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Thursday, 3 October 2019

Book III ~ Chapter 6 ~ Closing the Circle

28-Mar-2019 – 29-Mar-2019

By now, my long journey around the world is almost complete. It has been exactly 414 days since I left my home in Munich and travelled to Japan, towards the east, and over the course of these next two days, I should finally complete the circle, returning not from the west, but from the south.

My route back takes me over Istanbul, which is owing largely to the fact that I have been able to secure a dirt-cheap offer with Turkish Airlines. In fact, the offer is so cheap that I half expect to be checked in with my luggage and transported in a box in the cargo bay. At less than 350€ (including an useless insurance), this ticket is almost, but not quite less expensive than the extra ticket from Foz do Iguaçu to São Paulo that I was coerced into buying by GOL Linhas Aéreas Inhonestas (see Book III ~ Chapter 4 ~ The Traumatizing Transatlantic Terror Trip). Before I can embark on my flight, however, I first need to make my way…

Part 1: To the Airport

Since I came here from the airport by taxi and still have this MyCiti Bus Card that I haven't used even once, I decide to try getting to the airport by bus on this last occasion. Clouds cover Table Mountain as I depart around 10:00, but unusually, it's not the Tablecloth, but rather a band of clouds in front of the mountain… below of where I climbed just one short week ago.

Before I leave, I drop by the Biesmiellah Restaurant one last time and say my goodbyes to Momeena, thanking her once again for her kindness, all the good advice, and my wonderful time here in Cape Town. And before I know it, I find myself with a bag of three tasty pieces of baked goods for the road that I gratefully accept. Afterwards, I make my way down the colourful streets of Bo Kaap one last time, and head towards the bus station, which is still, oh, about 2km off. Not an easy walk burdened with backpacks that are approximately half as heavy as myself, but I'm sure I'll be able to manage… somehow.

Regrettably, I should only get to taste two of the three pastries given to me by Momeena, for while waiting at a crossroads, I am approached by a beggar. Now, normally it is not my habit to give charity to people who just beg instead of doing at least a little. Street musicians and artists, yes, even if they just do simple things such as modelling little animals out of sand by the side of the road… as long as they demonstrate the will to do something with their lives instead of just sitting around, I am happy to encourage them. By contrast, I absolutely do not want to encourage people just sitting around and asking for money. However, it does break my heart when he just begs for some food, and I know I have some of that on me that I can easily give to him. And since I can clearly see that he needs it I part with one of the pastries that was given to me by Momeena and hand it to the thankful beggar, hoping that Momeena won't be upset with me about giving away one of the pastries she specifically gifted to me.

Moving on, I come across a little roadside bazaar…

…and after a final gauntlet of zig-zagging pedestrians' crossings that must have arisen from the mind of the same genius city planner that was responsible for the half-finished highroad in the middle of the town that by now has become a landmark in its own right, I arrive at the Civic Centre bus station, which once again looks exactly like how you would not expect a bus station to look.

Speaking of pedestrians' crossings, by the way… the durations of the green phases here seem to be tailored to suit cheetahs. Basically, unless you are standing right in front of the crossing, you won't be able to catch a green phase, and even then you won't be able to cross before it starts blinking red again unless you run. Unlike in other places where pedestrians' green phases last a minute or longer, here the green phase lasts for only 12 seconds, followed by another 12 seconds of blinking. And 6 seconds later, the cars start driving again. Tough luck if you're not quick on your feet.

Anyway, back to the futuristic-looking bus station…

It should take me some time, but eventually I manage to find the platform for the bus headed to the airport, which somehow reminds me of the Yurikamome back in Tokyo (see Book II ~ Chapter 3 ~ Living, Learning and Working).

The bus itself is modern, roomy, and I share it with only a few other people. So far, this method of transportation seems rather promising, and at only 80 Rand, it's significantly cheaper than taking a Taxi too (okay, but in exchange I had to walk to the station for 45 minutes).

The bus ride itself is nonstop to the airport…

…and after waiting just a short time, it departs with me on board, and my final journey begins, taking me over the highroad, past table mountain – which by now is covered in the Tablecloth – colourful suburbs, ramshackle townships, as well as the odd pedestrian walking in the middle of the road, and all the way to Cape Town International Airport, which is only about half as far away from the city centre as Munich Airport.

