Goodbye London, Hello Honkers

Not enough sleep, never enough sleep. You would think that I would take advantage of being away from my restless baby to finally get a whole night’s undisturbed rest, but somehow it never worked out like that. For starters, I don’t think that I ever adapted entirely to the different time zone. I would come back from the lessons, maybe sleep for a while in the evening, wake up in time to talk to B, fall asleep again, wake up for breakfast and to talk some more.

My bags were quickly packed, in a sense they were never really unpacked, I ate my breakfast of croissant and fruit, and checked out of the hotel.

This time the Piccadilly Line train took me all the way from Earl’s Court to Heathrow’s Terminal 4. Outside, there was a clear blue sky and I felt comfortable about the upcoming flight. I watched other aircraft on descent into Heathrow as we too approached it in the train.

Terminal 4’s check in area is small and dingy. There seems nothing at all to do on that side of security. I checked in for my flight, this time got boarding passes for both legs. From their screens it was apparent that the economy section was absolutely fulls, maybe even oversold by 4 (assuming that’s what -4 means). The English skills of the BA staff manning the desks was quite poor, like a large proportion of the service staff I had encountered in London.

Things were a little better airside, with a reasonable range of shops. A big duty free store selling the usual range of perfumes, alcohol, chocolates and souvenirs. There was also a branch of Harrods, mainly luxury goods, condiments and sweets, and souvenirs. I was feeling bad that I hadn’t bought anything British for B, instead buying stuff for Alex. Found a couple of little items at Harrods, but nothing special.

Much of the terminal seemed under renovation and it was rather dark and uninspiring. However, there are quite good views of Heathrow’s operations from gate 7. You see all sort of airlines that do not fly to Australia, tons of the A320 family, but also MD-11’s from SAS in Scandanavia, lots of BA 747’s and 777’s. The Singapore Airlines A380 even made an appearance.

Three Qantas 747’s sat proudly in front of the terminal. I still love this aircraft, with its very distinctive lines and it still hgave me a thrill to think that I would be flying home on a couple of them.

Before I could board, however, the was still a lot of waiting to do. I sat and watch the aircraft take-off and land on Heathrow’s parallel runways, listening to music over my earphones.

Eventually, it was time to board. I was in window seat 55K, 10 seats further forward than last time. I wasn’t complaining. A father and his friendly teenage son were in the two seats next to me.

It was announced several times that we were to leave our seatbelts off while they refueled the aircraft. The cabin staff were British and they seemed quite pleasant and cheerful. I think they had to put up with a bit of crap on this flight.

While we were waiting to disembark the middle aged aisle seat passenger in the row was on his mobile phone, apparently responding to a potential employment offer for Oracle programming work. I assume that his current unemployment status precluded him from flying in a higher class. I had earphones on the entire trip, but I could see him constantly demanding things of, and complaining to the cabin crew.

In the latter stages of the flight there were also several announcements, both over the PA and as text overlays on the IFE screens to say the smoking was prohibited anywhere on the aircraft and that passengers were not to tamper with the smoke detectors in the toilets.

By the time we were ready to leave a layer of cloud had mostly hidden the blue of the sky. It was a long taxi out to the runway, past various maintenance facilities. We had to cross one of the other runways, waiting for a gap between the descending aircraft to shoot across.

I was pushed back into my seat as we began racing down the runway at full throttle, then we were up off the ground. This time there were no wonderful views of London city, this time it was suburbs and fields. As we skimmed bumpily through the cloud layer I even caught sight of a circus.

Our route took us over the channel towards Rotterdam, then skirting the northern coast of the Netherlands, Germany, across Denmark and the Baltic, returning to the landmass over Latvia. The islands of Denmark are especially interesting and you can see the ferries plying the waters between them.

The previous day I had caught my tutor viewing, planning his return to Sweden around the movements of a turbulent airmass in the area. I think we caught some of that stream, for things were a little rough above the clouds.

North of Poland we were served lunch, the choices being Lamb Casserole with Baby Onions, New Potatoes and Beans or Red Braised Chicken with Water Chestnuts with sides of Roasted Butternut and Sage Salad, a slice of french cheese and crackers and a bun. I chose the lamb, which proved to be full of flavour. The side dishes were similarly tasty and I especially enjoyed the cheese. Dessert was a Twix ice cream, better than the Split on an earlier flight.

I requested a Coke for a drink and was surprised to be served up a 150ml can of sparkling soft drink with vegetable extracts. Or that’s what the Coke can said in an attempt to appear healthier!

Later we handed out snack bags containing a bar of Cadbury chocolate, mints and water. No fruits this time unfortunately.

The crew were also very generous with the hot chocolate, serving up two huge marshmallows. I really enjoy the hot chocolate service on Qantas, very nice!

As we continued over Russia the scenery below was green fields, forest and clouds. We were flying towards the night with dusk falling over the ‘Stans. Darkness found us over Kazakhstan, probably over the remnants of the Aral Sea with the land blighted by the carbuncles of salt lakes. The poor populace down there, what remains of them, afflicted by cancers and birth defects from the toxic pesticides blowing on the salt dust.

Our night was 5 hours long as we also flying towards the dawn. I tried to watch the Watchmen, but just couldn’t get into it, so I switched over to the Simpsons, which was uncomplicated enough for my addled brain. There were a few bumps and jumps, but no major boughts of turbulence. The captain had announced earlier in the flight that it should be smooth until China, so I was dreading crossing that border.

Thankfully the sky was clear enough to enjoy the sight of cities below, emerging out of the dark lands like dense clusters of orange and white stars.

The shortened day night cycle meant that the next meal that were served was breakfast. I had the hot option: omelette with bacon and braised beans. Nice, and the bacon Qantas uses is particularly tasty, though small in serving. There was also a melon fruit salad, yoghurt, croissant and orange juice.

Half an hour later it was dawn and we were flying above the clouds over China. The threatened turbulence never arrived, but in the distance there was one big storm cloud periodically glowing with lightning.

The carpet of cloud meant that we couldn’t see the land below, which was a little disappointing as China is often quite interesting from above – if you can see through the smog layer! Finally, we crossed the southern coastline and began our descent into Hong Kong from the South.

After puncturing the clouds we were presented with a glorious view of the islands and waters off Hong Kong. The morning sunlight shimmered over the calm ocean dotted with ships. As we dropped beneath the height of the mountains on Lantau I caught a glimpse of the big Buddha statue Tian Tan atop on of the hills.

We rolled in past Dragon Air aeroplanes sitting quietly on the tarmac and a Qantas A330. It had been another fine flight on a 747, but I was very tired. I decided to find somewhere to get some sleep before going shopping in Hong Kong.

The airport terminal was probably the nicest that I had used on this trip, bright and airy. I passed through the health screening then immigration carrying only my daypack – the big backpack was checked through to Sydney. I had collected some brochures and maps on Hong Kong from the tourist office prior to immigration and they had directed me to the hotel booking counter once I was out.

The counter recommended the Novotel Citygate, close to the airport and right at the big discount outlet shopping centre that was on my list of destinations. Despite the moderately high price, I accepted. I shared the short, free, minibus ride with another couple and their 6 month old daughter, one of the few babies with less hair than Alex.

Once I saw my room at the Novotel, any lingering regrets about spending the money quickly disappeared. After the rundown budget hotels of Singapore and London this was beautiful! So designer modern and with nice views out from the big windows. If only I had stayed in such a hotel in London then the early nights would have been so much more pleasant, rather than a sore back in a bad chair.

I luxuriated in the raindrop shower, then set my laptop up on the desk playing music from Blade Runner. Then I fell asleep.

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