Monday, November 14, 2011

A History of Wonders, Feasts, and Firsts

So I just remembered I have a blog...seems I've been a little behind the times lately! A few computer glitches here and there, plus a busy schedule with lots of new plans and adventures in the works has kept me from catching up the 'www' on all that I've been doing.

All the way back in September, the long and dreary month of reserve, you'll remember I decided I was going to embrace the spontaneity of the unknown and enjoy the month as much as I could. Which, shortly after my last September post, turned out to be not all that difficult. Following a quick and uneventful trip to Paris (uneventful due to long luncheon the day before the call out and an unavoidable lack of sleep), I was enjoying a few days off when I got another call. A flight to Toronto needed a replacement crew due to a (very long) delay and I was given the option to operate. Hmm, a long flight, good hours, with a 3 day layover - on a weekend, I might add - in a city I'd never been to, in a country I'd never been to. Of course I wanted to operate!

The flight was extremely busy and quite difficult at times, but we had a great crew with a good sense of humour, and managed to arrive with smiles on our dials. It didn't take too long for a group of us to decide to take a trip to Niagara Falls the next day, hiring a car and taking a road trip rather than going with a tour group. With 6 of us, it was a better option - it worked out much cheaper, plus it gave us the freedom to sleep in, leave later, and come back when we wanted. The weather man blessed us on the day, it was clear and sunny, and the falls were truly amazing to see. The amount of water that goes over those falls, and the power with which they hit the lake below, is just incredible. It sends a mist up so high that it looks like it's cloudy, even when it's sunny, and the spray will soak you from 50 meters away. Niagara is a place I've always wanted to see, and although it's not somewhere you'd want to stay all day it is truly breathtaking. For about 20 minutes. After that it's just a whole bunch of water.

We did the boat on the lake, the one that goes past both falls and takes you through the mist in beautiful blue shiny ponchos. After that, we went to a small town nearby called Niagara on the Lake, for a late lunch and a look around. Apparently there's some good wine tasting around this area too, although myself and a couple of the other crew members were too busy sampling jugs of sangria with our meals to find out very much about that.  The village is gorgeous, it's like something pulled into the present from 100 years ago, with the exception of the expensive Ferraris and Lamborghinis navigating their way down the landscaped streets. Parts of it felt very 'Wisteria Lane' (this is a reference to Desperate Housewives, for all those not as soap-obsessed as myself) and the lake itself was lovely.  Following our stroll around the town, we went back to the Falls after dark. One of the girls with us had heard about a light show at the falls and was keen to see it. The way she described it, with different coloured lights reflecting off the water and all this fancy business, made it sound like something we'd be crazy to miss. Unfortunately, however, the reality is that there is a single light beam that shines across the lake, lighting up the falls, and about once every 5 minutes this light beam changes to a different colour. So it's white, and the falls are lit up so bright, then after a bit they turn red. Then awhile after that, orange or blue. But that's all. Just coloured water. No music, no flashing, none of this pretty, hi-tech stuff that we get spoiled with here in Dubai! Needless to say, we didn't stay long to find out the full range of colour-change options, instead jumping back in the car for the 2 hour journey back to Toronto.

Other than this day trip to Niagara, I didn't do a lot in Toronto. I wandered around the labyrinth of underground shopping malls for a little while, debated with the idea of going up the CN Tower, but in reality didn't achieve a great deal. It didn't help that the group (of about 30 elephants) in the room next door to me were having a party the whole weekend and I became seriously sleep deprived!

On my return from Canada, I knew that I'd be given a minimum of 2 days off to 'acclimatise' once again before my next flight - a legality of an ultra-long range flight. What to do with two days off at the end of September when you can go anywhere in the world for next to nothing? Why, sneak into your boyfriend's tent at Oktoberfest, of course! Several places were having large Oktoberfest celebrations in Dubai, but I thought that I might as well see the real thing while I had the chance. And oh my goodness (or OMG as all the kids are saying these days), am I glad that I did! The crazy, overcrowded, raucous and exuberant fun of Munich's fancy-dressed Beerfest was the most fun I think I've ever had crammed into 2 days. I flew in around lunchtime on the first day, met Boofhead at the hospital (one of his travel buddies had managed to land himself there within 2 hours of arriving - not alcohol-induced though!) and managed to have a stein in my hand by late afternoon. Somehow, inexplicably, amongst the 10,000 strong crowd in the Hofbrauhaus, we managed to find his buddies. Three steins and about 5-6 hours later, we were homeward (tentward?) bound, a trip I barely remember thanks to the huge volume of intensely alcoholic beer in my only-little body. At least I was carrying an enormous pork knuckle in there too, a feast I thoroughly enjoyed.

The second day, I wasn't able to enjoy as 'thoroughly', although I still had an absolute ball. I was booked on a night flight back to Dubai, to resume my reserve duties the next day, so couldn't indulge in the steins the way the other 100,000 revellers were, as I couldn't risk getting booted off my staff ticket for being a little over-hydrated. I made it on, and thankfully managed to get a little sleep on the flight back, because I had been rostered onto another flight the following day. Where to this time? Johannesburg, South Africa.

Since I was about 14 years old and I watched Bruce Brown's surfing documentary, 'The Endless Summer II', I've wanted to go to South Africa and drive through a game park, chasing giraffes and being chased by lions. Ok so the 'being chased by lions' part probably wouldn't be so fun if it actually happened, but this is all in my travel dreams. Basically, South Africa was one of the first places I ever really had a desire to travel to. And this was my first time getting there. Shame I was completely exhausted from Beerfest!

For once, and probably the only time ever, the travel gods were on my side. The flight I was on was the inaugural flight for the aircraft that I operate out of Johannesburg, which is kind of a big deal for the company. It's an expanding fleet, which means we're getting new destinations, and this was the opening of Jo'burg. Thankfully, for an inaugural flight, they need to send a crew to the destination in advance, in order to have operational crew ready to bring the plane back to Dubai on the same day. Which meant that we were not operating the flight immediately, rather our entire crew were being sent over as passengers, put up in the hotel, given allowance for dinner, and all we had to do was show a few VIP's and media folks through the aircraft, smile for the cameras, and then bring the plane, full of passengers, back to Dubai the following day. What a sweet deal!

The hotel that we get put up in there is amazing. Honestly, to me all of the hotels we get are great because they have heating / cooling, clean sheets and towels, with a huge bed (sometimes two), a toilet and a hot shower. We often get discounts on room service, free internet, use of the gym and other bonuses too. I think anything that isn't a hostel with 7 other people sharing bunks piled on top of each other is pretty darn glamorous, but the Jo'burg hotel is by far the toppest of the tops, and probably the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. They even give you free M&M's in the room. Can you believe it - FREE CHOCOLATE! They won me with that, but the decor just added to it. Oh, that and they gave us vouchers for a free cocktail in the bar before dinner. Which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then we went across the road, to a restaurant specialising in my favourite: meat. Two perfectly cooked fillet mignon, with juicy mashed potatoes and a brilliant bottle of red wine for less than US$20 and I was hooked. South Africa, you've got me.

