Now that we have been back to base for a week, I thought I’d better put in words some of what happened in the first serious travels Su and I had for over three years before memories began to fade.
First, the itinerary. It began with a need for me to be in London in early May for a Masonic meeting, which was to take place three years ago but never did because of Covid-19 and so on. To make the trip worth its while, Su decided to put in France, initially to re-visit Josephine’s chateau before she sold it off. Besides, airport taxes in London are prohibitively expensive. Su actually began to sketch an outline in February or March, involving a flight to Heathrow and a flight back from Aeroport CDG in Paris. She booked the flights and hotels in both places for the key nights, avoiding the expensive periods, so that we were to be away for four weeks, one in UK and three in France. We soon found that Josephine had sold her chateau and that Su’s longtime friend Mei-Mei who is now domiciled in Nottingham had decided to join our French trip which by then had become focused on La Rochelle and the Loire Valley. More significantly, I was to be the driver in France. Su ended up booking two vehicles, one at La Rochelle for four days with three overnights or from 6 to 9 May, and one from Saint Pierre des Corps from 9 to 22 May. She also took out insurances for the car hires and booked the connecting train tickets between train stations and airports, all with military precision. Lastly, she managed to talk a brother, Kenny Ng, who by then was living in London, into picking us up at Heathrow and to join us for the stay in Nottingham and the side trips, implying that Kenny became the driver between London and Nottingham legs, and for the tourism sites in between, during the five days before we returned London, between 27 April and 1 May. What a friend indeed!
Second, some statistics. In the five days from 27 April to 1 May, Kenny clocked up close to 700 miles on his Jaguar XF. He drove us from Heathrow to Nottingham, then to Stoke-on-Trent, to visit the Wedgwood factories and museum and the Pottery Museum, the Warwick Castle, Ripon Cathedral, Harrow Gate and Fountains Abbey, and Leicestershire before returning to Central London. In contrast, I did only about 800 km on the two cars combined, with just under 100 on the one I took up at La Rocelle, but the circumstances were not exactly similar of course, and hence incomparable. First, the three of us in France had little to no French. Second, the GPS on the cars in France were not always aligned with the displays of the Google Maps on the phones. The road conditions were totally dis-similar. I can go on. Finally, we took train journeys in between, to save me some work. It was character building for everyone, and hard work at times.
Before I go into more details of the trip, I would just mention the hotel we stayed at the Paris airport. Su had booked it in March when it was known as Hyatt Regency Hotel. We had used the hotel before, in 2018 when we also stayed for one night. At the train platform at CDG train station, we tried hard to locate the connecting hotel bus shuttle, but we couldn’t find the name of the hotel, so that eventually, we took a taxi to the hotel. Fortuitously, the taxi driver who was a Cambodian asked for the full address, and took us to what we thought was the same hotel we had used in 2018. Indeed, it was, except that we learnt at the reception that the hotel was renamed Atrium Hotel, having been taken over by another corporation on 1 April 2023.
Su had made sure we would be well serviced and had booked a Club Room, implying that we could use the hotel’s Club. After we checked in and had freshened up, we went for the Club, but couldn’t get in initially. We finally did, and found that there was nobody inside. To cut the long story short, we called reception to report that the coffee machine didn’t work and that there was no service. Very soon, a young waiter in a suit came up to apologize for the machine breakdown and promised to bring us coffee and red wine. He returned very promptly with our drinks and a bottle of 2020 red Merlot which became rather drinkable after 20 minutes. Moreover, some bar staff came to organize food although we were the only guests. We stayed from 630pm to 930pm and went to the bar for more coffee, after finishing off the full bottle.
Su found out that the young man whose look and mannerism had pleased her was called Julian, who indeed had probably prompted her to order and drink more Glenmorangie at the bar than she should. Nevertheless, we had a smooth checkout the next morning and boarded the hotel shuttle to Terminal I after a decent full breakfast albeit too salty. We arrived Terminal I at 9:36am for our flight scheduled for 1245h. There was plenty of time, but a lot of walking too. Finally, we found the CX counters, met an extremely helpful CX ground staff who effectively completed for us the bag drop process, from printing the luggage tags to boarding passes, and who had guided us to drop the two bags. The emigration process was fast enough and we proceeded to security after Su unsuccessfully attempted to get into the VIP lounge using the AE card. Security took much longer, more than 20 minutes, but we were seated at the departure gate shortly after 11am, after Su spent more money on her favourite face cream which she found were selling cheaper than in Hong Kong. The boarding process was also quite civilized, orderly and fast. We were seated by 1215h. With the fight mode on, and having been told that the estimated return journey was only 11.5 hours, which was nearly three hours shorter than the outward flight to Heathrow.
I would share with you more details of the trip later.