Last time I left the country I couldn’t wait to return and for once it wasn’t due to the in-laws driving me mad. We were on our usual spring fling to France but instead of joyfully blowing out birthday candles like carefree kids we were glued to our phones like sullen teenagers with 5% battery and no charging lead in sight. We should have known we were taking a risk when instead of being the filling in ski bag sandwich our Eurostar looked like someone had just cleared the carriage shouting plague… Oh, it turns out I’d just kept my headphones in and they had! As we departed that trip we were genuinely scared of being stuck in France and not being able to return home. The border control at Lille Europe had never been known for it’s warmth and even that’s allowing for the arctic breeze that blasts through the open station leaving travellers huddling around the heat lamps like hangers on still waiting for one last encore. On that night as we tried to shuffle home, it was slower than usual. The reason for the delay on that occasion was that the staff were watching TV, but then so were we; following along as President Macron announced that the French border was closing. Luckily for us we’d made it out by the skin of our teeth. I’d never been so glad for a trip to finish…
Then there was quiet. For a while during those glorious summer months of lock down and furlough we believed that everything had changed and that we’d finally make the world a better place. But in truth most of us didn’t really want a utopia, in fact couldn’t wait to put on our 2019 tinted spectacles and go back to how things were, just without any of the consequences. This gets me on to the trip in question as whilst I don’t often use this blog to cover in-laws trips this one deserved an exception. Not only would it be exactly two years since I had last left the country, but it was also my longest time without a trip abroad as an adult. Yes, me and my privilege, what can you say! However, during the trip I made a more important discovery. With all the talk of post pandemic inflation I thought I’d have a look back to a restaurant we visited a decade ago and again during this trip to see how the prices had changed. As I stumbled upon a photo of the menu I had my eureka moment… It turned out I’d published it as part of the first ever trip report I posted on Flyer Talk which to my surprise was exactly ten years old. So without any further introduction it’s time to do the same thing we do every night, Fly to Take Over the World (metaphorically that is!).
Train: Southeastern High Speed
Depart: Canterbury West 17:25
Arrive: London St Pancras International 18:25
Locomotive: Class 395 (Hitachi A-Trains) Top Speed 140mph
Time flew, but it was no fun at all, not one bit. In a state of neurosis that would make a Woody Allen protagonist look like a stable citizen I was moving back and forth. Did I lock the door, were the windows shut, where’s my passport, which way to the train station! Truth be told it wasn’t total paranoia, I had forgotten to lock the door of our old flat on a number of occasions, mostly when depression’s ugly scythe was baring it’s blade. Whereas I always got away with it in our old flat with its second line of defence, our house was not armed with a second front door and if I’d returned to find we’d unwittingly find we’d become part of Canterbury Open House I’d be in deep trouble. Bags packed, house safely shut, I marched towards the station at full tilt, till my clothes were soaked through with sweat. I wasn’t used to any of this at all. Somehow despite me being early Anne-So had beaten me to the station, purchased tickets and was waiting with sarcastic impatience for my arrival. The platform felt busy, but then it always seems to at Canterbury West. Again, the reality was that I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’d left Canterbury in the last year so it made sense that seeing more than a few people gathered together felt unusual. Other than the annual price increases meaning my £30 fare in 2011 is now £42 in 2022 nothing has changed on High Speed 1. It’s still the fastest domestic train in the UK, it’s still relatively clean and comfortable, if not looking a little worse for wear and I still love taking it, although the novelty has somewhat warn off. It’s also much louder than I remember it, especially without my faithful Sony’s to block out the noise. We comfortably found a seat onboard and plenty of space for our luggage it it wasn’t long before we sped out of Ashford and through the Kent countryside with the grace and power of an Olympic swimmer. We flew across the river Medway and tore towards Stratford at close to 140mph only slowing as we came up for air one last time, exiting the final tunnel and eventually crossing the finish line at St Pancras. A quick hop or two on the tube and we were soon sat snugly at my Grandma’s. Everything was suddenly feeling back to normal again, at least as long as I kept my 2019 tinted glasses on.
