Posts in category travel - page 5

Planes, trains and engine failure

A little after 5am Friday morning last week when I arose somewhat dazed from bed and made final preparations for a trip to Prague. My sister is getting married in July and my future brother-in-law was kind enough to invite me along to his stag night.

We arrived at the airport for our 7am flight to London Gatwick and I was introduced to two of the guys, Glen H and Michael Knight… Within minutes local airline Aurigny had announced an hour delay to our flight because of fog. Fog is a regular problem here and when it occurs planes are not allowed to land, despite the landing guidance systems in place, for reasons best known to the airport. There are few flights out from Guernsey and even fewer destinations means being fogged equals missing your connecting flight and there goes your holiday. Fog coming back means sitting or sleeping at Gatwick and explaining your absence to friends, family, or boss.

Only one flight made it in and the fog showed no signs of lifting. Our flight jumped from delayed to canceled which in airline terms appears to mean “screw you, we’ve got your money and we’re not taking you anywhere”. A quick trip to the Aurigny desk confirmed the afternoon flights were full even if the fog does lift, the same situation mirrored at Fly Be

A few phone calls later and we’re at the harbor joining a massive queue of fellow airline passengers at Condor Ferries trying to grab seats on the ferry to Poole. Luckily we’d got through on the mobile and managed to reserve some tickets at an outrageous £60 per person with Aurigny offering zip towards it from our canceled flights. Some people couldn’t get on the full boat and angry words were uttered from down turned lips. We wouldn’t make our EasyJet flight to Prague so we called them and managed to transfer bookings to a later flight at 6pm…

Having explained to a large bunch of northern lads they were in our seats and yes, our bags weren’t there but they were ours, seat allocations printed on tickets and no we didn’t know where H29 through 34 were we sat down and munched on breakfast comforted in knowing we were now on our way.

The comfort was short lived when our captain explained the failure of one of the engines… It came back to life before we got into Poole but this, the delay leaving and the disaster of baggage collection meant we now had zero chance of meeting our EasyJet flights. We called the rest of the party in Prague and let them know the stag would be absent from the first night’s activities :( Another call to EasyJet and we transferred to the following days 8:15am flight…

Having stopped for a bite to eat we jumped on a train, the first bit of good luck so far in that they were a. all on time and b. offering 50% discount for our route on some offer. We arrived in Gatwick and got ourselves setup in a local hotel and then headed to the bar. On reflection this was quite a mistake because we had to be up at 5:30am and in the end went to bed after 2am. We trotted off to EasyJet only to find the stag himself was the only person booked on the flight. Melissa, Melinda or whatever her name was from the night before had messed up our transfer :( Another guy transferred us, somewhat unenthusiastically, to the flight and we were off through departures!!! Another half hour delay on the tarmac and then we were finally OFF!!! At last and against all odds.

We’d already been warned about taxi touts in Prague but we got a reasonable fixed price from a guy in a tie called Jan who also had a very nice car and told us plenty about the area and promptly delivered us to our hotel, situated right next to a beer factory. The beer in Prague is rather good and like most things there, quite cheap. Hence to say we drank quite a bit!

Prague is a beautiful city during the day. Magnificent buildings untouched by the ravages of the last world war combined with scenic lakes, small parks, trees and wonderfully clear skies and warm temperatures contrasted against the scattered communist era housing blocks on the outskirts on the city.

We soon met up with the rest of the bunch including the stags brother James, who was an captain stationed out in Iraq with the British army just a few months ago, and a few other guys from the UK including a couple from UK registrar Nominet. The stag was forced to wear a dress and handbag for the evening and we bustled him outside into the still broad-daylight where he attracted odd looks and wolf-whistles :D

We had a great time and as the sun set the city transformed into a much seedier side more reminiscent of Amsterdam and curiously ascent from my Lonely Planet guide to Prague dated 2003. Perhaps it’s something quite recent but there were plenty of bars, clubs and strip-clubs with touts in the streets trying to pull in customers.

