flight

Seattle Adventure – The Sequel

Seattle Adventure – The Sequel

It pays to attend to the tiny details when planning a Seattle adventure.

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,

And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!     Robert Burns

The famous words from Robert Burns’ poem ‘To A Mouse’, written in 1785, were never more meaningful than at the moment I arrived in Seattle to start my new adventure.

The lead up to meeting my friend in Seattle included very regular communication between us – one of us in the US and the other (me) in Australia.

Departure Plans Okay –  Arrival Plans In Need Of Tweaking

Plans were created and confirmed – flight details exchanged – and everything coordinated, almost to the minute.

We would meet at Seattle Airport on Tuesday 12 December; one arriving from Brisbane at 9.30pm and the other from Santa Rosa at 10.30pm. The first one to arrive would wait at the Baggage Claim area for the other.

Simple!

The one from Australia was leaving Brisbane Airport at 10.30pm Monday, so they would meet the other in Seattle on Tuesday night, right?

Departure from Brisbane Airport

W-R-O-N-G!!!

Neither one of us considered that quirky little thing called the International Date Line, even though both of us have crossed the line from both directions, many times.

After a two-hour delay in Honolulu I arrived in Seattle, stressing about not being able to contact my friend to let them know I’d be late, only to discover they weren’t in the designated meeting place. Understandable; I figured – they were probably looking for me somewhere else. With the free SEA-TAC WiFi I was able to call them on WhatsApp, our favourite form of communication.

Now you really have to use your imagination here because I want you to picture the scene that played out with that call. It goes something like this… Oh, and a key to the scene is the timing – approximately 11.40pm Monday night.

Phone: “Ring, Ring”
Friend: “Hello”
Me: “Where are you?”
Friend: “California”
Me: “Why are you in California?”
Friend: “Because it is Monday night. Where are you?”
Me: “At the Baggage Area in Seattle ……. Airport (the penny started to drop)”.
Friend: “It isn’t Tuesday yet”
Me: “OMG! How did we get that so wrong?”

Baggage claim area at SEA-TAC

Designated meeting place in Seattle Airport – Empty!

Next Problem…

Midnight was fast approaching. The accommodation was booked for Tuesday night and I had no phone – only Internet, thanks to the free WiFi at Seattle Airport. Options started flying around my head faster than the Bullet Train from Shanghai, including the idea of spending the night and the next day at the airport. But I was in desperate need of a shower and sleep, not necessarily in that order and neither of which were available at the airport, so I decided I should find a hotel online and hopefully they’d have a shuttle, since Uber wasn’t going to be a starter without a contactable phone number to communicate with. And I knew that once I stepped away from the free WiFi, I was well and truly on my own.

In the search for a phone I came across the Luggage Storage area that had two uniformed gentlemen attending it. I asked for directions to somewhere to buy an American SIM Card, or to a pay phone – either would do. I explained the dilemma that I found myself in and one of the kind gentlemen offered to show me a feasible solution. He escorted me to an area where a number of hotels offer a free phone service for the purpose of booking a room in an emergency. The hotels even offered a free shuttle service. A quick call and I had secured a hot shower, a bed and the means of getting to them.

The descent into Seattle Airport provided a spectacular view of the city

Problem solved!

As I waited in the designated area for the shuttle, it occurred to me that in my haste to find the solution, I hadn’t actually taken much notice of the name of the hotel. Buses came and went; some with hotel names on them, some with numbers in the window. Luckily the number 63 was the only thing I remembered from the conversation with the hotel. After about 40 minutes the shuttle arrived. Of course, if it had arrived before midnight it would have been an elegant carriage driven by two beautiful white horses. Disillusioned, I climbed wearily into the shuttle heading for the low budget hotel, instead of the Palace.

The shower was hot and the bed was warm – and that’s all I cared about until 9 o’clock the next morning when I opened my eyes to a brand new day and a brand new adventure.

And the moral of this story is:

  • Pay close attention to details on flight plans
  • When you cross the International Date Line from one side to the other, make sure you know which side is a day ahead and which one isn’t
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Posted by Maureen in Travel, 0 comments
New Zealand: The Land Of The Long White Cloud

New Zealand: The Land Of The Long White Cloud

New Zealand – In All It’s Beauty

In true Gypsy style, my travels are dictated by circumstance, and the trip to New Zealand was no different. When a friend said “Hey, why don’t you meet me in Wellington in a few weeks from now?”, I couldn’t pack fast enough!. It’s good to know that the Gypsy in me is alive and well.

The ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ used to be an accepted term for the North Island of New Zealand, but now the term generally refers to both North and South Islands. I hope to introduce you to some of the charm of Wellington, on the North Island, through this post.

