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.

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.

London (sans bags)

Italy has been really wonderful, a new country crossed off my list, wonderful food, lots of culture… and the only sticking point was leaving it. That is, Florence airport sucked, from not being able to online checkin (thanks BA), to the checkin agent who appeared to have never operated the system before and couldn’t even spell my name right when copying it from the passport, to the ground handlers who decided it’d be funny to leave 33 bags behind… citing weight restrictions, despite some real hefty bags appearing in the baggage hall at London City Airport. It’s amazing how one issue can completely discolour an experience.

British Airways now has a challenge. We have 2 nights in London before we fly out to Santorini, where there are only 2 flights a week, should they not get our bags back to us before we fly out, they might single handedly wreck a holiday. I’m sure that’s what “To Fly, To Serve” really stands for… so it’s time for them to step up and redeem themselves.

To top the bad experiences off, having finally got through arrivals and to the DLR station (Tube light rail), the lady at the ticket counter misheard what we asked her to do and instead of adding £15 each to our Oyster cards, in fact added £50, resulting in a long process to refund the money and more dramas than we needed.

Mum went straight to the hotel after that, the Royal Over-Seas League, while I headed to Victoria Station to meet Mal and Daniel, AFFers who are now based in London. Had a few pints there before picking mum up to head out for dinner nearby at a pub serving gourmet pies.

On Tuesday mum picked Sze Sze up from Heathrow, and we met Del and Max for lunch at Piccalilli Caff. Food was really good, but I was too hungry for my portion size, could have done with a bit more. The “caff” has an adjoining farm, popular with school groups, and a vegetable/flower garden, so Sze Sze and  took some pics there before heading off. We also met Max’s son, Sebastian.

We flew out of LHR T5 on Wednesday, a nice lounge.

Australia to Europe

I started my journey to Europe on Wednesday the 11th June, and although I got there on the 12th, I spent the next 24 hours travelling to the first actual pit stop, Florence.

Dee-Anne saw me off, driving me to the airport and then herself home. I didn’t get an upgrade, but the seat next to me was blocked and I had the First class lounge to look forward to in Sydney. The food there was well worth the 14 hours in economy I was to suffer on the way to Dubai. I think I nearly had an upgrade at the gate, but after some typing into the computer, there was no seat change for me.

First lounge delights

I ended up having 3 starters, the buffalo mozzarella with roasted red capsicum, grilled sesame tuna with red cabbage & salmon tartare. As none of the mains really interested me, I finished with the chocolate croissant bread and butter pudding, which was to die for! Along with some Champagne and a massage, I was well prepared for economy.

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The flight turned out to be fairly easy to survive, with another frequent flyer onboard, and a combination of sleep/talking to the FA’s a productive way to pass the time.

Emirates impresses

At Dubai I had another massage, and another impressive dinner, octopus carpaccio, saffron cashew chicken & umm ali (a traditional Egyptian dessert, about as local as I could find – that was amazing). Only downside was the top Champagne offered was simply Moët.

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At the gate for the final flight to the UK my boarding pass beeped though, providing some respite in the final 7 hours being in the comfort of business class. Having only travelled economy on the A380 in the past and other than on an A330 to Perth trying a skybed in the day, I’d never really had the experience of sleeping in one. Unfortunately, not a lot that’s positive, other than it being lie-flat… I found it very exposed to the aisle, very little privacy. Still, better than economy.

With the flight on time, I met mum at arrivals in Heathrow, she having arrived on an earlier flight from Hong Kong. The Tube to St Pancras took an hour… but once there we had a bite to eat, and even some Champagne, while waiting for our Eurostar connection to Paris.

In Paris, we had to change stations in just over an hour, and with the traffic it was a tight connection, but we made it from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon, and onto the Thello overnight sleeper to Milan, which now we’ve experienced a 4-berth, would be happy to avoid doing again! Cramped and awkward would sum it up.

Cramped 4-berth
Cramped 4-berth

Luckily the train from Milan to Florence was much nicer, higher speed (we reached 292 km/h) and we didn’t have to sit next to strangers. It did mean we arrived well before our checkin time though (to the apartment), but that’s another story.