Sunday, 4 May 2014

A tale of two long haul flights || Travel diary

Hi friends,
I have so much to tell you about our two months travelling around Europe. It was such an incredible experience, one that will stay with me for a lifetime. We travelled to so many places; each with their own history, culture, and lets not forget the food. All the while, meeting new friends and making memories. As I sit down to write of our travels, I am listening to the seagulls call and bask in the summer sun, on the south coast of England in Brighton.

Every good story has a beginning, so lets start there....

Prior to our departure from New Zealand we sold the vast majority of our possessions, bar a few sentimental or worthwhile items which were loaded onto a trailer and taken away to my parents house the weekend before. This meant we were homeless for a short while. Fortunately we had been invited to stay with a good friend across town while we carted all of our worldly possessions behind us in two suitcases and rucksacks. This, coming from a juniour level hoarder, was a liberating and un-nerving feeling in equal measure.

Moving onto the main event. The day of our flights from New Zealand to London didn't start out in the easiest of scenarios. Thankfully our flights weren't until that evening so we had time up our sleeve, sort of. As we were doing our early check-in we realised that my flights were booked under my married name rather than my maiden name, which is what my New Zealand passport states. To cut a long story short-ish; we went from naively calm, to being on the phone for HOURS with customer services trying to get the names changed but there were complication that wouldn't allow access to other flights.
Then came different options for the scenarios that might well occur in the next 24hours.
  • All might go well and we get to London Heathrow with no problems
  • Chris gets there no problem but I get turned around in Shanghai and get sent back to NZ 
  • I get to Shanghai and need to repurchase my next flight under my maiden name (super expensive last minute flight) as I can only legally stay in the airport 72hours.... *gulp*
  • We re-book all of my flights and I meet Chris over in England in a few days or weeks time.
 So we were in a mad rush to get everything and anything to prove that I am in fact that same person I was before I got married. STRESS. They say marriage will change you, but this was taking it a bit far.

With a stack of paperwork, including reprints of my birth and marriage certificates, Chris dropped me off at  Wellington Airport to try get this thing sorted, ready for another long wait, he drives home. Ten minutes later I'm on the phone asking him to come collect me, "everything is fixed". All the stress from 9am this morning could have been avoided. Oh well. You live, you learn. Always go to the source.

A few hours later my brother drops us and our luggage back at Wellington airport, we say our goodbyes. I do some seriously ugly crying in the departure lounge, and we board our plane to Auckland.

First hour of flying. DONE. A short wait in Auckland airport and we board our next flight to Shanghai at about 9pm.

Auckland to Shanghai

Taking my seat knowing I will be there for twelve and a half hours isn't something I think everyday. Luckily we were flying Air New Zealand and we had pre-booked our seat which allowed us to choose seats at the front of the aisle with the most leg room....

Ahh... stretch.

After finishing our in-flight dinner, which in all honesty was pretty tasty, we shared a sleeping tablet and the hours melted away. We woke up seven hours later to our in-flight breakfast and shortly after started to descended into China. Upon arriving in Pudong International Shanghai Airport all you could see was a thick layer of early morning brown smog. Delicious. While landing we noticed a large number of scarecrows between the runways. Not your everyday straw hat and plaid wearing scarecrows though. No, China dresses its straw filled friends in what appear to be military uniforms. Does this serve a multi-purpose? Deterring trespassing birds AND people?  

 After an awkward, slightly-English, mostly pointing conversation with the airport restaurant staff, we ordered pork dumplings and noodle soup ("Mmm, Noodle soup") for our second breakfast, drunk warm water out of paper cones and walked up and down the huge international terminal. The soft toy Tuatara was an optional extra.

Shanghai to London

We boarded our next twelve and a half hour flight with Virgin Atlantic. This time we couldn't book our seats and were a bit apprehensive about our seats being A and C, was there someone between us, because that would be weird. Nope, turns out this airline likes to number its seats AC/DEFG/HK. Virgin Atlantic are you slightly dyslexic or am I missing something?

We both tried to get onto "British time" as soon as we were flying, this meant flipping our biological clocks on their head and staying awake for most of this flight.

Free movies, complementary "Feel Good Kits" and iced water made for another easy journey. I must admit that I was tempted by the free alcohol being offered, but it wouldn't be worth the head ache from dehydration at the other end.

 Icicles on the windows as we were flying over Sweden at -75°C outside

Coming from New Zealand we are obviously used to the kiwi accent, and when I hear another accent from a stranger I subconsciously try to identify where the accent is from. So, for the whole flight my brain would occasionally identify, British, British, oh that sounds Scottish and so on. It's still something I am still getting used to 12 weeks later as I write this blog post. I'm the foreigner here, I'm the one with the funny accent, not them.

After all that stress, I didn't end up have any issues getting through Heathrow airport, although there were a lot of long lines and a few visa questions. They took our thumb prints, and we were off. We found the process much simpler than we had expected.

One little highlight of the process was getting my passport stamped! It shouldn't be such a novelty, but it is, since flying between New Zealand and Australia are the only stamps I have been getting for the past few years. Hurray, for taking bigger steps.

We got picked up by family at Heathrow and were tucked away in bed, finally able to sleep horizontally and rest easy, by 11pm London time...

Cheerio for now....

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