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23 Mar 2006 - Frankfurt - Tripoli
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View from a Tripoli hotel bedroom window. The sea of course is the Mediterranean Tripoli - looking east
After an early start and shuttle back to the airport, it wasn't long before I met up with Guenther, Fred and Jacques, 3 other members of out party taking the same route from Frankfurt to Libya. We had agreed to meet before going through security and Guenther had promised to carry one of my two telescope cases. After removing my day pack from my main bag to house my laptop, camera and emergency kit, there would be 3 cabin bags, more than the most obliging airline is likely to accept unless distributed among enough people.

An X-ray scan of hold baggage was the first conducted, and after check in, there was further interest in the cases (as expected), and both Fred and I were taken aside for a special inspection and to have our equipment sniffed for drugs, explosives or whatever. Security must have been getting used to such strange things now, because it was perfectly clear from looking at other luggage that other people were on the same mission as us!

The flight to Tripoli on Austrian Airlines involves a change at Vienna. Getting there was little more than hour but we were the best part of an hour late getting away, so on arrival it was straight to the next gate. Thankfully still plenty of time until the connecting flight and we were quickly discovered by Sabine, who has done all the organising from the European end. We were joined by 3 more here, swelling the ranks to 8 by this stage.

Another X-ray scan of carry-on baggage, making 3 so far. Now, for my first time, our entry status to Libya was checked, to prove whether Sabine and the Libyan agents really had sorted out our visas satisfactorily. Sabine had managed to email a scanned copy of our visas through to us only the day before, but in the event it was not needed, except for Paul, a New Zealander joining us here. He was refused entry onto a flight from Prague until confirmation had been phoned through from Australia - he had not received his email in time.

The Tripoli flight was full to capacity, but Lauda Air did a sterling job with finding somewhere to squeeze all our cabin bags and cases. Thankfully the check-in operator at Frankfurt did her job well and ensured that I had an emergency exit seat on both legs of the journey, so at least a leg stretch was possible, though it denied the possibility of storing anything under the seat in front. Food was good too - with a real metal cutlery and china plates for once.

More fun and games on arrival at Tripoli. The lines quickly built up at the passport desks and we stood for the best part of an hour under the watchful gaze of Colonel Gaddafi (the first of many such portraits, as expected!). However, on finally reaching the desk the entry was relatively quick and painless, with Sabine on hand pointing out our names on the visa list.

Another X-ray scan of hand luggage after leaving passport control, to check for illicit drink this time apparently. Alcohol is strictly forbidden here!

No surprise, our baggage had arrived on the carousel before us for once, and on emerging land-side we were quickly greeted by Amanda, who had done all the organising from the Australian end, and our Libyan guides. Quite a lot more hanging about though, waiting for other flights and more passengers to arrive.

After changing some money to Libyan Dinars we finally got to step out into the Libyan sunshine, not forgetting another quick X-ray scan of all luggage!

First glimpse of Libya from the bus was unremarkable, apart from the numerous portraits of the esteemed leader (quickly lost count of the number) and passing his house, whose high walls and watch towers would have done justice in any army base in Northern Ireland! Tripoli seems pleasant enough at this early stage - relatively unspoilt, with few tall buildings and little sign of inductry, apart from an oil storage depot on the edge of town.

We are staying a government owned hotel, al-Kebir, for our time here - no surprise what graces the walls in the lobby, but one final metal detector and X-ray scan at the door. I think 6 in one day must be something of a record!

Rooms were sorted, and after a couple of hours to freshen up, our first taste of Libyan cuisine at a nearby restaurant, and a chance to start to get to know other members of our party. We're not quite complete yet as, apart from the two who were trapped in their own room for an hour by a dodgy lock and had to be freed by a mechanic, there was still a handful to arrive. We are now 23 or thereabouts, a sizeable group but probably not too large to get to know everyone at some stage.

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