Just woke up for the third time in 14 hours. Feels like the real deal this time. I've managed to get a whole ton of sleep, which was incredibly welcome after the day I'd had.
So, let's rewind. Last time out I said I'd folded away and packed the ostentatious "first class" bag they'd given me, so as not to appear too special inside the terminal. Seems that was a bit in vain, since upon disembarking I (and every other first class passenger) was met at the plane door by two Garuda staff, dedicated to helping me through the terminal. Honestly I forget their names, but a lady took my passport and boarding pass for the next flight while a man took my bags, and they escorted me through the transfer process - thoroughly seamless, helped by there being no-one else around and I was first among first anyway - and all the way to the first class lounge.
As with the little room within the No1 Lounge in Heathrow, except this is a bona fide full lounge for the only airline using this terminal right now, it was roped off. Every member of staff we saw bowed at me and wished me welcome. I was shown the lounge and directed to pick wherever I wanted to sit; I chose a little private cubicle with a table and big screen TV.
They kept my boarding pass and passport, telling me they'd return when my flight was ready. Fair enough. A waiter brought me some water and poured some out, then showed me where the loos and showers were. I washed, got changed, brushed my teeth and felt lots better. Back at my seat a plate of fruit had arrived, and before I touched it I was asked if I wanted some other food. Well, sure - so he led me through to the buffet in the business class lounge (through the unlabelled magic door). I picked up some chicken, rice and vegetables and the guy took my plate and walked me back to my seat.
There were only 3 other people in the first class lounge, so it's nice and empty and I can explore for a bit and take photos, which all the staff are happy for me to do. There's a variety of seating: lots of tables-for-two set up for eating, plus armchairs and recliners for one. Also a big piano that's playing itself. At one point I want to play Dynamite Dan on the ZX Spectrum, at another I want to sing along with the words from Derek & Clive's The Horn.
The waiter pops by regularly, topping up my water and I ask for a whisky. I like the service, but tbh I wouldn't mind being able to get my own drinks but I haven't seen any. Perhaps you can't get your own? All the attentiveness is actually doing my head in a bit. I had no idea that having upgraded the flight to first class, I'd still get the treatment on the ground given that the next leg is in business class. It's great, but I really have to stop experiencing things and sit down to write my blog. So, I did.
That killed an hour or so. I guess by now I'd been off the plane for 2, maybe 2.5 hours, which meant I still had 4 hours left to kill. That's a lot of time. I stretched my legs with another circuit of the lounge, seeing precisely no other people - I think the other 3 passengers had gone off to Amsterdam - and then to the front desk. The only member of staff there was my personal host, the lady who'd met me from the plane and had my passport and boarding pass. I said I'd like a wander around the terminal and she offered to accompany me, sure why not.
She summoned a lift and when the door opened, the 4 people inside who had been howling with laughter all stopped immediately. It was quite uncomfortable. Down on the first floor, we're in a brand new though unfinished terminal. I'm not that impressed. It's clean, but cavernous and mostly empty. Not just of people, but the choice of shops is pretty poor and there's just nothing to do. Only a few places to eat or drink are open. I wouldn't be pleased if I had 6 hours without lounge access here!
We walked most of the length of the terminal, at least the bit which had shops etc, largely just to keep my legs working. I asked a bunch of questions - how would I get to and from terminal 2, mostly - and after 15 or so minutes we're back at the first class lounge. I'm still the only person around. The waiter comes back and asks if I want anything. Champagne, please? OK.
He comes back. Sorry, we don't have champagne, only regular wine. What! This is a disaster. What kind of first class is this? Etc. So instead I opt for whisky on ice. Do I want some nuts? Yes please. Fruit? No thanks.
I start to feel a bit wobbly. Think it's a bit of exhaustion and dehydration and maybe being a bit drunk. The TV is showing some rolling African news TV, and there's no remote control. I wonder if it's touch screen so tap where it says "Channels" at the top left, but nothing happens. Turns out I'm watching a channel called "Channels TV" and it's their ident. D'oh.
