Key Hotel, Izmir

The Key hotel is a very nice hotel, located on the seaside promenade in the centre of Izmir. Originally, the place was built as a bank before eventually it was converted into a hotel.

IMG_7953
IMG_7979

The rooms are fairly big and elegantly appointed. Throughout the hotel dark colours are used but without making the hotel seem gloomy. There are rooms with a full sea view, which are away from the street and thus very quiet. Partial sea view rooms are located on the side of the building and can be a bit noisy from the traffic outside. I would strongly advise against booking a room on the street side for the noise.

IMG_7959
IMG_7961
IMG_7994

The amenities in the bathroom are by Molton Brown. The minibar is well stocked and all the items in it, including the Snickers and Twix, are complimentary. The minibar is replenished every day.

IMG_7945
IMG_7947
IMG_7944

The hotel’s restaurant is also very good and serves an interesting mix or Turkish and international dishes for lunch and dinner. The breakfast selection is also very nice. For breakfast there is an extensive buffet of sweet and savoury dishes. In addition, there is a menu with hot dishes like French Toast, pancakes or scrambled eggs to choose from.

The only down side to this hotel is its gym, really. Which it allegedly has but which is, in my view, a pretty poor excuse for a gym. Essentially, ‘the gym’ is a step master, a treadmill and a cycling machine on the landing of the fourth floor. That it is.

IMG_7990
IMG_7897
IMG_7892
IMG_7896

Çeşme

By Friday lunchtime, the course I am giving with the Turkish military has been completed successfully. My flight home to Zürich will not be leaving until noon the next day, so I am at a bit of a loss for what to do, given that it is quite hot in Izmir and there is not really that much to do or see in the city centre, unless you fancy shopping. So instead I decide to head out to Çeşme on the coast which, according to the course participants, has some of the best beaches in Turkey. Çeşme is roughly 80km due west of Izmir and there is a good autobahn all the way. It is a quaint little seaside resort with a nice old town littered with small souvenir shops that sell everything from handmade nargile to stickily sweet lokum. And yes, the beaches really are quite amazing here.

IMG_7929
IMG_7930
IMG_7931
IMG_7932
IMG_7933
IMG_7936
IMG_7938
IMG_7939
IMG_7937

In Çeşme I am staying at the Sheraton. I expect there are probably nicer, more intimate and modern hotels to stay at in Çeşme. However, the Sheraton’s redeeming feature is that it occupies one of the nicest stretches of beach and has a nice garden and pool area. Other than that though, the rooms are starting to look a bit old and dated. But at least they have a very large, well equipped gym.

IMG_7902
IMG_7911
IMG_7912
IMG_7923
IMG_7924
IMG_7925
IMG_7926
IMG_7928
IMG_7940

SunExpress, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Zürich to Izmir

Folie1

Introduction

I am on my way from a conference in Warsaw, where I presented a paper, to Izmir, where I shall be giving a course to the Turkish military. On Friday evening I arrive in Amsterdam on a flight from Warsaw. I spend the weekend in Amsterdam before flying on to Zürich, from where I shall be taking a flight to Izmir. The city of Izmir is a classic holiday charter destination and many people use the airport to access some of the really beautiful beach resorts around the Turkish coast, places like Marmaris for example. As a result, it can be somewhat difficult finding flight with convenient schedules. I shall be travelling with SunExpress. There are flights by Swiss International Airlines as well, but these are not daily to my knowledge and schedules are somewhat unattractive.

I meet the valiant M. just before noon. The airport is crawling with people. There are travellers about to head off to somewhere far off and exotic, checking-in ahead of Zürich’s lunch-time wave of long-haul departures. And then there are also the mad shoppers, availing themselves of the opportunity to make their weekly shopping and the airport’s extensive retail area.

Check-in

Location: Check-in 2, mezzanine level, counters 15 – 18. As you come off the bridge that connects the retail area to the terminal building, you find the Swiss arrivals lounge right in front of you. The check-in counters are located just to the right of the lounge. These counters are only located on the mezzanine floor provisionally, until refurbishment and reconstruction of the check-in area on the upper level has been completed.
Facilities: From what I gather, SunExpress offers web check-in, but there is no app. The counters at the airport are operated by handling agent AAS, who also handle Pegasus and Intersky Airways at the same counters. There is a bit of a queue for check-in, but the line moves quickly.

