The Pointy End of the Plane.

Today’s the day! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the tank is clean! Wait?! The tank is clean! As Mr K would say. We are heading to Central Europe for a three week trip, primarily to do some work, but we have plans that will hopefully make the most of our time off so we can see lots of cool stuff and because it’s our 25th wedding anniversary at the end of the month, we have some special stuff planned also. Mr K, believe it or not, has never been to this part of the world – sure he’s been to Greenland, Qatar and Russia, Estonia, Iceland and Saudia Arablia, but never the Netherlands, Switzerland or France. So we re off on a working adventure.

To start off on the super special fun stuff – we managed to get ourselves (OMG!) first class tickets on an Emirates A380 for the long haul. Mr K’s Platinum One fanciness may played a part in this, and he mightn’t get to keep it, so gotta work it while you got it! We had the smoothest check in and progression through customs I have ever experienced, there was literally no one in security so we really didn’t need the Express Passes that came with our fancy first class tickets. We spent a little time at the Emirates lounge in Brisbane which was okay, but not as enjoyable as the Qantas First Class lounge in Sydney and definitely not as relaxing, with it’s harsh lights and uptempo music. Nice bonus though is that first class and business can board directly from the lounge to the upper deck of the aircraft.

We were boarded without any problem and were personally escorted to our ‘suites’ – not seats! – and the four staff that were looking after the people in my aisle (a total of 8 people!) came personally to greet us. First thing I was offered was champagne, but Mr K the frequent first class denizen that he is had given me a tip – say ‘no’ to the Moėt and wait until we are in the air for the 2013 vintage Dom Pérignon. Which given we didn’t really eat in the lounge, was good advice. Second thing I was asked was, ‘Ms Borys, when would you like to have your shower?’ Oh, yeah – a shower right before going to sleep will suit me perfectly.

We ended up delayed in our take off by nearly two hours, which I did mind at all, as I was busy checking out all the bells and whistles in my little sweet, but I couldn’t stop myself from thinking how a two hour delay is normally nightmarish for me in the back of the plane. I’ve done more long haul flights than I could count and with my chronic back pain, that means loading up with drugs and mentally preparing for the most horrific 20-28 hours imaginable. Adding two hours delay after boarding turns a 14 hour flight to a 16 hours of stuck in uncomfortable seats in massive amounts of pain and much grinding of teeth… but here is first class suite, it was more ‘Oh yes, pyjamas and slippers would be lovely’, and ‘A cocktail before take off? Sounds fabulous.’ I could seriously get used to this.

The two hour delay I later found out, was very unusual – we had pulled away from the stand and were starting our taxi to the runway when the Captain came over the PA saying we had to return to the gate and he didn’t make the usual vague paperwork or engineering check excuse. I later asked the cabin manager if he was able to tell me why we were delayed, and he said he didn’t know the details, but they returned to the gate and some ‘authorities’ (yes, vague is a job requirement in the airline industry) who came aboard and removed a passenger in hand cuffs, then of course the situation was further delayed as they had to remove his luggage and we had lost our spot on the runway. So two hours.

I spend the time checking out the entertainment system, the minibar, the writing desk, adjusting the seat to be more comfortable – man I am just happy as a pig in shit with any type of footrest but this was next level, it adjusts in headrest height, reclines, leg rest raises, you can move it six ways from Sunday. We also have our own little sliding doors so we don’t have to interact with our fellow travellers, let alone sit next to them… ewww! Mind you, everyone in here is in a pretty good mood – so making eye contact with anyone is immediate smiles and raising of glasses.

I have a little minibar – which I can request be replenished or replaced with alternative drinks to my preference. It also has some chocolate coated nuts and snacks – and it smoothly lifts and raises at the touch of a button with the same grace and elegance of a late ‘90s high-end, stereo cassette player. lol.

There is also a little lighted make up mirror with some refreshing face mists and moisturisers that open up in the writing desk.

A basket of in flight snacks is also on the desk, that gets refreshed after take off as this moveable basket is collected just before we take off and returned as soon as we are in the air… they even offered to customise the snack basked with whatever I preferred.

There is a complimentary little leather bound notebook and pen – the little leather stand they are in however must have been walking in the past. It’s so overwhelmingly ‘take whatever you want’ that I can see why some people might have gone ‘oh cool, the holder for these comes out, I’ll just take that too.’

There is also a largish toiletry bag full of BVLGARI toiletries – toothbrush, eye mask and earplugs also included along with hand lotion, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste, a bottle of parfum, and a cute little hand mirror, and a bunch of other stuff.

Here is Mr.K looking super stressed about having to be in this little suite for the next 16 hours with it’s unlimited everything!

Eventually we were in the air, and the first of about six glasses of vintage Dom Pérignon was served. Delicious and decadent! I know how much this stuff costs!

