ohare airport screens

Kissing the ground at Belfast City Airport..

Search Radharcimages

Well not quite but if it wasnt so bloody cold I might have.
Its been almost two weeks since I embarked on what would be a reasonably long journey home. I left after I was scheduled to leave and got home at the same time as I should have, but did it feel like a long journey.
Firstly the outbound flight from Buenos Aires was delayed as expected. Washington was snowed in so my much anticipated visit to the Smithsonian museum was cancelled. Slightly gutted but having waited in the queue for check in for two hours Id have paid everything I owned for a teleport system.
So two hours waiting, we know the flight isnt leaving, we are through ‘security’ and standing in line, of course they decide to stop check-in right as muggins gets to the front of the queue. So two hours of waiting for them to officially tell us we were going to Chicago even though we’ve known it for hours. With an hour left to wait I received the email from United Airlines telling me the flight that should have left an hour ago was delayed. Well no shit sherlock.

United Airlines delays

At this point United did appear to be the worst airline I’ve ever flown with, they could have just checked us all in, given us our seats and sorted it out later. No. Of course they did a re-check-in which seemed to me stupid as about 1/4 the passengers had already got their seats and boarding cards and were waiting at the gate. Again I would have assumed that it would cause chaos to reassign those seats to the next 1/4 of passengers. They didnt and it did. I did mention that everything in South America seemed to result in a discussion that would normally last about 30 secs at home before someone said ‘look just sit the f**k down’.
Even the first class passengers and the 17 levels of segregation that United apply to passengers above cattle class had to stand and wait as well. Sometimes theres a lot to be said for Ryanairs, every man for themselves policy.
The flight the day before was delayed and so this one was packed. Now I’ll have to admit, being a single bloke on a 14 hour flight you do hold out hope of some nice looking woman taking the empty seat beside you. If she could speak english and was looking a part exchange on an EU passport then all the better.
Dont be stupid.
Now, in the last couple of days there was the case where a larger than life film actor/director was asked to leave a United airlines flight because he should really have booked two tickets. Well normally Id have sympathy but now Im thinking of asking for a refund on the 40% of my seat that I didnt actually use on the flight due to the overspill of the passenger beside me.
So after 6 hours awake I went to the stewardesses and asked if there were any spare seats or could I just sleep on the floor in the kitchen. Their reply of ‘you must be joking’ wasnt exactly what I wanted to hear.
I did think about my reply carefully from quips like ‘if I was joking I would have said, a man walks into a bar with a duck on his head’ to ‘can I have some clean water as I’d like to wash my body before we all meet my maker’ to just taking her overly made up face and smashing it into the still warm plate of microwave airline meals beside her.
No matter what I said would probably end up in the plane diverting to some central american airport with my heathrow ticket being exchanged for one to Guantanamo Bay.
Back to my half seat I went and resigned myself to elbowing my fellow passenger in the ribs and kicking him in the ankles when he tried to play footsie. Im sure he wonders where all his bruises have come from.
USA visa

Travelling through the US is a nightmare. Im not going to do it again if I can humanly avoid it. Ive mentioned the one carry on bag and the queues for immigration even though you are going nowhere near US soil. If I have to go through the US again it will be from Dublin where I can clear US immigration in Dublin. Another hour queueing for immigration, then waiting for my bag and taking it through customs only to drop it off a further 100 yards later for it to go to Belfast.
To be honest though it was a relief to see it, and to see it intact. There were rumours about stuff being nicked from bags in Buenos Aires airport. When checking through security there I was asked what was in my checkin bag, I was specifically asked if there were any camcorders, digital cameras and anything else worth nicking, sorry above 50 USD. When I said yes, there was a big sticker put on my bag. I dont think it said ‘ransack through here’ but it may as well have. One of the joys of travelling with an old beaten up bag with only one wheel and one other trick I learned years ago. Three days before you are due to come home, soak some of your dirty clothes. t-shirt and trousers is enough. Put them in a plastic bag and leave them in the heat. When you go to leave, put it at the top of your bag and cut it open before quickly closing the bag. If anyone opens that bag, smells that and still rifles through it looking for valuables, they are more than welcome to the contents.By the time I got to my destination gate I had no idea who I was, where I was, where I was going and quite frankly I didnt really care. Having been to Chicago a couple of times before I just wanted to lie down somewhere but needed something to eat. If you are in Chicago they have their own brewery called Goose Island and they do a nice Christmas Ale. This wasnt christmas but I thought Id try the local brew anyway. Of course I got funny looks at 9:30am asking for a beer but hey I’d no idea what time it was.

