Notes from plane seats and the odd airport lounge


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March 26th 2019
Published: May 7th 2019
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HE SAID...
The lead up to this adventure had been different to our other trips. For a start, we’d managed to tie up our work commitments well before we left, which is a rarity for us. It allowed us time to think and plan – so much so that we organised our packs about a week out from leaving. This wasn’t entirely ideal, as I kept looking at my pack at the airport and couldn’t entirely remember what was in it.

I also found some time to record one of four songs for the son of an old friend in the week before we left. He asked if I could help with the backing tracks of an EP he was putting together, and I jumped at the chance. I was grateful for a few free days in my studio (another rarity for me before a holiday), but I was getting further and further removed from the contents of my pack. When we checked in at the airport and watched our backpacks disappear with all the other luggage, I crossed my fingers and hoped I hadn’t forgotten anything.

We were travelling to London for a short few days, and then onto Morocco. This was a trip we had virtually booked a few years previously, but uncertainty around the start date of a major contract forced us to cancel our travel plans. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but in a way it made this trip all the more exciting.

We dropped Mia (the feline) at the cat centre the day before we left, and she wasn’t happy. She has complete freedom at home, so to lose that freedom for a month each year is not something she relishes. She ran into her enclosure, found a blanket and scrambled underneath it. When Mia’s upset with the world, she hides under the closest blanket. It’s not the most practical approach to anxiety, but it’s a tried and true methodology for her, and I doubt she’ll ever change.

The weather turned as we carried Mia into her lodgings. It had been sunny and warm for weeks beforehand, but suddenly it was raining and cold. Gale force winds were forecast for the next few days, which meant a bumpy trip out of Hobart. We spent the rest of the afternoon at home, tying up loose ends and spending time with Jasper and Oliver (the kelpies).

Jasper (the older kelpie) had realised we were leaving when the packs came out a week earlier, so she had been shadowing me 24/7. When I sat at my desk, she would sit at my feet with her paws touching the base of my chair. This was a clever strategy, because she would always know when I moved, even if she was asleep. She was devastated when we took her to the boarding kennels on the morning we left. Unlike Mia, she needs to be cognisant of everything when she’s anxious. She stared out the car window with big scared eyes and cried loudly, then tried to drag me away when I put her on the lead to get her out of the car. In contrast, Oliver the younger kelpie looks forward to his time at the kennels, because he gets to meet new people and other dogs.

We returned to a silent and empty house. Our flight was at 6pm, so we thought we had time to relax before our long haul flight to London. However, some work commitments cropped up expectantly in the morning mail, so relaxation turned to mild panic. However, we were on the road (as planned) by 3pm.

We left our car in the undercover security parking area, caught a shuttle bus to the airport and were in the air by 6pm. The flight to Melbourne was smooth and comfortable, and on arrival we made our way to the international terminal and relaxed in Bar Pulpo (By Movida) with a glass of sangria, Spanish bocadillo and a plate of patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy sauce) as we waited to board our 14+ hour long haul flight to Doha (Qatar).

We left Melbourne at 10:30pm, and as always I used our valuable hours in the sky to begin our blog.

This will be my first visit to the continent of Africa. Ren spent nine years of her formative life in Nigeria, so Africa is by no means new to her. However, it will be completely new to me, and the anticipation of the unknown is very alluring. An old school friend went on a safari in Africa when we finished university back in the late 1980’s, and I remember thinking how exotic the concept of a safari sounded at the time. It still does, and it is something Ren has dreamed of for years. I’m sure we’ll venture forth on an African safari someday.

Africa also has a strong literary appeal for me, because the continent features in the work of two of my favourite writers – Joseph Conrad and Albert Camus.

In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Charles Marlow sits on a boat anchored on the Thames and relays to a group of friends the story of his journey up the Congo River to make contact with Mr Kurtz, an ivory trader who apparently is very ill. Marlow’s journey into central Africa had a significant impact on me when I first read it, as did the movie Apocalypse Now (which is loosely based on the novel). Some commentators have pointed out an underlying racism in Heart of Darkness – sitting on a boat in London which he describes as the biggest and greatest city on earth, Marlow tells of his journey into central Africa, which he describes as one of the dark places on the earth – indeed the very heart of darkness. I have to admit I didn’t draw the same comparison when I first read the book all those years ago. I always thought Conrad was describing a journey into the dark recesses of a man’s soul, and that he simply used his maritime knowledge of African rivers as an analogy for this. However, I’ll have to revisit this old favourite and read it with older (and possibly wiser) eyes.

