Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

George Mitchell: Remember when travel used to be fun?

The world is slowly opening back up after the pandemic but the travel landscape has changed significantly.
The world is slowly opening back up after the pandemic but the travel landscape has changed significantly.

I was supposed to visit Canada in 2020, but that was cancelled due to Covid. I tried again later in the year and the first half of this year, but Canada was closed. No one was getting in.

Finally, as of October, we’re allowed back in. A plethora of Covid documents in order, it was time to get cracking.

Starting from south of Alicante in Spain, it was going to take a monumental effort just to get there. Let’s do this…

Thursday 8.30pm

Outside Orihuela train station, the evening is warm and families are sitting at street cafes enjoying the Spanish lifestyle of food and wine. Try doing that in Scotland outside in November.

I board my train and we leave at 8.48pm. No ordinary train, this is the new AVE train to Madrid. Ultra modern, and very comfy. The older train used to take at least four hours. This new one does it in two hours and 22 minutes.

The speed goes something like this: 96kph in less than a minute; 104… then 155… 174… 194… 203… 221… 246… 264… 287… 294kph. Its top speed is 310kph.

George thinks these fast, efficient and affordable trains should be the future of travel.

The cost of my ticket on this fantastic ride? £21 thank you very much.

This is surely the future; affordable fast rail travel all over Europe, not short-haul flights or smelly, polluting cars.

Friday 1.32am

I’m in Madrid airport terminal 4. Been here for 1.5 hours, after taking a local train then metro from Madrid central. It’s cold in here and near deserted. Only a few other souls like myself, waiting for early morning flights.

Rock hard seats, bright lights and constant loud tannoy announcements about Covid restrictions make it near impossible to sleep.

A near-deserted Madrid train station. 

3.37 am

Just tried to sleep by lying on the ground, using my small bag as a foot rest and folded jumper as a pillow. Seriously not comfy.


McDonald’s has just opened, I’m off for a coffee.

There is no glamour in flying now. I used to enjoy it, even airports. That feeling of excitement and trepidation, heading off on an adventure. I also loved people watching. All that’s gone for me now.

September 11, airline hijacking and bomb scares started the rot, then came in restrictions of liquids you could carry, belts and shoes off and we also have to go through full body scans. Then there’s the stuff you took ages to carefully pack in your hand luggage – out it comes and has to go in separate trays, also be scanned. Then you have to pack it all up again. What a palaver.

Then we add in all the new Covid restrictions, and this for me has finally killed off any glamour that used to be associated with air travel.

Not the most comfortable bed for the night at the airport.

Airports themselves are covered in plastic partitions at face levels restricting human contact and everyone mumbles through masks, and the entire place stinks of alcohol hand gel. Not doing wonders for my hands which are red raw with constant mandatory gel use.

The boarding process for my flight was a farce. Everyone is double jabbed on this flight, they have to be by law. We’ve also all got negative tests, we would not be allowed on board without them. All these documents had to be scanned and uploaded before getting here, to various border agencies and airlines, and all were checked at check-in. Fair enough, but we then went through document checks all again at actual boarding. It took forever.

We are strangling ourselves with these restrictions and checks. We are choking the human spirit with travel Covid bureaucracy.

I observed the faces of my fellow passengers waiting to board, all holding phones with scanned documents and paper copies, they all looked like I felt.

I’m glad the late, great, original traveller Alan Wicker is not around to witness present-day air travel.

On board flight to London, 8.30am

With airlines charging so much for check-in bags, everyone now tries to cram on as much as they can into the actual cabin itself. Precious little room around.

I manage an hour’s sleep. Much needed after a night on the airport floor. After a coffee I’m feeling almost human again. Heathrow here we come.

Hours later, somewhere over the Atlantic

No idea what time zone I’m now in. Heathrow T5 was similar to Madrid, but much busier. I had two and a half hours to spare, but needed all my time due to Covid restrictions and social distancing, or HSCM, “human spirit crushing measures”, as I now call it. No time for my planned shopping of a bottle of duty free, stack of newspapers and a 2022 diary. Ah well.

My flight is almost full, so no chance this trip to stretch out over three seats and grab a sleep. Just enjoyed an excellent hot meal, chicken with lemon thyme and veg, small salad and a chocolate desert, washed down with a guilty pleasure of coke with ice and lemon. I was a good boy and didn’t have any wine.

Why are planes freezing cold these days? I have on a thick fleece and am wrapped in two BA complimentary blankets. Earlier I got up to go the toilet, yet when I stood up in the isle the cold blast hit me. Is this a Covid-related thing? Ie air con on at full blast to protect us all from doom? Who knows?

The empty terminal in Madrid airport. 

We’re four hours into the flight, around halfway there. The plane is new in style and each seat has its own individual tv screen with enough blockbuster movies to last you 10 flights. I watched Anthony Hopkins in the Oscar-winning movie The Father. Wow, what an actor. Highly recommended indeed.

There is even wifi on board. I used to love the fact that once in the air it was the last bastion of an internet-free world. It forced people to relax, read a paper, a book, or just contemplate life, maybe think about where they’re going and who they’re going to meet.
That’s all gone now. Another casualty of modern-day air travel.

All around me, my fellow passengers are glued to their mobile phones. How sad. The young lady to my right is constantly taking selfies and posting them online.

Being brand new, the cabin has a space-age feel to it. As for the windows? Gone are the pull-down plastic shutters, now replaced with a button that you press that covers the glass in a cool relaxing deep blue tint. Nice touch indeed. However, the most important thing, the actual seat pitch is dire for a long-haul flight.

Dear BA, I don’t need to feel as if I’m in a cool space-age capsule with wifi. What I need, what my body needs, is a decent seat pitch. A seat with enough leg room that doesn’t cause me to lose the power of my legs.

5pm Toronto time

I’m in Canada for work. The plan is to write much about the plight of Canada’s indigenous peoples, or First Nation Peoples as they are now mostly referred to. I have a month at my disposal.

Being such an expensive country, you may be thinking, how can I afford a month in hotels at hundreds of bucks per night? I can’t. But I’m staying with my best mate Andy and his two sons Finn and Rilke. It’s been two years since I’ve seen them, far too long. Damn Covid.

As well as naturally being disappointed that my Canada trip was cancelled twice last year, I was also concerned I may not see Charlie again. If you’ve read my columns over the years, you’ll surely remember Andy’s neighbour Charlie. I have spent numerous hours in this remarkable man’s company listening to his stories about life and learning from him.

But why be concerned I may not see him again? Well, let’s just say that Charlie is getting on in years. But fear not, he’s alive and well, and only last week celebrated his 107th birthday.

Andy informs me that Charlie in good form, and is looking forward to meeting up and chatting over a glass of rum.

Arrival in Canada was a doddle. Despite it being very strict with all things Covid, I breezed through the border and numerous document checks.

Andy was waiting outside, and after a big hug off we headed, a two-hour drive, that saw me go from chatty and excited to very sleepy and back to chatty again. Rollercoaster.
It’s cold here, big temperature shock for me after a few months in the Balkans then Spain.

Outside George’s friend Andy’s house in Canada.

I arrived home at 6.30pm and had a hot shower. Then Andy and I settled down with a glass of wine and some food. I’m so looking forward to long chats with my friend of 25 years.

However, at just before 9pm, which was around 3am next day for me, I had to bail out. Tiredness was coming at me in waves. I simply could not keep my eyes open a second longer.

I fell into bed, my brain and body feeling like two sections that had parted.

Next week – Hey Charlie, how does it feel to be 107?