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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

Sofitel Le Scribe, Paris

The Sofitel Le Scribe sits right on the corner of Rue Scribe and Boulevard des Capucines. The hotel’s location is excellent. In close proximity you have the old Opéra Garnier and the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores. Just around the corner is also the stop for the airport bus that takes you directly to Roissy airport.

I’m staying at Le Scribe because I have tickets to see Mayerling at the Opéra.

The hotel is very well kept. Everything is spotlessly clean and looks as though it was only recently renovated. Reception is on the ground floor, to the left. Also on the ground floor is a small tea room, the lobby bar and the dining restaurant. The breakfast room is one floor down in the basement of the building, which is not uncommon in Paris.

The reception staff are cordial and friendly in their interaction with guests.

I’m staying in room 372, which is, I believe, a Premium Luxury Room.

The doors to the bathroom and separate toilet are off to the right as you enter the room.

Like the rest of the hotel, the room is clean and has a pleasant smell of new furniture. The room has a high ceiling. Other than that, the surface of the room is rather small and space is quite limited.

As a result, there is only very limited space to hang and store clothes. I’m here only for the one night. In as much, there is enough space for two persons to put their belongings. However, if you’re staying for longer, the lack of space could be an issue.

The room has a Nespresso machine and a water cooker, and complimentary tea and coffee are available.

The bathroom is quite large and features a separate bath and shower.

My room looks out onto the Rue Scribe, which is a quiet side street with limited access. In as much, noise is not a problem. However, the Boulevard des Capucines is quite a busy thoroughfare, and I can imagine that noise from the traffic could be an issue if you have a room overlooking the Boulevard.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I’m staying at Le Scribe because of the Opéra Garnier. The hotel is just a five-minute walk from the Opéra. If you’re not into ballet or the opera, you can still visit the Opéra Garnier during the day, if only to catch a glimpse of the sumptuous elegance of the interior of the building. The Opéra Garnier, by the way, inspired Gaston Leroux to write what is probably his best known piece of fiction – Le Fantôme de L’Opera – which was later turned into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Vienna to Basel

Transfer in Vienna

I step off my ride from Zagreb at 15h40. I have two hours to go before my flight to Basel. I know I write this in every post I make of Vienna airport, but the place really is just such a complete and utter rathole. It’s not just that the signage is useless. It’s just really very ugly and feels very cramped and uncomfortable. The many twists and turns also make it difficult to keep your orientation inside the terminal building.

I pass through immigration and make the long schlepp to security. The pier itself is not very crowded, but the security checkpoint is very busy. My boarding pass says that I have access to the priority lane for security. Only, I can’t seem to find the entrance to the priority lane. I ask one of the airport guides for help, who then escorts me to the line at the far end of the hall – which is cordoned off. Apparently, the priority line is only directly accessible to passengers starting their journey in Vienna. If, like me, you’re in transit, you have to ask somebody to let you in.

The Austrian Airlines Business Class Lounge

The entrance to the lounge is the only thing I manage to take a photo of. That’s because the lounge is completely full when I arrive. There is literally not a single seat left available, and people are just milling about nursing their drinks like it’s one big cocktail party. I figure I probably have better things to do with my time than listen to a bunch of loud Germans regaling their colleagues with tales of epic heroism in the corporate jungle “Ja, und dann habe ich gesagt, das akzeptiere ich so nicht… bla bla bla bla…”. Yeah. No.

So I leave the lounge and find a place to settle at one of the empty gates. Just for future reference – a) like the rest of the terminal, the seats are so unpleasant and uncomfortable to work on they give me a backache, and b) the public wifi is a source of major suckage.

Boarding

The screen shows that the gate is open, and boarding will start at 17h50. Eventually, boarding starts at 18:05. The gate agent can’t be bothered with changing the overdue status of the flight from gate open to boarding. There’s also no boarding announcement save for a rather unmotivated “Basel?”, laced with a very unhealthy dollop of couldn’t have less of a shit to give attitude from the gate agent.

The Cabin

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of six passengers. On the Embraer Austrian keeps the adjacent seat empty for a bit more space. I’m on row 1, where the seat pitch is excellent. I’m also the only passenger in the forward cabin.

The Service

The MC working the Business Class cabin is simply excellent, really lovely. As soon as I take my seat, she rushes by to greet me by name and hands me a bottle of still water and a wet towel. Throughout the flight she keeps checking on me to see if there’s anything else I’d like. Her interaction is friendly and sincere.

The Meal

The meal service begins when the MC asks me what I’d like to drink. Of course I ask her for an Almdudler. Next she brings the tray with the meal, which is two slices of chicken breast on a celeriac salad. For dessert there is a piece of chocolate & coffee cake.

After the meal, my tray is quickly removed. Shortly after, the MC brings me two chocolates on a tray. She tells me one is for me and the other is for the person looking forward to having me back, which I think is a nice gesture.

