All Nippon Airways, Business Class – Boeing B 767 – 300: Haneda to Ishigaki

Getting to the Airport

My last post left off with me arriving in Narita from Heathrow yesterday. I then had to make my way to Haneda, from where my flight to Ishigaki leaves todays, where I would also spend the night.

There are three ways to reach Haneda airport from Narita using public transport. First, there is the limousine bus service – not sure where the limousine bit comes in – which runs regularly between the two airports. This can however, be a bit of a wild card. Theoretically the journey time should be around 90 minutes. But traffic in the Tokyo area can be quite bad, significantly increasing the time to make the journey.

The second option is of course the famous Narita Express, which runs to Shinjuku and Tokyo station and takes a little less than an hour to make the journey to Tokyo station. From there you have to change to a JR Yamanote line train to Hamamatsucho, where you connect to the Haneda monorail service. The Narita Express is certainly the most comfortable way to get into Tokyo, with reserved seating on every train – but obviously with luggage having to change trains twice may be a bit cumbersome.

And then, finally, there is also the Kaisei line, which runs a direct train from Narita to Haneda in 92 minutes. The direct trains run every 30 minutes or so but are not near as comfortable as the Narita Express.

In Haneda I’m staying at the Excel Haneda Airport Hotel for the night, which has some really brilliant views of the apron and the runway (see below). Access to the hotel is via Terminal D2.

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The Boeing 747-400 will leave the ANA fleet on 29. March 2014.

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Airline: All Nippon Airways
Aircraft: Boeing B 767-300
Cabin: Premier Class (Business Class)
Seat: 1H
From: Haneda
To: Ishigaki
Date: 29. December 2013
Departure: 11:30
Arrival: 15:00

I’m assuming that most of you will not know where Ishigaki is, which is why I’m adding a map pf the journey so far – courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper.

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Check-in

I exit the hotel at the far end of the departure concourse. The terminal is crawling with people. This is after all, the main holiday season in Japan. There are people everywhere, with long queues. But in typically Japanese fashion, the queues are orderly and move along efficiently and swiftly.

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There is a segregated check-in area for status card holders and passengers travelling on one of ANA’s Premier Class services, with direct access to security. The queues here are much shorter and the staff take their time to actually help you repack your stuff once you’re through security. If only it were always like this! Once you exit security, there is an escalator on your right leading up one floor to the ANA lounge.

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The Lounge

The ANA lounge is large and spacious, with plenty of seating options. Of course I follow my impulse, which is so much nicer than to call it a compulsion, to take a seat by the window where I can watch the action on the ramp, but I quickly change my mind. First of all, once you’re seated you can’t see the action outside anyway. Secondly, the seating area by the windows is markedly hotter than the rest of the lounge. It’s like a sauna.

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Boarding

The flight today is completely full. Boarding a flight in Japan is usually quite interesting to watch, and today’s flight does not appear to be any different in that respect. The first boarding announcement is for passengers with reduced mobility, and passengers travelling with children. Next it’s the Star Alliance members and passengers in Premier Class.

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Boarding starts at 11:20, only 10 minutes ahead of our scheduled departure time, and I’m seriously wondering how much longer we’ll be on the ground here in Haneda. But when push comes to shove the Japanese will make that extra effort to achieve a group objective and much to my surprise, at 11:30 everyone is seated and the doors close for an on time departure to Ishigaki.

Take-off is from runway 23. As soon as we’re airborne, we do a sharp right turn to point us in a southerly direction. It’s a lovely day here in the Tokyo area and our route takes us nearly exactly above Fuji. Unfortunately though, I’m unable to take any decent photos. I’m on the aisle seat and the guy by the window keeps leaning forward to get a better view.

The Cabin

There’s something very retro about this bird. The overhead bins are still of the original
B 767 variety and have not been replace with the new B 777 style ones. The seat is comfortable enough, but there is no individual IFE and the seat controls are mechanic rather than electric.

The seating configuration is 2 – 1 – 2, with the designation AB for the row of two on the left, D for the single seat and HJ for the row of two on the right side of the aircraft.