However, arriving in Fulham it was a different story, well in part. There were some signs that the world had changed. It was au revoir to the faithful French brasserie chain Côte that had closed its doors, our trusty Indian eatery with nearly 40 years of service had lost the plot and my Grandma who for once was weary of the usual Italian options surprised us all and booked the Lebanese. We walked slowly, not just due to the break in tradition, but mainly due to my Grandma’s maximum speed being limited to just above shuffle as we made our way down the New Kings Road to Eat Beirut.
My Grandma, ever dependable went for some grilled chicken. Thankfully some things never really change, they just take twist and turn slowly in the breeze. Happily, I do think my late Grandad would definitely have approved of this dinner choice!
Likewise back at my Grandma’s it was going to take more than an energy crises and hyper-inflation for her to turn the heating down, no matter the weather! Sure, being there wasn’t quite the same as ten years ago, but it felt good and I felt at home as we slowly dozed off to the beat of an ever loudening TV before retreating to bed. That bed also hadn’t changed, though in this case change might have been for the better as the springs of the mattress tried to hold us captive! A decade ago I’d have looked forward to a morning brew of Gold Blend and a serving of thick white toast slathered with butter and Bovril as my Grandad cheerfully passed the breakfast plates through the serving hatch. These days my tastes have changed. Instead of Gold Blend I went out for coffee to District, a friendly 3rd wave Aussie influenced coffee shop serving the kind of floral and slightly sour coffee that I’ve gone from not understanding to being hopelessly addicted to. Instead of Bovril on buttered toast I returned home to a delicious cinnamon bun that Anne-So had picked up from French bakery chain Orée the night before. Orée being a much welcome addition to Parsons Green. I’d like to say change is healthy and a sign of growth, though experience has taught me that the only things growing from having this for breakfast on a regular basis would be my AMEX bill and my waistline.
We got ready and Anne-So ever wanting to be kind, tidied the garden. We said our farewells and headed towards Heathrow. In the past it was fun to try all the different ways of getting to the airport, but to be honest we usually just take the Piccadilly Line. After finally getting the magical super discounted HEX first class fare (RIP) and ending up just shy of cattle off to the slaughter in a carriage with no working air-conditioning the novelty of ever changing routes wore off. Without significant advance planning it’s cheaper, requires less changes and in the end it more or less takes the same time as the other methods. That said I do have a feeling that Stratford to Heathrow on the Elizabeth Line looks mighty tempting when it finally opens. Looking back to my 2012 trip report I shudder to think that I allowed anyone to talk me into taking the Easy Bus to Stanstead, the humanity! On this day we were in luck, our tube car was quiet as in not busy, though one does get use to the rattling of the doors and the wheels grinding against the track.
It was a pleasant day and I reminisced of my times visiting Hounslow for work and enjoying all that delicious Indian food, as if I hadn’t had enough the previous weekend with my double dose of Dishoom and Gymkhana! As much as I loved my fancy coffee and a hipster infused scandi style cardamom bun I would have been more than happy with a breakfast of pooris and potato curry, my absolute favourite and the first thing I will be ordering next time I find myself in India.
Our tube rattled on and it will be quite the shock when these tube cars that I’ve known for all my life are finally retired, though that’s apparently not till 2025, so I have another few years to wallow in this rickety nostalgia. We dipped underground and as we passed Hatton Cross I have to admit a tinge of excitement took hold. After just over two years I’d be back in the air again! We pulled into Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 (Terminal 1 no longer exists) and quickly pulled out again, arriving a short while later at the still futuristic feeling blue hue of Terminal 5. We ventured from the lifts and out into the departures hall. It felt busy, it felt good, it felt right to be there. We trundled along to the premium check in zone thanks to both travelling in a premium cabin and my repeatedly extended Bronze status that somehow still had another year to run despite me almost forgetting what an airport looked like. We went up to join the queue only to find ourselves being escorted away to the horror of horror, premium self-check in! Oh no! If this is what the world has come to then I’m never flying again… Thankfully, it actually worked out pretty well as on a day when even the First Wing had a queue we were done in no time at all. Referring back to my first trip report from a decade a go it clearly stated that