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Welcome

Hello and welcome to this travel blog!

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.

– William

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Brussels to Zürich

Getting to the airport

The Belgian ANSP has a very convenient shuttle that runs from the Brussels tower to the main terminal building. The really cool thing though, is that the shuttle passes along the inner side of the airport perimeter fence. It’s a bit like getting your own prviate tour of Brussels airport. The journey takes about twenty minutes, which is a lot less than it would take on the public road.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online for the flight, so I can just head straight for security and the lounge. Brussels only has one terminal with two piers. There is no priority lane for Business Class passengers at security. However, despite the many people around, the queue is very well managed and moves along swiftly. Behind security you are forced through a complex labyrinth of duty free shops and restaurants before eventually emerging on the other side to find yourself at the head of the A pier, from where the Schengen flights depart.

Qatar Airways B 787-8 to Doha at the non-Schengen B pier.
Tintin’s infamous rocket.

The lounges on the Schengen pier are located one floor up from the main passenger concourse.

The lounge

Brussels Airlines operates The Loft Lounge on behalf of its Star Alliance partners. Access to the lounge is only for Business class passengers and Star Gold members.

The lounge has a wide selection of hot and cold dishes to chose from. More importantly, there is a row of comfortable sofas that runs along the windows overseeing the main apron. So that’s where I park myself until it’s time for my flight.

I’m sorry, but the new livery really does look a hell of a lot like that of Croatia Airlines…

I think I’m starting to remember why I don’t really enjoy airline lounges all that much. If you will just indulge my rant, what is it with some people that a) they have no other means to occupy themselves other than by making one phone call after the other, and b) that said phone calls have to be done with them yelling at the top of their voice? And don’t get me started on the Scandinavian Airlines passengers, who basically see a trip abroad as an opportunity to access cheap or, in the case of the lounge, complimentary booze. Okay, thanks. I’m feeling better now…

But I digress. The lounge is very nice, despite the patrons.

Boarding

Boarding is done by groups, with a first call for status holders (group 1) and Business Class passengers (group 2). The process is very similar to flying with Easyjet. We walk down the airbridge and are stopped by one of the handling agents half way down. Apparently they’re not done cleaning the plane yet. So we spend another five minutes in the smelly airbridge waiting for the cleaners to be done. Here’s a novel idea: if the plane is not ready yet, why did you start boarding in the first place…?

The cabin

There are three rows of seats in the Business Class cabin. There are three people on row 2, and just me on row 1.

Once boarding is done, the crew pass through the cabin with still water and towels.

The crew

In the past, I have been accused of being overly critical of SWISS. But I really don’t think that’s entirely my fault, and this flight is no exception. Once we’re airborne, the purser informs the Business Class cabin that she made a mistake on the outbound leg and accidentally served all the meals for the return leg too. Although I’m not fully sure how that happens “accidentally”. Instead, we’re going to have to choose something off the Economy Class buy on board menu.

When she comes to apologise, I tell her not to worry about it, and make a joke about having overdosed on Belgian waffles in the lounge anyway. To which she tries to make a joke by saying that I really ought to be careful, because “you wouldn’t want to end up with diabetes…”. I mean, is it just me, or is that not something inappropriate to make a joke about?

Later on, as we start our descent into Zürich, the purser seems very preoccupied by the gorgeous sunset. So she kneels on the ground on row 1 to take a few pictures, commenting loudly to her colleague in Swissgerman that “das isch jo huere geil”. “Geil” litterally means horny, whereas “huere” acts as an intensifier to express that you think something is really, really very good. It is a bit awkward that “huere” derives from the German word for a whore. So in other words, “huere geil” roughly translates into “fucking brilliant”.

The meal

The option is between a chicken breast sandwich or a pulled beef brioche. I go with the chicken, and I must say, it’s very good. Once we’re done, the guy behind me asks about dessert. He saw on the Economy Class menu that there were Luxeburgerlis, Sprüngli’s signature confectionary. In no uncertain terms the crew tell him that he can have them, but he’ll have to pay, which I just find a bit cheap. Surprisingly, the passenger declines…

Arrival

Zürich airport really is just brilliant! We touch down on runway 28 at 21:26. We pull onto our stand at 21:30. By 21:41 I‘m already at the station waiting to catch the train home at 21:45.

