I begin writing this at Singapore Changi airport, en route home. The whole journey will take me about forty hours, a number that filled me with dread when I did eve-of-departure, 2 am calculations.
My last morning in Warsaw was full of pleasures: when I rolled up to the apartment for the last time, I was greeted by two naked kidlets who deserted me at the sound of an ambulance siren. I travelled out to Pruskòw with them to leave them with their Polish grandparents for the weekend, while their parents travel 400 km for a wedding. Ola gave me my last Polish soup, and Jurek told me with relish that the chicken in it was running around that morning.
Back in Warsaw, my daughter and I treated ourselves to a double gelato, me guava, her grapefruit. The menu offered vast range, including beetroot, and other flavours, “as they occur to us.” There was a side menu for dog ice cream. Then it was time to change, finalise the pack and leave. My son-in-law popped in for a third final farewell. My last sight of family in Warsaw was my tall elegant daughter striding along the pavement to catch a tram for work as the surly taxi driver took me to the airport.
At the airport insanely early, I bought my first duty free goods, peppermints worth $3 AUD, and was startled to be asked for my boarding pass. I filled in time exchanging grins with a delightful infant and her Chinese grandfather; indulging in racial profiling as I guessed nationality from garb and behaviour; and spinning tales out of encounters I observed. I watched people eagerly entering a glass-walled room, like an extra large lift, no seating and surreal with cigarette butts – my first encounter with an airport smoking room. I wondered idly, as one does in transit, what a room full of blogging addicts frantically typing away and post-processing their photos would look like to the uninitiated non-addict.
For the first time in many trips I asked for a window seat, so I could survey Poland from the air for the short leg of the Long Journey. Instead, I had a very enjoyable conversation with a charming Finn, who introduced himself as I sat down. The conversation was wide ranging: politics, economics, travel, Finland's anti-bullying campaign and compulsory army service, his childhood in Cairo and Iran, children, careers (his future, mine past), summer holidays at the family house in the north, education, the long winter dark and the long summer light, blogging, and speaking many languages. Between bursts of conversation, I glimpsed, briefly and at last, the Baltic coast. As we began our descent into Helsinki, I saw the indented coastline and the forest, even a patch on the verge of the airport, and suddenly I wanted to add Finland to my side-trips-from-Poland list.
Helsinki to Singapore was a twelve hour flight, leaving as last light left the sky at midnight. I struck it lucky: an aisle seat with an empty window seat beside me, two paces to the loo, and pretty well non-stop sleep. I was dozing before take-off and only woke for food. I used one blanket for warmth and the other to hood my drop-jawed drooling self, tucked two pillows wherever I wanted, and fell into somewhat haunted slumber full of my twinlets. I read two pages of Wanderlust: a history of walking after a 2 pm (somewhere) breakfast, and dropped off again. I only woke as someone lent over me to open the blinds for landing. I looked out the window and photographed as we landed, and I was ready for the long hike to the not-open-for-two-hours departure gate at Changi.
Even the airport had its pleasures. Rebecca Solnit, in Wanderlust has a chapter called “Paris, or botanising on the asphalt”. I botanised at the airport – orchids, palms, trees inside and out. Her chapter isn't at all about botanising plants, and mine went beyond plants too: garish neon orchids and a fountain-like splay of neon; shops, mainly empty except for their glossy goods. Then there were people, increasingly now Australians, which is not an unmitigated delight: maybe banalities sound more interesting in a language you can't understand. Little children, four in one family, rode past on suitcases shaped like animals and vehicles; another pair leapt from line to line of the floor patterns; people in wheel chairs led a procession of family; tired travellers in transit sprawled or sat staring vacantly, life suspended. In the loo a child-sized basin had a stencil of the owl and the pussycat. The departure boards were fascinating – all these places I've never heard of, let alone visited.
Then I was back on the plane for the last leg. No empty seat beside me this time. A woman giggling at her in-flight entertainment, on her way to a reunion with school friends from forty years ago. A man in front of me needing a sick bag for landing. For me, sleep till the last few hours and the greatest disappointment of the whole journey: the Moroccan chicken salad had run out. The movie selection was very tempting, but I settled for a doco, The Salt of the Earth, about Brazilian-French photographer, Sebastião Salgado, co-directed by Wim Wenders and Salgado's son, Juliano Salgado. His photos were magnificent, although the subject matter was often gruelling: he filmed death in Rwanda and the Congo, as well as life untouched by civilisation in Siberia and the Amazon, and his reclamation of forest when he returned to Brazil from exile.
At Sydney airport, I grabbed a shower, uninvitingly cold; and overheard snippet of conversation in Polish (or am I delusional? Everyone seemed to be saying 'dobrze'.) A young woman I was chatting to over coffee answered her phone and said: “I'm just talking to a nice little old lady.” I was back in Australia.
I nearly didn't make it home on schedule. In a lunchtime stupor in Nowra, I hopped on a bus, wondered why my water bottle wasn't where I left it, and realised in the nick of time that I'd got on the bus back to Sydney.
When I reached Bodalla at 4.30, as daylight faded, I was met by both J and our son, so I “would feel wanted”. J had a pot of vegetable soup for us to take home, and H a baked dinner ready to cook and orange juice chilling.
I faded into sleep about 7 and slept cosy around the clock.