When I was a child, Ferien auf Saltkrokan, or Seacrow Island in English, was one of my favourite books by Astrid Lindgren. I have no idea how many times I read that book! Essentially, the story follows the adventures of four siblings on summer vacation on Seacrow Island with their slightly clumsy but kind and good hearted father. For me as a child the characters were so real that I often wondered what it would be like to visit the island and meet them in person.
Seacrow Island does not really exist, of course. Astrid Lindgren made it up. But the island of Växholm in the Stockholm archipelago comes pretty close to what I always imagined Astrid Lindgren’s island might look like.
And if you need a rest from ambling through the quiet streets of Växholm, I can highly recommend the Växholms Hembygdsgard Café, which has an extensive selection of truly delectable creamy cakes.
When I was there, the place was quite busy. But it was still nice to sit down by the water, listening to the birds chirping and eating a gorgeous creamy cake.
This is a previously unpublished trip report from 2012
I’ve decided to visit Stockholm for a long weekend. It’s nearing the end of summer so I figure it should be nice up north around this time of year. Probably, for most people the summer is a time to be outside having barbecues and stuff. But quite frankly, despite the fact that I was born on a Mediterranean island, I’ve never been able to handle the summer heat all that well. So a weekend trip to Stockholm, to me at least, holds the promise of respite from the oppressive humidity and the summer heat in Switzerland.
Getting to the Airport
On Friday afternoon I catch the train from Zürich Main Station to Zürich Airport. In July and August Switzerland pretty much comes to a halt, as this is when most families with kids go on vacation, and so the train is not very full.
Neither is the airport actually. It’s 10 August, which means that now all the traffic will be home bound tourists returning ahead of the start of the autumn semester at school.
The SWISS check-in area is calm. There are no business travellers about either, which is kind of nice. Not because of the business travellers as such, but because it’s just nice to travel without hassle.
Which also means you can take your time as security without being rushed by the staff.
The SWISS Business Class Lounge
I make a brief stop at the lounge to grab something to eat and drink – just in case. Most of the flights I take with SWISS these days are usually short hops of one hour or so, which means I’m not really quite sure what to expect from the flight to Stockholm with a block time of over two hours.
Boarding starts slightly behind schedule and the gate agent is obviously working to make sure we still manage to get away on time. So boarding is not by priority, just the usual scrum. But I figure that’s okay, because the flight is not that full anyway.
The cabin, or rather the seats, are not exactly in the best of condition. The leather on the seat is worn and threadbare and there are scratches on the back covers. There’s also some food left from the previous flight stuck in my seatbelt. Which is totally unfair, because the guy next to me still had a half eaten chocolate in his seat pocket…
The crew seem tense and preoccupied. They’re certainly not rude or anything, but they all seem a bit distant. Either they’re worried about delays the passengers don’t know about, or perhaps they just haven’t found their groove as a crew.
Once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the smell of warm food starts wafting through the cabin. Initially, I figure they’re probably just heating up the crew meals for the cockpit. But then once the service starts, it turns out the hot meals are for the passengers. Hurrah!
… or maybe not hurrah. Good heavens! The hot snack consists of a sort of rectangular pizza that has been heated in its card board box. KLM also serves these on longer flights in Europe and they’re just so, so bad. The taste isn’t really so much of an issue, if you’re into greasy fast food with zero nutritional value that will clog up your arteries and gives you heart burn just from looking at it.
But it just looks so vile. The bottom of the cardboard box is all greasy, where the oil has seeped in and soaked he cardboard. Which I guess is a win because that means the grease is not in your body, which is probably better for your digestive system and your life expectancy.
To drink I have a cup of water and a cup of coffee. The coffee is usually not too bad on SWISS. For dessert, of course, the crew pass through the cabin with those fabulous little SWISS chocolates.
The flight is uneventful and passes quickly. Although it does take the crew a whole hour before they finally pass through the cabin to remove the trash. I guess that’s one way of keeping passengers in their seats.
Getting into Town
In Stockholm I’ll by staying at the Gashaga Sealodge. To get there, I first take the outrageously expensive Arlanda Express to the Central Station. Then from there it’s the tube line 13 to Ropsten and then finally, from there the Lidingöbanan, which is something of a hypbrid between a tram and a train.
Con Dao is one of sixteen islands of an archipelago just off the coast of Vietnam. The island has a rather dark history in that the French built a prison there in the 19th century that was later also used during the Vietnam war.
Today, the island of Con Dao is a lot more peaceful and quiet. I stayed at the Six Senses Hotel, which is a beautiful facility spread out along the beach. There is the main complex with the spa, restaurants, and reception and then there are the beach villas that sprawl over quite a vast area.
