Australia, Fun, Leo the Dog, Travel

Handmade Chic Dog Collars? Yes Please!

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As I was walking down an open air market at The Rocks in Sydney with my mom, we came across a tent with dog collars of different patterns and styles – some were plaid, some were polka dot, and others were striped, all in charming fabrics and styles, for both male and female dogs.  I had selected a handmade collar that looked much like the top of a shirt collar, for Christmas, for my dog Leo.

Upon getting ready to purchase the collar, one of the team members came up to me and told me it was still unbelievable to him that people from all over the world would stop by the tent and pick one up for their pet.  He was so gracious and so passionate about not just the collars, but the business as a whole.  I had no idea that this tent was actually just a small part of the sales strategy for dharf.com – a growing international pet company that strives to make beautiful collars, leashes, harnesses, and other accessories for pets!

I left there so excited to put this on Leo, that it was hard to wait until Christmas.  Somehow, I survived.  If you’re looking for unique, custom pieces for your pets, check out their site – they ship internationally!  Leo certainly isn’t disappointed.

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Australia, Travel

Australia – Exploring Sydney

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Sydney is much different than Melbourne, in that it reminds me of many other large cities I’ve been to in the world, namely San Francisco.  In walking the streets, you will recognize a lot of large company names, including tech/consulting business, shops, and restaurants.  But, what sets it apart is its location, and some of the most iconic architecture in the world.

Below is my itinerary for Sydney, including how to get around, what I saw, and where I dined/drank.

Transportation

Getting to/from the airport

Sydney has a multitude of easy ways to get to/from the airport.  Cabs are the most convenient (and most expensive – about $55 AUD each way – Lyft might be cheaper).  There is also a train that takes you to/from the airport, to virtually any destination.  If you aren’t lugging a ton of stuff (like I did), then I recommend the train.

Getting to/from destinations across Sydney Harbor

To get to anywhere, away from Sydney, such as Manly Beach, Bondi Beach, Coogee, Taronga Zoo, etc., you have to take the ferry at Circular Quay.  The rides provide the best views of Sydney, are equipped with free Wi-fi, and for the longer rides, a cafe.  There are many different ferry companies.  I used those that the Opal Card supports, which also happen to be cheaper (about $15 AUD roundtrip to most places).

NOTE: Make sure to take one ferry ride, back to Sydney, at sunset, and sit at the front of the boat, no matter how cold.  I failed to do this, and missed the sun setting, which would have provided more spectacular pictures than the one below.

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Accommodations

Since it’s winter, almost all hotels are highly affordable.  The Four Seasons had a pre-paid deal of less than $200 AUD a night, which put me smack in the middle of the city in decent accommodations.

Places to Dine/Drink

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View from Ripples

Ripples – I love recommendations from local inhabitants.  This one came from a guy that my mom sat next to on a plane, and while it doesn’t look like much from the outside, it sits right on the water, under the Sydney bridge, and serves up five-star meals.  It’s my best recommendation in this city for any time dining.  NOTE: The pork belly and short ribs dishes are AMAZING!

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Pork Belly

Abode – Nestled in the middle of many corporate offices is Abode.  It serves up all sorts of amazing food (their sweet potato fries are THE BEST) and drinks, in a chic, upscale setting.  It’s a great place for happy hour!

Palmer & Co. – Imagine stepping into a Prohibition Era bar filled with swing dancers, clinking glasses, loud laughter, and bartenders serving up the best cocktails, all while feeling like you just transported yourself back to the 1920s.  Being a sucker for this era (with a secret wish to transport back in time for a week), my jaw hit the floor when we walked in.  This was everything I had ever wanted to see in a Speakeasy, and it didn’t disappoint.  It is a MUST-SEE in Sydney!

Felix – Down Ash street (and many other alleyways) is a string of eclectic fine-dining restaurants.  Felis is a French Bistro, nestled down this alleyway, offering both indoor and outdoor seating.  It instantly transports you into Europe, and it’s food didn’t disappoint.  I recommend it for lunch, and highly recommend the beetroot salad.

