Singapore to Brisbane and home

I recline on the sun lounge by the pool at the top of the skyscraper hotel, gazing up through the metal lattice entwined with vines, feeling the warm humid breeze across my body. The others are back in the room, one other patron splashes in the pool.I would swim too, but can’t be bothered dealing with the wet clothes. It is quiet up here.

I am relaxed, finally feeling like I am settled into the mode of the holiday. Unfortunately, it’s also the last day of the holiday and tonight we will be flying back to Australia. B says that she is getting bored of Singapore, but for me I am happy to do nothing but relax and eat.

For breakfast we cross over the road to the Tanjong Pagar food centre. It’s a place for locals, unlike the tourist popular Maxwell Road centre, and the food is better in my opinion. I wish that we had eaten here more often. I have an excellent nonya style laksa and Alex the prawn mee from the Ah Seng stall. This isn’t the curry laksa that you get in Australia and elsewhere across Singapore and Malaysia, but a far more complex soup topped with laksa leaves.

B has some shopping to do so, despite Alex’s protests, we catch the MRT to Clarke Quay, then join the tourist throngs in the Orchard Road area and just end up buying a couple of t-shirts for him.

We return to Tanjong Pagar and, while wondering around the station, discover the restaurants in the International Plaza, catering to the business lunch crowd. We eat assam laksa and mee siam at a tiny hole in the wall stall run by a garrulous old man and his wife. It’s okay, we’ve had better.

Our Oasia Hotel package includes a late check-out, giving us time to relax and shower in our room before our departure to the airport.That’s all I feel like doing anyway. I’m feeling a bit apprehensive about the flight, despite the weather maps showing clear skies all the way.

It already five PM when we finally depart our room and catch the MRT to Changi Airport, giving us a smaller window to check in for the flight than usual. When we arrive at Terminal 3 we are disappointed that the Skytrain to Terminal 1 doesn’t pass through the Jewel, but  it is fortunate that we decided to go last night rather than try to cram it in now.

The outbound immigration is our fastest experience yet with the Singaporean services. Alex demands we go straight to the lounge, but when we get to the Qantas Business Lounge it is full and we are redirected to the SATS Premier Lounge nearby.

Though Alex is disappointed, I really don’t care as long as we can sit on some comfortable chairs. The food isn’t bad, but I only have a very small quantity, unlike the other two would gobble down noodle soups, rice and western dishes.

Our flight to Brisbane is departing from the opposite end of Terminal 1, so we leave the lounge early and make the long walk to Gate D49.

At Changi the security x-rays are done at the gate, but D49 at least has bathroom facilities and fairly plentiful charging points in the gate lounge. It’s an absolutely full flight tonight and boarding of the Airbus A330-300 is done by row numbers starting from the rear. They also allow early boarding for families with children under the age of five, which means no more early boarding for us.

I am sitting in the window seat ahead of Alex and B, as window rows are only two seats wide. It’s a bit further back than last time, but still over the wing. The interior fitout also looks a bit older than for the flight up, though it is basically the same.

The captain welcomes us on board, praises us for quick boarding and says that it should be a short taxi to the runway with a pretty smooth flight.

Soon enough we have left the gate, watch the safety presentation and are roaring down the runway into the night. There are good views on Singapore city as we turn over the many ships in the strait, then we are off into the dark.

Despite the captain’s statement, the first half of the journey is not a smooth flight. No major drops, but that same constant fighting of the wind. B tells me she felt motion sick. The worst is in the Timor Area, though the seatbelt lights are never lit.

I refuse the meal when offered, feeling a need to keep my stomach clear. I do accept the passionfruit and coconut Weiss bar.

There is little to see outside while the cabin lights are on. When they are extinguished I see the wing in the moonlight, the Southern Cross pointing our way and the long constellation of Scorpio.

Initially I listed to The Art of the Score podcast about the Empire Strikes Back.  Then I try to watch The Accidental Tourist, selected mainly due to John Williams’ score.It’s about a business travel guide writer, which is marginally amusing. I get halfway through it and give up.

