Today begins the trip of a lifetime, for we are starting out on a long-awaited dream, if you like.
Today marks the start of our trip on the Trans-Mongolian Railway, a trip that has been on the Bucket List for years.
You know how it is – that there is always something that, one day, you just have to do, if it is at all possible, no matter how long it takes to achieve.
The Trans-Mongolian & Siberian Railway has been that for us. Sitting there in the backs of our minds for years. A thought that just wouldn’t go away. One day ……
Months of planning have finally come to fruition and, today we begin that journey ….. our flight from Sydney to Hong Kong then on to Beijing where we will pick up the train in a couple of days time ….
* * * ** * * *
Our day began at 5am this morning as we were being picked up at 6am by our friend, John, who had kindly offered to drive us to the airport.
Our flight wasn’t leaving until 9-45am but, we were taking no chances
of running late as, once caught up in Sydney’s morning peak-hour traffic of the working week, anything can happen so, we wanted to leave ourselves plenty of time, just in case.
Daughter Jenni is also travelling with us on this trip so, we had arranged for Ted to pick her up from her home at 5-45am and bring her to our place so that John only had one stop to make to pick all of us up in one go.
Bags piled into the car (just as well it was a mini-van) and, off we went.
Traffic on the motorways into the city wasn’t too bad, so we had a pretty good run into town. Sunrise was just starting to occur and the scene of the early morning sunlight bathing all of Sydney Harbour in a golden glow, was quite spectacular to see as we came down the hill towards the city on the approaches to the Harbour Tunnel. We never tire of the views of our city by the sea.
Dropping us at the International Terminal by 7-25am, we said our goodbyes to John and he was off to continue on with his day. Thank
We were in plenty of time, seeing as how Jenni had already checked us in overnight, this had streamlined the process of going through the formalities as we only had to go to the bag drop counter and, we were done. Easy.
Our flight was boarding at 9.00am through Gate 24 - much closer than the Gate 60 that we scored last year when we travelled to Greece and Turkey but still not achieving my ambition of getting to take a flight, at least once in my life, that departs from Gate 1. Don’t think it ever happens. Gate 1 is a myth.
We had no reason to dally so, went straight through towards Immigration, having decided to have breakfast “on the other side”.
Once inside, there was a cast of thousands it seemed, all wanting to leave our fair city so, we joined the cattle crush shuffling towards the counter. Seems that mid-morning flights are a popular time of the day for departures. Guess it’s all those flights that have come in from all over from 6am onwards, that are now all ready to turn around and go back again to wherever they
came from, having disgorged their previous load of passengers; been cleaned, refuelled and re-stocked, etc. and now ready for the return journey.
Seems that whenever Ted and I travel, almost without exception, he will be pulled aside and have the wand waved over him, checking for explosives residue. Don’t know whether he is just lucky enough each time to be the random number or, if he looks like a bit of a shady character. (For anyone who knows him, nothing could be further from the truth).
The same happened again this morning but, whilst all of this was happening, I was also pulled aside and given the “pat-down” by a female attendant because for some reason I had set off the alarm in the scanning booth.
After being given the, “all-clear” (don’t know what the issue was), and walked back over to where Ted was having the magic wand waved over him, only to have him tell me that they had now pulled my backpack aside from the x-ray machine for some reason so, a hand search was conducted.
There again, I don’t know what the issue was as I wasn’t queried about any of the
contents. Just ordinary stuff – books, headphones, camera etc. – pretty boring really. Anyway, stuffed everything back in again and we were on our way to breakfast.
Jen had a couple of last-minute situations arise at the office with a couple of her travelling clients so, had some official stuff to do for work before we boarded and ended up having to spend the remaining half-hour before that occurred, on the phone getting those sorted with her staff, in between bites of her breakfast sandwich and gulps of her “wake-me-up” morning cup of coffee.
All boarded and ready to go and pushed out from the terminal at 9-50am – 5 minutes late. Our flight is nowhere full and there are plenty of empty seats. Ted and I had a spare seat between us. Jen, the whole row of 3 to herself.
Slowly taxied to the end of the runway, where we then sat for 20 minutes whilst we waited, slowly crawling forward until it was our turn.
Air traffic at Sydney airport was brisk this morning and I contented myself by looking out the window, watching what was going on with the planes coming in to
land in front of us and those queued ahead of us, finally taking off.
Eventually, it was our turn and, as we turned onto the runway to take off, glancing out the window again, I counted 7 other planes queued behind us. Quite a stack-up this morning.
Finally off the ground at 10-22am, 35 minutes late.
It never ceases to amaze me how these huge aircraft can move with such grace. Here we were, hurtling down the runway then came the lift-off as smooth-as-silk. There was not the slightest shudder or a shake as we raced down the runway and took off, as Sydney airport and the city fell away beneath us as we climber higher, gaining height and altitude.