Arrival

We land after a flight time of one hour and fifteen minutes. The weather’s even worse than it was in Zagreb. It’s raining heavily and it’s also rather cold.

Conclusion

The MC on this flight was a delight. She managed to turn even such a short flight in a cramped little aircraft into a pleasurable experience. I think that inconsistencies in the service delivery should be one of the biggest concerns for airlines today. In an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out against the competition, your staff assume an important role. In as much, it is somewhat regrettable that at Austrian Airlines the friendly MC on my flight from Vienna to Basel was something of an oddity among Austrian Airlines staff.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Zagreb to Vienna

Introduction

Zagreb airport is about 10 kilometres away from the city. What I have learned from my stay here of four days, is that the road traffic can be rather unpredictable, so that the journey between the airport and the city can take anything between 25 minutes an over an hour. Luckily, today I don’t have far to go from the course venue to the terminal, and one of the controllers has kindly offered me a ride.

Check-in

The terminal building is rather nice from the outside. Apparently, the waved roof is designed to remind the onlooker of a cloudy sky. The roof should originally have been made of glass, until somebody realised that the structure would not be able to support the weight of it.

Inside, the landside area and check-in are rather gloomy and dark. There’s also a lot of empty, wasted space – which gives the place a kind of half-finished appearance. Lighting is better once you go through security and passport control and access the airside area.

Check-in for Austrian Airlines is done by its Star Alliance partner Croatia Airlines.

Security is one floor up from check-in, on the mezzanine level. There’s even a separate Fast Track for Business Class passengers. It’s shame though that the young lady managing the queue has obviously decided to ignore the Fast Track queue. Eventually, I decide that it’s just easier and quicker for me to walk back the way I came and join the Economy Class queue… it’s all very classy of course.

The Primeclass Lounge Zagreb

Most airlines at Zagreb use the Primeclass lounge, the entrance to which is opposite gate 22. And it really is a very shabby lounge: ugly and mismatched furniture that is worn and damaged in places, no windows and plenty of fake, plastic plants. The food selection is limited to packaged sandwiches and salads, as well as cheese and meat boreg.

The lounge’s only redeeming feature is the funky pancake maker. I don’t try a pancake, but the machine fascinates me.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a slight delay. Passengers in groups 1 (status holders) and 2 (Business Class) are invited to board first – which I don’t. The gate agents are friendly enough, but it still seems a bit odd that they’re both not wearing a uniform.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class on today’s flight. I’m sat on row 2, so I can stow my luggage under the seat in case the overhead bins are already full by the time I board the aircraft – which they are.

Seat pitch on row two is good and the window is sufficiently well aligned with the seat to offer a view.

The Meal

The flight time is announced as forty minutes. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew jump into action to make sure they manage to feed everyone before we land again in Vienna.

The tray consists of a box of sandwiches and a refreshing towel. In addition, there is a full bar service that includes hot beverages.

The sandwiches are very tasty. There are three finger sandwiches filled with cream cheese, cucumber and pieces of mint.

To drink with that I have an Almdudler.

And just before landing, chocolates are offered.

Arrival

We land slightly ahead of schedule. The ramp in Vienna looks rather empty and quiet. We make our way to our stand, and then I have two hours to make my onward connection to Basel.

Croatia Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Paris Roissy to Zagreb

Introduction

Today I’m on my way from Paris to Zagreb. My options are Croatia Airlines or Air France. Normally, I would go with Air France. However, this time around there were several good reasons to take Croatia Airlines instead. First, they use an A319 on the route, whereas Air France operates an Embraer 175. And second, the schedule with Croatia Airlines is more appealing, with an arrival in Zagreb at 13h10.

Getting to the Airport

I’m staying at the Sofitel Le Scribe in Paris, which is just around the corner from the Opéra Garnier. The car picks me up in front of the hotel at 08:35 to take me to the airport. Being early Sunday morning, the traffic is fairly smooth – right up until we join the access road to CDG airport, where the traffic comes to a grinding halt. As a result, the trip ends up taking just shy of 60 minutes in total.

Check-in

Croatia Airlines checks in at Terminal 2D, Hall 3. Currently, they’re working on the outside of the terminal, so access to 2D is via 2B.

There are three counters open for Croatia Airlines passengers: one for Business Class and two for Economy Class.

Access to the security checkpoint is between terminals 2B and 2D. There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers and the process is quick.

CDG2 Extime Lounge

Croatia Airlines uses the Extime Lounge, which is in the Schengen area of the terminal building. There are no lounges in the non-Schengen part from where Croatia Airlines boards. Access to the lounge is via a corridor that leads off from the main area just in front of the Relay kiosk.

The lounge is certainly one of the better ones at CDG if you’re not travelling on Air France. And it’s certainly much better than the dreadful lounge I visited in July on my way to Australia!