there was no real queue at any point at premium check in, in all fairness I think that must have been down to beginners luck as I can’t recall that being the case any time afterwards! We quickly printed our own bag tags, and although I was lacking the ego boost of orange Club tags, I did feel better knowing that as they were also the French baggage handlers’ equivalent of a “kick me” sign taped to unsuspecting victims back, there was a better chance of our bags arriving sans footprints and/or dents. Anyway, it felt good to be back, but it lacked that excitement of a decade ago when it was my first time in the Club queue, my first time with the orange tags, my first time using Fast Track security and my first time looking longingly at the doors to the Concorde room dreaming that one day, just one day it might be me turning right through the millionaire’s door…
Anyway, whilst not lightening quick Fast Track was relatively fast, instead of looking longingly at the CCR, we looked back remembering our morning getting merry on expensive champagne, getting massaged and manicured (another one on the RIP list) and enjoying a tasty breakfast. Fun times… Today we headed to Boots for supplies, then duty free for our forgotten travel adapters (we knew we’d forgotten something) and the horribly sarcastic self-service till was keen to remind us of our stupidity. We then had a browse in Fortnum’s window staring dumbstruck in awe like a child who’d just seen Santa at the beautiful Easter bunnies. Our jaws dropped once more on inspection of price ticket and as much as we love our niece spending £25 on a chocolate rabbit was probably not the best use of funds, especially as we were unsure if we’d be more upset if she ate it or left it whole! We continued along in the direction of Galleries South and the excitement of that first visit a decade ago had been replaced by one of entitlement, after all I think 90% plus of our flights from Heathrow have featured a lounge visit or two, OK, on one occasion three but that’s beside the point! We were on the escalator passing the broken Troika and recalling those delicious dinners of dim sum and flowing champagne suppers at the Cathay Lounge, damn you BA for moving LYS back to Terminal 5, how could you do this to us! Though it now seems hard to believe back in the first ever trip report Anne-So was surprised at how good the food was in the BA Lounge compared to what she was expecting. That said it has definitely gone from “Oh! The BA Lounge!” to “Oh… the BA lounge…”.
British Airways Galleries Club South
Access For Oneworld First Class, Business Class and Emerald or Sapphire Status
We showed our boarding passes at the entrance and headed in. What has changed other than the feelings of excitement and expectation, of having made it in the world. From staring up at Concorde’s roar every morning in the school play ground to one day visiting the airport and watching the planes, to actually taking one.
Seeing as I rarely get invited to anything I held out little hope. Originally I thought that you needed to spend lots and lots of money on expensive business class tickets to get invited. Then I found Flyer Talk and found you could sign up for a less expensive credit card that would help you to get invited, and more recently, around a decade ago BA launched Reward Flight Saver and suddenly those invitations were easier to come by and cheaper than ever before. I suppose whilst I still get excited about a long distance premium class trip by plane or train the novelty has worn off somewhat, though if the crowds were anything to go by it certainly hadn’t put anyone else off.
It was good to be back! One thing that hadn’t changed from our very first visit to Galleries Club South was our seat.
Whilst these are by no means the best seats in the house they are somehow nearly always free when we need them. Thankfully it wasn’t all same old, same old. No, the furnishings had been changed and whilst they certainly looked in better shape than what they had replaced they definitely were not to my taste.
The most positive change was the online ordering and table service. This I liked very much as rather than having to take it in turns to go on food runs we could pick from the menu. The usual curries, chilies and pasta dishes were available. The only noticeable downgrade was the lack of a proper slice of cake, something I have always enjoyed in the BA lounge. We placed our orders and I raided the bar.
On our first visit there was the Monopole Blue Top and I can still feel the burn in the back of my throat to this day! We sat, we drank and looked forward to our trip. It was good to be back, it was even better to be travelling together.
A half portion of chocolate caramel shortbread and not even a good one at that. Whilst nobody has ever beaten my Grandad’s version of this tasty treat this attempt was surely a parody. If we’d ordered four portions we might have been satisfied but no…
At this point it was time for coffee, much, much coffee as any more Mr Lyan and I’d have required an assistance buggy!
