This is an online travel journal about the journeys I have taken. I hope you may find in it useful information about airports, airlines and hotels and their products and services. Perhaps you will also find here some inspiration for future places to visit and journeys to take.
The Jungfrau-Victoria is the leading hotel in Interlaken, located pretty much halfway between the stations at Interlaken West and Interlaken Ost. And they do an afternoon tea at the hotel, which is why I’m visiting. Although La Terrace, where the tea is served, is not so busy during the day, you still need to make an advance reservation for the afternoon tea.
There is a wide selection of Ronnefeldt teas available from the menu. I decide to go with the springtime Darjeeling, which is light, very refreshing and has a subtle but elegant hint of peaches.
The tea is served on a three-tier étagère. On the top tier are the scones. First off, I commend the Jungfrau-Victoria for offering two plain and two sultana scones. Because I positively detest sultanas! Also, they don’t make the mistake here to pretend that they serve their scones with clotted cream. Instead, the menu says that they are served with crème double, raspberry jam, and marmelade. The scone you have after the sandwiches and before the sweets.
The second tier has the sweets.
While the third tier has the savouries.
Of course, we start with the savouries: cucumber and vegetable sandwich on white bread.
Trockenfleisch with Swiss cheese and fig on wholemeal bread.
Smoked Salmon and cream cheese on white bread.
And an interesting creation of olive, caper, cheese and smoked meat.
And a mini club sandwich.
The sweets I have last. We have a macron of vanilla cream.
Chocolate with more chocolate. I am really not complaining.
Mini cheesecake with raspberry coulis.
Exotic passionfruit slice.
In summary, I have to say that I am very pleasantly surprised by the afternoon tea at the Jungfrau-Victoria. I would say it’s one of the better ones, if not the best, I’ve had in Switzerland. The quality of the food is very good, and very fresh. And the combination of flavours was interesting and worked very well!
The town of Interlaken takes its name from the fact that it is located on a canal that links Lake Thun to Lake Brienz. The town itself is nice. More importantly though, it serves as the gateway to some of Switzerland’s best known tourist sights, like Lauterbrunnen, the Jungfrau Joch, Grindelwald, the Giessbach falls and the Rothorn, which is where I’m headed today.
From Interlaken Ost to Brienz it’s 17 or 21 minutes, depending on whether you manage to catch the express or the regular train. The service is operated by the Zentralbahn, which is a narrow gauge railway that links Interlaken to Lucerne across the Brünig pass.
The train has mainly second class coaches, but there’s also a small first class cabin.
Buying Tickets for the Brienz-Rothorn Railway
The tickets for the Brienz-Rothorn railway can be purchased at the counter at the station or online. The station is just across the road from the station of the Zentralbahn from Interlaken.
I would recommend you get your tickets online if you’re planning to visit during the high season. That’s because online tickes come with guaranteed seating, whereas if you purchase your ticket at the counter, you may have to wait for the next one if the train is full.
Currently, the trains are not going all the way up to the Rothorn. They stop at Planalp, which is roughly half-way up and a journey of about 30 minutes. It’s a bit longer coming down. The train is composed of two openair carriages and a steam locomotive. The carriages are sectioned in compartments of eight seats.
The view going up to Planalp is really breathtaking. Between Brienz and Planalp, the train ascends 1800 metres.
From Planalp you can take the train back down again, or you can hike back down to Brienz or to Interlaken. The treck down to Brienz will take you about 90 minutes, depending on how fast you walk. But just to give you fair warning, it’s demanding on the leg joints, especially the knees. So don’t try hiking down unless a) you have proper hiing showes, and b) you are in good physical condition. But it’s definitely well worth it. The hike back to Interlaken will take you about four to five hours along an elevated ridge with some gorgeous views of the lake below.
Along the way you will hear the sound of crickets, birds and cowbells and breathe in some of the pristine Alpine air.
This time around though, I only hike down to Brienz, mainly because I want to hitch a ride back to Interlaken on the DS Lötschberg, a steamer that was built in 1914 and has been ploughing its trade on the lake ever since. The journey from Brienz to Interlaken takes just over one hour. The first stop after Brienz is the Giessbach falls.
The DS Lötschberg has seating in standard class on the main deck, and first class on the upper deck. There is also a restaurant that serves hot and cold drink and food.
There’s even a little enclosed salon in case you start feeling cold. During my visit at the end of May, the weather is perfect. Probably too perfect, because although it’s a bright sunny day, the breeze is still pleasantly cool. And that, boys and girls, is how I end up getting off the boat in Interlaken doing a surprisingly good impression of a cooked lobster…
I arrive back in Interlaken Ost, where there’s already a long queue forming with passengers wanting to make the next journey on the Lötschberg. The quai is just across the road from Interlaken Ost railway station.