I wasn’t super hungry but if the champagne was going to keep flowing one really must eat something. Emirates FC is famous for their caviar service, so I wasn’t going to miss that. It was also served with a ‘little something the chef prepared during the delay’, a crab and appetiser and a goat cheese tartlet which was exquisite.

And of course the caviar! There was beef tenderloins, prawn linguine, seared barramundi, and more fucking choices than you can poke a stick at … but I can’t say no to the caviar. It was really good caviar – I won’t lie, I have tried better, but they were super generous with the serving and it came with a lot of lovely fixings. Went perfectly with the Dom. 🙂

There was a huge pile of it – and when I cleaned my plate, the attendant saw I had used hardly any of the breads etc and came and asked me if I would like another serve!.

Dinner and a movie later, it was time to go have a shower and get ready for bed. At the front of the first class cabin is a little round vestibule that has two shower rooms either side and a small waterfall with flickering candlelights and a teapot set out for help yourself camomile tea. I can’t believe this shit, knowing how uncomfortable it is in economy, and to be fair, Emirates A380 economy is one of the better ones out there – this is just nuts.

And then I saw the bathrooms with the showers. 😮 Oh dear lord, not only could you swing a cat in here, you could also have a party with six people in here! If it was made by Schindler’s Lifts, it would have a max capacity of 40 people written on it!

But wait, there’s more – you honestly really could hold a party in here. And did I mentioned the floor is heated? Seriously! Mr K says he thinks it’s heated with the rising aggravation and discontent of the economy passengers downstairs. Cheeky bugger.

Even though they gave us all individual toiletry bags in our little suite, and there were more little toiletries in the makeup mirror in the desk – there was even more amenities of anything you could possibly need provided in the shower room.

I cam back from the shower to find that my bed had been made up – a nice firm mattress topper was on the seat, a full size pillow and a nice fluffy duvet were all nearly folded down – weirdly, I had a pretty decent night sleep. I forgot to take a photo of the suite with the bed made up, so snavelled one off the internet:

Then it was time for breakfast- and was offered more champagne before they offered tea or coffee! Decided that a repeat of the caviar service for breakfast was probably poor form so instead order a Gruyère cheese omelette, and even though I didn’t ask for it, it came with a basket of pastries that I didn’t touch and some fresh fruit and OJ, and later sourdough toast.

Originally we were supposed to be arriving at Dubai Terminal C, which is a good half hour walk to get to Terminal A where our flight to Amsterdam was scheduled to depart from… but thanks to the guy being marched off the plane in handcuffs delaying our flight, we seemed to have scored a bump in priority and we arrived in Terminal A where a lot of the connecting flights seemed to be leaving from. Even Mr K’s habitual 0655 flight to Jeddah from here was waiting for connecting travellers. We ended up arriving at Gate A35 and leaving from Gate A34… but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. We ha an Emirates staff member collecting us from the gate and escorting us through security, and shortcutting us all the way through to the Emirates First Class Lounge, where again we would be boarding to the top deck of the plane directly from the lounge.

Hello down there! I’m sure I’ll be back in the world of the normal people soon enough!

Due to our late arrival, we had barely time to use the bathrooms and have a cold drink at the longe before we were boarding agin for the leg to Amsterdam. This time I had a window suite for this flight, which was just as spacious but felt far more private as the curve of the plane meant that the doors felt like they were going much closer to the ceiling – probably less ideal for really tall people or for or any one who gets claustrophobic in a lift, but felt really cosy for a short person like me… like having your own secret club house as a kid, but on a plane. Of course, the suite had all the same amenities, and snacks and minibar and all good things as the first flight.

… and with no delay, it was back on the Dom for what was supposed to breakfast but felt more like lunch because we had been up for hours.

Today’s flight was conveniently telling me when I should pray and in what direction.

I went through to the shower early as the bathroom behind me was occupied, and discovered the water feature is also a ‘help yourself mini-bar’ for most of the flight, and they only put it all away when there’s high turbulence or when most people are filing in to use the showers. Seriously – there is various wines, vodka, gin, cognac… I bet they wouldn’t blink if you took the bottle back to your suite to save getting up for refills.

Lunch time! Couldn’t resist… fourth glass of Dom! I hadn’t intended to have more than two more glasses of champagne, but each time Laura came to offer to top me up, I honestly couldn’t find a good reason not to accept. Oh and wouldn’t you know it – more caviar for the people.

Watched a bit of Yellowstone, had a bit of a snooze, and looked up and we were five hours into our 7 hours to Amsterdam. Was thinking I should have something to eat as we were going to be in a potentially long transit through Schiphol Airport and then even longer to get to our hotel (I was right – that sentence took two seconds to write and about four hours to execute). So I asked for the mini-sliders, which aren’t on the actual Dining Menu, but rather just on the Movie Snacks menu… Laura promised me they were tiny, so I asked for a bit of cheese on the side.

This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as she then gave me what would make a very sturdy side plate of more cheese than I could consume.

