Avoiding regrets

Sometimes you don’t feel like doing something when you have the opportunity. Should you do it anyway? Last time I was in Sydney (in 2005), I skipped the chance to see The Polar Express at the Darling Harbour IMAX, which was the largest IMAX screen in the world. I had no interest in seeing that film at the time, and I haven’t seen it to this day. Last week, I found out that IMAX screen is closed for redevelopment, so I missed out again.

Years later, I did regret not seeing something at Darling Harbour. It influenced my decision to watch the final Harry Potter film when I happened to be in London for the first time. I’m not a fan of the franchise, tried reading the first book and film, gave up on both. It wasn’t until I was hanging around a bunch of Brits that I ended up watching film 6 on tv and 7 in the cinema with them. I figure if I were to ever watch the last Harry Potter film, it might as well be on the largest IMAX screen in the UK.

Last time in 2005, I had the chance to see a special exhibition of Van Gogh works at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne, I skipped it in the interest of saving money, as most of the rest of the museum was free anyway.

That’s another conundrum. Should I prioritize visiting places that charge admission, rationalizing that they must be better if they are charging money? Or hit up all the free museums/activities and still see/do plenty of interesting things for no extra cost? Fees aren’t really deal breakers to me, as they have rarely been exorbitant. I don’t mind supporting educational venues. It’s also why I often buy something in the cafe and/or gift shop.

It did mean I missed out on some good free museums on this trip. For example, I skipped Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art and most of the Australian National Maritime Museum. In the latter, I had time to see one exhibit on William Bligh before the museum closed because I spent too much time walking around. That’s twice I had the chance to visit (14 years apart) and missed it both times.

That brings us to today, I was on the train returning from the weekly St. Kilda Esplanade Market when I passed the NGV again and saw their special exhibit was a display of China’s Terracotta Warriors, in conjunction with a contemporary Chinese artist. I’ve spent a lot of money on this trip already, and I already have planned another venue that charges admission.

It was only $30, so I did it, along with the free guided tour, which took so long that I didn’t have time to see any of the rest of the museum’s free galleries before it closed (though I did get 20 minutes before the tour started, which got me through 1/6 of a floor). I’ll try to be back sooner than 14 years this time.

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Missing out

When you travel, you typically need to spend money. Taking time off a job also means less money coming in, a double hit. When you travel internationally over a birthday, you also miss out on some birthday benefits back home. I sign up to a lot of loyalty programs (using an alternative email address) that usually score free stuff, from pancakes to chicken meals to coffee to DVD rentals, etc.

No big deal, this trip is worth it. Don’t expect those same loyalty programs to work the same outside of your home country, even if they exist in your destination.

During check in at one of the fancier hotels here, the front desk said they would send a birthday cake to the room. I turned it down, not sure why, probably because I don’t like anyone coming into the room, even for the daily service. However, maybe it helped me get a better room upgrade if they wanted to do something nice. We’ll never know.

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The important things

I arrived at Sydney Airport 3 hours before my flight. Since I had to check out of my hotel by 11am, I might as well go to the airport instead of walking around town with my luggage. Maybe I could get into a lounge on my business class ticket. At check-in, there was an offer to take one of the two earlier flights (Qantas flies Sydney to Melbourne practically hourly). No extra charge, so why not?

I forgo any chance at a lounge and free bites. I had skipped breakfast as I had no status at this most recent hotel, thinking I would have plenty of time to eat at the airport or in a lounge. This flight offered a small meal, which was plenty until I arrived in Melbourne, which would offer many more choices.

After a 1+ mile walk to the hotel after arriving in the city in the afternoon on the airport express bus, I drop my stuff in the room (the smallest of seven so far on this trip), set up a mobile Myki card on the phone (bypassing the $6 physical card purchase), and head out to the nearest appropriate bus stop to take a ride to… Costco?

I like to visit places like this (and IKEAs) to see the differences from the ones at home. It’s pretty much the same, even with Kirkland brand products, but fun to look at the local varieties and what sells here, like Australian beef jerky and more Asian food products.

Of course, it must be easy to reach by public transportation (I rarely rent cars when traveling). For example, Sydney, London, and Montreal Costcos were lots of walking in addition to either a long trip and/or having to change/transfer routes – not ideal. Melbourne is one bus ride away, Vancouver was in the city center, Toronto’s was a small hike after a subway ride, and we had a car in Langley, BC. In Stockholm, IKEA offers a free shuttle bus between the city center and the largest IKEA on the world in Kungens Kurva.

