Christmas Eve in transit (Brisbane to Amsterdam)

It’s a strange feeling to be waking up Christmas Eve with no family Christmas to go to. It’s ridiculously early and we’re getting up to catch a flight to the other side of the world.
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Our winter clothes are packed, along with about ten kilograms of gifts. Too bad if my family are on diets because we’re bringing 12 packets of Tim Tams, 15 Violet Crumbles, 2 bottles of rum, a personalised jar of Vegemite and some Christmas chocolates. It’s all the things they can’t buy in Holland that we know they like (except the Christmas chocolates that we don’t want to eat when we get home).
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We’ve chosen to fly China Southern Airlines this trip. They had the cheapest fares for the dates we needed to travel. The seats are wide, the leg room ample, the selection of movies excellent, the food tasty and the service friendly. We’ll definitely throw China Southern into our mix of airlines to use. We watch some movies, sleep a lot and are landing in Guanghzhou in no time.
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Our seven hours in Guanghzhou passes fairly well. We take a walk around the departure terminal. Lament the lack of movie room (we have been so spoiled by KLIA2). Then settle in for some sleep at the gate. Paul sits in a chair while I lay on the ground using my carry on as a pillow. We manage abut four hours of broken sleep before boarding.

The flight to Schiphol is long. Thirteen hours trickle by. We sleep and watch movies. Paul sleeps more than me. But I still manage about eight hours of shut eye.

We get through customs quickly. I’m not even asked any questions this time. Usually the Dutch town of birth generates some inquiries on entry.

The car hire company opens at 8am and it’s only 6am when we clear customs so we set up at a phone charging station, log onto airport wifi and chill. We have arrived.

Back to the Netherlands

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My cousin shows he is a gentleman. He wakes early to take me to a cafe for breakfast and then walks with me the fifteen minutes to the Metro station so I can find my way to the airport using the cheapest option. At exactly 10am I am walking through customs, just as he said I would be; ready for my 11:40am flight back to Eindhoven. Before I know it the funny RyanAir “90 per cent on time flights” music is playing and it’s time to the wet cold climes of Holland.

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The rain doesn’t bother me because I know that for the next three days I will be spending some more time with family; something I have come to value more since living a semi-nomadic lifestyle. My uncle picks me up from the airport and it’s not long before I am joining his family for dinner. It’s wonderful to see my cousins and one of their wives. We chat and catch up on about 15 years; this being the first time we are really meeting each other as adults. My uncle shows me a photo on the wall of the restaurant. It’s my grandmother when she was young. How cool that my family’s history is captured in the historic photos at the restaurant. I guess that’s what happens when your family are from a small village.

I won’t be doing much travel over the coming days. Mostly I am making the most of my three remaining days in Europe to spend quality time with my family. I don’t tend to blog much about that. But there will still be some travel stories in between.

Istanbul to Brisbane (flying home from Turkey)

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It never ceases to amaze me that I can travel to a country carrying about 5-8kg of gear in a backpack (assuming I am not cycle touring) including my tent and sleeping bag. But I always head home with much more. It’s not even like I buy souvenirs or gifts. But, somehow, the return baggage is always double what I arrived with, if not heavier. Fortunately, I have this cool packable bag that saves me having to buy extra luggage.

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The process of checking in and boarding my flight in Istanbul was ridiculously slow. I was at the airport four hours before my flight because I needed to drop off a rental car (the Istanbul International Airport car rental drop off area is outside the airport near the cargo area and is poorly signed so I completed four laps of the airport before I even dropped off the car). Anyway, I joined the check in queue three hours before departure and it still took me over 1.5 hours to get to the front of the line. The check in operators were that slow. Then came the slow security process, leaving me about 40 minutes to find my gate before despite being at the airport with plenty of time to spare. I needn’t have rushed though. My flight was delayed by about an hour and we were not told why. But I wasn’t too worried; if I missed my connection in Abu Dhabi I knew that Etihad would get me on another flight.