SunExpress give you the opportunity to reserve your seats in advance. You can reserve the seats either at the time of booking or later. However, when I tried, the system would not work, presumably because the booking was made through a travel agent. But there is a ticketing counter for SunExpress at the airport, and so I was able to reserve seats for us on the emergency exit when I arrived at the airport for my previous trip to Warsaw. The price for a seat reservation on the on the emergency exit or on row 1 is EUR20 per person if you make the transaction at the counter or by phone. Otherwise it is only EUR15.

After check-in, I proceed through security and then passport control before boarding the underground transit that will take me to the E dock, from where my flight will be leaving. The dock is pretty busy, what with the Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways and Swiss long-haul flights all about ready for boarding. But the place quickly empties and by 13h00 peace has once more been restored inside the building.

IMG_7835
IMG_7836
IMG_7837
IMG_7839
IMG_7840

Boarding

My flight will be leaving from E62, which is on the lower level of the transit area. Emirates’ A 380 for example boards Economy Class passengers from down here, while passengers on the upper deck use a gate one floor up.

IMG_7841
IMG_7842
IMG_7843
IMG_7844
IMG_7845

Boarding takes an eternity. The flights is nearly completely full and there are about six passengers in wheelchairs that need to get settled in. Fortunately though, the aisle seat on our row remains empty, and so the valiant M. and I are able to spread out a little more. Eventually boarding is completed with a delay of some 20 minutes.

The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3.
Seat number: 18F, window on the second exit row. The exits rows are numbers 16 and 18. There is no row 17 on this aircraft.
Seat: The seats on this aircraft are a very pleasant surprise because they are very old school. In other words, instead of those horrible slim line things that are really hard on the backside, this seat is very comfortable is nicely padded. SunExpress only offers one class of service on its flights.
Pitch: No information. Obviously, sitting on the emergency exit the leg space is excellent. And from what I can tell the regular seats do not look too tight either.
Width: No information.

IMG_7846
IMG_7847
IMG_7848
IMG_7850

The Crew

The crew are all Turkish and very friendly. They seem very competent and I am quite impressed by the way they handle passengers in wheelchairs, families with kids and Turkish old ladies obviously on their way home to visit friends. All the crew speak English and many of them also know some German.

IMG_7851
IMG_7852
IMG_7853
IMG_7854

The Meal

SunExpress only serves food and drinks against payment. Essentially, you have two options. You can either purchase something on board. However, these are only snacks. Furthermore, availability is somewhat limited and as a result, many items already sell out on the outbound leg, leaving you with little to no choice if you are sitting at the back or on the inbound leg.

Alternatively, you can also pre-order a hot meal online, using the SunExpress website. Orders must be made at the very latest three working days in advance. Orders can be made by phone, e-mail or using the airline’s website. When I tried ordering a meal via the website I kept receiving an error message. Subsequently, I wrote an e-mail to SunExpress to place my order that way. Unfortunately, at the time I was unaware of the requirement to place the order three days in advance. As a result, by the time I got round to writing, it was already too late. However, SunExpress were very good in the way they handled the mail. The response came within 12 hours and they were very apologetic for not being able to help.

IMG_7856
IMG_7857
IMG_7858
IMG_7859
IMG_7860

Arrival

By the time we start our descent, the sun is already starting to set. It is a beautiful approach over mountainous terrain. In the background you can see the Mediterranean, with the setting sun glistening of the surface. But the scene is disturbed or flawed by the many kids on board the flight which break out in a cacophony of cries and sobs as their ears start to pop on the descent.

IMG_7861
IMG_7862
IMG_7863
IMG_7864

Epilogue

In Izmir M. will be renting a car. For some reasons, the Sixt counter is located in the domestic terminal. From international arrivals it is about a 10 minutes walk.

The journey by car from the airport to the centre of town will take approximately 30 minutes, depending on the traffic.

KLM, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Amsterdam to Zürich

Folie1

Introduction

On Friday evening I arrived in Amsterdam on a flight from Warsaw. I spend a lovely weekend in Amsterdam enjoying the fine weather and today I shall continue my journey from Amsterdam to Zürich and from there on to Izmir, where I shall be giving a course.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Tram and train
Departs from: Amsterdam Museumplain
Arrives at: Amsterdam Schiphol airport
Journey time: Roughly 40 minutes
Frequency: From Central station to the airport there are trains roughly every 5 to 10 minutes.

