Thursday, April 23, 2009

7388 Miles Southwest of LA. . .


Morning over the Tasman sea.. .

SATURDAY, APRIL 11: A beautiful morning outside the windows of our Qantas 747-400 . We're looking to arrive just about on time--730am local time--after being an hour late out of LAX.

Our flight out of DFW once again proved that when flying American, expect a little drama. Our flight was delayed inbound, and high winds delayed our schedued 630pm departure, so we didn't get off the ground until 9pm, giving lance and i time for a couple of strong margaritas to go with our Blue Mesa enchiladas. Probably not a great idea--with my low tolerance to booze, I was nodding off the entire packed-to-the-gills flight to Los Angeles. We arrived around 1030pm, making a tight connection--we thought--to our Qantas flight on the other side of the airport. But Qantas had a shuttle bus to whisk us to our departure gate, a tiny lobby sharing space with Air Mexican flights to Oxaca and Guadalajara.


Waiting to board in LA:an embarrassingly small room. . .


Midnight on a Friday we'll never have: our Qantas 747. . .

It's a bit of a downer to board the fancy Qantas 747 through the front of the plane. First, you pass the top-dollar section, with huge leather sleeper seats. Then, slightly smaller but no less comfy-looking seats in business class. Then, a higher-end coach section. Finally, our seats, in row 70, waaay in the back. . . we half-expected to see oars sticking through the sides of the plane as if in a slave ship. Our seats were no more roomy than on a domestic 757, but Qantas' service helped make up for any space deficiencies. The amenities were more than I was used to flying domestically:pillows, blankets, a sleep mask and toothbrush/toothpaste were provided at each seat. Each seat featured its own personal entertainment system with 8" LCD screen showing a great selection of movies, documentaries, TV shows and CD libraries. I watched Nixon/Frost, a documentary on the 1967 mysterious drowningof Australia's prime minister, and several episodes of the hilarious Aussie sitcom Kath & Kim.

I popped a Xanax and a couple asprins after dinner, and around 9 Sydney time, tried to fall asleep, a task made difficult by the tight seating space upright position and cramps in my arms brought on by lack of circulation due to the flight. Several walks around the cabin, and I gave it another go. No luck.Toss and turn. Another walk--those unoccupied business class sleeper seats looked pretty tempting to squat onto--and another Xanax. Finally fell asleep, probably around 11pm. Slept pretty good, woke up to a brilliant sunrise over the Pacific Ocean around 5:30 and a hot towel from a flight attendant,followed by a quiche and sausage with juice breakfast. I feel halfway human again, and Sydney is but 18 minutes away.We're 131 miles out, with 7300 behind our backs. Our jet cabin, so fresh and clean when we boarded in LA, now is as messy as a min-van after a road trip with 400 preschoolers.


In the steerage section of the 747: Row! Row!

PM, SATURDAY, APRIL 11: A long day, finally ended around 2300, but a fantastic first one in Sydney. Got thru customs without a hitch, we picked up our rental car, and Lance managed to get us into Sydney Central station by 0930 where we were met by Ray Pilgrim and his friend Gary Laker who were to be our guides to a couple local hobby shops and back to Ray's house that evening for a bar-b-que. First stop, the amazing Australian Railway Historical Society (NSW division) inside the impressive Central station, where it didn't take very long to pile up and equally impressive pile of books on New South Wales railroading--certainly enough to put my suitcase over the weight limits on the trip home. This place must be seen to be believed.


Central Station, Sydney.. . .

From Central (we'll be back there next week during the commuter rush), we hit the city streets, visiting first Joe Callapari's Casula Hobbies, then up to West Ryde to Tom's Hobbies (home of Trainorama). It was an enjoyable trip, enlivened by Gary reminding Lance that the windshield wiper control is NOT used to signal lane changes. Sydney is, much like, for instance, London, not traversed by a freeway, government preferring not to bulldoze entire neighborhoods for elevated freeways. As a result, it takes a while to get around town (we did traverse the loooong underground M5?) freeway tunnel, one of the city's main motorways). Lance and I certainly helped the Australian economy by spending far too much in each location. Casula, especially, is model railway heaven for someone interested in the railways of New South Wales. Joe is a true gentleman, a great guy to share a chat with, and certainly treated us right.

Enroute to Ray's place in the southern suburb of Menai, we stopped by the Sandown industrial area, one of Sydney's many small container terminals as well as a loading point for fuel trains which run out to Tamworth, Dubbo and Canberra. It being the four-day Easter weekend, no trains were running; the two Southern Shorthaul GM-class bulldogs which handle the short "trip trains" between here and the port at Botany were locked behind fences.


SSR GM's parked at Sandown.. . .

The highlight of the day was the reception given us at Ray's place, where more than a dozen friends and family members arrived for a bar-b-que on the patio. While Ray's son-in-law handled grilling duties, Ray entertained the modelers in his layout room, where we were amazed at the quality of the man's modeling skills (we'll be back next week to have an actual operating session). Ray and his wife Christina were kind enough to offer Lance and I the use of their showers, probably a good thing as after more than a day in flight, schlepping bags and riding around in automobiles we were pretty ripe.


Ray entertained us in his layout room . . .


. . .before a spectacular bar-b-que dinner on the patio.. .

Dinner was spectacular:steak and potatoes, mushrooms and tomatoes, sausages (snags) and prawns. And four different types of Australian desserts. At dinner's end, Ray and Chris presented Lance and I with an "Australian Survival Kit," a large bag containing Australian-themed items, candies, drinks, cookies and biscuits, and fresh-baked rolls. It was an incredibly thoughtful, appreciated and touching gesture on their part. Clearly, the stereotype of Australians as genuinely friendly and accepting people is true. Rarely had I ever felt so welcomed and comfortable in the home of people I'd recently met. Leaving their place for the sterile, anonymous $69 motel room in Liverpool certainly ended the evening on an anticlimactic note. But we were certainly exhausted by this point, and my head hit the pillow and I fell right to sleep. I didn't even bother to check if the water in sinks really does move in a counter-clockwise pattern in the southern hemisphere!


The embodiment of Australian hospitality: Ray and Christina Pilgrim (and their grandson Cameron)--sorry for not snappin' when your eyes were open, Chris!

No comments: