw you from one side of the boat to the other with little warning. That said, it was lots of fun to be exploring the sea via a sailboat. Though we used the motor during many portions of the trip, we spent the first day largely sailing with our sails raised, which added considerable speed to the boat.

The first night spent on the boat was, unfortunately, not nearly as nice as the day had been. The rain had come in and the wind had picked up and I had one hell of a time sleeping with the boat rocking the way it was. I eventually got some sleep, but not very much, which made for a crabby Darren the next morning.

All in all, though, it was a great first day hanging out with the new folks on the ship and exploring the Whitehaven Islands.

On our boat: Charlotte, Aude, Celine, Carlene, Steven, Con, Oliver, Eva, Daniel, Jaret, Peter, Frank

Our Second Day
Our second day was by far the most fantastic of all. We spent the day exploring the islands some more (btw, there are 74 islands in the Whitsundays in all). Hook island, and

I spent the morning diving in what had to have been the most beautiful reef area I have ever seen. There were more fish then I could ever imagine existed and the reef itself had some of the most fantastic colors ever. I was very, very impressed that all this fantastic life existed below us and yet it was completely invisible while above water. What a great place!

Then came diving time – my first dive ever. I was a bit scared at first, but found diving to be surprisingly easier then snorkeling. Basically, all you have to do is breath and kick a little (where as with a snorkel you have to kick hard and worry about your mask and snorkel getting clogged up with sea water), and you can see so much more while diving. It’s definitely an awesome experience and I highly recommend it for anyone who has not done it before. I wasn’t actually planning on doing it myself, but once I’d done it I was hooked.

We also spent some more time in the afternoon snorkeling and laying around the boat, enjoying the sun and some off and on weather (it rained occasionally but just for a few minutes, and then the clouds would pass by completely). We saw huge turtles swimming right next to the boat and some whales in the distance. It was a very cool day.

Our Third Day
We went diving again! Yup, woke up, ate breakfast, went snorkeling some, then went diving some more. This time was even better since we were a bit more comfortable, and we went even deeper this time then before. We actually were underwater for almost 30 minutes! It was an excellent experience. I did summersaults and rolls while in the water, for fun, while looking at all the sea creatures. Interestingly, they seemed more interested in me, and seemed to be swimming around checking us out to see what we were. At least the curiosity was mutual.

This was our final day, so once the dive was done, we headed in, packed up, and began our voyage home. It was about a two hour sail back to the main island and we whipped out the real sails to make this part of the voyage home. What fun it was hanging out on the front of the boat getting splashed as we sailed at high speeds! Unfortunately we were greeted by lots of rain on the way back. Made for some great pictures though.

And that was the Kiana – a most excellent adventure on a most excellent vessel with a most excellent crew, on the most beautiful islands I could have ever asked for. Wahoo Australia!!!

Last Stop… Melbourne!

Australia Trip – Day 5, 6 and 7! August 25, 2007 at 3:14 pm

Last Day in Sydney
Sydney Tower
Day 5 is just a short half-day in Sydney, where we spent the morning exploring the Sydney Tower – a tall standing structure in the middle of the city with 360 degree panoramic views. The view was very nice and I actually thought the $22AUD (about $20USD) it cost to go to the top was well worth it. There was a ride named OzTrek that we unfortunately did not have enough time to see, but alas it leaves something for next time. Interestingly, the tower is part of the Westfield corporation’s vast holdings (you know, those big malls in the states).

The weather was still cloudy during our last day in Sydney which was really unfortunate, as it meant 90% of our time included very cloudy days. Needless to say we were ready for a change, so we headed to the airport on our way to Mission Beach via way of Cairns airport.

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Traveling to Mission Beach
Virgin Blue
This was our first of several trips on Virgin Blue Airlines to be taken during our Australian adventure. We took Virgin Blue from Sydney to Cairns airport on a direct mid-day flight. The plane and airline were setup very, very similarly to JetBlue. Infact, even the on-screen map on JetBlue that shows you where the plane is while in the air was identical to the one Virgin Blue used. There was live TV and in-flight entertainment in every seat. One thing that was different about Virgin Blue – they charged for the entertainment, along with everything else. And I do mean everything. $2.50 for a soda, $5.00 for a snack, and $10.00 for entertainment. The flight itself was very cheap, so I guess you get what you pay for. The flight was uneventful and we made it to Cairns on-time in the late afternoon.

