Archive for November, 2017

22
Nov
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Business and Pleasure

Having arrived at the Perth airport with a few hours to kill before our flight home, we decided to hit the business class lounge and see how it stacked up against the one in Abu Dhabi. To be fair, having never set foot inside any business class lounge prior to this trip, I can hardly claim to be an authority on business class anything. Then again, if America can allow a man with no experience in government, no knowledge or respect for the constitution, and a toddler’s grasp of justice to sign legislation, set foreign policy and have access to the nuclear launch codes, it most certainly can allow this novice traveler to critique an airport lounge.

It didn’t take me or my more experienced travel companion long to declare a winner in what the folks at Hanna-Barbera would call the business class lounge-o-lympics. By many miles and nearly every possible dimension of comparison Abu Dhabi was the winner hands down. Size. Comfort. Amenities. Ambience. Cuisine. You name it. Without a doubt, the Abu Dhabi facility reigns supreme over its Aussie counterpart.

The most obvious difference was in the food, which was neither as abundant nor as varied or fresh as that in Abu Dhabi. Whereas the lounge Abu Dhabi offered an array of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian main dishes and accompaniments—plus soups, salads, pastries, fruits, vegetables, and beverages—arranged like fine fabrics or gems on stone-topped islands at each end of the room, the lounge in Perth offered just one entrée and two or three side dishes that sat in metal crocks and which were crammed (along with a couple plates of sweets that were so lacking in personality that you wondered if their signature ingredient was Zoloft) onto an 8-foot section of countertop that looked like a hand-me-down from a minimum security prison or a maximum security middle school cafeteria.

Second, whereas the décor in the business class lounge in Abu Dhabi was elegant, modern and stylish, the décor at the lounge in Perth was a sterile, dated, and stale. To put it another way, if the lounge in Abu Dhabi was a set piece from a modern-day remake of the sci-fi suspense thriller “Gattaca”, then the lounge in Perth was a set piece from the 1976 sci-fi hallucination “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” I kept expecting David Bowie to wander by and say something dramatic and cryptic.  (Yes. I know the man is dead, but I prefer to believe he’s simply gone to another realm and can come back again whenever he wants. Like, say, Inauguration Day 2021.)

Unfortunately, what the Perth lounge lacked in style, it failed to make up for in comfort. The chairs were so narrow they cut into the sides of your legs, which makes it difficult to sit for any length of time and sort of defeats the purpose of a lounge if you ask me. But what do I know. As I may have mentioned, I’m not exactly a seasoned traveler.

One area in which the Perth lounge prevailed over Abu Dhabi was the restroom. Like other aspects of the lounge itself, the restroom at Perth was fairly ho-hum. Old, plain, outdated, etc. In short, it was aesthetically unspectacular, especially compared to the restroom in Abu Dhabi, which, again, was sleek, shiny, and ultramodern. It was also huge, and featured multiple stalls, multiple basins, and real cloth towels. None of this paper towel business. It was quite wonderful—provided you don’t like privacy. Provided you’re not freaked out by the attendant who wanders up and down the row of stalls and sweeping, wiping, and/or scrubbing every square inch of marble and porcelain after each squat, flush and wash and who continues to sweep, wipe and/or scrub those same surfaces at thirty second intervals in between.

No thanks. The restroom in the lounge at Perth may not be sleek, shiny, or modern, but it is clean and, more importantly, small. As in single. Solo. Solitary. As in one sink, one toilet, one mirror. And the person who maintains that little room with one sink, one toilet, and one mirror does not stand or pace around outside the door waiting to clean up after you. Call me old fashioned but I prefer to do my business alone, thank you, and will choose the older, tired, and outdated fixtures over an audience armed with ammonia any day of the week.

Another area in which Perth excelled was in the availability of wine. (Even if you are not an oenophile yourself, you had to expect that to be a category. Unless you’re new to this column, in which case, you’d do well to check out the archive and bring yourself up to speed.) Although its food menu may have been limited and boring, the wine in Perth’s business class lounge was not only free but also abundant and accessible. As in right there out in the open, just sitting in these cool little buckets that were built right into the counter. All a body had to do was walk over, choose a glass—clean or dirty, your choice—and pour.