The villas offer a lot of privacy. I stayed in an ocean-front two bedroom pool villa, which was really quite huge and offered a lot of space for just two people. Essentially, there are three structures to the villa. In the centre is the common living area with the living room, dining room, kitchen and laundry.
To the left and right are the two bedrooms, both of which have large double beds and a large bathroom with an in- and outdoor shower.
The villa had two pools. The smaller, square one was probably intended as the kiddie pool, where as the larger one was for the ‘grown ups’. The larger pool was about ten metres long, so still not long enough to do laps.
Of course, for some serious swimming you can always take a dip in the sea, which is literally just a stone’s throw away…
La Hummuseria is a vegetarian restaurant in the very heart of old Madrid. If you’re not paying attention, it may well happen that you end up passing the restaurant without even noticing, because it sits right above the entrance to an undergorund carpark.
The decor of the restaurant is hard to describe. It’s an uncoordinated mix of different styles and pieces of furniture that have been thrown together haphazardly. But the decor is not why you should visit this place.
The cuisine has a decidedly mediterranean flavour and is an interesting mix of middle eastern mezze and Spanish tapas. As such, if you’re visiting as a pair or with a group, it would probably make sense to order a selection from the menu. The staff are all very friendly and will certainly be able to lend a hand if you get stuck for choice.
It’s probably best if you plan ahead and make a reservation way, way in advance. But it’s certainly worth it!
The Spicer’s Hidden Vale is a lovely estate near Grandchester, Queensland. To get there, it’s probably best to fly into Brisbane and then continue from there by car. It’s a distance of about 100km and takes about 90 minutes to get to.
The hotel is spread over a number of buildings, with the restaurant in the main building and the guests’ rooms scattered across the grounds.
There’s also a pool and a spa and the hotel organises a whole set of daily activities for guests. However, if, like me, you just prefer to spend your day lounging about without doing anything much, it’s a great place to do it.
The room is comfortable and cosy, with a nice porch by the entrance. Although to be honest, by day there are too many flies and by night there are too many frogs milling about.
The food in the restaurant is good and breakfast outside on the veranda in the morning is really lovely. However, if you’re vegetarian or picky eater, then perhaps this may not be the place for you. I stayed for three nights and more or less exhausted the all the options on the vegetarian menu. But the dishes were certainly well prepared.
The Spicer’s hidden Vale is a lovely place set in a gorgeous scenery in the middle of nowhere. It’s the kind of place you should go to if you need to relax and unwind and you most certainly will. In the mornings I went running along the only road that passes through the area. It was always very quiet. And how cn you resist with a view like this?
I have not idea what it was like for others of course, but many moons ago, for me as a student studying linguistics, I often wondered if I’d made the right choice. I used to worry I wouldn’t be able to find a job once I graduated or that I’d end up doing something I didn’t really enjoy for a loss of anything better to do.
Fortunately, with a lot of luck and a bit of help, things worked out. But little did I imagine back in those days what my life would be after I graduated. Today I consider myself very fortunate in that my work is something I really enjoy. My work has also allowed me to travel the world and meet so many fascinating people.
Looking back, there are a few moments that have stuck in my memory. Mainly, because I recall thinking to myself at the time: ‘How on earth to you end up here…?’. For example, the first time I gave a speech in the great assembly hall at ICAO HQ in Montreal. I wasn’t too phased by the audience of about 300 delegates watching. But I must confess, as a life long aviation geek it just gave me such a thrill knowing that the front of the podium I was standing behind was embalzoned with the ICAO logo.
Another such ‘how on earth’ moment was the trip I made in 2013 to Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei to attend a conference on the implementation of the ICAO language proficiency requirements. My colleague the flying Dutchman eventually ended up on the evening news and I made into the daily papers. In particular, I remember sitting next to an Indonesian captain at lunch, who was capable of flawlessly saying ‘Ja, ich han gärn Rösti’ – a phrase he picked up during his training at Swissair for his type rating on the MD-11. The phrase means ‘yes, I like Rösti’. He also had a few swear words and obscentities he could do in Swiss German, which certainly kept me entertained through lunch. But let’s not go there.
Another thing I remember about Brunei is that apart from being vey friendly, most of the locals I met were, in some form or other, related to the Sultan. Whereever I went, I was introduced to people who would mention, by way of greeting, that ‘yeah, he is my cousin…’.
And so it goes without saying that the Sultan even features in my departure from Bunei on my way back home to Switzerland via Singapore.
At the Airport
My flight to Singapore is scheduled to depart in the late afternoon, to connect to the night time service to Zürich. Brunei airport is a decently sized facility. It’s also very quiet.
The Business Class lounge is located on the first floor of an odd structure that looks as though it had been haphazardly plonked in the middle of the airside lounge area as an afterthought. For all I know, quite possibly that’s actually true.
