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Phil’s Travels – Brazzaville, Republic of Congo (04.24)


Phil’s Travels – Brazzaville, Republic of Congo (04.24)

This was the most expeditious expedition for many a year. Thursday afternoon our client asked me to join him in Brazzaville the following week to present to a bank. I said I was very willing to go and support him, but any travel would have to be in the early part of the week as I had an immovable commitment in Leeds on Thursday. This resulted in me rushing to the Visa Office of the Republic of Congo on Friday morning and between our client and me persuading the Visa Officer that they could issue a visa by Monday (even though their fast-track option normally takes three days and the Consul was away until Monday). I left my papers with the Officer, having paid a fee that would no doubt boost the Congolese economy for many a month to come, and hoped for the best.

After a weekend of toing and froing on flight options, we finally found a combination of flights that would leave late Monday (after I had my visa, hopefully) and return by Wednesday evening.

I reported as instructed to the Visa Office at 13.00 sharp on Monday afternoon and blow me down my visa was ready and in good order. Thus equipped, I headed to Heathrow T2 on the Elizabeth Line (zooming past newly green trees and shoots, peppered with colourful Cherry Blossoms, spring in the UK is so pretty), checked-in and passed through security in less than five minutes, and consumed some Blumenthal comestibles. The food was as dull as the terminal it sits in. The burger was smaller than a McDonald’s Happy Meal. The fries and onion rings straight from a freezer bag. And the limp and stale salad must have been on standby since breakfast. There may be a ray of hope for T2 though, the Caviar House counter was boarded up and a new eatery, called The Vinery, is proposed. Sounds good and surprisingly I found myself looking forward to passing through T2 again in the near future.

This particular Monday was the day of a total solar eclipse in North America and the hope was that parts of the UK may experience a partial eclipse around sunset. From Heathrow anyway, there was nothing to see. It was raining and our take-off was well after the sun had gone to bed.

I flew Ethiopian Airlines from Heathrow and was fortunate to have been booked in Business Class. My seat was in the front row, seat 1L (I have only ever sat in 1A once and then only briefly because the person in 1B wanted his wife to sit next to him; this was for another quick single meeting trip to Dubai, many years ago). My elevated status on this flight though meant nothing when it came to the onboard tech. My massive, personal screen (bigger than an Everyman) had glitch frenzy and would not work properly. So, I plugged my headphones into the adjacent seat (which was empty) and watched the first hour of a movie at an angle until the headphones then gave up too. I gave in, laid out the flatbed and enjoyed some shut eye to Addis Ababa.

Addis Airport was not busy and I transferred to my next flight in moments. The next Ethiopian plane was less spacious and more packed in Business, but at least the TV worked. We landed five minutes early having approached over cotton ball clouds, like an infinite herd of celestial sheep, floating above vast green pastures.

My rushed visa worked a treat at passport control and I was the first one out, only to find an empty Radisson shuttle desk. The Congolese are such lovely people. Recognising my plight, a complete stranger asked me if he could help and I asked if the shuttle was coming. He said he would make a call. Less than 20 minutes later I was on the shuttle and heading into town. In so many other locations that ‘complete stranger’ would most likely have tried to hard-sell me a taxi ride for an outrageous some of money – cash only. But not in Congo-Brazzaville. Lovely folk the Congolese.

At the Radisson, I said ‘Hi’ to our team, abluted quickly, changed into business attire and set up in the conference room (after a quick salad overlooking the mighty Congo River and Kinshasa on the far bank). After 2-3 hours of meeting, I changed back into travel garb and took the same shuttle back to the airport.

Check-in, security, et al, all went smoothly. The airport was not busy. I think ours was the only flight that evening. Maybe that’s why they did not turn on the A/C. The terminal was baking hot, even though it was dark outside and the usual glasshouse effect was not in play any more. I am pretty sure I may have equalled a previous record for number of times my passport was checked. At Heathrow it was twice, at Addis it was once and at Brazzaville it was nine times:

  1. Before entering departures area
  2. Before queuing to check-in
  3. On check-in
  4. Before passport control
  5. At passport control
  6. Customs desk
  7. At the security scanners
  8. Before pre-boarding security check
  9. And finally on boarding


My return to the UK was with Air France via Paris. The Paris leg was long and uncomfortable. I swear Premium Economy seats are worse than regular Economy seats, at least for my frame anyway. Maybe I am simply oddly shaped. Final leg to London was a quick hop over the Channel, after less than an hour to connect in Charles de Gaule, at least it was all in the same terminal (2E) but at different gates (from L to K), which required a train ride. I will never understand how CDG is configured. It has to be the most confusing layout of any airport and so unnecessarily sprawled.

I was on standby for this last leg. However, unlike Heston’s salad, I did not have to wait for another flight and was allocated a seat on the last row in the plane (from first to last in just over a day). We landed at Heathrow on time, at T4. First time in years I have seen T4. I did not have time to pop over to our baby (the Crowne Plaza / Holiday Inn Express combo-hotel) as I had meetings to get to in the Big Smoke. So concluded my expeditious trip to Africa (four flights and four different airports in less than two days). Some 40 hours of travel, of which barely 10 hours in my destination (a ratio of 25%, even my trip to St Helena had a higher ratio, 22 days travel of which 6 on island, a ratio of 27%). For those who could not keep up, my itinerary below (local times):

13.00 visa secured

17.30 left home for Heathrow

21.00 flights to Addis and Brazzaville

11.00 landed

14.00 meeting

16.00 debrief

17.30 sneaky whisky with Lord Of The Dance

18.00 went to airport

21.00 flights to Paris and London

08.00 landed Heathrow

11.00 first meeting near Marble Arch

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