Albert Camus was born in Algeria, and his novel The Outsider is set in Oran, a major city close to the Moroccan border on Algeria’s north western coast. While he eventually moved to Paris and is nearly always referred to as a French writer, Camus’ early life in northern Africa permeates his work.

I was first introduced to Camus when I studied European Literature in Year 12. I remember the day the teacher asked me to stay behind after class. When everyone had left, she quietly pointed out that I’d barely said anything in class all year, yet suddenly I was arguing passionately with the rest of the group about The Outsider. I told her I really liked Camus’ writing, so she lent me her copy of his selected essays and writings. She suggested I read two essays in particular – the Myth of Sisyphus and Summer in Algiers – and they changed the course of my life.

From that day forward I desperately wanted to study philosophy, and I eventually (and very loosely) based my honours thesis on those two essays. I was also incredibly fortunate that my parents readily supported me to do so. I ran into the teacher years later, and I told her she was one of the best teachers I’d ever had. Tears welled up in eyes and she quietly said she had to go. Maybe I shouldn’t have told her that in the middle of a busy Hobart street. Coincidentally, I saw her again a few days before we left on this trip, but this time I spared her the embarrassment of telling her she was one of my all-time favourite teachers.

Which brings me back to northern Africa, and to Summer in Algiers in particular. In the essay Camus describes life in Algiers (the capital of Algeria) during summer, focusing on the importance of the sea and the sun in the lives of young Algerians. The essay concludes with a core tenet of Camus’ writing:
‘For if there is a sin against life, it lies perhaps less in despairing of it than in hoping for another life, and evading the implacable grandeur of the one we have.’

With this background, I could barely hide my excitement about exploring Morocco on the north western tip of Africa, especially the coastal cities of Tangier, Rabat and Casablanca.

As we drew close to Qatar, I reflected on the first leg of our flight to London. It had been one of the most comfortable and enjoyable long haul flights I can remember, due in part to the great food (beef stroganoff for me and chicken nonya curry for Ren), along with the red wine, cognac and excellent service. And, of course, the absolute pleasure of writing our pre-trip notes as we embark on another exciting and new adventure.

About two hours out from Qatar we were served breakfast. My red pepper and potato frittata was pretty good, as was Ren’s stir fried mee hoon (rice vermicelli) noodles. However, after 14 hours in the air, we were ready to stretch our legs, so it was a welcome break to touch down at Hamad International Airport. We slowly made our way through the poorly organised transit security, then settled at our gate lounge. It was a quick stopover (less than two hours), and it was reasonably uneventful. The airport isn’t much to write home about – there’s a lot of expensive infrastructure ruined by sub-par organisational practices and processes. The less said the better.

We boarded our flight in the early hours and waited on the tarmac for ages while the luggage of a non-boarder was off-loaded. Where on earth did they disappear to? We eventually sped down the runway, took off and banked over the perfectly fabricated and artificial coastline of Doha Bay. We were on the second and final leg of our journey to London, where we would stay for a few days before heading to Morocco. We enjoyed another breakfast (vegetarian omelette for me and mixed grill for Ren) as we marvelled at the stark landscape of Kuwait and Iraq below us.

This was a relatively short flight – six and half hours – compared to the fourteen hours we had flown already. Door to door, we’d calculated our travel to London would be close to 33 hours in total… and we were beginning to feel it. The kid in front of me kept peeping over her seat and touching me on the head when I leant forward. The woman behind me complained continually, despite her husband’s gentle yet fruitless attempts to tell her it wasn’t all that bad. The woman over the aisle had been trying it on from the start – she faked feeling unwell in a flagrant bid to get a spare row of three seats to lie down in. When that didn’t work she asked for a red wine and knocked it back in no time at all – at 6am in the morning (I would have waited until at least 7am). She then consumed her breakfast like there was no tomorrow and watched movies for the duration of the flight. To top it all off, she asked for two gin and tonics when the water cart came around, and knocked them back one after the other! A pretty good effort for someone at death’s door at the start of the flight! 😊