The Drive to Mission Beach
The drive to Mission Beach started with a rental car at Budget Rentals (listed as a “car for hire”). We rented a manual car, which I couldn’t drive because sadly I still don’t know how. Dave took the reigns instead, and we had our first adventure with actually driving on the left hand side of the road. Boy was that interesting. It’s not actually that hard to adjust to driving on the left. What’s hard to adjust to is remembering to do things like look right and left BEFORE making a right hand turn (normally in the states you really only need to look one way beforehand).

The drive was long and on slightly windy two-lane roads. We got lost towards the end due to a lack of ample road signs and directions, but eventually made our way to the hostel where we were to spend our time.

Mission Beach
The sign outside of Mission Beach was small and uninviting. After exploring the area, it’s odd that Heaven would be kept this secret.

Mission Beach was by far the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen in my life. With only very simple housing in the surrounding area, which consisted of a very small community (maybe twenty roads and a handful of shops), it’s a wonder that such a beautiful beach stretching from one end of the sky to the other had remained so untouched by humans. The sand and water were clean and cool, and the water was warmer then most pools I’ve been in. Skydivers landed about every two hours right in front of us on the shore while a few children played in the water. This was definitely a sight out of a movie and I can’t tell you how happy I was to be right in the middle of it all.

We spent the next two days lying on the beach doing next to nothing. The calming sound of the waves crashing into the shore was almost as entertaining as a Phish show. Almost. 🙂 A few dips during the day into the warm ocean water to cool off and I was happy as a clam, or other sea animal I suppose. The timing of our trip couldn’t have been better – just two months later and the water would apparently be filled with stinging jellyfish which would make it impossible to swim. A few months earlier and it would be raining. This was the perfect time of year to be in the perfect place.

Scotty’s Beach House
The hostel we chose to stay at was adjacent to Scotty’s Bar & Grill (a bar and nightclub). I’ve stayed in a few hostels during my various travels, and this one was as much Heaven as Mission beach itself (well, at least as far as hostels go). Situated around a funky swimming pool, all the rooms were small but cozy with no more then 4 people per room. The atmosphere of the entire hostel was extremely laid back and was definitely geared towards backpackers. All the common rooms existed without doors, as if the weather was never bad and everything was meant to be open to all. The rooms were decorated with funky neon colors on the outside and simple furnishings within. Each room had an air conditioner and a private bathroom (well, as private as the room itself was anyway, as some rooms were shared rooms). Nobody was over the age of 30, and nobody seemed to stay longer then a night or two. The hostel staff encouraged outings to local music events and clubs via a free hostel shuttle. There was high-speed Internet, of course, which happened to be the most modern thing they had there. There was also a very large kitchen, hammocks throughout and plenty of room for sunbathing in the center of all the rooms near the pool. It was such a cool place! One meter away was the beach, so if the pool wasn’t your thing or you became bored you could just walk to the beach.

The People of Mission Beach
We arrived late on the first night and we were greeted by the night watchman, a lady who was extremely friendly and presented us with our room keys. Her name was Jess and she was really sweet to us with the biggest smile ever. Definitely a real hippie. When I asked her a few questions about the place, she mentioned she didn’t know the answer because she had only just started working there. I later found out that despite being in charge of the whole place during the night, she had only been there three days and was “working” in exchange for free accomodations.

Such was how the entire town went. Bar tenders and waitresses who clearly had started within a week or two (sometimes a month) that were just trying to make ends meet while passing through the town. Most of the locals were older and must have made their fortunes elsewhere with a dream to settle down in a beach town (which they obviously did) and open a restaurant or coffee shop. Most of the buildings were much too big for the number of people that were present, but again we were there during the off-season so maybe it is busier at other times.

