Sydney NSW, 2015-01-04
We woke up neither too late nor too dusty, since neither of us had had much to drink (relative to our respective tolerances). Andy had sensibly done the bulk of her packing before we went out to Brooklyn, while I lay in bed watching HGTV, so my morning was a little more active.
New York NY, 2015-01-01
I decided the best way to pack was to completely empty my suitcase and start from scratch, which made me realise just how much I'd packed and not used at all on the entire trip. Andy made the very sensible suggestion that I follow her example and list the items that I had packed but never used. I haven't yet1, but I really should. I did actually pull out a few items that not only had I not worn on the trip, but I never wear at home either. These were easy, since we just donated them to charity on the way out to the airport. The rest actually benefited from the complete re-pack, and I managed to get all my (remaining) clothes and various gifts we'd purchased into my suitcase with far less trouble than I'd had packing in DC.
We checked out just on our midday deadline, and left our bags at the hotel to go and squeeze in one last activity and some lunch before heading out to JFK. Once again we decided to try ice-skating. After picking up a farewell coffee from Joe, we walked over to the Wollman Rink and found it open, but with the Zamboni doing laps and a long queue snaking through the park. We decided the wait would be too long to only have about 20 minutes skating, so unfortunately ice-skating had to be relegated to the "next time" list. We wandered slowly back through the park for the last time of the trip, and headed back to Andy's deli, keen to have another round of excellent pastrami. One of the recurring things that popped up on reviews was that they occasionally had big trouble with accurately taking orders. This is apparently how "two sandwiches with pastrami, swiss and pickle on rye" became a single sandwich with pastrami, swiss and pickle on rye with an additional side pickle. Still delicious though.
We finished lunch and picked up our bags to head out to JFK. It's amazing the difference 10 days of immersion makes; navigating the subway lines and connections to get to the airport was almost second nature - compared to our getting on the wrong train on the way in. On the 30 minute ride out, I had a good chat with a Sri-Lankan-born American who had travelled around Australia, but only between Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne. He loved the warm, but didn't seem too keen on the tropical beaches of far North Queensland, having seen a documentary on bluebottles and other amusing ways to die in the water. He was interested in Perth though, and I talked it up quite a bit, so I feel like I've done my bit to encourage Australian tourism. I ran out of time to warn him about the drop bears, but we were chatting so intently he almost missed his stop.
I was actually very pleasantly surprised at how relaxed my pre-flight brain was. Could've been because we were a full 3 hours before departure time when we arrived, but I hadn't really been anxious the whole day, except a little while trying to finish packing and have a shower by midday. We checked in and went through security, and went to grab a bite to eat, then moved to the gate lounge. It took a while for me to realise that we hadn't gone through outbound passport control. Turns out (thanks Google) that it's not a thing in the US, it's just handled electronically alongside the other steps in the process. I like it. What I didn't like was the tiny gate lounge relative to the size of the plane. When you have a 747-400 with a capacity of 364 people, perhaps something larger than a regular domestic terminal gate lounge would be appropriate?
QF 108 JFK -> LAX -> SYD
Once on board I realised I was ready to be heading home. It was pretty good to hear a "welcome aboard mate" as soon as we stepped on to the plane. The aircraft had the full A380-style cabin refresh, and was probably the best economy cabin we were in the entire trip. Every flight in economy increases my desire to upgrade my default travel class on long-haul flights though, and I don't think it will be long before the comfort factor outweighs the price factor.
My goal for the 6 hour leg from JFK to LAX was to stay awake and get some writing done, which I accomplished easily thanks to Skyfall and a fairly smooth flight. I've found that on this trip I haven't done well trying to watch new movies on flights, but I've really enjoyed finding comfort movies that I can half-watch while writing or eating.
I'd been a little concerned about LAX and our 2 hour layover. Everything I'd heard about LAX said that it is basically the worst airport in the world. We landed and had the standard announcements that we all had to de-plane, so we trooped off. In every other airport where I've had a stopover - even on the same plane - I've had to go through security to re-enter the gate lounge and re-board, so I was a little surprised to come out of the aerobridge and see that we were simply in the gate lounge, where we could just stay for the 2 hour re-fuel and security sweep. Shops were around and open, there were seats in the lounge with power and usb charing ports, and no re-screening to re-board. Obviously I didn't have to deal with the check-in, baggage, passport control or security aspects of LAX, but my brief experience with the airport was really quite good.
Once we re-boarded we settled in for the long, 15 hour, leg home. I managed to get a long block of solid sleep, pretty much on Sydney time, which was excellent. I also stripped off some of my US-appropriate layers, so I was only wearing a plain t-shirt and jeans when we hit Sydney. Unfortunately I hadn't packed thinner socks into my carry-on luggage, so I was stuck in thick, knee-high merino socks inside my boots, but at least I wasn't wearing my thermal underwear as well.
Sydney NSW, 2015-01-03
Once we landed and dutifully filled our duty-free alcohol quota, we finally got to take advantage of our freshly renewed passports, now with integrated chips so we could use the self-service "smart gates". Or at least Andy could. I got to "proceed to the Smart Gate assistance counter", although this was basically a free express lane, since there was no queue at all.
Unfortunately we had one wooden item which we knew we would be fine, but still had to declare. We dutifully waited in the massive "Declare" queue, and it was interesting how much more aggressive and less polite and orderly it was compared to the queues in New York. Once we got t the end and the Customs officer asked "What are you declaring?", our answer of "just a Harry Potter wand" was met with a laugh and a "just go straight through guys, and don't zap me". We headed out to the blissfully short taxi line, and shortly after2, we were home.