Up, upgrade and away Can I kick it?

Oof. My head. I feel somewhat delicate right now. Could be worse, but could be better. As I type, it’s 7.30am local time on a Friday morning here in Naples, Italy. I’m here with Helen, having bought her this weekend break as a mystery-destination Christmas present. I’m gonna write up, in characteristic detail, our journey to reach this room, and then we’re gonna go get some breakfast.

The rules of mystery-weekend-away-Christmas-present is to not require more than 2 days off work, but I broke that by getting us on an evening flight out on a Thursday evening – thus requiring an extra half day off. So the trip really started at about 2pm, leaving my office near Tower Bridge and traipsing through horrible pissing rain and the effects thereof (i.e. huge puddles) with my case. We flew from Gatwick, so my journey commenced with a Thameslink service on which a beggar offers me some tissues, and which took me through the delights of Croydon.

All day my phone had been hassling me with alerts from CheckMyTrip, which desperately wanted to inform me that our 1820 flight was leaving at 1843, or 1835, or 1829, or 1820, or ...

Getting words in between this relentlessness were alerts from the Gatwick app, and BA, all telling me that due to a French air traffic controllers strike stuff might be delayed. Huh. We were already scheduled to arrive at just gone 10pm, arriving much later than that would be very suboptimal. Hmm.

Heading down from her work, Helen was running 15 minutes behind me so I used my early arrival to scope out the smoking area - she was desperate for a vape after sharing her train carriage with a group of Portugal-bound stag do attendees dressed as sailors.

While getting her day’s work woes off her chest alongside the nicotine intake, a hen do turn up for a smoke too. They are wearing matching t-shirts which say “10 CHICKS - 1 HEN - NO COCKS - BENIDORM 2019”. Look out Benidorm!

Inside we go upstairs to departures and through fast track security. I like Gatwick fast track, it’s normally actually fast. Today, I set off the alarm when I go through despite not having forgotten to empty anything. This means my shoes need to be x-rayed separately, and I have to stand in the “hands above your head” extra scanner. Bah. But on the other side neither of the staff members so much as even look at me, and I’m through, bemused.

Liquids and iPads and stuff back in our cases, I want to take the not-so-secret corridor that leads pretty much directly to the lounge, but Helen wants to go to Boots. This requires a Stansted-esque walk through a giant retail corridor of duty free goods before we even emerge in the main airside area, where Boots is found. Stocking up on missing toiletries, the queue at the till is slower moving than it should be due to the presence of an argumentative woman taking up the time of several staff members as she insists she should be able to buy stuff and have it bagged up so she can collect it on her way home. Having it explained to her repeatedly, she will not accept that Boots don’t offer this. Maybe “World Duty Free” will do it, but not Boots.

Retail done, back upstairs we get the lift to where the BA lounge is and are welcomed in to turn left, into the first class bit don’t-you-know. I will be sad when I no longer have a card this shiny, and am enjoying the benefits it brings right now. As regular readers of my diaries know, this predominantly means champagne.

Let’s not get into the pronunciation of “scone” and just concentrate on the fact that I had clotted cream but no jam. Terrible, I know. Anyway, aaaaand relax. Holiday has started proper now we’re in the lounge, staring out the window at all the planes jockeying for position in the grim weather, fizzy plonk in hand. At work, a couple of hours prior, I’d been asked by my product manager whether I like to drink when I’m travelling. Yeah, a little...

There’s an a la carte menu for other food but I’m content to go fill a plate up from the buffet. Since we’re off to Italy I find it apt that more than half the offerings today are Italian: I have Sicilian meatballs, Florentine fishcake, pasta, and potatoes. It fills a hole but isn’t knock-yer-socks-off lovely.

There may be time to grab something else off the menu, and Helen does consider doing so – this forces me into a Big Reveal: unbeknownst to her, when checking us in for the flights on Wednesday evening I’d paid to upgrade us both to business class. That meant we’ll get fed for free on the plane, so it would be unwise to fill up in the lounge.

Better, then, to keep staring out of the window at all the planes ‘n that.