The lounge has a large buffet with a good selection of hot and cold dishes.

Boarding

At 10h45 I exit the lounge and make my way to passport control. It’s not very busy. I reach the gate for my flight at B29, where the last remaining passengers of the inbound are just disembarking.

Alas, taking a decent picture of my chariot is impossible.

Boarding starts ten minutes late. The first call is for Business Class passengers only.

The Cabin

Croatia Airlines operates six A 319s in two different configurations. This aircraft is configured for a capacity of 150 passengers, which is also why it has two overwing exits on each side, contrary to your usual, standard issue A 319, which only has one on either side.

Seat pitch on row 1 is good. It also helps that the Business Class cabin is not full. So once boarding is completed, the guy on 1C moves one row back so that we each have a whole row of three to ourselves.

Service

There are three cabin crew on this flight and they’re lovely, very friendly and helpful. While we’re still on the ground, they offer a welcome drink and disinfectant towel.

Today’s traffic regime at CDG sees parallel approaches happening on the two southern runways, and departures on the inner one of the two northern runways. On our way there, we pass CDG 1, which is still closed, where I spot Conviasa’s A 340 and an Aerolineas Argentinas A 330. CDG 1 is scheduled to reopen next year.

The Meal

The flight time to Zagreb is one hour and forty minutes. It’s difficult to find anything nice to say about the meal service. One could forgive the rather ugly presentation if the content were good but…

…we start with porc sausage slices…

…followed by a paté of sorts made of more porc (49%!) and then some porc.

Which basically leaves me with pickled vegetables and crackers and a piece of walnut cake. Tragically, the crackers are limp and the walnut cake is just dead boring.

And to drink with that, I have a Coke Zero.

I also order a coffee. To be honest, even if you normally have your coffee black, if you’re drinking the Croatia Airlines stuff you may want to add the cream and sugar they provide for the sake of your taste buds. It’s not their fault…

The tray also comes with cutlery, although I’m not sure what I’m supposed to use it for, except perhaps to stick the fork in my leg in the hope that the pain will distract from just how hungry I am by this stage.

Arrival

Our route takes me overhead Basel, where I live, and then on to Innsbruck and Ljubljana. The flight is uneventful and the views of the mountains are beautiful, even though there’s still not much snow on them.

Eventually, we land with a delay of fifteen minutes.

Getting into Town

The airport bus runs to the city every thirty minutes. The journey takes 25 minutes to complete and will take you to the main bus terminus, which is still quite a walk away from the centre of town. The journey will cost you 45 Kuna, which is roughly EUR6.-. Only cash payment is possible on the bus, but there’s a telling machine at arrivals, just opposite the exit for the airport bus. The stop is on your far right as you exit the airport building.

Conclusion

In the sum of all things, I thought Croatia Airlines were quite okay. The aircraft was comfortable enough and the crew were really great and very friendly. On the down side, the food was seriously lacking. To be fair, they are the airline of Croatia. Even so, I think it would not be too much to ask for them to cater to a more international palate, shall we say.

Helvetic Airways, Business Class – Embraer 190-E2: Luxembourg to Zürich

Introduction

It is probably safe to say that the Embraer E2 family of jets have not been the commercial success the Brazilian manufacturer had hoped for. To date, fewer than 270 aircaft have been ordered, whereas the rival Airbus A220 is gradually approaching 790 orders and calls some of the world’s most prestigious airlines its customers – and that includes Air France, Air Canada, and Delta.

Even though the E2 family was rolled out in 2013, to date only 55 aircraft have been delivered. In as much, and as I know from my own experience, catching a flight on one of these elusive birds is not easy. Currently, the two largest operators of the type are KLM and Helvetic Airways, both of which I use quite frequently. Even so, to date every time I was booked on a flight supposedly operated by an E2, there was a last minute aircraft change and a missed opportunity.

Until today. Finally, after several failed attempts I get to sample Helvetic Airways’ E2 on a flight from Luxembourg to Zürich operated on behalf of SWISS. Ironically, this opportunity arose unexpectedly as the result of yet another aircraft change.

At the Airport

If it’s all the same to you, I’ll skip the bit about getting to the airport or describing the lounge I didn’t visit… My flight departs Luxembourg at 15:00. When I get there, the place is deserted and there are hardly any people. Whatever the case may be, it means that I can settle by the window and watch the traffic until my E2 makes an appearance.

Just after 14:03 the inbound flight touches down and very gradually makes its was to its stand at gate A17.

The first thing that strikes me about the E2 is the size of its engines.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts with a delay of 15 minutes. I count 85 passengers on the flight today. There are nine rows of Business Class for a total of 18 seats, of which 16 are taken.

The Cabin

The first impression as you step on the plane is very good. The cabin is tidy and neat. Other than that though, the narrow diameter of the hull gives it the look and feel of a commuter aircraft, which is not quite so apparent on the A220.

