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.
I leave the Novotel Kirchberg at 10:06. My train back home doesn‘t leave until 11:24. But I figure I might as well get a move on, with my business here in Luxembourg done.
Mudam is the tram stop closest to the hotel. The next stop after that is Pfaffenthal, from where I connect onto the funicular railway.
Kirchberg is a plateau that sits just outside the city of Luxembourg, on the other side of a pretty, green valley.
Every morning, the grand duchy of Luxembourg is invaded by a whole armada of French, Belgian and German workers, causing hopless traffic jams along the Avenue JFK, Kirchberg‘s main artery.
So the Luxebourgers figured it made a lot of sense to have the commuter trains stop in Pfaffenthal, because That’s where the vast majority of people entering the city in the morning is headed anyway. And so, obviously with may more money than common sense, the station of Pfaffenthal was built halfway down the valley.
Incidentally, a Swiss company was contracted to build the funicular railway, which was designed to connect the station in the valley with the tram stop on the plateau.
The only problem with all of this, is that save for a period of an hour in the early morning and then again in the evening, the capacity of Pfaffenthal station is completely wasted. Which explains why there are so few people in my photos of the station.
Which really makes you wonder why the couldn‘t just have built a set of escalators instead? And in case you‘re wondering, the journey by funicular railway take less than a minute…
I reach the station in time for the 10:31 departure to Luxembourg main station. Quite frankly, it‘s an old and rickety looking train. But inside it looks as though the seats have been updated recently.
Although I should mention Luxembourg also has some more modern rolling stock…
At Luxembourg station I have enough time for a stop at Oberwies to get myself a coffee. The station building is not very big. After all, there‘s only ten platforms.
My train is departing from platform 7 and is already standing there when I arrive just before 11:00.
There are three first class carriages on the train, then the dining car, followed by four second class coaches. The train is empty, and pretty much stays that way all the way to Strasbourg.
Today I‘m on a single seat, which is rather pleasant if you‘re travelling on your own.
After leaving Luxembourg, the train briefly calls at Thionville, Metz, Colmar, and Strasbourg before reaching Mulhouse. The high speed sector is between Metz and Strasbourg and takes about 40 minutes. Other than that though, the train goes at a more moderate speed. Furthermore, the line is very busy with other trains, causing the TGV to slow down or stop often.
We pull into Mulhouse station at 13:52, with a delay of two minutes. It‘s only when viewed in the broad daylight that one becomes fully aware of just how run down and old the station in Mulhouse is…
My next connection from Mulhouse to Basel is at 14:19. Unfortunately, it‘s this puny little TER train, which doesn‘t even have a first class section. The train stops eight times on its way from Mulhouse to Basel.
I arrive back in Basel at 14:50. By 14:58 I‘m already back at home, after a door-to-door journey time of 4 hours and 52 minutes.
In summary, while I think the TGV is really good fun, very impressive and certainly a very good option for trips to Paris, I‘m not convinced about taking the TGV to Luxembourg. First of all, the high speed sector, for which the TGV has its own dedicated tracks, is rather short. Which means that for most of the journey, the TGV is more or less stop-starting with the other trains on the line. By the time we‘d reached Mulhouse today, we‘d already picked up a delay of 10 minutes. Furthermore, I do think they could coordinate the trains a bit better for a smoother connection in Mulhouse, which could then even bring down the journey time to under three hours.
Because I live in Basel, my journey today by TGV was pretty much the same duration as it would normally take me by plane to Zürich and then to catch a train home to Basel. But if I‘d been travelling from Winterthur, where I work, the journey by train would have been longer than by plane.
And finally, there‘s also the issue of the schedule. With my train leaving at 11:24 today, there wasn‘t really any time to go to the office in Luxembourg in the morning. There is wifi on the train, but I couldn‘t connect to that. If there were a train that left after 15h, then at least you‘d get a half day in the office. But like this, I basically spent money for a hotel room in Luxembourg only to catch a train this morning.
In August 2019 the Frankfurter Allgemeine, one of the most prestigious German-language newspapers, published an article that went by the somewhat unflattering title: “Höllenritt im ICE”, which translates roughly as “A hellish ride on the ICE”. Somewhat less extraordinary than the title of the article is the fact that this is just one of many articles in the German press on the state of the railway.