It takes the bus approximately 25 minutes to arrive at the airport…

…where it is now time for me to boldly approach…

Part 2: The Final Hurdle

Although my flight is scheduled for 18:00, which is still over six hours in the future by now, it is already displayed on the departures board. Despite being an International Airport, Cape Town seems to serve significantly more domestic flights than international ones: Although both departure boards display the same number of flights, the latest flight on the international departure board is at 00:30, while the latest one on the domestic departure board is over 12 hours earlier, at 12:25.

Cape Town International Airport is a next-gen airport in several regards. For one, it has these nifty trolley-friendly escalators that I get to try out…

…but much more notably, it is a silent airport, which means that those typical and regular announcements and boarding calls are completely absent, making it the passengers' own responsibility to be at their designated gates on time. And seeing as how I never once relied on boarding calls in my entire life thus far, I think that's a step into the right direction, especially considering how there are displays and info points all over the place anyway in this day and age, plus a Cape Town Airport app.

My first impression as I walk into the check-in hall is that this airport actually looks a lot like the international terminal of Tokyo Haneda, from whence I departed roughly eight weeks ago. It almost looks like they were both designed by the same person, and while I can't be sure, further investigation does indeed reveal a common denominator: While Cape Town International Airport was massively overhauled in 2010, the Tokyo Haneda International Terminal was also constructed in 2010, and with international airport terminal design being a rather specialized area, it is not entirely unlikely for a connection to exist. Either way, I for my part really enjoy the open, airy design.

Also, the jetbridges have a light and modern design as well, making this place truly feel like an airport of the 21st century.

Anyway, since I still have a good amount of time until the check in opens and I'll see if my new card will be able to take the trick. Until then, I look around for some nice place to eat, and in the unlikely absence of even a single African cuisine restaurant, I instead settle for an American place…

…where I order a very tasty Cheddarmelt Steak with Tenpura for the cheap price of only 250 Rands (15€), drink and generous tip included.

Even after this delightful lunch, I still have a good amount of time left, and so I sit down in the nearby observation lounge, looking out towards the Hottentots-Holland Mountains in the distance. Table Mountain is the other way.

Interestingly, they also have a proper "children's kennel" around here, featuring trampolines, ball pits and other attractions for young kids to enjoy themselves.

I for my part spend the time learning Japanese (yes, I am still keeping this up even now), and eating Momeena's pastries. Tasty as they are, I can only imagine how amazing the starving beggar whom I gave one must have found it. Incidentally, it just so happens that I gave him the biggest of the three, leaving the smaller two for myself.

Around 15:00, I figure check-in is going to be open by now, so I try to take the trolley-friendly escalators down to the check-in level again, only to realize a problem: Apparently, they found out that riding the escalators down with trolleys was not such a good idea after all, and blocked all the downwards-leading escalators off, forcing me to take the elevator instead.

And then, it's judgement time, that awful moment of truth that I've been dreading, where I find out just how much trouble they are going to give me about my name while checking in. I have already relinquished all hope about them giving me no trouble about it… the question is whether it will be a little… or a lot. Either way, one interesting thing here is that pre-checkpoint where you have to write down your name in a separate list for security reasons or whatever.

The dreaded question about my name comes up inevitably at the check-in counter, almost as an afterthought. This time, however, I have a new card in my deck, and I am nervous and excited at the same time as I play it. Declaring my name as a religious name, I quickly find out that it allows me to invoke an impeccably harmonious and plausible explanation that is in perfect synch with my own feelings and also satisfies the check-in personnel. Naturally, they still have to contact their superiors and security, but in the end, it all works out after all, and much to my relief. Maybe most importantly of all, however, is that this time around when I'm asked why I'm travelling under this name and not my old name, which would be easier, I can say with absolute honesty that I believe with all my heart that this is my one true name, and that I am not going to deny my belief just because it's easier. As I finally hold my boarding passes that will see me all the way home in my hands, I offer up a silent prayer to Inari-sama…

…and then I'm off through the security checkpoint…

…as well as emigration, where they obviously have a good sense of humour.

Even this part of the airport is full of surprises, for as I walk towards my gate, I come across such unusual features as an elephant wall and a star tunnel.

Then, in the final departure lounge, I just barely resist buying a giant cheetah plushie on grounds of "where the hell am I going to put it"…

…and subsequently also come across a store selling Emoji and other stuff.

Apart from that, the intelligent design just continues, such as with very intuitive iHelp stations…

…as well as modern yet still clear toilet signage.

They even have seats specifically designed for people with no legs!