Returning from the loo, Helen informs me that the sanitary waste bin has undergone a rebrand and now says “offensive waste”. Wait, what? Jesus. Mind you, she’s lucky there’s a ladies’ loo at all: for a good two hours or so she’s the only woman present (“at least two of the staff are women!” doesn’t win me any points). It is an absolute sea of gammon.

Aurigny’s puffin logo is quite cool.

At some point I post a location check-in to Facebook with just the champagne emoji as message. One of our friends, Charlotte, happens to also be flying to Naples this evening too but with EasyJet, from the other Gatwick terminal. We learn that while lording it up over here in the BA First Class lounge, she’s in a Wetherspoons so busy that queues have formed. Something something other half lives something something.

Our gate is announced around half an hour before departure, which is going to be on time. It’s gate 1. Leaving the lounge we somehow emerge into the main terminal through a different door than the one we entered via, and find ourselves next to Boots. Grr. Gate 1 is very close and as we approach, boarding starts. They’re doing it by group, but so quickly it seems to not make much difference: it starts with group 1 and 2 simultaneously, and before we can even reach the desk they announce group 3.

Whatever. We’re on in fairly short order, find space for our bags up top and plonk down in seats 2D and 2F. Once boarding is complete we see that business class is very empty, only 5 seats of 16 occupied. We’re given menus for our food choice, which tickles me and I don’t know why.

A (very) hot towel is offered just before we push back, 25 minutes after scheduled departure. Our captain has informed us about the ATC strike and that we’ll be avoiding French airspace, but even so are likely to arrive on schedule.

With the weather staying bleak, there is little advantage to having a window seat. Sussex looks a bit shit really.

Oddly, there is no curtain between business and economy class. In practical terms this means the entire flight is punctuated by people using the loos at the front which are meant for us wankers. There is almost always someone in it and another person hanging around waiting, often there’s a proper queue. I remain continually amazed at how people can’t strategise on the ground and then last a couple of hours up top. Perhaps I’m just very good at being dehydrated.

When service starts, the cabin crew serve the man in row 1 first, then the folk in row 3, and finally us in row 2. Huh? I’m distressed by this, but when we are finally attended we are each referred to by name and service is disarmingly friendly. I’ll have the macaroni cheese please.

  • Mac and cheese
  • Feta and peppers with goat cheese salad
  • Apple crumble
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Bread

All washed down, obviously, with champagne.

Actually, that’s not obvious. 2019 is BA’s 100th anniversary and to celebrate that fact they’re doing all kinds of marketing shenanigans, including having partnered with BrewDog to commission an exclusive IPA designed to suit airborne tastebuds. It’s called Speedbird 100 and they’re very proud of it.

I’d like some, but ... business class passengers can’t have any. Yes, you heard. I could have Heineken or Tiger or whatever, but the BA exclusive IPA is only available onboard for the folk in economy who have to pay (£4.45 a can) for it. This seems really fucking daft to me, and to the crew as well. There’s even a multi-page article on BrewDog in Business Life, the magazine only in the business class seat pockets ‘n all – but no, I can’t have the beer. Ho hum.

Helen went for the beef bourgignonne, which was reportedly very nice. In fact I can attest to that, ‘cos I had a mouthful and it was super tender and tasty.

The champagne gets refilled, and refilled, and refilled. I like this. Outside also got nicer, once we rose above the clouds.

It starts off with yer standard blue-sky-above-white-clouds.

With time getting on, as we fly over Germany things start to dim.

And then I realise, hang on, some of that white stuff isn’t cloud - it’s mountain.

Because we’re flying over southern Germany/northern Italy, the Tyrolean alps. Hurrah! Not quite as picturesque as flying into Innsbruck but still a lovely sight.

As we fly south along Italy’s spine, the sunset looks lovely.

After around 2 smooth hours in the air we start our descent, which is needlessly and unpleasantly turbulent. Landing just before 10pm we’re actually ahead of schedule. A few weeks ago we’d floated the idea with Charlotte that we’d wait for her and her mate to get a cab into Naples together, but hadn’t spoken further about it. So here we were, a good hour or so ahead of them and quite pissed so fuck it, we’ll just get the bus.

