Flying

At the airport, I lurk at the British Airways check in. I’m there when it opens. There are three desks and a cattle chute for each. None are labelled economy. I finally realise I no longer travel economy: I’ve been rebranded World Traveller.

Going through customs is uncrowded and uneventful – until I’m randomly selected for a bomb check. I’m taken aside, wanded, frisked, and finally declared harmless. On the way to Gate whatever, I’m waylaid by Vegemite, and have it sealed with as much ceremony as if it were Dom Pérignon.

I sit waiting, mind doing what mind does best: nothing. I watch planes take off and remain totally idle. For the three hours that I am early.

I have one small bout of paranoia on the plane. One of the cabin crew rushes the length of the aisle, shining a torch into every seat. Looking for the bomb someone else, not randomly selected, managed to get on board? After a doze, I realise she’s merely checking that seatbelts are fastened.

In the brief stopover in Singapore – rush off the plane, pause, pass through customs and get back on the plane – my phone emits a flourish of pings as roaming kicks in. One of the messages is particularly pleasing. I can get into my apartment at 1pm – I don’t have to zombie my way around Warsaw until official check-in at three. I’m amused by this text. After all my struggles with the pronunciation of Grzegorz, my Airbnb host signs himself Greg.

And that’s the end of phone connection. I’m out of credit and Telstra refuses to let me recharge. It seems as if I’m doomed to be incommunicado.

I sleep, maybe five hours out of the thirteen from Singapore to London. Mouth open, no doubt, drooling, but I am oblivious.

When I wake my eyes are brighter and I watch the flight path. We fly over Mashtaga, Aghsu, Shamak, Goychay, carving a yellow line above mountain ridges and lakes into Azerbaijan, wrinkles in the topography. Aghdash, Yevlakh, Mingechevir, Tbilisi as I edit and sort photos. Georgia: Borjomi, Zestafoni, Kutaisi.

Flying through an ocean of air I read The invention of clouds by Richard Hamblyn.

Samtredia, Zugdidi, Tkvarcheli, Batumi and over water again out of origami ranges.

Flight time remaining 04.14 hours. Altitude 35997 feet. Outside temperature -74° F. I’ll think about this information when I’m safely landed. For now I need not to see the plane for what it is, a metal cage suspended in air a very long way above the Black Sea.

I dip into Solnit’s A book of migration. She talks about being in multiple places at once. On this flight I’ve covered vast distances geographically, but I’m only occasionally aware of this. That gasp of astonishment that I’m going to Poland; stopping off in Singapore, transmitting through Heathrow and flying over Georgia and the Black Sea is only part of it.

I’ve been in back in 1802 as Luke Howard delivers his electricfying lecture about clouds; in the world of AA Milne and dark celebrity as I watch Goodby, Christopher Robin; briefly in the world of Stalin as I watch only part of The death of Stalin; in Ireland and the Shoshone culture as I read Solnit; in the past of one year old twins as I scroll through photos on my iPad; in the recent past of this morning as I blog my walk around China town and Darling Harbour; in the immediate present as I pop up and down catering for my own needs and the needs of my seat companion; in the half-conscious world of sleeping in public; in the prospective world of my arrival in Warsaw.

Sinop, Ayancik, across the Black Sea to Mangalia, Constanta, Dobrich, Slobozia. A river on the map like ink on silk. Crunkled mountains and river- dendrites. Turda, Cluj-Napoca, Zalau, Alesed.

Lights on. Only two hours to Heathrow.

I watch other people’s absurdities on screens. Batman. Face-peelers. Man with an eye-patch. Ugly cartoon characters. Confrontation – rage or affection? Period costume. Great fjord scenery. Plenty of bam-bam-biff.

Over Germany – Dortmund, Essen, Düsseldorf, Cologne. And then all the familiar English places: Cambridge, Ipswich, Milton Keynes, Maidstone, and others so familiar I’ve forgotten them.

Heathrow is monstrous. I ask a pilot for help and he gives it with grace and a Scottish accent. I change from train to bus which seems to travel at least 20 kilometres, and there I am at Terminal 3, waiting for the gate announcement for the flight to Warsaw. By now experiences are merging.

The window seat I asked for is over the wing, which doesn’t matter much because there is dense cloud cover. The woman next to me is nervous. Her rosary beads slide through her fingers, and her lips move till we’re safely in the air.

I am not enamoured of the invitation to “fly with us again soon” as we land. I’ve had enough.

I blithely buy a SIM for my Warsaw phone, a map and a bundle of bus tickets at a news agency and settle with a coffee to install the SIM. It doesn’t work. What is it with me and phones? This is the third failure in a week. No one else seems to have a problem. By now I’m fatalistic, and very thankful my arrangements for accommodation are already made.

