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.
That surreal feeling, the one you get when you know when you’re doing something for the last time, began to sink in swiftly after we got up. The same breakfast that we’d enjoyed day after day came with a side helping of melancholy; the gorgeous ocean views only serving as a reminder of what we’d be leaving behind. Still, as always, it was enjoyable. A brief respite before we’d leave this place leaving only the memories of the time that felt all too short. Dawdling back to our hotel room we started the process of packing everything up, making sure we hadn’t left anything behind.
We got a call from reception, our transfer company wondering if it was ok for them to show up 10 minutes early. This posed no issue for us, since by the time we had everything backed it was almost time to go anyway, so we let them know that was fine. Soon afterwards a man in a golf buggy came down to pick us up from our room, saving us the 5 minute uphill journey back to reception with our now heavy luggage in tow. It was then I realised that I had only seen one other set of people making this same journey, everyone seemingly staying for longer than us or somehow being whisked away without anyone noticing.
The drive back was uneventful, the same countryside rolling by as when we had arrived here 6 days prior. Our driver this time around reiterated what our previous one had: we should hire a car and drive around, Thessaloniki is worth exploring and we needed to come back to Greece and explore its many sights. I’m sure these are the same lines that are repeated by many numerous times over but in the post-holiday glow you can’t help but feel the attraction of them. There’s always another place you have to explore.
We arrived tragically early at the airport; so much so that the Ryanair check-in counter was bereft of any staff who could take our luggage. This was part us leaving early and part our driver being very efficient at his job, getting us to the airport in record time. Without much to do we found ourselves some seats in eye shot of the check-in counter and whiled away the time with books and free airport Internet.
About 2 hours before our flight the Ryanair check-in people appeared and with them a long line of people who had been milling about for some time. Seasoned travellers will know Ryanair for being one of the cheapest fares you can get, that is if you can abide by all their rules and not run afoul of something that they will charge you for. When I was booking this I had no choice, unfortunately, and the extras I bought (including our checked-in baggage) ended up doubling the price of the ticket. Worse still reading some of the fare rules led me to believe that my suitcase would violate both the weight and dimensions rules, a potential €100 affair. Thankfully though we checked our luggage in with no dramas, the exorbitant price I had paid many months ago being enough to appease the Ryanair fare gods.
The flight was both amazing and completely ordinary. I was amazed at all the things that Ryanair has done in order to drive their fares down to as low as humanly possible. The seats were packed in so tight there was barely a hair’s width between my legs and the person’s seat in front of me, likely meaning they could squish in an additional row at the back. They also didn’t recline, nor did they have a seat pocket in front of them. The safety instructions were attached to the seat in front of me and the overhead luggage compartments looked like they had been developed with slot in advertising in mind. Truly it was a marvel to behold but woe betide anyone who flies with them for longer than a couple of hours.
We arrived at Athens airport a little over an hour later and made our way over to the Sofitel Athens hotel for our short, single night stay. After what we’d had experienced in Greece anything would’ve been a step down but this felt like a drop worthy of a continental shelf status. Still all we needed it was for sleep so we unpacked a few things for the night before heading out to find some dinner.
All the restaurants in the hotel were overpriced garbage, charging €35 for a buffet dinner. Disgusted we headed back over to the airport where we managed to sort out some decently priced grub along with some delightful almond truffles, all for half the price of what one buffet would have cost us. Retiring to our room we enjoyed our simple dinner over a few shows before turning in for the night, hoping to catch enough sleep before our 4:00AM start the next morning.
Tomorrow we begin our journey home in earnest, making for Dubai before our real long haul flight back to Australia. It almost seems fitting that the end to our trip should be this long, the finale to something so long and grande requiring its own epic to close off the journey. I’m certainly not looking forward to it, I think we spend some 32 hours out of the next 48 in planes, but that does mean that there’s still a few instalments left in this travel log before I close it off. They might not be the most exciting, indeed I’m sure I’ll be lamenting whatever small slight may happen to me along the way, but it will definitely give me time to reflect on the journey and it what it all means that it will be done.
In my travels through the USA I became intimately acquainted with their high level of airport security. Upon entering the country we were finger printed, photographed and grilled about what our trip was about. There was also the long lines for getting through the metal detectors and full body scanners, usually taking up a good 45 minutes of my time to get through. I was never chosen to go through the backscatter x-ray machines (nor did I see any of the newer millimetre wave ones) but I did see many people go through it. Most of them weren’t exactly what you’d call a security risk (mostly people in wheelchairs) but I knew exactly why those machines were there: to make everyone feel safer without actually being so.
This is what is referred to as security theatre. These scanners are supposedly better at detecting things that slip by metal detectors which they accomplish by using low-energy x-rays that penetrate through clothing. Solid objects then should become obvious and should something suspicious be identified the passenger can be taken aside for further searching. Trouble is the machines aren’t terribly effective at what they’re designed to do and the back-scatter x-ray type machines emit ionizing radiation (not a lot mind you, but there’s been minimal research done into them). Using them then seems like a pointless exercise and indeed even though they’ve been in operation in the USA for quite some time the jury is still out on whether they’re actually being effective or not.
So you can then imagine my surprise when I find out that we’ll be getting these scanners at all international airports in Australia:
PASSENGERS at airports across Australia will be forced to undergo full-body scans or be banned from flying under new laws to be introduced into Federal Parliament this week.
In a radical $28 million security overhaul, the scanners will be installed at all international airports from July and follows trials at Sydney and Melbourne in August and September last year.
The Government is touting the technology as the most advanced available, with the equipment able to detect metallic and non-metallic items beneath clothing.
Now we won’t be getting the dubious back-scatter style ones here instead we’ll have the newer millimetre wave ones that don’t emit ionizing radiation. That’s the only good news though as they’ve also amended the legislation that allows you to turn down things like this in favour of a pat down, with the penalty for refusing to go through one being that you’ll be barred from your flight. To top it all off the transport minister Anthony Albanese sealed it with this choice quote “I think the public understands that we live in a world where there are threats to our security and experience shows they want the peace of mind that comes with knowing government is doing all it can”.
It’s almost like he knows these things are a useless piece of security theatre, but is going ahead with them anyway.
More than a decade has past since the events of 11/9/2001 and we’ve yet to see a repeat, or an attempted repeat, of the events that led up to that tragedy here or overseas. The health and privacy concerns aside the reality is that these scanners don’t really accomplish what they’re designed to do and are thus just another inconvenience and waste of tax payer dollars. I can understand that there are some who will feel safer by seeing them there but that doesn’t change the facts that they’re just another piece of security theatre, and a costly one at that.