PC 144 From snow and ice to tropical warmth

Travel in the winter in the UK is always weather-dependent and no more so if you’re booked to fly to Rio de Janeiro, departing 1125 on the penultimate day of January. When it’s good and the traffic flows, this 65 mile trip normally takes 90 minutes from our apartment, minutes from the sea in Hove. Part of the journey is around the London Orbital Ring Road, known officially as the M25 and unofficially at times as a carpark. Add the peak traffic times of 0630-0900 into the mix, throw in a weather forecast of snow and sub-zero temperatures and suddenly you start to look for an alternative. Suffice to say, after many telephones calls, we secure a room for the night before our flight at the Thistle Hotel at the North West corner of the airport runway and Jon is happy to drive us. BA’s Terminal 5 actually has its own hotel, operated by Sofitel: just roll out of bed and roll across the concourse to check-in? Well, if you want to part with £325 and if you’re quick enough; it was fully booked!

The Thistle does what it says on the tin; clean, comfy bed and bathroom, good soundproofing and somewhere to eat. You could niggle about the fact that the bathroom door scrapes against the loo, or that the loo roll holder has been positioned so close to the receptacle that you have a choice, sit askew or accept the loo roll is wedged into your flank, but actually it is OK. Like all places where the majority of its occupants only stay one night, the ambience needs to be pumped in through the air conditioning. I see some of the minority, those in huddled groups enjoying, for example, an ‘off-site’ meeting to discuss managing ‘work from home’, or some-such. All the delightful male staff seem to be related and have a look of a Bradford-born Asian; the females, equally delightful, for some reason are no taller than 5 feet; so weird it’s noticeable!!

The Thistle Hotel has a POD (Passenger On Demand) service that runs to Terminal 5; sounds very space age! Leaving the hotel you make your way to the station, a driverless pod arrives at your beck and call and whisks you to the terminal in 5 minutes – for £5 per person. “Go through the door opposite Reception (marked Car Park A) and follow the green path and signs to T5 Pod. When you reach the steel gate enter your 4 digit code followed by the # key. Turn left and look for Station B.” Blah blah!


Wonderful if you don’t have luggage for a year, or in this case simply going back to see Celina’s Ma …… and having responded to the ‘Can you bring some …… and some …..?’ and then of course gifts for cousin’s birthday or friend’s baby. With four big suitcases as well as ‘carry on’ and no trolley in sight, we rely on Imran, an ancient grey haired Pakistani who should have had his slippers on and feet up a long time ago, to take us in his taxi; job done.

Why do I always believe the ‘bargain’ labels on scent bottles? Seems hugely expensive, a small bottle of Gucci something or D&G …… but I do because it’s Duty Free (really?) Up to the BA lounge, where James and Daphne, manning the entry desk, are too busy chatting to each other to even look up. James senses us approach,  puts out a hand, imagines I am going to place my boarding pass in it, which I do (!), scans it and waves us through. A zero score for customer service!

The lounge offers every sort of snack, mainly of the breakfast variety, and drink. I suppose passengers using the lounge are from the four corners of our globe and maybe on a different body clock, but seeing people drink a glass of red wine at 0945 looks strange. The waitress staff shuffle silently between the little tables, clearing, wiping, asking ‘Is this finished Sir?’, succeeding wonderfully to be unobtrusive but extremely efficient. I wonder where all these people are going, or if in transit where they have come from and going on to, such is the nature of an international airport hub. Unless there’s a delay ….. “The 1100 flight to Manchester is delayed due to snow. Please listen for further announcements.” ……. flight departure notifications are no longer made (thank God) so there is no way of knowing  …. unless you overhear other’s conversations!

I go off to buy a book and come back to find 64 year Professor Marjorie Styles has unplugged her iPhone from the charging socket, switched off her iPad and left for the New York flight whilst David Winthrop, sitting two seats over from the professor, has also departed; actually he had looked as though he’d shuffled off his mortal coil some time ago, poor chap, so I was relieved to see there was life! Their replacements in the row of seats opposite, a ‘creative’ rather pleased with himself and a serious, bespectacled, earnest 40 something reading the Financial Times, are equally observable; I just didn’t get their names!!

Outside brilliant winter sun blazes down on the Heathrow apron and there’s that constant movement of planes, some landing, some taxiing, some lifting off into the cold air. We go to our gate, board and join them, first moving to the de-icing area then taxiing to the end of the runway for take-off. In addition to the normal in-flight announcements in English about what to do should we land on water etc, I am surprised to hear it repeated ……. in Spanish! You probably know that all the Latin American countries speak Spanish apart from Brazil, which was originally a Portuguese colony. Even though the languages are vaguely similar, it seemed totally wrong; like flying to Stockholm and having the second announcement in Danish!

Twenty minutes later we’re over the Isle of Wight ……….


Hours later the Mauritanian part of the Western Sahara looks like this ………


After 11½ hours in the air, the gentle kiss of the wheels onto the apron of Rio’s Galeão Aeroporto Internacional Tom Jobim announces our arrival. We disembark into the tropical evening heat of 36 C at 2130. Quite a contrast to London’s Heathrow!

Richard 8th February 2019

PS Rio de Janeiro endured an extreme tropical storm on Wednesday (6th) night; six people died and landslips and flooding are widespread. No power and no water. You can guess the subject of the next postcard!

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