Location: Stratham, NH, USA
Unwinding the -13 hour time change...... (the journey home)
Driving north from Busselton, it quickly became apparent that we were leaving behind the two lane roads with minimal traffic. We stayed near the coast as long as we could, detouring onto the four-lane divided road south of Bunbury to try to find the town of Stratham (seemed fitting to check it out). After several attempts, we discovered that Stratham, WA is in fact a locality in the Shire of Capel. It is comprised of a few hundred souls in a smattering of houses off the highway but it boasts the award winning (best in WA) Forbidden Fruit stand along the highway the sign proclaims if the fruit were any fresher, youd slap its face!
We stayed as close to the coast for as long as we could as the morning sun made for good pictures out over the water. The road out to Cape Bouvard took us into sand dunes with Peel Inlet to our east and the Indian Ocean to our west before crossing the bridge into Mandurah. Its hard to judge rush hour in WA, but the traffic started to pick up so we opted for the freeway to just south of Perth before turning east to the Perth International Airport. 3,423 km (2127 miles) and one small ding from a pebble thrown up at us in a road construction area later, we got the car turned into EuropeCar and got checked in for our flight. Taking off in the dark, it was easy to see that one doesnt have to get very far out of Perth and there is lots of nothing no lights, nada, as far as the eye can see.
Having reserved exit row seats for our 5 ½ hour flight to Singapore, it wasnt a bad trip, other than one lands at the Budget Terminal at Changi Airport (SIN) in the middle of the night. Hotel vans leave from the other two international terminals, so after our luggage finally arrived on the concourse, we hailed a cab for the 15-minute drive east to our hotel. Nice place, too bad we werent there long enough to enjoy the rooftop drop-off pool, etc. We did talk them into a 4 pm check-out (rather than noon!) so we caught some zzzzs before heading out mid-morning in search of breakfast.
The actual 'town' of Changi Village is a fishing village on the far eastern edge of the island that is Singapore and the ferry to the tiny fishing islands offshore left from right behind the Brittish OC that was across from our hotel. The hawker food stalls were a block down so finding breakfast was an easy task. Our $3 (combined total) Hainese Chicken Rice and fruit smoothie was a welcome change to both diet and wallet.
Changi Village has a series of boardwalks along the shore, through the trees along the bluff above the water, all radiating out from the ferry pier. Its a popular destination for families on the weekend and there were some people enjoying the oppressive heat and humidity and the threatening skies. A thunderstorm drove us undercover at a 24/7 sidewalk pub and ultimately back to the hotel for a nap, shower and repack before checking out. The afternoon downpours (typical of Singapore, were told, in large part because of its location so close to the equator) kept us from exploring more of this less populated area of Singapore but afforded us time in the lobby bar to download some of our final pictures of Australia onto our flashdrives and upload a few pix to the PlanetRanger photo pages over a cup of tea and then a glass of wine!
About 10:30 p.m., we took the hotel shuttle to Changi International Airport and began the final leg of our journey home. No luck scoring a bulkhead or exit row for the 7+ hour trip SIN to DOH, but discomfort meant we stayed awake to catch a couple of movies as well as the on-board meals before arriving (in the dark) in Doha about 0430 local time. Doha, following the lead of other Middle East nations, is building a massive new airport, but while that is in process, theyve just built a new temporary Departure and Transit terminal. Upon landing, the plane is parked way away from any terminal buildings. One offloads from the steps at the rear of the plane onto a large shuttle bus (first class and business offload from the front of the plane into their limo and/or luxury bus to go to the First Class/Business Class Terminal!). Its about a 10 minute drive to the transit/departure terminal (stop 2 is the Arrival Terminal) where one must immediately go through security even before immigration! Hand luggage is thoroughly searched (although a separate scan of the proverbial quart-size Ziploc bag is not required) and then one enters the Duty Free shops area, complete with luxury cars being raffled off at $100+/ticket.
At the Transit desk, we ask about bulkhead seats for the 15 hour flight from DOH to JFK and are told, regrettably, there are no bulkhead seats, but I can offer you exit row. We have our choice of aisle and middle or middle and window (turns out, no one wants the aisle exit row seat so we have the whole row to ourselves! Score!!! The sun comes up while we wait in the airport before going, once again, through security at the gate, including hand pat-down while our bags are being rifled through and searched. One passenger got through the pat-down only to discover that his bag had been emptied (albeit mostly distributed to small lap-top size boxes that are then run through the xray machine again!) Davids plastic belt (because he left his leather belt with metal buckle somewhere in Australia) of course has to be removed, and hence his carry-on gets a special search. Back on the bus for another 10 minute ride to our next plane and about 30 minutes late, we take off from Doha, seeing the shops, businesses and apartments along the street within 300 yards of the runway!
After 8 beautiful, clean and modern airports, its sobering to arrive at JFK as the first airport in the US that many visitors see. JFK is inefficient (it takes nearly an hour to get through immigration even as Americans and another 30 minutes to wait for our luggage), drab, dirty and cramped. Mandy was waiting for us as she was heading home for the weekend (flying to Boston on JetBlue). After standing in line for 45 minutes to re-check our bags for our Delta flight from JFK to BOS, we went upstairs to the main ticketing area and discovered that our flight was delayed until 8:30 pm. We must have looked tired as we were soon booked on the 6:30 pm shuttle out of LaGuardia, so we headed for the taxi stand and Mandy headed for JetBlue for her 5:30 flight. Bad weather in Boston had put a ground hold there so Mandys flight didnt leave JFK until 7:15, but by then, wed made it from JFK to LaGuardia at rush hour and were on our delayed shuttle flight to Logan. Having a car pick us up at Logan saved us the wait for the C&J bus and we were all home by 10:30 pm (for us wed been up 46 hours!).
From the pounding surf off the southwestern coast of Australia through the steamy heat of Singapore and the cold raw sunshine of mid-March at JFK, we returned to Stratham to find snow everywhere! Where we live is in a pocket and while there had been warm days, there still were 3-4 foot snowdrifts along the road and a couple of feet of snow on the level, especially in places that dont get the direct sun. A month later, the snowdrifts were still hanging around but as this is written, all but the last lingering bit of a pile in the full shade is evidence of the brutal cold and record-setting snowfall that was winter 2010-2011 in this part of New Hampshire. The daffodils first bloomed April 15th and theres evidence on the maple trees around that spring may finally get here. Now, if the temperature would just warm up a little so we can lose the layers and layers weve been wearing
An aside - Mandy was home for the weekend because the new synchronized skating team from Figure Skating in Harlem, the Harlem Ice, were competing in only their second competition in Fitchburg, MA on Saturday. So we pulled out the turtlenecks, long pants, wool sox, winter coats and mittens and headed off to Fitchburg on Saturday morning. The girls skated beautifully and placed second in their group! The three coaches spent Saturday night at our house so it wasnt until after they left mid-day on Sunday that the jetlag finally caught up with us hard!
We still have some pictures to upload to the final picture pages and David is working on PowerPoint presentations of each country as weve been asked by so many to share more than the allotted 12 pix per PlanetRanger page. Know that were working on it. Keep checking back well get it done!
Location: Stratham, USA
Next diary entry coming soon - in the meantime, we've uploaded a ton of pictures to the Australia pages..... check them out!!1
Location: Stratham, NH, USA
We are home!