Conclusion

All in all, this was a pleasant enough flight. It always helps when the cabin isn’t full and you can spread out. The mishap with the food was unfortunate. But these things happen and the alternative that was offered was good. To be perfectly honest, I’d say the Sprüngli sandwich I received was probably way better than what should have been served on that flight in Business Class. However, I do think they could have given the guy behind me his Luxeburgerli for free, considering it was their fault to start with that there was no dessert.

The cabin crew were generally very friendly, and that includes the purser. I also think she gets kudos for not making up some cock and bull story about the botched catering and just being honest about it. Never any harm done in telling the truth. But her joke about the diabetes was imply in bad taste and her – let’s call it overly enthusiastic – choice of words to comment on the spectacular vistas was really very badly chosen.

The Post 1898 Hotel, Ghent

Introduction

The Hotel Post 1898 gets its name from the fact that the building was originally constructed as the main post office for the city of Ghent in 1898. It’s ideally located right in the heart of the historic centre and on the canal that runs through the city.

The hotel has plenty of character. For example, on the second floor there is the honesty bar, which gets its name because it is not attended. Therfore, the management relies on their guests’ honesty to write down any alcoholic drinks they take from the bar.

The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant in the traditional sense. However, snacks and small dishes can be had at The Cobbler bar, which also serves as the breakfast room. The also do some very nice cakes in the afternoons.

I can highly recommend the chocolate cake and the frangipani tarte.

The room

I’m staying in a room type referred to by the hotel as The Postcard. It’s on the second floor and looks out over the main square. The room is on two levels, with the bedroom, working area and toilet on the lower level, and the shower on the higher level.

The attention to detail in the room is quite amazing. There are little knick-knacks everywhere and give the place a lovely, cosy feel.

The room has a fully stocked minibar, water kettle and Nespresso machine. A bottle of still water is standing next to the bed.

Conclusion

I very much enjoy my stay at the hotel. It’s not just that it’s very nicely finished. The whole place just somehow feels welcoming. The staff are friendly and very helpful. Nothing you ask them for ever seems to be too much. And the room is just very comfortable. Perhaps the only criticism, or let’s say the only word of caution, is that there are a lot of steps in this hotel. Sure, there are lifts. but most of the time taking the lift is cumbersome. So perhaps this is not the place for somebody not quite so stable on the feet.

Café In Choc, Ghent

Ghent certainly cannot complain about a shortage of chocolatiers. Right opposite the entrance to Gravensteen fortress on the fringe of the old town is Café In Choc, which specialises in indulgences of all kinds. Bascially, none of their dishes are what I’d call staple foods. You wouldn’t go there because you’re hungry. But if you’re looking for some good old comfort food, you’re certainly in good hands here.

The scones are very good and taste home made. What’s more, they actually have real clotted cream instead of whipped cream, which you tend to find very often on the continent.

Or you could also go with their pancakes In Choc, which is a dish of two pancakes with home made chocolate sauce and blueberries. So it‘s actually quite healthy, really…

Le Botaniste, Ghent

Le Botaniste is a small restaurant that serves only vegetable-based organic dishes. It’s located on a side street close to the canal. The service is nothing to write home about, it’s bascially self-service, but the staff are helpful and friendly. What I rather like about this place is that despite the fact that it’s all organic and vegetarian, it does not have the look and feel of a tree-huggers’ hangout. It’s just a normal restaurant where you can get decent, reasonably priced food without meat.

Restaurant LOF, Ghent

Introduction

The LOF is the main restaurant of the Grand Hotel Reylof on Hoogstraat in Ghent. It’s about ten minutes on foot from the centre of the old town. The restaurant offers a set menu with either seven, six or five courses and there is also a vegan option. The staff are very friendly and helpful, and it’s easy to swap one dish for another if there’s anything on the menu you’re not keen on. The sommelier will also put together a wine pairing for you for each dish.

Reservations are very much advised!

Amuse bouche

Parsnip with butternut cream, tomato and crispy baked kernels of rice.

Macron of blue cheese with ponzu gel & kroepuk with nori, red onion and wasabi mayo.

Multigrain bread with beurre noisette and onion crumble.

First course

Wild salmon marinated in red beet, with hoseradish cream and ponzu oil.

Second course

Scallop ceviche with parmesan cream and a kafir lime & passion fruit jelly.

Third course

Saitan on cauliflower cream and scorzonera, with vegan broth.

Fourth course

Monkfish with carrot, shallot and leek with an anchovy mayo.