This was not the case in Abu Dhabi. They may have had gourmet level cuisine laying all about the place but good luck getting some wine to go with it. Because I saw not one bottle of wine near the food, nor any near the beverage bar. What I did see was a sleek, shiny ultramodern bar stocked with sleek, shiny, ultramodern bottles and staffed by a handful of crisply dressed and well-coifed attendants who moved and spoke with such intensity that I found them intimidating. We may call them bartenders where I come from, but these people didn’t seem to be tending the bar as much as guarding it.

Which prompted many questions: Why are these people so serious? Are they armed? Dangerous? If I ask for wine, will they even give it to me? And if I ask them to let me see the bottle, will they demand to know why? What if they don’t like my answer? Will they judge me? What if they’re not really bartenders but trained assassins posing as bartenders as part of some ultra-secret undercover operation? What if they realize I’ve figured it out? Will they erase me?

So having wine in Abu Dhabi was clearly way more hassle than it was worth. Score one for Perth!

Anyway, by the time I had completed my assessment—the balance of which I will spare you, a least for now—the Jarhead had already exited vacation mode and was tapping maniacally away on the buttons of his work phone. I amused myself by working my way through the equivalent of an entire bottle of shiraz. I may not have drunk that much if there had been more than one glass left in the bottle when I poured my first, but by the time I got back to my seat someone had already replaced the empty bottle with a full one, so I felt somewhat obliged to keep drinking.

And from there I basically drank my way home. Even subtracting the four-hour alcohol-free layover in Abu Dhabi, it was the longest, highest, fastest, and most expensive booze cruise of our lives, and best of all, we lived to tell the tale!

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07
Nov
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: A Walk on the Mild Side

Day Eight in Australia was intensely bittersweet. Although I missed the kids and the cats back home, I was already missing all the places we had been (yes—even the place with the bees!) and all the places we would not have a chance to see (Wave Rock, Pinnacles, to name just two) before heading back the States. So, although I was eager to get out and see things, I was also having trouble mustering the gumption to get out and do something because I knew I wouldn’t have time to do it all.

Although I knew going into this that we wouldn’t have time to see everything there was to see in Western Australia, it had now become clear that if there had been a contest to see who could log the most miles and see the most sites, the Jarhead and I would have come in dead last in both categories. Unless you count seeing the inside of your eyelids, that is. In which case the Jarhead would have won hands down.

From a sight-seeing perspective you really can’t cover much ground in just eight days—especially when you’re a chickenshit insomniac with a sleepy spouse and temperamental hair. Unless you’re talking about some small but historically significant town—which you can probably cover in under 8 hours—you’ve got to give yourself more time.

Exactly how much time?

That’s a great question. And one for which I have no answer. Because we lived in Naples (Italy, that is; not Florida) for three years and barely scratched the surface of what there was to see and do there, never mind the rest of the country. The same is true in the case of Arizona, Virginia, California, and Pennsylvania, where we lived for a few years each and found the time to explore but a fraction of what we would have like to have seen. But of course, we could travel to every one of those places two or three more times for the price it would cost us to go back to Australia, which is why I there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of us getting back that way again.

I know. Boo hoo. I only got to visit Australia once.

But I don’t want your pity. I’m just explaining why, as the trip crept to its inevitable close, I was already missing everything that I knew I would never get to see. And so, with only one day left, we had some pretty tough but incredibly familiar choices to make: Where should we go? What should we do? And more importantly, what should we eat?

With our rental car due back in less than six hours we knew we wouldn’t be going far. And since literally everyone we had spoken to about it—both prior to and during our trip—had urged us to see Kings Park and Botanical Gardens—the Jarhead suggested we go there. It was right on the way to the airport from our hotel, he reasoned, and as far as a retired marine is concerned, that’s about as close to kismet as you’re going to get.

