Saturday, February 29, 2020

Every flight is different - Today, it's Melbourne to Brisbane

Today we are traveling Qantas via Melbourne airport, on our way from Melbourne to Brisbane, using the domestic service, and a Boeing 737-800.

Thankfully Qantas doesn't have any of the 737 MAX aircraft, and if they did I would certainly think twice before I flew in one.  Like many others, my trust in Boeing has been considerably diminished by what has happened.

Even flying domestically, we are told to get to the airport early, which is sound advice.  Melbourne traffic has worsened considerably since the last time we visited, nearly a year ago.

Perhaps coincidentally, the night after we arrived, one of the tv stations ran a story on how the roads in Melbourne were no longer coping with the number of vehicles using them.

In fact, many of those using the inner city and major arterial routes are encountering heavy traffic mare often, and at all hours of the day, and it's not unusual to stop, and remain in what I'd call car park mode for long periods.

I experienced a typical stop-start delay where the eastern freeway ran off into Hoddle street, where the traffic was banked back two kilometers, and that was after 10 am.

What must it be like in peak hour?  I was told it was basically like that all day.

But, enough about traffic...

We leave with ample time to get to the airport, hoping the two hours spare will be enough to return a hire car, as simple as that sounds.  It can be complicated.  Today it wasn't.

But there is the walk to the departures area, which can be a long walk, or in some cases finding a pick-up bus back to the terminal, and then the wrestle with the check-in machines, quite often tricky at best, of course, if you can find one that's working.

For some reason, there's always a few that are not, particularly when there is a large number of passengers trying to check-in.  Once again it seems we picked the right day and time to fly.  Plenty of check-in stations and all of them working.

Then we have to run the gamut of self-handling baggage, hoping we match the right boarding pass with the right bag, then put the bag on the belt at the right time, and pray that it weighs and scans

And that we are not over the limit of 23 kg, which we were by .4 kg and by .8 which then requires us to find a staff member to sort out the problem.

Usually, 10 others have scanning problems simultaneously, and one assistant is both harried and overworked.  How they keep cool when 9 passengers are vying for attention at the same time is beyond me.

Then we have to go through the scanners and the x-ray machine.  At peak hours this can be a long queue and a nightmare, but today there's no one about.  It might have something to do with the coronavirus, or it might not.

We have the added problem of needing special attention because of an artificial knee, and this can sometimes take a while to find a spare officer to conduct the personal scan.

Then if you are truly unlucky you get pulled aside for the explosive trace scan.  We are blessed.  Out of the last twenty times, we have been selected 19 times.  I often wondered if we look like people who deal with explosive material.

But this too is quick and easy.

It looks like we'll be flying Tuesday at 2:10 pm more often.

So, we manage to get everything done and we have about 40 free minutes to get a coffee and perhaps something to eat.  Wise, because these days airlines don't give you anything substantial unless it's a meal flight like breakfast or dinner.

The rest of the time it's a snack, usually a fancy biscuit or muffin, and a soft drink if you're lucky.

We get a coffee and a toasted sandwich.  Don't get me started on the prices of simple food often a lot less anywhere other than an airport.  You're stuck there, you pay it, or go without.

I went without, food, and had a coffee.  At least it was a good cup of coffee.

After this, it was a quick visit to the chocolate shop.  We've been there before and the chocolates are exquisite and you don't mind paying the huge price tag because it would be the same outside the airport and in fact probably cheaper than buying comparable chocolates overseas.

That done we go to the gate.

Of course, smooth boarding is not an option, as we are going to be delayed, this time by a passing electrical storm.  This delay I don't mind.  Planes might be built to withstand lightning strikes but I don't want to test the theory.

As for the flight:  (Brisbane local time - 1 hour less than Melbourne local time)

1410 Advertised departure time
1425 Advised by Captain to change our clocks back one hour (from EDST to EST)

1331 push back
1340 taxi to the runway - 20 min late so far
1345 take-off
1355 hit turbulence but flying through clouds on our way to 11,000 meters
1405 advised we will be arriving 15 minutes late, take the time to look at some of the clouds

Snack time was either hommas, with crackers and nuts, or a macadamia fruit and nut slice i.e. a fancy piece of cake, which was quite delicious.  It was served with a soft drink, water or juice.

The clouds were more sporadic the closer we got to Brisbane, and yes there is a reflection of my shirt coming through

I guess tea and coffee were available but the less said about airline versions of these drinks the better.

1510 start descent into Brisbane, and see some of the noticable signs of recent heavy rain fall

Crossing the Brisbane River, seeing two cruise ships were in port

1545 at gate

We ended up being 25 minutes late, but that wasn't the worst effort for an airline.  I guess they cannot be held responsible for bad weather delays.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Every flight is different - Brisbane to Sydney

