Reporter: David Shepherd
Act 1 — 14/03/2020 Manchester to Geneva
Everyone arrives promptly at Terminal 2 which is nearly empty, so it’s the quickest check in and security anyone can remember. The group have already adopted an “anything can happen and probably will” approach to the trip and keep smiling. As many of TUI’s regular planes are grounded we are on a GETJET (who? I hear you ask) flight. They are Lithuanian and the cabin crew’s command of English is rather limited. Fortunately, we have two TUI attendants on board who translate and ultimately take command. A safe landing at Geneva and we are bussed over to the old tourist terminal (Also known as the British cattle shed!), no doubt to keep us isolated from the infected locals.
Act 2 — Geneva to Arc 2000
All aboard the coach including Graham from Gatwick, then a long wait while the Crystal reps blunder around trying to locate 4 people who never actually left the UK. An hour later off we go with the driver acting as tour guide and beeping his horn at just about every vehicle that he encounters. Across the French border we go with not a customs officer or Covid-19 checker in sight. Our first hint that the trip may be short one comes at the halfway refreshment stop when our driver informs us that the Alps might get shut down early next week. We keep smiling as we drive up the Isère valley and then onto the winding road up to the resort, with the driver merrily operating his mobile phone as we negotiate the hairpin bends up to Arc 2000.
Act3 — Check in & the Farce begins
16:00 and we are at the reception desk being told that we cannot check-in until 18:00 as other guests have not left yet, even though official check out time is midday. So it’s up to the bar for most or in mine and Dave T’s case a walk, taking in lift pass collection from the excellently run pass office, around the snow covered village, finishing with a Vin Chaud in the sun at the Refuge bar, thanks Dave for suggesting that! The highlight of my trip!!
Act4 — The really Farcical Bit
6 o’clock arrives and its chaos at reception as some rooms are ready whilst others are not. By 6:20 everyone has a key, which is when the farce really starts to unfold. I lug my bags up to room 432 where, due to lots of late withdrawals I am the single occupant, as indeed are several lucky others. The lifts were hopeless by the way, they seemed to have minds of their own and propensity for going to the basement. Back at reception I learn that one lady who was also a single occupant got to her room only to find that a total stranger has already been allocated her room. She is given another room, only to find that this too is already occupied. It happens to her a third time before the reception staff finally get it right!
In the meantime, Neil & Wilf appear at reception having been checked in my room. I agree to move to room 317, which purports to be a twin room, but is barely large enough to count as a single. I’m just getting settled into my new room when Bill & Graham come through the door thinking it’s their room, and they had already been moved once! I hope you’re keeping up with this, so it’s back to reception we all go, where I hear rumours of Crystal trying to shoehorn some of us into triples. I instruct both the Crystal rep and the reception staff in no uncertain terms that we have 24 twin rooms booked and will be occupying them all. They give way without argument.
Meanwhile, one gentleman club member has, through no fault of his own, been allocated and walks into the same room as a fellow lady club member. Fortunately she was fully dressed at time unlike another of our ladies who, having just stepped out of the shower, had nothing but a large towel round her when a gentleman unlocked the door and entered, he beat a hasty and embarrassed retreat to no doubt angrily confront the incompetent reception staff. There are several other equally farcical incidents & reports I could mention, such as people sharing tiny rooms whilst some single occupancy people ended up with triple rooms all to themselves, not to mention the damp in one room. However, I’m sure you get the general picture of chaos. It made Fawlty Towers look thoroughly professional at times.
The buffet style meal was a welcome respite from the mayhem of the previous two hours. The food & service were excellent, quite out of keeping with the rest of the hotel facilities and service standard.
Act 5 — 15/03/2020 The Farce turns to Tragedy
4 am and I’m woken both by drunken revellers and a Frenchman hurling abuse at some unfortunate official. Suspecting the worst, I switch on my i-pad and log onto Sky news, and sure enough the French Prime Minister pulled the plug on all Alpine ski resorts shortly before midnight with some 30,000 British skiers having travelled there on the Saturday. Bad timing to put it mildly. No wonder that Frenchman was in a rage and others drunk! I get up for an early morning walk around the village. Fantastic views of Mt Blanc, excellent snow and weather forecast, not a single report of Covid-19 in the area, and we have to go home. The reception staff are in a state of near shock as I re-enter the hotel.
Act 6 — Breakfast & Departure
7:30 and we are all still smiling despite the news, enjoying the panoramic view of the Mt Blanc massif over a good breakfast. The hotel staff have responded to the news that everyone has to be evacuated today by laying out an impressive spread of picnic stuff for people to select from for their journeys home. Plastic carrier bags, cutlery and bottled water are included too. 11:00 and we all gather at the bus station and wait. 12:25 and we are finally on our way, on Italian coaches driven by Italians, singing as they drive. let’s hope they weren’t infected by the virus. Everyone is still smiling, just about. It’s a slow passage down to Moutier as all the other resorts in the Isere valley are emptying at the same time, but once through there it’s full speed ahead all the way to Calais 14 hours later.
Act 7 — Coach Confusion & Back to Terminal 2
All change at Calais as we board British coaches for the Ferry crossing to and onward from Dover. Our singing Italians have to go back to the Alps to collect more stranded skiers. The ferry is packed for the short crossing at 3:05 am, every chance we are all infected with Covid-19 by now!
Onwards from Dover down to Folkstone at 3:50 where everyone disembarks again to wait for new coaches to take people to their respective home airports. And a long wait it is. Crystal excel themselves for inaction and ineptitude, doing as little as possible to get people organised!!! At 6:20 coaches finally arrive and general chaos ensues with ski club members ending up on three coaches one of which didn’t actually depart until 7:30 and was then subject to the final insult of a delay on the M25. The coach I was on was fortunately first away, getting back to Manchester airport for about 13:00 only for the driver to get hopelessly confused as he tried to locate Terminal 2. After a tour of every roundabout in the airport complex the passengers guided him to a suitable bus stop and disembarked laughing about this final debacle.
I’m pleased to report that everyone made it home ok, even Mike Rosso who lives in Cyprus, and got what was probably the last plane home before they shut their borders. To make up for the total lack of skiing opportunity in Arc 2000 eight members of the club met up at Chill Factore the following Wednesday for a couple of hours on the slope, followed by food and drinks in Wetherspoons, and a jolly good time was had by all before that too got closed down.
I would most definitely NOT like to thank President Macron & and his PM Edouard Phillipe for their appalling timing, I would however like to say a BIG thank you to everyone on the trip for staying calm and in such good humour throughout a tumultuous three days. Particular thanks go to Dave Taylor, Steve Wardle, Tony Carlyle & Val Poole for their invaluable assistance with the various administrative issues that cropped up over the weekend.
Let’s all hope things get back to normal by December and we are back on skis.