Opera Bar – There are several restaurants and bars that line the pathway up to the Opera House, with the Opera Bar being one of the biggest.  It offers the best views of the water, city, bridge, and Opera house, with almost all of the seating being outdoors.  Their food selections are great, with plenty of gluten-free options, including the best gluten-free pizza I’ve ever had (try their Margherita one).  Note that ordering is different.  You grab your own table, and go to the bar to order food and drink.  You’ll receive a number and a server will come bring you your food.

The Morrison – Tucked behind the raucous pub, is the restaurant portion of The Morrison.  It’s in this quieter area that my mom and I had dinner.  It’s not a bad place to go for dinner and dessert (especially for a date night).  My recommendation is the  Chicken Maryland.

Caminetto – Nestled down a historic street in The Rocks, is a great indoor/outdoor Italian restaurant that serves a great breakfast!  My mom and I went there before walking through the open air market and little shops.  It looks like it would be great for dinner as well, but if you head there for breakfast, try the omelet or porridge.  If you’re gluten-free, they have gluten-free bread available!

Whitewater Restaurant – Along S. Steyne are many restaurants, most of which have a “beachy” feel to them.  My mom and I stumble upon this, while walking towards our hike.  It’s a chic, upscale restaurant, right across from the beach, offering all sorts of great food and drink.  I recommend the Truffle Waygu Beef burger (without the bun for me).  I’ve also heard the vegetarian pasta is good as well!  While I know they are open for all meals, my suggestion is to go there for breakfast or lunch, so you have the view of the beach.

Things to See/Do

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View from Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge – The very first thing I did was walk the one mile over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and into Milson’s Point.  In fact, if you have never been to Sydney, make this the first thing you do.  It’s a “pinch me” moment to see all of Sydney, including the Opera House!

Luna Park/Olympic Pool

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Once we walked over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, we headed to Olympic Street to eat at Ripples.  Along the way, we stumbled upon both the Olympic Aquatic Center (it once housed the Olympic swimming competitions), and Luna Park.

Luna Park is slightly creepy to walk through at night, but an unbelievable sight.  Still in operation today, it’s their version of Coney Island in New York.

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Queen Victoria Building – Built in the late ninetieth century, this mall hosts all sorts of shops, cafes, and historical clocks. The well-preserved architecture transports you back to Sydney’s early beginnings.  It’s a must-see on your way to Westfield Tower.

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Sydney Tower Eye – For about $30 AUD per adult, you can head up to the top of the Sydney Tower Eye for some of the most spectacular 360 views of Sydney!  It’s definitely a must-do!

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Darling Harbour / SEA LIFE Sea Aquarium – A short walk down Market Street (from the Sydney Tower), will land you on the foot bridge to Darling Harbor.  It’s a GREAT place to shop, dine, take boat rides, and see some of their famous places, such as SEA LIFE Sea Aquarium.  For $30 AUD per adult, my mom and I spent a few hours, wandering through one of the best aquariums I’ve been to (what sold me was the penguin exhibit).  It’s absolutely worth the walk (and cost) to get there.  My suggestion is to make  day of the Harbour to enjoy all it has to offer.  Since we didn’t get there until late afternoon, we didn’t do much.

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Taronga Zoo – I’m still raving about this experience, because I’ve never been to a zoo quite like this!  For $46 AUD per adult, we spent a full day interacting with animals in open enclosures (I’ve never been THAT close to a roo or a wallaby), as well as taking in the sights of getting very near every other species in Australia and Africa.  This is an absolute must-do in Sydney, although I recommend you spend the extra money to go “behind the scenes” and pet the kangaroos, and other animals.  It’s something I wish I had done.

Note: Eat at Views for lunch – it has spectacular views of Sydney, from across the water.

