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.

Edinburgh: Day 2

Not as big a day as yesterday, I only managed 15,000 steps over 12km, however there were a few Uber’s taken instead of very long walks. Among those was a trip down to Leith to board the Royal Yacht Britannia, a major drawcard for tourists. We both felt the Britannia was more interesting than the Castle or the Palace.

As previously mentioned, we followed the Britannia with lunch the The Kitchin (review), which was an amazing experience.

After some canapés in the club lounge this evening we made our way to The Dome to check out the amazing architecture and try a steak, two for £30 with unlimited fries. However, we found the serving of the dinner quite peculiar. We ordered blue, but were served the steaks on heated plates, with the steaks sat on a heated pedestal, and the unlimited fries had to be asked for by a server. If a server came round and saw you were low on steak on your plate they would serve you some more from the pedestal. I almost expected them to help chew it for me!

Following dinner we took a walk up Calton Hill, one of the first public walking trails in the world (or Scotland/the UK… I can’t recall what the sign said exactly). The view was stunning, as you can see. These photos were taken shortly before 10pm, in case you needed any more proof that daylight hours here are nuts!

Edinburgh: Day 1

I’m tired, it’s 19:30 and the sun won’t set for another 3 hours! It’s not jet lag, it’s the fact that today I walked 25,128 steps, totalling over 20km. I enjoyed the walks between the hotel and the various sights, but it has left me burnt out before dark! I couldn’t even survive a walk into town for dinner tonight, so it’s lucky I have club lounge access. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me share with you some photos of my day.

We went for breakfast at The Edinburgh Larder in the old town. We both had a full breakfast and that gave us the energy we needed to power through the day. The black pudding on my plate (Dee-Anne didn’t have any) was delicious!

Following breakfast we headed up the road to Edinburgh Castle where there was a big line of tourists waiting to get in. It was just good timing that we arrived not long before opening time, however the mix of nationalities proved there’s no room for manners anymore, as the line became a mob as soon as the entry opened and we soon lost our good spot. For once, it wasn’t the Chinese that were the worst, though they did like walking in front of me every chance they got. Manners: it’s so simple!

We had a whirlwind tour of the castle. There was a lot of history in various rooms and you could have spent all day there, but I get bored easily, so chose the smarter option of just taking things in and moving on to the next attraction. We got through the whole castle in not much more than an hour.

Following the castle we headed back into old town and chose to check out the National Museum of Scotland, along with far too many school children! Plenty of exhibits to see and a lot of interactive ones to get hands on with. A really cool museum.

We didn’t stay for long though, as while it was chilly outside, they were using every radiator inside. We got far too hot too quickly and longed for the cool air again, something we didn’t think we’d want after stepping out of the hotel this morning. We headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit, before setting out to the Palace of Holyrood, just down the road from the hotel.

Manners were a bit better at this attraction, and we had a good look around the house before the gardens. On leaving, we headed to the Scottish Parliament, located across the road, and we were able to sit in the chamber and watch the gears turn.

We took a walk down Princes Street in the late afternoon (or what I would call such a thing – before 5… but what happens if the sun sets after 10) to check out the new town and trendy shops and that brings me to where I am now, failing to keep my eyes open as sleep takes hold of me. What will tomorrow bring?

Cockpit Visit

Arriving into London Heathrow on Monday afternoon we were invited to the cockpit on landing for a photo opportunity. During the flight Dee-Anne and I had spent some time in the back galley of the upstairs economy section talking with the various crew members and were looked after superbly by them. I can’t praise Jimmy and Eugene enough for putting up with us when the rest of the cabin was sleeping or watching movies on QF9. It’s times like this flight where I am so happy to be a frequent flyer of Qantas.