And in that order, too. I left on the 4:40 a.m. train from Basel to Zürich with four pieces of luggage. At check-in I got permission to take three of those as carry-on items. Believe me, I never enjoyed having three things to carry, but none of them I wanted thrown about like my suitcase.
It seemed like for most of my trip I flew over clouds. Between Zürich and Vienna some craggy peaks poked out of the cotton candy layer. In Vienna I got my seat on the next plane changed to a center aisle seat so I saw very little out the window. I was impressed by the quick transfer in Vienna but not so much by the Austrian Airlines entertainment system, because the movies didn’t have individual starting times. Instead of at least three movies I only saw two. “The Departed” is a well-told story without a real point but with a lot of shooting, dying, bleeding, and cursing. “Talladega Nights” entertained me more with its light humor (“It’s Spanish for, like, a fighting chicken”). We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 4:50 a.m. local time amidst disinfectant aerosol and warnings of the death penalty, walked a quick loop to the waiting area, watched the shuttles with the bold claim “World’s Best Airport” zip by, and boarded again. I’d forgotten my pillow, eye cover, and book in the plane, but they had not been removed. On the flight to Sydney I read in “Babbitt,” slept, watched the great uniformity that is Australia pass by underneath on the onboard camera, and noted that most geographical features in Australia seem to be preceded by the same qualifier: Great Sandy Desert, Great Artesian Basin, Great Dividing Range, Great Barrier Reef. We dove through the clouds and landed in muggy Sydney.
The transfer in Sydney ranks among the least efficient I’ve ever been through. I waited for at least half an hour with no more than 30 people in the line in front of me. On the flight to New Zealand I was seated next to a retiree from Tennessee wearing a T-shirt saying “May the God of your choice bless you.” I asked him what his choice was, and he said he hadn’t decided yet – so many options! He was traveling to New Zealand to visit friends he’d made while living here for three years because he wanted to be around for the America’s Cup and to explore the South Island. He spends his summers volunteering for the British Columbia Land Conservancy out of Victoria and travels south for the winters; he recommended the Sauvignon Blanc and Speights Old Black or something like that.
Auckland welcomed me with a balmy night and sweet smells similar to wisteria. The Australian guy that sat behind me on the SuperShuttle commented to his girl how it didn’t look much different from Australia, to which she replied that it was because it was midnight and one couldn’t see the landscape. I was tempted to point out that we had also not left the airport parking yet. The girl next to me on the shuttle with a frizzy ponytail, a large nose and an endearing smile turned out to be from Slovenia, and I embarrassed myself by asking if she was from Bratislava. That would be like asking me if I was from Stockholm. When she joked that I’d been very impolite, I partly redeemed myself by guessing Ljubljana. The rest of the way until she got off at the Youth Hostel we spoke in German, because she’d studied in Freiburg im Breisgau, not an hour from Basel. I had to chuckle when she complimented me on my German, which she hastened to assure was a sincere compliment, because she often found Swiss hard to understand even in High German.
At about 1 p.m. I checked in to the Hyatt Regency and wrote an e-mail home confirming my safe arrival. I’m on the 16th floor with a great view of all the other 16th floors of the surrounding buildings. The Hyatt left some fruit out for me – the orange tasted limp and the apple not at all, but I haven’t had such a fruity banana in a long time.
The nice thing about traveling to New Zealand is that I need not change the time on my alarm clock, at least not this time of year.
In the morning I unpacked my suitcase and noticed that indeed some baggage inspector had broken off the plastic hook that held one of the cloth side pockets in place. It seems every time I fly somewhere, something breaks on the suitcase. I think I’ll try to get away with carrying on three items again for the rest of my trip.
I also, for the first time in my life, weighed myself in stones.