Late last year, we were given an additional three weeks holiday, to be taken sometime in the New Year. We checked our diaries, and discovered we had three weeks in February without any commitments, so we immediately set those weeks aside and began to plan. DH asked me what I wanted to do … the thought of staying in the UK for three weeks in the cold and rain was a bit too much to contemplate, so I suggested we go to Australia, without any expectation that he might agree … 

We are just back from three weeks in Melbourne. We have filled every day with trips, visits, sight-seeing, visiting friends and making new friends at their church. And each day I have kept a journal, so as not to forget any of the details.  

I didn’t put many photos on the web while we were away as I didn’t want to advertise the fact the house was empty, but now we’re back and I have over 5,000 photos to process (!) … so I’m going to bore you all. I’m going to post a journal entry a day along with some relevant photos, to be able to share with friends who will ask ‘What did you do?’, and you can choose whether to read the journal or simply flick through the pictures!

Travelling to Australia

The first thing to say is that we are so grateful to friends that helped us on our way … from the loan of suitcases and luggage scales, to giving us a lift to the airport, to feeding the animals in our absence. They have all made this adventure so much easier to put into practice than it might otherwise have been.

We left home mid-morning, and had plenty of time at Exeter Airport to pass through customs, take a good look round and enjoy the moment. And also to discover what it was we forgot to bring – there’s always something … Tim went to pay for lunch only to realise he’d not brought his credit card with him. It’s our plan to use our card wherever possible, and to keep our cash in reserve. We’ll find a way …

Our first flight was on a DeHavilland twin prop … four seats and a narrow aisle wide … and packed. I had no idea so many people could fit in such a small, long, thin, metal tube, let alone any luggage. 40 minutes in the air and we were in Manchester … and our cameras had already been busy … the view of fields and clouds and roads seems so spectacular from that angle.

img_0522

I thought this one looked comfortable …

img_0523

… but this is the one we flew in!

img_5236

The Severn Bridges


Manchester airport was quite a surprise … I’d no idea of the scale of it until we walked the length of the terminal to make our connecting flight. You are totally surrounded by retail: fashion, alcohol, jewellery, other luxuries, luggage (who buys luggage at an airport?!) … and you can’t avoid it. It’s all cleverly planned so that the path you need to take winds through outlet after outlet. Fortunately, we were focussed on more basic needs so passed through unscathed, to find relief in the form of toilets and then food.

We took our time to sit and enjoy the view with our cuppa … the terminal ends in a wall of glass overlooking the stands and runways. Tim began his holiday distraction of writing a story – something he loves to do in order to relax, while I made the mistake of going back through the terminal to ‘explore’.

img_0527

I didn’t actually get far … I’m really not too interested in expensive trinkets and don’t often buy ‘fashion’, though I could be tempted by something in Fatface at the right price. I had stopped to look at cameras in Dixons … I hadn’t packed my larger digital camera (a so-called ‘super-zoom’ or bridge camera) – a Nikon – as it is rather old and struggles a bit to extend the lens. I have long been considering replacing it with a DSLR at some stage. So to pass the time, I thought I might browse a few possibilities to get some idea of my options. I had thought I might one day buy a Canon EOS, since I have really enjoyed my small, Canon point and shoot ‘handbag camera’. But when I handled one (a super-zoom, not a DSLR), it didn’t feel quite right, so I picked up a Nikon for comparison – and it felt good … natural. I could understand all the controls instinctively, and immediately missed the opportunities I’d have had with my much older Nikon … so although I had not planned to do so, and only after going back to talk it over with Tim, my first holiday spending money went on a not-too-expensive impulse buy. Of course, not having brought my old camera with me, I also had to purchase a case and memory card, but the salesman put together a deal for me – one of those supposedly spontaneous things that are actually well thought out and planned to return a healthy profit despite appearances, but I was willing so both salesman and I were satisfied with my purchase.

