Travel Travails Continued-

Last week I described the tangled web of bureaucracy involved in preparations for travel in these plague-ridden times. I’d ploughed through the covid vaccination pass instructions, overcome the troubling and confusing business of ordering tests and ascertained the whereabouts of the mysterious ‘drop boxes’. I’d purchased our tests for return. I’d written a timetable for us to ensure we do the correct things in the right order on the appropriate days leading up to departure and on our return. I was not feeling confident or smug, but I was feeling I’d done as much as I was able to get us prepared.

The plague feels like it’s lasted a long time, now. Does anyone elase out there long for the days when, if we wished to step beyond the confines of our own, squidgy little island we could just bag a passport and go? It’s bad enough for Husband and me, that we also have to be mindful of carting along the correct medications and in the right quantities [as contingency, you understand] as we get older and more decrepit.

This is all before we even begin to think about packing anything. Normally, at this time of year we’d be jetting off somewhere hot, for winter sun, a chance to loll about on a lounger sipping something cool and delicious. It’s always tricky packing for an extreme temperature change and we’ve come adrift before on our return, freezing to death on a frosty station, waiting for a train to come. This time, because we’re travelling to a notoriously cold place we’ll be all prepared, or at least I do hope so!

News today [Tuesday] has it that the return-from-abroad tests are being dropped. I begin to feel incensed that I’ve bought them, until I see they’re to be dropped from the day we return. We’ll still need to do pre-flight PCR tests and find out about the pre-return ‘passenger locator forms’.

Owing to changes to our flights by that highly-rated, luxurious airline, Easyjet, we’ve had to jiggle the dates of our trip. Easyjet saw fit to change our return flights to a different airport from our departure one. I wonder which operative thought this would be a good idea? Fly from Gatwick, London and return to Luton, many miles away…Suppose we’d opted to drive to airport?

Our flights on Monday morning are indecently early, at 8.00am, meaning Sunday trains, a hotel stay and a rude awakening, which provokes a frisson of anxiety. The time window for the PCR fit-to-fly tests is 72 hours, but 48 hours needs to be reserved for the results to come back to us. I’ve worked out that if we do the tests, register them and drop them off at the fabled ‘drop-off’ box nearest to us we should just about get the results before we depart for the airport- provided everything goes as the company, Randox, suggests. Hmmm…

For now, though I’m turning my attention towards all things warn and cosy. My Peruvian hat with flaps has arrived, I have my fleecy lined walking trousers and sufficient thermal layers for the ascent of Everest [no, we’re not going there!]. If we don’t get off the ground, one thing is guaranteed- I’ll be warm enough for the journey home!

Shetland. Sumburgh.

Having looked at the north of Shetland, we leave Deltings Marina at Brae and head south towards Sumburgh. We’ve booked to stay at the Sumburgh Hotel- not in a room, but in our van, hooked up to one of several points in their roomy car park.

On the way we get to drive across Sumburgh Airport runway, which would be unnerving were it not for warning lights on the road. We stop to look at a historic, bronze age encampment just beyond the runway, although due to closure we can only look from the fence.

Opposite the airport, and out of sight but not earshot, is a curving, white-sand beach with barely another soul on it. Today is warm and sunny and we opt for a couple of hours enjoying the weather and the view, which takes in Sumburgh Head, topped with a lighthouse. From time to time a plane or a helicopter glides across, otherwise it’s peaceful and pleasant.

We make our way to the Sumburgh Hotel, where we are to stay and given that there’s nobody around we park up and plug in. We’ve reserved a table for dinner. There’s a sudden invasion of flies and they’re everywhere, prompting us to close the van up and fight back with swats. Later they are also plaguing the hotel restaurant, for which the waiter apologises.

In the morning we take the van up towards the car park near the top of Sumburgh Head and find it packed with vehicles so we park further down and walk up the sloping path. There are fewer visitors than the jam-packed car park suggests so perhaps many are not willing to climb up to the lighthouse. But it is worth the effort. Peering over the low wall there is a sheer rock-face and far below, a large outcrop protruding from the waves, almost covered in chattering, squabbling razorbills.

