Traveling can be stressful... even more so when pretty much all of Europe features closed airports, delays, cancellations, unhelpful helpers and other yule tide fun.
In short, due to the weather Frankfurt decided to close down and cancel all flight. Anyone remember that disaster flick "Airport"? Where the snow just comes piling down, the airplanes keeps circling and no one gets the bright idea to reroute? That's probably what they wanted to avoid - along with London's airports, Paris, Amsterdam and so on and so forth.
Luckily, even if SAS was anything but helpful today, VIA Travel (who is on contract with the Norwegian Armed Forces) pulled an amazing stunt and managed to get me rerouted... via Milan and Cairo. Granted, I arrived in Khartoum just in time to have a quick shower and head over to the UN Airport, but still...
Flying to Milan was slightly surreal... I was the only passenger in Business Class (which means that I got food, unlike the 'cattle' in identical seat behind the curtain.). The stewardess simply could not do enough for me, and even less so when she heard that I would not be home for Christmas. Offers of drinks and more drinks, two sets of pillows (I gently declined her offer of more), leaving the coffee pot in the seat next to me... Where the SAS personnel at Gardemoen had failed miserably in their service, the SAS stewardess more than made up for it. She was also quite interested to hear about Sudan and the UN Mission there... from what I gathered the son of a friend of hers is currently in Afghanistan, so I guess she could relate and compare.
Apart from the stellar service aboard, the flight was uneventful. All of Europe as far as I could see was covered in clouds, with just the very tips of the Alps sticking up through the cloud cover. Once below the clouds, what I could spot of northern Italy is flat, have a dusting of snow, and isn't nowhere as cold as Norway was. As for the airport... meh. It's an airport, and I'm just passing through. The cappuccino was pretty darn awesome though - but that would been more of a surprise if it wasn't.
From Milan to Cairo was, well, less impressive than the first leg, even if the seat was wider. The food was decent enough (two course dinner - a salmon salad for starters and filled chicken for main course), but nothing more than that... for being business class it was less impressive than Lufthansa's Economy class. I guess Egyptair just isn't in quite the same class as the Big Boys... or, alternatively, they don't rely on their business class passengers to line their pockets. To top of the experience, we were an hour late in taking off from Milan, so naturally we arrived an hour late as well. Plain awesome - if I've been on vacation I might even become annoyed with it. Since I was traveling on duty, it was just a case of 'meh' - I can't really be bothered to care to much when I'm traveling on someone else dime.
As for Cairo Airport... it's probably a great place to go to or eave from, but if I can possible avoid it I won't use it for a transit ever again. The place is huge, sprawling and impossible to navigate - partly because the terminals are so far apart you need a car and driver to get between them! So I spent about one hour waiting at the first transit desk, then a half hour driving around the airport with an armed guard, and then... well, lets just say more waiting was involved. All in all my planned four hour, fifty minute layover was reduced to just shy of one hour once I was past the transit check in...
Oh well... such is life. At least I had time to give my better half a call and get a large cappuccino - no where as yummy as the cup I enjoyed in Milano, but after almost three hours of not knowing what was going on it was certainly welcome. Checking in was reasonable painless, but had it's pointless parts, like sending our carry on through an X-ray machine with no operator...
Once aboard the Kenya Airway flight my mood improved considerably - happy, smiling Africans greeting us (just like the Africans I know from Yei), good seats (even if I was behind the curtain), clean and inviting interior... I can see why the airline calls itself the Pride of Africa. One of the stewards offered me to switch uniforms, and I must admit that his bright red dress jacket and black pants was stylish. Had I been even more sleepy I might been tempted to take him up on it, despite the fact that he would have to serve the hot snack in fatigues.
The hot snack was pretty good too - better than the chicken I got from Milan to Cairo, but less good than the spread of Christmas specialties I got on the first leg of my flight - a pretty decent beef stew with rice. The bun was stale, off course, but I don't think it's humanly possible to serve a truly fresh bun in flight.
Arrving at Khartoum I blew through the airport in twenty minutes, quite probably setting a new record for Norwegian UNMOs. No hazzle with the passport, no hazzle with the luggage, no hazzle with customs - I actually had to wait for the car instead of the other way around. The Norwegian House is still an oasis for us, and it felt great to kick my shoes off, grab a soda and shoot the shit with the AdmOff for a little while. But only a little while, since with my plane leaving in the wee hours of the morning, I barely had time to shower, change clothes and repack my bag - grabbing a couple of things I left in Khartoum on my way out and putting some things away in the Norwegian House for safekeeping... things like my travel uniform and heavy fleece jacket. It was nice to have in Norway, but I dont think I'll need it in Yei.
The flights from Khartoum to Yei was almost routine compared to the mess that was my fights too Khartoum - simply meet up at the UN terminal, get my MOP form stamped, say hello to the airport-kitty and have a coffee... and then snooze on the flight to Juba. Rinse and repeat for the helicopter flight from Juba to Yei, only taking a break from snoozing while landing in Torrit so I could get some fresh air and a chat with a Norwegian UNPOL.
Off course once back, I barely had time to put my bags in my container before I had to dive into work... in addition to my duties as G1 and D/TSL, I'm also filling in as Acting G3 for a while since the G3 went to his leave with the very same helicopter I arrived on. There is no rest for the wicked, and apparently not for an UNMO either. So yeah, I'm back in Yei. I dearly wish I had managed a longer leave, but I enjoyed the days I did get very much.