The trip that tainted flying for ever . . .

THE worst thing about flying up the pointy end of a plane (a real #firstworldproblem) is that you never want to go back to flying any other way.

The sheer thrill and the internal shriek factor I felt inside (a feeling I tried to cooly hide when my upgraded boarding pass was handed over at Los Angeles airport last week) made me nearly cry. Tears of joy.

First class travel is up there in bucket list land. Chances are most of us will just dream about it. But when I was invited to try it out on the sky’s big boy, a Qantas A380, on a flight back from Los Angeles, I came home with some very bad news. It totally rocks. And here’s why.

As soon as you check in you make your way to the lounge. Not just any old lounge but the FIRST class lounge, which in itself makes you feel like you have joined the smarty pants society. A glass of champagne and anything you like from the lounge restaurant — one croque monsieur thanks — and it was time to board.

Once on board, and yes, there is absolutely NO queue when you are ushered toward the left of the plane. Well, actually even though you board via the front doors, you actually turn right when you’re travelling first on an A380. Small detail. But hey, it’s first class, so who cares?

OK, so I’m on board.

As soon as I perch myself in my seat (more a suite than a seat) a chilled glass of real deal champagne is gently popped into my hand. It is served, not with a teeny pack of pretzels or peanuts but with two exquisite canapés — a caviar tartlet and a crostini with salsa verde and pickled fennel — all put on a small tray that is above 2J’s magazine holder.

Oh and you pretty much have your own flight attendant too.

My seat is a fully fledged flat bed that rotates so it turns to where your 17-inch TV screen sits, which is just on top of a small extra seat. Or, it can be a foot rest if you are really, really tall.

For most first flyers, the extra seat is there in case you would like to invite a neighbour/partner/travelling buddy/husband/whoever over for dinner and a chat. Personally, I’m happy with my own company for the next 14 or so hours.

My understated and impeccably mannered flight attendant, Sunita came and made up my bed even before we left. And just after that I strapped myself in with a belt that resembled a car seat — the whole, over-the-shoulder extravaganza.

As I was flying from Los Angeles to Sydney — an overnight flight — it was clever for Sunita to make my bed up before I decided to munch on some supper. Saved all the getting up and standing around thing later on.

My choice of mushroom soup with sourdough croutons, a Penfolds Shiraz and a tagliatelle bolognese (OK, I was hungry) was simply sensational and with the addition of Pepe Saya butter (he’s a butter artisan from NSW) it made the meal seem even more special and Neil Perry-esque than if I was having it on land.

I watched one movie, about six brilliant episodes of Emmy-award winning Veep(well, I had just come back from covering the Emmy Awards) and then, without having to count sheep, I blissfully fell asleep.

REASONS TO LOVE FIRST CLASS:

 There is a serious calm and feeling of luxe in first class. It’s like you are the only king or queen of the world for those precious hours and no matter what you ask for, it’s quietly and elegantly attended to.

 A first class seat or pod (there are 15 of them on an A380) takes up about four economy seats so, yes, there is room. Serious room. And as there are no overhead lockers I could have my on-board flight bag within constant reach, which I loved.

 Chic, dark grey PJs: Serious first classers zip straight to the bathroom as soon as the charcoal PJs are handed to them for a quick changeover. I, on the other hand, hang onto them and took them home as my, well, comfy, at-home lounge wear.

 These are serious seats; they swivel 75 degrees, they lie totally flat, give you a massage and one moment you’re facing the front of the plane and the next you’ve swivelled like you’re on a seat on The Voice. Next, you’ve reclined yourself into a flat bed. Oh, and did I tell you that your made-up bed includes a large cotton pillow, a smaller pillow, a seriously comfy and homey duvet, a woollen blanket and cotton sheet that has been fitted over a sheepskin-covered foam mattress? I felt like I was in a very, VERY comfy baby’s pram.

 Loved the mobile charger; the “time to destination” counter; the privacy screens; very smart amenity bags with SK-II products, a small mirror and the trusty toothbrush and toothpaste, which I always forget to bring with me.

 I loved spending at least 30 minutes getting to know my first class digs, especially the aforementioned “time to destination” tablet that doubles as your seat adjuster, entertainment controller, light switch, massage boss and flight path.

 Oh and did I mention that first class peeps are first to get off the plane, which made me feel even more like a rock star than when I first walked on.

 After a 6am arrival — and those pancakes (see above!) — I zipped home, unpacked, put the washing on and felt perky enough to come to the office for the day. Now that’s a mega bonus.

On a side note — OK, a rather big one — it pays to remember that using your points can get you up the pointy end, if you have paid for a full fare ticket. So, if you are in the business of frequent flying and those points are accumulating, hey, give it a go.

