A Virgin to Melbourne

I’m not a Melbourne virgin, but I did catch one to get here. In fact as soon as I arrived at the airport I felt like I was home once more. What is it about the city of my birth that brings me such comfort?

Reflected in the mirror in front of me is a panoramic view of Melbourne with the CBD in the distance. I wish that I could go there now, but I suppose that I should be a good boy and socialise here at the distant Bell City Convention Centre.

While colleagues at the conference I am attending spoke of 3am starts in order to reach the airport in time, I left at the same time as yesterday and even caught the same train. The difference was that I got out at Wolli Creek and changed to the airport line. With a preprinted boarding pass from the online check in facility in hand I raced through security, though was detained as I almost always are for an explosives swipe. This has been happening for twenty years now.

Motes sparkle across the hazy tunnel entrance

Having eaten breakfast and thinking I’d get a snack on the flight I didn’t bother with any of the eateries inside Terminal 2. Instead I went straight to the gate, just stopping briefly for some photos of my aircraft. The booking had said a 737-700, but this was obviously a 737-800. Small and largely irrelevant difference, except to an aircraft nut. Unfortunately, the circular area at the end of the terminal was under refurbishment so there were no great views of the runway operations today.

Business class and higher frequent flyer card holding passengers were asked to board first, then passengers at the rear rows up the external stairs. Finally the front half of economy could board through the air bridge.
I’m not impressed by the mainly white with red trim exterior livery of Virgin Australia aircraft, but upon entry into the cabin I was very pleasantly surprised. It looked almost brand new, with dark grey faux leather seats with pale grey, purple or red head rests and an purple perspex divider between economy and business. The seats were soft and comfortable and I felt like I had plenty of legroom, though YMMV.

As we backed away from the gate and had the safety demonstration, done live, mauve mood lighting was switched on. There were no screens at all in the cabin, the tiny 7″ seatback screens now gone. Nor was there any audio to the seat. Truth to tell I was a little disappointed as I rather like listening to music during take-off and landing – not possible with your own player. Also, if trapped in an aisle seat it can be nice to have a little distraction.

It was off on the “scenic route” to the end of the third runway today for a take-off to the north. There were some great views of the terminal as we took off, then performed a tight right hand turn towards the east with some impressive views of Sydney’s central business district, sunlight glinting off the skyscrapers under clear blue morning skies.

After crossing the coast we turned south over the blue Pacific waters, small hints of white horses in the sea below. The offshore clouds were visible but always distant, tinged a hazy brown-red, but unthreatening. It was not until south of Wollongong that we turned southwest to cross the coast again and down towards our destination of Melbourne.

Long white beaches marked the outline of the coast, but behind them the Great Dividing Range was a rippled dark green. Then pale greens turning to yellow brown as we penetrated inland, until we came to the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, though their name was not in evidence today. We flew high and smooth, lovely comfortable flying.

I was feeling a bit peckish, but unlike Qantas meals were only included for full-fare and business passengers on this leg, unlike the Sydney – Canberra service that I am more used to. Between the major eastern capitals there is also free coffee, tea or water, but I felt like not of those. Knowing that we would be fed in Melbourne I did not buy any food.

A couple of reservoirs appeared like bright blue fractals below us as we neared what I thought was the Victorian border. Glimpses of mountain granite replaced the sandstone of the coastal areas. Clouds also appeared below, increasing the closer we got to Melbourne. Initially we were making good time to our destination, but the captain announced over the PA that we had been placed in a holding pattern, doing a flat loop in the sky.

Now permitted to proceed, we descended into the 40 kilometre per hour winds and rainclouds north of Melbourne. It was very rough and I was glad to emerge from beneath the cloud.

The countryside and cityscape of Melbourne looked as familiar as it was, that comfortable familiarity of returning home. I could feel the sou’wester pushing against us as we approached Tullamarine Airport, the airport from which I took my very first flight aged about two years old. We touched down on its yellow fields and taxied past the widebodies from Singapore, the Middle East, China and elsewhere in Asia, before docking at Terminal 3. There we were told that there had been a change of plan and disembarking would be from the front exit only.

That would be my exit anyway.

We were now 20 minutes late, so I rushed out to the taxi rank. Once aboard the yellow cab we were soon further delayed by an accident on the freeway. Turning off along Bell Road we stopped behind a level crossing, which made me think of how much Alex would like to be here. Despite the somewhat rundown nature of the suburbs outside, I knew that this was my home city, I could feel it in my bones.

Bell City is a converted hospital complex turned accommodation and convention centre. My room in the Sleep & Go section has great views of Melbourne, but skimps on some of the amenities. The remainder of the day was spent listening to talks, taking photos and feeling hungry from the less than great food choices. Couldn’t wait to talk to B and Alex and had a long phone conversation, mainly with the little one, who has developed great enthusiasm on the phone recently.

More talks tomorrow.

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