Around the World in 18 Days

Whew, it’s been a while! The last three weeks at work have been madness, but now it’s time for the holidays and for writing about our trip home.

M left in the early morning so I dropped him off at the airport and was home by 9am. This meant I had the entire day to clean the apartment, do laundry and of course pack. Luckily the last step was easy as I planned to buy lots of clothes and shoes in the US, since those items are expensive over here in NZ, and so I left my suitcase more than half empty. A very kind coworker drove me to the airport (after a few misdirections from Google Maps) and my trip around the world began!

I was on the Smaug plane!
I was on the Smaug plane!

My first flight was a red-eye from Auckland to San Fransisco, which took around 13 hours. Unfortunately for me sleeping on flights is difficult, especially when I don’t have a window by my seat to lean on. For this flight I had the worst possible seat, one of the center seats in the middle row of four, so I spend most of my time trying not to elbow the people on either side of me. Air New Zealand came out with a new, even more ridiculous safety video though, so I was fairly happily entertained from start to finish.

After landing at around 10am in San Francisco, I checked my boarding pass to Seattle. Hmm, that’s strange, it says my connecting flight left at 5am? I thought it left at 2pm! I asked at the desk and they seemed as confused as me, but helpfully put me on the 12:30pm flight. A nice gesture, but it turned out that this flight had already been delayed until 3pm. An hour later than I expected didn’t seem too bad, so I settled in to wait. Luckily San Francisco’s airport has free wifi, and I also admired their art installations:

Pretty!
Pretty!

They spun around when you stepped on them and slowly changed color. To my sleep-deprived brain that seemed pretty cool. But by far the coolest thing at the airport was the burrito place. New Zealand doesn’t have any sort of Mexican fast food restaurants so I hadn’t had a burrito in eight months. I was basically salivating like Pavlov’s dogs while waiting in line! Eating the burrito was the high point of my experience in San Francisco; it went downhill quickly from there.

After my burrito I noticed that the gate had changed, which was very annoying as I had to trek to the other concourse. Once there, I discovered that the departure time had been pushed back again, as the plane at the gate before it was running late (a common problem at the airport, it seemed). As time went on, the flight got delayed yet again and, unfortunately, this pushed the crew’s working time over the edge so they needed to source a whole new flight crew. One would think that they would have people on stand-by for this sort of problem, but I guess not as we waited for a fourth flight attendant to arrive. While we were waiting, the desk then announced that the plane was having mechanical problems anyway and would have to be replaced as well. By then it was nearing 5pm and everyone was grumbling, but shortly after that they simply cancelled the flight and arranged for everyone, including me, to get the 7pm or 8pm flights to Seattle. When I went up to the desk to get my new boarding pass, the guy in front of me opted for the later flight so that he could get a window seat, but at this point I was too tired to care. I met my family in Seattle (including my sister who was originally scheduled to arrive home after me) and had a good sleep in my own bed.

My week at home went by amazingly quickly, and it was hard to say goodbye so soon to my family and friends (and to all the cheap and familiar clothing and shoe stores!). With my now full-to-bursting suitcase, I boarded my 9-hour flight to London, which went so smoothly I can hardly remember it now! I arrived at Heathrow slightly before M got there to pick me up, and we headed back to his mum’s house in Cambridgeshire. Everyone there was in full wedding mode as M’s brother was getting married two days from then. Luckily I managed to get a suitable dress in the US, so all I had to do was relax. Even on the day of the wedding, though, I was feeling the effects of jet-lag, but we still had an amazing time!

Beautiful red velvet cake from the Melbourne Cakery!
Beautiful red velvet cake from the Melbourne Cakery!

After the wedding, we still had a few days until our flight to New Zealand so of course we visited our old haunts in London! Since the flight was at noon, we decided to stay overnight in the city and simply catch the Tube in the morning. After some late afternoon shopping on Oxford Street, we walked down Regent Street to see all the Christmas lights:

Some (sponsored) lights on Regent Street.
Some (sponsored) lights on Regent Street.
Old Tudor-style buildings right by a Banana Republic.
Old Tudor-style buildings right by a Banana Republic.