Every passenger has a blanket and a pair of slippers at his seat. Pillows are also available on request.

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The Crew

There are two cabin crew working in Business Class this morning. One is the middle-aged maître de. Very stern and competent. And then there is a charming young lady, who is very personable and witty.

The Meal

The meal is very tasty and very Japanese. It’s a two layered bento box with a variety of dishes, mostly fish, vegetables and rice. There is a menu in the box, but that is only in Japanese. So I can’t really tell you exactly what it is you can see in the pictures. Miso soup is served with the meal. To drink I have a cup of Perrier.

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And then to conclude the meal I have a cup of Starbuck’s branded coffee and a chocolate fondant biscuit that is so divine I have to ask for a second one.

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ANA’s premium meal concept on domestic flights is quite simple, but it serves its purpose well – the bento box and miso are rather nice.

For the rest of the flight I listen to my own music. Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin regularly to ensure that passengers are comfortable and to check if any one needs anything.

One hour out of Ishigaki there is another drinks service, which is accompanied by a basket with savoury and sweet snacks.

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Arrival

As I already mentioned, it was a lovely day when we departed from Haneda this morning. Unfortunately though I can’t really say the same about Ishigaki. It’s definitely warmer, but that’s about it. It’s quite windy and it’s raining – perfect weather to lounge around inside and read a good book or two. Which is, I think, what I shall do until the weather clears.

Japan Air Lines, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: LHR to NRT – the next day

I awake again just under two hours out of Tokyo to this magnificent view.

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The Second Service

For the second service there is either a Japanese meal or a western meal. However, passengers also have the possibility to choose from a large selection of other dishes that they can put together individually. I decide to go with the JAL trademark Tokyo Curry Lab vegetable curry and a plate fruit. The curry is delicious and the fruit have remained surprisingly juicy. I finish off the meal with a cup of coffee. Coffee incidentally, is something JAL do really well.

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Arrival

We’ve now left the mainland behind us. As I write we’re crossing the sea towards Japan, only one hour left to go. I think I’ll leave it here for this post, which I’m also delivering from on board the flight.

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Expect the next installment shortly, but not from Tokyo.

Japan Air Lines, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: London Heathrow to Toyko Narita

Introduction

Let me take you briefly, if I may, on a trip down memory lane. In December of 2002 I travelled to Japan for the very first time. I flew in Swiss International Air Lines Business Class on the mighty MD-11. The company had only just started operations earlier that same year in the wake of Swissair’s collapse; and even though Swiss International Air Lines promised and hoped to be an entirely different animal, traces of its predecessor remained. There was the aircraft’s livery for one – a somewhat slipshod and cheap affair that served its purpose rather badly. In fact the only thing that belied the aircraft’s previous operator was a decal with ‘SWISS’ titles which had been hurriedly plastered over those of the airline that lay in ruins by then, and which had a tendency to come undone after only a few flights.

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And then there was also the cabin and the table linen, which still proudly bore the logo of what had once been the ‘world’s most refreshing airline’.

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You cannot step in the same river twice – I know. But for reasons I have never been fully able to understand myself, I have kept returning to Japan ever since that first visit. My yearly trip at the end of the year to the Land of the Rising Sun has become something of a ritual that needs to be adhered to meticulously, almost religiously.

And so I bring to a trip report covering my sixteenth journey to Japan.

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Airline: Japan Airlines
Aircraft: Boeing B 777-300ER
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 9K, window
From: London Heathrow’s T5
To: Tokyo’s Narita
Date: 27 December 2013
Departure: 19:00
Arrival: 16:00

Transfer in London Heathrow

The shuttle bus for Terminal 3 is just arriving as I get off the escalators. It’s not very full. The journey time from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3 is indicated as 10 minutes. But that’s about as far as my luck goes.  I get off the bus at T3 and head upstairs for security. Now I’m standing in the queue behind some guy transferring from an Air Canada flight, apparently. Some people really should not be allowed to travel, honestly. It takes him an eternity to get his act together and finally place all his necessary items on the conveyor belt for the x-ray machine. Why on earth put your hair gel in one bag and your toothpaste in another in a different piece of luggage?

