I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Sydney, finally

Actually I had no idea how to transit at Istanbul airport either. At Helsinki they gave me boarding passes to Bangkok and checked my bags all the way to Sydney. They also gave me a fast-track exit card for Istanbul, which initially made me worry there was no such thing as transit, and I'd have to pay for a visa to go landside and then go back through. With that in mind, I was initially heartened to see a big "transit passengers this way" sign, pointing at some doors through which was an escalator.

The doors were locked. A Turkish bloke shouted at me, realised I didn't understand, and shouted English at me. I had to walk on down the corridor and then turn right. But of course!

At Bangkok it was a bit easier, though this time around I was wondering how to go about getting my boarding pass for the next flight. First, I went up an escalator and through some security, all without showing any proof that I was actually meant to be in transit. Then I wandered up to a Thai airways desk and handed over my passport. She gave me a boarding pass marked TRANSFER PASSENGER and told me to get to the lounge by going upstairs, to where all the shops were; she also said I'd need to "check-in again later at the lounge".

Upstairs was indeed where all the shops were, but the first sign to the lounge said to go straight back downstairs. I kind of walked in a sphere for a few minutes, up and down between levels while retracing my dazed steps over old ground as I failed dismally to actually find the entrance to any of the 5 or so lounges Thai airways have. Eventually I came to one close to -- and on the same bloody level as -- the transit desk, and sat down with some orange juice. Got my laptop out and couldn't get either to twitter.com nor www.facebook.com, but the mobile URLs both worked. I assumed it was some ham-fisted attempt at censorship. This lounge was tiny, not the one I'd been in before next to the free massages, and with much of the internet I wanted to use being out of action I gave up and went hunting.

As I walked around the airport in a bit of a stupor, I realised one of the reasons I was having so much difficulty compared to last time I was there (when, indeed, I went straight to the lounge I was looking for) was because that time I'd been sober as fuck. This time I was shattered and probably a bit pissed, or at least hungover. Ah well. I did eventually find the right lounge, and after a bit of food and some caffeine, and some electricity for my laptop and phone, I asked if there were showers I could use. No, there weren't, but there were some at the other lounge(s)...including the one I'd been in first. Fucking fail. I buggered off to a different one, showered, and had beer and sausage and pie. Mmm, beer. Then I went and had a "head and neck" massage which actually catered for the entire upper body, preceded by some odd cold green tea that was disgusting, and a huge argument between the reception staff and a group of women which at one point had the former threatening to call airport security on them. Ace.

Post-massage, I went to the main lounge and asked if I had to be issued a new boarding pass, based on what the transit desk woman had said. They said no, my pass was fine, and that I had about half an hour to spare before I should go to the gate since it was quite a way away. So I had a few solids and another beer, then set off.

The gate was at the end of a different concourse, but still really not that far. I was there very early, again, but at least this gave me the opportunity to witness some real reality TV-style chaos. A family trying to go through the secondary security were being told they had too much alcohol in their bags to be allowed through. They were properly kicking off, having a huge shouting match and bringing out the "where's your supervisor? I want to talk to your supervisor!" guns despite being calmly and clearly and repeatedly told that they'd simply gone over their limit. The family's main defence was some small print written on, er, the generic sealed carrier bags the booze was in, and nothing to do with the rules at either end of the journey. At one point the woman was screaming about it having cost over 200 (Aussie) dollars and volunteering to pour half of it away. Nyers.

Immediately after the boarding pass check there was an Australian official asking questions of everyone. "What's your reason for travelling to Sydney today?" "I'm visiting my brother" "OK, does he live in Sydney? Whereabouts?" etc. I was a bit flummoxed and flustered and gave a host of rambling answers that, miraculously, appeared to satisfy him.

The gate was populated by a lot of Australian families heading home. When they announced boarding, they said it was for people travelling with children, plus business and first class passengers and Star Alliance gold card holders. That basically meant everyone. I had a bit of a scramble to get through some of the few people who couldn't yet board, but then general boarding was announced before I'd reached the gate. Basically it was pretty chaotic. Thank fuck I was sitting in the first row of business class seats so got to duck out sharpish.

The flight itself was kind of nondescript. I had a bit of a chinwag with the oilrig worker sat next to me, the food was pretty good, etc. Thai's business seats are good but not as good as Turkish Airlines, especially as they go flat but not at a 180 degree angle (so at full recline you slip forwards). I watched The A-Team movie, slept for a bit, woke up and watched some crap Jennifer Aniston/Gerard Butler film -- oh christ, Butler's American accent was poor -- and then Get Smart. Oh, the meal service finished with Kahlua, which was nice. But in all honesty, films aside, the flight didn't leave much of an impression. It was a shitload better than my last Thai flight, but I was by this point a bit of a frazzled mess.

Sydney's arrivals didn't help. There are a raft of arrivals in the early mornings, most of the flights from Europe and a few from Asia and the USA are all scheduled to get in in the first 2 hours the airport opens. I arrived at 0715 (because my originally picked flight got removed from Thai's schedule, boo!). Thai passengers are not handed fast track immigration stickers, unlike, say, Qantas, BA, or Air New Zealand passengers. Then someone official said the computer systems were down so immigration was being processed "the old fashioned way", which meant big queues.

Baggage reclaim was carnage. My bag was something like 3rd off, but the queues for customs and quarantine were fucking massive, snaking all around the carousels and full of tired, fractious people. One guy was having a huge rant at some security staff, saying how he'd been there since 6am and the queues needed managing because people were just all out for themselves and stuff. I quietly joined the back of a queue.

After moving not very far, I texted my bro telling him what was going on (he was waiting for me landside), and said that despite the fact I was going to be a while, could he get me a diet coke. Just after this, an official appeared about 5 people in front of me and started to do preliminary checks of our queue's declaration forms. If you had zero food, wood, and all that other bad stuff, then he was stamping the card and sending you to a fast track queue at the other end of the hall. That meant me! And hey presto, I was out.

The whole family were there, Kevin, his wife Sal and my niece AJ. Littl'un got her present sharpish, a reindeer I'd bought at Helsinki Airport. Went down a treat. Plus she'd said my name when I appeared. Huzzah!

The weather was fucking shit. We wandered through the car park to their vehicle of heft, a Mitsubishi something or other which you have to climb to get into and which beeps when in reverse. It's basically a bus. It's preposterous. It's awesome. We drove in the pissing rain to their flat. Travelling done, holiday started.

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