Everyone was relatively friendly but we consistently got the feeling that the locals had a lot less appreciation for the backpackers then we did. Although I’m pretty sure we helped fund their little town and keep it running, it seemed like the locals might have preferred that we all just go away (except they did seem to like the idea of having backpackers serving them food). Whenever we talked to the locals, though, they were very friendly, but sometimes during “business transactions” like shopping at the grocery store, clerks were short with us when change wasn’t ready quickly, as if they had some endless line of customers waiting behind us that they couldn’t wait to serve. I didn’t really understand this attitude, but when I asked about it I was told that most of Australia is full of backpackers, and the locals don’t really like them anywhere. A real shame if you ask me.

Overall we didn’t encounter anyone we didn’t like and the town and area itself were a really fantastic, well kept secret. If I could retire today, Mission Beach is a likely spot where I would end up. It’s beauty and calm surroundings were so soothing I can’t see anyone who wouldn’t want to go there.

A Night in Cairns
We left Mission Beach on Day 7 and drove back to spend the night in Cairns before an early flight. We had heard Cairns was “nothing special” and had read some about it in a few travel books and came to the same conclusion. Note that Cairns has no beach, despite being next to the water, so people built a man-made boardwalk with shops and such instead. Regardless of our lack of excitement towards this place, it was something new to see and we needed to stay near the airport in order to make our flight. So we booked a hotel and stayed in the city in the evening hoping to enjoy the small nightlife that was supposed to exist on the “boardwalk” near the water (the Esplande).

Now I’m going to go on a tangent for just a minute and summarize a few things we’ve noticed about Australia that impressed us. Everyone seemed to dress nicely – both in Sydney and even in Mission Beach, very few people wore t-shirts, but instead opted for something with a collar (unless on the beach). When we did see someone in casual clothing, it was at least clean and attractive looking. Nobody seemed overweight, and everyone seemed very healthy. We didn’t see anyone drinking on the street or openly drunk. We saw very, very few homeless people. We never felt unsafe. Houses and homes were generally kept tidy and decorated well. It was like a perfect little place, where they’d taken everything that was good about America and Europe and merged it together to, well, form Australia.

So we did find ourselves wondering, where have all the poor, lazy people gone? I mean seriously, there must be lazy people in Australia, right?

Then we explored Cairns.

It was basically like a lame part of Florida but housed in Australia, complete with souvenir shops, a man-made “boardwalk” with restaurants that make a living off knowing you won’t come again, and lots of not-so-pretty looking tourists.

Yeah, enough said.

No worries! Tomorrow it’s on to Airlie Beach in the Whitsunday Islands, followed by a three day sailing cruise in the Great Barrier Reef! Wahoo!


the Strange, Funny and Unexpected
On a side note, I wanted to list the strange, funny and unexpected things we’ve run into thus far. Here they are in no particular order…

– Bathrooms
There is an abundance of clean, public bathrooms in Sydney. That’s a surprise in itself. The toilets in all of Australia all have two buttons to flush them – one for just a “quick” flush (uses less water) and one for a complete flush. Interesting idea.

– Crossing the street
Don’t expect cars to wait for you when crossing the street. Most of the cars we ran into – or should I say nearly ran into us – seemed unhappy to stop for us, even when we’re in a crosswalk (and some of them basically didn’t stop when we weren’t in a crosswalk). So J-Walkers beware!

We also noticed that crossing the street in Sydney while obeying the crosswalk signals took an extremely long amount of time. So I guess you’re on your own when walking!

– Driving
Yes, they drive on the left. But more importantly, everything is on the left that’s on the right, and vice versa. Think lights, turn signals, windshield wipers, etc. Our windshield wipers got a really good workout by being used at every turn, and I imagine we looked a bit funny as there was not a rain cloud insight. Passing is also done on the right.

– Things on the Left
It’s not just cars that are on the left, either. Hot water is often on the right and cold water on the left (unlike the US). On escalators, people stand on the left and walk on the right.

– Airline Security
No worries about liquids, shoes or other items in Australia – just go through security as normal if it’s a domestic flight.
Also, service on most flights is way better then service in the US. That said, service is just like US service used to be before the days of cheap flying. Who knows how long this will last.