The Cathay Pacific Lounge

In Terminal 3 I have two lounges to choose from. Three actually, but one is the American Airlines lounge but from what I’ve heard that must be such a sad place that I don’t think I’ll even bother. Which leaves me, of course, with the British Airways lounge and the Cathay Pacific. I decide to give the latter a try.

Cathay Pacific has quite an operation here in London, with five daily departures to Hong Kong. Consequently, the lounge is rather large and also quite busy when I arrive. But about an hour later there are two flights to Hong Kong leaving in close succession and the place empties nearly completely.

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This here is the noodle bar…

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…where you can get one of these:

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But they also have…

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Boarding

With forty minutes left until departure, I venture out of the lounge and head for gate 5, from where my flight will be boarding this evening. Unfortunately it’s already dark by this time, so I only manage to grab a photo of the vertical stabiliser.

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Boarding begins with an invitation for First and Business Class passengers and passengers with kids. The load on tonight’s flight is quite light and boarding is soon completed. In Business Class it would appear that every passenger has a window seat.

The Cabin

The JAL Business Class seat is really fantastic. Not only does it offer a tremendous level of privacy, comfort and space, but with the staggered seating every passenger has direct access to the aisle, without having to endure the indignity of having to climb over his fellow passenger on the aisle.

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There is also internet access available for 21 US Dollars for 24 hours, which really isn’t bad.

Amenities

A pillow, blanket, earphones and slippers have already been placed at my seat. Like ANA, JAL does not offer amenity kits. Shortly before departure though, one of the flight attendants comes by with a basket full of goodies. I take the eye shades, earplugs and a toothbrush. All you need for a few hours sleep on a plane.

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Departure is to the west and very powerful. As we climb out and the lights of the grand old city of London slowly vanish below, I can’t help but be amazed by the sheer size and power of those engines. To be honest I think I find it quite arousing…

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The Crew

The service is typically Japanese. There are also two westerners working in the Business Class cabin, an English male and a female of eastern European descent who speaks excellent English – just with a bit of an accent. Both are very friendly and obliging and go out of their way to make passengers feel comfortable. I also notice that they both appear to be fluent in Japanese.

No drinks are served while the aircraft is on the ground in Heathrow. However, once we’re airborne and the crew is released, service begins with the distribution of hot towels and a welcome drink, with a choice of either orange juice or champagne.

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The Meal

The meal service begins with an aperitif. I have a sherry which is served with a small bowl of warm nuts and dried berries.

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Amuse Bouche

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Then comes the amuse bouche which is a shrimp dumpling with boiled turnip and Japanese dressing.

I decide to have the Japanese meal to get me in the right holiday spirit. The first course is a selection of nine Japanese seasonal dishes. The presentation of the food is simply amazing.

The First Course

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I have, starting from top left to bottom right:

Vegetables in Japanese jelly with a sesame vinegar sauce.

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Salt-steamed sea-bream with seaweed sauce.

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Olive flounder sashimi.

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Simmered salmon with Japanese pepper and simmered burdock.

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Simmered butterfish with radish.

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Lobster with sea urchin, soy sauce and miso marinated mozzarella.

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Grilled sablefish with egg cake and mashed yam ball.

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Taro and yuba with glutinous rice sauce.

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Savoury steamed egg custard with crab meat and prawn.

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The Main Course

For the main dish I have the stewed pork in soybean milk sauce, which is served with gohan (rice), Japanese pickles and miso soup.

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Dessert

I give the black forest mousse a miss and finish the meal with a cup of coffee and some excellent, rich cookies and chocolates.

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Now let’s just see if I can upload the pictures and post this first part of the report, from 39’000 feet…

British Airways, Business Class – A 320: Amsterdam to London Heathrow

Introduction

Yesterday I flew with KLM Cityhopper from Basel to Amsterdam. I spent the day in Amsterdam walking around the city and enjoying (more) good food. And by the evening even the sun had attempted, if not succeeded, to make an appearance.

