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Me diving

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Getting to Australia

We took a rather round-about path to Australia, via Asia, because we used miles for the flights and because I refuse to ride in coach for a flight that long :P  So, the trip there is deserving of at least one blog post of its own.  We had several options for what city to fly through in Asia, but eventually settled on Tokyo.  I've never been there before, so we scheduled things so that we'd have a day there.

We had a painfully early flight out of SFO, and a few hours at LAX.  We headed to the Admirals Club there, and they gave us a pass to access the first class "flagship" lounge, which I wasn't really expecting, because I didn't even know there was a first class lounge there, which is odd, because I've been to that Admirals Club many times, and I've just never noticed that magical door before, or at least never wondered where it led :P  I found the lounge to be not that different than the rest of the lounge, except there was actual food (a pretty decent breakfast spread), and more importantly, the cookies were higher quality than the usual AC cookies :)  Mmm, a giant bowl of Milanos.  I actually like the shower rooms in the regular lounge better, because they seem brighter and more modern, though they are smaller.  I'm sure that's just personal preference though.

When it was finally time, we headed to the gate, which was a total cluster, and of course the flight was running late, but they didn't admit that for a while.  We were flying AA metal, which I was a bit skeptical of.  I have never flown AA international business class, but I was expecting it to be underwhelming compared to non-US airlines.  I was actually pleasantly surprised.  The food (which I ate a lot of) and service were both very good, and the seat was not bad (though it was angled flat, not real flat).  I wasn't super excited about the movies on the inflight entertainment system, but I think that's more a reflection of how crappy movies have been for the past year :)  I watched Iron Man 3 and Chasing Mavericks, and enjoyed the noise canceling headphones (which I have at work too, and I totally love!).  I also slept a bit, and drank quite a bit too.  Hey, one has to pass the time somehow :P  Ooh, and I really liked the amenity kit, because it is excellently proportioned to carry a MacBook charger (and the primary use for those little bags that I've found is to carry around all of my electronic doodads).  After like a million hours, we finally got to Tokyo.  We got in a little bit early, and we made it through immigration and got our bags really quickly, just in time to leave our big bags at the bag storage place and make it on a bus to the hotel.  We stayed at the Hyatt in Roppongi.  

I was sort of vacillating on how to get to the hotel from the airport.  You can take a train to the subway, or a bus directly to the hotel (or one of a number of other options), and there are pros and cons either way.  In the end, I decided that point to point would be easiest, even if it meant waiting up to an hour for the next bus.  But we got lucky with the timing and didn't have to wait at all, and the bus was just easy.  It doesn't really require advance planning or reading subway maps, you just walk up to the counter and they tell you when the next bus is and sell you the ticket (we took the airport limousine bus, for the record).  We bought the ticket in a bundle with a two day subway pass.  The bus ride was a little under 90 minutes (which was faster than advertised for that time of day).  When we finally got to the hotel, we wandered over to the checkin desk.  There must be some hidden button that they press when a diamond member checks in, because all of a sudden, the GM and some other manager type appeared and there was a lot of shaking of hands and exchanging of business cards with Rob, when I really just wanted to go to the room and take a shower!  Eventually we were shown to our room (a suite), which was super swanky, probably the nicest hotel room I've ever stayed in (though I usually stay at the likes of the High Springs Country Inn, so the bar is not that high).

We showered and headed to the lounge for some snacks (and champagne) before plotting a course for the evening.  We decided to keep the plan simple and just walk around the Roppongi area and randomly find a place to eat.  We got walking directions for which direction to head, and headed that way.  It was really hot out, as expected, but there were tons of people out walking around.  We basically just walked from the hotel to Tokyo Midtown, which is a mall, that we took a stroll through, mostly to get out of the heat for a few minutes.  Along the way, we passed a bunch of ramen places, which gave me a hankering for ramen, so we decided to find one for dinner.  Our main criteria for picking one was that they take credit cards, since we hadn't yet changed money (doh!).  We ended up going to one on Roppongi Street, Korakuen, which was pretty close to the hotel.  Apparently this is a big cheap ramen chain, though we didnt know that at the time.  It was tasty and very cheap (so cheap that we could each afford to get our own boiled egg).  Yum, I love ramen, I could use a bowl of it right now.  We got back to the hotel early, maybe around 8, but I was so tired, I ended up falling asleep by 9.

Since I fell asleep at 9, I woke up at like 4, and after about an hour of pretending to sleep, I got up and started trying to figure out what we should do with our one day in Tokyo.  We first went over to Tsukiji to wander around the fish market.  We got there around 7am (before the wholesale market is open to the public), so we just wandered around the public part of the market, which had lots of little stands selling fish and produce, street food, and sushi counters.  Rob found several different varieties of his favorite kind of street food, meat-on-a-stick, so he was happy.  Eventually we found a random sushi place to have breakfast.  Some of the sushi was really excellent and some of it was just meh.  After a bit more of a walk around, we decided to head back to the hotel, but then when we were on the subway, we changed our minds and got off at Ginza, for a little walk around there.  It was still too early for most of the stores to be open, but it didn't really matter since all of the stores around there are too crazy upscale for me to shop in (except for the Apple store :P).  We went back to the hotel to cool off and regroup (and check out the breakfast spread in the club… the orange juice was excellent).  

