The trip that almost did not happen


The Sydney Opera House and the Harbor Bridge
The Sydney Opera House and the Harbor Bridge

Wednesday morning. October 23, 2013 [Australian Eastern Time Zone]. I took a seat in large conference room in the Sydney Convention Center. Dr. Ramanathan V. Guha, computer scientist and Google Fellow, was about to begin his keynote at the 12th International Semantic Web Conference on the impact of schema.org on the world wide web. I had made it. Barely 2 hours ago, I had landed at the Sydney International Airport. I rushed to the hotel; refreshed my self and headed out to the Sydney Convention Center. This, however, was not how I had planned my trip. I was supposed to reach on Monday morning, Australian EST. However. Read on.

Saturday morning. October 19, 2013 [US Eastern Time Zone]. I wake up and check my email. No news from the Australian Immigration office. My flight to Sydney, Australia was at 5.30 pm. I waited for a few more hours. No news till noon. I went ahead and canceled my flight. I was supposed to attend the International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC) 2013 between October 21 and 25 in Sydney. I had applied for visa nearly four weeks before my trip and it still hadn’t been processed.

On Sunday evening, I hear from my adviser. He had reached Australia and talked with the local chairs of the conference, who in turn put in a request for immediate processing of my visa. On my adviser’s suggestion, I rebook my flight for Monday evening and wait for my visa.

Monday morning. October 21, 2013 [US Eastern Time Zone]. Same story. I wake up check my email. No news yet. Around 9.00 am. It was there. A visa was sitting in inbox. Thanks to the efforts of my adviser and the local chairs of the conference, the Washington DC embassy issued me a visa first thing in the morning. I was going to travel after all. In the next four hours, I hurriedly pack my stuff and rushed to the airport. As I boarded my flight to Los-Angeles (LA) from where I was going to catch my connection to Sydney, I was still shaking my head. Never at such short notice, I made such a long trip.

With no in-seat flight entertainment (yes, you read it correctly), a John Grisham novel, The Racketeer, picked up at the Baltimore-Washington International airport kept me entertained through the long flights. Nearly five hours to LA and then another fourteen odd hours to Sydney. If I may add, a minor adventure on flight was averted. I didn’t get a chance to request vegetarian meal in all this melee and I was more 90% sure that I am going hungry all the way to Sydney. Fortunately someone else who had requested a vegetarian meal had canceled and that food landed on my tray !

Immigration and customs at the Sydney international airport went off without any adventure. I boarded a train from the airport to Central Business District (CBD) area of the city. Central station as well as the buildings and streets around the station reminded me of Mumbai. The old British architecture was evident amidst bustling tall modern buildings. More like Churchgate area if you know Mumbai. More about Sydney later, perhaps another post.

Looking back it was an interesting adventure. The week leading up to the conference, I was unsure whether I would travel or not. I tried reaching out to the Australian Immigration office for an update with no luck. The day before and the day of travel was even more tantalizing. My friends and colleagues had just one question for me – are you going or not ? Perhaps from Saturday all the way upto Monday, I was waking up every morning, not knowing whether I will be spending the evening in Baltimore (and United States) or not !

I wish, in the future, countries around the world make travel seamless. Surely, you should not require four – six weeks to get a travel visa.

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