AUSTRALIA — Day 1

The first trip of my life to Australia began with a pair of 13-hour flights — New York City to Dubai to Sydney. Check out my boarding passes:

2_boarding_passes_dubai_sydney

Flying through the Middle East wasn’t the quickest route to Australia, but for some reason, when I’d booked the trip six months earlier, it was the cheapest . . . and hey, Emirates! Right? I’d heard it was one of the nicest airlines — and it proved to be true. Not only was every employee polite and helpful, but the plane itself was gorgeous. Here’s the staircase to the First Class area:

6_staircase_to_first_class

More on that in a bit, but first, here’s one of three meals that was served:

7_arabic_lamb_stew_for_lunch

According to the menu (yes, an actual menu with various options), it was “Arabic lamb stew.” And it was delicious.

Speaking of Arabic, look at these little items that came with it:

11_tiny_items_included_with_meal

Did you notice the white cable dangling to the left of my meal (two photos up)? That was my laptop’s power cord. Every seat on the flight had its own outlet, so I was plugged in and fully charged for the entire journey. I labeled photos and videos for about five hours and played Nintendo (with a USB controller) for the remaining seven — several games of Tetris followed by every level of both Super Mario Bros. 1 & 2.

One nice thing about the flight was the free/unlimited fruit, candy, juice, and water. This was the setup in one of the galleys:

16_free_fruit_candy_drinks

This was another highlight:

18_polaroid_photos_of_zack

In case you can’t tell, that’s me in both of those Polaroid photos. Evidently that’s a thing on Emirates. They get the cute flight attendants to pose with you and take your picture.

Because I was so excited by the food and photos (and because I was being my polite, chatty self), I got a personal tour of First Class after we landed in Dubai. Here are the fancy seats up there, which can fully recline . . .

22_first_class_cabin_after_flight

. . . and here’s the bathroom:

26_shower_in_the_bathroom

Did you notice the shower at the end? Hot damn.

The Dubai airport resembled a high-end mall:

28_dubai_airport

Here’s something that caught my eye as I wandered toward the gate for my next flight:

29_prayer_rooms

Wow.

I caught a brief glimpse of the Burj Khalifa in the distance, but unfortunately couldn’t get a decent photo because of the gigantic window coverings. Bleh. It’s probably a ploy to get dumb tourists like me to actually *visit* the city in order to get a proper look at the mammoth structure.

By the time I boarded my second flight . . .

36_zack_on_second_flight_to_sydney

. . . it felt like 3am for me. I don’t even know what time it was in Dubai, but I did know this: when the plane was scheduled to land in Sydney, it was going to be 7am. In other words, if I didn’t sleep A LOT on this flight, I was gonna be screwed.

I played more video games for about three hours, then slept for about three hours, and then got awakened when the old French people next to me had to get up to use the bathroom. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, but thankfully, after their 20-minute out-of-seat excursion, I settled back in and passed out for four more hours.

Here’s what the flight tracker was telling me when I woke up for the second time:

39_flight_tracker_to_sydney

Breakfast was served a little while later:

40_omelet_for_breakfast

I felt pretty good when the plane touched down in Sydney, though I suspected my energy wouldn’t last.

Look what I saw in the baggage claim area:

42_opening_series_advertisement

Did you notice the advertisement on that vertical video screen? That’s THE reason why I made this trip: Major League Baseball’s Opening Series between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Two years ago, I traveled to Japan for MLB’s Opening Series at the Tokyo Dome, and now here I was in Australia for a similar experience.

Look who I saw after passing through customs:

43_ray_burton_with_z_sign

Here’s a closeup:

44_ray_burton_with_sign_closeup

The man holding the “Z” sign is my friend Ray Burton. He and I first met in 2012 when his entire family traveled to America and hired me to join them for two Watch With Zack games in Philadelphia. Remember? Here’s a photo of us which was taken outside Citizens Bank Park. This was my blog entry about the first game we attended together, and this was my entry about the second. We all had such a good time that we kept in close touch, and when MLB announced the Opening Series in Australia, Ray invited me to stay with his family in Newcastle, which is about 100 miles north of Sydney.

Here’s Nick, the older of his two sons, who joined him in waking up at 4:30am in order to meet me at the airport:

45_nick_burton_outside

Nick drove us out of Sydney . . .

47_driving_through_sydney_to_newcastle

. . . toward Newcastle . . .

51_sign_for_newcastle

. . . and we arrived at their home in the late morning:

57_heading_toward_the_house

One reason I love the Burtons is that they embrace my passion for food. On the way to Newcastle, Ray had asked me what I wanted for dinner — and what I wanted to eat in general.

The following photo shows one of the things I mentioned:

62_donna_with_kangaroo_meat

YES!!!

The wonderful woman pictured above is Ray’s wife, Donna. She had to go food shopping anyway, so she picked this up for all of us and planned to make spaghetti with kangaroo meatballs.

Meanwhile, Ray and I headed out for the afternoon with Alex, the younger of his two sons. Here’s the vehicle we rode in:

64_ray_and_his_hummer

Amazing.

Prior to this, I’d never been in a Hummer; I’d only made disparaging remarks about them (and their owners) from afar, but I have to say . . . it was quite a nice ride.

Check out Ray’s floor mats:

65_rays_floormat

His friends think he has those because of the similarity to his name, but in fact the Rays are his favorite team.

