In Which the Long Journey BeginsAugust 23, 2017 in Germany
There is no doubt that Australia is a LONG way from Europe. No matter which way you try to sugar coat the fact, there is no easy way to get from Melbourne to Mainz without undergoing a significant amount of physical and mental suffering along the way.
The first step of the long journey began at 10 am on Monday morning when the shuttle bus pulled up outside our house. I was relieved that it was on time and was happier actually moving than just sitting around in the home waiting to get started.
The driver grabbed our bags and stowed them into the rear compartment and then started on a circuitous route to Tullamarine. It soon became apparent that the bus had some sort of mechanical malfunction that caused it to veer alarmingly to the left every time he applied the brakes. The driver also spent much of his time with his eyes glued to his mobile phone, sending and receiving messages. I assume that the road rules that apply to other drivers do not apply to shuttle drivers.
The combined effect of the faulty brakes and the divided attention meant that we spent much of our journey wandering dangerously from lane to lane on the freeway. It was not a relaxing way to start the trip, but fortunately the traffic was lighter than expected and we arrived at the airport earlier than anticipated. David and Carol Yates were already there and were waiting to greet us when we rolled our bags into the International Departures section. By now we were starting to feel that another amazing adventure was about to start.
The lady at the Singapore Airlines check in desk must have had a bad night. Although we were only the second couple to check in, she was already in a bad mood. She looked up without so much as a semblance of a smile and grabbed our passports. In the process Maggie's frequent flyer card fell out and disappeared out of sight. When she asked for it back again she was told that it was "never there". The unhelpful lady was certainly not prepared to look for it and only grunted as she handed back our passports. It was not a great start. We had no alternative than to accept that it was gone and hoped that we would not need it later.
Since we had such a long journey ahead I thought I should follow the classic piece of seniors' advice to "never walk past a toilet". I was somewhat alarmed to hear an alarmed female voice right behind me as I was standing at the urinal. Even more alarming was the fact that the voice was warning me of all the myriad of urinary, bladder and impotence issues that can beset men my age. I looked around, wandering if I was being watched by some overhead camera, but came to the conclusion that it was just a recorded message. It seemed a cruel way to taunt someone and a surefire way to initiate a case of bashful bladder. I emerged into the terminal thinking that 1984 really had arrived.
After checking in the luggage we rejoined David and Carol for lunch before moving to the departure lounge for our flight to Singapore. The time went surprisingly quickly and soon we were taking off and on our way. Seven and a half hours and a couple of movies later we were landing at Changi Airport. The first leg was over, but the big challenge still lay ahead. From Singapore to Frankfurt lay over twelve hours in the metal sarcophagus, 38000 feet above the ground.
It was while we were entering the departure lounge for this second flight that the second mishap took place. David looked at Carol and asked "where is your luggage ?" It was nowhere to be found. They had obviously left it sitting near the seats somewhere in the airport. David took off with a look of panic on his face and reappeared some time later with the missing luggage. It could have been a disaster, but fortunately all was OK.
Things actually went comparatively smoothly for most of the next 11 hours. I even managed to grab a few hours of broken sleep before I finally awoke at around 4 am and looked for something to do. I was sick of watching movies and pulled out the in flight magazine to thumb through.
"Hey Maggie, look at this - they have a crossword we can do". I reached into my bag for my pen and snapped off the lid. Nobody had warned me that this is a dangerous thing to do in a plane. As soon as the cap was removed the entire contents of the pen exploded all over my hands. It was also all over Maggie's hands and the seatbelt. Some had even splashed onto my new trousers. We immediately grabbed for a packet of tissues and struggled to contain the navy blue torrent. All thoughts of the crossword were forgotten and we went straight into damage control mode. I staggered to the toilet, looking like some sort of elderly fool who had disgraced himself (probably because I actually was an elderly fool who had disgraced himself). The only thing I could be grateful for was the fact that it was still dark and most of the passengers were still fast asleep.
I spent the next ten minutes using about 40 litres of water and a whole container of soap trying to remove the muck from my hands. It was only later that I discovered the damage to the trousers. I just wanted the flight to end, which it did about an hour later.
We emerged from the plane tired and stressed but still alive. The flight had thrown up its challenges but we had prevailed. I knew from previous experience that the memories of the flight are soon forgotten once the fun part starts. David and Carol emerged from the plane in less than perfect condition. "That was the worst flight I have ever had" Carol explained. "The seats were tiny, the food was rubbish and everyone around us was sick". Well I guess that explained it. David also explained that he had suffered a serious "seniors' moment" when trying to put sugar in his tea. He saw the little packet labelled sugar and tore off the end before emptying the entire contents into his cup. He did not realise that there were actually two sachets in the packet and he had just tipped an entire sachet of pepper into his tea along with the sugar. Of course he had no alternative but to go ahead and drink the entire fetid fluid, or else he would have looked like a blithering old fart. Some days are like that.
We stumbled our way through the chaos of the airport and somehow emerged with our bags, looking for the train station to catch the train to Mainz. It was very confusing for very old people who had come from the other side of the planet, especially when the employees of the train company also had no idea how to buy the required tickets. They were even more confused than we were.
After about 20 minutes of frantic button pushing we finally retrieved something that looked like four tickets and struggled to find the correct platform. The first train to pass by was crammed to the doors with a throng of people. Considering the amount of luggage we had I was not looking forward to trying to survive in such conditions, but to our relief our train was only sparsely full and we were able to travel in comfort.
About twenty minutes later we were at the Mainz Central Station and looking for our hotel. We were still far too early for check in and so decided to sit by the river Rhine instead. We soon discovered a lovely shaded outdoor dining area behind the Hilton Hotel. It was a relief to just sit and chat and relive some of our experiences. At our ages we quickly forget everything and therefore it is wise to share experiences before they are lost forever.
At 1 pm we walked to the Hotel Havana and checked into our comfortable rooms. The owner has a fascination with all things Cuban (hence the name) and the halls are decorated with large Cuban images.
We finished the day with a wander through the large market and bought some food for a dinner back at the hotel. With four sets of bloodshot eyes and four sets of drooling teeth we must have looked like a zombie's birthday party as we blindly tried to put food into our mouths. Somehow we battled to stay awake to around 7.30 pm before finally collapsing into our beds in an incoherent heap. We slept soundly and the next morning we were two entirely different people (although the mirror said otherwise).Read more