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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

Air France, Business Class – Embraer 190: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Basel

Transfer in Paris Charles de Gaulle

My driver picks me up at the L2 door as I exit the mighty Boeing B 777-300 that has just brought me to Paris from Dubai. We descend to ground level and exit onto the apron. She opens the door for me to take a seat and then takes my bag and puts it in the booth. It’s just a short ride to the La Première lounge. Once we arrive at the lounge, I go through security and passport control.

We then go up to the main level and my driver wishes me a nice stay and tells me she’ll be back to pick me up at 08h40. The lounge is still quiet at this time of day. That is, until two Chinese gentlemen enter and start making phone calls. Apparently the reception is not so good, because it sounds like they’ve decided to shout whatever it is they want to discuss all the way to China instead of using the good old-fashioned phone. I think I’ll just go take a shower first…

The showers in the lounge are large and spacious. They’re basically fully equipped bathrooms and come with slippers, fluffy towels and a bathrobe.

By the time I’m done with the shower, there’s only me left in the lounge. It’s peaceful again. First, I ask for a cappuccino and a fresh orange juice.

Followed by Viennoiserie, still water and hot cocoa.

Boarding

At 08h40 my driver comes to collect me. My aircraft is parked on a remote stand at Terminal 2G. The terminal is currently closed, but the stands are still being used.

The busses with the other passengers are right behind our car. There’s a bit of a delay to let passengers onto the aircraft. Apparently, the purser is arriving off a flight from Turin which landed with a bit of a delay.

When eventually they give us the thumbs up, my driver comes to open the door for me and hands me my luggage. Funnily enough, I notice some of the passengers in the first bus taking photos of me and the car – probably just in case I turn our to be somebody famous. Don’t bother, it’s only me.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class for a total of eight passengers, seeing as KLM and Air France do not block the adjacent seat on the regional jets. But there are only three passengers anyway in Business Class this morning, so we still all get a row to ourselves.

Seat pitch on row 1 is excellent!

The service

There’s a further delay loading the suitcases onto the aircraft due to a shortage of rampers caused by Omicron. While we wait, the purser hands us a bottle of still water and a packaged refreshing towel.

We push off our stand with a delay of 35 minutes. However, with a flight time of only 45 minutes this morning we’ll only be about 15 minutes late arriving in Basel.

The cabin crew inform us that due to the Covid restrictions imposed by the French government, there will be no service on today’s flight.

The meal

Much to my surprise though, as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off, the cabin crew passes through the Business Class cabin asking passengers if there’s anything we’d like. I ask for a chocolat chaud, which she serves me with two buttery biscuits.

I have no idea if this the regular domestic Business Class service, or if this is also the result of the Covid measures.

Arrival

The weather en route is lovely, with good ground visibility. It’s a beautiful sunny day – until we reach les Vosges. The Rhine valley sits in a depression between Les Vosges in the west, the Schwarzwald in the east and the Jura in the south, making it susceptible to dense and often very persistent fog. Just like today.

The captain instructs passengers to completely turn off their mobile phones in preparation for an automatic landing.

And it really is bad. The ground only comes into view seconds before we touch down. The view reminds me a bit of that film ‘The Others’ with Nicole Kidman. There’s this scene when her dead husband returns from war and she meets him out in the forest… it’s that kind of low visibility.

The nice thing about arriving in Basel with Air France is that you can save yourself the aggravation of having to queue endlessly to enter France and then Switzerland.

Instead, we end up waiting forty minutes for the first bags to finally arrive on the belt. Here too the handlers are having to deal with a staff shortage caused by Omicron. But these things happen. I wish all those affected a swift and full recovery and no lasting effects.

As of 15 January 2022 persons entering Switzerland by air must complete an entry form online within 48 hours prior to their arrival. They also need to show a negative PCR test that was taken no more than 72 hours prior to the start of their journey, even if they are fully vaccinated and boosted.

Before customs and the exit to Switzerland the airport authority has set up a checkpoint for passengers entering Switzerland with this large queueing system. There are signs everywhere asking passengers to get their QR code and negative test result ready for inspection. Only… there’s nobody there and I just walk through.

God, I’m glad to be back home again!

Conclusion

This brings to an end the first two weeks of 2022 and my first bout of travel for this year. As I mentioned in one of the previous posts, it’s been interesting to see how the authorities in different countries are trying to handle the pandemic and the population. I think the measures in place say a lot about a society and its culture. Having said that, I’m not going to discuss what I think it says about Norway that they think not selling alcohol is an appropriate measure to combat the spreading of Covid 19…

Travelling in times of Covid 19 is tedious, a nuisance, and expensive. There is also an apparent lack of harmonization between countries that makes it difficult to prepare. In 2022 I think there is no longer such a thing as an seasoned traveller, because the rules keep changing. However, this trip also made me realise that many of the rules have probably not been put in place because they are, in and of themselves, considered effective measures to combat the spreading of the virus. My arrival in Basel is just one of many examples of that. I got a PCR test done in Dubai before I left and I registered online within 48 hours of arrival – even though the evidence suggests that the authorities couldn’t even be bothered to have somebody man the checkpoint at the airport to make sure. It seems to me, therefore, that the only real point of many of these measures is simply to deter people from travelling.

I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it. There is only one effective way out of this pandemic: you need to get vaccinated and you need to get your booster. It is your civil and moral obligation, and everything else is just selfishness. It’s unlikely that we’re going to eradicate Covid completely, so we might as well start getting used to living with it.

In terms of airlines, on this trip I flew with KLM, SAS/Air Baltic and Air France. KLM’s short-haul Business Class product on the mainline fleet was a disappointment. It has been stripped down to the absolute minimum. It’s basically the same service you get on the Cityhopper flights. But while the latter tend to be fairly short runs, the mainline routes can be fairly long.