There are lines of fire below as we cross into the Northern Territory, possibly dry season burn-offs done in the traditional way. Fortunately the air stabilises as we move further inland and it is possible to enjoy the flight.

There are glimpses of towns and mines below, orange lights in a sea of black. I decide to try another movie, choose Dr Strange, enjoy the diversion.

With an hour and a half to go I am up hungry enough to eat the small breakfast of a tiny lemon muffin and a very welcome fruit salad. Unfortunately, Alex has woken too early and is feeling so nauseous that he throws up.

I just manage to get through the end of the movie midway through our descent into Brisbane. All the direct Sydney flights were either fully booked or too expensive, so we are making a detour on the way home.

It’s a smooth descent into the still night sky and a good landing. As we taxi to our gate I notice the font used for the Brisbane Airport name, lit in bright blue, and suddenly experience flashbacks to the ancient versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator I played so many years ago, with the same font used on the Champaign-Urbana building I so liked to fly to from the now defunct Meigs Field.

We are in a rush to transfer to our domestic flight to Sydney, but our luggage takes a while to appear. Fortunately customs and immigration is faster than is usually the case in Sydney and, as we already have the relevant passes and tags, the domestic bag drop-off is very quick.

The free transfer shuttle bus to the domestic terminal is the opposite. Running only every ten minutes the capacity is too small for the long line of transfer passengers so we have a bit of a wait in the cool morning sun.

The ride itself is also tortuous, but we make it to our gate with a little time to spare. Sadly no time for the nice Brisbane Qantas Club lounge. Also, the bathrooms near the gate are out of service, meaning that I still haven’t had a chance to use the facilities since departing Singapore.

 Our aircraft is an older Qantas Boeing 737-800, which brings back quite a few memories. Despite their ubiquity in our skies I have caught surprisingly few 737s in more recent years, unlike their old retired 737-400 siblings which were my favourites between Sydney and Canberra.

The flight is again packed with every seat taken. As we race off into clear skies I feel confident that it should be a decent flight.

This is my first Qantas flight with on-board WiFi internet access. It take me a while to figure out how to authenticate, as my Android device doesn’t seem to like the connection. It works pretty well, although the references to the Qantas Entertainment App seemed to be circular. Instead of a proper flight map there is a mapping facility to show information about various map marker points, which is interesting and a great idea.

Again, the flight isn’t as smooth as promised, with lots of little niggling bumps. The other two mostly sleep. I select the warm ciabatta for breakfast, though it would have been nicer if they left off the thin smear of avocado guacamole. I am now properly hungry.

I doze off for maybe ten minutes. The landscape outside is interesting, with beautiful patches of morning fog in the valleys and sunlight shimmering off rivers and dams.

As we descend into Sydney we make a turn out over the ocean and back into the airport from the south, the aircraft fighting crosswinds and we close for landing.

We touch down on the third runway, brakes and reverse thrust deploy and we slow, giving us time to admire a Philippine Airways A330 land on the other runway, and to watch the other morning operations, both domestic and international.

Finally we dock behind the Qantas Terminal 3 and our journey by air is at an end. Our luggage appears quickly, there is no need to waste time with customs and quarantine, and we can head off home by train and bus.

Unfortunately for B, her phone and Opal card were left in Singapore, but she could use her credit card for tapping on the train and the Fijian bus driver recognised me as an old frequent passenger and let her pass, asking what had happened to me now I no longer need to catch the bus to work.

It’s a clear, warm, sunny day as we roll our bags home along the footpath. The clear dry air feels so nice after the humidity of Singapore and the stuffiness of aircraft cabins.

I’ve already been answering work emails since arriving back into Brisbane, a single day of work left this week with leave too precious to waste. It took me at least half the trip to overcome the stress and exhaustion of work and life over the past six months. Now I feel relaxed and energised to face the next six.

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