Hello. I'm in Costa Rica, with Helen. Are you interested in how we got here? If so, here's a Spanish language warning I grabbed off the in-flight entertainment.
I'm normally so well prepared for my trips, but this one has me flummoxed. We're only visiting one country, and for over a week, which poses packing challenges unlike virtually any other trip I go on. This means I've finally succumbed to getting luggage with wheels on. Unfortunately I've bought a not great case, which topples over forwards when fully stocked and regardless doesn't hold as much stuff as I wanted, given how many days clothes I need plus the size of the damn mosquito net I'm lugging across the pond.
But, anyway. The show got on the road at a ludicrous 0405, having booked a cab for 0415 but Mogul are always super-prompt. I'd been awake since 0215. Bleurgh. The reason for our extreme timekeeping is that flight number one - don't go thinking we did this the easy way - was at the ludicrous hour of 0620 from Heathrow, only the 3rd flight of the day out of T5.
The good news is, traffic is as light as you'd expect so we're at the airport for 0435 or so. The bad news is, none of the desks or security are open yet. We have to queue up because the BA app had told us our travel documents aren't valid, which is bullshit but whatever. Helen thinks there is jeopardy here, but I remind her the same message came up when we flew the first leg of this trip back in August.
I'll explain that one in a bit. Except I won't. Anyway, after a very quick visa check we went through the new fast track bit at North Security which deposits us directly in front of a lounge. But, not a lounge we're going to use, because with so little time - it's just about 5am by now - we might as well go to the lounge in the B satellite because, oh for fucks sake, we're leaving from the B satellite. Bang goes my plan to use the first class lounge. Bah!
We're hoping to pop into boots and buy all the toiletries and anti-mosquito stuff I masterfully left packed in a bag on my bed at home, but none of the shops open until after boarding. Oh well. The man at the lounge desk says "welcome back" to me, and then we're in the lounge. There's virtually no-one else about, of course, which gives me the chance to take a few photos without the usual attempts at stealth.
Helen has a great pastry, I have a bacon roll and an egg roll, and then at 0530 the place gets very busy very quickly, including a large influx of kids. Thankfully they are all gone again within 10 minutes because everyone's off to Geneva. We, however, are off to Madrid, and as we approach gate B33 there's a very large amount of people around. Thankfully priority boarding is working fine and we can scoot past them all. Onboard, we're directed to turn left - sadly, not because this is a long haul plane, though it is a 767 (i.e. it has two aisles, 6/7 seats across). We're in the front row on the left, which is obviously row 2.
These are some pretty crufty old Club Europe seats, but comfortable enough. There's a small monitor attached to the wall in front of us which I expect will show us a moving map throughout our journey, but it never comes on. In pocket in front of Helen's seat there's the new "buy on board" brochure, pimping BA's innovative "pay for things we used to give you for free" catering strategy.
£4 for a can of Old Speckled Hen is a disgrace. The inflight magazine carries adverts for Tiger lager, which they used to give out for free but now don't stock at all. Well done, BA!
Thankfully they don't charge for stuff in business yet. In fact, after the hot towel service an extremely pleasant and friendly member of cabin crew comes to offer us our choice from 3 different breakfast options - though there's only 1 of the veggie plates. I go for the hot brekafast, Helen opts for the cold cuts.
My sausage is lovely. Everything else is a bit meh. I'm particularly aggreived to have received marmalade because I was sure he offered Marmite.
Helen's yoghurt - or was it bircher? - was very nice but the rest again a bit pedestrian. Later, when we're asked if we want anything else I enquire whether it's too early for champagne - it is not, of course, and out comes a bottle. In fact, two bottles, because he "couldn't remember" whether Helen wanted some or not. We share them both, and are offered more just as descent starts, which we decline. Today is a day for pacing ourselves, a bit.
The Madrid airport experience is awful. Disembarking off one of their typically lengthy airbridges, we queue up to go through security which I don't remember being a thing, and then look for a pharmacy. There isn't one in this terminal. So we go to Iberia's flagship lounge, the Velazquez. I have had a variety of experiences here: first time, in 2014, I found it to be overcrowded and horrible, with people having to sit on their bags or on the floor and yes, you can grab some freebies but it wasn't relaxing or pleasant place to spend any time. But last November, when the lounge was fairly empty in the afternoon, it was perfectly pleasant.
Well, this time it was awful again. We wandered up and down and up and down, along with hundreds of other people seeking places to sit. Eventually we perch on a wall next to a fake tree but then Helen manages to scout a departing man and we get two seats, for about 10 minutes. Bottle of water, can of Fanta, then let's go get on the plane.
It's a long walk to our gate, U70, past several long queues as numerous long haul flights are leaving all around the same time - Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, etc. Priority boarding is working well again though, so we scoot through and then stand on the airbridge because they're not letting people on yet. Though unlike in November 2016, no-one got shirty and started shouting their head off.
Eventually we are there, onboard flight IB6313 from Madrid to Costa Rica. Helen is in plum seat 1A, with oodles of privacy and a seat by the windows. I'm in the aisle equivalent behind her, 2C. We get acclimatised quickly, and our view of the galley makes it seems as though a pre-flight Cava is imminent. It remains imminent for a good half hour or so. We do get amenity kits though, and then there's a power cut.
Leg room is obviously great, and I stretch out under the rebooting Linux splash screen. There's ample time to play with the seat controls and fill up all the little storage spaces with stuff. A hot towel comes, which is pleasantly not scaldingly hot, and better yet is presented in its own little dish. I don't know why I'm so tickled with this.
The amenity kit is nice, though I'm not sure I have much need for the comb. The hand moisturiser stuff is very pleasant.
And then, once power is fully restored and some Spanish-only announcements are made, we get our pre-flight cava. Huzzah!
Also menus, and an offer of some Spanish language newspapers. There's a hell of a lot of pre-flight stuff going on, not least because we leave the gate at least half an hour late despite having boarded very promptly. No (English) explanations are given for this, but it has given the weather the chance to get worse.
Cheese and quince; chicken consommé; salmon and cold mash; blue cheese and cranberry with leaves. This whole plate is one of the nicest starters I've ever had on a plane. The cheese in particular is fantastic.
The main course burger and wedges, however, is pretty damn terrible. I totally should've gone for the ravioli.
Dessert is a small coffee flavoured cheesecake, paired with a dessert wine. The former was very nice, the latter a mistake.
And then, we're there. Hello, San Jose. It's about 4.25pm. We taxi past some very very small planes lined up outside a baby terminal, and pull up to the proper one. The bridge is attached to the second door so we're nothing like first off, but it doesn't matter. Immigration is well staffed and virtually no queues. We're waved through, and in the baggage reclaim area draw out some colones, the local currency. We've got inside info on how to make sure we use official cab drivers, and after a quick vape are being whisked to our hotel in nearby Alajuela, because there's nothing which can tempt us to stay in the grotty capital.
It's a short ride and hugely overpriced because I pay the tourist tax of "just take my smallest note", which is more than twice the fare on the meter. Whatever. We can't work out how to actually enter the hotel at first, but eventually ring a doorbell and someone opens a different door. Inside, he offers us our choice of two different rooms and we opt for the second one, for no real discernible reason.
There's lots of open air in the place, with nice little places to sit and chill, or worship at a shrine.