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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

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 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.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Berlin to Vienna

For the trip back from Berlin to Basel, the easiest thing, no pun intended, would have been to book the direct easyJet flight. The only problem with that was that I booked the Air France trip at fairly short notice, once it became clear where the inaugural flight of the A 220 would be going to. By which time there weren’t any extra legroom seats left on easyJet. At my age and with two herniated discs, that’s a serious consideration. And so I figured I might as well return with Austrian via Vienna.

Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt

I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I arrived in Berlin. I suppose after all the bad press the airport received and the serious delay for it to finally open, I think I was probably expecting some half finished ruin. Turns out the terminal is rather nice airside. The wood finish gives it a nice, warm feel.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the airport in the future. Many of the low-cost carriers operating to Berlin have already said that they would like to return to the old DDR-era Schönefeld terminal once it reopens after Covid. But as it is, most of the traffic at the new terminal is by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair, Wizzair or easyJet. If they were to return to the old facility, the new one would be even more oversized that it clearly already is now.

Lufthansa lounge

The Lufthansa lounge is in an odd place, is an odd size and an odd shape. If you’re walking too fast, there’s also a good chance you’ll miss the entrance to the staircase that takes you to the lounge.

In a way, the lounge is something of a relic from a bygone era. When the airport was announced, Lufthansa had big plans for it. Ten years down the line and the only two routes operated by Lufthansa out of Berlin are to Frankfurt and Munich. In as much, it’s really quite surprising they still have a lounge at all.

The décor of the lounge is in the typical Lufthansa style, which is a matter of personal taste. Some may like it, and others not. Personally, in general I find the Lufthansa brand rather dated and frumpy. One way or another, there’s something off about the lounge, and I can’t really explain what it is. It has all the Lufthansa branded furniture, but is otherwise nearly completely lacking in any sort of decorations or… something that might give it character.

There are the usual food options, although they’re looking quite unappealing – even the rice looks dry! But I will say that the views are good.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from B07 and starts with a call for passengers in Business Class or with status. It’s going to be a full flight. I take my seat on the window on 1F and wait for the aircraft to fill up.

The crew

Alas, the crew on this flight are…meh. They’re a big, uncoordinated mess. I’m not even sure what exactly the issue is, but for some reason they seem disorganised and totally stressed before we even get going. I think part of the problem is that one of the two young men on the crew is, with all due respect, rather useless. He’s either inexperienced or he simply doesn’t care. So that leaves only three crew to do the job of four.

The flight time is 55 minutes, and once we’re airborne, the service is unnecessarily rushed and hectic. Even though there’s plenty of time with only ten passengers in the forward cabin.

The seat and cabin

There are three rows of Business Class on the flight, which is quite surprising, given that there were only two rows originally when I booked the flight. Of the twelve seats, nine are occupied. Although I might also like to add that there were eight passengers booked in Business Class, plus one Italian who figured he’d try it out and see if anybody noticed. They did eventually, and at least he had the decency of paying for the upgrade right there and then…

On row one the pitch is probably the worst in the whole Business Class cabin, because on all subsequent rows at least you can stick your feet under the seat in front of you. As usual, the middle seat is kept empty.

Austrian has the standard issue Lufthansa group seat with zero cushioning on its short-haul fleet. The seat is okay, but even after only 55 minutes of flight my butt is starting to ache.

The meal

Food is always a highlight on Austrian, and this flight is no exception. For the main course there is a plate with three sandwiches: salmon and cream cheese, cheddar and onion chutney, and tuna with chives. Although apparently the crew have not been informed and have no idea what they’re serving (Mr 2F, behind me, asks and get something of a strange reply from the crew…).

The sandwiches are really tasty and have not totally dried up on their way from Vienna to Berlin.

Dessert is a piece of Tiroler cake, I’d say, which is a hazelnut cake with chocolate chips in it. This is okay, but a bit too oily.

Arrival in Vienna

By the time we start our descent, the sun has already started to set. I always hate the shift back to winter time, precisely because it gets dark even earlier.

Vienna airport is very busy and there is hardly anywhere to sit while I wait to catch the connecting flight to Basel. But I will spare you the details on that flight.

Conclusion

As I mentioned, catering on Austrian is something they do really well. The dishes are usually nicely prepared and appeal to an international audience. The three sandwiches on this flight were simple but very tasty. Other than that though, the whole experience was a bit underwhelming and the crew were just disappointing. Which makes you wonder how much training these people actually receive before they’re let loose on humanity.