Before too long, I was called for my preferred shower time so I could arrive refreshed and next minute, there are windmills outside the window. Hello Holland.

We actually had a fairly relaxed transit through the airport and smooth run through customs, before going for what felt like a quite a hike to find the Uber pick up point… we had been warned here that cab drivers will charge a fortune, and as it was a set price Uber trip was going to be 48 Euros, (about AUD$90) to get to our hotel. So Uber it was.

It was supposed to be overcast and raining, but it was a beautiful afternoon. Let’s hope we see a bit more of this during the week.

Made it to the hotel, and in spite of our very comfortable long haul transit, we still kinda collapsed in a heap. It’ll be an early night tonight as we have an early start tomorrow.

Bangkok Adventures Await

So a few weeks ago, I decided to join yale on his annual work pilgrimmage to Bangkok, which just happened to happily coincide with some of our colleagues being in town for some planning for the FIFA World Cup Congress being held here in May, so became a fortuitous work opportunity for me also. I booked my flights through Cathay Pacific – first time flying with them, but they are a One World Partner and had the best priced Business fares at the time I was looking… and somehow the transit fairies smiled on me for like the first time in my life – I got upgraded to First Class.

I have no idea how or why this happened. I didn’t request an upgrade and neither did Mr K with his magic Platinum One fanciness. When I checked in, I didn’t even look at my boarding passes, and honestly it wasn’t until I was boarding the plane that I looked at it and saw I was in 1K and not in 12A which is where I was pretty sure I was sitting… but the lovely flight attendants led me to the very pointy end of the plane where there was only six of us in fabulous luxurious pods three across the plane.

This was actually a bit ludicrous actually – I’m only 5’ tall and had a bed that stretched to about nearly 7’. There were four windows down the length of my cubicle/pod, which means I was sitting in the equivalent space that about nine people were squished into in Economy. There was a 30” television screen, a massage function in my seat, a locker to store my things so head room isn’t restricted, and menus and wine lists as long as your arm. The foot rest also has a seat belt in case you want to have someone join you for dinner. The table that comes up out of the sideboard (yes, there’s a sideboard!) is large enough for two people to dine on. There was free flowing champagne and an excellent menu, and seeing I had foregone eating in the lounge (because I knew full well I wouldn’t get to sleep until the food service around me had stopped), I opted to have beef tenderloin and vegetables for dinner – and it was tender, juicy and delicious!

After the meal, and a quick freshen up in the enormous bathroom, (seriously, the bathroom was about the size of a six person elevator), one of the crew made up my bed for me with a mattress topper and lush duvet. I mentioned to the crew member that it felt a little warm in the cabin, and she said she was hot too and immediately dropped the cabin temp about 5 degrees, so I snuggled in under my duvet with my full size pillow and was out like a light!

When I woke up my preselected ‘light breakfast’ arrived – and I was so glad i asked for the light breakfast! The sourdough toast, with fresh avocado, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon was perfect… I had requested no pastries but they turned up anyway. Can’t fault the service or the quality at all. But soon we were landed in Hong Kong and I had to say goodbye to my cosy little pod. I could totally get used to this sort of thing!

I had a four hour layover in Hong Kong and was planning on visiting The Pier First Class lounge in HKG Terminal 1. As I was approaching the entrance, I saw two businessmen turned away being directed to The Pier Business Lounge – I didn’t realise there was two, and thought maybe it was closed. I was pretty sure I had access with my One World Emerald status, but was half expecting to be turned away like the two tailored-suited, Tumi-toting gentlemen in front of me… but no, me in my daggy Rammstein concert t-shirt and GoRuck backpack was ushered right in. LOL. If I had known, I might have dressed a little less ‘long haul comfy’. 😛

The Pier lounge was pretty fancy all round. Lush carpets, foot massages, spa treatments, showers, bar, buffet, enormous bathrooms (I mean, why?) comfy lounging spaces, quiet work spaces… and more champagne for the people – only four French champagnes to choose from though. 🙂

It was sitting in the lounge here having a cuppa watching some Lupin on Netflix, that I got the following texts from Yale – his work is moving 300 people to his conference and not our little company flying one person to Bangkok, and they have these annoying things called, ‘Company Travel Policies’ that restrict their travel options. Meaning poor Yale at 6’9” was going Qantas and travelling Economy for his transit and I was meeting him at Suvarnabhumi Airport as I was arriving just before him. After seeing this, I thought I’d tell him about my happy upgrade *after* we arrive in Bangkok!

Farewell Hong Kong – it looks to be a lovely day in the city if the clouds burn off – supposed to be 15C and clear… whereas Bangkok is supposed to be about 34C and humid when we get there.

I arrived in Bangkok, and was through immigration, bag collection and customs within like 30 mins. No waiting, no lines for anything, just straight through… and when I got out into the arrivals area I could see why – they must have about 90-110 flights landing every hour according to the boards. It was barely organised chaos. Waited around a bit longer than I had planned for Yale, who was an hour late leaving out of Sydney, but that seems on par for Sydney airport these days… Mr K and I had one domestic flight leaving Sydney last September where we were delayed nearly 6 hours – so I’m not complaining about one hour delays!

