Monday, August 2, 2010

And we're off...

Well, it wasn't without some suspense and drama, but I am writing this as my official first post of our RTW trip! We arrived in Sydney, Australia this morning around 7:30AM, about an hour late due to air traffic holds and a brief mechanical problem with our plane at LAX, but still a day earlier than we had originally planned. We decided to leave Nashville on July 31st due to the flights filling up (we were flying standby on Delta using my mom's passes). As I've already written about that drama in my previous post, I'll just say here that we definitely made the right decision to spend a couple hundred dollars to ensure we made it to LAX yesterday. Everything went smoothly with the American Airlines flights, with the exception of the not-very-nice gate agent at DFW who tried to force me to check my backpack because it wouldn't fit in the "size-wise" device. I pleaded my case and removed the one thing (the "extra" empty Pacsafe purse) from the outer pocket on my pack, which made it appear thinner, and she eventually let me get on the plane. She also made Greg test his bag, but luckily his fit with no adjustments necessary. Of course, after we boarded, we observed many passengers with bags much bigger & bulkier than ours, trying to cram them in the overhead bins with little success.

We walked from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5 at LAX and re-cleared security without too much hassle, although the TSA agents thought they spotted something in Greg's backpack so part of it got searched. After a quick check at the departure gate, we checked in at the SkyClub where my mom had already called ahead and notified a Delta staffer that we'd be stopping in. Teresa was as helpful as she could be, and Greg & I settled in with beer & snacks while I kept an eye on the cleared list for the flight to Sydney. It wasn't looking very good (number of seats available versus number of passengers & standbys awaiting seat assignments) but we weren't ready to give up just yet. When they finally started clearing the nonrevs after pretty much all of the revenue passengers had boarded, Greg & I headed back to the gate to be ready to jump on the plane at the last minute. Sure enough, there were at least one or two inbound flights that were delayed so about 20 passengers were going to misconnect., and the gate agents freed up their seats about 10 minutes prior to the 10:35PM scheduled departure. We were on!!!

I was assigned seat 30G, the bulkhead row immediately behind first class on the 777. Greg was on the opposite side of the plane, in seat 34A. We didn't mind being separated at that point; we were just so relieved to have actually gotten on the flight in spite of the odds! As my luck would have it, my seat was next to a mother traveling with her two young children, a 16-month-old and a 4-year-old girl. The baby was a lap child, which means she didn't have a ticketed seat and thus the mother would have to hold her (10 kg) for the better part of the 14+ hour flight. After my years of flying, I certainly am sympathetic to mothers traveling alone with young children, so I just hoped she was well prepared. The 4-year-old, Cynthia, started talking to me right away, and continued to interact with me during the one hour we sat on the plane prior to taking off. Unfortunately, Cynthia also apparently has a tendency to get sick on airplanes, and proceeded to vomit all over the floor in front of our seats about 45 minutes into our ground hold. The mother had her hands full with the baby, so I pitched in to help clean up. The flight attendants made it pretty clear they weren't going to help in any way and finally brought a cleanup kit just prior to take off.

So that's how my RTW trip started, with a sickly (but very cute and precocious) 4-year-old sleeping "on my lap" for half the flight (really just on my armrest but she asked if she could lay on my lap) and me becoming her impromptu baby sitter, taking her to the bathroom, helping change her dirty clothes, etc. and the lovely smell of vomit permeating the air around our seats for the entire flight.
view of downtown Sydney from the airport bus 