But everything paled into insignificance to the woman sitting next to Ren. She seemed OK at the start of the flight, but the cracks started to show after breakfast. She first started on the milk sachet – violently running her finger up and down it, to the point where Ren and I were convinced it was going to burst and splatter everywhere. Then came the fork – she held it in one hand and slowly scraped it from one side of her food tray to the other… I’m sure she was plotting the downfall of us all. Then came the empty plastic water bottle – she held it in her hand, continually crushing it in her fist and then releasing it, with the crackling noise driving us all to the very edge of our collective sanity. But it pushed Ren too far – she turned and asked the woman if she needed somewhere to store the bottle, offering her own food tray as an option. The woman politely said no, put the bottle down and went to sleep. Silence descended around us.

We flew along the north coast of Turkey, then crossed the Black Sea to continue our journey across familiar territory – Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary – where we’d experienced one of our best travel adventures about 10 months earlier. The snow-capped Carpathians (the mountain range separating Bucharest from Brasov) were a sight to behold.

We touched down at Heathrow Airport at 11:30am, breezed through customs and picked up some Baileys Irish Cream in the duty free shop, only to find the UK currency we’d kept from our previous London trip was out of date. Luckily we’d picked up some additional currency before we left.

The point of our London visit was to spend time with Ren’s sister Romany and our niece and nephew Kirsten and Jared. Since we last saw them, Kirsten had started/finished university and Jared was about to turn eighteen. A lot of water had passed beneath the bridge, so we were looking forward to spending time with them before heading to Morocco.

And a cautionary note on our flight to Morocco. We were meant to be flying on a Boeing 737 Max 8, the model that only recently had dropped out of the sky just after take-off in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Since those crashes, more than 50 countries had temporarily banned the 737 Max 8, including England and Morocco, which had been a massive relief! We were desperately hoping the ban would stay in place until we flew out in a few days’ time.



SHE SAID...
Our travels started with the usual vast list of duties and activities that need to be completed to shut down our work and life for several weeks. Happily, we managed to pack and get through our long to-do lists with ease… a whole weekend before we left! 😊

On the day before our flight, we dropped Mia off at her cattery and made our way home in wintery conditions, with high winds and rain lashing us. The winds were predicted to continue to be severe for a couple of days, so we crossed our fingers for it to ease before our flight took off from Hobart Airport.

On the morning of our flight, our older kelpie dog Jasper was distraught and cried for the entire 10 minute drive to the kennels – we felt so guilty. Contrastingly, our younger kelpie Oliver was very excited to start his holiday, as he loves going to see Aunty Cass and the kelpies who live with her. 😊

Dropping the dogs off at the kennels made our trip feel all the more real. We had been looking forward to a rather chilled approach to our departure, but we should have known better than to tempt fate with such a wish. A few unplanned work tasks cropped up only a few hours before our flight and needed to be urgently attended to. Our chilled out atmosphere turned brisk very quickly.

We finally finished all our last minute tasks and left for the airport in a bit of rush. Hobart Airport was quick and easy as usual, and before we knew it we were sitting on our 6pm Virgin Airlines flight to Melbourne – our long journey of nearly 29 hours of flight and airport time had begun! As was also usual, I fell asleep before take-off and woke up just in time for the drinks trolley.

Our only task at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport was to get our boarding passes for the last sector of our three flights. We had three or so hours before our flight, so we camped at Bar Pulpo (part of the Movida group) and enjoyed a beautiful sangria, patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy sauce) and a bocadillo de jamon y queso manchego (ham and cheese baguette). I didn’t think the sangria was particularly strong until I got off my bar stool and took a few steps… and then when Andrew had to stop me from accidently walking into to the men’s toilet I realised that the sangria had certainly snuck up on me!

The flight from Melbourne to Doha was packed, and half the passengers seemed to be children under 10. My seat mate was a seven year old boy being babysat by his teenage brother, while the parents sat together across the aisle! The older brother was brilliant with the youngster, but I thought it was a pretty unfair deal for the big brother. I had planned on sleeping for the first half of the 14 hour flight, but the very chatty ‘Little Mr Wriggly’ put paid to those plans. On the plus side, I got some writing done and I didn’t have to share my seat or leg space as I usually do with a space-invading adult.

