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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Uh, just one more thing

[posted 35 hours after I wrote the text]

It's 1:30pm and I've only been awake half an hour after 12 hours recreational sleep. I don't have a flight today, or even one to check in for. Guess I must finally be on holiday.

After writing up my evening in Hong Kong, I headed downstairs for free breakfast in the hotel's Thai restaurant. Had a double go at the buffet, one plate full of English stuff and one plate a mix of English and Chinese stuff. Apparently I was hungry again. Because I'm on my own I got fast tracked through the queue, though seating was not private - they just shoved me into a chair between other groups of people at a huge 20 seater table.

Went downstairs and out for a wander. There's a subway station very close to the hotel and I follow the signs towards it, which subsequently disappear and I fail to find the station. My idea is to get the tube to the airport station but that's clearly not going to happen. My wander is pretty short, it's brutally hot and I have to checkout of the hotel in 90 minutes so I go back to my room and chill for a bit.

Doing the maths (which means "looking at my watch") I see it's approaching midnight in New York on Friday. I have a bit of time to kill but don't really want to arrive at the airport a stinky sweaty mess so I call reception and ask for a 2pm checkout which they're happy to give me, and I stream a copy of WWE Smackdown which has only just been posted. Always with the wrestling...

During the show I nod off a couple of times. Knowing this was genuine tiredness I set an alarm for 1315, just in case. In the end I need it, cos I'm doing that thing where I think I'm blinking, but half an hour is passing. I take a long shower which is fantastic and invigorating, and take a while cramming all my stuff into the bags.

Downstairs and checked out, I step into that there 30°c heat and walk back through HK's streets to the airport express station. My holdall is uncomfortably heavy and I want rid of it. In Hong Kong there are a lot of airlines which operate in-town checkin desks and I believe Sri Lanka are one, even though they only have 3 flights a week. But I can't see their desk. A sign tells me they definitely are there so I buy my train ticket and use it to enter checkin. Aha, desk 7. Turns out my holdall is now 10kg. The girl asks where I'm going and sees I've already checked in online. Then she prints out passes, rips them up, prints out three new coupons, stares at one and asks me where I'm going another twice. I give the same answer every time which seems to satisfy her, so she rips up one coupon and hands me the other two. Odd.

One coupon is my boarding pass, the other. lounge invitation. Sri Lankan airlines give their business class customers entry into a lounge that anyone can pay to get in and the huge snob in me is expecting not great things. But the knowledgable traveller in me also knows I can use any other business class lounge operated by any airline in the oneworld alliance.

But I'm not at the airport yet. I leave checkin, go downstairs to the platform and it's 10 minutes til the train. I need a diet coke but the shop only has full fat or zero. Back upstairs and find a 7-11 and I get one, start on it, back to the platform with the train now there. No food or drink on the train. FFHS. 25 minutes later I'm at the airport and they're announcing which way to go for each terminal - and I realise I don't actually know which terminal I'm leaving from. I guess T1 and I'm right. Ahead of me, about 30 or so people are literally sprinting off the train to the departure area. I slowly drink the DC and think to myself "wow, why are there so many Cathay desks?". At Cathay's home airport. Skills, Darren.

Up to security and into a longish queue. It moves at varying speeds and as I get close I realise why each individual isn't taking a uniform amount of time: 3 of the 4 people immediately ahead of me not kinky haven't filled out their departure cards (a sheet left in your passport upon arrival), they don't even have departure cards. So they get handed new ones and fill them out. Jesus Christ people. Obviously I've filled mine out well ahead of time and am pretty much just waved through.

There's a lounge very close, Cathay's The Wing. I go straight there and wave my boarding pass and Cathay gold card but ask them to leave my booking alone, i.e. do not change the number from my BA account as, horror of horrors, I've actually paid cash money for this flight and want to earn BA tier points and avios. Everything is a down payment... as it goes, I had originally spent avios on another Cathay flight, CX711 for this leg but cancelled that when I saw that Sri Lankan were available for an amount I could afford, and I redirected those Avios into making the previous leg first class. My holidays are so bloody complex to book.