Flight: BA334 London to Lyon
Depart: LHR 15:15
Arrive: LYS 17:55
Seats: 4D and 4F (Club Europe – Business)
Aircraft: Airbus A320-200 (G-TTNG First Flight 29/11/2018)
On this trip we were all the way back in row 4, but we didn’t mind one bit. I think after a decade of premium travel we have become immune to the stares from those seated further back as well as the comments. After a while we just recalled how little cash we had paid for our Club tickets, how much we had enjoyed the lounge prior to boarding and how we always felt hungry when we smelt the scones and bread rolls being warmed in the oven, all the more so when we were behind the curtain. Between the drinks runs and panini (half if you were lucky) years aside everything is just so much more relaxing up front. The best thing for me is the ability to forget there are 100-150 people sat behind you, in fact sometimes it’s possible to forget that there is anyone sat behind you at all. Talking of sitting, the biggest single thing that has changed in 10 years on BA (and Eurostar back when you could still get on one of those for a sensible price) are the interiors.
Added to that, all the Heathrow aircraft now have at seat power points and access to WIFI. Ten years ago the only thing better was the level of padding in the seat, assuming it was still in the seat and hadn’t made a quick get away. The one thing that’s really noticeable on my old trip reports are just how bad those old converter seats looked. Sure, if you were on the good side of the aircraft you benefited from a little more width, but the current version of the short haul cabins are an upgrade in every other sense (at least if you are sat near the front) those super slimline seats behind the exit rows look pretty awful and thankfully we’ve largely managed to avoid them.
I do enjoy departing Heathrow, there’s always so much to see…
So, once up in the air it was time to eat, drink and be merry. So the question you are dying to know the answer to is how has Club Europe catering changed in the last decade?
The only difference was in my very first trip report we had some Do&Co chocolates to finish the meal, and on this trip we had some Do&Co cake. In 2012 the crew didn’t do a proper drinks run and having only previously been in Economy where you get what you’re given, we ended up waiting for an offer that never came and sadly went without.
He’d also clearly consumed more than his fair share both on the ground and onboard! The champagne on the plane was the same as that on the ground and made a pleasant accompaniment to our afternoon tea.
Whilst the coffee is still barely drinkable it is still a huge step forward from the filth served in years gone by. The taller coffee cups are also a marked improvement as well, though I hear these have since been enhanced away for their own good of actually doing a job well done.
No sooner than I was back in the flow then we heard the call for 20 mins to landing and before we knew we were touching down. On arrival one other change was clearly evident. For the first time since I could remember I needed to have my passport stamped to enter France… Oh dear, the less said about that the better!
Train: TGV 6195
Depart: Lyon St Exupery Airport – TGV 19:43
Arrive: Valence-Ville 20:11
Seats: Coach 3, Seats 15 & 16 First Class
Locomotive: TGV Duplex Top Speed 320 km/h
Unfortunately we now had time to kill before our TGV arrived and whilst the UK was well on the way to pretending there was no such thing as Covid, France was still in the state of sensible precaution with a handy dose of theatre alongside it for good measure. Whilst we were lucky enough to have First Class tickets on this leg of our trip it’s important to remember that you don’t get most of the extras often found on UK trains (assuming you can find a UK train), like lounge access or complementary food and drink. So instead we had to wait inside the Armadillo (aka Lyon St Exupery Station) alongside everyone else, not that there was a huge amount of people around. The delay to our train only gave more time for the crowd to thin, and that was no bad thing. Whilst most of the transport we’ve taken on a regular basis has been upgraded in some shape or form, even if only the equivalent of lipstick on a pig, the TGVs have not been allowed much more than a browse through the lipstick bargain bin. At least there is the brand new TGV M to look forward to in 2024.
Whilst they no longer look like they belong in the 2020s, the seats laid out in a 2-1 formation are spacious, comfortable, have a reasonable recline and at seat power. Much like British Airways, when you were once the market leader in your field you at least have a solid base to work from.
With the ticket for our half hour journey only costing a Euro or two more than standard class we felt like we were getting our money’s worth. Despite the modest price differential between first and standard class, this route is seriously expensive to the point that a full price Heathrow Express ticket doesn’t look that bad alongside it. Our TGV slipped out of the station into the pitch black night and before long we’d arrived in Valence to a welcoming committee on the platform, well, at least Anne-So did… It had been so long since our last visit that my Niece didn’t even recognise me!