It’s at this point things get a little vague. We had a great meal and some more beer, and went on a pub crawl. Michael had some minor bumps and scrapes caused by a trick on a stool and a camouflaged street post at groin height. We definitely ended up in an 80’s themed nightclub where the group got fragmented before I found myself outside alone with the stag drunk still wearing his dress but having now acquired white horns. We finally managed to locate the rest of the group and watched an interesting show ;-) before heading to a rather seedy bar. It was now 5am and a few of us were the worse for wear.

Two days of travel and three nights of minimal sleep took their toll and we checked out late the following morning before hitting the shops of Prague and finally relaxing in a park where a few guys took out little pedalo boats on the river. We thought we’d lost them but they stumbled back a bit later covered in what they were calling bridge-drip and tree.

The trip back was uneventful and we said goodbye to the other seven. Sleeping in Gatwick airport is a surreal experiment, most places were closed and it was deadly quiet at 1am but bustling by 5am making it more and more difficult to sleep. We checked in only to find Aurigny had now canceled our flight after check-in because it had “gone technical”. We collected back our bags, Michael’s going AWOL in their possession and got checked in for another a few hours later. Within minutes that too had been canceled and they finally gave us over to a more competent airline, FlyBe, who took the whole Aurigny flight on theirs at a moment’s notice. My thanks to them.

Aurigny did give me a £5 food voucher which I used at McDonalds to create a mega McFlurry. It was one-part ice-cream and several toppings. Smarties, Chocolate Orange, Rolos and Crunchie I think. It tasted like frozen liquid sugar. I perked up instantly and wondered if I was going to die from a sugar overdose, but I’m still here to write this so I guess not.

We got back 3pm Monday in end and I’d spent twice as long traveling as I had being at my destination. I don’t think I’ll do a trip less than 5 days again, it’s just not worth the hassle regardless of the destination. I fell asleep in my clothes at home by 6pm, awaking 7am Tuesday morning fresh from my 14 hour top-up sleep. For some reason I was shaking at my desk later that day. I’m not sure if it was the sleep or the sugar that caused it.

Have better luck traveling

[)amien

Les Arcs 1800, Part The Second – France

Goodbye Gatwick

We checked in as two small groups to avoid the disproportionate delay with checking in larger groups and headed off to the airport shops for breakfast and retail therapy.

Somebody once told me that there is no rationalization for checking in hours ahead and it is merely a ploy for you to spend money while you wait. Those in government cite security concerns but the fact is you can drive through most of the borders of Europe with only a cursory glance and minimal security checks.

I reluctantly chewed on an overpriced sandwich and a cherry muffin while a friend of mine started on a pint of beer. It was a little past 6:30am.

Hello Lyon

The flight itself was fairly uneventful unless of course you’re a little scared of flying. Like me. Then every small bump feels like the end of your life and you can’t help but imagine the falling-out-of-the-sky experience that would be caused by a wing falling off.

We landed at Lyon airport, the second worst airport I’ve been in after Dabolim in Goa, India and even they are working on a new one. We queued for 25 minutes waiting to be waved past by two bored looking French customs officials and then had to stand around 45 minutes while the baggage handlers went for lunch half-way through putting our luggage onto the carousel. This isn’t the first time my holiday has come to an abrupt halt because a Frenchman was hungry…

Stopping on a French motorway stuck in a coach for an hour with no facilities isn’t fun, but it would have been less fun to be stuck in a red Seat Ibiza for an hour while the ambulance got to you. I’m not entirely sure who or what else was involved with the accident but I hope the passengers were okay. Anyone who’s driven in France can appreciate the risks.

En-route our kiwi rep from Neilson, Ingrid, scouted out those of us in need of passes and lessons and apologized for the lack of refreshments. I started on a bottle of Coke I had in my rucksack and bathed in the murderous glow of those around me.

Neil Gaiman kept me entertained with his prose in American Gods while Zelda kept my twitchy fingers occupied with her Minish Cap. No, it’s not an educational game about contraception.

