A Travellerspoint blog

Finally HOME !!

Day 95 Sunday 19 December - “Finally HOME !!”

The buffet breakfast menu at the Metro reflects the Asian connection, the dishes on offer were almost identical to those in Singapore – I guess the menu could be described as International more correctly.

Checked out from the hotel and walked up to our bus stop where the bus and driver were waiting. We left at the scheduled time and started our long trek to Moruya. With a number of pick-up points along the way, a 45 minute change-over in Nowra and another 45 minute break in Batemans Bay it took us 7 hours to get to Moruya. The seats on the coach were more comfortable than those on the JetStar aircraft and because we were in the front of the bus we listened to the driver chatting to one of his 'regulars'. A most entertaining time.

In Moruya, Michael was there to ferry us home, a sight for sore eyes. A mountain of mail awaits us and there are two computers that haven't been updated for three months. Jenny starts washing the content of our suitcases while I try to sort the urgent from the important and the also-ran mail. It will take some days to get through all of this.

Great Trip, Great to be Home.

Posted by greynomadm 10:34 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Darwin to Sydney

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Day 94 Saturday 18 December - “Darwin to Sydney”

It is pointless comparing the airport of our arrival with that of our departure so I won't, except to comment that it is NOT a spectacular entry to Australia. Overseas visitors would be forgiven for thinking they'd travelled back in time some 20 years. The immigration check was friendly, the young lady was from Eden and appreciated the distance we still had to travel and made us feel welcome.

The dreaded Customs and Quarantine counter loomed. In the past we've been less than comfortable confronting this check, they've inevitably found something we should have declared and we've been lectured and threatened for failing to comply. This time I'm pretty sure we'll be OK to say we have nothing to declare. There's a two way split in the queue, those who have something to declare and those who claim they don't. We're in the second queue where those ahead of us have their luggage scanned and in some instances have their bags opened and searched. For some inexplicable reason we're told to “Just go straight ahead” - no scan, no search !!

Just a little point of poetic justice. We've observed that some of our fellow travellers are not the sort of people we'd invite into our home. They are generally overweight – more so than we are, they wear singlets, shorts and thongs, are pushy and rude and talk very loudly about how many drinks they consumed last night. There was a couple, him and her, on our flight to Darwin, their carry-on luggage was more than we had in total and they picked up their check-through as well. They had claimed nothing to declare, had been scanned and were being searched. The Customs Officer holding up what appeared to be some muffins and asking them why that wasn't declared as food. Couldn't have happened to more deserving people.

Breakfast options at the airport were limited and we 'dined' on a chicken wrap, fries and a bottle of coke. At the appointed time we are asked to board our flight to Sydney, the walk to the aircraft had us thinking we were walking back there.

This JetStar plane must have been fitted out for small people, seats were narrow and leg room just barely adequate for Jenny and we all know she's somewhat vertically challenged. The seats don't recline and due to the overwhelming service provided, my tray-table was used solely as an arm rest. Not even a drink of water, fortunately we had bought two bottles of water in Darwin. Again the flight was not all that long and we stepped off in Sydney vowing to NEVER fly JetStar again.

Just outside the arrival area I was approached by a young woman who asked me where the JetStar lounge was. Being a little less than fully alert I vaguely pointed across to where we'd just arrived. She said “Thanks Dad” and it dawned on me that she was my daughter Melissa from Scone. What the hell was she doing here, how did she find us?? Kisses, hugs and lots of questions as we head off to find a place that sells coffee and a cup of hot water for Jenny.

Their story was almost as involved as ours was. They'd been in Canberra for her company's Christmas Party and decided to detour via the Sydney International Terminal because that's where we were initially meant to arrive. During the 3 months away, the flight number and destination had been changed and we hadn't been aware or had we known would not have bothered to inform anyone.

Coffee and chats completed they set off to drive home and we found the shuttle to take us to our transit hotel just down from Central Station. The Metro Sydney Central is not a flash hotel. It caters to the many Asian tour groups who need a base in Sydney. It suited us and the beds are clean and we crashed in our room. I slept after Jenny sorted out the air-conditioning. The room had been like a freezer and I couldn't stop shivering violently. Not sure it was just the temperature. Anyway, that was the last I remember of our first day back.