I’m seated on row 7, where the seat pitch is painfully tight. Fortunately, sitting in Business Class means that the seat next to me is empty, so at least I can stretch my legs sideways.

On each row of two seats there are four USB sockets.

There is also an overhead reading light and an air vent for each passenger. Perhaps the biggest drawback of Helvetic Airways’ seating configuration – apart from the overall lack of space and comfort – is that the seats on most rows are missaligned with the windows.

The Service

There are three cabin crew on this flight. The maître de is a woman with a thick eastern European accent but otherwise flawless English and German. In the back of the bus is a friendly young man who interacts pleasantly with passengers and a young lady who looks as though she’s afraid of her own shadow. She passes through the cabin wordlessly like a ghost.

Before we depart, the MC distributes refreshing towels and small bottles of still water.

The pictures of the outside were taken by sticking my iPhone next to the ear of the guy in front of me (and hoping he won’t notice) and then twisting my hand to the right to aimlessly point the camera lense in the general direction of the wing.

The Meal

The meal service consists of a small tray with a plate of two stale canapés – egg & tomato and ham & cheese – and a small jar of vermicelles mousse and plums.

Before I even manage to take a bite, the ghost appears offering the chocolates. The guy in front of me asks if he might be allowed to take a second one “for my kid” (right…) to which he only receives an ever so slight and silent nod of the head.

The tray tables are a bit of a problem, mainly because they’re very small and my tray keep sliding off. Other than that, is it really too much to train the crew to crew to wait until the end of the flight to hand out the chocolates?

Arrival

If I actually had a window, the views outside would be gorgeous. The colours are gradually changing to autumn, casting the landscape in a warm colour.

During the descent the crew advise passengers with connecting flights to go straight to their gates if they have connections within the hour. Beyond that though, no information about the departure gates of the connecting flights is given.

We park on a remote stand, where the dedicated bus for Business Class passengers is already expecting us to take us to the terminal building, which is eerily quiet.

Conclusion

I’m happy I finally got to try the elusive E2. In the sum of all things though, I can’t really say I was too impressed. First, considering that it is a fairly new design I thought the cabin looked rather old-fashioned. Second, no matter how hard you try to give the cabin an airy, spacious feel, there’s no denying that this is an aircraft with a very narrow fuselage. In as much, at least as far as I’m concerned, the E2 is no match for the A220 in terms of comfort and passenger experience. I also found that the aircraft is much louder inside than I expected.

Yet again, the crew were Helvetic’s saving grace on this flight, even though the one crew member didn’t actually say anything – but perhaps it’s for the better that way.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Transfer in Zürich

By the time I’m comfortably settled on one of the sofas in the SWISS First Class lounge it’s 06h30. I have another hour before my departure to Paris. As soon as I take a seat, one of the lounge attendants comes over and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to order from the menu. I tell her a coffee would be great. Other than that, I’m still quite full from breakfast on the plane.

The one thing that really always strikes me about SWISS, is just how incredibly ugly their uniforms are. And it’s not just that they’re ugly, they’re also clearly of very poor quality, badly cut and would even make a supermodel look frumpy. I understand that not all airlines can be like Singapore Airlines with their timeless and iconic SQ Kebaya that was designed by Balmain in 1968. But I also think that the appearance of an airline’s staff in their uniforms and the pride with which they wear it says a lot about the corporate culture and management’s appreciation for their frontline staff.

Boarding

At 07h15 I exit the lounge and make my way to the boarding gate at A66. I figure I might as well wait for the initial scrum to pass before I step aboard. By the time I reach the gate it’s already more or less emptied, with just a few remaining passengers milling about. You know the ones. They wait until the very last moment to step aboard because of some incredibly important call they need to make at the top of their voices… Well let them, I’m tired and I need to sit down, so I make a B-line for the gate attendant who scans my boarding pass and then sends me on my way.

The service

I’m seated on 1A. A bottle of still water and a refreshing towel are already at my seat when I arrive.

There are two middle-aged women working the Business Class cabin, and they couldn’t be more different from the crew of the previous flight from Singapore. One of them barely speaks any functional German and has a strong Eastern European accent when she speaks English. Meanwhile, her colleague is doing a convincing interpretation of the Queen of Frump. But I must say, they are friendly, if perhaps a tad reserved. We can’t all be social butterflies…

The cabin

There are nine rows of Business Class, for a total of 36 seat. However, there are only four passengers in the forward cabin on this flight. I ask one of the cabin crew and apparently they’re expecting a full load on the inbound to Zürich.

The expected flight time is one hour.

The meal – breakfast

Within minutes of getting airborne, the crew start preparing for breakfast. On the small tray there is a glas of berry Birchermüsli and a plate with cold cuts, cheese and egg.

To drink I have a coffee and an orange juice. The crew make two rounds with the bread basket. As soon as I’m done, the crew remove my tray.