I didn’t miss my connection though. I was a bit confused about the route I was taking though. I arrived at about 7:30pm. At 10pm there was a direct Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to Brisbane (my home city). But I was booked on a 10:30pm flight to Perth where I had to clear customs, grab my baggage, get a bus 30 minutes from the international to the domestic airport, drop my baggage and then wait 8 hours to catch the red eye to Brisbane.

But, forty hours after leaving my hotel in Istanbul I stumbled off the plane onto home soil. It felt good to be back.

Arriving in Bodrum (Agean, Turkey)

Arriving at Istanbul airport I am thrown into a melting pot of cultures and races. There’s Africans, Arabs, Turks, Russians, Dutch, Americans and Australians all crushed into a single immigration line. Women with impossibly blond hair wear short shorts and singlet tops. Older olive skinned women with big soft bodies wear the coloured dresses and hats I have seen worn in photos of Turkish villagers. There’s a mix of Islamic attire ranging from pretty head scarfs to full black burkas with nothing but narrow eye slits. The range of men’s attire is just as diverse. Younger tourists from Australia and America wear t-shirts and shorts. Asian men from Japan, Korea and China wear slacks with brand name polo shirts. The Dutch men wear button up blouses. While many Arabs wear traditional loose trousers and long dress-like over shirts in white and beige. The way everyone deals with the long queue is interesting too. Westerners and the north-east Asians seem resigned to waiting in an orderly line.  Some of the others try to sneak past less observant travelers or prod those who fail to fill the space before them quickly enough as though somehow leaving a gap of 2-3 paces will somehow make the wait take longer. Welcome to the place where Asia, African, the Middle East and the West collide.

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My Turkish Airlines flight from Abu Dhabi to Istanbul was comfortable and quick. I was back in economy class where I felt right at home. The flight attendants were pleasant, the leg room better than many airlines and the food quite delicious. I liked that the airline used a four-trolley food system, rather than starting at the front and making those of us in the back rows wait hungrily for an age. Instead, they ran a trolley from the front and one from the back, meeting in the middle.

I make it through customs without any questions; just a stamp in my passport given that I have a valid eVisa. A short walk along an indoor bridge takes me from the international to domestic terminal where I buy a hot chocolate and bakery item in a cafe to use their wifi. The first thing I notice is that service is king here. I am offered a seat, there are power points where I can charge my devices and table service comes standard even in a small airport cafe. You even pay at the end of your stay, rather than as you order. The four hour transit passes quickly and I am soon on a bus to one of the off-bay planes lined up on the tarmac of this small airport that looks like it receives more incoming passengers than the number for which it was designed. Again the Turkish Airlines flight is comfortable and the service efficient.

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I spend most of the trip looking out the window to get my first areal impression of the country in which I will spend the next month. It looks dry down there with interesting topography. Low mountains cut across the landscape, separating the various deep blue waterways that make up this western part of Turkey. I see some village dotted around but it’s not the neat farming villages I saw when flying over Hungary a few short months ago. Rather, it’s more like Australia with roads leading all over the place and villages dotted in random-looking locations. It looks at once exotic and a little overwhelming to think we will be hiking in this dry landscape.

It’s late in the afternoon when I arrive in Bodrum. Dad is waiting at the airport to greet me. He’s been here for three days already checking out the logistics of our upcoming sailing trip. We walk to the small international terminal where Mum will be arriving in an hour. She’s been in Holland visiting family for a week and is probably looking forward to the warm Turkish sunshine. You cannot go into the new international airport in Bodrum to wait for guests. But there is a small cafe outside that offers the usual selection of beverages and snacks so Dad and I wait there. We catch up on our respective adventures the past week and compare notes on our immigration experiences at Istanbul airport.

