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  • The Long Journey Home

    October 18, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 10 °C

    It really had been an exceptional trip in every respect. Although it had been the third time that I had ridden the Loire a Velo bike path, I could honestly say that I enjoyed it even more than the previous rides. Not only is every ride unique, but the fact that I knew some of the things that were ahead actually increased my excitement. Of course the real pleasure from travel never comes from seeing famous buildings or tourist attractions, it flows from the hundreds of unplanned things that occur along the way - the people you meet, the emotions you feel, the weather you experience and so much more. The real magic arises when you are able to share these moments with a great group of like minded friends.

    Although the 2019 France Rides will be remembered as one of our best ever adventures, we were well aware that all good things eventually must come to an end. We also had a home and family to return to. Our latest grandson (Jossi) had only been two months old when we left and we were very conscious of the fact that he had been going through so many key developmental stages while we were away. We were now both ready to come home. We were also about to begin one of the longest days of our lives.

    After packing our bags for the final time, we cast a final look around the lovely apartment that had been our home for the past four days. We knew that, once we shut the door, our journey home had begun.

    In previous visits to Paris we had always arranged our airport shuttle in advance. This time we decided to live a little more dangerously and just catch a local taxi instead. We wheeled our suitcases a short distance to the Boulevarde Saint Michel and made our way to the taxi stand. A few moments later we were loading our bags into the boot of a comfortable taxi. It almost seemed too easy.

    The drive through central Paris was rather tedious, but soon we were on the Peripherique ring road and speeding towards Charles de Gaul airport. Paris was shrinking behind us, but the memories will be with us for the rest of our lives.

    There is a flat rate for a taxi from the left bank to CDG airport of 55 Euro, so I handed this to the helpful driver and then gave him another 5 Euro extra. He seemed grateful and it made me feel a little happier as well.

    Although we had made it to the airport a little earlier than expected, the checkin desk soon opened and we found ourselves in the long circuitous queue. At least we weren't at the end of the queue, but the progress was very slow since only two desks were operating. It was at this point that things took an alarming turn.

    Maggie noticed that there was an innocuous looking grey suitcase sitting just 3 or 4 metres away from us with no owner in sight. Although I tried to act calm, I have to admit that my pulse rate did ramp up a notch or three. It did not take long for a security guard to notice the case and soon there was a ring of burly and heavily armed soldiers that were directing everyone away from the case. Although we were glad that something was being done, we were accutely aware of just how exposed we were.

    "I want to get out of here", Maggie whispered in my ear.

    I looked back at the huge queue. "But we are almost at the front now", I pointed out. "If we go now we will right at the back".

    By this time there were announcement coming over the PA about the case. I wondered why they had not shut the terminal and moved everyone away. In the meantime it was impossible to take our eyes away from the case. Was this the way that our amazing trip was going to end ?

    Just as I struggled to decide what to do we saw an anxious French woman and a young child come forward to speak to the guards. It appeared that it was the child who had forgotten to bring her case with her. Soon the child was crying, probably thinking that they would both be going to jail. After several minutes of discussion, the mother and child (and the case) went on their way. It had been a sobering reminder of just how edgy we have all become in situations like this.

    Fortunately we survived the check in, were handed our boardding passes, made our way through the chaos of security screening and were eventually on our Emirates flight to Dubai. About 6 hours later we were touching down in the sandy furnace. Although it was in the middle of the night, the temperature was still a scorching 35C. I can never imagine why anyone would be tempted to have a holiday in this oven. Two or three hours is more than enough.

    We made our way to the connecting flight without a problem and were ready to relax in the departure lounge when Maggie made a rather important observation. "Are we going to Singapore ?" she asked. "No of course not", I replied. "Well this plane is", she pointed out. Somehow we had misread the flight details and we in the wrong place.

    What followed next was a hectic walk from one end of the huge terminal to the other. It was about the same distance as walking from one side of Paris to the other - the Dubai airport is bigger than Texas. We eventually stumbled into the correct departure lounge, out of breath and just a little agitated. I had never made that mistake before, and I don't think I will again. Lesson learnt.

    Finally seated on the correct plane, we tried to prepare ourselves for the 14 hour fight to Melbourne. What happened during those hours is a bit of a blur, but I did manage to get a few hours sleep, watch a few episodes of Big Bang Theory and spend an interminable amount of time waiting in the queue for one of the remaining toilets. From time to time I punished myself further by watching the screen animation of a tiny plane crawling its way across the globe towards Melbourne.

    The plane finally touched down around 11 pm. It was a clear night and the familiar lights of Melbourne told us that we really were home at last. I looked across the Maggie and asked "How do you feel ?". "Actually not as bad as I expected", she answered. Perhaps you do actually get a little better at coping with these long haul flights after all.

    It was a pleasant surprise when our luggage was among the first to appear on the carousel. We had left a car at a long term car park and it was an even more pleasant surprise to find their shuttle bus already waiting for us. It was almost too easy. It had been a long and complex trip, but every detail had gone exactly according to plan - so much so that I almost found myself expecting something to wrong wrong. But it never did.

    All that remained was to load our bags into our car and drive back to Pakenham. At least it was the very best time to make the journey. At 12 midnight the traffic was almost non existant. By 1 am we were pulling into our driveway. The light that we had left turned on two months earlier was still on. I fumbled for the front door key and inserted it into the lock. We were home, but I knew that we hadn't seen the last of France. I missed the morning baguettes already.
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