We continue on up and through a gate, up to where there is a wall and a viewing platform. There are a few others standing on the platform or by the wall and they are all looking at the same thing. Husband gets to the wall first then turns and beckons me, grinning. I can just about see over the wall and I get to see what is attracting all the attention. In the sheer, rocky wall there are small crevices and ledges, and from the crevices Puffins are emerging to stand in the sunshine. We are close, although behind the wall. The Puffins stand around nonchalently, preening or simply gazing out to sea. It’s as if they’re paid to do shifts for the spectators. While they’re unperturbed by we humans, they quickly withdraw into their holes when gulls swoop a little low over them.

At last we tear ourselves away and go on to take a look at the views and the lighthouse. On the way back down, as we reach the Puffin spot we stop to chat to the RSPB man, who’s tasked with recruiting subscribers today. I agree to listen if he’ll take some publicity leaflets for The Conways at Earthsend: Amazon.co.uk: Deans, Jane: 9781784659615: Books, which he does! Over the wall a cheeky Puffin is nearer still, posing like a pro.

Next to the hotel is Jarlshof, an ancient site that has housed stone age, bronze age and Vikings in its time. It’s extensive and well preserved and we spend some time there before we leave.

Our stop for the night is at Cunningsburgh, halfway back to Lerwick, another small marina site but with outstanding kitchen and showers.It’s away from the village, which seems to be flung all over the place, but we’ve noticed a sign for ‘designer knitwear’ en route, so we’re planning to stop and take a look.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

When the High Tide of Expectation Drops to a Catastrophic Low

The research took some time. It was tricky finding a suitable date, near enough to the actual big day plus an itinerary that would be acceptable. It had been impossible to find a Rhine cruise that allowed us to drive overland to the embarkation point, so I’d had to select flights then change them [at a cost] because they were at some obscene hour of the morning like 6.30am. A 6.30am flight, as I pointed out to the lady on the phone hardly constituted a birthday treat, especially as airports these days require you to be there two hours before take-off. This would be 4.30am. 4.30am!
Then there was the complimentary taxi to the airport, which would need to collect us at 2.30am. 2.30am! How would anyone manage this? Would you sleep beforehand, retiring at a ridiculous hour then getting up at 1.30? Or would you stay up and be almost comatose for the first couple of days of the trip?
No. I changed the flights. I reserved a room at the Heathrow Hilton. The taxi would take us to Heathrow at a respectable hour of the afternoon, we’d check in to the hotel and enjoy a leisurely meal, get a decent night’s sleep and be at terminal 5 at around 8.30am for a 10.30am flight. Sorted.
Husband had chosen a Rhine cruise as his birthday treat. These days there is precious little ‘stuff’ that he wants or needs, and being a man, if he wants or needs something he gets it. As regular readers know, Husband, that character who features in many posts, had a particular milestone birthday two weeks ago and as a result had an entire post written about him…
I’d been startled by his choice of a cruise, as we are great avoiders of such holidays [this, reader has also been much documented on Anecdotage], but river cruises are as unlike sea cruises as cycling is to motor bikes. The boats are not vast, floating monstrosities and passengers must not endure days and days at sea getting stuffed with gargantuan meals, enduring endless, tedious cabarets, ‘dressing’ for dinners and making small talk with those with whom they are incarcerated. The modest cruise boat makes frequent stops at places you can walk around and the ambience is casual. There would always be something to see, even from the cabin. We’d have begun at Amsterdam and finished at Basle. I was frustrated that we’d had to fly such a short distance [Amsterdam is a city that can be driven to in a day from Dunkirk] but when the detailed itinerary arrived in the post it looked thrilling. We’d be stopping each day at beautiful, historic places and get walking tours, as well as travelling through the beautiful Rhine gorge and seeing the Lorelei rock.