So, The Wing. I walk in and it's crowded but there are seats at the bar. This place hasn't changed since I was here in 2006 but back then the bar wasn't open at 9am, but now it's 3:30pm and I take a perch. A beer, some photos of the apron, and I flinch a bit when they call the aforementioned CX711. A drinks menu arrives but I opt for a second beer, and am just pondering leaving when I'm offered a refill and opt for a champagne. Because champagne.

Next, time to lounge hop. The nearest lounge to me is the pay lounge which I have a free invite for, so what the hell, let's see. My invite is taken from me - so no re-entry - and my boarding pass is stamped "allowed free alcohol". I grab a San Miguel and struggle to find a seat for two reasons: it's almost pitch black, and it's crowded as fuck. There's a real crammed feel and there's loud Muzak. I'm not impressed. Eventually I find a seat, neck my beer, and piss off.

By now, Kayak has emailed me to tell me which gate I'm leaving from - 28 - and there's only about 90 minutes to go. Another lounge is near gate 23, Cathay's The Cabin. Realistically it's the only one I can fit in as the others are all miles away, like near gate 65 or two floors up and in a satellite. So I go into the Cabin and enjoy the even closer views, and fill a tray full of rice and noodles and buns and a diet coke and a can of Tsing Tao. Nom. Then I sit at the small bar and have a champagne, then another, but turn down a third: "I wish, but unfortunately I have a flight to catch". 5 seconds later as I'm still packing up another barman offers me a glass and gets the same reply.

The gate already has a long queue with a smaller queue for business class. But boarding hasn't started. I get a photo of the bird and the doors open, I'm about 6th in the queue but down the airbridge I'm the only one to turn into the business class corridor. I'm sitting in 1K, the window seat on the plane's right hand side and I'm greeted personally by 4 members of Sri Lankan staff.

The seats are of course not comparable to Cathay first, nor American's business. But they are decent. Fairly wide, huge legroom as these seem to be the newest seats in their fleet, the ones which go fully flat. The inflight entertainment screen is very big but I don't know where the remote is. An orange juice and menu arrives and before we take off I'm asked what I want to eat and drink in the air. The chicken, and a champagne, please.

Slowly a few other people arrive in the cabin, including a very loud kid who seems full of entitlement. Grargh. They are on the other side of the plane but the voice pierces and is constant. I plug my phone into the USB socket but it vibrates constantly - there's no real power here. I find a full proper power socket taking English plugs and use that. The doors close on time but we take forever to take off, about 40 minutes.

Despite the modern video system, we are treated to an old-skool manual safety demo and are told it's less than 3 hours to Bangkok, where we stop for fuel and also for passengers to leave/get on. I read the "complimentary magazine" (sic) but can't find the compliments. I am totally besotted with a big elephant though.

I realise the little metal thing with a light control etc on is actually the remote, and it is AWESOME. Hella fun to use - the unlabelled button is actually a trackpad for an on screen cursor so just navigating the system feels a bit like playing a Wii. I dick around with it for a while just because I'm enjoying it, but then food and drink arrives so I plug my 'phones in - the supplied headphones look like £3 motorway service station jobs - and am delighted to discover that not only is the plane noise drowned out, but also the kid.

My movie of choice is The Monuments Men. Typical Clooney and Damon affair, I liked it though it wasn't spectacular and I didn't cry. In the end I've timed it perfectly, because the end credits roll literally as the wheels touch down.

But back at the film's start, the food and drink arrives. Starter is some kind of cream cheese sandwich using melon instead of bread, and is nice. Main is chicken and is lovely. The champagne doesn't get empty until the food finishes; there's no dessert other than a fruit plate.

I hit the massage button on the seat controls and am surprised how long the programme lasts, before realising it's an on/off button and labelled as such FFHS. Making the seat recline actually lifts it up, which is disconcerting and makes me feel like I'm at the dentist. But the seat is very comfortable.

During our descent I discover the PA announcements do not come through the headphones. Strange. We land at Bangkok and there's about an hour or so til takeoff but Colombo passengers are not allowed off so I stay in my seat as shitloads of staff zoom through the cabin dropping off blankets, leaving bottled water, hoovering, picking up crap, etc. Then the seats start to fill up. I'm hoping not to get a seatmate and it looks like I'm in luck...until the very last minute and 1H is occupied. Bah.