Unfortunately, the activity of the week caught up with me, and I forced myself to bed before I could manage the embarrassment of falling asleep at the table in the restaurant. The next morning, our pickup was very early due to the media tours and flash treatment we were doing around the airport, so my sightseeing time in Johannesburg was pretty much nil. But it was cool to watch the aircraft land, as much as I'm not a massive aviation geek (embarrassing fact: I never even knew what an Airbus A380 or Boeing 777 was until I got this job). You know how when a boat sails for the first time, the tradition is to break (waste!) a bottle of champagne on it? Well, when an aircraft lands somewhere for the first time, it gets a water cannon. Two big fire trucks on the side of the runway just shoot the hoses at it as it wheels on by. How cool! Anyway although this was something new and different, and I guess a bit of a landmark for me to see, it wasn't sightseeing in South Africa. There were no lions, and no giraffes. So I've made it my mission to get back there as soon as I can. I'm going to pat one of those big cats if it kills me. Gulp.

As the length of this long-overdue blog shows, reserve month actually turned out to be one of the best I've had in a long time. Three new cities in a week, the natural wonder of Niagara, the festival fun of Oktoberfest, and the privilege of operating the inaugural flight out of one of my dream destinations. Doesn't get much better than that! 

Or does it?! I was starting my three week adventure in Spain following Johannesburg...and I had a sneaky suspicion that 3 whole weeks with my boofhead boyfriend, all over the Spanish countryside and coast, might just take the cake.

**NB: I really, really want to put photos on this post but they are unfortunately a victim of the computer problems that have kept me from blogging for so long. Hopefully I can get them back and add them soon. In the meantime - sorry for the excessive amount of text**

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

As I lay on my couch for the 7th hour straight, nursing a headache and blurred memories of dancing in sand, bad music and eating pizza on the side of the road at 4am, I figure I will do at least one productive thing with my day: this post being it.

I am dying to post about my trip to Spain, I had the most amazing time and saw so many great things, but unfortunately those Internet cretins that lurk in the depths of cyberspace have got my computer with a virus and it isn't working so good lately. Poor little lappy laptop. So I'm making do, just a little briefer than normal (probably a good thing for some of you).

I arrived back from Beijing yesterday morning and was happily slothing around the house in my brand new "genuine Australian" Ugg boots, when I got the call up for a girl's night out. We decided to venture out to a Dubai party institution: Nasimi Beach Party at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm. What we didn't realize, was that it was a Halloween party. Massive bummer, as I love getting dressed up and don't get nearly enough opportunities to. But some of the costumes were incredible -sumo suits, scary make up, superheros and the token skank costumes. A lot of people went to a lot of trouble! It was so great to see, and made the night a lot of fun (so my headache tells me today, anyway). It's times like that when I realise how great this whole "living overseas" experience is, and I really appreciate the huge mesh of cultures that come together in Dubai. Coming from Australia, where Halloween isn't a big thing and generally passes by without a great amount of fuss, I really enjoyed myself and wish that I'd been able to dress up too - but I guess there's always next year!

The one thing that I do get to do every year on Halloween, however, is celebrate my dad's birthday. I miss my family a lot, and wish I could be there to give him a big hug, and take him out for dinner somewhere nice with a decent wine list (highly important part of selecting a decent birthday dinner venue). I'd love to be able to wish him a happy birthday in person, and it's days like that when I realize that this "living overseas" thing has its downsides too. What I tell myself when I feel like that is that it's not forever, and I just need to make the most of the opportunity while I can. But Daddy, I love you and miss you and hope you have a special birthday on Sunday. I'll cook you a birthday dinner and have a glass of red with your name on it! (Will keep fire extinguisher handy for cooking challenge.)

This Sunday, the day of Halloween itself, I get to do something truly scary; I am flying to Bangkok, Thailand. Normally one of my very favorite destinations, I'm a bit concerned about this flight as there is widespread flooding throughout the city, coinciding with a king tide in the next few days. The airline has moved the crew to a different hotel, in a safer location, but my concern is that one of the city's airports is already closed. I don't want the main one to close (unless it is today or tomorrow!) as I definitely don't want to get stranded in a watery Thailand. Especially if MBK (shopping centre) is closed! Ok I'm only kidding. Sort of.

Details and photos from Spain, Niagara Falls, Oktoberfest and South Africa to follow once deadly computer virus is extinguished. Yes, it seems it's been a busy month and I probably had lots of better stuff to blog about than this. But the really cool thing about this blog, is that it's mine. And that means I get to write about whatever rubbish I want and somebody out there (you right now, my lucky individual!) is still going to be bored enough to read it. And with that, I believe I have conserved enough energy to remove myself from the couch.

Have a wonderful day!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jet Set, Jet Lagged and Jaded

Well I am on vacation again and we all know that this time cannot be worse than the last! Here I am in Spain, enjoying sun, surf and two weeks' company with my favourite boof head. I don't have time for a full update but just quickly: we hired a giant blue and green camper van with Super Mario painted all over it, we named it Yoshi. We've been to Barcelona, San Sebastian, Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Cadiz, Tarifa and Granada. My camera has died only twice; once in Madrid, once at the Alhambra (insert tears). I've never eaten so much bread and cured meat in my life - thought I'd never say this, but I'm almost getting sick of the sight of ham. While on our way to the coast south of Valencia yesterday Yoshi failed us and we had our 2nd tyre blowout in as many days - and these aren't little flat tyres, they are full on exploding firework tyres, with the one yesterday ripping not only all the rubber off the tyre but half the back bumper as well. Imagine being in the middle of nowhere, with no phone credit, no batteries, no Internet, not speaking the was not the ideal situation. But after a few hours delay and the help of a tow truck driver with whom we couldn't exchange a single helpful word in the same language, we managed to work it out and I'm currently sitting in a hotel in Cartagena waiting on a phone call to let us know we're roadworthy again. Soon, hopefully. Plenty more to see as we work our way back up to Barcelona.

Hopefully things get better from here, as I'm beginning to think maybe holidays aren't really for me - will things ever go to plan?! Although in saying that, I'm still really enjoying myself despite this little hiccup!! And I'm confident things will be fine once we have Yoshi back in the family, silly little bugger he is. Couple of photos until I get the chance to post a full update:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reversing My Reservations About Reserve

Every 7 months, every cabin crew is given a month off. Sort of. What I mean is, they aren't given a roster. Instead, they're expected to call The Powers That Be every night at 6pm to be told if / what / when they are working the following day. The results can be as follows (in order of preference):

1. Rostered for a flight. Hooray! Check the weather, pack your bags, organise sleep times and things to do on the layover. Earn money. Ticks all the boxes.

2. Day off. Yay! Roster stalk friends, find out who's in town, make lunch / dinner / drinking / tanning / shopping plans. Relax.

