It was not easy getting up at 5:00am but we managed it. I put on my compression socks (expecting them to be almost unbearably uncomfortable) but soon forgot all about them! We packed up and went along to breakfast wondering what it would be like after last night's experience! Thankfully, it was delicious - a buffet style with plenty of choice and fresh hot food. The service was very good and went a long way to retrieving the reputation of the Hilton for me.
It was only a few minutes' walk to the terminal from the hotel and all under cover. Checking in was uneventful and it didn't seem long until we were boarding the plane. Arriving at our seats, we found them to be occupied! Despite doing our best to show the "squatters" our boarding passes, they did not show any signs of wanting to move! Of course, by this time we were holding up the movement of other passengers and an air hostess arrived. It took about five minutes before she managed to move the people to their given seats. She was doing a great job at appearing to be completely calm and pleasant but I could see that she was anything but, underneath!! From then on, everything went very well, all things considered. The plane was comfortable and I made sure I got up to walk around quite frequently. Changing planes at Abu Dhabi was painless. We even got a ride in a courtesy vehicle which took us part of the (long) way from our arrival gate to our departure gate.
The second leg of the journey was also good. The only exception being that for one of the meals there was supposed to be a choice of three dishes. When it got to us, there was only fish left. Not being a lover of fish, I was not very happy but tried it anyway. It was awful! When the hostess came back, I asked if I could have some extra bread rolls (as I had observed another passenger being offered). This request was met with a certain reluctance. Before I had a chance to say anything, the person behind chipped in saying he thought it was ridiculous that they couldn't offer anything else, that I couldn't help not liking fish, that it was unsatisfactory service and more! Eventually, one small roll was produced (minus butter). Far from the end of the world. I made more use of the entertainment system on this leg of the flight and watched all eight episodes of a TV series on the life of Queen Victoria. It was a quality production with excellent acting and I thoroughly enjoyed it. One could even pause it if one needed to leave one's seat for any reason (!). There is no getting away from the fact that 24 hours is a long time to be travelling on a plane and/or in transit at airports but the hours seemed to pass quite quickly really. We were met at the airport by our faithful friends Jenny, Darryl, Joan and Russell. After a visit to McDonald's, we arrived home about 9:00pm (on Wednesday 28th, December). It took about ten days for the effects of jet lag to wear off and to become accustomed to the changes in temperature and hours of daylight.
I feel very blessed to have had such a wonderful trip. We saw so many amazing things and had such a wide range of experiences - music, history, culture, theme parks, wildlife, TV and movie exhibitions, museums, art galleries and, of course, churches and cathedrals! Being in the company of another person day and night for three months is a big test of a friendship. Satoshi and I had occasional cross words but that was about it. We have returned still speaking to each other and even considering where we might go next!
Many people ask what was the highlight of the trip. The service we attended at St.John's College, Cambridge, on All Souls' Day (November 2nd) is easily the best experience we had. It was one of those rare, very special moments that one never forgets. The venue, Fauré's beautiful setting of the Requiem and the choir's and orchestra's performance of it, the candlelight and the service itself all seemed without fault, all contributing to what felt like an encounter with the divine. It was indescribably beautiful.
It's hard to believe that I have been home for a month already and that I will be back at work in two days!
Time to start planning the next holiday, I think!
28th January, 2017.