We’ve come to the part of the trip report where I’d normally talk about all the beautiful places we visited in France as well as all the delicious food we ate. Sorry, that bit changed, mostly… With new partners, old age taking its toll and the pressures of full time work, inflation and child rearing things were not the same. Nobody had the time, money or will to go on any kind of adventure so instead we spent most of the time relaxing in Ardeche, and whilst it doesn’t make for a great travel tale it was exactly what I needed. That said, it wasn’t all dull and I had an interesting chance to continue with my comparisons. In 2012 we visited Le 7 Brasserie, the affordable bistro restaurant that sits next to 3 starred Maison Pic. Whilst Masion Pic remains out of our price range we did manage to try the more up market and now 2 starred Dame de Pic in London, including meeting Chef Pic herself, it was a truly excellent meal and I have wanted to go back since.
Unfortunately but not unsurprisingly, our visit was short lived as one of our party did not meet the entry requirements which instead led us to getting take away. Sadly eating at home out of cardboard packaging just isn’t the same as a full on restaurant experience. There’s no fresh bread, the food is no longer piping hot or perfectly chilled, there’s no room for extras and it no longer feels like a special occasion. In all fairness I’d also come down with a mild cold at the time of this meal so my taste buds were impaired.
The most noticeable change was the price. In ten years the three course set menu had gone from 30 euro to 43 euro, a 43% increase. Also compared to what we’d paid at Gymkhana just a week or so prior made it all the more disappointing. Interestingly this was the same percentage increase as our train tickets between London and Canterbury!
We did have one other meal out to celebrate a day to ourselves and my returning sense of taste at La Guinguette, but that too was underwhelming as apparently the good restaurant in town was temporarily closed… it really was one of those trips.
Instead I cooked at least half the meals for everyone and it was mostly enjoyable. Sticking largely to favourite recipes that could be made with leftovers or locally available ingredients from my sister-in-law’s shop or the local high quality food suppliers I enjoyed myself. Highlights were a perfectly cooked aloo gobi that went down a storm, a succulent lemon & herb roasted chicken and best of all, some monstrous local sausages with mash, onion gravy, some veg and a lot of wine.
It was nice to cook for and catch up with my ex Brother-in-law. I had missed his ability to try and include everyone in the conversation, but the rest of that story has no place on this humble travel blog.
I can’t say the week flew by, it rather limped a long with a few highlights and not enough apero and wine, the things that make even the most painful trips to the in-laws a lot more bearable.
In the end as nice it was to see everyone we’d had enough of cooking, cleaning, dog walking and child minding and we were looking forward to heading home. We finished the trip doing something we probably wouldn’t have dreamed of a decade ago, spending the night at an airport hotel.
Train: TGV XXXX
Depart: Valence Ville TBC
Arrive: Lyon St Exuperay TBC
Seat: Standard Class
Locomotive: TGV Réseau Top Speed 320kmh
We arrived at the station on time and in the cool evening light the renovation of Valence Ville was much more evident than it was in the darkness of our arrival. I do like Valence Ville and it will be interesting to see what the station looks like when the building work is completed in August 2023. Will it feel different or will it feel just like it always does once the scaffold and hoardings come down. Thankfully one thing stayed reassuringly the same, the train to the airport was late! Thankfully we were staying overnight and not rushing for our flight.
Our seats were clean and comfortable and we raced off into the evening in search of the Holiday Armadillo. A short while later we entered its snout and our train screeched to a halt in the belly of the beast. We got off the TGV and headed up through the guts of the armadillo and towards the terminal building. Just like on departure within seconds the crowd had thinned to nothing as we moved along the travellators getting closer to the terminal. As we trundled along it reminded me that when we first took the plane to Lyon the goal was always Terminal 2. Once upon a time there was a dreadful shed like construction that called itself Terminal 3. Whilst it did improve over time it was at the expense of longer and longer walks and a lack of general comfort and facilities. These days Terminal 2 resembles a ghost town as it in the process of being decommissioned and Terminal 3 is now the significantly improved Terminal 1.
Hotel: Moxy Lyon Airport
Room: Moxy Runways View Room 503
Status: Bonvoy Gold
Anyway, today we were looking forward to doing something we’d never done before, a night at the Moxy Lyon Airport. Freshly opened in 2021 we thought that at the very worst it would clean, modern and comfortable and at best it could be come a regular stop over opening up a bigger choice of flights for us.
With a vintage camera and a pair of directors chairs in front of a panorama of black and white film stills, we were positively excited at the unexpected amount of character on show. Sadly the second act was less impressive. We headed up to the lobby to check in which was hardly a film star welcome. I don’t think the man checking us in even mentioned that we’d been upgraded to a runway view room.