The only bad news is, well, there really isn’t any.

Happy flying!

HOW TO GET THERE:

The Qantas A380 aircraft operates services from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles and Dubai, Sydney to Hong Kong, and Dubai to London with its codeshare partner Emirates.

Melissa Hoyer was upgraded by Qantas: the staff probably saw how tired she looked as she checked in.

This article was originally posted on news.com.au


Santiago has become much bigger destination than a stop-over. It should be on your travel bucket list

REVERED for its idyllic location — you can see the snow-capped Andes Mountains from just about any part of the city — Santiago is morphing into a serious holiday destination.

The Chilean capital (and it’s pronounced Chil-ee not Chile-aay) hasn’t always been a spot that has jumped out as a travellers ‘must-do’.

Usually, it has been the first entry point to South American tourists who then transit to Peru, Lima, to Machu Picchu, Buenos Aires or to the 2016 Olympics city, Rio.

But I’ve got a big surprise for you: it is one of the world’s most colourful and diverse cities. And it’s home to some surreal sights.

With its signature Spanish-inspired architecture, sleek hotels and cafes with coffee waitresses showing off their legs as they serve espressos, Santiago is also a very short distance to snowfields, to horseback rides up the Andes, a buzzy night-life and a heap of vineyards.

It’s well worth scheduling 3-4 days of Santiago sightseeing into your South American bucket list trip and here’s why.

You can have a day or two seeing Santiago; take day trip to the historical town of Valparaiso; have a day at a winery then a day to immerse yourself in the Andes — whether you’re on the ski slopes or riding a horse.

Or you could venture a bit further and trek their UFO trail, or head over to Easter Island.

YOU MUST SEE:

• Valparaiso

The historic port city of Valparaiso is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and shows what a once exquisite and wealthy merchant town now looks like.

Sure, it’s a little worn around the edges but it is an example of late 19th century architecture with its hills are dotted with thousands of multicoloured houses, homes. And lots of graffiti.

In Valparaiso, all of the houses are brightly coloured and one of the rules of the town is that you cannot paint your house the same colour as the one next to you.

La Sebastiana, the former home of Chilean Pulitzer Prize winning poet Pablo Nerudais also open to the public and is one of the most popular tourist stops in the town.

• Plaza de Armas

This is Santiago’s main hub in the centre of the CBD and perched off the plaza are various historic buildings, including the exquisite Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (its richness and sumptuousness took my breath away), the main City Hall, a very cool-designed central Post Office and the National History Museum.

• San Cristobal Hill

The summit of this hill offers spectacular views of the city, and it can be reached via a funicular railway and up the top is the famous giant statue of the Virgin Mary In fact, it’s the biggest statue of the Virgin Mary in the world. Oh, and Catholicism is the overriding faith of many Chileans.

• Vineyards

We visited the Bodega RE vineyard which is part of the Casablanca Wine Valley(recently named one of the great wine capitals) when we visited we dined at the cellar door, taste-testing some killer wines. Did you know that Chile is the fourth biggest producer of wine? Even beating Australia, which comes in at 5th place?

They also do some very interesting ‘mixed’ wine blends like ‘Chardonnoir’, ‘Pinotel’ and ‘Cabergnan’.

• Graffiti

It’s hard not to see it, because it is, literally everywhere. Some of it is pure street art others bits are, well, just tedious tags that don’t contribute much to the look of the city at all. Some of the best, though, can be found in the bohemian neighbourhood ofBarrio Bellavista which is also the coolest place for funky eateries and a buzzy night life.

• Valle Nevado ski resort

The ultra popular ski and snowboarding resort is literally a one-hour drive out of the city of Santiago. It is in the El Plomo foothills in the Andes Mountains and the best time of year to be there is about the same time as an Australian winter. It has also just received its first ski resort gondola and had an easy 30cm of snow last week.

• Museum of Memory and Human Rights

Wow, this is one of the best museums I have ever entered. I wish there was a word that wasn’t as sterile as ‘museum’ as it doesn’t do justice to this architecturally exquisite space that traces the rise, brutality and the ultimate fall of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship from 1973-1990. The Museo de la Memoria los derechos Humanos uses audio, visuals and in a spectacular and extraordinary way to retell history. A REAL must-see.

• Horseriding on the Andes

Seriously, this was the best fun ever, A troupe of us were given a horse each (mine was a slow little chomper named Pistachio) and we slowly made our way up the Andes Hills. A company called Andes Riders had organised a brilliant BBQ and a glass of Chilean red that awaited us once we arrive up top.

