Notes from plane seats and the odd airport lounge part ii / Back in autumnal Tasmania


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Published: December 15th 2019
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Little by little, the camel goes into the couscous ~ Moroccan Proverb


HE SAID...
Today we are travelling from Marrakesh (Morocco) to Hobart (Australia).

We left Riad Helen (our haven in Marrakesh for the past three days) and made our way through the quiet narrow lanes of the medina until we emerged outside Dar El Bacha Palace. We negotiated a taxi fare to the airport that included an umbrella that a fellow traveller had gifted to us in Marrakesh when he left the country (and we’d been carrying ever since). It had garnered some interest from a previous taxi driver, so I thought I’d use it as a bargaining chip… and it worked.

The temperature had ramped up quite a bit over our last few days in Marrakesh, and it had peaked at 34 degrees right when we were leaving. The taxi didn’t have air-conditioning, so I wound down the window made the best of the hot dry wind gusting through the car.

We arrived at the airport to taxi chaos – there was nowhere to park, so taxi drivers were abandoning their cars and walking around talking to each other. We jumped out, handed over the umbrella and a very reasonable fare and walked a short distance to the departures section of the airport.

There was a small queue to enter the terminal, but we made it through in no time. Check-in was an absolute breeze, and our luggage was checked all the way through to Hobart. Passport control was a little slow, but we managed to get through without incident, so we found ourselves in the international departure area a lot sooner than expected. We spent our last dirham on snacks and souvenirs, then waited at the gate lounge until our flight to Doha boarded at 6:30pm. It was a six and a half hour flight, and we were arriving in the very early morning, so we decided to rest on the flight as much as possible in preparation for the next leg – our long haul flight from Doha to Sydney.

On boarding the plane we found a guy asleep across our seats, so after getting him to move (easier said than done) we settled in for the flight. As we sped down the runway and launched into the air over Marrakesh, the red city looked majestic, and we were sad to be leaving. We’d loved our time in Morocco, and we’d particularly enjoyed our last few days relaxing in Marrakesh. Often when we get to the end of a holiday we are ready to go home, but this time it was different – very different. We could easily have stayed on, but there was so much to return to. In all honesty, it’s the best way to feel at the end of a month long journey.

We made our way northeast over Morocco before entering Algerian air space, flying directly over Oman (the setting of Albert Camus’ The Outsider). We continued along the northern coast of Africa, with the Mediterranean Sea to our left and the vast expanse of the African continent to our right. It wasn’t long before drinks were served, and it was fantastic to be able to enjoy a red wine – a very rare pleasure over the past month.

After leaving the African coastline, we passed under the bottom tip of Sicily as dinner was served. I opted for the beef and olive stew, while Ren went for the chicken mrouzia (couscous with sautéed carrots and courgettes). While the food was ok, it was all the more enjoyable with another glass of red wine. As darkness descended, it started to sink in that we were flying home and not embarking on another travel adventure. This had been such an amazing trip. Ren spent a significant portion of her childhood in this captivating continent, so it had been fantastic experiencing Africa for the first time with her.

As we flew over the Mediterranean Sea (just south of the Greek islands), I enjoyed a glass of cognac before eventually succumbing to sleep. After a month travelling in the north western tip of Africa, tiredness was setting in, and we still had a gargantuan 14+ hour flight from Doha to Sydney ahead. It was time to rest…

We crossed Beirut, Baghdad and Kuwait City on our way to Doha, eventually touching down in the very early hours of the morning. Our connecting flight to Sydney wasn’t leaving until 8:30am, so we had more than five hours to kill in one of our least favourite airports. It was tough. We sat on bench seats (it was impossible to lie down) and made use of the free wifi. I got a few photos of planes on the tarmac, but when Ren tried to take the same shots, she was informed by security that photos were not allowed through the terminal windows – and was consequently asked to delete them. All of the terminal staff were foreign workers, and I felt sorry for the fact they had to live in this artificial city and work in such an artificial environment.

Our energy levels were low when we boarded the plane, but it was a great feeling to speed down the runway and lift into the air over Doha, because we were on the second last (and longest) leg of our journey home. The flight was comfortable enough, and time literally flew – it seemed no time at all before we were flying over Sri Lanka with half the trip behind us.

It may sound odd, but I find myself watching movies on the screens of people in front of me whenever I’m on a plane. I don’t watch the entire movie. I just watch enough to understand the general plot, which allows me to watch two or three movies simultaneously. I could easily pick a film and watch it on my own screen, but that would mean committing my full attention to a single movie, and it would also mean listening to the soundtrack through headphones – which I have no interest in doing. Luckily (for me at least), all of the movies on our flight had complete subtitling and captioning, and some had even been changed and adapted for viewing by a predominantly Muslim audience! So whenever I looked up from typing, eating or sleeping, I watched Aquaman, Bumblebee, Glass, Green Book, Mary Queen of Scots and The Meg through the gaps between chairs in front of me. I was completely at the mercy of other people’s taste in films. 😊

We eventually crossed the Western Australian coastline, and at 4:30am dinner was served with red wine – two hours before we landed. I went for the beef stroganoff, while Ren opted for the Thai green chicken curry. The food was good, but it felt odd eating so early in the morning. Our body clocks were still adjusting.

