Friday, 22 August 2014

BiH 14: The joys of flying

It has just gone twelve midday and I'm sitting in a rather dingy corner of Cologne Bonn Airport waiting for the assistance people to return. We hadn't originally asked for help changing planes on our way to Sarajevo but the offer seemed too helpful to refuse, particularly given the stresses of our departure from Heathrow an hour or so previously.

German Wings is a funny sort of airline. Closely linked to Germany's flag carrier Lufthansa it has many of the hallmarks of a legacy airline, with light snacks and complimentary coffee still served to most passengers and staff who actually want to help their customers. Yet it also appears to have acquired a number of similarities with the likes of Ryanair and Easyjet, including low prices and a check in process to match. Having arrived safely from Richmond, save for a my knee taking a severe bashing against a metal girder apparently holding up part of the soon to be demolished Terminal One, we entered the departure hall to find a vast gathering of people around a clutch of check in desks. It seemed that, despite checking in online several days previously we were destined to spend a good part of our pre flight time waiting to be relieved of our luggage. To make matters worse, fifteen minutes before the final call for each departure's check in passengers yet to be served were invited to queue for a different set of desks, the outcome of which being that those arriving last were served first and a state of perpetual confusion existed in the main queue.

Formalities completed and bags dispatched we looked forward to a coffee, and perhaps a paracetamol for me, but alas, by the time we had passed through security, filling plastic trays with everything that might conceivably contain a sliver of metal only to spend five minutes putting everything back together again, we had just five minutes left before we would, presumably, have been unceremoniously unloaded from the flight we had queued so long to join.

Thankfully this was where we left behind the less favorable aspects of flying and were able to enjoy a speedy and efficient flight southeast from London, across the Channel and onto the continent. Onboard service was of a good standard, and the help we received upon arrival, from Thomas, a member of airport staff who spends his days ferrying disabled passengers disparate areas of the airfield, was some of the best I have experienced. A little early confusion over how exactly we should be transferred from one aircraft to the other, without officially entering the Schengen free travel area, was quickly resolved by stamping us (figuratively) into Germany, before checking us straight back out again before a wander through a pretty deserted departure lounge led us to where we sit now.

As a child I adored flying. Without the responsibilities of adulthood and more recently introduced security measures, the whole experience was one big adventure. Large airports with their intricate networks of corridors and moving walkways captured my imagination, offering as they did, a vast array of possible routes and destinations. Everything was exciting and shiny.

But now, with documents to keep track of, deadlines to meet and obstacle courses to navigate, it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. To some degree this explains my preference for travelling by train wherever possible. The simple departure processes and freedom once on board, to my mind, make for a much more pleasant experience, allowing the travel to and from the ultimate destination to truly become an integral part of the trip. As a visually impaired person too, airports are so difficult to navigate without help, whilst stations and trains facilitate a much higher level of independence.

So, come my next holiday, wherever that will be, in addition to weighing up the usual factors when determining where to go, I will be considering seriously the travel options available and the degree to which they contribute to or detract from the whole trip. In the meantime however, we have another flight to catch, the uncertainties of baggage reclaim to look forward to, but also the arrival in a new and hopefully interesting city to look forward to.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

So you're going to Bosnia?

Since low cost flying really took off in the early "naughties" European city breaks have become the travel version of the power nap for time pressed tourists.

I've done a fair few in my time, whizzing off to locations as diverse as Paris, Vienna, Bordeaux, Aachen, Munich and Venice - only to whizz right back again just a couple of days later. To date most of the destinations, where not squarely on the usual tourist trail, were at least places that others had been to or were thinking of visiting. Bordeaux is, of course, world famous for the wine lands which surround it, so even if people hadn't thought of going there themselves it rarely seemed to strike them as too outlandish an idea to go.

But try telling people that your next mini holiday is to bosnia and Herzegovina.

Silence seems to be the first reaction of most, followed by a somewhat mystified enquiry into the purpose of such a trip, concluding inevitably with a sincere yet misplaced urge to be careful in such a "dangerous country".

Granted, BiH, as I shall refer to the country henceforth for the sake of brevity and to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to the inconsistencies in my spelling, is no stranger to conflict. However, the scenes of snipers in the hillsides and international boots on the ground are now over seventeen years old, and the biggest threat to the majority of tourists is petty crime, sun stroke and over indulgence in Bosnian hospitality.

So, what exactly are we expecting BiH, and especially Sarajevo and Mostar, to offer us in return for our hard earned time and money, and what can we do for BiH? First up, this is an incredibly scenic country, with steep mountains and shimmering streams providing the perfect backdrop to many a photograph. The country also has huge historical and political interest, having stood on the road between west and east, Christianity and Islam, new ideas and long held wisdom, for all of its existence. But most importantly of all, BiH is, as far as the literature I have read is concerned, a friendly and hospitable place, where travellers are welcomed and looked after, and where the most important task of the adventurer can be realized, namely the sharing of knowledge, the identification of similarity and the celebration of diversity.

And what can we do in return? In the very least we can tell the world of our travels, of the nature of the country, and help to chip away at the two decades old myth that this is a state to be avoided.

But, before any of that, we need to get ourselves packed and on the plane.