Got out to go find a cab and discovered a really streamlined and organised process in place. Line up for ‘short trip’, ‘regular trip’, or ‘large taxi’ queues that are all moving very quickly. Get to the front of the queue and press a button on a machine that spits you out a ticket – on your ticket is the cab company that will be collecting you, the license number of your cab, the name and photo of your driver including his ID number and the bay your driver is either already parked in, or on his way to meet you in. Our driver was just pulling into the bay as we got there. Awesome speedy and fair way to make sure the cabbies get moved through quickly.

They also have the cabs driving in, parking in the bay on an angle – so you walk across from the ticket machine area across a mixed pedestrian zone to your cab, load up and they drive straight out again. No cars reversing, no jostling for kerbside space. It was impressive… right up until the driver showed up a laminated cardboard sign saying it would be 800BHT to go to our hotel and he didn’t want to put the meter on. Oh FFS… why are cabbies the world over determined to rip people off?! It should only cost 400-500BHT but we were tired and just wanted to get to the hotel, check-in, have a shower and find a drink! So we didn’t bother arguing and let him take us off the meter, for the extra like $10 without a fight.

We are staying at the Shangri-La in Bangkok for the entire week, and I have to say, so far, I think it’s nicer than the Shangri-La in Sydney, the decor is lovely and matches the country and culture of Thailand, whereas it feels like a duck out of water in Sydney (bit like the Sofitel Melbourne with all their French hoity-toitiness; just doesn’t make a lot of sense in Aust). Gorgeous orchid displays in the lobby, and interesting furnishing. Our room is going to be super comfy for the week, though if I have one issue – they obviously let guests smoke here so it has take quite a few hours of the AC running for the room to smell better than it did when we arrived.

After we had showered and cooled down, we went hunting for some of yale’s colleagues to see what they were up to for dinner and we ended up at a little Michelin listed restaurant not far from the hotel having the best Thai meal I’ve ever had.

I ordered the amazing Phadthai Poo – consisting of stir fried rice noodle with eggs, peanuts, bean sprouts, tofu, garlic chive, dried shrimp, crab sauce, tamarind sauce, and blue crab meat for the grand price of AUD$14..! It was absolutely delicious. Someone at the table ordered some chicken satay sticks and the satay sauce was to die for! There must have been about 15 of us there and the entire bill came to less than AUD$400. This is definitely somewhere I would come again.

After this, some of the others kicked on at a cocktail bar, but we head back to the hotel to crash.

Aww… Time to go Home

We left Tatsuta Ryokan around 9:30am – about 11 hours before our expected flight for a two hour drive to Haneda and then another two hour drive to Narita. But knowing what we know now about Japan traffic and how unreliable Google Maps and Sandoro (all GPS units are called Sondra, like bar maids – but I digress) can be, we felt it wisest to just set the whole day aside for the transit.

Which turned out to be largely okay… the weather was glorious as we left the Izu Peninsula and Mt Fuji was my constant friend out the passenger side window. Just stunning with clear blue skies today – these were the best views I have ever had of the mountain in four trips and multiple opportunities for viewings.., and we’re stuck in the car!

Weirdly as I was earlier complaining about Sandora, I was reminded just now of how she unexpectedly said at one point on the drive ‘Warning, there is congestion ahead due to a car on fire!’ Mr K and I just looked at each other and said, ‘Did she just say…?’; ‘Yeah, yeah she did.’ Weird. But sure as eggs ten minutes down the highway, there was a burned out car on the back of a tow truck with several emergency vehicle and personnel around. Sandora can’t seem to tell us how long it will take to get from A to B accurately, but magically she can give us live updates on a burning car on the side of the road.

No I didn’t take a photo of the car wreck.

We noticed this on our way out of Tokyo – all the buildings looked like they were in 8bit due to a type of mesh barrier that is in use along vast sections of the highway. But now we are seeing Mt Fuji in 8bit, we are starting to ask ourselves if Tokyo’s civil engineers got together with various community artist and designed the road furniture this way deliberately to create a cool, and very Japanese style, 8 bit landscape! It’s very cool but also weirdly like looking at the world through one of those halting flick motion books. 🙂

We’ve seen some fun traffic signs on this trip – but I think this one takes the cake. Not only is that a convoluted as fuck depiction of the Shuto Expressway, but it’s live and shows congestion points – no doubt sometimes the entire thing is lit up red like Christmas tree.

We made it back to Haneda to return our rental car around 12:30pm – so as expected the two hour drive was more like three, and decided to try and find some one last fabulous sushi meal before we boarded our sad flight home… Google to the rescue and I found a well located sushi restaurant at Haneda Gardens (a shopping centre across from Haneda Airport’s Terminal 3). The place is called Tsukji Sushiko Takumi.