SAS was a major source of overall suckage. They’re currently transitioning into something of a virtual airline, and frankly, it hasn’t done them a world of good. Their frumpy staff and the fact that they only appear to cater unhealthy and unappealing food options did not exactly give me the warm and fuzzies. It’s kind of tragic that I consider myself lucky that the flight from Oslo to Paris with SAS was actually not operated by them! And Air France were simply brilliant. Not only did they manage to meet my expectations from previous experiences with their La Première product, they even succeeded in surpassing them! Flying is quite a hassle with Covid 19, but Air France’s impeccable premium service reduced that hassle to the absolute minimum.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Dubai to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

I’m finally on my way home. These were two very long weeks, and although it was nice to be back up in the air again, I can’t really say that I was able to fully relax and enjoy the trip with Omicron looming in the background. It’s been interesting to see though how the authorities in different countries are trying to manage the population and the pandemic. In Dubai, the government is clearly trying to convey the impression that things are back to business as usual. There are only few measures in place. However, the many Emirates A 380s parked up for long term storage at Al-Maktoum airport are a sad reminder of the fact that things are still far, far off from being normal.

Getting to the airport

My Air France flight back to Paris departs at 01h30. There is also a daytime departure with Air France from Dubai. However, that service does not have a La Première cabin, as it is operated by a Boeing B 787-9.

In Dubai I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Al-Barsha, which is very near the Mall of the Emirates. I stayed here because the Al-Barsha district is still within close range to shops and restaurants, but still closest to the Emirates Flight Training Academy, where the course I was giving took place.

The Blacklane car to the airport arrives to pick me up at 22h45. I have no idea what type of car it is exactly. All I know is that it’s a Tesla with doors that open upwards, which make it look quite a lot like the Batmobile. The journey from Al-Barsha to the airport takes about 25 minutes on a Friday night, depending on the level of insanity and/or suicidal tendencies of the driver. Luckily, my guy appears to be a level-headed, mild mannered and well-formed personality, if his very civilized style of driving is anything to go by.

Check-in

Most of the European carriers operate out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. Air France and KLM check-in on row 1. While the airport is quite busy, it’s still a far cry from the chaos there used to be at the terminal in the old days.

There’s a long queue for check-in, as the KLM flight to Amsterdam and the Air France flight to Paris are checking in at the same time. The La Première counters are cordoned off. I approach one of the DNATA agents that handle check-in on row 1 and tell her that I’m checking in for Paris. She escorts me past the long queue and opens up the La Première lane for me. She checks my documents and calls for a rep from Merhaba to escort me through passport control and security to the lounge.

There is no dedicated lane for First Class passengers at passport control or security, which is slightly awkward because it means that the Merhaba rep’s main purpose is to push me ahead of the queues.

Al-Ahlan First Class lounge

Behind security we catch a train to the D concourse, which is where the gates and all the lounges are located. There is a SkyTeam lounge here too, which is rather nice. However, for First Class passengers Air France uses the Al-Ahlan lounge instead, which is not so nice but very quiet. When I arrive at the lounge, there’s only me. A while later, the other two passengers in La Première arrive, and that’s it.

The lounge has all the basic amenities, including showers. Spa treatments are also available in the lounge. However, they are not complimentary. There are plenty of food options in the lounge. But considering how quiet the lounge is, it’s difficult to say just how long the food has been standing around on the buffet.

So instead I just order a Laksa from the menu.

Boarding

At 00h45 another Merhaba rep comes to pick all three of us up to escort us to gate D20, where boarding is already in progress. Shen then vanishes rather unceremoniously.

The airbridge to the L1 door is cordoned off, but there’s a gentleman standing by the entrance whose is to let through the passengers in the First Class cabin. At the L1 door I am greeted by three flight attendants. They welcome me aboard and one of them shows me to my seat and helps me settle it.

The cabin

A glass and a small bottle of Evian are already at my seat, together with the menu for the flight, a Covid kit and a packaged refreshing towel.

The cabin crew then bring me the pjs and the vanity kit.

The crew

The purser, the flight attendant working the La Première cabin and then the captain come to introduce themselves to me. The captain informs me that the flight time to Paris should be exactly seven hours. The flight attendant asks me if I’ll be having dinner, which I decline. Instead, I ask her to make up my bed once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off.

After take-off, I head for the toilet to change. When I return to my seat, the flight attendant has just finished preparing the bedding for me and has closed the curtains. She takes my clothes to hang them up, draws the curtain for me to get into bed and wishes me bonne nuit.

As a side note, I request the XL pjs and they’re very big. I’m six foot tall and they’re loose and very baggy on me.

The meal

Much to my own surprise, I manage five whole hours of deep and comfortable slumber. I awake just under ninety minutes out of Paris and decide to change back into my clothes straight away. As soon as the flight attendant spots me, she wishes me a good morning and inquires if she should remove the bedding and start preparing breakfast for me.

First, she brings me a new glass and a fresh bottle of Evian.

Followed by a bowl of fruit, a bowl of plain yoghurt, a packet of granola, butter and two small jars of strawberry and apricot jam.

Next she brings a glass of fresh orange juice and an expresso.

For the main dish, I go with the banana pancakes served with baked banana, maple sirup and jam.

And finally, she also brings me a brioche and a roll from the breadbasket. The breakfast service is extensive, filling and very tasty.

Arrival

Just as the crew start clearing away my table, the mighty B777 dips its nose and we start a shallow descent into Paris. The crew start preparing the cabin for our arrival. The purser and the La Première flight attendant come to say goodbye and thank me for flying with them. I find it interesting that both of them explicitly mention that they appreciate me having chosen La Première again.

We land just before six in the morning and slowly taxi to our stand at Terminal 2E. We do not taxi all the way to the stand. We stop adjacent to it and then shut down the engines while a tug tow us the last few metres onto the stand. Behind the airbridge I can already see my ride back to the La Première lounge.

I now have three hours to make my connection.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Dubai

Introduction

It’s Saturday morning and I’m on my way to Dubai to give the next course. In Paris I stayed at the Roissypole Pullmann hotel, which is just a few metres from the entrance to the station. I exit the hotel just before 10h in the morning to make my way to Terminal 2.

