Wednesday, November 10, 2004

High Flyer

So, the trip took 36 hours. Twenty six hours on the plane, and about 10 in various airports.

I took off from Wellington. Amanda was very nice to take care of me on Friday, she organised me, pacified me, reassured me, drove me to the airport and made sure I got on the right plane. Really, I was quite a mess.
The airport dude was really helpful, explained to me how all the check ins work and checked my bags right through to Paris. I had some hot chocolate and a bagel with salmon and cream cheese before I boarded the plane.

The 40 minute flight from WLG to AKL was non-eventful. Got two cups of water as people suggested I don't drink too much coffee while flying. Apparently it doesn't help with the jet lag and what not.

My mum met me at AKL. Alex gave me a rose from their garden. Mum made some pancakes and brought them in a thermos, as well as jam, butter, and forks. So we had an impromptu picknick at the Auckland airport. It was quite amusing.

Of course, as expected, mum shed a tear or two about her daughter flying off to the other hemisphere. I find it quite coincidental that when she was 25, she was in Europe too.

I spent about half an hour in the queue through customs and bag check before I made it to the boarding lounge for my flight. I was amazed at the number of people there, but that soon made sense when I actually saw the plane. My god, it was huge!

The flight to San Francisco was 11 hours 45 minutes or something like that. First they board all the people in wheel chairs, followed by people with small children, then first and business class, and then the cattle class which I was in. Turns out the cattle class was far from full so the couple that sat next to me moved to another row and I managed to have all three seats to myself for the duration of the flight.

The in-flight entertainment was piss poor. First we had I, Robot, followed by The Terminal, then some Agatha Christi drama, an hour of american comedy, The Merchurian Candidate and Mean Girls. Mean Girls is actually quite a good movie but I've seen it before. Everything else didn't grab my interest and I couldn't get past 20 minutes of each movie. Ended up lying down a lot and reading my book.

Even though I was hell tired, the sleep wasn't really happening. I think I managed to get a couple of hours somewhere though. The blanket they give you on Air New Zealand flight is extremely staticky, and I kept zapping myself every time I tried to turn or move or get up.

The food was quite good. Coffee, tea, wine, even spirits (the guy in front of me downed three whiskys in a quick succession). I had half a glass of red wine and felt like I'd had a bottle. I think for dinner, I had some pasta with roast vegetables and for breakfast they decided that I don't eat eggs and gave me a tomato pasta while everyone else had scrambled eggs. Never mind.

I don't know what people say about deep vein thrombosis or any other high mile afflictions, but I certainly think that one would die from boredom sooner than any physical disease. It's really quite painful to realise you're up in the air and you're not going anywhere for the next twelve hours.

Landed in SFO without an incident. Those big jets certainly land and take off without a hitch. If you're not looking at the window, it's hard to know whether you're on land or not.

Took about 20 minutes to disembark the plane, and then the real fun began. I stood in the queue for passport control for a good hour and a half. It sure is fun. Not. Then it was a quick smile to the passport officer, fingerprinting of right index finger, followed by the left, and a photo for their records. The fingerprinting is digital so no ink on the hands, which is good. Then they put a stamp in my passport and attached a green little piece of paper that gets removed when I leave the country.

So suddenly my 4 hour stop over in SFO has become a mere two hours. Walking out of the customs area, I realised that I had to pick up my bags. Never mind that I was checked through all the way to Paris. They're paranoid enough to take all the bags off, make you drive them through a check area, and upload them back to the plane again. Ridiculous and unnecessary in my opinion. When I walked up to the check area with my bags, they saw that I was travelling to France and let me through without another glance. Waste of time. I had to declare the jar of marmite though, so that was amusing. "Is it like Vegemite?" - the officer said. Grr, don't make me hurt you!

Walking through SFO was like being on an empty movie set. It's quite a big airport but there was hardly anyone there, almost no shops or cafes or anything. So I headed straight for the international departures. This was a nightmare. Another massive queue, but moving at the speed of lightning. In this rush, one has to remove their jacket, shoes, belt. Take out laptop of the laptop bag and place it in another tray. I don't know why they do that because the laptop and the bag both still go through the same xray machine. At the other end, you have to try and catch all your belongings and quickly make room for people behind you. It was quite an exercise.
After that, I got a cup of coffee - the most disgusting thing I've ever tasted. Discovered that the sales tax is added onto after you've seen the price (tricky dicky!). And tried to access a wifi hotspot to no avail.

So then I sat at the boarding lounge for a while until they called my name - they needed to scan my passport and remove that green card thingy. Then we boarded.

I was quite excited to be on a Lufthansa plane. First time hearing people speak German in a non-class situation. The flight was chocka full. Felt like sardines in a can.
They had in-flight shopping. How could I resist! I bought a little chess computer which is basically a PDA with a stylus and you can play chess on it. It has various levels, openings, and even a Hint button. Awesome.

The blanket on the Lufthansa was not zappy and the pillow much softer. With that I was pleased. The food was absolute crap though and I didn't finish my breakfast. It's like instead of sending the request for vegetarian food, it got muddled up with hippy crazy food. I got deep fried tofu and mushrooms. Ugh. The guy next to me, also vegetarian, said they always mix up his order and deliver vegan stuff instead of vegetarian. He didn't even get milk for his coffee.

The flight from SFO to FRA was 10 hours 25 minutes. By that time I was so tired, any coffee was greatly welcomed. Unfortunately, I was sitting by the window and the idea of waking up everyone in my row every time I needed to go the bathroom was unbearable.

The in-flight entertainment was even worse than the ANZ flight - First it was Spider Man 2 but something went wrong and it was only in German. Some people complained and it got switched off. Then came The Bourne Supremacy, followed by the same fiasco. Then they put on The Anchorman - The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and while it worked in both languages, it was absolute shit of a movie. Then they had The Two Brothers, which is a great movie about tigers (real ones, not CGI or anything) but I was too tired to watch it properly. For the tiger lovers, I highly recommend it.

Arrived at Frankfurt airport, and it was also pretty quiet. It's such a bit airport though, apparently the busiest in Europe after Heathrow. Got a stamp in my passport that is just a box, with nothing in it. I am guessing their stamp ran out of ink.

Sat around for a couple of hours at the boarding lounge and then got on a small plane to go to Paris. Well not too small, the size of domestic New Zealand ones, but after the 747 anything is small.

Lots of frenchies on that flight, all the announcements in three languages. I was so over flying by this point, I didn't know whether I was awake or asleep or where I was.

The lunch was a nice piece of bread with cheese and lettuce, and I had 2 cups of tomato juice.
The flight from FRA to CDG is only 50 minutes. It was practically empty and the flight attendant suggested I could move to another row where I'd sit alone, but really at this point I stopped caring.

There was no one at the Paris Airport to even glance at my passport, no one to check my expensive French Visa, no one to acknowledge my arrival into their fair country. I was quite dismayed. Got my luggage and trundled up to the exit, where Chris met me and gave me a great big hug. Can't believe it'd been 2 months since we saw each other last.

He helped me with the bags and we caught a bus to the train stations, then 2 or three subway trains to the hotel in Monmartre Area near Sacre Coeur.

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