Around The World in Five Days
It should have been a fairly straight forward trip – Auckland to Montreal, Canada, via Sydney and Vancouver: a total travelling time of about 26 hours. Armed with two suitcases – one packed with an uncertain mind of what to wear in wintery Montreal, and one full of work stuff, as well as two carry on pieces equipped for all in flight eventualities (you never know when you might need that spare pair of knickers, or the collected works of Charles Dickens on a long haul flight) – I schlepped my way to the check in counter, where I was firmly but politely told that only one of my suitcases would be accompanying me on my trip. “Sudden Airline weight restrictions. Plane too small. Safety issues. Etc. Etc.” Astonished – but not thwarted – I took it as a sign from above that this was obviously meant to be a vacation, rather than a business trip, and that the suitcase full of work stuff would be the one to be left behind in New Zealand. “So be it,” I thought, settling in to my first flight to Sydney, while mentally calculating how long it would be until the drinks cart made its way up the aisle. And so I waited for the plane to move off the runway. And waited. And waited some more.
About an hour and a half later (after various vaguely reassuring messages from the captain, but still no drinks cart) a gangly youth leisurely boarded the plane, ostensibly to replace one of the pilots’ monitors. Turns out they need it for navigation. By the time the drinks cart did finally come my way we were a full two hours late to take-off.
On arrival in Sydney, and just as I was ready to gather my multiple belongings and sprint for my connecting flight to Vancouver, another youth – this time an employee of the Air NZ ground crew in Sydney – patiently explained to me that I had missed my flight. Even if – according to my watch – the plane was still 30 minutes away from leaving. “Fine,” I thought, “this is obviously a sign that I am meant to relax in Sydney for a bit.”
Muscling my way into the Koru Airline Lounge on account of the airline’s blatant mistreatment of me, I almost fainted at the sight of comfortable couches, free Wi-Fi and an all-day, all you can eat and drink buffet. “This makes the drinks trolley pale into insignificance,” I thought, and while remembering the supposedly true stories of people who lived in airports for years, I settled in to wait for the next flight. This took a lot longer than expected, due to the fact that by now the airline had actually “misplaced” my luggage. That’s right, the one suitcase that remained. The one with my winter clothes in it.
After several hours of anxious emailing and calling the man who makes everything happen (i.e. the travel agent, also known as G.O.D), I was rebooked six hours later to fly to Montreal via Hawaaii and Atlanta. Too tired to speculate on the fact that as far as a direct route goes I may as well have flown to Montreal via South America , I quietly celebrated the fact that they had now located my suitcase at some far-flung area of the Sydney airport by having another helping from the buffet.
Hours later, up in the air and half passed out on a supply of sleeping pills courtesy of a good friend who calls herself “the drug mule”, I nevertheless felt extreme excitement at my unexpected sojourn to Hawaii: land of sand, surf, sun, hula and Aloha. I had been bugging everyone for years that I wanted to see Honolulu – now, facing a seven hour stop off at the very place, what would I do? Head to Waikiki and put my toes in the sand? Taxi up to one of the volcanic crater for the best view in town? Visit the Magnum P.I memorial museum?
It turned out that what I did do is what every self-respecting tourist does in Honolulu: visit the “Ala Moana” humongous, ostentatious open air shopping mall. Not so much sand, not so much beach, but my God, the shopping! And in case that sounds like a very wasteful thing to do, I made it count by finding a cocktail bar called Mai Thai and sampling the local beer. Which is very good.
On the drive to the shopping mall I learned that if you value your sanity you stay away from Waikiki beach, and that Honolulu looks like a cross between the Australian Gold Coast and some Pacific Island small-town. The mountains fringing the edge of the flat city area look stunningly green, with white clouds clinging around the tops. I even saw one of the famous Honolulu rainbows. “Here is a place I will be coming back to,” I thought, as the taxi speed back to the airport for the next flight connection, this one to Atlanta.
If there was yet another kind of message from above regarding the whole flight/baggage mix up, it was obviously that I am the kind of person that should be travelling in extreme style and comfort, as for the next leg of the journey (and I am still not precisely sure how this happened, but whinging and complaining will get you a long way people!) I ended up flying in first class. Yes, the first class. As in an airplane. There were fold down beds! Your own personal “living” pod with a TV screen larger than my one at home! Air hostesses who smiled and looked happy, rather than bored and irritated at your arrival, and thrust a Mai Thai cocktail at you the minute you sat down: Aloha! The joys that money can buy! I won’t dwell on how I distinguished myself by being more than a little over excited and grateful – in slight contrast to my fellow travellers, who settled smugly and knowingly into their pods beside me.
I know that this has ruined airline travel for me for life.
Arrival in Atlanta was entirely without drama, and I emerged from the nine hour flight imagining myself to look rested and fabulous, a là posh travelling movie starts. Reality soon hit when I settled in at the airport for yet another wait, watching on the multiple TV screens in front of me the continuous headline news of wide-scale race protests in Atlanta and the rest of the US over the acquittal of a white police man who had shot an unarmed young African American boy. On the wall behind me was a case of old photos and newspaper articles, meant as a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr, whose birthplace had been Atlanta. Fifty years had passed and it was still business as usual in Atlanta.
Flying over Atlanta on my final leg to Montreal several hours later I looked down at the many trees, green even now in winter, and the winding roads, and imagined what life down there may be like. Here again, is also a place I will be coming back to. With or without race riots.
In the end I arrived in Montreal after two days of flying. And stayed there for two days before turning around and doing it all over again. And it turns out that I have a lot less to say about Montreal than the journey it took me to get there. Montreal seemed a contrast to everything I had experienced so far. Montreal is beautiful, with its Greystone buildings, graffiti, old churches and Christmas lights. It is a French city but not in an “Oh là là” kind of way. It is sober, and rich, and with a historical legacy of French and British colonialism, and a quagmire of displacement of first nations people, and the influx of new settlers from all around the world. Here is a city to be reckoned with, in a genteel, shadowy, mussed-up kind-of-way. Here is another city, where I will be coming back to – Je vais certainement être de retour. With or without first class detours.