Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Alice visits Sydney

The last time she flew, she didn't get to see much, so Alice has the fresh eyes of a first-time airline passenger. She'll be guest posting today, and I'll just make a few editorial comments along the way.

Well! The morning starts with everyone gathering and making sure they have all they need. My equipment's already safely stowed, so there's not a lot for me to do here, but if Chris needs help, I'm here.

A quick car trip (sisters are wonderful things; a day doesn't go by when I don't miss mine) gets us to the railway station with time to spare. A train pulls in, so we make haste and grab it. That buys us a few extra minutes' leeway, never a bad thing. We arrive at Southern Crustacean, disembark, and make our way toward Skybus. On the way, we spot a sign alerting us to coach services replacing the Melbourne->Sydney trains. Good thing we weren't going by train!

The Skybus ends up being as full as the Carpenter's theatre - even a few standing, which probably isn't meant to happen. It's an efficient service and gets us nicely to the airport in excellent time. We casually stroll around to the check-in, skip the queues and talk to the machine, and get our (shared) boarding pass. Through security next - I go through with Traal - and then to the gate. Melbourne Airport provides what Chris calls a "two rope", so he's happy. (That would be a TWROAPP, and while it's possible to grab any power point that isn't occupied, it's nice when they're formally provided. -- Chris) We're sitting fairly close to the front of Economy, so we expect to be waiting a good while before boarding; but they're using two doors, and somehow that gets everyone loaded up inside five minutes! (It's pretty much what Mythbusters tested as the "everyone all at once, assigned seating" plan, but the second door probably makes about a 4:1 difference in time.)

Pushback is 7:26, and I think there's something here that I don't understand, because there was a chap outside who seemed to have our plane on a leash. What would he do if it tried to run away? Chase after it yelling "Bad Seven Three Seven"? He dropped us off the leash at 7:30 and we started rolling around on our own. Six minutes later, we begin the optional part of flying: the take-off. (More on that later, though.)

The camera we're using has flattish batteries, and the weather's not great for photos anyway, so we don't take many. But I did like the sight of being above the clouds... come December I'll be doing that in a much smaller aeroplane, should be good fun! Traal comes out and tries to do something fancy, but there are problems that I don't understand, so I'll let Chris explain that. (As you wish. Turns out the in-flight wifi doesn't allow any sort of internet connection, so I don't get a trophy IP. Also, I had to install Silverlight to use anything... which I understood once I saw what they had to offer. Basically, it's the same as you'd expect to see on any other in-flight entertainment, but it makes use of the devices that people probably have already anyway. Huge advantage: I can pan and zoom the map at will. It'd be nice if it could be written in something open, though - or at least Flash, everyone has Flash - Silverlight is a pain. And you can't install it on board, you have to get it before take-off. I suppose there's a Microsoft licensing restriction that stops them from having the Silverlight installer on board the plane. But hey. Being able to explore the map is worth some teething troubles. Back to you now! -- Chris)

As we approach Sydney, the weather looks pretty Wonderlandian. It's sunny, fairly pleasant - and windy. The captain decides not to land, as it's so much smoother up here in the air. But then someone reminded him that while takeoffs are optional, landings are mandatory, and he sighed heavily, walked around the block once, and then came in for another try at the landing. I'm paraphrasing a bit, but that's how it happened. (Well... more or less. -- Chris) We get off once we're on the ground, walk into the terminal, and are greeted by the Sydney version of that "two rope" thing. Like the Melburnian variety, these don't have seats anywhere near them, but since seating was never a requirement, we stay here for a while and do some... stuff. I just look around, Chris and Traal hang out together. And then we move on, as there's a rather important appointment for us!

I love Wonderland. You don't need money for anything. But the real world is not so wonderful, as Nan would remind me, and it seems the $32.80 fare for a return trip to the main part of Sydney (comparable to the Skybus fare at the other end) is giving us the run-around. Not enough cash on hand. Not enough funds on the credit card, need to move some from another account. That needs an internet connection. No signal down here. Upstairs, get connected, downstairs again. Now the machine doesn't want to take the card. Back through the ophidian queueing system - why they can't shorten it when there's almost nobody in queue, I don't know. Back to the counter, and the card machine works. Yay! This is nothing like when the Mock Turtle was in charge of the Looking-Glass Line.

