Christmas imagery is packaged up with a man in a fur-trimmed red suit, reindeers pulling large wooden sleighs through white powdery snow, evergreen fir trees with a dusting of snow on the branches, perfectly formed snowmen with carrot noses, rugged up carollers going from door to door singing about a silent nights.
Coming from Australia, these images provoke a feeling that
Christmas is a magical time. Our Christmas is a time of trying to find a cool
spot in the shade, battling the heat to keep the drinks cold, breathing in air
so hot that it feels like it is burning your throat, trying not to move too
much so that the sweat doesn’t start beading again,
While the scenario may seem foreign to each opposing
hemisphere there are two elements in common. Both involve eating a hot meal
despite the outside temperature and family.
I think most Australians dream about experiencing a “white
Christmas” at least once in their lives, so when the opportunity arose to spend
Christmas with my brother (also ticking off the second element of Christmas) in
Winterberg, Germany, I jumped at it. Even the name Winterberg conjures up
images of snow and cold. I decided that this was an opportunity not to be
I was going to experience my first white Christmas.
After the 21 hour long flights, the airport delays, the long immigration lines, the blast of “artic” air upon walking out of the Frankfurt airport, the 2-hour drive, I arrived in Winterberg in complete darkness. I could hardly contain myself in eagerness to waking up in the morning to a winter wonderland.
As excited as a kid on Christmas day, I woke up at 7.30am on 23rd December, rushed outside to still find it pitch black, but in the darkness, I could see that there was one thing missing. Snow. Someone had forgotten to tell the powers that Be, that snow was a crucial part of the white Christmas experience.
Trying to contain my disappointment, I managed to soldier on with pithy sayings like “no its ok, I knew that there might not be any snow” and the classic, “I’m just happy to be spending Christmas with family”
The truth is, I was shattered. This was not how I had pictured my Christmas to be.
Being a trooper, I managed to hide my disappointment and smiled meekly throughout the day as we went to check out medieval Marberg, the winter markets in Winterberg, caught up with some friends of Grant and Tamara’s, went out for dinner and ate pork knuckle and a few glasses of German bier. It was a pleasant day, but it wasn’t a white pre-Christmas day.
The day finished with a night cap (or few) back at Grant
& Tamara’s house, when I noticed out the window that it looked like white
specks glistening in the darkness. Rushed outside to see that it was actually
It was going to be a white Christmas after all.
The next morning, Christmas Eve, looked like a baker had dusted icing sugar all over the landscape. Now it was beginning to look like the Christmas cards displayed on the mantle… if people actually sent Christmas cards anymore. To say “looking like an ecard sent because a company was saving all the money to save an endangered profit margin”, just doesn’t conjure up the same magical imagery.
By the end of the day the ground was covered in snow, so the
day was spent out in the snow, looking at snow, photographing snow, throwing
snow, walking in snow, slipping in snow, falling over in snow.
Europeans tend to celebrate Christmas Eve more than
Christmas day, and this 24th December was no exception, and we celebrated,
and celebrated and celebrated with the South African next door neighbours.
As the drinks flowed, the flakes snowed.
Woke up on Christmas Day with my dream fulfilled, it was a White Christmas. Except in my idyllic dream, I didn’t have a hangover.
Now, I’m dreaming of a Panadol Christmas.
Experiencing a white Christmas is on many bucket-lists, as it should be. I think everyone in the southern hemisphere, who has the opportunity, should forgo a sandy festive season at least once and head north to experience the magic of a white Christmas.
If you want to experience your own white Christmas, email The Don’t Forget Travel Group on email@example.com
Andrew is the owner and director of The Don’t Forget Travel Group, a boutique travel agency that specialises in tailor-made itineraries.
WELCOME TO our first edition of Jetsetter. We are calling this a “periodical periodical” as it won’t be published to set deadlines; we’ll deliver it when we have some interesting news, or discover new and inspirational destinations, or it might be seasonal. Who knows! We hope you enjoy.
The first thing that hit me was the feeling of spaciousness. Whereas Emirates First Class has privacy, Qantas first class has space as it has open sides, but after being seated you swivel your chair towards the window so that you are facing the television screen. Once you are in the swivel position you feel more private as you are now facing away from the aisle. There is a lot of little storage spaces, drink holders and areas to put your stuff. There is even room for visitors to come and sit and chat, or even to sit down and share a meal with you.
