Tag: Newcastle Airport

Costa Rica 2017

I, Itchy, ended my contract with my previous employer at the end of 2016 and so entered 2017 in a fog of uncertainty.  I was, informally, offered a position at a company in mid-December and had a call scheduled to talk further at the start of January.

My plan, my hope, was that I would be asked to start work in February or March so that I could take a little time out to travel before starting in my new position.  When the call came about, I was a little upset and surprised that they wanted me to start right away, my plans were scuppered.  The guy then explained why he wanted me so soon; they were having their 2017 planning session and wanted me to be a part of it.  The problem is that it was being held in Costa Rica.

I say problem, I actually felt like I had won the lottery of life!

I have travelled to Asia, Australia, USA, Canada and pretty much all of Europe, but had never really thought about South/Central America and had no idea what to expect.  Once this trip is over then I guess that leaves me with Africa and the poles to get the full house!

This entry mainly covers my journey out to Costa Rica. Give a man a 23 hour journey with no travel companion and a note book and it’s amazing what he can find to blather on about.

The flight out was Newcastle to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Panama City and then the short hop from Panama to San Jose, Costa Rica.  Economy class on KLM, flying in a Boeing 777 for the big leap of the Atlantic.

Me being me, I arrived at Newcastle Airport more than two hours early for the flight; 03.45 for a 05.50 flight.  That’s right, before the check in desks had opened and, even after taking into account the time I had to wait for check in to open up and then get checked in, I was still there before security checks were unlocked.  Still, it was better than being late, right?

Things were pretty quiet in Newcastle airport.  At that time of day there were so few people around that there was no one for me to actively hate.  I couldn’t go two hours without hating something though and the Upper Crust sandwich shop stepped in to save the day.  £2.40 they were trying to charge for a small bottle of orange juice (smooth, no bits).  I walked 15 meters across the way into Boots and the same bottle, EXACTLY the same brand and size, was £1.35.

Let’s be clear here, it’s not OK to charge £1.35 for a small bottle of orange juice, but that makes the £2.40 charge even more indefensible.  I love Boots in travel centres. The one in Newcastle Central train station is the same, they don’t change their prices for products just because they could.  Nothing tastes better to an accountant than a £1 plain cheese sandwich in an airport.

The short trip over the North Sea was perfectly fine.  There were sisters, as in relatives rather than nuns, sat in the row in front of me.  They laughed and chuckled the whole journey and were clearly very excited about wherever they were going.

It was pretty windy when we landed and the bigger and louder one of the two was clearly not a confident flyer.  She started shouting and yelping with every adjustment and had to apologise to the lady next her when we eventually put down.  The conversation continued and it turns out that they were heading to New York to celebrate her upcoming 40th birthday.  Not interesting at all, but the fact that I found out about them just goes to prove how friendly and chatty us Northern types are!

The thing about Schiphol is just the sheer scale of the place. Thousands of people walking around like ants, getting to where they need to be to get to where they need to go.  Every person with a story and an adventure that I was desperate to ask them about.

Yeah, the guy with a suit on and a laptop bag is pretty easy to guess what he’s doing.  But what about the little old lady wearing two hats?  Where are you going that demands double the normal amount of headwear to be worn?  What about you big American guy with full sports team tracksuit on? What made you decide that cowboy boots would be the perfect end to your acrylic wearing dream rather than trainers?

So many questions, so little time.

What about the lady that I overheard on the phone saying “Well, my Swahili is getting better now so that should help make things easier”?   That should be a GCSE English literature test; just finish that story off for 50 marks.

Just remember that part about Swahili, we will be coming back to it later!

The other thing that I noticed was the number of people hanging around the power sockets, topping up their electronic devices like a junky making sure they were getting their fix ahead of their flights.  I would hate to be a cleaner in an airport as you would constantly have to fight off desperate travellers to get your Dyson plugged in.

I judged them so harshly in my mind, but only because I wasn’t man enough to fight them off to get topped up myself.  I prayed that there would be a USB in the seat on the plane and, happily enough, there was.

Schiphol is much ‘cooler’ and trendier than English airports. It’s just stylish.  The swish seating makes it look like a posh business centre and they have greenery in the form of living moss walls and nice little ‘bits’ like phone charging stations and such like.  All of that effort and yet the toilet paper rips your arsehole open.  It makes it hard to get through customs without having a very suspicious walk.  Not well thought out at all really.

It was weirdly frustrating to be ‘in’ Amsterdam but not able to go and see it.  It feels like you have been invited to a party but have to stand in the garden and watch it through a window, but not a good window, an upstairs toilet window with funny glass.

Another question that worked its way into my mind is around free airport WIFI.  It was limited to four hours.  What could you possibly do after 4 hours and one minute that necessitates the deadline? In Panama, it was just 2 hours but in San Jose, unlimited……of course it was, the airport that I spent the least amount of time in!

Tired of people watching, it was time to head to the gate.  I know that it’s a tired discussion but, I think one that is worth stating again.  We English are bloody good at queuing, aren’t we? We know where to stand, where to join, where to leave space to allow people to cross through the line.  There must be a word for that feeling you must have when you walk right past the line of people to join in at the front and then get sent to the back and have to walk past hundreds of people tutting.  I say ‘there must be’ as I would never have had to use it as I can queue properly.

One group that got to legitimately queue jump was the pilot and cabin crew.  I couldn’t help feel a little concerned that one of the guys looks like Jack’s dad from the TV show Lost, of course being famous for being centered around a plane crash.

