Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hilton Kensington: Checking Out the Neighborhood

After a couple of transfers on the London Underground,we found ourselves emerging from the Shepherd's Bush Tube Station and facing a large traffic roundabout.

Naturally we and our roll-aboards took the long way around, but still managed to arrive at the Hilton Kensington within a few minutes.

A friendly employee at the front desk checked us in promptly (a feat not always accomplished in the UK) and let us know our room was ready up on the sixth floor. She also warned us that work was in progress there, and told us we could wait for a room on a quieter floor. Since the work doesn't start until 8:00 a.m. we took the room. We found that painters are applying new wallpaper in the corridor. The fact that they seem to be doing it right over old mold isn't our concern.

Our room is small (typical of London hotels) but quite modern and pleasant. Once unpacked we wandered around the neighborhood, apparently one of the most expensive in London, and therefore in the world. All we saw were elegant row houses, but there are supposed to be properties in the area worth up to 10 million British Pounds.

We then headed over to the large Westfield Shopping Centre back near the Tube Station and dined from a menu of seven-pound lunch specials (a real deal here) at The Bull Freehouse and Food Pub. We washed it down with a glass of British Bitter, something completely new to us.

It looks like beer, it's also described as "pale ale," and it's not only dry but not carbonated. Served cool rather than cold, it went well with our fish and chips, wrapped in the traditional newspaper.

After lunch, we strolled back to the hotel and - guess what - fell asleep for an hour or two. We've just returned from the Executive Lounge, where we ate a few snacks while sipping Gin and Tonic.

We suspect that bedtime won't be far behind.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

From Heathrow To London

Kathy slept well, Brian didn't. Nonetheless, we'll ready ourselves to retrace our steps back to Heathrow late this morning by catching one of the many free buses at the bus stop about a block away.

From there we'll take the Underground into London. Our destination is the Hilton Kensington, where we found a decent rate for two nights.

Back In The UK

We slept well after a good dinner on our SFO-LHR flight, only waking up less than two hours before landing.

With the pass to the quick entry immigration line that UA provides, we zipped through Immigration formalities quickly.

This time we found the right bus and were on it heading toward the Heathrow Sheraton about 45 minutes after our plane landed.

Once checked in, we headed down the street for Dim Sum at London Hong Kong Restaurant, a joint where we dined last year. We enjoyed a good and quite filling lunch for 22 pounds, a lot cheaper than Australia.

We're now headed for the lounge down the hall, and will linger there for awhile with a beer before heading to bed. 12,000 miles of flying since we left Sydney Tuesday, May 29 - Whew!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Canberra: The Australian War Memorial

An impressive and moving museum and monument...

Canberra: The Gold Creek Sheep Station

We enjoyed our Saturday-morning visit here, and didn't feel the least bit sheepish. Video of the dogs herding the sheep will follow when we return home to a faster Internet connection.

Japanese Eats At SFO

The food court in the center was crowded today. The Yankee Pier restaurant opposite our favorite book store has failed to excite us, so we headed toward the mini-food court opposite Gates opposite Gates 70-71. We really enjoyed our Bento Boxes from Sankaku, and it was so much quieter than the large food court that it made for a relaxing stop.

On our way from there to the International Terminal, not far past the TSA domestic check point for this part of the airport, we saw a shop with a varied display of...

Henkels scissors and other cutting implements. Please forgive the blurry "under cover" photography.

Maybe they're all TSA approved, but it's still confusing for the traveler.

SFO Layover

What a great flight we enjoyed from Sydney to San Francisco. We had two lovely flight attendants on the upper deck of our 747. Better yet, we both fell asleep after dinner and smust have managed six or seven hours.

Our flight had tailwinds and arrived about an hour early. Since we don't fly to London until tonight we considered going into San Francisco for the day. We've opted to staying here, first in the domestic terminal's United Club and later in the club located in the international terminal.

Clearing Immigration and Customs was a breeze, and re-entering through the TSA check point was relatively painless, even though we both chose to opt out of the scanners. The screeners were friendly and not too invasive.

If time permits, we'll start posting some photos later today. It's nice for now to sit with a good cup of coffee and relax.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The SYD Koru Lounge At Last

The obliging agent at the counter was happy to check us in for our flight at 10:50 a.m. We zipped through Immigration exit, and then through security (Kathy was selected for a random search but it was far less intrusive than those of the TSA), and here we are in Air New Zealand's Koru Lounge.

And now another FlyerTalker, Mort, has joined us. He's on the same flight so we can talk some more about travel and flying until we board.