Leaving home from Coolangatta Airport.

The impending landing into Windy Wellington

Windy Wellington

I should have known what I was in for, weather-wise, when the flight landed at Wellington Airport. The engines were shut down, the seatbelt sign was turned off, and the passengers were lined up in the aisle, waiting to disembark through the front door. Exiting through the rear door was not an option, we were told, because it was too windy to open it. And the plane starting rocking, from side to side, while we waited. In wide-eyed bewilderment, I asked the Cabin Crew behind me if it was the wind causing the plane to rock. And yes, it was. “Oh”, they said, “it was much worse around 1 o’clock today”. Well, it seems like four and a half hours can make a huge difference in the weather in Wellington, and I really should be grateful for small mercies, I thought.

Mental note to self:

“Avoid the 1pm flight to Wellington in future travel”. The mind boggles at how the earlier flight would have felt – given how much the plane was rocking at 5.30pm. I’m surprised they’d been able to keep the aircraft upright. I’ve since learned that only pilots with special training are allowed to land in Wellington. I think I can see why. I can also see why my travel-buddy opted to land in Auckland and take a night bus to Wellington, a few weeks earlier. Smart move – but maybe that vital piece of information would have been better shared with me, before I booked my flight. Still, I made it, intact, so in the great scheme of things I probably have nothing to really complain about.

Bucket List Of Places To See

My pre-conceived ideas of what New Zealand would be like had kept me from adding it to my Bucket List of places to visit. I imagined the country to be a lot like the East Coast of Australia, and the inhabitants a lot like Aussies, based loosely on the fact that Kiwis speak a similar form of English to us. Not English like Americans or British, but average English, give or take a few variations on the vowel sounds. I’m not a big sports fan, but I have heard that Kiwis play cricket, and some form of chasing a ball around a football field, almost as well as their counterparts on the other side of the ditch. But I can’t be too sure of the accuracy of that – not being a sports fan.

How could New Zealand, the Land of the Long White Cloud, be so different to Australia?

One of the most prominent differences is the architecture, particularly in the beautiful city of Wellington. The mixture of old, new, timber, steel, glass and colour, add up to the diversity that makes the city outstanding.

Magnificent old buildings are in abundance, nestled amid the construction of the modern buildings in the city

In the architecture, the old meets the new, on either side of the in-between. I am just a little obsessed with interesting shapes, angles and lines in photos, and Wellington gives me unlimited access to it all.

The hilly nature of the city is depicted by the steep stairs on this street

The steep hills provide fabulous shots of the architecture, coupled with fabulous angles and lines. And I constantly find myself saying, “this place reminds me of San Francisco”. The bay windows, the steep hills, the clouds. Okay, in San Francisco it’s called fog, and here, well, it’s just cloudy, but it looks the same to me, as it hovers over the hills.

On a drab day, the vibrant colour of these buildings really stands out

An apt halo shines like a beacon in this beautiful old church

Cultural Hub

In keeping with the magnificent architecture, the many churches in Wellington make their presence felt. Dotted throughout the city, they provide more than just spiritual guidance to Wellingtonians and multi-cultural visitors.  Rather than just a spiritual home for Sunday gatherings, many of the churches offer lunchtime concerts for city workers, time-rich locals and visitors (like us).

Concerts held in beautiful old churches capture the lunchtime crowds in the city.

Classical music, played by accomplished students of the local School of Music, rang out of this beautiful old building at a lunchtime concert. And with free admission, compensated by a voluntary donation, the concerts are very popular. Guests are encouraged to bring their lunch, making it an ideal lunch break activity.

A Cello concert attracts the lunchtime crowd in a downtown church.

View From The Top

We had a birds-eye-view of the eight extraordinarily talented Cellists, having been offered seats in the Choir Gallery upstairs. The acoustics were amazing and the level of accomplishment of the seven music students, and their teacher, was outstanding.

My travel buddy and I agree that this is a city we’d love to come back to and spend a lot more time in. There is so much to see and do, and the people are amazing. The biggest difference I’ve noted is how quiet the people are. When we take the bus to and from town, we are usually the noisiest travellers on board. We tend to strike up conversations with the people around us and generally ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’ at the diversity of architecture and scenery  we pass along the way. No trouble spotting the tourists on our bus: We’re it! It’s us! Hey, here we are!

