I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Teed Off

So here's the plan: get up early, have breakfast, plot the day in reverse. What time do we need to be at the airport? How long does the bus to the airport take? What time does the airport bus leave? How long a walk to the bus stop is it? How long does that leave us to Do Stuff?

We actually didn't get up too early, really. Another sugar-heavy breakfast was made even more sugary by the presence of dense and lovely homemade chocolate cake. Limoun was not tormented by any stray insurrection and we sat at the grand table in the middle, since seemingly everyone else from the riad had disappeared early either on excursion or to piss off home I guess.

Oh, hang on, just checked - whirling dervishes are something totally different. The music we'd been treated to in the restaurant was Gnawa music.

We packed our stuff up and went to ask Mohammed what the deal is with checking out. He was fine with us leaving our stuff there, and we didn't even need to pay up yet - despite paying in advance, there is a government mandated tax payable on departure. We told him we'd be back around 2pm or so and buggered off to the bus stop - via a cashpoint which only displayed a blank screen after PIN entry, not useful - for round two of the hop-on-hop-off bus tour, with our 24hr tickets valid until midday.

Back up towards the Ville Nouvelle past the insemination clinic, Cycles Jihad, and the Cyber Parc, the first new stuff of the day came after we went back past the Chesterfield. Having walked back to the Jemaa el-Fna the previous evening there were 12 or so stops of this bus tour we hadn't seen, and without headphones we were reduced to having me read the stuff out from the map in my best fake City Sightseeing voice. "As we proceed down this thoroughfare, one of the widest in Marrakech, visitors to our city often like to pop into the Shell garage for a diet coke on the way to the train station" etc.

Turns out we hadn't missed much on Sunday. We drove down some uninspiring wide roads, saw a fairly impressive train station though no trains, the Theatre Royal, a conference centre, some chain hotels, some parks, the edge of the Jardins de le Menara which would've possibly been worth a visit had it not been crazily hot and with us having no opportunity for a shower or change, and then half hour touring around an area of rich people's houses and posh(-ish) hotels. Again.

Rather than wait for the circuit to complete we jumped off at one of the old city wall gates, being on the edge of the Koutoubia gardens. Across the road and into the gardens we were immediately photobombed and then hassled by Berbers (in great hats). Took a slow wander and sat down for a couple of minutes on the least shady bench we could find, then strolled past the sellers of wooden camels, bracelets, and Adidas wallets to the front of the mosque. The mosques in Marrakech are pretty much the only buildings which reach above 3 storeys, being a 5x1 design which some old fella decided was great and therefore must be used for all mosques in the city.

They are also pretty much the only buildings in Marrakech which don't have a bunch of satellite dishes on top, or mobile phone masts like all the fake palm trees which continued to impress Helen. She took more photos of them than of real vegetation, I think. We were treated to a panorama of satellite dishes from our lunch venue, a cafe balcony back across the square which was yet another entertaining walk. Helen had HORSES! shouted at her by a particularly blunt man, and got scared by a vaguely-too-close encounter with a snake that wasn't being overly charmed or charming. I think I was called Ali Baba another, I dunno, 3 or 4 times and we also had "Fish and chips!" shouted at us, which seems like a slightly worse version of the "Harry Ramsden!" call from Friday and a different kettle of fish/chicken from the "Hey, eat with us, we are better than Nando's!".

Pizza, diet coke, orange juice with cinnamon, virgin mojito and a BIG FUCK OFF ICE CREAM were consumed while we watched the 4 lads doing acrobatics on the ground entertaining the diners though not seemingly having much luck getting any cash for it. Conversation was starting to wane a bit. Was it because we were on the verge of splitting up?

It was about 1pm and really we wanted to get the bus at about 2.30pm. 90 minutes was an awkward amount of time, especially on this hottest of our 4 days. A comedy mis-hearing earlier had made me think Helen was in the mood for buying Big Macs when in fact it was knick-knacks, so we set off to buy some stuff before getting back to the riad. Of the two main drags heading south we'd found the vendors in the western one to be the least trying so headed down that, making a purchase from a non-pushy stallholder of fine kitchenware.