The lights were nice, but we were really there for the drinking (and seeing our friends)! When we arrived at our favorite pub we got the bad news that they had stopped serving their house cider.  I can’t imagine why as it was the best cider we’ve ever had: light, sweet and smooth, but deceptively alcoholic. I have a lot of fond memories of sitting in that pub, drinking that cider and chatting for hours, but I guess we’ll have to find a new favorite now! The bartender did say that they were considering bringing it back; I really hope they do.

Even more sad than the lack of cider was the fact that M and I were both ill, me from extended jet-lag and him because I had it. We were both not looking forward to the return journey: eight hours to Dubai, 13 hours to Sydney, then three hours to Auckland. Because we planned to build a new computer in NZ, M decided that he wanted to take his large, nice monitor with us, but started to worry about its safety on this long trip. When we checked in, though, (each suitcase just a hair under the weight limit), the guy at the desk seemed unfazed by the large electronics box and carried it away to be put on the plane. He also wished me a happy Thanksgiving; I was impressed as I had forgotten what day it was! With suitcases and boxes gone, we availed ourselves of some free magazines and settled in for the flight.

The eight-hour flight went by quickly, though I wished I’d used the entertainment system more judiciously as some of the stuff I wanted to watch wasn’t available on the next flights, strangely. M had the window seat and snoozed for most of it, while I had the aisle seat. We picked these seats deliberately, betting on the fact that no one would pick a middle seat between two other people if they had the choice. We needn’t have worried for this flight, as it was mostly empty: people moved to the empty middle rows to stretch out and sleep! Before long we arrived in Dubai at ”a busy time of the day” according to the captain; we were surprised by this as the local time was 3am! But, after debarking, we saw that he was right. As our next flight was at 10am, we grabbed two available lounge chairs and tried to sleep some more.

The Dubai airport terminal has floor-to-ceiling glass walls, so we woke up when the sun rose. Though we were still tired, we decided to look around the airport, hoping to find the fabled gold vending machine. Instead, we found something arguably better: a model of the Burj Khalifa made of chocolate!

It smelled great.
It smelled great.

It turned out that the national day for the United Arab Emirates was coming up, and so the government hired a chocolatier from Malta to make this sculpture of their most famous building. Appropriately, this model of the world’s tallest building itself holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s tallest chocolate structure. The scale is hard to tell in the pictures, but it is 17 meters tall and contains 5000 kilograms of chocolate. Yum!

The detail was impressive too.
The detail was impressive too.

Finally our flight to Sydney was ready to go, and we were too. Luckily we had the seat between us free again, and we slowly flew over the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, and Australia.

The view of Dubai, with the Burj Khalifa as the centerpiece.
The view of Dubai, with the Burj Khalifa as the centerpiece.

M and I tried to watch a movie together, but I fell asleep shortly after it started. We both dozed off and on and watched many movies and TV shows, but unsurprisingly were still exhausted when we arrived in Sydney. The layover here was only about an hour and we marveled at the nice summer weather outside.

The Sydney Opera House is right in the middle of the pic (trust me).
The Sydney Opera House is right in the middle of the pic (trust me).

Less nice was the fact that the flight to Auckland was packed; there was even another person in our row! Because of this, the flight attendants barely got around to serving our row in the back before we started descending into Auckland.

The Hauraki Gulf from above.
The Hauraki Gulf from above.
We picked the prettiest country to live in!
We picked the prettiest country to live in!

The same coworker picked us up from the airport and carted our exhausted, smelly selves home. We took much-needed showers, checked that the monitor had survived its trip (it did!) and went to bed. For the next week or so both of us felt ill and tired, perhaps an unsurprising side-effect of being exposed to germs from all over the world. We eventually recovered just in time to be caught up in the holiday crunch time at work, which is why I’m only getting around to doing this blog post now.

All in all, if you are planning an around the world trip, I would suggest copying Phileas Fogg et. al.: spend at least 80 days doing it so that you can fully enjoy all the places you visit (and not get horribly jet-lagged in the process)!

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