An anatomy of a trip

by Anna Blanch on October 5, 2012

I’ve traveled quite a bit this year. I shared a map the other day that shows just how much. though I arrived back in Australia about three weeks ago, It’s taken me that long to get this post, describing the last trip from Scotland to Australia. It involved 6 trains, 2 planes and a bus and took well over 40 hours door to door. This is far from glamorous!

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This trip is a little hasty. I need to get back to be with family. We are all trying to control our fears, trying desperately to hold onto calm as the person who embodies love for us is fighting their own battle. I’m also trying to pace myself. Just last week I myself was laid low by a mystery virus which landed me in the hospital for IV fluids ecetera.

This is not the best of scenarios. But when it comes down to it, you have to decide what is most important and this, this being with my people, my family, outweighs all else right now; even my own health.

9:30 GMT A breakfast of earl grey tea and two pieces of toast and jam – the most comprehensive breakfast I’ve eaten for the past week. I ponder the reality in front of me. I’ve taken this trip many times, except for the changeover in Hong Kong – that will be new. I realise that this trip will involve 6 trains, 2 flights, and a bus.

10:00 GMT My friend arrives to take me to the train station. After picking up some food for the train, we sit in the waiting room – Scotland is windy today. The seats in the train station are extremely uncomfortable – we joke that they are more uncomfortable than the hospital waiting room. It has been that kind of week. I reflect on the way that this trip has not gone the way I had planned or hoped. My list of things to do has had very little ticked off.

11:20 GMT The train departs Leuchars. It is particularly long today with cars labelled from B to M. I find someone in my seat – but a polite “excuse me, that’s my seat” does the trick. I set up my laptop and work on clearing my inbox and sorting out the morass of files sitting on my desktop. The inbox ends up at Zero. I guess I’ve accomplished that if nothing else.

12:15 GMT arrive in Edinburgh. The journey is just beginning. I’m in the quiet coach but I’m not hopeful that I will enjoy much quiet. It seems that people, usually women of a particular age like to be assigned seats in the quiet coach only to speak loudly for the entire journey. I decide to listen to some more of an audio book, and continue working on emails.

13:55 GMT arrive in Newcastle, England. This city has bridge almost as far as the eye can see. The Victorian buildings intermingle with 1980s pebble stone and the glass covered convention center. I am already tired but there isn’t much for it.

14:05 GMT I see the northern angel out the window of the train. I know that some people don’t like it, but i find its presence strangely comforting. we rush past freight trains, green fields, woods, and green houses. One of the best things about british trains is the availability of powerpoints and wifi. I make use of East Coast Reward points to pay for free 24 hour wifi whenever I’m on a long trip (they give you 15 mins free in economy). Email inbox: 66, but drafts folder is also empty. I answer some more emails as they come in.

15:00 GMT arrival at York. “If you do not intend to travel, please leave the train as it is now ready to depart” – the scattergun announcements are barely audible as I listen to music an try to block out my fellow passengers. Today, there doesn’t feel like there’s enough leg room, and the presence of others seems an imposition. I notice again the hundreds and hundreds of bikes lined up on bike racks which serve to demonstrate the pedestrian nature of much of urban dwellers in the UK.The jumbled mess of them is appealing.

Inbox count: 34. Really aiming to be at zero before I hit London. Email servers are at snail’s pace which is making filing things slow and frustrating – that nagging kind of irritation that seems peculiar to technology when it isn’t frictionless.

The fields are green and gold. the hedgerows separate hay fields and the large wind powered turbines dwarf the small hills. Occasionally you can glimpse cars and roads, but mostly when outside urban areas the windows are filled with vistas of rolling fields and groves of trees.

The passenger sitting next to me keeps dozing off in that uncontrolled kind of way….at one point he crashes into my shoulder.

I can feel the tiredness weighing on me. Now my email won’t cooperate. The large factory buildings with their white expanse stretch out next to me. pallets and crates piled up next to empty shipping contains or waiting trucks pulled up to those large holes in the wall designed just for them. before returning to large grass covered embankments covered in shrubs and zipping under bricked bridges. The ocassional church spire out in the distance.

1635 GMT the next stop will be London. I think i’ve managed to get through or assign tasks for each email in my inbox, but because the server isn’t communicating properly I can’t move anything to reference files. It feels good to almost have an empty inbox.

It is starting to become more populated, though there are still ocassional fields of green, with horses or lean tos.

