Friday, February 27, 2009

2/22/2009 - From a Country of 4 Million to a City of 4 Million

The big day has finally come. I am up early as usual, even without my Scottish alarm clock. It takes me some time to finish the last of the packing and to cover my bike and trailer in plastic as required by the New Zealand Air regulations. It's actually not that hard to do.

Kayra and Kevin come by around 11:00AM. They have kindly agreed to drop me by the airport and to pick me up when I return. They are going to use Zod for the next three weeks while they look for a car.

Back over the massive hill to Wellington we go, then all the way through the city. I actually like Wellington as a city in the short time I have seen it. It is rugged and mountainous and required some inventive thinking or pure stubbornness or maybe a little of both to plant a city here. We end up going through two tunnels within the city to finally approach the airport. The winds are gusting like crazy today, making Zod lurch like a college student on a Friday night.

After discussing Zod's finer points and care ("Yeah, it leaks oil - here's how you put more in") I head off with my bike and trailer to the main counter.

I am going to totally plug New Zealand Air here. They made getting these oversize bags across to Melbourne into a very easy undertaking. It cost NZ$110 for the additional weight, which was less than I was expecting.

The security check was quick and easy, too. No shoe x-rays for the first time in a long time.

Grabbed some quick food before the flight, and eventually made it on board. This is really where Air New Zealand made points with me. Each seat was obviously new, clean, and had its own LCD touch screen. Every one had a full spectrum of games, movies, music, and TV shows that were all FREE. Literally hundreds of hours of programming. You could even play multiplayer games against people in other seats.

Needless to say, my techie-drawn brain was kept well amused.

Dinner came along eventually, and that, too, was top-notch. Thai chicken and salad and dessert. The cabin crew was very friendly and helpful, as well.

Overall, it was one of the most pleasant flights I have ever been on.

Alas, it ended eventually as we landed in Melbourne. The lower we got, the more apprehensive I got. All I could see was brownish grass and reddish dirt. The area around Melbourne appears pretty flat, overall. It looked like a desert. At this point, it has been only about 10 days since recent wildfires made international news, killing over 200 people in the worst national disaster Australia has ever had. They have been going through a drought, and Melbourne is in the middle of it.

I found out later that Melbourne has a lot more green than it initially looked, just so you know, and usually has a lot of green grass and other niceties in non-drought conditions. That's good, considering that my initial impressions were closer to my impressions of some of the Navajo Indian reservations back home.

Customs took very little time, and were easy to work with. They had to spray off my cycling shoes to assure no grass seeds came in to contaminate the country. This made me laugh a bit inside, considering that this was the country that introduced cane toads, indirectly leading to the world's funniest nature documentary. Look up "cane toads" in Wikipedia or Google to get a good idea of just how complicated the ecosystem is and how idiotic we are at predicting it.

I managed to find a shuttle that would drop me right at the X-Base hostel in south Melbourne. It only cost AUS$15 and they had a trailer for the bike and bike trailer. Excellent! I managed to catch the very last one of the day, assisted by a guy who was coming back from holiday but who worked for the shuttle company.

IMGP1870.JPGOn the shuttle. Those blocky mountains in the background are called "skyscrapers".

I checked into the X-Base hostel around 7:30. They are a chain of hostels catering to the "more refined" backpackers (usually the younger ones with money who want to party a lot). The only room they had left was a double by itself, but they gave it to me for a single price. They even had a spot to lock my bike and trailer up.

I'm not feeling up to scratch, stomach-wise, and so grab a bit of food at a Subway and head for bed around 10PM. I meet up with my parentals around 6PM tomorrow at the ferry terminal just before we all head to Tasmania. I think I will go downtown and explore things, maybe look for a sleeping mat that doesn't collapse under pressure like the head of a Hurricane Katrina disaster relief agency.

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