By now, it's about 15:30, and I thus still have a little over two hours until boarding that I spend finishing the post-game of Yo-Kai Watch and looking out towards the prominent silhouette of Simonsberg that can just be seen in the far distance towards the east. That mountain is very almost 1400m high, and is located about 30km away from the airport.

With that, my time here in South Africa inevitably draws to a final close, and it's not much longer until I should depart on…

Part 3: A Nocturnal Journey

Around 17:45, it's time to board the plane, and so I walk one more time through the very modern jetbridge…

…and board the plane that will take me all the way to Istanbul, this one being an Airbus 330-300.

In stark contrast to TAAG Trans Angolan Airlines or GOL Linhas Aéreas Idioticas, this one turns out to be a proper modern plane again with fully functional screens at every seat. And yet I still remember the times when not even first class had such fancy equipment.

Not long after, something absolutely incredible happens. During my entire time travelling, I have seen lots of airline safety videos, some of them making more of an effort to be "cool" or getting the viewer to actually watch them… well, and here, on my second-to-last flight, they finally succeed in screening a video so absolutely original and funny, that I end up watching it twice – once in English, and once in Turkish. And even in the Turkish version the core message comes around loud and clear.

And if you want a more high-quality and English version of that, you can find it here.

Anyway, the following taxi across the runways should be a race against the encroaching darkness, as the sun is already setting in the west and plunging the plains into darkness. Only the Hottentot-Hollands mountains in the east are still illuminated by Solar's waning rays.

As such, we take off into interesting lighting conditions. Flying almost directly into the sunset, Table Mountain can only be seen as a dark silhouette at the horizon during takeoff. As we climb, we pass over the extensive suburbs of Matroosfontein, Elsies Rivier and Goodwood, and eventually take a sharp right turn above Century City, just before we hit Table Bay. As such, we should not enter airspace over a saline body of water until we hit the Mediterranean Sea. Near the end, the border of the African continent becomes visible as an interesting contrast between the white of clouds over the sea, which abruptly terminates upon hitting the coast, resulting in a notable contrast between black and white. If it also looks like that from the sea, that would be an interesting alternate explanation for why it's called the black continent.

Even though I can't see a lot through the windows with the sun in my face and all, I can still observe the ground through a nifty feature that I have not seen in any other plane thus far, and that is a live broadcast of the plane's forward/down camera, which displays the ground that we fly above on the seat-screens.

Either way, as we make our way to the north, dusk gradually progresses, and the features of the landscape below become more and more blurry and indistinguishable, with only mountains and the coast registering by now.

Shortly after, the flight attendants hand out a handy little amenity set to everyone, featuring among other things earplugs, which would have been really, really helpful on the flight from Brazil (see Book III ~ Chapter 4 ~ The Traumatizing Transatlantic Terror Trip).

Not much later, it's time for dinner, which takes the form of Penne with Mushrooms accompanied by Lemon Cake and Salad. And since this is a Turkish Airlines flight, all meals are naturally Halal, that is, in accordance with the dietary laws prescribed by the Quran. Briefly summarized, that means pretty much all food other than pork, blood, or meat from animals that have died from a number of prohibited causes such as falling off a cliff or being beaten or strangled to death. Interestingly, it's also forbidden to eat the meat of an animal that has been killed by a wild animal, while it's permissible to eat the meat of kills made by trained animals such as hawks or hounds.

After dinner, night quickly falls, and the outside world is plunged into darkness. As this happens, we are flying in between two layers of clouds with the night-lit sky being visible in the distance, and as the light slowly wanes, it almost looks like the sky is an eye that gradually closes as night breaks through the day.

Eventually, the lights inside the cabin turn are turned off as well, and while once again most of the passengers prefer to watch movies, I for my part proceed to sleep. However, since this time around we're only flying one time zone to the east, I suppose the worshippers of the great altar of passive entertainment will not be smitten by jetlag for once.

Overnight, we cross the entirety of the African continent in the darkness, flying over Botswana, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt before finally reaching the Mediterranean Sea. Incidentally, we should successfully avoid any major bodies of water up until then, flying west of the Great Rift Valley all the time.

Blessedly, I should get to peacefully sleep through most of the night. Near the end, however, I wake up some time while we're above Egypt. We don't seem to be near the Nile area, however, for looking down on the dark ground, I can only make out a few tiny specs of faint light in the endless night.

It's around then that breakfast is served, taking the form of cheese omelette with bread and fruit, nothing special, but certainly nothing to complain about either. I've had to contend myself with much more… unorthodox dishes over the course of my journey.