Of course, I did wonder during the flight if perhaps my perception of the flight was tarnished by my previous experience with Air France, which was very elegant and polished. Because that’s probably wouldn’t be fair either – there’s hardly any point in comparing a somewhat insignificant subsidiary such as Austrian to one of Europe’s leading airlines.

But I don’t think it’s that. A crew will make or break a passenger experience, and that’s precisely the problem with Austrian – their crews are unpredictable and more often than not they’re likely to disappoint. Which does not exactly instill me with a strong desire to book my next trip with them.

Air France, Airbus A 220-300 inaugural service: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Berlin in Classe Affaire

Introduction

Early in October 2021, Air France took delivery of its first of 60 Airbus A 220-300s, making it the largest operator of the type in Europe. F-HZUA has spent most of the month flying around France for crew training purposes. With the beginning of the winter schedule on Sunday, 31 October 2021, the aircraft will be deployed on Air France’s extensive European network. The inaugural flight will see it flying to Berlin.

Check-in

I check-in for the flight on the Air France app. However, boarding passes are not issued on the app because of Covid. So instead, the boarding pass is issued as a pdf that needs to be printed. One way or another, you’ll have to contact one of the check-in counters directly at the airport.

Terminal 2F is Air France’s Schengen terminal and has a dedicated SkyPriority area for check-in. I have a pleasant chat with the lady at check-in. She issues me a boarding pass and wishes me a lot of fun on my flight to Berlin.

From the check-in area there is a direct access to the security screening area.

The new Salon Air France in Terminal 2F

As I already mentioned in my previous post, Air France recently opened a new Business Class lounge in between the two piers of Terminal 2F. The lounge is very nice and enjoyable!

Boarding

The flight departs at 09:55, and boarding is scheduled for 09:10.

When I reach gate F55, all the video screens are showing off the new Air France A 220-300, highlighting its fuel efficiency and improved fuel burn compared to older types. There are Air France ground staff everywhere, holding up signs that read ‘Welcome A 220’.

Boarding starts with zone 1, which is for SkyPriority passengers with status or seated in Business Class. And I really must say, Air France has risen to the occasion to make the even something special. As I enter the airbridge, there are two Air France staff holding trays with Air France A220 branded gear pins.

And then in the airbridge, there is a lineup of staff on both sides holding up the same ‘Welcome A 220’ signs. As passengers pass by them, they are greeted by every one of the staff individually.

The cabin

Air France has its A 220-300 in a standard 2 + 3 configuration. In Business Class, only one of the seats on a row of two is sold, and on the row of three the middle seat is kept empty.

The seats have good pitch, and it’s the same pitch throughout the cabin. Every seat has a USB and thunderbolt port, a cup holder and a headrest that can be adjusted for height.

The seats are in dark blue, and there are the usual brand elements you find everywhere on Air France, for example the little red swish embroidered on the headrest. The little seahorse is emblazoned on the winglets, on the engine cowlings and on the fuselage right next to the L1 door.

The crew

The crew on this flight are truly excellent and have obviously been trained specifically for this event. Both the cockpit and cabin crew make all their announcements in French, German and English and make sure to point out how delighted they are to be joining this inaugural flight to Berlin. They also actively encourage passengers to ask them anything about the new aircraft.

But apart from that, they seem genuinely happy to be there. They’re all smiles and very attentive.

Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with sealed refreshing towels.

And then we’re on our way…

The meal

It takes a while for the meal service to begin, and I suspect the crew are still trying to find their way around the new aircraft. I also think the trolley containing the food has been specially chosen for this flight, because it’s spotlessly clean and looks new.

The meal consists of a crêpe with a tasty vegetable and cream cheese filling. There is also a dollop of cream cheese on top of the crêpe, as well as a spicy red pepper sauce. A slice of French cheese completes the dish.

In addition, there is a separate bowl of yoghurt with jam and a plate with apricot jam and butter. The crew make two rounds through the cabin with bread rolls and croissants. And of course, being a French airline, there are copious amounts of Laurent-Perrier going around.

The meal is very good and hits the spot nicely. To drink I have a glass of orange juice and some still water.

Arrival into Berlin

The flight time to Berlin is 80 minutes, which brings us in at around 11:30. As we start the descent, the crew pass through the cabin with flight certificates.

We taxi off the runway and come to a stop right in front of the Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt sign, presumably for the photo shoot that is likely to happen while the aircraft is on the ground in Berlin.

And with that, my inaugural flight on the Air France A 220-300 is over. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and Air France did a good job in bringing back a bit of the excitement of flying in their organisation of the event.

