London

Would I rate BA Business? Probably not. The crew were nice enough, but the food was average, especially when compared to Finnair just a few days before on a similar length flight. I did get my logbook signed, and a sticker!

Gatwick was a new experience for me, having always flown into Heathrow (and once into London City without our luggage). Ultimately, it felt very much the same as Heathrow, including the long lines at immigration. We caught the Gatwick Express to London Bridge station, before switching to the Jubilee Line to Canning Town and finally the DLR to Royal Victoria. What seemed like it would be a pain when researching actually turned out to be fairly easy.

The Crowne Plaza at Docklands had us for two nights, before we moved to the Intercontinental at The O2, just across the water. We both thought it was a nice hotel, but the glazing could have been just a little better considering the proximity to London City airport.

Every day we were in London we tried to see The Book of Mormon, through a 21-ticket lottery held 2 hours before the show. Unfortunately, this proved fruitless, but centred us firmly in the Soho area for most of the trip, leaving plenty more to explore next time. We did manage to catch one show, seeing The Phantom of The Opera, a favourite of mine.

Our first day actually ended up giving us the biggest walk around sights, with a trip to Trafalgar Square and the Indian Club for an authentic curry. That evening we walked (the wrong way) down Parliament St, ending up outside Downing Street and not much later Westminster and the Elizabeth Tower. It was nice to see it at night.

The following day we explored Buckingham Palace, well, from the outside at least. Dee-Anne got to experience the daily spectacle of Changing The Queen’s Life Guard too, but my photos weren’t very good considering the number of tourists there as well. She enjoyed Hamleys, and meeting the Queen (of Lego).

We love poké, as you might know, and discovered a great little restaurant that we wished we had in Australia.

I remember visiting the Cutty Sark when I was a child, and never realised it had such a big connection to Australia.

On Sunday we had lunch at Galvin – La Chapelle. The food was lovely and if I had been sticking around London a bit longer I would have loved to try the 5-course menu they were going to offer for the same price later in July.

Our last night was spent at an airport hotel, and quite by chance we chose to get off the tube at the second last stop and take a public bus instead of a shuttle bus from the airport itself. As we walked out the doors we discovered we were at the edge of the runway, and a steady stream of planes were landing.

Sitges Part 2

We were met at the airport and the ride back to Sitges was quick and easy. A lovely dinner of cheese, meats and fresh vegetables followed. It’s hard not to enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle.

Our last full day was a relaxing affair. Spent some time in the pool, got some sun, eventually we had a walk through town and finally had a lovely dinner at Alfresco. We were even treated to a spectacular rainbow over the harbour and beach when a thunderstorm briefly rolled through.

Paris

What kind of (train) ticket machine in a developed nation only accepts coins? The answer is all the machines in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle T2. No to AMEX, VISA, or paper money and right next to the machines a broken paper-to-coin machine to boot. I’m sorry Paris, but that’s a fail in my books. We did eventually find another coin machine and were able to head into the city.

Arriving two hours earlier than expected it was no surprise that we couldn’t get an early check-in, but they happily took our bags to allow us to go for a wander around the city. We probably ended up walking a little too far for Dee-Anne’s feet, that were already sore. From Gare de Lyon, we headed across the Seine, towards Notre Dame, where we stopped for lunch. I built up all my courage and ordered something I’ve never had before… escargot! I was glad I finally sucked up the courage, as they tasted no different to clams or mussels, getting their flavour from the sauce they were cooked in.

This was followed by a lovely steak tartare, One of two I had while in Paris.

A museum I love to go as it brings back childhood memories is the Pompidou Centre. So I took Dee-Anne there and despite her sore feet I felt she really enjoyed the experience. There is a LOT of art held there and we really got a taste of different styles. This was especially useful in the end as the day we had planned for The Louvre turned out to be the one day a week it was closed. Having such a short trip we couldn’t reschedule it as the only other free day was at Disneyland and we’d pre-booked tickets for that (not that it mattered as it seems they didn’t have a visitor cap – leading to ridiculously long lines).

