10 days to go
My life has become a drone of checklists and passing days, like one of those whizzing calendars that illustrate the passage of time in movies. I finally consolidated my lists, and allocated days to achieve each major objective. Ticking them off is satisfying; however, it also signifies the loss of days, and the growing imminence of my departure.
Since I clearly have too little to do heading into a 5 month trip, of course I’ve also added other challenges to the mix:
* I’ve completed the Company Directors’ course and have to complete the exam (done, last Friday, really hope I pass but it was hard) and the assignment (spent another 6 hours on it on Saturday – it feels like this little gem will never be complete – at least I technically have another 3 1/2 weeks…not that I want to be putting its finishing touches on in Greece…),
* finish up at work (although, being made redundant does have the advantage of hurling you into Land of the Living Dead, so very few people seem to bother me these days), and
* help a friend out this Thursday at the MBA Strategy Class that he teaches (it only just occurred to me that I need to prepare for this…I can be SUCH a bozo).
Of course I also have to fit in various farewells and – did I forget to mention – I’m sick. Possibly the result of the vaccine cocktail plunged into me last Wednesday – Hep A, typhoid, swine flu, diptheria, tetanus, to name a few…
Not to worry – according to my checklist, I have to go to the doctor anyway! I front up at the local medical centre at 8am yesterday (Sunday) only to be told my Medicare card has expired. Did you know that Medicare no longer sends replacement cards? Noooo – too many go astray, apparently. So I must return on Monday morning to go to Medicare to get a replacement card and schlep back to the doctor for my various scripts, both for today’s illness, and to last me half a year for my ongoing stuff.
This morning, victory! – a temporary card from Medicare, and a speedy entry into the doctor’s surgery. Now, off to the pharmacy for the collection of antibiotics (for today and in reserve for my trip), scripts I need for ongoing medication that I need, plus my “precautionary travel medicines” – more antibiotics, diahhrea medication (I had to look up how to spell that, and it still doesn’t look right), antiseptic cream, panadol and sudafed (one cannot take codeine to many countries – illegal drug. I felt like the consummate crim last time I visited Greece with my Codrals).
One of my medications MUST be kept in the fridge. I ask the pharmacist how long it will last out of the fridge during long travel and he dismisses me – “No, please help me. I need you to help me understand how I can access this medication while I am travelling!”. The surly dude passes me a large styrofoam box, containing 2 freezer bags. He says “Freeze these, carry the medicine in this.” Seriously? This is his answer? I say thanks but no – I have enough to carry and will make do. Looks like I will need to ask the help of my doctor friend in Greece, where I can fill scripts locally on my 2 visits into Greece.
Last week’s achievements, though, instill me with confidence. I finally broke through to reach the Iranian Embassy. Naturally, despite Iran wanting to increase tourism dramatically, the Consulate only answers phones between 12-2.30pm each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They are only open to issue visas on the same days, and it is unclear whether one has to make an appointment.
Phoning the Iranian Embassy is a test in human endurance. There are 3 likely outcomes: first, you get placed in a queue and the call drops out after 2.5 minutes (around 50% of the time); second, you get an engaged signal (around 47% of the time); third, a miracle occurs, and a human answers. After around 30 calls, I finally had my call answered at 12.10pm last Friday by a man who asked, somewhat incredulously “Why do you want to visit Iran?”. I dribbled out some words to do with beautiful sights and friendly people and he – wait for it – laughed! Apparently, he was not convinced that his fellow Iranians were that sweet, but did concede I would find some old stuff in his country. He was, however, able to confirm that I had no need for a passport photo with a head scarf, or an appointment.
My plan was to travel to Canberra and seek my Iranian and Syrian visas on Wednesday. Happily, the embassies for these places appear to only be 8 doors from each other, and I will have my car. The only trick was waiting with bated breath for my visa number from Tehran to arrive (my Iranian travel agent, who is able to source mattresses for me is also hanging on the answer to this question). After days of follow-up, it was confirmed that I will be issued with a visa, and will receive my 6-digit number today – hurrah!!! The number is sent to the nominated embassy, and they will issue my visa.
I wonder if they will let me stamp the visa on a piece of paper so that US Homeland Security doesn’t strip search me the next time I try to make it to the wonderful New York. Hmmm.
9 days to go
Tonight I felt lost, even though I wasn’t. On the Federal Highway driving to Canberra after the day at work, my usually trusty GPS lost its way. As far as it was concerned, there was no such thing as Canberra. Odd, really, given that it’s only 3 hours from Sydney. So I programmed it for the Federal Highway and hoped for the best. The road was dark, and full of big trucks rumbling beside me delivering future groceries. “Turn right”, she said, interrupting my Arabic lessons on CD. I knew it couldn’t be right. Keep going. Wait for a sign. No sign. Where’s a sign? Come to think of it, where are the street lights? I start getting edgy: am I lost? Maybe I’m lost. But if I’m lost where’s this big road heading? In the darkness, I became engulfed by the fear that I’d sped past my destination.
Suddenly, a sign! The Canberra Rydges for $99 a night! Hurrah! Suddenly, I was super woman again, focused and determined.
Like life, I guess. Feeling weird and stressed, but on track nonetheless.
Better that than totally off track and thrilled with yourself.