The Deutsche Bahn’s highspeed ICE trains have now been in service for nearly thirty years. But while a lot of time and money was invested in upgrading and modernising the rolling stock, the same cannot be said of the railway infrastructure on which the fabulous ICEs are intended to run. As a result, frequent and lengthy delays have become a thing that travellers in Germany have come to view as the new reality of rail travel in Germany.
As such, it’s hardly surprising that the plane is still a viable and competitive alternative to the train. It’s not much more expensive and at least it’s reliable.
In contrast, in France the situation is very different. Since the introduction of the infamous TGV on the French railway network, the high speed train has gone from strength to strength, sending domestic air travel in France into a steady decline, as more and more passengers switch form air travel to trains.
Today I’m on my way to Dijon for a long weekend with my saving grace to celebrate our wedding anniversary. As it happens, on Saturday’s there’s only one direct train from Basel to Dijon, but that’s sold out. And so, I shall have to take a train from Basel to Mulhouse first, and connect to the TGV from there.
I book the tickets on my phone in the SNCF InOui app, which is easy to navigate and even allows you to select your seats online at the time of booking.
Given that the French border is only about 8 kilometres away, the north wing of the main railway station in Basel is operated by the SNCF, the French national railways. Normally, you can access the French part of the station easily from the inside. But that part of the building has been gutted and is currently undergoing extensive rennovation. As a result, travellers have to go around the building to access the French part of the station. But of course, it wouldn’t be Switzerland if everything weren’t perfectly signposted…
The journey from Basel to Mulhouse is by a regular TER train bound for Strasbourg, that stops a few times on the way, including in Mulhouse. The journey from Basel to Mulhouse takes 23 minutes.
There is one First Class carriage at the head of the train, which is old but well maintained. The upholstery is soft and comfortable and the seat pitch is good. There are electricity sockets, but not on all seats.
Mulhouse is a fairly large station but easy to navigate. I have fifteen minutes to make the connection, which is ample time to take the stairs up onto the foot bridge and then two platforms across to where the train to Dijon will be leaving from.
There is a heated waiting room available on the platform.
My train will be arriving form Luxembourg and then continues on via Dijon and a few other places to Montpellier. In Mulhouse the train from Luxembourg is merged with the carriages from another TGV.
Todays’s service is operated by a double decker composition. These trains aren’t much to look at from the outside and certainly don’t look very aerodynamic and fast. But don’t let that fool you.
Seating on the TGV in 1 + 2 in First Class, and there are two different types of seats you can select: single and twin seats in an aircraft style layout or opposing seats for two or four people.
The seats are plush and comfortable and have a good recline and footrest. Every seat comes with an electricity socket and a reading lamp. Complimentary wifi is available on board.
Our train departs with a delay of six minutes. The TGV can only accelerate to high speed once it’s on its dedicated tracks. So for the first few minutes the ride is rather unspectacular. Just like any other train really…
But then we veer off to the left onto the dedicated high speed line and we gradually accelerate until eventually we‘re doing 320 kilometres per hour. The train makes two very brief stops in Belfort and then in Besançon and by the time we pull into Dijon station, we’ve already made up half of the delay and are running just three minutes behind schedule.
Dijon is a gorgeous town, famous of course as the birth place of all things mustard. In fact, generally speaking, I think foodies of all kinds love Dijon!
The journey on the French rail network is pleasant, comfortable and reliable. And apart from all that, I must say I really am impressed by the capabilities of the TGV. I mean, I knew they were fast, hence the same, but somehow I’d never realised they were that fast…
It’s Friday evening and I’m finally on my way home. The flying Dutchman drops me off at Luxembourg airport on his way back to Holland. The journey from Kirchberg, where the offices are, to the airport is only about 15 minutes by car or by bus.
The Star Alliance carriers operating out of Luxembourg check in on row 16 for Economy Class and row 17 for First and Business Class passengers.
The lounge in Luxembourg is quite nice, and has a nice selection of snacks and drinks. Especially their cakes are lovely! The views of the apron are pretty good. Throughout the terminal, wifi is available either through the airport’s network or through Eduroam.
