Everything in airports is repeated twice. Unless, of course, you’re the Koori family being paged by Virgin Airways for their flight to Dubai, with each repetition becoming more stern and strained. Duty free stores are lined side by side with highly priced café chains, people slouching in between the two, staring deep into their wallets hoping the cheap bottle of spirits will drown out their stomach’s moans. You pack your backpack. You check your boarding pass. You check your bags. All twice. Upon being hustled through the early morning security lines and shoved through to the unavailable waiting lounges, I signal my last goodbyes to my family who are manically waving from the top deck of Brisbane International Airport. I message them my final exhausted sentiments with the last two cents of phone credit; “thank you for everything”. I almost send it again.
I’d like to maintain the fact that I enjoy flying but international flights can really test your level of enjoyment. The cantankerous brew of coffee. Becoming another passenger’s personal pillow. The claustrophobic seating space. The conditioned breath of the sprightly Qantas attendants, their patrons, and possibly sickly children, billowing and recycling through the aircraft and inevitably through your own mouth. It’s something best not thinking about too long.
Out of the flying cage and into the snakes and ladders of Hong Kong airport. Having to jump a speed train and race up and down moving sidewalks to reach my next flight’s platform, I was able to see a lot of the airport’s interior and other cities should take note. Pillars of powerpoint stations are found next to nicotine hotboxes and free internet lounges presenting the airport to be as accessible and accommodating as possible to its visitors. With the sun setting over the cavalry of airplanes with my flight to Dubai being called (twice), I began to anticipate the sight of China’s capital by night. It doesn’t disappoint.
Another nine-hour flight of falling in and out of sleep later, my consciousness is starting to deteriorate. I’m wrecked yet don’t want to suffer the cruel fate of jetlag once I reach the destination, because, really, who wants to be a zombie when you’re in London? The relentless game of “FIND THE POWERPOINT” must plague a lot of travellers as I watch two groups searching in every nook and cranny for an external socket. As all this unfolds, it’s made me evaluate whether I want to frequently document as much as I can, or just make do without the weight of a handycam, laptop computer, and all the cables, plugs and cases needed to power such technologies. More on this later.
I caved and took a sleeping tablet on the flight directly into the United Kingdom, which probably turned out for the best. Still without my UK passport for the meantime, I am forced to queue before the customs border for an extra 40 minutes. “I’d say “Welcome Home” but you’re a visitor for now. We’ll see you soon”. Not the greeting I was expecting from a guard I had just seen share a strong word with the Asian honours student before me but I’ll take it.
London is a labyrinth of history and landmarks that you can literally lose yourself in. It’s all those songs and postcards you can cry over and romanticize but they’d probably hand you the tissues, show you the door and tell you “get the hell over it” pretty smartly. London is fast. London is impatient. London is honest and unforgiving. Their sirens never cease. As timely as the city is, it’s its timing and efficiency that it holds tightly and proudly to it unionised chest. I learnt quickly that my Australian self-righteous “be polite and considerate, keep left” demeanour doesn’t stand well in London’s underground. A mutter of crass slurs are directed my way by a group of men pacing themselves past me and my pack on the escalator, followed by a “… keep right!”. Lesson one: look for and acknowledge signs, everything is new.
Without sounding like a parent with a generation complex, the youth of London have it pretty good. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine messaging anyone “I’ll meet you outside the front gate of Buckingham Palace” “The National Gallery, sure! I’ll see you under the blue cock of Trafalgar Square”, it’s a bit surreal. There’s a strange cross over between the tourist population pulling poses out front of these icons while the locals drape themselves across their city’s furniture while they take their lunch break. With my hostel being a stone’s throw from the British Museum, the Thames River, and Westminster’s Cathedral and Abbey, I was able to walk through these iconic London landmarks, more likely to find a penny than spend one. A visit to the Camden Markets, Locks and Stables throws you into a meccah of bohemia. The cobblestoned paths lead you through the spicy aromas of nag chamba and African food down into the stables, where you’re met by signs reading, “MIX AND MATCH”; an order regarding their fashion stalls and inexpensive street food. The Southbank of the Thames plays host to a more artistic culture, the dramatic thrills and spills of London’s Wonderground. Courtesy of Brisbane’s very own Anamari Goicoechea, I was able to catch Limbo, a circus fantasia combining the manic noise of Sxip Shirey with talented performing artists who flawlessly contort, self-impale, and swallow everything from swords to fire (and maybe a few naughty drinks afterward).
This first week of travel has been intimidating. Removing myself from my hometown of Brisbane, a city where I couldn’t step outside without recognising someone, a city where I tied myself to the duties and responsibilities of study and work, to a large town where I am, for the most part, anonymous. As liberating as that is, it’s terrifying. Granted it’s the first week and I’ll attain the traveller mindset eventually. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in the UK, you get that stiff upper lip and you Keep Calm and Carry On.
*this is much longer than I expected it to be and I promise updates will be shorter and more concise. I’m off to Oslo next week and I’ll probably write a survival guide for “How to survive Norway as a Student Backpacker”.