Apr 18

Qantas Vs Virgin Australia

While I was in Australia I had the opportunity to fly both Qantas and Virgin Australia domestically. I found both airlines to be very good, but extremely different.  When I booked my flights I paid cash for 2 on Virgin Australia and used miles for 2 on Qantas.  The reason I didn’t pay for Qantas – they cost more.  But, are they better?

The two airlines are difficult to compare because their pricing and products are surprisingly different.  For this post, I priced flights from Sydney to Brisbane on May 8, 2014.  Qantas’ Red Deal price was $145 Aus, and Virgin Australia’s Saver was $135 Aus.  I remember the price difference when I booked being wider, but flight prices are so dynamic that this is not an unreasonable sample.  So how do they fare?


Check In

I really liked Qantas’ check in experience at the airport.  It’s a totally animated system (with one or two employees around to assist) and although I hate to know that jobs are cut for this automation, Qantas made it a good experience.

The Planes and Environment

All Virgin airlines have modern planes with leather seats, mood lighting and in seat entertainment systems. Qantas had fabric seats, regular lights and no entertainment system. Qantas offered a slightly more “professional” feel, compared to Virgin Australia’s more hip feeling.

Virgin Australia

I’m fine without a TV on a short flight, I tend to read anyway.  But I do prefer leather seats.

Entertainment on Virgin Australia

I believe one of my planes on Virgin Australia was very new, it was one of the new Boeing 737′s, it’s nice to know you’re on a new plane, even if it really makes no difference.

Qantas

Qantas

Luggage

I had one free checked bag with each airline, and you would with the fake tickets I booked for this sample.

Food

I’m generally not fussed about food on a short flight, but I do enjoy a drink and a snack.  But Qantas clearly wins this category. When I flew Qantas I always had a meal, and this sample flight included a meal to. On top of that, the food was good! It was a pleasant and welcome surprise.  On virgin Australia though all I got was a drink choice of tea, water or coffee.  It was fine, but still disappointing – no soda, no juice, no crappy little bag of pretzels. It actually felt a little cheap that there was so little choice and no snack – kinda made the american airlines look generous…

My final feelings on the two airlines, I would happily fly either again.  Both provided a good experience and a safe flight.  Virgin Australia offered a nice plane and better environment, but Qantas has a more professional feeling to it and food.  With just a $10 difference, I think my choice might be dependent on a couple different factors – length of flight, if I was mid trip and wanted to avoid purchasing a meal, if I wanted to have a TV to watch (more likely on a longer flight).  Either way, neither will be a bad choice.

Apr 16

Getting in the Plughole at the Jenolan Caves

While reviewing possible activities in Sydney, I saw a tour that visited both the Blue Mountains and the Jenolan Caves. While I knew it would be better if I did both separately, I also knew that I didn’t have that much free time and so decided to do both in one tour. The good thing was that it was so cloudy that day that we couldn’t see the Blue Mountains and if my tour only did that then the day would have been a bust. But there is no fog issue in caves. But as is often the case with me, I wasn’t happy to just go to the Lucas Cave (the common cave that tourists visit). Nope, I booked The Plughole. And to add to the adventure (or my freaking out), I was the only person on my tour to do that.

I knew something was amiss when I found out how long my plughole adventure was going to take compared to the rest of my bus (1 hours vs 2 hours). Then when I joined my new group we had to sign out lives away and store our valuables in a safe. Next stop we had to suit up, in blue suits with helmets and rappelling gear. Seriously? What the heck did I get myself into. The people in the pictures in the office looked happy, they also looked like they were climbing through a cave – probably because they were.

Despite my compulsion to abandon the plughole before I even got to it, I didn’t and I was rewarded for my bravery.

The adventure really starts by abseiling into a sink hole. What the heck is abseiling? It’s the same as rappelling, you drop down a hole of off a building or whatever by rope. I had never done this and it freaked the shit out of me. I did manage to make it down, but I did bang my knee into a rock. It wasn’t bad so I figured I was ok to keep going. In the end I was fine, but it did hurt a lot the two times I had to kneel down. Tip – don’t do that!  Once inside the cave we squeezed through little holes, contorted our bodies through other holes, and in general did what you would think you would do in something called a “plughole.”   I have to give props to our guides. We only had 8 or 9 people in our group but we had 3 guides. Two of the guides were the sweetest guys and I swear they were in their 70s. I hope I can get around like that when I’m that old. Our other guide was a young woman, I liked her too but she wasn’t a 70 year old guy climbing around underground. The 3 worked well together and I felt totally safe and highly recommend it. Well, unless you’re a larger person or over 6 Feet tall – in those cases you’ll want to talk to the staff there, it is very tight in a few places, even for me who is 5 feet tall and slim.

