Sunday, September 30, 2018

Melbourne, Australia: Every visit is different

Brisbane to Melbourne

I doubt there's an airport anywhere in the world that will be an experience to remember except for all the wrong reasons.   Singapore, Hong Kong, and Heathrow are notable only for size and the time it can take to get from the main area to the departure gate.

Brisbane, the airport we are departing from today, is very small by comparison.

But in one aspect all airports are the same.  The price of ordinary items compared to anywhere other than an airport.

Brisbane airport is no exception.  Whilst some items are what may be called reasonable prices I don’t regard $10 plus for a sandwich toasted or otherwise as reasonable.  Coffee, however, seems to have a benchmark of between $4 and $6 depending on the size the world over.

And believe it or not sometimes it tastes like coffee.  Perhaps at home, I'm spoilt but quite often the coffee, especially overseas, is awful and you can't wait to get back.

Despite my own reservations, I do it myself this time, having a flat white coffee and a pie which I have to say was a reasonable price.  On this visit to the airport half the food outlets were closed due to reconstruction, so outlets and choices were extremely limited.

But the airport experience is only one aspect of the day's travel.

The airline - Virgin, the plane - 737-800

There is the airline you use, and then there are the others.  We have four in Australia, Qantas, Virgin Australia, Tiger, and Jetstar.  We usually travel on Qantas mainly because we have frequent flyer points to offset the cost but this time we didn't.

This time we traveled by Virgin Australia because the fares were very reasonable.  For a long time, Virgin had the reputation of being an LCA but this is changing as they attempt to take on Qantas as a full-service airline.

One aspect of traveling by air is the online check-in and bag drop experience.  I don't think I've traveled Qantas once when the automated bag drop system worked for us without having to ask for assistance.

With Virgin it was painless.  Check-in online, select your seats and drop the bags at a counter.  Perhaps we were lucky for the time of day there was not a long queue but just the same it was less problematic than Qantas.

Something else that Virgin does better than Qantas is getting the passengers onboard.  They board passengers on the plane from both ends which then enables the departure to be on time.  It is also a positive when disembarking passengers, once again speeding up the process and enabling an on-time turn-around.

We are in row 18 and should board the plane by the rear stairs and requiring us to negotiate two sets of steps.  At the moment we both have sore knees, so we were allowed to go through the front door.
My first impression of the plane is one of spaciousness, perhaps skewed by seeing the first few rows given over to business seats.

But one cannot deny the colorful seats and the fact the pitch is one inch better than most of its rivals.

I'm sitting in the dreaded middle seat where there is hardly enough room to move and even though it looks more spacious it isn't and it would be impossible to eat. I guess in that aspect there is little difference between the airlines.

In-flight service has improved, and although they are still charging for food and drinks, they now provide a complimentary snack, usually biscuits and a glass of water.  It's as much as I can handle in the middle seat because using a knife and fork would be impossible.

Then there's the problem of not only having to sit on the middle seat but when the person in the window seat needs to get out.  For once there is no complaint from me because l need to periodically get up and stretch my legs as I cannot sit for longer than half to one hour without having problems on arrival.  Last time I traveled I could not get up for over two hours and after landing I had a very bad cramp.

Although the plane left five minutes late, it arrived on time, but because of crosswinds we land faster than usual and hit the tarmac quite hard.

After we disembarked taking the rear stairs for expediency, there's just enough time to get to the baggage belt to collect our bags, the delivery far the quickest than any time I have traveled Qantas.  The worst baggage wait was at Heathrow which took longer than an hour.

The hotel - Hilton Doubletree

We are staying at the Hilton Doubletree in Flinders Street opposite the iconic station, one that I used nearly every day for years.  The hotel is relatively new and we are staying on the 10th floor reserved for HHonors guests.  The hotel is just up from the corner of Elizabeth Street and Flinders Street and therefore in a very good location.

It is only a short distance to a variety of eating establishments.

We will be staying there again, not only for location, breakfast, and the external food choices but the fact they supply you with cookies, which are, in my opinion, very addictive.

For us, a continental breakfast at the hotel is included with our stay.  If we want to upgrade to the hot breakfast it is an additional $6 per person.  We do for the first day.  Like most Hilton brand hotels the breakfast choices are basically the same, and you get to choose the type of eggs you want which are then cooked for you.  We chose the boiled eggs and were cooked perfectly.

Self-driving in Melbourne and suburbs

We are in Melbourne for a funeral and to visit relatives, so a hire car is essential.

If you are not used to driving in a city that has toll roads Melbourne can be an expensive proposition.  Our last stay the tolls cost us about $90.  There are four tolls just to get from the airport to the city.
That can be alleviated if you have a GPS that can find you a route into the city not using toll roads, but if you do be prepared to run into a lot of traffic lights and, of course, traffic.  We have a slight advantage of having once lived in Melbourne but even so, we still finished up seeing places we'd never been before, so trying to avoid toll roads without a GPS could be a problem.

Also if you are driving in the peak hours be prepared for horrendous traffic where at times the motorways can be like car parks especially if there's been an accident.  One morning we were there, there were four accidents at the same time basically closing down the motorway.

Like most modern hotels this one does not have its own car park.  Neither did the Hilton at Docklands.  There the car park was opposite the hotel and you could park for a discounted rate.  The Doubletree is basically the same, only the car park is about half a block away and you park for the discounted rate of $30 per day versus the normal rate of $54.  Parking in the city, any city in Australia, is not cheap.  Nor for that matter is valet parking at hotels which can exceed $50 per day.

Brisbane to Melbourne

Return of hire car is simple but getting to the lane marked rental car returns was not so easy and beware it is relatively poorly signed.  The traffic heading towards the terminal is horrendous and it takes us 15 minutes to travel half a kilometer.

We are returning to Brisbane by Virgin, this time on one of their smaller planes, an Embraer E190 which has a two abreast either side seating arrangement.  Once again, it gives the impression there is more room which when seated appears to be the case.  I suspect that feeling would disappear very quickly when the passenger in front has his or her seat back in recline.

This service has the wifi entertainment system active where you can use your own device to stream entertainment content via their special app.  I had not downloaded it so I couldn't test it.

The snack this time was cheese and biscuits which were quite nice along with a cup of water.  We brought extra water on board ourselves now we know we can.

After disembarking and collecting our baggage this time already circulating on the baggage belt before we got there, we stopped to have a relaxing cup of coffee at the Coffee Club outlet outside the main terminal, a fitting end to the trip, and a quiet moment back on home soil before picking up the car from long-term car park and going home.

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