The facilities at the lounge are fairly basic, but it has a good internet connection and the seating options are comfortable enough. Generally speaking, my one complaint about the whole terminal building is that views of the outside are very difficult and generally obstructed in one form or other.
Eventually, I see my aircraft from Singapore gliding down to land between the shutters. The aircraft slows to taxi speed, turns right off the runway and onto the taxiway – and then stops. The engines are turned off and a set of stairs is brought to the L1 door of the aircraft. Next, a red carpet is rolled out from the bottom step. Around the same time, a long line of about twelve black limousines line up, parallel to the aircraft.
One or two persons at a time emerge from the aircraft, walk down the stairs and into the first waiting limousine. The car drives off, and another two persons emerge and do the same thing. Until eventually, the last car leaves. The stairs are removed with the red carpet, the aircraft is hooked to a tug and subsequently towed to the gate. By this time the return flight’s departure time is just coming up.
Eventually, boarding starts with quite a delay. I have a long layover in Singapore, so I’m not all that bothered. But some of the other passengers are looking decidely concerned about their connection in Singapore.
The crew are in a mad rush to get passengers settled as quickly as possible. But that is no reason for the fabulous Singapore girls to forget their manners. Once boarding is completed, the lead flight attendant in the red Kebaya comes through the cabin to welcome every passenger on board individually and apologize for the delay. When she reaches my seat, I ask her what the black limousines were all about. She explains to me that apparently, his royal highness was on a state visit with his entourage but his aircraft went tech. As a result, the poor man had no other option but to suffer the inconvenience of booking the whole of the First and Business Class section for his return trip on a ‘commercial’ airline. I find that kind of ironic though, because the Sultan has a current type rating for the B747, an A 340 and a Gulfstream that he owns…
Once we’re airborne, the service begins with welcome drinks. I have a glass of apple juice, which is served with a packet of mixed nuts.
The First Course
For the first course, there is a small bowl of salmon sashimi served with a bit of salad and pickles.
The Main Course
For the main course, I have the Nasi Uduk with fish. It’s basically a plate of steamed coconut rice that is served with pieces of fried fish, a boiled egg and some dried fish and peanuts for condiments. It’s very tasty. And the size of the portion is decent too!
For dessert I have a chocolate brownie with vanilla sauce, which makes a change from those dreadful creams many other airlines offer and that are so generic and usually not very tasty either…
Eventually we land in Singapore with quite a delay. Which suits me well, because it shortens the time of my layover in Singapore.
After four days in Langkawi, I make a move to return home. The first leg will see my flying to KL and then connecting to another flight to Bangkok the same day.
Getting to the Airport
I’m not sure there actually is any reliable public transport in Langkawi, which is why I decide to avail myself of the hotel shuttle to take me to the airport.
At the airport there are dedicated counters for Malaysia Airlines and there is one counter for Business Class passengers. Passengers need to go through security screening before accessing the check-in area.
There is no Business Class lounge at the airport, but instead they have something much, much better: from the public gate area you have excellent views of the ramp. Aircraft tend to park nose in, which means it’s just perfect for people like me to geek out while they await their boarding call.
Boarding for the flight starts rather abruptly without any calls being made.
This aircraft has yet a different cabin interior from the ones of the two previous flights. Apart from the fact that it’s a more modern seat, the covers are in violet (!) leather and the bulkhead is in some bamboo inspired pattern.
There is no service on the ground. I think there simply isn’t enough time for that, given that the taxi time is very short.
The snack is pretty much the same concept as that on the outbound flight. Except that this time, one canapé is with camembert and fruit and the other is with smoked salmon, an olive and a pickle.
Once more, the dessert is an undefinable but very tasty sweet thing in a rather unappealing shade of green.
There’s a bit of a hold up for us to start our descent into KL due to the presence of thunder storms in the area. On the row behind me is an Arab woman with her teenage son.
As soon as the pilot announces that we can start our approach soon, I hear somebody behind my spray and spraying and spraying. And just a short while later a horribly heavy scent starts wafting through the cabin. It’s so bad I have to stink my fingers up my nose and breathe through my mouth. It’s probably a very expensive scent, but it’s just way too strong. One of the cabin crew, who is already sitting on the jump seat, sees me and gives me a questioning look. To which I can only motion that somebody behind me just sprayed themselves. She covers her mouth and tries not to laugh. By the time we land I have a serious head ache…
The Datai Langkawi is a beautifully laid out facility draped on a hill that gently slopes down to the shores of the Andaman Sea. The main public areas are roofed but are otherwise open to the elements. The main building is up on the hill, and so are the rooms.
Further down the hill then, there are the the garden villas and eventually the beachside villas by the water. Some of the villas have their own pool, but there is also a large communal pool up by the main building.
On request, the hotel will also do a lovely afternoon tea with all the trimmings.