I like the rather brutalist concrete architecture of the station. Although I think the effect would be much better if it weren’t littered with vending machines and just the big, empty hall.

The Roissyval only takes about five minutes to make the journey to Terminal 2 and passengers are obviously making the effort to keep their distance on the train.

Terminal 2 is the home of Air France and some of its partners. Terminal 2F is for Schengen flights, whereas I shall be leaving from Terminal 2E.

Check-in

The La Première check-in area is at the far end of the terminal. There is an Air France agent standing at the entrance. And so the La Première experience begins. I show him my passport and he smiles at me: “Mr. A., bonjour. We’ve been expecting you. Take a seat and let me take care of everything”. And he does. Paul calls over a porter to take my suitcase, while Michelle brings me a glass of Perrier to drink.

He checks my vaccination status and the negative PCR test I took in Oslo. With that out of the way, he returns my passport and tells me to take my time with the Perrier. Michelle will be back to escort me through the terminal in a few minutes.

Michelle is a charming woman with excellent conversational skills. She takes me through security, stopping other passengers for me to pass ahead of them and she will not even let me pull out the trays myself for me to put me belongings on the belt.

Behind security she brings me to a lift which takes us up into the La Première lounge.

Air France La Première lounge, Terminal 2E

Michelle asks me if perhaps I would like some breakfast. She makes sure I’m settled at my dining table and tells me she’ll be back in a few minutes with my boarding pass and passport.

Meanwhile, a friendly young man brings me the menu and takes my request for freshly pressed orange juice.

I just love the little sea horse, which Air France staff apparently refer to as ‘la crevette’ – the shrimp.

The selection on the menu is very good. I order the scrambled eggs with confit onions. The young man asks me if I prefer my eggs soft or well done.

I also order the plate of French cheese with mustard seed chutney.

And some fresh fruit salad as my saving grace.

And a lovely cappuccino.

There is also a buffet with small snacks to choose from. However, I decide to show at least some restraint in light of what lies ahead.

Once I’m done with the meal, I take a seat on one of the comfy sofas and read until it’s time to leave. Michelle will be back to pick me up at 12h50 for my 13h30 departure.

Boarding

Just before 13h00 Michelle arrives to bring me to the aircraft. There’s a slight delay because of an issue with the L1 door. I am driven to the aircraft in my own car. I think it’s a BMW. But beyond that, I couldn’t say what type of car it is. But it’s certainly a very smooth and powerful ride.

It’s raining quite heavily when we reach our stand. Michelle gets out of the car, takes the umbrella out of the booth and opens the door for me, to prevent me from getting wet.

I manage to sneak one picture of the mighty B777 taking me to Dubai today. And then from there we take a lift to the airbridge.

There are four flight attendants standing by the L2 door as I enter and they greet me like they’re genuinely happy to see me. Michelle introduces me by name to the purser, who welcomes me aboard. She then escorts me to my seat, where she informs me that she has checked again that my suitcase has been loaded on to the flight. With that, she bids me good bye and wishes me a pleasant flight. Merci Madame, vous êtes très aimable!

The La Première cabin

There are four seats in the First Class cabin, and a young couple will be joining me on the way to Dubai. So, three out of four seats are occupied on today’s flight. The cabin and the seat are very well designed and offer a lot of storage space. The cabin also looks very elegant.

There’s a comfortable ottoman to rest your feet on, or use if you would like one of the other passengers to join you for dinner. Beneath the ottoman is a large drawer which contains a red blanket and the slippers.

Amenities

When I arrive at my seat, there is a soft pillow on it which provides good lumbar support. There’s also a blanket, shoe spoon and slippers in the ottoman.

In short succession, the crew come to introduce themselves and hand me the vanity kit…

… and pjs. The flight attendant very diplomatically asks which size I take, which is a nice gesture, I think.

I’m also handed a Covid kit, and the flight attendant recommends I frequently wash my hands and change my mask after four hours. I also notice the whole crew regularly disinfecting their hands throughout the flight.

I’m also brought a glass of the Veuve Clicquot 2008 Grand Dame with a hot towel and a packet of mixed cranberries and cashews.

Meanwhile, the weather outside is getting worse and worse.

Once we’re airborne though, we’re treated to some spectacular views and the horrible weather in Paris quickly clears up to reveal a snowy European landscape.

The meal service

The meal service in La Première is always a delight. And this flight is no different. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew distribute the menus and take orders for the meal.

The table is set and once again, I am struck by the attention to detail by the crew. They set the table always making sure that the flying sea horse is looking the right way up.

The side plate has both salted and unsalted butter on it.

Appetizer: Caviar quenelle with a vodka and lime whipped cream

In preparation for the first course, the crew pass through the cabin with a bread basket containing a nice selection of breads and rolls.

Soup: porcini mushroom cream

The soup is excellent. It is served very hot, and has a rich flavour to go with the velvety texture.

Starter: Oyster mushrooms with honey and Melfor vinegar served with cheese, beet hummus, sunchoke purée and crushed pumkin with orange

Now this dish is spectacular. The combination of flavours is just divine and so subtle. I also love the presentation.

Main course: Langoustines served with scallops filled with truffles and a reduction with julienne vegetables

The main course is simply outstanding. The truffles go exceptionally well with the scallops and the reduction complements the delicate flavour of the langoustines perfectly. I am completely smitten by this dish.

Mixed salad with boiled egg

Air France has a wide selection of sides that can be added to the salad. However, by this stage I think it’s wisest to keep it simple. The salad is served with a olive oil and balsamico dressing.

The cheese: Bleu d’auvergne, Camembert, Cantal, Crottin de Chavignole & Maroilles

With the cheese I have a lovely class of Sauternes. I also ask the flight attendant to really just give me a taster of each cheese. The dish is served with more bread and the selection is excellent. But way too much for one person after such an epic meal. And there is still dessert, after all…

Dessert: hazelnut ice cream & a verbena chocolate finger

By this stage I’m already quite full. But I must keep going in the name of investigative blogging. At least that’s my excuse. The hazelnut ice cream is excellent and reminds me of my childhood in Malta. Back then, dessert in restaurants was either chocolate or hazelnut ice cream.

