Saturday, 30 October 2021

Travellers tales. On the move again.

 Well, that was an unusual travel experience yesterday.

Our daughter drove us to Liverpool’s John Lennon airport through a rainstorm. When we got to Speke, the bit of Liverpool where the airport is situated, the sky was relatively clear and it was obvious that they had not had the heavy rain we had driven through. As usual there was a charge of £4 - yes! £4 - just to drop passengers off. The travel business is a big rip-off!

Inside the airport, in the check-in area, it was a bit post-apocalyptic. There were very few people around. All the check-in desks were dark. The cafe was closed. Only a W.H.Smith at one end showed signs of life, and even that was unmanned. You had to pay on the self service tills. Perhaps I could have just walked out with the chocolate I bought. 

We had a bag to check in so we sat and waited until Ryanair’s appointed bagdrop time, keeping an eye on things in case a sudden influx of would-be passengers caused a queue to form. We saw that happen about 12 years ago at Santiago de Compostela airport. We were almost the only passengers and suddenly a host of Liverpudlians arrived: the Crosby Cross-denominational Pilgrimage Society as they identified themselves. A bunch of god-botherers protesting that nobody in their hotel had spoken English. It didn’t happen his time - no long queue!

We checked in our bag, had our various documents checked - passport, vaccination certificate, passenger locator forms. “You won’t need that (passenger locator form) again until you get to Porto”, the check-in person told us. More about that later.

Security was also eerily quiet. Of course I forgot to take off my Fitbit and managed to make the magic portal you have to walk through beep furiously. And then my bag of “liquids”,really nothing more than a lip-balm and a fresh breath spray, were taken off for a toxicity check, something which has never happened before.

Inside the airport proper it was all rather sad. So many airport shopping places were closed, all those “outlets” developed over the twenty years since my daughter and I first travelled from Liverpool with her two year old to visit my Spanish sister, a time when the airport was little more than a hangar and there was no organised airport parking (the family friend who drove us to the airport parked on the road outside). Accessorize closed, even Boots closed. Again, only W.H.Smith seemed to keep going, oh, and J.D. Sports. 

We thought we might get something to eat, a bowl of soup perhaps. We’ve done so on previous journeys. Subway was open, selling their too huge sandwiches. Starbucks was available for a range of what they call coffee. A couple of drinking places were in business but really nowhere offering decent snack meals. So we ended up with W.H.Smith meal deals, a sandwich, a snack and a drink, which is just as well as in the end the flight was delayed by about 3/4 of an hour.

The plane, when we finally boarded, was barely half full. We had booked seats at the back of the plane but we, and other rear of the plane passengers were asked to move forward “to balance the load” for take off. Somehow that was not very reassuring but all went well. I’ve never travelled on so empty, and quiet, a plane. And then, with everyone having to wear a mask on the plane I don’t suppose they sold much food and drink. Ryanair won’t be making much profit out of that flight. 

Arriving in Porto we thought of putting our passports through the electronic check but, of course, you need to be an EU citizen to do that. Grrr! My passport still says EU on it. No blue passport for me yet. So we went through the manual check. The officer barely asked us to remove our masks. We proffered our passenger locator forms but he waved them aside. So much for careful paperwork!

Having claimed our luggage we went out into Porto airport to look for our lift to Figueira. He told me he had not been sure of recognising us with our masks on, indeed, he had already signalled a few other travellers before spotting us. We bumped fists. He had brought his wife along for company. We bumped elbows. She speaks no foreign languages, just rather incomprehensible Portuguese. I was i stalled in the front passenger speak on the grounds that I like to talk - gosta de falar. I fear I was a bit of a disappointment to him; my Portuguese, rudimentary at the best of times, is extremely rusty. My plans to revise with Michel Thomas’s CDs had all gone by the board. So it goes. 

We drove through heavy rain again. Motorway signs warned of “tempestades” and we did indeed have some thunder and lightning. Our driver told me they have had little rain until the last few days, which appear to have made up for the lack. He also joked that if he were younger he would go and work as a lorry driver in England. He commiserated on the sorry state of affairs in the UK.

Somewhere around midnight we arrived at our hotel, not the one we had been told we would be staying at, and therefore not the one we had put on our disregarded passenger locator form!! The young man on reception had no record of our reservation!! Would we need to go elsewhere? He and the driver consulted, made phone calls and eventually found us a room here. We’ve stayed here several times before. It’s a nice enough hotel; indeed it seems to have been refurbished. The internet connection, however, is still poor. Phil has gone down to the reception area, where the connection is stronger, to download some chess stuff from a chess friend. This is no real hassle but this year involves wearing a mask! No doubt we will adjust.

The beds are reasonably comfortable. The weather is better this morning. We’ll see how it goes. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

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