Plenty of room to stretch out
the awkward position to reach your storage
The only thing I would say that is a negative is that the space is designed, there is a little “wall” where your arm rest is and you have to awkwardly twist to reach around to access some of the storage spaces. The décor is rather bland or “understated” after flying with the Middle Eastern carriers of late. There aren’t any of the little touches, such as the fresh orchards in a wall sconce, or polished walnut bits, or the little bowl of snacks to munch on during the flight, OR a personalised “mini-bar”.
After arriving in Melbourne, getting through Immigration and Customs, we were left with only an hour to sample Qantas’ First Class Lounge. On first impressions it looked on the smaller side, but service was efficient as the restaurant was full and they served us our breakfast in the lounge area we we plonked our stuff. The egg and bacon roll was exactly what I needed at 8am as I had already been awake since 3.30am for the early flight to Melbourne. The great thing about the First Class Lounge was that it literally was above our plane, so boarding was easy and meant we could leave the Lounge at the last minute.
Upon embarkation, The Crew introduced themselves and offered a nice glass of Veuve Clicquot and a plate of olives. They were welcoming without being annoying. I like to “get ready” before take-off and work out what I might need during the flight, explore the storage nooks and crannies and sometime the crew can be too convivial and fuss over you and you end up with 5 or 6 people coming to introduce themselves that you never remember their names or what they do. This Qantas Crew had the right amount of “fuss”.
Menu – The Neil Perry lunch menu was full of good choices. The Maggie Beer pate (always a favourite) and the caviar with celeriac puree appetisers were very nice and a good small size. As it was only 11.15am (my time), and only a few hours since breakfast, I
didn’t feel like too much to eat, so I chose two small entrees rather than a big main course. I couldn’t go past the Lobster and soba noodles with XO sauce and I had heard that the First Class Steak Sandwich was a must. The Lobster was excellent, the steak sandwich was also nice but very simple – steak, chilli sauce on a bed of rocket in a baguette….where was the beetroot, egg, onion, cheese and tomato. I won’t fall for that trap again!! The wine list was also very simple with only a few choices. I expected more, but still managed to find a Riesling I like.
Despite being full, Emma the hostie, implored that I had to have the Ice-cream sandwich. Oh wow, it was fantastic and full of honey, nuts and chocolatey goodness. Leave room for this treat.
Breakfast was the usual choice of eggs & bacon, yogurt, muesli etc.
The Seat – The seat swivels to face the window or your guest after take-off. There are USB ports to charge your devices as well as noise-cancelling headphone. It is comfortable and fully reclines into a fully horizontal flat bed. While you are changing into your stylish black Martin Grant (who I assume is a designer??) pyjamas and slippers, the cabin crew make up the bed for you with a mattress and duvet. Despite being so comfortable, I didn’t really get any serious sleep: maybe 2 hours here and there and eventually I just gave up. Unlike most flights, it was really hot in the cabin which didn’t help with sleep. I should have taken the sleeping tablet that was on offer by my travelling companion.
Martin Grant slippers to match the pajamas
“Are you asleep yet?”
iQ – Qantas’ entertainment system had a lot of choice. They had a lot more recent movies than I’ve experienced on a lot of other flights.
The Crew – the crew on-board were fantastic. They were friendly and attentive without being too in your face. They had a great knack of knowing when to be chatty and when to leave you alone. They were also very helpful with some suggestions on what to do and where to go in our ultimate destination, New York. Upon touchdown in Los Angeles, my inner 9 year old self was beaming with excitement as I was invited into the cockpit to have a look before disembarking. Nice end to a good flight.
Overall: Despite the lack of sleep, I enjoyed the overall Qantas First Class experience. I absolutely rate the service; it has been friendly, efficient without feeling forced. Can’t wait until next time. Hopefully, there will be a next time.
Everything about this was first class. Check in was easy, the welcome on board was friendly, but not too over the top. Of course the private cabins are a little oasis in the sky. Slide the doors close and you are in your own little world. There are nice little touches, such as the fresh orchards in a wall sconce, the little bowl of snacks to munch on during the flight, and there is a “mini-bar”. The mini bar is probably not needed as it is only filled with non-chilled water and soft drink, but it does have a wow factor.
Menu – didn’t have any trouble choosing from the selection on the menu. As it was now 10pm, I didn’t want much to eat before sleeping, so I chose the Caviar and washed it down with a few glasses of Dom Perignon 2006. Both were very nice. I also manage to compliment dinner with a few glasses of Chivas Regal…so I had a good buzz on!!