The chocolate finger is amazing, with a delicate hint of the verbena. But it’s so rich I can hardly finish it.

And to calm the stomach after such an excellent meal, I have some mint tea.

After the meal, the crew quickly clear everything away and ask me if I’d like them to make up the bed. I tell them I won’t be needing a duvet and just ask the curtains to be drawn. One of the flight attendants brings me two nice fluffy pillows and wishes me bon repos. The meal is completed in about two hours and thirty minutes.

Arrival

We land in Dubai with a slight delay after a flight time of six hours and fifteen minutes. The airport is calm and the terminal quiet. The First Class flight attendant asks me to follow her to the L2 door to disembark, as the L1 door is still inop. At the door she and three other flight attendants thank me for choosing Air France and then hand me over to the Merhaba agent who escorts me through immigration, baggage claim and eventually drops me off in front of my ride to the hotel.

Conclusion

This was another highly enjoyable flight with Air France. I booked the trip with them because I wanted to avoid the hassle of travelling in times Covid. However, I also wondered if the flight with Air France would be able to live up to my previous experiences with their Le Première product. If anything, I think this flight may have been even better than the last. The processes on the ground are seamless and really take away all the hassle of air travel. What’s more, the staff on the ground and in the air are all just so nice and friendly. Everyone seems genuniely concerned with making the experience a pleasurable one. It’s little things, like the fact that they very purposefully announce every dish as they place it in front of you and give you detailed explanations of what’s on the plate. Or the fact that one flight attendant brought me two big pillows when she realised I just needed a cat nap. As far as I’m concerned, Air France has to have – hands down – the best First Class product currently in the business.

SAS, Business Class (operated by Air Baltic) – Airbus A 220-300: Oslo to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

Today I’m on my way from Oslo to Paris. I exit the hotel just after six in the morning and make my way across the road to the terminal.

Departures are on the upper floor of the building. The check-in hall is an enormous, cavernous space. At six in the morning the place is not very busy.

I print my own baggage tag at one of the multi-purpose self-service machines and then head over to the Star Alliance Business Class drop-off. Behind check-in is a long corridor that leads to the security checkpoint. Along the way, I stop at the Dr. Dropin test facility to get the mandatory PCR test out of the way.

There is a dedicated fast track for Business Class passengers and the process is swift. OnceI’m airside, I’m still in the domestic part of the terminal. The border crossing to leave the country is to the right.

The SAS Gold lounge

SAS has a lounge in both the domestic and international part of the terminal. They are both one floor up from the common airside area.

Business is obviously still slow, because the Business Class lounge is closed off and not in service. Instead, all passengers are invited to use the Star Gold lounge.

There are plenty of seating options, and the lounge is nearly empty during my stay.

There is a nice selection of cold breakfast dishes available from the buffet. Just a word of warning though. Coffee is generally dreadful in Norway, and the SAS Gold lounge is no exception.

The terminal is very generously laid out, with lots of space and enough place to sit.

Boarding

Our departure is scheduled for 07h55, with boarding supposedly starting at 07h25. Eventually we start boarding at 07h40, which is no big deal, because there are only 32 passengers on the flight.

The cabin

The flight today is operated by a wetlease from Air Baltic with one of their Airbus A 220s. The aircraft is a stark contrast to the old and tatty looking B 737-700 I flew into Oslo on yesterday.

The A 220 really is such such a lovely aircraft from a passenger’s perspective. It’s spacious and so quiet. Of course it helps that the flight is not even half full. Air Baltic only has a row 1 on the starboard side of the aircraft, as the opposite side of the cabin is occupied by storage space. Thus, on the port side, row 2 is the first row of the cabin.

In the middle of the row of three there is a large, removable table, which is very convenient.

Leg space on row 1 is good.

Once we move off stand, our first stop is the de-icing station. It’s an interesting operation they have going on here. They are de-icing six aircraft at a time, and the process only takes a few minutes to complete.

Once we’re airborne, we’re treated to some spectacular views of the vibrant sky.

The crew

The crew have also been leased in from Air Baltic and they’re a lot more engaging than the SAS crew I had yesterday. They take their job seriously and tend to passengers’ needs in a charming and old-fashioned way.

The meal

Okay, this really is abissmal. Shame on you SAS! The flight attendant enters the cabin and inquires if there’s anything I’d like. I request an orange juice and a coffee. Juice is not available, but instead the flight attendant offers me an orange and mango smoothie. And that’s it. She moves on to the next row.

On her way back to the galley I hail her down and shyly inquire if there’s actually anything to eat. To which she replies that they had been informed by SAS that food for passengers was only on request and not actively offered. She tells me she’s happy to bring me something if I like. Then minutes later she’s back with my hot breakfast…

I think not even the Italians have pizza for breakfast, and they invented the bloody thing. But apparently that’s the only ‘dish’ the crew have on offer.

Well that was surprisingly disappointing… With the meal out of the way, I sit back, read, and enjoy the views outside.

Arrival

We land in Paris with a slight delay, caused by the defrosting before departure. The flight ends at terminal 2D. Terminals 1 and 3 at Charles de Gaulle airport are currently still closed.

The wait for the suitcases to arrive is very short. I guess that’s one of the few advantages of the pandemic and the result of there being less travellers.

From terminal 2D I walk to the railway station between terminals 2E and 2F and grab a Roissyval train to Roissy-Pole, which is the airport’s ground transportation hub and the location of all the airport hotels.

Conclusion

What on earth was that? It’s kind of tragic that the only good thing about this flight was that it was not operated by the carriers that should have been doing the flight. If this is seriously SAS’s idea of a European short-haul Business Class product, then I have to say I think it really sucks. Their only saving grace was that the flight was operated by Air Baltic.

I’m definitely not impressed with the two flights I took with SAS on this trip. And I’m certainly going to try to avoid them in the future. Definitely not worth it!