We settled in and unpacked what we needed for the evening and the following morning.
We freshened up and debated what to do for dinner since hunger had begun its strike. A cursory look at the Aeroport de Lyon website revealed that everything other than the hotel restaurants were now closed for the night. Whilst the options at the NH across the way looked a little better we didn’t feel like a three course meal and instead headed down to the Moxy’s bar.
We did a full circuit of the bar area and were impressed that were actually a few people that resembled the Moxy PR photos with their fashionable attire, edgy haircuts, eccentric glasses and most importantly appeared to be under 30. We were expecting more business types, alongside some long haul tourists, or perhaps young families wanting to ease their getaway or enjoy one last evening away from home. We found plenty of the latter including the frustrated look of the couple next to us as their food order had been coming through in drips and drabs throughout the evening. On our right were some fashionably dressed business partners who were getting through their wine like it was pandemic era toilet paper.
There were some QR code menus but they didn’t match up with what was on offer on the blackboard menus or what was actually available to order! It was hardly Netflix in terms of hot food options. We saw a rather forlorn looking burger being assembled behind the bar, alongside some toasties and microwave meals.
On the plus side we were thankful that our food arrived before our neighbours had finished complaining. On the downside we tucked into one of the poorest quality toasted sandwiches I can recall, even my mother (Can’t Cook, Will Cook UK Champion 1995 to present) has served up better fare and that includes the wedges. At least the beer worked. Despite the food, despite the sterile ambiance it felt amazing to be sat just the two of us enjoying a meal together in a hotel. It made us want a holiday, it made us want to travel again when in all honesty I had lost the will to leave the house, let alone the city or the country. Did we very nearly book an unplanned and unbudgeted last minute trip to Montenegro, based on that one night spent at the bar in airport Moxy… I think I was a beer away from winning the argument! With an early start to look forward to we ambled up to bed, just making time to pose for photos with the props an signs. Maybe they’d be good for the ‘gram, maybe not.
We tried watching some TV but finally gave in to sleep. It took me a while to get off but that was no fault of the hotel. The bed was comfortable with the mattress just the right side of firm, the sheets soft and the duvet a touch warm, but then I do sleep like a furnace at times (both heat and noise unfortunately). It didn’t feel like long enough but the alarm sprung to life and it was time for the shower. I enjoyed washing in Muk and would gladly do so again. Water pressure and temperature were decent enough and I exited the shower significantly more awake and more refreshed than I entered it which in my book is always a win. The one benefit of the using the wall as a wardrobe is that it makes the final bit of packing significantly more straightforward. No sneaky cubby holes or drawers to leave belongings behind in, everything is right in front of you. With Anne-So ready and our bags sealed shut we did one final pass on the room and waved good bye to my first trip abroad in two years.
Flight: BA365 Lyon to London
Depart: LYS 07:45
Arrive: LHR 08:40
Seats: 10E and 10F (Euro Traveller – Economy)
Aircraft: Airbus A320-200 (G-EUYC First Flight 25/11/2008)
We quickly dropped our key and checked out of the Moxy and made what felt like the long, long walk past the abandoned check in desks and ticket counters of Terminal 2 following the signs (which at some point proved less than helpful) to Terminal 1. As per usual we used my Bronze status to queue for priority check in. Somehow despite the shorter queue we derived zero benefit as it somehow took longer to move than the standard queue. Perhaps they should do it like Qatar Airways did it for us in HEL where they just made the Economy queue wait, including whilst the check in agent ensured we had the correct stationary and tags for both our boarding passes and bags. I have to say slow check in at the Club desk seems to have been the one ever present at LYS, somehow I always think that next time it will be faster, yet again it never is. Bags dropped and BPs in hand we headed for security, yes it was slow, yes the queues were relatively long but thankfully it was a lifetime away from our last trips through the old Terminal 2 where we’d come close to missing our flight on a number of occasions despite arriving before the check in desks opened. No such drama here and after decanting each one of my electronic items on a separate tray I made it through unscathed with not a beep to my name. There had been one key thing missing that morning, breakfast. With no lounge access we did the only thing we could do, queue up for Starbucks… I know, I know, probably the worst coffee since Seattle’s Best Coffee. It smelt of different times, mornings at St Pancras, working whilst waiting for the train, of friends almost forgotten. At least the nostalgia was working. We accompanied these with some pastries that were at best equivalent to what you’d find in a typical French supermarche but being Starbucks and an airport one at that they were ten times the price. The coffee had thawed the last of the spring chill from my hands and with our gate announced we made a move towards passport control where a man and his new red covered passport was causing some confusion. Passport safely compared and returned we arrived at the gate area and took our seats. I prized the lid from my coffee in an attempt to cool it down as quickly as possible. It was as harsh as I was expecting but still, a long hot cup of Starbucks and a sugary buttery hit of pastry is just what I wanted. Better still I suppose it did sum up the trip nicely…
This is usually the part of the trip where the cabin announcements are a welcome relief after a week of French but that day it didn’t feel that way. Maybe because the coffee had barely kicked in, or maybe it was just that everything other than the journey felt so different this time.