– Ordering Coffee and other Food Items
Ordering eggs? Don’t expect them to come scrambled. Everything is assumed fried or sunny side up here.
Oh, and that Iced Coffee you’re looking for? Yeah, the Ice part means Ice Cream here. Took two or three tries before figuring that out (they don’t actually have something that’s equivalent to an ice coffee). In addition, you coffee lovers won’t find drip coffee anywhere we know of but Starbucks (maybe). And you have to order your coffee as flat, white, or otherwise (we don’t know what the rest of the options mean still).

Pictures coming shortly…

Australia Trip – Day 3 and 4! August 22, 2007 at 4:27 am

The rain stopped!

Finally, the rain has come to a halt. It took two full days of pouring rain before we decided we’d had enough – and so had nature!

Day 3 and 4 of our Australia trip were filled with much joy as we paraded around Sydney with dry feet and clothing. Today’s adventures focused on Bondi Beach and the Star City casino.

Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach was a very nice, cozy beach, not terribly unlike Pacifica in San Francisco. It was a sort-of cove surrounded by houses on either side that went up and down the various hills surrounding the beach. We found cheap eats at a Kabob place on the small boardwalk area, and a few cheap drinks (and some shelter from the wind) at the beach’s RSM club. The club reminded me of a community center and seemed somewhat out of place – but nonetheless it had spectacular views of the beach. It was cloud-free when we arrived and drizzling slightly when we left, but we still caught some nice views (and photos) while we were there.

After Bondi Beach we headed back into the city by rail train. We continue to be impressed with the city’s trains and think BART should take note of a few things – like the overhead screens that list EACH STOP the train is going to be arriving at, so there’s never any reason to be confused. A sample is below

Star City
We arrived at Star City around 5pm. After losing $50 at the Star City casino, we came to the conclusion (by 5:45pm) that this was the saddest casino we’d ever been to. It was way too quiet and everyone looked like they were having an awfully miserable time. There were no chimes or bells or noises from slot machines, or people cheering, or people at all for that matter. I was not impressed and neither were Jeremy or Dave. In addition, the minimums on all the tables were $10 or $25, which is just too high for us. And there were no free drinks provided by cocktail waitresses nor fun bars or events going on in the casino. We were quite disappointed in the casino.

After this we decided to head to meet our cousins who lived in Bondi Heights. After a short train and car ride we met up with them. More details on that in person.

At the end of the day we headed back to the city to grab a drink at a nightclub. After trying out “Scruffy Murphy’s”, a bar that Jeremy’s friend works at, we concluded that the place was about as appealing as such a name might imply, and departed to a nearby pub that seemed to be a popular spot for those who enjoyed Guinness. It was a strange pub, but low-key, which is what we wanted after a long day of roaming around the city.

And that was that for Day 3!

Day 4
Day 4 began with another set of clouds on the horizon. Not to worry, it was still an improvement from previous days and the sun peaked out periodically so we were happy. We began the day by venturing out on a ferry to the Zoo. We didn’t actually intend to go to the Zoo, we simply wanted to take the ferry ride and catch some good views (and photos) of the Harbour.

We then checked out the going away event for the Wallabies rugby team at Town Hall. They were being wished off to the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Clearly a press event (and poorly attended), it was amusing to see.

And now we’re off to explore the Sydney Tower! More great photos and other fun stuff to come.

Saving a Buck in Sydney
Finding yourself trapped in the middle of Sydney and hoping to save some cash? Here are some tips we found useful.

1) Buy the RED ZONE Weekly Travelpass. It gets you almost anywhere you might want to go, except Manly Beach (it WILL go to Bondi and also get you on most ferries). It includes a week of rides anywhere you want, unlimited, as many as you can a day. Makes it easy to hop on and off any of the hundreds of city buses constantly going by.

2) If you can skip breakfast out, buy some food at Cole’s in World Square, assuming you are near there. It’s tucked away underneath the building but it’s got cheap eats. For $25 we ate three breakfasts for three people (or 9 meals total) for an average cost of $2.77/meal. That included a muffin, fruit and cereal with milk.

3) You won’t find free WiFi anywhere basically, and Internet rates vary greatly. Check out “Everywhere Internet” with tons of locations and cheap rates. More importantly, they have decent bandwidth and very well setup machines – even a place for you to hookup your camera via USB or burn CDs.