The seat is comfortable and fully reclines into a flat bed. While you are changing into your stylish pyjamas (the new moisturising ones),the cabin crew make up the bed for you with a mattress and duvet. I managed to get a good 6 hours of sleep, but it was a very bumpy flight, so a deep sleep wasn’t forthcoming.
Another cute touch is that when the main cabin lights are dimmed, all of a sudden you are transported to another place as the cabin lights up like a night sky with twinkling stars.
ICE – the entertainment system (Information, Communication & Entertainment) had a lot of choice. On previous Emirates flights I have struggled to find much to watch, but this time there a lot of selections that I wanted to see. This possibly says more about the current movies, rather than the system itself. I chose to watch LION, and after a skinful of scotch and champagne, I was grateful for the sliding doors so that I could cry in private!!!
Overall: Great flight, great service, great product….and everyone should try to sit up the very pointy end of the plane at least once in their lives.
Footnote: The big surprise was the plane didn’t dock at the airport but a few miles away (felt like it anyway) and Emirates had a luxury First Class bus pick us up (all 2 of us). It was very special and I felt like a rock star! It was a really nice finish to the flight. I am pretty sure by now there was tears of joy.
As I was staying with friends, and it was still 5.30am and way too early to go to their place, to kill a bit of time, I didn’t take advantage of the “Express Pass” for Immigration or Customs. The efficiency of the airport meant that I still got through quickly, and being First Class my luggage was the first to appear on the belt….the complimentary limo was ready
and waiting so I was whisked off by 6.30 to Dubai Islands to catch up with friends. Now, that is another story (and more tears) for another time!
If Greece is the word, then Athens is the capital letter.
Greece conjures up images of white washed cube-shaped buildings, blue domed topped churches, clear azure waters, sunny days and stunning sunsets. Most people are in a hurry to get to the islands.
But stop for a minute, no wait, stop for a few days.
Athens is often overlooked in the rush to get to the islands. Behind the often first impression of dirt and grime, the uninspiring architecture of the six storey blocks of apartments is an exciting city with an intoxicated blend of the ancient and the new.
My tips on why you should spend time in Athens.
The capital is full of ruins. Some are ancient and some even date back to the 60’s when the building codes weren’t so stringent! The Parthenon is the crown that sits proudly atop the Acropolis, and well worth a few hours wandering around this monument and surrounds. The city feels like an open air museum as there are ancient temples, sporting arenas, archaeological digs everywhere. Many of the Metro stations are also museums housing artefacts uncovered while digging the underground train system. The new Acropolis Museum now floats above a working archaeological site because they kept finding new things as building progressed. In fact whenever they turn earth to build something, it feels that they uncover a new ancient site.
from Monastiraki platia in the Plaka
The changing of the guards
Greek’s relationship with food is a bit like the friendship between Kiwi’s and their sheep, its love at first sight. It would be hard to starve in Athens as the opportunity to eat is ever-present…except for breakfast which seems to consist of a thick, strong coffee and an even stronger cigarette. While the Plaka offers many tavernas with great views of the Acropolis, my advice is to head into the back streets to discover better, more authentic tavernas. A rule of thumb is – if it is small with plenty of locals then it is going to be worth trying. Of course, being empty isn’t a true indication that it should be avoided as you just might be too early. Greeks love to eat late and generally lunch can start anywhere between 2-4pm and dinner rarely begin before 8-9pm.
zacharoplasteion (Sweet Shops) are everywhere
getting the pita ready for the yiros
Dinner at 1 AM!
Greek Salad & Tzattziki
Fruit seller at Monastiraki Platia
Lunch overlooking the ocean
Koulouri (sesame bread rings) sellers can be found on the street corners..very popular for breakfast
I’m not sure if the Greeks invented socialising, but they certainly have perfected it. If a Greek asks to meet for a coffee what they are really saying is “let’s sit for a couple of hours slowly sipping a frappe and talk about the issue of the government, the football, or the good old days”. Athens is full of many great café/bars (a hybrid venue depending on the time of day). If you are feeling adventurous, seek out a Bouzoukia and have a night out watching the locals enjoying an entertainment that is part traditional and part Vegas. It is a night full of sequins, strobe lights, cheesy choreography, and smoke machines and due to OH&S restrictions, plate smashing has been replaced with flower throwing. You may not understand the words, you may not even like the music, but there is no mistaking the emotional singing and the renditions of melancholic longing for a time long gone – and that’s just the audience.
