Saturday, 5 September 2009

Our Arabian Nights (Part 1)

After a month in the USA and two weeks in Australia, Meg and Wayne were in Tuncurry, N.S.W with Wayne's parents, his sister Valerie and her two children, Katie and Matthew. They had just spent 5 days with Callum, Declan and Ethan and had a wonderful time talking about the previous 18 months and taking the boys to the beach. Now it was Thursday morning, the boys had been dropped back in Sydney on Tuesday night, and the rest of the family had already left to catch a flight to Melbourne. Barry (from across the road) drove them to Forster Coach Centre and deposited them there, ready for a trip down to Sydney.

Sitting at the coach station (really, just a glorified bus stop) we were slightly confounded when an elderly lady moved away from us initially. After a few minutes she moved back closer to us and apologised when the smoke from her cigarette blew in our faces. When we told her it was o.k. she started to giggle. This behaviour continued, not just until the coach arrived at 7:10, but for the next 40 minutes or so, as we stopped at Green Point, Pacific Palms and Smiths Lake. By the time we got to Newcastle it was obvious that the driver was sick of her behaviour. When she asked if the bus was going to Wyong (which it wasn't but it was stopping somewhere not far away where another bus would have got her there) he strongly encouraged her to catch the train instead.

As always, we had our own drama with the transport. While it wasn't as time consuming as the train that broke down with us on it as we were travelling into Brisbane, the malfunction of the coach ticketing machine saw us stopping in Raymond Terrace at the Busways Head Office with the possibility that the coach may not keep going. In the end, the driver (and the guy he consulted with) decided that they would ignore it and try and get it fixed while they were in Sydney. The trip was very smooth, there was very little traffic, and we were safely deposited at Sydney's Central Station at 1pm to be met by our friend Julia. Sadly, after some beautiful weather coming down (particularly along the gorgeous coastline in Newcastle) by the time we had reached Hornsby it was overcast and it started to rain when we reached the station.

Meanwhile, Brock and Quinn, who had spent the previous 8 weeks travelling all over the east coast of Australia staying with various family members were coming to the end of their time in Brisbane. Their father dropped them at the airport at 4pm to make sure they would be ready for the 7:20 flight to Sydney but because the had no money there was not a lot for them to do other than sit around and spot celebrities. After a 15 minute delay to their flight leaving everything else flowed fairly well and they were safely in Sydney to be met by Wayne at baggage collection. After the suitcases arrived it was only a few minutes and Julia reappeared to collect all of them and whisk them back to where Meg was waiting at the Formule 1 hotel.

This gives us the opportunity to share a happy hint. If you are travelling to the domestic terminal in Sydney and are going to be met by someone, get them to wait at the Krispy Kreme doughnut store which is next to the motel we were staying in. As well as being able to use the wi-fi and consume their produce, it is only minutes away from the domestic terminals. When you land and have collected your luggage, a quick phone call or text message can have them ready to pick you up within minutes. This is certainly a much cheaper option than parking at the airport (unless, of course, they spend a lot of money at Krispy Kremes).

The following morning everything seemed to be going swimmingly. Wayne and Meg had breakfast at the aforementioned store and then woke the boys at 10am. We easily made checkout at 11 and then shortly after the shuttle arrived to ferry us to the international terminal. We were a little early to beginning checking in for our Etihad flight but there were lots of seats and we were soon in a fast moving queue to the check in counter. Of course, it was all just a little too easy and it wouldn't have been us if something had not gone wrong at this point.

We had been sent copies of our visas by email and had printed them out at the library in Tuncurry, however they were only in black and white. Maria, at the counter, pointed out to us that they couldn't be easily read and asked if we could get a colour copy done. Fortunately, Meg had had the foresight to anticipate this event and saved the visas to her memory stick. While the boys sat and watched the bags and Maria held on to our passports for us, Meg and Wayne scoured the International Terminal looking for a colour printer. Various people tried to help us (including three different Help Desks) but across Levels 1 and 2 there was not a colour printer to be found. Finally, someone suggested that we head up to the Administration Level 3 and visit the Etihad Office. George allowed us to use his printer and wouldn't accept any of our attempts to pay him for the privilege.

Once our bags had been checked it was smoothly through customs and security and we were in the lounge at our gate at just after 1pm. This gave us the opportunity to keep people updated with where we were using the free internet sites. Meg also changed money from Australian Dollars into Qatari Riyals and used some of her remaining funds to buy some Gucci 'Envy' at the duty-free store. It was not long after this and we were boarding our flight ready for the first leg, 14 hours from Sydney to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Etihad has some beautiful planes and we took the opportunity to make some last phone calls to our parents to say goodbye before take off. There were enough free seats on the plane that Wayne and Meg were able to move to a different row, giving both themselves and the boys a little more room to spread out on the flight. One of the stewardesses was from Melbourne originally, and she gave us some information on living in the Middle East and what we might expect when we arrived.

The flight itself was very bumpy, with lots of turbulence for most of the route as we passed over Malaysia, Indonesia and India. However, there was an abundant supply of food, and enough entertainment options to keep us all amused. The staff were attentive and we received little gift packs with toothbrushes and paste, eye masks etc. to help make the journey more comfortable. The only major issue on this leg was our fellow passengers. In the row behind Meg and Wayne an eighteen month old boy screamed and shouted for all but 2 hours of the flight, so consequently neither of them had had very much sleep at all (Wayne did, however, manage to watch 5 entire movies, win the Grand Prize on 'Who Wants to Be A Millionaire' and play a number of other games).

At midnight (Abu Dhabi time) we finally landed and were quickly shuttled to the terminal. This was a breaktakingly majestic building, largely round with a conical shape in the centre covered in beautiful tiles. The Duty Free shopping opportunities on the Ground Level were opulent and the upper floor had a number of places to eat. There was also a room where people could sit on a carpeted floor with round cushions that was just as you might have seen in Arabic themed restaurants, as well as Islamic Prayer Rooms. We were there for an hour or so before it was time to board the A319-300 that was to take us the final part of our trip to Doha, Qatar.

This was truly bizarre, because the plane left 15 minutes ahead of schedule. The 45 minutes flight time was over very quickly and consequently we were soon on the ground in the city that is to be our home for at least the next two years. At 2:40am it was already 32°C but it didn't seem too bad as we boarded another coach. As we left the coach at the Terminal, even before we made it to Customs and Immigration we were met by people who had been waiting for us. Rather than stand in the line with the hundreds of others we were ushered into a private room while our passports were stamped and our baggage collected. They then shepherded us around the lines and through security to a cafĂ© to wait for a couple of minutes while our shuttle bus was collected.

While we were waiting, one of the Qatar Academy senior staff arrived to welcome us and give us a pack with lots of information about the school. Our bus ride through Doha saw us gawking in amazement at all of the amazing architecture, the fancy cars, and all the little things that make this country different to others that we have encountered. Seeing McDonalds, Burger King and Subway written in Arabic was fascinating, as was noticing the number plates of the cars (also in Arabic, unsurprisingly) and speculating about what vehicle we might soon be driving.

We soon arrived at the complex where we will be staying and it wasn't long before we were inside the door of our new home. It is on the sixth floor of the building which is really a large apartment complex. The house itself is very big, certainly the biggest we have lived in since Wayne and Meg first came together, with three very large bedrooms and four bathrooms. When we looked out of our windows we could see the major sports centre across the road. It was all very exciting and we unpacked some of things quite quickly. However, it was clear that all of us needed some sleep and by 4am we had all crashed, relieved to have finally arrived.

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