I always feel slightly out of place in this lounge. Because while all the bankers are milling about in their sharp suits, I’m just lounging in my sneakers and jeans…
The inbound appear to have left Zürich with quite a delay, and is now not expected to land until 18:30, which is the boarding time for the return flight from Luxembourg to Zürich.
Despite the arrival delay, boarding for my flight start with only a minor delay of about ten minutes. It’s a lovely late summer evening outside.
I’m seated on 3A. There are four rows of Business Class, for a total of twelve seats. Although only seven are occupied this evening.
I really like the cabin of the A220. It feels very spacious and airy. And the seat pitch up front is excellent.
I’m the last passenger to board. I take my seat and one of the flight attendants brings me a bottle of still water and a wet towel.
By the time we taxi out for departure, it’s 19h15. The flight time is 35 minutes, which means we’ll still be arriving on time.
The crew on this flight really is excellent. The Business Class cabin is served by the purser, a friendly German young man with really excellent manners. He takes his time with every passenger and explains what’s in the three ramekins that are served on this flight.
The first ramekin contains what is, apparently, Egyptian tartar. It’s vegetarian and I think it’s probably something similar to muhammara. It tastes similar too. Then there is a chicken curry. And the dessert is a mocca cream served on a bed of glazed mandarins.
Meanwhile, the view outside with the setting sun is just so beautiful and very atmospheric. It’s quickly getting dark as we start our descent into Zürich.
Eventually we land just after eight in the evening, with just a few minutes delay. A big, orange full moon is slowly rising on the horizon and I’m just happy to be home again.
Sometimes things just line up. Even though it was only very short, I greatly enjoyed the flight this evening. The lovely weather, the quiet and spacious cabin, the tasty food and the brilliant service made for an utterly pleasant travel experience with SWISS.
My next trip to Luxembourg will be in October. In future I will probably be using the plane less and less on this route, now that the SNCF have introduced two daily TGV trains from Mulhouse to Luxembourg. The introduction of these two services mean that I can make the journey, door to door, in under four hours even with changing trains in Mulhouse.
My flight from Zagreb arrives at terminal 2E, which is used for non-Schengen flights. My flight to Luxembourg will be departing from terminal 2G, which is reserved for regional aircraft ops.
The security check is done in terminal 2E. From there, the way to the shuttle bus to 2G is clearly signposted.
The airport is fairly quiet, and in total there are only four of us making the trip to 2G. Sitting up front we have an elderly American lady with her daughter, who’s obviously decided now would be a good moment to have a hissy fit because her mum left her handbag with her to go to the loo…
My timing couldn’t be better. In 2G I first have to go through passport control to enter Schengen. From there I head to my departure gate at G27, where boarding has just started. One hour connecting time between 2E and 2G is perfectly fine, but there’s probably not going to be any time left to raid the duty free shop.
Being such a little aircraft, there’s a baggage cart parked by the stairs of the plane and passengers with larger items have to place them there for them to be loaded into the hold. These items are retrieved directly at the aircraft upon arrival in Luxebourg.
The cabin of the Dash 8 really is tight. Although at least, the Luxair aircraft are configured in a much more comfortable configuration with greater pitch and a seat with better cushioning than on Croatia Airlines.
Sadly, the window seat is of no use, because it’s already dark outside and the guy next to me has his reading light on.
The flight time is forty minutes. The service in Economy consists of a small paper bag containing a bottle of still water and a packet of Happy Snacks savoury crackers. The service is delivered by the crew without any attempt at being polite or civil or at least pretending to give a rat’s bum.
We land just slightly behind schedule. Seeing as I only have hand luggage, I’m out through customs quickly and then head one floor up to catch the bus line 16 to Luxexpo. I try paying the EUR2.- for my ticket, but one machine is inop and the other just won’t take my money…
I have to say, I’m quite impressed by how painless and easy the transfer in Paris works. It seems to me that Charles de Gaulle is better than its reputation. Ai France were also great. The crew were attentive and the food choices were very good. As for Luxair, this is another one that nobody is likely to really miss should one day disappear.
