A fun day’s fishy filming at Port du Bec

Our school project this year is all about water and we are making a film with a professional team for the Conseil General de la Vendée (the department council).

Last Thursday was the first day of our filming trip, to Port Du Bec near Noirmoutier. For this I had to get up at 6:30am for school, but normally I get up at 7:30am. I got to school at 7:15am to be on the bus at 7:30.

So we set off up to the north of the Vendée. The journey took 2h30, which was long, but when we got there it was worth it. After the introduction we were split into two groups: the Yellows and the Reds (I was yellow). There were two parts to the day, the first one in the morning and the second in the afternoon. In the morning the Yellows went to do an interview and the Reds took the sound and some photos of the countryside and then we swapped round. We each took it in turns to take the different roles: director, sound engineer, cameraman etc…

So we went to interview an ostreiculteur (someone who works with oysters). His name was Jean-Louis and he showed us where he works and what he does. Here’s a video of an ostreiculteur at work.

Then it was dinnertime, so we got our picnic and we ate in a big room near the port.

After, it was our time to take photos and the sound of the country side. We saw lots of wildlife, including some horses, sheep and birds. While we where doing this, the other group were interviewing Nicolas, who is aquaculteur (he works with all different types of fish – mussels, prawns etc…) then we met up to film the last scene.

Port du Bec Chinese port

Port du Bec (photo by David Howlett)

We left Port Du Bec at 4:45pm and got back to school at 6:55pm. We were very tired but had had a fantastic day. The next trip is on 24th of March, with another on 14th of April and I can’t wait!

Noz – Well worth a rummage

Having been a fan of TK Max I am always looking for that equivalent bargain shopping experience. I haven’t quite found it yet but NOZ comes close.

I have re-found NOZ, having gone there some three years ago while doing a reccy of the area. Back then, I was put off by the smell of smoke on that outing and didn’t go back. But now new english people have arrived and have been waxing lyrical about said NOZ, so I felt it was time for another try.

Never been to NOZ? Well let me explain….

This is a shop that sells end-of-ranges, cancelled orders, end-of-promotions, ex-catalogue etc. Unfortunately, here in Fontenay-le-Comte, the shop is not set out as well as it could be. It’s a bit of a ‘bargain basket’ type store but the shop advertising assures us everything has 70-80% off.  They literally sell everything from pasta to ponchos, tie-backs to teddy bears, cat bowls to cyclamens.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a very pleasant afternoon with Lynn and Dee having a good rummage around. I picked up a lovely children’s book but looked like a poor relation compared to  Lynn and Dee’s bargain hunting.

Today though, was a different story. I bought two beautiful pastel  green bowls. Very heavy pottery and very good quality. I think had they been found in a ‘nice’ shop I would have been looking at a price tag of €7-10  for the small one alone but I paid the princely sum of €3.95  for the two!

Small pleasures……

December Travel Chaos: Part 2 (The French Odyssey)

A quick recap

If you recall, the plan for our December visit to London was:

  • We (Lisa and I) travel to London on Thursday for the TweetDeck Christmas party
  • Rosie & Molly stay with Claire & Tony in Puy-de-Serre
  • Joe stays with Kevin & Amal, also in Puy-de-Serre
  • We return to France on the Saturday, collect the kids and go home
  • We all return to the UK for Christmas with the family the following Tuesday

And back in A Christmas Party, Some Old Friends and Some Angry Birds, we covered the first couple of days when things were going well. When we were happy. And warm.

So let us continue with our story.

So near, yet so far

We woke on the Saturday after a fantastic few days in London, and headed back to Stansted Airport. There were no problems on the trains, so we arrived in plenty of time. However, given the wintry conditions, we were not surprised to find that our flight was delayed by 30 minutes. Still, this was not a problem. We were heading home to find our kids – we could wait another half an hour. While waiting at the gate, the day’s first few flakes of snow started to fall. Still we remained upbeat, as planes were still taking off and it was really only a few flakes.