Interlaken Ost and West are very well connected to the Swiss national railway system. There are regular trains from most major cities in Switzerland with either the Swiss Federal Railways – SBB, the Bern Lötschberg Simplon Railway – BSL, or the previously mentioned Zentralbahn. There are even direct connections to Germany with the ICE, which calls in Interlaken several times a day.
As I already said, Interlaken is a nice enough place. Although I think it attracts mainly a somewhat older crowd. It’s main appeal is that it has several beautiful sights in close proximity and some great hiking trails.
The journey from Valletta to the airport normally takes about 20 minutes. However, they’re currently in the process of finishing some major roadworks near the airport, and as a result, there have been a lot of traffic jams recently. Last week the Times of Malta reported that the airport bus got stuck in traffic, so that eventually passengers for the airport had to alight and walk the last kilometre to the terminal carting their suitcases behind them.
I leave the hotel at 07h10, and arrive at the airport at 07h45, 35 minutes later.
SWISS checks in on rows 12 to 14. There are two counters for Economy Class passengers, and one counter for Business Class and status holders. I check my suitcase in and then head one floor up to security.
There is a dedicated priority lane for Business Class passengers.
The Malta Airport La Valette Lounge
The lounge is busy, just like the rest of the terminal. Which is why I don’t take any photos. It has a buffet with a good selection of hot and cold breakfast dishes. There is also a well stocked bar. Unfortunately, there is also a French peaking man with his two badly behaved brats yelling everytime they speak. For crying out loud, it’s only just gone 08h00 in the morning! Personally, I think parents and their children should not be allowed to enter airport lounges.
Boarding is from gate 5. From what I can tell, I would say there are about 100 passengers on the flight today. As the aircraft is parked quite far away from the terminal, we are bussed to it.
I’m always amazed by the size of the E2’s engines.
There are six rows of Business Class on this aircraft, for a total of 12 passengers. Surprisingly, there is no cabin divider between the Economy and Business Class section. Which becomes a bit awkward during the flight, when the crew turn away passengers wanting to use the forward loo by explaining to them that they need to use the Economy Class one in the back of the bus. To be fair, without any curtain or cabin divider, how are you supposed to know when the Business Class cabin begins – or even that there is one?
The crew on this flight are a delight. They’re very attentive, and really just so friendly. Throughout the flight they’re permanently in the cabin making sure that passengers are comfortable. The service starts with a bottle of still water and a wet towel, which are handed out while we’re still on the ground.
We take off in a northwesterly direction, from the intersection of the taxiway and runway 31, roughly half way down.
As we climb out, we pass St. Paul’s bay and then Comino’s Blue Lagoon.
Together with the friendly cabin crew, I think the meal is really where SWISS blows Lufthansa out of the water. The meal service is extensive and tasty.
The hot meal is a poached egg in a spicy tomato sauce with Rösti and a bacon rasher.
A plate of cheese, of course.
A berry müsli.
And a plate of fruit.
With that the cabin crew offer a selections of buns and croissants from the bread basket.
And to drink I have a coffee and an orange juice.
The meal concludes with a small Swiss chocolate. The crew bring me a pillow and I nod off until we start our descent.
The flight time to Zürich is two hours. As we make our way across the Alps, the aircraft gently eases off the thrust and we start our descent. I’m surprised by how much snow there still is on the peaks, considering it’s already the end of May.
We park on a remote stand adjacent to runway 28.
There is a dedicated shuttle for Business Class passengers already waiting to take us to the terminal.
There’s a bit of a hold up for the suitcases, but nothing major. Eventually, I arrive in the office just after 13h.
This flight with Helvetic Airways really was a pleasure. The service was impeccable and the food was very good. With the start of the next winter schedule, SWISS aims to reduce the number of wetleases operating its services. While I can understand that they may not want to dilute the SWISS brand, I hope their plans will not affect Helvetic. Mainly, because their crews tend to be far more attentive and friendly than those of SWISS. I’m very positively surprised!
After my last and very dreadful experience in Frankfurt, when I was on my way to Oman in January of this year, I swore I wouldn’t ever travel via Frankfurt again. Ever. And yet, here I am, the eternal glutton for punishment, at 04:50 in the morning, on the airport bus, on my way to Basel airport to catch a connecting flight to Malta via Frankfurt. But let me explain. First, there is the fact that the Lufthansa morning service to Malta is convenient. It operates daily and is one of the earliest possible arrivals on the island if you’re coming from northern and central Europe – bringing you in to Malta just before noon. Second, I figured the transfer in Frankfurt couldn’t possibly be that bad again – mainly because I would be transferring from one Lufthansa flight to another and also within the Schengen area.
Boarding the Flight to Frankfurt
When boarding is called in Basel, I figure I might as well wait until the end. I mean, on Lufthansa it’s not as though you’re missing anything much if you board last. And there are only about forty passengers on the aircraft. As I pass through the gate and the agent scans the boarding pass that I received from Lufthansa by SMS yesterday, an alert goes off. The gate agent informs me that I’m not checked in, and because I’m late, I won’t be allowed to board… Say, what now?