Our first stop on this trip is London. I lived in London for a short time a long time ago, and it holds a very special place in my heart. And in some ways it still feels like home... my fourth, or possibly my fifth home... I constantly lose count of the places that I love that have become a part of me.

London is also very special because it’s the home of my sister and family. So while we are looking forward to doing London things, we are also very much looking forward to hanging out with family and having adult drinks with our niece and nephew (as they’ve both turned 18 since we last saw them).

Then we head to Morocco. When I think of Morocco, I think of couscous, tagines, mint tea, lumbering camels, sprawling Saharan sands, mudbrick medinas, bustling souks full of cloaked locals and pink-hued old cities. Strangely, I don’t think of its modern or contemporary aspects.

I met a handful of Moroccans when I lived in London, and even though we have a few communities from North Africa in Australia, there isn’t a vast representation from Morocco. So we’ve only been exposed to small doses of Moroccan culture via its proximity to Europe and the fact that when I was a vegetarian, my favourite restaurant in Melbourne was the Moroccan Soup Bar. 😊

While I might know a bessara from a harira (types of fava bean or lentil and tomato soups), and a tangia from a tagine (urn or conical shaped stewing dishes), when doing pre-trip reading I realised that there were vast volumes of things I was ignorant about… I didn’t know a medina from a mellah, or a kasbah from a ksar, or many other exotic sounding terms and concepts that were totally foreign to me.

The little information I have garnered is that Morocco consists of native Berber people with ancient traditions, an introduced Islamic culture when the Arabs invaded in the 7th century, and various European colonial influences over the centuries (from the Romans to the French). The Arabs named the region of western North Africa ‘the Maghreb’, and called the Berbers ‘Maghrebi’; but the Berbers call themselves ‘Amazigh’ (meaning ‘free man’). While most of the cities are now multicultural, the Berber communities still mainly inhabit the Atlas Mountains which run through the entire south-west of the country.

I’m extremely excited to experience Morocco’s natural landscapes and manmade cityscapes, and to get to know a new culture. I want to understand the contemporary, traditional and ancient sides of the country. I’m curious about how all the divergent forces have shaped the Morocco of today, and I’m looking forward to seeing how those various cultural influences show themselves in everyday modern Moroccan life.

This is Andrew’s first visit to Africa, so I’m excited on his behalf. But I’m also very very excited to be setting foot in my beloved Africa again. I grew up in Nigeria in West Africa, and while North Africa is visually very different to West Africa, I predict there will be similarities in hospitality and culture. I seriously cannot wait to be there!

Back to our Melbourne-Doha flight… the dinner was surprisingly very delicious. Andrew had beef stroganoff with mash and broccoli, and I had a Nonya chicken curry with jasmine rice and green beans. When Little Mr Wriggly finally fell asleep after punching the living day lights out of the screen while playing games (the woman in front of him was very tolerant about getting her headrest punched!), I took the opportunity to drift off to sleep myself.

Unfortunately, Little Mr Wriggly’s nap only lasted two hours, after which he needed attention again. But thankfully he was sent to sit with his father and our row could keep sleeping. Andrew and I slept for a good six hours and woke up to a very very ordinary snack which I think was a soggy pie thing. I was able to nap for a little while longer before Little Mr Wriggly returned to sit next to me. He was a little cutie, so I really didn’t mind his cheekiness even if it meant I couldn’t sleep anymore.

Our transit through Doha’s Hamad Airport was rushed, with most of our time spent getting through two separate security checks. While I don’t have any problems with rigorous airport security checks, I do take exception to bad planning and bad management. And Doha Airport has plenty of it.

Our flight to London was a code share with British Airways and as sometimes is the case, their customer service was cold and aloof. The breakfast was nice enough, but they were hardly approachable when it came to drinks for the rest of the six and a half hour flight. But it didn’t matter much, as I slept for at least four hours of it. I felt confident that we were doing all we could to change our body clocks into the new time zone. 😊

It seems I tempted fate (and the flight seat gods) when I talked about Little Mr Wriggly on the last flight. I was sitting next to the same sized tall / large person as I had on the Hobart to Melbourne flight – with a thigh that kept creeping onto mine under the armrest and a total block out of my air and light on that side of me. And at one point I woke up to her nearly resting her head on mine! I moved away so violently that she had no choice but to lean the other way.