A night out at the Bazoukia
Marinella – one of Greece’s famous Bazoukia singers
As summer heats up, like the streets, the shops begin to empty as everyone, tourists and locals alike, begin
the exodus to the islands. This means that most retailers drastically discount their merchandise to entice the Euros out of the few wallets left in Athens. A great opportunity to bag a bargain. Two main shopping regions in the city centre are Ermou Street which is a pedestrian only street full of international and local brands, and if you prefer more boutique style shopping then head to the nearby suburb of Kolonaki.
For a big city, Athens is a relative safe city to walk around and get lost in. My advice is to walk the back street of the city centre and you will discover a little taverna or a laiki (a local street market), or a zacharoplasteion (sweets shop), or a little bar. You might discover neo-classical buildings dating back centuries or maybe some modern street art. You will definitely see Greeks going about their daily lives. The Acropolis may be the heart of Athens, but the streets are the veins teeming with real life.
Street art in Kolonaki
Street art in Psirri
“Light Street” in central Athens
Before you get out of Athens, I recommend that you get right out of Athens because there is so much to see. Catch the tram down the coast to one of the beach clubs for a day of relaxation, or travel a bit further to the upmarket suburb of Glyfada. Highly recommend getting out of Athens and visiting the Peloponnese region, or heading up to Delphi. If you really want a “wow” moment, then I cannot recommend enough, a trip north to see the monasteries of Meteora, impossibly built on top of these sandstone pillars. Just amazing.
One of the monasteries at Meteora, The Holy Trinity
Sunset in the seaside suburbs
one of Athens’ beach clubs
To head straight into the islands is like going directly to dessert before having main course. Yes you will be instantly satiated but once the sugar rush has subsided you feel quite empty.
You can’t really understand Greece until you have spent some time in Athens. Give it a chance, you won’t be disappointed.
Of course if you can’t extend your time in Athens, then this video will help you to get the most out of your short time in an amazing city.
The Dont Forget Travel Group is a boutique agency that specialises in custom-made holidays.
The level of doubt increased as the eyes scanned upwards. Up…up…up…up. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, seemed just that, impenetrable. The rain had stopped, the humidity had taken a strangle-hold on the forest, and now it looked like it was smoking as the mist seeped out of the trees. It really was going to be gorillas in the mist.
The seeds of doubt had been getting stronger each day as we got closer to our destination, Bwindi Uganda. Had I done enough training? Was the training up Mt Lofty steep enough to prepare me? What if we have come all this way and we don’t get to see the gorillas, after all there is only a 98% chance that we will see them? What if we are the 2%? Why is it that everyone else in our small group appears to not have done any training whatsoever? Maybe I shouldn’t have the desert – ok, just a little piece, I’ll walk it off in Bwindi?
The main purpose of this trip was to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda. Everyone’s focus was on “the gorillas”, so there was a feeling that all the travel days and experiences prior, as good as they were, were just filler for the main event. There are only approximately 850 mountain gorillas left and as there arent any in zoos, the only place to see them are in the jungles of the African “corner” where the countries of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda meet. This was going to be a rare experience.
After a fun-filled few days in and around Queen Elizabeth National Park and Ishasha Wilderness Camp seeking out, and spotting game such as elephants, tree-resting lions, the elusive leopards (not to blow my own trumpet, but I spotted 2 in one day…ok, I’m blowing my own trumpet), baboons, the strangely cute warthogs, chimpanzees, hippos, buffalo and lots and lots of kopi we headed towards Bwindi.
The drive wasn’t too far, but it took a few hours due to the rain and the muddy, pot-holed road conditions, as well as a few toilet stops. Even though this was the rainy season, we hadn’t had a lot of rain, and when we had, it generally cleared by the morning. Today was different as the rain had been persistent for most of the day and it was steadily coming down as we arrived into Bwindi.
Bwindi as a town was unusual in that it was our first encounter with “crass tourism” in Uganda. It was only a small town with a main street full of a few little ramshackle bars and tourist shops selling gorilla trinkets, gorilla carvings, gorilla t-shirts, gorilla statues, gorilla keyrings, but strangely no gorilla fridge magnets. I was later informed by our guide Steffi, that most Ugandan homes do not have a fridge, so the concept of a fridge magnet was foreign to them. The town also had a school and a hospital, the latter being somewhat of a comfort in case something happens on the gorilla trek.
