Back in Blighty

Kicking off with a “thanks” to Janeice who spent a couple of hours of her day off driving me to Geneva Airport so that I didn’t have to get one of the transfer buses.

As ever the airport was heaving and expensive. I was starving, but after over 30 minutes in the queue at Burger King I had to give up and walk off otherwise I risked being late for my flight. I tried to pick up a drink from a shop, but the minimum spend was CHF5 and the bottle was only CHF2.80. No worries, I thought, I’ll get one on the other side of security.

I rattled through the long passport queue and breezed security and then shuddered to a halt at the convenience kiosk by gate 31. The self same bottle of juice was now CHF4.80. If anyone had any complaints before about the whole “no liquids through security” thing being an excuse to rip passengers off, I point the in the direction of Geneva Airport as proof of this. They should change the airport logo to a skull and crossbones.

Still, the flight was only 10 minutes late in departing and fairly smooth. I slept on and off until the high crosswinds at Edinburgh caused a few clenched butt-cheeks as we descended. Kudos to the pilot, though,who set the plan down as gently as I’ve ever had a landing despite the atmospheric conditions working against him.

My dad picked me up and we zoomed across the Forth Road Bridge as all the high-siders had been barred from crossing due to the winds. As a result we made it to Perth a lot sooner than we’d expected. Enough time to say “hello” to my mum, giggle at the two mad dogs, grab some stuff and head up to Leah’s in Dundee.

Now, I’ve spent the better part of 6 weeks in the French Alps. It’s been snowing, icy and generally sub-zero for most of it. I have not fallen once.

Within a dozen steps of the car as I walked out of the car park in Dundee, I was on my arse. Ouch. Somehow I also managed to pull a muscle in my shoulder when I went down. Don’t ask. As promised in another blog post elsewhere, Leah had hot juice and sympathy when I arrived loaded with slightly less cold than I had the day before. Still, I’m male – I can milk sympathy for all I’m worth.

Ah, back in Britain. High winds, lashing rain, and I’ve got a cold. Great stuff.

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Update from the Alps

It’s been a few days since the last post as I’ve barely stopped working since I arrived back in Chamonix. Maya drove me to Geneva Airport on Monday morning. From there, I was picked up by Peter who I worked with last year. Along with my new boss, two new handymen and a couple more staff from last season we made our way to Albertville. There we separated out into various cars and drove these to Chamonix – airport pickup and vehicle delivery in one swoop! Last year the staff vehicles were Toyota Yaris‘s, this year they’re little Renault Clios. I preferred the Yaris, I think. They definitely had better stereos!

Once in Chamonix I don’t think I even got to drop my bags in my room until almost dinner time. Everyone had little jobs to do, and I can understand why I got a hug from Dave when he saw me. He no longer has to deal with the IT issues now that I’ve arrived! My “to do” list grows longer each day, and there’s always another little something that pops up when someone sees me.

I’m room-sharing with Robin, the head rep for Chamonix and a great guy. He’s usually only around at the weekends right now, as he’s busy helping to outfit all the other resorts. Mind, I don’t see much of the flat anyway as I’m either working or socialising with the other folk here.

The two handymen have been great company all week – Gareth’s about ten years my junior and from London, Steve’s about twenty years my senior and Welsh by birth but living in Birmingham somewhere. We’ve enjoyed the football and beer in Bar’d Up; munched the delicious criss-cross fries in the MBC while supping delicious premises-brewed beers; been fed incredibly well by Luke in the Sapiniere; and gotten hammered around town last night.

So, yes, same as last year. A great, hard-working crew and beer that’s far too expensive. The latter’s about the only bad thing. Prices here are the same as last year, but the Euro’s edged up against the pound so catching happy hour (or going to the supermarket) is the only way to drink affordably.

Posts may be a little thin on the ground as I won’t get a chance to do anything touristy during my 6-week stint. However, there’s always something happenings. And I can always just go on about how stunning the mountain view is. No pictures, I’m afraid. My camera’s off for repair back home.

Oh, and no – there’s no snow here as yet although there was a deluge about two weeks ago from what I’ve been told.

