Woke up this morning to the happy knowledge that, once again, we were heading for foreign shores to start another cruise! 😊 Today we were due to fly to Athens, Greece and enjoy an overnight stay in a hotel before joining the fabulous Azamara Pursuit in Piraeus the next day.
However, amid all the excitement there was more than a touch of anxiety. British airports, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, have been chaotic due to a huge shortage of staff. For the last couple of weeks all we had seen on the news, in the papers and on social media were photos of colossal queues at security at Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds Bradford airports, queues lasting three hours or more and resulting in some people missing their flights! As we were flying from Manchester, this was worrying because, if we missed our flight, we would miss our ship! ☹
We therefore left in good time for the 2½ hour ride to the airport, after first of all taking Cedric the cat to the Greenfield Lodge Cattery to start his holidays.
The weather was horrendous. After a couple of weeks of no rain, in which we had had to make sure our garden was watered regularly, the heavens opened and the heavy showers came down. On the dual carriageways and motorway the spray coming off the wheels of the lorries thundering past meant we had the wipers on full force, and visibility was impaired. However, there were no delays and very few roadworks, so we made it to our long-term car park at 11.50am, where we unloaded our cases, gave the attendant the car keys, and boarded the waiting shuttle bus which already contained one couple. Shortly afterwards a boisterous family of four arrived, everyone took their seats, and we set off for Manchester Airport, Terminal 1.
By now, the weather had turned and the sun was shining brightly between the big white cumulus clouds. As we approached the airport, we heard the roar of a jet engine and watched as an A380 Airbus, sporting the Emirates logo on its tailfin, soared overhead on its way to the runway.
As we arrived at Departures, I looked around with trepidation for the massive queues I’d read about. As we alighted from the shuttle bus, our first impressions were that the airport didn’t look any busier then usual, and this seemed to be the case as we entered the terminal building.
We found our way to the Easyjet check in desks, which were open an hour earlier than they usually would have been, in order to help with crowd control and minimise queueing. The queue moved fairly quickly and, in fact, it only took us 10 minutes to check in our cases and make our way to security. By this time, it was 12.30pm and our flight was not until 15:15 hours, so we felt sure we would make it in time. 😊
We noticed that there were only two security desks open out of the usual four but everyone seemed prepared and had removed any liquids, gels, creams etc out of their carry-on bags and had placed them into clear plastic bags. The zig-zagging queue moved at a steady pace and, in fact, it only took us 30 minutes to get to airside, where we could now relax and start looking forward to our holidays! Yay!
After all the worrying and all the tales of half-mile long queues, angry customers and missed flights, our experience today at Manchester was no different from how it had ever been. 😊
As I hadn’t had any breakfast we were looking forward to enjoying a bite to eat and a pint. We went into the MCR bar upstairs; it was busy but not uncomfortably crowded. Again, we’d heard of 45-minute queues in Costa coffee but once again this would seem to be exaggerated, because we were served immediately by a very pleasant barman.
There were no empty tables, but we saw a guy sitting on his own and we asked if he minded if we joined him; we then spent 30 minutes or so in pleasant and interesting conversation with him before he went off to join his flight.
It was great in the bar! We enjoyed a couple of pints of cold Guinness and a sharer plate of nachos and did a spot of people-watching. Everyone was full of that happy holiday anticipation and many were dressed to suit their destinations already; there were lots of cropped trousers, shorts, flip-flops, t-shirts and sunhats. At one point a load of blokes wearing Rangers FC shirts came in; they were flying out to Seville to watch their team play against Frankfurt in the Europa League Final, and they were all happy and laughing and enjoying a few beers before their flight. Despite the bad rap that football fans seem to have (most of which is unfounded and unfair) the lads were friendly and polite and we wished “the Gers” good luck for the game. 😊
Soon the departures board notified us that Easyjet flight 1941 for Athens was ready for boarding at Gate 6. Picking up our bags, we walked the short way along the corridor to the gate, where we could see our aircraft, an Airbus A320, waiting on the tarmac for us. It would be our first flight since September 2020, when we visited Kraków in Poland for four days.
We took our seats in the aircraft and found that Trevor and I had been allocated the middle seat and the aisle; however, there was no-one in the window seat which meant I was able to stretch my legs across the spare seat. 😊
We were about an hour late taking due to thunderstorms in Germany, over which we would be flying, so ATC had suspended all flights until the storms abated. Then we were pushed back and taxied round to the runway, before the engines gained momentum and we went up, up and away. 😊 This is where our holiday starts!
The flight was smooth and the three and a half hours to Greece passed fairly quickly. We enjoyed some drinks and snacks, read, dozed and looked out of the window at the cloudscape below the wing, as the sky slowly darkened and night fell. Around 10.00pm local time, we landed at Athens International Airport. At that time of night it was not too busy, and going through passport control was a breeze. We arrived at the luggage carousel at the exact same time as our cases, then off we went into the arrivals hall.
We soon spotted the driver holding up a sign with our names on, and he led us outside to a yellow Mercedes which was our transport to the Acropolis Select Hotel. It took us about 30 minutes to get there, through the busy streets that were still thronging even at this time of night, then down a side street to an unimposing hotel façade. We had arrived.
Inside the hotel, we checked in and were allocated room 303. The receptionist told us we had one hour until the bar closed at midnight, so we squeezed ourselves and our luggage into the miniscule lift which clanked and groaned its way upwards.
Our room was simple, but clean and comfortable and had a small balcony overlooking the street. We dumped our bags, then once again took the rickety lift to the seventh floor and the rooftop bar, which afforded us a wonderful view of the famous Acropolis, all lit up on its hill.
It was great in the bar; quiet and comfortable and the late evening air was warm and pleasant. As we enjoyed a couple of beers we looked at each other in contentment – here we were on holiday again, and the adventure would start now. 😊
We slept very well.