The view of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest from our hotel, Buhoma Lodge, was breathtaking, beautiful and daunting, all at the same time. Breathtaking, because the elevation of Bwindi is approx. 1900m above sea level, whereas the average altitude in Adelaide is 50m and flat. You could feel that your lungs were working harder to get enough oxygen. This did not bode well for tomorrow’s trek when the altitude would be even higher. Daunting, because our hotel rooms were located clinging to the side of the hill. My room was located at the top and by the third steep set of stairs my left knee was telling me “enough!”. This did not bode well for tomorrows trek when we would climb even higher through rugged terrain. Beautiful, because the rain and humidity caused the mist to billow from the jungle making it appear mysterious and forbidding. This did not bode well for tomorrows trek as the humidity in Adelaide is almost zero and the body isn’t used to it. At this point I just hope that it doesn’t rain as the trek is going to be difficult enough as it is, I can’t imagine what it would be like all muddy and slippery. Actually, yes I can….It wouldn’t be good.
The afternoon was spent acclimatising by going for a walk and resting. Before dinner we had a briefing on what to take, wear and the procedures for the trek. Dinner was a fairly sombre affair as everyone was trying to suppress their excitement, or their nerves.
The now customary coffee wakeup call was on time at 6am. Having a hot pot of fresh coffee delivered to your door is the perfect way to start the day. After a 2 cups of coffee, a shower and a nervous wee, I was ready to meet the others for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of some more coffee, toast and another nervous wee. We collected our pre-packed lunch and had another nervous wee before the short walk to the Ranger Station.
There was a hive of activity at the Ranger Station as other groups arrived, porters and guides also turned up. We were escorted into a room that had the feel of a small classroom, and told to sit in chairs that were placed along the wall in a semi-circle facing an old tv. Maybe this room doubled up as the school? A video was played about how the gorillas help the community and how we help the community by paying money to see the gorillas. So flying half way around the world to see the gorillas was less about me, but about being philanthropic and noble. I was doing my bit for conservation and the preservation of these endangered primates.
After the video, we were taken outside and split into 4 groups of six with each group assigned a gorilla family. This is when we met Medi, our head guide, who explained the make up of our gorilla family and answered many of our questions… such as “bush toilets”. It was explained to us that they had sent trackers out in the morning to discover where the families had camped overnight so that we knew where to start the trek. We were told that we might be trekking anywhere from 1 hour up to 6 hours in the jungle.
Reminiscent of a school-yard pick, we got to choose our porters. I chose one, but he got reassigned to the tallest member of our group and I ended up with the smallest porter whose name was Justice. The hiring of porters was encouraged as the USD$20 helped to feed families, bring dollars into the community, help pay for schooling etc. While the others may have got a porter for altruistic purposes, I know I was going to need one to not only carry my day pack, but to help me get up the mountain.
Briefing finished, another nervous wee finished, and we all piled into the Jeep to drive to the starting point. We were only in the car for about 5 minutes as our trek would begin on the edge of town at the base of the mountain. I got out of the car and came face to face with a wall of a mountain. My eyes scanned up, up, up, up. Oh fuck! It looked even more intimidating being this close. I started muttering under my breath…”Please don’t let this be the 6 hour group”.
With walking poles in both hands, and Justice by my side, we took off in single file along a trail. The first 10 minutes was about trying to get some rhythm to my breathing and walking. Ok, this isn’t too bad. And, then the trail starts to steepen. It’s a this point that Justice takes one of walking poles and grabs my hand and starts to lead me up the mountain. After about 20 minutes I experience the “majestic push” for the first time. Through a particularly difficult section, with Justice pulling me along with a vice-like grip, I feel a hand on each of my butt cheeks pushing me up the mountain.
After we had been walking for about 40 minutes and the rest stops are becoming more frequent, the breathing is becoming more laboured and the terrain is getting steeper again. It was now so steep that if you stood fully upright, you were in danger of overbalance and tumbling down the mountain. We had now been told that our group was going to see the closest gorilla family. I knew that I wasn’t going to have to endure this for another 5 hours, but I was still questioning how long I was going to be able to keep up with everyone.
