Pisa

The plan today had been to visit the Florence Duomo – cathedral – early on to beat the crowds, but as we were a little late getting out the door we instead took a train ride to a town you may have heard of, Pisa. The station to the tower was a relatively straightforward walk, but 2km in the heat was hard work.

When it finally came into view, I could immediately see why they said it leans, very visible, and even more so inside as you’re walking up the few hundred steps to the top, which at times seems to be a very steep incline, and others like you could be going down. The view from the top was stunning, and I fired off quite a few shots.

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On that note, so far this holiday we’ve used iPhone’s and only one lens on my camera, the fisheye. There is a reason for this, as I quickly tried my next lens up while at the tower, an order of 5 longer, and found it too hard to get the whole tower in frame. Similarly for any other composition I would imagine. Santorini may be different.

The train back to Florence was quicker than going to Pisa, as it didn’t stop, and was air-conditioned, so made for a good journey back.

Australia to Europe

I started my journey to Europe on Wednesday the 11th June, and although I got there on the 12th, I spent the next 24 hours travelling to the first actual pit stop, Florence.

Dee-Anne saw me off, driving me to the airport and then herself home. I didn’t get an upgrade, but the seat next to me was blocked and I had the First class lounge to look forward to in Sydney. The food there was well worth the 14 hours in economy I was to suffer on the way to Dubai. I think I nearly had an upgrade at the gate, but after some typing into the computer, there was no seat change for me.

First lounge delights

I ended up having 3 starters, the buffalo mozzarella with roasted red capsicum, grilled sesame tuna with red cabbage & salmon tartare. As none of the mains really interested me, I finished with the chocolate croissant bread and butter pudding, which was to die for! Along with some Champagne and a massage, I was well prepared for economy.

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The flight turned out to be fairly easy to survive, with another frequent flyer onboard, and a combination of sleep/talking to the FA’s a productive way to pass the time.

Emirates impresses

At Dubai I had another massage, and another impressive dinner, octopus carpaccio, saffron cashew chicken & umm ali (a traditional Egyptian dessert, about as local as I could find – that was amazing). Only downside was the top Champagne offered was simply Moët.

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At the gate for the final flight to the UK my boarding pass beeped though, providing some respite in the final 7 hours being in the comfort of business class. Having only travelled economy on the A380 in the past and other than on an A330 to Perth trying a skybed in the day, I’d never really had the experience of sleeping in one. Unfortunately, not a lot that’s positive, other than it being lie-flat… I found it very exposed to the aisle, very little privacy. Still, better than economy.

With the flight on time, I met mum at arrivals in Heathrow, she having arrived on an earlier flight from Hong Kong. The Tube to St Pancras took an hour… but once there we had a bite to eat, and even some Champagne, while waiting for our Eurostar connection to Paris.

In Paris, we had to change stations in just over an hour, and with the traffic it was a tight connection, but we made it from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon, and onto the Thello overnight sleeper to Milan, which now we’ve experienced a 4-berth, would be happy to avoid doing again! Cramped and awkward would sum it up.

Cramped 4-berth
Cramped 4-berth

Luckily the train from Milan to Florence was much nicer, higher speed (we reached 292 km/h) and we didn’t have to sit next to strangers. It did mean we arrived well before our checkin time though (to the apartment), but that’s another story.

Travels in 2013

With 2013 coming to a close, I thought it appropriate to provide a snapshot of my travels this year, and a review.  It certainly was a big year, stretching the East Coast from the top, right down to the bottom.

From Thursday Island to Hobart
From Thursday Island to Hobart

I’ve had a few enjoyable trips this year, so it’s hard to pick just one highlight.  New destination for the year goes to HID (Horn Island/Thursday Island), right at the top of Queensland.  It’s a completely different world up there, and I really enjoyed seeing that.

Attending the QFM 25th anniversary dinner in LRE (Longreach) was also a great experience, giving me a chance to network and meet some influential people at the museum, all of them really friendly.

At the end of the year, my last trip to Sydney for a train trip to Canberra on two private carriages was something one of a kind.

Next year, I expect my travels to drops off as I enter university and take on that workload.  Having now seen the regional destinations of QLD on QantasLink, my focus would be to see regional ports in NSW, VIC and SA, however they’re not high on my list, as I just want to relax and focus on studies.  I expect I’ll head to AFF events when I can, and two gift vouchers for Christmas should help cover some of that.

A Train Crawl to Canberra

Over the weekend I was part of an amazing AFF event, invited along to two private train carriages on a cross country adventure between Sydney and Canberra.  I had to wake up exceptionally early and catch a Jetstar flight to Sydney, stayed overnight in Canberra with Mark and Drew in the Hyatt, and took a leisurely flight back to the Gold Coast via Sydney on the Sunday.

Where to begin though?  Well a member by the handle of BAM1748 on AFF offered the journey to anyone who was interested, and weeks ago I booked my flight and committed myself, along with 34 others as it turns out.  This lead to the organiser having to source another (private) carriage, but it was a wonderful one at that.

Each contained their own bar and couches, tables and chairs, as well as the original sleepers.  I did actually end up sleeping for a part of the journey, as recorded in a candid photo along the way.

The “crawl” was to take us via a few stops where we’d sample local pubs, drinking along the way too of course, before arriving into Canberra in the evening.  Due to a few issues, what was meant to be a 10-hour trip actually became 14-hours… but everyone had a good time, so you can’t complain about that.