Around the corner and brief encounters with two kittnes whose cuteness cannot be put into words and unfortunately was not pictured, one last Ali Baba and hello, Riad Limoun Amara, time to say goodbye. As we waited for Mohammed to take our cash we snarfed a bit of wifi and saw the flight was delayed, grabbed a tactical piss, and walked our last walk to the Jemaa el-Fna.

Helen's wheely case is more of a magent for attention than even her hair or my ginger face, and is also an added bit of danger to the bike, moped and donkey laden streets. Offers of accomodation and horse transport succesfully dodged we got to the bus stop only 2 minutes or so before the airport bus turned up. So long, Marrakech.

The bus took us pretty much long the exact same route as the hop-on, hop-off tour had this morning except for a diversion to some main bus garage near a huge chunk of the city walls which we hadn't seen before. There was no aircon, a sign told us it was 35 celsius, and an ad told us our return ticket had been worth a good discount on the hop-on, hop-off as well. D'oh!

There was only one other person on the bus, and no others got on. RAK airport is small, with a single terminal and arrivals and departures on the same level. The bus stop dropped us exactly where we'd got on on Friday. By now, Helen was in a really quite poor mood and needed two fag breaks on the 5 yard walk to the terminal entrance. I was trying to gee her up with incessant enthusiasm for the fact we were about to get on a motherfucking plane, but was not having much success.

Handing her a form to fill out allowing us to leave the country didn't do much good either. Morocco requires you give the same information on the way out as the way in, and The Internet had led me to believe the ignorance of most departing passengers would be comparable to those arriving. I steeled myself for delays caused by people in front of us being turned away because they hadn't filled the form out.

Checked in at the desk because there's no online, no mobile boarding pass here. Got our paper BPs and went to the queue into departures, where we experienced delays caused by people in front of us being turned away because they hadn't filled the form out. Though the couple immediately in front of us I felt very sorry for - here was an English couple of pension age, comprising a feisty, in-charge woman and frail, slow man. She was trying to boss him through the procedure and the poor bastard dropped the boarding passes, despite keeping hold of them seemingly his only role; she shooed him out of the way while he stood helpless, unable to bend or even speak faster than 2 words a minute. At the documents check they were informed they needed the forms, but despite a language barrier this steely official did his absolute best to help them. No-one was enjoying this situation and I'm really glad the man gave them a seat, fetched them forms, handed them a pen, etc.

After this check there was security, then passport control, then another police check. Virtually everything was as cursory as the inbound had been thorough. Into the airside area and, hello, shops, hello, duty free, hello, bars selling alcohol. Woohoo! We explored, bought some sweets for our offices, and perched near the expensive bar. Helen was properly down by now, and we sat largely in silence while I blogged. She went to explore, she bought some beer, we ran out of dirhams.

The plane was delayed a bit, but not much. We didn't even try to get into the lounge, as I'd read it was fucking horrible and I also was under the impression it wasn't a proper oneworld alliance lounge, but just one which you can get into with a business class Iberia or BA ticket. I may have been wrong but we'll now never know, and as I type this it occurs to me that the Gatwick lounge was the last hurrah for my dear Cathay Pacific gold card, expiring at the end of this month and impossible to renew. Sigh. I got a lot of good use out of that card, and as of April 1st I have no way of getting into free booze areas when flying BA without actually flying in business or first class. God damn it. :-(

Aaanyway. We played a bit of scrabble, which didn't do much to lighten Helen's mood. I was trying not to try too hard but the going-home-comedown affected and affects her way more than me; as much as she loves flying, she really only loves it when flying away, not when flying home. Me, I just like being in big fuck off metal boxes in the sky. Hell, today me and Mark were discussing flybe flights from London to Inverness which go such preposterous routes as Inverness-Birmingham-Edinburgh-London City. That, to me, sounds like a fucking great way to spend a day.