More to come as we learn it ourselves!

Australia Trip – Day 1 and 2! August 21, 2007 at 2:07 am

We made it!

I’m writing from here in Australia! Darren, David and Jeremy have traveled here from far away San Francisco. Here’s the play by play on the trip so far…

Qantas Flight 74
We began our trip on a Qantas flight, direct from San Francisco to Sydney. The flight departed at 10:30pm PST (on-time) without incident. The plane was absolutely huge – a double-decker with 75 rows total and 11 seats across in economy. Passing through the cabin, we got a peak at the Business Class section – boy did it look nice. When we arrived at the Economy section we discovered lots of goodies on our seat including a travel pack, blanket, pillows, etc. There was also a TV in every seat with on-demand Qantas movies. Unfortunately the seats were typical, cramped economy seats. I got the middle seat and discovered there was also a video box at my feet, killing another half a foot of legroom. And then I discovered that the in-flight entertainment system in my seat was broken. Being that I hate flying, I was really counting on this system to help provide a distraction during the 15-hour flight! Such is my luck. Good thing I brought a laptop to entertain me, and there were also some spare seats in other aisles that I utilized while bored so that I could still watch TV.

The flight was uneventful, which was great! We arrived in Sydney at 6:30am though, and boy was I tired! I had no idea how much the time change was going to impact me! Upon arriving in Sydney we discovered it was absolutely pouring rain. This was quite disappointing to us. We later found out that the day we arrived was a day of record rainfall (over 100cm!).

Sydney Airport

The Pensione Hotel
We took our time in traveling to our hotel, where check-in was not until 2:00pm local time. We locked up our gear at some lockers in the hotel and took to touring the city for several hours before trying to check-in at the hotel. The hotel was relatively nice but very basic – it seemed to be a cross between a backpackers hostel and a hotel. All the rooms were private rooms, relatively small with simple decorations. There was a downstairs guest lounge which featured a kitchen for public use, some internet kiosks, some lockers and of course a coffee machine. We knew we picked the right place when we discovered how many other backpackers there were at the hotel as well. Most of them, surprisingly, seemed to be from Australia or the UK (based on their accents). I don’t think we noticed anyone with an American accent.

Pensione Hotel

Touring Sydney
Darling Harbour
We spent the morning walking about in the torrential rains, trying to stay awake so we could reset our internal clocks to the new time zone. We found ourselves exploring the Circular Quay (which we learned was pronounced Circular Key) and Darling Harbour. To avoid some of the rain we decided to explore the Australian National Maritime Museum. It was a cool place with lots of history and information about the harbour as well as Sydney’s relationship to America and other places. The museum was fun. Ironically I think my favorite part was the boat made out of beer cans (I mean really, that’s just too funny).

The Rocks
Next we wandered up to the area known as The Rocks. Clearly a tourist trap, we hoped to find an inexpensive place to grab a beer. That was an unsuccessful mission, as we found most drinks started at $7 AUD and most snacks started at $10 AUD. So off to Kings Cross we went, on a search for food and entertainment.

Kings Cross
We had heard Kings Cross was the redlight district but was also filled with restaurants, pubs and other establishments which sounded like they balanced out the place. Well, that was an overstatement. There were a tremendous number of adult entertainment shops all lined next to each other, and only when you got off the main drag did you find a collection of hidden (and nice looking) restaurants. Despite being the redlight district, there were plenty of police patrolling the area and the area was quite clean – definitely cleaner the San Francisco’s sketchy neighborhoods. We eventually found a thai restaurant to grab a bite at and found the food to be quite excellent. We then took the Sydney CityRail back to our hotel and checked out the pub underneath named Charlie Chan’s.

Charlie Chan’s
Little did we realize that Charlie Chan’s was actually a mini-casino, and Sydney seems to have a lot of these mini-casinos! At first, while sitting in the pub, we did not notice any casino-related activity, but people kept walking out of random doors through the pub without stopping for a drink or a look. Curious where these people were coming from, we explored a hallway to find a bustling room of slot machines and casino games, filled with people. Uninterested, we decided to save our money for the big casino – Star City – which we’d planned to visit a bit later.

