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...