Just one word of warning for those of you who are perhaps a bit nervous around the creepycrawlies: The Datai is set in a forrest. As such, while there are quite a few sweet little monkeys in the trees, you should also expect quite a few bugs, geckos and frogs. I found it quite poetic to sit upstairs in the lounge with a drink in the evenings, listening to the sound of the forrest around me. But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
While I was there, I caught this guy taking a dump right on my doorstep…
With social distancing still in force in Switzerland and much of the global aviation industry having come to a grinding halt, I obviously haven’t been travelling at all since the beginning of March 2020. On a positive note, that has given me ample time to make a few changes and update to my blog. In the process, I also stumbled across a few previously unposted reports of past trips. And so, for your reading entertainment, I have decided to add them here.
I’ll start with a trip I took to Langkawi in Malaysia back in 2011. Nonetheless, I will keep to the usual style of writing and use the present tense.
Getting to the Airport
I arrive in Kuala Lumpur the evening before on a flight from Bangkok. The next day I’m on my way back to the airport for the flight to Langkawi. I suppose I might have stayed at the airport, given that it’s quite far out from the city. But then I figured it would still be nice to be able to go into town, which is why I eventually spend the night in KL at the Hilton Sentral Stesen, which sits right above the railway station.
The KLIA Express train is not full at all. In fact, I think every time I’ve taken this train it hasn’t been full. The price for a oneway ticket is MYR55.
Malaysia Airlines and most of the legacy carriers operate out of KLIA1 or Terminal 1. There is also KLIA2, but that wasn’t even open in 2011.
My boarding pass for the flight to Langkawi was already issued the day before when I checked in for the flight from Bangkok to KL, so I can head straight for security.
Strangely enough, no distinction appears to be made between international and domestic passengers as far as the flow of passengers is concerned. Also, there seems to be a general security screening for all passenger, the point of which eludes me. And then there is a second check before entering the gate.
Irrespective of whether they’re domestic or international departures, short-haul flights tend to use gates at the main terminal concourse, whereas the widebodies tend to use the satellite terminal.
The flight to Langkawi is operated by a Boeing B 737-800. An announcement is made for passengers in Business Class passengers to board first, but this is not something anyone ever seems to pay much attention to in KL and the gate staff don’t enforce it either.
The seats on this aircraft are slightly different to those on the previous flight I took from Bangkok. It’s not just that they have red covers, as opposed to the blue ones on yesterday’s aircraft, it also seems to by a different type of seat. It looks more like an old fashioned Economy Class seat but with a wider armrest in between.
While we’re still on the ground, the crew pass through the cabin with English language newspapers and a glass of fresh guava juice.
The flight time to Langkawi is short at only 40 minutes. The service starts with the distribution of scented cold towels that are nice and thick.
Despite the short flight time, the Malaysia Airlines Business Class service includes a small snack, a dessert and some Cadbury’s chocolate biscuits. And they insist on using a table cloth.
The main dish consists of two canapé sandwiches. One is with cream cheese, while the other is with pieces of chicken in a spicy curry marinade and lemon.
I have no idea what the dessert is and when I suggest pumpkin, the crew aren’t sure what that is in their language either but are too polite to say so. One way or another, it’s very good and has a spicy aroma combined with saffron.
No sooner as the tray been removed, we start our descent into Langkawi. What I remember most about this flight is how calm and unrushed the whole service by the cabin crew is.
Langkawi is a fairly small facility and I’m only travelling with hand luggage anyway. So once the doors open, I’m out fairly quickly. The hotel has sent a driver to pick me up. And so I resist the temptation to take photos of my aircraft as I walk across the apron to the terminal.
Getting to the Hotel
In Langkawi I’m staying at The Datai, which is about 40 minutes away from the airport. That’s not necessarily because Langkawi is that big, but rather because it’s a fairly circuitous route and there are no fast roads on the island.
In 2007 I visited Venice for the first time. The Hotel Palazzo Barbarigo had only just opened and was therefore offering exceptionally low rates, especially considering that the albergo is situated right on the the Canale Grande.
I arrived in the evening, after dark. The hotel had sent a little vaporetto to pick me up and take me to the hotel. I couldn’t really make out anything much outside because of the darkness.
Upon arrival at the hotel, I was informed that I would be the only guest in the whole hotel that night. And therefore, even though I had booked an absolutely rock bottom rate, I was given a room overlooking the Canale Grande, so I would have a view in the morning.
I honestly don’t remember much else about the hotel, except that the landside entrance was down a very small alleway way that I’m sure I would have missed if I’d arrived on foot.
I took the trip in December of 2007, which perhaps will explain the relative lack of crowds.
In any case, with COVID-19 it’s really not a good time to be travelling. And that’s what makes memories such as these all the more precious now – as a place to escape to within the confines and safety of your own mind.