|Source: Wikimedia Commons|
Yesterday I finally finished my six country project, which has consumed the last seven weeks and part or all of the intervening weekends. 'Tuesday is the new Saturday.' Well, I say that, but there are many chores I could be getting on with today, from hacking at the thicket that has all but taken over the front of the house, to reconciling the blizzard of receipts I have collected on my travels, to making even minimal inroads into the ironing mountain, now of Himalyan and perilously tottering proportions (see below). But no, the blogging hiatus has gone on long enough, so I'd rather write about my trips instead.
I have decided to adopt a thematic rather than a strictly chronological approach to these travelogues, as the four trips were characterised by recurring themes, such that a sequential narrative would inevitably become a bit repetitive. It is enough that I was plagued by the same kinds of issues time and again in different countries, without obliging the reader to experience the mishap equivalent of Groundhog Day. And indeed there are precedents for this style of post on Bonkers already.
And by way of setting the scene, the four itineraries were as follows:
Trip 1: The
and 'the top half' of Netherlands Germany
Trip 2: France -
and Paris Normandy
and 'the bottom half' of Switzerland Germany
Trip 4: Belgium - Charleroi: a town best described in anatomical terms as 'the armpit' to be perfectly honest, on account of its brooding steel mills, messy squiggles of flyovers, and scattering of lone men loitering suspiciously by the railway station, to whom my overactive imagination ascribed multiple intents to rob, mug, molest, score drugs, or at the very least take a leak in an undesignated public area.
So yes, I got around...
And without further ado, here comes the first clutch of topics. Oh, there will be a scent- and perfume people-themed post coming up eventually (I met up with Vero Kern, and an old Basenotes chum!), so for any purists out there, do check in later - the post will be clearly flagged as such.
|More like 'a day WITH champagne is 'elegantly wasted'!|
The small children as iron filings effect
I took eight flights in July, on five different airlines, to and from eight different airports. And yet by some disturbing quirk of online seat allocation, on every single flight I was in a row either in front of or behind babies and small children. I guess I should be grateful that I wasn't in a row WITH small children, though on occasions there were so many of them gathered in one place that there would scarcely have been room for me. On the final flight - by way of a 'grand cacophonous finale', you might say, if your sense of humour was even more dark and twisted than mine - I had no fewer than five children under the age of five sitting behind me - well three directly behind and two the other side of the gangway. All of them wailing at the top of their lungs throughout the flight. I get the ear pressure thing, I do, but still. I actually apologised to the lady sitting next to me, explaining that it is all my fault. "I am like a magnet to iron filings where small children are concerned. Airlines see 'single woman' and think: 'let's put her next to some children, as that is clearly what is missing from her life'."
Matters were not helped on this flight by the fact that the cabin announcements used words like 'chillax', plus we had such a sickeningly grinding crunch of a landing that people gasped, fully expecting to find that the plane had touched down on bare metal axles instead of tyres.
A perplexing purple theme
I was puzzled to note a purple theme from the very first trip, starting with the livery of the train to
airport, with which its seats were
lovingly coordinated. Then in the queue waiting to board I spied two youths in
hoodies, whom my naturally irrational prejudice earmarked instantly as trainee
terrorists or international cocaine mules. I swear I overheard one of them
mentioning 'Class B drugs', though in hindsight it may have been 'Vitamin C'.
For my unspoken aspersions were quickly dispersed by the fact that one of the
youths was swigging a bottle
of Ribena, while the other was sporting trainers in a truly violent shade
of Parma violet, neither of which struck me as the incontestable hallmark of a
villain. The purple theme was soon to be reprised in Holland by my hotel room
chair and a parked bicycle. Which leads me neatly on to... Manchester
Hotels - the quirky, the kitschy, and the downright impractical
Having travelled on business for some 27 years now, I would have thought I had seen every possible variant of hotel, whether in terms of its general design or specific aspects of its functionality. I was wrong. The first trip kicked off with this corker in Holland, which boasted a disorientatingly diagonal bed, accented by a hyperrealistic backdrop of wool skeins. Did they know I was a knitter?
To top it all, I was supplied with a 'do not disturb' bullock, that you placed outside your door instead of attempting to hang one a cardboard sign off the handle. Those things can be quite misleading in fact, for while staying in London in May for a few nights, whichever way I had hung it turned out to mean: 'Kindly do not come in and clean the bathroom, make the bed etc for the entire duration of my stay.' Unfortunately I only figured this out on the morning of my somewhat rumpled departure. So yes, a lot to be said for the binary clarity of a bullock.
Fast forward a couple of days to my hotel near Cologne, which had an imposing baroque facade and an unexpected en suite casino - I eschewed a flutter, I might add. The very next night my hotel a couple of hundred miles away was located in Casinostrasse. I started to feel positively dogged by this unsolicited gambling theme. The Darmstadt hotel was also on the ornate side, I think it is fair to say.
Going back to the hotel with the casino attached, it also boasted extremely spacious rooms. I felt moved to check with reception that I hadn't inadvertently agreed to pay the supplement for an upgrade - dimly recalling a promotional offer to that effect - as my room was so unfeasibly large. But no, there was no mistake. In a sudden access of laziness I was tempted to ask my respondent - whose office was diagonally opposite my window(!) - to pop across and do the interview at the meeting table in my bedroom, but decorum and convention prevailed. He missed out on the packet of Haribo bears, mind.
At the other end of the scale, I stayed in an Ibis Budget hotel near Geneva airport on Trip 3. Do not be fooled by its apparent membership of that reliably comfortable chain with its distinctive poppy emblem. Ibis Budget is the chain formerly known as Etape and made entirely out of moulded plastic. As you can see in this shot, Max Rat (who has sadly gone the way of the netbook, of which more anon) is not overly impressed by the quality of the fittings.
Perverse bathroom fixtures - a special sub-category
Arguably deserving of a category all to themselves, are the bathrooms. Now I don't consider myself especially wide-bodied, but the shower stall in one hotel was about 10 inches across. Not a chance of standing under the shower head, so nothing for it but to pull the tubing out of the recess and treat the darn thing as a handheld attachment.
Then in Paris I was confronted by one of those irritating bowl basins that were quite in vogue some years ago - or rather by one of their equally impractical rectangular cousins. These are conspicuously devoid of a flat surface on which to rest the soap - assuming you have had the good fortune to be issued with something as old school as a tablet of the stuff, instead of those ubiquitous and crassly scented squeezy numbers. You can of course just leave the soap on the side somewhere, to marinate in its own sludgy puddle, but that really goes against the grain - note cunningly repurposed feminine hygiene bag in photo.
The third observation about bathrooms from these trips - which I sense is only going to get worse as time goes by - is that the more the vanity unit projected from the mirrored wall, the more futile my chances of doing my make up in said mirror. My middle aged myopia is now so acute that however far I attempt to lean across the sink unit so I can see to put my mascara on, say, it is never far enough. This leaves the poor alternatives of the full length mirror (invariably in a gloomy spot by the door) or the trusty fall back of my compact mirror, taken to the window for maximum (if alarming) visibility.
So that is probably enough for Part 1 - am off to engage in ever more elaborate forms of ironing avoidance!