This morning I awake from peaceful slumber to the sound of heavy raindrops gently falling against the windowpane to meet their inevitable doom. The wind has picked up too by the sound of it.

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Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: A 320
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1C, aisle
From: Amsterdam
To: London Heathrow’s Terminal 5
Date: 27 December 2013
Departure: 14:55
Arrival: 15:15

Getting to the Airport

I check out of my room at the Conservatorium just before noon. The weather today is a complete contrast to yesterday and really quite beastly. By noon the wind is gusting and the rain is not only coming down vertically but also moving sideways to ensure that you get completely drenched within five minutes of stepping outdoors.

The tramlines two and five run from the stop right outside the hotel to the Central Station and take about 15 minutes to make the journey. From the main station I catch the 12:28 train to Schiphol, which takes 17 minutes to make the journey.

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Check-in

I checked in online using the BA app yesterday evening. However, due to the fact that my onward connection from Heathrow is not operated by BA, I am only able to obtain the boarding pass for the first leg to London. Therefore, my first stop once I arrive in Schiphol is the British Airways check-in counters. The friendly check-in agent prints the boarding pass for my onward connection, gives me instructions on how to find the lounge and wishes me a pleasant journey before sending me on my way.

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The British Airways Lounge

British Airways have their own lounge here in Amsterdam, lounge number 40. It’s quite a nice facility with a good selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and typically English finger food – triangle sandwiches, crisps and the likes. The lounge is not too crowded. There is, however, one guy sitting in the corner munching crisps with his mouth open. I think I’ve seen cows ruminating with better manners. They certainly were less noisy…

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About thirty minutes before departure I leave the lounge and head for gate D26, from where my flight will be leaving today. The security check is quickly done and I arrive at the gate just as the first boarding call is made for Business Class passengers and status holders. Apparently the flight is rather full today, with one operational upgrade to the Business Class cabin.

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The Crew

There are three rows of Business Class on today’s flight, with one middle-aged cabin crew working the Business Class cabin. Once boarding is completed, every passenger is offered a scented hot towel. And shortly after they’ve been removed again, we’re already over the piano keys and lined up for departure.

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The Meal

Once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign it turned off, the cabin crew spring into action. With a total of 12 passengers in the Business Class cabin and a flight time of only 50 minutes, I’m rather curious to see what the service will be like. But obviously we’re dealing with a pro here. With a happy smile on her face and a friendly comment for every one of the passengers, the flight attendant provides and elegant and unhurried service. On offer today we have:

  1. a selection of plain scones or sultana scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam
  2. finger sandwiches (ham and celery, salmon and capers, cheese and chutney)
  3. a slice of an excellent and very tasty chocolate and orange cake
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Arrival

Eventually, and without rushing, the trays are removed and shortly thereafter we begin our descent into Heathrow. Quite evidently the crew are quite surprised to inform us that there will be no delays or holding patterns, which ultimately means an arrival some 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

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I’m the first off the plane. Inside the terminal I follow the signs to flight connections from Terminal 3, which is where my next flight will be departing from.

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Stay tuned…

KLM City Hopper, Economy Class – Fokker F 70: Basel to Amsterdam

Introduction

Christmas is barely over. No more office parties, no more presents to pack and others unpack and the tree is already starting to look worse for wear. After spending the 24th and 25th in the company of dear family and friends it’s now high time for me to head for the airport and get on a plane again. Yes, it’s time for my Christmas vacation!

Initially I wasn’t even planning on writing a report about this flight, but then there were so many new things worth reporting – news about lounge access for KLM passengers in Basel and a new cabin – that I simply couldn’t resist.