Before too long we were boarding the plane and took our seats, excited to be heading home and looking forward to getting back to the children. The snow had started to come down a little faster, but we were moving now, so all was well. We started taxiing down the runway and waited for the pilot to announce “Cabin Crew, seats for takeoff”…. But instead of that announcement followed by the plane shooting off into the sky, we came to a halt. Instantly we knew this was Something Very Bad. The cabin crew started faffing around, while we grew more and more agitated. Then came the announcement we had dreaded. “I’m sorry folks, we have been told by Dublin to return to stand.”

The entire plane groaned in frustration. We had been so close! Just another few seconds and we would have been in the air and on our way back to our kids. But now we were looking at a cancelled flight, and no idea what was going to happen next. This was our worst nightmare.

Having disembarked the plane, we all sadly traipsed back to the airport main concourse, where we joined the queue to speak to the Ryanair sales desk about getting a refund for  our cancelled flight, and rearranging another. When we joined the queue there was already about 300 people waiting in front of us. This was not going to be a quick process.

A long wait and a thoughtless Italian

In the queue directly in front of us was an Italian chap with his young daughter. The man was clearly looking out for his wife, and kept leaving his little girl, no more than 3 or 4 years old, in the queue while he disappeared with his phone clamped to his ear.

The girl was very sweet, and we kept ushering her along when the queue started moving, but the time between her father’s visits was getting longer and longer. Everyone in the vicinity was amazed that the man could leave such a young girl completely on her own for such long periods of time. In the end, the party in front of the girl stopped a passing policewoman and reported the situation. She took the girl to one side and things could well have escalated if the absent father had not returned at that point. After some very stern words from the policewoman, the girl and her father were reunited. Although he didn’t leave her again, the man was still very distracted, and could very easily have lost his daughter again as the queue moved along without her. We were really quite shocked how much disregard he showed for her safety.

Also in the queue near us were a young couple who were heading in our direction. Quite remarkably, they were heading to Fontenay-le-Comte (the nearest large town to where we live in France)! We had a good chat with them and discovered that they were heading back to see relatives who ran a bar on Rue des Loges – it certainly is a small world.

So, we waited in line for what seemed like an eternity, and got basically nowhere. Through phone calls and internet searches, we established that all Ryanair and Easyjet flights were cancelled, with no prospect of  replacement flights for at least another two days. Word eventually filtered through the queue that we were pretty much wasting our time. The staff at the desk were only handing out a printout from the Ryanair website giving instructions to claim a refund and to rebook online. So, we needed a new plan. There was no way we could just sit and wait for goodness-only-knows-how-long for another flight. The kids were waiting for us at home and we were booked on flights to come back again on Tuesday. This was not in The Plan.

A new plan

We made some calls. When we left the Dixies the night before they had said to get in touch if there were any difficulties with the journey. So we called Kevin, who got straight on the case, finding us details of trains, buses and even booking us a hotel in London for the night. What a superstar! It seemed that trains were going to be no good. Although the Stansted Express was still running at this point, very few trains south of London were still operating, so our chances of getting out that way were minimal. Kevin had offered for us to take their car and drive it home, but the snow was so back near them that we would never have got there, never mind been able to drive it out again. So, with all flights cancelled, we followed the lead of our Fontenay-bound friends and turned to National Express coaches for a solution.

The queue at the National Express booking office at the airport was huge, with everyone having the same idea, so I grabbed the phone number off a leaflet and called them instead. Luckily we managed to book ourselves onto a coach leaving Victoria first thing in the morning and arriving in Paris around 4pm. From there we could catch a train to Poitiers to pick up the car and get home. Apparently they were unaffected by the snow so far, so we kept our fingers crossed that this would remain the case until tomorrow. With a hotel booked for us by our guardian angel in Ware, we headed off to the train to get back into London and find somewhere to eat and sleep for the night.

Back to where we started

Sadly, this too was not destined to go well. Our train was late. But not “It’s going to be REALLY late” late, where we could have gone and got comfortable somewhere while we waited. Oh no, it was just constantly 40 minutes late. Every minute we waited, the expected arrival time progressed by a minute. So we never had a clue quite when it was going to arrive, if at all.

