Transit stops

I have an obsession with transit stops. Those rests in between legs of the outgoing or return journeys. Sometimes they are a race to explore a place before restarting the journey. Other times, the transit stop is an enforced rest, where you are limited to the accommodation and its surrounds. No great quests to find food, to go shopping or sightseeing. Just time to relax after a long journey, to watch some television or read a book before falling asleep, waking up refreshed for the next day’s leg.

Here’s a list of some of my favourite transit experiences.

The wedding night
Without doubt, my favourite transit stop of all was the night we spent at the Novotel Brighton Beach before beginning our honeymoon flight to Paris. Though the initial journey was short (Circular Quay to Brighton Le Sands), it came at the end of a very long and very exhausting day. What could be better then to preface a long flight than with a wander along the beach and strawberries and cake for lunch?

I have always wanted to recreate that feeling before flying out of Sydney – most recently on our 10th Anniversary trip to Europe.

A motel along the Hume Highway
It’s a nine hour journey between Melbourne and Sydney, which means that you can drive it in a day. But far nicer is to take it slower and stop along the way, especially if you don’t fancy getting up too early or arriving late in the evening. We usually drive about six hours before stopping for the night. That means Albury on the way down or Gundagai going north. Once we made it as far as 9pm into Yass before B declared herself too tired to continue on that night. The only place open to eat was a roadhouse diner. We had these huge schnitzels for dinner and they were good.

You just drive into a motel by the side of the road, pick up a simple dinner of a burger, pizza or Chinese from an eatery along the main street, watch something mindless on the television and fall asleep to the sound of the cars and trucks racing past.

Night markets in Seoul, South Korea
After a day long flight from Sydney during which I had felt terribly sick we descended over exotic looking islands in a shimmering golden-brown light and into Seoul’s Incheon Airport. We had never visited Korea before and didn’t know what to expect, but had an enforced overnight there before the next day’s flight to Amsterdam. With so little time we had to make the most of exploring this new country.

We caught a bus to Dongdaemun, walking around the impressive East Gate to the Best Western Hotel which I had booked for our stay. After a short rest we went out to explore. I had chosen Dongdaemun due to its night markets. Despite being 9 o’clock at night the streets were still humming with activity as young people purchased jewellery and food from street stalls or performed songs on the steps of the department stores. We bought B clothes from inside one still open shopping complex, then had dinner at a cart selling all sorts of Korean delights. The wholesale clothing market stays open all night and we wandered through halls selling scarves and hats and even visited a late night flea market. Great big plastic bags held clothes purchased by retails, but it was also possible to buy individual items direct from the supplier.

We left the next day satisfied that we really had experienced something of South Korea.

Pigging out in Singapore
Back in 2009 I flew by myself from Sydney to London. Rather than do the entire flight in one go I made certain there were scheduled stops in between. One the way over it was Singapore and this is definitely one of my best loved transit stops. I chose the Hotel 81 Tristar in Geylang because it was cheap, close to the airport and had a 24 hour food court beneath it. The whole point of visiting Singapore and Malaysia in my opinion is to eat.

The Tristar is not a great hotel, but it’s got a kind of run down tropical charm to it. Nearby are fantastic hawker stalls, kopitiams, restaurants and the old shophouses of Joo Chiat Road. After pigging out around there I made the mistake of catching a train into central Singapore to shop for electronics and exhausting myself in the heat (with more eating) before flying out.

If I was to do this transit again (and I have been back to the area twice with B and Alex) I would probably book the room at the Tristar (or Mercure Roxy at the other end of Joo Chiat Road) for a late departure. I’d arrive late at night in the minibus, drop my bags off in my room, then go down for a Milo ice or tarik before returning to bed. The next day it would be a breakfast of roti canai or Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa from the nearby hawker centre, followed by a stroll all the way down Joo Chiat Road to do some shopping at the Parkway Plaza. On the way back I’d pick up some kuih, otak-otak, satay and whatever else took my fancy, maybe have some noodles in a kopitiam for lunch. Maybe a swim and an afternoon nap back in the hotel. Dinner would be a choice of seafood at Kim’s Place or Nonya cuisine at Chili Padi or something else entirely. And it would be a perfect day.

CityGate, Hong Kong
On the return flight from London to Sydney I had a day alone in Hong Kong. I’m no good at sleeping on flights so I was knackered and the only thing I could think about was going to bed. The tourist office at the airport recommended the Novotel CityGate. A short minibus ride took me to this modern and stylish hotel and I was soon washing away that gritty feeling of a long flight in the raindrop shower. Then I set my notebook PC playing the quiet music of Blade Runner and fell asleep on the comfortable bed. It was a totally dreamy experience.

The CityGate Novotel is basically in the middle of nowhere, though there is the adjacent CityGate Outlet Centre for fairly decent shopping and eating and the Ngong Ping cable car ride up to the Tian Tan big Buddha is very impressive. The hotel also has a very inviting pool and outdoor area. Unfortunately, after I awoke I decided to catch a train into downtown Hong Kong and almost missed my flight. If you’ve never seen Hong Kong then it’s quite possible to get a feel for it in a day, but next time, I would bring my bathers and just hang around the hotel, weather permitting.

Cooling it in KL
Just as we opened with our wedding, we’ll close with our anniversary celebration ten years later. En route to London we made a brief overnight stopover in Kuala Lumpur. There wasn’t enough time to make a worthwhile trip into the city proper, so we just booked a room at the Pan Pacific hotel at the airport. I was really impressed. Motor buggies whip you between the terminal and the hotel lobby, which is ornate and has a sense of calm about it. The hotel is built around a tranquil tropical waterfall area. After being enclosed in an aircraft for over seven hours, the room also felt large and comfortable. A need to save money and eat local food meant that we used a workers’ food court in the airport terminal rather than trying the restaurants, which is a pity because I would like to have tried their buffet.

I would be torn transiting in Kuala Lumpur again by a desire to go into the city and eat, eat, eat or by just staying at the Pan Pacific and relaxing. I could easily see myself hanging around the hotel, dining by the waterfall and swimming in the pool, utterly relaxed for the onward flight.

Never been to Narita
I haven’t actually done this transit, mainly because I’ve never let myself be restricted to a single night in Japan. If I was, then Narita sounds like a pleasant introduction to the country, with its temple and old street leading up to it. What we would probably do instead is catch a Narita Express train to Shinjuku, stay in the Prince Hotel and enjoy the lights and shopping of crazy Shinjuku. But that could be rather overwhelming if you have never been to Japan before.

I don’t think I’ve found my perfect transit yet, but I know that it would incorporate many of those previous experiences. I’ll keep dreaming!

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