Seedy boarding: why priority status means back of the queue.

Short break. South of France. At Nice airport, heading home to Heathrow. It’s hot.
The airport is busy and as we tango past stray travelers with heads tilted towards distant departure boards we see what no traveler wants to see – a mammoth queue at Gate D. Armed with our Priority boarding passes we stride confidently to the front of the queue to exercise our privilege where the grim realisation sets in: this queue IS the priority boarding queue. We cross-check with another traveler already queueing and in a broad Scots accent the worst is confirmed.
angry-crowd-700x432So with a comfortable two hours until take-off we resign ourselves and stand in line behind Scotty who is now muttering about disgraceful service and the diminishing minutes he has until his flight is due to leave to anyone who can listen or understand.
We watch as fresh arrivals make our mistake. They slow to scan the queue, raised eyebrows, dropped jaws, head to the front, are appraised of the situation then shuffle despondently to the ever-receding back of the growing snake. Their assumed superiority deflating visibly as they do.
More fresh arrivals gather at the head of our queue and start to form their own queue. Priority-priority status is catching on. The new branch grows and the arguments start. Scotty is having none of it. He strides over to the super-privileged, his Crocs squeaking on the marble floor and his baggy cargo shorts swinging generously around his pale legs and he lets them have it.  He explodes, pointing to the back of the queue, waving his gold card and the new queue mostly dissolves.
But the fight is not over for one Well-Heeled Couple and we watch as they enter negotiations with the front of the queue. This couple are not giving in without a fight and against all odds we see them merge and finally disappear into the top of the line.
Scotty is now on the phone to British Airways, his glasses balanced impossibly on his sweating snout which he wrinkles to keep them there, baring a cargo of yellowing teeth. BA, who are a thousand miles away promise unconvincingly to look into the matter.
So, finally, we are ten check-ins from the front and Scotty is looking happier. But the cruelest cut is yet to come. The desk attendant raises an arm and asks the queue for Gatwick passengers who break out from behind us like lottery winners and charge past to the check-in desk pushing us from 10th to 30th in a flash.
When we get through (an hour later) we see Scotty and well-heeled couple standing eagerly among others at the boarding gate. The flight is announced, their tickets torn and they head towards the bus.  Now, arriving first on a bus puts you at a disadvantage. You get a seat, yes but when it comes to disembarking, it’s first on, last off.
Scotty and Well-Heeled Couple only realise this when the bus is full and lurches towards the plane. After what appears to be an eternity, the closed doors hiss open releasing many passengers who checked in way later than them.  They burst from their seats, necks craning towards the now fully-stacked boarding steps as if unwilling to accept their very public relegation.
On board, we all settle in, bags are loaded and we are embalmed with a cocktail of humid air and perfume.  Karma is served in the form of a 90-minute delay on the scorching tarmac. Some read, some chat, some drink and kids scream.  Scotty, meanwhile, is back on the phone to BA.
But we do leave, albeit late, and the waiting becomes history.  Priority boarding queue issues blur into the pleasure of returning home. Tired but on terra firma, we collect our bags from the carousel.
As I leave the baggage collection area I smile at Scotty and Well-Heeled Couple, who, hot, cross and expectant, are still waiting for their bags.
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Mykonos in 60 seconds

Lighthouse skyMrs G. and I are just back from Mykonos, part of the Cyclades group of islands that pepper the Southern Aegean Sea about 100 miles south east of Athens.  But enough geography.

Like so  many Mediterranean Greek islands it was invaded by Romans, Venetians and Ottomans all of whom left numerous cultural and archaeological graffiti before heading off to plunder somewhere else. Fully restored to Greek ownership, the streets are now thankfully back to Cerulean blue and white.

More recently, it’s become a tourist honeypot with cruise liners paying £50k for a one-night mooring.  Each day, their numerous overloaded tenders plough over to the quayside looking like Albanian refugee boats bristling with selfie-sticks. They disgorge flocks of currency-laden day-trippers who quickly become prey to the patient yet adept local restaurant hustlers.

