The big day finally dawned - 26 October 2021 - the first day of the rest of our lives. The length of the 'to do' list thus far should surely have meant a lazy, hazy day of flipping coins for the last few items to make the cut into the overstuffed bags (it seems we've lost the knack of travelling heavy and have moved to travelling severely overloaded). But no. No lazy and certainly no hazy. Aside from anything else we spent the morning nipping up and down from the communal laundry on the seventh floor ensuring we had a clean bed, towels etc to come back to - ideally in a year or more likely two years from now. Paranoia being it's own reward, we're getting the power disconnected two days from now. Just in case our departure from Koala-stan goes pear shaped at the airport tonight.
With the laundry finally finished, the bed and bathroom made up and lunch eaten, we did our final printing job at the library and eventually made it to a local community concierge service to drop off our keys in case the strata crowd need access. We used to have an on-site caretaker for this job but he's been given the heave-ho in a costcuttting/fundraising rampage - already one special levy for the fire order works and the screeching from owners will be ear splitting when the special levy for the plumbing and waterproofing works is eventually struck. Sigh...
We enjoyed our last dinner in our apartment rather than in the rarefied air of the business class lounge due to Qantas rather meanly refusing to open their international lounges until 1 November. And then ordered a car to the airport at 6.30 pm (right on the scheduled target - like a military operation). It was a conundrum as we had a stack of paperwork to be processed at the airport, but on the other hand only 12 flights were leaving on the 26th. But on the third hand, maybe everyone had forgotten how to do the travel thing altogether including the staff. Given the precision planning, we ended up at the airport exactly 3 hours in advance of our flight - the more things change, the more things stay the same.
It was our first time in a car in 4 months - in itself quite exciting. Braced for hoops to jump through and thank god we were travelling in the pointy end. There was a queue just to get to the queue to get checked in then another desk to get actual boarding passes printed. Passports? Check. Vaccination certificates? Check. Irish passenger locator forms? Check. Official exemption from needing an exemption paperwork? Check. Then the agent had to ring Border Force to verify it. Had to happen. Rather swan like I stood there seemingly without a care in the world as this call took far too long (and like a swan paddling madly just beneath the surface, my heart was pounding). Might have had something to do with it being over a year old and originally applied for for a departure from Brisbane to Christchurch. In fairness, the original exemption email did say don't contact us if you change your port of departure or if your flight details changes. Sydney to Dublin was obviously quite the big change, but the international border opens in 5 days time - we're just jumping early. The most important question relayed by the check in agent was 'are they leaving for at least 3 months?' YES! A thousand times YES! And we were done.
Despite having quizzed several sources about the dearth of lounge facilities, no-one mentioned the 2 x $60 vouchers to spend for dinner. Cool. We searched the terminal, interrogated a few unfortunate souls and found that Sumo Salad was the only joint open. So Sumo Salad it was then. Had a couple of sandwiches, a yoghurt, heaps of sparkling water and tried a kombucha. Suffice to say it was good we weren't spending real money - that was expensive! We were excited when the bookshop finally opened and we discovered we could spend the other voucher on anything instore. Bought a couple of sexy, reusable masks and a lightweight 'bag in a pocket' type travel bag that we didn't strictly need - but again, OPM. Turned out it was an excellent choice and we started using it at the end of the first flight for pjs, amenity kits, godiva chocs and assorted bits and pieces - who knew!
We were desperately keen to board, get our pjs , get changed and get sloshed - the stress and uncertainty melted away and we were finally airborne. Phew! Kir Royales all round as we settled into our favourite Qatar suites - Middle of the plane - usually 3E and 3F - but a family of four had colonised the row 1 and 2 set of four… Hmmm. We figured discretion was the better part of valour and we decamped to 5E and 5F for some peace and tranquillity. We had a late dinner and started a movie marathon. We haven't been able to go to the movies for 4 months due to lockdown and we started with The Conjuring 3 - The Devil Made Me Do It and went from there. We ate, drank, watched, slept , read and repeated all the way until breakfast 13 hours later - fresh OJ at 40,000 feet is bliss. Before we knew it we were slinging bits and pieces into the bag we didn't know we needed, getting our jackets on and heading down the air bridge into Doha airport. It is impossible to overestimate the value that the points & miles caper brings to one's life - until you've flown Qatar's QSuites.
