Beards, junk and travelling

The beard is still intact. Still irritating, but I’m getting more used to it, even if I do forget sometimes that it’s there.

We’ve been attempting to have a major clear out of stuff at home. The spare room was getting so crowded that sometimes you could barely get in the door. At least twice I’ve had to employ professional mountaineers and Sherpas to get me over the piles of junk to the computer. Two of the poor blokes fell to their deaths on one such expedition, and it was this that made me determined to clear out some of the stuff that we don’t use.

One of the best ways to get rid of stuff that you think is junk but that someone else thinks is the best thing since sliced bread is the Trading Post. This can work wonders for stuff that is genuinely of value to someone, though it works rather less well for that pile of unwanted 80’s computer magazines sitting rotting in a box in the cupboard.

So those I’m offering on Usenet free to anybody who’ll take them. And I hope someone does, because although I have absolutely no use for them, there must be someone out there who still uses an old BBC computer, and could do with endless reading material about it! For reasons I haven’t adequately explored, I’d feel kinda bad to throw them all in the recycling.

To those who are curious about my trip in September, I haven’t quite nailed down where I’m going to go. But gradually bits of the plan are coming together, so hopefully when I step off the plane at Heathrow at some ungodly hour of the morning on the second of September, I don’t just wander aimlessly around the country with no idea of what to do or see.

I know I’m going to spend some time with my uncles, cousins and grandparents – provided they don’t mind of course, I haven’t quite got around to telling them I’m coming yet. I’ll explore London for a few days, then head north, probably via York and/or Liverpool, into Scotland.

The target in Scotland is to reach the little town of Plockton. Why Plockton, you might ask? ‘Cos it’s where they filmed Hamish Macbeth. Not that I’m a rabid Hamish Macbeth fan, but it’s nice to have a target to try and reach.

Other than that, I know I’ll spend a few days in Brussels with friends hunting down Tintin locations and memorabilia, take a TGV to Paris for some exploration, then back to England for a few more days, and then home.

All in all it’ll be a month away. And I have yet to solve the problem of where I should be on the last Saturday in September – so I can watch the AFL Grand Final!

Rushing around like a headless chook

The past few weeks I’ve been rushing around like a headless chook, and haven’t had much time to update my diary. So here’s the latest, including tying up some loose ends from last month:

  • Isaac’s hair was eventually cut by a friendly neighbourhood barber – while Isaac was asleep
  • The beard got shaved off a couple of weeks ago, and was webcast. If you missed it, it’s still available
  • I got flu a couple of weeks ago, and although most of it’s gone, the hideous-sounding cough is still present. Makes me sound like sixty year old chain smoker.

Over the weekend I got the air tickets and the BritRail pass for my trip next month. Still have yet to book the accommodation, which I’ll probably do next week. Even though most of it’s YHA Hostels, it’s apparently best to pre-book for the summer months, so once I’ve worked out my itinerary, I’ll do so.

I’ve got to admit, I’m starting to panic a little bit. Will the family survive without me? Worse yet, will they unaccountably thrive? Will I get to the airport and discover that I’ve forgotten some vital ingredient in the overseas holiday recipe? Like my passport, air tickets, or perhaps even my whole backpack?

When I get to France, what do I do? I don’t speak any French. Okay, so I’m going to practice how to say "I don’t speak French" in French (which sounds pretty silly, now I think of it), but will this be enough? Will the Parisians be friendly and try to communicate exactly where that toilet I need so badly is, or will they somehow work out that I bought an anti-French nuclear test postcard a couple of years ago and take pleasure in watching me sweat (or worse)?

How do the ticket machines work on the Paris Metro? Will I get lost somewhere in the Scottish highlands? What happens if on the tube in London I miss Willesden Green and end up at Stanmore? Is my grandfather really going to try and explain how the toilet works? Should I go to Amsterdam? Should I buy a new camera duty free before I go?

Strangely, what’s making it a little less stressful is the Web. Thanks to the Web, I’ve been reading up on the various cities I’ll be heading for. I can check my flight details. I can find out what time the trains are from Inverness to Plockton. Marvellous stuff.

I still want to know why every place name has its own translation in every other language – and who decides how they’re translated. But perhaps it just doesn’t matter.

T minus 8 days

Well, take-off day is only 8 days away now. I’m getting less nervous about getting everything organised, and more excited at the prospect of stepping down on foreign soil for a bit of a wander round.

I’m not really nervous of flying – the two airlines I’m using, Qantas and British Airways, seem to have pretty good safety records (particularly Qantas). Given the proximity of the flight path to the Middle East, and Clinton’s recent messing around with his missile, I’m pretty pleased I’m not flying on an American airline…

We’ll know there’s something sneaky going on if a year or two down the track, some US military scientists name the next missile they develop the Missile Online Nuclear Intercontinental Combat Armament or something.

Got an aerogramme from my Grandad today, the first from him for probably a decade and a half that’s actually been anything approaching legible. He’s given all the details of how to get from Heathrow to his place in West Sussex. So provided I don’t get lost at Victoria Station I should find it okay.