Main course

Dorade with dashi espuma and topinabur.

To cleanse the palate

Gingerbread sorbet with citrus yoghurt and salted caramel.

Dessert

Jasime, verbena & green tea ice cream with lychee parfait and pear.

Tea

Selection of home made sweets.

Mint infusion.

Conclusion

I very much enjoyed my meal at the LOF. All of the dishes were nicely balanced and the mix of flavours was intriguing and surprising. The only dish I thought was just okay was the saitan, but that’s hardly surprsing given that saitan doesn’t really have much of an own flavour. All the dishes were nicely presented.

I thought the staff at the restaurant were excellent. They were all very friendly and relaxed, but not sloppy. As a result, the meal was nicely paced and did not feel at all rushed. The atmosphere was cosy and laid back. The saitan and dorade dishes were not on the original menu. I just asked if there would be other options because I’m not too keen on fowl and poultry. The staff were really great with my request and were happy to accommodate changes to the menu.

Ghent has some really excellent restaurants. It’s quite difficult, I think, to eat badly in this town. Even so, LOF certainly sticks out for the quality and creativity of its dishes and the friendliness of its staff. Next time I’m in Ghent I’m certainly going to make sure I make time for another visit!

Ghent

Ghent is the third largest city in Belgium and the main city of the East Flandres province. Much of the city’s medieval centre is still intact and has been meticulously restored.

Ghent is a lovely city that’s easy to navigate and that has a lot to see. There are coffee shops, tea houses and privately owned chocolatiers on every corner. At night most of the buildings in the historic centre are beautifully illuminated, and I can highly recommend a night-time stroll through the old cobbled streets – preferably a bit later in the evening, when the crowds have started to thin out.

Getting there

Ghent is easily accessible by public transport. There are several trains an hour that make the journey from Bruxelles Midi to Ghent nonstop in just 28 minutes. Just a word of caution though: Ghent is on the mainline to Ostend, which is Belgium’s main coastal resort. As a result, at the weekends – and especially if the weahter’s good – the trains heading up to the coast tend to be amazingly full, as in standing room only. However, if you’re not in a hurry and catch one of the trains that only run as far as Ghent or Brugges, you will find that these tend to be a lot less busy. From Ghent Saint Peter’s station you can then catch the number 1 or 2 tramlines to get to the historic centre, which is a ride of another 15 minutes.

Tickets for the train are best bought through the SNCB app, which is also available in English and shows the timetable as well as expected delays on the network. For public transport there’s the De Lijn app. In both cases you need to create an account. Tickets bought on the De Lijn app for busses and trams are valid for one year from the date of purchase. Before you board, you need to activate your ticket. Once it is activated, you have one hour before it expires.

The Pullman Hotel at Bruxelles Midi

Introduction

The Pullman Hotel Bruxelles Midi belongs to the Accor group of hotels. It is located inside the railway station building at Bruxelles Midi. There is a direct access to the hotel from the railway station.

Reception

The reception area is kept in white and cream, which makes it seem very bright. During my stay two of the reception desks are permanently attended and the staff are friendly and very efficient. That is one of the things I really like about the Accor hotels. The check-in is always very efficient. Sometimes, you get to a hotel and it takes them an eternity to check you in, even though you’ve supposedly already given them all your data at the time of booking.

Of course, it also helps that with my status I can pretty much count on an upgrade everytime I stay at one of the Accor hotels.

Superior room with city view

I’ve been upgraded to a superior room with city view, which is slightly larger than the standard room. The white and cream colours continue in the room, which is quite daring. I’m guessing it must take a lot of work to keep it looking clean. But they pull it off. The room is clean and looks well maintained.

The main difference to a classic room is that there is a larger sitting area – which I promptly take advantage of to spread my mess…

Amenities

The room is equipped with an electric water kettle and a Nespresso machine with four capsules. Cream and sugar are also provided. In addition, there is a bottle of complimentary still and sparkling water in the fridge.

Welcome gift

On the small club table there’s also a small box with hand sanitizer and santizing towels and a box with four Belgian chocolates. Basically, it’s a ginger cookie with a white cream piled up on top of it and then smothered in chocolate. They’re good, but very rich.

Lavatory & shower

The lavatory and shower are separate. There’s no bath, but a nice walk-in shower with good pressure and reliable temperature control. And, you don’t end up flooding the whole room trying to have a shower. The amenities are by Biggleow’s.