It is still early on Sunday morning. I leave the Sir Albert Hotel just after seven and make my way to the tram stop for the line 16 or 24 tram. Eventually, after waiting for about 10 minutes without even as much as hearing a tram, I consult the timetable, only to find that the first tram will not be arriving until 07:48. So I grab my suitcase and walk to the Museum square which is five minutes away. From there I take the tramline 5 to Central station. The journey to the railway station takes about ten minutes. From there I catch an intercity train to Schiphol, which makes the journey to the airport in about 15 minutes.

Check-in

Location: Departure Hall 1, one floor up from the Central Plaza.
Facilities: Economy Class passengers check-in use the self-service facilities, which includes labelling and putting the suitcases on the conveyor belt yourself. For Business Class passengers and status holders, there are also staffed counters for check-in available.
Security: There is a dedicated line for status card holders and Business Class passengers for security.

I already checked in for my flight the evening before. I do not know if perhaps KLM have made changes to their IT infrastructure recently, but for some reason the KLM app seems to be working surprisingly well these last few weeks. Even adding the boarding pass to Passbook works without a hitch.

IMG_7812

I arrive at the airport at about 08:15 and make my way to security. Personally I think Schiphol has one of the best organised security checks around. First of all, there always seem to be enough counters open to cope with all the passengers. So you never have to queue for very long. Secondly, the people who work here are always really friendly, unlike the frumpy, grumpy ex-KGB agents they tend to employ at many other airports these days.

The KLM Crown Lounge

Location: One floor up from the public airside centre, at the beginning of the D dock.
Type of lounge: KLM lounge for Business Class passengers and status holder.
Facilities: Working stations, separate television watching room, toilets and showers available in the lounge. The lounge is divided in two parts. There is a smaller section at the back, which is only open at specific times or when demand makes it necessary.
Catering: There is a selection of hot and cold dishes available throughout the day. The selection varies on the time of day. There is a second bar in the smaller section of the lounge. Hot food however, is only available in the larger, front section of the lounge.
Internet: Free internet is available, password required.

The Crown Lounge is already quite full, but not near as bad as on a Friday evening, when it can be difficult to find a place to sit. Fortunately, they have opened the back part of the lounge, which tends to be quieter that the main area due to the fact that the bar area at the back is only rarely open.

IMG_7815
IMG_7814

The breakfast selection is quite good, with a selection of bread, cheese and ham, yoghurt, fresh fruit salad and thick pancakes with maple syrup.

Boarding

Business Class passengers and status card holders are invited to board the aircraft first. There is also a dedicated line for these passengers to queue.

IMG_7816

My flight will be leaving from C15, which is a 6 minutes walk from the lounge area. Originally, boarding should have started at 09h15. However, at 09h20 an announcement is made that due to some communication mishap, catering has yet to load the meals and therefore the flight will be running slightly late. Eventually we push back from the gate with a delay of 20 minutes. Even so, our arrival in Zürich is expected on time, thanks to a strong tail wind. Our flight time to Zürich is announced as 55 minutes.

IMG_7818
IMG_7820
IMG_7822

The flight this morning is completely full. I really do not think I have every seen anything like this. I am sitting on row two and the queue of people boarding the plane is seemingly endless. The purser tells me that indeed the flight is completely sold out, with not a single seat available.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2
Seat number: 2C
Seat: This is a bog standard European Business Class configuration with a row of three Economy Class seats on either side of the aisle. The middle seat is left empty and marked accordingly with a headrest. The seat is fairly comfy, even though it is quite thin and thus quite hard.
Pitch: 33 inches
Width: 17 inches

IMG_7823
IMG_7824
IMG_7825

The Crew

In typical Dutch style, the crew on this flight are all friendly and chatty. They are very relaxed. Some guy sitting at the back of the bus has forgotten or loss his iPhone at the gate. The crew even allow him off the plane twice to go look for it, before eventually it is time to leave and the doors close. Throughout the flight, the crew take good care of passengers and make sure everyone is well-hydrated and nourished.

The Meal

Type of meal: Breakfast

  1. Plate of cold ham and a selection of cheese, served with butter.
  2. Fruit salad.
  3. Fruit yoghurt.
  4. Jam (no choice).
  5. Selection form the bread basket – they came through the cabin three times.
  6. Coffee and orange juice.
IMG_7826
IMG_7827
IMG_7828
IMG_7829
IMG_7831
IMG_7832

The meal hits the spot nicely. Okay, admittedly I had already eaten in the lounge but I am still starting to feel hungry again by the time we get airborne.