I’ve been looking through my passport, at the small number of visas, stamps and other memorabilia that appears within. There’s thirty-two pages in the passport, not counting those used for my photo and details. Thirty-two pages, all numbered, yet all the immigration officials seem to have different ideas about where to leave their marks. One’s at the start, one’s at the end, and the rest are scattered around on random pages in the middle.

Why? Is it so the guys and gals at Immigration Control can have a good nose through to see where you’ve been while they look for the bit that pertains to them? Couldn’t they just do it conventionally, down each page, and onto the next page when that page is full? Is it too much to ask to have a neat passport?

Departure day looms

I must admit that now, with about 36 hours until I stagger with my backpack through the big glass doors of International Departures at Tullamarine for my big trip overseas, the excitement of travel is starting to mix with the trepidation of missing (and being missed by) my family while I’m gone for the month.

The idea of going off backpacking around Europe as part of a catch-up on the things I didn’t quite get around to in my early twenties seemed like such a good idea a few months ago. I still think it’ll be fun, and who knows, it may turn out to be an advance scouting mission for a later holiday or even long term go-over-and-live-for-a-while operation involving everyone later. I’ll just have to shoot plenty of video so they get to see what happens.

I have to admit that the packing, as such, hasn’t actually begun yet. Oh sure, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’m taking, and most of the supplies, such as power adaptors and so on, are ready. Most of what I didn’t already have, I got for my birthday (which was last Thursday).

John spent some time this afternoon pulling, prodding, stretching, testing and adjusting some of the seemingly endless number of straps on the backpack I’ve borrowed, so it now approximately fits me – rather than my sister, who used it last. So now I can carry my body weight in luggage in it, and I won’t break my back doing it. I might stagger around a fair bit, but I won’t break my back.

So in the next few hours, I’ll start loading it up, ready to go off and see the world.

Oh yeah, and today’s news of a Federal election on October 3rd is great for me. This means I get to exercise my voice in deciding the leadership of my country. But since I’ll be away for September, I won’t have to sit through any of the political crap!

Just going to London

The check-in chick asked me “Just going to London today, Mr Bowen?”
Ahem. JUST London? Isn’t that far enough to be going? It’s halfway around the world for heaven’s sake. Perhaps being booked to go on to Portugal via Greenland and Luxembourg might have made her job more exciting.

Leaving my family at the doors to International Departures really underscored to me what a bloody stupid idea this trip was. It seemed sensible enough a few months ago: go travelling, have a break, avoid feeling tied down, avoid dragging small kids across the world in confined spaces… But when it came to saying goodbye for a month, how much I was going to miss them all became blatantly apparent.

Although I booked with Qantas, thanks to the oddity that is code sharing, I actually ended up on a British Airways flight. There’s only one thing I don’t understand about code sharing, and that is: Why do they do it? Why bother? The moment you lay eyes on a BA plane, you know it’s not really run by Qantas, so why even pretend by giving it a Qantas flight number? It just seems to complicate things by having two separate flight numbers for the one physical plane.

The BA crew seemed pretty jovial, but they would be; each crew got off the plane each time we landed. Apparently none of them were really up to the prospect of 25 hours flying time from Melbourne to London. Probably just as well. If they fell asleep on the job it would make a terrible mess, one way or the other.

I spoke to a friendly Liverpudlian on his way from Sydney to Bangkok. We commiserated each other on the state of the Australian dollar – he’d been working in Australia for months, so it was all he had left. What a time to go on holiday in Europe. Or anywhere, for that matter.

Gleefully opening my duty-free bag on the plane, I discovered that the camera I bought the day before appeared to be missing its manual. I eventually worked out what most of the buttons did, but I made a note to chase them down when I got home.

We stopped in Bangkok for just long enough for me to lose my new jumper – which I’d never actually worn and had brought along in readiness for the freezing cold of the Scottish highlands and the not quite freezing cold of a 747 cabin at night.

I thought I’d left it in the Transit Lounge, but when I realised I didn’t have it and went back, I couldn’t find it. All the officials were very helpful, but couldn’t actually give it back since it hadn’t been handed in.

After extended periods of walking around looking for it and quizzing Lost Property, eventually I gave up on it. And then about ten minutes after take-off, I remembered where I actually left it – on a railing upstairs from the Transit Lounge. D’oh!

And since I wouldn’t be flying back via Bangkok, there was no chance to pick it up on the way home. I can only hope that it eventually found its way to somebody who can use it.

We were told that the flight path would take us over India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Eastern Europe and Germany. The prospect of flying over Iran made me feel a little nervous to tell you the truth, but as the lights of exotic and unknown villages, towns and cities passed below us the nervousness gave way to curiousity about life for the locals down there.

I had got a window seat. The good bit about being in a window seat is that you can watch as you pass through the world. The bad bit about being in a window seat is that you have to disrupt two other people if you want to go to the toilet. This does wonders for exercising the bladder, since you really don’t want to disrupt your neighbours unless you really have to.

But who could be distracted by matters such as toilets and lost jumpers when the prospect of a few weeks’ exploration in a new land beckoned?