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Three weeks from now, we'll be between Osaka and Helsinki. Somewhere over China, heading north.

This will be my seventh round-the-world trip, in addition to six thirds, where I've gone there-and-back to Europe once and America twice.

I think it will be Kerri's first RTW, but she has an impressive there and back record, including shared trips to America and Europe with me.

So much more fun travelling with a companion. Someone to share meals with, mind the bags while you dash to the dunny, point out the crucial signs leading to the taxi rank, walk through a park together, marvel at the oddities in foreign supermarkets with, and keep you awake on the long car trips.

Most of my travelling has been by myself, and while I'm more confident now at striking up a conversation with a stranger, it's still a lonely sort of existence. Especially now that I'm not quite as fascinated by the mechanics of flying and travelling as I once was. More inclined to keep my head inside the window watching some classic movie on the seat-back video instead of looking outside admiring clouds and the patterns of waves on the ocean far below.

Having a companion is just so much more fun!

This trip is, apart from a couple of new places, a compilation of cities that I have loved, and longed to show my wife.

Osaka I do not love, but Japan is endlessly fascinating, and I am sure that our two days in Kyoto under the cherry blossoms will be enchanting. Japan has an on way with cities. They do the most hideous jumble of apartments and office blocks, markets and train stations, all crammed in together on narrow streets, and then, just when you despair of any beauty beyond the microscopic attention to detail they do so well, a vast temple or park or shrine will open up, impossibly majestic, planned with exquisite taste, generous in grass and trees, a treat for the soul.

My fourth time in Japan, once with a guide, once just myself at an airport hotel, and most recently with my daughter, who is as keen an observer of the odd and delightful as I am.

Helsinki is just a stop, just another airport with a quick transit on the way to istanbul, where I once spent a night in a worrying hostel with a divine outlook. We've got better accommodations this time around, just a street away from the hostel, but a couple of stars up the luxury ladder. Fantastically ancient buildings, ruins, names. A city spanning two continents. The two great mosques facing each other across a great central square with tulips and wild cats. The bustling Golden Horn, alive with ferryboats backed by the busy waterway of the Bosphorus, the hills of Asia golden in the sunlight.

Amsterdam - with another quick transit, this time at Heathrow. More tulips in the springtime, canals, tall houses, great art galleries, markets and museums. For me, the BookCrossing convention, with its own delights, for Kerri, three days of sightseeing in what the guidebooks promise is a splendid city.

Heathrow again on the way to Boston, and with a four hour transit, I'm going to give The Champagne Bar in T5 a solid nudge. They will pour me onto the plane to America. Just as they did last July, when my daughter and I giggled our way aboard, full of nibblies and tipples, falling into an alcoholic slumber across the Atlantic.

A night in Boston, just to sleep before collecting the car from the airport. We're headed north via Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, over the border to Montreal. Ottawa the next day, staying with friends I have yearned to meet for years. Then Niagara-on-the-Lake, a delightful village where the Niagara flows into Lake Ontario. We're staying at a old inn, with haunted rooms and a wonderful pub atmosphere. I ate lunch there one April four years back, and resolved to return.

Big drive the next day, through Detroit and onto Chicago.

Chicago! What a city! It's big, it's full of skyscrapers, it's crammed with mouthwatering architecture, and several of my best friends live there. My fourth visit, and it will not be the last! We'll still have the car, and we will do the first few kilometres of Route 66, just for a laugh, a photo or two, and a taste of my planned roadtrip along the whole length next year.

And then the final stop, a place I have delighted in seeing and showing off. San Francisco! Is there a quirkier city in the world? One blest with grand views and merry people. Those little cable cars, halfway to the stars etc. I love it. If I had the money I'd move there in a flash.

I spent the best day of my life there in October. A magical day with two enchanting women as companions. This time around, I'll have a bit more time, and I plan to show Kerri some of the things that have left my heart quivering on Telegraph Hill. Book Bay, the Marina Safeway, City Lights, Coit Tower, the Bridge, Fishermans Market, Sausalito...