Starting to get bored now. Still got 2.5 hours or so to kill. I'd really welcome some self-service in here actually. I know that being first class is all about service and exclusivity, but now I come to think about it there is nothing here you can do yourself, except sit. There's no menu telling you what's available even, you just have to ask for stuff kinda randomly. There's also no dedicated first class food - if I wanted more, I'd have to be walked through the magic door into business and back, which is a bit "hey, look at this important guy".
The piano stops self-playing. The TV stops working. There's really nothing to do but kill the time messing about on my iPad and wondering why FlightRadar24.com didn't seem to think there was a Melbourne flight this evening.
Had a last look at the seat map, it looked full. So does the flight back next week. Whatever. I'm starting to doze off, which bodes well for the flight ahead. Eventually I pack my stuff up, and GA716 is announced. The same two folk who met me off the last plane come and fetch me. She says something about my boarding pass, I think it's just that she reprinted it and already tore off the small bit. The guy grabs both my bags, and I'm led to the gate.
There, I bypass everyone, even the premium line, and am waved directly through. No-one looks at my passport or scans my boarding pass or anything. What? Turns out they've already done all the formalities for me, without actually needing me there. Whoa! That's amazing.
There are two airbridges, one for business and one for economy. At the end of the business one the lass bows, bids her farewell and wishes me a happy trip and hopes to see me when I return through the airport next week. The bloke takes me all the way to my seat, puts my bags in the overhead bins and offers to retrieve anything I need from them. I need nothing, and he also bows and wishes me farewell. I'm the only person to. have got this treatment and can feel everyone staring at me, so when I sit I kinda slink into my seat feeling a bit sheepish. Mind you, it doesn't feel quite as bad as that time in Addis Ababa when staff kept fetching me and dragging me to the front of queues, seemingly because I was the only white person there. Eek.
Aaanyway. I'm in seat 6G, which is the front row of this plane, in one of the two middle seats. This is the old generation of business class: 6 seats to a row, 2-2-2. I deliberately chose a middle column seat so I wouldn't have to climb over anyone, or be climbed over. It's a night time flight so I wasn't concerned about missing out on great views. A dapper member of cabin crew asks if I'd like a drink, so I ask for a champagne. He smiles so much it's almost laughter.
Warning: I believe all my photos on this plane are awful. Look at how badly I focused this one, for example.
With boredom replaced by "yay! Flying!" I'm feeling better than I was in the lounge, and still hopeful of good sleep. Then the cabin fills up and I am surrounded by a family with small, very loud children. Oh dear god.
Some last minute - where I am - birthday wishes arrive in the UK by SMS. My phone is roaming for free with Three, but without data, which is very annoying. I debate briefly with Mike about where my birthday was: I will have spent no time inside the legal borders of any country for the entirety of the day, being either in a plane or airside here at CGK. Huh.
I connect to wifi, since I've still got a few hours free left from the last flight, only to discover that these planes use a totally different service and all I can get is 10mb to use within 15 minutes, which an iPhone eats up in no time at all. Bah. I decide against tethering to some member of crew's phone.
The loud kids remain loud. The parents seem to have brought in about 15 pieces of hand luggage and are doing all kinds of I don't know what. Doors close and the safety briefing starts, during which I learn the Indonesian for oxygen is "oksigen".
In the air, the dapper man asks what I want for breakfast, and whether he may wake me should I be asleep. I order scrambled eggs and say yes, of course. I also get another champagne right now, plus a Vietnamese spring roll which is nothing at all like any of the spring rolls I had when I went to Vietnam. There's a TV in my arm rest, with a great responsive and hi-res touch screen. I shove on "Sporting rivalries: Ali vs Frasier" and recline a bit.
From touchdown to bed in less than half an hour is some pretty impressive going. Before nodding off I connect to the wifi, which offers me a variety of plans. I can have 1 hour "complimentary", 4 hours "complementary", or 24 hours "complimentray". Top tip: use cut and paste.