We eventually touched down in Sydney at 6:30am. We breezed through customs, although our sandshoes and wooden souvenirs needed a quick inspection by two staff members, one of whom was particularly impressed with the cute wooden donkey we’d purchased in Marrakesh. We dropped our packs at the Virgin domestic transfer desk, jumped on a bus to the Virgin domestic terminal and made our way to the gate lounge. We had a five hour wait before our flight to Hobart, so we picked up a sausage and egg mcmuffin and a chocolate thick shake from MacDonald’s and settled at a table overlooking the tarmac. It was then just a matter of waiting…

After exhausting every possible form of time-wasting, it was finally time to board our plane to Hobart. The flight was smooth and quick, and before we knew it we had landed, disembarked and collected our packs. Our transfer to the undercover security parking area was waiting for us, so we loaded our packs into the back of her van and left the airport at 4pm. We picked up milk and mail on the way home, and after a quick tidy up around the garden, we set about a few normal homecoming tasks as we waited for the hot water cylinder to heat enough water for two showers. I threw a match in the wood burner to warm up the house, and we were toasty and warm in no time.

In terms of door-to-door travel (i.e. the time taken from leaving our riad in Marrakesh to driving through the gate at home), we had been on the go for just over 40 hours! To put that in perspective, we’d been transiting, flying and waiting in airports for almost two days. We were tired, exhausted and in desperate need of a shower! There wasn’t a lot of hot water, but there was enough to feel human again.

We woke early the next day, because we had to drive into Hobart to pick up Mia (the cat) and do a quick grocery shop. Jasper and Oliver (the dogs) arrived home in the afternoon thanks to the trusty delivery service of our local boarding kennels, and it was great to see everyone after so long apart. We were finally all home together. 😊



SHE SAID...
Today we were travelling from Marrakesh (Morocco) to Hobart (Australia).

We left Riad Helen at 3pm, walked to the closest gate of the medina and negotiated a taxi fare of 70 dirhams to the airport. Marrakesh’s Menara Airport is only 5km from the city centre, but we had allowed extra time before our flight, as friends who’d left on the weekend had reported very long queues to even enter the airport building. All luggage entering the airport is scanned, and that apparently causes frequent bottlenecks. However, our queue was only about five deep, and even the queues at check-in, security and immigration weren’t bad. It was a Tuesday afternoon, so it obviously must be much more crowded on the weekends.

With time to spare, we got a baguette, coke and a fabulous chocolate mousse dessert from Paul’s (a patisserie). Andrew also bought some bits and pieces from the souvenir shops in order to use up the local currency, but he couldn’t get down to his zero balance as he tries very hard to do.

The six and a half hour Qatar flight from Marrakesh to Doha was comfortable and uneventful – apart from the fact there was a guy lying across our two seats when we got on, apparently fast asleep! Nice try! We got him to move back to his middle seat (somewhere further along in the plane), but not before asking the cabin crew for new pillows and blankets. We later realised the plane must have come from another destination, as there were many of these young guys spread across our section who were being asked to move by people boarding the plane. It looked like they were part of a football team.

My dinner was a chicken couscous, but it wasn’t great and I wasn’t hungry, so most of it sat uneaten (even the cheesecake dessert)! However, I devoured all the fresh salad and fruit. I think I’m over meat, carbs and sugar – the three major food groups in Morocco.

I slept for much less of the flight than I thought I would, but enjoyed listening to an album called Pieces of Me by Black Coffee, an artist I hadn’t come across before. I’m definitely going to listen to more of his music when we get home.

This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve voiced my dislike of Doha Airport, with its large cavernous soulless terminals and its disinterested and unprofessional staff. But at 4:30am we were fortunate enough to be able to choose from many empty gate lounges, which is a rarity in busy airports. I also dislike Doha Airport's obsession with processing passengers two hours before a flight, and then holding them in a gate lounge without toilets or access to water! It reminds me of southeast Asian airports in the ‘90s, when they were overstaffed to a point of inefficiency.

On our (just over) 14 hour flight from Doha to Sydney, we had again booked two seats together at the end of the section of three and four seats. Even though it’s closer to the toilets, it’s our favourite type of seat, as no one needs to jump over us to use the toilet, and there’s usually slightly more leg room for Andrew.