Presenting the New Salon Air France in Terminal 2F, Paris Roissy Airport

Terminal 2F is the Schengen Terminal for the mainline fleet of Air France. It has two piers. Previously, there was a separate lounge in the tip of each pier, one floor down from the public airside areas. The lounges tended to get crowded quickly. Because they were located on the ground- and first floors, the views were somewhat limited.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021 and Air France has opened a new and very elegant centralised lounge, located right in between the two piers. The new lounge covers a large area and stretches over two floors. There are plenty of seating options on both levels, and there are multiple bars for guests to get food and drinks.

Perhaps the most important improvement of this lounge is that is has a lot more showers, which can be booked at reception. There’s also a dedicated quiet zone, with dimmed light and heavy curtains for passengers in need of a rest.

Most noticeable, the design of the lounge is very beautiful and modern. The centerpiece of the lounge is the grand white staircase leading to the upper level of the lounge. There is plenty of natural light, which is complemented by shifting mood lighting.

It’s difficult to capture just how elegant this lounge is and the sense of space it gives. Personally, I think this new lounge is one of the nicest Business Class lounges I’ve every visited. I also think it’s probably the best Schengen Business Class lounge out the right now.

Le Train Bleu, Gare de Lyon – Paris

Introduction

Le train bleu was the unofficial designation of a scheduled service provided by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-lits, who also operated the infamous Orient Express, that ran from Calais to the Côte d’Azur from 1922 on. The train got its name from its carriages’ blue livery.

Le Train Bleu was eventually terminated when travel became more affordable and demand for luxury travel gave way to mass tourism. What remains, is an excellent restaurant within the Gare de Lyon in Paris. And today, I am going there for lunch.

Le Train Bleu restaurant opened back in 1901 on the occasion of the inauguration of the Gare de Lyon in Paris. Originally, it went simply by the name of Buffet de la Gare de Lyon. However, in 1963 it was renamed to take its current name.

The restaurant’s interior is spectacular in the opulent fin-de-siècle style and really unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. It looks more like a cathedral than a restaurant.

Access to the restaurant is via the grand staircase in the middle of Hall 1 of the main concourse of the Gare de Lyon.

The menu

The menu offers a wide selection of seasonal dishes that nicely showcase French cuisine.

The waiting staff

The staff at the restaurant are all very friendly and helpful. I think what impresses me most though, is a) just how many waiting staff are active in the restaurant at the same time, and b) just how nicely paced the meal is.

The meal

We begin with an amuse bouche of lightly smoked white fish on cream cheese.

For the starter I go for the lightly smoked salmon with seasonal pickled vegetables and blinis. The presentation of the dish is lovely, and the taste is excellent, with a nice variety of subtle flavours.

For the main course I have the quenelles à la Lyonaise. Quenelles are a kind of fish dumpling. They are served in a rich bisque infused with cognac and a side dish of grilled basmati rice. And lovely, crunchy French bread.

The main course is absolutely divine, and mopping up the bisque with the bread when I’m done has me making the most obscene moaning noises.

My travel companion has the grilled scallops, which are nicely presented and apparently taste very good. The scallops are served on a bed of chickpeas.

For dessert, I really just can’t resist and go for the crêpes Suzette. What a classic! At le Train Bleu the dish is prepared at your table, including the bit where they set the whole thing on fire with a healthy dose of Grand Manier. And this is just heaven. I shove a fork of the sweet goodness in my mouth and all the frustrations of the last two years are just washed clean off me. And all that remains is the zesty flavour of the orange juice combined with the creamy, buttery richness of the crêpes.

My travel companion has the chocolate fondant, served with creamy vanilla ice cream and an elegant hint of licorice.

Once I’m done, I do for a moment consider a cup of mint tea to round off the meal. But I’m running out of time. I have an appointment at the Louvre at 15h00 to see La Gioconda, otherwise also known as Mona Lisa, and I don’t want to be late. Luckily, I’ll be back in Paris next week, and already have another reservation at Le Train Blue, so perhaps I can try all the things I missed out on this time…

And tomorrow? I’m in Paris, and tomorrow is the start of the IATA winter time table. With that you can probably figure out what I’m up to next…

Mama Shelter Hotel, Kirchberg – Luxembourg

On my most recent stay in Luxembourg I stayed at the Mama Shelter in Kirchberg. Kirchberg is where all the banks, offices and the European parliament are located. In as much, it’s a prime location for all the business traffic to the city.

Mama Shelter is the Accor Group’s latest hotel franchise. And from what I can tell, their target demographic are the terminally hip and hopelessly trendy that normally stay at a CitizenM.

