Delayed in Charles De Gaulle airport for 5 hours, so I shall make good use of my time and write up this journal!
I’m going to ramble quite a bit, as I’m trying to get down my impressions. There will be lots of photographs, and a great proportion of those will include Buzzy. So, here we go…We left Melbourne at 11:45 pm for the flight to Abu Dhabi, from where we would be flying to Brussels. This meant an overnight flight, and lots of sleep, but also plenty of time to get to the airport beforehand and have some dinner. There was a trio from Britain at the next table, and the girls had bought some plush Australian Animals. Their traveling companion was voicing his very negative opinion about soft toys, so of course Buzzy had to go over to say hello to the Australian animals.
Dinner was, of course, at airport prices. One of the nice things that’s happened in Australia recently is the introduction of nice ciders, so Buzzy and I shared a Perry (pear cider). It helped me sleep, and I have no doubt it helped him snooze a bit too.
Onto the plane, and (no surprises) very little leg room. We had those individual seat entertainment screens (which meant I could choose the movie or play games) but once the person in front of me had put their seat right back, I could barely move. We were seated next to a lovely lady called Anne, who was traveling back to Ireland after visiting her son and grandson, and she was no trouble at all to sit beside, but my god it was cramped!
Emirates food wasn’t bad though. Point to remember – Geoffrey had the “Bland” option (as it’s onion-free) and they kept bringing his a full half-hour before the rest of us. Interesting point, though – the flight starts (as usual) with a safety demonstrations (they do theirs with CGI figures) but also the Muslim prayer for safety.
Abu Dhabi itself was quite different to anything I have ever seen before. From what I could see out the window, there were innumerable deserted and sand-reclaimed villages on the road in. Most noticeable of all was the dark brown horizon layer, such as I haven’t seen in Australia since the worst days of pollution. We wondered if it might be a dust storm, or the results of a fire somewhere, but all there is on ground level is MMFD1. The sand everywhere is fine, yellow-red and over everything – roads, paths, runways, the lot. The only green bits were the slices of Astroturf on the sections between the runways. We had to taxi past a lot of it, so I was glad when we reached the terminal. I’d spotted lots of buses, but assumed that they were for the workers, as it seems like the airport is currently expanding by about 75% and is full of construction.
The light out the windows (it was 7am and the sun was just rising) was quite eerie. The only thing I’ve seen like it is the shots of sunrise on Mars. So my conclusion was that the air was filled with a combination of really bad pollution and smog, and sand. Here’s Buzzy, greeting the morning sun. I didn’t even need to use a filter for this.
We had to go through a security check again, which was quite a pain. I have a water bottle which I take through empty, but I hadn’t realised we’d have this second check inside the “secure” area, so I’d had the bottle filled and available during the flight. It was still half-full, so Geoffrey and I drank as much as we could, and then I emptied the rest into a nearby pot plant. And after all that, they didn’t even check the liquids I had!
I wish I’d taken a picture of all the different costumes around the place. There were (of course) the standard Western dress, Shalwar Kameez, Niqabs, Sheik-style Thobes, and Hijabs in every colour from black to glorious sparkling rainbows. While the 25C in the terminal was wonderfully warm for Geoffrey and I, many people were obviously from much warmer climes, and the polar fleece blankets provided on the planes were being used as cloaks, scarves and makeshift robes.
Abu Dhabi airport, though, desperately needs quite a few things. Firstly, there weren’t nearly enough women’s toilets, so the queue was very long. (It didn’t help that a lot of women were obviously also changing in there. Perhaps airports could have a changeroom available as well?) There was nowhere obvious to refill my drinking bottle, which left me dry for the rest of the trip. And worst of all,w hen it came time to get to our plane, we had to pack onto buses. Yup, those buses I saw trundling around the airport were to take you from the terminal to the place far distant where the plane was parked. For tired and jetlagged bunnies with too much carry-on, that was a bit much. The buses were designed to fit on as many people as possible, which meant 6 seats and the rest of it standing, cramped and hot, for a good 15 minutes from the terminal to the plane, followed by the walk up the narrow stairs to the top.
The plane from Abu Dhabi to Brussels was much the same – except that this time we were in the middle section (dammit). Again, nice food, and a choice of entertainment (I’ve started watching “How to get away with murder” – it’s not bad…), and Buzzy had his special seat. (I am under strict instructions to keep him clipped in at all times. Karen says it’s to keep him safe, but we all know it’s to stop him getting out and biting the other passengers)
Buzzy was really excited, though, and kept asking when they would serve the free cashews. I’m afraid no-one told him that Economy doesn’t include cashews. These are caramel-flavoured popcorn – he stole Geoffrey’s and ate them when he didn’t think we’d notice.
We arrived in Brussels at 2pm local time, also known as midnight in Australia. Needless to say, we were dropping, and the ticket machines didn’t love me, so we just took a taxi to our hotel.
It was in the EU area of Brussels, on the eastern side of the city. We were on the 6th floor, with a view that included the Atomium in the distance. We realised later that, with its proximity to the EU, the rooms probably were bugged.
And by this time we were very tired bunnies. We went for a walk around the local area to try and find an Aldi (where we could buy a phone card) but we never found it. We did, however, find some awesome ducks and geese and doggies in a local park, some statues, and more dog crap in one area than we’d seen for a while. We also scoped out the two local eateries. The choices were the local Irish Pub, or a Sushi Shop. I blame the EU. (There were some cafes further away, but by this time we were dropping and could manage a stagger to the corner and not much else). We told Buzzy to stop fooling around on the balcony, and headed for the pub.
I’d forgotten how acceptable smoking still is in most of Europe. The pub was pretty smoky, even in the non-smoking bar area. But the food was rather nice, and the decor was rather fun. Most people in Brussels speak at least a smattering of English, so between that and my schoolgirl French from 40 years ago, I was very pleased to find that I was coping. I could order things, ask for the price (and usually work it out, although it would take a moment or two), get directions, and hold simple conversations that ran at about the level of my old textbooks. The following is a statement that took place lots of times:
“Je ai un compagnon aux Etats-Unis . Elle est malade et ne peut pas voyager, alors elle m’a donné Buzzy qui va partout à la place.”
And that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
Mind you, then it was disaster time. My CPAP machine has two hoses. I’d not found the need for the heated one in Australia in summer, but had packed it for the trip. What I hadn’t realised was that the ciip from the mask to the hose had to be transferred – I had a pipe with a soft end that I could jam into the mask’s hole, but it didn’t have the exhalation vents (without which the air would try to exit in bad places like around the face). My brain whirred in a most alarming manner – then I realised that all I had to do was introduce a non-damaging leak by slipping something between the pipe and the socket that allowed the air to escape without harming the mask. I had some of that sturdy plastic packaging, so cut two strips off that, slipped them into place, then fell asleep.
(Interestingly, I had the *best* results I’ve ever had with the CPAP that night! Go me and my 1337 Engineering MacGyver Skills!)