As usual, I'm taking the opportunity to scribble down a few words while stuck somewhere and unable to go anywhere else; today's venue of long-term sitting is Melbourne Airport, where once again, I'm battling the cold which doesn't need any invitation to come pouring in every time the automatic doors slide open. The flight and indeed, the night itself prior to the flight is a topic which if nothing else should provide some amusement for everyone with the notable exception of myself, since I'm still living the dream as they say, and it's a bad dream. To begin with, my Air New Zealand flight left from Wellington at 6am, necessitating a check-in at 4am. Wellington, despite being the capital, is still very far behind in terms of transport and there was no buses running to the airport past 8pm the previous night, let alone a 24 hour service. This left me with no choice but to take the bus at half 6, only to arrive at the airport by 7pm, not to be leaving again until 6am (supposedly) the following morning. So that was that, I wandered around the airport like a nomad as it slowly emptied out â€“ I was concerned from an early stage by the fact that the last flight arrived around 11pm and the last one out was as early as 8:40 but I told myself that this was an airport for a capital city and capital city airports, even Dublin, stay open all night. So I continued living the life of a nomad around the airport, in search of fertile land, or in this particular case, a comfy chair on which to try to sleep. Finally, having waited for some elderly couple to shove off, I sneaked up on a 4-seater padded bench, intent on capturing it for the purposes of a good nights sleep. As they moved off, I went around from the other side, arriving at the end of the bench as they moved off from the other end â€“ perfect! I was so pleased with my successful land grab that I immediately set about construction of the castle; in other words, how to orient my bags in such a way that nobody could see me and I wouldn't see them and all would be right with the world until at least 4am.
Except at about 11:30, something most unwanted occurred. Someone kept tapping me until I nearly jumped out of my skin â€“ how did they manage to circumvent the castle's security system I thought I had so intricately set up and get to me without me knowing? As it turned out, the intruder in question was none other than the airport duty manager coming to see what my intentions were for this particular parcel of land that I had acquired. Needless to say this had not been on the agenda. I told her of my intention to stay the night until the first flight out in the morning and in response, she told me something I had feared â€“ that while that was an altogether not too shabby idea, the airport unfortunately simply wasn't busy enough to be a 24 hour airport and as a result, it would close not long after the last flight arrived. Crap. Suddenly I had visions of my castle being shifted to a car park space in the short-term car park out the front. However, as I went on to express these concerns, she came up with a much more agreeable idea, regardless of how bizarre it was. Her idea was that I could stay in the airport departure lounge on the condition that I'd be locked in with (possibly, if they were around) only other airport staff in the building â€“ failing that, I'd be on my own in an airport, the only stipulation being I'd have to move to the centre of the departure lounge so that security could see what I was doing. Honestly, my travels to date have left me staring in the face of some of the most unusual and bizarre occurrences I ever wish to encounter, but being left on my own for a night in the airport of the capital city of New Zealand was not one I'd ever have thought possible. Nonetheless, I'm not stupid either and if it's a toss up between shifting my baggage-made makeshift castle 100 metres further into the main area of the airport and then getting a sound sleep because nobody would be there or moving outside into the cold to the car park to be woken as early as people started arriving, there was hardly a choice.