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Manly Beach – Our final stop was to Manly Beach, which is reminiscent of almost any main beach town, with the one exception that there is a hiking path that takes you along the water, and into rain forests.

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Manly Beach in the winter.

According to most, Manly beats out both Bondi and Coogee.  Next time I travel here, I’ll still visit the other two for my own comparison.  But, definitely put this on your list of things to see!

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Visting The Rocks – One of the most historic sections of Sydney, as it’s the home to the first European settlement, it’s a charming walk for dining, shopping, and sightseeing!  My mom and I walked through this section of town on our last morning in Sydney.

Almost all of the settlement buildings are still in-tact, and if you wander into any of the shops, you will see how these working-class families lived.  One such shop, which had my attention for both it’s jewels (I got very large peridot earrings for $125 AUD) and its history, was Hathi Jewellery.  If you see the old safe above, it’s little pieces of history, like this, that makes you want to wander into every building to see what it still has.

 

Australia, Travel

Australia: Exploring Downtown Melbourne

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View from the top of the AMP building.

Per my previous posts on Australia, I was fortunate to travel here for work.  And, given that I’ve bookended my trip with weekends, I was able to see some things along the way!

Since my first weekend was in Melbourne, I decided to see as much as I could, including a trip to the Great Ocean Road, as well as walking around downtown, exploring what the city had to offer.

Check out what I got to see, do, as well as what my accommodations where, should you need any tips for touring Melbourne in a day!

Accommodations

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View from my room

In the winters of Australia, hotels are very inexpensive.  Thus, I was able to snag a great rate for the Grand Hyatt Melbourne. A large, towering hotel in the middle of downtown, the Grand Hyatt was every bit of luxury and comfort, as I had expected.  Each large room boasts an amazing view of the city, along with a beautiful marbled bathroom and many fantastic amenities.

But what really appealed about this hotel was the sizable gym, pool, and spa that is attached.  The gym rivals most regular commercial gyms one would join, with everything from Crossfit Equipment, to rows of treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, and rowers.  There are two areas of free weights, almost every weight machine one would need, along with all of the other equipment for your usual workouts.  I took advantage of both the gym (every day, whether I liked it or not), along with the spa for a 90-minute deep tissue massage.

And, to add to the level of healthiness, I took advantage of the extensive room service menu that catered to every nationality, and every dietary preference.  From the gluten-free pastas and breads, to the power kale salad, and chia seed pudding, I was never disappointed with my meals.

I HIGHLY recommend you stay here, not just for the above, but the proximity to everything downtown.

What to Explore

Federation Square

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View of Yarra River from Federation Square

Federation Square reminds me of a tiny Times Square with lots of tourist shops, cheap places to eat, and Visitors’ Centers. What’s fascinating about it is that it blends well with all of the museums, theaters, high rises, and historical architecture as well.  Nestled along the Yarra River, it’s a great walk with beautiful views of the city.

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National Gallery of Victoria

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I love visiting art galleries all over the world.  What inspires people is so vastly different, which means the interpretation of art can be so vastly different.  At the NGV, there was a little something that appealed to everyone.

My favorite areas were the history of mass produced luxuries, such as furniture and home decor from very notable U.S. Furniture and Decor artists, couture clothing designs from notable historical designers in France, and of course, artwork from notable painters, from all over the world.

But, out of everything I saw, the Baccarat Candelabras from 1903, leading up to the illuminated photography gallery, were the most stunning lighting fixtures I’ve seen.

Note: Coming to the NGV in August: Dior.  I’m so sad I’m missing this exhibit!

The Park on St. Kilda Road

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I can only liken this park to a mini Hyde Park in New York.  There are beautiful trees, walking paths, wildlife, memorials, and a great view of the city!  It’s a nice break from the crowds that tend to develop in Federation Square!

