alistairphillips.com

I’m : a web and mobile developer based in the Manning Valley, Australia.


The colonisation of Australia

We've made it down under but boy what a journey it turned out to be. The theory of flying is fabulous, you get on this magical bird and it whisks you away to your destination where you get out, stretch and yawn and grab your luggage and off you go. Err yeah but not quite.

Getting there

Our day started on the 28th August waking up around 07h00 to get ready, sort the last of the packing and make our way to the station. By around 08h24 we were on our way to Heathrow and exited exactly an hour later. Qantas uses Terminal 3 at Heathrow so we checked in there in zone F or G without any problems. Because we were booked on premium economy we got to skip ahead to the business counter. So bags sent off and we head through security onto the other side for a breakfast.

A bad breakfast is never any way to start the day and perhaps it was an omen as to what was to come. If you're in T3 don't waste your money at Rhubarb as they're overpriced and have tasteless food. So anyway with that out the way we waste away the time and eventually board QF32 just after 11h00 (flight departs at 12h05). A lovely aircraft indeed with Premium Economy seats being absolutely amazing. Lots of leg room, wide seats, ultra friendly cabin crew and welcoming drinks when you arrive. Perfect. Even more perfect as Andy managed to get us seated together in the two seats on the left (configuration of 2, 4, 2) and we had nobody in front of us.

Doors close and everything seems like it's going fine for take off, but then the delays started. At first they said it was a small glitch and they were looking into an issue but we should be off shortly. This went on and on till eventually we were told that some backup component was not reporting it's status correctly and they were going to get a replacement fitted. The replacement exhibited the exact same behaviour... So off they went to speak to Boeing who said that even though the pilot felt they could account for difference in readings they would not be allowed to fly. Urgh. It took three hours to get to this point and, credit to Qantas, we were kept full on snacks, chocolates and sandwiches.

"Not to worry!" we were told by the cabin crew. PA announcements advised that we would be sent on other services/airlines today and that they'd re-booked everyone. Yes, everyone has been booked onto another flight. Today. All 350 of us. "You're going to have to go via international arrivals and collect your baggage but we'll ensure staff are on hand to sort you out after that". And that was that, we all left the aircraft and made our way through baggage collection (and immigration) to find that no one really knew anything.

So we head on back to T3 Zone F departures to find an incredibly long line for Qantas check-in. It was snaking it's way out the door and looked to be about 3 hours long. After some panicking we get in line and I head off to see what information I can find out. No Qantas staff, other than those at the desks, are on duty so we can't even find out what's going on. Especially odd as according to them before we were all re-booked so just needed to collect boarding passes. Hmm no staff at business check-in either but there was someone at first.

I recognised two other people from QF32 waiting in the line and they tell me they've heard nobody was re-booked onto any service. All the people queueing in the 3 hour long queue probably won't get booked onto any service today. Which makes sense, how on earth could they find 350 seats on other airlines in less than 30 minutes?

Eventually someone comes along and says that we have to join the long queue to get booked in. They're not prepared for this mass of people all trying to get on at once. After starting to moan a bit more we (about 6 of us in total) were lead to the BA desk and told that BA did the Qantas ticketing and could re-booked us. Great, except that was we got there BA staff were at first saying that it could not be done. As soon as the BA staff changed their tune I phoned Andy to tell him to get out of the long line and come over to the BA desk. About 10 minutes later we're being seen to only to get told that the Qantas services later that day don't have space in Premium Economy but BA015 did. So we go for that and hang around as that flight departed just after 21h00 that evening.

We've now been delayed for around 10 hours but are happy that we're still going to be getting there that day. Of course instead of arriving at 19h30 in Sydney it's now going to be 05h05 the next day. Not great as we were looking forward to just being able to arrive and go to sleep. Now we'd have to stay awake for the entire day.

Boarding time arrives and what first annoyed us was that there seemed to be no staggered boarding by First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy. Just a mess of people all going up at the same time. We get on the plane and our jaws dropped... "World Traveller Plus", BA's version of Premium Economy, was terrible. There was barely any more legroom than economy and the seats were quite narrow too. It's night and day between Qantas and BA and NOT worth the extra money. But it gets worse - you're treated the same as economy. The same food, although you are served first, no snacks or drinks as you board and not to mention the fabulously unfriendly staff.