Alex topped and tailed the trip with yet more good news by SMS while I'm in an airport. Good work fella.

I bought us some more beers on a card with about 20 minutes to go, then at my ill-timed behest we went to the gate too early. Bleh. Managed to find a seat and continue scrabbling, then walked to the plane and... oh. There's a 2yo kid in the row behind us. For fucks sake. Neither of us are big fans of kids at the best of times; locked in big fuck off metal boxes in the sky with them is not even the best of times.

Service was in reverse order to the outbound flight: main box of sandwich and cheese and mousse, then beer, then raisins. Obviously this is because we're flying the route in reverse. I got double food because Helen didn't fancy hers, in fact she really didn't seem to be in the mood for much. My continued attempts to cheer her up carried on failing, but I didn't chase it as much as I might have once done because I know how fucking annoying it can be to be continually asked, are you OK? Are you OK? Is there anything I can do? Are you OK? So we just kept playing Scrabble, and she beat the living shit out of me at it in the second game, after I'd won the first with 'ufo'. What?

Towards the end of the flight things got simultaneously better and worse. Better because Helen managed to source us extra free beer, worse because a group of middle-aged women decided to have a massive pow-wow in the aisle right next to us. They were these upper class ladies discussing at length such things as their high court judge friends' sons, who's anti-semitic and who isn't, how hard it is to learn golf, and how amazing it was that one of their party had actually gone into Marrakech and, wait, hang on, you what? Yes, indeed, it seems these posh women in cheap seats had gone all the fucking way to Marrakech just to play golf but NOT TO ACTUALLY SEE MARRAKECH. Now I can understand going on golfing holidays, but, really, do you go somewhere just to play a course or two and not to actually visit and enjoy the place and surroundings? Really? Not that I should be one to judge someone else's travel habits and preferences, really...

Despite leaving late we landed early, presumably due to some epic tailwind designed to piss Helen off even more by getting us back to the land of 4 celsius quickly. Immediately off the plane I was subjected to a vast, long vent about everything shit from the plane and particularly those bloody women and the revolution was back on. Her solution to avoiding people like that is to bloody well fly bloody easyjet or bloody Ryanair, and I tried to impress upon her my tactic of flying in cabins where it's not even possible to sit next to anyone. We'll see which wins.

A giant queue at the UK border meant we chose to each take a tactical piss in the loos near the Ebola control room. Welcome home. The queue moved fairly quickly, and as I was being seen the woman and her kid next to me were getting some vague interrogation - she had to hand over some papers, and the official asked the lad "what do you call this woman?".

A long walk to the monorail via a fag break, my phone told us the trains were fucked because there'd been delays for ages on the line between Gatwick and East Croydon. Welcome home. Got to the station and there was no Clapham Junction train for a while or so I spunked £1.85 on a diet coke. Welcome home. Down on the platform we learnt that some trains were running so late they were no longer going to stop at Clapham anyway and we had no choice but to wait in the freezing cold for 25 minutes.

Nipped up to the end of the platform to see if we could find a place for a vape, all we found was CCTV - accompanied by a "this is the CCTV room at Gatwick station, ... " announcement just as we got there. Welcome home. Then we saw the big Samaritans billboard while they announced the delays were due to a person being hit by a train. Welcome home.

The schadenforeman was strong. By now I was laughing at basically everything - the cold, the trains, the suicides, the Samaritans, the way it had taken us 90 fucking minutes between landing and getting a train, etc etc. Helen was not quite as impressed but smiling a bit. At Clapham we each had a tight connection, but of course mine was 5 minutes to move either 1 or 3 platforms while she had 7 minutes to peg it with a wheely suitcase along 10 platforms. In the end I actually made it from Gatwick to my flat, once the train had arrived, in less than 40 minutes. Smug Darren is smug. Helen made her service and was home safe about half hour after me.

Country 51, done. 2814 miles in the air. And off out with Helen tomorrow night. :)

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