An account of our return trips to Australia. Last updated 2 October 2001. Previous episode Wiscon.
Wednesday 30 May 2001
Awake at 5:30. Very unfortunate timing, given the very long day Eric has ahead of him. He thinks, I'm going to be real glad to get access to a waterbed again when I get home.
Diane kindly drove us to the bus stop to catch the 11:30 Van Galder bus, where Jean demonstrated her organising skills by directing Eric to oversee loading our luggage onto the bus while she grabbed a good seat onboard.
The bus left Madison at 11:30 (2:30 a.m. Thursday in Airlie Beach) and arrived at Chicago OHare airport around 2:30 or so. As usual, we'd taken an earlier bus than strictly necessary, just in case of traffic problems, so all went well.
After we checked in, we wandered around looking at the shops, then sat around waiting for Eric's 6:35 PM United Airlines flight 815 to Sydney (change planes in LA). Flight time about 3.5 hours.
(Meanwhile Jean caught a 7:40 PM flight back to Seattle to spend another 3 weeks with her mother. We were both in first class, thanks to our upgraded tickets.)
Eric's return trip
On the Chicago-LA flight, the choices on the dinner menu were chicken, fish or meat. Except they had no chicken, and the guy next to me got the last of the fish. Still, the meat was pretty good, and I expect to be fed far too much before I get home. The flight was on time, but I took forever to find the Red Carpet Club.
The late evening LA to Sydney flight was reasonably comfortable in business class, but 14 hours is a long time on a plane. Customs were pretty quick, but with a noticeable increase in questions about foot and mouth exposure for travellers from Britain.
There has now been a turnaround on duty free, with the Duty Free store saying you can take two bottles through (they used to say just one bottle), and Customs saying you can't. Customs are correct, but since the duty payable is below their trigger point for duty, they ignore it unless you are carrying other dutiable materials.
Sydney to Brisbane is only an hour, but the plane was over an hour late taking off. Also, Brisbane was the last point to which my tickets took me, as I hadn't been able to get a reasonably priced return ticket before leaving Australia. Advance purchase doesn't work if you are away longer than 60 days.
I ran around Brisbane airport a lot, chasing tickets. You can't actually make a connection to Proserpine or Hamilton Island via Brisbane from an international flight, as the daily flights leave early in the morning.
Jean had checked alternatives, and ever since Virgin Blue had started running flights to Townsville, both Virgin Blue and Ansett had $118 flights. I soon found that was the Internet price, and over the counter at the airport was twice as much. Also, the Ansett flight was leaving in a matter of minutes, while the Virgin Blue was a few hours later. Through security, try one of the two Internet kiosks, only to find not only does it fail to work, it also stole my coin (typical web result, if you ask me). Back down to Ansett, where I begged them to find me a way to get the flight. They did, and I think it is charged at the Internet price (but understandably the Ansett people wouldn't guarantee me a meal was on board).
Brisbane to Townsville, another two hours. They even had plenty of spare meals. My bag had caught the flight (I wasn't at all certain there was time to load it). Taxi to the bus station, with not a real lot of spare time (the Virgin flight would have missed that 4 p.m. bus.) Bus to Airlie, which itself is almost a four hour ride to cover the 300 kilometres. No taxi at the Airlie bus stop, but one pulled up outside one of the pubs before I could reach the taxi rank. And so to home.
Elapsed time (mostly) awake 46.5 hours. Elapsed travel time 41 hours. Actual time travelling in vehicles 28 hours.
The snail mail upon my return consisted of five parcels weighing 4 Kg, plus 7.6 Kg of large envelopes, and a further 4.5 Kg of small envelopes. It took me two trips to get them all back here, and I didn't get back from the second trip until midday.
OK, so I stopped and talked with Timbo, our ISP, who tells me he still hasn't got the DSL lines in from Telstra (the ones that were to be installed in January, or three law suites ago, depending upon your point of view), and Telstra - once again - are not supplying the additional phone lines he needs. Guess I'm still going to be doing my internet connections at 5 a.m. in the morning, which does tend to ensure instant modem access. Timbo said that with the lower charges and not having the DSL lines, he is losing heaps each month. Ugh!
Returning to the snail mail, Jean received 21 large envelopes, I received 22 large envelopes, and we jointly received 12. Some of them, but not many, were actual physical fanzines. Most were commercial magazines.
Jean received 72 small envelopes, I received 49, we jointly received 28, plus there were 4 Asimovs or Analogs, 1 with no name, and three envelopes for someone who isn't us. Oh yes, and 10 pieces of junk householder mail. I must say banks are really great at generating junk mail (although I gather from the content that they don't actually think of red ink as being junk mail).
It has taken me until 4 PM just to open my own and the joint envelopes.
The stuff outstanding on the Internet wasn't as bad as I thought. Many of the fans we visited had Internet access, and although Jean is much more likely to attempt to keep up to date than I am, I had logged in two or three times while we were travelling. I'd used the web interface to the email on this very, very irregular basis to dump some obvious junk email. I'd also unsubscribed to most bulk items like Memory Hole. I still had about 500 items and 4 MB when I returned. I wasn't sure how much material PowerUp actually let you store as email, so I wanted to keep the volume down. Luckily hardly anyone sends me attachments, and I generally strongly discourage attachments in my email. Turned out it wasn't too much.
The remaining news feeds ran more like 10 MB and 3000 items, which also isn't too bad.