3. Home standby. Throw a variety of things into a suitcase - one side for warm weather, the other side for cold, because realistically you could end up anywhere. The important thing here is to keep them separate though, so you can pull out the things you don't need at the last minute and throw in more junk that you may (but still probably wont) need instead. Prepare DVD collection. Get settled because you are unable to leave your house during this 6 hour time slot. Listen carefully for the phone - if you miss a call you will be marked as absent. It's also handy to avoid curry or too much fibre beforehand (you don't want to listen helplessly to the phone ringing out from an awkward position in the bathroom).

4. Airport standby. Pack suitcase for anywhere, for any kind of weather and for anywhere between a day and a week. Don't forget anything important - this is the most important thing not to forget. Glam up in uniform, proper hair and make-up, and drag your behind to the airport to sit in a small room with 15-20 other people for 4 hours, just in case someone else calls sick or doesn't show. Bring food - you'll get hungry, but you can't leave.

As you might guess, without a roster, the whole month is a lottery. You might do a hundred flying hours. Or you might do zero. So far, it's the 20th of the month and I've done one flight, which I'm going to be really upset about when it comes to next month's payday. My last reserve (in February) wasn't much different - and I hated it. I've been dreading this month since then.

But I've been determined to be positive this time. Make the most of it; see what I can get out of a quiet month. After all, there are so many people that complain that they don't have enough time off, or time for themselves in between sleeping, flying, and sleeping. I'm going to use this month to do those things that I miss out on other times.

I had the time to go to the US Consulate in Dubai and organise an operating visa for US flights, something I've wanted to do for ages. It's difficult to organise because you need a couple of days off to do it, as they hold your passport while they finalise the visa. Reserve for me means plenty of days off. Now I have a pretty blue and red visa in my passport that is going to allow me to get back to New York - and get paid for it.

I had a friend from home come visit on her way back from Europe. I had the opportunity to hang out with her for a couple of days, bum around on the couch (hey, she's been backpacking for 5 months - a couch is a simple luxury and yeah, ok, I'm just lazy and happy to bum on the couch), take her out for dinner. We even had a nice extended (7 hour) lunch the day before she left. Unfortunately I got called out from a home standby for my flight on her last day here (after the big lunch - ouch), but we had a couple of great days which made me really happy to have been here while she was - something that may have been more difficult to organise if I had been flying.

I've seen more of my friends in Dubai than I have for months. It's generally difficult to catch up when everybody is flying at different times, but this month I've been here on everybody's off days. After my New York adventures, my purse strings are a little tighter than normal, so it hasn't been a crazy party month (with the exception of a 7 hour lunch which was a little out of spending control), but boy am I working up one heck of a tan. Pool dates, beach dates, I'm happy as a pig in, errr, 'mud' with any. Summer is definitely over in Dubai, thank god, and the weather is still hot and sweaty but not so unbearable as it was 3 weeks ago. So tanning is right back up on that priority list. The things I love most about tanning are a) it's free, and b) it requires no effort for you to see results (unlike the gym - blurrgh).

I'm learning a language. Ok so I actually haven't gotten around to this part yet, because I tend to sleep through most of my home standbys (right next to the phone, of course), and this was when I was planning to do my lessons. But I bought one of those CD's that teaches you a language and I plan to get onto that in the next couple of days. Spanish, for those who might be interested. Because I'm going to Spain in 2 weeks and I don't know a single word. Neither does the Boofhead that I'm going with.

I've even managed to improve my domesticity skills - I have used my kitchen TWICE this month (which is I think twice more than I've ever used it before) and cooked meals for myself that have actually been edible. And, thankfully, salmonella-free. My apartment is cleaner than normal, and my laundry basket is empty. The extra days off from flying are allowing me to build some semblance of 'normalcy' in my life.

So I still don't love reserve. I don't think anybody ever will, just for the fact that it's so uncertain and it's literally impossible to make plans more than a few hours in advance. I don't love it because it's quiet for my entire fleet, and I rarely get called out for flights, which means less money on pay day next month. But I'm trying to focus on those few positives that I'm finding, like being able to hang out with my friends and work on this tan so I'm not the most pale person in Spain 2 weeks from now. I think I'm going to try and refer to it as The Month of Spontaneity, instead of Reserve Month. It's so much more positive, and a lot more fun. Three cheers for spontaneous living!

... Now give me a flight.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, Two-Thousand-Whenever

No matter how many times I have watched those planes burst into flames and those towers crumble like a stack of Jenga blocks, it never gets easier. It's not like a horror movie where you watch it over and over again and the scary gross bits are eventually not that bad anymore; these images are burnt onto my brain and only get harder to see.

I can't believe it's been 10 years today. We've been watching these pictures, dealing with this catastrophe, and mourning those that were lost for so long now.

I've been to Ground Zero only twice - once in 2008, the other last week. The difference between the gaping concrete hole that existed 3 years ago and the new emerging skyscraper is huge, and so was the memory. In 2008, there was no commercial 'memorial' and gift shop. There were items in the church across the street, where volunteers slept, ate, and were treated for injuries, which had been set up as a memorial to those who sacrificed what they could to help victims. It was a lot more real, and a lot more touching, than the store that they've established now. Don't get me wrong, it's still a horribly emotional experience, visiting the timeline, the photos, letters, and 'missing' posters that have been put on display in the new one. But when you reach the gift shop, you realise that after so long, it's not really about grieving anymore. It's about memory, yes, but it's also a commercial opportunity to keep people interested in, and emotionally affected by, these events.

Because how else can the war in Afghanistan, still going on, be justified? It began as a direct retaliation for the Taliban government harbouring Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. It has since cost the United States alone (never mind the other countries involved) a trillion dollars and the lives of more than 2,700 Coalition soldiers. A trillion dollars - I only ever thought that amount of money existed in the same places as amounts like "a gazillion" or "bajillions". And throughout the Global Financial Crisis, the slow recovery of the US economy, and it's now-rapidly-expanding debt, over one hundred billion dollars a year has a lot more useful ways it can be spent - and I'm no economic genius. The Taliban government were deposed. Osama bin Laden is (supposedly) dead, along with many other al Qaeda leaders. I understand that the purpose of war is to bring peace; you can't just waltz in, set off some bombs, kill some bad guys and bugger off again. I understand about establishing stable government, infrastructure, judicial systems, open and honest political systems to keep the citizens safe and so on. But enough already.

Because a "war on terrorism" was never going to be able to do these things. Waging war on an idea, on a method, on something so intangible - well, to me it about sums up the intelligence of George W. B. There was never going to be a day when a military leader would be able to turn around and say, "Well, we've got rid of that there 'terrorism' for ya George, whatcha want us to do next?" There are always going to be people fighting for ideals, and for values that are different from others. There will never be one global government, or one global religion. The world doesn't work like that, because people are different. And there will always be extremists - from all sides, nations, religions - who are willing to take innocent lives to scare or to shock people into their way of thinking.

No matter what your viewpoint on 9/11 and what's happened since - stunned observer, conspiracy theorist, Muslim, Christian, fundamentalist, atheist, outraged, affected or impassive individual - you cannot argue that this fight does not have an end on the battle field. By the time the US troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan - 2014 at this stage - 'terrorism' will not be gone.

