Saturday, June 2, 2007

Airports and airplanes

During my three week trip I rode on 9 planes. I feel like a very experienced air traveller now. It wasn't without pain though.

The trip over was a very long flight. I was seated near the back of the plane, only a few rows from the very back. No one was in the seat next to me and I was on an aisle.

For some of the trip I had a young boy sitting next to me, his sister and mother were in the seats next to the empty one. He was kind of annoying so I'm glad he moved back to his proper seat after the dinner meal.

Although it was a long trip I was very pleased with the in-flight entertainment. There was so much choice of movies, television and music to watch or listen to. Too much choice really I didn't know where to start!

I watched three films on trip: period-romance "Becomming Jane", political-comedy "Man of the Year", and school-drama "History Boys". I also watched some of Enough Rope, The Simpsons and both the US and UK versions of The Office.

The lights went down on the plane and I tried to sleep but I didn't doze off for more than half an hour twice. I felt too squashed in to stretch and be comfortable.

The inbound immigration queue at LAX airport was very slow. Because I was at the back of the plane I was at the back of the line too. It felt like it took an hour to get through and I was surprised that once my passport was checked I could take my bag and just leave. No customs checks or anything like that!

When I was leaving LA and heading to Las Vegas I found that interstate trips have a lot of security. After getting my boarding pass (where I showed my ID) I then had to show ID and boarding pass to one security guard to get to the security screening.

Having just shown my boarding pass I put it in my bag and onto the x-ray machine. Unlike here where anyone can go to the gates, in the US you can't go past check-in if you're not getting on the flight. I had to plead my case to the security guard to let me through the detector to get to my bag to get my boarding pass.

I also got used to taking my shoes off for every security check too, something that doesn't happen for our flights. I did start to notice that many Americans wore thongs for travel that they could easily slip off.

My trip from Washington to St Louis was on a very small plane, only three seats across. Standing in the aisle I couldn't stand up straight in the plane without hitting my head on the roof!

Most of the American Airlines flights had no in-flight entertainment. Only one plane, St Louis to San Francisco, had anything and I watched the movie "Because I Said So" and a new (to me) episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine. You had to pay for headphones though if you didn't have any. I'd kept the free ones I'd got on my JetBlue flight from New York to Washington. On JetBlue you got your own TV screen with live satellite feeds of about 30 US TV networks.

My worst flight experience was getting to New York. The flight from Las Vegas sat at the gate, with all of us aboard for about 30 minutes before taking off due to delays. When I got to Chicago my connecting flight was canceled. There were no notices about this so it was very unclear what was going on. I ended up teaming up with a Mexican couple but doing all the phone work to get us on new flights.

I took the last seat on the next plane to New York, but the couple had a longer wait. I got on the plane but it left the gate and sat on the runway for an hour, delayed by a storm coming in. I looked out the window at one stage and saw seven other planes lined up behind us!

Coming home it was nice to see the Qantas plane at San Francisco. It felt like home was just a bit closer. I slept well on this flight, partly because it left at 10pm at night and I was tired from my three hour bike trip in the morning. I watched "Music and Lyrics" but didn't get it all in before we got to Sydney.

I had to get off the plane at Sydney and transfer to another Longreach plane for the shuttle down to Melbourne. The plane was basically empty (most people disembarked at Sydney) and it seemed a really odd way to do it.

Back at Tullamarine the longest delay was getting from picking up my baggage and getting outside. There was a very long snaking queue to get into the customs queue. I was asked a few questions by a guy while in the first line and when I got to the customs queue was just directed right out the door. No Border Security-type moments here!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

And back again

And I'm home. It feels like it went fast but I did so much that it also seems like things just a few weeks ago seem a long time ago.

It was nice to be back in Melbourne though and see familiar sights, taste familiar food, see cars on the correct (rather than right) side of the road.

A lady in the queue with me to go through immigration asked if I was Australian with "an accent like that". I was like yeah, I don't think I have picked up a change to my voice. I've been sick so I sound a bit different to myself but that'll pass.

I do find some strangers accents sound quite broad to my ear, but the family voices sound normal.

Friday, May 25, 2007

San Francisco

The trip is amost over. This time tomorrow I will be on the plane home.

SF is nice. Very hilly. A bit chilly by the bay.

There's sadly a lot of homeless people. You can' walk two blocks without someone asking you for money. Unlike the beggars in Melbourne, these guys (and some but fewer) women look like they need it for real and not for drugs.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Washington DC

I slept pretty badly last night. All the walking around in the rain in New York has left me with a bit of a cold. But I'm ploughing through!

I took the Airport bus into the US capital this morning. I was surprised by how unimpressive the Pentagon is from the ground. Sure it's a very large building, but it's just walls and windows when you drive by it. I wasn't sure at first it was even it.

I got off near the Air and Space Museum so that was my first stop. I had a mild space interest as a youngster (and later if you count all the sci-fi I watched) so it was interesting.

