Off to Australia. We knew what we were in for. The airplane trip from London, England to Melbourne is a long one, about 25 hours including the layover in Dubai. That’s a whole lot of trying to make oneself comfortable in the increasingly cramped seats today’s airlines are offering. Of course you can buy more comfort if you pay the difference between coach and business class. But have you compared the prices?
Before I describe the flight itself, though, full disclosure demands a report on yet another of our ongoing travel mishaps. In the confusion at the London-Heathrow ticket counter we checked our bags through to Melbourne. We felt pretty good as we left the counter and walked toward the departure area. Everything was in order. That is, almost everything was in order. We hadn’t walked very far when we discovered a carry-on bag was missing. We had checked it by mistake.
Our daughter Candy to the rescue. She raced back to the counter. Sorry, they said, the bag has already been sent on the conveyor belt to somewhere in the bowels of the terminal, en route to the belly of our plane. Not good. This wasn’t just any bag, you understand. It contained, along with other valuables, her computer. She had intended to work on the plane. More seriously, the zipper on the bag’s outer compartment was broken. The computer could easily slip out and suffer irreparable damage. You know with what care and kindness luggage is not treated.
Well, when the situation requires it, Candy can be quite persuasive. She motivated the kind agent to call the luggage area, issue instructions, and explain the direness of the emergency. Then he sent her into the lower regions to retrieve the checked suitcase. There wasn’t much Michael and Joy and I could do to help, so we did what we could: we went in search of something to eat, telling one another it was too bad she had to go to all that trouble and probably wouldn’t have time to eat. We were full of sympathy for her plight. However, we didn’t see why we shouldn’t go ahead and eat. Sympathy only takes you so far.
Then, to our relief, she showed up, suitcase in hand. Crisis averted.
Traveling is such fun.
The flight itself is worth reporting on. No more excitement like the mistaken checked suitcase caper, but a new experience for us. We had a layover in the opulent Dubai airport. Candy and Michael often have a layover there on their every-six-week commute between Australia and England and I’d been there once, but it was Joy’s introduction to the place. It’s now on our short list of favorite airports.
But that’s not what I was going to tell you. The new experience was this: our first flight aboard an A380, the jumbo double-deck, wide-body, four-engine Airbus, so huge you’d swear there is no way the thing could get off the ground. It surpasses Boeing’s 747-8 (which is longer but not bigger), claiming title as the world’s largest passenger airplane. And it is big. Its wingspan is 262 feet, it’s length 240 feet. With a top speed of 640 mph, the A380 cruises at 564 mph–and can do that for 9756 miles before refueling. Impressive.
In the ongoing competition between the giant airplane manufacturers Boeing and Airbus, I always root for Boeing. It’s ours, built in the USA. (The fact that our son-in-law Ed works for Boeing might have contributed a little to my bias). Airbus is the product of a consortium of several European countries, which is OK, but I cheer for the home team.
As a totally biased passenger, then, I was prepared to find fault with the opposition’s product. But I couldn’t. Even in the coach section, we sat in comfortable seats, noted the quality of the little things (a food tray that doesn’t tilt and slide the food into your lap, and the latch that holds the tray in the seat back—which works so easily you don’t have to wake up the fellow in the next row as you push & shove to replace the tray.) As I said, little things.
But this is not such a little thing: Joy and I were just settling into our seats when a flight attendant welcomed us by name and said that she had reserved a full row (4 seats) at the back of the plane if one of us would like to use it. Then we could both stretch out and sleep.
I took her up on the offer. As soon as we had climbed past 10,000 feet (“You are now free to move about the cabin”), I made my way toward the back. My new friend was standing beside the reserved row. She had spread blankets over every seat as if to signal, “This row is reserved for someone very important.” Then I claimed my place!
After I woke up from three or four hours of genuine sleep, she came again to see if I needed anything. It was pill time so I asked for something to wash it down with. She immediately brought me water and a chicken wrap. This special treatment was a puzzle. Why me? Turns out she thought I was a Qantas Airlines frequent flyer. That was the clue I was looking for. As I mentioned above, the Ohanessians fly Qantas every six weeks; they’re lifetime Platinum members. When Candy booked our flights she lumped all four of us together. Thanks to their importance we got first-class treatment, even in coach. (It pays to be nice to your children when they are young!)
So now we are in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond, at home with our kids until after the first of the year. Rent free. They’re spoiling us. Of course we have a lot of household duties: turn the lights off when you go to bed, regulate the air conditioner when the temperature rises, answer the door when the doorbell rings. You know, chores.
About our home. Richmond is one of Melbourne’s oldest suburbs (from the 1850s). The neighborhood is an eclectic mix of architectural styles, some of the smallest cottages over a century old sit side by side with more modern, but usually less interesting, structures.
The one we’re in is both old and modern. The core of the building was once a cluster of four grain silos. You can see original rounded walls inside our apartment. With what I suspect is typical Australian foresight, these silos originally stood between a bakery on one side and a brewery on the other. How efficient is that?
Today the silos have been renovated to hold seven condominiums, one on each floor. We’re on the fourth. The creative architect attached a prow-like addition to the silos. I can’t really describe the result, but the pictures give you an idea. The common area is a glass wrap-around, providing an unobstructed view of the surrounding town. The first tenant here was Kylie Minogue, the famous Australian singer, songwriter, and actress. Don’t worry—I hadn’t heard of her either. I checked her out online, though, and found that she’s famous enough to have her own waxwork model at Madame Tussauds. That’s famous!
We haven’t looked around much yet. For the first couple of days our top priority was resting. Even with a little sleep on the plane we still arrived pretty jet-lagged. So far we’ve done some grocery shopping; successfully boarded the tram that runs between our Richmond suburb and downtown Melbourne and returned safely without getting lost, a major accomplishment; visited the Praemium office, the headquarters of Michael’s multinational company; and shopped for supplies for Joy’s art. She set up her studio in the apartment’s multipurpose room and is already painting. I need to get to work also. I must get serious about some speaking and teaching assignments in India after the first of the year. I’ll get to it. Pretty soon. In a day or so. Really.