Monday, 18 July 2016

Too close for comfort.

There have been fires all over the department recently (due to wind, high temperatures and idiots with cigarettes) but this one was a bit close! It looked like a large bonfire to start with but definitely not the time of year for that so rang the fire brigade.  They arrived within 5 minutes but the fire was already out of control.  So scary to see it cross the road and burn the fields where we walk the dog each night, and the noise of the trees burning sounded like rocks falling down a mountainside. The 'waterbomb' helicopter hovered over the house but our pool is too close to the house for it to safely 'dip' into so it made several journeys to Lake Raho and back.  

By this time there were around 6 fire trucks but as the fire advanced towards the vineyard in front of us, and the smoke became uncomfortable to breathe, we decided to make some emergency preparations.  One of us put the sprinklers on, positioned hosepipes around the garden, opened the front gate and parked the cars facing the road ready for a quick getaway if necessary; the other one (I’m not saying who!) ran around like a lunatic filling a bag with IPads, telephones, chargers, make-up and a change of underwear! 

Luckily it has been brought under control now and we didn’t have to evacuate.  Looking out of the window all is normal in the garden and the dog is enjoying playing in the sprinklers.  I have never been so close to a fire before and had no idea of the speed and violence of the way it takes hold - and hope never to experience anything like that again. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Information, Information, Information

Perpignan airport was always a bit like a favourite elderly relative that you looked on it with affection, while accepting their faults.  It has been described as ‘a little scruffy and quirky’ – and that was a compliment!   While they are pretty good at getting planes to arrive and depart on time, they appeared to have given to thought to the well-being and onward travel plans of the passengers.   For instance, there was no official airport shuttle bus (you had to know the timetable of the Line7 Cabestany bus which would then drop you off at Place Catalogne in town, 1km from the bus and train station), there were never enough staff at the car hire desks (even if they were miraculously open at the same time that a flight arrived), and there were no tourist information boards –no pretty pictures showing what to do in the region and no advice on how to get there (or even how to leave the airport!)

Happily the airport is now having a facelift and it appears to be major surgery as the process has been going on for years.  At it's worst, the check-in area was a building site with plastic sheeting stapled to the walls, festoons of electrical wiring hanging from the ceiling,  loos located in a portakabin in the car-park, and the ‘shop’ no longer existed.  There was dust and noise everywhere and the only clean thing was the sign apologising for the fact that there were no loos in the ‘departure lounge’.  I use the inverted commas because one would need an excellent imagination to call an overheated cupboard with 17 chairs and a broken vending machine a ‘lounge’.

On Saturday I went to the airport for the first time in ages and was very nearly pleasantly surprised.  The Check-in hall is looking good with a smart cafe and shop area, there are shiny new toilets (with lift access) downstairs, and the car park is now sheltered with solar panel roofing.   I have no idea whether the Departure lounge area is fully functional yet but it seems highly unlikely as passengers have to present their passports at a desk in the corner of the hall and then disappear into a building site.  The Arrivals area is still very much a ‘work in progress’ and you have to wait outside at the far right of the building (next to two portakabins which house Avis and Hertz).   Not pleasant on the few days it rains here, and it will be even worse in the blazing heat of summer…

I am sure it will be lovely when it is finished (hopefully in my lifetime) but so far they appear to have forgotten something very important – Passenger Information.  I was there to meet somebody off the Stanstead flight due at 3pm and it was only by word of mouth that I found out from other people waiting that it was delayed by 15 minutes. We went to watch it arrive but to our dismay it didn’t land but continued overhead, raised it’s landing gear and flew off towards the sea.  As the only information screen in the building was advertising a ‘coffee and croissant’ deal at the restaurant, we could only guess at whether it was too windy to land, or whether there was a sudden Air Traffic Control strike, or whether we would even see it again.

Eventually the plane arrived and we found out (from the passengers) that there had been an obstacle on the runway.  Seriously, Perpignan Airport Authorities, please could you find a few extra euros in your budget for an information desk – a nervous looking check-in lady muttering ‘5 minutes’ with her fingers crossed is not enough!