From Manchester to Mauritius

Christmas 2018 was unusual in our house; instead of all the excitement and bustle and planning involved with the season of goodwill, we were immersed in the excitement and bustle and planning of another epic cruise, flying out from Manchester Airport tonight, Boxing Day.  😊

Yes! We will be jetting off to sunnier climes for a couple of weeks, taking in idyllic, exotic locations in the Indian Ocean, on Fred Olsen’s ship Boudicca, a lovely little vessel on which we’ve had the pleasure of three previous cruises (2008, 2014 and 2016).

Our flight wasn’t until 22.10 hours, so we didn’t have to leave the house until half-three in the afternoon.  Our run down to Manchester Airport wasn’t bad at all, there wasn’t too much traffic on the roads and the weather, for the time of year, was quite mild.

We arrived at the Britannia Airport Hotel just after 6.00pm, where we were leaving the car for the next couple of weeks.  This is because our return flight doesn’t land until 23.55 hours, so by the time we’d collected our luggage, gone through customs, waited for the shuttle bus then driven home, we were looking at an arrival time of around 4.00am (and on a work day too!)  Therefore, we are staying in the Britannia overnight on the 10th January and driving home the next day, at our leisure.

We parked the car and waited outside for the shuttle bus.  It was 15 minutes late and I was quite cold, as my attire was more suitable for our destination than northern Britain in December.  Eventually the mini-bus arrived and it was only a 15-minute ride to Terminal 1.

Well, all I can say is that I have never seen Manchester Airport so quiet, ever.  Apart from our own Thomas Cook charter flight, there were only another three departures, all of them before ours.  It therefore took absolutely no time to check in our cases and go and find somewhere to have a bite to eat and a drink before our flight was called.

We enjoyed a cold bottle of beer and shared a BLT baguette in Upper Crust, where we were the only customers.  The place was reminiscent of a staff canteen, with tiled walls and plastic chairs, so after we’d finished, we decided to go and find a bar, somewhere with a little more atmosphere.

Upstairs we found a place with music playing which seemed quite pleasant, so we each ordered a pint of Doombar and found a seat next to the departure board, so we could keep an eye on our flight.  By this time, the only other flights due to depart were one to Dubai and one to Cork.  As I said, it was surreal to see Manchester Airport so empty; even a lot of the shops were closed, and all the check-in desks were quiet.  We could safely assume that the others passengers we saw here and there were on the same flight as us, to Port Louis, in the sunny island of Mauritius.  😊

Eventually the notice came up for us to proceed to Gate 29, which we did so.  We could see our Thomas Cook A330 aircraft waiting on the tarmac, and we felt the usual surge of excitement at the impending holiday.  We had a 12-hour overnight flight to endure, but long-haul flights are a fact of life if we want to go to far-flung locations and see the world.

We were able to board more or less immediately, and we found ourselves in the centre four seats, one in the aisle and one adjacent.  However, it soon became apparent that the aircraft was far from full, so we kept our eyes on a couple of window seats that backed onto the bulkhead (i.e. there was no-one behind us) which meant we’d be able to recline our seats if we wanted to.  😊

As everyone was boarded and seated in good time, we were able to depart a few minutes before schedule, and our aircraft was pushed back from the gate just before 22.10 hours, made its way to the runway and roared off into the black December night.

Once the ‘plane was at cruising height and the seatbelt sign switched off, we (and quite a few others!) decided to move to a more preferred location.  Some people in the centre had the whole row of four seats to themselves so, by raising the arm-rests on all the seats, they were able to stretch themselves out full length, and cover themselves with several blankets to get a full night’s sleep.

Trevor and I enjoyed a pre-dinner drink and then they came round and started to dish out the meals.  I chose braised beef and vegetables which would have been very enjoyable but for the fact that my tray table was on a slant, and I needed about six hands to stop everything from sliding slowly off it, some onto my lap and some onto the floor.  Only by wedging by knee underneath the tray could I keep it level, but I was pleased when the meal was over and the resulting detritus cleared away.

There was nothing I wanted to watch on the in-flight entertainment, but I had my iPad with me so I had plenty of reading material in the form of digital books and magazines, as well as music to listen to.  However, once the cabin crew had dimmed the cabin lights and made everyone pull their window shades down, sleep was impossible; it always is for me on an aircraft, I can never sleep sitting up.  In fact, I was beginning to wish I’d bagged the central four seats as well!

Anyway… the 12 hours passed in its usual inexorable way and, because we were travelling south-east, we enjoyed a very early sunrise; the aircraft’s wing turning a molten gold as the sky went from red to orange to a brilliant blue.  However, as a lot of people were still asleep, the staff kept coming round and asking people to lower their window shades again.  ☹

Eventually everyone slowly came back to life as the exciting new day beckoned.  When we were about an hour away from landing, they came round with fresh hot coffee and breakfast and we could see “land ahoy” out of the aeroplane windows.

Soon the “fasten seatbelt” sign came back on as the aircraft took up its final approach.  Our captain had told us that we were going to circle round in a holding pattern a couple of times as another flight was due in just before us, but we’d still land on schedule.

Finally, we touched down on Mauritian soil, on 27 December 2018 at 14.10 hours local time.  We had finally arrived, after a looooooooong 12 hours.  😊

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