The Friends We’ve Made Along The Way

One of the great benefits of travelling is the friends you meet along the way – and we’ve met lots of new friends on this trip: Alexis at The Churchill; Alan on the night bus from town; another Alan at the Light House Cinema in Petone; John on the bus at Waikanae Beach; Annette on the Number 7 bus from Kingston; Jet from Rinski Korsakov’s and too many more to mention in this post. Alan (from the night bus from town) has become a special friend because of his impeccable taste – he shares our love of Rinski Korsakov’s – our favourite coffee shop in Berhampore. We’ve swapped contact details and I trust we’ll stay in touch. Alexis (from The Churchill) is another new friend that we’ve shared contact details with, and when she visits Australia later in the year, I hope we’ll be able to help her with advice on traversing our great Coastal land.

The Churchill; a great place for coffee and food.

Did I Mention The Food?

A stroll down Cuba Street opens up a world of culinary delights – equal to none. From Thai, to Wisconsin Burgers, and everything in between. The Ugly Bagel is my favourite, just a few steps down a laneway, opposite Cafe Eis.  Most cafes have a neat little bench across the front window, where we love to sit and solve the problems of the world, while viewing the passing parade of interesting people. Then there’s the Laundry, a fantastic Bar that has the greatest Hot Chocolate and Pecan Pie – I know – it’s a Bar – but since I don’t drink the strong stuff (apart from coffee), Hot Chocolate and Pecan Pie are my thing, especially on a cold and lazy Sunday afternoon.

The only way to spend a cold, lazy Sunday afternoon is at the Laundry

Travelling On

And on that note I leave the Land of the Long White Cloud, otherwise known as New Zealand, for now, with a promise of uploading many more of the thousands of photos I’ve taken so far. We are taking the ferry to the South Island on Saturday morning, and will drive to Christchurch for the weekend, arriving back in Wellington on Monday night. I wonder what the landscape will be like on the other side of the water?

extraordinarily talented Cellists.
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Posted by Maureen in Travel, 2 comments
Singapore Stopover

Singapore Stopover

Day 2
Arrival in Singapore was as would be expected, with eleven tired bodies making their way from the aircraft to the terminal via the air bridge. Those amongst them who are driven by the need to know where they need to be in advance of getting there, stopped at the first available monitor to check the departure gate against the flight number. As luck would have it, we were very close to Gate 7, our gateway to the flight to India. Those who are happy to saunter along and find out where they need to be just in time to be there chose to use the first bathroom along the way, but I quickly caught up with the ‘need to know in advance’ group.

Having taken care of one somewhat urgent need, my attention turned to the next one: Coffee! On arrival at our designated gate, and with 2 hours between us and the next flight, the travellers flowed away in different directions like liquid mercury, finally free from the thermometer. Jan and I walked to shake off the stiffness in our bones from being cramped into the frugal confines of the economy seats for the past eight hours. The Duty-Free shops beckoned, with their wares tantalisingly displayed. For me, temptation lay in the Electronics stores while Jan found solace in the cosmetics departments, in search of her favourite mascara. In the process of meandering through the relevant stores, Jan found the ideal camera bag to solve a storage problem and I found the coffee.

Two hours disappeared at a rate not found earlier on the long flight. I can’t understand how 120 minutes spent cramped up between the seats on a plane can be so different to the same 120 minutes spent aimlessly wandering through Duty-Free shops and drinking a much-needed shot of caffeine. Perhaps that’s a PhD thesis in the making.

The Koi Garden in Changi Airport

Eleven sleep-deprived bodies anxiously awaiting the moment of arrival in Amritsar, still more than eight hours away have little thought of photography, hence no photos to show for the Singapore interlude. I will attempt to find suitable memories from my time at Changi Airport almost a year ago and supplant them into this blog. We were there, trust me.

Spectacular colour with a Dutch perspective

At the designated time of 1.30am, Singapore time, the weary eleven congregated once more at the departure gate, ready for the next leg of the trip. Again, laptops and iPads were removed, along with little plastic bags containing hand-sanitiser and any other liquid necessity from our carry-on baggage, for the security check.

Scooting off to Singapore anytime soon?

Don’t forget to check out the Sunflowers

Once on board, the weary travellers settled back and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, there was an announcement from the Captain apologising for the delay that the thunderous electrical storm playing out on the outside of the plane was necessitating. No complaints from me. I was more than happy to be viewing the lightning from the reasonable safety of the ground. There’s no way I wanted to see what those flashes look like up close and personal. But then, seemingly seconds after making the announcement, we started the take-off process. I chose not to look in the direction of the window and was very glad I hadn’t been issued a window seat this time. It’s moments like this that the pre-flight safety presentation starts to take on a much more serious meaning. I made a mental calculation of how futile the whole process would be if we actually made contact with one of those bolts from the sky (lightning) and had to make an emergency landing over water. They might just as well hand each of us a big neon sign with a bull’s eye on it as we evacuated the aircraft, saying, ‘here I am, come and get me’. Still, futile or not, I mentally ran through the procedure so at least I’d meet my end with a full capacity of air from the mask that would strategically drop from the overhead. And the life-jacket might help a bit as well – maybe.