I tell the guy that I still have the SMS I got from Lufthansa yesterday with a time stamp on it, just in case he wants to make a legal case out of this whole idiotic conversation. He thinks about it for a moment, then relents, prints my boarding passes and then ghosts me.
Transfer in Shitho… furt
The rest of the trip to Shitho… furt is uneventful. Except perhaps, that it’s kind of weird that the crew don’t pass through the cabin to collect any of the trash before landing.
We transfer to the terminal building by shuttle bus, which is a bit like being given a complimentary guided tour of that garbage heap you never knew you needed to visit like you needed a kick in the head.
I arrive on the A concourse and make my way to the Senator lounge, where there’s a long queue of passengers waiting to enter. Ironically, Vranckx – the CEO of SWISS – is also in the queue, looking as despondent and dejected as everybody else there. I’m kind of tempted to ask him if he thinks this is good customer service. But I’m trying to be nice, so I relent.
Inevitably, the lounge is very busy. So I don’t take any pictures. The food selection is quite good and has a nice variety of dishes. Beside that, I think airline lounges are a fascinating study in anthropology and intercultural interaction. There are are the closeted alcoholics, guzzling white wine even before nine o’clock in the morning under the pretence of being so heavily jetlagged that they couldn’t possibly tell the time… And then there are the businessmen in their immaculate suits with a colour coded hankerchief in their breast pocket and shiny leather loafers. They glance upon the other visitors to the lounge with a fleeting sense of disdain. I would say they’re probably upper management. And then there are my favourites. The eager looking young men in their pseudo designer suits, no tie, collar button open, and… white sneakers or trainers. Definitely lower management. Middle management at best. I’m guessing they’re going for a kind of Steve Jobs vibe. You know, unconventional but driven and ambitious. And of course, there are also the totally relaxed hippsters with their messy manbuns, trying really, really very hard. And then of course, there’s me: tired and still too seriously undercaffeinated to show even the remotest bit of goodwill for the brotherhood of mankind.
Boarding the Flight to Malta
My flight to Malta is being operated by an Airbus A 321, which arrived back in Frankfurt from Gothenburg earlier in the morning. The flight is boarding from gate A 36, which is a contact stand towards the end of the A pier.
I approach the counter to ask if I could possibly have my hand luggage checked in and put into the hold, so I won’t have to carry it. I have two slipped discs and the pain from carrying the suitcase is killing me. Apparently, the flight is full and the gate agent seems euphoric to have found somebody willing to have their luggage checked in.
When boarding starts, an announcement is made that the aircraft is still not fully catered, and therefore passengers in boarding groups 1 (HONs and Business Class) and 2 (Senators) should proceed to the bottom of the stairs, then cross the ramp and board the aircraft through the rear door. While the other passengers grudgingly make their way to the bottom of the stairs, I’m more or less doing a little happy dance and grinning like the Cheshire cat. I love being on the ramp next to the aircraft (and taking photos)!
The only problem is that while we’re all walking towards the rear door, upstairs in the terminal they’re received information that loading the catering is now over and that therefore, all passengers can now board through the airbridge at the front L1 door. Inevitably, boarding turns into a mess, as the Business Class passengers sitting at the front of the bus try to push past the Economy Class passengers trying to get to their seats at the back of the bus. Still, at least like this we didn’t have to endure the unsighly sight of catering containers being loaded. What a relief!
There are seven rows of Business Class on this flight for a total of 28 passengers. The flight is either full or nearly full in both cabins. I am seated on row 7, which is the last Business Class row.
The pitch is good, and the empty middle seat means that I can park my yellow rucksack under the seat in front.
The crew seem friendly enough. But I think they’re not really into it. The guy next to me patiently asks for the boarding completed announcement before pressing the call button. When the cabin crew arrives, he asks if he could have a cup of water. To which he is told that it will have to wait until after take off. So no water. Unlike SWISS, Lufthansa does not provide any passenger-crew interaction before departure. There are no refreshing towels in advance and no still water.
Once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign goes off, the guy next to me stops one of the passing cabin crew and asks if he could have a cup of water. The cabin crew tells him later, because the crew will be starting the service soon. So still no water.
The breakfast consists of a large plate with slices of cheese, some veg, an egg salad and some cold cut. Then there is a bowl of joghurt with pineapple sauce, and then crew pass through offering croissants and buns from the breadbasket. Much to my surprise, the crew have obviously checked the frequent flyer programme status of passengers on the manifest, becaue when the cabin crew addresses me about breakfast, he start with ‘Hello Mr A., it’s good to have you back with us‘. To drink I have an apple juice and coffee.
After the meal, the crew pass through the cabin offering apples and then later on also chocolates.