After three hours of standing on a frozen platform, open to the elements, without food and with just one coffee inside us from the passing refreshment trolley, finally a train arrived. I have never been more glad to see a Stansted Express train in my life! Like eager shoppers at the Boxing Day sales, the crowd swelled toward the train and poured inside. I charged on board, dragging Lisa behind me, determined that we were going to get a seat after standing for the last six hours or so.

Our insistence paid off and we were one of the lucky few who got a seat. People were literally crammed into the train like refugees, their suitcases and bags piled high in the gangway. Although we were packed in like sardines, at least we were warmer and more comfortable than before. However, we were not our of the woods just yet. Although we were on the train, we were not actually going anywhere. It was 6.30pm by now, but we were told that our train had just become the 7pm service – so we had to wait another 30 minutes before we could leave. By this point we had just about given up caring.

Eventually, to much cheering, we pulled out of the station and headed back to London, from where we had started our journey that morning. It was certainly an eventful journey (of course, it was never going to be boring!). After a while, a Scottish guy, clearly with a few too many Special Brews inside him, started kicking off. He was yelling at some poor chap who he claimed was Russian – we have no idea if he was or wasn’t, but the drunk guy was pretty insistent. Given the fact that the train was completely overcrowded, this was really very intimidating. Luckily a couple of American guys pinned him into a tight corner of the train and forced him to calm down, but his ongoing outbursts certainly dampened the Dunkirk Spirit that had developed on the train until that point. Fortunately the Scottish man left the train at the next stop and a calm returned to the carriage once more.

Meanwhile, we were being entertained by a young brother and sister who were travelling with their french grandparents. We started speaking in french, but then realised the kids spoke english, which made life a lot easier. They were both very sweet and the girl didn’t stop talking all through the journey. I think talking to us helped all of us to take out minds off the situation and it was some welcome light relief after a very stressful few hours.

Tom to the rescue

It was while were on this journey that we finally had a stroke of good luck. I had a call from Tom, a colleague from work and a good friend, offering us a place to stay for the night. We didn’t need asking twice. Given the day we were having, the chance of a warm house, a glass of wine, a nice meal and some top company was very welcome. So we jumped off the train at the next stop and made our way to Tom’s house. I say that like it was an easy process – of course it wasn’t. It involved lugging our bags through the snowy London streets and navigating the brand-new East London line, a stretch of the rail network I had never used before. But made it we did, and good old Tom was there at the station to meet us. To say that we were thankful for the hospitality that he and Jessie showed us, would be like saying the Pope is a bit religious. We were so delighted to be safe and actually feeling relaxed for the first time that day. It was a brief few hours of chilled out, relaxing chat, with a big glass of wine and a great homemade curry. Just what we needed and a total lifesaver.

While enjoying our respite with Tom and Jessie, we decided to book our train from Paris to Poitiers, as there were likely to be thousands of stranded people pouring into Paris the next day and we didn’t want to get stuck there too. So, after some wrangling with an uncooperative printer, we managed to book our ticket and print off the required e-voucher. At least that was sorted, we just needed to get to Paris.

Paris, here we come

At 5.30am we were whisked by taxi off to Victoria station to locate our coach. Having clambered over the scattered bodies of people who had clearly slept the night in the coach station, we checked in successfully and waited for our coach. However the first worry of the day came soon after when there was an announcement that all National Express coaches were cancelled. Our hearts sank and we thought that we were going to face another day stuck in London, unable to get back to the kids (who were, incidentally, being very well looked after by our friends, thank goodness. This knowledge, however, didn’t stop us being desperate to get back to them…).  We soon realised that actually we were going to be travelling under the Eurolines banner, which was a slightly different thing and was therefore not affected by the cancellation. Panic over!

Waiting for the coach

While waiting for the coach to arrive, who should we see but the couple from the airport who were trying to get back to Fontenay! They had booked on the same coach as us and had the same plan – get to Paris and then take a train. We offered them a lift with us if they wanted to get the same train from Paris to Poitiers, but they had already booked accommodation in Paris for the night. It was good to see them again though and made it feel a little less painful seeing some familiar faces.