The journey from Zagreb to the airport takes 18 minutes by Uber. Within walking distance of the Canopy Hotel, where I was staying, is also the bus terminal, from where Croatia Airlines operates a bus service to the airport.
Zagreb airport has a terminal building that may not be very large in relative terms but seems somewhat excessive for the amount and type of traffic it handles.
The departures concourse is best described as a large, cavernous space. Air France checks in on counters C08 to C11 and there is a dedicated counter for SkyPriority passengers. Check-in opens only two hours before departure, so there’s really no point in arriving too early. There isn’t anything much to do either.
On a postive note, there is a fast track for security for SkyPriority passengers.
There is only one lounge at the airport that is used by all carriers operating into Zagreb. The Primeclass lounge is located right behind the duty free, between gates 33 and 32.
On my way to the airport, I kept trying to remember what the lounge looks like. But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember. As it turns out, that’s likely because the lounge really is not particularly memorable. Although I must say, the food offerings are great. And I can highly recommend their vast selection of Burek.
I’m not sure what’s going on with my booking. So far, all I’ve managed to do on the app is check in. And when I finally managed that, I found myself suddenly seated on 3A, which is not the original seat I reserved.
What’s more, when I tried again at the self-service kiosk at the airport, the screen wanted to know if I had a visa for France. When I selected ‘no’, the system crashed and the screen went black…
Boarding for the flight starts thirty minutes before departure from gate 31. SkyPriority passengers are invited the board first. Alas, taking pictures from inside the terminal is slighly problematic…
Row 3 is the first row of Economy Class, which means I have the divider curtain right in front of me. The seat pitch is very tight, but still okay. Not sure I’d want to do a longer flight in this seat though…
Boarding happens very fast. The next thing I know, we’re already pushing back while the crew scramble to get all passengers seated.
Fortunately for me, by the time boarding is completed, the middle seat on 3B remains empty.
As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew start preparations for their service. The flight time is one hour and forty minutes.
The service consists of a complimentary snack and drinks from the bar trolley. To eat there is a choice between a tuna, parsley and lemon bagel or a hummus and grilled vegetables sandwich. The crew pass through the cabin twice offering sandwiches.
To drink I ask for sparkling water. What’s really nice on Air France is that even in Economy Class they will give you a complete can of Perrier.
The rest of the flight passes quickly and pleasantly enough. We land in Paris just a few minutes ahead of schedule. But there’s a delay reaching our gate, because the stand is still occupied by a Tarom B 737. By the time we make onto the stand, it’s 20h07. I now have 53 minutes to make my connection from terminal 2E to 2G, which is pretty much out in the booneys.
This week has me combining two trips into one. First, today I shall travel to Zagreb to attend a meeting. And then from there, I shall travel to Luxembourg to give another course.
The nice thing about Croatia Airlines’ evening service from Zürich to Zagreb is that the flight departs at 20h05, which gives you more or less a full day in the office before having to head for the airport.
When I arrive at the airport just after 18h07, the airport is very quiet. I’m guessing the main bank of departures is already over.
Croatia Airlines uses check-in 3 in Zürich, which is the check-in area right above the tracks of the railway station. I print my boarding pass and baggage tag at the self-service machine and then proceed to the counter to drop off my bag.
Another nice feature of a 20h05 departure time is that security is nearly deserted when I get there at around 18h30. Which is a good thing, because although there’s only one guy ahead of me in the queue, he’s exuding the rather pungent stink of young man. It ain’t pretty…
The airside area is eerily quiet too. Perhaps it’s because of Knabenschiessen, which is a half-day public holiday in the city of Zürich only. In case you’re wondering, Knabenschiessen is not quite as old a tradition as the Zürchers will have you believe. Besides, nowadays the event is more of an excuse for the hopelessly pretentious and nouveau rich to be seen rubbing shoulders with the ‘right’ crowd.
Zagreb being a non-Schengen destination, the flight will be boarding from the D gates, on the ground floor level of the B pier, behind immigration.
