Easter Vacation

Apr 28, 2011

It was Easter weekend and I'd found myself magically gifted with 4 days off, plus a rest day following my previous flight. I immediately began looking at flights to plan my escape from Dubai for a mini-vacation. I considered several options... Rome, Amsterdam, Athens and Istanbul, before finally reaching my decision and booking flights to... Toronto, Canada.
I know what you are thinking. Here I am with the whole world available to me and I fly right back to my home country.
There were a few factors that influenced my decision. It was Easter and flights to Europe were jam-packed. I'd have to book accommodations in advance and if I didn't make it on the flight (the joys of flying standby), I'd have wasted my money. After a failed attempt to bring my mom to Dubai, her and my brother were in Ontario visiting my grandparents. If I was able to make it on to the flight, I'd be able to finally spend a holiday with my family... something that I hadn't done since Easter 2009!
After landing from Paris I headed to my apartment to unpack and then repack my suitcase. I'd checked the flight loads and I wasn't feeling overly confident that I'd make it onboard, as there were very few spare seats. Despite this, I hauled my luggage downstairs, hailed a taxi, and sighed as the driver watched me struggle to life my suitcase into the trunk. True gentlemen do not exist in Dubai. I made sure to pay him the exact fare, as he had not nothing to deserve a tip.
In the airport I nervously made my way to the staff travel counters to hear my fate for the weekend. I was actually a bit shocked when I was handed a boarding pass, thinking that perhaps it was a mistake. Before they could change their minds, I rushed through immigration and security, emailing my mom to inform her that she should be waiting for me at the Toronto airport. How exciting!!
I boarded the plane, where even the crew were surprised that I'd made it on as it was completely full. I made myself at home in my seat, hoping to catch some sleep on the 14 hour journey.
I landed and proceeded to have a fantastic weekend with my family and my puppy, who had also traveled with my mom and brother... his very first airplane ride! Because I'm too lazy and you likely don't care, I won't bore you with every detail of my weekend. Here is a quick summary in case you are interested:

Friday: Reunited with the family. Hugs, chats, and dinner of fish, for Good Friday. Fought fatigue and went out for karaoke. Sang with my mom and grandma!
Saturday: Headed off to the horse races! It was my very first time, and I was the only one to win any money. Sure, I spent more than I won, but I won either way. Stuffed myself with the buffet and endured torture as I stared longingly at the chocolate fountain... the end of Lent was only a day away.
Sunday: Woke up early, proceeded to consume chocolate for the first time in 46 days!! Went for a hike with my mom, brother, and puppy in search of geocaches. Found one! Got coated in mud. Headed back to the house to celebrate Easter and eat a delicious dinner surrounded by family! Yay! Drove to Niagara Falls with my mom. Took photos of the falls and proceeded to karaoke. Ate delicious appetizers at Boston Pizza and sang several songs.
Monday: Went for lunch with my Great Grandma... 4 generations, all of us with the same middle name! Ate too much, felt yucky. Relaxed for a few hours before driving to the airport. Quickly hugged mom goodbye and made a mad dash for the terminal building before the tears arrived. Flew back to Dubai.

It was a quick trip and a busy weekend, but worth the long haul flights and fatigue! It was the best holiday I've had in over 2 years! I hope that everyone else enjoyed their Easter, wherever in the world you happened to be!

Grandma, Great Grandma, Mommy, and Me!

Je ne parle pas Fran├žais.