Looking from above, the difference between Europe and Australia is really quite striking. In Europe more or less every inch of land is exploited for agriculture, whereas in Australia you can spend hours flying over vast stretches of untouched wilderness.

Arrival

Very soon we’re starting our descent into Paris. The crew pass through the cabin with the chocolates while the passengers are treated to a complimentary sightseeing tour of Paris. Our approach brings us in past Notre Dame cathedral, then the Tour Eiffel and the Arc de Triomphe at Etoile. We continue on a Westerly track in the direction of Versailles before eventually doing a 180 degree turn to line up for an approach towards the East.

I already miss Australia, but I’ve very much missed this too. No matter what troubles Europe may be heading into right now, the age and traditions of its cities are comforting to me – because they speak of longevity and of resilience.

Our aircraft comes to a stop at one of the stands on the D concourse, and within minutes my suitcases appear on the luggage belt. And just like that I’m back where it all began two months ago.

Conclusion

This brings to an end my sabbatical of 2022, which should have happened in 2020 originally, and then very nearly didn’t happen at all. Before I left on this trip, my dad asked me why it had to be Australia, if the purpose of this trip was for me to have some time to work on my Phd thesis in peace and quiet. And I guess it’s a valid point. All I can say is that I really like being in Australia. The lethal snakes, spiders, sharks and croccodiles aside, I like the way the earth smells in Australia, I enjoyed going for long walks along the beach early every morning in Manly, and I loved listening to the unique strangeness of the whistles and chirps (and also screeches…) of the birds. And I really, really enjoyed the openess and the friendly curiosity of the Australians.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Boeing B 777-300: Singapore to Zürich

Transfer in Changi 3

My A 380 from Sydney pulls onto its stand just after 21h. The flight ends at Terminal 3, which is also from where my flight to Zürich will be leaving. In fact, I can see my B 777 parked at the gate three stands down. The A 380 I just arrived on will be departing again in about two hours for London Heathrow.

Terminal 3 is a lot livelier than Sydney airport was. Before I head for the lounge, I decide to go on a bit of a walkabout to stretch my legs a bit after the long flight from Sydney. I’ll be doing a lot more sitting before I’m done with the journey home.

The Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge T3

The Silver Kris Lounge in T3 was only recently reopened after an extensive refurbishment. They’ve added some nice touches. But over all, I still can’t say I really like Singapore Airlines’ corporate design. The lounge looks a lot like the lobby of one of the big hotel chains in the United States, which I’m sure has it’s own appeal if you’re over seventy years old…

SWISS First Class passengers are eligible to use the First Class lounge, the entrance to which is off to the left from reception.

The only thing I’m really after in the lounge is a nice long shower. Luckily, it appears that at this time of night people are not inclined to take showers, so basically I can take my pick and there’s no queue. The shower rooms are well stocked with shaving kits, tooth brushes and a no name brand of shower gel and shampoo.

The shower hits the spot nicely. I then take a seat and catch up on a few work emails. Not point in trying to put of the inevitable anymore, I guess.

Boarding

I arrive at the gate at 22h45 to find there’s a long queue for security. I really don’t like this concept of having closed gates with individual security checkpoints. I mean, it’s great that the Singapore government is obviously trying to create jobs here, but it is awfully inconvenient. So I decide to take a seat outside and wait for the actual boarding to start.

After a few minutes, a young lady from SWISS’ handling agent approaches me. She’s holding a sign with my name on it. She checks my boarding pass and then asks me to follow her, apparently she’s going to escort me through security. I’m in two minds about the whole process though. On the hand, I think it’s great that SWISS takes care of its premium passengers, and it’s not their fault the boarding situation in Changi is what it is. On the other hand, I must say it’s kind of awkward to have so many people directing the stink eye at me for cutting the queue. I feel like telling them it’s not my fault and pointing at the young lady, but that would be throwing the poor gate agent under the bus.

The cabin

On this flight I’m seated on 2A, which is basically the same seat I had on the outbound – just one row further back. The cabin is full tonight, with eight out of eight seats taken. What is interesting, is that there isn’t a single passenger in First Class heading for Zürich. One passenger is connecting to London City, two to Brussels, two to Copenhagen, two to Amsterdam and then me to Paris.

The service

There are two female cabin crew working the First Class cabin this evening. One of them is a German young lady, who is very bright and sharp. She basically anticipates what passengers want before they even realise it themselves. Her colleague is a Romande and very French in her manners, which makes for an interesting and rather charming combination in terms of the composition of the crew.

In short sequence I am brought the pajamas, a cold refreshing towel, a glas of water and the amuse bouche.

The crew come to take my order for dinner. But I tell them it’s already been a long day, so after take-off I would like to have the bed made up for me straight away so I can get some sleep. The flight time is announced as twelve hours and thirty minutes.

