Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sydney 2016

As part of our annual quest for at least 50,000 PQM on United Airlines, we planned a trip to Sydney Australia this year. We originally scheduled it in April, but cancelled that trip due to some health concerns. The airline allowed us credit on our airfare, and the Shangri-La in Sydney also allowed us credit for our pre-paid reservation there. We ended up using the airfare credit for a trip to New Zealand which is coming up soon, and scheduled a new trip to Sydney in September, so here we are.


We left home Saturday and arrived in San Francisco for a stopover before our Sunday night flight to Sydney.  Thanks to the valuable discount provided by Jennifer and Paul, we stayed at the San Francisco Waterfront Marriott which is one of our favorite hotels. We had a newly remodeled room on a high floor with a bay view. We enjoyed dinner and drinks in the lobby restaurant and bar where the bartender makes an excellent Caipirinha. An unexpected bonus was that the hotel's proximity to the bay meant there were a plethora of water type Pokémon hanging out there. I caught at least 50 Magikarp. That puts me halfway to evolving a Gyarados! :)


The breakfast buffet was pretty good. We were allowed a 4pm late checkout from the hotel so we could relax in comfort before heading to the airport for the 14 hour flight to Sydney. The San Francisco weather was unseasonably warm so after checkout we sat in the outdoor lounge area for a while and watched planes land and take off. About 5pm we boarded the shuttle to the airport and checked in for our 11pm flight. We had dinner from Klein's Deli in the E concourse, then went to the United Club in the International terminal to hang out until boarding time.

Our seats for the flight were in the bulkhead row 16 on a 787 which has lots of leg room. We initially booked them with an empty seat between us in hope of having some extra room to spread out during the flight, but the middle seat ended up being assigned so Janet gave up her aisle to the lucky standby passenger and took the middle next to me. We have the same seats on the return trip so if we lose the space again I'll take a turn in the middle.

The flight to Sydney is grueling. You eat dinner, then watch a movie, then try to sleep a while, then watch another movie, sleep a little more, etc. It seems to take forever but eventually you arrive and are thankful to get off the plane.


Passport control at SYD is new since our last visit. Now they have kiosks that read your passport and present you with some entry questions. The kiosk gives you a ticket and you advance to an automated gate with a camera. You put your kiosk ticket in the slot by the gate, it takes your picture, and if all is well the gate opens and you are allowed in to the baggage claim area. Once you have your bags you choose between the "Nothing to Declare" or "Declare" exits. Australia is fussy about what foods you bring in and since we had some packaged nuts and granola bars we chose the Declare path rather than risk the trouble of being stopped without declaring it. The lines for declaring were disorganized and slow but we eventually made it through.

We decided not to rent a car for this trip and instead booked an airport transfer from the hotel. We were met in the arrival hall by the driver who guided us to the car and drove us to the hotel. It was nice to not worry about dealing with the morning traffic and finding the hotel. We have a Horizon Club room at the Shangri-La and they are very good about allowing early check in for guests arriving on early morning overseas flights. We had breakfast in the Horizon lounge while they finished readying our room and shortly after breakfast we were allowed access.

It's tempting to crash on the bed as soon as you arrive but in our experience it's best to stay awake as long as possible the day you arrive to adjust yourself to the time change. We stayed up and took a walk around Circular Quay and to the Opera House shopping concourse where we picked up a couple of souvenirs. On the way back we walked through the Rocks area and finally back to the hotel. At 6pm we headed to the Horizon club for drinks and canapés which served as our dinner. We were back in our room by 7:30 and finally allowed ourselves to crash.


We woke up early and had breakfast in the Horizon club, then relaxed in the room most of the morning. We had been undecided about which day to go to wine country and since Wednesday's weather was looking the best compared to the rest of the week, we made a late decision to go today. We took a taxi to the downtown Sydney Hertz location only to find they had no cars available. The nearby Budget and Thrifty locations had the same result. We did finally get a car from a company called 'No Birds'.  I have no idea where the name comes from. We had no in car GPS, but with Google's offline maps feature and Janet's excellent guidance we were able to make our way out of Sydney and to the Hunter Valley.

Our first stop was Ernest Hill Winery, where we have gone on most if not every previous trip to Sydney. They have a couple of wines that have become our favorite, and we usually try a few from their tasting menu. After buying some wine to carry home we drove around wine country a bit in search of somewhere to grab a late lunch, finally stopping at The Goldfish.

After eating we started on the 2 hour drive back to Sydney. It was late in the day and dark by the time we got back to town, but again Janet guided me flawlessly to the hotel. We arrived back in time for evening drinks in the lounge.


We woke up a little later today and again relaxed in the room for a while after breakfast. We needed to return the rental car by 1pm so we left the hotel around 11:30. It was a little tricky finding a gas station to fill up at, and some construction detours on George Street made it even trickier. We did get the car gassed up and returned on time. Our plan for the afternoon was to have a late lunch at Doyle's restaurant in Watson's Bay. We walked the 2.1 km from No Birds to Circular Quay where we arrived just in time to get on the 1:40 pm ferry which got us to Watson's Bay just in time for our 2 pm lunch reservation. Doyle's is famous for their fish & chips prepared from your choice of several fresh caught varieties of fish. We both had that and shared a nice bottle of South Australian riesling.

We caught the 3:45 ferry back to Sydney and leisurely completed the uphill walk back to the hotel, stopping in a few shops along the way. We arrived back with plenty of time to freshen up for evening drinks and snacks.


Today we slept in the latest we have all week. We are just about on Australian time now.  Too bad we go back to Chicago tomorrow.  Today was windy and cool. We went out for a walk in The Rocks and needed a light jacket. We shopped a little bit and then stopped for lunch at the Munich Brauhaus, a Bavarian beer garden style restaurant not far from the hotel. There was a live band dressed in lederhosen but the music was contemporary. I had a roast pork sandwich and Janet had some fish & chips that couldn't compare to yesterday's at Doyle's. We both had steins of beer. Overall it was a nice experience. We got back to the hotel in time to catch the end of tea time in the lounge, and then stayed there until the evening drink service began. Tonight we have to pack and tomorrow we leave for the airport at 8 AM. We'll be back in Chicago Saturday.


We got up early to do some final packing and go to breakfast when it opened at 6:30. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and used the hotel's car service to return to Sydney airport with plenty of time before our 10:30 flight home. I'd like to say that the travel home was uneventful, but we experienced a 2 hour delay leaving Sydney due to an aircraft mechanical issue. The flight itself was typical (long and exhausting) once we did take off. We had our bags checked through all the way to Chicago, and while we knew we would have to claim them in San Francisco before clearing customs, we expected we could re-check them and go to the gate for our connection without leaving the airside of the airport. But SFO's baggage re-check facility was not functioning and we had to go to the check in counter outside of security to re-check our luggage and then go through security again. Fortunately we allowed enough time between our scheduled arrival and our connection to Chicago, so we made it home pretty much on time.

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