Two days won't be long enough. We'll fly down to LAX for the evening Airbus A380 flight to Sydney, losing a Friday completely, arriving home on Saturday morning.

And we'll have another trip to remember with sighs and happy smiles for years to come.
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Silver Cabs
Silver Cabs,
originally uploaded by skyring.
My days are about forty-eight hours long. It’s not that the night shifts stretch out interminably - on the contrary, the hours flash by - but that I’m always conscious of the hours before and after Canberra’s day.

About the same time as I flip the meter onto the night-time rate, it’s midnight in New Zealand, where so many of my friends live. I drive through the dark, wash the car and crawl into bed on Thursday morning, but it’s still Wednesday for another six hours in Europe. And in the USA, where so many of my Internet friends live, it’s just about always yesterday. They must think I’m a being from the future sometimes.

And occasionally, I have a very long day indeed when I’m travelling with the sun. Typically Hong- Kong to Heathrow, but the longest Friday of my life had two dawns and two dusks, from waking up in Canberra to falling asleep in Washington DC, with a midnight pass over a glowing Hawaiian lava field somewhere in the middle.

For me, Christmas Day was yesterday, spent on the road up to Gosford, having lunch and a lazy afternoon, and then driving home again. But it’s still Christmas in other parts of the world.

We passed through the centre of Sydney on the way up, and, waking from sleep in the back seat whilst my wife and daughter shared the driving, I took a picture of two Sydney Silver Service taxis returning from the airport. My day driver later reported in, saying that he was having a profitable shift.

One cabbie was doing very well, I noticed. We were stuck in a creeping traffic jam from North Sydney to Pymble where the north coast freeway begins, and amongst all the grim-faced drivers was a happy cabbie crawling along beside us. And a couple of grim-faced passengers in the back seat.

We had a delightful lunch with my sister’s family, including my mother down from Rockhampton, played with the toys scattered about in various stages of assembly, experimented with Skypevision with other family members and just had a grand time before it came to an end too soon and we had to be back on the road.

Christmas is a special time in the Western world. My day driver and I exchanged presents, he dressed up in a Santa cap for his Christmas shift, and every single passenger I had on Christmas Eve wished me a Merry Christmas, often with a nice little tip.

Good humour, fellowship and smiles are the order of the day.

It’s been a great year for me. Sometimes I feel that it’s Christmas every day. Sometimes I just have to stop and savour my delight. Driving around the Arc de Triomphe was a highlight, as was kissing my wife on top of the Eiffel Tower. Looking out for giant gorillas on top of the Empire State Building, walking through the entrance to the National Building Museum in Washington, watching the incredible light show on Hong Kong Harbour.

Giving a helping hand to a lady in need, swapping travel stories with tourists picked up at the airport, singing along to Abba with some party-goers, laughing at the wicked wordplay of one of my regulars, hanging out with other cabbies - it’s been a blast.

Or just driving along a deserted freeway in Canberra, a favourite song playing as I pass some floodlit monument in between passengers. A happy cabbie.

But one moment sticks in my mind. Yesterday morning Paul and I wished each other a Merry Christmas as we sat in the front seat of the cab parked in my driveway. I’d finished my Christmas Eve shift, he was starting his Christmas Day, and we just sat and chatted for a few minutes.

Another cab passed by, stopped, reversed, and the driver got out. It was Geoff, who happens to be Paul’s father-in-law. We swapped more greetings, shook hands and then he was gone, Paul fired up the car and drove off, and I went back inside, very very happy with my job, my life, my family, my friends and the world in general.

It all comes back to what I answered on my taxi driver course two years ago, when we were asked, “What do you expect to get out of being a taxi driver”.

I thought for a moment and wrote down, “A lot of company for a short time, and a few good friends for a long time.”

The instructor looked at this and said, “You’ll have no troubles.”

And he was right.

Merry Christmas, everybody!


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September 2010

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