We're a long way from everywhere!
After 36 hours of traveling and very little sleep, I was definitely ready for a hot shower and a nap when we arrived at Eva's Backpackers hostel in King's Cross this morning. We had only made our reservation to start on 03AUG (based on our original U.S. departure date of 01AUG) but luckily when I called from the airport they still had two dorm beds available for tonight. So we caught the free shuttle, and after getting an extended tour of the airport to pick up other passengers, we finally arrived at Eva's around 9AM. We also got lucky in that the two beds had not been occupied the previous night, so we were able to check in and go to our room immediately upon arrival. We quickly settled in, took showers, and slept for a couple of hours, then headed out into the sunshine (but windy and around 60F) to get some lunch. We ended up at a small Thai restaurant a few blocks from our hostel and enjoyed a tasty & filling lunch of pad thai w/pork (Greg) and panang curry w/chicken (me). Then we walked to the nearest grocery store (Woolworth's) because we had quickly realized by perusing menus during our neighborhood walk that eating out for every meal in an expensive city like Sydney would do serious damage to trip budget. We stocked up on instant oatmeal, bananas, and the cheapest wheat bread, peanut butter & jelly, and even bought a pre-made sandwich & soup to share for our dinner. We were in for another shock when we stopped in the adjacent liquor store and discovered the absolute cheapest 6-pack of beer was around $17AUD. We opted for a cheap (5.55 AUD) bottle of Australian white wine.
ready to dig into some panang curry
Perusing the meat section at Woolworths - Greg spotted some bacon
We came back to the hostel to get organized but first took a glass of wine up to the roof deck where we enjoyed a little sunshine and the nice view of downtown Sydney before it got too windy & cool for our taste. We've been hanging out in either the communal kitchen or small living room of the hostel ever since, catching up on everything and observing the comings & goings of the other multinational guests. It gets dark here early (it's 6:30PM and it's pitch black outside but it is winter after all) and has now started raining. I'm glad we decided to lay low today, but am looking forward to more wandering around (hey, walking is free!) tomorrow.

I also realized that I haven't posted the latest version of our itinerary, so here it is:

Date    Nights    Time (CST+hrs)     Location
31JUL    2            in transit     Nashville-Sydney
02AUG    7            15        Australia - Sydney
09AUG    4                         Australia - Cairns
13AUG    3            14.5        Australia - Adelaide
16AUG    3                         Australia - Kangaroo Island
19AUG    1            14.5        Australia - Adelaide
20AUG    4            15        Australia - Melbourne
24AUG    15           17        New Zealand - self driving tour from North to South Island
08SEP    5            14        South Korea - Seoul
13SEP    4            14        Japan - Tokyo
17SEP    6                       Japan - Kyoto & Hiroshima
23SEP    6             13        China - Beijing & The Great Wall
29SEP    14                    China - Yangtze river cruise Chongqing-Yichang, Guilin, Suzhou, Xian…
13OCT    4            13        China - Hong Kong
18OCT    11            8        Turkey - Istanbul, Cappadochia, Pamukkale, Antalya…
29OCT    9             8        Egypt - Cairo, Nile cruise (Aswan to Luxor), Alexandria
07NOV    6                    Israel - Jerusalem
13NOV    7             8        Jordan - Amman, Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum
21NOV    11            8        Kenya & Tanzania safari
03DEC    10            7        South Africa - Cape Town, Garden Route
14DEC    29            12        Vietnam - Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Mekong, Laos - Louang Prabang, Vientiane…
                                         Cambodia - Phnom Penh, Angkor…
                             12        Thailand - Bangkok…
12JAN    14                    India - Kerala: Kochi, Trivandrum…
26JAN    11            10.5        India - Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Mumbai
06FEB    29            7        Arrive in Europe (via Amsterdam)
                             7        Italy - Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples, Palermo, Sardinia
                             7        Spain - Barcelona, Madrid
07MAR    8            6        Morocco - Marrakesh, Fes, Tangier, Rabat
15MAR    1            in transit    Marrakesh-Madrid-Atlanta-Nashville

Any dates after 12JAN are approximate as we have not booked any further flights. How long we continue to travel and where we go will be dependent on our remaining funds. Also, we have not yet thoroughly researched many of the places we're going weeks or months from now (China, Turkey, Jordan, Southeast Asia, India) so the cities listed are just ideas, not a definite itinerary.

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