Tuesday, May 31, 2011

SYD-SFO-LHR: It's Time To Fly

We're just about to leave the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge - a wonderful spot - to board UA 870 to SFO and then onward to LHR, with about a one-hour connection if the flight lands early as is now indicated.

We'll check back in at LHR.

In the meantime, we've toasted our old and new FlyerTalk friends with one last glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.


Sydney Chinatown: Kiroran Silk Road Uighur Restaurant

Our last night in Sydney turned out to be a wonderful occasion with four friends met through FlyerTalk over the past several years.

We started off with wine and cheese in our room at the Four Points, where we had an excellent view of Darling Harbour.

From there we walked several blocks to Chinatown to eat at a restaurant we never would have found on our own, the Kiroran Silk Road Uighur Restaurant, a modest little establishment on the second floor of a small building.

Uighurs? They've certainly been in the news. But tonight is all about food.

It's an increasingly rare treat for us to find a cuisine that tastes completely different to us, and one that we immediately enjoy, but Uighur cuisine really impressed us. It was familiar yet unfamiliar, evoking memories of visits both to China and Turkey, yet still distinct. And where else have we have ever eaten dishes that contain both potatoes and noodles?

The total bill for mounds of food for our table of six was $90, quite a treat in not-so-cheap Sydney. Thank you, John, for sharing your "find" with us.

We enjoyed the stroll back to our hotel and a little more visiting before John, Ben, Trish, and Brendan had to depart. We'll see Brendan in the SYD Koru Lounge and on our flight to SFO today, and look forward to seeing him and our Australian friends down the road.

It was a great finale with the best of company to a fabulous visit to Oz.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Not-So-Sunny Sydney

Our flight DRW-SYD was about an hour late. QF (Qantas) isn't a bad airline to fly, even in the back of the bus, although seating is tight. We chose aisle seats across from each other, which helped considerably. Take that as a suggestion for couples flying in economy.

We were again served an edible meal on the plane - chicken for Kathy and beef for Brian - and the flight attendants followed up with an ice-cream bar for everybody. That's a nice touch.

We watched that strange Matt Damon movie,The Adjustment Bureau, and generally occupied ourselves for the four-hour flight.

After a somewhat bumpy approach we landed at SYD, and picked up our luggage fairly quickly, in company with two other FlyerTalkers, Ben and Trish. We walked with them down to the train, and a half hour later we were walking through downtown - thankfully it wasn't raining - looking for the Darling Harbour Sheraton Four Points.

They upgraded us to a harbor-view suite, yet another benefit of being a Platinum with Starwood for the time being. If the weather doesn't improve Tuesday (and it's Tuesday morning here as we write this), we may spend a fair amount of time gazing at the view from here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Darwin Airport: Close To The Madding Crowd

We're sitting in the terminal and we'll be sitting awhile longer since our flight is at least an hour late, due to the delayed "incoming aircraft." (Why is it in airline-speak that the sensible word plane is replaced so often by that collective noun "aircraft," i.e. "this aircraft is equipped with...")

It's a busy place and we were lucky to find ourselves a seat. There are a number of FlyerTalkers in the Qantas Lounge but it seems all of the allotted guest-hosting slots were filled. Oh well, as long as the free Internet holds out we'll be fine.

Departing Darwin

After another great day of touring yesterday, we ended the evening in the lavish suite of our friends Bill and Sue (funny to think of a Holiday Inn suite as lavish but this one is over the top) along with most of the other Flyertalkers.

We'll be transported to the airport by our wonderful Australian volunteers about 1:00 p.m. They've even matched up status with non-status passengers and we may get admitted as guests to the DRW Qantas Lounge.

We'll then fly to Sydney after 3:00 p.m. Darwin is a half hour behind Sydney so we won't arrive there until 8:00 p.m. or later. We'll take the train to the neighborhood of our hotel, the Four Points Sheraton, and probably concentrate on a good night's sleep before our final full day in Sydney before flying back home.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Oz Fest Action

We're up early this morning after a terrific dinner at Crocosaurus Cove last night. It's amazing that a reptile zoo can produce such fine food but they did.

