Friday, October 17, 2008

Return from Valencia

After a late breakfast and packing we took a bus to the station and walked to the Grand Mercat. It was already well into its day, purveying the best quality fruit, vegetables, fish and meat to the city. It is cruciform in shape with a large central glass dome with tiled walls, plus an annexe on the north side for fish and meat. The vegetable display on every stall is done skillfully, taking advantage of shapes and colours. Every stall is a visual feast. There were also preserves, chorizo and jamon on sale, but no eateries. There was just a stand up breakfast bar in the street outside selling coffee, beer, horxata di chufa, orange juice and crossants, but it wasn't part of the Market's ancient fabric or style. It was one of few of its kind I'd noticed during our stay.

Mission accomplished, we got on a bus to return to the hotel. It didn't go where we expected, so we took a taxi back, in time to check out. With an hour to kill before eating, we took a short walk to see the third Calatrava designed bridge across the dry river-bed, the Punte del Exposition. Beneath it, deep in the river bed was a Metro station, designed by him. After lunch, we returned to this station to start our journey to the airport, taking photographs as we went. Check in was slow, relaxed, yet thorough. We boarded without delay and arrived Gatwick just ahead of schedule.

The 'plane parked as far from Passport Control as one can get, giving us a full half mile journey on the moving walkways to join passport queues. Hundreds of us, and eight desks in use. No smile, no eye contact. Nor a word exchanged. A surly unpleasant experience so un-British. This security driven 'welcome' made me wonder if we hadn't been taken over by some foreign power during our absence. I was annoyed at the gaggle of dark suited young blokes (immigration police? Special Branch? hovering behind one control desk chatting, staring up and down the rows of people - looking for what? Eyeing up the girls perhaps? I'd have felt happier with a properly uniformed armed guard. Real soldiers behave better.

To cap the in-bound visitor experience, there's nothingon the railway station platform to say which direction lies the destination you seek, so no way for a stranger to work out which direction to anticipate the train. This is important, given that some divide in transit, so knowing which end to sit counts. Someone of limited mobility wants the shortest possible walk to the ticket barrier, but if disoriented and unfamiliar with the place this is difficult, and helpful people are not always easy to come by. Brits don't much like to converse (except with their mobile phones) on trains, after all. We parted company at Victoria - I continued to the coach station for a late journey back to Cardiff. Good to be on the receiving end of a 'visitor experience' for a change. Must get out more.

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