It was unexpectedly quiet, but perhaps not for midday on a Sunday, so we were pleasantly surprised by that – in no small part, because it feels a bit like every other time I picked a restaurant, we ended up waiting for a table for ages! Mr K had better luck with his eatery choices, though he may not have been heading for the high end of town like I was.

Menus were in English, ordering on an ipad, ad we started with a little salmon, tamago and ikura sushi starter.

Mr K ordered at tempura rice bowl set, and I tried a bit of his eggplant which was delicious.

I ordered the tuna four ways, and OMG if it wasn’t the best damn tuna sashimi I’ve ever had, it was damn close. For a shopping mall restaurant, it was quite ten times better than any sashimi I’ve had in Australia, which is both fabulous, but also sad as.
Definitely saving the details of this place here, in case we find ourselves with time to kill near Haneda at some time in the (hopefully near) future. It was fantastic and cost roughly the same as a weird and disappointing hamburger meal we had a couple of days ago!

We then dropped off our car and met up with our driver – a step that was necessitated by Qantas changing our flight on us. We booked back in April on sale fares, which is the best way to do it if you can. However, at that time QF62 our flight home was operating from Haneda Airport – so we booked to fly in and out of Haneda because that would make the region we needed to travel to more accessible. IE: we didn’t want to have to drive the two hours across Tokyo from Narita. :/ A couple of months ago though, we received notice that all QF62 flights were being moved and would now be coming back from Haneda – turns out today, and our flight, was the first QF62 out of Narita.

So we meet our driver who was thankfully going to expertly manoeuvre us the rest of the way – a solid 1hr 45mins to 2 hrs – across Tokyo as the cost of returning the car to somewhere other than where we picked it up was going to be roughly the same as getting someone to collect us. Plus we figured a professional driver would be way better at driving in Tokyo than we would be, We may have overestimated on that – because instead of taking the Shuto and skirting around the entire city, we found ourselves on some of those inner spokes of this previously displayed nightmare and literally driving on an elevated highway right past Shibuya and Shinjuku! WTF?

But also, comforting to know it’s not just useless foreign tourists who fuck this up!

Anyway, we got to the airport in plenty of time to check in early, and thank goodness for that – seems half the ground staff were in training given the flight was newly moved from Haneda. So there was some unusually be-suited management types trying to train and guide the staff in checking people in.

After that, we sailed through customs and security (yay, express passes) and got to potter around a couple of duty free shops before installing ourselves for a while in the JAL First Class Lounge – which was quite okay actually. Saké on tap, literally and a touch screen to order curry, noodles or sushi. Best things about it – it is the quietest airport lounge I’ve ever been in. The Japanese and their inherent politeness manifesting in doing things like – taking phone calls in private booths designed expressly for this purpose, having conversations in what Westerners would call ‘indoor’ voices, and not having Sky News blaring at you whether you like it or not. Take note Qantas!

Boarding went smoothly and it was out with the bubbles to say good bye to Japan. For now.Last Japanese selfie complete with obligatory cutesy filter. It’s tradition!

Dinner options were pretty good and there was a Japanese set menu on offer, that I was certain was going to be disappointing after my fabulous sushi lunch, but when else am I going to get offered a Japanese meal on a plane?

The starters were in a neat little bento box and consisted of some shrimp, tofu, pickles, vegetables, beans,and all sorts of beautifully presented tasties. I was pleasantly surprised – this was airline food after all – but it’s obviously been prepared by people who care. It was really quite lovely with some crisp saké on the side.

There was also a Main course of Dainomono, seasonal grilled fish (mackerel I was told), served with rice, miso soup, and pickles .

Followed by a desert: wagashi which came with a cup of green tea. Nice job Qantas… I was actually quite impressed with an airline meal; first time in years.

Unfortunately our flight wasn’t as comfortable as it should have been – there was an ungodly glow coming from the ‘no smoking’ sign over our head which was a multiple of lumens brighter than any other ‘no smoking’ sign in the rest of the cabin! I was wearing an eye mask and trying to hide under my pillow and still couldn’t block it out. Also the cabin temperature was too warm… which is weird because we always travel expecting to freeze on flights, but at one point when I got up to use the bathroom at 2am, I walked down the aisle and noticed that nearly everyone had kicked off their blankets, so it wasn’t just me being Goldilocks (for a change!).

Other than that our flight was uneventful, which is just how we like them. Getting through Brisbane Airport was no problem and our cabbie was even super friendly and competent! All up it was a great transit* taking about 22 hours from leaving Izu to walking in the door at home.

Sayonara, Japan – for now.

* One slight hiccough of my own creation … I left my iPad on the plane! I never do things like that. Ever. But the stupid thing has a grey cover, the exact same colour of the side table of the business capsules so I can see how after not enough sleep and feeling a bit fatigued, I totally didn’t notice it. Oh well, thanks to the “find my device” and a bit of Googling to find the international airport’s lost property, I managed to get it back a few hours later – but that did mean driving back to the airport again! I swear our cars know the way tot he airports on autopilot.

