105-108 (Finland 2015)

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105. Edinburgh-Copenhagen (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 09/12/15: On my way to Finland yet again, with a few friends commenting that it had now taken over as my new Australia. As it happened, my seventh visit there had been for a ridiculously short time (six days), and it was mainly to see a redhead. And my seventh visit to Finland would also be for a ridiculously short time, (barely two days), although in this case, the hair was only dyed red.
Any of my overseas trips have to be accompanied by a little movie, preferably soundtracked by a local artist, (I mean, if I went on holiday to Canada, I would seem a bit odd to use an Australian band’s music for the movie soundtrack). So, despite struggling initially with their huge volume of unlistenable heavy metal, I had managed to find some good Finnish artists whose music I could use for my little travel films. Paavoharju was my preference when it came to slightly creepy time lapse films, but, for radio friendly indie pop, Anna Puu was definitely the go-to choice. I had first heard one of her songs whilst I was sitting in a pub in Toijala; I was so keen to know who the music was by, I was prepared to foot the considerable cost of Shazaming something whilst using roaming data to find out. Now she was on tour with the noted UMO jazz orchestra, performing a set of Finnish christmas carols. This tour would include a show at Temppeliaukio, an underground church in Helsinki. I’d visited it several times, hewn out of solid rock in the middle of the city, and it was one of my favourite buildings. I knew that any concert there would have fantastic acoustics, and always wondered what a concert there would be like. And if it was going to be my favourite Finnish singer, in one of my favourite buildings, doing christmas carols? I couldn’t miss this.
Unfortunately, when you’re the manager of a fast-food business, taking holidays in December is a bit of a no-no. So the best I could manage was a flying visit for a couple of days. It wasn’t easy getting flights at a decent price at this time of year. SAS would obviously have been the preference so that I could continue to accrue more Eurobonus points, but they had no cheap routes on the days I wanted. So I had to settle for Norwegian Air Shuttle again. They were a decent airline, but the route would involve a long stop at Copenhagen, as well as arriving late and departing early from Helsinki. But I wasn’t going to miss Anna Puu singing Pieni Rumpilipoika in an underground church.

106. Copenhagen-Helsinki (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 09/12/15: Five hours is a long stop in any airport, though there are a lot worse than Copenhagen. Money wasn’t really an issue, the WH Smith’s sold Irn-Bru and there was free wi-fi after all. But you can only film so many time-lapse segments of aircraft landing and taking off before you get bored.
When my connecting flight finally left, I wouldn’t be arriving in Helsinki until around eleven at night. And as I was departing at seven the day after next, I had decided not to even bother going into the city. If I stayed in town, it would be too late to really go out and do anything after my arrival, plus I would have to get up really early to get back out to the airport for the flight home. So I opted to stay in Forenom, the budget hotel five minutes walk from the terminal buildings. I’d stayed there before, and I knew each room provided a fridge, kettle and microwave. So I could pick up some groceries from the twenty-four hour supermarket at the airport on my arrival, and just base myself out there for two days. I would go into the city in the morning, do some shopping and sightseeing etc. Then I could leave any bags in a locker at the railway station, go to the concert, retrieve my stuff aftrerwards, and head back to the airport for my morning flight home. That is, unless the Aussie Bar was doing Little Creatures Pilsner for four euros…

 

