Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Posts Tagged ‘Gatwick

Sojourn in Southampton

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By Cecil Scaglione 996ce3c14235a270494190f6e455
Mature Life Features
   In a quiet stand of trees outside Old Town Southampton’s western wall is a testimonial to the heart and hardiness of those who sailed the Mayflower to North America. The monument overlooks the site where last-minute repairs were made to the creaking wine ship before its two-month voyage from England to New England in the fall of 1620.
     Since then, this waterfront community has been the port of departure for millions of emigres to Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other parts of the world.
     The Mayflower saga is memorialized by a limestone tower topped by a copper replica of the ship that sailed with 104 Pilgrims and 30 crewmen to plant a colony. Anybody who can trace their ancestry to those original dissidents can have their name added to the plaque on the tower.
     This bustling port of a quarter of a million people that has played a major role in much of British history doesn’t appear on many travelers’ radar despite being less than an hour from the much-visited Stonehenge and its 5,000-year-old monoliths perched on the Salisbury Plain.
     It’s a leisurely train ride from Gatwick Airport midway between London and Brighton. The tracks trundle through suburbanized southern England sprinkled with glimpses of cattle and castles, horses and hothouses, and sheep, small towns and school soccer practices.
     Students from the research-driven University of Southampton and other local campuses give the city an up-to-the-minute air as you wander through and around its historic sights. Occupying a prominent position in downtown’s East Park is a tribute to those Southampton men who helped build the Titanic, which set sail from here on its disastrous 1912 maiden voyage, and stayed with her to the bottom. Among the many memorials to this legendary liner is a large stone pedestal crowned by a bronze angel with wings outstretched as it stands on the prow of a ship, a scene similar to that depicted by actress Kate Winslet in the 1997 Hollywood epic centred on the celebrated ship.
     The new city has been built around Old Town, which stretches south from the main business and shopping district. Entry is through Bargate, Southampton’s most recognizable landmark and the city’s main entrance for much of its history. The town began to bustle shortly after the Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The gate was begun in the 12th century and completed in the 15th. The entrance was built just wide enough for a horse-drawn coach to squeeze through, and was a symbol of political power as well as a means of defense.
     Flanked by two lead lions said to protect the city, the gate was once the site of town council meetings, the local court, and road-toll collections. Shields mounted over the entrance represent prominent families that governed Southampton. There’s a life-sized statue of George III, the “Mad George” who “lost” the American colonies, standing in a niche over the entry.  A stone memorial just inside the gate bears a plaque recalling the havoc hurled here by German aircraft during World War Two.
     Guide Jean Watts explained that Southampton was blitzed badly because it housed a Spitfire factory as well as being a major seaport that eventually was the debarkation point for more than 3 million Allied troops for the invasion of Hitler-controlled Europe. Another reminder of how military and maritime matters mingle is the skeletal remains of Holyrood Church, where Crusaders worshiped on their way to the Holy Land. It was almost destroyed by enemy bombers in 1940 and serves as a reminder of Southampton sailors who lost there lives at sea.
     There’s a Walk the Walls tour that’s free and takes you over the roofs of sturdy merchants’ homes that formed the defensive barricade after a 14th-century French raid. It not only pulls visitors through history, it also offers them alluring panoramic views of the waterfront and draws them to the weekly market erected around the Bargate.
     Before leaving Old Town, we stopped at the Duke of Wellington, an Elizabethan-looking pub just inside the Westgate on the old walls, to sample fish and chips. Several years earlier, a guide at the Buckingham Palace stables advised us to avoid this British staple in London and go for it in seaside towns because the fish is fresher. The dish served here proved her advice was sound.
     For more details, visit southampton, on the internet.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 2, 2011 at 3:25 pm

A Day for Delays

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With the worst winter weather in years trampling all over England, we flew right into its maw, and paid the price. After getting from Bologna to Gatwick without incident – not even a 10-minute delay – on Tuesday, we stayed overnight in nearby Crawley and Bev got her pub-meal fix. Out taxi arrived about 7:30 a.m., a couple of hours after the snow began falling, and got us to Gatwick without delay. We noted how pretty southern England looks draped in white.

Pretty thoughts ended at the airport. The Virgin holding pen was crammed and jammed and under-manned. We were told the world’s largest/busiest single-runway airport had been closed for hours. Then it was announced that passengers on our 11:20 a.m. Las Vegas flight would be bused to Heathrow and the plane would take off at 1:30. Having given ourselves a four+-hour window when we booked USAir to San Diego, things still looked workable.  After milling and telling and listening to strained jokes for 2 1/2 hours, we were shredded into groups of 40 and marshaled down to minibuses, after we poured our luggage into vans that were supposed to follow us.