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Mum arrives and we take a taxi to the hotel. I am pretty wrecked from the long journey to get here so don’t take much in. It’s 4pm so we arrange to meet at 7:30pm for dinner. I shower, wash my clothes and fall into a deep sleep. Even my alarm doesn’t wake me but Dad’s knock on my door does. I am dazed and confused as I wake and walk in a haze into Bodrum with my parents to have a meal. We eat overlooking the marina with its many masts and pretty sailing ships.. The food is yummy but we get fleeced by the restaurateur (do not eat at Marina Restaurant and Cafe in Bodrum), souring the experience a little. But that happens when you travel and are too tired to make good decisions in a tourist area.

I’m excited to be here but could definitely use a good night sleep before I get a feel for the country. Fortunately, it’s night time so I can let my body get the sleep it craves without worrying too much about affecting my adjustment to the time difference.

The best flight (Melbourne to Abu Dhabi)

I check in and am assigned seat 25H. It’s an aisle seat near the rear of the plane. I am happy with the seat. It’s where I believe I will sit on the 14 hour flight to Abu Dhabi. Unfortunately, due to last night’s missed flight I will now fly from Abu Dhabi to Istanbul on board a Turkish Airlines flight so I cannot get a boarding pass for my connection. But my luggage is checked through and I am checked into the flight. So it’s just a matter of collecting a boarding pass from the transit desk once I arrive in Abu Dhabi.   I sit on the floor near the gate charging my phone and punching out some work. My name is called and I attend the desk. “Sorry Mr Gills, we had to change your seat. You are now in 35H. It has the same configuration as the one you had.” I’m unconcerned and smile a thank you. I return to the floor and keep working. Ten minutes later my name is called again. “Another seat change?” I ask smiling. “We’ve upgraded you to Business Class.” I almost fall over. It’s like winning the long haul flight lottery. I am not complaining. I explode with the news on Facebook. Winner winner chicken dinner.    I line up to board with everyone else. Until I am directed to the Business Class aisle. Wow. That’s what it feels like.      On board the plane I am directed to turn left instead of right. What greats me are massive single seats like personal pods. I am offered a choice of champaign or juice served in a glass. I take the juice. It feels odd to be called “sir”.      Before we take off the purser (or is it burser?) takes my meal order. There’s an a la carte menu up here.      The flight starts with my choice of beverage. I take a jasmine tea. It is served with warmed almonds and chashews, and a small chocolate. The tea is served in a proper cup and the nut bowl is warmed. That’s my work set up there with the little budget laptop.   I select the cauliflower soup. It’s served in a proper bowl with warmed fresh bread roll. And the taste is yummy.   Next comes the braised beef with carrot purée and Brussel sprouts. The beef melts in my mouth and the carrot purée is perfectly seasoned. It’s like eating at a restaurant.  And then the dessert: lemon tart. Did I mention that they put a table cloth on our table and give you real cutlery?    After completing a day’s work I discover the flat bed option on the chair. I’m heading to Turkey so I put on The Water Diviner and lay back in style. The movie plays out in Istanbul and Gallipoli; two places I have decided to include on my itinerary.   Naturally I have to try out the massage function on the chair.  From Abu Dhabi I will have a long way to go because I need to fly Turkish Airways to Istanbul then another Turkish Airways flight to Bodrum. All up it will be 16 hours between landing at Abu Dhabi and arriving at my final airport. So despite it being daytime in Turkey I sleep about 8 hours laying down. What luxury!  I arrive in Abu Dhabi feeling refreshed. The other passengers from my flight look tired and bleary eyed. That will be me again next time. But today is “Thank you Etihad Day”.

A bonus city (Melbourne, Australia)

 My bags are packed and I’m ready to rock and roll. Turkey awaits and I am excited about the upcoming adventure with my parents. I’ve packed clothes, bivy, hammock, sleeping bag and pad, running clothes and shoes, Lycian Way maps and hiking poles. It’s adventure time.  Paul takes me to the airport where I check in. I have the necessary visa, my luggage weighs 10kg (leaving me 20kg available for shopping – I do have my foldable extra luggage bag with me too), and my boarding passes are handed over to me. All that’s left is to wait until I can board.