A decade a go we were spoiled with not just a sandwich but also a full drinks service and we used to love BA just for the gin and tonic alone! Whilst there’s no sign of that level of service returning it was nice to have the bottled water and the onboard buy before you board menus don’t look quite so bad these days. In my mind a complementary soft drink and snack might just be the eventual sweet spot on a sub two hour economy flight.
I just about had time for a chapter of the ever cheerful Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari covering his time travelling mostly overland from North Africa to South Africa. Shortly afterwards there were photo opportunities.
We settled in to terminal T5B which for everyone expect me was probably a chore, but the only thing I love more than giant sets of escalators at an airport is a transit train! The T5 one is definitely one of my favourites and in my excitement I blindly jumped on to the first one just as it was about to leave before getting a huge panic that we had gone the wrong way and were going to be stuck airside for the rest of our lives. I mean worse things can happen, but by this point I just wanted to get home! Arriving at security we were in for a shock. We had heard tales of the queue, but at first glance things looked pretty normal. Then we realised we had missed the queue for the queue. I mean what better way to prepare foreigners for a time on our shores or make us little islanders feel happy to be home than a wonderful, glorious queue. Normally one enjoys a left turn when it comes to flying, but on this occasion we soon had second thoughts as one left turn turned into another and another…
We then enjoyed listening to the complaints around us, many of which came from citizens of a country that knows more than a few things about slow moving boarder checks. Despite this and every third person taking the now obligatory my queue’s bigger than your queue selfie the line itself refused to play ball by moving steadily and quickly. The only downside was that I had ended up in a lane with a clearly malfunctioning e-passport gate that sent every person off for a full interrogation. Luckily by the time it got to me it had given up altogether and shut down, luckier still was there was a kind man in the adjacent lane who let me in front of him so I could catch up with Anne-So who had already sailed through. In the end despite the queue we were through in less than half an hour, just in time for our baggage which made its way speedily on to the belt.
That done we blinked our way out from the soothing blue of the baggage hall to the bright lights of arrivals via nothing to declare. It was then down on to the Picadilly line which for once was waiting for us and departed promptly. We bounced our way for 45 minutes to Kings Cross, got off and finally took our train home to Canterbury. It had been a long day already and it was only lunch time! Arriving home we were hungry and after the week I’d had there was a real craving for French food. Côte immediately sprang to mind, steak frites and a glass of wine would have been amazing. Instead we opted for the cheaper option across the road. My steak frites were swapped for an Italian Stack with fries, my red wine for a diet coke. Oh well, it had been that kind of trip.
Somehow after twenty years of back and forth to France it never gets old, though this time it definitely felt like it was pushing middle age. Looking on everything with fresh eyes the whole trip felt decidedly underwhelming, overcrowded or otherwise disappointing. A week in France shouldn’t leave you craving French food, premium travel shouldn’t feel crowded and a night at The Moxy shouldn’t stir your feelings for a holiday. But somehow this is what happens after two long years away, three years since a real holiday, job changes, a new home and a world that has realised that there’s no going back, at least for a while, anyway. For my next trip to France I promise to do better. Club Europe seats are secured, a suite at a five star hotel booked, a fancy Michelin starred restaurant reservation was confirmed as we speak. Thanks for reading, it was good fun to look back but better still to be back in the air.