Posted by greynomadm 10:29 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Singapore to Darwin

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Day 93 Friday 17 December - “Singapore to Darwin”

After breakfast we pick up our bags and check out leaving our luggage at the 'bell' desk and hop on the shuttle to Orchard Rd. We travel the Metro to Raffles – that famous hotel. It is a magnificent complex and we wander around for some hours.

We made our way back to the Metro and the shuttle back to the hotel where we lounged for some hours. Jenny indulged in some serious 'people watching' and determined that the hotel was a popular place for Indian Honeymooners. She claims that the newly-wed girls were identifiable by the large number of bangles they wore on their arms.

Well before we are due at the airport we jump in a taxi and head out there anyway. JetStar very kindly let us check in the baggage even though it was almost five hours before boarding time. A quick security scan and through Immigration and we were in what could be mistaken for the biggest shopping complex. It was difficult to remember that we were actually at an airport terminal.

We processed our documentation for the Tax refund on all purchases over Sing$ 100. The special desk is there to confirm that you qualify – you must be a genuine tourist, the criteria is quite generous. You must have your boarding pass and you need to show that you have the items as described on the invoices. The claim forms are then stamped with the official rubber stamp and are then handed in to one or another of two refund agents who take a slice of your refund and credit the remainder to your credit card. You can also receive the 'refund' in Sin$ so that you can spend them at the shops.

The terminal building is enormous and throughout there are Christmas decorations and of course there are thousands of people. School is out in Singapore and there are groups of school-aged kids heading off to distant destinations. We spend the last of our Sing$ cash and donate the left-over change to the Red Cross. The flight departures board is of a scale that befits the place, there are at least 20 departures listed for the next hour and this is only one of 4 passenger terminals servicing over 50 airlines.

About an hour before boarding time our Departure Gate is open and we pass through a more thorough security scan. I had wondered why the first one was so easy!! At about the scheduled time we board the aircraft where we discover that our seats are at one of the emergency exits. This is a good thing as it provides lots of leg-room another feature is that there is no window, not sure if Jenny is completely happy with this.

The flight to Darwin is mercifully relatively short, only just short of 4:30 hours. During that time we were served one glass of water and bought an $8 blanket. The seats were uncomfortable and the service non-existent. Flying JetStar International is truly travelling cattle-class. With the time change we arrived in Darwin around 4:30 am.

Posted by greynomadm 10:24 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Singapore Chinatown

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Day 92 Thursday 16 December - “Singapore Chinatown”

Started the day with an 'interesting' breakfast from the buffet. Cereals, salads, fruit, soup, fried rice and toast and jam. There were some other dishes I couldn't identify but obviously familiar to some of the guests.

We were picked up in a shuttle bus and taken to the start of the Hop On – Hop Off (HoHo) terminal where my voucher was converted to real tickets. We raced around a fair piece of Singapore and I managed to capture some interesting blurs. We returned to the terminal and we set off again to stop 5 – Chinatown. This is where the fun for today really started.

There are literally hundreds of stalls selling everything from junk souvenirs to high end jewellery, fashion goods and photographic and electronic gear. Jenny is on the look-out for a gold ring to add to her collection. We look in one or two stores and are 'picked up' by a guy who claimed to be a real estate salesman – he just happened to be picking up some jewellery from the Myers Manufacturing Stall. So we tag along.

We're greeted like family, sit down, how can we help, what would madam like for Christmas. Jenny's a bit reluctant but after about half an hour she's starting to wilt. The lady of the establishment has forced a beer on me and chats about any topic while Jenny indicates there are one or two she likes. Wait, we have some more at our other stall. So off he goes with Jenny in tow, I'm happy to drink my beer and chat. Jenny comes back and insists that I go with her.

Down an alley or two and we're at another stall that looks like the first. Jenny and the salesman pore over some more rings. The lady of this establishment produces another beer – this is looking good. After a while we troop back to where we started with three rings to be examined. Jenny decides on one but it isn't the right size – no worries we'll make one for you and have it ready this afternoon.

The price is negotiated – easier said than done but we get a reasonable deal – I think. We're set to wander off and but are lured off to a photography stall where their slick salesman, 'Lawson', latches onto my camera and proceeds to demonstrate how a Super HD Wide-angle Adaptor will improve many aspects of my photographic range. I'll need a UV Filter to protect this new piece of glass and I really should have a screen protector for the camera. Would sir like a beer ?? In truth, sir would like a pee. No worries there's a WC along the way and up the stairs to the Yum Cha restaurant.