But to their credit, the Captain and crew got us off the ground and through the storm without any problems. I was very glad I didn’t have to put all that safety stuff into action.

When we were safely delivered to the other side of the storm, the meal was served and cleared, and everyone settled down to sleep, including me.  It didn’t seem too long before another meal was served, presumably breakfast, and we were approaching our descent into Delhi. Five hours done and dusted and just one more short flight to our final destination – Amritsar.

The Customs experience was much less impersonal than the Brisbane deal. If anything, it was a much more casual affair with some of us being processed at the counter that said ‘Crew and Media’, manned by a human Customs Officer who sent us on our way with a quick wave of the hand towards the exit barrier. On to the carousel to collect the array of luggage accompanying us, and out into the terminal where we were met by officials of the Church group we were to visit. Waiting for us outside the terminal were cars and mini-vans and local people carrying exquisite fresh flower garlands, which were ceremoniously presented to each of us, along with a very warm welcome.

We had arrived!

 

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Posted by Maureen in Travel, 0 comments
Brisbane to Delhi

Brisbane to Delhi

Travel Day 1
6 am – Wide Awake and ready to start the day and the journey.
Coffee, shower, pack the bathroom items, load the car and ready to go.

Way too early to be at the airport, but plenty of time for a leisurely stroll around DFO, Brisbane Airport style. Another coffee, light lunch, then time to deliver the car to Portside Parking on Curran St Eagle Farm where it will be taken care of until our return in just over two weeks. Park the car, sign the paperwork, and into the waiting mini-van for the trip to Brisbane International Airport. The journey has begun.

Too early to check in, but plenty of time to liaise with the rest of the group who would be my travel buddies through India. Lots of photos taken, helpful travel hints shared, reminders about document requirements (too late now if you don’t have your passport), and then on to check-in. Our group of eleven managed to make it through the queue mostly intact, but somehow some of us ended up at different check-in counters. My utmost praise for Singapore Airlines staff who managed to get us all seated and next to at least one member of the group. The fact that we were scattered throughout the aircraft didn’t really matter; we each had a seat. There were a few funny anecdotes post check-in of two travellers at the same counter, mistakenly taken for ‘a couple’ with the apologetic attendant bending over backwards to try to get them seated together until they explained that they weren’t actually ‘a couple’.

Image from Wikimedia Commons: Credit: Nate Cull

The age of automation has seeped into the travel experience.

Apart from a few attendants ushering travellers to the appropriate line to be in, there is no longer a face in the Customs procedure. No-one stamps your passport with the date and name of the city you are leaving behind in search of foreign shores. Now you wait your turn in a line, proceed to a scanner and place your passport on the slide for self-scanning of the photo page, walk up to a pair of footprints strategically placed on the floor, remove hats and/or glasses, and smile for the camera. The trade-off is a much faster trek through Customs, presumably freeing up our very qualified Customs Officers for the more important task of screening incoming passengers, making sure that our country stays safe and secure. That’s it. Done and dusted. You then exit the Customs area straight into the hands of Duty-Free scalpers who think it’s fair game to ask exorbitant prices for everyday items that can be bought in your local supermarket for a fraction of the cost. Travel isn’t what it used to be.

With check-in safely behind us, the next hurdle to be overcome was Customs.

An hour’s wait – long enough to stock up on snacks for the flight – then boarding at 5 pm. The flight was reasonably full, but boarding was executed quickly and very efficiently. Groups, all six of them, were boarded one group at a time. We were in groups five and six. We seemed to be no sooner settled in our seats than the seatbelt sign illuminated and the plane started pushing back ready for take-off. For an International flight, the departure process seemed incredibly fast.

I’m not sure why, but it seemed to be a very quiet flight. The loud-talkers were missing in action, and even the babies seemed to be reasonably settled, with only the occasional murmur. Perhaps the noisy travellers all turned left on entering the plane (otherwise known as Business Class). The movie selection was reasonable and once the meal was dispensed with, most people kicked back to enjoy their choice of latest release or favourite re-run. It was then time for sleep – for those who find sleep comes naturally at 9.30pm Eastern Standard time in Australia. For the rest of us, there were more movies to watch or blogs to write. The night passed uneventfully.  We landed in the city of the Merlion a little before midnight, Singapore time.

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Posted by Maureen in Travel, 4 comments