Day 68-69: Athens to Bahrain to Singapore to Sydney

The journey home

It all started with high winds that caused the ferry schedules from Paros back to the mainland to be screwed up. I had read about this and had planned to be overly cautious and leave two days in Athens at the end, but Phil seemed optimistic (of course it wouldn’t happen to us) and we ended up planning for one overnight stay in Athens in between leaving the islands (Paros), and our flight home the following day. It turned out we never made it to our little hotel in Athens, instead we spent the night on the ferry.

Instead of being on our scheduled ferry, we spent the day whiling away time between the local internet café, an Aussie bar that sold VB, and pestering the ferry people for updates. We finally got ourselves booked on the first ferry out of Paros that night (12 hours after our scheduled ferry and cutting it fine for our flight). We watched our final sunset for what was to be 60 hours.

Paros sunset

The ferry left at midnight, and even though it was the first ferry off the island, we were perplexed by the urgency and aggressiveness of the people waiting in line for boarding. We later discovered why. The ferry of course was completely overbooked and although we thought we had assigned seating (we never assumed a bed was part of the deal, but at least a seat we expected), we discovered it was a free-for-all. We did manage to find a patch of carpet (instead of the cold hard deck outdoors), where I slept on the floor and Phil managed to scam an uncomfortable crappy lounge seat for the night. There were bodies everywhere. Such was the beginnings of our travel experience back to Sydney.

Ferry ride

We arrived at the mainland at some terribly early hour of the morning, and proceeded to work out how to get to the airport from the ferry terminal. We figured since we had time and taxis were hard to come by, we may as well try the Express Airport Bus. Turns out express buses in Greece stop at all stops—not very “express”. In addition, it was crowded, no available seating, and as I standing in the entrance, I was repeatedly bashed by the bus doors opening and closing for people to get on and off. Such a lovely experience after our night of sleeping on a ferry floor.

And it doesn’t stop there… So far we’ve been waiting or travelling for 36 hours, with the prospect of a 24 hour flight ahead of us. Next up: the flight from Athens to Bahrain on (gulp) Gulf Air.

After attempting to “shower” and change clothes in the airport bathroom, we wasted away what seemed an eternity at an airport café, then when it was time to check in, off we went. We were flying Gulf Air, Athens to Bahrain to Singapore to Sydney. We arrived at check-in to a teeming mass of Arab men, each with a massive amount of luggage, in hard suitcases each larger than me. We were a bit puzzled by the group, maybe they had all just been at a conference or something, and they seemed to know each other or be acquainted in some round about way. Unsurprisingly we were singled out by security and allowed to check in ahead of the masses who each had to have their lugged weighed and measured for compliance to the flight restrictions. It was all a bit little chaotic.

So off we went to the lounge to wait for boarding. This is where I began to notice the dominance of men on this flight of ours. It wasn’t until we had actually boarded that I realised, apart from the hostesses, there was only one other woman in first class, and then myself. I know I am prone to exaggeration, but this was real—only two women on the plane, me the only one in economy class. I wasn’t really sure how I should feel about it, but I certainly felt like I had many eyes on me, but didn’t feel in any danger or threatened in any way. It was all very strange.

Gulf Air

The whole time Phil was very apprehensive about making our connection in Bahrain. It was only a one hour layover. If we missed it, we were spending the night in Bahrain, which would add another 24 hours to our trip since there is but one Gulf Air flight per day from Bahrain to Singapore. But much to our relief the arriving plane landed early and we started our boarding process well ahead of schedule. Our relief was to be short-lived however. It took forever to get everyone seated.

It seemed the entire plane full of adults had been replaced with 10-year old children, and that every man on this plane had either just bought his first cameraphone, digital camera, or movie camera while in Greece. And every single one of them had to play with it at the same time. Every guy on the plane was wandering around, socialising, and taking pictures. Plus, no one understood the how the seat assignments worked. Everyone was in the wrong seat. The hostess would attempt to seat someone, find some other hapless person in that seat, then reseat that guy. Repeat over and over.

It took over an hour to get everyone seated. An hour! Finally, after all of this chaos and as Phil slowly began to lose it, someone got on the PA and announced that the plane would not leave until everyone had taken their seats and buckled up—it was like being at school! What followed is a sound that we will never forget. The sound of an entire 767 of passengers buckling their seatbelts at the same instant. Bizarre.

The rest of the flight proceeded uneventfully. Landing, was another matter. The second we touched down, and I mean the second, the entire plane unbuckled their seatbelts and at least half of the plane got up to start getting their luggage down out of the overheads. This is while we are hurtling down the runway at a couple of hundred miles per hour. Perhaps, they had a flight to catch too. A panicked flight attendant managed to take control of the situation and we were able to get to the gate without further mishap.

It appeared that we had a chance of making our connection. If we could figure out how to navigate the Bahrain airport in 15 minutes.

What followed is a blur. We have vague memories of sprinting through a very crazy international departure lounge—men in robes, women in veils, Louis Vuitton stores, you name it. We were in a full sprint and unbelievably managed to get to the gate just as boarding was starting. Unbelievable.

The Gulf Air flights to Singapore and then on to Sydney were both “boringly normal” to borrow a phrase from Michael Craig. We were able to get some sleep and even able to do some duty free shopping in the Singapore airport.

We touched down in Sydney on July 7, 2006. We made it.