Friday, 8 February 2013

On the road again.

We escaped from the frozen north eventually, for a while anyway. 

On Monday morning, as usual, I got up at the crack of dawn to drive to our daughter’s house and take the small people to school. Having done that I returned home, collected husband and suitcases and set off almost immediately – just time for a coffee really – to drop husband and suitcases at the local railway station, drive down and park the car outside our daughter’s house, leave the keys for her and race to the station in time to catch a train to Manchester. That was the hard bit of Monday out of the way. After that it was a relatively simple matter to locate the train the London from Manchester, booked in advance for a ridiculous price of around £8.00 each. Crazy!! 

 Somehow you expect that because London is further south it will be warmer but we got there to find it was bitterly cold with an icy wind to reinforce the chill. Our son tried to persuade us that this is natural because the Northwest of England has its own microclimate. According to him it is warmer there because of the Gulf Stream which warms up the sea. I always thought that this affected the whole of the British Isles and prevented us from regularly having winters similar to those in Canada. Alternatively I thought that Greater Manchester, and particularly Saddleworth, just had a special rainy microclimate: a place where being damp but not actually raining is a bonus. 

Whatever the truth of the matter, on Tuesday morning all my Northwest of England friends were Facebook posting about snow while London had some sunshine, although still extremely. Cold weather notwithstanding, we set off from Buckinghamshire, where the boy now lives at the furthest point on the Metropolitan Line, to head back to the city where we admired the city skyline and then visited the Courtauld Gallery. What a lovely collection of pictures Mr Courtauld put together! And the staircase alone makes the building worth visiting! I haven’t even mentioned the ceilings which are magnificent and which I somehow managed not to photograph. 

On Wednesday morning we set off for Gatwick airport, a fairly smooth process, despite the delay caused by an unbelievably slow ticket queue at London Bridge Station. We were travelling from Gatwick because Ryanair had so inconveniently cancelled flights from Liverpool to Oporto. And so we found ourselves travelling with TAP a Portuguese airline. This had been a source of trouble from the word go. In the first place, when we tried to book tickets our bank decided that there must be a case of fraud going on and stopped our online payment as we had never purchased tickets from this company before. By the time we got that sorted the prices had gone up by £15, which did not please us. Then, after congratulating ourselves on keeping our luggage down to around 9 kilos each, we discovered that their allowance for hand luggage is 8 kilos. This led to a frantic rethink and repack. It’s a good job we already have clothes in Vigo; 8 kilos is not much at all. 

However, we forgave them all of this when we got to the departure gate and found that no-one was weighing anything, unlike Ryanair and Easijet. Good grief, we could have packed the kitchen sink! And then there were assigned seats; no mad scramble for the best places in the plane. Finally they came round and gave us a sandwich and a drink: completely free!! We had turned down this offer of food at first; we don’t buy food and drinks on budget fights. No doubt the cabin staff thought they had a pair of weird skinflints on board when we had to be persuaded to accept free food! 

 On arrival at Oporto there was no bus to Vigo for almost two hours, giving us plenty of time to explore the airport facilities, much reduced in the arrival area compared with what is available beyond the security gates, as in airports everywhere I believe. One of the Portuguese cafes in the airport has been replaced by Costa Coffee, apparently transferred direct from the UK with the same range of cinnamon lattes, caramel lattes and vanilla lattes. There was even flapjack on sale. I wonder what the Portuguese make of flapjack. When I tried out my best Portuguese to order “duas meias de leite”, I was told, “Temos flat white”. It’s come to a pretty pass when you can’t even order a Portuguese white coffee but have to go for that strange beast, the Flat White. Just as all high streets in England have become identical, with the same range of identical shops with their identical window displays, so airports will soon be identical in their catering arrangements the world over. 

Eventually we made it to Vigo, just in time to scuttle into the Mercadona supermarket next to our block of flats for essential supplies of milk, bread, margarine and so on. In the supermarket a pleasant surprise awaited me: Mercadona now sells proper milk: ordinary pasteurised instead of the sterilized variety. As it’s clearly a new venture for them the cartons are all clearly labelled, “Mantener en frío”, just in case anyone thought you didn’t need to put it in the fridge. 

 The regulation supermarket beggar was on duty in the doorway but with a slight difference. On my way in I was harangued by a very energetic young male beggar, asking me to buy some food for him, preferably meat. I find it rather disturbing that in the second decade of the 21st century our society is reduced to this. There must be some other, better way of organising things to help the homeless and jobless. 

But as we’ve walked around we’ve noticed even more shops closed and boarded up. The places that buy gold are here in force, just as in UK high streets. And when we went out for a quick beer last night, planning to check our email using the wifi at our nearest and favourite local venue, we found it closed. The light of day this morning revealed signs on the window saying that the place was up for rent. Another victim of the ongoing crisis, no doubt!

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