The joys of travel…

Life on the road as a Formula 1 journalist is not all Chardonnay and fairy cakes. People often seem to think that we spend our lives drinking, dancing and snorting cocaine from the naked bodies of beautiful young women, but the truth is rather less Hollywood than that. We spend a lot of supposed leisure time in media centres, where occasionally we encounter beautiful press officers, but we are all too busy to have time for any high jinks. Or we are rushing to airports to get on flights to go home.

Still, it is a life of variety. I spent Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week, travelling in and out of Paris, in order to sort out visas to visit my two least favourite Grands Prix of the F1 season: China and Russia. Before you all start getting nationalistic and banging your drums and blowing your trumpets, I should say that I have nothing against either country in principle. Both have fascinating histories, beautiful places and friendly people, but the truth is that I just don’t have a taste for the kind of governments they have. In China, I always struggle with the concept of paying gazillions for a Grand Prix each year, in an effort to make your country look better and then making life difficult for the international media who bother to turn up, by blocking all manner of Internet services, including blogs, Twitter, Gmail, Google and so on. We manage to find ways under, over, through or around the Great Firewall of China, which is why you are able to read this blog – but it is such a waste of energy. I understand that those who run the People’s Republic of China do not want their population to have their minds liberated/poisoned by reality/propaganda from the West, but if this is the case, why on earth bother with a Grand Prix? An expensive bauble does not change your cheek bones.

I find it rather offensive that Vladimir Putin uses the Russian Grand Prix as a photo opportunity and pats Formula One on the head for being such a well-behaved visitor. He’ll be giving Bernie Ecclestone medals next… There is less censorship there, although there were some fun and games last year in the Media Centre in Sochi with a local radio policeman trying to triangulate with just one scanner (think about that for a moment…).

Some will say that we have the choice not to attend (as some people do) but my view of this has always been that we should go wherever the sport goes, but that we should also say what we think, because that is what reporters are supposed to do, or used to be in the days before people thought it was OK to be a foreign correspondent who never leaves home.

Anyway, it is a life full of great experiences, with highs and lows. We meet interesting people and go to fascinating places. The travelling is just a lengthier version of commuting, but it is great when things go well. Coming home from Bahrain and going out to China, I was upgraded, because the planes were full. Coming through Chinese immigration was a doddle on this occasion and we were soon aboard the celebrated Maglev train into Shanghai. Forget it if you’re looking for the thrill of 431 kph (267 mph), as is advertised. Today it stopped at 300 kph (186 mph), presumably because the Health & Safety armies have landed in China and are marching on Beijing…

We had the choice at this point as to whether to catch the Metro into town or to grab a taxi.  It’s a simple choice: with the first option one ends up dragging suitcases around the streets; the second delivers you to the foyer of the hotel, but you have to deal with a local cab drivers. Taxi drivers the world over do not understand their importance as ambassadors for their nations and far too many of them are just crooks.

In Shanghai, we always make the same mistake because after x hours of flying, the idea of heaving bags around the streets is not that attractive and so we opt for a taxi, thinking that it won’t be as bad as last year…

Taxi drivers in Shanghai all seem to assume that they can rip off any foreigner. We asked the first cab driver to turn the meter on, he refused. “Meter is 200” he said. No, we said, meter is that thing you are hiding behind that ticket on your dashboard. “Meter is 200” he said.

“Taxi is empty” we said and climbed out. I wish my Chinese was good enough to tell taxi drivers exactly where they should park their vehicles, but I have yet to discover the Chinese words for “fundamental orifice”. Anyway, we won a small victory for fair play as he lost his place in the taxi queue as a result of being a greedy little twerp. I live in hope that one day Uber will wipe out the cheating cab drivers of the world (and those who indulge in opérations escargots). Without them, the world would be so much better a place.

We always stay in the same hotel in Shanghai and so we know it well. It is comfortable and we know its strengths and weaknesses. We were preparing for a pleasant evening when news scrambled through the Internet from the UK that Turkish Airlines, on which I have never previously travelled, had decided to cancel the flight we had booked from Istanbul to Sochi, at what amounts to the very last minute. This means that we now have to go by way of Moscow and must pay twice as much money. And there is also the mess created because the only alternative flight available arrives in Moscow on the wrong side of midnight, which means that we cannot take it because we would arrive before our visas are valid and those helpful people in Russian immigration will not give a damn that we have been screwed by unprofessional Turks.

Relationships with airlines are like love affairs and Turkish Airlines has shown that it is not “a keeper”. If a girlfriend/boyfriend betrays you once, you know they’ll probably do it again, no matter what they say. So, if you are planning holidays or business trips that involved Turkish Airlines, take my advice, book with someone you can trust.

If it was a technical failure or similar one might forgive them, but this is just being unprofessional and unfaithful…

So, there you have it. When the restaurant said that they did not have Peking Duck we left and went to the buffet instead, where at least you know you’ll get served what you want, at a pace you like. I passed on the sautéed bullfrogs and the river eels and I looked warily at the oxtail slices… but I did had some nice-looking cakes and a glass of white.

And tomorrow we’ll be on the Metro to the circuit.