The next 15 minutes was a blurry cycle of sweat, climbing, huffing, puffing, scrambling, resting…repeat. Then a mood of anticipation takes over the group as we come upon the advance party trekker guides which mean that the gorillas are close. Just we pass through a tea plantation (what! someone makes this climb every day for work??) the porters stayed back, as they are not allowed to be near the gorillas, and we are called forward. There in the bushes is a gorilla. The undergrowth is so thick that I can’t see anything and all I can hear is the clicking of cameras. Surely I haven’t just trekked for an hour to see the backs of people’s heads and moving green foliage? And then the gorilla was on the move, and so were we. It’s amazing how adrenalin takes away all the pain. We were now scrambling and climbing in pursuit with agility not seen since the first minute of the trek.
Soon we meet up with the same gorilla again, and sitting a little higher up the mountain is the Silverback. He is sitting upright in a clearing, watching the action; the sunlight behind him is making him appear ethereal. We get to watch them for a few minutes before they are on the move again. Thankfully this time they are traversing around the mountain, but the jungle is getting thicker. In my mind, like the videos online, we were going to sit in one place for an hour and watch a family of gorillas frolicking happily in front of us in an open clearing. In my mind there was also going to be a beach ball bouncing back and forth, but I can see now that won’t be the case. Now we are hacking our way through thick forest trying to keep up with them.
I never felt threatened as they appeared to be quite docile, but you could sense their awesome power, except for the time I ended up on the path in front of a gorilla. As it was heading my way, I’m staring at it as I’m struggling to remember what they said at the briefing. Then I remembered they said not to look threatening, avert your eyes downwards coyly and keep a distance of 6 metres from them. Problem was, as it was coming closer I couldn’t take my eyes of her, and I had nowhere to go. She may have ignored me, but I couldn’t ignore her. And then the unthinkable happened….she grazed my leg as she lumbered past me. She touched me.
Let that sink in…I. HAD. BEEN. TOUCHED. BY. A. MOUNTAIN. GORILLA!
Not only do very few people on this planet get to see a Mountain Gorilla, I had been one of the very few, of the very few that has actually touched a mountain gorilla. I assume I am now a member of an exclusive club. I wonder when and where they hold the meetings.
The next hour or so was spent climbing, traversing, sliding, scrambling, crawling, slipping and tumbling through the dense jungle as we followed these imposing beasts. You don’t really notice how difficult the terrain is when you are “on the hunt”. The energy levels are high, the adrenalin is still surging, all the senses are on hyper, and the anticipation is extreme. When the gorillas stopped, we had time to sit quietly and observe (once we stopped taking photos, of course). We watched them play, climb trees, fall off trees, rest, eat, but mainly we watched them crawl on all fours then sit, crawl then sit, crawl then sit (actually that might have been us). Our family seemed to be spread out as we never really saw more than two together at the one time. They didn’t make much noise, except the Silverback let out a huge fart as he readied himself for a nap. Well we assumed it was the Silverback. It could have been any one of us as our diet on the trip had consisted of many 3-course meals of very rich food!
As the gorilla family had their mid-morning nap we were led away and started our descent. Due to the steepness, I found it less strainful on the knees, and less chance of falling, to slide down the mountain on my butt. And, it was a hell a lot of fun as well. Halfway down, on a particularly steep part of the mountain, we stopped to eat our pre-packed lunch. Overlooking Bwindi and the valley, still buzzing with excitement, we chowed down on sandwiches and fruit as we delighted in our collective experiences. It was a great moment.
Surprisingly, it took us a while to make our way off the mountain. Bwindi didn’t look too far away, but even as we (I) slid down the mountain; it never seemed to get any closer. I think it was the mountain’s version of a desert mirage. The view was spectacular, but I think we were all ready to get back to the lodge to clean up.
Once down off the mountain we said our good byes to our porters, paid them their well-earned money (seriously if they had cost US$40 each they would still be worth it) It was at this time that I noticed that one of the female porters was pregnant (not just pregnant, but looked like she was ready to give birth at any moment). I can’t believe that I hadn’t noticed before, but more importantly, I can’t believe that she did this trek a few times a week! I now felt really inadequate and stupid with my huffing and puffing, my walking sticks, my hiking boots, and my appropriate moisture-wicking and breathable trekking clothing.
We were met at the bottom of the mountain by a beaming Steffi, who we couldn’t wait to tell him our experiences. We were like little kids wanting to get the attention, and approval from our parents. There was a lot of chatter in the car as we drove back to the Ranger’s Office. I was very excited to receive my “Gorilla Trekking Certificate”. If I had a Pool Room, it would go straight into it and hung with pride.