The journey to Folkestone was largely uneventful, thank goodness. The roads were mainly clear, though there was a lot of snow on the verges, and we arrived at the tunnel in good time. We were delayed for an hour, but took this opportunity to stretch our legs and grab some reading material and food from the shops. Before long we were on our way and heading to the tunnel. Just as we thought we were finally going to get out of England, we were pulled in by French customs who boarded the coach and took all our passports. Half an hour later they returned and handed back the passports. Quite what they were doing with them all this time we do not know.

Arriving at the Tunnel

What we do know is that while we were sitting there waiting, about 10 eastern european coaches breezed past unhindered. Something not right there.
Anyway, we eventually made it onto the Eurotunnel train and finally felt like we were getting somewhere. Once we got into France, surely everything would be fine and we could get home to our kids. Of course, that would have been too easy.

Welcome to Calais

The weather in Calais wasn’t great, with a fair bit of snow around, but no worse than we had experienced in England. We left the tunnel behind and were looking forward to a nice easy drive down to Paris, when suddenly we pulled into a petrol station just before joining the autoroute to Calais. Utter, utter disaster. Because of the supposedly-dangerous weather, the police were not allowing us to continue on our journey. We would be taken to a local sports hall where we would spend the night and we could possibly try again in the morning.

This news nearly sparked a riot on the coach. The weather was nothing worse than we had seen on the road to Folkestone, but the police weren’t budging. They had even parked their car across the front of the coach to ensure we couldn’t leave. An air of total depression fell over everyone on board. I pulled out the iPhone and started looking at options. If only we could get to the station at Calais, we could catch a train from there to Paris. Or even to Lille, then on to Nantes from there. We just had to keep moving, to get closer to the children, there was no way we wanted to just stop and wait.

But sadly the police were not going to be swayed. We were to be escorted to the sports hall and that was that. The fact that dozens of other vehicles were zooming past while we were stuck at the side o the road was seemingly immaterial to them, unfortunately. So eventually we pulled out behind our police escort and headed to the sports hall feeling totally dejected. Our low spirits were not raised at all by us being able to see the train station as we drove away from our parking spot. If only we could divert there, we could all get on our way, but it was not to be.

The Red Cross? Really?

On arrival at the sports hall, we started to feel like we were unwitting victims of a terrible disaster. A man climbed aboard the coach and declared, “Welcome to Calais. You are now under the control of the French Red Cross. We have food, drink and blankets for you and beds for the night. We will look after you…”. Now you might think we would be relieved at this, and indeed we would have been if we had not been desperate to get back to our kids. Such great care would have been very welcome if we were just travelling for fun and not on a race against time. As it was, this was the last thing we wanted. But, not really knowing at this point what was going to happen, we disembarked the coach and shuffled into the sports hall rather dazed and confused.

Once inside, the stresses of the day started to take their toll. We both started to break down a little and making the phone call to the kids to tell then what had happened was a very difficult thing to do. When speaking to Rosie I told her that we were being treated like we had been in an earthquake. She hadn’t heard me properly and proceeded to tell everyone that we had been in an earthquake. After some very worried phone calls, we managed to persuade everyone that we were safe and well and hadn’t actually been victims of a natural disaster, just the over-efficiency o the French authorities!

Seeing Lisa in some distress, one of the Red Cross people came over and offered us somewhere quiet to go and lie down. They were very considerate and we couldn’t have asked for better treatment, but we explained that we really only wanted to get home to our kids. He said he understood and that he would see what he could do to help. a short while later he returned to explain that he had spoken to a man with a taxi firm and he would take us to the station at Calais, from where we could catch a train into Paris and from there to home. We were delighted to be offered a way out. There had been a couple of shuttle buses going to the station earlier on, but the weather was now very bad and our man told us that ours would be the last taxi to leave before the weather closed in.

So we were suddenly feeling a lot more positive, but we now had a different problem. We had, as instructed, left our suitcases on the coach. Having been out into the car park I could find neither our coach nor our driver anywhere. After some 15 minutes of searching, I finally tracked him down. Luckily he was already on his way to find the coach and retrieve a bag for another man, so I tagged along too. The coach was inexplicably parked about 25 minutes up the road, so the walk there through the snow was far from ideal. But we made it through and I dragged our bags back. Good job I did as well, as the driver then refused to go and fetch any more bags after that, so everyone else was definitely stranded.

