Even the European summer sun did not dare to peek above the clouds when we arose, our 6:30AM start time necessitating us being ready numerous hours before. The bittersweet emotions that plagued our departure the day previous were no present here, replaced with a simple stoicism of getting on with the business of returning home. Today won’t see us back home however; this is just the first leg of a journey that will take us to Dubai. It will however take the entire day from us, our final stop not coming until some 16 hours after our we awoke.
After walking nearly the entire length of Athens airport we finally found our check-in counter, flocked by the handful of other brave inviduals who rose as early as we. It was in this line we came across a fellow Australian, a young man from Sydney who was also concluding his near 5 week tour of Europe with a last hurrah in Greece. Strangely his journey included many places we had been to as well, including Zurich and Berlin, although he had the advantage of relatives over here to show him the best places to go. He posed the question that so many had already: “So worked out where to for next year”. To be sure it’s an exciting prospect although I’m not sure if a tour of this magnitude is warranted every year.
I have, however, resigned to travel a little more often than I have of late.
All checked-in we walked around to find a light breakfast before we made our way to the departure gates. It was here that I finally had a coffee that I’d describe as passable as nearly everywhere I went couldn’t seem to scrounge up anything that compares to back home. This is probably due to me taking my morning coffee in the hotels were staying at, most of them using those god awful automated machines, but even the few I had had elsewhere were disappointing. Fully caffinated I was ready to face the horror of airport security, but not before making a quick shopping stop.
I had been looking for a particular item ever since I saw it in Ikos Oceania. It was, of course, at an extremely exorbitant price and a quick search revealed I could most likely get it duty free for a fraction of the cost. Thankfully the first shop past the boarding pass check had it, spotted by my wife in no time at all. They also had what has become my favourite part of Greek cuisine: Halva. With that sorted we were quick through security and at the gate, ready for our flight out to Zurich.
We arrived at Zurich 2 hours later to an airport that I will long hold up as the example of how airports should be done. It was clean, ultra-modern and incredibly well thought out. Not once did I have to ask anyone where anything was (this is important for later) as there was either a sign or information post in eye-shot from whereever I was. My wife and I had a lovely stroll through many of the shops, remembering Switerzlands strange obsession with cows (seriously there was a €600 cow bell in one of the stores), and enjoying a light meal before making our way to our departure gate.
Our plane to Dubai was an unusual configuration, one that allowed my wife and to both have our preferred seating options (she the window, myself the isle). Most widebody craft typically have 3 seats on the sides which precludes this although my wife has been pretty fortunate for most of this trip. This made the trip over go quickly, even though we were without our in-flight entertainment for the first hour or so.
Then we entered Dubai International Airport.
It is a behemoth of a place, dwarfing even what I remember of Bangkok airport when I flew through there once for work. Taking my usual approach of “what would a dumb tourist do” failed completely here as there were no signs pointing to the in-airport hotel which were to stay in tonight. Asking various airport staff usually got us a single direction: “yes this way”, “just take this elevator then go through security”, something which made me think that no one really knew where it was. After catching 2 trains, 1 bus and going through 3 different security points we eventually found the hotel.
Well not the right hotel as it turns out, there’s in fact 2 of them. Sigh.
I must have been oozing frustration at that point (although honestly I thought I was being a rather cool customer at the time) because whilst they first said they didn’t have a room for us, and asking us to pay $65 to upgrade, we were given a junior suite room for no charge at all. It was a decent room although I do wonder if anyone who was staying there would make use of any of the additional facilities the “suite” included in the relatively short time you’d be there for. As it was the included massage chair didn’t really function as advertised (much to my wife’s dismay) and the extra lounge area wasn’t fully curtained off, meaning light from the airport leaked into the room at all times.
Regardless we made the most of it, grabbing some fast food from down stairs and revelling in the fact that this was the first hotel room we’d stayed in this trip to have Discovery channel. We set our alarm for a much more leisurely time, hoping that our departure gate wasn’t in another terminal.
Tomorrow we’ll make our final journey back home. I’m excited to get back home although less so about the time it will take. Hopefully it will go quickly and all I’ll have left to do is revel in the memories of this trip.
Whilst I’m not a jet bound workaholic like I thought I’d be when I was this age (ah the naivety of teenagers) I have done my fair share of travel for work. I’ve come to find out that I’m not in either of the extremes of the two camps on it as I’m not particularly adverse to it but neither do I look forward to it like many I have met. Indeed many of the exotic places that I can say I’ve been too were because of work related travel and they truly are experiences that I treasure but should they have become the norm for me I can see myself swiftly becoming sick of it. New places are always fun to visit but I’ve never been on a work trip that wasn’t primarily about work.
It occurred to me that I’d developed a kind of ritual when it came to hotel rooms, something that upon reflection hasn’t changed in quite a while. As far as I can tell I developed it back when I was travelling the USA which I can only assume was because of the multitude of different places we stayed in over the course of the month we spent over there. The reasons for it are simple: I need to know what facilities I have access to and, in the event of the absence, arrange for alternatives. I’m sure this isn’t unique to me either but it was quite interesting to see what habits I had ingrained in myself over the past couple years.