"the people there are dead because we want them to be dead."
(Professor Marc W. Herold, University of New Hampshire,

No, Osama bin Laden did not say this. A Pentagon official did, in relation to the deaths of almost 100 residents of an Afghanistan farming village killed in an airstrike by the US.

September 11, 2001 - the catalyst for the ten years of war we have seen - almost 3,000 people were killed. The world is outraged at such a massive number of innocent civilian deaths.

Afghanistan - in the first 6 months of the war there are civilian deaths estimated between 3,000 - 3,400. Only part of the world knows or cares.

I have learnt a lot from my almost-year living in the Middle East. I've met a lot of people, from a lot of different backgrounds, and I understand a lot more about the world than I ever did from reading books and writing essays about it. That's why today, I'm sad because of the memory of September 11, but I'm also just as sad because of the series of events and deaths that have been inspired by it. These are the ones that are forgotten in the media hype and sensation, in the heart-wrenching documentaries and interviews with those affected by 9/11. Do we see the consequences of her husband's death for the Afghan widow left with a farm blown to pieces and a family to feed? There's more than one side to every story, and in the case of today there are thousands of individuals with a story to consider.

"When they put bombs in cars and kill people, they're uncivilized killers. When we put bombs on missiles and kill people, we're upholding civilized values. When they kill, they're terrorists. When we kill, we're striking against terror."

What is the difference?

NB - I just read over this and it makes me sound like I am against the US. I am not against the retaliation for the events of 9/11, just against the way that it was structured and executed. I have a great deal of sympathy for those Afghani people who were against the Taliban, and who have suffered ten years of wartime because of the decisions of a regime which they did not even support.

I do not support terrorism, terrorist tactics, violence or military tactics designed to cause civilian deaths. Actually, I don't support death at all, civilian or military.

I believe that war has rules, and an old-value set of ethics attached to it. I do not believe that a "war on terrorism" ever had the potential or ability to meet these guidelines.

I am not confused. I know there is also a war in Iraq. To me, although it has been declared under the umbrella of 'the war on terrorism', the invasion of Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism or September 11. I deliberately chose to not mention it because then I tend to get angry, and upset, and go on and on ... and on...

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Holiday That Wasn't...Then Was...Almost Wasn't Again... But That Was

Continuing on with my New York Saga, I'll pick up after the events of the hurricane. Sorry, storm. Yeah, this was totally not the Helen-Hunt-'Twister' event that the news media had led me to believe was coming. It was a bit of wind, a bit of rain, and it was gone. SO not that big a deal.

Irene passed us by on the Sunday. On Monday, I said farewell to my hurricane-host and moved downtown, to the apartment that I'd booked with my friends, hoping like anything that they would manage to get there soon. The storm wasn't as bad as predicted - subway lines and public transport in NYC were all reopened, surely they'd open up all travel in and out as well?

Of course not.

One of my best friends, coming down from Montreal (where I was originally supposed to be), had about as many problems getting to New York as I did. Trains were cancelled until at least Wednesday. A direct flight is going to cost upwards of $1,000 (you can't be serious?!). Greyhound's website advertised overnight buses from Sunday night, arriving into New York Monday morning. Hooray, a shining light! Oops, no, just kidding, those buses aren't really running. But from Monday morning. Definitely. Being that the bus depot was an hour and a half from where she is staying, she did the responsible thing and called them Monday morning.

"Your buses to New York are definitely running?"

"Yes, all buses to New York are back on schedule."

Lies. All lies. She was forced to sit, amongst the chaos of hundreds of other stranded travellers, at the Greyhound station for the better part of a day, clutching what she was then told was a non-refundable ticket, and hoping that they would eventually send a bus. They did not, and she was forced to navigate French-speaking Montreal (without a word of French) back to where she was staying - not an easy task.

Meanwhile, in New York, I was determined to make the most of my holiday, solo and traumatised as I was. More as an "up yours" to the travel gods than because I wanted to - let's face it, I was over it. But I went exploring on Monday, blissfully ignorant of what was occurring in the Montreal Greyhound Depot, and thinking that I would not be spending another night alone. Things were looking up. I decided that I would go and see the photojournalism exhibition at the International Centre of Photography, it was running until the 29th (last day). I get there, greeted by a sign on the door stating that the exhibition finished yesterday but please, browse in our shop and spend your money anyway. I silently shake my fist at the travel gods.

Fine. I will go to everyone's favourite, McDonald's, and use their free wi-fi to get in touch with my friends and find out what is happening in Montreal, and in Dubai. The free wi-fi fails me, and I am forced to endure dry chicken nuggets and overly salty chips for nothing. I want to cry. Is there nothing that will go my way?! 

Toughen up, I tell myself, the sun is out and life could be worse. I go to Central Park and I find a grassy knowl to sit down and contemplate the past few days. A quick nap in the sun and I feel recharged and happier. It will be ok.

I am going to go and see a Broadway show. Alone, which is a little depressing, but less depressing than sitting in an empty apartment in the middle of New York by myself. I buy tickets to an off-Broadway production of Rent. I am killing time, when I wander past a hotel and realise it is where my stepsister is staying - I go past to leave her a note with my number and nearly fall over her in the lobby. The highlight of my holiday so far, I have never been so excited to see anyone. We make plans to catch up - I'm going to go and watch her compete in the Police and Fire Games the next day, hooray! I continue my walk, stumbling across a cheap and amazing Japanese restaurant for dinner. Delicious. Things are definitely looking up. I just have time to grab some money from the ATM to pay for my night's accommodation before I head over to catch my show.

Things are not looking up. I take out money, I walk out of the foyer of the ATM trying to locate my wallet, and then spend the next 20 minutes trying to locate the money I have just withdrawn. It is gone, vapourised in my hand. I do a perfect impersonation of a stunned mullet for a little while. I check my bag. I check the ground. I check my pockets, to discover I do not have any pockets. I approach a policeman standing on the corner.

"Excuse me, umm, hello. Umm. I think I have just been robbed." 

"You think you have been robbed?"

"Yes, well, you see, I had $200 in my hand when I came out of the ATM but it's not there now."

"You think you have been robbed?"

"Um maybe. I think maybe someone took it."

"You think? Did you see someone take it?"


"Do you know what they look like?"


"So you think you have been robbed?"


Honestly, it baffles me. But this money was in my hand, and then it was gone. Somebody very clever and practised has taken $200 straight out of my hands, almost without me even noticing. My helpful policeman friend, aside from thinking I was the dumbest person to cross his path that day, could not provide much assistance. I was free to check with the Bank if they had security cameras but, realistically, if I could not identify the person...well, it's New York City. Bye bye $200.

I make it, bewildered and a little late, to my show. Yes, thieves, you can take my money but you cannot take my ticket. Rent is awesome. Simply awesome. I forget my $200 for a little while. Until I get back to my apartment and discover the door does not close and lock properly, that is. Then the matter of 'personal safety' begins to remind me that I am in New York City, home of perpetual scumbags such as the one who stole my money. I have visions of Law and Order, bodies dumped in garbage cans over an iPod. I don't want to die for an iPod. I don't even own one.