Apr 21, 2011

Earlier this month I received a message from another crew member, requesting to swap my Beijing flight for her trip to Paris! I jumped at the opportunity, gladly passing up the cabin full of smelly feet and lack of dining options in the smoggy Chinese city. It just so happens that I'm kind of madly in love with Paris, so it worked out perfectly for myself and the Chinese crew member who was able to go home.
I was feeling optimistic as I headed off to work. It is generally a very easy, relaxed flight, and the announcements in French make me feel like I'm back in Canada. It's a good thing that I was well rested, because this Paris flight was like no other Paris flight I've been on. Our airline has recently changed the service routines and we found ourselves running around for the entire 6 and a half hours, rushing to get everything done before landing. I was worn out and exhausted by the time that we reached the hotel, but I wasn't about to let that stop me. I was in Paris, and staying in the hotel was simply not an option. The majority of the crew had no intent of going anywhere, and I had accepted that I was going to venture out on my own until one crew member named Zayed mentioned that he wanted to go to the city as well. He was half Cuban, half UAE national... the most random of combinations I've met so far. I emphasized that I was going to wander the city with no plan aside from eating food and taking photos, and he was content to do the same. These days I'm a bit picky when choosing who to spend my layovers with, as many of them seem to put a damper on the fun and hold me back from doing what I'd actually like to do. He seemed carefree enough, so we headed to the train station together bound for central Paris.
Our first stop was Chatelet, which I loved saying repeatedly as the name seems to roll so beautiful off of my tongue. Chatelet, oh la la! The streets were lined with high end shops and quaint cafes. The chaotic flight had built up our appetites and we set out in search of something delicious. We settled on a cute restaurant called "Au Chien Que Fume", roughly translated to "The Dog that Smokes". Had I been in Beijing, I would have avoided it like the plague, but I was confident that Parisians don't eat dogs. It was decorated with tacky ceramic canines and a vast selection of wine bottles. I browsed the menu for awhile, attempting to translate it without giving in and requesting an English menu. Although it was obvious that I didn't speak French, I was determined to make an effort. I ordered from the set menu, feeling the need to have a 3 course dinner. For my starter I chose the French onion soup. I'd been craving it recently, and what better place to satisfy my craving than France itself. It definitely exceeded my expectations with stringy delicious cheese drowning in the tasty broth. It probably would have sufficed as a meal in itself, but that's not how I do things. Next up was my main course. Despite having had salmon during my last visit, I couldn't help but to order it again. Although I've been told time and time again to order duck, I was unable to do so as a girl who used to live on a farm with pet ducks. The salmon was perfect, and by the time I'd finished I was certain that I couldn't stuff in another bite of food. Unfortunately (insert sarcasm here) I still had to endure dessert. Still battling through Lent, I went with one of the few chocolate-less options: Creme brulee. My stomach hated me but my tastebuds thanked me as I devoured every last bite of dessert perfection. I washed it all down with a perfect glass of Riesling, as it felt entirely necessary.
I was already satisfied with the trip, but I still had plenty of evening to look forward to. We wandered the area for awhile, with Zayed being forced to listen to my constant confessions of love for the city. What's a girl to do in a city so beautiful and surreal?
Despite having been to Paris in the past, my layover companion had never seen the Eiffel Tower. This was simply unacceptable to me, so I led him to the nearest metro station and we navigated our way towards Trocadero. Upon emerging from the station we turned around the corner and there it was in all of it's glory... the Eiffel Tower! I was just as in love as the first time I'd seen it, clutching my camera and muttering on about how it was the perfect time of night for perfect photos.
We strolled around for awhile, blissfully content in the warm evening air. As we sat in the grass staring up at the sparkling tower, I longed to have my fiance beside me. I'm a sucker for cliche romance.
It was getting late and I was running on my last bit of energy, so we decided to call it a night and return to our hotel room. Not wanting to walk all the way back to the station we came from, Zayed suggested that we find another one nearby. I didn't argue, how lost could we possibly get? Very lost, apparently.
We found a station, figured out where we'd need to connect, and set off on our way. What we didn't anticipate was that the line we were trying to connect on would be closed, leaving us stuck and forced to backtrack. I'm just going to accept that I sound conceited and say it: Had I been navigating, this never would have happened. I'd suggested an alternate route but went along with his way because he insisted it would be easier, like a typical stubborn man. I continued to let him lead the way, causing us to get even more lost before I finally took matters into my own hands and found the way to the proper station. With great relief after a stressful hour or so, we finally reached the line that would take us directly to the airport, where we could catch a shuttle to our hotel. I was fading in and out of consciousness on the train, forcing myself to stay awake.
I reconfirmed with Zayed that it was in fact terminal 2 that we needed to get off at. He was quite sure that it was, so we stayed on as the train stopped at the other terminals. It was then that I thought perhaps I should double check, and when I did I felt like an idiot for having not looked sooner. We needed to get off at the earlier stop. Despite being humorous to think back on, at the time I was ridiculously grumpy. It wasn't a big deal, we could just get off and catch the train going in the opposite direction. Or at least, we could have had it not stopped running an hour earlier. Zayed tried to offer up other plans of action to make it to our free shuttle bus, but I was far too exhausted to listen to him. I informed him that we were taking a taxi back to the hotel, and that I wouldn't consider any other option at this point. We hopped in the first one that agreed to use the meter rather than a ridiculous set rate, and we were finally homeward bound. I'd never been so happy to step into my hotel room. After a quick chat online with Ryan, it was off to bed where I slept peacefully until morning.
I'm not a big fan of the crew hotel due to it's location far from the city, but I will give it a thumbs up for the buffet breakfast. A bargain at only 8 Euros, I was up early filling my plate with pastries, smoked salmon, and all sorts of deliciousness. I stopped by the crew lounge to grab a coffee before heading back to my room to get ready for my flight. It was only after I'd obtained a caffeine buzz that I received the message that the flight would be delayed. Had I known that, I would have skipped the latte and took a nap, but it was too late for that. I sat in my hotel room browsing the internet and waiting patiently until it was time to go.
After a 2 hour delay we were on our way back to the desert and I was headed off on my next adventure!