Jean's return trip
My flight to Seattle featured the same food choices as on Eric's flight to LA; I assume that was the first-class menu on United out of Chicago that day. I didn't take notes on that trip, and now don't recall much about it, though I'm fairly sure it left more-or-less on time (in contrast to my flight from Chicago to Seattle, two weeks earlier), and I caught the bus to Mother's and arrived before midnight. At least this time I knew where the (new) bus stop was at Seattle airport, and having no checked luggage assisted in getting there on time.
As usual, my stay at Mother's was pleasant. My main duties this trip were to give her lessons on how to use her computer, and just keeping her company. The computer lessons went slowly, as expected. I loaded software onto the laptop I'd bought at Wiscon and got a reasonable amount of my own work done, including the first version of this online GUFF report.
Janice Murray and Alan Rosenthal drove down from Seattle one day to visit, do a bit of walking with me, and go out to dinner with Mother and me, but I didn't manage to catch up with any of my other friends in the Seattle area. I could have done so, but I really couldn't face the bus ride to and from Seattle, despite the temptation of some Clarion West parties.
Preparations for my trip back to Australia included booking a flight from Seattle to LA (to connect with my trans-Pacific flight) and a flight from Brisbane to somewhere closer to home (Townsville, the cheapest choice). I managed to make both bookings using the Internet, but the contrast between my experiences using United's website and Ansett Australia's website could not have been more dramatic. Booking a United flight went flawlessly, though I had to phone to arrange my upgrade to first class since I had a special coupon that couldn't be handled online. No problem there.
Ansett's site, on the other hand, twice refused to give me an acknowledgement when I booked at their special cheap Internet-only fare. I had a lengthy e-mail correspondence with their technical support people who kept telling me that it was a problem at my end, which it most definitely wasn't. I also kept sending emails to Eric to phone up Ansett and check whether my reservation had in fact got into their system but just didn't return an acknowledgement to me. My first two tries didn't get into their system, and I was certainly hoping that meant my credit card wasn't charged (it wasn't). I was a bit reluctant to try a third time, but I did, at a different time of day, and that time it all worked as it was supposed to. Sighs of relief all around! I most definitely did not want to have to change airlines in Brisbane, or pay twice the price to have Eric book over the phone. So, with printouts of my e-tickets in hand, I was finally ready to go.
Monday, June 25th was the day for my 36-hour trip home. I was surprised how not-awful it turned out to be. After catching a mid-morning bus from Mother's to SeaTac airport, I checked in my suitcase and a large cardboard carton of goodies. Fortunately I was able to check them all the way to Townsville, because the two items were theoretically above my limit on the internal flights in Australia, where I was in economy class. (I've never had a problem with excess luggage, but I definitely didn't want this time to be the exception.) I had a couple of hours to wander around and eat lunch before catching my flight (the next bus would have got me to the airport with no time to spare).
The flight to LA left on time and arrived only a bit late, so I had several hours in LA between planes. As usual, I had allowed lots of time for the connection, to compensate for the expected delays out of Seattle. I got some exercise by wandering all around LA airport, before settling down in United's Red Carpet Club to await the Sydney flight. I'd been in this Red Carpet Club last year, so I knew they didn't have much in the way of food, especially of a variety I can eat, but I managed to forage enough snacks to tide me over until the flight.
The wait was further enlivened by a second passport check. I could hear the inspector's questions to the people ahead of me: "Do you hold a passport issued by any other country?" "Do you have that passport with you?" "May I see it?" I began to wonder what the right answer might be, but as several people had said they had more than one passport with them, I decided I was safe in admitting to having two. The inspector told me they were looking for expired or nearly-expired passports, and had caught quite a few people since they started doing this not long before. I wasn't quite sure what happened to the people they caught - did they get kept off the plane, or did they have to do something to get a temporary extension, or what?
Again, the flight left on time. The guy sitting beside me was quite interesting. He had sleep apnea, so he had a mask attached by an air hose to an air blower (his own) at his feet to use while sleeping. He had made prior arrangements with United to have an extension cord run from an outlet nearby to his seat. The cord was taped to the wall, and he plugged his machine into it. The machine had to be approved in advance by United for use on their planes. He's apparently had his machine for many years; he said it was one of the first to ever be approved.
He also had Parkinson's, and was telling me about a digital camera he'd bought that had a movement compensation feature which enabled him to take clear photos, even with a telephoto lens. We had a most interesting chat on various topics and I suspect he would have told me lots of other interesting stuff if I had been willing to stay awake and listen.
Arrived in Sydney, where I thought for awhile that I'd have to be inspected by the quarantine people since I'd been in the UK, but they let me through. (I'd left my old shoes, the ones I'd worn in the UK, in the USA, and was wearing some new shoes I'd picked up at a sale in the USA.) Then my cardboard carton was looked at suspiciously, but after questioning me about the contents, the inspector decided not to open it. So I made my connection to the next flight (to Brisbane) without any problem.
By now I was convinced that things had been going too well, and that something was due to go dramatically wrong. But, no, although I had to wait a couple of hours in Brisbane for my next flight, that one left on time too. So I finally arrived in Townsville, totally exhausted, to find Eric waiting, all my luggage arrived intact, and the shopping I'd asked him to do successfully completed. We then drove home, or more accurately Eric drove home while I mostly slept.
Note for intending visitors
Don't be put off by the hassles we had in getting to our place from Brisbane. Much more convenient flights (to nearby airports) can be had, at quite reasonable prices, if you get them in association with an overseas fare or as a return (round-trip) flight from somewhere in Australia, booked well in advance. This wasn't a choice for us, as the cheap round-trip fares require you to return within 2 months; we were away longer than that.
This is the end of our GUFF report. However, do check back again to see what we've added and changed, as this report evolves. Also check the Our Trip page for announcements on when this site is updated and where the in-print chapter are expected to be published.