Friday, January 1, 2016

A Quick Trip to Queensland: tram envy!

Well hello there folks! It's a lovely day to be back on telling you all about the wonderful time we've had! A funny thing happened to me on the way to the Gold Coast...

So I left you all on tenterhooks wondering what might happen after Kristi picked us up. Well, we spent lots of time gasbagging with her (and her parents, who are similarly awesome), but what you all want to know about is what happened once we got to the Gold Coast. Because the Gold Coast has a brand new tram system!

We saw the tram tracks as we were coming off the freeway, but our main impression was of the way they go through the middle of Surfers Paradise itself. Almost all the track is completely independent (a Class B system - there's still traffic lights) with just a few sections where traffic joins the tram line for a short section. But even there it's a pure thoroughfare with no on-street parking so it flows fairly well.

The service is fairly frequent, and seems to be quite popular - they run 40m trams (our D2s and Es are 30m) and when we rode one it was packed to the gills. Of course, it was New Years Eve at the time - which was why we were on the tram, pushing through the crowds on the footpath isn't as much fun here as it is in Melbourne where most people walk in straight lines.

There was plenty to see apart from the trams. The "Aquaduck" is a hybrid bus/boat, with massive tyres like a container fork and a V-shaped hull like a Bushranger armoured personnel carrier. It drives around the streets for a bit like a tourist bus in any other city, and then it goes out into the water. And it doesn't just wade either, it has a propeller and rudder at the back of the hull! We didn't go on it but we saw it around plenty.

While we were out shopping we saw one of those stands in the walkway advertising heavily discounted tickets to various tourist attractions - including the Outback Spectacular, which had the same logo as the Snowy River Spectacular we saw on DVD all those years ago (and which sparked off Midga's interest in country music, which is why there's so much of it on my MicroSD card). So we stopped to find out what was up.

We were asked at the beginning whether we were Australian, New Zealand or Fijian residents over the age of 25. That was a bit weird. Then we were asked to fill in a form saying how much we earn, and various other bits of please-spam-me information. Still, a 70% discount is a 70% discount, and with the amount of spam protection available these days how bad can it be? So we signed up.

As it turned out, the spam wasn't the kind that arrives in the inbox or the letterbox - it was a case of sitting down with a salesperson for a 90 minute interview offering us membership of a club that gives discount holidays. "Did you know that you'll spend $131,500 on holidays over the next 30 years? Pay us $37,000 and we'll give you free holidays for the next 65 years!"

We knew from the get-go that we were going to say no, but played along a bit (we didn't have our Outback Spectacular tickets yet). It helped that the room was incredibly noisy and the sales woman wasn't really listening. "If you could have your dream holiday, where would you go?" "Port Melbourne beach, it has the best sand of any beach I've been to worldwide!" Apparently she mishead Port Douglas. "If you went to Paris, where would you want to stay?" "My friend lives there, I'd stay with them and sleep on the couch!"

As a last ditch attempt to make a sale she showed us the kind of room we could be staying in if we signed up. It wasn't anything particularly special, but the design of the ensuite and kitchen were quite clever so we made mental notes in order to copy the design for our own house.

It was interesting to analyse her selling technique. It was a fairly standard one where she said money wasn't everything in life and it's good to spend time with your family and friends before they grow up and leave home - the unstated major premise being that in order to spend time with your family you need to go on a holiday and stay at a posh hotel. She exposed her hand when she said something on the lines of "What, you'd rather sleep on a friend's couch than in a resort like this?"

When we'd finally considered all the options and weighed the alternatives at length to arrive at our decision we headed back up the highway to the theme park area where the Outback Spectacular was set up. As we went in they handed out hats with coloured bands - the audience were divided into teams which would be pitted against each other in the "audience participation" bits of the show. We got to keep the hats at the end of the show too.

In the foyer before the show there was a country singer standing on a stagecoach accompanying himself with a guitar and a backing track. All round the walls were old signs, photos and even bits of machinery to get us in the mood. I could swear the shearing gear was straight out of Pat's main shed.

