A bit of a flap right at the start of my, as was getting on the bus this morning to go to work, I realised that I had forgotten my UK Debit Card. So, after a quick phone call to James, who was giving me a lift to the airport later, we arranged for an earlier pick-up and then we swung by my place on the way to the airport to retrieve the card.
After my previous performance at Sydney airport when I was checking in with Emirates for my flight home at Christmas 2012 (it’s a long story, but the short version is that my tickets had been cancelled and I had to be re-booked onto the flight home), I was a little worried when the Check-in lady was pulling a few faces when attempting to check me in all the way from Canberra to Manchester via Melbourne and Abu Dhabi. Fear not! she said it was just the system being a bit slow and I was soon on my way through security, where I bumped into Tracey, one of the ladies from the Spanish Course I took a couple of years ago. After a quick chat with her and her work colleagues, who were on their way to Sydney, I was soon boarding my first flight from Canberra to Melbourne. The Virgin flight was about 3/4 full and I found myself on a empty row of seats with a window seat to look at the mountain ranges all the way down to Melbourne.
As my baggage was checked in all the way to Manchester, I went straight from the Domestic terminal to the International Departure lodge, where I found a pleasant open space with hardly anybody around. Looking at the boards, I noticed that there weren’t too many international flight leaving Melbourne, but through the windows I spotted what was hopefully my plane being prepared for the flight. Only four hours to wait!
Wow, never thought that a thirteen hour flight would be so enjoyable! I was looking a bit dodgy before takeoff, as I noticed a couple of engineers working on the engine of our plane for a good couple of hours up to and including us being call to board the plane. I was sat in an elsie seat right at the back of the Etihad Boeing 777-300 next to Diane, a young lady from Melbourne who was going to a wedding in northern Greece and then on to Italy for a two week holiday with some relatives. She had the window seat which meant that there was only to two of us in our row, which gave me a bit more room to settle into. I would say the flight was full and there certainly wasn’t much overhead luggage space available by the time I got on board. Dinner was served as soon as we achieved our cruising attitude and straight after that I watched Shadow Recruit on the fantastic on-board E-Box entertainment system. Then whilst listening to Van Morrison’s album Astral Weeks on the headphones, I even managed a four hour sleep, which is surly a first for me on a long haul flight. We was woken up by a bit of turbulence, so I watched 3 episodes of Season Four of Downton Abbey before trying to get some more sleep (again accompanied by Mr Van Morrison). as dawn broke over the United Arab Emirates, the plane came back to life with breakfast being served by the attentive staff and everything being prepared for landing right on time at what looked like a half built Abu Dhabi airport.
This airport is going to be one seriously big place once it’s finished, as even the terminal we walked through once we got off the plane was massive. There was a pointless exercise of going through a security check, complete with scanners, body searches etc, especially owing to he fact that we had just stepped off a plane, but hey-ho, such is life. there was a bit of confusion as to which terminal/gate Diane and I were supposed to be at for our connecting flight, but once someone had sorted that out we wished each other a safe journey and went our separate ways. After a bit of searching, I found myself at gate 41 in terminal 3, which three members of airport staff assured me was the correct gate for my Manchester flight, although I was still a bit worried as it had the 8:55 Frankfurt flight on the the tv screen and I was surrounded by Germans!
After confirming that Gate 41 was my actual gate, I took myself off into the Duty Free shops, where I nearly bought a set of Bose Headphones ($330), but ended up buying a new 32GB Pen Drive instead ($24), cheapskate! With my change, which arrived in the local currency, I bought a coffee and then ambled back to the gate to find that the Germans had gone and had been replaced by Mancs! Got talking to a young lady who worked in Dubai (Apparently, only about an hour’s drive away) and she filled me on the history of the airport, Etihad Airways and all things concerning life in the United Arab Emirates.
Even thought the airport was full of air-bridges to the many waiting Etihad planes, we were eventually loaded onto a bus and driven along the front of the terminal to our plane, onto which we boarded in what seemed like 50C heat! The flight itself was uneventful, except for the fact that a couple of passengers were off loaded and we had to wait while their luggage was removed from the hold. Again, I managed to get some sleep, after eating breakfast (or was it lunch, or dinner or…) and watching The Hunger Games on the E-Box system. When I awoke, I was surprised to find out that we were only an hour or so from landing and a spent most of this time looking out of the window at the changing scenery below.
Passport control and retrieving my luggage was a breeze and I walked out into the Manchester Sunshine to jump on a bus which took me to the Car Hire Village, where I jumped into the rental car that I’ll be using for the next 6 days.