A lightning storm hits just as we board the flight. There will be a delay in departing. A headwind means we cannot make up time. I can see the 1:20 transfer time being eaten away. We are now scheduled to arrive at 10pm and my Etihad connection departs at 10:40pm. It takes an age for the doors to be opened.  

Mind you, the flight time passed quickly because I sat next to some interesting men who run courses in masculinity for school boys (they have colleagues who run similar courses for school girls). I am fascinated by their stories and job. It sounds at once challenging and rewarding. I learn as much from them as I can. 

 But I digress. I was telling you about the flight. As you can see from this photo, I am not currently on my connecting flight to Abu Dhabi. Rather, I am at a hotel in Melbourne that the airline (Virgin Australia) put the 30-40 passengers affected by the missed connection up in. It’s rather flash and we have a meal allowance that will pay for breakfast. None of us know how long we will be delayed but the airline has told us they will call the hotel around 7:30/8:00am tomorrow, which means we won’t be on the 10am flight to Abu Dhabi. 

I have checked and it is still possible to book the 10:40pm flight to Abu Dhabi with the connection to Istanbul for tomorrow night. So, theoretically, I should only be delayed by 24 hours. But just how many seats are available on the Melbourne-Abu Dhabi flight is anyone’s guess and there are 30-40 passengers needing to be rebooked to Abu Dhabi and on to various destinations. All I can do it wait and enjoy the nice hotel. 

I must mention the professionalism, calm and friendly service provided by Virgin Australia’s ground crew at the gate. It’s not their fault a lightning storm delayed our flight or that Etihad did not (or could not) wait for us. And they never got angry or annoyed at passenger frustration (especially challenging because they could not help us). They just apologised a lot, smiled and let us see them calling their missed connection management team so that they were seen to be trying everything possible. 

18 years ago today (Transit home from Indonesia)

Half my life ago I turned 18. And 18 years ago today I was having the longest birthday ever as I crossed multiple time zones on a flight from Australia to Spain. It was the day of Princess Dianna’s funeral and our stop over in Singapore was dominated with television screens showing this sad event. An event I still don’t connect with because it’s not as though I knew the princess personally. And besides, it was my 18th birthday; a time for celebration. 

My dad was traveling with me to the World Duathlon Championships in Gernika. I was representing my country in a dream come true adventure with my dad. On this day 18 years ago it was both my birthday and Fathers’ Day so instead of watching The funeral we found a TV that was playing cartoons, bought lots of lollies and chips (I distinctly remember a packet of Pringles being in the mix) and enjoyed the transit. 

We celebrated my birthday at midnight in every time zone we flew through, making it possibly the longest but quietest 18th birthday party ever. 

Today I turn 36. And, as I was 18 years ago, I am on a long international transit. I began the day in Yogyakarta, lunched in Kuala Lumpur and will fall asleep somewhere over the ocean between Malaysia and Australia. But the time I land my birthday will have passed and my dad will be waiting at the airport to pick us up. Yesterday was Fathers’ Day and so, again, it is like a double celebration for us. 

A lot has changed in the 18 years since I achieved legal age. I don’t feel 36 years old. My mother will say I am heading for 40. But thankfully I won’t see her until my parents and I are together in Turkey next week. So she’ll have to wait with that one 😉

In the past 18 months I’ve seen so much and traveled so far. I’ll only be home for a week before I board another flight out of Australia. This time to a Turkey where I will go sailing, hiking and camping with my parents. And after that another change to my lifestyle that is yet to be fully determined.

But that is tomorrow. Today I turn 36. And I am waiting at Kuala Lumpur for the second leg of our flight home from an amazing trip to Indonesia