16:54 GMT arrival in Kings Cross. a cup of coffee and a bottle of sparkling water later. Watching the Australians dominate in the pool was awesome! The lounge was not as well stocked as my previous visit (which is quite disappointing) but it was still a comfortable place to rest a while.

Photo of First class lounge at Kings Cross.

1830 GMT huzzah inbox zero! it’s been a good four months since I’ve actually managed to have an empty inbox! time to head toward heathrow.

2035 it took two hours to get to Heathrow, print my boarding passes, drop my bag (small enough for the cabin but seeing as I’m feeling so rubbish I decided I’d let them have it and pick it up in Sydney), ditch my empty water bottles and the strawberries that managed to get their strawberry juice on almost everything (it was a good idea at the time) and make it through the slowest security line i’ve encountered in some time. Wifi is possible at Heathrow (but not for free, you can use the boingo hotspot and you don’t even need an account with them – if you have skype it will automatically ask you if you want to connect). It’s 11p a minute, which isn’t cheap, but worth a few minutes to update family and friends on your progress and download your latest batch of emails.

21:45 plane begins boarding. there isn’t enough staff and people begin to pour through their gates at will.

I watch a couple of movies, but I can’t remember what they were. I sleep for about 6 of the 12 hours. I’m in the middle of a row, something I don’t enjoy.

17:00 Hong Kong Time arrival. The airport is spacious. there are play areas for children and vast areas of retail for luxury brands like Valentino, Coach, Zara, etc.

18:35 Hong Kong Time, boarding plane to Sydney. For some reason they decide to search everyone again after we are through the boarding gate and proceed to confiscate all liquids over 100ml including bottles of duty free people have just bought in the airport.Though there is a sign indicating the order of boarding by row number, noone not even the staff seem to take notice instead lining the hundreds of passengers up in a long long line.

I watch the Descendents.

I’m by the window, something I don’t like on international flights. The noise in the cabin seems particularly bad on this flight, even with earplugs.

0610 Sydney time. I try the smart gate, but it doesn’t seem to like me. I get through immigration within 10 minutes, but my baggage takes a really long time to come onto the carousel. There have been a good 3 or 4 large planes arrive in the last 20 minutes and the lines for customs and quarrantine are backed up. I get sent down three different lines before finally being waved out the exit. There are masses of people waiting for relatives. By 6:51 I’m down on the platform waiting for the next train to Central.

7:15 Sydney Central. I arrive.All of a sudden I miss M&S. The only options for snack include an overpriced newsagent that wants $3.80 for a small bottle of water, Krispy Kreme donuts and burger king. I go with a breakfast wrap from burger king and swap the coffee for water. It costs far too much.

7:30 Sydney time. the train arrives. The only train of the day to head to Tamworth, Moree, Armidale etc, there are about 2 dozen people waiting for it. We board slowly and wait for 30 minutes. People help elderly relatives onboard to settle. “would all those not travelling on this service please alight the train” – a small boy has been play-pretending serving food to his grandparents protests at having to leave the train, his father gently explains to him again that they are going on a holiday.

The conductor marks you off by name from his manifest.

9:30 Sydney time. The hawkesbury river is beautiful at this time of the morning, the small docks jut out into the green water. the sailboats are out at anchor, and the sun is shining. I remember why I like trains.

I want to drink it in, allow it to inspire. But I’m just too tired. I settle for music in my headphones.

12:00 Sydney time. They say there is track work going on so they make us get off the train and get onto a bus. I see a number of older folks struggle mightily with the stairs on the bus. This doesn’t seem a customer friendly way of approaching things to me. I struggle to concentrate on my book. I’m approaching 40 hours  of travel time and i’m beyond tired.

The bus lurches down the highway. We stop at almost every train station along the way. This adds quite a bit of time onto the journey. The names of the towns become more and more familiar. I am heading north.

3:30 sydney time. The bus and I arrive in Tamworth. I’m glad to see my mum waiting for me. Moments like this make a small town something to be thankful for. There’s only one arrival a day.

I’m deliriously tired and haven’t eaten since that breakfast wrap.  Oddly, I arrive on the day of local elections – as i’m registered to vote here and this is the first time i’ve been in the country for an election in years we drop by a local primary school so i can vote. Turns out i’ve heard of most of the candidates, even know a few – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

We head to the hospital after that, for a much awaited reunion.

The day was far from over. But at least I spent the rest of it with family (with some good food thrown in for good measure).

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