 I make it through the night, without much sleep but also without being attacked. Tomorrow will be better - my friend will be here. And if she does not get on that bus, I am on the first plane back to Dubai because this holiday sucks. So it's going to be better. I fall into the world's most disturbed sleep. I wake up to discover that my friend is on the bus, NYC bound. It's going to be better. I am going to watch my sister play soccer. I head off to battle the subway uptown.

Two hours later, I am definitely lost. I am walking around the Bronx with no idea where I am going, or how to get there. I take a path through a park, before I realise it is not a park. It is a government housing block with a small triangle of grass at the front to make it look 'homely'. Bronx. Government housing. Recent victim of robbery. Shakes fist at travel gods.

After spending my morning wandering around, looking for the Games and being hopelessly unable to locate them, I cut my losses and go back downtown. I spend the day wandering aimlessly and avoiding ATM's until it is time to collect my favourite from the bus terminal. Finally. I am with my friend in New York City. Finally. We celebrate by going to see Mary Poppins on Broadway. Life is good - this is the holiday I have been looking forward to.

We spend the next day frolicking about New York, doing some shopping, seeing some sights, eating cheap pizza slices and drinking ice tea (which is nowhere near as delicious and refreshing as it looks, mind you). Two more friends arrive to complete our party that night. Finally.

Thursday is spent sightseeing on the big red bus. We shamelessly tote cameras through Times Square, and hang off the side of the bus to get the best views of buildings, sights, people. We take the ferry past the Statue of Liberty. We molest the bull on Wall Street. We visit the 9/11 memorial and WTC site, just a few days before the 10 year commemoration - it is eerie, and sad, and I am outraged that they have a GIFT SHOP in such a place (seriously, that's disgusting). We sing Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" because we can. This is what the last week is supposed to have been like but hey, better late than never!

Friday morning we are up ridiculously early. We go to Rockefeller Plaza for a free Lenny Kravitz concert. Top of the Rock follows. We eat bagels smothered in cream cheese and visit Starbucks - there is a ratio of one Starbucks for every 2 people in New York City. Ok this is not a verified fact, but it's got to be close. We shop more. We visit the Magnolia Bakery and indulge in delicious treats. We spend our evening at Yankee Stadium, watching a game we don't really understand but cheering when the Yankees win anyway. We buy beers, and merchandise. The two are not disconnected. It is amazing and fun, and I am glad I stuck it out in NYC because I have had an awesome couple of days with my friends around me.

I am supposed to fly out Saturday morning, but the flight is full. I have another day to spend in New York, which I am happy about, but it means I miss one of my best mates from home, who leaves Dubai just a few hours before I land, and this I am sad about. He is not happy with me, and I am sorry. I wish I could be everywhere in the world at once, or maybe just pack you guys up and stick you in my pockets and carry you around with me. But if you read this blog, you'll have noticed by now that when and where I travel are not necessarily within my control - one of the 'benefits' of staff travel. Still, I am sorry I missed you Camel. Will make up for it when I am home next, whenever that might be.

I join the girls on their outing for the day. We go to Central Park and have a picnic. We visit Strawberry Fields, and get irritated with the people who choose to stand ON the John Lennon memorial for photos, feeling that it's a little disrespectful, plus you are ruining our photos. We go to the Met, so that we can pretend we are in Gossip Girl and sit on the steps eating frozen yoghurt. Unfortunately, we do not have Blair Waldorf's minions to fetch us frozen yoghurt, and there is nowhere there that sells it. We have to settle for pre-packaged ice cream treats instead. They are still delicious and we still feel hilarious and cool in a dorky kind of way. We finish the day at the Billabong store in Times Square, where professional Aussie surfers Taj Burrow and Joel Parkinson are doing some form of autograph signing. Ten years ago, I had no doubt in my mind that I would someday marry Taj, and that Parko would probably be in our wedding. I haven't had much to do with surfing since then (too scared of sharks), but it didn't stop me from being a nervous, giggling teenager when I got to meet them. Luckily they are very nice blokes, and did not draw attention to my stammer, embarrassment, or childish ways. I was so completely stoked. It was a great way to finish off The Trip That Almost Wasn't, seeing a dream come true (the meeting, not the wedding), and reconnecting with 16-year-old-Kim, who apparently still lives inside me. We had fun.

All in all, it didn't go smoothly. It was not easy, and it was not always fun. But I will definitely never forget this holiday. I can look back and laugh at my misfortunes, thankfully, because at the end of the day it could have been a lot worse (hurricane, mugging, etc) and I got out of it pretty unscathed - although RIP my $200. In saying that, it's hard to be miserable in a place like New York, and I'm lucky to have such great friends to share it with. It would have been a very different holiday if those 3 girls hadn't made it to salvage the last few days.

I bought a t-shirt: I heart NY.

Despite the dramas, I do.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Life Through A Lens (Volume 1)

Watching a hurricane...from a computer screen

Talking a walk to check out the damage (these signs are still facing the right way so no harm done)

Times Square - still there

I'm up there somewhere!!

These guys look great. But they're not very helpful with directions.

Colour and Light - my favourite things

Damage control

...And life goes on after Irene...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Come on Irene...

So after much drama and hideous inconvenience to start with, I am finally, actually on holidays. Day 1 and Day 2 were not completely awful, but they were the days that my plans all went astray so we aren't friends.

Day 3...well, guess the third's a charm. My flights did not get cancelled, I actually flew into New York with a bit of blue sky around! Fairly rough in and out of North Carolina though - I actually physically lifted off my seat at one stage which was pretty cool. Having run out of credit on my phone and being unable to contact the girl I am staying with, I was forced to scab the free wi-fi at the Amtrak station to email her, hoping wildly that she would receive it in the half hour before I turned up at her apartment.

I managed to navigate the subway, complete with token crazy people, to the apartment building. Once there, I realised I didn't know exactly which apartment number I was supposed to buzz. Damn, no credit, no free wi-fi anywhere, heavy bags...poop. I sat on the step as I contemplated my next move, pouring sweat in the humid temperature and surely looking an incredible sight. A girl, about my age, was heading into the building. I took a chance and asked her if she knew the girl I was supposed to be staying with. "Are you Kim?" she asks me. Either this blog has gone world-wide and turned me into an overnight celebrity, or I am staying with her.

She is most definitely not a scumbag, and the apartment is great. So I am one-up on the holiday successes now, after a couple of dismal failures. I go for a wander around the area, in Harlem, and have the greatest time people watching. I could stay here forever. My favourite experience was the liquor store, where I went to get a bottle of wine for me and my host. You cannot touch a single bottle. There are clear plastic walls up, and you look at the booze, make your selection, talk through the cut-out holes at the people on the other side, and they grab your choice for you. You pay through the little slidey-hole, just like at the subway, and they slide the bottle through a gap in the plastic walls. It is awesome. I am in the ghetto.

