Flying to Australia, New Years Eve

My first trip ever to Australia! Deciding to go “down under” was rather last minute, for me. I flew one way on New years Eve on a relatively cheap $724 (with tax and fees) ticket on United that I found using  Google’s Flight search engine ). Travel hints: 1) it’s cheaper to fly on major holidays when other people don’t want to; 2) try using goggle’s search engine. I find it is among the best for finding the cheapest flights available as priced directly from the airlines themselves — so while not always THE cheapest flight out there, it provides bookings that are a LOT less likely to get you bumped, or to discover upon showing up at the airport that the airline knows nothing about your reservation. And, 3) while Americans can stay in Australia for 3 months without going to the consulate to get a visa the old fashioned way, you still NEED TO GET AN ELECTRONIC VISA! They won’t let you on your flight without it, and it’s much more expensive to get it at the last minute (and can take up to 20 minutes, even in that case). And remember to PEE before landing… just saying.

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[Breaking with tradition, I’m writing this from Korea (as per usual) I never got around to writing it on shortly after arrival… and I’m really looking at this in retrospect I’m posting it with a date that is three months after the fact.]

My friend (the one who had expressed interest in our becoming travel buddies) had gone home to Sydney for a few months over Xmas; while I, at this time, was doing my THIRD extended trip in a row at Disney World. Between 2015 and 2018 I’d spend 18 MONTHS in the Orlando area, doing little else than go to Disney, either daily or weekly …. depending on my mood, health and the weather. All in all, I was kind of Disney’d out (or at least Orlando’d out).

“HOW can that BE?!” you ask… (somewhat facetiously, I assume)

Well, it was mid November, right after the thanksgiving school holiday, and I was once again at Disney World, using up the remainder of the on- year-pass I had purchased in December 2016 (at the time they were offering a deal of 13 months for the price of 12) out of a sense of Jewish guilt (in this particular case, based on the laws of economy taught to me in my childhood, i.e., never wast a dollar), because the pass wasn’t due to expire till late January.  I knew I was bored with it before I had even arrived, but I was saying to myself, “this will be my visit for 2018, one month and then I’ll do something else,” not yet having ANY idea of what that something else might be.

Warning: slightly depressing side bar [Initially the plan had been to then go to New Orleans and spend a few months there; but my beloved friend (in fact the guy I lost my virginity to) who I was going to see while there (he was single, I was single… neither of us had been involved with anyone for a while and we’d maintained our friendship for 30 years, so…), had up and died on me. He had dropped dead in early June while at work… IN A HOSPITAL of all places; he was a doctor, had sat down on a bench (suddenly not feeling well), and died, sitting up. Apparently he hadn’t even collapsed to the ground when they’d found him. Luckily for me, we had spoken only days before he died, talking in part about my plans to go to NOLA the following winter, and talking about me finding an Airbnb in his neighborhood, at least initially. I’d been driving towards Montreal, and the cellphone connection kept dropping while in New York State’s mountains, so we agreed I should call him back once I was settled in (so my last memories of him were recent, and very positive). The day I called him back, I loaded up my computer where Facebook is my default web page, and at the very top was a posting on his wall saying “RIP Peter” with the details of his death. So, while it was now about six months later, I still couldn’t bare the thought of going to New Orleans without him being there… which left me rather adrift.]

So here I was, back in my safe zone, Disney World (a place I now knew like the back of my hand), NOT what I had wanted for myself for this year, and simultaneously being seriously annoyed by the fact that while only a few years previously I could trust that between thanksgiving and Xmas the parks would be half empty, so that I could just jump on rides like the Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion ride with only a 10 minute wait, those days were now GONE. The citizen of Brazil (who had yearly been discovering the joys of a Disney vacation in increasing numbers as their economy became robust enough to allow them to afford to travel) were now there en masse, or at leasts that’s the way it felt, and as their “summer” vacation months encompassed the whole of our Winter months the lull in attendance between American School Holiday was now a thing of the past. As a result, most of my favorite rides (the low key, non roller coaster ones) were no longer rideable unless I were willing to stand in line for 20 minutes, which I was not… and a bit of the joy had gone out of the Happiest Place on Earth for me. (Disney REALLY needs to think about opening up a South American location.)

So I realized that I was not only getting a bit bored of Disney World, but that I felt like I was stuck in something of a semi depressed rut. I was doing things I no longer enjoyed because they were safe and known (never a good thing). So, I decided it was time to make a change.

