“We’ll always have Paris.” That line from Casablanca was going through our heads as we caught what was nearly the last flight out of Auckland for the U.S. Not surprisingly, it was packed. American Airlines has a codeshare agreement with Qantas, and it wanted its equipment back to the States before NZ closed its borders. So we settled into our Dreamliner business class pods for the flight back. Service was great, the pods were semi-self-contained cocoons, and the movies were pretty good. Since we departed in mid-afternoon on March 25, it was still light out, and we were not quite ready to enter the Land of Nod.
We arrived early on March 25 (yes, we arrived before we left, thanks to the confusing miracle of the International Dateline) at LAX and were not allowed off the plane until Customs opened at 6 a.m. We breezed through and waited longer for our luggage to emerge. Nobody asked about our health or any symptoms. Janelle had read that unless one was visibly ill or in distress, they wanted to expedite the process, so that people could get through the airport and self-isolate as soon as possible. I am sure that most people will, but we have been reading about the “corona parties” and blatant disregard of any social distancing guidelines. In any event, we checked into an airport Marriott Courtyard for some decompression time until our final flights to BWI the next day. Although we had slept a bit on the flight, we checked for light leaks for several hours in the hotel.
Our flights have been eerily empty (like the old Twilight Zone with Burgess Meredith emerging from his lunch time reading session to find nobody around after a holocaust, all the books at his disposal, and then breaking his glasses). We had eight passengers, plus crew, on the flight to San Jose. The flight to Baltimore was more crowded: 12 passengers, plus crew, who said that flights like this were a combination of a “nice break” and “incredibly boring.” There was no service on the flight to limit personal contact, although I did score a can of water.
All told, we had an incredible trip in spite of this COVID-19 fiasco that has disrupted planet Earth. We experienced some incredible sights and places:
- Exploring Victoria Market in Melbourne.
- Watching cricket at the legendary Melbourne Cricket Grounds.
- Meeting our friend’s son, Ben Russell, in Melbourne.
- Getting the “up close and personal” view of the Little Penguins Parade on Phillip Island.
- Golfing on Dent Island, Great Barrier Reef snorkeling, kayaking, and paddleboarding (kind of), and just hanging out on Hamilton Island.
- Seeing the Blue Mountains starting to recover from the devastating brushfires.
- Experiencing a mix of tourist and local flavor in Sydney during a wonderful visit with nephew Brett and being introduced to a variety of pies at Harry’s.
- Enjoying Queenstown on the South Island, the small plane flyback from Milford Sound, and the Routeburn Track.
- Exploring Picton during our short stay there.
- Erring logistically by not seeing more of Christchurch.
- Receiving guidance and support from locals as we adjusted our itinerary, particularly Mike and Ellie, but also Ellie’s son, Peter, as the coronavirus intruded more on our plans.
- Eating at some memorable places, including Portofino’s in Auckland with our Maryland hockey friends, Dory and Steve.
Some things come to mind as we close out this blog.
- We started getting into the local jargon: “holiday” for vacation, “for hire” rather than rent, “lift” instead of elevator, “takeaway” for to go.
- All the hotels and restaurants have the variable flush toilets that conserve water.
- One must use the seatbelts on the buses and vans or risk a fine.
- The Aussie and NZ airlines turn off the seatbelt signs much earlier in the flight and keep them off unless it gets really bumpy.
Yes, Rick and Ilsa might always have Paris, but we will have our Down Under Adventure.