Mykonos town is a maze of tiny cobbled streetlets barely two selfie-sticks wide.  Maps exist but are unhelpful due to the irregularity and similarity of every corner.  Invaders, I was told, found the town impossible to attack for this very reason.  Today, between a cacophony of jewelry shops there’s big-brand shopping and super-fine dining at sky-high prices – think Bond Street, shrunk in a hot wash.  With selfie sticks…

But it’s a pretty island; offering more photo-opportunities than a royal wedding. The sunsets are heroic, the beaches are clean and the locals are genuinely very welcoming. Food-wise we found and loved Kounelas a courtyard fish restaurant in central Mykonos town (choose your own fish from the kitchen) and Kiki’s Taverna in the more remote North of the island, no power, no light or broadband, just a fire pit with sizzling chicken and unfeasibly big pork chops plus a salad bar all overseen the big man and owner Vasilis who gives you free booze until a table becomes available.

If you’re on a budget go to Paragas, the fishnchips end of the island with 25 euro sunbeds and a few nervous nudists. Pale and probably from Sheffield, they glower at you until you take your kit off.  If you’re loaded then go to Panormos and after hiring your bed for the day at 90 euros, shop in Principote where I was offered a pair of sunglasses for 600 euros. No thanks.

Visit in May (sea cold) or September (sea warm) to avoid the crowds and enjoy Mikonos for three days max then catch a ferry to nearby Ikaria, Paros or Naxos to become an island hopper and broaden your Cyclades knowledge.

See also Bruges in 60 secondsRome in 60 seconds, Barcelona in 60 secondsCyprus in 60 seconds and Mallorca in 60 seconds

Bruges in 60 seconds

Bruges in 60 seconds

How come Belgians aren’t fat?

Bruges, Belgium’s medieval jewel, “Venice of the North”, is home to a thousand chocolate shops, too many famous artists to mention and Wally de Backer, better known as the pop star, er, Gotye.  (no, nor have I). Here, when you are tired of chocolate, you eat chips, mayo, waffles, cream, egg nog (Advocaat),  drink copious amounts of Trappist Beer (around 6-14% alcohol) or a bewildering variety of locally made Gins, Vodkas and weirder spirits.

We stayed in The Dukes’ Palace, super-central, flawless 5* Gaff.  Actually, most of the multiple hotels and BnBs are super-central; you can walk from one side of town to the other in about half an hour.

Bruges is small, pretty, ancient, friendly, free of crime, with confusingly planned cobbled streets connecting the many churches and squares all of which are delicately lit at night.bruges shops night.jpg

Art: we stood in awe before Hieronymus Bosch’s Last Judgement, a kind of Dali-esque depiction of both Heaven and Hell and we admired one of the finest collections of Bruge’s own welshman Frank Brangwyn. God: We genuflected before the Blood of Christ himself in the Basilica.  Food: we ate at Patrick Devos (fabulous and expensive) and Poules Moules (fun and cheap) and drank Brugse Zot beer (6%) with three brothers from Leeds whilst watching Scotland beat Wales at rugby in Delaney’s Irish Bar.

It’s hard to find fault with this lovely little town only 3 hours away by Eurostar (via Brussels).  But like the taxi driver said, watch out for cyclists and above all the horse-drawn carriages who could all use an visit to driving school.

See also Rome in 60 seconds, Barcelona in 60 secondsCyprus in 60 seconds and Mallorca in 60 seconds

More comebacks than Simply Red?

More comebacks than Simply Red?

Last week I visited La Colombe D’or, a beautiful little Hotel in the hilltop fortress town of St Paul de Vence, half an hour north of Nice on the Cote D’Azur.  Lucky old me.

Colombe dor figtree windowIt’s a unique place; quaint, gorgeous and special with history in every nook and cranny. Outside, fat-boughed fig-trees shade the worn stone floors and tall, clipped Cyprus stand guard by the pool.  Inside hang paintings by an army of famous French artists and sculptors: Picasso (he paid for his stay with two pictures) Leger, Chagall, Matisse and many others.  It’s artisan chic.

It’s also a paradox; poor furniture, small, basic rooms (although comfortable) and a menu that has remained unchanged since the year dot would send most Hotels to the bottom of the league.  But Colombe D’or (that’s Golden Dove not Golden Column, stupid) is a haunt for celebs (Kate Moss and Roger Moor are regulars) and the adman community who have built its reputation over many, many decades and probably will for many decades to come.

Colombe dor poolService is brusque and waiters perform impossible pirouettes through narrow corridors and between tables.  The food is good without being amazing (go to Les Terraillers in nearby Biot for that) but still the people return. I spoke to one guest who was on his 45th visit.  Cannes Festival-goers flock there for respite and multiple bottles of the Provençale rose wine Minuty.

