Thursday, 11 November 2010

Oh, the joy of travel!!

On Tuesday morning we took the next step of our journey homewards. We admired the smooth efficiency of the Porto metro service and went through security at Porto airport and eventually joined the queue of people waiting at gate 10 for the Easyjet flight to London. As large numbers of us stood in the queue – and we were not the first to join it – we noticed a gentleman with a completely laid back attitude to budget travel: clearly a man without stress!

As the plane began its final descent
towards London, we cleverly bought tickets on board for the so-called Gatwick express to London Victoria. I say “so-called” with a reason. From the platform where we waited for the 5.35 train I phoned our son to let him know our estimated time of arrival. The train arrived. We all got on, stowed our cases and settled down. Some minutes later people started to get off again and the message gradually filtered through that this particular train was going nowhere.

Another train pulled in to an adjacent platform and everyone moved across. This would be the 5.50 train. A certain amount of chaos ensued as people with cases got off and tried to make their way into the airport and other people with suitcases tried to get onto the train. All was well … for a while. Then we discovered that this train was not going to Victoria either; it was heading for a siding, after which the 5.50 train would come in and we could all get on our way. This did not happen.

Instead there came an announcement that the 6.05 train would depart form a completely different platform and so the by now much larger group of people with suitcases moved en masses through the station and got on the train, which was indeed the 6.05 and did indeed depart. The public address system welcomed us aboard in several languages and informed us that the journey would take 30 minutes.

Just over an hour later we got off the train in Victoria. Signalling problems. So much for the Gatwick “Express”!!!

Were we downhearted? Not at all!

We did a short and fortunately uneventful journey on the underground, met a partially frozen son and daughter in law (they had taken refuge in a nearby pub but were still a little chilled) and went and ate very good Italian food. A pleasant end to a rather frustrating evening.

Wednesday dawned cold and clear and we set off to meet more frustration on our homeward trek. At Euston Station we found the ticket machines where travellers collect pre-booked tickets for Virgin trains. Following instructions we inserted the credit card we had used for the booking and entered the code number sent to us by email. Your tickets are being printed, said the machine and duly spat out ONE incorrect ticket, somebody else’s day saver ticket. When we tried again the machine refused to recognise our unique code number.

So we sought help and were told by a rather condescending ticket sales-lady that we could ask at another desk if our tickets had been handed in (according to her computer they HAD been printed) and if not, well, we would just have to buy new tickets. After a minor explosion of indignation we did just that and were met first with incomprehension and eventually with a rather reluctant acceptance that they needed to sort it out.
Some fifteen minutes later, and after we had watched someone else have the same problem, someone came and asked us which ticket machine we had used and finally produced out tickets.

The original condescending ticket sales-lady gave us a little lecture (in equally condescending tone) on how lucky we were and told us that someone had handed our tickets in, (presumably when they were printed instead of his tickets) thus saving us from paying another £60 each. One thing I would like to know is this: if they were handed in so quickly, why did it take them so long to locate them? There was no real acceptance that perhaps their machine was faulty. Neither did we really get an apology. So much for the efficiency of Virgin travel services!!

However the rest of the journey was relatively stress free and we made it home without further incident – if you discount a near argument with another passenger over luggage stowing!


  1. I must admit that whenever I travel (which at times is far too frequent), I tell myself to not; get flustered, upset or irritated and don’t start to join imaginary aircraft boarding queues – just find a seat, sit down and enjoy some peaceful time with a book or just people watch. Of course, that does not happen and I have to admire your stress-free fellow traveler. If only.

    BTW, a copy of the “smile please” poster from Portugal should be framed and given to Colin as a special prize for having found the circuitous route that avoids the road tolls.

  2. Well, not the A3, just the new ones. But at least you can pay at booths on the A3.

    Failing that, there are plans to make the gadget available in branches of the Caixa Xeral (a Portuguese bank, of course) here in Galicia. The ducks are slowly getting into row. After which they can all be machine-gunned easily.

  3. hola! just read your blog about the problems you had. it all sounds very familiar; same thing happened to me at Euston. It printed tickets to Manchester even though i was going to Coventry... i though i had made the mistake by always buying london-manchester tickets but they were in fact mr Halid´s tickets....! total: un follon! i had to pay 40 quid to coventry so i didn´t miss a wedding! eeei que estres!