This is still Íde writing as that hubbie of mine is still scuba diving…
On arrival in Sydney we are again prepared for the customs controls. What Padraig didn’t say about the apple incident in LA airport, is that I was the one who completed the custom declaration form so I would have been the one fined if they had decided to take it further. So this time I got everyone to complete their own form.
Now anyone interested in watching “Border Patrol” will know that the Aussies take their customs clearance very seriously. You are required to declare food (including apples), all medicines (prescription and non prescription), as well as any wooden items. The form advises, ‘if in doubt – declare’.
I had hard boiled sweets (always carry them on flights to stop ears popping). Blaithín has purchased a small wooden key ring and I am carrying a chemist in my suitcase (antihistamine tablets and cream, antiseptic cream, headache tablets, travel sickness tablets. We also have more serious steroid cream (for Blaithín’s foot problem). I take no chances and so declare all of it. I help Blaithín fill in her form (again, declaring the key ring and medicine) and I leave Pádraig to complete his own and Aisling’s, both of which have no declaration. The customs officials aren’t nearly as stroppy as they appear on TV, they are actually very helpful and friendly. They query what exactly I am declaring and assure me that there is no problem with any of the items. We still have to go through the declaration channel where they have to x-ray the goods. Pádraig and Aisling come with us so that we can stay together. Luckily, just as we are getting to the security screening Aisling realised that the handle of her hair brush is made of wood. There is a bit of confusion when both Aisling and Bláithín put their hand bags (both green) through at the same time. The security guard advises his colleague there is a wooden item in the green bag. We couldn’t figure out whether they were querying the key ring in Blaithín’s bag or the hairbrush in Aisling’s bag. We are advised that they have already cleared Bláithín’s key ring because I had informed them that it was there. I hadn’t realised that they had listened that intently to the details I had given them. However, the hairbrush is cleared for travel.
Then we get to Pádraig. Now, remember he is just tagging along to keep us company. His bag is queried. He is asked about a wooden mask he has in his bag. WHAT!! I’m ready to kill him. All the lectures, all the hassle in LA – has he learned nothing??
Blaithín tries to help, by explaining that the only wood we have is her key ring and the hairbrush. I can see the security official getting annoyed. “We know about those already” “we are querying the mask in this case”. I quietly advise Bláithín to leave the discussion to Pádraig and the guard. Pádraig tells the guard he does not have a wooden mask. I know he doesn’t, but I’m really curious as to what wooden item he has that he has forgotten about. The guard lightly checks the bag. She checks with her colleague “are you sure it’s this case”? Reply “yes, that case, I can see a mask”. Pádraig again says he doesn’t have a wooden mask and that he does not think he has any wood in the case. Luckily for him, he is right (not just because of customs but because I would have killed him later). The security officer must have seen our confusion because she asks him if he has any wet clothing in the bag. When he replies yes he has, she immediately closes the case, explaining that wet towels show up on screen as organic matter and can sometimes be mistaken for wooden masks. I find this very amusing because I realise that what has shown up is his swimming trucks and towel which probably has Hawaiian sand all over it. It is far more likely to have insects in among it than a key ring purchased in the souvenir shop.
Pádraig & Aisling in Darling Habour
Anyway, we get through with little enough time lost and head for the taxi rank to get us to the Quality Cambridge Hotel. As I said earlier, this is the only accommodation that I left with the travel agents to book. We are checked into 2 hotel rooms on the second floor. The small rooms open to the hotel pool enclosed by a glass roof for extra echo effect. Think of the noise levels inside any swimming pool and imagine sleeping next to it. I’m not pleased about this. I am a very light sleeper and I know that I won’t be getting any lie in if there is anyone using the pool in the mornings. I am just speculating on this when a major rumpus starts up outside.
What sounded like an army of kids, but turned out to be only 3 or 4 where raving about how cool it was that they had a pool. I decide to take action and go to reception to ask if there are any rooms away from the pool area available. While waiting to discuss the situation, I realise the full extent of the problem. A group of about 50 teenagers have been booked in for a youth conference: y’know – World Youth Day, Catholic Church an’ all that. Some of them have rooms right next to mine. The youth leader is querying why they have 2 beds less than they should in some of the rooms. Now, having worked as a youth leader I fully understand what is going down here. Gangs of kids, away from home, enjoying their freedom. But now I’m not a youth leader, I’m on holiday and want to enjoy my stay which will hopefully include some sleep.
I am advised that this is the accommodation booked by my travel agent and if I have a complaint I should take it up with them. I can have an upgrade to a premium room on the upper floors at a cost of $40 AUS per room per night. I asked how much notice was necessary to cancel my booking and am again advised that I would have to cancel through the travel agency. Most website bookings will allow a cancellation with 24 hour notice so you could leave after one night. At this point they offer to reduce the cost of the premium rooms to $20 per room per night. I told them I’d think about this and went back to the room to talk to Pádraig about it. I was only back in the room about 2 minutes before the kids outside made the decision for me. My route back to reception is blocked by the hotel manager and the youth leader as they haul a table through the hallway (to make room for the extra beds needed in the room). The youth leader apologises for delaying me, but I was happy. I realise that the hotel manager is going to see the pillow fight I have just passed on my way and I am aware that they need at least 2 more beds. They can have ours!!
I wait at reception until the hotel manager returns from furniture removal journeys. I point out that now that she has seen the situation around the pool area she couldn’t possible be asking guests to sleep there. She agrees and offers a complementary upgrade. For information the rooms aren’t much different. They are slightly bigger and have LCD TV, but only the noise aspect of the economy rooms maker it worth the extra costs. On giving us a free upgrade she changed our full breakfast which was included in the price we paid for the Economy room to a continental breakfast. We are not big breakfast eaters, so I didn’t take issue with it, but it was a bit sly. Full breakfast costs $18.75 AUS, around $11 per person so if the 4 of us had bought full breakfasts it would be the same price as the upgrades.
The other issue with this hotel involves the price of Internet access. It is available at 3 computers in the lobby, but at a cost of $5.00 AUS for 30 minutes. We ask about wireless internet and are informed that it is available in the lobby. But it turns out that it costs the same as using their computers. MAD.
Bottom line? I will not be recommending this hotel to anyone.