There are men loitering around the bus ticket machine, looking like scammy taxi drivers or something, maybe trying to persuade people that the bus isn’t running or whatever. I dunno. I nip to the loo while Helen attempts to buy tickets and fails because cards don’t seem fail here; when I return she shows me the process and how it doesn’t work, I wave a credit card at the thing and tickets are dispensed. Go me!

Outside, the signs to the Alibus stop are plentiful but moderately confusing, since the Alibus logo itself incorporates an arrow which mostly points away from the stop. When we finally get there, there’s a queue of maybe 20 or so people ahead of us. Some cab drivers pull up and try to convince people that the bus isn’t running and they should get a cab. No-one bites, it’s plainly not true. Then they start offering rides for exactly the same fare as the bus, still to little success.

The bus turns up and we get a seat at the back. It’s a pretty quick ride into Naples, and has mostly emptied out by the time we reach our, and the bus’s final, stop. We’re down by the port area, and apparently there’s a fight taking place right next to us as we get off the bus. I say “apparently” because, honestly, I only found out about it this morning. Last night I literally didn’t notice an actual fight just a few feet away! Ha.

Our hotel is a 10 minute walk through mostly deserted streets. We’re staying in “Art Resort Galleria Umberto”, a boutique hotel inside a UNESCO world heritage shopping centre. Reviews on TripAdvisor are ... mixed. Helen had read quite a few of them back in the lounge, reading out the ones where people say “worst hotel ever” and so on. I knew it would be a bit quirky...

Several of the reviews complain about kids playing football inside the shopping centre below, until gone midnight, making lots of noise which is easily audible from the rooms. Sure enough, as we enter there are tons of kids kicking balls around and making a racket. One group are playing what appears to be Headers and Volleys. Y’know, just keep the ball from touching the ground. While we wheel our cases through the melee one lad punts the ball very high in the air and it’s looking very much like it’s going to hit us – I keep my eye on it and, hang on, hang on, I’ve got this ... I shit you not, I raise my heel and perfectly volley the ball back into the group, to audibly positive reaction from the kids, and the game continues.

I FEEL LIKE A FUCKING CHAMPION for doing that. Honestly. I mean, I absolutely suck at football, yet this one glorious kick makes me look and feel awesome. It’s a continuation of general English awesomeness over the past 9-12 months, clearly; semi-final of the World Cup, nations league winners, all four finalists of the two major European trophies, and now loaded up on champagne even this fat English idiot has discovered timing and touch.

Ahem. Anyway. We ring the hotel’s bell and the large iron gates are opened for us. Inside there’s a classic old elevator, a bit rickety but I love it - big metal door to open, then two inner doors. Up at reception we’re greeted by Francisco who is expecting us. He says we’ve got our requested twin room. Wait, what? We’d rather a double... he seems confused by this, and turns over a post-it note with lots of notes about the booking on it. Huh. We say we’re fine, whatever, we’ll push the beds together - he says that may not be possible, and perhaps we want to change room in the morning. It’s late, we’ll just deal with whatever however, so he walks us down a floor to our room in which there is, predictably enough, a double room. Perfetto.

The hotel is a bit bizarre, really. Architecturally it’s pretty stunning. The art is weird. The ceilings are enormous. We have a balcony into the inside of the shopping centre, not one on which you can sit, only lean out and watch the kids playing football. Rather than do that we put the TV on, which has about 400 channels and they’re all in Italian. Yes, yes, I know, we’re in Italy, but come on, can’t we have Sky News or BBC World or something?

Francisco had told us we could order room service beer if we wanted, or go out into the city, but neither of those seem particularly sensible. The minibar will do for a nightcap. Thankfully we have our own bottle opener because there isn’t one in the room, nor is there a corkscrew so how one is meant to drink the wine is a mystery.

By now it’s beyond midnight and we’re exhausted. Last thing to do before sleep is plug a few electronics in to charge. This is harder than it needs to be, since the wall sockets don’t all appear to be the same size: a couple of plugs happily fit in 2 of the nearest 3 sockets but not the third, yet another plug fits in a different two. I mean come on, what the fuck’s going on there. I’m too drunk for this shit. Just let me sleep. Goodnight.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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