Keep Palma and carry on

It's September, which means 2 things. No, wait, 3 things. Actually probably a few more things. September means things.

September 2016 means it's time for me to go abroad again, for chapter the 9th of my resolution. It means the 10th anniversary of my giant solo round the world jaunt which kicked off the luxury flying habit - though at the time, I thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime gig with a payoff from the miles earnt. It also heralds the end of my most lucrative mile earning credit card, the excellently productive 2.5 miles per £ card I've held for all of those ten years. And it means... something else, which I've now forgotten in the course of writing this paragraph. Ah, whatever.

It's 11th September as I type this, in a hotel in badstreet Palma, Majorca. On television is a documentary on RT about how life has changed since 9/11, commemorating the 15 year anniversary. We've only been here about 8 hours.

I like to relax before a holiday, so after getting drunk on Friday night and falling asleep on my sofa watching Sexy Beast I got up early on Saturday and went and did parkrun. Then I shifted an old TV into my garage, tidied my flat, packed, and went to the pub for breakfast. Then to Kingsmeadow for a couple of beers and a 3-2 loss to Sheffield United, which I left with 83 minutes on the clock to peg it to New Malden for a train.

As if I wasn't cutting it fine enough, walking as fast as my knackered legs would carry me in the humid nastiness, I was less than delighted to find the direct route was somewhat impassable.

Drenched in sweat and chest heaving, I made it to the platform around 30 seconds before the train arrived, on which was Helen. Yay! We journey to Vauxhall while getting a stream of photos of my newly clean flat from Wooj, who is as perturbed by Helen's requests for photos of the loo as I am.

Quick trip to Starbucks for sandwiches, we entered the Victoria line tube station with the tannoy telling us all public transport was fine except for minor delays on the Northern Line. By the time we reached Tottenham Hale, the whole capital appeared to be grinding to a halt. Each station announcement had been accompanied with a new failure: everything's fine, except rail is suspended from Walthamstow, and from Seven Sisters, and the PIccadilly line is totally broken, and the District line is falling apart, and, and, and, ...

Thankfully, the Stansted Express is unaffected. We waved our printed out tickets at a disinterested barrier-minder who let us through and onto the train already waiting on the platform, departing in just a couple of minutes. Got seats, paid £1.35 for a can of Diet Coke(!) and listened to a man talk to his wife on speakerphone about being on the train and so home soon.

No-one checked our tickets and there's no barriers to get out. Huh. The first advert in our face at the station was for Stella Artois and my oh god, Stansted, home of the dreaded low-cost carrier snobbish awfulness kicked in hard. This was not helped by the fact I'd read numerous tirades about just how appalling an airport Stansted is. Let's see, shall we.

The first notable thing is that the signage uses the largest font I've seen this side of the Hollywood hill sign. I mean, holy hell. No-one's going to get lost here. There are a few people about but it's not teeming, and there's no snaky queues at any desks or owt. Up at the end is security, which also doesn't look too busy and oh, on the left there's a fast track line. Let's go through there.

Not overly fast, is it. Decanting our stuff into trays, Helen is chastised for the size of her clear plastic toiletry bag. Like, you what? I have no such difficulties, until setting off the metal detector despite not being absent-minded: there's no metal on me at all. The bloke swabs my hands, waist, and shoes, and away I go. Bags come out and we walk past numerous examination rooms named after trees, and I am tickled by the one marked "Spruce [in use]".

One of the big warnings I'd had about Stansted was that it's a loooong walk before you actually reach somewhere you can sit down. Jesus, they're not wrong. You have to walk, and walk, and walk, past tons of shops arranged in a winding route, midway through which you're told you're still 15 minutes from any gates.

Eventually there's a bit where it opens up; there are some seats, and a Wetherspoons, and a Burger King, and so on. And there's a sign which says "Escape", which seems like an apt desire once you've reached this point. We head that direction, down a corridor decorated with pieces from the iOS game Noodles which I've been addicted to for the last few days.

Escape is, of course, a lounge. £25 to get in or £21 if you pre-book. Can it possibly be worth that money? No, it can't. Thankfully we don't have to fork out because entry comes for free with our flights. Come on, you didn't expect otherwise did you?

At the entrance desk the woman checks our boarding passes and our seat numbers and scribbles our names off a list and says we've got tables reserved but because they're not busy we don't have to sit there if we don't want to. Nonethless she escorts us to our reservations.

Wait. What? Reservations with our names on!? I've never heard of such a thing in a lounge before. We can only guess why this happens: presumably, being a pay lounge with capacity constraints (it's not very big) they have to ensure those who can get entry through virtue of their ticket are actually guaranteed that benefit. Something like that.

Anyway, here we are in a lounge. Let's get something to drink. I walk up to the bar and a surly woman tells me the prosecco and champagne costs money, so I ask for two Carlsberg. She angrily asks how many people are in my party, implying she wouldn't serve me two if they were both for me. This despite the fact the bottles are 275ml, so not even half a damn pint. Also, they are warm. This is an unedifying experience and matches that of Helen when she went up for a shit glass of wine later.

Most of the seating is reminiscent of a shopping centre food hall, which seems apt. There are hot pastry goods and HP sauce, but I opt for a plate of cous cous, potato salad, cheese, and cold meat. It is pretty ropey stuff, especially the cheese. There aren't many people around, most notable are the women to our left who engage in a loud Skype video call to show a child off to another relative, and at one point summon the lass from the front desk to provide "how to take a screenshot on your phone" tech support.