I fairly spontaneously (for me) decided to, first: check if my friend in Australia was amenable to my suddenly showing up (he was), and then I canceled my reservations with Airbnb for January (ladies and gentleman, here’s an Airbnb user tip… NEVER book an airbnb that has a strict cancellation policy — flexible and moderate are your friends) and I decided to book a ticket to Australia for mid-January (again, Jewish guilt about not wasting the Disney ticket). …

HOWEVER, I discovered (using googles flight search engine) that if I flew on New Years Eve rather than mid January as originally intended, I would save about $400 (Jewish guilt issues resolved!) … explained this to my Australian friend, who a bit less enthusiastically (just being honest here) agreed that it was only reasonable that I should fly in earlier than initially planned (although he started hinting I should explore other parts of Australia without him — hence my trip to Katoomba)… so with the agreement of my friends in Georgia (where I needed to stay for about a week or so in order to reorganize my suitcase, and store what I wasn’t taking) and the ones in Orlando (who would be baby sitting my car) … I was off

[Just a bit ironically, I was initially intending to go Australia, then Shanghai (to see friends and the new Disney park), then Tokyo with my best Korean friend (where I’d again go to Disney)… then home — but I wasn’t booking the return flights till I solidified things with them. And then, before even taking off a distant female friend, so much so that FB wasn’t bothering to show her my posts, who it turned out is working in Shanghai and was intending to go to Australia for travel, was told by a closer mutual friend that I was going to be in Australia TOO and we should hook up. For a while we tried to organize our dates but she was unwilling to commit to anything in advance (in effect because there were other people she wanted to travel with more who weren’t getting back to her) and I’m unwilling to be left hanging on the beck and call of someone who can’t make up her mind because she dangle’s person on hold while hoping for “something better” because she’s too afraid to just travel alone …. so that didn’t happen, and she’s now on the “don’t even think about” list of travel partners.]

So, as you probably could guess from the tips I listed at the start of this… guess who forgot to sign up for her electronic visa? So ya, that was a glitch— but since I always like getting to the airport super early (more than two hours before the flight) I was, with the help of United’s staff, able to do it from my iPhone — and the visa came through in about 15 min after we figured out how to sign up for it — thank the powers that be for smart phones and web pages that work as intended.

Once I was checked in, I discovered that Orlando airport now has this place is near gates 30-50. It newish (I verified that wasn’t there the last time I passed through) — they have Cuban coffee as well as American — I had one called Cuban roast which was very good… it had chocolate undertones you could actually taste … They also have very tasty and BIG cubano sandwiches ready at almost an instant (which is great if your running for a plane). I ate 1/2 at the restaurant and saved half for shortly before takeoff (I remember that on the TV news once they said that medical studies have found that having freshly swallowed food in your belly at takeoff can decrease the risk of strokes during, but haven’t been able to find a link to add here).

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When I got to SF I hadn’t remembered to make a bathroom run before landing, and I ended up NOT quite making to the bathroom after disembarking…  in SF!!! Right when we were starting to land, but not allowed to get up, I realized to late that I really REALLY needed to go… and by the time we unloaded my sphincter, upon just seeing the bathroom sign a few feet away, couldn’t do the job anymore… fech!!

That said, I was very amused to discover that United had me set to depart one gate away from the gate I arrived at!!! Totally saved me from the not quite enough time to make the transfer worries, so I grabbed some Japanese food from the directly adjacent eatery. Upon loading the stewardess’s were wearing these crowns… I asked if we were all going to get one, and she gave me hers…

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And, I was SUPER thrilled to discover I alone in my row, so that I actually managed to get some sleep on the way from SF to Australia.

While flying somewhere between Port Vila and Brisbane

I met and got friendly with a former Harlem globetrotter by the name of Tracy Williams who is 6’7″ so he was having to stoop a bit to make the photo happen.

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…we did the photo and he gave me a signed-photo that says, “To Rebecca, Happy New Year, 2018”

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… he was really hungry and they had no food so I gave him my pack of bison jerky and other high protein/low carb snacks I brought with me was but not hungry enough to eat — and all of it was verboten to bring it into Australia anyway so better it shouldn’t go to waste… I was doubly glad I’d given him the food when some very cute dogs sniffed me all over before allowing me to enter the airport. Australia is the fist country I’ve been to where they large numbers of sniffing dogs on staff and EVERY SINGLE PERSON and their bags gets a full sniff-over before being allowed to enter.

My friend picked me up at the apart and we went to a cafe near where we were going to be staying, and I had Israeli food (Sydney is FULL of Israeli restaurants — who knew?) … not the best shakshuka I’ve ever had, but no bad.

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