I will now share with you some fun facts about Kings Park and Botanical Gardens, which I got from the fun folks at Experience Perth as well as a few regular facts, just for the fun of it.

Fun Fact: Kings Park is one of the largest urban parks in the world.

Regular Fact: At 1,003 acres, it surpasses New York’s Central Park, which comprises 843 acres. This compares to our home in Wisconsin, which sits on 36.8 billion acres, if you count the entire surface of the earth.

Fun Fact: Kings Park and Botanical Gardens hosts 6 million visitors every year.

Regular Fact: Assuming those 6 million people do NOT all come to the park on the same day but at a rate somewhere close to a mathematical average, that means 16,000 people visit Kings Park each day. Even if only 1 out of every 4 of them is driving a car or truck, that means that there are 4,000 motorized vehicles arriving at the park on any given day, which explains why we had so bloody much trouble finding a place to park.

Fun Fact: Kings Park showcases an outstanding collection of Western Australian flora and is a popular place for picnics, walks, and ceremonial events.

Regular Fact: Kings Park attracts an astounding volume of tourists to its outstanding collection of Western Australian flora, which makes finding a place to picnic, walk, or park nearly an impossibility. Tourists who are disappointed by this can console themselves by visiting the DNA Tower, where they’ll find a seemingly endless supply of fun scientific facts but, surprisingly, absolutely no competition for parking.

In addition to these fun facts, the fun folks at Experience Perth offer visitors to their site an impressive list of all the great things that visitors to Kings Park can do there.

  • ADMIRE the panoramic views of treetops, the city skyline and the Swan River.
  • LEARN about the diversity of WA’s flora
  • DISCOVER our rich history along the Lotterywest Federation Walkway.
  • SEE the mighty boab tree, a 750 year old specimen from the Kimberley region of WA.
  • CHILDREN will love the many play areas around Kings Park.
  • VISIT the Rio Tinto Naturescape – a place for children to connect with the environment
  • ENJOY the range of summer events and festivities
  • ENJOY a Free Guided Walk with the Kings Park Guides
  • ENJOY the flora and fauna including wildflowers and over 70 bird species
  • INDULGE in a spot of retail therapy at the Aspects of Kings Park gallery shop
  • CLIMB all 101 steps of the spiraling DNA Tower for spectacular views

As I said, it’s a pretty impressive list. However, to that list I would add the following:

  • RELAX in the comfort of your climate controlled rental car as you drive around for hours in search of a parking space.
  • PRAY that if/when you DO find a parking space that it won’t be so far from the entrance to the botanical gardens that you’ll need to change clothes when you get inside because yours have gone out of style.
  • REMEMBER to pack plenty of food, water, and sunscreen to protect you from starvation, dehydration, and third degree sunburn while making your way to the botanical gardens.
  • CONSIDER bringing a flashlight along so that you can find your way back to your vehicle since it will probably be dark by then.
  • TRY to arrive before the other 15,998 visitors get there. Before dawn would be best. Or maybe even the night before. Just definitely do NOT arrive at or after breakfast time.

With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to share a few photos from our adventures at Kings Park. Just for fun, see if you can guess how many of the 16 items from the preceding lists we were able to accomplish that day…

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For those of you playing along at home, the correct answer is 2!

Yep. After completing item #11 of the activities suggested by Experience Perth, and item #1 of the 5 that I added to the mix, we decided we could survive with just having seen the bird’s-eye view of the park from atop the DNA Tower. You only live once, as they say, and we were determined not to spend what time we had left in Perth/on Earth fighting throngs of other tourists.

So we hopped in the car, drove to the airport, dropped off our rental car, checked our bags, cleared security, and hit the business class lounge to see how it compared to the business class lounge in Abu Dhabi, and to determine how much free wine I could consume before someone other than the Jarhead decided I’d had enough.

Hey, a gal’s gotta have a goal. Some are just loftier than others.

p.s. Happy Birthday, Cousin Jeff!

 




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