Off to bed we finally went at around 9:00pm, as it felt like we’d been up for days. Oh yes, we had been! 🙂

Sydney – Day 2
Intent on saving some money, we awoke the next morning and decided to go shopping across the street in the World Square building – a huge office building with a big mall in the downstairs portion. It was complete with strange, cheap cell phone and trinket stores plus a full grocery store named Cole’s. We bought some items at the grocery to share for breakfast and returned to our hotel.

Talk about the wrong place at the wrong time. When we returned to the hotel we began making breakfast and were approached by three NSW Police officers who questioned us in regards to a robbery that had occurred in the hotel. Apparently a patron had left his window open overnight and someone had stolen his valuables, and I guess they had used his credit card at a nearby Woolworth store. Luckily we’d saved the receipt showing we were actually at a different store at around the same time, and the police seemed happy with our info and left us alone. Still a bit creepy though, if you ask me.

Newtown and Glebe
Anyway, after this point we discovered it was still raining outside but much less then the previous day. We decided to explore the areas of Newtown and Glebe. We took the CityRail to these areas and discovered that Newtown resembled something like the Mission District in San Francisco, full of funky clothing shops, stores and cheap cafes. There were a lot of Thai cafes, too! Much better signage and a much longer strip of stores then anything in the states, though. All the stores were very cleverly named and we found some of the stores to be quite humorous (“Bite Me” burger comes to mind, among others). The area was quite active despite it being a working Monday – lots of people on the streets.

We followed King Street until we hit the Sydney Univerisity, which we explored as well. It had beautiful buildings and a bustling student campus. It was also very big!

At the other side of the University we found a really nice lawn area and a street named Glebe Point Road. We decided to walk up Glebe Point Road where we found even more cafes and restaurants – a bit more upscale then Newtown – and some very funky housing, painted all sorts of bright colorful shades of neon. This was definitely yuppie land – so we decided to endulge at one of the local Cafes and were quite happy with the fresh food and beer they served.

Surray Hills and Paddington
While at the cafe, the rain finally stopped. The clouds began to lift and the sun starting trying to break through. So back to the city we wandered to explore Surray Hills. While our morning was spent on the western side of the city, we discovered the walk back to the eastern side (where Surray Hills was) didn’t take nearly as long as we expected. Sydney was actually quite small in physical distance between places! We found Surray Hills to be a pretty fancy part of town. Lined with expensive hotels and nicely kept buildings, we noticed that most things were well out of our backpaper price range. Our stroll through Surray Hills landed us on Oxford Street. We headed east on Oxford Street until we hit the Paddington area, which is where we decided to grab dinner. We found a nice Vietnamese restaurant that had good service, generous portions and tasty, spicy meals. Pleased with our dinner, we wandered west on Oxford toward our hotel and found a bar about halfway down. After a few drinks at the pub and some conversation about our travels. A few more blocks we went to our hotel to get some peaceful rest, finally staying up until midnight and becoming fully adjusted to the timezone we were in.

More to come tomorrow!

Funny Things
First, let’s get our translations correct.

a “Hotel” in Sydney = “Bar” in America
Chips = Fries
Short = Small
Tall = Large

Silly Thai restaurant names:
Thai me Up
Thaitanic
ThaiLand

Other silly store names:
Bite Me Burger
Holy Sheet (a sheet store)
Curl Up and Dye (a hair place)

… and be warned you coffee lovers… Ordering Coffee as you know it will yield strange results! (Ice Coffee = Latte with Ice Cream apparently, and so on…)

More Pictures…

Australia – the adventure is close! July 27, 2007 at 5:05 am

It’s almost time for me to go to Australia!!! Woohoo!

The adventure begins in just three weeks. Today I finished our travel plans up, which included five flights, a car rental, a sailing cruise, a few hostels and travel insurance! We’ll be visiting Sydney, Melbourne, Mission Beach and the Whitsunday Islands (i.e. Great Barrier Rief). It should be a fun and exciting adventure for all!

