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...

Goodbye July ... Where did you go?!?

What a whirlwind, amazing, laughter-and-joy-filled month it has been - I wish I had a 'Save Memory As' option on my brain to recollect in perfect detail all the best moments of it here! Reunited with the boyfriend, plus some of my best friends from home, planning new upcoming adventures (although not as thoroughly as I'd like - it's been that crazy!), and of course a few more travels.

Since my last long-ago post, I've been to Paris twice, London once, Sydney, Auckland, spent a week playing tourist in Dubai, and a weekend relaxing in the English countryside. That's all in under a month, which a year ago I would not have even dreamed of doing. Unfortunately this post has so many things to cover, it's either going to be ridiculously long or ridiculously short on detail. I'll try to make it the second option for those with short attention spans. Me, in particular.



And again.

My first of 2 Paris trips was almost a failed adventure...none of the other crew would venture out of the hotel as the weather wasn't looking great but was a Saturday night!! In Paris!! So I went anyway. I went on what would have been an amazing walking tour of the city: Paris Opera House, Ritz Hotel, Rue Cambon and in particular the House of Chanel, Palais Royale, the beautiful Museum of Decorative Arts and the Louvre. Loiter long time. Take photos. Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, through the Tuilleries gardens (favourite), past the lakes and cafes until meeting the Place de la Concorde and the Obelisque at the eastern end of the Champs Elysees. More photos.

This all sounds much more delightful than the pouring rain made it. Seriously, there was. So. Much. Rain. It didn’t bother me for the first hour or so, but by the time I'd been in it - with no umbrella, no shelter, no relief - for more than that I was feeling a bit over it and decided to call it a [rainy] day and head back to the hotel, a hot shower, and a big bowl of French Onion Soup. I had a quick peek at the Church of the Madeline on my way past but decided I had no time or patience for dawdling and headed back to the Opera House to get my bus. I was still happy, taking in my surroundings as I hurried through the rain, trying to check my rapidly deteriorating map for directions as the creases in it turned into soggy holes. Just when I thought I was almost there, a quick right turn and a few steps away, I looked up and saw it - the back of the Church of the Madeline. I had taken about 5 or 6 wrong turns and was nowhere near where I needed to be!! Bugger. Since my map was now effectively useless, I was on my own as far as navigation was concerned. It took about another 45 very wet minutes, a third (side) view of the Church, and many, many puddles before I found a sign pointing me in the right direction. About 2 blocks from the Opera House, as I was waiting to cross the road, a very kind gentleman approached me and offered me an umbrella...for the bargain price of 10 Euros. I don't think I've ever found anything so funny in my life - what on earth was the world's most overpriced second-hand umbrella going to do in the next two blocks, after the destruction to my clothes, shoes, hair, camera, that the rain had done in the past 2 hours?!! Oh well, at least I could laugh about it I guess - although I don't think umbrella man really got the joke.

Finally I made it back to the Hotel, where I have never been so grateful for a hot shower and a fluffy oversized bathrobe. My shoes didn’t survive, poor things got left behind in the bin (RIP trusty black ballet flats), and my clothes were still wet as I packed them to head back to the warmth of Dubai. I was deeply upset with Paris for coming so close to ruining our beautiful friendship, hoping it would make it up to me when I returned the following day on my next flight.

This time, I was determined that the city would redeem itself to me with something exceptional. A friend from high school was working in business class, and we had been meaning to catch up for ages. I wouldn't have expected a catch-up in Paris, but I guess random happinesses like that are just one of the bonuses of this job. We made plans to devour deliciousness and sightseeing delights in the city, roping in half of the crew. My enthusiasm and confidence in Paris was only dampened - scratch that, it was soaked - when we landed, I looked out the window, and discovered exactly the same weather as I had encountered the previous day. Rain, rain, and more rain. With a few cats and dogs thrown in for good measure. I was instantly upset. Excuse me weather gods, but it's supposed to be SUMMER. Where I come from, this weather just doesn't cut it.

Obviously the rest of the crew weren't too keen for ducking about in doorways, shivering and making the cat's bum face due to the rain either (you know, the face where you screw everything up to a point because it might make you less vulnerable to the rain, or magically dry you or something). So for the first time ever, I made the big, weighty decision ... I was going to stay in the hotel for an entire layover. Disappointed with myself, but having more important things to worry about (battling snot and sneezes, mainly), I settled in for a boring and unsatisfying 24 hours.