Heading out from Sydney later than planned after the Directors’ training ran over time, I printed out the best directions I could find on short notice (thanks, Brettie!). Red light upon red light: I came to a dead stop in Sydney’s traffic snarl. Just getting out of the CBD took me a quarter of my 4-hour travel time. I arrived at 10.15pm. Tired and hungry, I checked into the Canberra Motor Village (hey, Parliament’s sitting and last minute searches revealed limited options) and asked directions to the Embassies and the National Gallery from an uber-helpful receptionist. The cabins are packed close together, and remind me of big portaloos with a kitchen and 2 bedrooms. They technically fit up to 6 people in 2 bedrooms, which seems one helluva squeeze, but they are clean and neatly laid out and I’m tired so I don’t really care. Resisting KFC and McDonald’s on my road trip, I finally succumb to chips and a cherry ripe from the vending machine for dessert. Mmm – tasty AND nutritious.
8 Days to go
After a beautiful quiet night of sleep, and my junk food dinner, it was off in search of breakfast.
Did you know that people in Canberra don’t go out for breakfast before 9 on a weekday? While this might be a slight exaggeration, even the nifty foodie area of Dixon had nothing but Macca’s open for brekkie. Suffice it to say that, for all their advertising, the coffee is crap.
It probably turned out for good, though, as the saga of finding Culgoa Circuit (and the Syrian and Iranian embassies) were far harder than I thought. Merging lanes from construction work, a $2 map that only listed major streets, and circling half the length of Canberra, and whizzing past my destination meant I got there only minutes before the Syrian Embassy’s 9am opening time.
The Embassies themselves all look like big houses, just with flags and coats of arms involved. For many, you can’t actually work out from the street who they belong to. I drove past the Iranian Embassy and stopped outside Syria. One thing I love about Embassies is that, because they are effectively the turf of the country concerned, it’s like a little trip all by itself. Just before 9, then, I walked down Syria’s drive way. So much did I like the nifty look of their sign at the front (it had little stars…like their flag, I later worked out) that I stopped to try to nab a photo. Not quick enough, I got busted by a suspicious lady who led me down to the “right” doorway.
A dude helped me as I scrambled through my bag, caught out at their efficiency. Eventually I got the Money Order, Passport, photos and applications together. “Where are you staying in Syria?” he queried. “I don’t know – I haven’t organised it yet”. This was not good enough. Uh-oh. “Where do you recommend”, I asked. He pondered. “Hotel Venezia”. “Done” I agreed, and on the form it went.
The dude went to his desk and started the processing. The consulate office is uninteresting – a mish mash of around 10 desks, and some seats at the door. I sat to wait and became a bit of curiosity as all the staff kept asking each other whether I was being looked after or not. I snuck my phone charger into the wall to steal some Syrian electricity. Alas, he was too efficient and my visa was ready in 10 minutes! It’s quite the funky looking blue paper stuck on page 9 of my passport.
Off to Iran. I sat in my car, waiting, and a small crowd gathered, eying me suspiciously. Women emerged from taxis and cars, donning their head scarves. They waited at the gate and, even before the appointed time of 9.30, the gate magically opened, and in we went. Inside the small office is a counter, with a single dude behind it. One enters and, like the deli at Coles, takes a number. Mine was 66. This felt immediately odd, especially since my car’s odometer tipped the 66,666 mark just as I entered Canberra. (Note: I mention these facts not because I am superstituous, but because at some point someone may wish to draw conclusions about this coincidence, particularly if I meet an untimely end).
Then, clutching firmly to no 66, I sit and wait. It was pretty clear I was the only non-Iranian in there. Excellent practice! Everyone spoke Farsi (well…I confess to assuming it’s Farsi) and at one point there was an exchange, laughter and I vaguely wondered if I was the joke. Not caring too much, I plugged in my phone again. Who cared – I was in Iran!
The Iranian New Year is shortly upon us, which explains why they were so busy. Did you know that the date in Iran is 1388, soon to be 1389? Not only am I travelling to the other end of the world, but it qualifies as time travel too!
The counter dude eventually clicked over to no 66. I asked if the visa could not be stuck inside my passport…sorry, um, no, hand me the glue. But, after I asked how long it would take, he went out the back to the visa dude, and lo and behold, there it was in just 15 minutes, and I got the warmest treatment from the counter dude. By 10.20am I had the all-important visas in my clutches. To think: after all that red tape drama, it would be that easy.
I even had time to tear over to the National Gallery where, not only did I see Van Gogh’s mesmerising Starry Night, and Monet, Gaugin, Picasso, Pisarro…but I saw a woman in the middle of the Gallery who appeared to have lost her yoga class. What the…?
Anyhow, the exhibition was wonderful, although I was rushed since I’d parked in a 1-hour zone outside the Dept of Finance and Regulation (I quietly thanked them for keeping me in employment with all that financial services reform bizzo) and I bought both the Exhibition catalogue for later contemplation, and Julia Child’s French Cooking book so I can try to whip up something new like a Boeuf Bourguignon when I’m unemployed.
I zoomed back to Sydney and into work to try and pound through a few more of those checklist items. At the end of the day, my management team and I had a lovely Japanese dinner…the only non-lovely thing about it is that it’s my farewell dinner and I will miss them terribly. We’ve had some amazing times and part of me can’t believe it’s about to come to an end.