True to their word, once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the German cabin crew arrives with hangers for me to go change out of my clothes while she makes up my bed.

The meal – midnight snack

I actually manage to get nearly seven hours of sleep. It doesn’t take long for the crew to notice I’m awake again, and immediately they both come to check if there’s anything I’d like. I tell them I’m feeling a bit hungry, so a small snack would be nice. “Überlassen Sie das uns…” the German one says, leave it to us. A few minutes later they are back with a cup of coffee, a cheese platter with a selection of crackers and bread, three packets of popcorn, two packets of Zweifel crisps and two packets of cashew nuts. The French crew reassures me that there’s plenty more where that came from and to just let them know. I must say, I think I could get used to being mothered like this…! It’s kind of sweet.

The meal – second service

A few hours later the cabin begins to stir and passengers start waking up. The French crew approaches me and asks if I’d like to get a head start on breakfast before the rush begins, which is very considerate of her. Shen then proceeds to basically bring me a bit of everything there is on the menu:

A bread basket, served with butter and a selection of preserves and honey.

Fresh orange juice and coffee to drink.

Birchermüsli and fresh fruit.

And yoghurt (recommended by the crew, who tell me it’s delicious – which it really is).

Oh yes, and just in case I’m still feeling hungry, an omelette with sausage, bacon, tomato and potato.

By the time breakfast is done, we’re just past Belgrade with another eighty minutes to run to Zürich. I mean, I really was quite upset having to leave Australia. But sitting here watching Europe gradually wake up to a new day is also very nice, and I become aware of just how much I’ve missed my home continent, my family and my friends. It’s good to be back!

Arrival in Zürich

We’re the second aircraft to touch down in Zürich after the curfew is lifted at six. We make a quick taxi to our gate and the crew come to wish me a safe onward journey. They also tell me the driver will be waiting for us as we disembark through the L1 door to drive us to the Schengen area. The first thing that strikes me as I deplane, is just how different Switzerland smells. It’s oddly familiar but feels somewhat exotic after the smell of Australia these last two months.

And because this is an airline blog after all, I just want to mention that I think the B 777 is really hot shit. What a beast, and the size of those formidable engines is just… just…

We all pile into the minibus and then we’re off – and I nearly have a heart attack before I remember that they drive on the right side of the road here – and not on the left. I’ll have to reprogramme my brain… again.

Once we get to the main terminal at the other side of runway 28, we go through immigration and are then escorted up to the First Class lounge to wait for our onward connections. If you’re arriving from Singapore, at least in First Class there is no need to go through security again.

Singapore Airlines, Suites – Airbus A 380: Sydney to Singapore

Introduction

Two months have passed in the blink of an eye, and it’s time for me to start making my way back home again. I always find leaving Australia difficult, probably because it’s not so easy to get to, or at least not so quick. Of course, it doesn’t help that Australia is gradually moving into spring, which means that the weather during this last week has been gorgeous.

On my last visit to Australia, I had breakfast at The Pantry on Manly Beach on my last day. It’s where I decided that one day I’d be back. So I figure it’s a good omen if I do the same this time, in the hope that eventually I will return some day.

Getting to the airport

The regular ferry from Manly to Circular Quay takes between twenty and twenty-five minutes to make the journey. However, if you’re lucky or plan ahead, you might just end up on one of the old Manly ferries, which are slower and take about thirty minutes to make the journey. The Freshwater that you can see in the photo below is one of those old ferries. She makes her first journey from Circular Quay to Manly at 09h30 in the morning, and from then on every two hours. I enjoy taking the old ferry, it’s a far more pleasant and leisurely trip than than on the newer, faster catamarans which depart every twenty minutes.

From Circular Quay , the journey to the airport takes about twenty minutes by train or taxi.

Check-in

Singapore Airlines checks in on row F, which is more or less in the middle of the check-in concourse.

Singapore Airlines occupies the whole of one side of row F of the check-in counters. There are nine counters in total, of which two are for Suites passengers. My bags are checked all the way through to Paris, and then I’m on my way.

There is a separate line for First and Business Class passengers for immigration. But don’t hold your breath, because right behind immigration there is only one queue for security for all passengers. It’s rather long too, but at least it moves quite fast.

Behind security, you are ejected into a large duty free area with a wide offering of Australian products, including the fabulous TimTam biscuits and Vegemite.

On my way to the lounge, I spot my aircraft trying to hide behind an Air Niugini and a Speedbird.

Most of the airside retailers and restaurants are still closed, including Mc Donald’s.

The Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge

Given the number of flights Singapore Airlines operates out of Sydney, it’s hardly surprising that they have their own lounge facility. There is one reception area for all passengers, and then those passengers travelling in Suites access the First Class section through a door on the right side of the reception desk.

The lounge is small and has an nice, intimate feel. There is a dining area as well as a few large, comfortable armchairs by the window.

