18 March, 2011

Travelogue Part 2 - LAX to Sydney, Sydney

LAX to Sydney

I sure am glad that I am nice to strangers.

I met a nice lady on the bus from the Qantas ticket counter to the terminal building (a drive that still perplexes me). We chatted briefly, but only the most casual of conversations.

Who should be my seat-mates on the long ride from Los Angeles to Sydney but Geoff (from the previous post) and Lauren, the lady from the bus. Neat! People that I know. Lauren works for the Military Attaché at the Australian embassy in Washington DC. Needles to say, we had a ton to talk about.

Geoff and Lauren, both being from Australia, had some suggestions on what Australian movies to watch on my way down. Qantas has a selection of Australian movies in their video on demand system. Geoff recommended "Kenny". Kenny is the story of a man who manages a port-a-potty business and how he deals with his disapproving father, adoring son and estranged wife. It is a charming, if unflattering, look at the Australian people done in a mock-u-mentary style. Kenny speaks with both an Australian accent and a lisp, making it a real challenge for my ear.

Lauren recommended Kokoda. Kokoda is the name of the first direct battle between the Japanese and the Australians during World War II. The battle was initially fought by boys of the Australian Defence Forces, while the crack troops were off fighting in Europe. They heroically held the Japanese back from attacking a vital port city for weeks until reinforcements arrived. It was an inspiring story.

I don't generally like airline food. But, if you have to travel internationally, Qantas beats the other airlines I have traveled hands down. (Other airlines include Lufthansa, Al Italia, United, Continental, KLM, Delta, Northwest, SouthWest, American and.... I don't know - I am probably missing one or two.)


Customs in Sydney was a breeze. I had purchased a AU$20 90-day business visa on-line the week before my trip. So I just showed up and went through. In customs they x-rayed my bags, just like when you get on the plane. I suppose they were looking for guns (I didn't have any).

As soon as you exit customs you have the opportunity to re-check your bags onto a domestic flight. This will be a real pain in the butt if you are not traveling (like me) with only carry-on luggage. I am thinking of poor Erika bringing six kids through customs with 14 bags and then re-checking them and getting them all to the domestic side of the airport.

My friend Gil (nay Jon) Wright met met right outside of customs. What a treat that was. We had arranged to wear recognisable clothing and he was going to hold up a sign. We recognized each other before he could even take his sign out. I cannot put into words how much of a blessing it is to see a friendly face as soon as you enter a new country. I almost teared. Gil helped me to navigate by train to the domestic terminal, but only after I stepped outside and took in my first Australian sky. Funny, it looks like the sky here.

We had issues getting the ticket machine working and Gil insisted on paying for my ticket at the ticket window. So, it's a lot like eating dinner with my family – we fight over paying the check (not who HAS to, but who GETS to :).
Once at the domestic terminal Gil walked me to my gate. You can do that in Australia – friends can pass through security and walk you right to the plane's door. And YOU CAN KEEP YOUR SHOES ON (I'm thinking of a Joe Cocker song now – "You Can Leave Your Hat On".)

My Friend Gil Wright in his Rosary Army T-Shirt
We bought some coffee (a "long black" please) and sat down by the window overlooking the tarmac. Gil had brought me Eucharist! Before consuming the coffee, we said some prayers and he presented me with the blessed sacrament. My first meal in Australia was the Eucharist. THAT did make me tear up (must be the dust in the airport, eh?).

The Wrights had acquired some gifts for my family and I had smuggled some trinkets from the United States for them. We exchanged gifts and pleasantries for a (way too) short time, and then it was time for me to be off.

After walking me to my gate, we snapped a couple of photos and I was off. I hope to see my friend Gil again soon.

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