I hate goodbyes at the best of times – it can feel so final; especially if you’re about to head off for another country. An analyst may put it down to my dad dying suddenly (to me) when I was ten years old. Whatever the reason however, this goodbye was the hardest one yet.
By choosing to leave Australia and move to Europe, my husband and I were having to say farewell to our son, Luke. At nineteen years of age, he decided that rather than tagging along with us, learning to sail and yachting around the world, Luke wanted to see how life would open up for him in Brisbane, Australia. As heavy-hearted as that made us feel, Barry and I had no valid argument to persuade him to come with us. After all, hadn’t Baz also been 19 when he and I had decided to leave England and work in the South of France for 10 months?
Faced with the prospect of parting from my son, I found planning our future - from the sale of the house, to moving to Europe where we’d buy our yacht - to have a major glitch: the part where I imagined us saying a final farewell to Luke at the airport. I almost couldn’t envisage the fabulous business class flights that would take us to Spain, despite watching YouTube reviews of the various Etihad planes more often that I should probably admit.
We’d chosen to fly business class because, as Baz shares in his blog it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we had a little more money from the sale of the house than we’d originally thought we’d make. The initial reason, which Barry hasn’t mentioned in his blog though, is that when we did the research, we found that by flying economy, the excess baggage we’d amass would amount to nearly AU$5000! I remembered hearing that business class allows two bags per person, so we went to www.skyscanner.com and lo and behold we could fly Brisbane to Valencia business class with Etihad airlines for slightly above the cost of economy plus excess baggage! It didn’t take a maths genius to work that out: Fly economy on a barely comfortable 17.5 inch seat and pay for extra bags to sit in the hold? Or fly business class that allows for the extra bags, and provides a 20 inch seat that turns into a flat bed and includes other indulgences into the bargain? All for a similar price?
Ooh, hard choice. We decided on business class, and we’re both so glad we did.
After saying fond and tearful farewells to Luke who dropped us at the international terminal in Brisbane, and drove away in the car that we’d given him, Barry and I made our way to Etihad Business Class check in. Despite a shaky start where we waited around 30 minutes for the ‘system’ to recognize that I had changed my name from Rebecca Stafford to Aannsha Rebecca Jones as a result of re-marriage plus deed poll addition of my first name, the journey was as wonderful as it was expensive.
Money really does talk and the hard won cash that we’d outlaid for our tickets provided a level of luxury and comfort that I lapped up every minute I was awake. And when I was asleep, somewhere in my dreams, I appreciated that too. Who couldn’t on a 6ft 1in flat bed! Sorry if I sound as if I’m gloating. I’m actually not. I’m just amazed that we somehow made the choice to travel this way and were able to fund it for this one-off trip.
What did I love about flying Etihad Business Class
The obvious things such as wide chairs converting to 6ft 1in flat beds that are made up when it is time to sleep
Extra baggage allowance that meant we could downsize our lives into two large suitcases and two pieces of hand luggage each
Excellent personal service from friendly, professional staff on each leg of the journey
The option to eat at the set meal times, or any time during the flight
Gourmet food with a choice of excellent wines.
Large array of movies on a 15 inch flat screen and noise cancelling headphones
Business class lounges that provided for enjoyable wait times between planes, including free food and beverages in pleasantly uncrowded surroundings - with even a hot shower if desired
Priority boarding – although we did miss one of those options at Abu Dhabi!
Meals on board the first two flights
Every meal was delicious and was served on trays sitting on linen napkins, with dimpled stainless steel side plates and cutlery. Wine arrived in long stemmed fine glassware. As the flights were so long, I managed to try a good variety of food on offer (without making a complete pig of myself), and sampled a selection of the wines.
Main meals that I had included:
Seared, sesame seed coated tuna steak accompanied by a 2016 Chardonnay, Tormaresca Puglia, Italy followed by
Grass fed fillet of beef, polenta chips, asparagus, onion jam and beef jus accompanied by a 2014 Shiraz from Elderton in the Barossa Valley, Australia.
Arabic Mezze selection with again, the Chardonnay followed by
Pan fried Barramundiwith beans, tomato and quinoa, accompanied by a 2016 Sauvignon Blanc from Wither Hills, Marlborough in New Zealand
Breakfasts along the way included:
Fresh fruit and yogurt with fresh orange juice
Raspberry yogurt with pistachio granola and a cup of tea
Gruyere cheese and tomato frittata with asparagus, spinach and veal sausages (I don’t normally eat veal, but I couldn’t resist) with a cappuccino
I enjoyed the flights so much, that I was actually sad that the second leg on a Boeing 777-300ER which was 7 hours 40 minutes long wasn’t as long as the first flight on the Boeing 787-9 V2, which lasted 14 hours 20 minutes!