One Mediterranean crossing later – it's around 5:00 local time on 29-Mar-2019 now – we begin to make our final descent towards Istanbul, still in the dark and with the distance to the lights of the shore impossible to judge. As it happens, I'm aboard one of the last flights landing on Istanbul Atatürk Airport, which would be shut down only one week later, on 6-Apr-2019. As such, this nighttime capture of my landing might be one of the last, if not the last such recording, and while Atatürk Airport is still more or less in the middle of the city, at the shore of the Sea of Marmara, the new airport is located about 33km to the north, at the shore of the Black Sea instead. As we descend, we pass by the town of Büyükçekmece and the bay Büyükçekmece Gölü beyond it, as well as Küçükçekmece and the Küçükçekmece Gölü, and finally touch down on the southern of Atatürk Airport's runways.

With that, I have now successfully made it back to Europe – with the airport being located to the west of the Bosporus, which marks the dividing line between Europe and Asia. It's still dark outside, but yet this old airport shines in a resplendent array of lights that drown out the stars above.

I still have to wait for a bit while they make docking preparations outside, but it should not be long until I get to disembark, and it is time for…

Part 4: The Istanbul Interlude

As you can probably guess by the fact that it has been shut down by now, Istanbul Atatürk airport is not quite the most modern of airports. And yet, the inside is well-maintained to a point where I'd spontaneously guess it to be the same age as Munich Airport (even though Munich Airport is actually almost 40 years younger).

Unlike on certain other airports (see Book III ~ Chapter 4 ~ The Traumatizing Transatlantic Terror Trip) the transfer here is smooth and simple, with the only issue being that my gate is not yet displayed on the screen. But that's okay, since I have about 3 hours until my final flight departs.

However, I figure that even so, this is probably a good direction for me to head into.

In the end, I manage to locate an overview plan of the airport…

…and subsequently sit down on some benches next to a loooooong travellator, where I have a good view on the departure display screens, playing Eiyuu Densetsu ~ Ao no Kiseki (in Japanese!) while I wait for my gate to become known.

Said time arrives at around 7:45, and as it turns out I have to backtrack a little bit to get to my flight, since it departs from gate 220, which I passed a few hours earlier on my way here.

As I do, I come across another sure sign that I am approaching my home again, for even though Turkey's currency is the Turkish Lira, here in the airport I see the vast majority of prices displayed in Euro.

Eventually, I arrive at the terminal just in time to see the final sunrise of my journey…

…and after that, it's only a matter of minutes until boarding starts, and I am on the verge of my…

Part 5: Final Flight

This time around, the vehicle I board is a significantly smaller Airbus 321-200…

…where once again they show a fancy Lego Movie safety video as we taxi to the runway – this time it's a sequel to the first one.

This time around, the quality of my screen recording turns out to be not quite as stellar, so here's a link to the HQ Turkish Version of the Video.

Meanwhile, we have arrived at the far end of the runway, where there's presently a bit of a traffic jam delaying our start…

,,,but before long, we are cleared for takeoff, and as we climb into the sky, we can see aforementioned Küçükçekmece Gölü, as well as the Sazlıdere Barajı, a freshwater reservoir of the Küçükçekmece river in the distance (just behind the Atatürk Olympic Stadium). And sorry, no Bosporus today. That feature is located the other way, though it would probably have been visible from this distance. Also, as we climb, the ground visibility asymptotically drops towards zero as the high humidity proceeds to obscure the ground below.

Almost as soon as we've reached cruise altitude, it's time for the favourite pastime of a hobbit: A second breakfast, this one in the form of a quiche, omelette with tomato, as well as some bread and salad, and since my first breakfast actually already lies about four hours in the past at this point, I actually manage to clean this plate as well.

At around 1,600km and 3 hours, this final flight of mine is about twice as long as the flight from Foz do Iguaçu to São Paulo, and is relatively straightforward, taking me across Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria on my way back to Germany.

For the majority of the flight, the view is relatively monotonous, featuring clouds and a blurry ground below at best.

However, as we enter Austrian airspace, the humidity gradually decreases and enables me to get a crisp and clear view of the ground below, most impressive of which are the good old Alps, the majestic, snow-covered peaks of which continue all the way to the horizon.

