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São Paulo - London - Home

The long journey home


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

No alarm this morning as we are not leaving until lunchtime – Yay! The breakfast buffet has some very nice dishes, including a chocolate mousse! Yum.

After completing the packing, we wander down to reception, and sit in the bar, waiting for the restaurant to open, when our transfer driver turns up one hour and ten minutes early. The porter hasn't even had the time to bring our luggage down yet! It makes no difference to us, we can spend some extra time in the LATAM VIP Lounge instead of paying for lunch here in the hotel.

The driver goes well beyond his duty and rushes around trying to find us a wheelchair when we arrive at the airport. We tip him well. The porter, Gulmar, is very talkative, but neither of us speaks the other one's language. I can make out that his claim to fame is that he once pushed Pelé around in a wheelchair.

LATAM VIP Lounge
This lounge is considerably nicer than the BA lounge in Heathrow, so we make ourselves comfortable, grab a few snacks and a drink from the bar and wait.

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Is it ever OK to place your feet on the table where people might want to put their food and drinks? Not in my book, for sure!

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The toilets are like nothing I have ever seen before. They are not cubicles, they are proper rooms, with a floor-to-ceiling door. Each stall is sterilised between every use, with a paper ribbon across the toilet seat and the toilet paper folded to a point at the end to indicate it has been cleaned. One wall has a marble shelf with a basin set in it, and mirrors above. The opposite wall has floor-to-ceiling mirrors. It's like a “House of Mirrors” at a fairground, and I can see dozens of me at the same time. Should I want to, that is.

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British Airways Business Class

Gulmar returns and takes me straight to the gate, where I am first to board. Barry, the purser greets me by name and shows me to my seat without me having to show my ticket. As we are getting settled, Barry returns: “Mrs Howard, when we are airborne, would you like me to bring you an aperitif before dinner?” “Will you be dining with us this evening?” “What would you like for your main course?” “Would you like still or sparkling water with that?” “And how about some wine...”

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Cranberry Blush cocktail: vodka, orange, cranberry, and ginger ale

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The Quinoa Tabbouleh starter with feta cheese, roasted aubergine, and pesto sauce is surprisingly creamy and very good.

The fabulous Tenderloin of beef has a sundried tomato and herb crust and is served with a bacon demi-glace, potato au gratin, roasted tomato, sautéed mushrooms, and spinach.

There are three different types of bread that are baked together, although the butter is disappointingly hard.

The passion fruit and mango mousse with a chocolate brownie is delicious, and the cheese is lovely.

As a result of waiting for connecting passengers, we are 40 minutes late leaving.

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I struggle to sleep as my knee seems to hurt whichever position I am in, so I play “Who wants to be a Millionaire on the games console, over and over again until I finally win the $1,000,000. If only it was real money!

Breakfast is pretty awful – the bacon is so tough I can't cut it, the eggs are stewed, and the so-called sausage is totally tasteless. I eat the yogurt and pastries. When I mention it to 'my friend' Barry, he agrees that it does not look as good as it normally does.

Coming in to land at Heathrow, we fly over the centre of London – I always enjoy this approach route.

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Once we have landed, I am told to wait in my seat until everyone has got off. Oh, the difference between how they treat Special Assistance passengers in the UK to Brazil!

I am eventually pushed in a wheelchair to the end of the corridor, where we are squashed into a sardine-like vehicle at least two inches shorter than my legs. My knees are pushed right up against a glass partition, and we have to wait until the driver has collected three other passengers.

We travel in the underbelly of Heathrow, a part of the airport I have never seen before and have no wish to experience again. Long, bleak tunnels, devoid of life, like something out of a horror movie.

The vehicle takes us through passport control, where the mother and daughter behind in the truck are questioned at length about the fact that they have both Italian and Argentine passports.

When we arrive at the luggage carousels, I am unceremoniously dropped at the Special Assistance holding area with the words: “you might prefer to walk from here if you can as there are a dozen or more people in front of you waiting for a wheelchair”.

Welcome to Britain!

Posted by Grete Howard 11:33 Archived in Brazil Tagged vip south_america sao_paulo heathrow marriott ba wheelchair cocktail british_airways business_class undiscovered_destinations special_assistance latam vip_lounge posh_toilets Comments (0)

São Paulo - Iguaçu

Stage two of the journey to Brazil


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I managed to get some sleep, despite the seat adjustment buttons having a mind of their own, and either not working when I pressed them or continuing to recline when I took my finger off them. When I mention it to the steward this morning, he is quite surprised, as apparently it is a new plane.