As I alluded to before, Disneyland unfortunately didn’t have a visitor cap per day, as far as we could see. This lead to nearly an hour wait times for some of the basic rides, and one thrill ride has nearly a 2-hour wait. To me, that detracts from the experience and would make me less likely to come back. I understand you can buy fast passes and if you stay at the on-site hotel you get early admission… but the fast pass system broke down part way through the day and there were some very irate guests who had paid and now felt ripped off. I may not have been able to understand French but I could pick up on how they felt. Dee-Anne really enjoyed it though, and bought some pins to trade with the cast (what they call staff members).

After a little stop off in our hotel room we headed out that same night to check out a few more sights, such as the Sacré-Cœur, Moulin Rouge and eventually Eiffel Tower. We didn’t climb the stairs to the Sacré-Cœur, go to the show at the Moulin Rouge or go up the Eiffel Tower though.

No post concerning the Eiffel Tower would be complete without the obligatory lightshow video.

Next time we’re back we have a lot to still see and do, including The Louvre, climbing the Arc de Triomphe, seeing a show and drinking more champagne.

On leaving the city, we nearly got ripped off by the public transport system again, but I spent the better part of an hour trawling through webpages to find that while the RER B would take me from central Paris to Orly airport for €25 each, and is the preferred method, I could also take Metro 7 to Tram 7 for €3.80 and only spend an extra 15 minutes travelling. They don’t make this information easy to find though, and this week has shown me that public transport in Europe is expensive and complicated, but there are ways to cheapen the deal!

Our trip back to Barcelona/Sitges was with Transavia France. Ground staff were awful and the terminal past security was very limited in its offerings. However the cabin crew did a great job considering the seatbelt sign never turned off (bad weather) yet European passengers seem to not have an issue frequently standing up and disobeying the signs. In Australia this almost never happens and you see people get in a lot of trouble when they do disobey the crew. In Europe they seem very lax about dealing with the problem. The crew did their best though. So it seems the grass really is greener in Australia!

Helsinki

Second to Easyjet, I am not impressed with airBerlin. Their check-in counter was woefully understaffed for the number of flights they see, and the staff seemed to not understand the system they were operating. Furthermore, after check-in I asked about a lounge and was informed of the airCafe, a premium gate lounge (holding pen) for airBerlin customers through security – although not worded in that way – that offers soft drinks and tea/coffee. Thankfully, I chose to head back to the main terminal and tried both the British Airways Terraces lounge and the Air France Salon where I found plentiful food options and such delights as champagne and alcoholic beverages. When I did finally head to the airCafe I had to change the milk in the coffee machine myself to get the beverage I wanted as it is unstaffed! Coffee tasted as bad as it always does from a machine.

Being the frequent flyer I am, I knew that the flight had no business class guests, and there were only 3 in our row, so when I attempted to put my bag above row 1 (because funnily enough, there were already bags above my head), I didn’t expect to be barked at by the airBerlin cabin crew. I’m not a DYKWIA-type, but the joke was on him when he had to personally welcome me onboard a bit later in the flight as the only premium member. The rest of the flight was uneventful, no free drinks, they’re not full service. I could see Jetstar becoming a member of oneworld soon.

 Helsinki has a nice airport, but it was a touch chillier outside than we were expecting while waiting for the bus to the hotel. Nice room, again an upgrade to something a bit more spacious, but still nothing special at an airport hotel.

 As we were here we decided to head into town and see the city, which was quite beautiful if you ignored the cloud and eventual rain. We ate at a nice restaurant and I tried sautéed reindeer, finding it to taste similar to a pulled pork but with a richer flavour.

 Back at the hotel I couldn’t go past the traditional sauna at the hotel, however couldn’t find a birch branch to complete the trifecta.

Leaving Helsinki the next morning we turned up at the airport early to experience the lounge, but as it was fairly basic we were pleasantly surprised to be offered to fly ahead on an earlier service despite being on an award booking. This got us into Paris 2 hours earlier than scheduled and allowed for more time to see the sights on yet another short visit. The food and drink onboard was good too.

 I will say that the Finnair staff and Vantaa airport staff I found to be really good. If I wasn’t chasing Qantas status credits I would probably fly through Helsinki into Europe as my preferred choice.

Berlin

Just as I did with the previous entry for Amsterdam, I would like to start off by talking about my flight experience here on Easyjet. Dreadful! If I ever suggest flying them again somewhere, point me back at this blog entry, because they are without a doubt the worst airline I have flown on, and I semi-regularly have the joy of Jetstar in Australia.