Now, mind you, it was snowing, but lightly, and it wasn’t cold. I grew up in northern Canada and my memory still works. The only reason we could surmise for closing down Gatwick was that no one ever ordered snowplows for the complex.

AT 1:30, we were told our 747 had not yet arrived from Las Vegas. So they gave each of us 5-pound vouchers “for the inconvenience” and suggested we all go grab some coffee somewhere. We’d all be checked in but no one was certain what gate would be used. We managed to get double vouchers because Bev and I went separate ways to find the source and each came back with our share. And we sat down with a healer from Australia who was heading to Barbados as the guest of a cancer patient she’s working with.

An airport announcement notified us of what gate to report to, where chunks of the group were picked at random to go through security again. And then they herded us onto buses to head to our airplane, which, we learned when we reached it, had just been emptied and the sanitation crew and security folks still had to sweep it clean. We sat in the buses for an hour.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a full plane so we passengers scrambled aboard in rather short order and, after de-icing the wings, unglitching a minor engine glitch, and standing in line for takeoff, we slid off the snow almost six hours late. Which slammed shut our window to our Las Vegas-San Diego flight. And there were no more USAir flights later in the day. ,

The10-hour flight was actually quite pleasant but our concern about getting home lowered our level of appreciation. After clearing customs and immigration at McCarran, we trolleyed our luggage to Terminal 1 and barreled into a Southwest counter. Explaining our position, the ticket agent said we were too late for the 7:35 flight, which was leaving in 20 minutes, but there was another at 8:55. Magnifico? So we called home and arranged for our pickup. Then we were told that a Reno flight had to use our gate first and our San Diego flight was delayed until 9:50. I fell asleep as soon as I sat down on it and didn’t awaken until the wheels bumped the tarmac at Lindbergh.

We got home at 11:20, about 26 hours after we awakened to head to Gatwick.

It was a grand trip but the return journey made us feel like we’d been riding planes and hanging around airports for the past two months.

San Diego smells fresh and oceany. And I’d forgotten how quiet it is here at home.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

January 14, 2010 at 3:23 am

Posted in Britain, Europe, Travel

Tagged with , , , ,

Love Travel, Hate Traveling

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The thought that we’re heading home in four weeks – we’ve been gone a little more than five weeks – not only underscores how rapidly time disappears down the black hole of time, it includes thoroughly uncomfortable images of the physical act of “getting there” and “getting home:” maneuvering the rental car through Bologna traffic back to its stall, manhandling luggage through four airports – Bologna, Gatwick, Las Vegas and San Diego (we also have to change planes in Phoenix but at least our bags get checked thru) — dressing and undressing for security checks, and scrunching in crammed tubes for several hours.

Why isn’t our luggage checked all the way through? We made our own travel arrangements online and, as a result, each leg is a separate transaction. By shopping and buying our own tickets, we saved more than one-third the total ticket cost.

As it stands, Brit Air already has cancelled and re-sked our Bologna-Gatwick leg. We’d planned leaving Bologna in the morning and spending a pleasant day re-visiting Crawley, the British village we’ve hung around about a dozen times on our European jaunts. BA canceled the morning flight and we leave Bologna at 4 p.m., get into our Crawley hotel about 6 p.m. and have time only for a quiet dinnerand fair night’s sleep before heading back to Gatwick the next morning.

It just occurred to us that we’ve never had a satisfying experience with British Air. They’re courteous and polite, but they’re also bureaucratic and unpredictable. We’ve flown them more than a half dozen times and, in each case, they’ve re-scheduled at least one leg of our flight.

When they had a direct San Diego – Gatwick, flight, they re-scheduled our flight back home to a day later. We fortunately had arranged a couple of layover days in Crawley and checked Brit Air before we left the airport for our hotel. Their only response when we complained was, “We called your travel agent to notify you.” When we told them there was no travel agent, we made our own arrangements, there was only silence. As it turned out, our plane was lightly loaded so we each had a row of three seats to ourselves. In a follow-up letter to Brit Air, I told them I understood why they have so many empty seats.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 18, 2009 at 8:46 am

Posted in Europe, Travel

Tagged with , , , ,

Train Trauma

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You should take lessons on how to debark in a train in Europe. There’s no problem when you get out with groups of passengers because someone knows how, or if you’re in a busy terminal where the train doors are opened automatically or from the outside. But when we arrived in Chiusi around midnight and were the only passengers getting off, we got a quick train-training session.