I returned to Tim, still busy writing, to unpack camera and attachments, attach them and repack them in my hand luggage sans box and wrappings. And it fitted well … as if it was always meant to be there 😉

Time for lunch … and lots of choice. The service was quick and the food good … but our flight was called 30mins early … so  we ate quickly and moved on to the next stage of our adventure

Our next plane was a brand new A380. Somehow, when we booked, we were allocated seats that were non-adjacent, but our ‘companion’ was willing to swap to the window seat – and I’m glad he did. He slept through the entire flight except when disturbed by the air hostess with a meal. Had he been on the aisle seat, I should have hesitated to disturb him simply to go for a walk or to the toilet.

As it was, we weren’t really missing the view since we were seated over the wing, and indeed, much of the flight was in darkness. Meal times and sunrise were really quite disorientating, since in the seven hour flight to Abu Dhabi we gained four hours on GMT, so that despite it being the early hours GMT, the sun began to rise as we landed.

I made good use of the in-flight entertainment to watch a couple of films and a new television series, Chicago Med (from the same stable as Law & Order and Chicago Fire) … I look forward to seeing more episodes when it eventually arrives on our screens in the UK.

But the most interesting feature was the flight tracking … images of location, direction, speed, height and external temperature. Our cruising altitude was 37,000 feet and we were travelling at 700 miles an hour – which sounds even better when in kilometres! We were also kept fully informed of our ETA, local temperature and time and miles and time as they passed … and being Etihad, there was a constant reference to the direction of Mecca and the next time of prayer 😮

img_0536

img_0546

The flight began with a prayer from the Koran on the PA system … can you imagine BA or Virgin broadcasting the Lord’s prayer at the start of each flight? 😮 I prayed through the prayers … it was a useful reminder that we are always in a spiritual battle, even on holiday.

We had two hours on the ground at Abu Dhabi … and it took that long to make our transfer. I should not have liked to try and do it any quicker. The airport is vast and we had to be transported by coach from the plane to the terminal, then walk miles to find our transfer link.  Though we were transit passengers, we went through a full security screening … just as we had in Exeter. Belts, shoes, watches, jewellery off and on a tray for x-ray, body scanners, the works. And I had no idea how many people could fit on a plane … it took over an hour to board everyone, not least since we all had to open our hand luggage for a second time to be searched. In Exeter, Tim was made to repack his LAGs (liquids and gels) though mine which were in an identical bag were considered OK. I wondered if the officials in Abu Dhabi would make a fuss about my apparent non-conformity, but they weren’t even interested in the needles or strips from my BG kit, which I had had to explain at Exeter. And despite all the warnings, no-one took any notice of the meds I’d put to one side to take on the flight. It all seemed rather inconsistent considering the precise instructions we were given.

Our final plane was another A380, but an older version. I needed help to plug in my earphones … I couldn’t find the socket! More films for me (are there any left to watch on the way home?), Tim made full use of the music player … this time we had someone beside us on the aisle seat, she was very pleasant and was unperturbed by being disturbed – a seasoned traveller.

With a window seat this time, we had a view of the amazing desert surrounding the city and airport … sand for mile after mile, with regular, obviously artificial settlements dotted around.

img_5241

img_5242

I haven’t mentioned the food – not totally suitable for either of us, but reasonable portions and quite tasty. I tried everything, but to be safe, finished nothing … there were a lot of interesting carbs!

We both tried sleeping … 13 hours is a long flight, and it was our second period of nighttime in less than 24 hours … weird … but we could only doze. We followed the map as we flew over the Indian Ocean, made contact with land over Sri Lanka, and then over more water until we reached the NW tip of Australia … and still another four hours to go to Melbourne.

They say that getting there is half the fun … and it was. I didn’t like the intense pressure of take off or of the initial descent before landing, though the journey didn’t make me nervous. That’s all to come, as we try and find our luggage and the way to our hotel. But we’ve had a good start.

Advertisements