Once the doors opened and we went inside we were seated in heavily tiered seats (which was good, I was worried about seeing over people wearing hats) with a full dinner setting ready and waiting for us. Luckily I didn't have to endure the whole waiting-for-humans-to-eat thing as the dining was part of the show! Soup was served during the Mobile Phone Speech, and then when the plot referred to Bluey the cook looking after the cast on their camping trip they served it to the audience as well. And yet it didn't seem stilted at all.

As a show it lacked plot - the story line was basically just a way of stringing together a whole lot of clever acts. Nothing like the Snowy River version at all. But the horsey bits were more amazing, and there were tricks with sheep dogs, quad bikes, a classic Holden ute, an old pre-war diesel truck and a circus trapeze act. All in all a very good night's entertainment!

New Year's Eve in Surfers Paradise looked like an ant colony from our 22nd storey room. The beach had been cordoned off for a section so they could let off the fireworks, and from our altitude the crowd was a mass of blinking lights - even if cameras don't flash, they have LCDs. We spent a lot of the evening drawing house plans - it can be quite a social activity, everyone likes thinking about how a home can work. In the end Asha got a bit stressed out by people constantly offering conflicting suggestions and packed the drawings away.

So here we are, it's New Year's Day of 2016 and we're flying home. Brisbane Airport Domestic Terminal Gate 28 has some highly evil power points - located in a perfect location near the waiting area but with no power coming out of them. So we bought an iced coffee as an excuse to sit next to a vending machine which was plugged into a double power point with nothing in the second outlet. Phew!

Looking out the window we saw a plane with upswept winglets - not the double arrow type which Jetstar have always painted orange since they got their first A320s. Unfortunately on closer inspection it was just a slightly newer A320. Still, we got to board via the airstairs (they had two sets in use) and from the tarmac we saw a Jetgo regional jet boarding at the next gate.

As a flight it was fairly nondescript. We were above cloud most of the way, and in-flight entertainment is via an iPad which can be hired for the duration of the flight for $10. No thanks. Unfortunately our neighbour in front was rude enough to not only lean his seat back without regard for us, but then complain that he was being poked in the back. Luckily he consumed enough alcohol during the flight to mellow down a bit.

Personally, I felt a bit miffed at the amount of liquid spilled on me during the flight. First Asha opened a serving of milk to put in her hot chocolate and it splashed all over me. Then another passenger opened a baby's bottle, which had been sealed up at ground level air pressure. But unlike the water bottle trick which just gives you a jet of compressed air, this sprayed water because the bottle had a straw all the way to the bottom. Well, I guess this is why Lenovo designed me with a keyboard that can resist spillages.

Asha and Kristi kept going on the house plans through most of the flight, drawing bathrooms on the back of the airsickness bags in the seat pockets! I think it's a step down from sketches on a shirt cuff or table napkin, which is where most good ideas come from, but hey, we use whatever we need to!

We were early into Melbourne, so Air Traffic Control told the captain to slow down, which meant throttling back the engines way before descent. It was strange to hear the different note without seeing the nose-down attitude. We arrived about 15 minutes early, and as we taxied to Terminal 4 we passed some Rex SAAB 340s - one of which was VH-REX! As we got off the plane we noticed we'd been flying on VH-VFT, and I can't help but wonder what would happen if Jetstar ran high speed rail.

Due to the amount of space in the car Midga and I had to take the Skybus home! It took a few goes to get aboard, because on the way back to the city it stops to pick up at three different places, so they have to be careful not to let the bus get too full at T4 (which is the first stop). But we got one of the brand new double deckers, and we got the Seat of Power right up the front! Like the London double deckers we rode last year it rolled quite alarmingly, especially when overtaking on the freeway. We didn't notice any differences in its behaviour which could be attributed to the twin-steer layout. Maybe it affects the height - we went full tilt under the railway at Dudley Street, which is signposted as 4.3m clearance, whereas the bus they're using at Werribee is 4.42m and the new London Routemasters are about the same. As we got in toward home we went downstairs to be near the door but the driver told us off. :( As it turns out there's not much seating downstairs at all - just luggage racks and some longitudinal flip-down seats. There are two stairwells, one at each end, which cuts down capacity a lot - they each take up three meters (on one side) of the available space.

So we disembarked, crossed the road, and walked one block to get home. Now quick, let's tidy the place up before the girls get home!