Time for a new plan

Given the delays on trains heading into Paris, we changed our plan of attack. We would try to get from Calais to Lille, then from Lille we could catch a train to Nantes. We rang our good friend Curtis, who had offered his assistance, and he was an absolute hero. He said that of course he would pick us up from Nantes and take us home, no matter what time of the day or night, and then would take us back to Poitiers in the morning to retrieve the car. We were so, so grateful, and this wonderful news really lifted our spirits – we could finally see an end in sight.

After a while our taxi came and we escaped our well-meaning imprisonment. Upon arrival at the station, we were quite surprised not to see huge crowds of people. One of the reasons we were given for not being allowed to go to the station in the first place was that apparently there were huge crowds there, and all the trains were cancelled. No such crowds at Calais Ville station. It was about 5pm when we arrived and had to wait about 2 hours, but eventually a train came and took us to Lille. After facing the prospect of spending maybe the next two days in Calais only just a few hours ago, the sense of relief to be leaving was immense even more so as the weather was now really closing in around us.

A long time in Lille

Having arrived in Lille, we discovered that our connecting train departed from the other station in Lille. It wasn’t too far to walk, only 10 minutes, but the weather was terrible, with temperatures of about -10 and a strong icy wind stinging our faces. Although that 10-minute walk nearly gave us frostbite, we kept moving, confident that we were getting closer and closer to home. The departure board at Lille Europe station was a sea of delays and cancellations, though the Nantes train wasn’t yet being displayed, so we had no idea of it’s status. When eventually it appeared on the board, our positive attitude took another knock – delayed by three hours.

Waiting at Lille

Ah well, we thought, at least we’re near civilisation. This is a station, there are cafés and bars. We can sit and have a meal while we’re waiting…

If only it were so simple! Everything was closing. We found a bar that was packed – so many people were stranded this night and the station, like most I would imagine, was full of travellers all just trying to keep warm while they waited for a way home. So did this result in longer opening or “special measures’? Not on your nelly. We had just managed to buy a glass of wine each and a small tub of Pringles, the only food they had in the entire bar, when the staff started closing up around us. That was that, we were thrown back out onto the frozen platform to wait for the next two hours.The only consolation was the vertical patio heaters they had on the platform, which provided a tiny amount of heat to help keep the cold from totally killing us off.

In the end, after much shivering and “never again”ing, our train arrived at around 11pm. Poor Curtis, it would be about 3am when we arrived in Nantes, but he was an absolute star. The journey to Nantes passed without any real problems. We slept a lot of the way, totally exhausted, frozen to the core and just aching to be back in our own bed.

Curtis, our saviour

True to his word, Curtis was there at Nantes waiting for us with hot tea, blankets and food. We really are so indebted to him for his assistance, which was way beyond the call of duty. In fact all our friends had been outstanding in their support. Kevin and Amal and Claire and Tony had been superb in looking after the kids for us and the extended stay was no bother to them at all. Everyone on Facebook and Twitter were pouring out their best wishes or us as we kept everyone updated on our progress. It was a very humbling experience for us all to see the reaction to our plight, and we felt very, very lucky to have such amazing friends.

And so, eventually, after having left our London hotel almost 48 hours earlier, we finally arrived home safe and sound at 5am and collapsed into bed.  The journey, like this post, had been truly epic. So many ups and downs, twists and turns, that we had lost track of where we were and what we were doing. But one instinct kept pulling us through, and that was the need to get home to be with our kids. And the reunion with them the next morning was very special indeed.

The end…almost

As a postscript to all this, you will recall that our car was still parked at Poitiers. So, as promised, Curtis came by later on to take me back to the airport to retrieve it. The only difficulty being that I couldn’t find the car park ticket. This was very unlike me, as I am normally very organised about such things and store all tickets and receipts safely in my wallet. but this one ticket was definitely not there. I eventually managed to recall that for some reason I had left it in the back pocket of my jeans. The very jeans that Claire had taken earlier that day, along with a load more dirty clothes from our trip, to help us get caught up on the washing. So yes, you guessed it. The ticket had been though the washing machine.

“It’s ok,” said Claire, “the magnetic strip is still on one piece.”

