On the way to Batam

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One good thing about this cellphone thumb drive I’ve had to use for Internet access while in Catania is that I now have wireless access at the airport while I’m waiting for my flight. Of course, I was too nervous this morning to sleep, so when I woke at 3:15, I never went back to sleep. It’s 7:40 a.m. and my flight leaves in two hours. I will also be able to get online during my layover in Milan but once I leave Italy, I’m back to scrambling for a Wi-Fi signal in Doha. Packed two chicken sandwiches and some Oreos for the trip. It’s going to be a long day and night. Giuseppe called a cab for me last night and it arrived 10 minutes early this morning. 20 euro to the airport. No line at Alitalia check-in. Security was smooth and relatively quick, despite the long line early in the morning. This is a nice, new airport with plenty of food and drink in the departure area.

Made it to Milan without a hitch, although there was a bit of a ruckus in the seat in front of me. Typical Italian going into a frenzy. The airline (AirOne, a low-budget European airline) apparently sells about a dozen seats with extra leg room for a premium. They were all empty in front of me. This guy in the row in front of me, just behind the empty seats, did what I would do once the plane doors closed and you see a row of empty seats in a crowded plane – you change seats. Right? Not quite. The flight attendant started talking to the man, who became very agitated, bobbing his head around, gesturing wildly, getting loud. Then a male attendant, a big guy, comes back to try to settle this jerk down. But he was having none of it. He wanted that empty seat and he was going to harange the hired help about it. I wanted to do a Gibbs head slap of the guy, since I was sitting right behind him. BTW, AirOne was okay, except the leg room was miniscule.

In Milan, I had to find the Qatar Airways ticket counters so I could get boarding passes for my next two connections. There was a long line, with many people with stacks of bags. A trend here in Europe, apparently, is to have your checked bags encased in plastic for security. They do it right in the airport. So, there I was waiting and there were all these neon plastic-wrapped suitcases everywhere.

Another peculiar habit in Italy is how they queue to get on a plane or a bus. There is no line. When it’s time to board, everyone gets in one huge mass that slowly works its way through the gate, single file. People cutting in front of each other is tolerated, perhaps expected. Except when I was waiting to get my boarding pass to Doha. Right in front of me was a group of maybe 10 people, all with carts stacked high with bags. I couldn’t tell which line they were in, so when I saw a gap I cut in. Of course, this was one of those “snake” lines that runs back and forth, like in the typical airport security lines. At the first corner of the snake, the people in back of me, who I thought were in another line, cut me off. All of them! They didn’t even flinch, or look at me. Well, sorry to say, but Ken had a hissy fit. Of course, they couldn’t understand me. Must have thought “there goes another crazy American.” Finally, one of them gave me a look, at which point I just looked at him and said, “Perque?” He said nothing. Ruined my day, but found a place to get a soda ($3.50 for a medium Pepsi) and eat one of my sandwiches.

Milan was very cold when we disembarked on the tarmac, a slight dusting of snow. The low-budget airlines in Europe apparently only board and deplane on the tarmac, not at the terminal.

Well, I’m now in Doha, Qatar, waiting for my final flight – the long one. This last one was plenty long – over five hours. But I have to give Qatar Airways a definite thumbs up. They have a brand new fleet of Boeings, paid for by the sheiks, but actually mostly paid for by Americans’ love affair with petroleum. Our plane was a 777-300, seven seats across and capable of carrying 335 passengers. I know this because it was in literature in the seat back.

There was quite a mix of people, with Anglos the definite minority. Across the aisle, I had an Indian with turban and beard. On my right was a man who looked like he might have been Chinese (and he kept coughing, so I hope I don’t get sick). There were many Japanese and Indians, Europeans, a few Americans, and a whole host of other nationalities. There were also four, count-em, four, babies in my section. As we neared the end of the trip, with I suppose everyone’s nerved a little frayed, all four decided to sing us a song.

This was the first flight I’ve had in years where we were served a hot meal without being charged. They didn’t charge for sodas, or juice, or coffee, or water, either. (I learned later that I could have had alcohol for free, too.) The seats were wide enough, the leg room was good, a pillow waited on everyone’s seat, and the service was excellent. Everyone was handed a hot towel before takeoff, economy and high-priced. Everyone had a touchscreen TV in their seatbacks, with multiple movies, TV shows, etc., available for free. And the meal was actually very good – I had beef in a wine sauce, with roasted potatoes, carrots and broccoli, a pasta salad, a tomato and onion salad, crackers and cheese, a hot roll and butter, and two desserts. I wonder what they’ll serve enroute to Singapore.

