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Posts Tagged ‘Manchester’

Among the clouds

Among the clouds

So, this was finally Manchester. Five minutes by taxi, and we were at our hotel. Maybe not the most luxurious I’ve stayed in, but up among the best. And certainly one of the most impressive. The Deansgate Hilton Hotel is a landmark, offering fantastic views over the city and its surroundings.

I was very lucky when I booked. I usually shop around at budget chains or hotles.com, but Hilton had a January sale which means we got two double executive rooms at more or less the same price as a worn down three star.

Our rooms were at the 21st floor, and we even had use of a lounge at the 23rd with free snacks and drinks. As the lounge was only open until eight, we went straight up. Good bread with tzatsiki, samosas, spring rolls. This being the North of England, there seems to be an imperative that a majority of the calories in any meal should be deep fried.

Lemonade for the boys, a glass of red wine for my wife. I looked in the beer fridge. Budweiser and Fosters Ice? I had to try it. A thin and watery beer with even more flavour removed? I did not finish my glass, being content that there would be more treats later on.

We went for a stroll, but it was Friday evening, and large numbers of men seemed to have gathered for the football match on Sunday. We decided to buy some snacks from a supermarket and head back.

Sure, I bought a few beers from the supermarket, but I should not have bothered. The box I ordered some weeks ago was waiting in the reception, they even brought it up for me.

We’re talking rooms with bathrobes and good chairs here. Get comfortable, turn off the lights, open the curtains to see the lights of Manchester below.

Just the time for a High Tide IPA.

Hazy gold, firm white head. Lots of American hops in the nose, fine, citrus, you know the line. Lovely long finish. Immensely refreshing. But anything would be by now.

Be patient. There will be a pub report. Did I ever let you down? Something from Old Trafford, too.

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Boarding the Eurostar is like boarding a plane, with security checks and passport control. It would be very convenient if the Brits could join Schengen.

There was plenty of space on board, the seats were comfortable, and I had bought a bottle of Jupiler Tauro, InBev trying to make something similar to Duvel. Frankly, the beer was not up to much, but the selection in the supermarket at the railway station was rather meagre.

The conductor was very happy to talk about the train and its speed, and we were delighted when he came back to our compartment to tell us when we reached 300 kilometers per hour. Belgium and France flashed by, 20 minutes or so in the tunnel, and then we were in England.

No time to linger in the spanking new St Pancras terminal, either. I was feeling like Mr. Passepartout in Around the World in 80 Days as we carried our bags out on Euston street, past the British Library and into Euston station.

The travel plan was to stay two days in Manchester and then travel down to London. I had bought train passes valid on two flexible days beforehand, and now it was just a matter of getting them stamped before getting on the next train. An hour after arrival in London we were already on board the Virgin Manchester train.

So, shortly after seven, the magic words.

Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly arrive at Manchester Piccadilly. Please make sure you have all your belongings with you.

It had been a long day…..

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Thursday before Palm Sunday. We have allowed plenty of time to get to Torp airport, two hours drive south of Oslo. We booked our tickets in January, the passports are valid, we look forward to an oval weekend in England. Our youngest is a Manchester United supporter, the oldest has been promised a spending spree at the Forbidden Planet SF and comics shop. The weather is not the brightest as we approach the airport, but why worry about low clouds in this age of technological wizardry?

Torp Airport

Torp Airport

The check in goes smoothly – a machine scans my passport and retrieves our booking details. I drop off our bags at the counter, and we go through security. The plane is not scheduled to leave until 22:30, and there are occasional delays, so both my wife and I go for coffee and nothing stronger. The beer range and the prices makes it sensible to wait as well.

Our flight is with Ryanair to Birmingham, where we have booked a room at an airport hotel for the first night before continuing by train to Manchester.  Ryanair has very cheap tickets, but there is a scramble to get on board first, as they don’t have seat reservations. When you travel with children, it is preferable to be able to sit next to them.

The Non-Schengen departure hall at Torp is rather small, and soon after the go to gate announcement is made on the screen at about 21:40, it is packed with passengers. There is a plane to London half an hour later, so there are about 600 of us squeezed inside behind the passport control. The queue does not move at all. We crane our necks to see what is happening up front, but, apart from some families with small children being let through the tickets inspection and into the pre-boarding space, nothing happens.

Then a voice over the loudspeaker. We regret to announce that Ryanairs flight  to Birmingham is cancelled due to fog at the airport. Would all passengers please return to the departure lounge and contact the service desk…

We run for the stairs and I am number four or so in the queue. I overhear a lady behind the counter say there are a few seats left for Liverpool the next day, but apart from that, nothing. I await my turn, and ask if we could be booked for the Liverpool flight. Yes, says the lady behind the counter. There are four seats available. Just a moment, I’ll have to make some photocopies of these forms.

While she is busy doing paperwork, the other lady behind the counter seats two other passengers on the Liverpool flight, so there are only two seats left. We are almost bursting with anger, but there is nothing to be done. No other flights to England or Scotland have any spare capacity, as the holidays start the next day. I grap a stamped and signed conformation form, we grab our baggagne and return to the parking lot.

Airlines like Ryanair do not cooperate with any other carriers, so they do not book you on any competitors, which is routine if you use companies like SAS or Lufthansa.

We start driving north towards Oslo again, as there are no other flights from Torp that’s of any use to us. The ticket offices are closed, and we don’t have any laptop with mobile Internet, either. It’s approaching midnight. The atmosphere in the car, particularly in the back, is gloomy. We have hotel bookings in England that can’t be cancelled, we have seriously expensive tickets at Old Traffort that are non-refundable. I assume that the London flight has the same problems. There will be 600 stranded passengers scrambling for whatever seats are available, so we cannot wait until we can log on at home in two hours. For now, most of these people are still in front of the desk at the airport, but not for long.

I decide to call my father. My wife drives, while I do the talking. My father is 76, but very computer literate, and when I explains our situation, he logs on right away and looks for seats.

Nothing on SAS. Nothing on British Airways. An opening on Sunday evening or Monday, but far too late. The Wideroe web site searches directly into the Amadeus reservation system, but it only comes up with Business class options like Finnair via Helsinki, 2400 Euros, or Brussels Airlines, 1800 Euros for the four of us. He wants to try some other web sites, and he’ll call us back if he finds something.

Almost midnight. A flash of inspiration. I call my father again. Check if there are any flights to Brussels in the morning, please!

A minute or two.

Sure, there is a SAS flight at 08:15. From Gardermoen, the main airport, to the north of Oslo. Not cheap, but sensibly priced.

Great, take it! We’ll find our way from there somehow. Book us in and text me the reservation number.

My wife and I discuss the situation. Should we go home and then get up for a train at six? Nope. I call directory enquiries and get the number for an airport hotel.

Do you have a family room? Sure, come along, no need for any reservation at this time of the night. We arrive some time after one. A room with bunk beds, but there are fresh, cool sheets and about four hours to get some sleep before the next leg of the journey.

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