I assumed this meant that it was still attached to a piece o the ticket. I was wrong! On the way to the airport we called at Claire’s and she handed me an envelope containing what can only be described as a few flakes of card, plus the magnetic strip. this was going to be fun…

Anyway, we took the pieces along to the airport and the man there listened to my sob story about what had happened. Luckily he took pity on me and issued a new ticket, allowing me to take the car and head home again.

And so ends the tale of our nightmare journey home. Our French Odyssey.

Thanks once again to our guardian angels who helped us along the way –  Kevin, Tom, Jessie, Curtis, Kevin, Amal, Claire, Tony and everyone else who helped guide us home to safety. We couldn’t have done it without them all and we will always be grateful or what they did for us.

Although we always know we had the best family and friends, it is often only when you are really at your lowest that you realise it.

And for us now, there is no doubt.

A Christmas Party, Some Old Friends and Some Angry Birds

So, lets fast-forward a couple of weeks from December travel Chaos: Part One.

This was The Plan:

  • We (Lisa and I) travel to London on Thursday for the TweetDeck Christmas party
  • Rosie & Molly stay with Claire & Tony in Puy-de-Serre
  • Joe stays with Kevin & Amal, also in Puy-de-Serre
  • We return to France on the Saturday, collect the kids and go home
  • We all return to the UK for Christmas with the family the following Tuesday

This post will cover the good stuff. The first half . The time when everything was going well and The Plan actually seemed like it was going to work. We wouldn’t want you to think that everything has been a disaster since we’ve been away!

With the kids all safely deposited at school, and our brilliant friends all lined up to collect & look after them for a couple of days, we set off for Poitiers to catch our flight to Stansted. This being the first time we had been away on our own, leaving the kids behind, we both had very mixed feelings. Even though I travel a lot, I am generally on my own and only have myself to think about. Travelling with Lisa was very different (in a good way, of course!) and I couldn’t be my usual businesslike self. Lisa was both excited and nervous about meeting the TweetDeck team, and, of course, leaving the kids behind felt very strange.

The weather was lovely in France, so there were no delays to our flight. Everything went very smoothly and we were soon landing in a dark and gloomy London, feeling very pleased that we had managed a successful trip so far.

Our succes continued, with no problems on the Stansted Express at all and it delivered us into Liverpool Street in plenty of time. The team meal out was planned for that night, so the earlier we got there, the more time we would have to get ourselves freshened up and ready to party. The walk from the station to the hotel was a chilly one, as the icy wind had whipped up and there was snow in the air. But we got to the Travelodge in plenty of time, unpacked, changed and set off down the road to the office.

At the office, the wine was already flowing and there were even donuts left, so the party had definitely already started! Everyone made Lisa very welcome, as I knew they would, but it was great to have her finally meet the folk from work after 18 months. The evening’s fun began with a lovely meal at The Larder restaurant. It was a fantastic meal, and a great atmosphere. There was a “Secret Santa“, in which I gained a….delightful…pink microphone/shower radio…hmmmmm…..  But the evening really came alive with the opening o the mysterious round presents from Iain, which turned out to be big Angry Birds soft toys. We lined them all up behind us in the restaurant, which caused quite a few raised eyebrows among the other party-goers.

After lots of lovely food, and even lovelier wine, we ventured out into the snow-sprinkled streets of London in search of somewhere to continue the festivities. We ended up at a Belgian bar, drinking some very strong Belgian beer, but having some great chats. After a couple of far-too-strong-to-be-healthy beers, we staggered our way back to the hotel, feeling very lucky to have spent such a wonderful night with some lovely people.

The next morning was spent in the TweetDeck “Batcave”. I was working and Lisa was chilling on the sofas. The team were planning a trip to the BFI to see Tron:Legacy 3D at the Imax in the afternoon, so, as we hadn’t been able to get a ticket for Lisa, we were planning an afternoon on Oxford Street. However, with the weather closing in and snow falling, James decided that he wasn’t going to stick around for the trip to the cinema, so there was a spare ticket for Lisa, which was great news.