The vista was spectacular with the snow-capped Andes never far from our eyesite as our horses led a well-trodden path up the mountain. Total heaven and made even more fun by the trip back DOWN the hill …

• Coffee With Legs

Yup this had to be done. One of the most funs ways to have a coffee. Served by gorgeous girls showing off their legs while serving you a macchiato? I mean, coffee with sex appeal, why not! South Americans aren’t shy!

WHILE IN CHILE

You can also venture out of Santiago to the San Clemente UFO trail, a 30-kilometre stretch that takes in sites of alleged extraterrestrial activity.

And don’t forget Easter Island, a remote island that’s home to a mysterious and infamous series of statues.

HOW TO GET THERE:

We flew Qantas who is increasing services to Santiago from November 2015 to January 2016 with the 5th service running on Sundays, adding to the existing Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday services.

Being the only airline that flies a non-stop service from Sydney to Santiago Qantasalso uses codeshare services operated by LAN from Santiago to six destinations across South America, including Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Lima.

The QF Business Cabin to Santiago featured Skybed sleeper seats, a self-service refreshment bar and mood lighting with additional ground services including dedicated check-in counters in all ports, priority baggage with additional allowances, priority boarding and disembarkation and express customs and immigration in selected ports.

The restaurant-style menus were ‘designed’ by Australian chef and restaurateur Neil Perry and business customers could choose from a range of menu options and refreshments throughout the flight.

WHERE TO STAY:

We were invited to test run the Novotel Santiago and it was worth every minute, and best of all, the tariffs are seriously affordable. The Novotel is in a ‘nice’ end of town, in Vitacura, and is just a street away from the smarty pants ‘designer’ fashion strip of Santiago.

The hotel, which is part of the Accor Hotels group has a slight business feel to it, but that said, it is immaculate, has a killer breakfast buffet and the sunset (below) would greet me each night on my stay. Bliss …

There is a ‘Stay and Chile’ at Novotel Santiago with three nights from $640 (plus VAT 19 per cent) (two people twin share) while six nights start from $1300 (+VAT) (two people twin share)

These packages include buffet breakfast, free internet, UG parking, heated pool, jacuzzi, and late check out of 4.30pm.

Full board packages are also available including breakfast lunch and three course dinner plus a glass of wine or soft drink, at Restaurant 365 at Novotel, from $850 for two people (twin share) for three nights, or from $1,700 for 6 nights. Valid for bookings and travel from now until to December 31, 2016.

To book — Email: h5233-re@accor.com specifying the package type required.

*Melissa Hoyer was a guest of Qantas,Tourism Chile and Accor Hotels

This article was originally posted on news.com.au


A Fast and Furious 24 hours in Tokyo

THE size, the pace, oh, and the price of Tokyo has always been a daunting one. It’s been on the bucket list, so when a 24-hour opportunity came up? Kon’nichiwa.

While that amount of time hardly scratches the surface, you get a feel of the energy that makes it one of the most diverse and riveting cities in the world.

Invited to fly the first flight from Brisbane to Tokyo, the good news for Queenslanders is they can now get to the buzz of Japan in just over 9 hours.

Arriving at Narita airport, everything is precise and poised. But don’t ever think that English is everyone’s second language. Simply, it isn’t. Even heading over to buy a SIM card at the airport — a usually fairly painless exercise — was tough. (And after all that I never did get it to work.)

Anyhow, the train from Narita airport to Ginza station in central Tokyo was the best and most affordable option but if you had a lot of luggage I wouldn’t suggest it.

Finding room in the luggage cabins can be hard. Also, it’s important to be on the platform at the exact time of departure. There are NO time delays, ever, on Tokyo trains.

Once we got off at the underground it was a short taxi ride to our hotel in Ginza. In Tokyo, Japanese taxi drivers WEAR GLOVES. They are lace (doily) head rests and seat covers and good drivers are charming and poised. Our inn — the affordable Mercure in Ginza — is a perfectly positioned, great service hotel. It’s not high-end but incredibly clean, well-positioned and just plainly, very, very good. (Oh, and you can ‘buy’ a late check out, which was worth every cent considering the humidity of our quick trip.)

A quick freshen up, and all of a sudden it was 9pm, so we popped around to a quick and easy noodle bar and ate. Lots. After dinner, of COURSE we ventured to Joysound — a karaoke bar which was the starkest, most brightly lit Karoake space ever. But when were placed in the ‘Party Room’ and left to our own karaoke devices, the light show and mad song choices had us at Dancing Queen.

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Next day it was up early and for a twirl around the Ginza district — filled with designer labels and the extraordinary Mitsukoshi department store (with the best basement food hall I have ever seen). We then made our way on the metro to Harajuku where dress-ups (usually) rule supreme.