We were in the vestibule at the end of the car and the train stopped and … nothing happened. We started looking for something, anything, and then saw a little red handle that we started twisting and turning and tugging and pulling and pushing and, finally, an observant gentleman heading for Florence who had anticipated our plight – we greeted him and spoke briefly when he took a seat in our compartment and he became aware that we weren’t Italian – came to our assistance and rotated the handle, just like you used to crank old automobiles to get them started.

The door opened and the steps dropped down and the conductor outside, ready to open the door from the exterior, shouted “bravo” and said something to the affect that we had made it. We shouted a “grazie’ to the man from Florence and headed down the stairs under the “binari” (tracks), through the station, onto the street and to the parking lot to get our rented Mercedes.

A similar incident occurred in England a few years ago when we headed back to Crawley, near Gatwick, from London. When the train stopped, nothing happened. A chunky lady shouted at us to open the window. “How?” She pantomimed, so we grabbed the handy straps and pulled the window up. That wasn’t big enough for us to get out. She hollered at us to turn the handle. “What handle?” It was outside, she yelled. So we reached out and turned the handle and fell out of the train in time.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 30, 2009 at 7:25 am

Posted in Europe, Trip Tips

Tagged with , , , ,

Made It

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It took a good night’s sleep in “our own bed” in Panicale to drain away a good portion of the travel thickness that weighed upon our minds and muscles. We got out of Las Vegas with some of its money – not me, but Bev‘s  purse was about $80 fatter and Ross cashed several hundred dollars worth of tickets before he drove us to the airport on is way back to San Diego. I dropped $19.65. Our Mandalay Bay room was only $35 (a special Bev got thru her many jaunts into Las Vegas via airlines and online). Our Virgin Atlantic premium economy seats were just fine for the 9hr 6 min flight. We were among the 44 passengers sitting in the 747 bubble right behind the cockpit. And we had two flight attendants.

Landed in Gatwick with plenty of time to catch a 1 p.m. BritAir flight to Bologna. There was space on it but our tickets weren’t changeable, even with a change fee, and we were told, “We’re very sorry but you’d have to buy a new ticket for 199 pounds — each.” I asked if that was both ways and she just winced. This is typical unwavering British Air bureaucracy. Polite but thoroughly customer unfriendly. So we opted to stick with our original plan and spend 9 hours in the airport. (When we booked the flights, we asked Virgin res agent  if we would make that 1 p.m. flight since our Virgin sked called for landing in Gatwick at 10:30, a 2 ½ hour gap. He said, “It’s possible but not likely” since any delay – Las Vegas weather or problems, Atlantic storm, problems at Gatwick with landings, customs, anything  — would throw us way off schedule. So we booked the 19:30 flight and, as it turned out, landed in Gatwick shortly after 10, about 30 minutes early..

On an earlier Virgin flight from Vegas, we had a 2 ½ hour window for a connecting flight to Pisa but we ran late ‘cuz of a delayed takeoff and some weather and flight attendants had to let us dash out first so we could make our flight. That would not have worked this time because we booked all legs of the flights online ourselves and would have had to await our bags before heading to the connector.

Could have bought some time – 3 hours for 30 pounds each – in the Avianca public lounge, which included some fruit and snacks and a well-stocked self-serve bar. Because it was so slow, the attendant said we could stay as long as we want. Problem was, I didn’t seek it out until about four hours before our departure and it wasn’t worth spending all that dough that late in the day. Did pick up a bottle of duty-free scotch and we had a quiet meal before taking off. More to come…

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 17, 2009 at 6:19 am

Airlines Check in

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E-mail notes from Virgin Atlantic and British Air remind us of our flights next week: Virgin from Phoenix to Gatwick, BA from Gatwick to Bologna. All is A-OK, altho we cannot select BA seats until 24 hours before boarding in other words, when we can book on-line. No seat selection when you buy your ticket. We’re set to leap on line from our Vegas hotel to book both Virgin and BA. Will have to do BA from Bologna on our two-hour return flight and again from Crawley (Gatwick) for Virgin and USAir (from Phoenix to San Diego). We’ll see how it works.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 5, 2009 at 12:59 pm