Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Very seldom do I find myself in agreement with the barely literate John Howarth (prop., Public Impact Ltd, doughty campaigner for Tory victories in Reading), but here I am, more or less.  I'm a keen traveller, will probably die not having been to enough of the world.  In recent years most of my travel has been within Europe.  However, at the end of this month sig other and I are flying to Australia for a long-awaited visit of four weeks.  So, long haul.  Mr Howarth has views about the airport experience in the UK, and he is not far wrong.  We, however, are flying from Paris to Sydney via Shanghai.  I have changed planes in Paris (Charles de Gaulle, never called that by French people, to whom it is known as Roissy) twice in my life, and both times my luggage didn't come with me.  Also, airport staff are rude and unpleasant.  But it is Paris, so what would you expect?

It is a peculiarly British trope, not just to complain but to say, almost with pride, that the (in this case airport) experience in Britain is the worst in the world.  Er, in the case of airports, no it is not.  For a gloomy, depressing environment and no staff available who know anything about anything I give you Zvartnots airport, Yerevan, Armenia (my luggage got lost there too).  For bad smells and no refreshments I give you Male, Maldives.  For disgusting toilets try Seoul, Korea (but that was in the 1980s).  For rude, thuggish behaviour and excessive and ineffective security, try Kyiv, Ukraine.  My personal favourites are Stuttgart, Germany, and Riga, Latvia.  However, all the above are small airports, and with the probable exception of Stuttgart are not world travel hubs.  Stuttgart seems to take all Germans on holiday.  Rimini, Kos, Antalya, you get the picture.

My recent travels in Europe have been more by train than by air (why fly if you don't need to?  It doesn't really take longer by train when you add in the time getting to and waiting at the airport) and not all in the EU.  One of my favourite moments was in a sleeping car last year on what is still called Yugoslav National Railways at 5 am, when burly Serbian border guards (all border guards are burly, I think there's a law) burst in and poked their weapons into sleeping sig other's face, demanding that I wake him up (not as easy as you'd think) so they could be sure I wasn't accompanying a corpse. Anyway, in the EU and other places (Norway - also a favourite though would be nice if it were a bit cheaper - Switzerland etc) I travel carrying my British passport but almost never needing to show it.  Until I get to the UK, when I have to join a queue with a bunch of Foreigners.  Which of course I am these days, too.  And not being in Schengen has been SO effective in reducing illegal immigration to the UK, hein?

Well, I will update on the Australia journey and experience when the time comes.  Am especially looking forward to crossing to Tasmania by sea.  And am glad to be out of gloomy Alsace in November.  The trees are spectacular now, but will soon be bare.  In Australia it will be spring, moving into summer.  It has been so odd not to be mugging up useful phrases in the language when preparing for travel.  What do you mean they speak English there?  Croatian, Greek, Mandarin and Vietnamese too I am told.  To say nothing of the many languages of the first inhabitants.

When we get back I plan to start the process of sig other and I applying for French citizenship.  In July next year we will have lived here for five years, it's time to do it.  We want the vote.  And both of us can now pass the language test.  I am looking forward to standing under the tricolore and pledging allegiance to Liberte Egalite Fraternite.  Things I thought I'd never do...


Anonymous said...

Good things to pledge to.

Barcelona is my favourite airport.

Luton is my mosted hated.

Anonymous said...

Getting to and from the airports is also a problem.
As someone said - "Isn't modern air travel wonderful. Breakfast in London, lunch at London Airport".

enitharmon said...

I have to say I have encountered many British people being rude and unpleasant in Paris (and elsewhere) but I have yet to encounter a Parisian being rude and unpleasant there.

Anonymous said...

Re Mr H's post - is a flight from Australia to London that stops at Singapore really a "direct" flight?

Augustus Carp said...

I was surprised when I caught a taxi to go to “Gare du Nord” and the driver insisted that I had said “Charles de Gaulle”. My French is poor, but not that bad!

Julian Walker said...

Regarding the Schengen agreement: yes it is high time the UK (and Ireland) signed up.

Having grown up during the Cold war years of the 1970s, I find it highly ironic that I can now travel freely across much of the former Iron Curtain - but I still have to queue up and get permission to be let into my own country.

dreamingspire said...

Traveling by train rather than air across mainland Europe, you may be right to do. But start in the UK anywhere more than 50 miles from central London (except for those living in Kent) and, if you don't have to use London Heathrow, air is much better. Ken Livingstone on BBC Radio 4 this week said the best way to go to Paris is by rail (he actually said it in a more robust manner), but its not true from, say, Brum or Manchester or Bristol, on both time and cost criteria.