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September 28, 2006

Welcome back to England. We are shut. And paranoid.

So on Sunday I had to travel from Edinburgh, where I had been speaking at a conference, to Austria. In retrospect I probably should have just got the cheapest direct flight from Scotland to anywhere in Germany and then got a train service into Salzburg, but instead I had a quick flight down to London, followed by a Ryanair trip to Salzburg.

What a mistake that turned out to be.

In the end I had to leave the hotel in Edinburgh before they were starting to serve breakfast, and I'm not quite sure how I stayed awake to actually board the plane. Credit to British Airways, I got a good in-flight cooked breakfast, which pretty much turned out to be the higlight of the day.

Once back in London I had around six hours to get from Gatwick to Stansted, which sounded a lot easier than it turned out to be. My backpack was a good six kilograms heavier than it had been when we were travelling through Europe, so I was finding it a bit of a struggle.

I got the train into Victoria, and wanted to get to the toilets. They were shut, but a member of staff helpfully directed me all the way from Platform 18 to Platform 1 to the other set of toilets. So, having toiled across the station with my backpack, I got there to find another member of staff helpfully telling me they were shut too. Pleasing.

My plan was to go from Victoria to Tottenham Hale, and pick up the Stansted Express there, which was thwarted by engineering works on the Victoria line. So I had to get the Circle Line round to Liverpool Street, where at least I could finally use a toilet.

Once I reached Stansted I slogged my bags up to the terminal, and then tried to settle in the O'Neill's franchise pub there to watch a bit of the conclusion of the Ryder Cup. I needed to get a bite to eat, so ordered some nachos. Which had run out. How can you run out of nachos - they are just Doritos with some cheese on them stuffed in the microwave for 45 seconds?

Still, I had a clue about how they would have been if I had been able to have them. The barman informed me that I could have nachos with chile con carne on top, or "Fully Loaded" nachos with all manner of extra stuff on, but that they'd run out of nachos that didn't have any topping on them. So go figure how "freshly made" they are.

The real difference when travelling with an enormously painfully heavy backpack on your own is that you can't even leave it behind with your partner when you go to the 'facilites', so cue amusing scenes of me trying to wedge myself into Stansted's toilet cubicles with my backpack on, taking the pack off, then having to put it all back on again before I could get out.

Checking-in took forever, even though I was at the desk almost as soon as it was announced. Then my bag was overweight for Ryanair, so I had to lug everything to another desk to pay the excess fee, then go back to the original check-in desk to get my boarding pass, and then carry the whole caboodle to the "oversized baggage" check-in.

Then there was the security. Exactly the same person and stuff that breezed through the airport at Chania a few days previously took nearly 45 minutes to get through the unique British pedantry of Gatwick security. Thank goodness that we are not losing the "war on terror", I mean, just imagine if we were letting those fanatics successfully change our way of life.

02airporthotel After all that, I very nearly missed my flight. With ten minutes to take off time, the computer screens in the departure lounge were still saying "Wait in longue" rather than "Go to gate", but as I was bored, and couldn't see anyone around who had checked in nearby me, I decided to take the train transport to the departure gate. And just as well, as I squeezed on as virtually the last person to board, whilst the info screens were still blaring out "Wait in longue".

The flight was then really turbulant, one of the worst I've had, so I was pretty relieved to hit solid ground again at Slazburg airport. I'd booked a room in a hotel within staggering distance of the airport terminal, so was pretty glad when I left the building and could see the blue neon signs around the corner.

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