Day 41.

Apr 18, 2011

As most of you are aware, I've given up chocolate for Lent. If you aren't already aware, you must be living on the moon... because I haven't stopped talking about my withdrawals. I'm sure that most of you think that Lent is 40 days, but just so you know, that figure doesn't count Sundays. From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is a total of 46 days. 46 long, chocolate-less days.

Only 5 days remain until I can finally indulge in my most favourite food once again. Last night I had a dream about chocolate. I was eating a beautiful Cadbury Top Deck bar (just like the one that my amazing roommate brought back from her recent Sydney trip), happier than any other girl on the planet at that very moment. And then, I woke up.

I must admit, it has been a great test of my willpower. If I can give up chocolate, I can do anything... but most of the time I'd just rather not.

From Manchester to Hong Kong

Apr 13, 2011

My second flight of the month took me to Manchester, where I wandered aimlessly toting my camera, snapping photos of the beautiful cherry blossom trees in bloom. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, but much to my dismay, Primark was closed. I had every intention of loading my suitcase with cheap t-shirts, nylons, and accessories, failing to take note of the fact that it was Sunday and that everything would be closed ridiculously early. I headed back to the hotel for 10 hours of sleep before returning to Dubai after a rather uneventful layover.
I was looking forward to having 3 days off. My plan was to use the time to organize flights and visas for my mom and brother who were hoping to fly to Dubai to visit me. As you may have read in previous blog posts, it's impossible to get anything done in this city, and travel arrangements were no exception. Each day I'd make the journey to the visa and travel services counter, and each time I'd come back with everything they'd told me to bring, only to find out that there was yet another document missing. I drew the line when I was told that I had the wrong birth certificate. Frustrated, I explained to the man behind the counter that it was the ONLY birth certificate that I had, and that clearly I was born as I was there in person talking to him. He suggested that I apply for a new one, have it shipped from Canada, and then return. By that time I'll probably LIVE in Canada again, so I sadly told my mom not to bother. In theory, it was a good idea... cheap flights and free accommodation in my apartment. It seemed as though every attempt was being made to prevent me from taking advantage of my travel benefits, and I no longer had the time or energy to waste on it. I returned home heartbroken, joined by my equally devastated roommate who had just been told that she couldn't possibly have time off to attend her university graduation. We consoled ourselves with buckets of ice cream and the second season of "Glee".
By the time that my days off were over, I was more than ready to return to work. I'd spent the last 3 days questioning whether I was in fact an insomniac, and contemplating my resignation based solely on the fact that I was missing home so very much. I knew a good trip would make me snap out of my Dubai depression, and that was exactly what I was anticipating as I packed my suitcase for Hong Kong!
It was an easy flight over, and I was joined by my friend and batchmate, Grant. We worked together, but he had plans to catch up with friends the next day, and I didn't want to intrude.
The rest of the crew were nice, but the majority of them planned to do nothing more than sleep and shop. Neither of those options appealed to me, so the next morning I woke up and decided to have a day of adventure on my own. First, however, was the free buffet breakfast. That alone makes this layover a bit better than all of the rest. After indulging, I headed to the metro station and got on the train bound for Hong Kong Central. It had been raining all morning, stopping just in time for me to arrive in the city. I had absolutely no plan for the day, and began wandering in search of photo opportunities. I came across the Mid-level escalators, which Grant had told me about the previous day. It is the longest outdoor escalator system in the world, and I began riding it up street by street. Hong Kong is such an amazingly multi-cultural city. I saw every imaginable type of cuisine, a mosque, a cathedral, and I even spotted an NHL hockey game on TV inside one of the pubs. I went all the way to the top of the escalators, turned around, and went back down.
It was a beautiful afternoon, I continued walking until I reached the Peak Tram. It was a cloudy day and I wasn't sure if there would be much of a view, but unsure if I'd ever be back to the city, I bought my tickets and rode up the side of the mountain in the tram. It was a steep journey, and once I emerged I found myself inside of a cloud at the top.
It wasn't the view I'd hoped for, but it was cool nonetheless. You could see the fog floating by, people disappeared behind the thick layer of white.
Aside from the tram, also situated at the top of the mountain was a shopping mall. I decided to browse a few of the shops, finding all sorts of awesome unique items that I persuaded myself not to buy based on lack of use for them. After I'd spent a decent amount of time in the mall, I returned outside to find that the skies had begun to clear! It was a great time to go head to the viewing platform. Although it was still hazy, I was able to see the skyline of the city and snap dozens of photos of it. I spent awhile up there enjoying the view and sipping a cup of coffee, enjoying my lovely life.
Once I felt ready to head to a lower altitude, I got back into the tram and rode it to the ground. I decided to gradually make my way back to the metro station, wandering in the general direction with no real idea of where I was going. Fortunately, I catch on quite quickly when it comes to familiarizing myself with places. I found my way to the station just in time for the rain clouds to reach the city. By the time I reached the hotel, it was a massive downpour and I retreated to my room where I dined on seafood fried rice and napped before the long journey back to my desert home!
Once again, I'm jet lagged and dazed and confused. It seems my jet setting ways are finally catching up to me! My sleep habits are all over the place lately!

