At last we came to a stop, and the long, agonisingly slow process of disembarking began. My camera was still to hand, fortunately, because when I neared to door I almost laughed in surprise to see that we were exiting the plane onto the tarmac in the British Airways plane parking lot! At Heathrow Airport! Isn’t it one of, if not the, busiest airport in the world? And we’re just casually walking down the steps as if we’re at a little country strip. But it was lovely to feel some real, outside air on my face.
This was the first of my diary entries for this trip. It was my second ever overseas holiday, at the age of 24 (the first had been to New Zealand at the start of that year). I left Melbourne on the 28th of December, had a short stopover in Hong Kong before getting to Heathrow. Then I got straight on another plane and flew from London to Edinburgh to start my holiday with Hogmanay, the traditional Scottish New Year celebration.
I love flying. My first flight ever was at the age of 23, and I just loved it. I did have a few nerves, but the incredible views sorted most of those out. I just find it so wonderful that we have the opportunity to see the world like that – from above, as birds do, and so much in such a short time! So having the chance to fly halfway around the world was a thrill in itself before I even landed in the UK!
After leaving Hong Kong we flew north, then west across Mongolia and Kazakhstan. I have to admit to being pretty ignorant of this part of the world, but I’m a curious sort, so I paid attention to the little route map on the seat-back entertainment system. Luckily, the plane I was on had, at the rear, one window on each side without a seat, where people stood for a quick look on their way to the loo. And where I spent quite a lot of time, over this strange land, marvelling at the sites and taking photos!
Almost all I could see was white. The mountain ranges that at first were brown, tipped with white and so high it looked like we were coming in to land on top of them, gave way to a totally snow-covered landscape. Looking out the south window was almost painful with the glare from the sun.
But still the mountains went on. And on. For hours, it seemed. Sometimes there would be a flat area, or a white valley, with dark lines and shadowy areas that marked out little pockets of civilisation. What kind of lives did these people have, in this seemingly inhospitable place?
The seat-back map was obviously not intended for close study, as it wasn’t very detailed, and the moving image of an aeroplane far too big. I thought I saw the big, ladle-shaped Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan, and wondered if I saw the coastline of the Aral Sea too, but I’m not very experienced at seeing the world from 40,000 ft, so my opinion of what was a huge body of water may not have been entirely accurate! And the sun! My goodness, the glare of the water and the snow was almost blinding. Looking out the north window was fine, but south hurt my eyes (I didn’t have sunglasses with me) and left my to go staggering back to my seat as my pupils returned to normal size. It was worth it, though! I saw an incredible landscape that most people on the flight weren’t aware of. Perhaps too scared?
But I did know for certain when we crossed the Baltic Sea, then the North Sea. I watched the coastline out of the left window and began to recognise its line. Many large inlets, as if the sea was trying to engulf the land. The Netherlands! I thought – yes, they have problems with the ever-encroaching sea. I was so excited that I could actually make perfect sense of what I saw.
I spent a long time at that window then! Despite the glare it was hard to look away. Forgetting the many long hours I’d travelled, the excitement began to build inside of me. The sky was fairly clear, and the sight I had longed for all my life was really almost here!
My father was born and raised in England, and I grew up hearing the stories of his life there. And all through my life I had identified with the place and wanted to see it, and experience it for myself. In a strange way I felt as if it had always been my country somehow, as if I had some right to it. As if I belonged there, like it was a second homeland. The pull to England was really that strong in me.
And so finally, finally, as I squinted out across the ocean, a new landmass across the water came into view through the bright sunlight. The coastline of Kent. Yes! There it is, at last!! That sceptred isle, that green and pleasant land, my England, however ridiculous that may sound.
My heart was overflowing with anticipation, excitement and wonder. If I’d been still a child, I would undoubtedly have started bouncing and would have needed restraining. I was close enough to jumping up and down as it was!
There was more joy for me before we landed at Heathrow. I think we may have been early, either that or the airport was congested, but we had to circle the city to lose height. You can perhaps imagine my feeling when, returned to my seat, I find that we are turning clockwise and my seat on the right is on the low side! I had a splendid view all over the city as we did two circles. The only negative was that the German woman in the window seat, who I’d been chatting with a lot during the two flights, seemed uncomfortable about being there as we descended, yet did not once asked if I wanted to swap. Why on earth do people unhappy with a window seat not ask if their neighbout would like to change places?? No, she just cringed a bit, and let me lean over her to put my camera against the window.
Some time before the trip I had acquired a street directory of London (found, quite by chance, in my university’s bookshop while idly browsing the travel guides) and had spent time looking at it, learning where the major landmarks were. I like to do some research before a holiday – I don’t like seeming a complete dolt in a strange place and relying solely on strangers for information and help!
So, looking around and below, I was thrilled to be able to recognise a few things. I saw the basket-handle of Wembley Stadium, thought I caught a glimpse of Westminster, and I felt very proud at spotting the famous bend in the Thames to the east of the city known as the Isle of Dogs. Aha! I know that bend!! 😀 (I’m sure I was grinning by that time)
When we landed at Heathrow, we were told something about there being work done on one of the terminals (this was during the redevelopment and construction of Terminal 5) and we’d have to taxi a long way. No problemo. So long as I make my connecting flight…
A fleet of buses came to ferry us to Terminal 4. It was such a long drive! I couldn’t believe how enormous the place was. The nerves were beginning to gather in my stomach – I had no idea what to expect in this place. But I was relieved to find information signs wherever I looked, giving me clear directions to make it to my onward flight to Edinburgh. The helpful check-in staff at Melbourne Airport had checked my baggage right through to Edinburgh for me, which was some relief (much more when I discovered that it had actually made it all the way on the right planes!). I have a UK passport, so I’m lucky enough to get through that part of the process pretty quickly.
Before too much time had passed I was waiting at another gate, ready to board the flight north. The last leg and I would be able to get on my feet and start exploring!
…to be continued…
~ LQ ~