Scandinavian Airlines – Boeing B 737-700: Trondheim to Oslo

Introduction

The city of Trondheim is beautifully located and elegantly laid out. About three hundred years ago, most of the city was gutted by a huge fire which destroyed a large part of the original city. In the aftermath, the city employed the services of a French architect to help with the reconstruction of the city. Hence, its main throughfares are wide and have the look and feel of French boulevards.

Following the unification of Norway, Trondheim became the capital city of the kingdom for a time. Which is why one of the city’s main attractions, the Nidarsdom cathedral, is often also referred to by Norwegians as the heart of Norway.

When I visited in January, dawn was not until eight in the morning, and by 15h30 it was already pitch dark again. I would like to return to Trondheim some day in the summer, when it’s not so cold and not so dark…

Where to stay

In Trondheim I’m staying at the Radisson Blu Trondheim airport, because that’s also the location of the course I’m giving. Of course, staying in town would have been nicer. But it’s a 38 minutes commute from the city out to the airport.

The Radisson Blue is literally right next to the passenger terminal. A walkway connects the hotel to the airport at ground level, which brings you straight to arrivals.

Check-in

Check-in and departures are loctaed one floor up from arrivals, on the first floor.

Alas, the SAS app really is complete and utter crap. Nothing works, it’s unreliable, user unfriendly and completely lacking in any useful information. My flight is scheduled to depart Trondheim at 19h15. But the link on my lock screen is showing a departure time of 19h55.

It’s only just gone 17h05. I’m early. So I contact the SAS service desk and inquire about the reason for the delay, and if perhaps there might be a possibility for me to take an earlier flight to Oslo. I’m not holding my breath though, because the ticketing agent looks like a very unhappy bunny. In fact, she doesn’t even bother to answer. Which is why I’m even more surprised when eventually she grunts something I cannot decipher and hands me a boarding pass for the flight at 17h45. “Suitcase” is the only thing she says to me, which I take to mean that she wants me to put my luggage on the belt for her to label it. Brilliant, boarding starts in 15 minutes.

I’m not sure if it’s due to Covid or just the fact that we’re still only in the first week of January, but the airport is really not very busy at all.

There’s even a fast track for security, although it hardly seems worth the effort at such a small airport.

There is no lounge at Trondheim airport. Most of the regional airports in Norway don’t seem to have a lounge.

Just as I arrive at my departure gate, the inbound flight from Oslo is pulling up onto its stand. Today’s flight is operated by a Boeing B 737-700 still in the old livery.

Boarding

Boarding is via electronic gates. First, there is a call for members of the SAS frequent flyer programme to board, followed by a general boarding call for everybody else. The load is very light this evening. I count 32 passengers.

The cabin

I’m not quite sure how they do it, but somehow the cabins always look grimey on the SAS short-haul fleet, and I’m not even sure why. I think it’s partly to do with the lack of colour and the really boring grey everywhere, a lot like Lufthansa. But the aircraft also tend to by rather filthy, and this one is no exception.

Initially, I’m seated on 2F and there’s a guy sitting on 2D. However, once boarding is completed – which doesn’t take long – I switch to 4A and have the whole row to myself.

Every seat comes with its own USB port. Leg space is good on row four.

“All by my seeeeelf, do wanna be all by myseeeeeeelf…”

Once boarding is done, our first stop is the de-icing pad for a little pre-departure defrosting.

The flight time is announced at forty minutes.

The meal

SAS has a rather strange fare and service concept on short-haul flights, which I’m sure is easy to understand if you’re willing to invest the time to investigate. Having said that, I’m not really sure how conducive it is to business for an airline, if your products are obscure and difficult to differentiate. In any case, I don’t know for sure what class I’m travelling in. So let’s just call it the allows-you-to-rebook-to-an-earlier-flight-and-gives-you-free-snacks class. Basically, you can select everything that’s on the buy on board menu and get it for free. I have a small bottle of apple juice.

And some salty roasted cashews.

Arrival in Oslo

We land in Oslo on time and taxi to our stand at the domestic pier. The weather is much betterthis time around than when I first arrived in Norway.

My suitcase is surprisingly quick to arrive. Tonight I’m staying at the Radisson Blu Oslo airport. As you exit from baggage claim, turn right and head for the exit. Keep on going, cross the road and then you’re already standing in front of the passage way that leads to the hotel.

Conclusion

Usually I have at least a short section on the crew of the flight in my posts. However, in this case, I really wouldn’t know what to say. They were all friendly enough, but otherwise not really outstanding. Perhaps the flight just wasn’t long enough. Perhaps one should also factor in that in Norway, flying literally is a lot like getting on a bus. However, I cannot help feel that SAS is heading for some serious issues. More and more, they have started outsourcing their short-haul operations to other carriers, basically because they are able to operate at a lower cost. In doing so, SAS is seriously putting itself at risk of losing sight of its own identity.

SJ Norge, night train – twin berth sleeper: Oslo airport to Trondheim

Introduction

I arrive in Oslo on a KLM flight at 22h30, after successfully managing to avoid having to spend more than two hours on a tight KLM Embraer 175. The problem is though, that the course I’m giving is scheduled to take place in Trondheim, not Oslo. I guess I could have spent the night at an airport hotel and then taken a flight to Trondheim the next day. But that seemed like a bit of a waste of time and money.

My research revealed that there is a daily night train from Oslo airport to Trondheim. And so, I figured I might as well give it a try.

Booking

Booking for the train can easily be done online or via the Nord app. Once you’ve purchased the ticket, it appears in the app and is automatically activated on the day of departure.

The cabins in the sleeper cars all have twin berths. However, if you’re travelling on your own, the second berth is not sold, so that you have the entire cabin to yourself.

Getting to the station & boarding

As you exit through immigration, make a sharp right turn and keep on walking until the very end of the hall. That will bring you to the railway station for Olso airport.

There’s a lot of snow lying on the ground. I’m in coach 12, which is the last carriage of the train. I pass the time stomping and fooling around with the snow like a little kid.