My phone's alarm jolts me awake at 1.15pm, so I've had about 3.25hrs sleep. I feel wretched, much worse than when I got here. Not hungover, just my body screaming WHY DID YOU WAKE ME UP BEING ASLEEP WAS SO NICE WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME. The shower does nothing to make me feel better. The wake-up call comes and goes, I'm out by 1330 and down to the 4th to checkout then the 2nd to walk across the bridge into terminal 1.
There's a fast track security line but without any staff or other check that you're actually eligible. Nonethless Australians seem pretty good at self-policing, so it's quick. My bag gets chosen for secondary security because of that damn selfie-stick-holster thing which I forgot to take out.
I make my way first to the Qantas Club lounge (you can buy membership of this), then into the inner Business lounge (which you can't). There's a spare seat by the window looking out at the planes 'n that. I get a banana and a beer and sit down. I'm still so utterly exhausted.
Some flights to Sydney are cancelled, but mine's still going. It's on a Qantas B737-800, which is disappointing. This route has a plane every 15 minutes throughout most of the day, with this plane type being by far the most commonly used, but I'd deliberately booked one of the times when they use a different model with fancier seating - flat bed etc. Just like last year, if you remember from that blog. But a couple of weeks back I'd got an alert that the plane type had changed. Boo!
I don't wait for boarding to be announced, instead heading off to the gate a bit early. There's already a big queue in both lanes, but they move fast. I seem to have by far the biggest hand luggage and am fairly sure it wouldn't actually fit in the bucket if I tried, but no-one challenges me and it goes in the locker easily.
Out of the window I see people descending stairs and walking across tarmac. Turns out if you're up front you get a bridge, but if you're down the back you're not quite so mollycoddled. I'm in seat 2A, a big leather armchair with old school comfort controls and no seat back entertainment except a thing to hang your own tablet on.
At cruising altitude, service starts. This is only a short flight - scheduled for 1hr25min - but even so it doesn't seem hurried as everyone is offered a drink, and their choice of 3 different meals. I get a beer and opt for the cheese box, which is a box of cheese. It comes with bread and a bar of dark chocolate too. Very bloody nice.
We land, early. In fact we're at the gate with doors open by 1615, a fact my brother is unprepared for, being still at home. Not that he was meant to be picking me up here, but he'll now be later than me in North Sydney.
Quite a bit later, it turns out. I buy a ticket and get to the train station platform just a couple of minutes before the next service, 3 stops later I'm at Central with only 30 seconds or so on platform 16 before the North Sydney service comes in. The sun is setting and it's not even 5pm yet, I'm glad to have escaped British summer even if it was a week late to avoid that horrid 30+c nonsense. Here it's about 15c which is basically perfect.
I'm at North Sydney by 5pm, pretty ludicrously quick. Everything about Australia so far (this time) has been very efficient. I send Helen a selfie from the station, she says I look bedraggled. Can't say as I'm surprised.
"Bro! Bro!" I hear, and see a hand waving at me from a car across the way. That'll be Kevin and my nieces Harry and Alex then. Into the shiny new car and we're away, to Neutral Bay for some food at Maisy's 24hr diner.
Kids are crazy and loud. I forgot that. Harry says I look really different from last time, but also that she doesn't remember me. Alex says I'm definitely allowed chips this year. Harry struggles with the concepts of "yesterday" and "tomorrow", when I tell her I turned 43 yesterday because it was my birthday so she's, like, you'll be 44 tomorrow! No, no I won't.
At Maisy's the girls order nachos and lemonade, Kevin gets chorizo and eggs and I'm on the wagyu and pork meatballs. I'm trying to do the catch-up-with-everyone thing but feel internally like I'm a total autopilot zombie. Are you sleeping over? I'm asked. What, you think I'd fly thousands of miles not to spend much time at the destination? What kind of crazy uncle do you think you have?
Yes, I'm your uncle. Just like I was last year. They figured as much, since apparently I look just like their dad in almost every way except a bit taller and a bit fatter.
Back in the car and through rubbish rush hour traffic to Seaforth, to home. There's Pepper, the dog that doesn't seem to have grown much but is a lot heavier than last time. And there's Sal, last seen in Paris in March. And there's some birthday gin! Hurrah!