The afternoon was all about the “come down”. After a champagne celebration back at the lodge, the group did their own things to process the morning’s experience with either therapeutic massages, resting and napping, sorting and sharing photographs, writing social media posts, but nothing could wipe the smiles off our faces and the warm glow of achievement.
It was an experience of a lifetime.
We all had seeing the gorillas as a bucket list item. Sometimes you build these items up to such a level that the reality is a disappointment. This was not one of those times.
I do wish, however, that I never ‘discovered’ it, but here I am sitting in it on QF 11 heading to New York via Los Angeles. It has felt like a never ending journey, and I still have 14 hours to go.
Just getting on this plane felt like a journey in itself as I passed through Economy cabin after Economy cabin. It felt like when you drive through a city and you leave the good suburbs behind with their manicured lawns and tree-lines streets and in each new suburb, the front yard is a little more overgrown and with each passing suburb the number of rusted car carcasses increase.
The upside to being in Row 87 is that the 5 toilets for this section are only 1 row away. You get to feel the humanity up close and personal, as everyone crowds around your seat doing their little “hurry-up-I’ve-got-pee” dance, while making judgements of what you are watching. Look, I haven’t seen Kung Fu Panda, OK? Don’t judge me.
Every time I hear the toilet’s vacuum flush (which is constant) I secretly imagine another “pee dancer” being sucked out of the plane. This would really free up some space up front. Whoosh. There goes another one.
Of course it is worse around service time when the people sitting at the front of the plane (not the real front, but the Economy front) have already finished their meals. I believe that eating celebrity-chef-inspired food off a tray must trigger a message in your bladder saying “I’ve gotta go….now”. Like watching the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, they all get up at once and head for the toilets at the rear of the plane. Like the crocodiles in the Mara river, lying in wait to impede their progress is the food trolley as the Crew try to serve the rear of the plane. Then the life and death struggle begins as the Crew play Frogger (old school arcade game reference…ask your parents) as they go backwards and forwards trying to negotiate space and hand out lukewarm “sorry we don’t have your choice” meals to those in the surrounds of Row 87.
Whoosh. There goes another one..
This A380 is so big that doing a lap, as recommended in the inflight magazine to avoid deep vein thrombosis, I was in more danger of pulling a hamstring as I recorded 5,579 steps on my Fitbit. I was certainly in more danger of causing an injury to the protruding limbs finding their way into the aisle. I was thinking I could really do some damage with one of those food trolleys….no wonder cabin crew are always smiling. They know the game.
Whoosh. There goes another one.
The seat configuration in this section is 3-4-3. The new livery still doesn’t hide the fact that you are trapped in like sardines. Another upside to Row87 is that most people want to sit as far forward a possible. No-one willingly allocates themselves seats so far down the back. It’s a bit like Daveron Park, you’ve heard of it, but you don’t know where it is or know anyone who has ever been there. This “I’m-not-going-to-the-dark-side” attitude in seat allocation has mean that I have an empty seat next to me. This little sardine feels less like the one that John West rejected.
Whoosh. Another one gone.
Of course the reclining seat in front still feels like a personal attack from the enemy. Nothing is more confronting than watching the seatback coming towards you at an alarming rate. Too late, no time to untangle your legs. Too late to lean down to get any of your comfort items from your bag under the seat. Too late to use the tray table as the angle of the seat prohibits any practical uses. Too late to watch the entertainment system in any comfort. When I was young, my mother used to warn “don’t sit close so to the tv, you’ll ruin your eyes”. She was a very wise woman. And while we didn’t end up with square eyes, she knew that watching a screen 5cms from your face is not a good thing.
Whoosh. Another one gone.
Oooooh fancy celebrity chef inspired “hot chicken panini” just arrived. I’m now eating lunch at 4.58pm Adelaide time and 11.58pm LA time. It must be celebrity chef inspired eating time.
Whoosh. Bye bye, whoever you are.
Another added benefit to sitting in Row87 is that you get to spend more time on the plane than those at the front. When the plane lands and the “quick-every-one-stand-up-ding’ can be heard, you get to stand in the aisle for what seems like hours. I’m sure those at the front of the plane had already disembarked, claimed their luggage, passed through customs, navigated the traffic and were already home in bed before Row87 has even advanced to Row 86
Whoosh. Whoosh. Uh oh a double whoosh. I wonder if that’s two gone, or something quite stubborn not going?
Row 87 is also known as Death Row. It’s a long walk to freedom.