The film was excellent. I mean, really excellent. Because I have a lazy left eye, I wasn’t sure the whole 3D thing was going to work for me, but it certainly did! We both loved the film, and watching it on such a huge screen was quite special. To add to the excitement, we saw Jonathan Ross in the foyer! We were, sadly, too slow to grab him for a photo – he looked rather scruffy anyway… – but it was pretty cool to see him there.

Earlier in the day we had made arrangements to meet up with our old beach buddies, Kevin & Sylvie. They had left La Rochelle behind and moved back to England a year ago to help their work situation, and we hadn’t seen them since. So we were looking forward to meeting up for a curry on Brick Lane that evening. Before then though, we wanted to take a trip to Oxford Street to see the lights. Lisa had promised the French schools she helps in that she wold take some photos of Christmas in London, so we dived onto the tube and headed for Oxford Circus to take a few snaps before our rendezvous with The Dixies.

As it turns out, we literally did only take a few snaps, as, rather against form, they arrived at Liverpool Street ahead of schedule! So we ended up dashing down the street, taking a few snaps for the kids in school, and then jumping back on the tube again to meet up at the station.

As soon as we met again, it was just as if we had never been apart – the sign of being with true friends. We started chatting at the station and never stopped until we retuned back there again several hours later. During the evening we walked to Brick Lane, where Kevin negotiated us a great deal with one of the many restaurant touts who line the streets there. It was the first “proper” curry we had had for years, and it didn’t disappoint. Though we were all more focused on catching up with a year’s-worth of news than worrying about the food.

It was so good to get reacquainted with our old friends and we vowed to not make it another 12 months before saw each other again.

And so, after leaving  our friends at the station, and having had a wonderful day with the TweetDeck team, we went back to the hotel.

It had been a great couple of days and I was particularly thrilled that everything had gone so well. As you may have guessed, this good fortune didn’t last very much longer…

December Travel Chaos: Part One

December was a time of great highs and great lows, mainly involving travel, or the lack thereof.

It all started the week after Joe’s 10th birthday, a cold and wintry time throughout Europe….

It was time for my monthly visit to see the TweetDeck team in London. I set off from home around 3.30pm for a steady trip across to La Rochelle airport. Arriving in plenty of time, I breezed through the usual queue-passports-security routine without a hitch.  There was a brief rain shower while I waited in the departure lounge, but hardly conditions befitting what was to come.

The expected landing time came and went. No plane. Soon after, rumour rippled round the room that the plane had in fact tried to land, but pulled up at the last minute. Not very encouraging. The truth behind this report was lost in the mists of time, but, true or not, there was ultimately no plane. After a while there was still no plane, but there was an announcement. The incoming flight from Stansted had been diverted due to bad weather (errrr, which bad weather is that…?), and we would now be flying out of……Nantes!

So, rather peeved to say the least, we waited maybe two hours for coaches to arrive and take us to Nantes. Then followed two hours of cold, boring coach travel, during which I figured that this was as bad as things could possibly get. Oh ho ho ho, how wrong I was.

Coaches for a long trip to nantes

We arrived at Nantes and the weather was really not great. La Rochelle had been damp and cold, but Nantes had snow on the ground and more was hanging in the air. Nevertheless, we were ushered through the airport, through the queue-passports-security routine again, and down to the departure lounge. We didn’t have more than a few minutes to wait before the flight was called and we were allowed to leave the comfort of the nice chairs at the gate and forced to stand in The Glass Corridor Of Death. So there we waited. And waited. And then we waited some more. Eventually they let us out onto the tarmac, and onto the mysteriously diverted (or not) plane.

Things being what they were, this was of course not the end. By now it was around 10pm. We waited on the plane for what felt like an eternity, but was actually about two hours. We missed our “slot” and waited some more. Fog started rolling in, surrounding the plane like the Atlantic breakers on our favourite beach. The pilot kept apologising, but insisted that we would still try to leave. If only the weather would improve, or the temperature would rise, or the de-icer would start working, or pigs would start flying… As the temperature dropped, so did our chances of ever leaving Nantes. Finally the pilot’s voice broke through the groans of despair. “Sorry folks,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to take off.”  Well, quelle surprise.