The other three passengers on my row are all Indian, and apparently all vegetarian. They inquire about the vegetarian option and are informed that there isnone. One of the passengers asks how this can be, given that his food preferences are saved in his profile and he received a vegetarian meal in the previous flight. To which the cabin crew explains that any preference that is saved in the profile is only applicable automatically on long-haul flights, whereas on short-haul European flights it is not, and therefore vegetarian meals need to be ordered. I mean, fair enough, if that’s how Lufthansa wants to do it, that’s their business. But I also agree with one of the Indian guys who complained that it was rather confusing. It’s also true that many other airlines usually have a vegetarian option on board.
Arrival in Malta
We land in Malta just before noon. It’s quite a bumpy approach. The airport is very busy, we’re the ninth aircraft to land and the ramp is full. Even so, the arrival goes smoothly. We’re bussed to the terminal, and by the time I reach the luggage belt (via detour to the loo), my suitcase is just coming around the corner.
This wasn’t a bad experience with Lufthansa. Sure, the gate agent in Basel was having a bit of a bad hair day, but you can’t really blame Lufthansa for that. And I guess you can’t fully blame them for the fact that Frankfurt is a rathole, although the lounge situation is a bit of an issue. The passenger experience with Lufthansa wasn’t bad as such. It’s just really very, very bland and exchangeable. And that’s the problem. Where there wasn’t anything memorable about this flight that made me think I’ll definitely fly them again next time, to me Frankfurt airport clearly is a reason not to fly Lufthansa. Still, at least they still have Munich, which is a much more pleasant experience.
I leave The Chedi in Andermatt at 11h30. It is a beautiful day outside, with a bright and sparkling blue sky. The railway station is only two minutes on foot from the hotel. Andermatt is on the route of the famous Glacier Express from Chur to Visp and Zermatt. The route from Andermatt to Göschenen is merely a branch line.
My train connects to the Glacier Express coming from Zermatt, which departs four minutes after my train. The journey from Andermatt to Göschenen takes 16 minutes.
The service is operated by a funky little train with an incredibly powerful engine. The train is made up of two full second class coaches and a third coach that is half first class and half second class.
The cabin of the first class coach is pretty retro. It even has windows that can be pushed down!
About three minutes after it departs the station, the train passes through the first tunnel, where the cogwheel is engaged for the descent. Given the steep gradient of most of the network of the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway, the trains are all equipped with cogwheels for use on the steeper segments of the journey. The train emerges on the other side of the tunnel onto a bridge across the Schöllenen Gorge, near the famous Teufelsbrücke – the Devil’s bridge, and the controversial Suworow monument.
For a very long time, Schöllenen Gorge made the Gotthard pass inaccessible. Then in 1595 the first stone bridge across the gorge was built. The Devil’s bridge gets its name because legend has it that the mountain folk sought the Devil’s service to help them build the bridge. However, once the work had been completed, they refused to pay the Devil his due. Enraged by the breach of contract, the Devil waited for the first two pedestrians to cross the bridge. When they were halfway across the bridge, he pushed them off the bridge to their death and dragged their souls with him to the underworld to claim what he considered rightfully his. The picture below shows the second bridge that was finished in 1830 and above it the third bridge for road traffic.
At the other end of the railway bridge, the train enters a tunnel and starts its steep descent towards Göschenen.
In Göschenen, the Matterhorn Gotthard train stops on the opposite platform from the mainline trains of the Swiss Federal Railways. The transfer time in Göschenen is three minutes, which is ample time to make the connection.
Second leg: Göschenen to Arth-Goldau
Göschenen station is located by the northern portal to the first Gotthard tunnel. The tunnel was inaugurated in 1882. It was the brain child of entrepreneur Alfred Escher. The contribution of Escher’s to the creation of modern Switzerland cannot be stated enough. Apart from the Gotthard tunnel, he was also one of the founders of Swiss Re, the ETH technical university, and the Credit Suisse. Sadly, Escher never got to see the completed tunnel. The project ran into severe financial trouble, until eventually the government of the newly formed Swiss federation had to intervene and pick up the bill. Escher became persona non grata, to the point that he was not even invited to the grand opening of the tunnel. He died the following year.
The service from Göschenen to Arth-Goldau is operated by a train of the Südost Bahn.
The journey to Arth-Goldau is one hour and takes passengers along what must be one of the best-known stretches of railway in Europe. The next stop after Göschenen is Erstfeld, which is 20km away. Over the course of those 20km, the train has to descend 700 metres, which it achieves by meandering in and out of a string of winding tunnels that are used for the train to double back as it gradually sheds altitude. As a result of the doubling back, the train passes the church in Wassen three times, always at a slightly different altitude relative to the church.
Third leg: Arth-Goldau to Olten
At Arth-Goldau I have seven minutes to make the connection to Olten. Normally, the train would run all the way to Basel. However, due to construction works on the line at the station in Liestal, traffic to and from Basel is limited at the weekends. As a result, my train will only be running as far as Olten, and I will need to change to the the intercity from Berne to Basel.