Where to Dine

While most of my meals were spent in the hotel, I was able to venture out twice! Check out two great recommendations below:

Coda – All the best restaurants, bars, and clubs are down alleyways and side streets, including Coda.  Coda’s atmosphere had an indoor/outdoor industrial feel to it, while serving up some amazing Vietnamese fusion dishes.  I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a place that isn’t too crowded on a Sunday night.

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View of the city from Nobu

Nobu – I’ve been to other Nobu’s in the U.S. and while there is a high level of sophistication, both with clientele and the overall atmosphere, the food has always been decent, not amazing.  This Nobu, nestled in the Crown casino, had a much more relaxed, intimate feel, but the sushi and sashimi were incredibly fresh – I’m still raving about it, and I’m not even a big seafood eater!  If you need a “one night splurge”, I highly recommend.

 

Australia, Travel

Australia: Touring the Great Ocean Road

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12 Apostles

This past year, I’ve done the Golden Circle in Iceland, the Great Loop in Yellowstone, and now I can add the Great Ocean Road in Australia, to the list.

Prior to leaving for Australia, I booked a tour with Grayline, which if you follow my blog, then you know I’m a huge fan of them, ever since Iceland. They have comfortable buses with free wi-fi, engaging tour guides, and wonderful touring packages.  In this case, I booked the Great Ocean Road tour with lunch at Apollo Bay hotel (more on that later). (NOTE: Sit on the left side of the bus going there.)

Driving to the Ocean

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The beginning of the town of Torquay

It’s about a 1 1/2 hour drive to the beginning of the road (which is mostly rolling hills, ports, and farmland), which lands you in Torquay first.  This town is known for it’s surfing beaches, beckoning professional surfers from all over the world.

About twenty minutes into the drive, you could see the ocean, peeking out from over the rolling hills, on into our first stop at Anglesea – a sleepy town in the winter, which turns into a hot spot in the summer.  This stop allowed us to stretch our legs, walk around the shops and cafes, and gather in the picnic area for some Australian favorites: crackers and vegemite, limingtons, and Billy Tea.  The history behind this tea is related to the old mining days, where large tin cans of meat were shipped from France.  When the cans were empty, they’d fill them with water, boil them over a fire, and make their tea.  If you take this tour, try it.  If not, head to Oaks Bakery Cafe, where a large Cappuccino is $4.50 AUD (they also have an amazing assortment of freshly baked goods too).

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Art installation in Anglesea

Our next stop was to Aireys Inlet, to take a peek over the cliffs at Fairhaven Beach – it was the first stop of many pristine, panoramic views of the coast line, and the first that made me realize where I was in the world.  Across the way of the Great Australian Bight, was Tasmania, and past that… Antarctica!

Eastern View

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Our next stop at Eastern View (which also holds the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch), allowed us time to step foot on the beach.  (Note: When I said I needed a beach trip, I had envisioned myself in a swimsuit, not two layers of pants and rain boots).

From Eastern View, we had about a 1 1/2 hour drive to Apollo Bay, which allowed for some of the most beautiful views along the way.  It’s the reason why it is so important to sit on the left-hand side of the bus!  We saw Kangaroos, koalas, fishermen out rock fishing (some of the most dangerous fishing in the world), dogs running off-leash on private beaches, and miles and miles of beach.

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Apollo Bay

 

When we arrived into Apollo Bay (named after a famous British ship that was docked there), I immediately headed for the Apollo Bay Hotel lunch.  It’s a good restaurant with outdoor seating, and a three-course lunch menu, most of which I couldn’t eat, due to my allergy.  (They were as accommodating as they could be with it, but given how busy the place was, they weren’t all that friendly.) My meal consisted of pumpkin soup, chicken curry, and a cappuccino.  To be honest, unless you can eat super large meals, and don’t care about food quality, do not get the combo package with the tour line and instead, opt to find somewhere else to dine – there are plenty of other places there.