We both slept through take-off and woke up just as the breakfast food service was at our row. I was more thirsty than hungry, and again most of the food was left untouched – apart from the fresh fruit. I’m one of those rare people who gets excited about plane food, but in all my years of travel, not a single airline has ever managed to get a western breakfast right. The eggs and sausage I ordered were predictably inedible.

It was a beautiful sunny morning and I really enjoyed sleeping by the sunny window, but we both woke at some point to a screaming toddler. This child had been crying and throwing tantrums in the gate lounge, and I was certain he would have been tired out by the time we got to the plane, but I was wrong. An old guy sitting in the row behind had been making ‘shush’ noises and generally making it clear that he was unimpressed with the child’s behaviour, so this fresh onslaught of screams really set the old guy off. Even though the child was pushing his luck with his behaviour, I was totally appalled by the old man’s disgraceful behaviour. The father (who had been trying very hard to comfort the child) had clearly had enough of the old man too, so he stood up and asked him loudly what he would do in his position. The old man replied that his children were disciplined and never behaved this badly! Wow! The father didn’t give up, and kept pressing him to give him a practical solution to the problem. Ironically, the arguing adults made the child go quiet!

After we had a snack of mini vegetarian pies and a very welcome ice cream, I must have fallen back asleep. And to my complete surprise, I woke up to the father and the old man having a neighbourly chat! Andrew thinks the old man was shamed into being a caring human. 😊

The rest of the flight was uneventful and went by relatively quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch of green chicken curry and rice. After two very ordinary meals on the Qatar flights, I was back to loving my plane food.

I’m definitely not a fan of the Sydney International Airport! Specifically, I’m not a fan of being shuttled like cattle from the international terminal to the domestic area. I think I was more grumpy than usual at the shuttle process, because I knew we had a gruelling six hour wait for our domestic flight to Hobart! We had scored an amazingly cheap return airfare, and this long wait was the catch. We whiled away a fraction of the six hours by spending a long time deciding what food and drink we were going to have for breakfast. The thorough deliberation wasn’t reflected in our ultimate decision to have a McDonald’s sausage and egg mcmuffin and a chocolate thick shake. 😊

We managed to settle into some lounges and write for a while, but by the three hour mark we’d both sworn we’d never do this again, regardless of how cheap the airfare was!

We landed at Hobart Airport around 4pm. By the time we arrived home, we had been travelling for about 40 hours door-to-door (from leaving the riad in Marrakesh to arriving home)! Understandably, we were incredibly tired, but I have to acknowledge that all our flights and transit periods had gone extremely smoothly, and we were very grateful for that.

It’s always weird driving into our property without two kelpies with waggy tails welcoming us home, or opening the front door and not hearing our tabby cat sprinting over to greet us. We wouldn’t be picking Mia up from the cattery until the next morning, after which Jasper and Oliver would be dropped off to us around midday.

We had been away for 37 days and it took us a while to unpack and get the house back to normal. As much as we LOVED our travels in England and Morocco, it was so good to be back in our own bed that night. I fell asleep, thinking of all the adventures we’d had, and feeling excited about seeing our little ones the next day! 😊

As usual, we’ll share our thoughts and feelings on Morocco in our Epilogue blog.

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15th December 2019
doha airport

Nice looking airport
Maybe we will get there some day.
16th December 2019
doha airport

Re: Nice looking airport
We are definitely not fans of the Doha Airport... even flying with the nation's carrier - Qatar Airways - doesn't get you great service. However it does offer us a convenient stop off point for Europe and North Africa.
16th December 2019

Another journeys end
That looooong and never ending flight to Oz >:(
16th December 2019

Re: Another journeys end
Yes... isn't it funny how the flight west never feels as long or tiring as that flight east when coming back home?!
5th January 2020

Welcome
40 hours? Really? How do you do it??? Welcome back home.
6th January 2020

Re: Welcome
Hi Usman, yes unfortunately Australia is REALLY far from everywhere else :) We've got used to the long haul travel but it's very tiring!
10th January 2020

Wish it didn't have to end...
I've enjoyed reading all your entries on your trip to Morocco and sorry there's only one more blog entry on your incredible trip. I know you visited a lot of the country, but I hadn't realized you were in Morocco for the better part of a whole month! (Not counting London of course.) After such a long flight from Doha, it must have been difficult to wait yet another 5 - 6 hours for your flight home from Sydney. I'm sure Mia, Jasper, and Oliver were incredibly happy that you were home at last. In this epilogue you've expressed one of the same sentiments that I feel on returning home -- it's incredibly wonderful to be back in my own bed, and though I love to travel, I miss all the little furry & whisker faces at home.
10th January 2020

Re: Wish it didn't have to end...
Thanks for following along and for your lovely comments Sylvia! We really do appreciate it, especially given the time it takes to read our detailed blogs ;) We try to travel for 4-6 weeks to really get to know a country, but it rarely happens with our unpredictable work commitments. Please share pictures of your little furry ones in your blogs :)

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