Breakfast
The scrambled eggs with pork sausage, mushrooms, and tomato were surprisingly good.

São Paulo Airport
I really should have pre-requested assistance here at Sãp Paulo, as the walk is incredibly long – David estimates almost two miles. We have to clear immigration, collect our luggage, go through customs and walk to the domestic terminal. An official lets me cut in the line for immigration, and I do so myself for customs.

There is a long queue for check-in at the domestic terminal, but a kindly lady sends me to the Special Assistance counter. The young guy there speaks no English and my Portuguese is no better, but we get by using Google Translate.

Opposite the check-in counter is the wheelchair hub, and someone took me straight to a dedicated Special Assistance holding area. As we wait for a porter to collect us when the flight is ready to board, I receive an email from British Airways about our missing bag. Missing bag? What missing bag? We have just collected both bags and checked them in again. I decide to ignore the email.

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São Paulo – Iguaçu flight
The GOL flight is full and I am right at the back of the plane. The steward who helps me cannot understand why they didn't give me a seat at the front of the plane, where there are dedicated seats for the disabled. There is a screaming child two rows in front of me, plus his spoilt brat brother who jumps up and down in the seat throughout the entire flight, including for landing.

As soon as we land in Iguaçu, I attempt to stand up as my knees are hurting, and cannot understand why everyone remains seated. It later transpires that Brazilian flights disembark by row, and only when invited to do so by the crew. How very civilised!

A wheelchair is waiting for me, whisking me straight through in front of everyone else, right to the place where Carini, our local guide, is waiting for us.

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Iguaçu
Our hotel is inside the national park, so we stop at the entrance gate to pay for the park fees. A few hundred yards later is another gate – the first check-in for the hotel. Carini's company is one of very few agencies that are allowed to drive right up to the hotel; everyone else must stop at this post, park their car here and take the hotel shuttle the rest of the way. I am very grateful we don't have to deal with that hassle.

We first visited Iguaçu back in 1990 as part of a big South America trip, and totally fell in love with this place; so much so, that it has remained my all-time favourite spot ever since.

At the time I wrote in my journal:

“Around each corner is a new spectacle, each better than the previous, it is all so magnificent.... It is so overwhelming standing here at the edge of such a mighty waterfall that I am in tears at so much natural beauty. It is all too much for me.”

I do wonder if reality will live up to my memory and expectations 32 years later, with some two hundred more trips abroad and almost one hundred more countries visited since then.

I needn't have worried. As soon as we get the first glimpse of the magnificent falls from the road, my eyes well up, and again I feel extremely emotional.

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Belmond Hotel das Cataratas
This is the only hotel inside the Iguaçu National Park, and classes itself as five star luxury. Way back in 1990 when we last visited Brazil, we did not find it all that luxurious, with a fairly scruffy room where the AC did not work, and disinterested staff.

This time it is very different.

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As soon as we pull up outside the beautiful pink façade, a small army of porters arrive. One of them leads us to the reception while the rest take our luggage out of the car. Gabriel, the receptionist, hands us a welcome drink and a small traditional coconut sweet, and asks if I would prefer a bath or a walk-in shower. Most definitely the latter, as I struggle to get in and out of a bathtub with this poorly knee. He apologises that the room is not quite ready yet (not surprising as it is not even midday at this stage), so he walks us onto the lawn next to the pool, carrying our hand luggage, where he introduces us to Melissa “who will look after you while you wait for your room to be ready”. Melissa leads us to a table, and insists on finding a chair for my camera bag. “We are a five-star hotel, we will not let you put your bag on the ground” she maintains.

Lunch
Today the hotel are hosting a BBQ on the lawns, where all food and drinks are included in the one price. I have no idea how much that 'one price' is, as the saying goes: “if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it”. This is a popular event for the local 'In Crowd', and it is easy to see who has just arrived for the BBQ to see and be seen (dressed to the nines), versus those who are staying in the hotel.

We are assigned a waiter, called Claudiana. He explains that he was named partly after his mother, who was called Ariana, and he hates his name but loves his mother, so he puts up with it. He is very sweet, and ensures we have everything we can possibly want, and more. Each table has a small bottle of hand sanitiser as well as a natural insect repellent.

