Canberra – Afternoon tea at the Hyatt

In Canberra I’m staying at The Hyatt Hotel on the government side of the city. The facility has a very interesting layout with a set of low-rise buildings connected to each other by a set of elegant courtyards with lush vegetation. It’s the winter here in Australia, so it’s still a bit too cold to sit outside. But in the summer it must be quite serene to sit out there with a cold drink under the shade of the many trees with a cold drink… or afternoon tea.

As the more regular readers to this blog have probably already figured out, I really love having afternoon tea. I’m fully aware of the fact that the British have a lot to answer for as far as their colonial history goes – but I do think that they should also be commended for the invention of afternoon tea and its contribution to just making people happy in general through the power of food.

The afternoon tea at The Hyatt is served on dark earthenware that seems to have become very popular in recent years.

There’s a set menu of items for the afternoon tea. The staff are happy to top up any of the items in case you haven’t had enough. Although to be honest, the serving is quite generous. Asking for top ups is really just an indulgence.

Much to my surprise, there are even Maltese pastizzi tal-irkotta on the menu. They’re the diamond shaped things made with filo pastry to the right of the ketchup in the picture below. They’re very good, but I’m not sure how authentic the chives are.

One thing I have noticed in my many years of experience as an afternoon tea afficionado, is that not that many places will serve the scones with real clotted cream. What you usually get is either plain old whipped cream, or if it’s one of the fancier joints, mascarpone – which I agree is the better substitute for clotted cream than whipped cream.

The sweets are quite unusual and very enjoyable.

And as far as the sandwiches are concerned, guilty as charged: I ordered seconds.

In the sum of all things, I very much enjoyed my visit to Canberra (except of course for the shooting incident on the way back to Sydney). And although I wouldn’t exactly call it Australia’s most exciting city, I certainly would like to return one day for a longer visit. And afternoon tea at The Hyatt.

How I experienced the gunman shooting at Canberra airport

I spend the Sunday morning in Canberra walking around the government precinct. Unfortunately, the weather is not very nice and not really ideal for walking. It’s cold, windy and wet. Canberra is meticulously clean and very well kept. But perhaps precisely for that reason it also seems a bit artificial.

My flight back to Sydney is not until 15h35. I’m rather looking forward to this one, because I booked the flight with Virgin Australia, who has Link Air operate the flight on their behalf with a Sabb 340. I haven’t been on one of those in years!

But considering the crappy weather, at around noon I give up and decide I might as well return to the airport and do some work on the Phd somewhere in a quiet corner. I catch the R3 bus from in front of the Sebel hotel, which makes the journey in less than thirty minutes. I arrive at the airport at around 13h00.

One half of the terminal is for QANTAS only, while the other half is shared by REX, Link Air and Virgin Australia. And there’s even an old aircraft on display at the departures level!

I head straight through security, which is again a very hassle free and quick process. In Canberra there is no need to take anything out of your bag. Not even your laptop. You just have to empty your pockets.

I do a quick walkaround and take some photos of the lovely B 717 – let’s face it, it’s really a DC-9 and we all know it – and of what I think will be my ride to Sydney.

I park myself at a table and grab a coffee and a cinnamon roll. I’m still getting used to sizes here in Australia. I order a medium sized flat white and end up with what looks like half a litre of milky coffee! From where I’m sitting I can watch gate 8, where a Jetstar flight is in the process of boarding. At some point I hear a popping sound off in the distance. When I was a kid and we used to visit my grandparents at their restaurant, we would sometimes – if we were very lucky – get a packet of crisps to share. Part of the fun of course, was to pop open the packet by giving it a good squeeze. That’s what the pop sounds like, and I wonder why I even noticed it. Then suddenly there’s a huge commotion, I hear people screaming in terror and what sounds like a stampede heading in my direction. In the queue for the Jetstart flight I see a woman turn pale. Her face contorts into absolute panic. “Oh my God, what’s happening” she yells and people start running everywhere, trying to get out. I hear somebody yelling “he’s got a gun”. And that’s when my senses kick into gear. We have to run. Because we have to survive. The alternative is not an option. And so we make a run for it. There is an elderly lady running in front of me, she must be in her seventies. She is going as fast as she can, which isn’t very much because she’d guiding her blind daughter who has lost her walking stick in the scrum to get out.

I reach the exit of the terminal at the lower level, and that’s when I am gripped with a complete and utter sense of terror as I become aware that I have lost my partner. I don’t know where he went and I don’t know if he made it out. I push down the rising panic boiling in my stomach. I’m trying to stay calm, but as I start looking for his face in the crowd, I can feel myself becoming increasingly frantic. But eventually, after about twenty minutes, I finally spot his pullover in the crowd and I’m flooded with relief. And that’s when I realise the full extent of just how very cold I’m feeling.

A few minutes later, the police start arriving. The airport is cordonnned off and cars are not allowed to pull up to the terminal. All arrivals and departures have been stopped. The old lady with her blind daughter made it out, they’re being looked after by the paramedics.