My lovely host asks me if I want to go out for drinks with some friends of hers - one of them is a guy from Brisbane and she figures we can talk Australian to each other. Sounds delightful. We head down to the East Village and meet a bunch of the drunkest people I have ever seen in my life. One of them is wearing a moon boot on his broken foot and it is giving off a "something crawled into my moon boot and died" smell. A girl is asleep in her seat, despite the loud shenanigans going on around her. One guy has apparently been in a fight as his shirt is ripped at the back - I discover later that in fact, the shirt has been ripped for some months now but it is his favourite so he continues to wear it. A boy tries to urinate in the pot plants out the front of the bar - this is the Australian, of course. The bar is awful. I smile - it is awesome. I am in New York City.

We visit a dive bar. There are $3 shots, and our Brisbane friend buys us a beer. I think this is nice of him, as I've only just met him, until I taste the beer. I'm not a beer drinker at all, I think the stuff is rather yuck, but this was by far the worst beer experience I have ever had. He calls it a PBR, it's Pabst Blue Ribbon and they are $2 a can. I have a brief flashback to my backpacking days and think I have been here before. I sigh. When in Rome...

Several PBR's and a third seedy bar later, I begin to think the stuff is not so bad and a definite bargain for $2 each. I also think that because I am thinking this, it is time to go home.

This morning I woke up with a pounding headache and the light still on. It has not subsided, and I am almost glad that there is a hurricane outside and I have an excuse to laze about all day and nurse my poor hangover.

On the other hand, I am thinking of all the incredible photos I could be taking in New York during a hurricane. Deserted streets, dramatic black clouds, there are some winners to be had I am sure. But I have promised my worried parents and everyone that I will be safe, so I stay here. I am itching to pick up my camera but there is really no point because the Subway has been closed and I can't get where I want to be anyway. So worried parents, you win, and I am safe, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg's emergency contingency plans. And I suffer, and dream of the photos that will not be mine today...

Things aren't so bad, I am checking news bulletins and the storm has been downgraded to a Category 1. Ok, so it's still a hurricane, but technically now it's more of a tropical storm. I am not going to be washed away today. And tomorrow, there will be more fun New York adventures to be had. I just hope my friends can make it soon...please travel gods, you have punished me enough this week. Please open the trains and planes for my friends to share this holiday with me, I will be forever grateful and (probably) never curse you again...

I am in New York City. There's a hurricane outside. It is awesome.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Travel: A Lesson In Improvisation

"The best laid plans of mice and men..."
Four days in Montreal with one of my best friends in the world, followed by another 4 days with her and 3 of the funnest girls I know in New York City. We have an amazing apartment to stay in, just 2 blocks from Times Square. Sightseeing passes, Yankees tickets, everything planned and organised. Not well organised, everything fell into place at the last minute, but it was organised nonetheless.

"...often go awry"
After the last couple of days, I'm stuck trying to work out if Staff Travel is indeed a benefit of the job, or another passenger - irritating, nerve-wracking, and something you would rather avoid.

Seeing as I was planning a trip to Montreal, I thought I'd do the obvious thing and fly directly into Canada. My own airline doesn't actually fly to Montreal, but Toronto isn't too far and I figured I would use the partnership airline deals that we get (called Zed fares) to get cheaply from A to B.

Fail. Toronto flight was overbooked by 50-odd passengers. Plus 11 staff on standby travel, of whom I was the least senior and therefore lowest priority to get on. So I needed 60-something people to just not turn up for their flight - not good odds.

Maybe I could fly with another Middle Eastern airline that fly directly into Montreal with a Zed fare?

Fail. Also overbooked.

Fly to London, then with British Airways on to Canada?

Fail. BA have currently got an embargo on staff tickets - they don't love us anymore.

Fly to Paris, then connect with an Air France Zed?

Fail. Fail, fail, fail.

My best option was to try get on standby to Houston, Texas, and then fly with Air Canada to Montreal the next day - connection times weren't in my favour (surprise, surprise). I made the flight, suffered through all 16 hours of it and even managed to get some sleep despite Mr Personal Space taking over half my seat as well as his own next to me throughout it. At the gate, I realised I had nowhere to stay the night in Houston as I hadn't expected to get on a flight until the following day. Thank god for Daddy, my hero, who managed to book me a (very fancy) room online. What we did without the internet, I'll never know. My specific directions for the hotel were that it was "downtown" and "on Prairie Street." Luckily, I've done a bit of travelling in my time, and managed to get there - for $1.25 on the Metro bus. Yeah, I can do budget travel, despite my fancy 4.5 star working lifestyle. I got in, took a shower (hot water has never felt so good), and tried to book my Houston - Montreal flight.

Fail. Un-advertised fact: Zed needs to be booked two working days before departure. I've booked flights with my airline less than 2 hours before departure before, and because of this I never even considered that it would be an issue. But an issue it was, particularly with the prices of air travel in North America. Ridiculous is an understatement. Full fare flights were going to cost me anywhere between $550 (with two connections) and $800 (1 connection). For a direct flight, they take a deposit of a spleen and the balance of a kidney on check-in.

I am officially stranded in Texas.

"When life gives you lemons..."
Obviously, a re-organisation of plans is needed here. Planes are out of the question. Trains, buses, boats...I'm in TEXAS. I am miles from anywhere, nearly as far across the country from either Canada or New York as I can get!

BUT - thanks to genius cheap flight search engines, I discover that to fly from Houston - New York is doable for around $300. It's still expensive, but it's money I have. And money I would gladly pay to not be in Texas, alone, wasting my precious vacation time. Done. Accommodation proved a little more tricky, as the World Police and Fireman's (Firepeople's?) Games are on this week and hotels / hostels are booked out everywhere, but thanks to (lifesaver) I found a cheap room in a shared apartment with 3 other girls who I hope are not scumbags. Done. As for my Montreal reunion, my long-lost lady friend will catch the train down on Saturday, alone, instead of with me on Monday as planned. Done.

It's not at all ideal, but it's better than Texas. (Please don't think I have anything against Texas - really, I love it here, and the people, but when you plan for Montreal and New York, well it's kind of like going to The Shire when you could be Alice frolicking in Wonderland.)

"...grab the tequila and salt."
So plans are sorted. Holiday is back on. I have a day of exploring Houston, before heading off bright and early on Friday. I figure I will wander around the Museum District, absorb some country culture, maybe go to the Galleria Mall that everyone raves about, and eat a dodgy taco off the back of a truck.

Fail. I walk for three hours, past all of the Museums but for some reason not actually into any. I try to find a cab to take me to the Galleria, but there are none except those that speed past me before I can raise my hand to hail them. I walk from Downtown, through Midtown, through the Museum District and to Uptown, and I find no taco truck. Eventually I settle for Starbucks. It is not the same.

I come back to my hotel, only to be informed of the existence of Hurricane Irene. Irene is currently pelting the southern coast of the USA, and moving northward. She is a category 3 storm, which they expect may get worse as she makes her way toward New York.

Fail. My flight from Houston, because it is cheap, involves a connection. This connection is in Charlotte, North Carolina, just inland of the areas the authorities are currently evacuating. I have checked the airlines website - there is a travel advisory in effect, but it's not until the 28th and 29th. At this stage, the flight for tomorrow (the 26th) is scheduled to still depart. Fingers crossed.