Ooh, Les Arcs

We finally arrived at Les Arcs which is near Tigne and Val d’Isere, specifically Arc 1800 (the height of the resort, we also found 1600, 1950 and 2000). It’s a rather picturesque resort compared to the likes of concrete Flaine with it’s wooden apartments, shops and eateries sprawling along the length of the lower ski-runs.

We checked in at one side and trekked to our apartments loaded with luggage and bedding across icy paths. It appeared they were only cleared once a day and I found myself wishing for the American fear-of-getting-sued culture that would have them cleared almost hourly.

Having argued with the guy in the rental shop that no my friends wouldn’t be paying an extra 30 Euro’s each because our rep had misspelled our pre-paid coupons I informed them I’d deliver corrected ones tomorrow.

We ate, something, and I clambered up the little ladder to my blanked-laden top bunk before passing out into the usual feast of bizarre imagery that constitutes my dream state.

[)amien

Les Arcs 1800, Part The First – London

Every year I head out skiing with some snowboarding pals for some high-adrenaline thrills coupled with binge drinking. It’s not always a pleasant combination and this year I took my fifteen year old brother with me so my drinking took a back seat.

Not every day was eventful so here’s the first part, the London experience!

Arrival

Saved 50% off the Gatwick Hilton by using the hotel finder service just outside the south terminals arrival gate. Leaving the array of boards, bags and boots we nipped into central London on the Gatwick Express using the Express + One Day Travel card so we could roam the tube.

Roaming

And roam we did through Covent Garden, where the usual array of music, jugglers and artists were showcasing their talents, quickly through some back streets to The Snowboard Asylum and then into KFC in Leicester Square where we watched what appeared to be a 13 year old male thief get chased, captured and subsequently handed over to police by his intended victim. Ah justice and chicken, what a combo meal.

We later ambled across the millennium bridge and practically ran round the Tate Modern with time was snapping at our heels.

Night

The Strutter set and crew

Jumping off at Hammersmith station we headed to Riverside Studios where I’d bagged us eleven tickets for a pilot TV show via Applause Store. Titled simply Strutter and hosted by Mike Strutter, fictional creation of Paul Kaye – best known as Dennis Pennis, they show extreme clips of people doing stupid things broken up with comical adult banter and mock interviews. Mike is accompanied by Northern wild-haired shy-guy Tommy and an Essex girl slapper with some odd fetishes.

Some of the clips were rather unpleasant and left me wondering if it would actually air but it’s been so long since I watched actual TV I guess I’m a little out of touch. Let me know if you see it on a TV schedule as I’m still only using my TV or DVD and gaming. I was in the second row back on the right, fourth in and should be visible in the singing bit with a stupid grin :)

I’d never seen a TV show recorded before and found it quite interesting. Surprising was how well these people deliver high-speed lines while in character and with very few mistakes. The actor playing Tommy didn’t break character once nor fluff a single line in two hours.

It finally wrapped at 11pm and we trundled back on the tube for an ‘early night’, after all we had to be up at 5:30am for our check-in…

[)amien

Ice, rocks and minor injuries

Just got back from a week skiing and boarding in Flaine. On our last visit we were wading knee-deep in powder just to get on the lifts however this time the god of snow had wandered off leaving Helios in charge. We soon unimaginatively tagged the runs that were open ‘Ice world’, ‘Rock world’ and ‘Walk world’ – no guesses as to why.

We finally found fresh powder off-piste near a big drop and had a lot of fun… Until one of my skis disconnected and smashed into my shin. Damn the French guy at the rental shop, I told him I wanted them tight – there again I also asked him to put stickers on the underneath of Em’s board saying “If you can read this please phone my mum”. He did neither.

On a brighter note I got to try out my newly acquired cooking skills against an eager audience (we were staying in an apartment) with both recipes going down very well. I also managed to devour Angels and Demons and StarDust whole as well as tucking into a fine portion of GBA action with Zelda: The Minish Cap. I can recommend all three with too much travel or muscle fatigue to sit through.

I’ve got a big group trip organized with friends for next month in Les Arcs so here’s hoping the snow god listens to my prayers…

[)amien