For instance, and this might be a telltale sign of my generation, the first thing I’ll do will be to seek out what kind of Internet connection I have at my disposal. For the most part I’m bound for disappointment, as is the case with my current accommodation ($10 for 24 hours, 700MB limit), but the process of discovering what I’ve got to work with can be quite fun. If I’m in a particularly vindictive move I’ll bust out my network scanner tools and see how well their Internet access scheme has been set up (which, if you’re wondering, hotels seem to be getting better at) but for travel in Australia I’ll usually just tether to my phone.
The next one, which is something of a guilty pleasure of mine, is to crawl through the various pay TV channels to see if they have any of my favorites on them. If Discovery is on there then I’m guaranteed to binge on it for at least an hour each night, usually at the cost of a decent night’s sleep. It gets even worse when you consider just how bad most of the programming on there is and how much of it is continuous repeats but for some reason when I’m in a hotel room that’s one of my top things to do.
I also have to inspect the bed to see if I’ve ended up with a proper bed or the notorious faux-queen (as pictured above). My fellow giants will understand just how irritating those kinds of beds are, especially if they’re paired with an equally tragic mattress.
I think this whole thing just caught me off guard because I didn’t really think of something I had to do after every check in but thinking back to all my stays the first hour or so spent in the room is almost always spent methodically going through each of those items. Is this something that you do? (please say yes, I don’t need another thing that I might be potentially OCD about).
I was awake long before the alarm went off, an annoying trait I picked up many years ago when I was tinkering with my body clock. It always seems that whenever I set an alarm I’ll be awake at least 10~20 minutes before hand but should I try to wake without an alarm I’ll more than likely oversleep. Still I wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be and 30 minutes later I was ready to go and spending the last few moments in our hotel room watching the morning news whilst Rebecca got ready. We left the hotel 30 minutes later and caught a cab to JFK airport where we spent the next hour or so tracking down some breakfast before boarding our flight.
JFK to LA is one of the longest flights in the states and it was set to be about 5 hours to get to our destination. Thankfully this flight had Wifi and in a fit of forethought I had bought a monthly pass to the Delta in-flight system for only $7 more than the daily pass, granting me the ability to catch up on my tweets and Facebook posts. I didn’t use it much more than that though I was far too engrossed in the last 150 pages of Judas Unchained to care about much else, practically gulping down those last chapters without coming up for air. Knowing that I had 5 hours to kill and more than enough time to finish that book I had brought the sequel, Judas Unchained, along with me and started tucking into that immediately. I got about 100 pages into it before the call came on for us to land in LA. Our 5 hour flight had only lost us 3 hours putting the local time smack bang on midday.
After grabbing our luggage we made our way to the airport shuttle area to catch a bus to the hire car place. I had spent a lazy hour or so looking over the cars available the night before and settled on a Dodge Charger. Realistically it would be far too big for us, more suited to a small family, but I wanted something that would provide us a deal of comfort over some of the longer drives we were planning and the econoboxes weren’t really going to cut it. Arriving there we were told they were out of Chargers and the only one they had resembled a battered old Ford Falcon. A “mid sized” SUV was available for a similar price so we went ahead with that and got to pick our car. I picked a Jeep Grand Cherokee and got us on our way to the hotel with gusto.
After the initial excitement of seeing the city I realised that what I thought was clouds on the horizon was actually the thick blanket of smog. As we got closer it only got worse with the haze giving most of the buildings a particularly eery glow. Even in NYC the pollution wasn’t this bad as when we looked back at Manhattan from Liberty Island we could clearly see everything. From a similar distance in LA we were struggling to see the more distant buildings. Needless to say, I didn’t feel much like looking around town.
The hotel itself is in downtown LA, a fact I had failed to notice when booking it. Usually this wouldn’t be much of a concern but I knew this meant they’d be charging like a wounded bull for their parking. Indeed they were to the tune of $35 a night, as much as the car had cost to hire per day. Still the valets were nice and it meant we didn’t have to worry about parking but after the amount we paid for the hotel getting hit for extras feels a bit rich. I had the same feeling when I hooked up my laptop in the room only to be shown an sign-in page for internet access for $13 a day. I’d stayed in a $70/night hotel that gave me the fastest Internet connection I’ve had in the entire US for free so this was just the icing on the shit sandwich. Undeterred I started poking around to see if they were doing ARP poisoning like the DoubleTree was in NYC and found that they weren’t. 10 minutes of trying various MAC addresses later had me up and running with an Internet connection without having to shell out for something that I don’t believe should be a paid extra in a 4 star hotel.
