Air Nostrum, Business Class – CRJ-1000: Madrid to Basel

Airline: Iberia
Aircraft: Bombardier CRJ-1000, operated by Air Nostrum
From: Madrid Barajas
To: Basel Mulhouse
Departure: 10h16
Arrival:
12h29
Flight time: 2 hours 13 minutes
Seat:
3F, window seat

The 7 Islas Hotel is located just off the Gran Via in the centre of Madrid. I exit the hotel just after 7h00 in the morning and walk five minutes to Tribunal metro station.

From there I take the metro line 10 to Nuevos Ministerios, which is two stops away. And then from there I catch the metro line 8 to Terminal 4. The metro service starts at 06hoo in the morning, with trains running every eight minutes.

At Terminal 4 I take the lift three floors up from the metro station to departures on level 2. Iberia Business Class counters are located on rows 780 to 799.

There is a dedicated security checkpoint for Business Class passengers, which is completely segregated from the other passengers and very efficient.

The Iberia Business Class lounge is hard to miss as you exit from security. The lounge is enormous and offers a wide range of seating options. It‘s a very nice looking lounge. As for food options though, it‘s a bit of a let down and only has very limited choices.

Terminal 4 is huge, and recently the airport authority was given planning permission to expand this already vast facility. My flight is boarding from gate K95, at the north end of the terminal, which is equivalent to Amsterdam’s Fokker farm.

I must say, I really dislike the Bombardier CRJ1000, because it’s such a badly designed aircraft and from the passenger’s perspective, it’s just narrow, tight and unpleasant.

On the starboard side there is a row one, right behind the lavatory. On the port side though, row 2 is the bulkhead row. According to the seat map when I checked in, there’s one person on row 1, two on row 2 – one on either side – and one person – that would be me – on row three on the starboard side.

Just before the doors close, a middle aged gentleman and his son appear from behind the cabin divider and park themselves on 3A and 3C and I have the sneaking suspicion the shouldn’t actually be sitting there. The doors close and the crew go through their routine duties, with the passenger address and then the safety briefing.

Unfortunately, for messrs father and son, the flight attendant notices something’s amisss and checks the flight manifest to figure out what it is. Of course it doesn’t take very long for her to realise that there are two passengers too many sitting in the Business Class section.

Sometimes the stupidity of humanity can be interesting to watch. If perhaps also a tad pathetic at times. The flight attendant asks the father what his assigned seat number is, to which he replies that he doesn’t know. So she then asks to see his boarding pass, only to find he should have been seated on row 16. When she explains this to him, he tells her he knows but suffers from an acute case of claustrophobia, which is of course made worse by sitting on row 16 and having to look all the way down this long metal tube.

But the flight attendant obviously has been doing this for a while, so she very sweetly explains just how bad she feels for him, and that he will have to move nonetheless once the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off. So there you have it kids, don’t lie. It doesn’t pay off. You only end up looking like a dick in front of your son, at an age when he already thinks you’re nothing short of embarrssing anyway.

We take off towards the north. I’ll say this though about the CRJ1000: when you’re sitting up front, it really is very quiet and there’s something quite poetic climbing out of the vast expanse of the flat landscape around Madrid.

No sooner has the seat belt sign been turned off, the crew are released to start their service, which begins with a glass of orange juice, followed by an unscented hot towel. One of the cabin crew comes through the cabin asking what we’d like for brunch. There is a choice between a melted cheese and ham sandwich and a tortilla.

The tray is served with the hot meal, a bowl of fruit and the cutlery on it. My first impression is that the tray looks very empty. But then the crew come though the cabin with warm bread and shortly after make a second round offering croissants and chocolate doughnuts.

The hot meal consists of a warm tortilla, spinach, pumpkin and a sausage.

To drink with the meal I ask for a coffee and some sparkling water. I’m surprised when the cabin crew brings me a half-litre bottle and leaves it there for me.

I spend the rest of the flight reading with the warm glow of the morning sun on my face. Eventually we make our approach into Basel from the south. But the clouds are very low today, so that we’re already more or less past the city before we actually break through the cloud.

Our flight comes to an end on the non-Schengen side of the terminal. However, we are then bussed to the other side, which is also non-Schengen but for flights arriving from countries which would actually be in the Schengen area if France so much as respect the Schengen agreement. Every time I pass through Basel, they’ve thought up something new to make the process even more convoluted and complicated…

At least the airport isn’t too busy, so there’s next to no queue for immigration and my suitcase arrives quickly.