107. Helsinki-Oslo (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 11/12/15: Despite only having had effectively a single day in Helsinki, I’d enjoyed my flying visit; Anna Puu had been great, I had my first taste of a Finnish christmas market (and glögi), and my bag was full of all my favourite Finnish groceries. Although the stop at Copenhagen on the way out had been fairly long, the stop on the way home would be the opposite, just forty-five minutes. Although I’d flown with Norwegian a few times, this would be the first time I actually flew through Oslo with them. On paper, the transit time looked alarmingly short at less than an hour. But I figured that, since this was Norwegian’s main hub, they must know what they were doing.
I was very nearly caught out on arrival as, not knowing the airport, I almost missed the small sign directing me to my onward connection. And for some reason, although I was transiting through two airports inside the Schengen area, I would have to go through security screening again. This was a complete surprise, and not a small inconvenience, especially as there was a large group of teenage school kids in front of me. Practically every single one of them had something in their bag or on their person that they shouldn’t, slowing the whole process at the small checkpoint down to a maddening snail’s pace. And as it turned out, when I finally got my turn, I still had something in my hand luggage too; two bottles of napapiiri flavoured Jaffa. If I have any loose change on leaving a country, I’ll usually stick them in a vending machine at the airport or whatever and grab a few drinks or sweets. It was better than simply wasting the money. I’d forgotten all about them now, understandably not expecting to go through security again. The offending bottles were binned, and I had about ten minutes left to catch my connection. My gate looked pretty distant judging by the size of the terminal, and I knew that I must have to go through passport control at some point beforehand too. So I reluctantly had to sprint in the direction of my flight, and hope that there wasn’t a sizeable queue at border control. Fortunately there wasn’t, and I arrived at the gate during boarding. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow such a short stop at Oslo on my itinerary again.

108. Oslo-Edinburgh (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 11/12/15: I was slightly out of breath as I boarded, and definitely could have used one of those bottles of juice; I would have to wait until the cabin service began though. But the flight was pleasant enough; spectacular views over the dramatic Norwegian coastline at sunrise, which I happily shared around the world using the free wi-fi

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103-104 (Germany 2015)

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103. Edinburgh-Stuttgart (Easyjet) 16/11/15: It had become noticeable to friends and family that I seemed to be taking a lot of holidays this year, even by my standards. But what I knew, (and nobody else did), was that I was quitting my job at the end of the year, so I was making the most of my salary whilst I could. Officially, I was flying to Stuttgart to catch up with Heike, who had just moved down there. Easyjet had just started a direct service to Stuttgart and it was pretty cheap, as was accommodation in the city. Unofficially, I didn’t know when my next holiday might be after I left my management position, so I doubted I would make it over for her thirtieth birthday in Berlin next year

104. Stuttgart-Edinburgh (Easyjet) 18/11/15: Clearly I hadn’t learnt my lesson from my last visit to Germany in September, going out and getting pished the night before my flight. Luckily, this one wasn’t at nine on a Monday morning though, so I was at the airport in a fairly relaxed and not totally crap mood. I was slightly less relaxed on my arrival back in Edinburgh, with an urgent message from my deputy telling me that the owner of the company was in Edinburgh today, and was keen to see me. So with great reluctance, I headed to work straight from the airport, only to find that he wasn’t there yet. I had to call him, and he asked if I could wait for his arrival within the hour, and of course I had to agree. I could only assume that he had heard of my resignation and, just like last time, was keen to talk me out of it again. Turned out he didn’t even know as nobody at head office had told him, so I had to tell him to his face. Not really what I wanted to have to do when I was tired, hung over and desperate to go just home and unpack

100-102 (Iceland 2015)

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100. Edinburgh-Reykjavik (Easyjet) 03/11/15: I had enjoyed my brief visit to Reykjavik last November, coinciding as it had with the Iceland Airwaves festival. Even though I hadn’t had a ticket for the official festival, the atmosphere had still been great throughout the city. This year, I did have a ticket, and I was eagerly looking forward to seeing some of my favourite Icelandic acts performing live.
Today’s flight was also something of a celebration, as this would mark a century of flights. Knowing that this milestone was coming up, I had decided that, whichever flight this occasion fell on, I would treat myself to business class for once. Unfortunately, being an Easyjet flight, that wasn’t possible. So I settled for booking fast-track security, and having a celebratory glass of prosecco before my departure. However, the celebration nearly turned sour before it even got started, as my card was declined several times when I tried to pay for my drink. Luckily, it was simply down to the card machine playing up. The payment went through easily when the barman tried it on a different machine, much to my relief.
On the aircraft, it appeared that pretty much everyone onboard was headed to Reykjavik for the same thing. There were plenty of drinks being bought, and there was an almost party atmosphere onboard. The cabin crew were happy to join in with all the drunken banter too, and they didn’t seem too worried about keeping the alcohol flowing for everyone. Perhaps my fellow passengers were all just celebrating my hundredth flight for me.

