There and Back Again...

I've just returned from the most amazing trip of my life. SWMBO and I decided to visit Squid in New Zealand. And being us, we decided to turn it into a Round-The-World trip, stopping off in London, Los Angeles, Auckland, Wellington, Sydney and Hong Kong before returning last Friday to a pile of mail, needy cats and 72 hours of jetlag.

So what did we learn?

 

  1. Air New Zealand is a very nice airline. Nice seats, nice entertainment, nice cabin crew. Almost unlimited New Zealand wine certainly helped, as did the new aircraft. Well recommended.
  2. Virgin Atlantic - previously our 'favourite' is now showing its age. Old aircraft, knackered seats, whiffy toilets, badly trained staff. Not so good.
  3. New Zealand is huge. No. Seriously huge. It requires at least three weeks, and a camper van to see properly. 10 days, and a fixed base just didnt do it justice.
    1. Moana Lodge in Plimmerton ('Plimmy') is possibly one of the nicest 'Hostels' we've ever stayed at. We honestly would not have considered staying in a Hostel previously. 
    2. You cant park in Wellington. We tried. Use the trains instead.
    3. There's a lot of walking in Welly. But you get to see amazing things such as The Weta Cave, The Zoo, Zoolandia, The Botannical Gardens, The Radar station, The Bays. 
    4. For some reason, there are more coffee shops per head in Wellington than in New York. And all the coffee is good. None of this 'boiled to death' starbucks-coloured-dishwater muck. Code for 'just give me a damn black coffee in a cup I can drink without splitting my bladder and no other dumb questions' in New Zealand is 'A Tall Black'. 
    5. The Embassy Cinema in Welly is where the final Lord of the Rings movie was premiered. Go up there in the afternoon (There's a coffee shop, unsurprisingly) and see some of the pictures. I think the whole of Welly turned out for it. 
    6. New Zealand appear to be full of the nicest, most laid back folks in the world. Even Airport Security welcomed us to the country in an understated, efficient sort of way. Which brings us onto:
  4. Los Angeles Airport is possibly the worst airport in the world. My regular reader might have noticed a particular Anti-Gatwick slant in the past, but this falls into insignificance compared to LAX. For instance:
    1. 45 minutes to clear immigration. Why ? Were they surprised when two large aircraft turned up? Doesn't security actually look at the timetables? Kudos to the customs guy who pulled wheelchairs, families with kids, and folks who were tired out of the long queue and into the 'pay more money' queue. 
    2. Another 45 minutes to actually clear baggage. Three separate sequential queues - one stretching twice around the baggage reclaim area. By the time we got to the customs desks, they were just waving through folks to clear the area.
    3. Flying out again, I found that the gents toilets on airside was downstairs. Not a biggie. However, there was no way to actually get back upstairs. I had to run up a 'down' escalator to get back to my position in the 80-minute queue to get through immigration. Hardly elegant.
    4. Airside, it resembles any other small, dirty, crowded airport. And sold me the most expensive beer of the trip - nearly 10 bucks. Congratulations.
    5. Its cancerous. No. Seriously.

      We shall now avoid LAX forever, I recommend you do the same. It makes Orlando look efficient, and comes nowhere close to the ease of Newark. Yes. California - an airport in New Jersey pisses all over you.  Be Ashamed. 
  5. Hong Kong airport is huge. And efficient. Aside from the line at immigration - which was so long that by the time we got through to baggage, our bags had been removed from the belt and stacked at the Baggage Reclaim desk. The fast train to Kowloon and Hong Kong is - well - fast. 28 minutes from exiting customs to downtown Hong Kong.
    1. Walking around Hong Kong in a day is hard. Even though you get to walk through office blocks (each appear to hold a shopping center beauty contest on its lower floors and have Boston-like hamster tubes between buildings) or vast underground tunnel systems. 
    2. You gotta do the cable-tram to the summit. The views are incredible.
      You dont *have* to eat at Bubba Gumps Shrimp Factory when you got there, but we did and it was pretty cool.
  6. The W Hotels in both Los Angeles and Hong Kong are extremely funky. And strange. For instance the W in LA appeared to be holding a Pimp 80's fashion revival night when we got there.  Aside from that, the W's were really really good. 
    1. The W in LA - the one on Holywood Boulevard - was right on a Metro station. We would have used that to get to Manns Chinese Theatre but for the permanent encampment of homeless chaps outside. We walked the 10 blocks instead, meeting many other homeless chaps instead. Holywood Boulevard - even during the day - is a street of contrasts. 
      This is the only time we actually felt unsafe. 
    2. The one in HK is so strange its hard to actually find reception. Once your there, the music after 9pm is so loud, its like being sat next to a speaker at a Stones concert. Thankfully international traveller for 'I want to check in' works in sign language.
      It also has a wonderful infinity pool (and hot-tub)  on the 72 floor. If it wasn't for a 100+ floor skyscraper beside it and a housing block in front, it'd have a wonderful view over the Harbour. They're building a new bar at the poolside right now, so if you wrecked your ears in the lobby the night before, you wouldn't notice the power tools during the day poolside. 
      We went for a really nice corner room. Trying to figure out the curtain and blind controls whilst jetlagged was a challenge, but the results were amazing.  
  7. Oddly enough, no-one had iPad 2 devices in London, Los Angeles, New Zealand, Sydney. We tracked down one in Hong Kong, but it was the wrong size. But I did score a New Potato Pinball table for the iPhone 4. This really is a pinball table (it docks with the iPhone) and the plunger and flippers actually work. 
  8. We did get ourselves a new camera - a Fuji HS20. It does 300-frame/sec shots, panoramics, HD movies, 30x zoom. When I figure out how to use it...
  9. I think we were the only people we saw in 10+ airports wearing Lotusphere backpacks. Should I charge IBM Marketing money for this ? Can I claim that I was a single-man #LotusKnows campaign?

We're already talking about going back to New Zealand next year...