What is it about transit days?

Invariably, transit days are always a horror show. Angus and I were both flying out today – Angus back to Aust and me heading back to the UK, so we packed ourselves up early, went for a quiet breakfast where we ran into the fabulous Holly who was so absolutely exhausted but had dragged herself out of bed in the hope of running into us. <3

Took an Uber (got a cab, again) to the airport which was uneventful (so long as we ignore that this driver also got up to well over 130 kmph), and then walked into what can only be described as one of the most chaotic airports I’ve ever seen… rivalled only by our arrival in Moscow perhaps at Sheremetyevo Airport in 2018. At least there were some masks in the BA queue.

Anyway… turns out all the One World Airlines were in one section and Angus’ Qatar flight, leaving 30 mins before mine, was happily in the check-in counters right near my British Airways one. The websites for both airlines said that check-in would be available from 3 hours before scheduled departures, so we joined our respective queues. I was about 7th in line to get checked and the check-in was supposed to start in about 5 mins. Angus was about 40 deep in his queue but it was already moving as he joined towards the back. I stood there (*right about now, I can’t remember whether I have mentioned just how much my pain levels were ramped up atm… I literally can not stand for more than about 3 minutes before I find myself shifting from foot to foot, pain shooting from my feet to my hips, my knees feeling like they’re going to collapse out from under me and of course I’m inevitably failing to breathe because pain does that to you), with the understanding our queue would open shortly and I would get checked-in relatively quickly – only problem with my cunning plan was that the British Airways staff didn’t seem to have read the, ‘three hours before scheduled departure’ memo and about 25 mins of standing later, I was starting to feel really fucking desperate. I could see Angus moving up in his queue while mine hadn’t moved. He texted that he’d get his stuff checked in and then come and stand in my queue for me, but I was like ‘holy fuck I better not still be standing by the time he’s checked-in’. But, you know, transit days being nightmarish at the best of times, of course I was still waiting when he got through his queue! He took my space while I limped off to the side looking desperately for somewhere to sit. I was on the side long enough to strike up a conversation with a nice Canadian man on his way to Baghdad who was calmly reading and thinking his Royal Jordanian flight wasn’t open for check-in yet but as soon as I pointed out the queue behind us, he ran off and no doubt discovered he was now running late.

Finally! BA check-in opened at 2hrs 20mins before the scheduled departure (fuckers!), and it was at this point that the generic BA monitors above the check-in counters switched to say “London Heathrow – Checked In Online” and “Business and Priority Customers” queues… and wouldn’t you know it? For some bizarre reason, the One World Sapphire, Emerald and Ruby were showing up as being able to use the Priority Lane and I needn’t have stood in line at all. 🙁 Bees dick from tears and collapse at this point. As predicted though, barely five minutes after the check-in opened, Angus was up the front on the queue and I limped over with my passport.

Got checked in and the woman behind the counter asked me if I was okay (What gave me away… the hunched over pained posture? Or the flushed face with tears forming in the corner of my wincing eyes?). I replied that I needed to rest and now I had two hours before my flight so I’d be fine – which is when she mentioned the stairs. My flight was leaving from a ‘remote terminal’ which is a euphemism for taking a bus to the middle of the tarmac and climbing a steep flight of steps to get on the plane. Oh FFS. I had to say ‘No. I can’t do steps today.’ :/ So she insisted I get an airport assistance person to lead us through to the gate.

I took up my seat again and we waited for the assistance person – policy is they won’t just give us a chair and let Angus push me through screening etc, I had to wait for them to have a staff member spare… and nothing about Athens Airport was screaming ‘competence’ or ‘well-staffed’ on this day. There was another young woman waiting for assistance also – she wasn’t in pain, but had her foot in plaster and was hobbling on crutches so they were making her wait for help too due to the stairs. Eventually… like about 45 mins of sitting around… someone turned up with two chairs and attempted to push us BOTH at the same time through customs and security. It was shambolic – he kept running us into people and nearly into walls while Angus was trotting on beside us and could have easily guided one of us. :/ Some policies are just stupid.

To their credit, we found ourselves through security and customs in very quick time, Angus’ gate was off in another direction and I barely got to say a quick goodbye and squeeze his hand before I was being propelled towards my gate where I was unceremonious left 50 mins before my flight… which left one hour late. 😐

It was during this time where I was left twiddling my thumbs that I received a handful of WhapsApp messages that basically told me my driver that I had booked to take me to Aylesbury was ditching the job… oh dear, it’s almost like he had belatedly discovered the planned rail strike (the same one I had a heads up on some two weeks earlier) and decided to ditch my booking in favour or screwing some desperate traveller who suddenly found themselves without options to get home! What the fuck, man? I made the booking days ago, it was fully paid for and now the driver is trying to say I gave them a different postcode? Seriously? The postcode I gave them in Aylesbury is the ONLY damn postcode in the entire UK that I know! So I’m pretty sure I didn’t give them one only 18 miles away and not the 44 miles I needed to travel. So didn’t need this aggravation.

