“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain
This is my first post of 2015, as I have been otherwise engaged I haven’t had much chance to write until now. First and foremost, may I start this new post by wishing you and yours a very happy new year, and may 2015 bring all you desire and wish for.
Due to circumstances beyond our control, this trip was to be very different to all other trips I have undertaken. It seems that travelling separately is a bit of a family tradition as Cathy and I rarely fly together. Not because we are members of the Royal Family or because we are privy to some unique secret, it just simply happens that we travel separately but meet up in the same place. In the past decade or so, I can count on one hand the number of times we have flown together, and believe me, we have done a lot of travelling in the past ten years. It usually ends up with one of us going ahead of the other or me driving to places, no matter how far (no, I am not scared of flying!). The big difference on this trip was that I was to fly on my own with Katja, something I have never done before.
The run up and preparation for the trip felt like an endless and at times stressful task, visas, tickets, car hire, packing etc, etc, etc. We learnt from our mistake but if it helps anyone else great. When I applied for our visas we initially filled in a 600 form from the Australian Immigration website, we paid some money for the visa, I can’t quite remember the amount but it was fairly cheap…..however, a much quicker and simpler (not to mention FREE) option would have been to fill in a 615 form. This form is available for certain nationalities, it included me as a Brit and Katja with a Bulgarian passport. It is also far quicker too. I had several conversations with Immigration in Australia and it was a very helpful lady who happened to mention it. Other people I had spoken with had told me to get copies of loads of different documents and then to have them legalised and failed to mention this much simpler system. This resulted in me ending up with two visas! Anyway, the latest one cancelled the earlier one so no real harm done. Car hire wasn’t too stressful, however, beware as if you haven’t hires in Australia before, they do have some “quirky” excesses on their policies. I ended up paying over the odds for this as I paid a daily excess reduction which worked out at 29$ (Aus) per day, multiply by 14 and it gets quite expensive. This is only to reduce your excess, not to eliminate it! A cheaper way to do this is to take out travel insurance to include excess protection (I wish I had done this!). 10 days before the trip, we popped over to the relevant department (I can’t remember the name of it) to organise my exit visa from Qatar. we arrived at this place and it was packed, so we decided to head to the airport instead. This was the first time we had been to the airport since we arrived in August. We went to the immigration department where we submitted our paperwork and voila, a few minutes later I had my exit visa. It was at this point that I realised it was only valid for seven days. Three days before departure, we did the same run again!
The purpose of the trip was to meet up with family to celebrate Grandmas 90th Birthday. It was also an opportunity for the family to meet up. There were members of the family whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 25 years.
D day arrived (New Year’s Eve) final checks done, it was time to hit the sack and try and get some sleep, the next time I would be in a bed would be in Australia in a couple of days time. Having done my final check as I walked to our bedroom, I stabbed my little toe on a dining room chair. I am not the first or last person to do this and I am sure you will agree with me when I say it hurt rather a lot, so much so that I hardly slept that night. 00:30, time to get up, time for a decaff cup of coffee, a pint of water, a shower (one last check to make sure I haven’t missed anything) and then time to wake Katja up. We had purposely put her to bed as early as possible to get her to have some sleep! She woke up all excited, I added to her excitement by giving her a new doll whom she was to look after during the trip. 01:30, Jamaal is outside and waiting for us. We made it to the airport in approx 30 minutes. When we arrived, the place was packed, people everywhere, queues which were hard to decipher what airline they were for as well as where they actually ended. Something I understood and realised very quickly is that when travelling with a cute four-year old, people become humans and incredibly helpful. Kati helped by pulling one of our hand luggage cases while I pulled our main suitcase. We checked in without any problem, nobody was interested in all the additional paperwork I had printed out (permission from the mother to travel etc, etc). We went through security fairly quickly and took the obligatory super-sized teddy bear photo. At this point I noticed my shorts felt quite big and to my horror realised I had forgotten my belt in one of the trays at security! We went back up and fortunately I was reunited with my belt, preventing any embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions!
Our first flight was to Abu Dhabi. We waited in the departure lounge and soon boarded our flight. The flight was only 45 minutes but even though it was literally take off, reach cruising altitude and land, they did provide us with breakfast! We landed in Abu Dhabi some 20 minutes early which I really didn’t want as we then had a near on 4 hour wait. However, free Wifi and a children’s play area made the world of difference. Katja had great fun playing with some Pakistani kids as I chatted with their parents, not long after, it was time to board our next flight. This flight would take us to Brisbane with a short stop in Singapore. As we boarded the plane and found our seats I took my shoes off and noticed that my poor little toe which I had stabbed the night before had turned a weird shade of black and blue and was still incredibly painful. We were lucky to be towards the back of the plane where there are only two seats so we had plenty of space to make ourselves comfortable. As day turned to night we tried getting some sleep, but due to several passengers coughing and spluttering it was quite hard to do so. We just covered our heads with our blankets and hoped we didn’t catch the plague from our fellow passengers. As we were landing in Singapore after an rather uneventful flight, we were reminded that bringing drugs into Singapore wasn’t a good idea as this is usually punishable by death. We were then told that we all had to disembark and take all our belongings off the plane as it would be refueled and cleaned. We disembarked and followed instructions as to where to wait. As I checked my watch, it was New Year or thereabouts. After a rather short wait we were back boarding our plane, but not before going through further security checks etc etc. Once back on board we took off for the final leg of our journey. Kati slept most of the way, I sort of snoozed and chatted with a Serbian guy sitting near us. As night turned into day, it was time for breakfast and get ready for landing.
Welcome to Australia!
We landed in Brisbane bang on time, queues for immigration were as to be expected quite lengthy. I had my wallet with all my visas and paperwork ready for inspection, however, when it came to the crunch, they weren’t interested in any of it as it was all on the system. We went through immigration without any issues and were soon in arrivals looking for the car hire company. Again, they weren’t interested in any of my printouts and in no time I had the keys for our “sexy” red Nissan Micra! One last thing I had to do was to get an Australian SIM card. Again, this was done effortlessly at the terminal. I had an excellent deal in which for 30$ (for 2 weeks) I had unlimited calls and texts as well as 500mb daily of internet. This was ideal for using my GPS on the phone as well as uploading photos to social media!
Throughout the entire journey, I cannot emphasize enough just how good Kati had been, she was an absolute super star, well behaved, helpful and polite throughout the entire journey. She had taken it upon herself to be the custodian of our pull on hand luggage while I took care of our rucksack. She did a brilliant job the entire trip. I can honestly say, hand on heart, I was incredibly proud of her. This was a big relief for me as in these sort of circumstances it’s hard to predict how a four year old will behave.
We flew with Etihad and It was a real pleasure to fly with them. Their cabin crew were excellent, polite and helpful at all times, I would definitely recommend them and would fly with them again should the opportunity arise.
Anyway, we were now on Australian soil, time to relax, have fun, discover new places as well as spend quality time with the family!