After just a few minutes of driving, we stopped at a scenic lookout at the end of a street called Banksia Avenue:

67_banksia_avenue_scenic_lookout

From there we went to see some animals at a place called Blackbutt Reserve. Here’s a photo of Alex and Ray entering the first enclosure:

73_blackbutt_reserve

After spotting several creatures from a distance, we got close to a pretty little bird called a rainbow lorikeet. Here I am with it . . .

76_zack_and_rainbow_lorikeet

. . . and here it is on Alex’s shoulder:

77_alex_and_rainbow_lorikeet

The bird was adorable. It started licking Alex’s neck, and it seemed so cute and harmless that I reached out toward it gently with my right hand. Wanna guess what happened next? The little bastard chomped down on my index finger, right in the crease below my middle knuckle, and made me bleed!

(Welcome to Australia.)

Given the fact that rainbow lorikeets are not predatory or aggressive, Ray and Alex thought it was hilarious. In all fairness, if I’d seen it happen to someone else, I would’ve been laughing too.

My pain lessened somewhat when I got a good look at a koala:

79_koala

Here are a few more animals we encountered (from a safe distance):

80_four_animals

In the four-part photo above, you’re looking at:

1) a lace monitor
2) a barking owl
3) the ass of an elusive, spiny anteater known as an echidna
4) a long-necked turtle.

Then I finally got to see some kangaroos for the first time in my life:

90_kangaroos_and_wallabies

Unfortunately they weren’t jumping all over the place, but it was still cool.

Here’s an emu:

92_emu

On the way back to the Burtons’ home, Ray and Alex and I stopped a nearby park to play catch. Here they are waiting patiently while I pulled out my camera for the zillionth time:

97_playing_catch_with_alex_and_ray

Before dinner, Ray gave me a tour of his Man Cave:

104_man_cave_interior

In the photo above, did you notice the display cases of baseballs on the right side? Here’s a closer look:

106_bat_and_balls_in_display_cases

Not only were there a bunch of commemorative balls that we’d snagged together in Philadelphia, but one of the cases had a ball that I had signed for them:

107_zack_hample_autograph_1110_baseballs_ago

And by the way, the bat on display is the one signed by Edgardo Alfonzo that Ray had won as a charity prize in 2012 – very nice to see that it now has a prominent spot in a happy home.

The Burtons have four cats. Here’s Alex with three of them:

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Here’s a group photo from dinner:

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The only person missing was their daughter, Emily, who is studying at Sydney University. We were planning to travel to Sydney in two days, so I was looking forward to seeing her.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for:

112_spaghetti_and_kangaroo_meatballs

Spaghetti and kangaroo meatballs!

Donna’s cooking was fantastic, but kangaroo meat itself isn’t all that great. It’s kind of gamey and chewy, and I’ve since learned that Australians don’t really eat it. It’s mainly served as a touristy thing . . . so in that sense, I did my job.

On a final note, I plan to blog about every day of my trip. Some of the entries will contain baseball stuff (especially Day 3), but others won’t. If my trip bores you, then don’t read about it. For me, personally, blogging about it is a nice way to document everything and (since I’m not on Facebook) share it with my family and non-baseball-loving friends.

12 Comments

Great stuff, Z. You know who else is from “Newy”?? Major League pitcher for the DBacks (and formerly-Mariners), Ryan Rowland-Smith!!

It’s crazy seeing your pics. It’s like I was there too. LOL. Australia really was a friendly and beautiful country. Thanks again to Ray for the ride back to downtown and saving Dolly and I some cab fare. I owe you a ride sometime.

I like to live vicariously through your pictures. Australia looks amazing. I really need to go to a foreign opening series someday… As for that flight though… who showers on a plane?? Wouldn’t that tie up the bathroom for the other passengers?

– Chris

http://ballhawker.mlblogs.com

That looks like a really cool trip Zack! It’s nice to see someone excited about and enjoying air travel
And is that a custom license plate (RAY-357) or purely awesome luck?

Wow, that first class is unbelievable!

http://mlblogscubden.wordpress.com/

I wish all planes were like the first one.
-Demetrius

http://thatballhawk.mlblogs.com/

COOK & SON BATS-
I think I knew that at some point. Very cool.

LEIGH BARRATT-
Nah, you don’t owe me anything. You’ve done plenty for me over the years. Just help me get into PETCO early with the season ticket holders next time I’m town.

CHRIS-
I don’t think it would because there aren’t many people in first class, and there are probably other bathrooms without showers.

SF CONNOR-
It’s easy to get excited when my laptop is plugged in and the food is good and the staff is friendly. As for the license plate, it’s custom.

THE CUB DEN-
Yeah, it makes me feel like the rest of my life is lacking.

DEMETRIUS-
I’m sure there are planes (private jets) that are *much* fancier.

Definitely going to give Emirates a try next time we fly overseas. Those seats look awesome.

Z… when I was there I was told that kangaroo meat was used for dog food. And that the country is overrun with roos. And that they hire kangaroo snipers to take them out so they can sell the meat and skins. But don’t worry… I don’t judge. Heck… I ate squirrel once in Illinois. But while Down Under I tried crocodile chowder! Delicious!

RAY BURTON-
Cool. When you do, let me know what you think.

BLOGGING ‘BOUT BASEBALL-
I don’t know about the whole “dog food” thing, but I did hear that kangaroos are abundant and annoying. Wait ’til you see what I ate on Day 5 . . .

Lucky, you took the biggest passenger plane in the world! The a380!!! Also great post!! Think you’ll make it to Baltimore this year, especially with the commemoratives?

I knew the plane was big, but didn’t know it was *that* big. I’m sure I’ll get to Baltimore for at least a game or two, but first I’ll try to snag one of those balls on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.

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