Our flight was facing delays, weather I am told but this was not communicated effectively. Our scheduled departure was pushed back from 21:30 multiple times, with the culmination of the screw up in Amsterdam being that the whole plane boarded and doors were shut before they told us that we’d been delayed inside the plane for another hour. Wheels up was at 00:25, 5 minutes before a 3-hour delay may have given us some compensation. We made great time in the air, but faced stupid cabin crew who flat out refused to get my logbook signed, despite 100+ flights before having had no problem. Cabin crew suggested I get it signed on the ground, knowing full well what was about to happen.

We made it to Berlin earlier than expected, a quick flight time no doubt to avoid EU delay compensation. We pulled into a remote stand, and then waited onboard the aircraft until 02:30 when the first bus was available to take passengers to the terminal. It took another half an hour for us to get on the second bus. Considering our arrival time was meant to be 23:00, I’d argue that our delay lasted until we were able to at least get off the plane at 02:30, which is 30 minutes longer than the 3-hour EU261/2004 compensation rule. Although I’m sure arguing that to a satisfactory result would be pointless.

We arrived at the hotel at 04:00. Staff were very helpful, with the shuttle bus driver even stopping at a service station to allow for us to get some food/drink as there was no room service available. Understandably, we had a late start, but made it across town to our next hotel just after lunch, stopping at Berlin’s most famous kebab shop, Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap. I don’t know how to describe it, the flavours were amazing!

After dropping our bags at the hotel, we set out to Potsdamer Platz where we got into a little strife when we found out our tickets for the train had expired by about 20 minutes prior to a ticket inspector checking them, and we each got fined €60. Hard price to pay for 2 tourists that have just arrived into your city, but we took it on the chin. Still better than Amsterdam so far if you discount the fine, as the public transport prices there were atrocious!

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was confronting. It consists of 2711 stelae (a monument usually taller than it is high) with an underground component with information. When you’re stood in a field of concrete slabs it’s hard to describe the feelings.

Brandenburg gate was about as interesting as a huge stone archway can be. I imagine the Arc de Triomphe will feel similar, although you can climb that I hear. Just up from the gate we stood in line for a bit at the entrance to the Reichstag Building before realising we needed a prior appointment. A subsequent search revealed we wouldn’t get in the next day either, so that’s one for the next visit.

Naturally, I had currywurst from one of the many street vendors in the city.

We had dinner in a historic quarter near ‘Nikolaikirche’, a 13-th century church ruined during WWII.

The next morning we visited the East Side Gallery and walked the length of the wall there.

Amsterdam

I’d like to start this entry about Amsterdam with some glowing praise for the low cost carrier, Transavia, that brought us here. We really weren’t sure what to expect, but found the service to be top notch & friendly and due to the friendliness we were rewarded with some free snacks towards the end of the flight. This is in stark contrast to the service we have received on the three British Airways flights we have taken in the past 10 days. One is a low-cost carrier, the other claims to be full service.

They were even selling a knitted bear in their colours onboard, so we had to have him and he will be our new mascot around Europe.

Our first point of call in the city today was for a bite to eat, which turned out to be a harder task than you might think. There were a lot of cuisines on offer, but I was really only after Dutch, and I finally found that at Haesje Claes with a stamppot… a mashed potato dish.

Following lunch we had a nice coffee at Andalucia before heading to the Rembrandt museum, and then stumbling into what is known as the ‘red light district’.

The following day we were due to meet my father for breakfast in the airport in-between his early-morning arrival on Cathay Pacific and mid-morning departure on Vueling, however a delay to his first flight resulted in him missing his flight, with the following flight fully booked. He ended up on a KLM flight to Barcelona later in the day, affording him a chance to have lunch with us at the Rijks® Restaurant. A review of which can be found here.

Dee-Anne and I then took a small tour of the Rijksmuseum, seeing among other art the Van Gogh ‘self-portrait’ from 1887, Vermeer’s ‘Milkmaid’ and Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’. By the time we were ready to set off the weather had turned, resulting in some awful delays on the way back to the hotel and then the airport. We did manage to check-in on-time, to find the flight was delayed!

