Airports, one reason why you need valium

Our airport experiences are all without incident, although from time to time the sight of police or soldiers patrolling with guns can be disconcerting.

We have also experienced the odd problem in London at Heathrow, firstly trying to get help from the designated help staff and then to find the check-in desk of an airline apparently no one available knew existed. They were not very good ‘help’ staff.

The fact we couldn’t find the airline counter left us cursing the travel agent. It existed in name, we found it in the phone book and on the internet, but …

The phone rang out – ugh!

The internet site could not be used to check in or manage the booking on the same day as the flight!

Double ugh!

Until a little footwork found the agents desk and the misunderstanding was sorted out.

By the way, the airline itself was a pleasure to fly on, the staff was very helpful and most of all we arrived just before the airport closed. It was odd to discover that some airports closed, particularly Florence. It was the second time we were the last people out and having to turn off the lights. And, because I booked the transfer to the hotel myself, he was there waiting for us!

Holiday over, the joys of visiting relatives we hadn’t seen for a long time, and an unusual but wonderful New Year’s Eve and a wedding two days later, only a flight stands between us and getting home. After days, sometimes weeks, it is that moment we all look forward to; sleeping on our own beds, making our own food and getting to the gym to work off those extra kilos put on by delicious hotel food or local fare where calorie counting is not part of the dining experience.

Of course getting to the airport from the hotel can be an experience in itself whether by taxi, perhaps the taxi driver from hell who knows only two speeds fast and stop and is also, unfortunately, color blind. Or whether you have arranged for a transfer only to discover it’s not coming because the company went out of business or you changed hotels and someone forgot to tell them. Or the travel agent made a mistake or forgot to confirm the booking. Oh yes, it happens.

We have a hire car and will be returning it t the same place. Let’s hope the signage at the airport makes it easy to find the rental place. In London we had a hell of a time trying to find it; good thing we were hours earlier than we should be. In Chicago, the car rental depot was miles from the airport.

And just because the sign says ‘rental returns’ for the lane you’re in it doesn’t necessarily follow it’s the right lane. Then as you miss the exit, and get stuck on the one-way road system, all of a sudden you have left the airport and you’re heading back to the city.

If you’re running late …

But if everything goes to plan you can get to the airport with time to spare.

Searching for locations: We’ve just arrived in Beijing International Airport, China

Instead of making a grand entrance, arriving in style and being greeted by important dignitaries, we are slinking in via an airplane, late at night. It’s hardly the entrance I’d envisaged. At 9:56 the plane touches down on the runway.  Outside the plane, it is dark and gloomy and from what I could see, it had been raining.  That could, of course, simply be condensation.

Once on the ground, everyone was frantically gathering together everything from seat pockets and sending pillows and blankets to the floor.  A few were turning their mobile phones back on, and checking for a signal, and, perhaps, looking for messages sent to them during the last 12 hours. Or perhaps they were just suffering from mobile phone deprivation.

It took 10 minutes for the plane to arrive at the gate. That’s when everyone moves into overdrive, unbuckling belts, some before the seatbelt sign goes off, and are first out of their seats and into the overhead lockers.  Most are not taking care that their luggage may have moved, but fortunately, no bags fall out onto someone’s head. The flight had been relatively turbulent free.

When as many people and bags have squeezed into that impossibly small aisle space, we wait for the door to open, and then the privileged few business and first-class passengers to depart before we can begin to leave. As we are somewhere near the middle of the plane, our wait will not be as long as it usually is.  This time we avoided being at the back of the plane.  Perhaps that privilege awaits us on the return trip.

Once off the plane, it is a matter of following the signs, some of which are not as clear as they could be.  It’s why it took another 30 odd minutes to get through immigration, but that was not necessarily without a few hiccups along the way. We got sidetracked at the fingerprint machines, which seemed to have a problem if your fingers were not straight, not in the center of the glass, and then if it was generally cranky, which ours were, continue to tell you to try again, and again, and again, and again…That took 10 to 15 minutes before we joined an incredibly long queue of other arrivals,

A glance at the time, and suddenly it’s nearly an hour from the moment we left the plane.


That’s when we got to the immigration officer, and it became apparent we were going to have to do the fingerprints yet again.  Fortunately this time, it didn’t take as long.  Once that done, we collected our bags, cleared customs by putting our bags through a huge x-ray machine, and it was off to find our tour guide.

We found several tour guides with their trip-a-deal flags waiting for us to come out of the arrivals hall.  It wasn’t a difficult process in the end.  We were in the blue group.  Other people we had met on the plane were in the red group or the yellow group.  The tour guide found, or as it turned out she found us, it was simply a matter of waiting for the rest of the group, of which there were eventually 28.Gathered together we were told we would be taking the bags to one place and then ourselves to the bus in another.  A glance in the direction of the bus park, there were a lot of busses.

Here’s a thought, imagine being told your bus is the white one with blue writing on the side.

Yes, yours is, and 25 others because all of the tourist coaches are the same.  An early reminder, so that you do not get lost, or, God forbid, get on the wrong bus, for the three days in Beijing, is to get the last five numbers of the bus registration plate and commit them to memory.  It’s important.  Failing that, the guide’s name is in the front passenger window.

Also, don’t be alarmed if your baggage goes in one direction, and you go in another. In a rather peculiar set up the bags are taken to the hotel by what the guide called the baggage porter.  It is an opportunity to see how baggage handlers treat your luggage; much better than the airlines it appears.

That said, if you’re staying at the Beijing Friendship Hotel, be prepared for a long drive from the airport.  It took us nearly an hour, and bear in mind that it was very late on a Sunday night.

Climbing out of the bus after what seemed a convoluted drive through a park with buildings, we arrive at the building that will be our hotel for the next three days.  From the outside, it looks quite good, and once inside the foyer, that first impression is good.  Lots of space, marble, and glass.  If you are not already exhausted by the time you arrive, the next task is to get your room key, find your bags, get to your room, and try to get to be ready the next morning at a reasonable hour.

Sorry, that boat has sailed.

We were lucky, we were told, that our plane arrived on time, and we still arrived at the hotel at 12:52.  Imagine if the incoming plane is late.

This was taken the following morning.  It didn’t look half as bland late at night.

This is the back entrance to Building No 4 but is quite representative of the whole foyer, made completely of marble and glass.  It all looked very impressive under the artificial lights, but not so much in the cold hard light of early morning.

This the foyer of the floor our room was on.  Marble with interesting carpet designs.  Those first impressions of it being a plush hotel were slowly dissipating as we got nearer and nearer to the room.  From the elevator, it was a long, long walk.

So…Did I tell you about the bathroom in our room?

The shower and the toilet both share the same space with no divide and the shower curtain doesn’t reach to the floor.  Water pressure is phenomenal.  Having a shower floods the whole shower plus toilet area so when you go to the toilet you’re basically underwater.

Don’t leave your book or magazine on the floor or it will end up a watery mess.

And the water pressure is so hard that it could cut you in half.  Only a small turn of the tap is required to get that tingling sensation going.

It’s after 1:30 before we finally get to sleep.

As for the bed, well, that’s a whole other story.