Back to the shop and a Tiger Premium in hand we toss some prices back and forth and it is determined that I need a polarising filter to reduce the impact of glare and reflections. How about a spare battery? I'm fine I have a total of three. What about the one for the 'compact' ? Yes one of those is getting dodgy. Throw it in for a good price. I'm starting to realise how Jenny has felt during the ring negotiations.

The deal is done and we head off to lunch, the Yum Cha place is recommended. Jenny begs off and we find a more basic outfit about 10 or so stalls along. We sit down to study the menu when suddenly, Lawson pops in, he's forgotten to record one item or another on the receipt. No idea how he found us, his explanation 'You were going to eat and you weren't at the Yum Cha'.

He attracts the attention of the 'Boss Lady' and ensures that we're given appropriate attention. We order a meal each, two spring rolls (they're the size of Chicko Rolls) and a bottle of Coke each. Excellent meal, very tasty and lots of locals which is always a good sign.

It is now only about two hours to the pick-up time for Jenny's ring so we fill in some time visiting the markets, the temple and some more retail stalls. We turn up at the Myers stall a bit early and 'How about a beer??' Why not. 'Would madam like a soft-drink ?'. Might as well. The ring will be ready soon and notices that madam wears some charms on a chain. How about a gold Buddha ?? we have a solid one or a much cheaper hollow one. No says Jenny as the master craftsman appears with her new ring, perfect fit and madam is very happy.
The salesman now turns to me, wouldn't I like to purchase a Buddha charm for madam ?? He already knows that Jenny likes the solid one, but the price is a bit steep. We haggle a bit and the 'very special' price is revealed. I'm not totally convinced so he brings in the 'owner' who knocks another 20% off – Christmas Special. What the hell, it is only money !!

We do all the paperwork, sign the credit card slips and beat it out of there to avoid a threatening downpour. We head for the Metro Station. While working out how to operate the ticket machine a smiling friendly face offers to help. Greatly appreciated although we were heading in the right direction. He explains that he's from the Myers Jewellery store. Three beers, over two hours of negotiations and at least 5 staff involved, quite an investment for a sale.

Like just about everything else in Singapore, the Metro is clean, efficient and on time. The platform is closed off with a number of sliding doors, the train pulls in and the train's doors line up with the platform doors. Both sets of doors open and the disembarking passengers step off and we step on. No shoving, polite smiles, offers of seats and good natured laughter when I decline to sit in a seat designated for pregnant women.

Second stop out we change lines and travel another two stops to get off at Orchard Rd Station. We scan the tickets to exit and take them over to the ticket machine to receive the S$ 1 refund of the deposit charged at the time of purchase. How neat is all that?

We've missed the hotel shuttle and need to fill in the best part of two hours. I wander around a bit while Jenny rests her weary feet in the foyer of a classy hotel near our pick-up point. She must have been tired, she'd normally have a real moral dilemma doing something so naughty. The shuttle gets us back to the hotel and we prepare for tomorrow's departure.

Quite a day.

Posted by greynomadm 06:10 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Barcelona to Singapore

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Day 90 Tuesday 14 December - “Barcelona to Singapore”

We got up, somewhat bleary eyed, at 3:30 am. Neither of us had been able to sleep through, worrying I guess that we wouldn't wake up in time. As promised the taxi was there right on 4 am and whisked us out to Barcelona airport Terminal 1. Swiss Air check-in was open for business and our luggage managed to stay within the 20 Kg limit.

Through the security check – again !! Getting better at these, 'practice makes perfect'. Not much open in the way of shops but Jenny manages to track down a McDonald's for some egg and bacon muffins. Healthy start to the day.

The flight to Zurich is less than 50% occupied and was generally uneventful. Jenny became somewhat exited when we flew over the French Alps and she saw the snow below. Just after that we didn't see much of anything as we flew over or through clouds. Then there was an 'Oh my gosh' from the window seat. We had broken through the clouds and were low over the Swiss landscape and it was all WHITE.