So we get on board the train, and float along to Town Hall Station. We're riding on the lower deck, and the platform is at our eye level. I'm sure it's easier for the regular travellers, but from the sound of the announcements ("change here for..." at every stop), this is a complicated rail system. All we do is ride it till we get to our station, then disembark. And then walk - it's a bit of a hike, as city travel goes, though nothing compared to a trek through my native terrain. (It'll be interesting when I start walking through other people's minds. Who knows what I'll find!) We arrive at Google's offices nearly an hour before the interviews begin, having been asked to arrive fifteen minutes ahead, so we settle down to watch the passage of persons and time. There's a pretty bird here who's apparently on loan from Maps (does that make sense to you?), and the receptionist was happy for me to be photographed on the Google logo - lovely people here!

The interviews went... well, actually, I've no idea. I've never been interviewed for this sort of position, and everyone seemed to use all sorts of words that I don't think were good English. And they told jokes that straight up weren't funny, I'm sure of that! (She asked me to explain a couple of them on the way home. I think we both wished we hadn't, although she was very courteous about it. -- Chris) But the conversations were pretty full-on, which I guess is a good thing, and I just sat there looking stern (in case anyone looked my direction).

A bit past three o'clock and the flight leaves at a quarter to six. That sounds like a long time, but it's best to arrive at the airport an hour before, and we have a long walk and then a train trip before that, so it's not worth the risk of hanging around or anything. We grab ourselves a train in a place that looks like Hatter Industries at its most Marchmousiest... I think there were six platforms? Maybe more? And each platform served multiple purposes. But we did get onto the right train, and hence to the airport in good time.

We have half an hour to spend before the flight begins boarding, so of course we look for the Two Rope. Chris says something about this not technically being one, but we can sit down, so that's good. (And Traal doesn't need a table, so I'm not bothered that this is really a Seat Within Reach etc etc. -- Chris) It's unofficial, so I guess the others were Virgin services rather than airport services, but it works. I collect my thoughts and think them over... what a day this has been! I ask Chris a bunch of "Why do people..." questions about what we've seen today, and he doesn't have any answers either. This world really is the strange one; Wonderland makes far more sense. Granted, my style of flying - open parachute, float over steam vent, jump and twirl and spin - is a lot slower than this form. But I don't have to empty out my pockets, walk through a barrier, go back through and remove more metal from pockets (they insist that he remove his belt in public, I'm quite sure that's improper!), then gather everything up and put it all back in the pockets. It can apparently get much worse; on international flights, you're not even allowed to take a bottle of water through, unless it's a tiny one. Is that really a safety requirement? How is it safe to carry bottled water within the country, but not if you're going overseas? Also: If we're all supposed to arrive an hour in advance, why are there so many repeated calls for people who haven't shown up? Best I can think of is that people buy the ridiculously overpriced airport food, and want to get their money's worth, even if it means delaying the flight - or missing it. Ah well. We may never understand airline travellers, but it passes the time.

The gloom's pulling in, so we won't be taking many photos of Melbourne on arrival... pity, that. We have fresh batteries for the camera, it would have been so easy. Ah well.

For the first time in... well, forever, literally, Traal's been asked to go into the overhead locker. (Or, I've been asked to stow him. Sadly, airlines aren't quite up to speed on the whole addressing of computers thing.) It's not safe to put him on the floor (we agree), and apparently he's too heavy for the pocket in front. (And they won't allow a laptop to ride on a lap. Nooo, that makes too much sense.) What next, will I have to hide up there??

There's not much in good music on the in-flight entertainment, but they have the Frozen sound track... that'll do nicely. The outside air temperature is minus fifty degrees, so it seems appropriate. (Also - sisters!) That lasts us the whole trip - all the way as far as descent into Melbourne. After that it's all pretty straight-forward - Skybus to the Shellfish, then a train most of the way home, and finally a bus. A mostly uneventful trip home, which is a relaxing change from the rest of the day.

Home. No place like it!

Thanks, Alice! I agree. No place like home.

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