101. Reykjavik-Belfast (Easyjet) 06/11/15: The only drawback with this trip had been that, due to staff shortages, I wasn’t able to stay for the full festival. So after a great few days, I headed back to Keflavik with real regret, still wearing my festival wristband and promising myself that I wouldn’t let this situation happen again in future years. Going home early would mean returning on one of the days that there wasn’t a direct Reykjavik to Edinburgh flight. So after many long hours of searching, I had found myself a cheap route home via Belfast, flying with Easyjet on both legs.
The stop in Belfast was about four hours, and I wondered whether it was worth visiting the city for an hour or so. But I knew nothing about Belfast, and couldn’t think of anything I was remotely interested in seeing, so I opted to stay at the airport. Whilst wandering the various shops, I was delighted to find that the duty-free store stocked West Coast Coolers. ‘I hear you can’t find these over there, is that right?’, asked the cashier. ‘No, you most certainly cannot’ I replied, as I rammed as many of the things as I could into my backpack. I did manage to leave a little room for a Titanic chocolate bar though, and some cool, retro White Star Line postcards, just to say that I had kinda been to Belfast.

102. Belfast-Edinburgh (Easyjet) 06/11/15: On my flight that morning from Reykjavik, I had noticed that there was a little pile of crushed debris on the floor beneath my seat. It looked like someone had dropped a crisp, and then subsequently stood on it, crushing it into the carpet. It had obviously gone unnoticed by the cabin crew during the aircraft’s last turnaround. So when I boarded my flight home at Belfast, and sat down in seat 9A as usual, I was amazed to find the same little pile of crushed crisps was still sitting on the floor at my feet. I was clearly on the same aircraft as this morning, but where had it been in the intervening four hours, on a quick return trip somewhere exotic perhaps? If they had known I was going to be on this aircraft again anyway, would they have let me simply stay onboard for the duration, rather than having to kill all that time in Belfast international? Probably not.

95-99 (Germany, Finland 2015)

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95. Edinburgh-Stockholm (SAS) 03/09/15: By now the cabin crew on the SAS flights from Edinburgh were more or less on first-name terms with me, as were the staff in some of the bars at Stockholm-Arlanda. So you can probably imagine the confusion it caused when I didn’t board the five-thirty service to Helsinki, and instead headed south on a completely different flight to Berlin. There were other ways to get to the German capital, most notably the direct Easyjet flight. But I had decided to become an SAS Eurobonus member, and their route to Berlin, whilst slightly longer and more tedious, would earn me miles, plus it was pretty cheap too.

96. Stockholm-Berlin (SAS) 03/09/15: A few months earlier, during an afternoon in North Queensferry with my favourite ginger Berliner Heike, she had asked about the new bridge across the Forth, construction of which was well underway before us that day. Would it be hideously late and over budget like the trams had been, she had asked in a slightly teasing tone. I politely responded by pointing out that the contractors who had built that tram network had been German, and incidentally, was anyone ever gonna finish that Berlin Brandenberg airport anyway? Whilst that political saga dragged on for a few more years, Berlin Tegel would have to manage. I’d heard that the airport was always horrifically over-crowded and chaotic, operating, as it was, way beyond any originally intended capacity. Still, I found it wasn’t too bad on my arrival; I have a somewhat confused memory of lots of stairs, and hexagons. Plus the girl at the BVG desk was very pretty.

