It's been a while, but I need to keep a record of my visit to the Antipodes. This is my longest trip ever (7 weeks away from home and HWMBO) and it may be my last longhaul trip (although I hope not).
I arrived in Singapore on March 9, having spent 13 hours on a BA plane in Premium Economy. It wasn't cramped, but the holstered remote control was loose. so I couldn't watch the screen as every time I shifted it turned the set off. The food was meh. Keep these facts in your mind for the moment.
I was met by my friends Choo Beng and BK, at whose place I stayed for that week while I was getting over jetlag. He even sacrificed his own bedroom for me, and slept in his TV room, which was formerly his spare bedroom. I hope to be back in April.
During that week I went out to dinner with many people. A gang dinner with the aforementioned two plus Leslie and Louie and Edwin. Dinner with Sashawoody and Sgboy01 from Twitter, Kevin my good friend for many years, Alex Au and Roy Tan, the last two gay activists in Singapore for many years. I will be seeing others when I get back on April 13.
So on Saturday Leslie and I went to Sei Ling's place to have lunch with her and her husband and adorable family. Her husband then drove me to the airport, where I was to take Qantas to Brisbane on my way to Auckland.
Now those of you who have flown Qantas in the past may be aware of this, but their Premium Economy beats BA's all to hell. The cabin attendant came by with dinner, placed a white linen napkin over the tray table, and asked, "Mr Hansen, what would you like, beef or fish?" My only response was to say, "How did you know my name?" He just smiled. The food was good, and I had no one sitting next to me, which was good.
When we got to Brisbane my first sight of Australia was limited to a very dry airport. I had to clear security again, and then waited for a regular economy flight to Auckland. Again, no one sat next to me and the flight went relatively quickly.
Getting into New Zealand is relatively difficult compared to other places I've been. They are very cautious about bringing food into the country as it could spread diseases that the local flora and fauna have never seen. After queueing for Immigration, I got my bags and then joined another long-ass queue for Customs control. They then directed me to the X-ray machines. I was already frazzled but tried not to show it. Some Aussie cricketers tried to muscle in ahead of me but I wouldn't allow it.
Then to the taxi rank, where I caught a cab into Auckland. Now, here's tip No. 1: unless you are quite tired or quite wealthy, do not take a cab into the city from Auckland Airport. It takes around 45 minutes and costs NZ$90. I only had NZ$100 on me so I gave him a NZ$5 tip and had $5 left (assume all amounts subsequent to this are NZ$).
The hotel is a 3-star but somewhat run-down at the heels. The staff are Eastern Europeans for the most part and are very nice. I got to my room and had a mini-meltdown. I lay down on the bed and passed out for a few hours, then tried to find my blood glucose meter. Tore my bags apart then found it under one of them. I thought I had left it in Singapore.
Once I awoke, I decided to go looking for a cash machine, and walked down the hill and found one. More on the hills later. The ATM spat out my card saying "Invalid card". I was horrified and terrified at the same time. Didn't know what else to do so went back to the hotel, collected my thoughts, and went downstairs for dinner. Having a foreign ATM eat your card 12,000 miles from home must be the worst nightmare of every tourist.
I didn't sleep very well. The plumbing makes a very loud whistling sound in my room when flushed from above. It sounds different at different times, perhaps depending on from which floor the flush originates. This continued at intervals all night. I don't expect that this will be fixable except by moving rooms, so I will just endure it. Later note: it's the aircon. Turning that off fixed the sounds.
This morning I had breakfast downstairs, again putting it on my tab, and asked the front desk person about ATMs. He wasn't very enlightening (for whatever reason) so I walked down the hill again and found another ATM further down which happily gave me $300. I was now a happier bunny.
I decided to walk to the Sky Tower, which is the tallest freestanding tower in the Southern Hemisphere. Went to the top, looked around and took some happy snaps, then bought two discounted T-shirts and some postcards and stamps. Will get to filling them out shortly. Bringing pages of preprinted labels was inspired.
Subway is ubiquitous in the downtown area, so I bought one just to see how it compared to a London one. It's about the same except you get a choice of cheeses and they don't offer sweetcorn as a topping option. Brought it back to the hotel and could only eat half, surprisingly. So the other half will be dinner.
After resting my feet I decided to go out and get some Diet Coke and munchies for this evening. I walked left rather than right. Auckland is built on hills, and they are steep. STEEP! I managed to walk up the hill, went to a grocery (called, confusingly, a "dairy" here) and bought the soda, some crisps, and some Oreos. Walked back down the hill and availed myself of the occasional park bench placed by the sidewalk for the travel-weary. I would note for posterity that those guys and gals who were wearing shorts or berms had the most well-developed calves I've ever seen. Must be from walking up and down those hills. Seriously, this place has hills steeper than San Francisco.
I took pics but they're on my phone and I can't connect to the Internets on it for various reasons I won't bore you with but have to do with the room charges for WiFi. So I may wait a while (perhaps until I get back to Sg) and post them in one fell swoop.
Tomorrow I shall get a 2-day ticket for the tourist bus and use it to get around the various sights. Must be fully packed Wednesday night as I shall be taking the train to Wellington Thursday morning and hope to take lots of pics from that, as it's said to be very scenic. I fly to Sydney on Palm Sunday and then to Melbourne on Easter Day.
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