I bought new suitcases [ours hailing from a bygone era], bought shoes, organised, laundered, ironed, primed the neighbours.

‘You should see this’ Husband informed me as I returned from shopping. It was an email from the river cruise holiday company to the effect that they were changing the itinerary to mostly coach travel. This was due to a lack of water in the Rhine. He [and I] never at any point wished to embark on a coach tour. I cancelled.

I must admit to feeling slightly nauseous [yes, yes I realise it is a ‘first world’ issue].

We packed our camper van and drove off to the beautiful Isle of Purbeck, 30 miles away from our home and parked in the sunshine overlooking the hillside at Corfe Castle. We strode out over the hills and enjoyed the breath-taking views of our lovely Dorset coast. I stopped feeling bereaved.

Out in the van, we are never disappointed. Yes, there are sometimes challenges or difficulties. Yes, we must make the odd meal, wash up, empty various tanks. But we are not dependent on flights, hotels, plans others have made.

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Next week Fiction Month begins! Check in to Anecdotage for fresh, new fiction…

Flights of Fancy [not]

To fly anywhere these days requires surrendering yourself to a surreal experience in which you are engulfed in a dystopian world and required to submit to various practices which never occur in your normal, day-to-day life.

First you must access the airport. If you drive there you must take your vehicle to one of countless, vast car parks marked with ‘bays’. Your vehicle is spookily ‘recognised’ and allowed in. You wait in a remote shelter for a shuttle bus, which exists solely for the purpose of car park to airport, airport to car park.

If you arrive by public transport you may stay in an airport hotel. They are strange, anonymous tower blocks accommodating all nationalities, everyone staying for just one night, the hospitality focused on food, drink and sleep-with TV and WIFI thrown in and, of course a shuttle bus to the terminal. In your room, which has a view over the access road, the car park or a petrol station you may be prey to gabbling in foreign tongues as they impregnate the thin walls separating you from next door. There are rumblings as suitcases are trundled along the carpeted corridors and feverish key card insertions. Your dreams are punctuated by strange roars and muffled voices.

Next morning you rise up, shower in your en-suite [serviceable], down a quick cup of tea and trundle your own case to the lift, where you descend to the lobby. Others pulling cases may join you. It is early. Almost everyone is silent, save for the bus driver, who greets with an almost indecent jollity. There is a diverse assortment of luggage, from gargantuan, shiny designer to old, battered, market-for-peanuts [ours]. The bus rattles around the hotels collecting travellers then on to the terminal to spew you all out.

You claw your case from the rack and traipse with it and everyone else, following the yellow arrows to ‘departures’. You locate your ‘check-in’ from the screen [what did they do before screens?]. You join a long, meandering queue penned in with webbing, in which you shuffle and shuffle, shifting your wheelie case a few inches at a time towards the check-in desk.

At last you gain the desk and an unsmiling, efficient check-in clerk who scrutinises your paperwork in a brusque way and affixes labels to your case, now lolling on the scales before you bid it goodbye-praying that you may meet again at your destination.

Lightened of your burden, you join the next queue for another shuffle to be relieved of your belt, your shoes and your dignity as you are scanned and deemed non-threatening enough to fly. You are then released into the cavernous shopping outlet that is the departures lounge and set about filling the hours until the flight leaves in the most painless fashion achievable. For some this means an early start in the ‘English pub’. For others a swoop into the retail outlets.

You are called to the ‘gate’. You travel endless corridors on a moving belt. Your documents get another perusal. You wait for your seat number to be called. You walk down a ramp, along another corridor, through a hatchway into the metal tube that is your conveyance. You are greeted by the handmaidens and handmen who are to minister to you. You locate the seat and shoehorn yourself into it, fasten the belt, plug in to the entertainment, eat everything they give you, sleep a bit, get stiff, hot, yawn a lot.

You arrive. Has it been worth it? Actually yes-we are in Barbados!