Another Day – Another Journey

Cruise from Southampton UK to Miami Florida US

The 7th November 2016 found me sitting at the Gold Coast Airport awaiting a Virgin Airlines flight to Heathrow, via Melbourne and Abu Dhabi. This was the start of my UK/US/Canada trip; the UK part merely a transition from one continent to the next.

The Virgin Flight leaves from Gate 2 at 10.55am

The Virgin Flight leaving from Gate 2 at 10.55am

Since retiring last Easter, travel has been high on the agenda as I come to terms with the sudden absence of deadlines to meet, meetings to attend, and generally, ‘work’ to do. And I love it! When I booked a cruise to mark the end of the work phase and start of retirement, I had no idea it would lead to so many more trips. On the cruise I decided to book another cruise for 2017; the discount applied to the shipboard booking was too good to ignore, and besides, I figured one cruise a year would be a good way to see the world. The friend who was with me booked the same cruise, which made the price even better. Sydney to Seattle, stay a few days to visit some old familiar places and then fly back to Australia. I couldn’t wait.

But, as we know, the best-laid plans can go astray, and we need to be flexible enough to change course when we have to. My travel buddy discovered that she really couldn’t take the next cruise, and the thought of such a long cruise on my own was a little daunting, so I needed to rethink the future plans. And in the process of re-thinking, I ended up swapping to an earlier cruise that would take in New York – a city I’ve wanted to see for a very long time. The only downside was the fact that the ship was leaving from the UK – not Sydney; and 2016, not 2017, which was a minor technicality. A phone call to the Royal Caribbean travel section ended in a really cheap flight from the Gold Coast, all the way to Heathrow, meaning I didn’t have to retrieve my luggage along the way. After putting the big suitcase on the conveyor belt at Coolangatta (Gold Coast Airport), I didn’t see it again until I took it off the conveyor belt at Heathrow in the UK. Quite a journey for my 18kg bag of jumpers and thermal underwear, but it arrived safely, on the same flight as me. I had never flown with Etihad before, so I was a little nervous, but having made sure I’d have a vegetarian meal served, and that I’d have a window seat, I left the rest to the Gods of the Air – and they obliged! The flight was excellent and I’d have no qualms about flying Etihad again.

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Ah… the plane is cleared and awaits boarding at the Gold Coast Airport

The first stop was Melbourne Airport, where I luckily had plenty of time for lunch before boarding the flight to Abu Dhabi. The long flight to Abu Dhabi ended just after midnight, while the city slept. One thing I hadn’t considered was the need to have some small change in local currency, but as it turned out, I was able to use some US dollars I had with me to buy a cold drink, which helped to keep me hydrated while I waited. A $5 note covered the cost of a bottle of lemon/lime juice, which seemed like a healthy option at the time. The funny thing was, they couldn’t give me change, so the English salesperson suggested I take 2 mini Kit Kats instead, assuring me that it was the same value. I trusted him, and the Kit Kats came in handy later when I needed a top up during the long night flight through to Heathrow

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The setting sun casts a spectacular red edge along the horizon. If sunsets in Perth are anything like this, I can see why people love visiting the western side of our great land.

Hours after leaving Melbourne, the sun dipped below the surface of the horizon of the west coast, but the ocean below was covered in soft white tufts of cloud, as far as I could see. The red line of the horizon framed in a golden haze of light looked spectacular. The sky above was still blue, but with a deepening hue that merged with grey as the light started to fade. I guessed I was expected to put the blind down and start thinking about sleep, like everyone else, but I was still wide awake and couldn’t imagine sleeping through that spectacular sunset. Although I couldn’t see it, we were passing by the southern tip of Jakarta, according to the flight monitor. The flight wasn’t full and I was lucky enough to have a spare seat beside me, although the guy in the aisle seat was probably wishing I’d go to sleep instead of tapping on the keyboard as I wrote my description of the trip. And the guy behind me had to pass the pillow through to me twice when I did try to sleep because, in my usual fidgety way, it kept slipping through between the seats. That’s when I decided sleep wasn’t going to happen.

I often wonder why I have a thousand photos of clouds when I’m looking through my travel photos? A band of very dark grey cloud was sitting right above the line of red that was the horizon not long ago. As we headed north-west, a red glow filtered through the grey. The seat belt sign came on and the cabin crew made sure we were all complying, so I accurately concluded that turbulence was ahead. Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as it was on the flight from the Gold Coast to Melbourne that scared the heck out of me; it was the worst I’d experienced in a long time.

In the air again after the 2+ hours wait in Abu Dhabi, and back to the routine of movies/trying to sleep/reading, until finally the long-awaited announcement of the start of our descent into Heathrow. It was very early in the morning on the 8th November and a very long time since I’d sat waiting for the flight out of the Gold Coast.

On arrival at Heathrow I made my way through the usual documentation trail, never really sure which document was needed at each point, but managing to get through in a reasonable amount of time. To say I was tired would be the understatement of the century. Once through the formalities, and with my luggage safely back in my possession, I headed for the booking office to book a seat on the bus to Southampton. I could have rushed a little and made it for the next departure but opted for a later time so I could warm up with a coffee, and enjoy the opportunity to stretch my legs. I had tentatively ventured outside when I arrived and knew that it was cold out there – Very Cold – so I was much better off staying inside for as long as I could.

I can’t report much about the trip to Southampton because I slept most of the way. The seats were super comfortable, and I was super tired. When the bus pulled into the depot I was both glad and disappointed. Glad to be there, but not overly happy about having to actually wake up and face the next obstacle of finding transport to the hotel. Luckily, there was a taxi right outside the depot.

Arriving at the Novotel, which was only a short distance from the bus depot, I was a bit annoyed to find there was no-one waiting to help me with my luggage, but then I rationalised that if I travelled with that much luggage, I had to be prepared to manage it myself, or pack less. The manage it myself argument won without any debate from the more rational, pack-less self.

And on the note of packing, perhaps the fact I only had four actual days at home between arriving home from China and leaving for Heathrow could account for the totally bungled mess I’d made of packing. My checked-in luggage weighed 18kg and I’m sure my hand luggage weighed twice that much. I had missed having my laptop with me in China so figured that was the first thing to pack. Add to that: spare battery banks (2); iPad and Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad; chargers (for every iDevice); good camera and accessories (and charger); pens and paper (why on earth did I think I needed these?); iPhone (and charger); highlighters (4 – seriously? 1 would have been plenty); passport; left-over foreign currency (including an old pound note that England doesn’t even use anymore), and stacks (nearly $100 worth) of Canadian quarters left over from my stash for the laundry from my extended stay a long time ago; and luckily, some American dollars (the universal currency) left over from my last trip to the US. I’d bought a great backpack from Kathmandu, and I managed to fill it. I also had my laptop bag and a small pouch for my passport that was conveniently suspended from a strap around my neck (one less thing to carry). I felt like a packhorse and found managing it all was a nightmare, but, I was consoled by the fact that I had all the necessary technology within reach – until I went to plug one of the chargers into the socket in the hotel and found I needed an adaptor. Damn! The only thing I hadn’t thought of packing.

And that brings me to the close of the first stage of the story – from Gold Coast to Southampton – an epic journey.

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