Saturday, September 22, 2012

London 2012 Part I: Take-Off and Landing

Before visiting the UK, I was told many lies about the place. The one that sticks out in my mind is “The Brits don’t drive, no one in England has a car.” Alright then. It would clearly be entirely possible to navigate London on the underground, but after booking tickets to see a certain favourite band of mine in Leeds, I began to get a little bit worried. Especially when I checked google maps (after the tickets were paid for) and realized that it was a four hour car journey from London. I flew into a panic when I found out that train tickets were no les than 70 Pounds per person for the round trip, and I really didn’t fancy spending 7 hours on a coach to save some money. Call me a snob, but I’m not used to being without a car. And so the hire car plan was born, and I must say it was the best idea I had ever had. Because the truth is, the Brits do drive, but enough about that for now…

The day had finally arrived. I’d been planning this trip for absolute months, but I had never thought that it would all actually come together. I mean, who in their right mind flies to another country for the sake of their favourite band? I bet there are people who aren’t even keen to drive from the Northern Suburbs to Green Point for Linkin Park! I know people judged me heavily for flying to Joburg twice within three weeks last year for Coldplay and Kings of Leon, but they were some of the best weekends ever, and anyway, YOLO so haters gon’ hate, right?

By the morning of the 10th of August, I was all packed and ready, and I headed off to work with a smile on my face. Just a few hours and I would be on my way to the airport to board a flight to Dubai and then another to London. Was this really happening? I’d checked and re-checked everything a couple of million times, had all my reference numbers, all my ID, the cards used to purchase the tickets, my passport, and everything else I might need for the next two weeks. My suitcase was only half full – although I would later find out that bringing back 16.4kg of shopping was slightly ambitious to say the least.

But things never quite go smoothly in my life, and so by 10pm I was to be found dashing from the office after the shuttle service called to say that the road to the airport was blocked and that if I wanted to make my flight at 6pm I’d better get there immediately. (Dear Paul, if you’re reading this, I really am sorry for leaving so early, thank you for not shouting at me.)

Madness ensues, but eventually we make it to the airport – with only 5 and a half hours to spare. Goodness me, what am I going to do in an airport for 5 and a half hours? We spend a few minutes taking photos to document the process, then head off to the check-in counter to try and get rid of our luggage – but the attendant looks at us like we’ve completely lost it and says we can only check in at 2pm. Fantastic. We’re left with no option but to drag out extremely heavy - and extremely colourful -  suitcases to Spur with us, where we sit for ages eating lunch.

I’m not sure how we managed to waste two and a half hours in Spur, but we did it, and eventually it was check-in time. I have a boarding pass! It has my name on it, and says CT à DBX. Ah yeah!

At passport control I feel like a criminal. I know I’m not doing anything wrong, but I hold my breath as the dude stamps my passport. There is still so much that could go wrong and result in me not being right in front of Brandon Flowers’ face exactly a week from now. But all goes smoothly and then I’m sitting in a rather uncomfortable chair in the departures lounge, attempting to read my new Stephen King novel and munching away on a chocolate. I’m also counting down the minutes and trying to speed them up using only my mind. Hey, it was worth a try, right?

Eventually it’s boarding time, but the flight’s been delayed twenty minutes, and it feels like 20 years. Also, I’m exhausted. The plane, as it turns out, is well worth the wait. I even have my own little screen where I can choose from a huge selection of movies, tv series and music. Last time I flew internationally, I’d had a tiny set of headphones, and a button on the arm rest of my chair which allowed me to listen to Britney Spears on a loop – sometimes ‘Crazy’ still haunts me at night. So after consuming a decent supper – Thai chicken green curry – I select The Hunger Games, but Katniss isn’t even on fire yet by the time I’ve fallen into a restless slumber. I think I sleep intermittently for around 5 out of the 9 hours, and when I put my seat back in the upright position, my neck feels like it’s about to cause my head to part company with the rest of my body. Ouch. Remind me to get one of those blow-up pillows next time.

The pilot is saying we’re landing shortly but all I can see outside my window is a vast expanse of …. Well…. Nothing at all. Dubai is apparently 100km ahead when I finally start seeing the rivers of lava that I know to be illuminated roads. Aha. Civillisation! A touchdown that I barely even feel, and then we’re walking into the airport, and although we’re in one of those covered tunnel things, the desert heat hits me like a ton of bricks. It’s just after 3am, and the temperature outside is a good 37 degrees. Coming from 12 degrees in Cape Town, it’s been a while since I’ve felt warmth. But warmth is one thing, this is another altogether.

*click* A photo of the sign that says ‘Welcome to Dubai’, another of the LCD board displaying connecting flights. The security process which follows is arduous but effective (I hope). I mean, they even make me take my shoes off!

If you’ve ever seen Shelly Centre on Christmas Eve, you know what ‘busy’ means… now take that and multiply it by at least, oh, say 1000. That’s what Dubai airport is like. At frikken 3am. It’s literally difficult to walk – there are just so many people. Plus I’m hearing languages I’ve never even heard in my life. I’m relieved to catch a snatch of Afrikaans. And there’s Burger King! I haven’t seen on of those in 11 years. And there’s a Starbucks! I giggle and think of Rob, The Killers’ drum tech and lover of Starbucks lattes. I should tweet him. I wonder if there’s free wi-fi here? That would become my standard question for the next 18 days, and luckily the answer was usually ‘yes’. I believe that Dubai airport was where I first started to get fit – we walked for at least two kilometers to get to our boarding gate. Fine… maybe it was slightly less, but it was 3am, OK?! People-watching at the boarding gate must have been the most interesting experience of my trip up to then. There were those who were unmistakably students, passed out fast asleep on and under chairs, there were business men on their laptops, and there was the guy covered in a blanket, who was laying so still that we assumed he was a piece of luggage until someone who may have been his girlfriend kicked him and he moved.

When we boarded, the sun had come up, and the temperature had probably risen again, but by this time I was so excited that it could have been snowing pink glitter and I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. Get. Me. To. England. Now. Thanks.

On this flight, I occupied myself by watching a seemingly endless stream of episodes of Downton Abbey, until the English Channel was visible beneath me, and I could see tiny white things which may have been windmills in the water, and we were coming in towards the coast and I had to listen to The Killers, because I was doing this for them, and then we were over England and I was listening to Smile Like You Mean It, and my heart rate was accelerating, and we were finally almost there! And then we were flying over the country side and the little farms below all looked so adorable and it was like a green patchwork quilt below me (but I didn’t see any towns, they all looked like tiny villages, what was up with that?) and then the pilot’s saying we’re about to land, but why the hell haven’t I seen the Tower of London or Buckingham Palace or the Olympic Stadium below me yet? Just when I’m starting to wonder if Gatwick airport is out on someone’s farm – or if the United Kingdom is some giant hoax and I’m really back home in KZN – a runway appears and we land quickly. That’s it then. I’ve just touched down in London Town. 

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