Summer Travels 2007

Two tired puppies on the train to Avignon.

Well this has been a very busy summer for travel. The spring was our season for getting visitors. From mid-March through April, May and early June we had visits from Mickey, from Sandy's parents, from Tim and from Shannon's friend Kayla. In about three months, we had company for over six weeks. That kept us pretty busy all spring.

This summer it was our turn to travel. From June 23 through August 8 we were only home five days. We took two long trips, one to France and one to the US. I did an overview of the France trip back in July. I am going to put together a whole site on that trip over the next few weeks so keep watching. Today I'll just focus on the travel portion itself and throw in a couple of photos for interest. I'll cover our actual visit in the US later.

It seems kind of funny when you live in Asia to take a big trip to Europe. But the trip had been planned since last year before we knew for sure that we were moving to Singapore. And we do really like Europe and have enjoyed the walking tours that we did to Italy the past few years with Custom Walks. Last year we spent a week hiking the Cinque Terre. And we have been wanting to do a trip to Provence for several years. So we went to France.

The intrepid hikers in Provence (photo by Shannon).

Our first thought was that we could combine the two trips. Start with a trip to Europe. From there go to the US and then finally return to Singapore. Make it an around-the-world tour. It seemed like a good idea. But the airlines have their fares set up so that it is very expensive to buy one-way or multi-stop tickets. To fly from Singapore to Europe, from Europe to the US, and from the US to Singapore (three flights) would have cost about twice as much as flying from Singapore to Europe and back, then flying from Singapore to the US and back. (four flights). Go figure.

It was definitely a long trip from Singapore to Europe. We started with a KLM flight from Singapore to Amsterdam. It was over twelve hours. From Singapore we flew over the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean to India. Then we flew over Pakistan and Afganistan, Russia and finally over Europe to reach Amsterdam. Quite a different part of the world then I have ever traveled through (over?). On the way over it was dark, but coming back it was light most of the way. A lot of the trip was cloudy, but Afganistan was completely clear. I have to admit that I have never seen as desolate a looking place as northern Afganistan. It was a while before there was even evidence of any settlements. Then the ones I saw looked pretty crude and isolated. No wonder the people there are so tough. It definitely reminded me of the Fremen from Frank Herbert's Dune series. What an incredibly inhospitable place to live. I would have liked to have seen more of the route but it is hard to that. Since everyone watches videos on demand for the entire flight, the airplane cabin is completely closed up with all the shades pulled down from the minute you take off till the minute you land. I don't mind it on night flights, but for a daytime flight it is like being locked in a dungeon all day. But you can't interfere with people watching their videos. I was able to get some views from the back of the plane near the flight attendants station.

Laney still looks the same.

Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam was a real pioneer back in the eighties when it was one of the first airports to put in lots of shopping and restaurants for people who were between flights. But now it is showing its age and isn't too impressive compared to newer airports like Changi in Singapore. Plus as soon as you get off the plane in Europe you smell cigarette smoke. Not pleasant. After our long flight we had a layover, then a short flight to CDG Airport in Paris. There we had a bit of a scare as Shannon's bag didn't show up for over an hour. We aren't sure if it just took them a long time to unload it or if it actually came on the next flight from Amsterdam. But we got all our stuff and got to the train station with lots of time. Mary Beth had flight delays from the US and met us at the station less then five minutes before the train left. Our friends Linda and Joe never did get Linda's luggage and so had to stay in Paris an extra day. But we got the train, and in a couple of hours we were at our hotel in Avignon in the South of France. A long trip that took us about 30 hours.

Our holiday in France ended in Paris so we had the same short flight to Amsterdam followed by a long flight to Singapore. We ended up with way too much stuff and our bags were way overweight (I TOLD you so!). We ended up frantically pulling stuff out of our luggage and throwing it away or putting it in our carryons. The saddest thing was the two wonderful bottles of Viognier that we had to leave at the security checkpoint. We did notice that one of the security guys didn't let them get thrown away but took them himself. No Frenchman is going to stand for good wine being thrown away!

When we got back to Singapore we had five whole days to get unpacked and repacked. Sandy had some time to get reorganized at work. I even got a quick post up on our France trip. And we almost got readjusted to the time in Singapore. Then we flew to the US. To get there we flew on United from Singapore to Tokyo. That's nothing - not even eight hours. But from there it is another twelve hours or so to fly to Chicago. So we were pretty spaced when we had to catch our short flight to Madison. But we made it and Laney was glad to see us!

Mickey gives Bernie Brewer a few pointers.

On the way back we flew from Madison to Chicago, and from there we flew to Hong Kong. It's over fourteen hours flying time, and of course we sat at the gate waiting for an hour before we took off. But the flight takes an interesting route. I was surprised to see us take off from O'Hare and fly straight north. We went over Wisconsin and Canada and flew almost right over the North Pole. Some flights take northern routes, but I have never flown that far north. We spent many hours flying over sea ice. Then it was down over Siberia. Another fascinating place. Just green forest and lakes as far as you can see. We continued over Mongolia but that was too cloudy to see anything. Then we flew over China and into Hong Kong. After our layover we had a short three and a half hour flight home to Singapore. A puddle jumper. I got my first really good view of central Hong Kong as we took off in the evening. Quite impressive.

The travel was fun, but it felt good to get home, to be back in our own place, to sleep in our own bed, and to use my own computer! Now that we have been back several days we are almost back to normal with respect to schedule - if you can call it normal when I go to bed at 9pm and get up at 6am. It is still confusing as we phone and IM to people back in the US. Reminds me of one of my favorite Yogi Berra quotes. When asked "What time is it?" he responded "You mean now?". Instead if someone asks me "What time is it?" my natural response now is "You mean here?".