97. Berlin-Helsinki (Air Berlin) 07/09/15: Finland was absolutely, totally on the way home from Germany, or so I told myself. In fact, the Finnish part of my trip to Berlin would actually be longer than the German part with a considerable detour as well, but what did I care?
I had originally booked this flight for the day after, but I realised that would mean watching the crucial Euro 2016 qualifier between Scotland and Germany in Germany. I wasn’t keen on ‘enjoying’ the potential spectacle of the world champions taking us apart at Hampden in a Berlin bar, surrounded by celebrating opposition fans. So I rebooked the flight for a day earlier, preferring instead to track the game on my phone in an almost deserted bar in Pori. However, that meant I was now flying out early on a Monday morning. Aside from the fact that I was out getting drunk with Heike the night before, I doubted that it would be fun braving the S-Bahn with all my luggage during the morning rush hour. I was right. And the bus connection from Beusselstraße to Tegel was even worse. I stood patiently on the pavement with around a hundred other people, patiently waiting my turn as bus after bus was filled up by more rambunctious travelers, until I finally managed to squeeze myself onto one too. As we approached the airport, a German woman around my age who was standing behind me made some request, presumably to try to get past me and disembark more quickly when we arrived. Unfortunately, the vehicle was so full that I was quite unable to move out of anybody’s way, and she muttered and cursed to herself in frustration, practically launching herself in desperation at the door when we arrived.
Flying with a hangover was nothing new sadly, but flying with Air Berlin was. The flight up to Helsinki had been reasonably priced, and the airline seemed to have plenty of decent reviews. I had been tempted to pre-order an onboard meal, (the currywurst had looked particularly tempting), but, given my condition, it was probably as well that I didn’t. The flight was pleasant enough though, and the free chocolates when we disembarked were very welcome.
By now I had seen plenty of Helsinki over the last two years, and I saw no reason to linger on my arrival, having already booked myself on a train straight to Pori that afternoon. This would involve me changing trains at Tampere, so I took the opportunity to quickly message Sonja to say hello during my brief, eight-minute visit to the city. I was slightly surprised at the immediate reply, asking what train I was on; it turned out that she was on the Pori train too, sitting in the carriage behind me no less. I don’t know what the chances of that were, but I suspect it was probably as likely as being in Tallinn at the same time as Morgane and her family

98. Helsinki-Stockholm (SAS) 12/09/15: Just as I had done on my arrival in Finland, I shunned the delights of Helsinki prior to my departure, preferring instead to make my way down from Toijala on the morning of my flight; the departure time wasn’t until mid-afternoon anyway. The train ride had been fairly eventful too, as I had been taking advantage of the onboard wi-fi to listen to the Freo game, as they edged past the Swans in the Qualifying Final. I was so happy on my arrival that I didn’t even care about paying seven Euros for a celebratory pint of Karhu

99. Stockholm-Edinburgh (SAS) 12/09/15: There’s a royal family in Sweden, and the locals are very fond of them indeed. As luck would have it, this latest visit to Stockholm-Arlanda, (which was fast becoming my second home), coincided with the wedding of HRH Prince Carl Philip of Sweden, Duke of Värmlandand, and a former glamour model, Sofia Hellqvist. Nope, I have no idea who they are either. It seemed a pretty big thing though, and everyone in the airport seemed glued to their television screens as the ceremony unfolded.

91-94 (Finland, Estonia 2015)

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91. Edinburgh-Stockholm (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 02/06/15: Despite being out drinking later than I would have liked the night before, I had a summer adventure around the Baltic to look forward to, with Finland, Estonia and Latvia on the itinerary. And once again I was able to enjoy the pleasures of free onboard wi-fi, and pester friends around the world with the view from my window seat. I know they all secretly love it when I send them pictures from a plane.

92. Stockholm-Helsinki (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 02/06/15: By now the Stockholm to Helsinki flights were starting to become so routine as to be the new Glasgow to Dubai, with Arlanda replacing Emirates terminal three (albeit much more expensive, and with no Bob’s Fish N’ Chips)