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Jetting to Geneva

My mode of transport early on this Sunday morning was a little more comfy (little more as it was a budget flight) than Leah’s airborne jaunt the day before. She managed not to crash a training helicopter out near Aberdeen, which is always a good thing. Good for me as I’d have had to explain it to her mother. She was somewhat put out when the instructor asked her for her weight as she may have been a little too big for the dinky training ‘copter. However, she was fine – much as the chap who came after her who was so short they had to find him a booster cushion to sit on.

The next day, as usual, my dad kindly gave up a couple of hours’ sleep to drive me top Edinburgh Airport for the silly early departure. A good job I’d not opted for the Monday flight as that was two hours earlier and I don’t think he’d have been too pleased at having to get me there for 4:30am.

So just the usual at the airport and a couple of hours later I stepped out into the much warmer climes in Geneva. I was met by Maya, another Couchsurfer who was accommodating me for a night in exchange for some IT work. She’s an ex-journalist, speaks a silly number of languages and now runs a translation business.

Her home’s close to the airport so the drive was short and pleasant. Once there I dumped my stuff in my own little pavilion / chalet (with a hot tub and an infra-red sauna!) and enjoyed a cuppa. Maya’s son, Gyan, joined us for lunch and then I started hammering away at a handful of PC problems. By dinnertime I’d nailed a few and given Maya the advice she needed to (hopefully) resolve many of the rest.

Daisy, who I’d stayed with the last time I passed through Geneva, came over for dinner in the evening and we had a great time chatting about all kinds of things. As always, it’s good to catch up with people I’ve met previously on my travels and none more so than when they’re as lovely as Daisy. I’m such a creep…

The night came to a late end and I went to hunker down in my own little mini apartment. A nice little stopover on my way back to work and yet another pleasant Couchsurfing experience.

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Going… going… back home

Dishwasher, open and loaded with dishesMy last morning in Chamonix was… eventful. Actually, one of the busiest working mornings I’ve had in a while. I was late into the office as I had to hand back the apartment to the people we’d rented it from. They were expecting Sophie, who handles the contracts, but had to deal with me instead. I was up till silly o’ clock tidying the place and my reward was a handful of snide remarks and comments about getting cleaners in at our expense to tidy it.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I know so many nice French people, this is the kind of attitude that would put me right off them. The floor was a mess, sure – but the vacuum I’d been provided with was less sucky than an asthmatic granny after a 10-mile run. I’d forgotten to wash a handful of spoons. I somehow think that claiming this warrants a €20 cleaning bill is a little out of perspective given there’s a dishwasher in the apartment and I’ve left behind half a tub of cleaning crystals for it.

Frankly, I expect them to do the job themselves and then bill the company. The stories I’ve heard about some of the people we lease from does make one jump to the conclusion that they’re all out to rip you off.

Anyway, I made it to the office in good time and had the last of my luggage with me. As I said, I used every trick I knew of to get all my luggage packed. This included tying my trainers and my boarding goggles to the carry-handle of my day-bag as they wouldn’t fit in my rucksack. Technically one piece of luggage and I got away with it, so I’m not complaining.

Nat kindly drove myself and one of the Chris’s to Geneva Airport. Chris had a 3-hour wait as we had to get there in time for my flight, but there wasn’t enough time to do two separate airport runs. My apologies for that.

The auto check-in involved some detective work as I didn’t have my booking reference to hand. Or the postcode of the British office, which was an alternative detail asked for. I did have the name of the person who booked the ticket… but it wasn’t their name used on the actual booking. I eventually sussed it as being the initial of the first word of our company name, and the second word in full – like “S Removals” as the booker on behalf of “Smith’s Removals”.

Luggage tagged, I handed my rucksack in (“Be careful of the weight next time” as it tipped the scales a whopping 1.6kg over the limit) and wandered through the boarding pass check and security in search of duty free for my mum. Only I didn’t find any. Aside from some small refreshment areas, all the shops in Geneva Airport are actually before the area where they check your boarding pass. Which is weird. I can only assume that if you buy something then they check your ticket at the till to see if you’re leaving the country. Seems a little weird, given that you could buy a budget ticket and a vast amount of duty free to outweigh the cost. Regardless, certainly if you’re heading for any of the “B” gates, there are no duty free shops past security so be aware.