I now have three days in the office before I’ll be gone for a while… stay tuned.

Air Nostrum, Business Class – Bombardier CRJ1000: Madrid to Casablanca

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INTRODUCTION
It’s Wednesday morning and we’re running a day late, which means we’re going to miss the start of the user group meeting in Mohammedia. On a positive note though, it’s an absolutely gorgeous day here in Madrid.

We take the Hilton airport shuttle at 08h00, which get us to terminal 4 around ten minutes later.

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CHECK-IN
There is a separate check-in area for Business Class passengers. The nice thing about Madrid’s terminal 4 is that no matter what time of day you come here, there never seems to be anyone there. And today is no different.

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There is a dedicated fast track for security for Business Class passengers.

THE LOUNGE
As our flight is operating to a non-Schengen country, the flight will be departing from the satellite terminal, which can only be reached as a passenger by airside metro. The journey across will take a little more than five minutes.

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The entrance to the lounge is literally in the middle of the duty free shop, which as good a place as any I guess.

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I think the only thing one can criticise about this lounge is that it has no toilets and showers. Other than that though, I think this is really one of the nicest lounges I’ve ever been to. Of course it helps that, like the rest of the terminal, the place is more or less deserted. But even so, the lounge has a very elegant, understated look and feel and the light filtering in through the blinds casts some nice shadows across the otherwise bright space.

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The food and drinks options are also very good and the way everything is presented is simple but nice.

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BOARDING
We leave the lounge about ten minutes before boarding should be begin. But by the time we reach the gate just a few minutes later, the status of the flight is already ‘gate closing’. We head through the gate and then downstairs to where a bus is waiting to bring us to our aircraft. And then we wait.

At this point I should perhaps comment that I’ve never been on a flight with Iberia which did not include Spaniards bitching about the sad state of their national airline. It seems to be a bit of a national sport and I’m not even quite sure why. And this flight is no different. All of a sudden, a young man steps outside and starts complaining to the bus driver about how scandalous it is to keep us waiting in such a tight bus (this guy has obviously never experienced rush hour on the Central line…).

In any case, eventually we drive off and a short while later our bus pulls up in front of our aircraft for today’s flight, a Bombardier CRJ1000 of Air Nostrum.

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THE CABIN
I have already commented a few times that I really, really do not like the CRJ series of aircraft. I find them very cramped and uncomfortable. But fortunately, this aircraft has some decent seats with a good enough amount of padding to be comfortable.

The seating configuration is 2 + 2 throughout, even in Business Class. Initially, I’m sitting next to the wiry R., who has managed to snag the window. But once boarding is completed, the cabin attendant himself comes to point out to me that I may shift to the other side of the aisle, where both seats are still empty.

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SERIVCE
The cabin crew consists of a young male and a young female flight attendant. The male is really good at his job. He’s personable and tries to anticipate any wishes his passengers may have. The young lady is okay, but I think she might improve if she were less focussed on looking pretty.

While we’re still on the ground the crew pass through the cabin with a good selection of Spanish and international newspapers and distribute pre-packed scented towels.

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THE MEAL
I think the meal service on Air Nostrum is probably better than the one you get on Iberia. The breakfast consists of a bowl of fruit, gazpacho soup and a choice of either toast with olive oil and cheese or a ham and cheese quiche. The crew also pass through the cabin twice with the breadbasket.

For the main dish I go with the toast and cheese, which is simple but nice. My first choice from the breadbasket is a nice big croissant. The second time they pass through the cabin, I have the other pastry, which is filled with some sort of vanilla cream and is also excellent.

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Shortly after the trays have been removed, the strait of Gibraltar comes into view. And I must say, it really is quite a sight to behold. It also makes you realise just how close Europe really is to Africa.

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We cross into Africa and I’m surprised by how lush and green everything looks! I must admit I was kind of expecting desert all the way… Eventually we start our descent, flying over vast stretches of farmland.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually we land in Casablanca more or less on time. The airport is fairly busy and as a result, it takes us a whole hour of queueing at passport control before we are finally allowed into the country. You need to complete an embarkation card to enter, but nobody will bother to tell you that in advance and the signposting is non-existent.