Through a window we spot a monorail, and I wonder if we'll need to get it. The departure boards say we're going from gate 4, and our boarding passes say the gate will close at 2015 so we set off at about 8pm.

Huzzah! Yes, we need to use the monorail. There are only 3 other people on it. Where is everyone?

Seriously, where the fuck is everyone? We saw about 5 other people around here, and none of the other gates have any planes departing.

The giant font is also in use for the symbols. Trek through the shops aside, this is really not the horror story I'd expected. When will I learn not to trust the hyperbole I read about airports?

Gate closing at 2015 becomes "boarding", despite the fact we're sat at the gate with a handful of other people at 2020 and no-one has moved. But soon enough they say hey, everyone, we're starting boarding for people in Club Europe or those holding shiny cards. Pretty much everyone stands up, despite not being in Club Europe or holding shiny cards. We, however, are both.

Yep, BA fly from Stansted. The BA Cityflyer planes that run from London City airport during the week would be wasted sat on the ground with the reduced service from that airport on Saturday (and it's closed on Sunday) so during the summer they send them on tourist routes, and that's why we find ourselves boarding BA2295 from Stansted to Palma de Mallorca. And we're in Club Europe, front row on the right hand side with the infinite legroom.

See? Infinite.

This is a trip with a purpose. We've each paid cash for these tickets, but heavily discounted with Avios during a sale back in June. When you pay with cash and contribute Avios, you earn back Avios and tier points (whereas when you pay with Avios and contribute cash, you do not). The tier points earned from this trip will gain Helen a shiny silver card like I've got. Hurrah!

Also, Club Europe means champagne. Actually, on this route, it means a printed menu. I am crazily impressed by this turn of events. A printed menu on short haul!

The plane is an Embraer E190, seats 2x2 which feels surprisingly cosy compared to 3x3, and it means we can sit properly together without that blocked middle seat nonsense. As we take off I spot a Qatar Airways plane on the ground, which seems quite literally out of place.

In the air the drinks service comes very quickly; business class stretches back 10 rows, but there's really no need for it to be so big because it's pretty damn empty. In fact, I think I overheard the departure verbal paperwork referencing the fact there's only 46 passengers on board in total.

We opt for one of each dish so we can both try both, and would like to accompany it with more champagne please. In fact, as far as we can tell, everyone in business class is on the champagne except for the guy in row 1 necking Coca Cola.

This is the chicken. It is nice, but very dry. The salad is bland, the best thing about it being the pomegranate dressing. The cake for dessert is a tasteless spongey vessel for the bland topping and OK sauce. The champagne is nice though.

And this is the fish. It is also bland. The potatoes are the best solid on this plate.

Intriguingly, the teeny tiny "refreshing towel" in the little pack of stuff comes in 6 languages and, er, provides ingredients. Ingredients? And an address, should you wish to write to someone in Belgium. What?

Champagne keeps coming, largely because I keep asking for more. Helen gets ever more confused about how long we've got because different devices are showing different time and then quite suddenly we're 15 minutes from landing. Oh! Everything is packed up in a hurry., and we can see lights out of the window. The nose of the plane being held up as we land feels much more pronounce than on a bigger plane.

BA get to use a gate with an airbridge, which means we avoid the Air Europa horror of utterly rammed buses that we see while we taxi. Arriving passengers are decanted directly into the terminal alongside departing passengers, which makes me think ooh, good place for a "start from Europe" jaunt this.

A long walk past closed bars and shops and then onto a travelator, where we're behind the bagless man who'd been on phone on the Stansted Express. Oh! Maybe he just nipped over to watch West Ham or Arsenal? Good work that man if so.

We don't really know how to get to our hotel, but have vague memories that we picked one in the city because there's a 24hr bus and it's easy to find. So we go to the bus stop and clutch the €6 the official website has told us it'll cost. The driver tells us it's actually €10. Damn it. Onboard is busy, seemingly a mixture of travelling folk and, once out of the airport, just regular drinkers and clubbers going places.

They stop announcing the bus stops once we get to the bit where we could really do with announcements, so we almost miss our place. The streets are not busy, but not deserted: there seem to be a lot of people either just heading out, or heading home. It's a warm and sticky night.

Google maps shows us the way to go, up some archduke's road past a shady looking park, turn left at the casino and hello, hotel Abelay. The photos on the website have done a fantastic job because it's not a classy place. The young lad at reception is friendly enough and we're up on the 5th floor, accessed via a lift which is very slow and full of lies about needing a password for the wifi.

Even though by now it's 1.30am, we fancy a night cap. There'd been one shop (which I'd not let us stop in) and the casino which looked open, and that was about it. The reception guy tells us where we can get a beer and indeed it's the casino, but first we walk past to get to an ATM. I spot a dimly lit store nearby and wonder if it's truly open and will serve beer. Yes, and. yes! The man behind the counter is very friendly and speaks English to us, despite an ongoing stream of words coming from an invisible man beneath him.

4 Estrella Damm cans and two bottles of water. Back to the hotel, our tiny TV has tens of Spanish channels and two English language ones, being RT and France24. There is no good news in the world. The only usable plug socket for charging phones overnight is directly above my head, and our double bed is two singles shunted together. G'night.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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