So it was a cramped journey, with horrible seats (as we were in the "4" of the 2-4-2 section), being served terrible tasteless food by unfriendly cabin crew. sigh

Arriving

We made it to Sydney in one piece, got the 25 minute train (and yes, they're double decker trains!) to Town Hall and then it was a short walk to the hotel. It's quite a lovely place and we've settled in nicely. Very hand as it has a small kitchen along with washing machine and dryer. A "mini home" with everything you need as a base station.

Scouting

Our item on the agenda after unpacking and getting cleaned up was to go and explore a bit. It was just after 08h00 so not too much was open but we managed to narrow down a shopping centre, supermarket and various coffee places. Most happy to find that these were within a 5 minute walk of the hotel. We're quite central and Sydney is a lot smaller than London which means it's easy to get around.

Banking

We'd already applied for a bank account while in London so it was just a matter of picking up the cards and going through the identity verification. Our appointment was not until 11h00 but we arrived an hour early to see if on the off chance they'd be able to see us. Not a problem at all and we got things sorted out right away. Once we'd received cards and pin codes they asked if we'd like to apply for a credit card - which was approved! Not bad for having arrived in the country 3 hours earlier :P Now it's just a matter of waiting for the debit and credit cards to arrive in a weeks time.

Communication

I'd looked at a few plans with the various providers before we left and had mostly decided on going with Vodafone. There was a Vodafone store in the shopping mall we'd found so decided to get setup there. Australia seems to be an interesting take on mobile communications. Whereas we're used to a fixed price giving you a bundle of minutes and voice they do things called "caps" here.

For example the plan I'm on, a AUD20 SIM cap, gives me AUD200 of Vodafone to Vodafone (and Three)/landline calling, 100MB of data and a further AUD150. So you end up seeing things like "Spend AUD20 and get AUD350 of included value". Any calls and SMS messages are charged but come out of your second AUD150 bundle. It's an interesting take on things and makes for some confusing times when looking at the online billing on their website.

Andy is on the AUD35 which gives unlimited VF-VF and landline calls, AUD350 of "included value" and 500MB of data. And for my 3G dongle I'm on a AUD29 plan giving 4GB of data. All of these are SIM only month-to-month plans which did require a credit check. They don't really seem to offer data bundles when on pre-paid which was all we wanted in the first place. If they do, then the sales people in the store were not very forthcoming with that information.

Mobile Internet is SO much faster here than in the the UK. T-Mobile and O2 are put to shame as their services are almost unusable compared to this. The iPhone feels like a much more useful phone with Internet at this speed.

House hunting

My days have been spent pouring over the listings on http://www.realestate.com.au/ trying to find some properties for us to view. Prices are all quoted per week (as opposed to "per calendar month" that you'd see in London) and most properties have a 15 to 20 minute open-house viewing on a Saturday. There are those that say "by appointment only" and then you can organise a specific time to view.

We've now got a bit of a dilemma of whether to live in (or very close to) the city or further out. In London it's quite easy, the rental cost in central London less your transport is still a lot more than you'd pay further out. But here city living prices work out to be almost exactly the same as living further out and including your transport. And in the place we are now Andy is only 5 minutes from the office which one could get quite used to.

So it's the debate of peace and quiet, large house and garden (but with 2 hours a day commuting) vs. noisier city but being central and saving a lot of time commuting. Only way to decide is to look at city and suburb properties and decide from there. Hopefully after some viewings this weekend we'll see.

Overall

It's sad but we're having trouble staying up past 22h00 with us feeling so drained and nodding off way before then. But things seem to be getting better with us going to bed a little later every night and not waking up at 04h00 that often. Who knows, perhaps come Friday we might stay up as last as 22h30 ;)

Things don't really feel very foreign here which is an odd feeling. Sydney has this feeling of being a mix of Cape Town, America and a small part London. You've got the wide streets and smells of America, friendly people and decent variety in things. But when going to the shops you see many British brands in the stores. But there's the odd surprise of Ms Balls Chutney and top deck chocolate!

We're not missing London much other than for the routine that we had there. It's nice when you've got a proper home with your stuff in it, know where you're going each day and can look forward to coming home after work. But other than that I think we're settling in nicely and getting the hang of things. It's going to take some time get everything sorted but I think we're used to that now.

I do feel a bit more cut-off as I'm 10 hours ahead of everyone I would chat with before. So again timezones suck!