Air France HOP/Cityjet, Economy Class – CRJ-1000/RJ85: Basel to Paris Orly/Roissy

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INTRODUCTION
Ever since I saw the sketch about the Death Star Canteen on Youtube, I’ve been a big fan of Eddie Izzard’s. So much so that I thought it would be cool to see him live some day. And indeed, this year he was on a world tour to promote his new book and show. But unfortunately, there was never an opportunity for me to go see that.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
But then I saw on Facebook that Izzard would be doing stand-up comedy in Paris in December. And so it came about that I find myself on the way to Basel airport on a Saturday afternoon to catch the HOP by Air France service from Basel to the iconic Paris Orly airport. The flight should leave at 14h20, which should get me into Paris around 15h30. In other words, I should have enough time for some Christmas shopping and to grab a bite to eat before the show begins at 20h00. Or something like that…

CHECK-IN
Check-in for Air France and KLM is in the French sector of the terminal building. There are four self-service machines. Strangely enough though, three of the machines have ‘Vol Paris CDG ou Amsterdam’ showing on the screen, while the fourth machine reads ‘Paris Orly’ only. For some strange reason, it is indeed the case that the flight to Orly is checked-in on a different machine on which the other flights to CDG and to Amsterdam do not exist. And vice versa.

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I’m not sure what this is about exactly, but I suspect it was something to do with the flight operating as a domestic flight rather than an international one.

BOARDING
With my Platinum card I have access to the fast lane, which doesn’t really mean anything at all. Because just before the security checkpoint the fast track merges with the normal line. Which means you end up with everyone in the normal queue giving you the stink eye for – in their view – trying to jump the line. Which, of course, is a very grave case of serious misconduct in France, given their history of égalite, fraternité and all that nonsense.

One way or another, the truth of the matter is that I’m a bit of a wuss – I’m not a big enough asshole to simply not give a shit. And so, I try an apologetic smile. I’m hoping the smile conveys something along the lines of a ‘Mea culpa, I promise never to do that again, cross my heart and hope to die, Ma’am’. But then I catch my reflection in one of the glass doors and conclude that I have rather a pained expression and look more like I urgently need to go to the bathroom for a number two…

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CABIN
There’s been an aircraft change, and instead of the scheduled ATR42, the flight is operated by a Bombardier CRJ1000. And oh, how I hate this aircraft! This really one of those cases where you look at a thing or use it and keep asking yourself ‘what on earth were they thinking’?

So what on earth were they thinking exactly? For a 100 seater I really do think the width of the cabin of this aircraft is insufficient. There is very little storage space, boarding takes for ever because the aircraft is just so long and basically, everything feels just a little cramped and tight. Even though I’m one of the lucky ones to be seated on 1F with the seat next to me empty.

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AND THEN IT ALL GOES TO SH…
We push back ahead of schedule at 14h14. Although the term pushback is used somewhat liberally in this particular case. Rather, we jerk backwards and then come to a stop again. And then nothing.

After about five minutes the pilot comes on the speakers to inform us that the pushback truck as damaged the nose gear and the incident will need to be investigated before we can depart. But it’s really nothing to worry about…

At 14h45 the captain informs us that the Air France ground engineer is already in his well-deserved weekend. So it will take him at least another hour to get to the airport. I just finish saying to myself ‘this is so going nowhere’, when they inform us that we will have to disembark while they check the aircraft.

At 15h00 we finally are allowed off the plane. A ground agent tells us we will have to go down to arrivals, then back up through security again and then to return to the departure gate for further information.

So I do just that. Only, the system won’t let me go through security because, according to the system, I’ve already been through once already. Which is in fact true. But this would not be France if there weren’t a jovial middle-aged man with a friendly smile who gives me his best ‘mais non, allez-y. Je vous laisse passer…’.

So I return to the gate, where they’re now boarding the flight to Charles de Gaulle. I ask one of the gate agents what’s going on. But she tells me she’s busy. So I check on the Air France app, only to find that there my original flight has been cancelled.

By this time, the CDG flight, which departs at 15h35, has completed the boarding process, so Madame finally has a moment to talk to me. The next thing I know, il n’ya aucun problem, and I’ve been reprotected on to the CDG flight instead.

I thank the gate agent for her flexibility and pass through the gate, thinking it must be my lucky day. As I do, I swear I can hear her sniggering. What’s that all about I wonder? And that’s when I realise: the CDG flight is operated by an ancient RJ85 in the 3+3 configuration. And…*this is the moment when I hear the music from the shower scene in Psycho in my head…*…and?