At Arth-Goldau passengers can connect onto the Goldau-Rigi Bahn, the station of which is located on a bridge across the main line. The Rigi is a mountain on the shores of Lake Lucerne that is popular for family outings, mainly because it is possible to walk all the way up to the summit even if you’re not an expert climber. There are two trains that go up the Rigi. The Goldau-Rigi Bahn from Arth-Goldau and the Vitznau-Rigi Bahn from Vitznau, which is located right on the lake. The two trains take different routes and only merge at Rigi Staffel, the last stop before the summit at Rigi-Kulm.
The service from to Olten is operated with a Giruno composition arriving from Milan. These are my favourite trains. They’re very new, quiet and comfortable.
The train stops in Lucerne on its way to Olten. We pull out of the station at Arth-Goldau and make our way up the western shore of Lake Zug. In the distance I see the train I arrived with from Göschenen as it heads up the eastern shore of the lake on its way to Zürich.
Fourth leg: Olten to Basel SBB
From Arth-Goldau to Olten takes just under 80 minutes. Although that is partly also because the train calls at Lucerne and stops there for 15 minutes before it continues its journey.
In Olten I catch the intercity from Berne, which is operated by one of the old twin-deck trains, which are still very comfortable and are currently in the process of being updated and refurbished.
Eventually I arrive back in Basel just after three in the afternoon, after a journey of just over three hours through some really beautiful landscapes. Apart from the fact that the journey really is very nice, the Swiss railway system truly is beyond belief. My longest connection was seven minutes in Arth-Goldau. The shortest connections where three minutes in Göschenen and five minutes in Olten. Every connection worked seamlessly.
Being the long Easter weekend, many of the trains were quite full in second class. However, on the SBB app you can book an upgrade to first class for an individual journey. If you’re lucky, you might even find a train with a super saver upgrade fare available. The fare difference from second to first class cost me CHF24.50, which I think is very reasonable.
For the long Easter weekend I really did not fancy getting on a plane. Or rather, I did not fancy having to spend hours in a queue at security somewhere. And so, I decided to visit Andermatt in the Swiss Alps instead. The Chedi Andermatt opened for business back in 2013 and at the time it caused quite a sensation – promising unrivalled and unprecedented luxury in Swiss ski resort tourism.
Getting to and from Andermatt is quite a journey, but it’s certainly worth it. I will be posting on that separately. Once you arrive in Andermatt though, the Chedi is located literally on the other side of the street from Andermatt railway station. The station for the cable car to the Nätschen and Gütsch ski slopes is also just a sort walk of five minutes away.
A few design elements from the Chedi in Muscat, Oman have been carried over into the design of the Chedi Andermatt. Mostly though, the two hotels have a very different look and feel. At the Chedi Andermatt a lot of wood panelling has been used, presumably to lend the place a bit of rustic Alpine charme.
The Delux Room
I stayed in a Deluxe room on the fourth floor. The deluxe category is the basic room type.
The room was very spacious and felt very comfortable. It came with a large balcony overlooking the main street of Andermatt and the Nätschen. There was also a fire place available that was visible both on the inside and outside.
The bathroom was also quite substantial and came with the same Aqua di Parma amenities they have at the Chedi in Muscat.
Guests are asked to avoid taking photos of the public spaces to respect the other guests’ privacy, which is why I did not make that many photos. The Chedi Andermatt has a large spa area with a long heated pool that also has an outdoor area, a sauna, gym and therapy area. During my stay I tried the Balinese massage, which did wonders on my shoulders and upper back area, even though the therapist only used moderate pressure for consideration of my slipped discs.
During my stay at the Chedi Andermatt I tried the Japanese restaurant and the main restaurant for dinner. I also had the afternoon tea in the bar. I have to say that I was very impressed by the quality of the food. The Japanese meal was authentic and very nicely presented, and in the main resturant I had an Indian Dal that was just brilliant. It was flavourful and decently spicy. Althouh it was also way too large for one person to finish on their own. The tea was also very nice. Although I find it interesting that in Switzerland when you have afternoon tea, they tend to neglect the sanwiches and savouries. And that was the case here too. But that’s really just complaining at a very high level.
Without a doubt, in my book the hotel’s best feature was its staff. They were truly excellent, always polite and so attentive. Nothing every seemed too much trouble and they were very proactive in dealing with the guests. What I found noticeable was that I only encountered two members of staff during my stay at the Chedi Andermatt that spoke Swiss German. And that probably helps to explain the exceptional level of service at the Chedi: as a rule, service is not something the Swiss do well – to put it nicely. It’s not that they unfriendly or anything. It’s just that they’re usually not very polished in their manerisms and their interactions with international customers. Of course, these are things that could easily be remedied with good training. The problem in Switzerland though, is that most of the locals nowadays are not inclined to work in the service industry. And even if they were, proper training is usually too expensive in Switzerland. In as much, the Chedi Andermatt certainly has done an excellent job in making sure its staff are consistent in their service delivery.