Well hello Doha... long time no see. 17 March 2020 to be precise. Funny how dates linger in one's head when all the land borders have slammed shut, the end of the world is nigh, Europe is on the verge of closing to non-residents and it's past time to get out of Dodge. That was the last time we were in Doha airport (and lucky we git while the gittin' was good, since Sarajevo airport shut 3 days later). In past layovers, even up to 8 hours or so, by the time we've grabbed a shower and a champagne and had a squiz at emails, time has just flown by and we're traipsing off to the next leg of the trip. This time we booked a 20 hour layover - we had grand plans back in March 2021 that we'd be able to take this trip, everyone would be vaccinated and the world would be back to normal-ish - and so we would go into Doha city, get a hotel, have an excursion to the desert or just a stroll along The Corniche or around the souk. Well at least we got the first bit right and we were able to take the trip. Getting into Doha was actually more expense and trouble than it was worth - requiring 2 local SIM cards, $300 PCR tests and paperwork. So we decided to book the airport hotel and laze about. So we did and we lazed with a vengeance. We checked in at about 5.30 am, dragging the chain a bit after 15 odd hours in the air. The Pool and Spa opened for the day at 6 am so we had a shower, changed into swimmers, robes and slippers and 'booked' the pool. Oddly at 6am it was only at 50% of it's 4 person 'Covid Capacity'. We were the two people. We're sure it's the first time we've had a whole swimming pool to ourselves. We spent an hour rejuvenating in the shallow but good sized pool - only 1.2m deep - and did lots of walking laps. Temperature was probably 32-33 degrees - just lovely. We trundled back to the room for a couple of hours (or so) of dead-to-the-world shut-eye in a massive bed with crisp sheets and utter peace - was hard waking up but we were focussed on trying to adjust to Doha time. The hotel toiletries were quite luxe - Ritual Spa, so another shower was in order then we got dressed and ready for an airport outing. For the first time ever we got to explore Doha airport's shops without carting our cabin bags around with us. Bliss. We tootled to the Al Mourjan Lounge at 11.30 am repeating to ourselves 'sushi... sushi... sushi' and 'lo and behold, there was made to order sushi available for lunch. Champagne was ordered and we had a couple of nibbles from the buffet while the sushi happened (tiny helpings of chicken matchboos and grilled Hamour fish with a cream sauce), followed by a grilled salmon on wild rice and for James, a steak with dill cream sauce We eventually perused the dessert buffet - eating mainly with our eyes by then but managed to have a couple of macaroons, a tiny praline cake and dessert wine. Our waiter enquired after our wellbeing and mentioned icecream We were done for - haven't eaten icecream, let alone Tiramisu icecream in around 6 months. Not surprisingly it was fabulous. Barely room for a coffee, but we persevered. A bit like overfed bears prior to hibernation, we felt tired all over again - cue another nap for a couple of hours.
Out of bed finally we accomplished a bit of sorting out. We had dinner sometime in the evening so the layover and rest has really helped getting us closer to Dublin time. Due to sitting on the fence of global time zones between Sydney, Doha and Dublin, we returned to the room after dinner and managed to nod off (again!) before we finally checked out around midnight. Paranoia being it's own reward we had alarms set on both iPads and both phones to make sure we didn't oversleep. Everything going off within 5 minutes had us running around the room madly so the system worked. Then it was a slog to the gate for our 1 am flight. Only a slog because I had a handle malfunction on my wheely cabin bag. I'm exceedingly fond of this little combo backpack/wheely bag as it selflessly jammed itself between the river ship and the dock when I stepped between them on the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar. In my defence I was dazzled by the lights at the entrance of the ship at 5 am and then politely took a step aside to let someone else step off the gangway. 'Never step towards pitch blackness' is now on my Things to Remember list. My 'not-the-Samsonite' bought in Georgia held me securely in the gap until the luggage lugging women of Mandalay (possibly the strongest people in Myanmar) hauled me up by the armpits and saved me from a soggy, wet end in the Irrawaddy. James will no doubt be able to fix the wee bag when we reach Dublin - he's become very au fait with wheely handle idiosyncrasies over our years of travel. Meanwhile just a bit on the heavy side for lugging, too warm to wear it as a backpack - and Doha airport be huge. Having had 8 hours sleep during our 20 hour layover, swum, window shopped and had two fabulous meals at the lounge - we think it was a magnificent minibreak en route to Dublin and we both felt significantly less brain fried than we usually would.
Our pilot on leg 2 apparently had a hot date and a lead foot and got us into Dublin 40 minutes early. If anyone knows what happened in the last 13 minutes of the movie The Father… do get in touch. James stayed up the whole 7 hours but I conked out halfway through a movie - all the excitement had gotten to me.
Dublin airport can be chaotic at peak hour, but 6.30 am is very civilised indeed. Lucky we had an airbridge because it was quite chilly in our summer travelling gears as we stepped off the plane. We were first off and first through the Foreigners lane at passport control. Bags came out (always a bonus) and we were in a taxi before the light drizzle had the chance to make us damp. We were into our hotel at 7.30 am and pottered back down to enjoy breakfast (again), followed by showering, getting out our Dublin clothes (jackets, hats, gloves, jeans and boots) and headed out in amongst it. We finally felt free. Lockdown will do that to you.
We had two full days in Dublin and visited our haunts, all the while enjoying the Halloween vibe - some excellent adult costumes spied around the streets. It felt very weird indeed not QR-coding into every single shop. We picked up a local SIM card, got our flu vaccines (vaccine junkies that we are), ate Thai food from a favourite hole-in-the-wall, saw our first decorated Christmas tree of the season and generally had a fine old time. We conked out on day 1 at about 2 pm and had a small, time limited kip. We made it to 4 pm on day 2... the long layover in Doha really paid off - this trip we're only slightly brain-poached - barely at all compare to usual 2 week wreckedness. We headed off to the countryside on the 30th doing excellent impressions of functioning human beings - let the housesitting games resume!