Got onto damage control real quick and made alternative arrangements with Stephola and figured I’d fight it out with the transfer company fora refund later. The motherfucking dodgy personal transport industry strikes again! Le sigh. Eventually got on the plane and, as I said before, our flight left one hour late – most of which we spent sitting in our seats waiting to get a new space in the queue to leave… air travel is definitely not what it was pre-pandemic. So much rolling of eyes, and even more ‘hurry up and wait’ than ever.

My flight was thankfully just how you like them – uneventful. British Airways has slunk the way of Jetstar and other budget airlines though… not even a cup of tea without whipping out your credit card if you happen to be seated in economy; which is kinda sad. They used to be a pretty reliably good airline.

Arrived in Heathrow, and unsurprisingly, no one was there to assist me as I was promised on the other end so I limped my wait through border control, baggage collection, out eventually out through a two minute stop in the duty free to fix my driver up with two bottles of interesting gins (It was the least I could do on such short notice)… out and straight away I received a message from Stephola saying she had just parked. Thankfully my luggage made it, and thank God for Steph – there’s not many I happily pick up at the airport, but Steph will always have a lift from me forever. <3

A quick hug, and out of the city we head to the comfort of the village… ever such a long and painful day. Further reinforcing why, 1) we do NOT sightsee or go touristing on transit days and 2) we always, (always!), travel with our drugs on our person not in our checked luggage!

Operation Extract Covid Boy is GO!

So, as per the aforementioned Plan, we start getting everything in place and I can’t wait to put fucking Russian-bogan Gold Coast in the rear view mirror! We check out from the hotel and are waiting in the reception area (yay, belatedly back on the functioning internet), for our driver. I get a message in garbled English and immediately think, ‘Oh fuck, please don’t ditch the job!’ Hmmm… my lack of faith in passenger transport companies is showing. Angus and I are carefully inspecting everyone who pulls up outside or walks into the hotel reception. Angus is like ‘Is that him?’, ‘What about that guy?’ But my finely tuned sense of ‘what drivers look like’ goes, nope, nope, nope…and finally ‘Yep! That’s him. He’s got the finely tuned bod of someone who spends their life on their arse in a car eating whatever crap they can pick up on the way – never mind, we are just thankful he’s turns up.

Traffic promises to be a right pain in the arse, but at this point, I don’t care – if the driver had failed to turn up all the rest of the plan falls on its arse and I’d be trying to cadge an Taxi for a 71km trip, in a country that doesn’t have Uber. Part way through our transit, just as we are leaving Montenegro and entering Croatia, Angus gets an email from the Montenegrin Health Advisory letting him know his PCR test is definitely positive and could he please let the know what his symptoms are. I’m not paying much attention to this (and I’m not sure he responded?), but the boys message us on WhatsApp and tell us they got the same email. Oh well, onwards to Croatia we go.

We get to the apartment that we booked near the Dubrovnik Airport around 2pm and Angus immediately crashes in the lounge – He’s happy because the internet is about 20Mb and I’m happy, because I finally get a room to myself with an independent air con system, so we are finally able to take our masks off for a few hours. The view from the balcony was particularly lovely, and while it might be a nice spot to spend a weekend if you were totally self contained, there are zero restaurants or groceries anywhere nearby and once more we are on the second floor so I’m being maddened by flights of steps yet again. Angus finally gets hungry enough to go off in search of someone to order a pizza for him… and our B&B host happily assists him. The pizza was pretty good actually – though I am sick of eating bread (I rarely eat bread or bread products at home and it’s making me feel just ick). At some point in the evening we realise the A/C is pretty shit and it’s actually now cooler outside (wasn’t when we arrived, it was 39C), so we throw open all the windows and try to get a cross breeze going.Next morning, being Sunday, now that Montenegro is in the past and we are in the far more civilised country of Croatia, we call an Uber and make our way to the airport. Out AirBnB host assured us it was a tiny airport and there was no reason why we needed to be there two hours early as the lines are always short. She was wrong and we are glad we ignored her. Angus stood in line with all the mouth breathers in his mask and I waited on the sidelines for us to get to the top of the queue to get some boarding passes for our extremely expensive flights. There was barely a mask to be seen in here which is kinda infuriating… but we kept ours on. Waiting at the gate was an experience I really hope never to replicate. I had the misfortune to sit myself down beside a young Australian guy – roughly about Angus’ age, and I couldn’t help but hear his conversations – firstly on the phone with his girlfriend, and then with his mate. I was disgusted to hear how they were talking. The guy was on his phone speaking with a woman who was obviously his girlfriend, and he was all, “I miss you and I love you so much, I’m being so good while I’m away babe… Brendon, though, Brendon is being a total man-whore, but not me!” He was cloyingly saccharine and sounded completely insincere from where I was sitting, (though that may have been coloured by my inherent dislike of people who speak at annoying loud volume in public spaces). Anyway, he gets off the phone with the GF and starts talking to his mate, who I am going to presume is Brendon. Brendon proceeds to show him a picture on his phone of a table full of good hearty Mediterranean food and was saying, “Man that was an awesome meal, so fucking tasty even though I threw it all up later. Haha!” Urgh… I’m surprised they couldn’t feel the disdain oozing from my pores, but I guess that would mean they’d have to pull their own heads out of their arses long enough to notice there are ‘other people’ nearby. Next thing Brendon is pointing across the gate and saying, “Oh fuck, don’t look, don’t wave, it’s Emily and them, I don’t want them coming over here. Look at them – fucking nerds in masks and shit.” … breathe Robyn, breathe… they’re not my responsibility. Then Brendon with the Food Photo says to BoFriend of the Year, “I can’t believe she’s wearing a mask when she was happy rawdogging you all last week! Hahahaha!” BFotY then jabs Brendon in the guts and says, “Don’t you ever tell anyone about that, ya cunt.” And they carry on a bit more like that as we are boarding the aircraft and they decide not to get up and wait in line like ‘fuckwits’, but to cut in when the girls they are trying to avoid make it towards them. Ugh. Two more gross young humans I could never imagine… I bet their parents are so proud. 😐

