No matter which way you rotate the maps, there is no getting over the fact that Melbourne is a long way from just about everywhere. Nowhere is this more evident than when you have to travel to Europe. It seems an eternity ago that I awoke to my bedside alarm at 5 am on Tuesday morning. Since we needed to be at check in by 11 am, I decided to play it safe by leaving at 9 am and thus allow for any unforeseen circumstances.
As soon as we turned on to the Monash Freeway I could see that the decision to leave early was a prudent one. The traffic on the freeway was almost at a standstill and, at that rate, I would not have reached the airport by Christmas, let alone it time for my flight. We turned off at the earliest opportunity and took the Princes Highway instead. Although we arrived in time, it was a slightly stressful start to my marathon in transit.
The flight from Melbourne to Hong Kong takes around 9 and a half hours. While this might not seem like much to those on Brownwynesque budgets up in Business Class, for those of us sandwiched in the back of the plane it can seem like an eternity. My cramped situation was not helped when the tiny Asian woman in the seat in front of me immediately reclined it back as far as it could go – even though it was the still the middle of the day. For some strange reason it seems that the smallest people are the worst offenders in the battle of the reclining seat backs.
With her seat squashed firmly against my knee caps and my fertile imagination conjuring up fearful thoughts of impending DVTs in my immobile lower limbs, I entered into a battle of psychological warfare and made sure that the rear of her seat got a big nudge every time I had to change my position (about every 20 seconds). I think she must have got the message because, after about 30 minutes, she reluctantly raised it back up again.
The plane was obviously working on its own peculiar time zone and served “lunch” at about 4 pm in the afternoon and then “refreshments” just before landing. The plane disgorged its load of sardines into the massive labyrinth that is Hong Kong International Airport and I then proceeded to watch the clock advance for the next three hours. Just to liven up the boredom, Cathay Pacific decided to shift the departure gate for the next leg from one side of the airport to the other. I arrived just in time to be told that the flight would be delayed an hour or so. More clock watching.
Perhaps the time spent waiting at the airport would have gone much faster if it had not been for the flashily dressed matron next to me. She insisted on carrying on an animated conversation with herself – in Italian. Every few moments she would burst out with some rambling utterances. I was not sure of what was the correct etiquette in such circumstances. Should I join in with my own monologues or is it best to just pretend that it was not happening ? I opted for the second option and hoped that she would not end up next to me on the plane.
After finally getting admitted to the plane and squeezing myself into the matchbox that had been allocated to me, I just wanted to get the second leg of the trip underway. I knew that this leg was going to be close to 13 hours and I was already feeling as stale as a month old sausage roll. The mind games must have been too much for one passenger as the captain announced apologetically over the PA that one person was not feeling well and would not be proceeding with the flight. I could have responded by saying that I suspect that over 300 people were also not feeling well but were too tightly squashed in to ever contemplate leaving. That also meant that the departing passenger’s luggage would have to be removed from the cargo hold. Of course they would have to find it first. Another hour delay!
By the time the plane finally lifted off I was regretting not having some sort of magic pills that would simply put me in a coma for the next 13 hours. Fortunately the sand man did pay me a short visit and I was able to grab a couple of hour’s of broken sleep along the way, while the screen in front of me tormented me by reminding me just how painfully slowly the little icon of the plane was making its way over Iraq and Syria and just about every other current world trouble spot. I suppose I should have been grateful that the pilot did not make a detour over North Korea, just to fill out the list.
Finally the plane touched down at Rome Airport under a beautiful cloudless sky. After what seemed like a decade spent in transit, somehow I felt much better. My drooping eyelids burst the velcro that had been holding them shut and I actually started to feel excited about the adventure that would soon be unfolding. My luggage did not go astray (in fact it never has) and the sign of a man waiting with a sheet of paper with my name on it indicated that the shuttle I had ordered on the Internet had not done a runner with my money.
I suspect that these long transits may be a bit like childbirth – its horrible while you are going through them, but the horror is quickly forgotten once the good bit starts. Over the next few hours the rest of our participants will be gathering in Rome and the adventure that started almost two years ago will finally get underway.
I staggered around Rome in a stupor and took a few random pictures (see below)