Once I was on the plane I turned right onto the cheap seats and walked and walked and walked.  Third row from the back.  It reminded me of a guy who I used to work with who, when he boarded a plane in the back row, said “it’s the safest seat in the house, you never hear about airplanes reversing into mountains do you?” Somewhat assured at this thought and by the fact that I clocked up my 10,000 steps half way along the fuselage, I collapsed into my seat as happy as Larry, whoever he is.

Remember earlier when I asked you to remember the conversation I overheard of a lady saying she was learning Swahili? Well, when I jotted down that note on my phone to write up later, I forgot the language that she said but knowing that it was locked inside my head somewhere, it would come to me one day.  Weirdly, one of the first TV shows that I watched on the in-flight entertainment contained the line “What, am I speaking Swahili or something?”.  Serious question here, what are the odds of that?

So, all settled in and ready to go, the next stop was Panama City…….

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Familia Favourite, Barcelona 2016

Familia Favourite, Barcelona 2016

Back in October we found ourselves in a position with spare holiday, no kids to look after and a carefree and footloose mentality.  Add all that together and you end up with a long weekend in Barcelonaaaaa!

Before we get into the details, let us just tell you about the problems we faced before we picked Barcelona.  When you only have a limited, and definitive, period of time that you are able to travel and have a local airport to fly from, the number of destinations that you have for a mini break are limited.  Flying out on a Saturday and coming back on the Tuesday we were limited to Barcelona, Amsterdam or Rotterdam.

As charming as Rotterdam (no doubt) is, it didn’t have the same charms as Barcelona and Amsterdam just didn’t feel like what we were looking for.  The chance of getting a little bit of late Autumn sun was too good to turn down.

We flew with Vueling, a first for us both, and noticed that there was a lot of negative chatter on the way out and home about the service.  I have to say, we had no issues at all.  I think that anyone that complains about the service that they receive on a low cost airline needs to get a grip.  If you are paying £60 to get to Spain in an aeroplane, you have to assume that you won’t be getting champagne, foie gras, six feet of leg room and a shoulder rub.  The  flights were on time, the staff were friendly, the plane didn’t crash and we set off and landed in airports close to both city centres.  For £60 you could just about drive to London and park for a half day.  Rant over!

When we landed, we got the train to the city centre (only a few Euros each)  and then walked the half mile to our Hotel, the Hotel Ciutat Barcelona.  We felt perfectly comfortable walking the streets, despite the late hour and despite the fact that we arrived at a major train station that are often not in the best parts of town.

We arrived pretty late in the day but the staff were friendly and the reception was perfectly clean and smart looking.  The room was everything that you could ask for and the free and unlimited bottled water in the hotel was very welcome.  The WiFi was free and fast and the balcony looking out onto the street gave a lovely view onto normal life of the locals.

As I have said in earlier posts, Titchy Feet isn’t great at planning and organisation and that is where Titchy Feet excels. More than ever, we were both thankful of that when Titchy had organised tickets to see the tour of the Sagrada Familia.  When we got there, after a pleasant walk from up from the city centre, the queues were enormous and there were a lot of red faced tourists shouting at the staff as they were ‘only in Barcelona for one day and we CAN’T come back tomorrow’.  If you don’t book up, you won’t get in so be warned!

For those that don’t know, the Sagrada Familia is a church that began construction in 1882 and is still not finished.  A part of me wanted to blame Mediterranean work ethic and long siestas, but as soon as you see it, you understand why.  The architect was Antoni Gaudi who was killed by a street tram outside of the church in 1926 and, the hope is, that the work will be completed on the centennial anniversary of his passing.  It is HUGE.

It feels as if every single square inch of the vast building is considered, meaningful, relevant and beautiful.  To have visited the place without going on the guided tour, you would have missed so much,  it was the best use of €24 that we could have found.

I am not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination, but this was an amazing tour, a testament to the talent of mankind and the beauty that we can create.  Many people have devoted their lives to finishing the plans Gaudi created and I would love to think that, one day, I would be able to return to see it completed.

The next day Titchy had bought us tickets to see Gaudi’s other project in Barcelona, Park Guell.  Again, we had paid for the tour and it was worth it, but this time for very different reasons.  The guide was a Catalonian gent, early 60’s I would say, and he was terrible but so terrible that he was hilarious!  We didn’t learn a huge amount about the place but it felt like were in the middle of a Fast Show sketch.

Don’t get me wrong, we had a great walk around the park in the sunshine and we really enjoyed it, but after spending the previous day walking around Sagrada Familia, I think we were both a little overfilled on Gaudi by that point.

In the morning, we had a walk around town.  We pottered down the famous Las Ramblas, although I’m not too sure what it’s famous for.  I think it’s knocked off Barcelona or Real Madrid football kits and iced drinks.  Nothing too exciting to see but one of those places that you have to visit just to say you have done!

We wandered down to the port to look at the posh boats and cruise ships in the harbour before taking a trip on the Telefericos De Barcelona.  It was a lovely trip, with great views of Barcelona, and it ended up in a lovely park looking over the city.

In between our culture trips, the meals were lovely and pretty reasonably priced and the whole vibe of the city was really nice.  Every corner that we turned there seemed to be something happening or something to see and we didn’t bump into anyone that was rude or unpleasant all the time that we were there.

A lovely city break, I will be back when its finished!