Long haul made easy

As the days ticked by I kept looking for an affordable flight back to Dublin to rejoin our campervan and get ready to cross the English channel to Europe. Flying from Kochi doesn’t offer the best options and I explored other airline hub cities for better departure times and layovers. I wasn’t having any luck until late one night out of the blue I found an unheard of price for Kochi – Dublin on Etihad Business Class for only a little more than the best economy fares I was finding. Not only was the price suspiciously low, but the connecting city was Abu Dhabi instead of Dubai, and with a long layover. I quickly checked to see if we could leave the airport during the layover. Yes, we could. Sold.

We were sad to leave India. We came not knowing what to expect traveling on our own through a country often portrayed as chaotic and depressing, and fell in love with the people, the culture, the history, the energy, and yes, the chaos. We already have a list of other regions we want to visit. But that’ll be next time.

Our first flight was a comfortable four hours to Abu Dhabi. You can’t always leave the airport on a layover without a visa, but the UAE, or at least Abu Dhabi, allows a transit visa for up to 48 hours. I booked a private city tour that would pick us up and drop us off at the airport.

Immigration in Abu Dhabi was easy. We just showed our Dublin boarding passes and we were stamped and through the gate in no time.

By a funny coincidence, our driver and tour guide was from Kochi, exactly where we’d just come from. That made it the perfect transition for us as we gushed about how much we loved India and Kochi at the same time we were learning about and touring the island capital of the UAE.

We began in the jewel of Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. You enter via an underground plaza that looks suspiciously like a mall, then enter a concourse where a ten minute walk brings you right to the outer perimeter of the mosque. You experience the complex first in closeup rather than at a distance.

The building is exquisite, like the Taj Mahal but newer, bigger, more elaborate. No expense was spared, with only the best materials sourced from all over the world.

There are 82 domes, 4 minarets, and 1192 pillars. The courtyard is the largest marble mosaic in the world, and the carpet in the main prayer room is also the largest in the world. The wool for the carpet is from New Zealand; the marble is from Macedonia, Italy, and India; the chandeliers are German, made with Swarovski crystals. The whole effect is breathtaking and it was hard to stop taking photos and just appreciate the beauty.

I look stupid like this because I didn’t have a head covering with me and rather than rent one our guide suggested I just wear my hoodie while in the mosque. It was hot.

We spent an hour and a half in and around the mosque and it wasn’t nearly enough, but then our guide drove us to this spectacular viewpoint.

I’ve grown to love Islamic architecture, the domes, the minarets, the symmetry. This one is stunning.

We stopped at the date market, a commercial road lined on both sides by purveyors of dates and other dried fruits. I love dates, and in fact all dried fruit, and this shopkeeper gave me lots of different types of dates to taste. Jack and the driver eventually had to tear me away as it was getting dark.

I was trying to decide how many kilos of dates I could fit in our luggage.

For the next few hours we visited more of the beautiful modern architecture of Abu Dhabi. Everything is so new that at one point Jack asked, “Where are your antiquities?”

There aren’t any, apparently. Before oil was discovered in the 1950s the people here were either nomadic, in the interior, or fishermen, on the coast. There’s a Heritage Center that’s usually part of the city tour but our layover was late in the day and it was closed. That’ll be next time.

These three buildings are a Roman Catholic church, a synagogue, and a mosque, all in the same complex.

Our last stop was the Emirates Palace, a luxury hotel, where we walked through the domed lobby and around the wide terraces.

And then it was back to the airport where we still had a few hours before our flight to Dublin.

Because we were flying business class we could spend the rest of our layover in the top rated Etihad lounge. It’s three stories of restaurants, buffets, cocktails, snack bars, showers, private nap rooms, and all manner of comfy and quiet places to wait for your flight. We took full advantage of the food and lounge areas, but forgot to take photos.

And then we were on our way. We said goodbye to six warm countries in six months, and after a couple more great Etihad meals and a long nap in a lie-flat bed, we said hello to cold and rainy Dublin.

I know there are travelers who only take carryon luggage but we always check one bag between us and usually by the time we get out of immigration our bag is on the carousel. Not so in Dublin. The baggage claim area is small and crowded, and far from the concourses, so the baggage took forever to arrive.

And please tell me why people stand right at the carousel waiting for their bags. Stand back, people, and step up when yours comes, ok? Jack had to fight his way to our duffle and the people blocking the carousel were actually angry that he had to reach past them to get it.

Our routine when we arrive in a new country is to find a cafe and orient ourselves with a cuppa. This cafe was right beside the international arrivals door and we enjoyed watching the excited homecomings.

While one of us stays parked at the cafe with the luggage, the other hits the ATM for local currency and gets local SIMs for our phones. Only then do we arrange ground transportation to wherever we’re going, in this case the one-hour bus ride to Newry, where our friend, van caretaker, and concierge Alan will pick us up for the final leg of this long journey.

It’s cold. It’s raining. We question our sanity in returning so soon, before Spring has sprung.

But it’s so good to be home. Alan took great care of Escape Velocity while we were gone, and she’s clean and dry and warm inside. It took all of three days to unpack, reorganize, dig out our warm clothing and stow our travel gear for next time we fly away.

Now what?


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2 Responses to Long haul made easy


    This was one of your best posts IMHO – but I am a Nomad at heart. I was interested in your phone- sim comment. While we were at sea entering a new country on ANGEL LOUISE we marveled how our T-mobile plan let us get connected before landing.

    • We find local SIMs to be a fraction of the cost of carrying a US plan. We use Google Voice as our permanent phone number and WhatsApp for general comms.

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