Anyway, I digress, we wait at the airport and eventually get onto our Aegean flights and thankfully it looks like our luggage is coming with us.

It’s probably quite a nice view if the windows were cleaned, like ever. Aegean isn’t the worst airline I’ve flown, but it’s definitely not my first choice – our other option though was to fly Turkish Airlines and go Dubrovnik > Istanbul > Istanbul > Athens, so here we are. Athens Airport – greeting us with a n information point that was a decidedly unhelpful Google search page. We didn’t have too much trouble getting through customs though we were vaguely wondering whether Angus’ Covid positive status was attached to his passport at all given he’d had to provide it as ID when he went for the PRC test. At some point while we were in the air, the Boys back in Budva and Angus all receive an email telling them they need to isolate for seven days?! WTF Montenegro??? You can’t PCR test someone on a Friday and then tell them on a Sunday they can’t go anywhere… that advice probably should have been given at the time the test was administered! Now the Boys in Budva were starting to make noises of serious buyer’s remorse – they were possibly going to be stuck there for an entire week, and were wishing they’d bailed with us!Customs was okay, I managed to limp through to baggage claim and thankfully our bags had made it with us (yeah, the faith is really gone on that one, thanks Lufthansa!). We then find ourselves ordering an Uber – I still feel dirty every time I do it, but here it turns out most of the Uber drivers here are in branded taxis anyway – so I guess it’s at least one way of knowing exactly how much your trip is going to cost you before you get in the car. We give him the name of the hotel in Athens, it’s about a 35-40 min trip and I sit back thinking I can relax for a bit… we’re nearly there… we’re nearly there Until we hit the highway and I think, shit ‘we’re going pretty fast’ and look over and see the driver is doing well over 140kmph in a 100 zone! I double check my seatbelt and make sure Angus has his on before grabbing my camera to take a snap. I manage to just grab a pic just as HE’S SLOWING DOWN TO 130KMPH TAKE AN OFF RAMP. Fark.. no wonder you only had a 4.87 rating, Besian! Somehow, perhaps by magic or the gods finally taking pity on us, we make it to our hotel without incident and check in. And immediately I feel half my stress melt away – this is immediately followed by a conviction that this is now when I’ll get sick for sure. Running on cortisol and adrenalin for the last couple of days has not been fun; now I’m stopping, that’s when it’ll take me down.

We get into the room and immediately make ourselves at home by moving all the furniture around so that my bed is as far away from Angus’ as possible and our heads about 4m apart when sleeping. We send Mr K a proof of life pic and then back on with the masks and a well deserved nap. In the interim at some point, Mr K has googled up the hotel and found out it has views to the Acropolis, and sent me a message asking if we can see it: Like, literally my head is beneath the window in question, but I had zero energies to get up and check.
We spent Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights in the Athens Hotel. Angus was feeling quite a bit better and hadn’t had any fever since a slight temp Sunday morning… while I was going slowly mad wondering when I was going to come down with it.

The hotel was good, we had breakfast included in our rack rate but I’m not a big breakie eater so I had my cup of tea and some fruit for breakfast, and I pulled out the old backpacker habits and managed to squirrel away bread, butter, ham, cheese, boiled eggs and feta each morning so we didn’t have to worry about lunch. Also got to know Wolk really well (Greek MenuLog) and had some nice souvlaki and grilled skewered things ordered in at dinner times.

So here we are staying until Wednesday when the transfer hell will start all over again.