I’m not sure if she was a nervous flyer or a nervous person in general, but she kept jabbing at things violently and repetitively. I thought the milk sachet was going to explode the way she kept prodding at it with her index finger, then she started stabbing the discarded foil from her hot meal with the knife, before running her fork up and down the plastic food tray – it was very disturbing to say the least. As I was falling asleep after our food trays had been cleared away, she decided to start squeezing an empty plastic water bottle and making that squeaky crackling noise of twisted plastic. It was annoying and infuriating, so I looked over at her a couple of times but she didn’t get the hint… so I put my tray table down and politely asked her if she wanted to put the bottle on it until the cabin crew collected rubbish again. She declined but got the hint, and put the bottle in the seat pocket and promptly fell asleep. Creepy much??? 😱

We are now nearing London’s Heathrow Airport. It’s been nearly 31 hours since we left home, and I am ready to be in London. My most favourite niece is coming to the airport to pick us up! It felt very strange but also wonderful that our little niece was now adult enough for such duties. 😊

See you in London!

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7th May 2019

Great Introduction!
Great introduction to your Moroccan trip! Really like your in-flight photos too because for me they capture the anticipation, excitement and expectations felt when embarking on a new adventure! will be looking forward to reading about your adventures in Morocco as we're booked on a tour there in October. I must mention that I think Australians must be imbued with something special when it comes to being able to handle long flights so well. I'm very lucky to get even a couple hours of sleep on a third as long as the one you took. Glad you included photos of your beloved pets!
8th May 2019

Re: Great Introduction!
Thanks Sylvia. Like you, I like flight photos too - it says 'beginning of travel excitement' like nothing else! I think we've embraced long haul flights because we really don't have an option to not do so :D
8th May 2019
oliver

Sweet Oliver
How precious.
8th May 2019
oliver

Re: Sweet Oliver
He loves the camera... well, he loves attention in any form really :)
8th May 2019

Joys of family
Always good having family at the other end of the flight. Great introduction. 31 hours.... no problem... you are an expert.
8th May 2019

Re: Joys of family
Thanks Merry. We don't mind the long haul flights if the planes are comfortable, the food is passable and we can sleep... I've had a few terrible ones where I couldn't sleep and I was fairly feral by the time I got to my destination! It's a rarity for us to be met at airports and it was odd not to have to organise a taxi and currency exchange etc It was a welcome change :)
8th May 2019
mia

Poor Mia
What a sweet darling! My Olga and Svea are fortunate enough that my parents can tend to them in my house while I'm away as my mother pass my town on her way to and from work. It would be hard for me to imagine them void of this freedom so I sympathise with your little sweetie.
8th May 2019
mia

Re: Poor Mia
Your little ones are very lucky that your Mum can take care of them. We may need to look at a similar arrangement for our three soon - the guilt is really getting to us :)
8th May 2019

And you're off!!!
Your attention to detail and description of it never ceases to amaze and amuse me. I love how into everything of the trip you both are. Can't wait to read the upcoming stories. I know they will be good.
9th May 2019

Re: And you're off!!!
Yes, and there was much excitement about the start of the trip! Thanks Brendan, hope all is well on your side of the world :)
10th May 2019
mia

Oh, poor thing
You know, we would be more than happy to take care of Mia for you when you are away. Too bad we live on the other side of the planet... /Ake
12th May 2019
mia

Re: Oh, poor thing
Awww thanks Ake - any plans to move to southern Australia in the near future? ;) It's so hard dropping her off and seeing her so stressed. It's partly also because she has become such a routine driven cat and now reacts badly to any changes in her day.
16th May 2019

Really looking forward to your travel diary Feel so sad for Oliver Jason and Mia but think may have the answer to your next holiday Have found a house sitter in Aunty Chris Thought of it too late this time but could solve the problem for future travels
18th May 2019

Hi Deb, we always feel so guilty when we leave the three fur babies behind, even on weekend trips. Maybe we should start doing caravan trips, so they could come along! :)

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