I am on my way to Vienna for a meeting with ICAO, which the Austrian Civil Aviation Authority has kindly offered to host. We are reviewing an ICAO document ahead of its publication in the second quarter of 2023. But we have a lot of ground to cover, and I am not sure we will manage in the time we have.
Getting to the Airport
I leave the office after lunch to make my way to the airport. Allow me to introduce you to yet another fine specimen of brutalist seventies architecutre in the guise of the main station in Winterthur.
Oh good, and the train taking me to the airport is one of those dreadful Dostos that rattle your brain…
Check-in & Security
I have checked in online using the SWISS app. Unlike most other airlines, they still have not managed to have the boarding pass in the wallet show up on the lock screen.
The train pulls into the station at 13:35, so I have one hour before boarding starts. It is a lovely day, so I immediately head for the sports bar and its outside viewing gallery. Tragically though, it seems that the season has not started yet, even though it is a lovely, sunny day outside. The door is locked, so I figure I might as well try the SWISS Senator lounge.
SWISS Senator Lounge
The lounge is also very quiet. But I do not stay long, seeing as there is absolutely no view worth mentioning from the lounge and it is otherwise nothing special either.
I must say though, they have great hand soap in the loos!
I soon leave the lounge again and park myself near one of the big windows overlooking the apron and runway 28. There is a steady trickle of movements, but the ramp is far from busy. While I wait, an Air Cairo A 320 taxies out to runway 28, and I contemplate that probably the amount of money does not exist that would even make me consider flying with them. I am not a brave man.
Eventually, boarding starts at 14:35 for our 15:05 departure. The announcements are made by an untalented young woman. Her announcements are useless. I would like to say it is a lack of foreign language skills, but her German announcements are no better… I count 90 passengers on the flight.
There are six rows of Business Class for a total of 24 passengers. However, there are only thirteen passengers in the forward cabin. Which means that I get a whole row to myself. I am seated on 4F, and the seatt pitch is good. Just a piece of advice, on flights from Zürich to Vienna try to get a window seat on the starboard side. In the opposite direction try to get a seat on the port side.
You see, the journey between Zürich and Vienna has the aircraft fly along the north side of the Alps. On a day like today, the view is simply gorgeous.
Okay, first you get a view of Zürich, which is rather ugly. But the view improves quickly.
The Cabin Crew & Service
There are three cabin crew on this flight. They are an interesting study. One of them is a Frenchman, and it is strange that the announcements he makes in French are completely different in content to those made in English and German by the purserette. The other thing that strikes me, is the crew’s refusal to interact with passengers in anything but German. Having said that, there is generally little interaction with the crew anyway. There are no welcome drinks and no refreshing towel during boarding.
Yeah. No. The meal is a strange combination of some sausage, green beans and some other pulses. With that comes a roll of warm bread. There is also a chocolate mousse cake for dessert.
The cake is very rich and delectable. To drink I have a glass of fabulous Almdudler. After the meal, the crew pass through the cabin handing out little chocolate coins.
The crew mange to get us a short cut, which mean that ATC brings us in for the approach over the city. We fly straight over Schloss Schönbrunn right before the landing.
My intention had been to avoid mentioning in this trip report just how bad Vienna airport is. But I cannot help myself. I just do not get this airport. And I do not understand why they let somebody build an airport who, apparently, has never seen what a passenger terminal should look like from the inside before. But I digress.
Getting into Town
To get into town by public transport there are several options. The CAT airport train is the fastest option to Wien Mitte. It makes the trip in 16 minutes. Mind you, it is also the most expensive, costing EUR24 for a roundtrip.
This short trip with Austria Airlines was okay. It always makes for a pleasant experience if the aircraft is not full. For the time being, SWISS is not flying to Vienna anymore, supposedly due to an acute staff shortage in the company. However, given that both Austrian Airlines and SWISS have been fully integrated into Lufthansa, I wonder whether SWISS will ever make a return. Which is of course a shame because Austrian was rather bland, and quite frankly boring. Of course nobody picks an airline on a route simply to be entertained. But Austrian Airlines was so non-descript that there was nothing about the experience that stood out and would make you look forward to your next trip with them.
The SO/ Hotels are part of the ALL Accor group. The SO/ brand clearly targets hippsters in their mid-thirties in the upper income bracket, which clearly puts me outside their target demographic. So far, I have stayed at Das Stue Berlin, which is also part of the SO/ collection, and at the SO/ Vienna, which was… meh.
Perhaps the most important thing to mention about the SO/ Paris is its location. From Gare de Lyon it’s just a short walk of ten minutes to the hotel. To the Place de La Bastille and the opera it’s merely a short, leisurely walk of five minutes. The closest metro stop is Bastille.
In addition to the suites, there are three different room types: Collection, Rooftop and Paris Skyline. The Collection rooms are located on the lower floors and look either onto a courtyard or garden. The Rooftop rooms are brighter because they are on the upper levels, but look out onto the city, so towards Bastille or Gare de Lyon. The Paris Skyline views overlook the Seine, La Tour Eiffel and Notre Dame.
