Sunday, January 01, 2012

Travel travails

Happy New Year everybody. Like most Australians, we flung ourselves across the country for Christmas. It's a jolly national tradition to stuff a car to bursting, then drive for 11 hours in punishing heat. Alternatively, you can be the "guest" of an airline and enjoy their announcements, cute little surcharges and fun inflight catalogues of tat. We did both.

Before I seek out catharsis by writing about our travel pain, I'll mention some great moments in our mad five days on the mainland. We arrived in Canberra on Christmas Day and were met by Elf's parents Bill and Felicity and brother Fred. We did the gifts, demolished a turkey and then Skyped with Elf's other brother Chonk and his family in Switzerland. I am new to Skype so it's something of a miracle still to me. We were all Christmassed-out and ready for bed while they were just getting ready to have lunch.

Our boys spent a lot of time down in the garage which doubles as Fred's lab. Occasionally they would pop up for meals and mention the oscilloscope, or the 240 volt generator, or something about glass tubing. They really adore Fred, and Elf and I were able to loaf about quite a bit while he did the heavy work.

While in Canberra my Uncle Pete and Auntie Chrissie dropped by for a cup of tea - I hadn't seen them in years, and they happened to be in town. It was really good to see them and reconnect. They had never met Elf or the boys, and we've been married ten years. We are always hoping they will make a visit to Tasmania. Maybe now they have seen my lovely family they will bravely make the leap across Bass Strait.

In Melbourne we spent some time with Elf's cousin Ash, who is Marcus's godfather, and also a big hit with the boys. He lent us his swanky car - Elf and I had separate "climate zones". We visited Elf's 95-year-old grandma Marki who lives with her daughter Buddy. They were both in good form. Marki is amazing - she loves to talk and her long-term memory is marvellous. However she does ask the same question a number of times; the short-term memory is starting to drift a little.

The next day we went to lunch with Marki's younger sister, 92-year-old Auntie Val. She is a cracker - still lives independently, has a wicked sense of humour and an eye for the young men. She's a joy to talk to. I think a good measure of how with-it someone is, is whether or not you can pull their leg.

Now for the bad stuff. We had a complicated travel plan to try to save money - of course this meant more things could go wrong. We flew to Canberra with no trouble. To get to Melbourne we booked with VLine a combo ticket - bus to Albury on the Victoria/NSW border and then train. At the Canberra bus station we arrived nice and early, and were told
  • our bus had not arrived yet
  • our bus would be labelled ALBURY
  • our bus would have VLine on the side.
Sadly, none of this was true. After the departure time came and went, I phoned VLine to ask when this 'late' bus would appear, to be told it had already gone. It's true the other 26 people managed to catch it, and I can only suppose they asked more or different questions than I did. It was a Doyle's bus, had been there when we arrived, and was labelled CANBERRA. In Felicity's car we briefly tried pursuing the bus in the hope of catching it at Yass but it was hopeless. We went back to their house
 in despair.

After some discussions about our options, Fred offered to come with us in the family car, share the driving down and bring the car back the next day. This was incredibly generous of him, as it's an 8-hour drive each way, and two days out of his Christmas break. We accepted, and that's what we did.

A couple of days later after meeting all our family commitments, we were in the shuttle on our way to the airport to fly home, when we realised we had confused our departure and arrival times. It was about 2.50pm and our flight actually left at 3.00pm, and there was no way to make it. I called and asked about rebooking. I was told it would cost us about $1200 to get the next flight. We were shattered - for the rest of the bus ride was I was grimly thinking of all we would need to go without over the next few months.

The happy ending was that when we spoke to a lady named Eva at the Virgin Australia desk at Tullamarine, she put us on the next flight for just $50 more per person - although I am pretty sure that technically we should have been up for $1200. With all the faffing around we missed out on a 3.45pm flight, but for only $200 we were very happy to wait four hours for the next one.

Considering we were only gone five days, our delight at getting home was off the charts.

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