Did life exist outside of the immediate environs of the local streets? A few months ago I drove to see my daughter for the first time since Christmas and outside of the city boundaries I marvelled at how little seemed to have changed over six months – why would it? “But oh! That’s still there!” The trees were all with blossom and the hedges covered with white hawthorn. So spring-like …. life beginning to return.
White Hawthorn by the roadside
It has been a long time coming, this idea we could get on an airplane and jet off somewhere. The last time had been to Estoril in Portugal last summer and, thwarted at both Christmas and Easter, we started crossing fingers and toes and everything else that our summer trip to Estoril could go ahead. Nothing was certain – we knew that the Portuguese airline TAP was not flying from our local Gatwick Airport after a number of tantalising searches – it appeared that it might have flown if there were enough people who wanted to fly and then only once a week and if that didn’t happen then bad luck and back to square one. So we tried British Airways, accepting that they don’t fly to Lisbon out of Gatwick so we would need to get to Heathrow. Not wanting to get up at sparrow fart we booked a flight in the afternoon and absorbed all the guidance and regulatory changes that came and went like a whore’s drawers.
We established that we needed to have a pre-flight Covid test and that we booked at Gatwick Airport; about the only thing that was functioning there! Then BA cancelled our flight. They had a funny way to communicating what could have been devastating news; they told us the flight we were booked on was cancelled in one email and then a few minutes later, once our spirits were well and truly down in the dumps, emailed to say they had booked us on an early flight on the same day. The smiles returned!
This earlier flight required an overnight stay somewhere around the airport as with Check-In at 0530, the alternative was leaving Hove at 0345, not being sure whether it was a late night or an early morning. Our preferred hotel would have been the Sofitel Hotel adjacent to Terminal 5, from whence we were departing the following day. Sadly Covid Quarantineers had taken all the rooms so we ended up at the Marriott Hotel on Bath Road.
Our journey from Hove was in a taxi driven by Del, an Albanian whose sister lives on Corfu. He’s a nice chap and we compared, with mask-muffled voices, Covid stories on the way to the hotel. His country has a reputation for fierce family honour and rivalry, and criminality; fortunately Del is as straight as a die!
At the Marriott Hotel Kristina, behind the Reception Desk, had that very prominent Eastern European accent and offered, when asked, that she came from Moldova. I am reasonably geographically-literate but couldn’t immediately place Moldova.
What did come to mind was the name of that great raconteur Peter Ustinov! It seemed the sort of place he would have been involved in or even from, possibly an Ambassador in some film! Actually his father was of Russian, German, Polish and Ethiopian Jewish descent, while his mother had French, German, Italian and Russian blood. He was born in Swiss Cottage, London in 1921; so not Moldovan! But I knew Moldova had been a former Soviet Republic and used Google Earth to establish it’s sandwiched between Romania to its west and Ukraine to its east. It’s one of the poorest countries in Europe so Kristina was maybe better off here in the UK?
Having settled into our room we ventured down to the only place to eat, a Carluccio’s on the ground floor. From 1999, Antonio Carluccio had built up a chain of some 70 restaurants serving ‘authentic Italian cuisine’, but it had gone into administration in March 2020. Some 30 outlets and 800 jobs were saved when Giraffe and Ed’s Easy Diner’s owner BRG bought the chain.
The manager greeted us and as he showed us to our table, explained they were just getting used to the Carluccio franchise and asked us to comment after our meal. Marta took our order: Bruschetta for Celina and a steak for me. Airport hotel restaurants always have a funny collection of diners, us included I guess (!), most presumably flying off somewhere or maybe just arrived? My comments to the hotel went like this: “Bread and cold salad-dressed tomatoes, not a Basil leaf in sight, no brush of garlic and no suggestion of warmth, does not equal Bruschetta. My steak was meant to have a ‘garnish of rocket’ – I am always a little suspicious when I read ‘garnish’ as it’s so much an after-thought – sure enough the rocket had probably died the day before – limp, going slightly brown. Later, Marta had told me the ‘bread & butter pudding’ was made from chocolate and croissant; ‘What’s not to like?’, I thought. It needed 20 seconds or so in the microwave to unfreeze it – cold and stolid! They thanked me for being honest and gave me 6000 Marriott bonus points!
An expensive electric Jaguar
We booked a cab for 0500 to take us the short hop to Terminal 5. The all-electric Jaguar was a delight although our driver said he didn’t use it for long journeys as its range was limited. He lived locally, started work at 0230 and was all finished by lunchtime! Suddenly we were at T5 and paying the £15 for a ten minute ride – worth getting up at 0100 for perhaps?
Did we have the right documentation and/or QR Codes at check-in? Fortunately we seemed to be OK …. and joked to the lady whether anyone filled their 32kg suitcase allowance . She and her colleague started giggling, listing the items people put in their suitcases ….. for instance, potatoes if flying to Ghana, microwaves …….
We grabbed some breakfast in the lounge, having to order through the QR Reader, picked up some duty free and made our way to the gate.
We took off on time, flew out over Hayling and Thorney Islands and Chichester Harbour,
The Isle of Wight on the right, with Hayling & Thorney Islands above the engine
had a tail wind that shortened our flight time by 30 minutes and landed early.
The Tagus estuary with Estoril & Cascais top centre. You can see the wooded hills around Sintra on the horizon and then it’s the Atlantic coast.
Fifty minutes later we were in Estoril. Good to be here!
Richard 30th July 2021
PS Those slippers referred to in PC 220 of March had been returned to Hove, despite me writing to the Portuguese Prime Minister, who had the good grace to reply! They were in my luggage this time and now where they should have been in November, with my mother-in-law!