Sunday, February 10, 2008

i’ll fly away, oh glory!

We’ve arrived in Melbourne safe and sound. Erika is shocked to report that Australia really does exist, and isn’t a mythical land after all. Here’s how we got here:

First we packed. A lot. It took us about 20 hours to pare our worldly possessions down to 4 checked bags of a total size less than 208” and less than 50 pounds each, two carry on bags of less than 45” and 15 pounds, and a personal item each. But we did it. Erika is a god of real-life tetris. See, those hours on the Gameboy really did pay off.

(After hours of baggage research, we’re pleased to inform you that should you ever wish to include antlers in your checked luggage, American Airlines regulations specify that they must be removed of all debris and that the skull must be fully wrapped and the tips protected. You may bring one (1) hang glider for an additional charge of $80, a charge which also applies to the one (1) javelin or set of oars you are allowed. Bowling balls must be packaged in a carry case with accompanying shoes. Unfortunately, no vaulting poles or kayaks are allowed.)

Our departure committee of my parents, Erika’s mom, and us woke up at 3:30 this morning to pack the car (the Tetris God blessed us once more by fitting all of our bags in the boot of one small SUV). By 4:40 am we were driving to Logan through the gross and slopping snow, which made us not so sad to be leaving New England after all. At the time of this writing we are at the airport and through security, eagerly awaiting the start of our 32 hour plane adventure. More soon!

The flight from Boston to LA was uneventful except for the remarkably pitiful service on this Delta leg of our trip. The airline seems determined to deprive and depress passengers as much as possible: flimsy sweaty blankets, horrid lighting, no food, very little water, wacky cabin air, and of course tiny seats. Yet there were very few people on the flight, so we each got a three-seat row to stretch out on. Erika actually claimed six seats, three on either side of the plane, and spent a good hour popping back and forth to see the different scenery. This was especially exciting when we flew over the Grand Canyon.

Upon arriving in LA, we had to find our way outside, walk about ¾ of a mile past two other terminals to get to our new terminal, check in again, get new boarding passes, re-check our bags even though we didn’t have them (the hidden baggage gnomes did), go back through security, freak out because the official told us we were going to miss our plane, find out the plane was in fact delayed and we had an hour and a half to wait, mentally shake our fists at the official that made us freak out, and wait to board. And stare at the plane that would take us all the way across the Atlantic in one go. The really, really, really big plane. I get so used to the 747s that I always forget how big these others are: two levels, with wings that are so wide they curl up at the end. It was like Air Force One. But bigger. Whoa.

I meant to ask how many people the plane fit, but forgot. My educated guess would be about 1000 passengers. Seriously. It was 10 seats wide, and we were in row 65, and were a little more than halfway down the plane, so there were probably about 80 rows in economy, plus business and first class, and I don’t even know about the upper level. We’re talking a big plane here. And in the lovely economy class, we were each granted about 22” x 30” for our 15 hour flight.

They made it about as good as it could be, considering. Most of the food was rather tasty, especially the melon creamsicles and the hot cocoa, and they kept it coming. Plenty of water and juice. A little stretching area outside the bathrooms. No seatbelt light the whole flight. About 50 personal-choice on-demand movies, TV shows, and video games on your own TV screen. (Between us we watched Elizabeth, The Darjeeling Express, The Bee Movie, Stardust, Désaccord Pafait, a documentary on Australian linguistic phonics, and played Tetris.)

Our rowmate, who had the aisle seat, was thankfully patient with our frequent bathroom and stretching breaks. I felt really bad for the people sitting with his friend, though. His friend was extremely obese, and had no legs, and had the aisle seat. No joke—and he certainly had no sense of humor about it. So the people sitting in the inner seats from him were pretty well trapped for the whole flight. Not an ordeal I would wish on my theoretical worst enemies.

I was totally excited about watching movies for 14 hours straight. After three movies, though, I was ready to call it quits. It turns out that’s not as much fun as it sounds. Unfortunately, the 6 hours I’d filled wasn’t even halfway through the flight. I spent the second half of the flight wishing I wanted to watch more movies, and feeling increasingly like a pile of toxic withered grout. By the time we arrived in Sydney, I wasn’t sure if I could stand up, let alone walk or maintain basic bodily functions. I was pushing serious exhaustion at this point, was quite dehydrated despite my best water-guzzling efforts, and was irrationally convinced they wouldn’t let me through customs and would send me home on another 15 hour flight without my ever seeing Australia. I was sure this ordeal would kill me, and was resigning myself to death by plane travel.

Of course, the immigration officer was a lovely man who kindly chatted with me and Petra, welcoming us to Australia with tips on how to find supportive communities and sincerely sharing how glad he was that we were joining his beloved country. My visa seemed to do the trick, and we didn’t even get our oddly full and lumpy bags checked by customs. We were in.

In the Sydney airport, at least. Where we still are. Six hours later. It’s 3:30 am local time, and we have two hours to go until we get to check in for our last leg to Melbourne. We found the sad little corner of the airport where they let ridiculously-layover-ed people like us sleep, claimed our over-armrest-ed set of seats for the night, and settled in. Not so bad, really. There’s a bathroom and water fountain around the corner, and they stopped jackhammering an hour ago. Here’s to hoping for an uneventful conclusion of our travels.

The flight from Sydney to Melbourne was blissfully short and uneventful. We arrived in Melbourne at 7:30 am, and my uncle John and cousin Matt were there to meet us. Our baggage was not, though. It was still in Sydney. (The friendly Australian baggage handlers will deliver them to us tomorrow.)

After figuring that out, we took a scenic drive to John’s place in Brighton where we’re staying, had showers and some coffee, and found a second-hand clothing store (“Op Shop”) and discount warehouse (“Bond shop”) where we gratefully procured clean clothes.

John then took us on a day-long driving tour of Melbourne to get Erika oriented and me re-oriented. A lot has changed in the three years since I’ve been here—lots of new building. We visited my grandmother (“Nonna”—Italian) Nella, who was having a very good day, and my grandfather’s grave as well. Erika was excited to see the University of Melbourne campus, which looks reassuringly like a real university campus, with nice gothic brick and stone buildings and ugly things from the 70s. She’s still not entirely convinced that this place isn’t a dream, since everything is backwards—not only the roads and seasons and all, but even the sun’s on the wrong side of the sky.

It’s currently 76 degrees and sunny. Everyone’s friendly. The food is delicious—even the milk is better than at home. It’s good to be here.


Anonymous said...


Welcome home, you two.

Much love!

A'Llyn said...

You made it! Yaaaayyyyyy!!!!

Glad we got to see you before you left.