The cabin

The key card to access your cabin is available in the dining car from the train attendant. The dining car is located in coach 10.

The cabin is nice and cosy. Although I must admit I’m really not quite sure how, or rather where, two fully grown adults are supposed to fit in the narrow cabin. As it is, my suitcase is too big to place under the lower berth, so I just leave it standing in a corner. Which means that it takes up more or less half the space there is to stand.

I use the upper berth to place all my belongings, hand luggage and clothes.

The cabin has not toilet. Those are available at both ends of the carriage. However, there is a small sink with hot and cold water as well as soap.

The ride on the night train is rather pleasant. The rocking motion gently puts me to sleep. The only complaint is that the heating in my cabin is a bit moody. It‘s either stiflingly hot or icy cold.

Arrival in Trondheim

The train arrives in Trondheim at 06h38. Passengers then have until 07h00 to check out of their cabins with their belongings. Which is convenient, because I’d rather not have to stand outside in the cold in -8 degrees.

From the main station I catch a regional train at 07h15, which makes the journey to the airport in 37 minutes. It must be a nice journey along the coast. But it’s winter time up in the north, and sunrise is still far, far off.

Conclusion

My first love will always be aircraft. I can‘t help it, I was born that way. Everytime I hear an airplane, I have to look skywards to see if I can spot in the sky. But I must say, in my old age trains are slowly starting to grow on me. And night trains I find very exotic. They‘re cool and the journey by night train brings back a bit of the sense of adventure I used to associate with travel. As I lay in my berth, I may or may not have squinted my eyes and pretended I was lying in a first class berth on the legendary the Orient Express…

KLM, Business Class – Embraer 175 & Boeing B 737-800: Basel to Amsterdam and Oslo

Introduction

My first flight of 2022 sees me travelling from Basel to Amsterdam on KLM. I’m on my way to Trondheim. Originally, I booked a ticket on KLM for Basel-Amsterdam-Trondheim. But I wasn’t really happy with the itinerary, because both the flight to Amsterdam and then on to Trondheim would be operated by an Embraer 175. I don’t mind the little Embraer on a flight of one hour or so. But the block time for Amsterdam-Trondheim is over two hours, and the KLM Embraer 175 is very uncomfortable on longer journeys.

Then I decided to go to Paris to see Turandot on 30 December 2021 at the Opera de la Bastille. I figured there would be no point in returning to Basel in the evening of 1 January 2022, only to leave again the next morning at the crack of dawn. I was also still frantically looking for an excuse to get me out of having to spend so much time on the Embraer. Which is how I ended up booking a flight from Paris via Amsterdam to Oslo instead. First on an Air France A 320 and then a KLM B 737-800. Much better.

Then one week before I should have left for Paris, I decided to cancel the trip again because of Omicron. I’m double-jabbed and boosted, but I think it’s clear that the only way to get this pandemic under control is if we all show at least some restraint, by trying to keep our distance and avoiding any unnecessary travel. So probably not by spending over two hours in the Opera de la Bastille shoulder to shoulder with a couple of hundred culture vultures. Of course, that then meant that I had to change my ticket from Paris-Amsterdam-Oslo back to Basel-Amsterdam-Oslo… I really have to say, Air France KLM were excellent. No matter how often I called to change/refund me tickets, their staff were always friendly and competent.

Check-in

I’m carting a large suitcase with me on this trip, because I’ll be giving another course after the one in Trondheim. The check-in process at Basel airport is really slow. They’re checking in the flights to Paris and to Amsterdam at the same time. The majority of passengers are non-Schengen nationals heading back home after the holiday via either one or the other of the two hubs. Without a Schengen certificate though, checking that passengers have all the necessary documentation takes up a lot of time.

The Swissport Skyview lounge

The lounge in Basel is open again on both the lower and upper level, although half the upper level has been taped off, presumably to save costs on staff and cleaning. There aren’t that many passengers around either. The food options in the lounge are somewhat limited. There are three questionable hot items to choose from: a platter of rather dry looking samosas, sausages and soup. I don’t try any of them.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts on time and doesn’t take very long, as the load is very light. There are only about thirty passengers on the flight. There are two rows of Business Class, and I have the whole Business Class cabin to myself.

The cabin

So yes, the Embraer 175. There are a number of things that elude me about this aircraft. First, I’ve always wondered why it has a slightly nose-up attitude when standing on the ground. Especially seeing as its larger brothers, the E190 and 195, have a more nose-down attitidue. But that’s not really all that important. What bothers me though, is that none of the windows on the E175 ever seem to be properly aligned with the seat rows – no matter on which airline. You’re either having to crank back your neck to get a look outside, or you’re view is obstructed by the seat infront of you. The recline also isn’t very good, and pitch on row 1 could be better too.

In addition, this particular aircraft is having a toilet malfunction. As a result of which, the crew call button keeps going off every two minutes or so, even though there’s nobody in it.

The crew

The crew on the flight from Basel to Amsterdam are typical for KLM. Very professional and friendly. That is something KLM and Air France do well, I think. You always know exactly what to expect from their crews. And that’s exactly what you get.

The meal

There have obviously been a few changes and cutbacks to KLM’s European meal concept in Business Class. First, the food box that passengers previously only got on the Cityhopper flights has now been extended to the mainline fleet as well. Which is a bit of a let down. In addition, the meal is no longer served with breadrolls or butter. So it’s really just the main course, a dessert and a small plastic bowl with walnuts, which is just plain weird. Apart from that, KLM catering has a tendency to be a bit on the ‘experimental’ side…

Tonight’s offering is a bulgur salad with falafel, a few pieces of cheese and hummus. It may not look very appealing, especially the hummus, but the taste is surprisingly good.

On a positive note, those horrible little tubs of sweetened gelatine they used to pass for dessert have been replaced with these rather tasty little fruit pies.

KLM has also replaced the plastic cutlery with politically correct and biodegradable wooden cutlery.