One of the Air displays talked about the Battle of Midway which is a key event in a book I'm reading so that was interesting to see.

I headed up to the Capitol for a look and then heading back down the other side of the Mall, visting the Art Gallery and the Natural History museum. By this time all of the museums were full of kids on field trips, but they were easily avoided.

I made my way to the Holocaust museum (not the most cheery of places but it has a good message), then to the Washington Monument and finally the White House.

I stood at the fence and peered up the lawn to the hill. It's an impressive site, as is knowing how many hidden cameras are watching you as you walk by. I heard one girl say something about climbing up one of the trees. I thought she should so we could get a demonstration of the Secret Service response!

I had a bit of a look around the rest of the city. It really doesn't have a life to it. It's very cold and beaucratic and lacking the energy that the other cities I've been to had.

Tomorrow morning I'm off to my last stop, San Francisco. Only three days and I board the plane home. Man it's going quick!


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

So long New York

I've left the Big Apple behind and made my way to Washington DC. Well technically I'm near there. I won't be there until tomorrow.

New York was a great city and of all the places I've been, it's the one I'd really want to go back to. The size of the city is daunting, and up to and including today I was still getting confused which way uptown and downtown were, but it feels easy to get used to.

I was crossing streets, dodging traffic like a pro. It's odd to jaywalk in front of police but it's the NY thing to do! On the downside there were a few too many people walking around with their bluetooth headsets for my liking (it looked like the Cybermen or the Borg were silently invading).

I got to see Central Park (huge) and the Statue of Liberty (huge queue, not that big) and the big landmarks.

I loved being at Times Square. I ended up seeing seven Broadway shows. I figured who knows when next I'm going to get the chance to see something on Broadway. On top of the three I've already mentioned I saw Mary Poppins, Tarzan, Spring Awakening and Curtains. All good shows although I think I liked Curtains the best of these.

I also saw a movie today (28 Weeks Later) in the time I had to fill between checking out and getting picked up. The drive to the airport took ages and was an adventure and a little more scary than the film.

At the airport I was told my bag was 8lbs over weight. I've got no idea what 8lbs means and the guy wasn't very helpful. I've checked up and its about 3.6kg. Not much. I should be able to fit that into my carry-on for the next flight. For the trip home Qantas are more generous with their allocations.

I flew JetBlue for this short leg and I wonder if our cut-price airlines will introduce personal TV sets for passengers by default anytime soon? Maybe that new Tiger Airlines will do it?


Saturday, May 19, 2007

New York part two

I've continued my roll of musicals by seeing Avenue Q last night. It was extremly funny and well peformed!

This morning I headed down to the Statue of Liberty but the queue was so long and there were no 'time passes' left so I gave up on it for today. I've learnt a 'time pass' is if you want to go into the monument so I will go back (probably over the weekend) and just tour by on the ferry. That's all I really need to do.

I made my way uptown and to the site of the World Trade Centre. When the WTC was mentioned in the video at the Empire State Building it was quite emotional for me. The actual site though is just rubble and it's hard to comprehened that two huge buildings once stood there. There are still a lot of workers there cleaning up debris nearly six years later! On one of the memorial plaques I saw a casualtity (a "hero") with my surname which was a little confronting. Life has gone around the the site but the horror of that day and those images stick to your mind.

For something more fun, I moved on and saw some TV locations. I visited the apartment building from Friends and 'Monks' from Seinfeld. The latter meant I got up to 112th street. The city just keeps going on and on. It's so big. You could spend a month touring and never see everything!


Friday, May 18, 2007

New York

I'm loving New York. It's really great here. Lots to do and see. It was raining yesterday but it was still very warm. I haven't explored too much yet. I was at the Empire State Building today and I've seen a lot of Times Square. My hotel is well located right in the middle of the city, but it's still quiet enough at night to sleep.

I had a lot of trouble getting here. My flight from Vegas was delayed, then my connecting flight was cancelled, and I just got the last seat on the next New York bound flight. That plane then sat on the runway for about an hour because a storm had come into Chicago and all planes were grounded. But I got here eventually.

On the shuttle bus from the airport this loud Italian woman from Brooklyn was entertaining the passengers. She tried to set me up with this french girl who was also travelling solo. Upon learning I was Australian she described me as a 'young Russell Crowe' which made me laugh! She also missed the comment when the driver picked up his wife and was trying to set the two of them up too. It was a very entertaining way to end the day.

Yesterday I did my bit as a broadway audience member. I saw Les Mis from front row centre. It was a great show. I didn't know that it was a tradegy; three times the tears came to my eyes.

It put me in the musical mood so I went to the half price ticket booth and got a ticket for Legally Blonde. This seat was in the mezzanine but it was a good view and a very entertaing and funny show. I may however be singing "Oh my god, oh-my-god you guys" at random moments for the next few weeks.