One of the most exciting things, I think, is going to be a 3-day, 2-night sailing adventure. We’re going to be cruising around on a boat named the Kiana. Here’s someone’s picture of the boat:

Kiana
Kiana Boat

Boat's Layout
Layout of the Boat

I’m excited! Woohoo!!! And cousin Jeremy is coming, too. He’s MOVING to Australia, though. For a year… A ballsy chap, eh?

More info on the exciting boat…

So, what’s the three letter airport code for Space? July 24, 2007 at 11:45 pm

Check this out… This website claims that $20k reserves you a spot on a ship to space. Don’t believe me? Read for yourself.

Apparently this thing is legit… The company is Virgin Galactic, and it’s story is rather interesting. Play on the site to learn more. And no, you don’t get to go to the moon – it’s just a trip where you launch high enough to cross “an altitude of slightly over 100km, with a total weightlessness time of 6 minutes. ”

BTW, the guy doing this? Richard Branson. You know him for such things as Virgin Megastores, Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Blue and Virgin Mobile. I get the feeling he likes Virgins, eh?

Going to Australia April 8, 2007 at 7:43 pm

Welp, it’s booked. Dave & I are going to Australia. Flight to Australia is booked Aug 17th-Sept 2nd. Sydney, Melbourne, WhitSundays and Brisbane.

Know any good spots to visit?

More info to come! Woohoo!

Montreal was fun! March 26, 2007 at 12:23 am

Welp,
Sitting in the airport in Toronto waiting for my connecting flight to San Francisco. Hope it’s not delayed. Checked the FAA’s delay website at http://www.fly.faa.gov/flyfaa/usmap.jsp and everything looked good. Also double-checked my flight’s *real* flight status using these tools that let you see more details:

http://www.flytecomm.com/cgi-bin/trackflight – FlyteComm
http://flightaware.com/ – FlightAware
http://www.flightview.com/TravelTools/default.asp – FlightView

Yup, too much data. Huh? Oh, and if you wanna get really crazy, check out the turbulence maps at http://apps.turbulenceforecast.com . Yeah, I check those, too, before flying. 🙂

So, how was Montreal you ask? Well… It was awesome!

Cousin Jeremy is doing really well. He has a nice apartment! We toured the city during the day time. I ate some really good bagels at one of Montreal’s famous bagel places. Also saw a really beautiful sight of the city from some lookout point on top of Mount Royal. Also briefly saw that Tam-Tams or whatever it’s called (the hippies in the park). It was cool.

We went to a bar named Ye Old Orchard in downtown Montreal. We took the underground Metro to get there. On the way there I noticed the Metro had TV screens in some of the stations! Huge flatscreen ones! WTF! I wish my taxes went to flat screen TVs in the subway. Fucking Montreal. We saw all these people getting out of a Canadians Hockey game, too. Exciting!

Jeremy selected a bar named Ye Old Orchard because it was Jeremy’s friend Pierce’s Birthday and they were celebrating there. When we arrived we discovered that the hockey game that just let out had tons of fans arriving at the bar as well. The place was PACKED. Pierce was a really funny, somewhat drunk Asian guy. He made an excellent host. He was funny and seemed to know everybody under the sun. Every time I thought there were tons of people at his party table, more showed up.

I also met these two friends of Jeremy’s, Greg & Maive. They both were in Jeremy’s psychology class. Greg wants to go to Australia and also lives in Ontario. He works with autistic kids. He needs money. Don’t we all? He was super cool. Especially since he’d at least *heard* of Phish. Maive is in medical school but drinks with the rest of them. She was also very chill.

I met one of their friends named Ashley. Ashley told me she is going to dentistry school. And that it’s not just about teeth god damn it! Someone else I met is going to Veterinarian school. I can’t remember who. Lame

As usual, I forgot to bring my camera. I spent all this money on a nice new camera and now my issue is that I never remember it. Lame. So I took no pictures. I suck.

We got pizza afterwards. They were playing Pink Floyd techno really fucking loud. They didn’t have pepper or seasonings for the pizza. Lame. But the pizza tasted really good. It was called Dan’s or something.

Well, that was my night out in Montreal. Fun, eh?

Hopefully I get to see Jeremo again soon.