26 August 2014

The start of an adventure: selfies, celebrities and spaniel eyes

This August my dad, mum, sister and I embarked on what is, potentially, our final real holiday together as a family. Historically, we go West. To us, Greece is East. However, mum and Charlotte wanted to take a leap of faith… East. So that's where we headed; no longer would our experience of Asia be confined to the Epcot globe, as delicious as the Disney honey chicken may be. With my dad sold on the first leg of our trip - three days in Cambodia, to see the Temples of Angkor Wat, the other two destinations on our journey we decided on were Vietnam capital Hanoi, followed by a week by the beach in Hoi An. Quite the adventure; one I plan to recount, relive and re-love all over again right here.  If you do choose to experience these wonderful worlds through my words, I hope my tales provide some entertainment, my ramblings offer some endearment, and I promise I will endeavour to work on the art of staying on point! 

Spot the diabetic...
Holidays are always the anomaly in early morning starts; groans are replaced with grins (seriously... I woke up and could feel the cheshire cat expression on my face), and upon hearing about the oh so typical British descent into storms the following week, you can't help but feel a little smug. Just a little - we're not completely soulless.

Introducing Charlotte… and the art
of the airplane 'sister selfie'. 
Charlotte conveniently lives in Reading now, so this allowed us to break up the journey and stay there overnight, before driving to Gatwick in the morning. Well, I say we stayed there - I did, while mum and dad headed to what was a highly unsatisfactory stay in Premier Inn. The woman at the desk didn't seem to twig on that announcing the rooms had no air-con, in the same breath as pledging PI's guarantee of a "Great Night's Sleep", was a tad contradictory. Suffice to say, the prospect of a pre-flight Starbucks never looked so appealing. Charlotte, on the other hand, had even purchased Weetabix for breakfast. Quite the hostess.

That is a hard face to leave...
Airports are a story of two halves; at least in our family. The bit before security always seems frantic, my dad in particular has a very "purposeful" stride that sees hobbits one and two - Charlotte seemed to get the better cards in this particular genetic hand - doing a slightly awkward half-run to keep up! Part of this is a form of distraction, which arises from the more recent wrench we have found ourselves faced with - leaving our dog Millie. This is something we did not think through when choosing to get a spaniel cross! The eyes… Fortunately for her she gets the 5* treatment, being looked after in her own home by a couple who positively dote on her - although no one can quite match us in this. It's no wonder one of her many nicknames is Mariah, she has turned into quite the little Diva. Oh, and as for the 'k' word - it is spoken in our household with the same denotations as prison!  

Our airport adventures of the holiday brought some drama, with a couple of oh so delightful run-ins with security. On a serious note, one was an issue taken with my medication on the final flight back, which sent me into a momentary panic. It actually made me quite angry when the security lady did not even understand the word "diabetic"; in my eyes, it should be a logical term for someone in their position to know? I always have a medical card and doctor's letter on me, which I did not end up needing to use; however, I question how effective it would have been, given the struggle with communication over that one simple word! It did shake me, but I stayed as calm as possible and am glad my mum was there to help me out! 

For the love of cashews...
Iced perfection
On the more entertaining note (one of those 'laugh about it later' incidents), Dad was stopped by the security team, where his bag was opened to reveal a bat and ball. How he didn't realise it was in his bag, I do not know - maybe the countless Saving Mr Banks reruns on the main airplane screen had some supernatural impact, turning his rucksack into a Mary Poppins bag? All I know is that the daughter with the vials of liquid and needles waltzed through, because what Kim and Gru are really up against is the middle-aged man with a bright orange beach bat… Nonetheless, we survived the ordeal and settled down to the standard (but in fact rather luxurious) coffee…. and vacuum packed cashew nuts. Yup, vacuum packed. Walk into the "Mini mart" and you can get anything from fruit to pho, all vacuum packed and ready to go… if you have strong dentures! 

Being the Harrison family's first time travelling to Asia, it was thus our inaugural flight with Vietnam Airlines. With the recent airplane tragedies, my flight nerves throughout the holiday were discernibly higher. A few comments that dad had made about our flight path being over a "danger zone" didn't exactly help; sadly nor did the well-intentioned, but badly timed, attempt to reassure me by discussing the higher likelihood of road deaths, on the drive to the airport! 