My review of Amsterdam… this is a hard one! I always thought I’d love it here, but actually found it hard to navigate (public transport), expensive to navigate (public transport) and not as user friendly as some cities I have visited. It’s also becoming quite clear that for such an advanced block of nations that Europe claims to be, the amount of litter on the streets and percentage of those that smoke is extremely high. Australia feels like a hospital in terms of cleanliness in comparison.

Sitges Part 1

The drive from Barcelona Airport to Sitges is relatively short, perhaps half an hour. The villa, not far from the motorway, but you can’t hear any traffic noise and there’s a lovely view from the upstairs front bedrooms out over the olive trees to the sea. It’s probably a bit too far to walk into town, especially in the heat, but taking the car halfway down and walking the rest of the way has worked well so far.

We arrived the day after Corpus Christi, to be greeted with lovely flower displays in the streets and a parade (video here).

Taking a walk down the cobbled streets and the beach we came to the ‘Parròquia de Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla’ (Parish of Saint Bartholomew and Santa Tecla), the local Catholic Church. We didn’t seem to be able to go inside on the day we walked past though. 

The streets were quite interesting and feature on many postcards, but if you have a camera with you…

On Tuesday before we headed off to Amsterdam we has a rather unique take on tapas called pintxos, similar in style to a Japanese sushi train where you collect the toothpicks in the food for counting at the end of the meal. We really didn’t know what any of the food on offer was, but it tasted great!

Chesterfield

I have combined the two nights we spent in Chesterfield into a single entry for ease of posting. We didn’t walk around anywhere near as much as in Edinburgh and it was mostly family time, Dee-Anne’s first experience of the Heathfield’s over here!

On the first day we had a look through town to see what had changed… short answer, not a lot. No trip to Chesterfield is complete without checking out the Crooked Spire, though which story you want to believe on its origins is up to you.

A lot of time was spent looking back through old photographs and we even found an old photo of my grandmother, Bet, with the current leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. A small world of connections it turns out to be.

Friday evening took us to The Peacock Inn Cutthorpe for a family dinner, where they successfully pulled off the “beef fillet tartare” (as seen below) but failed miserably at a “‘blue’ rib eye steak” and the adventurous “blue cheese panna cotta” (notably, not seen below). After dinner we had a brief game of Cards Against Humanity, always good for a laugh.

The next day we went up to Curbar Edge, another not to be missed past time whenever I visit. The weather was great, but that turned out to be the issue, as not only was it busier, but also strangely hot!

We had a lovely lunch in the garden at Dukes Drive before heading back down to London in the late afternoon.

Crowne Plaza, Edinburgh Royal Terrace

On Monday night (though the sun didn’t set for another 2 hours after we arrived) we finally made it to the Crowne Plaza, Edinburgh Royal Terrace. It had been 48 hours since we woke up in Brisbane at the last hotel and we were glad to finally set eyes on a bed.

The room was not as was expected, having previously seen my booking details change to show a very nice upgrade, it seems the hotel had taken a few more bookings as we were travelling and I was downgraded a little. But I can’t complain, I booked a steal of a deal at the time and my room was still impressive and an upgrade on the standard rooms.

It’s hard to show just how big the room is without this 270º panorama, taken from the office desk in the corner. The wardrobe is behind the bed and the bathroom including separate bath and shower unit to the left of the bed. The chandelier that hangs above the bed is a sight to see as well.

Now it’s clearly an old building. There are various cracks in the moulding on the ceiling, only one light bulb in the chandelier works for some reason and the bathroom door is too big for the frame, so cannot be closed. But there are modern features, the bathroom for instance is full of brand new fittings. It’s a lovely building, close to everything, and believe me, we have done a lot of walking in the past few days!

Despite no longer having a club room, I kept my club access for my stay, and found it to be adequate and what a club lounge ought to be. Too many lounges end up offering so many food and drink options that guests don’t end up leaving the lounge for breakfast or dinner due to the free food on offer, and miss out on experiences. Breakfast consisted of some fruit and yoghurt, cereal and bakery items. Evening canapés included a bread, meat and olive board and soft drinks/beer/wine.

The club lounge opens onto a nice patio area bordering on Regent Park. Presumably this is quite popular in the summer, though it can still be a little chilly out there at the moment if not sunny.

Staff were brilliant, especially the concierge who helped with some research on a few things. He also recommended a Michelin-starred restaurant to eat at that we were very happy with.