I realize that we have entered German airspace as we fly past the Chiemsee (Lake Chiem), which is also known as the Bavarian Sea due to being the largest lake in all of Bavaria, even though with it measures not even 80km², making it smaller than Nakaumi, which I freaking cycled across in Japan (see Book II ~ Chapter 13 ~ Daring Daisen). It's a strange feeling coming back home again after all this, and suddenly seeing all the things and places in relation, but I'm definitely glad to be back, and can barely wait until we land and my long journey finally comes to an end.

During the final approach to Munich, a fluffy flock of clouds starts to spring up, obscuring my view of the ground below once again…

…and as we approach the airport, I become aware of a second plane landing in parallel with us (probably a Lufthansa flight). Since our plane made a 180° turn to land from the west, that means we'll be landing on the southern Munich Airport's two parallel runways.

Thus begins the final landing of my long journey. At first we glide for some more time above the sea of clouds that has spontaneously sprung into being, but eventually, we dive right in and cut through, racing over the ground below and eventually touching down on the runway. It is only then that I finally allow myself to release a breath I had been holding for a long, long time now, thanking Inari-sama for bringing me back home safe and sound again. Up until the end I had somehow expected something to go wrong, but thank the goddess, I somehow managed to get back in one piece. I may not be all the way back home just yet, but with the landing complete, the chances for a truly cataclysmic failure are now well within acceptable bounds once more.

An so, I can finally relax as we make our slow but steady way across the familiar runways and over to gate 115, where I will be permitted to disembark momentarily.

Hence, my final flight has come to an end, and my round trip around the world has finally been completed. Now all that's left is…

Part 6: The Last Leg Home

At this point I will pointedly mention that just because I am now in the clear for cataclysmic failures doesn't mean I don't expect any minor annoyances… and rightly so, for it is almost as soon as I get off the plane that I get a masterpiece of German engineering and efficiency straight to the face: For at the passport control, the really, really convenient automatic passport control is out of order due to reasons, and in order to combat this delay, the airport staff has deployed one clerk to the manual control. I sincerely can't remember when I've last seen this long a queue, but it might well have been back at the employment agency back during my last 5-month layover in Germany between New Zealand and Japan.

Eventually, however, they manage to get the automatic passport control working before I've managed to make any significant progress towards the manual control, and since I am at that point conveniently located next to one of the automatic control gates and also reasonably attentive, I am actually one of the first ones through immigration and at the luggage claim.

And that is where the trial of patience takes place. For starters, it takes another 10 minutes or so for the belt to even start up, and then, for the next 15 minutes bag after bag comes out of the chute without my own luggage making an appearance, and I am already psychically and mentally bracing myself for a repeat of the São Paulo luggage debacle (see Book III ~ Chapter 1 ~ The Bad Beginning.

Interestingly though, one of the other bags passing me by during that time – all of them coming from the flight from Istanbul – prominently features Kumamon from the Kumamoto prefecture of Kyushu, Japan. In fact, Kumamon is actually one of the Keychains that I have on my carry-on backpack right there and then, and was a birthday gift from Sumire back in Fukuoka (see Book II ~ Chapter 14 ~ Fantastic Fukuoka Family Friendliness.

As I wait and become gradually more nervous, I am already starting to formulate contingency plan B, which would involve a trip to the enigmatic Aerogate Service Desk in Terminal 1B…

…but fortunately, it doesn't come to that after all as my trusty Backpack of Flames emerges in what must be the final load of luggage, and I make it through customs unhindered and out of the terminal, where my father Peter and his mate Dorotheé are already eagerly expecting me, and welcome me into their arms again after almost 14 months of absence. Incidentally, it should probably not surprise anything that the first thing my father and I do is have a photography-shootout, both of us wanting to capture that magic moment of reunion.

After lots of hugs, we proceed on our way back home from the airport, which is still about 45 minutes away along the highway…

…and as we drive, I take in all the many differences that make this place my home, which I never really realized up until I left and went around the world. The great open plains and fields, the shape of the trees, even the colour of the dormant grass that is different from both Japan and New Zealand.

Once again, things have changed during my absence, with maybe the most striking difference being that the industrial district next to the Moosach train station that I drove or rode past on a daily basis from grade 5 through 13 has now been demolished, and a residential district is being built in its place.

However, my own home, that unconventional, boomerang-shaped block of apartments at the corner of two roads, is still unchanged and the same.

Home at last. Travelling all around the world, I have not come across a single place that I'd rather call my home, and now, it seems almost a miracle that I'm back again. My travels around the world may be at an end, but that does not mean that my travels as such are over… not quite. For now, however, I must rest. And yet, I can only encourage you to stay tuned and look forward to the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog.