I’m writing this at the other end of the journey. Yes, we made it! But already the memory of those epic 30 hours is starting to fade as I melt into the seductive embrace of Alsace in autumn. So I’m going to dash this one down quickly – raw and unedited.
Departure day dawned with a last minute collywobble. I’d presumed that we’d be clearing customs and immigration in Sydney. After all, we only had 1 hour of transit in Perth. But, au contraire. When I called to double check with Qantas, we were indeed flying out of the domestic terminal. This meant that on arrival into Perth, we had to alight from the aeroplane, work our way through customs, immigration and security, then find our way to the gate – all in less than 1 hour. It didn’t seem possible. But as the unhelpful customer service representative told me on the phone “you chose that option” and “if it’s a flight combination on our website, then it should probably be possible.”
I felt all my careful planning crumbling. A tear stole down my cheek. But I wasn’t going to give up. I asked to speak to the representative’s manager, had a very reassuring conversation with her, and gratefully received her promise to seat us towards the front of the plane and have ground staff speed our passage.
I pushed the upcoming transit sprint from my mind, got dressed and got on with it.
I’d dreaded the farewell from Robert. But when the time came, I was so focused on the job at hand and keeping two skipping children in my orbit, that the sting was less piercing. We sailed through domestic security and onto our first flight, tear-free and in good spirits.
It was a tight fit: three across and a big backpack full of tricks. But I was so glad that I had every single item. With no TV and only me, I needed it all. We did playdough, we puzzled, we read, we stickered, we looked for Wally, we discovered little toys in pouches, we Uno-ed. We did the lot. And this was only the first 4.5 hours. In fact, worryingly, this was the first fivehours. With strong headwinds, we were half an hour behind. Our 1-hour transit challenge had been reduced to a half-hour mission. A night in Perth was looking likely. How could we get through it all in just 30 minutes? I felt fatalistic.
Even when we were let off first from the plane, I wasn’t hopeful. But then I saw the deserted security and immigration area, and just beyond it, a queue of passengers boarding. Our flight was the last out of Perth. It had to be ours. Spirits rose.
Ensconced in our seats, the elation of having made it onto the London flight wiped away the fear of the upcoming 17.5 hours. And as it turns out, this flight was the easiest. With the wonders of television, my entertainment services were no longer needed and I could finally relax. The only distraction was headphones that were not three-year old friendly and kept falling off Delphine’s head. We’ll buy child-size ones with an airline jack for the return journey.
But apart from this, my preparations had been working well to ease the journey so far. So I should have known there would be a red herring. A risk that came out of the blue. But how could I have foreseen that I would lose my bra?
I’d brought along pyjamas for us all. We’d changed into them for our fitful 4 hours sleep. The problem became clear when I went to change back into my clothes. Where was my bra, which I had discretely stored in a cloth bag? I looked everywhere – through all our backpacks, in the overhead locker, under and around the seats. Nothing. Then, cringing slightly, I asked each of our three, male flight attendants if they had seen it. No luck. I started to despair. And wandered back to my seat, trying to spy it along the aisle. A fellow passenger turned to me and asked if I was looking for something. “This is somewhat embarrassing to confess,” I said, “but I’ve lost my bra.” “Ah, so it’s you who’s missing it”, she said, and handed me the bag. I returned to the bathroom to dress with great relief.
As we landed into Heathrow, a wonderful dawning realisation– “we’re well-over halfway now, I’m doing it, and it’s not horrendous.” Heathrow was big and our transit required a bus and a train, but it was all straight-forward. But Delphine’s exhaustion was now evident. She was getting close to losing it at the smallest provocation and it was taking all my creativity to avoid the impending massive tantrum. Thankfully, I had one last trick in the bag. Fruit roll-ups. A steady supply got us onto our third and final aeroplane, through the flight and mollified a wait in our new car (brown – none of us had correctly guessed the colour) while I wrestled the bags into the boot and fitted Delphine’s car seat.
And then the most fearful moment of all. I took a deep breath and turned the key in the ignition. Driving was terrifying. I couldn’t gauge the width of my car extending to the right of me. I drove at least 20 km below the speed limit on most roads. But my route-memorisation paid off. We didn’t miss a turn. And then there was a treat to finish. Turning off the main route along the valley floor, we followed the winding road up towards our mountain village. It was like a stroll through an autumnal garden; gently curving bends bordered on each side by a forest in full autumn-glory.
Lulled a little by the beauty, I was brought upright again behind the wheel when we arrived into our village. Tiny, steep roads greeted me and gave a last frisson of excitement as we arrived at our final destination. 1.5 hours earlier than I’d predicted in my careful calculations.
We’d done it! All 30-odd hours of it. Silas and Delphine had been remarkable. Bouncing along on so little sleep and so much change. I felt relieved to be able to reward them with the beauty of this place and the charm of our chalet. But more on that in the next blog post.