After the emergency and rescue team, the press arrive and start interviewing people, hoping for an eye witness’ testimonial.

There’s an Asian guy standing there barefoot in his socks. When the evacuation started, his shoes were just going through the x-ray machine and he just left them to get out with his young wife and their eight months old baby. Eventually, we end up spending nearly three hours standing outside in the cold and wet. The flight to Sydney has been cancelled and we’ve been rebooked onto the flight the next day at 07h50. But I just want to go home by this stage. So I quickly log in to the airport network and book us two tickets on the QANTAS flight back to Syndey that same evening at 17h40.

Our belongings have been retrieved by the police and placed on the floor behind security for passengers to find. And I’m really grateful to the police officer who tries to lighten the mood. As I put on my yellow rain jacket to get warm again he gives me this funny look and tells me that “oh mate, yellow’s really your colour. Good on’ya”. And then he laughs. Good on’ya yourself and your colleagues, and thank you for taking care of us!

We park ourselves at gate 14 and then we just wait. Things are still a bit chaotic as the aiport slowly reopens, so it’s hardly surprsing that eventually, our flight departs from Canberra with a delay of nearly two hours. But you know what, I so couldn’t care less, because things today could have gone much, much worse.

I trust you’ll understand that after such a day I really didn’t have any energy left to pay attention to anything much that happened on the flight. So, I think I’ll just leave you with some pictures of the gorgeous B 717, aka the DC-9.

QANTAS, Economy Class – Bombardier Q400: Sydney to Canberra

Getting to the airport

I just love Sydney and its harbour. And I really like the idea of commuting by boat. I mean, how cool is that! As usual, to get to the airport I first take the Manly ferry and then the train from Circular Quay. In the sun it’s pleasantly warm. But in the shade it’s still fresh. And the breeze on deck is not for the faint of heart. But the view…!

At Sydney airport there is one station that serves all domestic terminals. QANTAS operates out of Terminal 3

Check-in

From the station you need to go three floors up to the departure level. I’ve already checked in on the app and I have no luggage, so I can just go straight through security. In the domestic terminal they use body scanners, and you don’t have to take anything out of your bag either, which is really very convenient.

The QANTAS Business Class lounge

After I exit from security, the entrance to the lounge is to my left just a few steps down the hall.

No beach or sleep wear is permitted in the lounge. Although I wasn’t actually aware that UGGs were sleep wear…

The lounge is a lot less busy than when I was here last when I first arrived in Australia. I’m also a lot more awake. So, I grab myself a seat by the window, get myself a flat white (I’m picking up the local lingo…) and a cheese sandwich (yeah, okay… and a plate full of Arnott’s biscuits) and read until it’s time to leave the lounge.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a delay of twenty minutes from gate 17. More importantly, what I’m looking forward to is that boarding is via stairs and not an airbridge.

The cabin

On the outside, the aircraft is already wearing QANTAS’ new livery and looks rather… Dashing. Inside though, it looks like the cabin has seen some pretty heavy usage. It’s not that the cabin is in bad condition, just that the seats look rather worn.

The seat pitch is good. The only problem on the window seat it that the narrow width of the Q400’s fuselage cuts into your leg space.

Once we’re seated, there’s a further delay. Apparently, there’s a lot of luggage and it’s taking them a long time to load the bags in such a way that everything will fit.

The service

There are two female cabin crew. The purser seems quite reserved, but her colleague is great and interacts well with the passengers, and especially with the many kids on the plane.

While we wait for the handlers to finish with the bags, the crew pass through the cabin handing out small bottles of still water.

The flight time to Canberra is announced as 35 minutes.

The snack service

To be honest, I thought the bottle of water was all we were going to get, considering the short flight time. Much to my surprise though, once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew start their service, which includes a packet of buttery passion fruit biscuits and a full drinks service, including tea or coffee.

Arrival

Eventually we land at 13h45 with a delay of eleven minutes, which is not all that bad. Here in Canberra they have these very funky mobile, wheelchair friendly ramps that they use to disembark. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great idea if there are passengers with mobility issues on board. But seeing as we boarded in Sydney without having to use one of these, I’m kind of wondering if it would not have been faster to just disembark via the stairs.

I step off the aircraft and make my way across the ramp to arrivals. There’s a bus into town every thirty minutes and I’ve just missed the one at 13h46. So I’m going to have to take a taxi to make it to my 14h30 appointment for afternoon tea at the Hyatt. The journey by taxi takes 12 minutes and costs AUD25. By bus it would be about 35 minutes.

Conclusion

I’m assuming that this will be my last domestic QANTAS flight for the time being. As I already mentioned in my post on the A 380 flight from Singapore to Sydney, I’m really not a fan of the QANTAS First Class product. Their domestic Business and Economy Class products are something else though. I find it quite amazing that they will serve you a hot meal on a leg of only ninety minutes between Melbourne and Sydney, or that they offer you bikkies in Economy Class on a flight of thirty minutes. It makes you wonder what the poor Aussies must think when they visit Europe and have to count their lucky stars if they get anything at all on a plane.