On the ground I started watching the only other film I was interested in: Divergent. It is fucking shit. For the first hour I thought it was merely slow, but actually when the main plot starts to kick in it just becomes really, really bad.

Some nuts and champagne arrive after take off. I order the red snapper and after a mediocre noodle salad starter it arrives and is fucking gorgeous. Another fruit plate and then I'm asked if I want dessert and say yes. 5 minutes later it hadn't arrived and I'm asked by the same lass "I thought you wanted dessert?" "Er, yes, I do". It wasn't really worth the wait.

My seat mate interrupts me for a chat, asks if I'm from the UK and proclaims his love for London, asking me what the weather will be like in September. He gives me loads of recommendations for Sri Lanka and then we appear to spend an hour or more talking about global and middle eastern politics and I'm delighted to be spoken at most of the time. It's awesome to meet someone who actually believes some of the stuff he was coming out with: Jews are clever and control the world because they control the USA who controls Europe who controls Asia etc. Also the masons control everything too. There's a Masonic pyramid and Star of David on the dollar bill! Oh my god! and Starbucks aren't about coffee, pfft. Star is Star of David! Bucks is money! The guy was very nice and very sad about the endless cycle of violence in the Middle East (he's an Arab Muslim from a middle eastern country himself), but dude needs to read a bit of conspiracy debunking methinks.

We landed a little ahead of the scheduled 2300 arrival time. Phone goes on and I find out AFC Wimbledon lost at home. A great start to my 48th country. I wield my fast track immigration invite to go through the slower-than-normal-track security line. The guy hands me a Dept Of Immigration and Emigration sponsored free SIM card. At baggage reclaim I am normally smug because my beige holdall is easy to recognise. Well, on this flight there appears to have been some huge group travel down the back and literally 40 beige holdalls come out. Bah. But mine comes pretty quickly and I walk out to arrivals - past the duty free white goods shops and no, I'm not kidding - expecting to find a man with my name on a sign because I've prebooked airport transfer to my hotel in Colombo.

There is no man with my name on a sign.

Oh. Well maybe it's because we're a bit early...though there are a lot of men with signs with names. I try to get some rupees from a desk but they don't take cards, but a cleaner directs me to an ATM. This time, I look up the exchange rate first. And then I make a second circuit of the men with signs. Still no one. Umm. I get my booking up on my phone but would really rather not have to call anyone, and there are a lot of comings and goings so I make one very slow and deliberate crawl along the line. My name isn't there.

By now, the unbooked taxi drivers are really starting to try and convince me to hire them. I'd rather not, so I do call my hotel. I'm put on hold three times and the told to approach one of the desks and tell them who I am, and it'll all get sorted. I ask three times which desk but still don't quite understand, so I pick one at random. It's the wrong desk and they try to sell me a ride, but finally someone else comes up: "are you Mr Foreman?". Phew!

He walks me out to the cab ranks and directs me to stand around, then 5 minutes later tells me to get in a car. I do, and the drive takes next to no time. The driver asks me where I want to go, which confuses me a bit as I think I've just been scammed by enterprising cabbies who heard me give my name on the phone. Whatever. He starts to chat but is interrupted by a phone call and I'm tired and not really in a talkative mood anyway. It's past midnight now. I pay the toll for the expressway and soon enough we're at my hotel, lit up by a sign for STALLION PUB. I have no idea how payment is working and ask the driver, he says he'll come in with me. So at reception, as I check in he has a conversation with someone and seems happy enough - I pay nothing and he leaves.

The receptionist hands me my key attached to a giant comedy metal keyfob and I take the lift to the third floor, which takes longer than my Hong Kong hotel lift took to do 32 floors. It's an impressive, long, and occasionally dark walk to my room and once inside I put the TV on. It's a cricket channel. But of course. There are two beds shunted together and OH MY GOD NO WIFI. But, according to the hotel feature list, I do have access to hot water and billiards. All is well with the world and I feel like maybe I need a kip.

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