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Aircraft: Fokker F 70
Airline: KLM City Hopper
Cabin: Economy Class
Seat: 11A, window on the emergency exit
Date: 26 December 2013
Departure: 11:50
Arrival: 13:30
From: Basel-Mulhouse
To: Amsterdam

Getting to the Airport

My first stop this morning, once I finish packing, is the gym, five minutes down the road from where I live, to try and burn off some of yesterday’s Christmas dinner before I go away on holiday. I return home at around 10:00 in the morning, exchange my gym bag for my suitcase and then I leave again and head for the airport. The bus line 50 is surprisingly empty this morning.

Check-in

I checked in online for my flight the previous evening using the fabulous KLM app, which immediately and very reliably drops my boarding pass in the Passbook app. So upon arrival at the airport I can bypass check-in and head straight for security.

Recently they introduced an automatic barrier at Basel airport for passengers wishing to use the fast track through security. The fast track is marked as the lane for ‘Business Class and Status holders’, the latter of which applies to me today. So I give the fast track a try, only for it to reject my advances and my boarding pass. Now why was I expecting this to happen?

The Skyview Lounge

Eventually I do manage to get through security, the queue moves swiftly. Just as I am about to settle down by the gate for my flight, I decide I need to heed the call of nature first. On the way to the gents I pass the Swissport lounge where I notice, much to my surprise, that KLM is now also on the list of airlines that use this facility. Oh happy day!

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I enter cautiously, and indeed the receptionist welcomes me to the lounge, scans my boarding pass and wishes me a pleasant stay. Thank you very much!

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts on time, and by the time I reach the gate from the lounge most of the passengers have already boarded. The gate agent scans my boarding pass, tags my suitcase for collection at the aircraft on arrival and wishes me a pleasant journey.

The Cabin

Upon entering the aircraft I am pleasantly surprised to find that it has already undergone the refurbishment KLM had announced for the F 70 fleet a while back. And I must say, it’s a vast improvement! To be fair, I have always thought that KLM takes really excellent care of its aircraft, but these new seats have knocked years off the old lady.

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The seats are much thinner than the previous ones, and the fabric covers have now been replaced with leather, which immediately gives the seat and cabin a much more modern feel and look. I comment about this to the flight attendant standing on the other side of the aisle and tell her how much nicer the new cabin looks – ‘and about time too’ she replies and smiles. Indeed, about time too!

The doors close on time and the captain comes on the blower to welcome us aboard. He sounds like a cheery, friendly chap. Our flight time today is announced as 65 minutes, taxi to the departing runway will be short, which is a good thing because the aircraft picked up some ice on the inbound leg and will need to be de-iced before we depart for Amsterdam.

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Once that’s all taken care we take-off in a north westerly direction, with thick globules of orange de-icing fluid oozing past my window as we go thundering down the runway to accelerate.

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The Crew

The cabin crew on today’s flight are two blonde Dutch females who are so similar to each other in looks that I’m having trouble keeping them apart. They’re also both equally friendly and both seem rather happy to be working this flight, which makes a change from the grumpy lot of crew you sometimes get on these short European flights.

The Meal

I always call this chapter ‘The Meal’ in al my trip reports, and I see no reasons to deviate from that now. Although in fact, strictly speaking I’m not entirely sure KLM’s provisions in this department technically count as a meal. But please don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining or anything after all the food a drink these last few days.

In any case, it consists of some savoury snack with a strong flavour of artificial onions and a cup of still water. Simply to beef up the trip report, I have taken the liberty of taking a few pictures of the motifs on the plastic cups KLM distribute on their flights. I think they’re rather nice.

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Arrival

Shortly after the rubbish has been removed, we begin our descent into Amsterdam.

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Arrival today is on 18C, which means our taxi to the Fokker farm not quite as epic and long as when we’re assigned the Polderbaan for arrivals.

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Shortly after the door opens, the cabin luggage is lined up in front of the aircraft for passengers to pick up as we board the bus to bring us to the terminal.

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Epilogue

In Amsterdam I shall be staying at the Hotel Conservatorium for one night. It’s a very nice hotel in a historic building that’s conveniently located right next door to the Van Gough museum and in close proximity to the Rijksmuseum a bit further up the road. I leave you with a few pictures from the hotel.

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