So, we all dragged our weary selves off the plane again and back into the terminal building, there to await yet more coaches. This time we were whisked away (well, after an hour’s wait) to a hotel on the other side of Nantes where we would spend the night, before returning to the airport in the morning.  Cue more waiting, travelling and shivering as we crossed the city to find a bed for the night.

In all fairness, it was a nice hotel, and the girl on reception was very efficient while checking us all in, so we couldn’t complain about that. It was just rather depressing to be settling down for the night in completely the wrong country. But no matter, there was nothing to be done but  go with the flow, so I checked in and crashed out.

Morning came, but the fog was still covering everything. This was not a good sign.
Fog at nantes

Turns out I was right. The coaches swung by at about 9am to take us back to the airport, only for us to find that the flight, previously due to leave at 10:30, was now not departing until 13:00. Marvellous.

Luckily, there were no further delays and we eventually got on the plane and departed for Stansted without any further ado. I arrived in the TweetDeck office almost exactly 24 hours after leaving the house the day before.

So all’s well that ends well, you might think. Well, hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute, as I haven’t finished yet…

After a great time in London at our first ever TweetDeck event, I embarked on the return leg of the journey.

Being totally paranoid that everything would go wrong (how could I be so silly…..?) , I arrived very early at the airport and waited. No problems arose, so I was feeling confident. Until, that is, I bumped into a fellow traveller from our ill-fated outward journey. He had apparently just spoken to La Rochelle airport and heard that they were closed! It seems that all flights had been diverted to Bordeaux. All the evidence at that point (airport screens, Ryanair website etc…) pointed to everything being just fine and dandy. Maybe my flying companion had misunderstood. Yeah, maybe.

So, our flight was called – on time – and I trundled down to the gate. No word of any changes in destination. Then the same chap came walking down to the front of the queue to speak to the Ryanair rep who was checking boarding passes. “Are we flying to La Rochelle or Bordeaux?” was his rather leading question. “The information I have is that we’re flying to La Rochelle sir,” was her somewhat-forced reply. “Well perhaps you should tell the staff on the Ryanair desk, because they have just said that we are flying to Bordeaux,” he countered.  “The information I have is that we’re flying to La Rochelle sir.”  I was to hear that reply quite a lot during the next hour….

All went well. We boarded on time. This was good. The chap in front asked one of the air crew if we were actually flying to La Rochelle. “The information I have…” – yeah, you know the rest. Even though this chap then rang La Rochelle airport from his seat on the plane, and they confirmed that yes, they were indeed closed and had been all day, neither the air crew nor the pilot would admit that we were actually not flying to La Rochelle. So we took off, on time. Even once in the air, there was still no indication of any change of plan. Perhaps things had changed? Perhaps they knew more than we did?

Perhaps not.

Just 30 minutes before we were due to land in La Rochelle, just as we should have started our descent, the pilot came over the tannoy. Apparently there was suddenly very bad weather in La Rochelle and they were unable to clear the runway in time for us. We would unfortunately have to make an unscheduled diversion to Nantes. Ohhhh really?

Cries of “we knew it!” broke out and the mood in the plane became one of great frustration. Lots of people had family and friends waiting to meet them at La Rochelle, who would now be waiting for a flight that wasn’t arriving. If only they had admitted from the start that we were diverting to Bordeaux, then arrangements could have been made and friends notified. But presumably this would have meant Ryanair incurring some kind of extra charges, something they are always desperate to avoid.

Something we didn’t realise at this point was that the Ryanair website was actually showing that our flight was diverted to Shannon. Yes, Shannon in Ireland! “Diverted to Shannon due to snow in La Rochelle, so bus to Bordeaux” apparently. Quite how they thought that was going to work, goodness only knows. Amphibious busses anybody?

So, instead, we landed in Bordeaux (not Shannon). Amazingly, coaches were already waiting there for us. It’s almost as if they had known for a long time that we would be diverted…

We eventually arrived back in La Rochelle around midnight, tired, hungry and more than a little annoyed after having been blatantly lied to by Ryanair. But at least the end was in sight. After an uneventful car journey home, I was very pleased to finally reach my own bed. It had been one heck of a few days’ travelling and not something I wanted to repeat for a long time.

If only I knew what else was in store…