Arrival

With a flight time of only 55 minutes, obviously the service does not take too long, and as soon I have finished my meal and the purser has checked that I will not be having a fifth croissant (I know…), he removes my tray and the crew start preparing for landing.

We arrive at the gate at 11:05. There is a slight delay in getting the aircraft connected to an external power unit. Even so, we are still slightly ahead of schedule by the time we are allowed off the plane.

But my journey is not finished here in Zürich. I now have one hour to buy a few things and exchange some money before I meet the valiant M. and we head off to give another course.

Stay tuned…

Going for a run in Vondel Park

I wake up at around six on Saturday morning and decide to go out for a jog before the city wakes up. From my hotel I first head in the direction of the Rijks Museum. I cross the huge square in front of the main building with its Miffy statues and then turn left towards the hotel Conservatorium. From there I turn right until eventually I find myself at the entrance to the Vondel park right in the centre of the city.

The Vondel park is very generously laid out. There are many duck ponds surrounded by lush green lawns. I even manage to sight a few bunnies. Other areas of the park have been left to look ‘natural’ with thick bushes, shrubs and tall trees. The park is excellent for running and there are dirt tracks throughout the park in case you prefer that to asphalt. The place is still fairly deserted as I run past at around 07:00. However, when I return later on for some serious people watching in the sun, the place is crawling with joggers, runners and cyclists.

The circuit you can see below was just under 6 km long.

IMG_7866

De Bakkerswinkel, Amsterdam

De Bakerswinkel is an excellent place to have breakfast if you fancy something a little different from your usual hotel fare. As far as I know, there are currently three outlets in Amsterdam. The flagship store is located off the Damrak, right in the centre of the really seedy part of touristy Amsterdam. But today I shall be visiting their newest shop in the De Pijp district of the city.

IMG_7793
IMG_7792

The opening hours vary from one shop to another. The one in De Pijp already opens at 07:30. It is just coming up to 08h00 when I enter and by the looks of it, I am the first customer and have the place to myself. Keep in mind though, that De Bakerswinkel are really very popular and depending on what time you arrive, you may have to wait for quite a bit.

IMG_7787
IMG_7788
IMG_7789
IMG_7790

What I like about De Bakerswinkel is that the place has a very homey feel to it. It is more like being in somebody’s kitchen than in a restaurant. None of the crockery matches, and neither does the cutlery. I would suggest you work up a healthy appetite before you visit – it is worth it. I would recommend – basically because it is what I always have – the Bakers’ Breakfast, which includes a large tea or coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, a huge plate of ham and a variety of cheeses and a huge breadbasket. At every table there are also two large jars with lemon curd and strawberry or raspberry jam.

And here is the link to De Bakkerswinkel.

Sir Albert Hotel, De Pijp

The Sir Albert Hotel is located in the trendy De Pijp district of Amsterdam. It is a charming neighbourhood with a domestic small village vibe going on. There are many good restaurants in the area and the Rijks Museum is literally only a stone’s throw away.

The Sir Albert is a member of the Design Hotels brand, which means that – being a ‘boutique hotel’ – you as the guest will have to go without some of the usual facilities you would find in a normal hotel, like laundry service or a gym. And so, my first impression is of a somewhat pretentious facility trying just a bit too hard. But first impressions can be misleading and in fact, as it turns out, the hotel is rather nice. I just do not get those hippos on the wall…

IMG_7801
IMG_7802
IMG_7803
IMG_7804
IMG_7806
IMG_7807
IMG_7808

Rooms are fairly large, bright and airy, with high ceilings and large windows. Some rooms have a bath, while others, like mine, only have a shower. Bathroom amenities are provided by a brand called Dead Clean, which I was previously unfamiliar with. Apparently the name derives from the fact that they use salt from the Dead Sea. In any case, the scent is very nice.

IMG_7796
IMG_7797
IMG_7798
IMG_7799
IMG_7800

The hotel’s staff are generally very friendly and helpful and will try to accommodate or help in any way they can.

To reach the Sir Albert, take either tram line 16 or 24 from the Central Station and alight at the stop named Albert Cuypert. From there, the hotel is another two minutes walk along the tram lines on your left hand side.

IMG_7810
IMG_7811

And here is the link to the Sir Albert.