Apr 16

Queen Victoria Market (Melbourne)

While in Melbourne, I decided to do something a little more local after seeing all of the big sights – like the Great Ocean Road and the Little Penguins – so I went to the Queen Victoria Market for breakfast. While the market does have a lot of different offerings, I thought breakfast would be a convenient time of day to go and also a time that might be more authentic.

 I initially walked around the area that offered breads, cheeses and pastries (a good place for breakfast, right?) and the food looked delicious.  In particular the pastries looked delicious, and happy too!

But, I had trouble finding something substantial for breakfast. As cute as those cookies were, I needed something more than sugar.  I moved over to the produce section where I bought myself some fruit to get me through this morning and my last morning in Melbourne.  The fruit was fresh and well, I haven’t got a clue how the prices were, but there was certainly more of a farmers market feeling here then you would get at a grocery store.

After that I went to a little coffee shop outside the produce section where the guy forgot to serve my smoothie.  But once I reminded him it was quite delicious.  I also felt like I was really eating and drinking with the locals, score!

My final stop was in a Christmas shop on the edge of the market, and well, they had a lot of creepy stuff there… Isn’t that part of the experience? It was fun to eat and walk around the Queen Victoria Market, I just wish I had a little more time there to enjoy more aspects.  I highly recommend stopping there, at least for breakfast or lunch and to browse the stalls of food.

Apr 11

Restaurant Review – Pellegrini’s (Melbourne)

I don’t do restaurant reviews very often. As much as I enjoy a good meal, I wouldn’t say I’m a foody.  But every now and then I go to a place that really catches me and makes me want to send others to.  In Melbourne it was Pellegrini’s.

I got the recommendation from a twitter friend and the restaurant seems to be labeled as an Espresso Bar, though I think greasy spoon might be a better description.  Though I guess it depends on what time of day you go there.

When I first walked by it I thought it was a greasy spoon, and decided to look at another place on my list. Well, the other place was a bit fancier then I wanted for lunch so I came back here.  Pellegrini’s was opened in the 60s, hence the greasy spoon feel and serves excellent Italian food.  The menu hangs from the ceiling and does not list prices – I would budget $20 to $25 for lunch. So, it’s not exactly cheap, but it’s good.

I’ve read some reviews that the the staff there is rude.  I did not experience that, in fact, my waiter was excellent, and made me some special drink that was absolutely delicious. I don’t know what it was but it was slushy, pink and tasty.

I was there for lunch and the place was packed with local business people. You could tell it was a local crowd who visited frequently, a good sign for any restaurant. While I was there I met a local man and had a great chat. Turns out the place is a bit famous in its own right and has hosted many a visiting politician, like Bill Clinton. Or so I’m told.

No, it’s not the best Italian food I’ve ever had, but I’ve also been to Italy and Little Italy in NYC, so I do have high standards. But good food combined with that local institution atmosphere makes this a great place to eat in Melbourne.

Apr 09

Old Melbourne Gaol

When I was in Melbourne I was conveniently staying across the street from the Old Melbourne Gaol and since I’ve visited many a jail in my day, I thought this would be interesting. Although I found the experience a bit pricey, it was a good museum.

The museum includes Melbourne’s oldest prison, the historic Magistrate’s Court and former Police City Watch House. While you can visit the prison section at your leisure, the rest of the museum is by guided tour. Tours start every hour or two and are included in the price of admission. If a tour is not starting when you arrive you can simply tour the prison until the tour starts and finish where you left off when the tour is over.

Inside the Gaol

The prison section has 3 floors of prison history. Everything from the history of woman in prison to more contemporary and famous prisoners of the Australian system. They had some very interesting stories of prisoners, those who were falsely imprisoned, to their most famous prisoner, Ned Kelly. There is also an extensive history of hangings in Australia.

Cell

I did not visit the Magistrates Court, I didn’t even realize it was an option while I was there, but it also has limited hours so it may not be available to all guests. But, I did enjoy my tour of the Watch House.