My flight had a 40 minute delay in taking off, but arrived in Edinburgh earlier than that airport was claiming – an hour earlier, in fact.  I think they were advertising the times based on those in Switzerland, that is one hour ahead. Either way, my dad was expecting a long wait and had barely arrived at the arrivals area when I walked out.

It was nice to have some proper British grub for a change. Stew, spuds, carrots… A cup of tea and some cake afterwards. Two bouncy dogs going mad at my feet and a ton of mail to sort out.

Yup. Back home.

Now to sort out some couch surfing and flights for the Baltics…

Quick trip home

Gammon and Brown AleFriday was a short day in the office until Chris drove me to Geneva airport for my Bristol flight. I’d opted to get my passport sorted in Newport so I could catch up with some people I’d otherwise not get a chance to see on my next trip home. Passing through security and so forth at Geneva was a breeze, though my flight was delayed around 45 minutes due to congestion over Brussels or something. Ah well. My PSP and a few episodes of Dexter helped while away the time.

The late landing meant that Talia was left hanging around at Temple Meads station for a little longer than planned. Of course, due to those ludicrous rules on mobile phone use I couldn’t contact her until I did land. Bristol airport‘s website stated that there was a train to the city centre. This is a lie. I actually emailed the airport and asked about it as I couldn’t find any information on the fare. They told me to check with Great First Western who manage the route. Only they don’t as it doesn’t exist. A quick glimpse at Google Maps shows that it would be a hard route to maintain what with the complete lack of train tracks anywhere near the airport and all.

Instead there is an overpriced bus service. According to the web site, the airport is 7 miles from Temple Meads. To me, that’s 10-15 minutes and a couple of quid. The buses have “£5” written on the side. The timetables claim £6 and the actual cost, I believe, is £7.

So I walked out the main entrance onto the A38, stuck my thumb out and inside of 5 minutes had a lift from a nice gentleman heading home after returning from Aberdeen. Conversation was polite and he asked if I’d been working a season in France, and which company for. It turns out his son started at one of our hotels in December, but quit after two months as he didn’t get on with the manager. Small world.

I beat the “express” airport bus into Temple Meads (saving £7 into the bargain), and met up with Talia who had waited patiently. We walked to The Crown, the local metal pub, where I enjoyed a rather welcome bottle of Brown Ale and a proper pub-grub gammon steak with chips. Well cheap and very tasty, though I did have to explain to the barmaid what a bottle of “Dog” was. I so need to get that tattoo done.

We partook of a few more beers before heading down the road to Bristol Bierkeller, or “The Keller”. This is a place I’ve heard of as it’s normally on the tour list of mid-size metal bands who play the UK. Three quid in before 10pm and “free” shots with every pint. OK, so they charge more than the pubs for a beer, but they make up for it with the shots. The music was pretty good and I think I wrenched my neck from head banging without warming up. I am so unfit. Talia settled for getting mindbogglingly drunk and wenching at all and sundry. She’s good at it.

I think we finally crashed around 4:30am. A good night, but a big mistake as we had to be up before 8am to get to Newport and the passport office. Somehow we surfaced, though not in the finest of fettle. The transport was typically expensive, over £2 into the town from Talia’s, then £4 each (booked online in advance) into Newport. Aside from the passport office, there’s nothing in Newport. At all. As far as we could find, and we had over four hours to not find it.

Sure, it was a giggle watching the 12 year olds pretend to be tough, and trying to not stare at a fully grown man wearing a blue shell suit (I thought even Scousers had banned them now) but overall it was a pretty dire experience. I usually take photos of places for the blog, but there was nothing at all worth taking a photo of. At all. Nothing.

Thankfully, Anni joined us for a couple of hours to help maintain the sanity as we slowly slipped into the world of the non-hungover. She regaled us with tales of the kitties and we had a (soft) drink in a pub up the road from KFC. Oh, yeah. I may have had KFC for breakfast. Ahem.

Sadly, I couldn’t get in touch with Joe. For some reason we couldn’t get through to her mobile even though I definitely had the right number. I checked with her when I next caught her online and we can’t figure out what caused the problem as her phone had been working all weekend. Neither of my texts got through, and calling her on Talia’s phone gave us a “Number not in use” error. Weird. I tried emailing her from the free email terminal in the library, but to no avail.

Finally, after one interim trip to provide replacement photographs, my new passport was ready. £123 well spent, I hope. And I have my old one stuffed with visas and stamps as a souvenir to be proud of.