I am an anxious individual by nature, but am usually quite calm with flying. Of course, the incident with Volcanic Ash-gate a few years ago altered this somewhat; in the first of eventually four flights to get us back to London, from New York, our propellor plane was struck by lightening and we subsequently spent a few minutes with the plane dropping/believing we were falling to our death. Well, Mum, Dad and Charlotte did. Even at the age of fourteen I was still very much in the "what dad says is always true" mindset, so his words of reassurance meant that I sat there rather nonchalantly, wondering why the other passengers were looking quite so petrified…  

Nonetheless, it has given me a lifelong aversion to any propeller plane, which provided embarrassing Sophie comment number 5275423 of the holiday: looking out of the shuttle bus window "I will not get on this plane if it doesn't have an engine!" *Cue looks from passengers standing next to us*. Apparently a propeller counts as an engine… who knew?     

Now onto the flight itself, which I am glad to report did not get struck by lightening, and was never a propeller engine. Our twelve hours up in the air can be surmised by this one little golden nugget of a scene, from the film Bridesmaids:

photo credit: tumblr
A pause for Megan appreciation… (and to youtube "best Megan moments" for rainy day comic relief). In our family we like to adopt little holiday 'games' to keep our easily entertained minds on top form. A standard for us is "Celebrity Lookalike", which is pretty self-explanatory; however, our destination on this trip posed an unfamiliar stumbling block, namely the lack of Western travellers meaning that we were confined to trying to find the perfect Lily from Modern Family (update on our success to come in a later post!) 

Air marshal candidate A
photo credit: wikia
Almost as soon as we got on the plane, Charlotte and I hit on a new game: Spot the Air Marshal. We had our theories quite quickly. Charlotte's was exhibit A. Sadly, not the real Gru - my excitement would have been akin to a Minion seeing a banana (which funnily enough did happen during our travels…) Rather, it was a man sitting in the seat in front of us (and next to mum and dad), who neared an uncanny resemblance to my new favourite byronic hero - sorry Mr Rochester. One celebrity point to the youngest Harrison; on second thoughts, I think it was Charlotte. 

Air marshal candidate B
photo credit: wikia
Candidate B was our row companion, a cambodian lady who we learned had a penchant for using hand cream and reapplying her make-up, and for some reason reminded me of the granny from Madagascar. My mind does have a peculiar way of working… don't worry, I already know, and family/friends have all confirmed (Henry the hedge - a little shout-out especially for Robyn and Dari).  

As MG - was on the aisle, I felt it wise to take the opportunity to escape my window barracks, whenever she vacated her seat; this subsequently led to me standing for around fifteen minutes outside the airplane toilets, with nothing to amuse myself but the asian cartoon on a 3 year old's iPad… Viewers of the Liam Neeson film Non-Stop will have learnt that this is a certain red-light in air marshal territory, so MG's credentials were certainly going up. Through the course of the flight Charlotte later gave her the moniker of Kim, which for me instantly conjured two possibilities: 

Kim Kardashian
photo credit: daily mail
Kim Jong Un
photo credit: Telegraph
For her sake I hope it's the latter; it's possibly the first time Kim has succeeded in the category of both looks and intellect. Her skincare rituals would make me inclined to go with Ms West, but the idea of the North Korean dictator fulfilling air marshal criteria makes for a quite fascinating debate… Thankfully, unlike Non-Stop no air marshal  assistance was needed, although this did mean we never discovered if Kim or Gru were any more than innocent passengers going along their daily routine. 
For Kim, this also included eating a Pot Noodle - its characteristically hypnotic aromas were impossible for Charlotte to resist, while I preferred to opt for the equally exotic brand that is nature valley. We won't go there with the inflight food, but let's just say Charlotte and I got A for effort, I nearly gagged when I thought melon was mango (the melon dramas will be explored at a later date!) and apparently curry is the asian breakfast of choice. Airplane food always makes me think of the open letter that was sent by a Virgin Atlantic passenger, to Richard Branson; it makes you appreciate what you have! 

For Gru, his prime activity of choice was falling to sleep, viewing my mum's seat next to his as part of the premium economy "extra inches". Fortunately the empty seat next to her on the long-haul flight back compensated somewhat for this less than idyllic outbound situation. But alas, that is for another day!

For now… touchdown. Next step in the adventure? Capturing Cambodia. 

Photo credit: Pinterest


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