My blog is going to be a bit different for the next month as I chart my journey around Western Europe!
The first stretch
I’m leaving the continent of Australia behind for a month. I’m just beginning to cross the Indian Ocean, and the view out the plane window is very blue with patches of white cloud. Having travelled across Australia from Sydney I am now nine and a half hours from Dubai (according to the onboard flight tracker). We’re travelling at 33,002 feet and going 567 miles per hour. I honestly don’t know how people cope regularly making the flight from coast to coast. I suppose I understand the purpose of business class now! Although the economy seat I am occupying is not uncomfortable, it is more cramped than I like. The next land I see should be Sri Lanka, followed by the the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. Otherwise, there’s nothing much to do but watch films and try to relax a bit.
Still over the Indian Ocean
Just eight and a half hours to go and there’s barely a cloud in sight. Although I don’t expect to see it, we are now currently coming roughly up the coast of Indonesia, running almost parallel to Java and Sumatra. Might pass over a few of the smaller islands that dot their coasts, but I doubt I’ll spot them. I’m listening to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and reading Stephen Fry’s More Fool Me, but I just can’t concentrate. I should have slept by now but I think the inactivity and nerves are working together to keep me awake. Already watched Good Will Hunting and Good Morning, Vietnam (neither of which I had actually seen before, but had obviously heard a lot about). They were average. Rubber Soul, however, is a very comforting old friend.
Land in sight
Experiencing some turbulence just as we’re about to fly over Sri Lanka, with less than five hours to Dubai. Hopefully I get to see land out the window, but at 38,000 feet I’m probably being optimistic. Watching Mrs Doubtfire to pass the time (there is a disproportionate number of Robin Williams’ films on the in-flight entertainment system). It’s not entirely awful and should see me through the four-hours-to-go-to-Dubai mark. The in-flight tracker is not so great: it doesn’t let you choose different views or stay on particular views and it alternates between Arabic and English! The down-facing camera shows just clouds thus far. But, as I’m writing this, the coast of Sri Lanka has just come into view out the window! I’ve just seen a foreign country for the first time! They exist! Other countries exist! They’re not all made up!
Landing in Dubai
Well, I made it to Dubai! Some 8,000 miles or so. That’s 12,000 kilometres from Sydney, I think. I can’t believe how far I am from home and also how remarkably calm I am for being both a nervous traveler and being incredibly tired. Cleared Dubai security as quickly as possible given the line was quite long and made it to my gate after taking several escalators and a train. No troubles so far. From the plane I saw some of the Arabian Peninsula’s landscapes out the window. I tried to take photographs as possible, because it is amazingly beautiful. The rolling gold sand dunes are quite a sight. Despite the seemingly hostile environment, the cities seem to thrive and Dubai is both massive and impressive to look at from the air.
Landing in London
Solid ground now for a while I hope, having landed at Gatwick Airport. Arrived a bit earlier than expected, but the longest part of the ordeal was the walk to passport control. They’ve got an immigration officer who looks at your landing card and passport then asks a few harmless questions that, if you answer honestly and clearly, are fine. I think this is to try detect any kind of inconsistency in your story. If you’re clear about it, it’s not a problem. The officer asked me just a few questions. It went like this:
Officer: “Hello. Could I have your passport and landing card? What is the purpose of your visit?”
Officer: “Who are you staying with?”
Me: “I’m staying in hotels in London for a week, and then will be staying with a friend near Leeds.”
Officer: “What does your friend do?”
Me: “IT support for a school.”
Officer: “How long do you intend to stay for?”
Me: “Up to 32 days. I am planning to visit parts of Europe, so it might be earlier, but I have to leave the UK on 20 February.”
The immigration officer checked my flight itinerary and stamped my passport with leave to enter for six months, even though I said it was only going to be about a month. Ostensibly I am low-risk because I’m an Australian. There was no customs inspection either. And now, after getting the train to Victoria, not getting lost, and checking into my hotel, I am enjoying my first pint of English ale: the barmaid recommended Taylor Walker 1730, and it is delicious!