On this visit, I booked a Rooftop room, but was upgraded to a Paris Skyline room thanks to my Diamond status in the ALL Accor membership programme. I’ll come back to that later.
My room is located on the 13th floor and very spacious, with a large King size bed.
The furniture in the room is simple, unpretentious and very comfortable. When I arrive in the room, there is a small Gugelhupf and a welcome card waiting for me.
Apparently, the hotel has teamed up with a French parfumier to create a unique collection of scents for hotel guests, although I’m not quite sure what the point is supposed to be. Perfume is a singularly personal choice or preference. So, if you wear perfume, I would assume that you wouldn’t rely on your hotel to provide and would simply bring your own.
The minibar is well stocked and all its contents are complimentary for Diamond card holders.
In addition, there are also tea and coffee making facilities. In fact, this is one of the few hotels I’ve recently stayed in where the box of Nespresso capsules actually contained Nespresso, and not some derivate.
The bathroom has a walk-in shower but no bath. Which is all the same for me. The water pressure in the shower is excellent, and unlike many other hotels, you can have a nice hot shower without flooding the place.
Breakfast is served on the 15th floor in the rooftop restaurant. The staff at the restaurant are great, and there is an extensive selection of food available from the buffet and to order from the à la carte menu. But what really sets the restuarant apart, is its spectacular view of Paris. There are windows on all sides, which give you a brilliant, 360 degree view.
And that brings me to the Diamond status with ALL Accor that I mentioned previously. As far as I’m concerned, ALL Accor have one of the best membership programmes currently out there. First, it’s fairly easy to acrue points, and for every 2000 points you collect, you receive one suite night upgrade which entitles you to an upgrade from any room category to a suite. Apart from that, Diamond members receive a complimentary upgrade to the next higher category, subject to availability. In my experience, it very frequently happens that an upgrade is availale. In the case of the SO/ Paris, I certinaly lucked out given the spectacular view from the room. Another interesting feature of the Diamond status is that on weekends breakfast is always included in the rate, and that extends to persons sharing a room.
Today I’m on my way to Luxembourg. Getting to London City airport by public transport is usually quite easy, but I’m also carting around with me a heavy suitcase. Which is why I’ve decided to take a taxi today from my hotel near Victoria to the airport. On a Sunday afternoon, the traffic is fairly light, by London standards at least. The journey takes forty minutes to complete and costs GBP50. Taking a taxi also has the added benefit that the trip will take you past some of London’s best landmarks!
There are two check-in counters open for the Luxair flight, one of them is for Business Class passengers. The queue for Economy is short, and there are only four parties ahead of me, which are quickly processed.
Security is one floor up. The airport is currently upgrading its infrastructure, so that soon passengers will not need to take all their personal belongings out of their bags at security.
It’s been several years since I last passed through London City airport, and sadly, it hasn’t changed much. The place is crowded, and there is hardly any place to sit.
In addition, the’ve also put up a building on the apron, right in front of the main waiting area, which makes the place look very dark and gloomy.
Eventually though, I find a place to sit in relative peace and quiet in the passage that connects the main terminal to the seating area for the gates reserved for some of the larger aircraft operating into City, such as the A 220.
Because space on the ramp is so tight, arriving aircraft are marshalled in using two marshaller. The first one guides the aircraft onto the stand to the point where it has to make a tight right turn. A second marshaller indicates to the crew when to straighten the nosewheel and stop.
My flight is boarding from gate 9. Judging by the amount of passengers in the line, I don’t think it’s going to be a very full flight.
Passengers queue in the stairwell until the doors are opened for them to cross the apron. So I figure I might as well wait upstairs.
There are five rows of Business Class on this flight, but I’m the only one that seems to have been favoured by the upgrade fairy. Initially, I’m seated on 2D by the emergency exit. Once boarding is completed though, I move over to 1A, which has a better view.
For a turboprop, the acceleration on the Dash 8 is crazy. Because of the very short runway here in City, the crew first spool the engines before they eventually release the brakes, catapulting us forward and into the air.
The Crew & Service
There are two cabin crew on this flight, although my interaction is only with one of them. There is no service in the cabin while we’re on the ground, which I’m guessing is probably because the taxi time from our stand to the threshold is about two minutes if you’re counting slowly. Once we’re airborne, I am brought a refreshing towel and the menu.
Considering the flight time to Luxembourg is only one hour, the meal service is extensive and varied. The meal is served very traditionally, on a large laquer tray.
For the starter, there is a small pokebowl of smoked salmon with sesame rice, pickles and fruit.
I’m not sure what everything on the plate with the main course is. The meat is stuffed pork medaillons.
Two bread rolls are served with the meal, together with a small dish of butter that has been shaped to look like a flower. The small jar in the picture below is the honey sauce for the pork.
