California, Here We Come! (2021): Days 14&15: Miami Interlude and Return to Europe

A few hours in downtown Miami

I woke up after what felt like a short night, due to the combined effect of the 3hr time change the previous evening and my not-very-comfortable bed. We went for a light breakfast at the airport branch of Café Versailles, before returning to the room for showers. Miami is regarded by many as the unofficial capital of Latin America, where Spanish tends to be the first language and English the second, an impression that was very much in evidence during our brief foray in search of sustenance. A quiet morning followed, allowing me to catch up on my trip notes while Bruce did a stint at work.

In due course we made a trip into downtown Miami using two types of interconnecting trains: first the MIA Mover between the airport and the Intermodal Center, then changing onto a Metrorail Orange Line train for Brickell (rhymes with ‘trickle’). This was a ‘first’ for me: I had previously had two enjoyable stays in nearby South Beach, and on another occasion had also spent a night at one of the airport hotels, but had never walked around the downtown area or used public transport there. On arrival in glorious sunshine, we had a short walk around the Brickell district and then enjoyed a gyoza-and-sushi lunch at Sushiato.

After eating, we embarked on a longer walk, first towards Brickell Point, with views across to Brickell Key. We then crossed the Miami River, observing some breathtaking examples of conspicuous wealth (of the floating variety) in the process. This was then followed by a ride on Miami’s free Metromover elevated shuttle.

We returned to our airport hotel base to relax – in my case, this included a short nap – and to allow each of us to have a second, pre-flight shower of the day.

Featured Flight IB6118 (MIA-MAD)
FLIGHT DATA for IB6118 (Booked as BA7260)
Date: 01 Dec 2021Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
From: Miami (MIA)To: Madrid (MAD)
Scheduled departure: 2245 (EST)Actual departure: 2308
Scheduled arrival: 1315+1 (CET)Actual arrival: 1324+1
Cabin: Business ClassSeat: 2A

Boarding commenced around 2200 – about 15mins behind schedule – and in true Latin American fashion, was quite chaotic. We settled in quickly enough, making a sharp left turn on boarding through 2L and walking almost to the front. This flight had originally been rostered for an A330, on which 2A would have been a coveted ‘throne’ seat with a console on either side; with the change to an A350-900, it was now a window seat with the single console acting as a buffer zone between me and the aisle. From a choice of orange juice or water, I selected OJ as my ‘welcome’ drink – it seemed entirely appropriate for both origin and destination.

We finally pushed back from the gate 23mins late, and took to the skies 18mins after that. In contrast with most flights between the eastern seaboard and Great Britain, taking a direct route towards the Spanish capital meant that we immediately embarked on a long ocean crossing. Having said that, we did quickly overfly the Bahamas and looked set to pass fairly close to Bermuda. Given the late hour – even worse if considered in the time zone of the destination – there were no preliminaries and the main meal components were quickly served together on a single tray. This contained a small salad, a bread roll, my chosen main course of salmon, a fruit pie, a cheese plate and an empty cup. I drank white Rioja and water with the food, finishing off with a small cup of coffee. I was confident that the latter would not keep me awake!

Shortly thereafter, I settled down to get some sleep.

** ** ** ** **

Breakfast was served at 1150 CET, with around 1hr 25mins left to run. We crossed the coast of the Iberian peninsula between Porto and Vigo, with the latter clearly visible from my window. The seat belt signs came on with about 30mins to go. There were some good views of Madrid on the approach to Barajas airport. We executed a big leftward turn to land towards the northwest at 1319 local time, taking a further 5 minutes to reach our allocated gate. We were back in Europe and the sunshine continued … for now!

Madrid-London on Iberia

The next leg of this journey was MAD-LHR, and for us, each of these was a transit airport: technically, we would not be entering either Spain or the UK today. After disembarking from our overnight transatlantic flight and passing through minimal formalities, we made our way to the familiar territory of the Velasquez Lounge at the Terminal 4 Satellite building (probably better known as T4S). This is almost certainly my favourite ‘normal’ airport terminal in Europe, with its beautiful, modern architecture and cathedral-like scale and grandeur. (I say ‘normal’ because my absolute favourite is Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal at Frankfurt, which is far from being a normal airport terminal.)

The next sector to London was another example of a long-haul aircraft operating a short-haul route: instead of the usual A320, we would be travelling on another A350-900, although this one turned out to be quite scruffy-looking compared to our overnight transatlantic. Nevertheless, a full long-haul meal service was delivered and this and the extra physical space and comfort were very much appreciated.

London-Paris on British Airways

After a particularly easy passage through Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and a visit to the ‘First’ lounge, we boarded one of BA’s shortest flights, bound for Paris Charles de Gaulle. Apart from the brevity of the experience, this was a fairly routine Club Europe sector, and it brought to a conclusion the tickets that each of us had started in Amsterdam on 19 November. The cabin crew were particularly friendly and kept the drinks flowing, even swapping my remaining champagne into a plastic cup as we approached CDG.

Our passage through the airport was memorable for the ghost-town appearance of the place and for the amusing interaction between Bruce and his immigration agent:

Bruce (offering passport and Covid forms): Bonsoir!
Agent (waving away the additional papers): I do not need these, Monsieur.
Bruce: Just pointless paperwork, is it?
Agent: Welcome to France, Monsieur.

We walked through the airport’s deserted corridors and finally came to our last-but-one hotel of the trip, the Sheraton Paris Airport.