A slight bank around to set our course, enabled us a great birds-eye view of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games site at Sydney Olympic Park as we then headed off straight over the Blue Mountains and were on our way.
Flight QF 127, an Airbus A380, bound for Hong Kong. Our route will take us in a nor-westerly direction across New South Wales and through central and northern Queensland, where we will cross the Australian
coastline at Weipa on the Gulf of Carpentaria.
From there, we will continue across the Arafura Sea and the Philippines, keeping east of Malaysia and Brunei. Flight time to Hong Kong is 8 hours and 40 minutes today where we will arrive around 5pm this afternoon, local time.
Immediately after take-off, cabin crew brought around bottles of water for us, with lunch following about an hour later.
We had a choice of Shanghai-style Sweet and Sour Fish or, Beef Chipotle with mixed Rice and Corn accompanied by a Rocket Parmesan salad, Chocolate Mousse with Cherry and Coconut (very rich) for dessert; Cheese and Crackers.
1-45 pm, we are now flying across the Arafura Sea, having crossed the Australian coastline at 1.10pm, not quite 3 hours since we took off. Not much to see now except ocean and white puffy clouds way below us.
It was time for a movie …..
First choice was “The Railway Man”, a movie that we had missed previously when it was at the cinema a little while back. Based on the true story of Eric Lomax, a British Officer in the Second World War, who was a prisoner of
war of the Japanese, working on the Burma-Thailand railway.
It was his story of how his experiences had haunted him for some 35 years after the event until he went back to face his demons and confront one particular Japanese officer (after he learnt that he was still alive) who had acted as translator during his internment, and who had previously witnessed his brutal beatings and torture at the hands of his captors whilst they were trying to get him to divulge certain information they thought he had.
A very good story with Colin Firth taking the role of Eric Lomax.
My second choice (there again, another movie that we had missed at the cinema awhile ago) was “Tracks” – really more of a documentary than a movie as such.
An Australian film, it documented the epic journey of Robyn Davidson who, back in 1977, independently made a trek across some of the most desolate and inhospitable desert country in Australia, east to west.
Beginning from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory - she alone, except for her faithful black dog and her 4 camels – trekked the 1700 miles from the middle of the
country to the ocean on the West Australian coast over a period of about 8 months.
It was the story of her travels, the account of which was written up in National Geographic back then, causing worldwide interest and acclaim.
Hardship and solitude were her constant companions with other human contact along the way, being few and far between. One of her benefactors became Rick Smolan, the National Geographic photographer sent to record her epic adventure, who used to “drop in” on her every few weeks to see how she was going and to also take his next series of photographs for the magazine.
It was a doco well worth viewing, even just for the scenery alone.
We arrived in Hong Kong right on time around 5-15pm, local time and, as we were going onto Beijing, we had about an hour before our DragonAir flight boarded which gave us enough time to get to our gate of E2 71.
This was a bit of an exercise as we had to get off our Hong Kong flight, walk through the terminal from one end to the other to get the train to the other terminal of
E2 and then once again, hike from one end of the building to the other to get to Gate 71. See, no Gate 1 again! ….. they are getting farther away instead of closer!
Mission accomplished – we even had time to stop off and get a coffee on the way – we boarded our DragonAir flight and departed right on time at 7pm.
It’s about a 3-hour fight from Hong Kong to Beijing where we arrived right on time at 10pm. However, this was to be the first time that I have ever had to catch a train to the Baggage Collection carousel which was about a 10-minute train ride to TC 3 to be able to collect our bags. However, the system is very efficient and a bit of a hoot as well.
Our Intrepid rep was waiting for us when we emerged into the arrivals hall and, soon had us and our bags stashed away in his vehicle and with an icy cold bottle of water for each of us which was very welcome in the 33deg heat outside. 33 deg temperature at 10pm.
Reminded me of being at home in Oz where
we are quite used to having these sorts of temperatures in the middle of summer during our heat waves when the overnight temperatures don’t drop very much. And, it’s only Spring here at the moment.
It was about a half-hour drive to our hotel from the airport at that time of night and, we were ever so glad to have arrived and be checked in and off to our rooms as we were all out on our feet by this as we had been on the go to the equivalent of 19 hours non-stop. Add this to the rushing around at home for days beforehand in the lead-up to our departure, added to the limited amount of sleep the night before, we’d had enough.
As we have all been to Beijing several times before and seen what we had wanted to see during those visits, we plan on a quiet day tomorrow after a bit of a sleep-in.
6pm tomorrow night we have our official meeting where we get to meet our Intrepid Guide who will look after us for the next three weeks as we cross Mongolia, Siberia and Russia (our Trans-Mongolian trip is an Intrepid tour) as well as the rest of our travelling companions who will be joining us for this trip (maximum of 12 of us altogether).
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