Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Australia to America in Five Flights

No matter how you do it, it's a long ride between Australia and North America. Our itinerary was complicated by the fact that our eventual award trip home only encompassed flights from Sydney to San Francisco via Brisbane on Virgin Australia and United, requiring us to buy flights on Alaska onward to Vancouver, where our car was parked.

Our trip started with a relatively short 90-minute flight between Sydney and Brisbane on Virgin Australia after spending a couple of pleasant hours in the VA Domestic Lounge at SYD.

We overnighted at the Accor Pullman Hotel at BNE before catching a (paid) shuttle to the international terminal the following morning to board our United Polaris flight to San Francisco.

We landed at SFO roughly 12 hours later, a bit early, at about 6:00 AM PDT. US Immigration only opens at 6:00 AM, so oddly enough there was a large rush of passengers from a variety of flights that obviously landed around the same time, and even the Global Entry line took us 30-40 minutes to navigate.

From there we decided to stretch our legs with a walk to Terminal 2, where we cleared security and entered the pleasant Alaska Lounge, largely deserted on this Sunday morning. The barista-made Cappucinos were hot and delicious. The second round tasted as good as the first.

We were both feeling tired, having not slept as well as we would have hoped on the long BNE-SFO leg. Still, we got our second wind and enjoyed the fact that we were in first class on all three of the Alaska flights taking us from San Francisco to Portland to Seattle to Vancouver. We had sufficient time to visit the lounges at PDX and SEA before finally landing at YVR. Below are photos of the busy PDX Lounge.

Along with that almost obligatory photo of Mount Baker on our SEA-YVR flight, Kathy managed to snap a photo of our eventual destination, Birch Bay Village, as we flew over it, the first time ever we've caught such a shot. We can see exactly where our house is, at the lower right corner of the somewhat anvil-shaped (Aladdin’s Lamp-shaped?) lake toward the bottom of the photo. 

It was a lovely evening to approach Richmond BC and land at YVR.

The immigration lines there weren't long, and it only took an extra minute in the NEXUS line to insert our passport photos for future photo identification. Thank you, Big Brother!

From there it was a quiet Sunday evening drive home down Highway 99, punctuated only by spotting a car at the side of the northbound lanes fully engulfed in flame - an electric vehicle? We checked Canadian news sources over the next couple of days and saw nothing.

In any event, we were home safely with memories of another great trip to Australia. We've already signed up tentatively for Oz Fest 2024, to be held in Cairns, and taking naps every day until further notice.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Leaving Sydney on a High Note

On our final full day in Sydney, we took advantage of the beautiful weather to wander from the Hilton down to Circular Quay for a token glimpse of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House in daylight.

We then ambled back to the Westfield Shopping Mall to try out a branch of one our favorite restaurant chains, Din Tai Fung. What a disappointment!

This branch is takeout only. After ordering and paying at a kiosk, you wait for your number to be called.

Everything was served in (and on) cardboard. Even the spoons were cardboard. Everything tasted of cardboard. It made us long for styrofoam.

Our final evening in the Hilton Executive Lounge was a considerable step up. The empanadas were tasty.

The peel-and-eat prawns were excellent.

We also chatted with a friendly young supervisor, Driss, who was helping out on a busy evening. Driss obtained a 1:30 PM checkout for us, a considerable improvement over the standard 11:00 AM deadline. He also recommended a Chinese restaurant, Mr. Wong, for a future stay. We’ll definitely keep that in mind.

We took advantage of the leisurely schedule today to try our luck again with our beloved soup dumplings, Xaio Long Bao, this time at the nearby Lotus The Galeries in the Galeries Mall, a two-minute walk from the Hilton.

Our 12 noon reservation was unnecessary but secured us a nice table in this large restaurant. It’s a winner.

The scallion pancakes were tasty.

The Xaio Long Bao put yesterday’s to shame.

We really liked the stir-fried beef and the roasted Brussels Sprouts, even if the latter didn’t strike us as particularly Asian.

Now that’s a appropriately delicious conclusion to our stay.

From the hotel to the airport didn’t take long. Sydney uses the same software as the London Underground, according to a friendly employee, and in both systems one can now tap on and off with a chip credit card, making Sydney’s Opal Card unnecessary.

We caught one last glimpse of the Coat Hanger from the train as we navigated Circular Quay, and it was onward to the SYD Domestic Terminal 2, where we secure our boarding passes and make our way to the Virgin Australia Lounge.

Oops… this kiosk won’t accept our BPs, so we trundle back down the escalator and climb some stairs to gain admittance in person.

Oh well, the exercise was good for us.

Our 90-minute flight SYD-BNE departs at 5:00 PM, and the plan is to overnight at an airport hotel, the Accor Pullman, before flying UA Polaris BNE-SFO at 10:30 tomorrow morning, and them onward on Alaska in three short hops (SFO-PDX-SEA-YVR), picking up our car at the Vancouver Airport, and driving home.

In an amusing and unsurprising footnote, VA and UA are partners, our flight on UA is listed as SYD-BNE-SFO. The friendly VA rep could not provide the UA boarding pass, and UA can’t provide the VA boarding pass, so it’s one BP at a time.

It’s a pleasure to learn that Virgin Australia’s Business Class seats on this 737-800 offer a lot more room than their economy seats that we experienced earlier in the trip.


We’ll see how our little travel plan holds up over the next 24 hours or so.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Sydney and the Delights of Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour is one of our favorite Sydney destinations and an easy 15-minute walk from the Hilton. Since we’d booked an evening harbour cruise to enjoy the lights of Vivid Sydney, we strolled down in late morning and wandered along the promenade.

We found ourselves The Malaya, a Malaysian restaurant opened in 1963 by an immigrant from Hong Kong  that has become something of an institution here. It proved to be the best meal of our trip, with the help of Amos, our excellent waiter.

We chose a set menu multi-course meal that proved to be a feast of varied flavors, starting with appetizers that included lettuce wrap, spring rolls, and satay.

Next came Prawn Laksa.

As if that weren’t enough, we were served Malaya curried beef, accompanied by a stir-fried noodle dish and fresh vegetables.

Even though we’re members of the “clean plate club,” we couldn’t finish. The food, service, and atmosphere were superb. At AUS $70 per person, the total bill came to just over US $90, plus a couple of glasses of wine, a very price worthy splurge.

After that feast, we pushed ourselves to walk some more before boarding our harbour cruise.

Just after 5 PM we boarded the Australian Cruise Group catamaran that would take us around the bend to Sydney Harbour to enjoy the light displays on the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, the latter known to Aussies as the Coat Hanger.

The vessel was lightly loaded and we sat up on the forward deck with a few other people, taking in the spectacular views on a calm and beautiful night.

What a way to wrap up a day in Sydney!

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