I just want my mommy!

Apr 12, 2011

Well hello there, sudden flurry of new followers! Where did you all come from? Thanks for hanging out to listen to me babble on about life and my travels. I enjoy the company!

In this week's news... Life was so much easier last year, before Canadians required a visa to visit the UAE. After the Canadian government denied the local airlines more landing rights (they wanted to fly to Calgary... an hour from my home... imagine how amazing that would be!), the UAE slapped us with the requirement for an advanced visa to visit the country. Before, you could just arrive in the country and be issued a visa at the airport.
Much to my joy, my mom and brother have decided that now would be a good time to come and visit me in my sand castle. However, the entire process has proved to be quite frustrating, especially given my limited amount of time actually spent in Dubai between layovers. It's going to cost me a decent chunk of money and every day off in a desperate effort to get them here, because I could really use the company and it would be fun to play tour guide in my home! Unfortunately we are cutting it pretty close with the current time frame.
I don't honestly know that it will all work out. Yes, part of me says "Be optimistic!!!" but another part of me doesn't want to get overly excited for a visit that may not happen.
Everyone please wish us luck!! I've been feeling a bit lonely since returning from vacation, and a visit from my family is just what I need!

Lost in Hong Kong

Apr 9, 2011

Battling jet lag and homesickness, I was struggling to find the motivation to return to work for the first time in 18 days. Knowing that I didn't have much choice in the matter, I put on the uniform and forced my flight attendant smile as I headed for the airport.
It wasn't all bad though. I was bound for Hong Kong, where I've been many times but had never actually left the airport. The thought of a new destination kept me going as I continued to feel sorry for myself. Much to my relief, I had been blessed with a great crew. Friendly and energetic, they kept me distracted and as reluctant as I was to enjoy myself (I'm admittedly the most stubborn person that I know), I couldn't help but to have a fun flight. By the time that we landed, I was barely conscious. It was late at night in the time zone that I was currently adjusted to, and as some of the crew made plans to head to the city, I made a beeline for my bed... which, may I say, was amazingly comfortable. In fact, the hotel itself was probably one of the nicest among the A380 destinations. I woke up 6 hours later at 4 am, unable to fall back asleep. I spent a couple of hours flipping through the TV channels before heading downstairs for breakfast. Normally I sway away from hotel breakfasts in an attempt to save money, but deepening my love for this hotel was the free buffet in the morning. I loaded my plate with food from all corners of the world... bacon and eggs, dim sum, and fresh fruit. It was there that I met up with some of the other crew, including Daniela from Slovakia and Mats from Holland. They were two of the most optimistic and fun people that I've encountered in quite some time, and together with 2 crew from business class we set out for a day of adventure. Our first stop was Ngong Ping. We planned to take a cable car up the mountainside for spectacular views and to see the Tian Tan Buddha, one of the largest in the world. We hadn't done our research and arrived to find that we'd arrived an hour before the cable car began running. We occupied our time by wandering a few of the shops in the area. Mats and myself ventured to a park where we watched several people practicing Tai Chi.