We wanted to pick up some hotel room supplies so I tracked down the closet Walmart and punched the co-ordinates. About 10 minutes later we were passing through a pretty run down section of downtown LA. We past the supposed location twice and noticed that what was supposed to be a Walmart looked like a run down strip mall. Figuring that it was either a planned site (or more likely, one that was closed down) I found another and promptly got stuck in pre-rush hour traffic, seeing a 10 mile journey take almost 45 minutes. We got there though and secured out wants before heading back to the hotel for a workout before dinner. We hit a local pizza place that served amazing pizzas, leaving us both too full to finish and taking a box home to polish off later.
We’re hoping to hit up Disney World tomorrow as it’s something that Rebecca has really been looking forward to. After visiting Disney Land in Tokyo almost a decade ago and hating it (but then again I was an angsty little bastard) I’m keen to see if I’ll have a similar reaction the second time around. Plus it will hopefully get us away from the dreadful smog that seems to be unrelenting around here, making staying in the city very undesirable.
The skies were dark, a foreboding of what lay ahead. Today I would part ways with my yellow companion of the past 7 days, my Corvette ZHZ. It was always going to be a bitter sweet moment having travelled almost a thousand miles together but it was made all the more bitter by the fact I couldn’t take it with me to Discovery’s last launch. Still I was determined to make the most of this day, rising early so that I could take my time driving her back to the place from whence she once came. Whilst I wasn’t really that emotional I still couldn’t help but look back over my shoulder at the stunning piece of automobile engineering whilst I slowly walked away.
I was in a daze for a good hour afterwards, wandering around Orlando airport trying to figure out what to do. I had a couple hours to burn until I picked up my next car, a convertible of some description, and I hadn’t had any breakfast. The pickings on this side of the airport were quite slim as I had been over them several times whilst I was staying at the Hyatt but I finally settled on some yoghurt and coffee from the local Starbucks. I had came prepared for this brief interlude back at the airport with my copy of Pandora’s Star grasped firmly in one hand and proceeded to devour a couple chapters whilst I waited for my next ride to be ready.
I’m always a little nervous when it comes to booking things over the Internet and this was no exception. Having only booked this a couple nights ago I was hoping that everything was ok and I would be walking out there, FSM willing, with some kind of car that would make it to the KSC tomorrow. Thankfully everything checked out and 30 minutes later I was in possession of a red convertible Ford Mustang. I was flying blind this time around as I hadn’t bothered to get a GPS for it but I was confident I could find my way back home since I had done it enough times in the corvette, but time would tell on that one.
Then just as I was leaving the skies began to rain down with nearly the same fury I had felt whilst I was down in Miami. It was as if nature itself was abhorred by the notion of me driving another car, weeping for two companions separated by circumstances. I managed to pull under an overpass and figured out the roof just in the nick of time saving myself and the pristine interior the torrential downpour that was now savaging the area. In amongst all this I noticed I had found myself on the same road I had gotten lost on the first day I spent driving here in the USA, promptly righting my course and finding my way home about 30 minutes later.
I spent the majority of my day here in the hotel, watching videos and reading a couple more chapters of my book. It was a tactical move to try and aid in the healing of my foot in preparation for tomorrow since I didn’t want to be hopping around in pain when the shuttle roars into action tomorrow afternoon. On any other day it would’ve been one I considered wasted but with the downpour and relatively cold conditions all across Florida currently it didn’t seem like a bad way to spend the day. It would’ve been even better if I could’ve spent it cuddled up with my wife in front of the TV, but our separation (which was due to end tomorrow) put an end to that idea before it began. I’ll just have to make up for lost time when we see each other again.
Spending the whole day indoors did leave me a little restless so I decided I’d at least attempt to find somewhere to eat outside of the hotel. Driving around for 30 minutes I couldn’t find anything past crappy chain restaurants or fast food, certainly nothing worth the price of admission like it was back in Miami. Defeated I returned to my hotel room and ordered room service, which they got wrong. I wasn’t really about to argue with it though since I wasn’t particularly hungry and the meal they had sent up was decent¹.
Tomorrow will, hopefully, be the climax of my 11 days spent here in the sunny southern state. The enormity of it has still yet to set in and I’m sill anxiously awaiting confirmation that my flight has been changed but those aside it still excites me that I’ll be able to bear witness to something as awesome as a shuttle launch. No doubt tomorrow’s post will be one of elation, awe and a drained wallet as my fiscal conservative side gets pushed aside by that little boy in me who just won’t stop dreaming about becoming an astronaut and wants that t-shirt to go with it. I’ve been ever so jealous of those lucky people who got in on the NASA tweetup, living vicariously through them as I follow their tweets and pictures. Hopefully I’ll get to join them next year (hint hint) when I come over to see the very last shuttle launch.
¹Just as I was finishing up this post they brought up the correct order and said the other meal was on the house. Well that was lucky and it would be even better if I had a fridge in this place. Maybe it’s time to make an impromptu one with wet towels in the bathroom, that ought to keep it cool enough for breakfast tomorrow morning! 😉