I get the feeling the oppressive heat may have had something to do with not AS many men and women dressing ‘up’ in a style that has become the area’s signature. Needless to say, there is still this obsession with ‘girlie’ dressing or of wearing clothes fit for 8-years-olds, but on 18 and 28-year-old bodies.

We kept going in and out of air-conditioned shops — the heat was THAT intense — and realised it was time to talk food. After another queue (there are queues everywhere) we stumbled across the Ichiran ramen noodle bar, a very cool and affordable Japanese chain, which had eating stations that were similar to voting cubicles.

Just before you get a seat, you punch in your choices and pay before you head inside to wait by a ‘vacant seat’ allocator. As soon as you got to your ‘cubicle’ there was paperwork to do, filling in a form that had me determine the chilli, garlic, and noodle choice of my already paid-for lunch. I loved it!

When the form was filled in, you pressed a green button and a hand from behind a small bamboo curtain in front of you took my order. Insane!

There are masks on every 5th person and for some reason I noticed that the kimonohas gone from being a traditional piece of clothing, usually worn to ceremonies & more formal events, to a piece that has re-emerged as a weekend staple.

We were exploring central Tokyo on a Sunday, and there were kimonos everywhere. On women and men. It was brilliant.

OK, so around 16 hours into my Tokyo sojourn and to walk off our lunch we headed to the mega Roppongi Hills Mori Tower only to be gobsmacked at the extraordinary reach of Tokyo. I’m usually a bit ‘blah’ about observatories, but this was a real must simply bacuase it gave you an idea of the breadth of size of Tokyo.

OK, so Tokyo was steamy beyond. By that I mean, stifling hot and humid. So to be honest I would avoid high summer if you wanted to go on a leisurely holiday. Needless to say we loved the bar near our hotel, the Ginza Itamaebar, where we found a mid-arvo icy cold beer and the best tempura. Japan is not, I repeat not, one big Sushi Train. Far from it.

In fact, you hard pressed to even encounter the revolving food stations that have become the norm of the Aussie take on Japanese culinary culture. Which leads me to a little treat I gave myself. I always try to go to somewhere vaguely flash when I am somewhere new. So in Tokyo it was the Park Hyatt for drinks and dinner so I could have my Lost in Translation moment.

I perched myself at the bar (the same one Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansen sat at in the film) then took myself into the hotel’s restaurant where I happily sat by the window and watched all the action go by. This was pure, up-market Tokyo.

And like *that* my time is Tokyo was just about up. Tokyo is HUGE. It was great to get a taste of if & next time I’ll maybe go to Niseko or Hakuba and continue a quest to eventually make my way down a Japanese ski slope.

Japanese form guide

• Maybe it was me but you don’t see many/hardly any people eating in public

• Business cards are presented with two hands

• A warm towel or hand towell is a staple at most eateries

• Queuing seems mandatory — and no one complains

• Trains leave and arrive at a precise time — there is no room for error

• Shoes are taken off and at some restaurants and left in foot lockers (no wonder there are so many mechanical & battery-operated pedicure appliances around.)

• Is the only place where you don’t look like a complete hypochondriac wearing a mask

• It is also totally fine to wear a sock, a half sock and a sandal.

• Waiters, taxis et al don’t expect tips. Seriously. But we liked doing it anyway …

Melissa Hoyer was a guest of Qantas on board the inaugural flight from Brisbane to Narita airport and on the Haneda airport to Sydney flight coming back to Australia

This article was originally posted on news.com.au


Qantas adds more Tokyo flights

QANTAS is expanding its presence in Japan with the launch of double daily services between Australia and Tokyo this weekend. They’re even serving ‘Japanese’ Kit-Kats to celebrate.

Flights will depart from Sydney to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport followed by the departure of a flight from Brisbane to Tokyo’s other airport, Narita, over the weekend.

Qantas International chief executive Gareth Evans said the almost doubling of capacity to Tokyo marked a new era for the national carrier’s presence in Japan.

“This significant capacity expansion has been extremely well-received by Qantas customers and especially by corporate travellers heading directly to downtown Tokyo, who can now save up to one-and-a-half hours on their airport commute by flying into or out of Haneda,” said Mr Evans.

“Customers travelling on the new Brisbane-Narita route can explore Tokyo or beyond with popular holiday destinations across Jetstar Japan’s extensive domestic network, like Sapporo, Fukuoka and Osaka.

“We’ll be working closely with our tourism partners to showcase all that Australia has to offer for the Japanese audience, and with a free-trade agreement in place we’re anticipating healthy demand for travel in both directions,” added Mr Evans.