The Best-Laid Plans Department

We enjoyed our ride to the airport with fellow FlyerTalker friends Bob and Frannie. Even with morning traffic it was only a half hour and we were walking into the airport at 8:00 a.m.

Despite being "experts," (heh-heh) we did overlook one little detail. United Airlines doesn't have a major presence here and they don't open their check-in counter until three hours or so before the flight. Our flight is due to depart at 2:55 p.m. There's a UA flight to LAX leaving an hour or so earlier so we'll head over there after 10:00 a.m. to see if they're willing to check us in.

In the meantime, we're nursing our large-size Long Blacks (or, as we call it, coffee) in a pleasant airport cafe and making use of the free Internet, so we're not exactly suffering.

Almost Time To Fly

Early to bed and up early this morning. We're sharing a "town-car" to the airport with another FlyerTalk couple staying at the Sheraton. Splitting the rate will be cheaper than riding the airport train and allow for some last-minute conversation with two other travel nuts.

The first stop should be the Air New Zealand Lounge in Sydney, followed by the United Club in San Francisco, followed by the Heathrow Airport Sheraton.

In between, there will be a bit of flying.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Back To Sydney

We've enjoyed a great weekend with other members of FlyerTalk, arranged by local volunteers.
On Saturday we visited a sheep station, where we watched sheep dogs in action and saw an exhibition of shearing. In the afternoon a guide took us through some of the highlights of the very impressive Australian War Memorial and museum. Just before leaving, we attended the closing ceremony and watched a bugler perform the Last Post movingly.

Yesterday (Sunday) morning we toured the old parliament building and in the afternoon we toured the new parliament building. The old one was always meant to be temporary but was used for decades. Both are impressive and certainly represent different styles of architecture and decoration. Since the new building only opened in 1988 or so, there's no surprise that it's much more modern. In fact, it must be one of the newest national parliamentary capital buildings in the world, although there have been new countries established during the past few decades.

We'll have photos to post, and we have to see if a short video of the sheep dog in action is going to be entertaining for young grandkids. For now, we have some packing to do in preparation for today's train ride back to Sydney, where we overnight before flying to London.

It's been a terrific weekend.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wandering Along Canberra's City Walk

Enjoying the whimsical statuary...

Canberra: Australia's Autumn Colors

Canberra Crowne Plaza: The Suite Life

As Intercontinental Platinums, we continue to be overwhelmed by our upgraded rooms in Australia. We've been assigned to a two-story suite for our four nights here. The square footage must be well over one thousand feet. It's glorious. The lower floor includes a large dining / meeting area, a kitchen, a living area, and even a powder room.

The large upstairs includes a desk at one end of the bedroom, a walk-in closet, and a luxurious bathroom.

This morning's view of Australian Autumn from our two floors of balcony makes for a scenic start to our day.

Off for a stroll this morning while the sun is still shining. The vast majority of our fellow Oz Fest attendees arrive later today.

Do we feel spoiled or what?

Sydney-Canberra: Riding The Rails

Here's what $9 buys you: Chicken Schnitzel...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

To Canberra By Country Link

We check out of the lovely Sydney Hilton this morning and head for the train station.

Our objective is to take the Country Link train from Sydney to Canberra.

Although we're looking forward to it, some of our Australian friends have jokingly wondered when we'll arrive. It seems that Country Link has a well-deserved reputation for running late.

We're confident of arriving in Australia's national capital... eventually.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sydney: Sea Bay Chinese Restaurant Is A Winner

We decided to seek out some Chinese food for lunch today and wandered off toward a nearby neighborhood with no particular place in mind. We actually saw quite a number of Japanese and Korean restaurants but few if any Chinese joints until we stumbled upon the Sea Bay Restaurant at 372 Pitt Street.

It's a nondescript little place next to an "adult" book store. You enter by sliding a garage-type door to one side. It took us awhile to figure where the entrance was but we're glad we did.

Once seated, we asked the two men next to us how they were enjoying their potstickers. "They're great." That was recommendation enough for us and we likewise ordered two plates of fried pork and vegetable dumplings.

The very friendly manager came by in 10-15 minutes to explain it takes awhile because each order is made fresh. He said, "I tell people if they're in a hurry to go to McDonalds." We weren't in any hurry and ready to wait.

When the dumplings arrived, we mixed our own dipping concoction out of the soy sauce, dark vinegar, and chili sauce on our table. They were hot inside, and too big to handle comfortably with chopsticks, or certainly to pop into the mouth in one bite. The challenge was worth it though: They were absolutely delicious.