Brian and one of the Australian FlyerTalkers, JohnSydney2000, spoke briefly at the end of the dinner to thank the organizers for all of their efforts.

We're leaving in just a few minutes for two more activities, the Jumping Crocs Cruise and the Corroboree Billabong Cruise.

Another great day lies ahead.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Our Kakadu Adventure

We're now back in Darwin on a beautiful Saturday morning. Last night we met up with all of our fellow FlyerTalkers for drinks and a buffet dinner at the Jetty restaurant on the Stokes Hill Wharf in Darwin.

Prior to that, we spent two amazing days in Kakadu National Park with a group of about 18 FlyerTalkers who attended a "Pre-Do" organized magnificently by Australian FTers, two of whom had lived in Darwin for several years.

On our first afternoon there we experienced the Yellow Waters Sunset Cruise, toward the end of which a large crocodile cruised along calmly right beside our boat.

The next day was a full one. A large four-wheel-drive vehicle picked us up at the Holiday Inn in Jabiru at 8:30 a.m. for the Lord's Kakadu & Arnhemland Safari, a full-day experience that included a steep climb with an Aboriginal Elder to view "rock art," paintings of animals and spirits that are up to 20,000 years old.

It was an amazing experience, and we'll be sharing photos, probably after we return home and have a chance to organize them.

Today is a day of relaxation for us around Darwin, until we attend dinner at Crocosaurus Cove.

What an amazing country this is.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Darwin Onward

Expensive Internet but a nice stay. Now it's onto the mini-bus with a whole group of FlyerTalkers and onward to Kakadu.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sydney Harbour Showboat

We found a great deal on Travel Zoo before we left home and booked a dinner cruise on the Sydney Harbour Showboat this evening.

When you can find a 60% discount off the Australian rack rate it becomes a good deal. The meal was surprisingly good and the entertainment was great fun. Monday is a quiet night and we were escorted right up to the front seats next to the stage, giving Kathy the opportunity to can-can with the dancers and a few other lucky audience members.

Those who know Kathy will know much she truly enjoyed that experience.

For whatever reason, a convoy of seagulls seemed to be escorting us wherever we went.

And now it's bedtime. Tomorrow we face a five-hour flight on Qantas, an airline on which we enjoy no status whatsoever. Every so often it's good to be reminded of how the little people live

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden And Hyde Park

We strolled through part of the Royal Botanic Gardens adjacent to Government House on our way back to our hotel. With its glorious waterfront location it's strikingly reminiscent of Vancouver's Stanley Park, but of course it's a lot more tropical.

From there it was only a few blocks to Hyde Park, across the street from our Sheraton On The Park, and the St. James station where we'll catch our train to the airport in the morning.

The Archibald Fountain in the center was quite impressive.

And now for a little relaxation time after our 3-4 mile walking and gawking route before setting out on our dinner cruise this evening.

Sydney Opera House: Did You Know?

Sydney Opera House sits on Bennelong Point. The Point was first developed as a fort, and was later used as a tram (street car) shed.

This Australian icon was designed by a Danish architect, Jorn Utzon (1918–2008). His was the winning design of 233 submitted in 1956. He won 5000 pounds for his design in January 1957.

Utzon didn't figure out the final crucial details of how to actually build the structure until 1961, possibly while he was eating an orange (see below).

Work began in 1959 with about 10,000 construction workers. It was expected to be completed in four years and cost AUD $7 million. It wasn't completed until 1973, and the final cost was AUD $102 million. State lottery funds financed it.

Utzon quit during a major funding crisis in 1966, when the NSW government was tempted to halt the project. He remained very bitter to the end of his life at what he perceived to be a lack of government support, and never set foot in the opera house he'd designed. His architect son, however, was a consultant for a 30-year interior renovation project that was named the Utzon Room. Brian was particularly amused to realize that this was probably one of the greatest government boondoggles of modern times, but one that happened to end successfully, an unfortunate inspiration to free-spending politicians everywhere.

The sails were built using three tower cranes made in France for this job, costing $100,000 each. They are not shells in a strictly structural sense, but are precast concrete panels supported by precast concrete ribs.