For dessert, there is a small dish of some mango and passion fruit cream and a small box of pralines made locally in Luxembourg.
To finish off the meal, I have a cup of mint tea.
Just before the landing, the crew pass through the cabin with candy.
We land in Luxembourg at 17:00. The ramp is quite busy, but the terminal building seems rather quiet. My suitcase arrives quickly. I then head upstairs to catch the bus line 16 to Kircherberg, where I change to the tram.
Flying Luxair is an interesting experience, in that it feels like taking several steps back in time to a bygone era when flying was still something special. And admittedly, getting upgraded is always nice. I rather enjoyed this short flight!
I’m on my way back to Europe. Not quite on my way home yet, but getting closer. In Abu Dhabi I’m staying at the Doubletree Yas Island, which is close to where I’m giving a course. The car picks me up at the hotel just after six in the morning. The journey to Abu Dhabi airport takes about twenty minutes.
Etihad Airways operates out of Terminal 3. There is a dedicated Business Class check-in area which is segregated from the main part of the terminal.
The place is not at all busy. I’m seen to immediately by a friendly agent, who issues my boarding pass, tags my suitcase and then sends me on my way.
Immigration is very easy these day in the UAE with the introduction of the E-gates for biometric passports. There is a dedicated security screening area for Business Class passengers, which ejects you right in front of the entrance to the First Class lounge in the middle of the dutyfree shops.
Etihad Business Class Lounge
The entrance to the Business Class lounge is through a corridor that branches off from the main airside area more or less opposite gate 35. The lounge is very spacious, and divided into separate dining and lounging areas.
There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes. I haven’t had breakfast, so I have the sambar with idli and parathas. I don’t take any pictures though, as it’s difficult to avoid disturbing the other passengers.
The staff in the lounge are a mixed back. There are several attendants standing around. Some of them are helpful and actively assist passengers at the buffet. Others however, obviously have so little of a sh*t to give, it makes you wonder what exactly they think it is they’re getting a salary for.
My boarding pass tells me that boarding will start at 07:20, one hour before departure, which just seems a tad early. When I reach the gate at 07:50, boarding is only just starting. There is a passport check before you can board, and supposedly there is a separate queue for Business Class passengers. But with all the passengers milling about, I don’t see how I’m supposed to get through without coming off as being rude. So I wait in the queue just like everybody else.
The Cabin & Seat
On the B 787-10 Etihad has the same seats as on its A 380s, which is different to that on the A 350 in Business Class. The A and K seats are window seats on the evenly numbered rows. On the unevenly numbered rows, the B and H seats are aisle seats and are rear facing.
The seat is comfortable enough, but it has a few drawbacks. First, it has no armrests, which is just a bit odd when seated in the fully upright position. There is a storage compartment large enough for a laptop, but that is located slightly behind the seat, which makes it awkward to use.
This seat does not have any privacy screens, which is a bit unfortunate, because having rear facing seats means that I have 12D and 12G directly in my line of sight.
There are two lavatories for the Business Class cabin, which are located at the front. They’re quite spacious and well stocked.
The Service & Crew
The service on the ground starts with a welcome drink. There is a choice of lemon & mint juice, orange juice, water, or champagne. Shortly after, hot towels are distributed. The crew come to take orders for the after departure drinks and for breakfast.
The meal service is just plain strange. First, the water & juice I’d ordered for breakfast never materialise. Second, it takes the crew nearly two hours after we get airborne to finally get start serving the meal on my row, which is the last row of Business Class.
For the main course, I have the French toast, which is lovely.
With that comes a small bowl with a croissant and a pain au chocolat. Both of them are hard, and taste like French fries.
There is also a bowl with fresh fruit.
The meal is quite nice. The French toast is all sticky and gooey, and the fresh fruit are very refreshing. With the meal I have a coffee with milk.
The flight time to London is seven hours. Flying over the eastern Balkans is a lot like driving on an Autobahn. Above us is a whole string of mainly Turkish Airlines aircraft heading East, while we are flying in formation all the way to Amsterdam with a Qatar B 777 next to us and an Emirates A 380 slightly behind us.
There’s only a small hold up for the approach into Heathrow, and we only have to do one orbit before we’re cleared for the approach. Approaches are from the East, but by the time we break through the cloud we’re already past the city.
Terminal 4 is quiet when we land. Right behind us is a Qatar A 380, and luckily we beat them to the gate.
Getting into London
As you exit through customs, the signs to the Undergorund and trains are on the left. First I take the complimentary Elisabeth Line to the stop for Terminals 2 and 3, where I change to a nonstop Heathrow Express train to Paddington.
I still think Etihad is the better airline than Emirates, but probably not quite as good as Qatar. Both flights I took on this trip were pleasant enough and certainly beat what you get in Business Class with most of the European airlines on a flight of similar duration. Apparently, the new terminal in Abu Dhabi is expected to really open this year. I really hope so for Etihad, as the current facility is just a bit too small to handle all the passengers.