Bed

The king bed is large and comfortable. I prefer a firm matress to support my back, which is not something you get very often in a hotel. This one is adequate though.

Bar & restaurant

A bar and restaurant are located on the first floor, which is also where breakfast is served. The breakfast is a buffet with hot and cold dishes, but there is also the option to have hot dishes made to order. The breakfast is fine, but nothing to write home about.

Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – Airbus A 321 NEO: Zürich to Brussels

Introduction

I‘m on my way to Belgium. Before the pandemic, Brussels Airlines operated two daily flights between Basel and Brussels on weekdays. Alas, the route has been discontinued. My other option from Basel would have been Easyjet, but they were already sold out. There currently aren‘t any direct trains from Basel to Brussels anymore. I then decided to book a ticket on the TGV & Thalys via Paris. But then two days before departure, a private matter meant I would not be able to take the train. So eventually I booked a ticket on SWISS. Fortunately, they still had fairly competitive prices available, even at such short notice.

This post begins with me arriving at Zürich airport by train at 16h44 for my 18h15 departure to Brussels.

Check-in

Check-in 3 marks the area above the airport’s railway station. SWISS recently introduced new, fully automated check-in machines there. The process is swift. A SWISS representative scans my electronic boarding pass and prints the baggage tag for my flight. She puts the tag on my suitcase and instructs me to proceed to the drop-off machine.

I dump by bag on the belt just as another SWISS rep hurries by to help me. The staff are all very friendly. All in all though, I couldn’t really say if the process is any good or how easy it is to operate, because the staff basically take care of everything for me.

Next, I head over to Terminal A and the security checkpoint. The airport seems very quiet.

There are two separate entrances for security, one for Economy Class passengers and another for First and Business Class passengers.

Boarding

Security is quickly done. By the time I’m through, it’s already 17h30. I only have twenty minutes or so before boarding begins. These days I usually can’t be bothered with the lounges, so I head straight for gate A 63 to see if I can catch a glimpse of the aircraft taking me to Brussels this evening.

This is my first flight on an A 321 NEO, which SWISS keeps in a very high density configuration of 215 seats. Subsequently, it takes an eternity for the flight to board. I’m seated on 31 all the way in the back of the bus.

Apart from the massive engines, the A 321 Neo is easily distinguished from the the CEO version by the configuration of the doors. The A 321 CEO has two doors forward of the wing, no overwing exits and one door at the rear, whereas the A 321 NEO only has one door in the front, two overwing hatches and two doors behind the wing.

The cabin

The A 321 NEO is a very long aircraft. In the SWISS configuration in Economy Class there is one lavatory in the rear of the aircraft and one right by the R2 exit. The finish of the cabin is nice, and the brown seats give the cabin a nice warm feel. There is a hook for a jacket at every seat.

The seat pitch is okay as long as you’re sitting fully upright. Even so, I’m wondering just where you’re supposed to put your legs if you have a thick winter jacket with you. The flight time to Brussels is 55 minutes, which is fine. However, from what I gather on flightradar, after its return from Brussels this aircraft was scheduled to operate the red-eye to Tel Aviv, which has a block time of 3 hours and 50 minutes. And that, I don’t think I would want to try out on this bird.

Among the other noteworthy features of this aircraft, it has video screens throughout the cabin. On the downside, from row nine on, the seats cannot be reclined. One the one hand, I’m guessing this a cost-saving measure to reduce maintenance on the seats. On the other hand, given the tight pitch it’s probably not a bad idea…

Whatever, I just like sitting behind the wing for a change and being able to watch the flaps moving during take-off and landing.

The crew

There are six cabin crew. They’re all female and their interaction with the crew is rather limited. One of them has this haunted look on her face. She’s standing in the cabin during boarding, but doesn’t bother to say a word of greeting to passengers as they file past her. I say Grüezi to her in my best Baseldüütsch, but don’t get a reply. Later on when we deplane, I take the initiative again and say Adieu. Nothing. I suspect that perhaps the problem is not just a lack of manners but also a lack of language skills. But it’s still awkward.

A while back SWISS announced that they would stop using binary salutations and terms of address, such as Ladies & Gentlemen, and would be replacing them with gender-neutral formulations. I salute SWISS for their initiative and the fact that the crew on this flight are really very disciplined about it. On the other hand, I must admit that it does sound a bit weird. The crew either address passengers with Dear guests, or they do not use an address term at all, which is a bit strange. I guess it’ll just take getting used to.