The décor of the hotel is gaudy and pretentious. Parts of it look as though they have been designed specifically to act as an ‘interesting’ backdrop for the selfie of yet another brainless influencer. There are so many different patterns and colours going on everywhere, it literally makes my brain hurt.

The lobby, love the mushrooms…

Dinner and breakfast are served in a large, cavernous space. Funky music plays over the loudspeakers, requiring you to yell at the staff for them to understand your order. Although I must say that the food at the restaurant is rather good and offers quite a wide selection of comfort food and healthy dishes.

The room is huge and has a fairly large bathroom. The shower is powerful and allowed me to take a shower without flooding the whole damn building. And the bed is very comfortable with a hard mattress.

But no matter how stylish the room may be, practical it is not. There is a desk to work on at the foot of the bed. But the only seat for it is this uncomfortable bench that is way too low for the desk and makes it inconvenient to work on.

All things considered, I think I would stay at the Mama Shelter again for a business trip to Luxembourg – partly because it still has the look and feel of a new hotel, whereas the Novotel and the Sofitel next door are starting to look old and dated. If you can look beyond the nauseating interior design, the room is comfortable, the food is very good and the staff are very friendly and helpful.

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class -Embraer 190 & Embraer 175: Basel via Amsterdam to Luxembourg

Introduction

On 15 March 2020 I should have left on sabbatical to Australia. In the two weeks before my departure, I was scheduled to give two more courses in Luxembourg. My last trip to Luxembourg was on 3 March 2020. I remember the flight from Zürich to Luxembourg was nearly empty. I also remember thinking that hopefully this Covid business would be over before it caused the airlines any serious damage… And that was the last time I visited Luxembourg for the next 20 months.

Today I’m on my way to Luxembourg once again. And even though it may not be the most exciting place on the planet, I must confess that I have missed it. In a way. Sort of. I dunno. And that, I think, is enough to warrant a blog post.

Getting to the airport

This isn’t even the proverbial crack of dawn, is it? Because I’m sure you’d need to see at least a hint, a subtle soupçon, the slightest sliver of daylight for that. What on earth was I thinking? I’m really getting too old for this… It’s just gone five in the morning and I sitting on the airport bus to Basel airport. Okay, maybe this home office isn’t so bad after all, if it means not having to be out and about at such an ungodly hour.

My departure to Amsterdam is at 06h20. So, I’m cutting it a bit fine today, by arriving at the airport at 05h26. But I’m hoping the priority access to the security check will work in my favour. At least, with this connection I’ll be in Luxembourg just after ten in the morning.

Check-in

Check-in opens 36 hours before departure. If you check-in on the mobile app, you will first have to run through what KLM terms the COVID health check, in which you have to confirm that a) you are healthy, b) will not travel if you’re feeling unwell and c) will not blame KLM for anything in case of a deterioration of your health during your travels.

The app will not issue a boarding pass for you though. All passengers still need to present themselves at the check-in counter to have their documents verified before a boarding pass is issued.

On a side note, KLM only does the inventory for its flights a few days ahead of departure. In practice, this usually means that the comfort seats in the front of the cabin are only released two or three days prior to the flight. So, if you prefer sitting up front, or need room to stretch your legs, it’s usually worth while to check for any changes in the cabin configuration a few days before you fly.

The Swissport SkyViewLounge at Basel Euroairport

The Swissport lounge at Basel airport has finally reopened again. It had been closed for more than a year because of Covid. However, only the entrance level of the lounge is accessible, which is fairly small and has no direct sunlight. Not that it matters. Still no slivers on the horizon…

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 05h55 for a 06h20 departure. Seeing as I’m sitting on 1F, I figure I might as well wait to get on the plane. From what I can tell, the load is pretty good this morning. There is a separate queue for SkyPriority passengers and they are invited to board first. Which seems rather awkward in times of Covid, because it means the Business Class passengers are expected to sit there while the whole cabin parades past them…

There are two rows of Business Class, for a total of eight seats. Six seats are occupied. I am seated on 1F, and I am one of the two lucky ones with an empty seat next to me. This is something I think KLM really needs to address.

The main difference inside the cabin between the E175 and the E190 is that the latter has a large storage area in the front of the cabin. Even if you’re last to board and the overhead bins are already spilling over, you can always put your hand luggage there, if you ask the crew nicely.

The crew

There are two cabin crew on the flight. A young-ish lady who, in all honesty, is rather vapid, and a young man who is also the purser. Both of them are very friendly, and even the vapid one manges to still come across as professional.

