Sunday, 13 November 2016

Travelling again

I've commenced another travel adventure and will, as possible, write about the trip. I set off from home on a rainy Saturday in November.

Events of Saturday, 12th November 2016

It rained and was fairly cold first thing but by the time John J. picked me up to take me to Birmingham Airport, the rain had stopped although it remained very overcast. The first leg of my journey was an Air France flight to Paris, Charles de Gaulle. I understood that the flight was actually to be operated by Flybe under a 'Code Share' arrangement but the departure board directed me to Air France check-in desks in the remotest part of the terminal from the entrance. By the time I'd manoeuvred my luggage through the aimless crowds in the terminal, my mood had dropped a couple of notches. It was partly restored by the prompt and friendly attention of the English lady at the quiet check-in desk. She gave me directions to the 'Aspire' business lounge but first I had to run the gauntlet of Security. This now seems to comprise the major part of passing through airports and it is normally carried out apparently as a form of ritual humiliation for passengers. Each airport appears to have slightly differing procedures which passengers have to grapple to understand. I emerged from the process duly approved but (once again) wondering if foreign travel was now a mistake.

Birmingham Airport: Security

This pessimistic thought was compounded by having to pass through the brightly-lit and noisy 'Duty Free' area where the only way through zig-zags back and forth to maximise the distance walked from entrance to exit. Only then could I search for signs to the lounge area.

I've visited some excellent business lounges around the world. The 'Aspire' lounge at Birmingham is not one of them. I guess the name is intended to suggest its suitability for 'aspirational' people but I grumpily thought "this aspires to be a relaxing experience and fails". I was quite happy to leave the lounge early and report to the gate for boarding.

Again, the staff at the gate were efficient and welcoming and on boarding the aircraft was surprised to find that not only was it an (admittedly elderly) Air France A320 but it had an Air France crew. But it was a 'Code Share' with Flybe and at least one other airline.

I'd not been able to book a window seat but, as I took my assigned place, the friendly Purser invited me to move to an empty group of three seats on the port side, so I ended up with a window seat after all. With passengers loaded, the air bridge was moved away and the pushback tug propelled us onto the taxiway and pulled us some distance forward before the tug was disconnected and moved away, showing the Captain that the 'Pin' had been removed, meaning that the aircraft had regained control of the nosewheel steering.

We taxied to the threshold of Runway 33 and accelerated to take-off speed, climbing steeply into the low cloud and making a right turn as rain trickled across the windows. In the hour it took to reach Paris, the attentive crew served quite a reasonable meal so we touched down at Charles de Gaulle Airport (on runway 08 Right which I noticed was equipped for Category I and II landings) with my humour much improved.

It's some time since I'd last been to Paris by air so either I'd forgotten how big it was or it had grown (probably both). It was not very crowded so the only immediate problem was the long distances walking with hand luggage. The facilities seemed modern without offending me and when I stopped at the Air France Transfer Desk to confirm the gate for my onward flight, the French lady was charming, explaining that I had to go down one floor and pass through security to reach a lounge where (because of my insistence that I'd didn't wish to go via Heathrow) I had some hours to wait before my Air France connection to Santiago, Chile.

On the way to security, a very presentable young French man with excellent English gave me a lovely smile as he directed me to the security, where the usual rigmarole prevailed, not helped by the school mistress style of the security officer who gave instructions in accented English I had some trouble following.

However, having negotiated that hurdle, it was all smiles again, from the girl in the currency exchange who sold me Chilean Pesos to the business lounge staff who were delightful. From earlier visits, I had remembered the French as rather reluctant to converse in a foreign language and certainly not given to beaming at English speakers. With a shock, I realised that the most likely reason for this change was due to me, not them. What people now see is an old, sometimes baffled, woman and allowance is very likely being accorded to my age. Well, kindness is kindness but I don't always find it easy coming to terms with people's changed perceptions.

I'd at least seven hours to wait but I'd plenty of reading material so I found a fairly quiet spot with a view over some of the major access roads through the airport and settled in. Usually, I would have been attempting to blog at this stage but, after a tiring week, I decided I'd stick to a less demanding task. Finally, at 10:45 p.m. a rather bleary-eyed Jan proceeded to Gate L53 and boarded Air France Flight AF0406 for Santiago - this time 'Code Shared' with six other airlines! The aircraft was a Boeing 757-300 (I think). Business class was laid out 2-3-2. I had seat 2A but the seat next to me was already occupied. We were due to depart at 23:40 but we were at least half an hour into Sunday before we pushed-back.

Paris: Terminal 2, Charles de Gaulle airport: Boarding Santiago flight.

Events of Sunday, 13th November 2016

Our delay was largely because, at a late stage, we boarded what appeared to be a small family group of economy passengers then, a little later, de-planed them. No explanation was given but, having de-planed them, we then had to wait whilst the baggage loaders located and abstracted their luggage. You may appreciate that, by the time we took off, I was not the most acute of observers. It's over 7,000 miles from Paris to Santiago and that was set to take over 13 hours. They offered dinner after take-off. I slept a little but not well and watched a couple of films and three NCIS episodes. Eventually, after a reasonable breakfast, we landed at Santiago, only to suffer the indignity of having to wait on a taxiway until our 'stand' was ready. Apologies for the amount of 'whinging' in this post - I try to report honestly but hopefully I will have a more positive view of the world from here on.

It must have been after 11:00 local time by the time I'd passed through immigration, retrieved my checked bag, passed through customs, had all my baggage X-rayed again and met up with my lady guide and male driver for the journey into Santiago and my hotel for one night, the Lastarria Boutique Hotel in the area near the centre of Santiago known as Barrio Lastarria.

Lastarria Boutique Hotel, Santiago.

Although check-in was officially not until 3.00 pm, they gave me a room immediately, allowing me to take a shower, which revived me significantly, encouraging me to take a walk in the sunshine north-west through Parque Forestal, past the Belles Artes Museum as far as Plaza de Armas.

Santiago: Plaza de Armas.

There, I bought a Metro ticket to travel two stations south-east on Line 5 to the interchange station of Baquedano. I'd liked Santiago on my first two visits and I'm happy to report that it still works its magic on me. I resisted the temptation to travel further on the Metro, for instance, by changing to Line 1 but instead walked back to my hotel, ready for a late lunch. After a fairly tiring couple of days, I decided to remain in the hotel for the rest of the day.

Previous visits to Santiago

My first visit was part of my Round the World Three trip described here (one post describes the whole trip!). My second visit was part of my Round the World Four trip. This time, there's a separate post on Santiago here.

Related Posts

Next post describing this trip: Valparaiso.
All posts describing this trip: Chilean Fjords.

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, my pictures from this (and earlier) trips may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-
Pictures of Birmingham Airport, taken on this and earlier trips, are here.
Pictures of Paris CDG Airport are here.
Pictures of Lastarria Boutique Hotel are here.
Pictures of Chile, taken on this and earlier trips, are in the collection Chile.
Pictures of the railways in Chile including the Metros in Santiago and Valparaiso are here.

[Pictures added: 27-Dec-2016]