The trip back cost us twice the price of the trip there (obviously…?) and we headed right back to Talia’s where a comfy couch and snoozage awaited. In the evening, we opted to go an see Iron Man. A decision we’re both glad to made as the film pretty much rocked. A little formulaic, but well made and with a nice line in dry humour. Excess popcorn and Pepsi killed my appetite for sausage and chips on the walk home and I was curled up in my sleeping bag by 11:00. I watched one more episode of Dexter before nodding off, though.

Sunday was a complete chill-out. The household was up and about pretty early on with various family members dotting about doing various things. To pay my rent, I crushed the contents of the bins. Talia’s mum picked me because I had my whacking big 1000-mile boots with me. Such things as bin-crushage are requires as they live in one of the areas where the council will only collect every 2 weeks. Not very helpful when you have six permanent residents in the house, one of whom is pregnant and due in the next couple of months. I can see that bin overflowing all too soon…

By mid-afternoon I’d managed to get hold of Lisa, Indy’s wife. They were in Wales having a break from life down under, and it would have been mad not to go and see them. I thanked my hosts for the comfy couch and made my way out towards the M4. On foot.

You can walk a long way in a residential area without anyone stopping to give you a lift. I walked from Talia’s place, all the way to the edge of the city centre, under the Clifton Suspension Bridge and another mile or two up the road before finding a layby and deciding to stay stationary. Give or take 6 miles with not more than the occasional *beep* and a wave. I waited another 45 minutes before a nice girl (with a hangover, I think!) called Imogen drove me up to the M49 turnoff. She picked me up as one of her friends had hitched for years until he had a child and suddenly realised that he had responsibilities. These included being somewhere when he said he would be. Sadly, she was heading north up the M6 so I had to wait for another lift.

And wait.

And wait.

Until after another 45 minutes or so, a red van pulled up. I can’t recall the driver’s name, but his little Jack Russell was called Max and he was adorable. My driver built eco-friendly housing for a living, and got Max from his mother, a social worker. One of the old ladies she looked after passed away and Max went from home to home until the shelter basically put him in “last chance saloon”. I hope he enjoys the next few years with the Red Van Man. Nice chap!

I got dropped off at the M4/A449 junction and began walking into Newport (again), giving Indy a call to let him know where to find me. At last, I had a lift and we stopped at Porky’s in Pontypool on the way to his in-laws for a pizza. Definitely a good pizza place. It doesn’t have a web page (I checked) , but just chuck “Porky’s Pizza Pontypool” into Google. You’ll find it.

And finally to Lisa’s parents’ place. Sadly, it was gone 21:00 so both little girls were in bed, but I had a chin-wag with the grown-ups before a fairly early bed. And sleep after the mandatory episode of Dexter.

In the morning I got to see Megan again for the first time in over a year. And her new baby sister, Carys. Carys is about the same size Megan was last time I saw her. Both are just lovely, and spoiled rotten. By all accounts, Megan’s a great kid. Indy could only tell me of one occasion when she’d thrown a strop. Good parenting and lots of luck! Cerys is just lovely and I did the usual thing of getting all broody again.

Time passed too swiftly, but the long trek over there was more than worth it to see them all. Indy very kindly drove me to Bristol Airport for my return flight. Checking in here was far more intimidating and annoying than at Geneva. Longer queues, more oppressive staff, scarier warning signs. I swear we’re looking more and more like the 51st State (and more and more paranoid) every time I go home.

Not too impressed with the airport, either. You don’t even know what gate you need to be at until it actually opens, which is a little unhelpful. Internet is a pound for ten minutes, which is just insane given than it’s free in so many other countries. The loos are tiny, the waiting area far too small, and the shop queues spill out into the queues for the gates. Whoever designed it didn’t seem to realise that planes seat more people than minibuses.

Regardless, the flight was on time and I was into Geneva and outside into the parking area in less than ten minutes from the doors of the plane opening. The benefits of travelling with hand luggage only.

And so, back to work for my last few days. I’ve got enough food to last me till Friday (more than enough, actually – I’ll have to give some away), just enough work to do to keep me busy and plans to make for when I’m back in the UK next week. Know me, and want to remind me to visit? Use the Contact Me page or the comments!