Although there are hardly any people on the D concourse, the place is litered with garbage. You’d think they’d manage to clean up the place. None of this stuff in the picture is mine…
Boarding starts exactly on time, even though the bus taking us to the aircraft hasn’t even arrived yet. That’s when I realise that most passengers are travelling with fairly large pieces of hand luggage, which fit perfectly in the overhead bins of an A 320, but not in the shoe box size bins of the Dash 8. So it takes the gate agent a moment to label all the hold baggage and scan the boarding passes all by herself.
The Dash 8 is a sharp looking aircraft, but it really is rather small and cramped in the cabin. Standing room is okay. But once you’re seated, the pitch is fairly tight for an average sized caucasian male.
What’s more, there’s a rail on which the seats are mounted that runs along the side of the cabin. As a result, if like me you’re on the window seat, leg space is a bit more limited than on the aisle.
Also, on 8F you’re sitting right next to the engine. This means that window views are somewhat obstructed and the vibrations from the engines are really very strong and quite loud.
The flight time is one hour and ten minutes. There are two cabin crew. The female is the purser, I think. She’s definitely got an attitude, but in a surprisingly good way. And she’s also very meticulous about safety.
The other crew is a male with a slighty grumpy demeanour. When the service begins, he stops at my row, shoves a packet of something under my nose unceremoniously and makes a sound that might be loosely interpreted as ‘would you care for a snack’ but is, in fact, little more than a grunt.
To drink, there is a whole bar trolley for choice. The snack and drinks are complimentary.
However, I did also notice in their Sky Shop magazine that there are other food items and beverages available for purchase, although no information to that effect was given during the flight.
All in all, the flight is pleasant and uneventful. Our landing in Zagreb is very smooth and quiet. We come to a stop on a stand right in front of the terminal. But once we disembark, we still have to take a bus to bring us to arrivals.
From the airport I take an Uber into the city, which makes the journey in about twenty minutes.
Croatia Airlines is another one of those small European flag carriers that is struggling to stay afloat and compete against the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair. It’s hard to say if Croatian, like Air Malta or Tarom, would even be missed if they went out of business.
Having said that, Their product is certainly not bad and pretty much on a par with that of others. I’d fly with them again any time. But unless you want to go to Croatia, that may not even be quite so easy to achieve.
Winterthur has, undoubtedly, the ugliest railway station in all of Switzerland. Right after Mumpf station, which looks like it was built from one ugly slab of concrete. But hey, no judgement…
So the holidays are definitely over and I’m back to my usual tricks. But the countdown is ticking. I think next weekend I can book the flights for my sabbatical next year. But until then, yes, it’s another short hop to Luxembourg, courtesy of KLM.
I know, I know. Carbon footprint, Greta and all that. And I have to say that I have been trying to reduce the number of private trips I make by plane. But Lord knows it’s not always easy. And so, I find myself on Saturday morning making plans to head for the airport…
I spend a lovely day at the Campo Juan Carlos, a large park close to the exposition area of Madrid and easily accessible by metro.
Easyjet really is quite okay if you ignore the boarding experience, which I find unpleasant and unnecessarily so. I also think the limitations of the low cost model are beginning to show. The old legacy carriers have clearly done their homework, and you can purchase just about anything as an ancillary service nowadays. But on a low cost carrier, that is only possible up to a point. For example, if I purchase an upgrade on Swiss or KLM, that automatically comes with the priority check-in, fast track security, lounge access, better seat pitch and an empty middle seat.
Last week I returned from my Sunday run, all sticky and sweaty, only to be informed by the light of my life that we were booked to sample the British Airways A 350-1000 in a week’s time!
I mean, how cool is that? New type for me and literally a new aircraft!
My two flights with British Airways yesterday and today were very pleasant. Of course, the brand new Airbus A 350-1000 this morning was a pleasant change from the usual narrowbodies.
But apart from that, I think British Airways has implemented some fundamental changes that I would definitely consider a huge improvement. From the Do&Co catering to the installation of the new seat, which is expected to be rolled out on the Boeing B 777 fleet shortly as well.
Of course, tastes vary. But for me, the hard product on the A 350-1000 and the improved catering definitely put British Airways on a par with Air France. With the Lufthansa group coming in far, far behind.