Europe · Travel

We have liftoff

OR Tambo
OR Tambo

Wednesday 15 May 2013. My regular airport chauffeur Windolene Waterpebble picked me up from home at around 5pm for the short trip to OR Tambo airport. I had one bag to check in, weighing around 23 kg (or so I hoped) and two smaller bags as hand luggage – one complete with all my camera equipment, and the other with my computer and other typical stuff one takes on a long trip.

After checking in at the British Airways counter, and only needing to transfer one pair of jeans from my checked luggage to my hand luggage (to bring my checked luggage to an acceptable weight) we went for a bite to eat.

“So, I was telling a Canadian friend of mine where you were going in Canada, and she didn’t seem to know of the place. I looked it up on the iPhone app – about 650km east of Edmonton, right?” she said.

“Um, no,” I responded… “There isn’t much 650km east of Edmonton as far as I know. Where did you tell her I was going?”

“To New England!” she responded … “East of Edmonton.”

“Yes … that would be British Columbia, 850km west of Edmonton, actually. There is a New England … in the north-eastern corner of the United States … some 3400km east of Edmonton as the crow flies,” I corrected her, laughing so loudly that I had several patrons at the Mugg and Bean glancing at me strangely …

“But I found it where I said it was. I assure you,” she pouted.

Clearly, geography was not her strong point at school. But hopefully she will now be able to imagine where I am a bit more accurately – and not in some imaginary place on the plains of Saskatchewan.

Departure hall. OR Tambo
Departure hall. OR Tambo

While checking through security I was stopped because of a suspicious-looking item in one of my bags. As I always pack very carefully I wasn’t sure what it could be.

“It must be my torch,” I told the man behind the TV screen.

“No, it’s got a spring in it. Are you carrying a small gun?” he asked.

As I have learnt over the years not to use my witty comebacks on security officials, or policemen, I said nothing and just dug into my bag to see if I could find the offending item.

It turns out that it was an old luggage scale my grandmother had given me years before. Happy that it wasn’t a weapon, they let me through. The customs official, who had flu, was in no mood to chat, and hurriedly stamped my passport with nary a “bon voyage”, clearly thinking only of her bed and medication waiting at home.

I boarded the British Airways Boeing 747-400 flight 54 at around 8pm, and we were in the air by 9pm – a bit late because a couple of passengers apparently went missing between check-in and the bus that transports passengers to the ‘plane out on the apron. I never did find out if they were found or not. All I cared about was that I had a seat open next to me (allowing me to stretch my legs) and that we were in the air semi on time. The flight was all reasonably uneventful, apart from the in-flight entertainment system going on the blink. Ten and a half hours without movies in today’s entertain-me-at-all-costs era was challenging to say the least. I found a zombie film that mostly worked, as well as a few television channels – including programmes as old as the ‘plane itself … like Magnum P.I. I loved that programme as a teenager. I didn’t remember it being as funny back then, though …

London Heathrow
London Heathrow

Thursday 16 May 2013. We landed in an unusually-sunny London at 6.45am – giving me just over an hour to get to my connecting flight. I had paid a whopping R1800 (around $200) for a UK transit visa back in South Africa, which didn’t even garner a glance from the immigration officer. All most disappointing! But then friends the world over had warned me that it might not have been necessary.

London Heathrow, Terminal 5.
London Heathrow, Terminal 5.

Somehow I made it from the arrivals terminal (there’s something wrong with that statement “arrivals terminal”, isn’t there?) onto the transit train, through the snaking lines to be searched and down to Terminal 5’s departure hall in time, only to find that my plane to Geneva had been delayed. This time it wasn’t caused by a passenger going AWOL but rather because “the ‘plane had only just been towed over from the repairs hangar where it had been undergoing maintenance.” As a seasoned traveller I have learned to ignore such statements from the flight deck and just call for a gin and tonic. As Ashleigh Brilliant once wrote, “Try to relax and enjoy the crisis”.

But, as usual, there was nothing to worry about. Somehow the flight attendants managed to serve snacks and two rounds of drinks to the chock-a-block flight before we landed at a very damp Geneva-Cointrin airport half an hour later than scheduled.

Geneve Cointrin
Geneve Cointrin

My friend Stéphane picked me up and we drove across the border into France, which is where I find myself for the next few days. Of course, it’s spring here – a balmy 8 degrees centigrade and raining, as I write this. There’s more rain forecast through to Monday.

To be continued.

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5 thoughts on “We have liftoff

  1. You have me thinking about how we have learned to trust something just because it’s in a book… in a newspaper… on the radio… on TV… on the internet… or now because it comes up in the geography app on our smartphone.

  2. Thx for keeping us up-to-date with your travels. An entertaining read, as always! Enjoy your time in France …

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