Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Spring Fever 2008

From T5 to Paris

I'd set the alarm for 0530 - unnecessarily early, but allowing me time to have a reasonable look around Heathrow's brand new Terminal 5. I had a cup of tea in my room before checking out and walking the very short distance to the HEX platforms at Paddington Station. In no time at all I was on my way and, once we got to Heathrow Central, it was a little strange to be continuing on the new branch to T5. It was even stranger when we pulled into the shiny new T5 station alongside a London Underground Piccadilly Line train. I took the lift up to the top floor of the building and emerged into the sparkling new, very light and airy Departures Hall, with its soaring roof. So far, very impressive indeed! I used a SSCI machine to obtain my boarding pass, having had no access to a printer when I OLCIed, and even though I'd read about this, was taken aback when out popped a flimsy piece of thermally printed paper

When I then made my way over to a so-called Fast Bag Drop, things started to unravel just a little. It was quite clear that many passengers - perhaps even the majority - were treating the facility like an old-fashioned check-in desk. Needless to say, this was a bit unfair to those of us who'd played the game as it was meant to be played and had taken the trouble to visit a SSCI machine first. I then took the opportunity to stock up on Euros and made my way into Security. This was a complete disaster, and it wasn't just teething troubles; it was really bad design. Even in the Fast Track (which was so much of a sick joke that even the queue dragon called it the Slow Track ), the queue snaked round and round while the hopelessly inefficient process at the end of it took its course. If one concentrated on the arch that people had to walk through, it was quite obviously operating at well under 10% efficiency. Most of the time, it just sat idle, while people were stopped trying to put their things into the trays for the x-ray machine. The problem? Far too little space available for people to prepare in advance. It took me 30 minutes to get through Security in the so-called Fast Track - an utterly and inexcusably abysmal performance   Come on, BA and BAA - for goodness' sake get this embarrassing shambles sorted!

Once airside, I realised that my lounge visit, even with my departure now delayed by half an hour, was going to be on the short side. There certainly wouldn't be time for any lounge-hopping; that would have to wait for another time. I made my way to Galleries First, with features such as the cloud artwork, the wall of time and the horse lampstands already familiar from pictures on the Internet. I had a look around before having some breakfast and a glass of Champagne. The lounge really is finished to a very high standard indeed and is absolutely huge! An unexpected moment occurred when I was lining up a photo of the Champagne Bar, when a woman approached me saying "Excuse me, Sir, you aren't allowed to take photos in the lounges". I said something along the lines that she couldn't possibly be serious. (I should add that I was careful to wait until no fellow passengers were around. I would never wish to invade anyone's privacy on these occasions.) She said - very nicely, in fairness - that indeed she was being serious and offered me a little souvenir brochure as a substitute. I really think our society is going completely mad. Anti-social and criminal behaviour spiral out of control, but don't worry, folks; we're stamping out the scourge of still-life photos taken in airline lounges

(Link to flight log in side panel)

CDG was a bit of a concrete-infested dump after T5, but it did manage to function very efficiently. (Which is preferable : a beautiful airport terminal, or one that actually works?) Much to my relief, I was soon in possession of my suitcase. As I made my way in the direction of the RER station, I spotted a bus parked outside, bearing the destination Paris L'Opéra - the very place I needed to be! A quick change of plan had me on board and less than an hour later, I was checking into the IC Le Grand. This hotel is something of a Paris institution and it enjoys an enviable location. Considering that this was a free award stay, I felt lucky to be upgraded to an Executive Room with opera house view and to be given Club access

I visited the Club for a spot of lunch and then was ready to set out on a bit of sight-seeing. The weather was far from ideal, but at least it was dry and not too cold when sheltered from the breeze. I walked along to the Madeleine church, then made for the Place de la Concorde. I then turned and walked the length of the Tuileries gardens towards the magnificent Louvre. Once I'd seen enough, I bought a metro day pass and took a train to Les Invalides, walking from there past the Ecole Militaire and the world-famous Eiffel Tower to the Trocadéro centre. I took another train to Place Charles de Gaulle / Etoile for a quick look at the Arc de Triomphe. A further train journey and funicular ride found me in one of my favourite parts of Paris : Montmartre, with its magnificent Sacré Coeur basilica. Much as I love it, I often think this church looks like a slightly over-the-top, Disney-esque confection. I had dinner at one of the little eateries - now smoke-free, of course - before returning to the IC Le Grand. From a sight-seeing perspective, I was relieved to have shaken off my Monday blues!