Last week was pretty eventful for me. I made my third trip to Melbourne on Tuesday, and then flew to Perth on Wednesday. Air travel here is completely different from US air travel. For example, I arrived at the Melbourne airport at 4:18 on Tuesday and was in my seat on the plane by 4:30! So many people do day trips that you can check in for both the departing and returning flights simultaneously. Then you just whiz through security (with your shoes on) and onto the flight. No one arrives early at the airport. Alarmingly, no one has ever checked any of my identification. I check in at an automated kiosk, and they don't ask to see anything at security or at the gate. They do, however, check your boarding pass as you are entering the tunnel to the plane and then again as you get on the plane to give you directions to your seat, as if you may have gotten misdirected somewhere in the tunnel or as if you couldn't figure out that 22B is probably behind row 21 and between 22A and 22C. I guess there is some room for error as they generally board from both the front and rear of the plane, and those boarding from the rear have to walk out on the tarmac and up some stairs to reach the airplane. Australians are already used to what the future state of travel in the US is -- all in-flight entertainment or refreshment requires a swipe of the credit card, and most fares do not include luggage since business travel is almost never overnight (unless you are going to Perth, a 5-hour flight away).
Perth is a lovely city. It reminded me a lot of Pensacola. The CBD is really small and overlooks some kind of inlet. The main sight to see is the new belltower housing the Swan Bells, which we heard was quite contentious given that many residents felt the $15 million should have been spent on roads, transit, schools, etc. (http://www.totaltravel.com.au/travel/wa/pertharea/perth/attractions/amusement/perth-bell-tower). As transportation costs rise, it is becoming less profitable to export the output from the mines that are the main reason Perth exists. That may be why the cost of the belltower was so hotly debated. The pace is much slower in Perth than in Sydney, perhaps even slower now that their economy is sagging. The beach is about a 30-min drive away in Freemantle. Kate and I tried to get there by taxi for dinner on Thursday, but clearly we got out of the cab too soon and could still only see inland waterways. We had an amazing seafood feast, though, and talked to some people from Michigan who are returning this week to snow. Ha.
Kate and I had to get up at 4:20 am on Friday morning to make our return flight from Perth. I got stuck in the elevator of our dodgy hotel at 4:35 am but took a moment to realise my predicament due to the sleep in my eyes. I had to call Kate on my mobile to ask her to please let me out. The man at the front desk was unconcerned that had I been traveling alone, I might yet be in the elevator.
The hotel was not somewhere anyone from PreVisor in the US ever would have been asked to stay. I was afraid to walk on the carpet without shoes on, my lamp didn't have a light bulb and the overhead light was too dim to read by, and the couch actually collapsed when I tried to sit on it. While I love Australia, the slight dinginess of things wears on me sometimes. Eric and I were watching television the other night, and one of the characters walked into a big, bright, beautiful American grocery store. I felt such a craving just to wander up and down slick linoleum aisles with a cart whose wheels actually rolled. All four wheels on the shopping carts here spin freely, making steering a real challenge. The tape we bought to wrap Christmas presents barely works, our sheets shed blue fuzz over the entire house, the can opener we bought doesn't open cans; I really could go on and on. It doesn't help that the sub-standard goods we buy cost more than the quality goods we could get in the US. Anyway, enough wingeing.
We arrived back in Sydney at noon and sped to the PreVisor Christmas party aboard the Penguin. It was a nice afternoon of BBQ and drinks out on Sydney harbour, followed by more drinks at a nice bar in The Rocks, the original area where Sydney was settled, right next to Circular Quay, where we work and where the Opera House is. Like any Christmas party, some people got too drunk to stand and amused the rest of us by saying and doing inappropriate things. You will note that it is referred to as a Christmas party here, while it is referred to as the holiday party in the US. Australians aren't too concerned with being politically correct. It was Eric's birthday, so our few friends who are not associated with my work stopped by, and then Eric and I split off to go see his Austrian friend who is visiting from the US at another bar up the road.
Saturday we went sailing (of course; one of us was painfully hungover), and Sunday we met up with some friends for surfing in the morning, cleaned up our little yard in the afternoon, and then went skateboarding in Sydney Park in the evening. As we were making our way home from the park, switching off who got to use the skateboard, Eric noticed a posting for patio furniture on the gate of a house. We got a nice faux-wrought iron patio set for $50! Trust me, that's the bargain of the century in a country where a soda costs $3. Now if it will just stop raining, we can eat in our back garden.