The start of 2016 hasn’t been good for the Australian Dollar against the US Dollar. Ok, lets be honest, 2015 wasn’t so good either. The little Aussie Battler is in for a battle as our dollar is heavily linked to the economic fluctuations of our biggest trading partner, China…And their outlook isn’t so crash hot. (Ed: Don’t use the term “crash” when talking about currencies)
Its perfectly fine to skip this section of the newspaper (Ed: Are you sure people still read newspapers?) or glaze over when watching the news when this topic come up, but the danger is only looking at the headline or listening to the lead in comment and thinking its all of a sudden too expensive to travel anywhere.
In the majority of the cases, the headline is about the Australian Dollar’s value to the US Dollar, and yes, over the the last 12 months the $AUD has fallen in value by 17% against the $USD. (Ed: I remember the good old days when the dollar dropped below $.50).
To the traveller this means that when you arrive in the United States everything is automatically 17% more expensive than it was 12 months ago. The $4.00 coffee at Starbucks will now cost your $4.68 and that $100 pair of jeans will now cost you $117. Obviously this means that you either need more money to do all the things that you want, or cut back in some areas. But it doesn’t mean that you have to cross the US off your list completely.
There a few shining destinations to think about if you want good value for your Australian Dollar. If you are a skier, or love nature, or you just love going to a really nice place, then head north to Canada or south to NewZealand. The Australian Dollar is slightly up against these two currencies so it wont hurt your hip pocket. (Ed: what if they fall skiing and land on their hip?, I guess the burgeoning wallet full of cash will cushion the fall).
The United State’s southern neighbour, Mexico, also offers better value for money this year.
If you really want to drive your dollar further (Ed: I think Budget own this tag line) then grab that plane ticket and head to South American countries like Argentina and Brazil(Ed: you need to warn the reader that Brazil wont be cheap during the Olympic Games). Another destination to put on the list is South Africa. South Africa was relatively cheap before, but with the $AUD’s value increasing by over 20% against the Rand, it is now “a must”. (Ed: If you need me, I will be in Cape Town).
Its not all doom and gloom.
There a a lot of little gems and this may give you an opportunity to visit a place that you may not have had at the top of your list. Don’t let the headline stop you from getting out there and discovering the world.
For those that dont like to read, here’s the info in an infographic form…..
Every now and then The Dont Forget Travel Group is invited to do a plane inspection if there is enough time between landing and take off. This week we got to check out Singapore Airline’s Flight SQ278 which flies between Adelaide and Singapore.
I have been on this plane many times but never really taken a lot of notice (because the service is so good) and I could bore you with lots of detail about it being an Airbus A330-300 with 255 seats in Economy and 60 seats in Business…but why tell you when we can show you……
Unfortunately the plane was a little bit late so we didn’t have much time to really check out all the features. Maybe next time (if they let me back on!!)
Who knew that 27th February was International Polar Bear Day? I certainly didn’t, but it gave me an opportunity to reflect upon one the best trips I have ever been on.
A couple of years ago I was invited on a trip to Churchill, see the Polar Bears on the Tundra. After checking Google Maps to find out where Churchill actually was, I immediately jumped at the chance.
From Australia it is quite a trip: Adelaide – Auckland – Vancouver – Winnipeg then a very small plane to Churchill. Churchill is located on the banks of Hudson
Bay, just south of the Artic Circle. I had never been that far north before, and it was cold, very cold, like -9C cold (for an Australian that is cold). Churchill is a great place to see Polar Bears because they congregate in this region during October, once their hibernation has finished, to wait for Hudson Bay to freeze over so that they head out to feed.
The Tundra is a flat featureless stretch of frozen land, that is until you venture out in the Tundra Buggy, then it is a land of suspense as you peer into the distance for a glimpse of a sighting. At first it takes the expert eyes of the guides to spot the bears, but soon we are all experts and spotting them like pros. The first sighting is a surprise because you expect the Polar Bears to be pristine white, but in fact they are golden in colour. The second surprise s that they look so cute, but are in fact killers.
We spent two days out o the Tundra, but could have spent more because. The days go so quickly and you never tire of spotting the bears doing what bears do….sleep, stroll, fight, swim and be curious. The highlight of any encounter is what they call Buggy Love, which is when a bear becomes so curious it comes to the buggy and raises itself on its hindquarters and checks out those inside.
If you ever get the opportunity to see Polar Bears in the wild, take it. You wont be disappointed.