Back from my hols with a helping of holiday tummy and a couple of realisations which are probably a bit late in the day; 1. Cheap air travel really is second only to international veal crating for aspiration and comfort and 2. I’m not really a “full-board” sort of a person.
When the opportunity of the all-inclusive Nile Cruise came along it sounded like a dream come true and in many ways it has been a week of wonderment and enjoyment and an experience I would recommend.
But first the air travel whinge. It seems to be the case that airport food is actually worse than that offered in service stations, an accolade I never believed possible. Where’s the league tables and consumer mag campaigns on this issue? As trapped customers surely we should be entitled to some sort of quality standards.
And the situation is even worse when the appalling food on sale is then provided as compensation for a flight delayed for ten hours plus.
In what way would this coagulated, sweet bread-like pizza slice (left) “cooked” at Luxor airport be any substitute for someone’s time?
Or this soggy effort at a baguette(below) doled out at Corfu airport?
This delight had slimey bread, cheese which looked as if it had been kept in the midday sun for a week and ham undoubtedly scraped from the inside cheek of a pig with leprosy.
Then, to add insult to injury the airline still insists on charging you for drinks and snacks on board despite being able to fulfil their primary service of getting the plane to its destination on time.
Thanks Monarch, you really showed how much you value us.
So, onto the concept of full-board. A choice of breakfast, lunch and dinner every day with no planning or effort (or washing-up) on my part. A true holiday.
After ruling out all the salad bar offerings on the basis of possible food-poisoning (a measure that hasn’t worked), the buffet laid out before us on day one looked interesting enough.
There was a good selection of sautéed vegetables, chicken and/or beef, rice, potatoes and a dish simply marked Egyptian food which I made a beeline for.
How we tucked in. It was all good, wholesome stuff, no processed meat or plastic impressions of food here. The “Egyptian food” was bean based and there was always plenty of fresh fruit.
All well and good but, as the week wore on, the menu options became, perhaps inevitably, predictable. Yesterday’s sautéed veg had a habit of coming back au gratin for a whole new offering. The tedium of always being offered chicken and beef was occasionally interrupted by fish but everything on offer – including the so-called Egyptian food – was without any heat or the floral tones of the Mediterranean spices and herbs you might expect from this part of the world.
Bland and occasionally salty this was food invented for the British palette of another era. (The fact the food was one of the most enthused about elements of the cruise with the mainly over 50s passengers proves the tour operators had got their menus spot on for their audience .)
The spice famine was finally broken when I managed to got hold of one of the staff meals.
Turning down the beef option one evening I inquired of our very attentive waiter whether there was anything else available.
He reappeared from the kitchen with slices of aubergine which had been oven-baked with chilli, garlic and sesame seeds. It arrived far too quickly to have been prepared especially for me and it was never going to be served up to the other passengers for fear of prompting potential denture choking, so I can only assume it was whipped from the plate of a hungry worker toiling away below decks.
After almost a week of the plain and hearty food served up twice a day it was manna from heaven – although the level of chilli did nearly blow my head off leaving me wondering whether some joker among the kitchen staff had expected it to be returned.
I’d just like to apologise to whoever didn’t get their full helping of spiced aubergine that night – I hope they enjoyed the “beef English style” as much as I relished their supper.
* A full review of my trip will appear in the printed editions of the Manchester Evening News in the near future and at www.manchesteronline.co.uk/travel.