Launch celebrations will happen over the weekend with Japanese-themed activity throughout the terminal and a water cannon salute to mark the departure of QF61 from Brisbane.

Traditional Japanese ceremonies will also take place at both Narita and Haneda Airports.

The Qantas Brisbane-Narita flight will be operated by the airline’s refurbished A330 aircraft, with lie-flat seats in business, new economy seats and new in-flight entertainment.

To celebrate the launch of the new Japan services, customers onboard flights departing to Narita and Haneda, and in Qantas international lounges in Sydney and Brisbane, will be treated to Japanese-inspired menus for the first week of August, including tuna tataki nigiri in business class and green tea-flavoured Kit Kats in premium economy and economy.

Melissa Hoyer will be a guest of Qantas on the Australia-Japan leg this weekend.

This article was originally posted on news.com.au


The city more tourists need to see

I KNEW this was going to be a fun trip as soon as we landed off our QF bird at Los Angeles airport when the longest stretch disco Hummer I’d ever seen was our next mode of transport.

It was that kind of OTT, rock-star, kooky kind of stuff you always look at other people doing, but hey, who was complaining? The Hummer was about to take us to one of the more understated, yet simply gorgeous American if not small cities I’d ever seen.

I had never really heard that much about Santa Barbara (with a population of around 220,000) except that there’d once been a 80s/90s TV soap based on the Californian coastal town all about goings-on of the lives of the wealthy Capwell and Lockridge families. (Fun fact: Santa Barbara aired in over 40 countries and became the longest-running television series in Russia.)

Anyway, back to why I’m here. Santa Barbara is referred to as the Amercian Rivieraand faces south on the longest section of the West Coast of the US and has a climate referred to as Mediterranean. Although, it was pretty chilly when we were there in May (Note to self: pack another sweater next time).

Santa Barbara is popular for its tourism, bay, and its resorts, but it’s not often a place peeps add to their must-see list.

So, here are some of the reasons you should do exactly that:

• As soon as we hit Santa Barbara — a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles — it was bags down and straight to the (downtown) Salt Caves. Yup. Santa Barbara is renowned for Salt Caves which are designed to provide “a unique natural environment to relax, recharge, and rejuvenate the body and mind, especially after a long flight”. So, we sat in the cave rooms for half an hour and soaked in the atmosphere of Himalayan salt rock and its health-enhancing qualities. And yes, it felt good.

• The Urban Wine Trail had us tasting some of the finest wines produced in Santa Barbara County, all within blocks of downtown and the beach. The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail gave novices (like some of our gang) and aficionados (like others in our gang) the opportunity to learn about and taste wines Santa Barbara County’s best vineyards. Informative, not up themselves and just great fun.

• We also had a “pedicab” — a man-wheeling bike that basically took us for a spin around the town as the driver pointed out some of the best zones in SB.

• Speaking of zones, you do so need to visit The Funk Zone? OK, OK, it’s a shocking name, but it’s a tourist and hot neighbourhood precinct where the best muncheries, restaurants and wine-tasting rooms can be found, surrounded by industrial and manufacturing plants and even crisscross train and car routes.

Visitors and celebs alike hit the F Zone to check out galleries and real SB life. It has become so cool-school, some businesses well outside will even say are Funk Zone-adjacent, just so they can use the spoils of popularity of the zone.

• You can’t help but take in the exquisite Spanish architecture of Santa Barbara and its plethora of deco-style theatres dotted throughout the town. A Monterey-style adobe in California was built on State Street (the main drag of Santa Barbara) by merchant Alpheus Thompson while the dominant architectural themes — Spanish Colonial Revival and the related Mission Revival style are still encouraged through guidelines created after a 1925 earthquake destroyed the downtown district..

• You need to do a Sunset Cruise or the Santa Barbara Sailing Center. Basically, you sit back and enjoy a twirl around a small but dynamic little harbour admiring, either on a kayak — with the chance of spotting a whale to two — or on a boat with views back to shore and out to the Channel Islands. But don’t forget your wind jacket!

• And what about the digs? Wow. yes, wow. We tested out Belmond El Encanto and it is a seriously god-smackingly beautiful hotel. The view was great and the villa/bungalow suites were absolute perfection. As for the service? after arriving home from dinner one night, I had left my key in my room and the staff went totally out of their way to get me back in as soon as possible. That may sound trivial, but it wasn’t a chore or a pain – it seemed just like normal quality service for the staff to be actually wanting to do something for a guest at midnight!

This article was originally posted on news.com.au

Melissa Hoyer was a guest on flights from Australia to Los Angeles on Qantas and of Tourism Santa Barbara.