After we regrouped, we headed back out to Harajuku, for some more wandering around.  I heard there was a really big 100 yen store there, which seemed like a good place for some souvenir gifts for my sister (who is a dollar store connoisseur) and her little ones.  We found it and were not disappointed with the 4 stories of cheap products :)  We walked around there and went in a few more shops, and eventually made our way over to Omotesando, and spent some time in Kiddy Land, where I was looking for something for my nephew.  I struck out on that, but instead found a nice little stuffed monster for Pepper (which she quickly accepted into her army of toys).  By this point, we were pretty hot and tired, so we decided to head back to the hotel and just sit around in the AC until it was time to head to the airport :)  We decided at the last minute to go to the airport on a shuttle that was one hour earlier than we had planned, so we could kill time at the Japan Airlines lounge instead.  

The bus ride to the airport was a bit shorter, or at least it seemed that way.  We got to the airport, picked up our stored bags, and headed to checkin.  There was no line at all, so we were quickly checked in.  We didn't have seats together (because of my own incompetence), but the checkin agent said she would ask the person next to me if he would switch seats with Rob (whose seat was in the same equivalence class).  We went through a super quick security process at the first class security lane (which I was nearly bounced from, until they saw Rob's boarding pass, hmph).  We made our way to the JAL lounge, since it is said to be the best Oneworld lounge at Narita (not surprisingly).  Since checkin and security were so fast, we ended up having quite a bit of time to kill, so I decided to take advantage of the 10 minute massage that they offer.  A massage can only be so good when there is a boarding announcement every minute.  Jeesh, now I understand why they don't make boarding announcements in the Admirals Club.  Aside from that, I passed the time by snacking, drinking sake, and making experimental iced coffee drinks with the cool coffee machine that they had.  At some point, someone came along to tell Rob that they had switched his seat, so we were now seated together.  Woohoo.

When it was finally time to board, I was pooped and fell asleep before we even took off.  I decided to sleep through dinner, and then of course I woke up in the middle of the night and I was hungry and bored.  I was pretty underwhelmed by the Japan Airlines experience overall.  The seats were about the same as the seats on AA, but the "bedding" was not as good (scratchy would be a good word).  The entertainment system didn't have that many interesting things to watch, and the headphones were a joke (I used my own instead).  But they do have ramen on the snack menu, so that's a plus.  So I had a midnight snack of ramen and ice cream.  Our flight got into Sydney at 6:30am or something like that, so they turned the lights on and started breakfast service at like 4am (ugh).  I don't even remember what I was served for breakfast, which means it was probably neither horrible nor awesome.

Once in Sydney, we cleared customs and then there was a somewhat convoluted path to get to the Qantas domestic terminal, and then made our way to the lounge there.  The lounge had a really good breakfast spread (including an automatic pancake maker, which Rob was quite impressed with), though the showers were a bit icky.  But beggars can't be choosers.  After a couple hours there, we finally boarded the last leg to get us to our destination.  I've never flown Qantas before, and this was only a 3 hour flight, but I found the food and service to be excellent.  There were some good options on the in-flight entertainment too.  I watched Anna Karenina, though unfortunately it was 10 minutes too long for the flight, so I still haven't seen the last 10 minutes of the movie :(  In any case, it was pretty interesting to watch the story in under two hours, considering it took me a year and a half to read the book :)  When we got to Cairns, it was super quick to get our bags, find a cab, and a short ride to the Hilton.  It wasn't the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, but it was not a bad place to stay.  The service was all very friendly there, and the room was perfectly nice.

We were pretty pooped from our whirlwind tour through Tokyo, so we decided to just take it easy in Cairns.  It didn't seem like there was that much to do without a car anyway.  So we walked along the Esplanade, found some lunch at a waterfront place there, and I think there was some napping too.  One thing I will say about Cairns is they sure do have a lot of bats.  Its sort of creepy and terrifying, but also sort of interesting.  If you read the backstory, it's an interesting lesson in exponential growth.


Lynne said...

Man, I looked at that hotel room in Tokyo and wondered whose ransom you spent on it . . . I remember getting what amounted to an expanded closet with a plastic bathroom inlay for some absolutely appalling sum in Kyoto.

Lynne said...

Man, I looked at that hotel room in Tokyo and wondered whose ransom you spent on it . . . I remember getting what amounted to an expanded closet with a plastic bathroom inlay for some absolutely appalling sum in Kyoto.

Lynne said...

Man, I looked at that hotel room in Tokyo and wondered whose ransom you spent on it . . . I remember getting what amounted to an expanded closet with a plastic bathroom inlay for some absolutely appalling sum in Kyoto.