Fail. Even if my flight does manage to beat the storm, it will drop me in New York just in time to meet it at the other end.

Welcome to my holiday.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Day in the [Glamorous] Life Of Me

The Good

Holidays, holidays, holidays!! I know to some people my life seems like one big holiday, but think about the ridiculous early mornings, lack of sleep, customer complaints, sick people and airplane food that I have to deal with on what is pretty much a daily basis. There's no denying that it's work. BUT, that doesn't matter right now because I have holidays coming up!

Tomorrow is my last flight before leave (my first actual Annual Leave days since I joined last November) and I don't even want to go! I just want to be on holidays already! I've got an amazing 10 days lined up - heading to Montreal to meet one of my all-time favourite girls from home, spending a few days, then heading south to NEW YORK CITY and meeting up with 3 more friends. I can't wait - Times Square, Broadway shows, bagels with cream cheese for breakfast every day, bike riding through Central Park, shopping, sightseeing, stalking TV and movie sights for celeb spotting, it's going to be so great!!

Following that, I have been a busy bee planning another holiday in October, a road trip through Spain with the boy. The only problem I'm having is deciding where to go - there's just so much to see! I want to do the big cities, but I want to head off the beaten track as well and try find some nice little towns or beaches too. And we only have 2 and a half weeks to do it all. But we're working on it, even if we can't get everywhere I'm sure it will be beautiful - and hopefully not too cold!

Friends. Seeing the boyfriend and my besties from home has really put me on a high this month. It's been so great to feel like I don't have two separate lives - my Adelaide one and my Dubai one - instead the two have seemed to be meeting somewhere in the middle (or Europe, anyway). Once again this week, I planned to spend a day in London with a crazy old workmate from home who's spent the last 4 months travelling Europe. Was great to hear all her stories and the places she's been - there were a lot of both! And now I have my holiday with another close friend rapidly approaching, it is just making me smile to appreciate the good and seriously lucky aspects of my life.

The Bad
Delays. After my delay on my London flight when I was late to meet my friends from home, I was fairly annoyed at life. That was a 2 hour delay.

My first flight this week was relatively on-time, well it would have been if we hadn't had to circle to wait for the police cars to get to the gate before the aircraft. Apparently there were a couple of guys on board that weren't entirely welcome in the UK, and as a result the plane was met at the gate by cops. We were instructed to keep all passengers seated on landing, but not to let anyone know what was happening as it would have caused a bit of panic. Damn right it caused panic, I almost had a heart attack! We weren't told the details of why they were detained, but of course the imagination (particularly mine, which is overactive at the best of times) runs wild in these types of situations. They could have simply been on parole and left the country a day too early. Or they could have been the scourge of the earth. It is times like that when you realise that a) people are fairly vulnerable when contained inside a metal tube, no matter how big it looks on ground, and b) 40,000 feet is a long way up. For the first time ever, I was nervous on landing. Nothing happened, and even when the police came on board with their ridiculously intimidating bullet-proof vests, taking the 'questionable gentlemen's' passports and ordering them off the plane, the two guys they were talking to were completely calm and polite. They were actually quite well-mannered the whole flight, very quiet and civil. Guess you never can tell!

My 2nd flight this week - another London - experienced more delays. As soon as the crew boarded the plane, the captain announced that there was a tech problem. I cringed. The flight deck turned into a sweaty sardine can as engineers crammed themselves in, trying to fix whatever the problem was. Eventually it was fixed, and we boarded the passengers. Halfway through boarding, the tech problem reared its ugly head again. We were forced to sit on ground, fully boarded with an almost-full flight, for nearly 2 hours. Then it was decided that the tech problem was too unpredictable - going away, coming back again - and that we would not be able to fly that aircraft. We had to change. Passengers disembarked, not very happy obviously. Crew weren't very happy either, believe me! But we didn't have much choice - see, this is work, remember? So we had to wait. Catering trucks had to come, take out everything that had been loaded on the inoperative aircraft, and move it to the new one. Blankets and headsets had to be moved. Kids toys, bars and everything from all the galleys. It took another 2 hours on ground, with the crew sitting in an aircraft that had no air conditioning without the engines on. Lucky it was only 45 degrees outside! Eventually, we got off the ground. The flight itself was not so bad, and considering they'd been delayed 5 hours and most of them had missed connecting flights / trains / boats, the passengers were all relatively happy. Guess they understand the safety risks of flying with a technical problem - like I said before, 40,000 feet is a long way up.

The Downright Ridiculous
On ONE turnaround last week - less than five hours of flying - I had a series of incidents that explain why my friends never want to fly with me. I am a gigantic, walking, talking, sarcastic freak magnet.

The first passenger.

"Excuse me. I have to ease myself. Do you have a cup?"
**NOTE: To 'ease oneself' is to go to the bathroom**

"A cup? Errr, would you prefer to use the washroom?"

"No. Give me a cup."

The facing-my-jumpseat passenger.

An old lady doesn't speak much English, but manages to convey on take-off that she is feeling sick. I get her a spew bag, show her to the bathroom, offer her water or lemonade but she is fasting for Ramadan and won't take it, despite the allowance that you are not required to fast if you are either travelling or ill, never mind both. She is trying to tell me something, but I'm not sure what it is at first. First? Yes, first. She wants to be upgraded to first class because she is not feeling well, that is what she is trying to tell me. Never mind business class, she's heading straight for first where the air is going to magically soothe her nausea. I tell her that she is welcome to upgrade, if she wants to pay the difference in cost between economy and first - there are seats available. Suddenly, she drinks a lemonade and feels much better.

As soon as I take my jumpseat opposite her for landing, she is fanning herself again, huffing and puffing and wriggling in her seat. Eventually she goes for the vom bag. We sit. We wait. The anticipation is killing me as I hope her aim is good - I don't want any of her insides on my shoes.


Just when I thought I'd made it, standing up to disarm my door, I heard it. The roar of the jungle beast concealed within a little old lady, RARRRRR. RARR. The rush for the paper bag. The shuffling of feet as people tried to get as far away as possible from her on their way to the door. RARRRR.

So anyway, it was fine and I'm pretty sure she didn't even bring anything up - one of the positive side effects (for me, at least) of Ramadan fasting. But she did manage to put me off my food for 10 whole minutes so I was very displeased with her; I'd offered to let her go to the bathroom during taxi and everything. But no, she wanted to face off on my jump seat. Throwdown accepted lady, you don't scare me!! RARRRRR.

The return passenger.

"Excuse me, I need a cup."

I am instantly suspicious.

"What you need a cup for?"

"Can I have a cup."

"Do you need the bathroom?" *hopeful face*

"No. I need to take a drug."

Oops, my bad. Cup provided.

Two minutes later I notice her sitting on the floor at the rear of the plane, clicking her fingers at me (rude). She is right outside the lavatory door, pointing at it. I push it open for her and she goes in, revealing an enormous, unidentified, liquid mass on the floor right where she had been sitting. Outside the bathroom. Errr...what the?!!

