So it's finally travel time. After months of anticipation, today Andy and I get on a plane and head to Romania, followed by the US. I'm starting to get excited now (just over an hour before departure as I write this), but it's been a pretty stressful lead up to travel, and not a preparation routine I recommend.
Zurich, 2014-12-07 - after ~24 hours of travel
The past two weeks have been quite intense. Among the standard pre-holiday scramble to clear the decks at home and at work, our two older rats - Fred and George - both had to be put down. After all the stress and emotion, both of us were keen to enjoy our respective Christmas parties. The problem lay in the timing; both were the day before we flew. Although our respective work/uni chores were done1 and the pets safely in their boarding houses, we were far from packed and ready.
Luckily for me, my work Christmas party - named "The Wolf of Harris Street" - was an all-day affair2. To use the technical term, I was "proper fucked" by about 18:00, so I made a couple of tactical goodbyes, and then bailed before my boss got wind of my intentions. Despite an early exit, I was not particularly productive at home. I did manage to do some of the dishes, and then throw all my clean underwear and socks into an open suitcase, but even that was a challenge through the drunken haze transitioning into a decent hangover.
The desire to be productive / guilt at not being productive kept me awake until about 03:00, when a "suitably pickled" Andy arrived back from a Christmas party for her uni course. We both realised that little else was going to be done at that hour, so we collapsed into bed with alarms set for 08:00.
Somehow, we managed to get up at 08:00, get through our to-do list, finish packing and make it out of the house in time for the "contingency" train. In Cass terms, this meant a train that would get us to the airport "only" 3 hours in advance. It was only on the train that we realised what we'd forgotten. Andy had packed a container of food to clear up some leftovers and give us a bit of breakfast on the train. Not a big loss overall, but being a container of yoghurt and fruit, probably not the best thing to leave on the dining table during a Sydney summer. Thankfully, Andy's mother is doing regular mail and garden checks while we're away, so odds are good it won't become sentient and take over the house while we're gone.
Once we checked in and cleared customs it was as if all the stress and tension of the past few weeks just fell away. I turned off work email and calendar notifications and collapsed into a chair to just watch people and planes while we waited to board.
A small aside: I have noticed that I become noticeably "ocker" around Customs personnel at Australian airports. I guess it's an unconscious reaction to defend against any racial profiling. Not that it stopped me from being randomly selected for explosives screening.
BA16 SYD -> SIN
The first leg of our journey was from Sydney to Singapore. For some reason this was on BA, despite the bulk of our trip being on Swiss Air (Star Alliance to BA's OneWorld). My prejudices against BA had me very wary, but the flight was really quite pleasant. The Boeing 777 was obviously quite new, very well appointed and comfortable, the crew was the right balance of attentive without being suffocating, and the food was pleasantly tasty - if a little heavy on bread.
Andy and I had agreed to try to push through this flight and only sleep on the next. I only had moderate success at this goal. I did however, manage to be awake for sunset and this made for some spectacular views and attempts at photography out of my west-facing window. We also flew just outside an incredibly impressive thunderstorm over Indonesia, but alas I couldn't get any photos of that as it was too dark.
We got in to Singapore with only an hour and change before our connecting flight - the delay courtesy of our BA pilot who arrived on the plane about an hour after all the passengers had boarded. Of course, as we were not just changing flights, but airline alliances, we got to have a brisk walk across almost the entire length of both Terminals 1 and 2 of Changi airport, but no real drama.
LX179 SIN -> ZHR
The flight to Zurich was far less comfortable or enjoyable, but still not really that bad for a 13 hour flight. This was my first flight with Swiss Air, and while the service from the staff was excellent, the plane (Airbus A340) was on the older side. The seats were far less comfortable, the screens were hard to see without contorting your body to match the thin viewing angle, and the cabin noise and air conditioning were noticeably worse than the 777 we'd just come from. The interior wouldn't have been out of place in a late 90s 747. Nevertheless, I managed to get several hours of semi-solid sleep thanks to my "Sleep Anywhere" feat, so arrived in Zurich in a tolerable state.
Airports are always strange places outside regular travel hours. We arrived at ZRH at 06:00, and while almost all the shops were open, there were very few people around besides staff. Bizarrely, we had to go through passport control to get to the main shopping and dining area. An pair of off-duty security guards were walking behind the booth where Andy's passport was being studied and excitedly asked "Australian passport?" as soon as she was cleared. Our affirmative answer prompted an equally excited "the new one?" from his colleague. I guess Australian passports have a reputation. The reaction almost made me regret just waltzing through on my UK passport (almost).
Another aside: if your bank gives you the ability to block "International in-store" payments on your credit card, ensure that they are un-blocked before you try to buy breakfast. For some reason "Card Declined" messages are more embarrassing in another country.
4/6 hours of ZRH transit time completed
The remaining transit time was entirely uneventful, apart from a horrendously expensive and awful cappuccino, and the realisation too late that there was an outdoor viewing platform with excellent panoramic views of the runways.
LX1884 ZHR -> OTP
The last flight of our trip was a nice, short hop; just under 2 hours. As usual, I saw things on this flight that I rarely see elsewhere, but regard as "standard" on flights to Romania:
- The person standing up almost immediately after take-off, being told to sit down over the PA by cabin crew who haven't even unbuckled themselves yet.
- Every passenger on the plane standing up and opening the overhead bins as soon as the terminal building is vaguely close. Sure there's always one or two people who do this on every flight, but I'm pretty sure it's only in Romania that I reliably see the whole plane do it.
The taxi from the airport was quite a pleasant change from previous trips. Gone are the scam taxis who aren't officially registered and charge ~3-4 times normal Bucharest tariffs in collusion with the airport authority. Now there are a bank of computer terminals where you book your taxi and get a receipt with the cab company, ETA and the number of your allocated taxi. We waited about 5 minutes. Pretty smooth.
So now we're in Bucharest. Despite our worries about our luggage making the quick turnaround in Singapore, we have all our stuff with us. Thanks to Andy's grandparents we're already re-acquainted with excellent salami. And thanks to European winter, we've well and truly escaped the Australian summer heat.
And now it's 20:44 and I'm absolutely shattered. Sleep!