I start with a classic Caipirinha, Brazil's national drink made with cachaça, sugar, and lime. Cachaça is a bit of an institution here in Brazil, and is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice.

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I have another couple, just to make sure I like them.

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There is an impressive buffet with salads and side dishes, and two large tables with meats carved on demand.

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I am intrigued by the grilled banana to go with the meat, and as I am rather partial to fruit with savoury dishes, I find it most enjoyable. The cracking is probably the best I have ever had!

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David picks up a potato stuffed with cheese, which he claims is delicious.

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The dessert buffet looks extraordinarily temping, and I feel obliged to try one of each dish!

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Oh yes!!!!

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David is not quite so greedy.

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There is a live group entertaining us, playing some very nice music, but a little too loud for me, as we struggle to hold a normal conversation at the table.

We go back to Gabriel on reception, who confirms that our room is now indeed ready for us, and that he has not only upgraded us to a deluxe room, but in fact a deluxe room with a view of the falls! Sounds good!

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The view from the room

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David in our room waving at me when I am down at the falls

The room is unremarkable, while the bathroom has pretty tiles and a built-in seat in the shower, which is rather nice.

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We take a much-needed nap, followed by a refreshing shower. Neither of us feels particularly hungry after the massive BBQ lunch, so we just go down to the bar for drinks and snacks.

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Cold cuts and cheeses to share

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Panga cocktail: Cachaça M'Boy, Cointreau, Sicilian lemon juice, basil, and raspberry syrup.

When we return to the room, housekeeping have been, leaving a mat on the floor beside the bed and a chocolate on the pillow. I do like some old-fashioned turn-back service.

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Goodnight from Iguaçu.

Posted by Grete Howard 18:39 Archived in Brazil Tagged park hotel flight airport breakfast waterfall national bar brazil brasil bbq aircraft south_america sao_paulo dessert disabled iguacu wheelchair cocktail luxury_travel gol live_music caipirinha hotel_room housekeeping british_airways business_class cachaca insect_repellent check-in belmond dessert_buffet turnback_service luxury_hotel ba_club_world disabled_traveller club_world gol_airlines hotel_das_cataratas belmond_hotel_das_cataratas five_star_hotel lunch_on_the_lawn hand_sanitiser grilled_banana room_upgrade cold_cuts Comments (3)

Bristol - Heathrow - BA Club Class Flight

Brazil here we come! After two cancellations, our much-anticipated Brazil adventure is finally here.


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Pre-word

2020
To cut a long story short, back in early 2020, we booked a trip to Brazil in September that year, to replace a much more complicated multi-country tour of South East Asia, which was deemed too complicated to pull off during the Pandemic. Of course, Covid didn't disappear as hoped, so the Brazil trip was cancelled.

In 2021, Brazil was closed to foreign visitors as a result of the pandemic, so again the trip was cancelled – or rather postponed.

This year (2022), with vaccines and boosters in place, things seemed so much more positive, so we re-resuscitated the plans to visit Brazil. Follow along with us to see how this panned out.

April 2022
So far so good. The only snag is that we need to show negative Covid tests on entry to Brazil. That shouldn't be too much of a problem.

May 2022
The negative test requirement has now been lifted, so that is one less thing to worry about.

We do, however, have to show our proof of vaccination. British Airways suggest that we use an app called Verifly, where we can upload our certificates and it should link directly to the BA site. I love it! So easy! I do, however, pack a paper copy, just in case.

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June 11th 2022
Checking the British Airways website, it transpires that our flight leaves from Terminal Three, not Terminal Five as stated on our tickets.

No problem, we'll just amend our parking arrangements. Purple Parking claim that it is a busy period, and they need extra payment to move it to T3. £180. That is not so much of a problem, the original cost was £163. No, they want an EXTRA £180, in ADDITION TO the amount already paid. Sod that!

We look at our options. We could continue to park at T5 and take the 20-minute underground train from T5 to T3, although that doesn't seem like much fun when we have tried to minimise hassle by booking the 'meet and greet' service.

Looking around online, we find some alternative arrangements, using a company called Airside Meet and Greet. And they are cheaper than the original company, at £146

Shame on you Purple Parking! We have used them a number of times previously, and have mostly received good service. To their credit, they did refund the T5 parking.

Checking out the review for Airside Meet and Greet on Trust Pilot (AFTER booking, not the wisest move, but we were so excited to find something at a good price) we discover a host of bad reviews. Oh dear. Oh well, time will tell.