There are 1,056,006 roof tiles covering an area of approximately 1.62 hectares that sit over the structure. They were made by a Swedish tile company, Höganas. Contrary to their pure white appearance in photos, they are arranged in a subtle chevron pattern composed of glossy white- and matte-cream-colored tiles.

The highest roof shell of Sydney Opera House is 220 feet above sea-level, about the height of a 22-story building.

Utzon's inspiration for the design and construction of the sails came from an orange peel.

Wandering Harbour to Harbour In Sydney

We strolled down to Darling Harbour again on another beautiful morning to confirm that it'll be about a 20-minute walk to our dinner cruise tonight. We discovered by reading a sign that we could walk along the waterfront for about two miles all the way around to Sydney Harbour, so off we went.

Quite a bit of it was along pavement and what was obviously a docking area.

Before too long we rounded a bend and caught our first sight of what the Aussies call The Coat Hanger, The Sydney Harbour Bridge, completed in the early 1930s and now famous for its bridge climb.

We haven't climbed it but we did complete the Sky Walk around the Sydney Tower a few years back, complete with a section over a glass floor, so we feel we've covered the heights of Sydney quite adequately.

Before long, we caught our first glimpse of the Sydney Opera House, the silhouette of which is one of the most recognizable shapes in the entire world.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sydney Hotel Hopping

We checked out of the Hilton this morning. It's a great place and our room, while not that big, was modern and well equipped. We're hotel hopping to earn "stays" for our accounts, but also because Sydney hotels are really expensive at the moment. Our nights in the Hilton were paid by various account credits (a free night cert. and points).

We trundled our bags a couple of blocks over to the Sheraton On The Park, a stately and beautiful property. Fortunately, Kathy had found a very attractive rate here for two nights. The young man checking us in told us he was upgrading us to a suite (a perk available to SPG Platinums which we've already enjoyed in a couple of other properties).

We walked down to Circular Quay and wandered all the way around the Opera House before returning to the hotel a couple of hours later, where we found our lovely suite was ready.

We also received an e-mail from our credit card company telling us that the hotel had charged $1500 to our account, about five times as much as our rate. We then checked our SPG hotel account and found that somehow our excellent non-refundable and non-cancellable rate had been changed to a rate for this suite. Gulp!

We explained the problem to a manager in the magnificent Club Lounge, and he promised he would sort it out. He did. As we'd suspected, when we were checked in to this room, the computer automatically assigned the room rate for this suite, a fact that was overlooked by the employee who completed the transaction. It was all a completely innocent mistake, but it's yet another reminder that it's always worth bringing along your own records on paper. Now we can relax and enjoy our $700-a-night suite.

Sydney: Delima Indonesian Restaurant

Last night we ate at an Indonesian restaurant for the second time in a week. That's an interesting dining statistic for us, since we've eaten very little Indonesian food in our lives. Nonetheless, not long after Monday's lunch in Vancouver, here we were at Delima Restaurant, at one side of Sydney's Chinatown near Darling Harbour and a about a ten-minute walk from the Hilton.

One of the local Flyertalkers organized the place and the time for those of us arriving early in SYD. There were eight of us in total and we enjoyed ourselves talking about flying and travel in general.

The food was okay, the restaurant itself was noisy, but the company was very pleasant.

Today we'll enjoy another breakfast in glass, and then switch hotels for our two remaining nights in Sydney.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Saturday Morning In Sydney: What A Darling Harbour

After an extremely satisfying buffet breakfast at glass brasserie in the Hilton (we don't recall ever before seeing Beef Wellington on a breakfast buffet) we stop to admire the statuary on the Queen Victoria Building
across George Street from the Hilton. The stately QVB (Aussies tend to abbreviate a lot) was built in 1898, making it as historic as it would be in our neck of the woods.

We then stroll around Sydney on this gorgeous Fall morning, concentrating our attention on Darling Harbour.

It was on an earlier trip that we walked around the Sydney Tower. It still looks like a long way up and Brian has memories of tiptoeing across the glass floor.

We can see in the distance, past the P&O Pacific Jewel the top of the Coat Hanger, an irreverent Aussie name for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

We wander around some more before walking back to the Hilton for a cup of coffee and a planning session for this afternoon.