The Long Journey Home

Wednesday April 28: Rome to Hong Kong

After five and a half wonderful weeks in Europe (the final 8 days in Italy), we were on our way home. We boarded our Cathay Pacific 747-400 once the monitors in the lounge told us that we could, and found our seats. We were assigned 36A/B in complete disregard to my seating preference. Watching the exotic sights of Air Moldova and Albanian Airlines was the highlight of the flight.

The lights went off shortly after the dinner service was completed (around 4pm Rome time). It was at this point that I realised how horrible the timing of this flight was. I honestly can't imagine it being any worse. A couple of hours later a slight snack serviced was served. These snacks were served in a basket to those passengers who weren't asleep (the majority I imagine). I had a sandwich (which turned out to be ham and cheese) and some biscuits. The sandwich was good.

The lights came back on at 03:30 Hong Kong time (21:30 Rome), and breakfast was served at 04:00. We arrived in Hong Kong 15 minutes early at 06:20. Terrible timing. We headed straight through immigration, got changed in the toilets, left some of our lugage at the left luggage counter (HK$50 for the day) and took the train into the centre of Hong Kong (HK$200 return). In 25 minutes we were in the centre of the city, with not a lot to do.

Our original thoughts were that 17 hours in Hong Kong would give us the chance to see another destination without the expense of a proper stopover. In hindsight the timing of our flight made this a bad idea. We desperately wanted sleep, and six hours or so in a hotel would have done wonders.

Thursday April 28: Hong Kong

Without much of a plan, we went to the tourist information office as soon as they opened. We took some brochures for tours that we could do, as well as a couple of maps.

We followed a short (45 minute) walking tour, but didn't see much because it was so early. The highlight was Man Mo Temple, dedicated to two gods; Man (God of Literature) and Mo (God of Martial Valour). The temple was built in 1848. The photo on the left is of me in the temple looking a bit sleep deprived. Behind me are coils of incense, with a message written in the centre. As the incense burns, the message drifts up to heaven to the gods.

Man Mo Temple
Man Mo Temple
Man Mo Temple
Man Mo Temple

We saw some food markets with some interesting sights; weird looking chickens with their heads twisted around, whole pigs, and unusual sea creatures.

We took the Star Ferry to Kowloon (HK$2.20 for a seat on the upper deck). We had to get to an unusual little travel agent to book a discounted half-day tour, but it didn't turn out to be too difficult. We ended up on a Gray Line tour; we paid HK$280 for the two of us instead of the full price of HK$295 each. Afterwards, we walked up to the Ladies' Market. Our time there was a bit limited, but we managed to buy three watches for a reasonable price.

We took a taxi back to the Holiday Inn Golden Mile where we had arranged to join the tour. While we were waiting, we walked around some nearby shops. I spotted a chess set which was a fair bit more than what I was willing to pay, but suddenly the price was reduced from HK$760 to $300 without really trying. It was a wooden board so I was a bit concerned about getting it through customs, but the slashed price convinced me to take the risk.

After a short wait in the hotel lobby, the tour bus collected us at 13:45. The tour started with a visit to Man Mo Temple, but the guide made it reasonably interesting for the second time in a few hours. Next up we went up Victoria Peak on the Peak Tram. There were great views on the way up, but as we got to the top the thick fog conspired to diminish the experience. We grabbed a snack at the top while we had the chance, and a much welcome bottle of water (the heat and humidity made us thirsty all day).

Victoria Peak Tram
Victoria Peak Tram
View from Victoria Peak
View from Victoria Peak

The trip down Victoria Peak was made by bus. On the way down we stopped at a look-out, which was somewhat pointless considering the fog. There was this baffling "No Paraphernalia" sign; it was six months before it was translated to me as "no littering".

No Paraphernalia sign
No Paraphernalia

The second half of the tour was disappointing. The next stop was Aberdeen where there was an "optional" boat trip around the fishing village. My fiancée wasn't feeling up to going on a boat, so we just sat around and waited. In practice, the boat trip is basically compulsory since there's nothing to do otherwise.

A jewellery factory next on our list of exciting attractions. There was a very rushed explanation of history and the methodology (which had the potential to be interesting if they would take a bit longer), and then a very boring time in the showroom looking at overpriced jewellery. The final stop was at Stanley Markets, which were disappointing after the Ladies's Market earlier in the day. They were flooded with touristy crap. But I did manage to find one watch (which was a bit of a struggle) and an Astroboy toy!

The trip back to Kowloon was slow and very start/stop in heavy traffic. We got out of the bus as soon as we could and walked to the Star Ferry. Walking was probably faster, and we were out in the fresh air instead of stuck in the bus. We took the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Central, then hopped on the airport train.

A day in Hong Kong had the potential to be an exciting experience, but it was partially ruined for us by a lack of sleep and a disappointing tour. I guess we'll just have to go back and do it properly!

Friday April 29: Hong Kong to Perth

Since we already had our boarding passes, we picked up our left luggage, went through customs, and found the Qantas Club lounge. A big drink of water was our first priority, as well as a lot of sandwiches to satisfy our hunger after little lunch and no dinner. Our second priority was a most satisfying shower. Being clean is good!

Our departure was schedule for 23:35, but at around 23:10 a delay was announced "due to mechanical problems". The new estimated departure time was midnight. At around 23:50 we were told that they were looking for a spare part. The captain came in a little later, and told us that a part in the fuel line needed replacing, and then they would need to do a test run of the engines before we could leave. With all the delays, we wasted some time on the internet and eventually resorted to drinking the free alcohol.

When boarding was announced, we headed straight onto the aircraft for our first experience in business class, thanks to an upgrade with frequent flyer points. Despite being desparate for sleep, we forced ourselves to stay awake for the supper service. I had salad of char grilled beef with slow roasted tomatoes and mustard dressing, with a Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon, and a glass of port to finish off. Shortly afterwards the lights were turned off, and I had the best night's sleep I've ever had on a plane. The combination of extreme tiredness and business class seats did the trick!

We woke up for breakfast at 06:15. I started with freshly squeezed juice, followed by a croissant with fruit salad and yoghurt, sausage, mushrooms, potato cakes and baked beans. Nothing incredible, but certainly better than the usual economy class breakfast.

We arrived in Perth at 08:35, an hour and twenty minutes late, but that was unimportant. We felt much better after our flight than we did before it! My fiancée bought some Irish whiskey in the duty free shop, and then I had no trouble getting my wooden chess set through customs. Back home, a day of rest and relaxation was in order. It had been a great holiday, but thoroughly exhausting and it was good to be home.

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