As one old man took a break, we politely asked if we could take a photo of the large sword in his hand. To our surprise, he placed it in Mats hand and began to show us a few poses. We giggled and snapped photos as he encouraged us. We chatted with the man for awhile, surprised at how friendly he was. We realized that we hadn't seen the others in awhile and said goodbye to our new friend as we set out to find them. We spotted them at the entrance of the cable car gates, waiting in a long line that had formed since we'd left. We joined them and collectively decided to spend the extra money to ride in the glass bottom cable car. When it was our turn the 5 of us hopped into our car, along with a lady from Germany and a man from Mexico. As we left the comfort and low altitude of the platform, we we suspended high above the blue waters below. What a spectacular view! To our left was the skyline of super high apartment buildings that lined the island, and to our right was the airport where we watched huge planes taking off below us. It was a long ride, taking nearly half an hour until we finally reached Ngong Ping Village. On top of the mountain we were met with souvenir shops, an entire store dedicated to chopsticks, and in westernized fashion, a Starbucks.
We took photos as we walked down the road towards the massive Buddha in the distance. Once we'd reached the bottom, we were slightly appalled at the number of steps we'd have to walk up to see it. Complaining and feeling out of shape, we made our way to the top, where we saw even more beautiful views and took even more photos.
Once we'd seen it, there really wasn't much else to do, so we decided to catch the cable car back. Mats and I had once again separated from the others, but we wanted to go to the city anyways, so we rode the car back down and caught the metro to the Hong Kong station. We emerged to find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the tall buildings and big city chaos. I was surprised to discover how multi-cultural the city was. We saw many Westerners and the only thing that gave us away as tourists was the large camera that I was toting through the streets. We wandered aimlessly, finding ourselves lost but content. We rode the elevator to the top floor of a super tall building in hopes of a window with a better view. We were out of luck, met only by offices and strange looks. It was worth a shot! We saw various sea creatures for sale in seafood stalls, wondering why anybody would want to eat a blowfish or turtle. It had been many hours since breakfast and we had worked up quite the appetite despite the smells of fish and traumatizing displays of meat hanging in the shops. Too tired to be adventurous and seek out a good Chinese restaurant, we opted for Subway. Fresh, healthy, cheap, and familiar. We dined along the river, watching the boats sail by in a rare quiet area of the bustling city. Once we'd finished eating we decided to make our way back to the metro station, where we hopped on a train and headed back to our hotel. It had been a great day, but I was sleepy!! I managed to get in a decent nap before getting ready for the flight back to Dubai. I'd had a lot of fun and didn't particularly want to return.
The flight back was long and felt as though it would never end, but the crew kept me going. I can't thank them enough for changing my attitude and helping me to actually enjoy myself during what would normally be a tough couple of days.
I'm feeling a lot better now, and the initial homesickness wave is passing. Thank you all for your kind words the last few days! You make me feel so much less lonely!

Post-Vacation Blues

Apr 5, 2011

I've just returned to Dubai after 17 glorious days back home. It was a pretty low key vacation, full of many lazy days and far too many unhealthy (yet delicious) meals. I cuddled my puppies and my fiance, went on a road trip to the beautiful Rocky Mountains, and bought a brand new camera! I was having a fabulous time remembering what it was like to have a normal life when before I knew it, it was time to go.
I swore that I wouldn't get emotional this time around. For about 10 minutes, I didn't! However, after my morning shower the realization hit me that I was leaving again just when I'd settled into my simple life back home. I sobbed like a baby in Ryan's arms as he tried to comfort me, knowing that it was no use. He drove home, as my mom, brother and I drove to the airport. My heart hurt once again, as it always does when I leave home. I maintained my composure at the airport as I said goodbye to my family and boarded a plane. 28 hours later, I was back in Dubai.
As I walked past the meeting points in the airport, I tried not to get too upset. Nobody was ever waiting for me in this airport. I stepped into the hot evening air, caught a taxi, and went to the place that I call home. It was a dusty day, and even the lights of Sheik Zayed Road were hidden behind a thick layer of grey. After a few traffic jams, I was at my apartment building. The smell of the abattoir across the street filled the night air. I unlocked my apartment, relieved to have reached it but sad because I didn't want to be there... at all. My amazing roommate was nowhere to be found, leaving me all alone, vulnerable to the certain emotional breakdowns that I'd have throughout the evening. The simplest things would set me off. I was a wreck, as I'd expected that I would be.
I didn't have much time to settle back in. I'd left little time between returning to Dubai and returning to work, and as I unpacked one suitcase I was packing another. After a few hours of sleep, I woke up this morning at 4 am. Jet lag has got the best of me. I'm going to Hong Kong today, for the very first time. I really, really want to be excited, but first I need to stop feeling so sad. It's not so bad and I know that, but I just really miss home and everything that comes with it. This happens every time, and I know that I have no option but to battle it out. By next week I'll be feeling better.
So a question to the rest of you crew.... am I alone in the post-leave depression? Does anybody else return after a vacation back home and feel this way? I do love my job, and I know how fortunate I am to have this life, but at times like these it just doesn't seem worth it.