You may have read elsewhere that I had to return to my home country of the United Kingdom from where I live in Egypt because of bureaucratic reasons. This can be explained simply by saying that to stay longer in Egypt I need to sort out some documentation that will allow me to become a full time resident there. Following some phone calls and plenty of Googling I realised that my stay in the UK may last up to 3 months; a bit of a bummer really, especially as G.A.S.E. was preparing for a busy summer of arrivals
But, on the 20th of May I boarded the 03.30 KLM flight to Amsterdam Schipol after a tearful goodbye to Anthea, who will be joining me hopefully some time in July. The early morning temperature at Cairo Airport was in the mid twenties Centigrade and I was wearing proper British attire, knowing what would be waiting for me when I arrived.
I had booked a window seat on the Boeing 777-200, and was joined by two Japanese girls who appeared to fall asleep straight after take-off and didn’t wake up until the food arrived, then fell asleep again, waking up finally just before arrival at Schipol! The flight itself was smooth but I did have problems. My section of the aircraft (port side, rear of the wing) had a problem with the seat-back entertainment system…it was kaput! I had envisaged watching a current Hollywood blockbuster during the night-time stretch of the flight but had to make do with watching the flight tracker on the bulkhead panel. And…I can thank the gremlins who got into the system for allowing me to see the wonders of a sunrise over the Turkish coast instead of watching some formulaic action movie. The flight over Turkey allowed me to see snow still crowning the tops of mountains, a rugged coastline and the area around Istanbul where Asia meets Europe. The flight then turned north west as we flew across Eastern Europe where I had an incredible view of Budapest and the Danube from 40,000ft.
But as Northern Europe approached it was plain to see that the weather was changing. At 40,00ft, 100% cloud cover looks very beautiful with the sunlight making the tops of the clouds appear to be an immense blanket of cotton wool but I knew that this meant at ground level it was either going to be raining or very grey.
True to my fears the descent into Schipol was a bit bumpy as we took an age to get through the cloud cover, finally seeing the ground with just a few hundred feet to go. I was able to witness firsthand the phenomenon of the moisture laden air turning into a shockwave over the wing as we neared touchdown.
One thing about Europe’s 4th busiest airport is that you take the luck of the draw. It has 6 runways and depending on which one you land on your time left on the aircraft may be measured in a few minutes or over half an hour. To land on 36L would have you possibly taxiing back to the terminal for nearly 6 miles, crossing other runways on the way! Having to get a connecting flight will add to the panic as you wend your way slowly across the massive airport.
Luckily we landed on 36R which had us a few hundred yards from the terminal after our landing run. But the possible problems don’t end there…Schipol’s terminal is huge and depending on where your inbound aircraft parks in comparison to where your connecting flight will be boarding from can make a huge difference to your Schipol experience…and I picked the short straw. My aircraft docked at one end of the terminal and when I entered the concourse I saw a very good signpost showing the ways to all the gates with estimated walking times! Well…I arrived in concourse ‘G’ and my connection was in Concourse ‘D’…gate 51 to be precise and the signpost offered a 27 minute walk from where I stood to my departure gate! Yeah…if you were in running gear and had no luggage and hand baggage to lump along with you.
But I made it, profusely sweating in my British winter gear and arrived with 10 minutes to spare before boarding. Never had a chance for a sit down and coffee but at least I could see the plane that would take me to England; a KLM Boeing 737-700.
We pushed back on time but then had the marathon taxi to the far end of Runway 36L, the one I had mentioned earlier, but it did give me a chance to do some spotting from my window seat. It had stopped raining and after a reasonably steep take off we were back in blue skies and fluffy white cloud tops again heading out over the North Sea. This time my window seat was just forward of the starboard wing root so I had a clear view all the way.
The 737-700 has flight tracker monitors that are underneath the overhead luggage bins and I was happy watching our progress over the sea to the English coast. I was surprised to see that we came over the coast in North Kent and not East Anglia as usual but this meant flying over London before turning north to my destination of Birmingham International Airport. As before, the whole of the UK as far as the eye could see was covered in cloud and I had a false impression of what it was like down below as my vista was beautiful with the azure blue above and the fluffy white below.
In no time at all we were descending on approach to Birmingham and I could see via the flight tracker that we passed right over the place I would be staying in Warwick and then we hit the clouds and everything went dark grey for ages! We came out of the cloud base at about a thousand feet and I immediately recognised my surroundings, I had spent many hours in this area aircraft spotting when I was younger. Touchdown was smooth and we were able to turn off the runway quite early and parked up at the Northern side of Terminal One. This was a worry for me as the KLM flights usually use terminal two and this is where I was expecting my friend, Daniel Roberts, to be waiting for me. We had arranged for him to pick me up from the airport and I had visions of wandering around Birmingham trying to find him. But not to worry, as soon as I had retrieved my luggage and passed through Passport/Customs I was out into the main concourse and was very happy to see Dan waiting there, camera in hand to capture the moment!
My first job whilst still in the airport was to get my communications sorted, which meant buying top ups for my mobile phones (cell phones) and also for the ‘Dongle’ which would allow me internet access for the laptop I have brought with me. Then it was time to go to the car and as we went through the automatic doors out into the real world it hit me…COLD! I wasn’t expecting it to be so cold and I was really thankful that I had decided to dress accordingly in Cairo. For the first time in four years I came to realise that I was finally acclimatised to Egyptian weather and temperatures. My first thoughts were ‘how can English people survive in this climate’…forgetting that this was quite warm for the locals.
Anyway, we got to the car and Dan put my new postcode into his GPS and off we went. As we left the airport complex we came to a roundabout that had a well known pub next to it…well, it’s been 4 years…so we stopped for a quick pint of ‘Real Ale’ and it was fantastic. You have to be British to understand what real ale is and how different it is to the world wide norm that is Lager. So amazing was the taste after all these years that I had a smile from ear to ear. But like I said, only time for one and it was back on the road.
It was a Sunday so there wasn’t much traffic about and we reached Warwick in no time at all and arrived at the house that I will be using as a base for the next 3 months around lunchtime. We quickly unloaded my gear and had a quick recce of the premises before deciding to go out for lunch. I remembered that there was a very nice pub called the Saxon Mill by the River Avon only a couple of miles away so off we went. Dan was impressed with my choice of venue and the food was superb and believe it or not, there was Middle Eastern food on the menu and that is what we had! There’s plenty of time for Fish and Chips.
So dear reader, I am back in the UK and I have been busy sorting out the bureaucracy that will eventually see me back in Cairo. In between visiting different governmental offices and such like I will be taking advantage of my time in the UK to do a small promotional tour for G.A.S.E., visiting as many General Aviation airfields as I can and spreading the word about what we do in Egypt and trying to entice the pilots to fly there with our help. So I will be adding the stories and photos of the visits to this page after each trip is undertaken and I am sure there will be loads to entertain you. I will also have some updates from any interesting adventures I get up to whilst being an Ex-pat back on the ‘Cold Side’