I splurged on the 50 dollars it cost to get access to the frequent flyer lounge as quite frankly it was a bargain. Lovely soft seats, free net access, tv, papers etc etc. Free soft drinks, well not like UK free, but US free served by a barman which attracts the obligatory 1 dollar tip. Now Im not against tipping barstaff but hey if you are travelling to another country and I know the US people find that strange you dont necessarily carry US money. Particularly when you dont think you are going to spend much time there. Besides which in the UK you have fridges with cans of stuff and dont need 4 bar staff to change the TV station for you.

I just want to go home.
To cut another long story short, soon enough I was home, in my own house and I realise how quiet it is where I live. Silence.
I remember moving here from Belfast City and spending the first couple of weeks waking up because it was ‘too quiet’. When things went quiet in the area of the city I lived it generally meant it was going to get real loud real quick.

So Ive had a few emails from people asking me to go through what gear I use, how I used it etc etc etc. To be perfectly honest I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than talk photo gear and Im sure most peoples eyes would glaze over as well. I’ll leave the photo talk to photo forums but heres a few things that did make my life a lot easier whilst travelling.

Noise cancelling headphones – absolutely superb. I baulked at the price of these things just to use on planes etc but they really are worth their weight in gold. Apart from using them on planes, ferries, in airports etc they are useful in noisy hotel rooms, disconnect them, turn on the noise cancelling and go to sleep.

Wee small plastic bottles less than 60ml. You dont really realise how difficult air travel has become until you try to book a flight with hand luggage only where the destination is full of mosquitos and 40C+ You cant buy that small a bottle of sun cream so the ability to pack some into smaller bottles to pack in hand luggage and avoid a one way rendition flight is understated. I do wonder why they persist with this rubbish as lets be honest if I wanted to take a plane down, I’d buy a bottle of vodka and a lighter in duty free and then see if the aircrew thought I was joking.
Besides which if they’d applied the air safety laws that were in force on September 11th, the hijackers would never have got on the planes in the first place. When you have a load of people on a watch list, you just dont let them get on a plane. Back here during the troubles you couldnt go 100 yards in the car without some military patrol appearing from somewhere.
Maybe if security spent less time robbing us all of our purchased in the security zone bottles of water and duty free which by its nature had to be purchased airside, and actually out chasing ‘terrorists’ then wed all travel a lot easier with less hassle.
Im ranting again but seriously, who gives the UK border protection jobsworths the right to photograph me then stick a sticker right across the front of the harp on my irish passport. It might only just be a sticker but that harp can get you out of trouble quicker than you can say ‘no inglaterra’. Yes it does wash off but thats not the point, Im going to tell the minister for foreign affairs, after all the passport is his property still. 😉

My smartphone, ok I couldnt make any actual calls with it for some reason to do with no reciprocal arrangements with some networks, but the ability to use wifi to check email, carry pdf maps etc etc. Its not an iphone so the battery lasts about a week and if Id had the wit to bring a headphone adaptor I could have used it to play my mp3s and could have left the ipod at home.
The ipod nano itself is again worth its weight in gold. I’ve the ministry of sound chill out sessions just for travelling, put the headphones in, get into bed, press play…. …and I’ve never heard the end of that album.

A microfibre travel towel. Small, light, very absorbent, for places like the waterfalls and easy to carry. It was a tip from a good friend of mine who travelled a lot.

‘Memory’ AA batteries. I was very sceptical about the use of these type of batteries. Basically they discharge slowly and keep their charge longer. Its not until you are travelling until you realise that the ability to keep charge for a couple of days is a godsend. No need to bring chargers for a quick trip with light or possible usage.

Ive mentioned the plastic carrier bag tricks before, to keeping the camera dry, putting all your creams and lotions in in your main baggage in case one goes pop and wrecks all the clothes in your bag, to putting on your hands and feet to avoid leaving footprints… …sorry meant to say to avoid your feet and hands getting soaked…

Pencils. Its like the old joke, NASA spent 1 million dollars developing a pen that would write in space, the Russians just used pencils.

The netbook I left at home. I have since found out that the hard drive failure in my macbook is a ‘known problem’. Known in that it was known by mac and theyve sat on it for 3-4 years. They issued an advisory note and extended warranty last week, a month too late for me. If I’d known the hard drive was likely to fail, I’d have had it changed before I left. Dont get me started on the ipad.

Time to get back to reality, Ive enough to blog on over the next while with reports on a the Maiden Voyage dance production of Best and tomorrow nights IFTA (Irish Film and Television Awards) in Dublin.

Only one last thing to do (other than edit the photos from the trip) and its to retire the passport. Its my 2nd full Irish passport and the first one was a four continenter. This one has been to all 5 continents and I think it deserves a break from travelling…… …although theres some cheap flight emails on the go at the minute…

Search Radharcimages