It's difficult to tell what actually happened in this situation as she came out of the bathroom covered in liquid, from head to foot. It didn’t establish a stink boundary. She didn't appear too concerned or even embarrassed. Was it, or wasn't it? I guess we'll never know!

Either way, these 3 episodes in under 5 hours begs the question yet again: WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?!!

Being a freak magnet sure has its days.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jack and Jill climbed a really, really big hill...

Long distance relationships suck. Giving something up is always difficult. Not giving it up, but being 15,000 miles away from it and unable to have it, is harder. It is being tied to a chair and having the thing you treasure most in the world put just beyond your outstretched fingertips, knowing that with the smallest movement you will have it back in your hands for safe keeping, and being unable to move.

For 8 months now, I've been living like this. By my own choice, yes, but that doesn't make it any easier! My dear Boof is my best friend, boyfriend and everything all in one. And that's enough with the soppy stuff, that's all you need to know.

After arriving home from Paris at 2am, I pottered around the house, trying to waste time that wouldn't go fast enough. At 5am, I headed to the airport to meet him. At 5.07am, the plane landed. At 5.42am, I went to the customs doors to see if something was wrong and was politely escorted back to the waiting area. At 5.55am I was starting to think I'd imagined that he was coming. At 6.05am, I was the happiest girl in the world because he was THERE. Right in front of me!

Wouldn't you know, the lucky bugger had scored 3 seats to himself on the flight over and managed to get about 9 hours sleep. Which was 9 hours more than I had gotten. But we spent the afternoon playing tourist, heading to Dubai Mall because Boof loves shopping, he couldn't wait to see the biggest Mall in the world. Ok that's a lie and we mainly went for food, but still it's an impressive sight. We ate, went outside and checked out the Burj Khalifa - well, I checked it out while he got chatted up by some local guys who wanted photos with him (don't think they'd ever seen a ranga before). Then we hit Sega Republic, the indoor theme park at the mall, beating little kids at video games and riding roller coasters and trash talking like we'd never spent a day apart.

Next day we went to Friday Brunch - a Dubai institution. All you can eat, all you can drink, all afternoon. He got to meet some of my Dubai friends for the first time, putting faces to names while the waitress, bless her heart, brought us round after round of drinks, without us even needing to get up or order them. Ah brunch. Following this, we went to Irish Village, where the annual Hopfest (Beer Drinking Festival) provided us with a few [too many] more beers. Things got messy - literally - with drink throwing, biting, stumbling. I don't know where the rumours come from about Dry Dubai.

We spent the next day at the Palm watching rugby, then wandered around Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach for awhile. On Sunday, we went for a stroll around Dubai Creek. We took a 1 dirham (25 cent) water taxi across the creek - always an adventure, you never know if the boats are going to make it or not they are so old - and wandered around the souks. It was about 46 degrees, and I was not coping very well, so we spent another 3 dirham and went to the Dubai Museum to dry out in the air conditioning. After this, we walked a bit more, but my inner Veruca Salt came out and I cracked a fruity - we were leaving the Spice Souk right away, I was sweating like a pig, we weren't buying anything, it was pointless, the workers were creepy and lecherous, he was sweating like a pig, we'd seen everything there, we didn't even know what we were looking at there anyway as they were all spices and herbs that we couldn't identify and besides that, neither of us can cook! After giving up on excuses and simply charging off to accost a taxi driver to take us elsewhere (air conditioning was my only prerequisite), we went to yet another Mall and had some lunch.

We spent the next couple of days doing bits and pieces but mainly just relaxing. The Malls, the big Hotels, movies, I even got a fancy dinner cooked for me at home. We went to 'the top' of the Burj Khalifa; how the 124th floor of a building over 200 floors is considered 'the top' fails me mathematically, but it's still a long way up with a very cool view. Seeing as he had a lot of questions about the local culture and religion that I couldn't answer, we went to a mosque to have someone else answer them. Chicken didn't even ask anything.

On his last day in Dubai, we went on a desert safari, by far the coolest tourist activity in Dubai. We went 4WD-ing into the Sahara, ran through sand dunes, hung out with camels, held a falcon, watched the sun set over the desert, rode a camel, ate a feast, watched a belly dancer, drank some tinnies (Fosters of all things!) and smoked some sheesha. Life was good.

And then he was gone, London-bound.

Lucky for me, I was off to Sydney for a 6 day trip following his departure and wasn't around to notice how empty Dubai felt without him. When I got back, I had a couple of days off and decided that what the hell, I'd jump on a flight to London and spend some more time with him. We spent the weekend in a place called Hurstpierpoint, a tiny village in Sussex. Boof's mates were staying there as one of them had family in the area - I'm just going to point that out because it's a pretty random place to backpack to. We got a room at the pub, about the only place to stay in the whole village, and I settled in for a few days of doing nothing.

The next day, we caught the train down to Brighton. It was the day before the opening party of Gay Pride week and the city was overflowing with people. The sun was out, so the beaches were packed. The pier was full of people, tourists, families, everyone just enjoying the weather and having a good time. I'd never been to Brighton before but I really liked it. Great atmosphere and some really nice areas to wander around. It's full of students, so pubs and drinks are generally really cheap in most places. That night we were thinking about going out in the city, but opted instead to stay in the village. With a group of 7 Australians in town, we almost outnumbered the locals - they must have thought they were being invaded. We ended up having quite a big night on our pub crawl...made it through all 3 pubs and 1 wine bar. It was huge.

Next day Boof decided to drag me up a mountain. We walked through fields, jumping fences through paddocks and trying not to get rammed by sheep, spit on by llamas or shit on by horses, and eventually got to the bottom of the hill we were supposed to go up. It was pretty much vertical and there was this huge part of me that flat out refused to do it. I think that part was all the fat that's developed over what used to be muscles, because the muscles would have got me up the hill without too much trouble back in the day. After not exercising much [at all] for the past couple [few] weeks [months], I wasn't even sure I'd be able to do it. But I do love a challenge, and so I huffed and I puffed and I dragged my ass up the damn hill. And the view was worth it, honestly the countryside in England is beautiful, so much more so than I ever realised. There was even a family who had put tents up on top of the hill and were camping, an idea Boof was pretty keen to try. Unfortunately (luckily?) I had to depart pretty early next morning and the camping trip was postponed until after I'd left. Our evening was spent at a romantic dinner at the local Chinese take-out instead of lugging tents and equipment up an impossibly steep hill, something only a little bit of me was only a little bit upset about.

And then I was on yet another plane.

After having him around again, settling so easily back into old habits and our easy together-ness, I understand why it is we bother. Some things are worth the trouble, the pain and the difficulty. A lot of people, when they learn I have a boyfriend living back in Adelaide, laugh at the idea, or shake their heads, or tell me it couldn't possibly work out. They're the glass half-empty people, I guess. Sucks to be them. My glass is seven-eighths full and getting fuller every day!

She'll be coming down the mountain...