The group along the way

Colours of the Land

Over the past few days I’ve travelled 2900 miles, though always via SYD so there’s been a lot of doubling back. From my window seat, one of the things I’ve noticed is how different the colour of the land is between regional centres. Having previously visited the Queensland outback, I know how orange everything is. Likewise, I know the Western Australian outback is a deep red colour. Finally I’m in New South Wales’ outback, and there’s yet another change in colours.

My first stop was at Tamworth, which I found green and hilly. Lots of trees too. Perhaps some brown too, essentially, the usual colour of land. Wagga Wagga was different, a deep yellow greeted me everywhere I looked. It was also flat as far as the eye could see. A few trees, but far more cleared land.

Coffs Harbour was the quintessential beach town. Plenty of water here, sand, green and blue. In Albury I saw a lot of forest and greens. There was a general sense things were dry, but the land wasn’t as clear and barren as say, the outback. This was more surprising given its proximity to Wagga Wagga and how it was essentially, completely different.

Flying Mad

Flying… an expensive hobby of mine!

I have a route planned out that I want to take that would make me look like a nut case by a lot of people. The journey will be the reward, with the destination to just get back to the start. It’s crazy, I know.

Map to Nowhere

To be fair, the route came about because of a trip report that had been written by someone else, taking in a marvellous 9 flights in a single day just to get back to where they started. However, I’m looking to build on that, to take 14 flights in 2 days, and only because it can’t be done in just the 1.

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What exactly does that mean I hear you ask.  It means flying a route thats roughly the shape of Queensland in order to go no where.  I suppose ideally most would want to stop at each destination and do some exploring, but I feel I’ll see enough from the air.

Leaving Brisbane on a Thursday morning, I stop at Toowoomba, Charleville, Quilpie, Windorah, Birdsville, Bedourie, Boulia and finally Mount Isa in the late afternoon, to round out the day.

The next day, a Friday, I depart Mount Isa in the morning, to stop at Doomadgee, Burketown, Mornington Island, Normanton and Cairns by mid-afternoon.  I then take a flight home on a different carrier direct to Brisbane that evening.

What isn’t set in stone is the dates this happens on.  The only thing that is, is that it has to be a Thursday and Friday as the service doesn’t always run exactly as it does on other days, and I’m not sure I want to be spending too much time in Mount Isa.

Status Runs

Status runs are enjoyable to me, they’re something that I enjoy as I like the experience of flying, and I like having status… in fact, status is great. That said, I’m not a vocal person, I don’t push to the front of the queue and demand service first because my card is the shiniest, but I like to have the shiniest card, just because. World we live in?

So tonight I’ve been struggling with a dilemma. There’s a status run I can do, it’ll get me to the next tier: Platinum. At that tier I’ll be able to dine in the First Class Lounge whenever I want, I wont need some other Platinum to fly with me and guest me in, yet it comes at a cost.

I like saving, and I don’t like spending. I’m a bit of an impulsive buyer though, I see something I want and have to have it, before fully realising the damage. Sometimes I give myself time to think and all I end up doing is swinging backwards and forwards talking myself in and out of the item in question. That’s what I’ve been up to tonight.

I think the best way to let others help me is to lay it all out. I need you to know exactly what this will cost me, and you need to come into this with an open mind.

The status run in question starts and ends in Townsville. So I need to get there and back first. There’s a sale on that ends tonight. At those prices I can get there and back for $250. If I wait and book outside of the sale it will be an additional $88.

The next step is the actual status run portion. In one day I would fly TownsvilleBrisbaneDarwinBrisbaneTownsville. I’d leave at 0555 and get back at 2135. My entire day would be spent in a Business Class seat in the air, or in a Business Class lounge on the ground. There’s a fair chance I’d get a few drinks in and I’d be heartily fed through all 4 flights and all 4 lounges on the ground (counting Brisbane twice).

The total cost of this day in the air and on the ground would be 48,000 of my valuable points earned through other flying and shopping endeavours, and $239.49 of my hard saved cash.

The very next day I’d do it all again. And yes, that’d be another 48,000 points and $239.49.

Between all this flying and lounging, in fact every time I ended up in Townsville, I’d be spending the night in the airport, as there’s no money left over for hotels. That’s 3 nights on an airport bench in the tropics in summer. It’s also quite possibly, 4 days in the same clothes.

By the time I get back to Brisbane (for the 5th time) I’ll have barely 1000 points to my name and have used the money I’d saved for just such an occurrence (but that I still don’t want to let go of), however by February I’ll have made nearly half of the points back.

It is an addiction, but isn’t everything in life? At least I can be proud I don’t smoke or do drugs, right?

For all of that, Platinum probably wont give me much above Gold, I’ll undoubtedly not get any free upgrades and receive the same level of service I have done as a Gold. Unless I travel far and wide, which isn’t very likely for the next couple of years, I probably wont notice anything different. I will earn 25% more points, and I will have access to a slightly better lounge, and yes, I will have access to the beloved First Class Lounge should I fly alone.

I realise I wont be happy if I get to Platinum, but I also wont be unhappy, in the grand scheme of things a plastic card wont change my outlook on life and be a magic fix that solves all my problems.

And the bottom line is, the longer I go on and try to justify things, the less sense I make.

So I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t, exactly what do I do?

P.S. I’m probably looking at that extra $88 already!