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**

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