24th June 2022 Bristol - Heathrow

During our trip to Scotland last month, I injured myself while trekking through the forest at midnight on my way back from a pine marten hide, tearing a ligament in my left knee, and damaging the ligament in the other too. This has resulted in me struggling to walk – or rather hobble – using a stick for support.

Heathrow
We look for wheelchair assistance on the long walk from the car park to the correct area at the airport, but find nothing. The lady at the Special Assistance Check In Desk, tries to phone for wheelchair assistance, but no-one answers the phone. She keeps trying periodically as she checks us in.

After much typing and frowning, she tells me that my Norwegian passport has flagged up the need for a visa to visit Brazil. Groan. Having checked the Brazilian Embassy website earlier this morning, I know this to be untrue. Eventually, and reluctantly, she takes my word for it and checks us in.

After one last attempt at contacting the wheelchair special assistance counter, she suggests we walk to the desk upstairs. It's another long walk and my knee is really struggling now. The queue at the desk snakes around the corner and down the wall, so we decide to head for the Fast Track security line.

Another long queue. After 45 minutes (if that is FAST track, I dread to think what the regular security queue is like!), we finally reach the conveyor belts. The American girl in front of me has been so busy chatting, that she hasn't even put her liquids in a clear plastic bag at this stage, and holds up the queue as she scrambles through her hand luggage to find various bottles and potions to go in the one bag provided. Groan. Has the pandemic caused people to completely forget airport etiquette?

We head for the Special Assistance counter, where there is another long queue, of course. They suggest I walk up to the BA Lounge. Another long walk. I work out that I have probably walked the best part of a mile by now, and doesn't my knee know it!

The girl on the desk at the lounge sorts out a wheelchair to be delivered for me. Finally!

BA Club Class Lounge
Not having been abroad for the last two years (something that has not happened since we married in 1977), we decided to treat ourselves to Business Class on the transatlantic flights, which means we have the use of BA's Club Lounge at Heathrow.

My first impression is a little disappointing, with the dining area resembling more of a school canteen than a VIP lounge. We have some snacks and a couple of drinks while waiting for the wheelchair to turn up.

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Special Assistance
Finally, a very nice young man arrives with a wheelchair for me and pushes me to a waiting buggy which takes me to the gate, where I am left to find my own way down to the plane.

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In the buggy

Thankfully I am able to bypass the long queue at the gate for priority boarding.

British Airways Club World
The arrival on board the plane makes up for the lack of service at the airport: they couldn't be more welcoming and service-minded as I am shown to my seat and my luggage stowed for me.

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The seats are nice and wide, very comfortable and the way they are positioned, offer great privacy.

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From the BA website

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As soon as we are seated, we are offered a glass of champagne.

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Apart from when eating and drinking, masks are compulsory on board the plane; it is dependent on the rules at the destination, and Brazil still has a mask mandate on flights.

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As soon as we are airborne, the steward approaches me and asks: “Mrs Howard, would you like a drink from the bar this evening?” What a difference from the service in economy – I could get used to this!

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Bacardi and Coke served in proper cut glass, with complimentary nuts

It is so nice to be able to remove the mask to drink, that I have another Bacardi and Coke for that very reason! We have become quite used to being mask-free in the UK, and I feel rather claustrophobic wearing one.

Dinner
Once again the steward arrives asking what I would like to order for dinner. It's a difficult choice, with the options being Braised beef cheeks, sweetcorn gnocchi and vegetables, or chicken, leek, and mushroom pie. I opt for the pie.

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Starter of roasted cauliflower with red pepper dip and chimmichurri. The dish is very tasty, but I do not like my food icy cold straight out of the fridge, which this is.

The pie is absolutely delicious (David tells me the beef cheeks were wonderful too), and the trio of different breads baked together makes a great accompaniment (despite the rock-hard butter). Chocolate mousse and a cheese board containing Mature Cheddar, Red Leicester, and a fig relish complete the meal. I love the way the food is brought to you on individual trays complete with white cloth and proper metal cutlery.

The lights are dimmed and we settle down to sleep. While obviously not as good as a proper bed, the flat-bed seats sure beat the (non) comfort of economy class.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:41 Archived in Brazil Tagged flight heathrow wheelchair business_class special_assistance ba_club_world clubworld turn_left storn_ligament Comments (2)

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