With the hour we had there, I had about twenty minutes left to walk to the bay, and then walk over to the shops, and grab some Blackberry ice cream, in a gluten-free waffle cone (imagine my delight at this), at The Ice Cream Tub (Dooley’s Ice Cream) – one of the best ice cream shops I’ve been to in the world!

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12 Apostles

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After another sizable drive, we landed at 12 Apostles.  The “12 Apostles” are (supposedly) 12 sandstone rock structures, that jut out from the ocean (we all only counted nine). It’s a very busy stop, with a lot of narrow walkways, and a lot of tourists.  Patience is needed, but it pays off when you take your time to take in the views, and get in some amazing pictures!

If you want to skip the crowds, and get an even better view, you can pay the $144 AUD to take a 15-minute helicopter tour of them, which I wish I had done.  However, if you don’t, the only perk to doing it by land, is to get a chance to see some wildlife up close and personal.  I got to “meet” the cutest Wallaby!

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Loch Ard Gorge

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Our second to last stop was at Loch Ard Gorge, proving that sometimes, you do need to save the best for last.  There’s a very famous shipwreck story that goes along with this place, and it’s worth the read, and even more worth the drive.

As with Mt. Etna, Mt. Stromboli, and the Taj Mahal, the emotion this beach evoked from me, can only be described as pure elation.  I’ve never been to a private beach with this much beauty, anywhere, in the entire world.

A Beautiful Ending to a Perfect Day

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To cap off our tour, we headed to Port Campbell to purchase snacks and drinks for our 2 1/2 hour ride home.  It was there we were able to watch the sun begin to set, over another private beach.

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Australia, Travel

Australia: Getting There and Back

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First, I have to say how fortunate I am to be able to travel to some incredible places, both for work and for leisure.  2017 has definitely been the year of “feeding the travel bug”, and I know I’ll be going into 2018, awed by just how much of the world I’ve been able to see.

Of course, getting there can be the least fun part of any trip, which is why I try to include my experiences on getting places, so that you can take the worry out of your entire trip!

Flying to Sydney – Upgrades, United Club, and Long Layovers!

I had to take two flights to get to Sydney – a morning flight (from D.C.) to San Francisco, and an evening flight to Sydney.  This meant an 11-hour layover.

Since work was paying for the flights, I flew economy to San Francisco, but used my miles to upgrade to Polaris Business class from San Francisco to Sydney.  If you have the miles (and a few extra dollars), it is worth EVERY BIT of what it costs overall.  It was 30,000 miles and $50 to do it.  More on Polaris Business in a bit…

Upgrading allowed me free access to the United Club for the day, which was much-needed. (Note: If you’re not weighed down by emails, it would be worth it to explore San Francisco for the day, just know you should give yourself an hour each way to get to and from the airport, with traffic; as well as two hours to checkin, get through security, and get to your gate for boarding.)

Polaris Business Class

I’ve flown first class before, including from Qatar to New Delhi (on Qatar), and so far (in my limited experience with American and International airlines), nothing has compared to Polaris Business.

United’s response to customers’ feedback has been heard and responded to.  While the Polaris lounges are still under construction (except for Chicago), and the existing planes have had moderate upgrades made, you can tell that the small improvements they’ve made so far, have had a massive impact.

(Note: My only gripe was not getting access to United Global First’s lounge, when there was no first class on the plane to Sydney, only Polaris Business.  The United Club in San Francisco is narrow and over-populated with all sorts of disrespectful travelers, which means I still can’t justify an annual membership.)

My experience started with my flight attendant taking my coat, while I was getting settled into my seat, which was filled with pillows, bedding, and a toiletries kit from Saks Fifth Avenue.  I also asked for a set of pajamas to change into (yes, those are available upon request, along with slippers).

Prior to take off, I changed into the pajamas (which are 100% cotton, and ridiculously comfortable), along with the provided socks, and settled into my seat.  I was also given a glass of champagne and some rather delicious chocolates.

