Old Mar 25, 12, 3:02 pm
Join Date: Dec 2011
Location: BRS
Posts: 406
Part IV: Assisi to Bristol

So, all too soon, I had to head back to Bristol, by an even slower - but logistically simpler, and rather more pampered - series of journeys.

Walking down from central Assisi to its station, in bright sunlight (but early enough for the heat to not yet be a problem), was much easier than my late night, uphill arrival trek. Although I was slowed down considerably by stopping repeatedly to look back at (and photograph) the views I'd been denied that first time. At the station I recognised a few other attendees from the conference, so passed the perhaps-excessive amount of time I'd allowed for the train in conversation with them.

I forgot to get a photo of this train's interior, but - whilst still comfortable - it seemed more basic than the first, and once again lacked any kind of on-board catering. Does everyone take a picnic, or do Italians favour heroically large breakfasts to set themselves up for the day? I'd pretty much run out of everything - even Jelly Babies - by this point, so I opted for a quick pizza and chips at Roma Termini, helpfully causing myself to miss one of the Leonardo Expresses by a matter of seconds, and thus causing a half hour wait that would've been much better spent at the BA lounge.

I was as usual in a position to go straight to security, and on the way spotted a queue for business class with a wide variety of airport logos. Whilst I tried to spot BA's swoosh, the first guard called me over, his expression suggesting he thought I was in the wrong place at first. Which was fair enough, given that I was 5 days unshaven (forgot my razor), in cargo trousers and a tshirt (both on their second wear), and had managed to pick up quite an impressive cut to my head whilst paying insufficient attention to roof height in the Rocca. Still, my electronic boarding pass proudly declared my club europe status, and was thus acceptable to bothe the guard and the electronic gate.

As karma for my condescension towards bucket-and-spaders at Gatwick's secuirty, here I was the one hopelessly out of my element. The complete absence of a queue here in the fast lane meant that I hadn't had a chance to perform my usual rituals of extracting liquids from my luggage, untying most of the knots on my shoes, or shuffling all pocket contents to my coat and removing it. Fortunately there was no-one behind me to hold up, either; which helped as this time they did of course want my shoes for scanning, and it turns out I should have removed my mobile phone from my bag, so that had to be swabbed too.

Even with my incompetence, I was still through far faster than usual (and the regular queues implied). My oft-failing sense of direction sent me the wrong way in search of the lounge, but I did find an information stand where I was pointed back in a saner direction.

And so I found myself on the escalator up to my first taste of a business lounge. In the interests of cutting down bulk I wasn't travelling with a laptop, just an ipod touch, which offers a tiny web-browsing experience over wifi. When using that to check out the lounge reviews here on FlyerTalk I'd failed to spot that the photo review - wherein FCO's lounge is declared the second worst in BA's collection - was over a year old. I hadn't mustered enough bandwidth to actually see the photos, so at the time had concluded that FTers were either incredibly fussy or the other lounges are truly amazing. But comparing now, I see that it's had a refurb since that post; here's how she looks as of the moment-

FCO's BA Lounge

Still, this being lounge number 1 for me I'm still not in a position to assess it properly, but compared to the standard airport experience it's an absolute delight. After a week of struggling to get by in a country where I foolishly don't speak the language (pizza toppings and musical terms only get you so far), it also felt like an early return to the UK - with British papers and BBC news on the TV to help me get a sense of the budget. After perusing the three areas offering food and drink, I settled in on a comfy leather sofa to recharge batteries both literal and metaphorical.

For those of you completely used to this mode of travel, and perhaps even a little jaded by it, I hope my perspective as a first-timer can remind you how much better it really is. For me, the main thing was simply the sense of being removed from it all - no bustle of crowds, no stream of annoucements for flights you don't care about in languages you can't parse, no over-priced drinks consumed in uncomfortable chairs, and a pleasant bathroom you can visit without dragging all your stuff with you. Lest all this make me sound like a terrible snob, I should point out I was probably the youngest person there by about a decade, and definitely the scruffiest (in the unlikely event of being called out on it, I had decided to try and pass myself off as a dotcom millionaire for entertainment, but no-one batted an eyelid). I like to imagine this is how commercial air travel first was - certainly, it's how it should be.

That sense of being set apart continued on the flight itself - I couldn't resist grabbing seat 4A again when I saw that this time CE would comprise four rows - as it happens, there were only 6 of us in the cabin and so I wound up with the entire row to myself. I'm not sure what psychological trickery is at work, but despite being in the exact same physical location as the flight out, being at the back of CE felt completely different to the front of ET.

This wasn't actually my first experience of club dining, having done a longhaul in world traveller plus (which gets meals from Club World, plus the 'proper' plates, cutlery and glassware) earlier this year. This time, we had a choice from three different meals, although I understand that two is standard: Seared Salmon, Lamb Roghan Josh, or a Beef Casserole- I chose the fish, on the grounds that it's really hard to do a bad job of salmon. It turned up with a cheese board and oat cakes, and the main dish comprised plenty of fish with potato (somewhere between mash and a gratin) and some veg; Seat 2A will be pleased to hear that bread was delivered separately, with a selection of warm rolls from a basket. I almost wish I'd resisted having so many nibbles in the lounge, or the less than amazing chips at Roma Termini, as I was unable to finish it all simply due to the quantity! Although I did save enough space for the dessert, which had somehow escaped from my serving at first, but was found and delivered by the cabin crew before I realised.

Post food, the cabin lights were dimmed for a while, so I decided to get some rest and save my (lounge-looted) newspaper for the trains that still awaited me in the UK. We landed exactly on time, which caused me a mild panic as I thought I had 3 minutes to get to the station, before realising I was still on Italian time and had a much more relaxed hour to make my way through the airport. Stepping out onto the jetbridge, I was struck by the realisation that this was the least stressed I could remember feeling after a flight- granted, it was a lot shorter than a pond hop, but even domestic services normally leave me feeling harried rather than relaxed. I suspect I might be picking up an expensive habit...

But is it really? 80 for three hours of lounge access and two of the flight might seem a lot- surely I'd be better served buying one hell of a meal at a restaurant in Rome? But it's much harder to put a price on that sense of ease I felt at the end of those hours, and I think that's what makes it. Of course, with status the swifter security and lounge access come as standard, and with the ability to book seats in advance it might well be enough to just grab one of the ET seats nearer the front, or an exit row. But it'd be impossible to guarantee 4A or C each time, and even though I had luckily snared it, I felt it was genuinely improved in the context of CE. What I guess I'm trying to say is, I may be another convert to the cult of status-seekers...

Which I guess is a good place to end this trip report, rather than dwell on the tedium that was the pair of trains (and 30 minute idle at Reading to the soundtrack of heavy construction, rapidly becoming my least favourite station) that eventually conveyed me back to Bristol. My first club flight, but hopefully the first of many. Thanks for reading!
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