All goes well. Greg meets me at the agreed time. The apartment hasn’t been cleaned yet, but he takes me on a tour of the ‘hood and then for a coffee. We chat. I say “Do you always treat your guests like this?” He says “Only the nice ones.” I say “But you’ve only just met me. How did you know I was nice?”

He says “I’ve read your blog.”

He leaves to go back to work. I read my Warsaw map and terrorise the waitress with English chatter – I am after all jet-lagged, as you can no doubt see from the photo.

I return to the apartment carrying $5 worth of food – 6 eggs, two mandarins, a lemon, a head of garlic, and two tomatoes, and meet Pani Valentina, the cleaner, just leaving. I let myself into the apartment and heave a great sigh of relief.

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15 thoughts on “Flying

  1. Armchair travelling is SO stress free and I’m loving being virtually on board with you. What a list of unpronounceable and, to me, unknown places you passed over. I tell myself I would not like to fly any further than NZ but you are stirring up my gypsy blood. I’m interested to hear about the lovely greeting you had from the Airbnb host. Now I’m waiting for your big surprise to the family

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  2. I always end your posts with a big smile on my face. 🙂 🙂 Now, how did you know all those place names? Was there a flight map on the back of your seat or did you use your IPad? I’m seriously ignorant about these things because I thought you could only use them in flight mode, so not interactive? And I only travel with the cheap guys so no extras but I loved the good old days of having a flight map. Such a long time, and complicated trip, Meg, but you negotiate it with such aplomb, and entertain us on the way.

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  3. Oh, the second half of the journey! This is another fantastic post, Meg! Again, there are so many things I love. You’ve brought to life so vividly the long hours on the plane, the connections, the things we notice in passing but don’t really attend to. For instance, we can see clearly on the flight map what we’re flying over, but we often don’t take note of them as you have. You note what other people are watching on their screens. The books you read, the movie you watched. Some parts made me laugh out loud, such as the part where the stewardess is going down the aisle with a flashlight. This is entertaining all around.

    You have set the bar very high, Meg! I hope I can do justice to a journey as well as you did here. A new challenge to myself. I hope you don’t mind if I link this to that same journey post of May 16, so I can include part 1 and 2. I’ll often refer back to your posts myself for ideas!

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    1. I notice places especially in Central Asia, because my daughter and son-in-law rode their bikes from Tokyo to Warsaw and some of the place names are familiar from that journey. I owe the shaping of this to you and Rebecca Solnit.

      As for how you include my posts, however you like. I’m not real good as pt writing specifically for specific dates: I just write as I experience. I hope this doesn’t drive you nuts.

      And I refer back to yours too. Especially the reverse-engineering of intentions!

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      1. Interesting story about why you’re familiar with the place names, Meg. Thanks for your kind words that I have somehow had a hand in shaping how you’ve written of your journey. The writing is really fabulous.

        I won’t be able to keep up with bloggers while I’m traveling May 1-25; I’ll only be looking at ones that link to my invitations so I can include them in my scheduled posts. I won’t have time for much more than that during my trip. But I’ll certainly catch up on other posts once I return.

        There’s no point in writing to my schedule. Best to do exactly as you are doing! 🙂

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  4. I’m with Pauline “Armchair travelling is SO stress free…”
    How I loathe that long distance flight. Squeezed in to too small seats, far too close to strangers, having to use loos that you can barely sit down on and have to queue for the privilege. And I was very impressed with your landscape naming, is there really that much information on the flight path? I obviously don’t notice, but then I do tend to switch the screen off if I am not watching a movie. Glad you survived the trip and eager now to follow you in Warsaw. Hope you got the SIM sorted!

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    1. SIM not really sorted, dammit. I can text my son, but no one else in Australia. Go figure. And my phone doesn’t ring for me to hear. I had the perfect seat – only two paces from the loo, and with a wider bit of aisle. Worth paying for!

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  5. Oh, Meg, like Jo, I end your posts smiling! You have really brought to life the reality of long hours on a plane, you describe the inconveniences, you people-watch brilliantly…. I agree with Cathy that you have set the bar high! And it’s Warsaw next!

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  6. Ahh you don’t like Heathrow? I love it, my favourite airport, but I love all of them because it means I’m going somewhere 🙂 And if I get a plane with a flight map I jump for joy and stare at it obsessively! Sweet European dreams my dear, I like the idea that you’re just a thousand miles away.

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    1. It’s just so HUGE, and my turnaround time was only 2 hours. And the estimated time between terminals was one hour. And I had to go through customs. And it was the end of a loooong flight. I like the flight map too.

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  7. Pingback: the journey: a trip to budapest – ~ wander.essence ~

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