Figuring I may as well do something to pass the time, and wanting to have a chance to catch up with my school buddy, I had dinner with the crew in the hotel. I find food to be an excellent diversion from boredom. It turned out to be one of the nicest meals I've had in a long time - a gigantic, overwhelming, perfect, deliciously amazing French buffet, and some great company from the rest of the crew, I decided maybe it wasn't such a wasted layover after all. Discovery: good food trumps bad weather. And it's true what they say; it's the crew that make a trip good or bad, no matter the destination, the flight, or the weather. I got pretty lucky in Paris. Minds out of the gutter please kids.


Even in the briefing room I knew we were going to have fun. And we did. Singing, dancing, and laughing our way to Sydney made the 13 hours go quicker than usual. My breakfast date with a McDonald's (REAL) Bacon and Egg McMuffin was overruled by my fellow crew and I was talked into suffering through yet another breakfast buffet - painfully devouring fresh fruits, real bacon (from a pig, not a turkey), mushrooms, tomatoes, yoghurt, and the horror of cooked-to-order Eggs Benedict with the world's tastiest hollandaise. Sigh.

Talking on the phone to my family and not worrying about the bank loan needed to pay for the calls. Sigh.

Tim Tams on sale at Woolies. Sigh.

Sushi rolls that taste like they are supposed to. For $2. Sigh.

Trains that smell like pee because drunk people use them late at night. Sigh.

Shopping in Bondi. Sigh.

Sunshine and warmth in the middle of winter. Sigh.

Getting a bottle of vodka for $15 in duty free and having a room party with 6 other crew and getting escorted back to our rooms at 3am because other crew on the floor complained about the noise. Sigh.

Australia I miss you.


You remind me of home and I love you. And I love The Occidental and beer served in buckets (not really the beer itself just the buckets) and lemon pepper calamari straight out of the sea, not snap-frozen and shipped across the world, thawed and sold as a second-rate product for a first-class price. And I love the cool breeze and the local people - the nice ones, as well as the scumbags - and the smell of rain and wet grass. Ah nature.

I don't love the steepest street in the world that our Captain made us walk up where I almost snapped some tendons but I'll take it on with a smile because it reminds me of home. Even though we don't even have big hills at home.


I was terrified of this flight. Not because of any ill-feeling, and not because there are crazy riots and people setting fire to stuff in the city (because that is just silly), but because my besties from home were going to be there and I was so excited to spend time with them that I was sure I would forget something - my passport, my hat, anything - which would get me offloaded from the flight. A computer glitch at immigration caused 30 seconds of panic. Another moment of distress when my ID scan told me I had 'no flights to check in for'. Thankfully I made it through check in, made it through security, made it through briefing. I was finally thinking I might actually get to see my friends when the Captain appeared - the aircraft we were supposed to be flying on had a technical fault and was inoperative. I almost cried. BUT we were still going. Delayed 2 hours, yes, but still going.

I didn’t make it to central London until about 11pm, exhausted, sleepless, hungry and frustrated, but I found my girls feeling much the same way when I arrived at Kings Cross St Pancras. One of them was standing, alone, in the middle of the station, flapping her arms and crowing. She told me she was doing the 'top bird call' but I doubt many of the people around would have recognised it. So our big, long-awaited reunion involved walking to Burger King, some general chit chat over a chicken burger and soggy late-night fries, and a walk to their hostel where we almost failed in our attempt to smuggle me in to their room. Luckily our wit and charm won out and I was saved a long train ride back to my Heathrow hotel bed, instead falling into a bunk to spoon one of the girls in a dazed and very confused sleep.
The next day was spent sightseeing, wandering the (safer, riot-free) streets of London. Knightsbridge, Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Kensington...the sun shone on us as we frolicked through the city, hardly believing that we were all together again - and in London, so far from home but so great. We went to the Changing of the Guards - at least, we tried to, but there were way too many people for us short-stacks to see anything. We went to see Kate Middleton's wedding dress on display at Buckingham Palace - at least, we tried to, but the tickets for the tours were sold out 2 days in advance. It would have been a great day under any circumstances, with great weather and great sights to see, but the company of my friends, who I hadn't seen in so long, made it that much better. Was I exhausted when I landed in Dubai at 6am the next day, without any sleep before the flight back? Of course I was - but if you asked me if it was worth it I'd just look at you like you had two heads. It was worth it, a million times over. I just wish I could have stayed longer!

Anyway I've decided that I'm going to write this particular blog in Two Parts, to save the vom noises and cursing from those who don't want to hear all about the two weeks I spent with my big boofhead boyfriend. Not that I'm the type to go into lovey gooey details or anything, but you never know your luck!