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93. Helsinki-Stockholm (SAS) 13/06/15: Number 93 should have been from Riga to Copenhagen, and then onwards to Edinburgh, both with Norwegian Air Shuttle. But after losing my video camera in slightly traumatic circumstances in Savonlinna, (along with a significant amount of really good footage), I’d ended up ripping up the original plans of travelling onwards through Estonia and Latvia. There didn’t seem much point continuing with the original itinerary now that the epic travel movie I had planned had gone south. So instead, somewhat predictably, I decided to go back to Finland and finish my holiday there. After all, I’d already captured that on film several times by now. Some nimble work on the Skyscanner and Hotels.com soon had me rebooked for a few days in Hämeenlinna, with a pretty reasonably priced flight back to Edinburgh with SAS from Helsinki. It meant shortening the trip by a few days since Finland would be a lot more expensive than Tartu or Riga. And I would have to write off the cost of the original return flight home, whilst adding the cost of a new flight. But what was the point in going somewhere new and exciting if you couldn’t document it?
I did, however, manage a brief few sunny days in Tallinn before my u-turn, where I had the wonderful surprise of meeting Morgane on holiday. I had taken the long trek out to the beautiful summer palace at Kadriorg, and when I returned to my hotel, posted some lovely pictures of it online. It was met by an immediate response from Morgane, informing me that she was also in Tallinn, and actually sitting in a bar just a few streets away from my hotel as it turned out. A joyful reunion was quickly arranged, and I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting her entire family; it turned out that they were holidaying in Estonia because her younger brother had studied there some years before. Small world. When we had met in Lyon the year before, Morgane had pointed out that I should try to learn some French while I was there, so that she didn’t have to speak English all the time. Tonight however, there was no need for me to try and speak French with her because we weren’t in France, as I was more than happy to point out. After we had all went our separate ways later that evening, I managed to find myself in a slightly awkward conversation with an old man in a bar; I think he was an old soldier, and he told me that had grown up in the Soviet Union. ‘Really?’ I had asked, ‘Which part? Moscow? Leningrad maybe?’ ‘Tallinn’, was his blunt reply. Ouch.

94. Stockholm-Edinburgh (SAS) 13/06/15:  It’s no secret that Scotland’s national team had been crap for years. But though the qualifying draw for Euro 2016 had placed them in a so-called ‘group of death’, the campaign hadn’t started too badly. And today would be one of the crunch fixtures in the group, a visit to Dublin to take on the Irish. Of course, I had known that this game would be happening during my planned trip. With the original itinerary, it looked like I would probably have to watch the game in an Irish pub in Riga, (I’m going to stick my neck out here and guess that there is an Irish pub in Riga, there’s been one everywhere else I’ve ever traveled). But with the new schedule, I instead found myself in the departure lounge at Stockholm-Arlanda, relying on the airport’s free wi-fi to provide me with BBC Scotland’s radio commentary. The game had sounded fairly even until the Irish had taken the lead during the first half, at which point the boarding call was made for my flight; why was there never a flight delay when you needed one? An agonising wait ensued during the two-hour flight home, and I was already deactivating the flight mode on my phone as we touched down at Turnhouse. Scotland had scored an equaliser to claim a draw, and our ticket to the Euros was still up for grabs. As we taxied to the gate, a loud yelp of delight from the rear of the plane told me that I wasn’t the only one who’d been waiting anxiously to hear the final score

87-90 (Slovakia, Austria 2015)

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87. Edinburgh-Brussels (Brussels Airlines) 10/02/15: I had a habit of keeping my birthday holiday destinations quiet, and in this case especially more so as it would actually involve two birthdays. The first part of the trip involved a depressingly early flight from Edinburgh; I’d barely slept the night before, but assumed I would catch up with a few z’s on the plane. I had no such luck however. But I was nice to arrive back in Brussels, even if it was just the airport. Although I was just passing through, I took the time to message Simona and say hello whilst I was in town, ironically enough given my final destination. And although the stop was just over an hour, I was still hoping to find time for a Big Bacon meal from Quick: they were closed for refurbishment though.

 

88. Brussels-Vienna (Austrian Airlines) 10/02/15: I’d already flown with Brussels Airlines before, but this would be my first flight with Austrian, and I’d heard good things. The flight was fairly pleasant, with a clean modern cabin onboard, and attentive crew. And it wasn’t especially busy either, being a Tuesday afternoon. I was also served my first taste of Austrian beer, with my Ottakringer being accompanied by some amusing airplane-shaped chips.
But Austria wasn’t my final destination, at least not just yet. If there was one country I’d spent almost as long planning and promising to visit as Australia, it was Slovakia. Arriving at Vienna international, it was a quick and simple matter to find the local transport desk, and I was on the bus to Bratislava within fifteen minutes of my arrival. The Slovak border was only about an hour away, and, after waiting so long to finally make it here, I was keen to know when we actually crossed the border into Slovakia. After nearly an hour, we approached a small town with an impressive medieval-style wall as its entrance; could this finally be it, I wondered excitedly? The truth was disappointing, as we were clearly still in Austria, with the German road signs continuing throughout and beyond the mystery town. And when we did actually reach the border, it wasn’t anything spectacular; a large billboard at the side of the road, portraying a large EU flag and bearing the legend Slovenska Republika, was the only indication that we had left Austria. Still, I had finally made it, and I would soon be able to send Zuzi that surprise birthday message from her hometown.