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And I’m on 4B, which means I’m stuck in the middle between two other people. This is really my worst nightmare. They can’t do this to me. Please Santa, I promise I’ll be good. I swear I’ll be nicer to my students. But please, not 4B.

The middle seat on 4B means the pitch is so tight that the only way I can fit into the seat is to sit there with my legs spreadeagled like a porno star, while Miss 4C sticks her elbow in my side.

Eventually we depart at 16h20. The flight was delayed so they could rebook all the passengers from the cancelled Orly flight.

SERVICE
The crew on this flight consists of two men. The purser is in his early forties, I should say, and at least he obviously thinks he’s really hot stuff. What’s with the black leather gloves, dude? Even once the doors close, the leather gloves stay on and he even distributed the refreshing towels still wearing them.

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MEAL
Once we’re airborne, the meal service kicks in tout de suite. It consists of a selection of hot or cold drinks and a choice between a savoury or a sweet snack – or sucré ou salé, as we say at Air France.

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I decide to have the hot chocolate and a packet of really tasty apple biscuits. They’re really very buttery and full of flavour. The only problem though, is that being confined on either side by another passenger in such a tight seat, I’m actually having trouble reaching the food and cup without accidentally taking out one of my neighbours’ eyes and I start to wonder if this is what extinction must have felt like for the Tyrannosaurus Rex with their little stubby arms?

ARRIVAL
By the time we land it’s already 17h15. And we still have to taxi all the way back to terminal 2G, which is out in the booneys. From 2G I have to catch a shuttle bus to terminal 2F and from there I have to walk to terminal 2E before I am finally at the counter for the busses that take you from CDG to the Gare de Lyon, which is closest to where I’m going.

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But still, I manage. There was no shopping and no lunch before the theatre. But I manage. In fact I arrive one minute before the curtain call.

EPILOGUE
I’m not going to write a report about the return leg. But just in case you were wondering: yes, that one was delayed by an hour too because of a technical problem. This was not one of Air France’s finest moments.

But all’s well that ends well. And so, for those of you who have managed to stick around until the very end,

I WISH YOU ALL A HAPPY HOLIDAY AND MANY HAPPY LANDINGS IN 2018!

Where ever your travels may take you, enjoy them and stay safe.

– William

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Air France, Economy Class – CRJ1000 / A 319: To the lavender fields of Provence

INTRODUCTION

A while back Air France came up with the bright idea of setting up secondary, low-cost hubs in Toulouse and Marseille. Among the newly opened routes was Marseille to Basel, where I live. I’ve always wanted to visit the Provence region of France, so once the flights were released for sale, I booked myself on a flight from Basel to Marseille in the evening of Friday, 29. June 2012. The return would be the next evening, on Saturday, 30. June 2012. This gave me nearly 24 hours to drive out of the city to see if I could find the famous lavender fields of Provence, which are in bloom in June.

And then along came Air France and made a dog’s breakfast of the whole thing. Quite a while after I had booked the flights, I received a mail from Air France informing me that due to the bad performance of the route, the Saturday flight had been cancelled. I would need to be rebooked. The easiest thing of course, would have been to rebook me for the flight the next evening, Sunday, 01. July 2012. But private affairs required me to be back in Basel on Sunday morning, so instead of taking the direct service, I opted for a 06h15 departure from Marseille to Roissy and then on to Basel. That would get me into Basel at 09h45. 06h15 is very early and yes, transferring in Roissy is not my idea of fun either. But it cannot be helped.

Then a while later I needed to be in Dubai for a week, until 28. June 2012. I subsequently booked flights with Oman Air to get me from Zürich via Muscat to Dubai and back. The Oman Air flight back to Zürich would be on Friday, 29. June 2012 and would arrive back in Zürich at 18h40. This gave me enough time to get back to Basel, grab my rucksack and head for Basel airport for the flight to Marseille at 23h00.

And then along came Air France and made a dog’s breakfast of the whole thing. After I had booked the trip to Oman, I received another mail from Air France informing me that the flight from Basel to Marseille had been rescheduled and would now already be leaving at 20h00. There was no way I would make it from Zürich by that time. And so it came that the outbound flight had to be changed as well. Eventually I was rebooked to leave Basel at 10h00 on Saturday, 30. June 2012. I would fly to Marseille via Orly.

But one must look at the positive side. At least this meant that I would be flying on the Britair CRK to Orly.