As we kick back by the jade-green pool after a long, lazy lunch in the shaded dining yard, all at once it’s 1931 and I glimpse the ghost of founder Paul Roux and his wife Baptistine negotiating a bar bill with Pablo Picasso…

Rome in sixty seconds (or ruined in Rome)

I can’t believe it’s taken me 58 years to discover Rome.  Bursting with history, fashion and restaurants, it’s a magnet for geeks, trend-setters and foodies alike.  Most towns can offer history but nowhere is it so evident as in Rome.  It’s all around you.  I saw chunks of Roman masonry stacked away in an old stone arch (itself probably as old) counting the centuries while patiently awaiting a place in the catalogs of the next generation of tired archaeologists.Rome pano.jpg

The town is big enough to offer huge variety (the backstreets of Trastevere vs. opulence of The Vatican) yet small enough to be largely navigable by foot.  We walked from The Bee Fountain in Piazza Barberini (1625) to the Colosseum (AD 72) via the relatively modern (1925) but no less impressive Altare Della Patria – two millennia in less than an hour.  Warpspeed.

Holy Seagull
A holy seagull at The Vatican

The top-line attractions however are victims of their own popularity and can be mobbed by selfie-stick wielding turisti and a swarm of multi-lingual, self-appointed VIP guides whose ecclesiastical knowledge could be written on a bible marker.  Premium “skip the line” tickets are available which are a good idea, but like Easyjet early-boarding they attract the wrong type of tourists and earn scorn from the 3-hour queue-ers.  No doubt soon there will be skip the skip-the-line tickets and skiptheskiptheskiptheskiptheline tickets too – I could go on.

Italy’s economic position is shaky and it’s future is uncertain but Rome seems healthy enough with plenty of premium retail going on.  We sampled a little of it with a cocktail on the roof terrace of The Sofitel Hotel whose sunset views over The Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese are pretty much unsurpassed.  Then we ate Truffles and lobster at Ad Hoc in Via di Ripetti. I can only hope that the exorbitant cost of these luxuries staves off the Italians’ fiscal collapse for a little longer.

See also Cyprus in sixty seconds and Barcelona in sixty seconds

Cyprus in sixty seconds

An island of two halves, we just spent 10 days in the half (well, 65%) which is Greek Cyprus. We were hosted by Greek Cypriot and firm friend Stavros and his lovely wife Maroulla in Larnaca but with a loaned Honda plus a free beach villa we got to see a lot from the glamorous Anassa hotel in Latchi in the West to the listening posts of Cape Grecko and fleshpots of Agia Napa in the East via the Turkish front line in Nicosia.

Looking towards Kythrea from bunker in Nicosia

Sharing a holiday in Cyprus with a native is a unique experience.  One is as obliged to learn the history. Stav fought for independence and was wounded in 1974 and we saw his village (Kythrea) from the border as we stood on a bunker in Nicosia to view it. We felt his pain.

Cypriots are friendly; each citizen has a thousand cousins all of whom will invite you to dinner.  A barby for a Cypriot involves a whole sheep and a Fish Meze will feed a small platoon for a week. Eating is obligatory at all times.

The Venetians got thirsty too

Cloudless blue skies bore a fierce sun and running conditions were not ideal as midday temp was around 40 degrees every day but I managed one early morning sortie (temp a cool 27 degrees at 6.30am) which took in a Venetian aqueduct and a bamboo forest skirting a massive salt lake. http://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/view/132811263

There was much talk of property and many Cypriots (those that can) buy or inherit plots for themselves or their children.  Land and property prices have soared since the troubles but the rental market is in the doldrums.  Cyprus has some amazing beaches (many of the best ones in the Turkish North) and if you take the trouble to go inland to the mountains you can ski in winter on Troodos Mountain or pick cherries there in spring.

Shrimpers on the salt lake

When you’ve explored a little history inland check out top hotels Anassa in Latchi and Grecian Park at Konnos Beach near Protaras. Shop in Nicosia but never at midday.  Eat Koulouri bread and fish meze at Zephyros in Larnaca. Drink Keo beer followed by Zivania and party till dawn at Agia Napa.  Smile and say “Yasas” a lot.