Maureen: the travel industry’s favourite columnist

Away from the scrum

Nigel is back in the office having returned from Rome where he had enjoyed watching the England rugby team beat Italy in their second match of the Six Nations Championship.

He and five others had organised their Kirker trip around the match and, for the most part, the break, organised by Nigel himself, had gone according to plan (even down to the final score).

The only moment that raised Nigel’s blood pressure beyond tolerable levels came at the airport when their outbound flight was delayed. Somehow, when you’re the one who’s booked the flight, you feel responsible for the delay and its possible consequences. Know the feeling? 

If you’re a controlling type, like me, you want to go and sort out the refuelling or cleaning issues that are holding you up. No matter what the problem with the aircraft, I’m always certain I could provide valuable assistance to get us on our way.

Windscreen needs a wipe? I’ve got newspaper and vinegar. Doors jamming? I’ve a useful can of WD40. Wing coming away from the body of the aircraft? I’ve a handful of screws and some super glue.

Fortunately for Nigel, the delay was short and he and his companions were soon on their way. The plan was back on schedule. Being super-efficient and with a keen eye for logistics, Nigel had nominated himself responsible for ‘movements o
f people’ while his wife, Helen, was ‘in charge of food’.

While I would be less than enthusiastic about other people’s movements, Helen’s job seemed rather more appealing as she got to make decisions about which restaurants the party should eat in. Clutching her Kirker guide, she couldn’t go wrong.

Apparently, this little handbook is worth all the Michelin, AA and Routiers guides put together, for it holds the secrets of intimate and inexpensive dining. Helen found tiny, out of the way, restaurants that they would never have noticed. Also, useful pieces of advice – arriving 10 minutes early ensured that they were seated without queuing.

In one restaurant they found, there were only seven tables available which filled in an instant with Italian businessmen whose paunches spoke volumes of their love of good food. Nigel said the food was magnifico and that the businessmen clearly knew a thing or two as it was as cheap as chips (only much more healthy.)

A wine bar also recommended by the Kirker guide turned out to be a winner too. Barely had they raised their glasses than the England rugby team entered, having just arrived in town. They would just have been ordering orange juice and sparkling water, I imagine…

The only time the party diverted from the Kirker recommendations was the occasion when everyone decided not to walk too far and selected a restaurant near the hotel. The food was less than ordinary and very expensive. Enough said.

With Helen back in charge, they were soon eating in Kirker tried-and-tested La Carbonara, where they were treated to a table by the window on the first floor from which they could watch the lunchtime activity in the square. A band played to complete the picture and everyone felt as though they’d fallen happily into a Fellini film.

I wonder whether Kirker’s sales director, Ted Wake, tested all those restaurants and wine bars himself? And if he did, how has he managed to keep such a trim physique?

Anyway, Nigel’s party had a great time and, to cap it all, found themselves flying back to the UK with members of the England coaching team.

I’m happy to report that, in spite of the overwhelming temptation to offer them some expert advice on pack play and improving the line-outs, Nigel managed to keep mum. Mama mia!

Always take the weather

We all know that a room with a view is something special, but Pauline at Travel 2 in Glasgow tells me that it can have its drawbacks.

On the phone to her, I casually asked what the weather was like while I waited for her to give me the Gallileo locator. Situated on the eighth floor of their building in an office with glass on all sides, Pauline told me that they generally have breathtaking views across Glasgow, but that today, they had stormy weather.

Apparently, they had hailstones as big as your fist – it sounded like Michael Flatley and all his pals were Irish dancing in surround sound. Pauline put me on hold while she checked some details. When she returned to the telephone, she apologised for keeping me waiting, but added that she’d done me a favour. I assumed she’d found a better fare for my client, but it turned out she meant something quite different.

Pauline had put me on hold just before a loud clap of thunder had elicited a scream in unison from all the female staff; I was oblivious, but other agents weren’t so lucky and are probably still struggling with tinnitus as a result.

Keeping mum

Take my mother-in-law (I wish somebody would). A couple this week just couldn’t agree on what to do with her mother.

The wife wanted an apartment for six, her husband wanted a villa for eight, ‘big enough to lose the mother-in-law.’

There wasn’t a lot of difference between the First Choice package and Avro flights and Open Holidays villa; it looked as though a fight was brewing.

Eventually, they settled on the villa, with the motherin-law cast in the role of lifeguard, overseeing her grandson’s safety. ‘She’ll earn her keep,” said the son-in-law grimly. Jo at Open Holidays was very patient and even held on the phone while I booked the flight seats.

And the moral of the story? When is a mother-in-law not a mother-in-law? When she’s a babysitter.

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