Travel, they say, broadens the mind (and the waistline, but that’s another story), and I have to tell you we’ve all learnt plenty on this first day of our big trip.
After a slightly uncomfortable flight where air turbulence prevented our dinner being served until late, and thus shortened our sleep time, we arrived in Hong Kong at 5am, most of us with a predetermined agenda for our 11 hour stopover.
S and L wanted to try out Chek Lap Kok International Airport’s pay lounge and shower facilities, while most of us had sightseeing on our minds – though we were definitely open to a little shopping should the opportunity occur (and quite determined that it would!).
We were transported swiftly into Central Hong Kong on the spotlessly clean and quiet Airport Express train, then went in search of the open-top #15C bus to the Peak Tram. “Too early”, we were told. It doesn’t start ‘till 10am. The sun was quite high and the air was hot and heavy, so we were astonished to realise that it was only 7 am.
One attraction that doesn’t keep tourist times is the Star Ferry.
So we hopped on board for the 9 minute trip across to Kowloon where we separated for a time. Some went in search of coffee, others ogled the famous Peninsula Hotel and its fleet of green Rolls Royces, and some photographed the colourful buildings of this overbuilt shopping precinct. And in spite of the early hour, when nothing appeared to be open, M, J, BB and R hunted down some great bargains.
Back across the harbour the Peak Tram took us on a perilously steep climb to the highest point on the island. You can see from the perpendicular lines of the apartment buildings in this photo just how steep the angle is. It was worth it for this spectacular view of Hong Kong from the belvedere at the top.[Note to self: Must re-watch the DVD of the wonderful “Love is a Many Splendoured Thing” which was filmed here]
Hot, footsore and weary, we arrived back at the airport with two and a half hours to spare for our El Al check-in. Although we had been warned, we needed every bit of this as each of us was individually interviewed at tables before proceeding to the actual check-in counter. Comparing notes later we found that while the questions had varied they generally concerned why we were going to Israel, how long we’d known each other, what we were carrying in our bags, who knew we were travelling to Israel and whether we’d been given anything to take there for someone else.
Those of us with combination locks on our cases were required to disclose the combination, and those with padlocks simply found, on arrival in Tel Aviv tonight, that the padlocks had been sawn off and discarded and their cases were now completely vulnerable to theft. It was clear, from the way items had been moved, that our cases had been searched.
It’s been a big day.
We’ve learned that nothing can be gained by rushing into Hong Kong to go sightseeing at 7am. S and L learned that, on an 11 hour stopover, you can enjoy a hot shower, fresh coffee and fruit (even a little nap) at the airport for a very small fee and still have time to go shopping and enjoy some Chinese noodles. R has learned that bargaining is easier than he thought – in fact he didn’t even have to try! D2 has learnt that combination locks are probably better when dealing with El Al. B1 learnt, when his flight from Hong Kong ‘to Helsinki’ (rather than Tel Aviv) was confirmed this morning, that getting messages passed on from travel agents to airlines can be a little like ‘Chinese Whispers’. And M has learnt that when your case goes missing in transit on a Thursday there’s absolutely no chance you’ll have it before Sunday because everything, including flights, stops for the sabbath.
It was with a tremendous sense of excitement that we boarded our flight late this afternoon. And the excitement mounted when, with only minutes until the boarding gate was due to close, and our bags all stowed ready for take off, we could still see half the seats in the plane vacant. Rows were eyed off and plans hatched for converting them into makeshift beds. Maybe we wouldn’t have to spend a second night sitting bolt upright, our necks lolling at a painful angle as we tried to sleep! Maybe we could dispense with the ‘fun’ of trying to eat dinner by taking turns with our neighbour for elbow room!
Then a very strange thing happened. Dozens and dozens of passengers began to stream through the door, and within minutes every seat in the plane was taken. I asked a young man who, with his two mates, was now occupying my bed, whether a connecting flight had just landed.
He laughed heartily at my suggestion. “No”, he said. “Don’t you know we Israelis never board ‘till the very last minute!”
You learn something new every day.