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Date: 30. June 2012
From: Basel
To: Paris Orly
Airline: Brit Air for Air France
Aircraft: Bombardier Canadair Regonal Jet CRJ-1000
Cabin: Economy Class

Seat: 1A

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

The journey begins, yet again, outside the main railway station in Basel. It is here that I catch the line 50 to the airport.

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The airport is looking good. Following the completion of the exterior, the interior has now also been revamped.

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This here is actually what used to be the oldest part of the original construction from the 1970s.

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I cross over into the French side. I’ve already done OLCI, so I head upstairs for security.

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The French side of the departure lounge is empty.

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At around 09h30, my bird finally makes an appearance. This will be my first trip with the CRK!

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BOARDING

A short while later, boarding is called. The load on today’s flight is rather light and boarding is quickly completed.

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THE CABIN

Platinum members get seats at the front of the plane, hence I am on 1A. There are about 8 empty rows in between me and the rest of the passengers. The cabin on this bird is in mint condition and has that lovely crisp new plane smell about it. I suspect it hasn’t been in service very long.

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DEPARTURE

The cabin crew make a quick welcome announcement in French and English and then we’re off.

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Take-off is to the south towards Switzerland and Basel. After take-off we do a steep right turn and set course for Paris.

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THE SERVICE

Once the seat belt sign goes off, the curtains close and the crew start to prepare for the service. The cabin crew on this flight consists of two very chirpy and friendly French young ladies. Perhaps it’s the weather, perhaps it’s the light load or perhaps a combination of both but they appear to be in a really good mood.

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THE MEAL

For the meal I have a cup of hot chocolate and sweet biscuits. The flight attendant tells me that the hot chocolate is made with water. But If I add two creamers I won’t be able to tell the difference. I try and must admit, not bad at all.

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The weather en route is overcast.

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ARRIVAL

On the approach the weather clears up. But alas I am sitting on the wrong side to be able to see the city.

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We arrive in Orly on time and taxi past a huge variety of different airlines and aircraft types. A short and pleasant flight comes to an end.

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TRANSFER AT ORLY OUEST

Domestic flights arrive and depart from Orly Ouest. The terminal is quite old and evidently not geared for transfer passengers. This means that although I’m on an intra-Schengen flight, I will still have to go through security again. There is a separate area for SkyPriority passengers to check-in, but alas no fast track through security.

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THE LOUNGE

Even so, once I’m through security I still have enough time to visit ‘Le Salon Air France’. Air France operates a shuttle, called ‘La Navette’, to a number of French cities. These flights all leave from the same area in Hall 2 and the lounge is only available to these flights. The lounge is not very well stocked and not exactly fancy. But it gets the job done and it offers some excellent views of the apron.

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Date: 30. June 2012
From: Paris Orly
To: Marseille
Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Airbus A319
Cabin: Economy Class
Seat: 10D, aisle

BOARDING

Boarding is called a few minutes late. It’s an orderly affair and Air France take their boarding by seat rows very seriously.

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Originally I’m on 10E, the middle seat on the emergency exit. Fortunately the guy on the aisle recognises some pal of his just as the doors close and decides to move. I shift across to the aisle seat, leaving the middle seat empty for the rest of the flight.

THE CABIN

The cabin on this aircraft has a very modern and spacious feel to it. The seats are not exactly comfy but sufficient for a short flight of only one hour.

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SERVICE

Service on this flight is pretty much the same as on the previous flight. The crew are friendly and chatty.

THE MEAL

The meal on this flight is as frugal as that on the previous one too. This appears to be the standard on Air France domestic flights. I have a Perrier and more of the biscuits.

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ARRIVING IN MARSEILLE

The approach takes us over water and eventually a set of large salt pans. It’s quite spectacular.

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After we land we taxi past a huge fleet of fire protection aircraft.

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I deplane and head outside. It’s a nice day but very hot. But it still feels nice. Just like a summer holiday. As for Air France, I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan. But I must say, these two flights were not bad – not bad at all.

EPILOGUE

The Provence region of France is very beautiful and offers some quite dramatic landscapes. Softly rolling lush green hills will suddenly give way to ragged cliffs with quaint little villages perched dangerously on the promontory. The lavender season, when the flowers are in bloom, is relatively short. I think I was quite lucky in that everything was still in full bloom when I visited.

I think I shall have to return some day and maybe spend some more time here.

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