Once we were level, the flight attendant came around with hot towels, a wine cart for a wine flight tasting, and then dinner, which was three courses.  Since I have Celiac, it was already noted in the system, which meant my meals were already chosen and prepared for me.  Otherwise, I would have had three options for each course.

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When dinner was over, I didn’t even make it to dessert (which sucks because it was a make-your-own-sundae bar) – I passed out… for seven hours.

The sleeping experience exceeded my expectations.  Not only did the seat unfold to a complete 180 degrees, the bedding was warm and comfortable. As a special touch, within the Saks toiletries kit, were a lavender-scented eye mask, and a lavender pillow spray by Cowshed (they included a whole pack of amenities).  This scent is a natural sleep aid, and certainly helped me sleep peacefully.

At around 2:30am (Australia time), I was wide awake, with four hours of the flight left.  I watched another two movies, did some work, and prepared for the next segment of my travel.  (Note: The bonus to being awake before everyone else, is extra time in the bathroom to get ready.)  I also wandered over to the snack cart, which included all sorts of treats, sandwiches, drinks, cheeses, etc.

About an hour before landing, breakfast was served, which was incredibly healthy – vegetable egg white omelet with fruit salad.

Before I knew it, we were landing in Sydney, and I was completely refreshed… and ready for my next layover.

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Sydney Airport – Customs, Getting to Domestic Gates 

Part of the “perks” of Polaris, is the special “fast pass” you receive to bypass the customs line.  I breezed through security in less than 10 minutes, grabbed my bag, and was on my way to the domestics terminal.

In order to get to that terminal (for all domestic flights in Australia), you will need to follow the signs to your airline of choice.  In this case, my next flight was on Qantas.  Once you are there, it will seem confusing, as to whether you need your boarding pass.  YOU DO NOT.  They will ask for it, in order to direct you to the right line.

Since I had a 6 1/2 hour layover, I had to wait 30 minutes before I could check in, as they can only accept check-ins, six hours before a flight.  (Note: There is limited seating while you wait, but there is free wifi to keep you company.)

When I could finally check in, I was sent back through security (shoes do not come off, liquids do not come out of your bag – only laptops).  After that, you are then directed to take a shuttle bus to the Qantas Domestic gates.

The bus ride is a bit bumpy (if you have no choice but to stand), and takes about 10 minutes.

Qantas Terminal

The terminal at Qantas has a lot of great places to dine, and shop.  The only thing to note is that bathrooms are small, and lines are long.  I took advantage of the seating in the food court to use the wifi and get some work done.

Qantas Flight

Being able to fly along the coast line, was the first real sight I had of exactly where I was 🙂  Aside from the view, the service for the 1 1/2 hour flight was great, offering beverages (tea was the popular drink of choice), cheese, and crackers.  When we landed, I had my luggage in less than five minutes.

Getting to Major Downtown Hotels

 

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40+ hours and I’m still alive!

Out of the entire trip so far (which was now 40 hours and counting), the SkyBus option was the least comfortable, but the easiest/cheapest option.  I did a lot of research on how to get to the Grand Hyatt, and this seemed the best way to do it, for 1/3 the price.  For $18 USD, I paid for a roundtrip ticket to/from the airport (note that the taxi would have been $48 one way and if you use a credit card, another 10% fee for that).

The Sky Bus picks you up, right outside of Terminal 1, and it takes you to Southern Cross Station.  Once you are there, you go to the kiosk on the center island (it’s right where the bus lets you out), and let them know which hotel in the city you are going to.  It takes about 10 minutes to get the assignment, and another five minutes to load the bus.

The trip, itself, can take well over an hour, depending on how many stops there are.  If you choose to take it on the way back, I’d suggest a taxi to Southern Cross (it will be more reliable on time).  If not, plan on leaving four hours ahead of your flight, as a precaution.

So… four airports, three flights, and 43 hours later, I was finally in Melbourne!  Check out my other posts for more on my trip, and recommendations of what to do, where to stay, and where to eat/drink!