We landed with a significant amount of snow falling and the airport was lightly dusted with the stuff. We find our way to the shuttle train to take us to Terminal E. Through security and we find the general area for our departure. We had about 25 € left and Jenny set off to spend as much of it as she could. The final small change was donated to the Red Cross. With an hour or so to kill, we sat and admired the snow falling.

Our flight to Singapore was displayed on the departure board with two gate numbers. This somewhat confused me but we headed in the general direction. The two gates were on two different levels. The aircraft is an A380 and has a lower 'economy' entrance and an upper 'higher class' entrance. There don't appear to be all that many people around for such a big aircraft.

We board and are amazed at the size of this thing. Down here in economy there are 10 seats across, a set of three either side and four in the centre. We're in row 34, right over the wings which were covered with a significant layer of the white stuff. Jenny is certainly quite excited. She keeps saying 'I can't get over all this snow!'.

There are lots of 'features' on this aircraft that I can't remember, things like individual TV screen with dozens of movies, games and even educational presentations. The seats are quite comfortable which is just as well as we'll be there for 11 hours. The cabin staff are very efficient and the ladies look every bit as good as they do in the advertisement. There's ample storage in the overhead bins and in our row of 10 there are only four seats occupied. The same generally applies throughout this part of the aircraft.

Another bit of excitement for Jenny. We push off, somewhat late and line up to be 'de-iced'. Four truck mounted sprays hose down every flat surface of the aircraft to remove the snow. With a monster the size of the A380 this takes at least 10 minutes. We're almost an hour late when we finally become airborne.

Hot towels are distributed as soon as the seat-belt sign is switched off, followed by repeated servings of drinks and lunch and more drinks. We fly Eastward away from the setting sun over Austria, Hungary Romania and a long list of 'stans' including Afghanistan and Pakistan. We cross over India just South of the Himalayas and start to head more Southerly. The clock is pushed forward by seven hours. Jenny and I doze off a bit, some of our fellow passengers stretch out and actually catch some sleep.

Breakfast is served and by 6:30 we're landing in Singapore. We've flown 10,600 Km in just over 11 hours and it is almost midnight back in Barcelona, we've been 'awake' for close to 21 hours.

Day 91 Wednesday 15 December - “Singapore”

What a slick looking airport, everything clean and efficient, even the toilets are being continually cleaned. The place is vast and we clear Immigration and collect our baggage – yes it was there but looking a bit travel worn. Nothing to declare and we walk out onto the general concourse.

Changed some of our US 'green' for Singapore dollars and try to work out our best transport option. There's a shuttle bus, a train, the local bus service or taxi. We decide on a taxi and we head off to the Copthorne Orchid Hotel. We're impressed by the lush greenery and the general tidiness of the place. Many high-rise apartment buildings, but they all look clean and cared for.

We arrive at the hotel and are not surprised that there are no rooms ready. We're told it could be up to three hours before we can be accommodated. Decided to just sit around the lobby and wait as do quite a number of other travellers. One man checking in was not a bit happy and got quite heated. I don't think he did himself any favours.

He was still waiting when after less than an hour we're told that a room is ready and we find our way to room 3204 in the Plymouth Wing. King sized bed, big flat screen TV, lounge chairs, desk and Air Conditioning. We've gone from sub-zero and snow in Zurich to high humidity and temperature approaching 30. Buffet breakfast is included but no Internet. We dump our gear and crash out for about 5 hours.

The hotel provides a shuttle to Orchard Rd, we go in at 5 pm and return on the 8 pm leg. In between we wander around like a pair of country cousins gawking at the wealth of retail enticements and Christmas decorations. I'm not sure if Singapore is a particularly Christian country but they sure know how to use the season to sell !! Up to 80% off, but only 10% off this particular item.

We selected a meal each from the first Food Court we came across, meals were under Sing$ 5 each, and with drinks we feasted for under Sing$ 20 and the food was great – bonus !!

We only managed to look at some of the levels on the four corners of Orchard Rd and Paterson/Scott's Rd. There are also subway malls connecting all of them with up to three levels of basement and 6 or more levels above. This is just a regular week day and the crowds are reminiscent of Hong Kong and the bargains equally plentiful. I can see why Australian Tourists go to Singapore to shop. We haven't even hit China Town or Little India.

I've lashed out and bought 90 minutes of Internet connection but I have to go to the foyer to use it, so that's the last thing I'll do tonight.


Posted by greynomadm 05:26 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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