Welcome drinks on KLM are only served in cases of delay. A refreshing towel is served later on with the meal.

The meal

Since my last trip on KLM, they appear to have updated their meal boxes on the Cityhopper services. The box is larger. While I don’t think there’s more food in it, at least it seems to have more space to hold everything.

Due to the Covid restrictions in place, the two warm bread rolls they previously used to serve have been replaced with a pre-packaged single roll that has been preserved to within an inch of its life. The yoghurt though, is very good and comes with a small container of müsli.

I don’t bother with a hot drink, because coffee is something airlines really, really don’t do very well on short-haul. Instead, I have a glass of apple juice to drink.

Arrival

The flight time to Amsterdam is one hour and five minutes. Back in Basel it’s cold but dry. But in Amsterdam the weather is dreadful, with low-hanging clouds and rain.

As we roll in, the crew make an announcement that deboarding will be by rows, starting from the front, and that passengers should remain seated until the row ahead of them starts moving – and then they promptly forget about the whole thing and it’s the usual uncoordinated scrum to get off the plane.

The terminal is very busy. Throughout the pandemic, KLM’s approach has been to pretend that nothing unusual was going on. I have no idea if that has paid off for them, but it’s impressive to see the airport so busy.

Transfer in Amsterdam

By the time the bus from the aircraft to the terminal ejects me at arrivals, I still have an hour to go before boarding for my next flight. I go up to the Crown lounge, which is crawling with people. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it looking so busy, even in pre-Covid times. Where are all these people going?

The flight to Luxembourg

The flight to Luxembourg is operated by an Embraer 175. As on my previous flight, I’m seated on 1F.

The cabin

The E175 really is a very horrible little airplane, outdone only by Lufthansa’s Canadair Regionaljet. Everything is tight and cramped, there’s hardly any storage space and literally, none of the seat rows are properly aligned with the windows for an unobstrcuted view without having to contort into a pretzel. At least the gods were kind to me again, and I don’t have anybody sitting next to me.

The flight time is only 40 minutes and the service consists of a small paper bag with a bottle of still water and a cinnamon bun, which is quite tasty. In addition, the crew ask passengers if they would like any additional hot or cold beverages.

Arrival

The weather improves a lot as we make our way towards Luxembourg. We touch down at 10h10 in glorious sunshine. I step outside the terminal building on the upper level for departures and catch the bus line 16 to Kirchberg.

Luxembourg still seems a bit subdued. The Covid measures are stricter than they are in Switzerland, I would say. But it’s definitely nice to be back!

KLM gave another solid performance. There’s nothing overly elegant about KLM and their service from a cardboard box is more functional than stylish. But they don’t pretend otherwise either.

The scenic route from Engelberg to Lucerne

I spend my Sunday morning in Engelberg climbing among the rocks at 1800 m above sea level like a deranged mountain goat. Down in the valley it’s still fresh. But up on the Brunni the sun is already warming up the air.

By the time I make my way down the mountain it’s already gone eleven. I have until 12h00 to check out of the hotel. There is a train departure from Engelberg every hour at two minutes past the hour. There are two possibilities for me to get back to Lucerne. I can either just stay put on the Lucerne-Engelberg Express, which should get me there in 43 minutes, or I can take the scenic route.

The scenic route requires two changes, but is totally worth it! From Engelberg to Stans takes 33 minutes on the express. There I have seven minutes to change trains to a local service to Stansstad, which is a journey of four minutes.

And then from Stansstad it’s about five minutes on foot from the railway station to the lake, from where I’ll be catching the boat back to Lucerne.

The trip by boat from Stansstad to Lucerne takes just over one hour. En route the boats calls at Hergiswil, Kehrsiten, Kastanienbaum, and the Transport Museum. Today’s service is being operated by the Titlis, one of the smaller vessels in the fleet.

Despite the many places I have visited around the globe, as far as I’m concerned nothing beats a lazy Sunday afternoon on Lake Lucerne in the autumn. It’s still warm enough to sit out on the deck, but without the humidity and the oppressive heat of summer.

Pilatus emerging out of the fog.
Just before Kersitten.
The Rigi, if I’m not mistaken.
The Bürgenstock.
Just before entering the port of Lucerne.
The Uri, which entered service on the lake back in 1901. She was overhauled back in 1994 and is still plying her trade on the company’s scheduled service. The Uri is the only one of the original steamboats on the lake that also operates in the winter.

The port of Lucerne is right in the centre of town. The railway station is two minutes on foot and the city’s famous covered bridge, the Kapelbrücke, is not much further away.