The Second Version

12/06/08

The World From Above

Another, much belated, episode of my travel chronicles.

Last time I went to Jakarta, the outbound trip did not bring much interest: it was night until the plane reached the Indian Ocean, and from there many hours flying over that vast featurless expanse of water. The stopover in Colombo didn't bring anything interesting, and neither did flying over the Malay Peninsula. The approach to Singapore was just a little more attractive, but it's all about small islands, sand banks and dirty waters.

But the return trip... that one brought quite a sight. The plane took of from Soekarno-Hatta at night, and when approaching Singapore the landscape was awesome: Singapore, the city-state, the Asian tiger, all lit up and glittering with life and wealth. In front of her, the Strait of Malacca, crowded with ships and boats of any size from the oil tanker to the fishing boat, lights ablaze, multicoloured jewels in the black waters.

Night lasted until landing in Dubai, when it gave way to the baking sun of Arabia. And from there to Italy, it was another sight to behold. A few kilometers out of Dubai the desert begins: light brown sand, dunes carried by the wind over the sparse roads, almost no life in sight. But also, for no apparent reason, roads that run around square patches of land with absolutely nothing in them. I haven't been able to figure out the purpose of those roads.

Then in the middle of the desolation the emerald green of well-tended lawns, and the fresh water of fountains around a huge, majestic, domed palace. I'm not sure, but if I were the sultan or emir of Dubai, that one would be my palace.

The plane then crossed over the Persian Gulf, with its massive artificial islands still being built. And after that, Iran. And its mountains: ridge after ridge of barren snow-capped moutnains, crossing, branching, taking up all the space. Italy is not exactly a flatland, but it looks like one compared to there. And the mountains continued more or less uninterrupted all the way up to Turkey, when the route took me over the Black Sea.

The next piece of land were the snowy plains of Romania and Bulgaria: villages here and there, no glamour, just houses of - I suppose - farmers for the most part; streams and small rivers, and in the distance the Danube, the great river lazily meandering throught the plains.

The terrain slowly rose into the mountains of the former Jugoslavia, but these aren't as barren as the ones in Iran. Less steep slopes, more forests, and the somewhat familiar look of towns and villages that were getting more and more European. And then the myriad islands of the eastern Adriatic coasts, again the sea, and Istria, that was by any means part of Italy.

Finally, the plane crossed over Italy proper near Trieste, where I had the unusual sight of contrails from above. Shortly afterwards clouds concealed the landscape until the final approach to Malpensa, where I was greated by the usual muck: melting snow on the ground, cold rain, lead sky. And more airport chaos there than in Soekarno-Hatta.

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