Mostly, it’s about the food court options. I’m not about to buy Costco-sized servings when flying carry-on only. They offer an affordable and quality meal, not terribly different from a fast food meal, but cheaper and presumably a bit healthier. Costcos in Canada had poutine and smoked meat sandwiches. New options to me at this one in Melbourne Docklands are a meat pie (my first proper beef pie this trip), chocolate shake, cappuccino/latte (Melburnians are serious about coffee), chicken & corn soup, and a southern style (fried) chicken burger.

I had the hot dog and Aussie meat pie. If I were to come back, I would try the chicken burger and chocolate shake.

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A birthday holiday

When I was planning this trip over 7 months ago, I knew I was going to spend a birthday alone and away from home. I’m good with that. I decided to be in Sydney, as it is one of my favorite cities, and splurge on the Bridge Climb, which I skipped last time I was in Sydney, over 14 years ago. It was also cheaper then.

All the flights and hotels in the other five cities were scheduled to allow me to be in Sydney without spending more than necessary. Sometimes one specific day or weekend is more expensive in a certain hotel or flight time, for no great reason. It took an extensive amount of research and many spreadsheets to produce a good itinerary.

As usual, everything works out pretty well, I occasionally miss one extra day at most in each location to do something I only learned about when I was already there. That only encourages me to go back, as in this trip, Sydney and Melbourne are the repeats, and putting them at the end of the journey makes it more relaxing. I know what I want to visit and can add new discoveries. Putting the new cities at the beginning lets you move fast and develop a pace, but make sure not to make it a race to reach every experience just to “tag” it and get to the next one.

One of my traditions is to have Tim Tams twice a year, Australia Day and my birthday. Since I am actually in Australia this year, it’s extra special, and I have a greater selection of flavours (see what I did there?). This year is “Choc malt & sticky caramel”. They’re good.

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Rules are rules

It costs around SGD$1.72 to take the MRT between Changi Airport and the nearest stop to my hotel. The night before I left, I had $2.14 on my transit card, which you think would have worked. But the minimum on the card to take any journey is $3, presumably for the rider’s benefit, as the system doesn’t exactly know where you are going so that $3 should cover any length journey and you won’t be trapped inside the station because your card didn’t have enough credit.

However, topping up the card is a minimum of $10 cash, I had $3.95 because again, last day and wouldn’t need much cash anymore. So find ATM, withdraw $10, hope I get reimbursed on the fees, and top up with the $10. The next day, take the under-$2 trip to the airport, get refund on remaining balance, find something to spend it on as I have lounge access which means free small food (flight includes meal).

It all worked out, and I now have an extra souvenir/gift.

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Cheap can be good, sometimes real good.

This is the Soya Sauce Chicken Rice from Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodles (now called Hawker Chan, which is easier to say) in Singapore’s Chinatown Complex. Quite possibly the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal at SGD $2.80 (US $2.02 at publication time). I got in line near 1230, got my food shortly before 1pm, and the line only grew since then.

Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodles gained worldwide fame in 2016 for being the first hawker stall to receive a Michelin star. I also turned around to buy a SGD $2 large papaya juice from the stall directly opposite Hawker Chan.


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They really mean full service

This hotel apparently provides refreshment to people who decide to jog in near 100% humidity. Not sure if it is just for hotel guests or open to anyone, but I would not be surprised if it were the latter.

I didn’t find an ice machine (as mentioned previously), and when I asked at the front desk, it seems that they bring it to your room on demand.

Even at the executive lounge breakfast, drinks are not self-serve. They bring water, juice, tea, coffee, etc., upon request. There is also an eggs-made-to-order station for whatever you can imagine.

Previous hotels on this trip had coffee/tea machines, self-serve juices, and scrambled eggs on the hot food bar (one also had poached eggs). Any omelettes or poached/fried eggs could be requested and made in the kitchen.

It’s a level of service I’ve never encountered, so much that it is borderline uncomfortable. I know that is not their intention here, they want to take care of everything for you. I guess it’s nice, but I’m pretty sure I won’t get used to it.

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