Although there is an extensive buffet available, waiting staff serve you directly at your seat. First I have some dim sum and a beef pie.

Then one of the waiters brings me two duck pancakes and chicken satay. The pancakes are not very good. I’ve never been much of a fan of duck anyway, but the pancakes are just very stiff, hard and too chewy to be enjoyable.

The satay are good though.

Boarding

Boarding for our 15h00 departure starts at 14h30 from gate 57.

There is a separate queue for upper deck passengers. I pass through the gate and make my way down the airbridge. And that’s when it hits me with a pang that this is really happening and I’m about to leave Australia.

The cabin

The First Class Suites are located to your left as you enter the aircraft on the upper deck, right behind the galley. There are six suites in a 1 + 1 configuration.

The Suites are not quite as private as the Air France La Première seat because the walls do not reach all the way up to the ceiling and there are apertures in the door for crew to check on you. Nonetheless, it’s still quite private and quiet.

The main feature of the Suites, of course, is the bed that is separate from the seat.

One of my beefs with the Suite is that you have to swivel your seat around to face towards the door in the dining position. However, as can be seen in the photo below, that means that during the meal service you end up having to face the passenger sitting across the aisle. At least on today’s flight the Suite opposite mine remains empty.

The Suite offers a lot of storage space. Having said that, I also think there’s a lot of unnecessary space that seems wasted and hardly serves any purpose. Still, it’s a very pleasant set up.

Amenities

A set of B&O earphones, eye shades and socks are already at my seat when I arrive.

Singapore Airlines also offers a vanity kit to Suite passengers. Although to be honest, I think the Singapore Airlines vanity kit must be one of the most useless ones in the industry. Inside it are a scented candle and a small bar of hand soap. I mean, I get that the vanity kit is also intended as a small gift to passengers, but does it really have to be something that is so obviously useless? Shaving kits and toothbrushes are available in the two bathrooms.

The service

The crew on this flight are excellent and really just very funny in their interaction with passengers. Even so, they’re also very efficient and provide the kind of flawlessly elegant service that Singapore Airlines is known for. Throughout the flight, the crew use my family name each time they address me.

As soon as I step aboard, one of the crew helps me stow away my things and settle in, while the other brings me a glas of the Dom Perignon. Out of curiosity, I ask how many bottles of champagne they go through on an A 380 in one flight. They tell me they usually have six bottles of the Dom outbound from Sydney, and if that runs out, they still have the Krug as the backup.

The menu for the flight is already at my seat when I arrive. The crew come to ask if I have any questions about the menu and to let me know they’re happy to help me with the wine pairings. I tell them I’ll only be having sparkling water with the meal. The crew’s attention to detail is really quite impressive: at no stage of the meal is my glas ever empty.

The meal – first service

After take off, the crew come to take my order. I’m a bit undecided, so the green kebaya flight attendant suggests that I should try a bit of everything from the starters and then see how I feel about the rest as we go along. I mean, if you really insist… The meal begins with an initial drink service and a small ramekin of warmed nuts.

And then the table is set for the meal.

First starter: we start with the traditional caviar service. Each passengers gets a whole jar, which is served with blinis, boiled egg, chives, lemon and crème fraîche.

The crew pass through the cabin with the bread basket once only, which is good because otherwise I’ll only end up overdosing on the garlic bread…

Second starter: seared salmon with pickled kohlrabi. This dish is similar to the one I had the last time I flew out of Sydney on Singapore Airlines. This time around though, it tastes much better. Especially the horseradish gives the dish a nice zing.

Third starter: the pancetta soup. Now this dish is quite amazing. It’s a bit like a minestrone, but they’ve managed to make it more sophisticated and lighter at the same time.

Main course: chicken Sha Jehani style. For the main course I go with the Indian dish, which is chicken in a spicy gravy served with dhal and vegetables. This is a lovely dish and very fragrant.

Dessert: Orange and almond cake with custard. Oh my goodness, this is really just to die for. The custard complements the orange perfectly and the cake is perfectly moist and full of flavour. There are small pieces of caramelised nuts on the plate too, which give it a nice bit of extra crunch.

After all that, the red kebaya flight attendant comes to ask me if it’s okay for her to bring me the cheese selection. She looks rather crestfallen when I beg for mercy and tell her that I really, really couldn’t eat anything else because I’m so full. So we compromise and she asks me if then at least she can bring me some coffee.

After the meal I go to one of the two very large bathrooms at the front of the cabin to change into my pajamas, while the crew make up the bed for me to have a nap.

The bed is rather hard, which I find quite pleasant because its easier on my back and my two slipped discs. My only complaint is that for a guy my size the bed is just very narrow. It’s fine as long as you’re not moving. But every time I turn I’m very careful to make sure I don’t end up rolling off the bed.

The meal – second service

About ninety minutes out of Singapore the crew notice I’m moving around and ask me if I’d like them to remove the bedding. They also ask me if I’d like anything to eat before we land, so I’ll be able to go straight to bed on the connecting flight.

