21 September 2011

Travelling Trials & Tribulations

The more I do it, the less tolerant I become of the rigours of international travel.  Yes I know, poor me.  But really, being cooped up in a really small seat isn’t the most comfortable way to wile away 24 hours.  It was different when I used to travel Business Class back in the day, but the day was some time ago.  These days as an impoverished shop-keeper I’m consigned to Economy and I swear the leg room gets smaller every six months – no doubt to cadge the extra space needed for the luxury suites that now take up the front of international flights. 

One interesting thing on Etihad Airlines that we haven’t encountered on another airline so far is the opportunity to view take-off and landing via a special camera on the plane’s under-carriage.  I wonder if it leads to pilots taking extra care when they know that the entire plane is watching and able to see what they’re seeing.  And then you can use the camera to point straight down as you’re flying along, and view the world from 40,000 feet as it passes below you. 

The movie options on Etihad aren’t anything to write home about – even though I’m doing precisely that.  There are a couple of flicks we’ve all heard of, but mostly they seem to be straight-to-DVD specials.  I fell asleep during one where mean-but-nasty-not-to-mention-invincible aliens invade Earth, but where in the end they were vinced thanks to the US Marines.  And what an easy gig that was for the actors, because it appears that US Marines don’t say much beyond Ooo-rah! and Outstanding! to each other so there wasn’t a lot of script to learn.  Maybe these words are like Chinese and saying them in different tones mean different things.  Or not.

Oh well, such has been our lot – trapped in a small seat and being force-fed bad movies for 24 hours.  We spent an hour and a half in the Transit Area of Changi Airport in Singapore, and it was good to get off the plane and stretch our legs.  I really would have preferred to have a stopover at this point and go and get into a decent bed, and I think in future trips we will have to schedule a few stops.  Why not?  Life’s too short to be uncomfortable if you don’t need to be.  But we found the koi carp pond in the Transit Area, which is a nice spot, surrounded by giant tree ferns, staghorns and assorted other greenery and the pond is stocked with a large number of big and beautiful fish.  Mostly they are orange and white, but occasionally a fish had mottled black markings which looked almost indigo blue and that looked lovely against the orange.  In Chinese symbolism I think koi carp indicate long life, and it reminded me that I should look for some nice Chinese items while we’re away, hopefully with fishes on them.

We got in late to Abu Dhabi last night and then had to present at the Airport in time for a 10am flight today so we didn’t get to see a lot, but early impressions are Sand.  Lots of Sand.  No shortage of Sand.  Stay in line, no pushing, plenty for everyone.  Yes sir, if you want Sand this is the place for you.  And, perhaps not surprisingly, lots and lots (and lots) of palm trees.  Very surprisingly, all around our hotel and along the road to the airport it’s very green, and we were dead impressed by the size of the desalination plants they must have secreted nearby.  And call me whimsical, call me dreamy (or call me jetlagged), but is it true that the moon rising over the desert is so much more romantic than anywhere else?  It wasn’t a full moon, but it was still big and fat and yellow and glowing and looked lovely. 

We’ve decided we will probably come back to Abu Dhabi on another trip, because we’ve discovered a wildlife reserve that we’d really like to visit.  It has lots of critters but is also a big cat sanctuary and rehabilitation reserve which takes in large cats that have been rescued from owners who can’t handle them now that they are too big for the bed and not cute and biddable little cubs any more.   You can organise a guided tour of the reserve and I think I’d like that.  And I also fancy visiting the falcon centre and rehabilitation hospital and perhaps going out into the desert, so next trip we might stop over for a day or so and do some fun things.  We hired camels and trekked out into the Sahara with some Tuareg guides last time we were in Morocco and that was fun, so we’ll do it again (albeit with four-wheel-drives) next time we’re in the United Arab Emirates. 

Abu Dhabi does look like it’s more interesting than Dubai, and it has some quite interesting architecture which ranges from “traditional” through to one building that looks just like a giant Stargate (and there’s a reference that any Sci-Fi geek worth their salt should get).  Even Ferrari World, which I thought would just be about expensive cars, is actually the world’s largest indoor theme park that includes dead cool real fast car simulators – all the fun of driving like a bat out of hell without the fiery death when you inevitably crash.  And their rollercoaster (in the outdoor bit) has an aircraft warning light on the top, which I think is always a good indicator of a decent hair-raising ride.

So now we’re here in Manchester, and it’s sooo much better coming in to the UK this way.  We were through Immigration and Customs and in our hotel in the same time it would have taken to just get through Immigration at Heathrow.  Heaps better when you’re tired and ratty and just want to get where you’re going.  And here’s something obscure but interesting – well interesting to me:  to Arabic speakers this is bleedin’ obvious, but when you read the Departures board at a Middle Eastern airport you have to read from right to left.  Our western eyes automatically go to the left of the screen, and then it takes a bit of figuring out.  But somehow we coped. 

Okay, shopping starts tomorrow.  Right now I’m going through the irrational what-if-I-can’t-find-anything-decent-to-buy? feeling that I get at the start of every trip.  But every trip there is always plenty of good stuff to buy, and after the first purchase I’ll be off and running and into Shop Til I Fall Down Dead mode.

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