The final and smaller plane – a 737-800 - from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris to Valencia in Spain was only a 1 hour 40 minute flight. After the complimentary champagne, Baz napped and I accepted the included lunch which was a variety of Mediterranean salads and dessert, accompanied by a glass of wine, which I chose not to top up, as I was so full!
When we arrived at Valencia airport approximately 32 hours after leaving Brisbane Australia, I had to admit that not only did I not feel the usual bunched up, tired and crumpled mess I invariably end up after a long haul flight – but I actually felt fairly refreshed and ready to continue the journey to our final destination at Javea, about 1 hour 30 minutes drive South from Valencia.
Security-wise, each part of the journey from the anxious wait at Australian check in, and Baz being stopped during Brisbane passport control for filming, had its moments. It wasn’t just because Barry had become an inveterate YouTube blogger from the moment he picked up his new Canon EOS M3 camera and newly sewn ‘dead cat’ on the microphone – and then totally missed the BIG signs saying “Do Not Film” in the passport control area. It was also because security has been heightened over the years since the world watched as the Two Towers were felled in 2001 and each airport we passed through found various items of concern either on us or in our luggage. I for one am glad of the extra security; it is definitely better to be safe than sorry. Some of the issues were:
Brisbane as we have said, involved passport scrutiny and a filming ban
Abu Dhabi saw me being pulled out at check in to explain a strange looking object in my hand luggage via x-ray, which turned out to be a segmented silver bracelet.
Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris had Barry hauled to one side for a swab for explosives residue, after they saw the amount of computer parts he had in his hand luggage.
Valencia in Spain? Nada. Nothing. Zip. Not even passport control could be bothered turning out. We literally sailed past an empty passport control booth and through to a very quiet customs area manned by one disinterested official, only to find ourselves in Spain waiting for our bags!I couldn’t believe it!
We were slightly disconcerted when only two of our four bags arrived on the carousel, but were reassured by a very efficient lady in baggage claim (and thanks to Barry’s fast recall of Spanish) – and the next day our missing bags were delivered directly to our Javea home.
Finding our home on that first evening in Spain however, proved to be a tad longer than anticipated as our Sat Nav was (of course) in one of the missing suitcases, so once we collected our rental car near the airport, we had to navigate more by luck and guesstimation than by anything else, as it was dark and cloudy so we had no sun or stars to give us a hint as to our heading. After 30 minutes, I spotted a sign for the AP7 to Alicante and after an hour and a half’s drive we arrived at Javea.
It did take us a further 45 minutes to locate Barry’s brother Phil’s place which currently is our base of operations. Without Sat Nav, no map and only a flaky memory of Google Earth’s overview of Javea, we eventually found the place once we asked for directions. I had to admit I was ready to get into the apartment because the wine and coffee from the last flight were very eager to leave my bladder and discover the delights of the Spanish water system. However, my bladder was not to be appeased that easily as the keys which were locked away were not readily accessible due to the lock’s combination having changed. While I bounced up and down outside the apartment door on crossed legs, Baz frantically made a few quick phone calls to his brothers in the UK and eventually returned with the keys.
A short while after that, Barry and I slumped into a comfy settee inside our new temporary home, chinking glasses of local red wine. “Cheers!”
All that I had on my mind before I sank into a deep sleep, was the slightly anxious hope that our bags would arrive the next day. It wasn’t simply a case of wanting my belongings back in my possession. I had a plane to England to catch the following day, and my flimsy Australian winter gear was in the missing bag. I surely wouldn’t survive English and Scottish winter weather without those clothes.
Luckily, as promised by the efficient lost baggage officer, our cases arrived late the next afternoon and all I had to do then was familiarise myself with the route South to Alicante airport, which I would be driving to solo in the rental car – which was a right-hand drive manual car. While I do consider myself to be a good manual driver, I hadn’t driven a stick shift for about 30 years, I’d never driven a right hand drive car (as English and Australian cars drive on the left), and I had also never driven on my own in a European, non-English speaking country. What could possibly go wrong?
To watch the video that accompanies this blog click here.