I decide to go with the seafood congee, which not bad. Although it’s also rather bland. For dessert I have a plate of fruit.

Arrival into Singapore

Our arrival into Singapore is smooth. We land and very slowly make our way to our parking stand at Terminal 3. I thank the crew as I disembark and they wish me a pleasant onward journey. I now have just under two hours to make my connection to Zürich. Sadly, Australia already feels far, far away.

Q Station North Head

In the very early days of the island colony of New South Wales, if a ship reported an illness or the outbreak of a disease aboard, the passengers would not be allowed off the boat and were quarantined at sea, off the Australian coast. Unavoidably, this meant that the ships’ crews didn’t really have an incentive to report any problems to the authorities because if they did, it usually meant a lot of additional costs that totally messed up the ship’s turn around and its journey home with revenue passengers and cargo.

In 1836 this lead to the establishment of the the North Head Quarantine Station, on the north side of the entrance into Sydney Harbour. If a disease was reported, all the passengers and crew were made to disembark at the quarantine station and had to remain there until there were no more cases reported among any of the ship’s crew and passengers. Only then was everybody allowed to leave.

The building in the two first photos below is the old boiler house, where passengers’ luggage was disinfected. Behind it were the showers, where passengers had to disrobe and wash until the onlooking authorities were comfortable that they were sufficiently disinfected as well. The shower facility can be seen in the third picture.

The quarantine station sprawls over a vast area at the tip of North Head and today is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park. Obviously, it not longer operates as a quarantine station.

The area is really beautiful, and there are many walks you can take around the park and what used to be the old army barracks.

Currently, the quarantine station operates as the Q Station Hotel, which is operated by the ALL Accor group. The old buildings have been converted into guest accommodation. The Australian government emphasizes that the purpose of running the Q Station as a hotel is to generate funds for the conservation of this historical site. This also means that when the place was converted into a hotel, management had to make sure that all modifications and updates to the buildings could be made undone, to preserve the unique character of the place.

I spend two weeks in one of what used to be the officers’ cottages.

The cottage has two porches, two living rooms and three bedrooms to accommodate a total of six persons. There is one bathroom with toilet, a shower and toilet and a separate toilet.

There’s also a fully equipped kitchen if you prefer self-catering.

Breakfast is served in the main building, just a short walk from my cottage. The old boiler house has been turned into an à la carte restaurant that sits at the bottom of a set of stairs with 236 step. So at least you get to work off some calories on your way back to your accommodation. Currently, the Boiler House restaurant only opens Wednesday through Saturday.

From the Q Station it’s a walk of about 45 minutes to Manly wharf. There is a bus. However, that runs only once an hour, and it doesn’t run very later either, with the last bus departing the wharf at 19h42.

I very much enjoyed my stay at the Q Station. For the purpose of my visit – the PhD – it was perfect. It’s quiet and secluded. And when you step outside to air the brain a little, the view of the sea is breathtaking.

Canberra – Afternoon tea at the Hyatt

In Canberra I’m staying at The Hyatt Hotel on the government side of the city. The facility has an interesting layout with a set of low-rise buildings connected to each other by a string of elegant courtyards with lush vegetation. It’s the winter here in Australia, so it’s still a bit too cold to sit outside. But in the summer it must be quite serene to sit out there with a cold drink under the shade of the many trees… or afternoon tea.

As the more regular readers to this blog have probably already figured out, I really love having afternoon tea. I’m fully aware of the fact that the British have a lot to answer for as far as their colonial history goes – but I do think that they should also be commended for the invention of afternoon tea and its contribution to just making people happy in general through the power of food.

The afternoon tea at The Hyatt is served on dark earthenware that seems to have become very popular in recent years.

There’s a set menu of items for the afternoon tea. The staff are happy to top up any of the items in case you haven’t had enough. Although to be honest, the serving is quite generous. Asking for top ups is really just an indulgence.

Much to my surprise, there are even Maltese pastizzi tal-irkotta on the menu. They’re the diamond shaped things made with filo pastry to the right of the ketchup in the picture below. They’re very good, but I’m not sure how authentic the chives are.

One thing I have noticed in my many years of experience as an afternoon tea afficionado, is that not that many places will serve the scones with real clotted cream. What you usually get is either plain old whipped cream, or if it’s one of the fancier joints, mascarpone – which I agree is the better substitute for clotted cream than whipped cream.

The sweets are quite unusual and very enjoyable.

And as far as the sandwiches are concerned, guilty as charged: I ordered seconds.

In the sum of all things, I very much enjoyed my visit to Canberra (except of course for the shooting incident on the way back to Sydney). And although I wouldn’t exactly call it Australia’s most exciting city, I certainly would like to return one day for a longer visit. And afternoon tea at The Hyatt.