            Flying Qantas, Brisbane to Sydney, in a Boeing 737-800

Like any trip by plane, there is this requirement to make sure you arrive at the airport several hours earlier than the advertised departure time.
And, for some reason unknown to any of us, there’s always a nervousness about when to get up, when to leave, and what precautions you have to make to get to the airport on time.
Today, it’s even more critical than usual.  We have a connecting flight in Sydney, heading for our final destination, Beijing, China.
It’s the one day when we can’t be late.
It’s astonishing just how many things can go wrong on any road that leads to an airport, with the probability increasing exponentially if you’re running late.
This morning, everything goes according to plan.
At the airport, we must leave everything to do with our air travel to chance as it is a group booking and for some reason, we can’t check-in online.  Instead, and one of the main reasons to get to the airport early, in this instance, is to tackle the service line with time to spare
Our early arrival made this less of a queuing nightmare.
But, we are waiting with bated breath to find out exactly where we are on the airplane.
Are we sitting together, yes
The check-in staff is familiar with the Trip a Deal modus operandi, and our baggage is seamlessly checked through to Beijing.
The only disappointment; we are in the middle group of four seats on the A330-200 to Beijing, on a plane that is a 2-4-2 configuration.  We seem destined never to get those elusive two window side seats.
Oh, well, back to being a sardine again, only this time for the ten-hour flight.  It's going to be a new sort of hell; it just depends on how old the plane is.
The flight to Sydney is due to depart at 8:10.
Loading started five minutes early.  Everyone is on board and the door closed at 7:58, making for an early departure, maybe.
Pushing back at 8:00, take off: 8:08, and when the pilot speaks to us at 8:28 it’s estimated we’ll be landing in Sydney at 9:17
Before that breakfast will no doubt be served in a hurry. 
Breakfast cereal, just right and a muesli bar, who said Qantas wasn't trying to keep it's passengers healthy.
Start descent at 8:56, not far from Newcastle.
 On the ground at 9:18, and at the gate at 9:30. 
This means we have just over two and a half hours before the next plane departs.

Traveling from domestic to international at Sydney requires a bus transfer from a station near gate 15.  All you need is an international boarding pass and the wherewithal to stand if the bus is full.
It might only be a short journey but very stop-start and jerky. 
It's much better if you can get a seat, but...
The seats are so small they are not designed to sit you and your cabin bag without being thoroughly squashed.  And if your carry-on bag is sitting on the max 7 kg, ten minutes might be just long enough for the circulation in your legs to shut down
Mine nearly did, and that last step off the bus was nearly my undoing, not particularly useful before your holiday starts. 
Someone needs to rethink the means of transport between terminals.

Once inside the international departures area, you can be overwhelmed by the vast duty-free store, swamping all the other stores.
It then becomes a mission to find a bargain, and all I can say is don't bother.  Some stuff is cheaper than outside retail, but not by much.  I would recommend that you do some homework on the prices of those items you are thinking of getting, before hitting the duty-free stores.
Probably what is different is the range of products that you might not necessarily get outside, but you will be paying a premium for them.
And, just to underline the great duty-free myth being just that, the bookshop inside the duty-free zone sells their books duty and tax included. 
Make sure you buy any reading material, particularly books, at your nearest Big W store.  There they are half the price of what they are at the airport.
Soon, we'll be moving to the gate lounge in preparation for boarding.  I guess a middle seat is the same as any seat, with little width and less leg room wherever you sit, but somehow the stigma of a middle seat makes it seem worse.  And, it’s not something I do every day.
I wonder what it's like in a Chinese asylum.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Mary Valley Rattler, Gympie, Queensland, Australia

I have a passion for visiting transport museums, to see old trains, planes, buses, cars, even ships if it's possible.

This has led to taking a number of voyages on the TSS Earnslaw in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Many, many, many years ago on Puffing Billy, a steam train in the Dandenongs, Victoria, Australia.

The steam train in Kingston, New Zealand, before it was closed down, but hopefully it will reopen sometime in the future.

The London Transport Museum in London England, which had a lot of buses.

The Workshops Railway Museum in Ipswich, Queensland, where once the many steam engines were built and maintained, and now had only a handful of engines remaining.

However, in the quest for finding and experiencing old transportation methods, we came across the Mary Valley Rattler, which runs out of Gympie, Queensland, Australia.

The ride begins in Gympie at the old Gympie Railway station, and as can be seen below, is one of the relics of the past, and, nothing like the new more modern stations.  Thankfully.

If you're going to have a vintage train, then you have to have a vintage station.

The Class of engine, seen below, is the C17, a superheated upgrade to the C16 it was based on, and first run in 1903.  This particular engine was built in 1951, although the first of its type was seen in  1920 and the last of 227 made in 1953.  It was the most popular of the steam engines used by Queensland Railways.

The C designation meant it had four driving axels and 17 was the diameter of the cylinder, 17 inches.  It is also known as a 4-8-0 steam locomotive
 and nicknamed one of the "Brown Bombers" because of its livery, brown with green and red trimming.

Also, this engine was built in Maryborough, not far from Gympie by Walkers Limited, one of 138.

This photo was taken as the train returned from Amamoor, a trip that takes up to an hour.

The locomotive is detached from the carriages, then driven to the huge turntable to turn around for the return journey to Amamoor.

This is the locomotive heading down to the water station, and then taking on water.  After that, it will switch lines, and reverse back to reconnect the carriages for the trip to Amamoor.

The carriages are completely restored and are extremely comfortable.  It brings back, for me, many memories of riding in older trains in Melbourne when I was a child.

The trains, then, were called Red Rattlers.

This is the locomotive climbing one of the hilly parts of the line before crossing over the Mary River on a trestle bridge.

This is the engine at Amamoor near the picnic area where young children and excited parents and grandparents can get on the locomotive itself and look inside where the driver sits.

And, no, I didn't volunteer to shovel coal.

This particular locomotive spent most of its working life between Townsville and Mount Isa and was based in Cloncurry, Charters Towers, and Townsville, before being sent, at the end of its useful days in the late 1960s, to the Ipswich Railway Workshops.