We were stuffed and all for the total of $10.80 a plate, a real bargain in Australia, and especially in comparison to certain other restaurants where a hamburger can cost twice as much.

We took our time walking the few blocks up busy Pitt Street back to the Hilton.

Once back at the hotel, we weren't surprised to learn that this hole-in-the-wall is in the top 10% of Trip Advisor's Sydney restaurants. Next time we'd probably order one plate of the dumplings and try one of the other dishes on the Northern Chinese menu. We're guessing it would be hard to go wrong here.

Wandering To Sydney's Circular Quay

It's another beautiful day to wander around one of the most beautiful cities in the world and we stroll the couple of miles from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay.

Eventually the Sydney Harbour Bridge, nicknamed The Coat Hanger by the irreverent Aussies, comes into view.

Apparently the taxpayers are going to beautify this area over the next few years, but it's already a great place to walk.

We never fail to be impressed by the Sydney Opera House, even though it's a prime example of an inadequately planned government project that went horrendously over-budget and took years - decades? - longer to complete than predicted. When the design was chosen, nobody, including the architect, knew how to build it. We can only hope the marvelous results don't encourage other bureaucrats.

Sydney: Pleasant Company - Forgettable Food

We met eight other members of FlyerTalk for an informal dinner at Tony Roma's, near Darling Harbour and about a 10-minute walk from the Hilton.

This venue was chosen because it was also close to the Four Points Sheraton, where one couple was staying, and because one of the attendees had some discount coupons.

We knew all of the others from past Oz Fests, and the congenial company made it a pleasant occasion. As to the restaurant, we wouldn't return there. First, the food is ridiculously expensive. See for yourself. We both chose hamburgers, which arrived undecorated and accompanied by tiny cup of slaw and some french fries. At $20 it was one of the cheapest items on the menu. Second, the food wasn't very good at all. Somebody ordered a rare steak and it arrived well done, so he sent it back and ordered ribs (oddly enough, our hamburgers were cooked rare, despite our asking for medium). The ribs didn't look that appealing to us, but we didn't taste any.

We notice that the American Trip Advisor reviewers are far less impressed with this joint than are the Australians. We concur.

Tonight we'll "dine in" at the Hilton Executive Lounge, which offers sushi, along with quite a number of other delights.

The company last night was delightful, so it was a successful evening, even with mediocre and overpriced food. It only whetted our appetite for the upcoming Oz Fest activities in Canberra.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sunny Sydney

We enjoyed another great flight SFO-SYD, leaving Sunday night and arriving here early Tuesday morning.

As we boarded at SFO, the Purser asked if we were seated together. Yes we were. She asked if we were willing to swap for upper deck seats that had been assigned to a wheelchair couple. Of course we were. We were across the aisle from the seat the UA computer had inexplicably bumped Brian out of a a couple of weeks ago. It seems clear that the new United is still experiencing computer problems. Incidentally, there was nobody "special" in that seat, just some young fellow who'd had it assigned to him. The upper deck is a special treat for us. It's like a little sanctuary removed from the downstairs hustle-and-bustle of a 747. Our flight attendants were terrific.

The cause of the plane delay turned out to be quite simple. Given the prevailing tailwinds, an on-time departure would have had us landing at SYD during the quiet-hours curfew, which apparently costs airlines a lot of money.

As it was, we landed at 6:00 a.m. so we were in no hurry. We had "fast track" passes through Immigration, and were on the airport to Sydney by 7:00 a.m.

When we arrived at the Hilton, our room understandably wasn't ready, but the clerk offered us showers in the gym. What a treat that was after 24 hours of flying, interrupted only by five hours at SFO.

We also had access to the Executive Lounge, where we drank the best coffee we've had in several days (UA coffee isn't very good), nibbled on the continental breakfast, and spent some time chatting with Mort from Washington DC, a fellow FlyerTalker we've previously met who had also just arrived and is on his way to Oz Fest.

It's a beautiful day here and we strolled around Darling Harbour for awhile, taking in the sights, enjoying the fresh air, and getting some much-needed exercise.

When we returned about noon, we found our room was ready, and we're going to relax here for awhile before venturing out again.

It feels good to be back in Australia. Tonight we're meeting some of our FlyerTalk friends for an early dinner at a popular Australian restaurant, Tony Roma's.

Yes, they have them here too. We were hoping for an Outback but we'll make do with this.