The tour of the Watch House is done by the “Sergeant” on duty. He starts out by giving us all cards explaining who we are and what we did to get put in gaol. It opened up a good conversation about the common crimes that people were brought in for. Public drunkenness was common for men and there were many ladies of the night visiting…

While there we got to experience what a proper search would have been like (minus the touching), but it was enough to remind you of how much it would have sucked to be arrested. Next we got to see the overnight cells were prisoners were kept in darkness for 8-10 hours a night. We got to experience a couple minutes of it, and it was also unpleasant. But prisoners were allowed into the yard during the day, an outside yard, that they couldn’t leave, no matter the weather. Oh, and it looked like it could hold 20-30 people comfortably, but it would hold over 100 during the weekend.

Yard

We did get to see the “rubber room” and the cell for the special prisoners, they had their own yard, conveniently next to, and only separated by a fence from the regular yard. Not that much better of an experience. At the end of the tour they had a fun little feature where you could make your own mug shot, or get a picture of yourself at the goal. It was a nice (though expensive) touch at the end of the tour.

Overnight Cells

The Old Melbourne Gaol was an interesting and informative experience. I think the experience is best for kids around 10 or older and adults who enjoy a bit of history or have an interest in jails or law enforcement.

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 07

Sydney Harbor Bridge Pylon

Last week I wrote about climbing Sydney Harbor Bridge, but I know it’s not for everyone. So this week I will write about a great alternative if you can’t do it due to time, money or fear. You can climb the bridge pylon for great views of the city and learn a lot about the bridge too.

Admission to the pylon is only $13.00, much cheaper then climbing the bridge. There are 200 steps inside the pylon and museum. There are a couple levels of museum, telling the story of building the bridge from the politics of it to the actual building of it.  You wont have to walk all 200 steps at once.

At the top there is a walkway where you can see 360 degree views of the harbor, it’s amazing and windy. It was really windy the day I was there.  The only disappointment was that it is not open at night for night views of the city, that would be amazing. If you’ve done the bridge climb and have the time, I would still recommend doing the pylon. You can learn a bit more about the bridge and take your own pictures of the harbor. It might be even better if you did it on a day with different weather so you can get a different perspective on the city.

Apr 04

Travel App – Globe Tipping

Ever been traveling in a foreign location and wondered how much to tip your waiter? Well, there’s and app for that – GlobeTipping.  For less than the price of a tip (99 cents), you can have an app that could save you embarrassment and the risk of insulting a lovely host.

Here are some screen shots of the app:img_tips_canada img_tips_japan

As you can see, the app doesn’t just tell you what the custom is, it also gives you hints of how to work a tip for better service, if you want to. Sometimes you just need a drink at the Canadian bar and then you’ll go. Other nights, you want your drinks coming quick!

So if you’re traveling to foreign lands, this is a great app to help make it easier.

Apr 02

The Melbourne Cup as a solo person

When I was planning my trip to Australia one of my Australian friends suggested that it was Melbourne Cup when I was there and to either go and embrace it, or avoid the city during that period.  I decided to embrace it and bought myself general admission tickets, since that what it seemed that people did.  I didn’t find this to be my best choice on this trip for a number of reasons.

When I was planning my trip the Melbourne Cup I couldn’t find much information about what to do once you were there, just info on the layout of Flemington, how to get there and how to bet.  What I didn’t realize is that this is really a group activity.  As in groups of Aussies picnicking in their Sunday finest and occasionally watching a horse race.  I arrived early, but by early afternoon it was crazy crowded, lines for everything were massive and there was nowhere to sit.  If I had to do it over again, I would probably skip it or at least book a ticket with a seat instead of general admission.

But there were a few things I liked.  I had fun picking an outfit and getting a fascinator for the event. Though the weather forecast kept changing and I ended up over dressed. But it was also fun watching other people so dressed up and what types of hats and fascinators they came up with.  The horses were nice too, I’m glad I found where they are in their stalls, they were beautiful horses!  And well, now I can say I’ve gone.

What would I recommend to others attending?

Arrive early, whether you have a seat, are with a group, arrive early. It’s much easier to get around and see stuff there if you’re there before noon.  If you are not in a group where you can leave someone with your stuff, then get a ticket with a seat instead of general admission, you’ll be much more comfortable.  Walk around and see the different areas, attractions and food options at the cup, there is a very wide variety.