I must say I’m quite impressed with the NEO’s performance. The take-off is powerful and you can really feel the acceleration.

The meal service

The meal service consists of a complimentary bottle of SWISS’ iconic (sic.) still water and a piece of Swiss chocolate. More substantial meals can be bought on board or pre-ordered online. For its buy on board service, SWISS has teamed up with Sprüngli. I’m not quite sure what to make of this though, because Sprüngli tends to be rather pricey. So if they’re trying to attract the price-sensitive Economy Class customer, I’m not sure Sprüngli is the way to go. Just as an example, you can buy a tub of Birchermüsli (200 gramms) for CHF7.50.

Arrival

Only 25 minutes after we take-off from Zürich, we’re already starting our descent into Brussels. It’s a lovely day in Belgium, with a ground temperature of 20 degrees celsius.

The airport is quite busy, no doubt with EU diplomats heading home for the weekend. It’s quite a treck from the arrival gate to baggage claim. On a positive note though, this means that by the time I reach the luggage belt for the flight from Zürich, my suitcase is just coming around the corner.

Getting into town

Like Zürich, Brussels airpot has a railway station located in the basement of the terminal. There are frequent trains from the airport into town, most of which will stop at the three main stations in Nord, Centraal and Midi. A one-way ticket costs EUR2.60 and there is an airport supplement of EUR5.70. The journey to Midi take about 20 minutes.

Conclusion

All things considered, this flight was pleasant enough. It was on time and they delivered me to Brussels safely, which is the main thing. I rather liked the A 321 NEO though, it felt solid. The finish of the cabin was rather elegant. On the downside, I think I would really think twice about getting on one of them again in Economy Class – especially on a longer journey. The pitch was really not comfortable.

The crew and service were decidely nondescript. It’s probably hard to convey Swissness when most of the crew are very obviously not Swiss.

Afternoon tea at The Villa Augustus

The Villa Augustus is a hotel and restaurant located on the fringe of Dordrecht city centre. The buildings are beautifully set in a lush garden that runs all the way down to the water’s edge.

This is the building housing the restaurant & bakery
And this is the main building of the hotel.

The garden is just so nice and quiet. It still a bit early in the year this time around. Even so, some of the tulips are already showing off the brilliant colours.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that the flowers were not the main reason for my visit. The Villa Augustus does a lovely afternoon tea.

First tier: canapés with smoked salmon, crème fraîche, and pesto; and spinach quiche.
Second tier: polenta cake, carrot cake and chocolate cake.
Third tier: scones (without raisins) with real clotted cream and an unidentifiable but excellent jam.

The afternoon tea at the Villa Augustus is completely unpretentious and feels very comfortable. The staff are all very friendly and drop by regularly to top up my pot of tea. To drink I have a pot of their house blend of Early Grey tea, and it really is very good.

Kinderdijk

Kinderdijk gets its name from a legend dating back to the St. Elizabeth floods of 1421, in which a basket was swept ashore containing a small baby and a cat that had both remained unharmed. Today, Kinderdijk is a large open air museum close to the city of Dordrecht. It houses a series of restored windmills that were originally built as part of an elaborate water system aimed at managing and draining the wetlands.

Getting to Kinderdijk

From Rotterdam, Kinderdijk is only about 25 minutes by car. It is not possible to access the museum directly by car. So your GPS will likely navigate you to the visitor centre with its large car park. From there a shuttle bus runs to the actual museum every fifteen minutes. Or you could rent a bike and ride along the river. From the visitor centre it’s only about five kilometres by bike along a very scenic route.

Where to get your tickets

The visitor centre is also where you get your tickets to enter the Kinderdijk. Alternatively, you can also purchase your ticket and access to the parking online. The parking tickets includes the use of the shuttle or bike rental.

Review

I visited Kinderdijk at the end of April 2022, and althought there were quite a few people around, the place did not seem overly crowded. The bike ride was good fun. The place really is flat as a pancake, so you easily get by with just the one gear on the bike. Having a bike is also useful for getting around the museum, as it sprawls over quite a vast area. Other than that, it was a lovely day when I visited. The flatness of the Netherlands allows you glimpses of these really big skies that you rarely get in a place as hilly or mountainous as Switzerland.