Arrival

The weather in Amsterdam is not very nice when we arrive. It’s quite warm but raining. At least with such a light load it doesn’t take long for the passengers to disembark and the bus to bring us to the terminal. I think this is the first time I’ve actually been on a flight that parked on one of the remote stands between piers C and D. I’m guessing the aircraft will be heading to maintenance for some TLC and to check out the pinging loo.

Transfer in Amsterdam

I have one hour to make the connection to Oslo. Normally I probably wouldn’t bother with the lounge and would just browse through the shops until it’s time for boarding. Only, the shops have all been closed because of the lockdown measures in the Netherlands.

The flight to Oslo

The flight to Oslo is mostly unremarkable. As on my previous flight, the load is rather light. At least there are five passengers in Business Class in total. On this flight, the meal is the usual Cesar salad in a box. I seem to get that one quite often lately…

The crew

The really outstanding feature of this flight isthe crew. They’re just so nice! The purser is professional and competent. She makes excellent announcements and takes very good care of passengers during the flight. What’s more, when the pilot comes out of the cockpit during the flight, I even manage to pick his brain for my PhD. He’s just so friendly and helpful, just brilliant!

Arriving in Oslo

Eventually, we land in Oslo on time at 22h30. It’s very misty and there’s a thick layer of freshly driven snow. The pilot applies full reverse thrust to slow us down, and as we vacate the runway, the snow removing crew is already entering the runway to start clearing away the fresh snow.

As per 02 January 2022 visitors to Oslo from a Schengen country need to have a Covid test done upon entering the country. This can either be done directly at the airport, or at home. Arriving passengers also have to complete the registration form ahead of their arrival. The only problem is, nobody seems to be able to tell me what to do with the test result…

Conclusion

I’m assuming the diminished meal service on the European mainline fleet has less to do with Covid-related health measures and more to do with an urgent need to reduce costs wherever possible. Of course, one might argue that driving down the costs by making cuts where the passengers will easily notice them is rarely a good idea. But these are strange times, and if anything, my constantly changing travel plans showed how volatile and unpredictable air travel has become. With that in mind, it’s refreshing that KLM has taken that on board, making it easy and effortless for passengers to change their bookings, cancel trip altogether and request refunds – even at short notice. I’ll take that any day over a fancy meal and a plush seat. Furthermore, KLM’s strong point, as far as I can tell, has always been its staff. And that has certainly not changed, luckily.

Hotel SO/ Das Stue, Berlin

Das Stue lies in a quiet street close to the Siegessäule, adjacent to a sprawling park and the Berlin zoo. The building dates back to the 1940s and was originally intended to be the Danish embassy.

After the war it stayed empty for many years, until eventually it was purchased and rennovated by a Spanish consortium that turned it into a hotel. It is now part of the Accor group of hotels under the SO/ brand.

Getting to the hotel from Berlin Zoologischer Garten in the middle of the night is just a tad spooky, as you have to talk through the darkened park. It feels a bit like something out of American Werewolf…

The architecture of the lobby is quite austere, with clear straight lines. Even so, the entrance with its spectacular chandalier and the rows of lit candles on the side somehow still manage to make the place feel cozy and intimate.

I stayed in one of the suites on the fourth floor, and I very much enjoyed it. The room was very spacious and elegant. The bathroom was big and had both an enclosed walk-in shower as well as a large bathtub. The toilet was separate from the bathroom.

There was also plenty of storage space should you be planning a longer stay.

The staff at the hotel were all very friendly. I think they managed successfully to be welcoming and laid back but without being intrusive. For example, breakfast was à la carte, which I’m assuming was due to Covid. The staff in the restuarant were great, and no request ever seemed too much for them.

All in all, I very much enjoyed my stay at Das Stue and I certainly wouldn’t mind staying at the hotel on my next visit. The only drawback for me was really that it is just a bit out of the way.

Afternoon tea at the Regent, Berlin

Introduction

On Saturday morning I leave my hotel just after 09h00. I have a slot for the Pergamon museum at 10h30, so I figure I might as well walk. And walk. And walk some more.

My hotel is on the rear side of the Tiergarten, in what used to be West Berlin. I decide to take the long route, so I first walk up to the Siegessäule, and then from there through the park and past the Bundestag to the Brandburger Tor. I keep on going through the gate and then continue all the way down Unter den Linden until I hit the Berliner Dom.

The Pergamon museum is right next to the Dom, and totally worth a visit. Currently, the museum is being refurbished and expanded. And I’ll definitely need to come back once it’s done. Because even with many of the exhibits currently inaccessible due to the ongoing construction, it’s still an impressive collection to see.

What I like about this museum, is that they have tried to reconstruct what the exhibits originally looked like, which obviously gives visitors a much better impression of what they’re looking at. The photo below is a reconstruction of the famous Ishtar gate. The decorative animals on the walls are from the original construction.

From the Pergamon museum I first head in the direction of the Alexander Platz, which is currently a bit of a mess as they’re renovating parts of the square.

And then from there I head to the Humboldt Forum, which I guess is to Berlin what the Centre Georges Pompidou is to Paris. Apart from the interesting events and shows they put on at the Humboldt Forum, it’s quite interesting to go up onto the roof of the building, where you have a good view of the city. There’s also a restaurant.

By the time I’m done, it’s already gone 13h and I’m seriously starting to run out of steam. I’m also very hungry. Luckily, I have a reservation for afternoon tea at the Regent Hotel near the Gendarmen Markt, which is only a few minutes away from the Humboldt Forum.

The Regent Berlin

The Regent Berlin sits on the Charlottenstrasse in one of the corners of the Genderamen Markt. From the outside, the building is quite unprepossessing. But once you step into the lobby, it’s a very different story. The afternoon tea is held in a small room with only six tables, so it’s a fairly intimate setting.

The staff are all very nice, and clearly they have been trained well. The head waiter is knowledgeable about tea and suggests I try a few different ones throughout my stay. I first try a First Flush Darjeeling, before moving on to a rather striking & smoky Early Grey.

It’s the perfect pot of tea, nicely flavoured but timed to ensure there isn’t the slightest hint of bitterness in the leaves.