And that is how I came to win the dubious honour of ‘first person I know of, alone in a locked airport overnight award', an award I've obviously just come up with in the last five minutes. But truth be told, the sleep was not bad. I shifted along and found an ideal new area on which to construct my new and improved castle. This time, the seat was more like a sofa and was just what I'd been looking for. So finally, around 1am, without particularly meaning to, I fell asleep. I woke briefly once or twice through the night but was greatly impressed (and it's a testament to the comfort of the airport) not to really wake up until people started coming through around 3:45. OK, so it's pathetic really; 2 hours and 45 minutes, but considering it was in a huge empty hall (imagine the size of the whole check-in area in Dublin Airport, except minus the check-in desks) with bright spotlights still on and a bit of a chill running through the place, it was quite amazing. When I felt good and ready, and the coffee shop were making obvious signs that they wished to see the return of their chairs that I'd nicked the previous night in order to fortify my castle, I finally got up and went to check-in. Air New Zealand unfortunately win absolutely no prizes from me for anything I'm afraid. The woman at check-in was surly and took another passenger only when she expressly felt like it, which wasn't often. But the greatest scam perpetrated by the Government of New Zealand and one that would strongly put me off returning purely based on the deceit involved is the ‘departure fee'. I've been to a number of countries where departure taxes or fees or some other form of payment is to be made upon departure from the country in question and without fail, be it anywhere from Belize to Vietnam, the airline has always taken payment for it at the time I booked and paid for my ticket. So you can imagine my absolute disgust to find that with only $2 left, I needed to find an additional $23 just to get out of the country. That's the equivalent of around â‚¬13 to escape from New Zealand, which nobody so much as even whispers until you try to leave. Air New Zealand, or rather the friendly agent belonging to them, didn't so much tell me about it as insist they'd nothing to do with it and I'd better pay it if I wanted to see Irish soil anytime soon.
I don't know what the New Zealand tourist agency's strategy is but this departure fee nonsense that isn't even mentioned at any time either before or during your stay is complete rubbish! They surely can't expect a single return visitor after making them hand over the last of their New Zealand dollars just to get out of the country? I obviously was left with no choice but to head back to the ATM and withdraw another 30 dollars, since it wasn't likely to give me 23 and then try and find somewhere to spend the additional 7 I had now been forced to take out, even though I didn't want to. Finally, some $25 poorer than I wished to be, I made it to the gate. Interestingly, most of Wellington Airport was in fact pretty small and poky, the departure lounge I had used as a King-size bedroom being probably the best area of the whole thing. I don't know where the $25 is going but it's not going into making the airport look great that's for sure. We finally got on our plane, which to be fair, was nicely decked out but after we'd been sitting there on the ground for 20 minutes with no signs of an imminent departure and having just watched two planes take off down the runway even though we were clearly scheduled as the first flight of the morning, no amount of niceness was calming my growing irritation. Finally, we were bumped around a little, still stationary, while we were treated to sounds of the aircraft-equivalent of a car stalling. Clearly, we were not to be departing any time soon. The noise continued and as I looked outside, I could see the flaps at the back of the wing extending out and then retracting straight away, without pausing for a second.
Sure enough, that was exactly where our problem was and by the time it finally got rectified, we were just touching two hours behind time. On the bright side, I was now famished and determined to finish every single morsel presented to me on the plate during breakfast â€“ however, the hunger, it became very quickly obvious, would not be solved by the ‘meal'; the tiniest muffin I've ever seen, a tiny dipping sauce-sized bowl of muesli and the same for 7 pieces exactly of fresh fruit. Wow. Clearly, breakfast wouldn't be the most filling of meals. I tried to make every bite last but needless to say by the time we finally touched down in Melbourne I was like the Tasmanian Devil itself, ready to devour everything in sight. I blazed a trail right through immigration and out into customs where I managed to get myself out and upstairs to Subway within 5 minutes. During the course of the travels, I've also become fairly adept at scouting out free showers to use in airports â€“ I've figured out that there's nearly always one or two, generally behind an unmarked door not far from the toilets. Following the Subway, I raced my trolley off in the direction of the toilets, determined to clean up at least a little bit before the next flight to Kuala Lumpur later this evening. Melbourne Airport's best efforts at hiding the showers inside the toilets beside cleaning closets were simply no match for both primarily my need to clean myself and secondarily, my established skill at locating showers. Now, I have no idea whether these unmarked showers in airports the world over are primarily the reserve of airport staff or for those elite frequent flyers in the know or that maybe you have to pay to be told where they are but either way, I've been making full use of the situation.
So tonight, I make the second of three parts of my journey towards India by flying to KL. Hopefully I'll be able to keep in touch once I actually arrive in India but if not, expect a heap of writing to just appear once I get to an internet place! Also, by the time this post is up, I'll actually be in India â€“ I decided rather than give you two posts at the same time to schedule them a few days apart to make it all a little more dependable! So, I hope you enjoyed this and the last one, which incidentally have been written at the same time and hopefully I'll write soon from India,
Cheers & Hugs…