Had a bit of a scare after arriving in Doha. Passing through immigration was a breeze (now have another country stamp on my passport). Decided to check out the duty free shop. I wanted to pick up a gift for my new boss’ wife. Thought that might be better than getting him a gift. Picked out some Chanel and went for my wallet, it was gone. Lots of money, credit card, minor stuff. Went looking for an airline person before I realized what I had done in the fog that is my mind right now.

I’ve taken to putting everything I have in my pockets into the side pocket of my lapbook case before going through security. It just seems easier than emptying all my pockets out into a tray at the last moment, including my wallet out in the open. Saves a minute when you’re frantically hurrying to get all your stuff into the bins (I need four bins) while people wait behind you. Anyway, that’s where my wallet was, right where I left it. It’s all good.
The Doha airport has free Wi-Fi. It’s still a work in progress and we did have to deplane on the tarmac and take a bus to the terminal because the airport’s not completed. But here I am on the Persian Gulf, Iran just a short boat ride away.

Third leg

Turns out, the final, longest leg of the trip was the easiest. We had the same type 777 as the previous flight, but this time the plane was only half full. I had a great seat, with a wall behind me – so no kicking or pushing from behind, and I could actually recline my seat without angering the person behind me. Because there was no person behind me! I forgot that this was a red-eye flight, accounting for the low turnout.

We didn’t get a full meal at first, just a chicken and cheese burrito and a cookie, but breakfast was interesting. Egg and cheese frittata, chicken sausage in a white mushroom sauce, pineapple and watermelon salad, a roll, pastry and butter/jam, orange juice and coffee. In between I spent watching a movie and trying to sleep. I can’t sleep sitting up.

Finally, though, I was in Singapore. Only immigration, the taxi ride to the ferry terminal, going through the various processes at the terminal, and more stuff at the Batam end stood in my way of completing my journey. The Singapore airport was ridiculously easy to get through customs and immigration. Because we were a red-eye, the airport was virtually empty. And it is a beautiful, modern airport. Maybe as nice as I’ve ever walked through. The young guy at customs did offer me a mint while we were talking. He kept a supply on his counter for long-term travelers like me who haven’t had a chance to brush their teeth in awhile.

Caught a cab immediately outside and, of course, he spoke English, as that’s the language used in Singapore (in case you didn’t know). Cab fare was only 25 Singapore dollars ($20). Since I had stopped at the duty free store, I had local currency available from the change I received for my purchase. The one task I forgot to do at the airport was to exchange euros for Singapore dollars. For the curious, I bought a bottle of Jim Beam Black.

Singapore has changed and grown a lot since I was there five years ago. Some of the architecture is stunning.

I had ample prior research and instructions to guide me though the ferry terminal, which is a good thing. Here I changed the rest of my euros for the Indonesian currency, the rupiah. The rupiah trades at 9,000 to a single U.S. dollar. That’s going to make understanding what I’m spending in U. S. dollars challenging. Here, I also had to buy a round-trip ticket, go through immigration, buy a 30-day visa, and pass through customs for one, last time. I thought.

The ferry ride was uneventful. They have several modern and large ferries providing this service every hour or so. I asked someone who looked like he understood English to help me contact Doug about which ferry we I would be on. He was visiting from Arizona and could only send a message if there was Wi-Fi at the terminal, which there was not. So I counted on Doug to be there, as he said he would, when I arrived.

After about a 50-minute ride, past dozens of cargo ships, we arrived at Harbor Bay, Batam. Once on land, I first had to obtain a 30-day visa ($40). Checking through immigration was no problem; they see a lot of Westerners here.

Finally, after fumbling my gear through the last security checkpoint, I found Doug waiting for me. It was only a short drive to Smiling Hill. We dropped my stuff off at my new apartment, and I cleaned up and met Doug at Goodies. The bar had about six young women working, and all were wondering who the new “bule” was. Think gringo. Doug and I sat down with a beer and continued our conversation from the car ride.

Before long, we had company. Eventually, I found myself in the company of six expats, all working. I think one was from the U.S.; the rest were all Aussies. We sat around for a couple of hours drinking beer (I eventually switched to bourbon), while the staff hung around waiting on our needs. There weren’t too many other customers to worry about. Then, most of us had dinner. I was going to find a store to buy groceries, but Doug suggested I wait until the next day, when he could have someone take me to the store. So I ordered. Did not have my glasses so ordered something one of the waitresses suggested – lamb stem. It was good, and filling.

Still having to unpack, I finally left. Tomorrow, I start a new job.

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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One Response to On the way to Batam

  1. askewebb says:

    Great story! I’m so lad you made it safely and the accommodations are comfortable….BTW, what is a “typical” Italian or a “typical American anyway? You don’t have to answer that one….

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