89. Vienna-Brussels (Brussels Airlines) 15/02/15: I’d been impressed with my brief visit to Vienna international a few days earlier, and now I would get a better look at it. They’d obviously been taking lessons from Hong Kong international, as I was able to check my bags and get my boarding pass at Mitte railway station before having a last few hours sightseeing around the Austrian capital. The dedicated airport train was relatively pricey, but took us to the airport quickly and comfortably. And the airport itself was modern, spacious and impressive. I still had plenty of time (and money) before my flight, and treated to myself to a rare pre-flight meal, an excellent pork cutlet and potatoes (possibly the best meal I’d ever had in an airport)
The ticket I’d bought was a codeshare between Star Alliance partners Brussels and Austrian airlines. I’d expected to be on an Austrian flight on the way back to Brussels, but sadly it was operated by Brussels Airlines; not a bad airline either, but I had really enjoyed the service on the Austrian flight on the way out.

90. Brussels-Edinburgh (Brussels Airlines) 15/02/15: A longer stop on the return journey, but sadly Quick was still closed for renovations. And the vending machine swallowed my euros without giving me my bottle of cola, was pure raging.

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83-86 (Finland 2015)

 

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83. Edinburgh-Heathrow (British Airways) 04/01/15: New passport, same old destinations. I had actually booked these flights on the train back from the passport office in Glasgow in December, with the ink on my new passport still drying. I wasn’t keen on having to use BA for any part of a trip, but both Norwegian and SAS had far fewer services from Edinburgh at this time of year. At least the breakfast would be good though. But once we had boarded, the captain immediately informed us that our departure was being delayed by heavy fog down at Heathrow. The crew already knew this prior to boarding, but decided it would be best to have everyone on the aircraft and ready to go as soon as they received the go-ahead from down south. Excited as I was at the prospect of sitting idle on the tarmac for an hour or so, I was a bit worried about whether I would meet my connecting flight to Helsinki. I briefly discussed this with my seatmate, an elderly businessman, who commented that he wouldn’t fancy the weather in Norway at this time of year. I didn’t waste any time talking to him again. And as it turned out, we were underway after waiting just ten minutes anyway

84. Heathrow-Helsinki (Finnair) 04/01/15: Once again I had to go through security at Heathrow, despite arriving from another UK airport. I had been concerned about missing my connection due to our delayed departure from Edinburgh, but there was no need to be worried; the aircraft from Helsinki arrived an hour late, its departure delayed by the same heavy fog at Heathrow. And as for the flight, the blueberry juice was in plentiful supply, and the stewardesses had their leather gloves.

85. Helsinki-Manchester (Flybe Nordic) 09/01/15: I’m not really sure who or what Flybe Nordic is; the aircraft was decorated in Finnair livery, and the crew were in Finnair uniform (including the leather gloves). And they served blueberry juice onboard. So isn’t that just Finnair?

86. Manchester-Edinburgh (Flybe) 09/01/15: Manchester airport was a new experience, as was flying with Flybe. The aircraft was a small prop plane (a Bombardier Dash I think), and the flight was a fairly underwhelming experience. The aircraft felt old and tired, and the cabin crew didn’t seem particularly interested in their work. But there was some pretty amusing in-flight entertainment though. In the seats across from me sat a young man and a middle-aged woman. Both were clearly tired for whatever reason, and not long after take-off they were both fast asleep. Before long, the young man’s head had drooped so much that he ended up resting snugly on his seatmate’s ample bosom, whilst she remained blissfully unaware in her own slumbers. I can’t remember who woke first, but both were looking wide-awake and slightly sheepish when we arrived in Edinburgh. As we slowly shuffled off the aircraft, the young man took a moment to touch her on the shoulder and quietly apologise, but she was okay about it and laughed it off.