We start with an etagere of savouries on three levels. On top there are canapés of tête de moine cheese and focaccia with chestnut paste.

On the second level, we have a choice of finger sandwiches.

The choices are ham and cheese, boiled egg…

… smoked salmon and cucumber.

And then comes a second etagere with the sweets.

The top tier has a selection of little sweets: a raspberry meringue, a peanut Florentine and a kind of butter cake with lemon curd.

The second level has a plate of berries and fruitcake.

The scones are on the lower plate and they are served nice and warm. What’s more, full brownie points go to the Regent for using real clotted cream and not whipped cream instead.

Conclusion

The afternoon tea at the Regent is a great way to while away a lazy Saturday afternoon when it’s cold and wet outside. The staff are excellent and very welcoming. It’s a great way to take a rest from the toils of shopping and or sightseeing.

The afternoon tea is very popular, and I would strongly suggest you book in advance if you want to experience it. While I was there, several persons were turned down and the couple on the next table inquired about afternoon tea in December, only to be told there were no more slots available until Christmas.

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Berlin

Introduction

It’s been a long time since I last visited Berlin, probably twelve years or so. My recent trip for the inauguration of the Air France A220 doesn’t count, because that time I continued to Vienna after a short layover of about two hours. This time around I’ll actually be leaving the airport and spending two nights in the city.

Some of the more regular readers to this blog will probably know that this year’s plan was to make the best of Covid 19, by visiting the many sights of Europe without having to deal with all the overseas tourist. So far I’ve ticked off the bucket list:

  • Le Chateau de Versailles in Paris
  • La Gioconda in the Louvre Museum in Paris
  • A night at the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris
  • La Sainte-Chapelle in Paris
  • The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel in Rome
  • The Colosseum in Rome
  • St. Peter’s in Rome
  • The Duomo di Milano
  • Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna
  • A night at the Staatsoper in Vienna
  • Linzer Torte in Linz

In Berlin, my aim is to finally visit the Pergamon Museum to see its reconstruction of the famour Ishtar Gate.

But first things first. The narrative begins as I am ejected from security into the airside duty free at Zürich airport. It’s just gone 17h30, and even though security was quiet, there are a lot of people airside. The airport is already decked out for Christmas, which is nice. But I must say that Covid 19 doesn’t really give me the warm and fuzzies, so it’s not as though I’m in much of a Christmas mood yet.

My first attempt to enter the SWISS lounge is foiled by the long queue to enter. It looks like there are more people inside the lounge than outside. And there isn’t a mask to be seen inside either. Okay, maybe not then…

So I go for a bit of a walkbout. Which is nice too, becaue it gives you an interesting, if not pretty, glimpse into the strangeness of the human race…

I also spot one of SWISS’ new A 321NEOs pulling onto its stand. Like WizzAir, SWISS has opted for a configuration with only one door on either side before the wing and two overwing hatches.

The lounge

Just before 18h00 I decide to try my luck again. I’ve had enough of mankind anyway, and the maskless shaker-movers in the lounge have mostly dispersed.

SWISS has a separate Senator lounge and a Business Class lounge in Zürich. As on my previous visit, they have the connecting door between the two lounges open and passengers can sit in either one or the other. Shortly after I enter though, they start removing the buffet and prepare to shut down the Business Class lounge.

I wasn’t planning on eating anything in the lounge. But a man is only so strong… have I mentioned that I love Spätzli? I think there is not very much I wouldn’t do for a plate of that doughy goodness. As it turns out, later on I will be grateful for having next to zero discpline where food is concerned…

Boarding

My boarding pass says that boarding will start at 18h10 for an 18h30 departure. But when I arrive at the gate just after 18h15, boarding is already in the final stages.

I’m seated on the window seat, on 2F. The middle seat is kept empty, and there are two bottles of SWISS’ famous, iconic no-brand water and two refreshing towels on the middle seat.

The cabin

I’m not sure how many times exactly the aircraft type for this flight changed since I booked it. At some point it looked as though it might be an A 320NEO, but thankfully my kneecaps and two herniated discs have been spared, and instead the flight is operated by the slightly less tight A 320CEO.

I think there are seven or eight rows of Business Class, and while the Business Class cabin is not sold out, I’d say it’s a fairly good load.

As we taxi out, the purser informs us that on today’s flight wifi is available. And as the system is still being tested, the service is complimentary for all passengers. I give it a try, but at no point during the flight am I able to log in. But it’s not that important to me anyway.

The crew

The two female cabin crew are both German and make the snow queen look like a very chirpy people person. They’re not rude or anything, but just totally lacking in anything that might remotely be recognised as an interest in their passengers. Probably it doesn’t help that 1D is either a Senator or a HON and is hellbent on making sure that everybody, probably even the guy on row 31, knows just how experienced a flyer he is. Honestly, the guy would put me is a foul mood too.

The meal

The meal is served with the plastic still on it, which I’m assuming is due to Covid 19. And sweet baby Jesus, what in the name of creation is this meal supposed to be anyway?

The main dish is two slices of some kind of dried meat with a few limp leaves of salad on top of it and a globule of pumkin flavoured gelatine.

And a dollop of… mayonnaise? Just in case the whole thing wasn’t already greasy enough.

The meal’s saving grace are the two slices of cheese.

And for dessert, it’s more gelatine – this time of the sweet variety. Let nobody every say SWISS catering is boring.

At least they didn’t forget to dish out the little chocolates, as they have a tendency of doing on Austrian Airlines.

Arrival

We land after a flight time of one hour and ten minutes and I’m really glad to be allowed off the plane. Our stand is more or less in the middle of the terminal. Even so, it’s still quite a schlepp from the gate to the exit.

My hotel is near Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten. I could take the S9, which is a direct service that takes about 55 minutes to make the journey from the airport. But that won’t be leaving for another 18 minutes. So I catch a train to Ostkreuz, which takes 15 minutes, and then from there a S5 service to Zoologischer Garten. Even with the change at Ostkreuz, the journey is shorter and only takes 42 minutes to complete.