Even before COVID-19 put an end to my trip of a lifetime, many things had gone wrong. Nothing affecting the entire planet, you understand, and nothing disastrous but, still, there had been some hitches. It all started off so well too. My journey from Edinburgh to Sydney was uneventful and I arrived safely and speedily (given it was morning rush hour) at my hotel near Circular Quay. The staff were delightful and my room was made available to me before I had finished breakfast. So far, so good.
A couple of days later, I set out for the railway station in plenty of time to embark on one of the highlights of my journey: a trip across the continent to Perth on board the Indian Pacific train. I needn’t have bothered getting there so smartly. The train hadn’t!
A series of unfortunate events (to borrow from Lemony Snicket) meant that the train was stopped at Bathurst. This meant nothing to me but I quickly discovered that there would be a bus replacement service to the aforementioned town, wherever it was. After some delay and much sitting around, I found out that we were set for a three to four hour road trip. Once at Bathurst, chaos reigned and it was heading towards midnight before train and passengers were united and all moved off.
After a delightful interlude in Perth, I flew up to Darwin a few days later. I had a night there before my next train extravaganza: the Ghan, which would take me to Adelaide, by which time I’d have crossed Australia from east to west and north to south. My arrival in Darwin was less smooth than in Sydney and the hotel and its staff less prepossessing but things were still good. Well, they were until I was informed by the receptionist that the Ghan had been delayed by twenty four hours!
It’s fair to say that the fallout from a submerged stretch of track (for that was the problem) was ensuing chaos. There was little communication and a dearth of people who appeared to know what was going on. There was a further delay the next day when another piece of the track was discovered to have flooded. So we departed Darwin a mere twenty seven hours late!
I’m not here to complain or to blame anyone. The issues affecting the trains were not the fault or responsibility of Journey Beyond Rail. The lack of communication was at least partly understandable and the train staff did their very best once we all met up to give us a wonderful experience.
And I wasn’t stressed; I was prepared to enjoy whatever each day threw at me. Waiting in Sydney, I met a charming family from the USA who were widely travelled and raved about their visits to Scotland. They talked about a little town they had discovered on their previous trip. Probably not somewhere I knew, they said, but it was called Lossiemouth. Only the place where I grew up and had moved back to for ten years, only leaving it again last year! What were the chances of that meeting?
I was less complacent about my extra day in Darwin. It was the Wet after all and the humidity was like a wall. However, my cousin in Geelong contacted a friend who works in the Northern Territory Library and he met me and showed me around the library and some of Parliament House. He was lovely and the exhibition about the history of the Territory on display there was fascinating. I’d have missed that if things had gone according to plan. And I wouldn’t have seen my cousin’s top Darwin recommendation either. The Royal Flying Doctor Service/Bombing of Darwin visitor facility is award-winning and I can see why. Altogether, I loved my unexpected day in Darwin.
I remember saying to someone less sanguine than I that it was all part of the adventure and that there was no point in travelling if you were going to get stressed when things didn’t go according to plan. (I paraphrase. I was more conciliatory!) Coming from me, this was rich indeed. I will organise everything down to the last detail and still worry about the possibilities for disaster. But actually I meant what I said absolutely sincerely. This, I think, is the difference between travelling and going on holiday.