Friday, March 27, 2015

2014 Travel Review

It seems like such a simple question. "How many countries did you visit for the first time in the past year?" For 2014 my answer needs to be, "it's complicated". Depending on your definition of "visit", "first" and "country", I visited anywhere between zero and three countries for the first time last year. For the record I’m counting it as two and I'll explain my reasoning below.

Similar to a year ago, this blog post is mainly just as a record for myself so that I can keep track of my travels. With only one overseas trip in 2014 it's rather a simple job, but here it is anyway.

In April I flew with my family to Singapore, where we were to board the "Voyager of the Seas" ship for a cruise up to Japan, via Hong Kong and Taiwan. I had visited Singapore before - in 1972 when I was nine years old, it was the first overseas location I had ever been to. My family lived in Darwin and Singapore was almost as close to us as Sydney - in fact it was quicker to get to because it was a non-stop flight to Singapore, but at the time Darwin to Sydney flights went either via Adelaide or Brisbane. I had obtained a passport for the first time, and as a sign of the times it was stamped, "Not valid for North Vietnam". It also identified me as an Australian citizen and British subject, the latter being a label which of course no longer applies to Australian passport holders. I was also required to be vaccinated against cholera and smallpox prior to the trip, a precaution which is thankfully no longer necessary. *

Since that first trip to Singapore I have lost count of the number of times I have been to Singapore's Changi airport, but until 2014 I had always stayed airside in transit, rather than going into the city. I don't remember much about the city from when I was a child, but it's fair to say that it has changed somewhat in the intervening 42 years. I don't count this as being a newly-visited country for me, but it might as well have been. I must also say that I was very impressed with the place and must visit for a longer time at some stage.

Next stop was Hong Kong which I've been to a few times, but then it was on to Taiwan. There was no doubt about this being my first visit, but in the international political arena there seems to be some question as to whether it qualifies as a country. Practically of course it is, and I'm counting it.

Finally there was Japan. I've been to Narita airport a few times, including a couple of extended lay-overs, but had never previously left the airport. On this trip we went to Nagasaki and Tokyo (including a quick trip to Tokyo Disneyland) so that counts as a first visit to Japan.

So that was 2014. Two new countries, but no new airlines or aircraft types. A bit light-on from a travel perspective and less than I would have liked, although I'm a little to blame for that since I did talk my way out of a business trip to Arizona which I wouldn't have enjoyed at all.

2015 looks like another one-trip year. I think there may only be one new country, but as it's Tunisia it will add a whole new continent for me since I've never been to Africa. It will also add a new airline - I'm due to fly from Dubai to Barcelona on Emirates. We shall see if any other opportunities present themselves.

* A few more notes for myself. I never heard the whole story, but there was some mix-up when we arrived at the airport for the Darwin to Singapore flight. My parents knew the check-in agent and rather than being denied boarding, somehow all five of us ended up in first class on the BOAC (later British Airways) 747-100, my first flight on a 747 and my only one in a -100 model (Qantas never had any -100s, starting their wide-body fleet with the 747-200). In those days there were only two classes on board - first and economy, unlike the four on many long-haul flights these days, and first class had big seats rather than beds, pods, suites, or whatever other expressions the marketing departments come up with. The 747-100 did however have a lounge in the aircraft hump for first class passengers, rather than just using the space for more seating. Of course first class was wasted on a nine year old, and definitely a bit unnecessary for a four hour trip, but it was still a glimpse into life in the pointy end of the aircraft.

The return flight was also interesting, being a BOAC VC-10. It was my only ever flight on that type. This was a rare aircraft with only 40 being built for civilian operations and another 14 for the military. It had four rear-mounted engines, and still holds the subsonic Atlantic crossing record, although given that Concorde regularly did it in less than half the time, it's kind of like holding the record for being able to whisper the loudest. Incidentally, the Concorde I flew on (G-BOAD) happens to be the aircraft which holds the trans-Atlantic commercial flight record. Who knows how long it will be before there is another commercial airliner which could even come close to beating it.

Addendum on 27th March 2015. It's six days before we leave on our big trip, and a few things have changed. Unfortunately on 18th March there was a terrorist attack in Tunis. Twelve of the victims were passengers on the MSC Splendida, which is the ship we will be boarding next week. As a result we will be stopping over at Malta (Valletta) rather than Tunis, which is where we were due to be a fortnight from now. It makes perfect sense from a security/safety point of view, but it means I will need to wait until another trip to tick the continent of Africa off my list. Valletta also looks like a beautiful stopover, so I'm sure our journey will not be diminished by the substitution.

I will also be adding yet another airline to my list. We are booked to fly on EasyJet from Barcelona to Paris. I’ve wanted to fly EasyJet ever since the "Airline" television program aired in the early 2000s, even though I have low expectations of actual experience. I'm sure being such a big group we will make the most of it.