Lelystad, The Netherlands

If you’re a bit of an aviation geek or a kid that never really grew up, you should seriously consider a visit to Lelystad airport in the Netherlands and the Aviodrom museum. It really is brilliant!

First of all, the number of exhibits is quite impressive and includes legends like the Boeing B 747-300, the Fokker 100, a DC-4, a DC-3 and a Lockheed Constellation, to name but a few. Admittedly, some of the aircraft are not in such good shape anymore, exposed as they are to the harsh and not always very pleasant Dutch climate. But even so, it’s still a pretty awesome experience to stand under a 747 and give him a belly rub! You can even enter the aircraft to catch a glimpse of what the cabin used to look like in the old days.

Mount Pilatus, Switzerland

Without a doubt Mount Pilatus is one of Switzerland’s top tourist attractions. And rightly so! Perched on the shores of Lake Lucerne, the view from the top of Pilatus is simply stunning and on good days you can even see as far as Zürich.

To reach Pilatus, I take the bus line 71 from Lucerne main station to Kriens. The journey takes about ten minutes. And then from there it’s about a ten minutes walk to the station of the Pilatus Bahnen. The journey by cable car will take about 40 minutes to complete and includes changing cable cars more or less halfway up the mountain.

If you’re the nervous type or just not comfortable in vehicles that hang precariously hundreds of metres above the ground, then perhaps you should be warned: it can get quite windy at the summit, so very often the cable car cabin will have to break abruptly just before entering the station at the summit and for the wind to abate and the cabin to stop swinging from side to side…

Once you reach the top at Pilatus Kulm, the place is crawling with tourists – predominantly of the German and Chinese variety. You can’t really blame them because the vistas really are superb!

If you want to escape the crowds, probably the best thing to do is spend a night or two at one of the two hotels. The last departures from Pilatus Kulm are at around 17h45, when the place quietens again and you have the mountain to yourself.

There are two hotels on Pilatus Kulm, the Bellevue and the Hotel Pilatus Kulm. The latter is the older of the two, but is well taken care of. The rooms are spacious and all rooms face the same way, so you’re guaranteed and perfect view of the Alps.

The next morning I decide to take the cogwheel railway from Pilatus Kulm down to Alpnachstad, which is right on the lake. Apparently, the Pilatus railway holds the world record for the cogwheel railway with the steepest gradient. It’s a nice journey down and will take you about forty minutes to complete. Usually the ticket you purchase is valid for both the railway and the cable car.

At Alpnachstad is only a short walk under the autobahn and the railway lines to the pier for the steamboat to Lucerne. Of course, this being Switzerland, the departures of the boat are coordinated with the arrivals of the trains coming down from Pilatus.

The journey from Alpnachstad to Lucerne will take 75 minutes to complete.

Ljubljana

Ljubljana is a very nice and elegantly laid out city. In the evenings it’s just lovely to take a stroll through the old town and down to the river, the banks of which are lined with busy bars, cafés and restaurants.

Nonetheless, and you can call me biased if you like, the city’s main attraction lies outside the city at the airport: just in front of the offices of the Slovenian ANSP you will find this DC-6. Apparently, the aircraft was in service with Adria Airways for ten years, from 1962 to 1972. Once it was decommissioned, the aircraft was towed to its original spot and put on display where they later built the airport’s new parking. It was subsequently moved to its current location. Until very recently it was not clear who in fact owned the aircraft. As a result, this gorgeous veteran is in dire need of some TLC. Even so, I think she’s in pretty good shape for her age and it’s brilliant to be able to come up so close to such a grand old aircraft that, sadly, I am too young to ever have seen flying in real live.

Hotel Majapahit, Surabaya

Here’s the link to the Hotel

The Majapahit Hotel, Surabaya was built in 1910 by Lucas Sarkies, who also founded The Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here. The hotel has the same old world charm as other, more famous establishments – like The Savoy in London or The Peninsula in Hong Kong. The public area in the lobby is kept in the Art Deco style, while the rooms are elegantly appointed in what I can only describe as a colonial style – although nowadays it’s probably politically incorrect to say something like that.

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The hotel is laid out in a number large courtyards with lush vegetation and neatly trimmed lawns. The rooms are all located around the individual courtyards, giving the hotel a very open and exotic feeling.

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During my stay I was lucky enough to be upgraded to a Heritage Suite, thanks to my status with the Accor group of hotels. Apart from the fact that suite really is huge, it also has direct access to the pool, which incidentally is 25 metres long.

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Admittedly, there isn’t really anything much to see or do in Surabaya city and the traffic is bad enough to make a grown man cry. But if ever you happen to find yourself in this part of the world, it would be a shame to miss the fabulous and stylish Majapahit Hotel.

Hilton Am Stadtpark, Vienna

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I don’t think I’m overly picky when it comes to hotels. Especially not when I’m travelling for business. As long as the hotel is clean and in a convenient location I’m usually quite happy.

During this week’s course in Vienna, Austria I stayed at the Hilton am Stadtpark. Admittedly, the location of the hotel is excellent, in close proximity to the centre of the city and within walking distance of many very good restaurants. The station for the airport train is literally on the other side of the road from the hotel.

But apart from that, I definitely cannot recommend this hotel and certainly will not be returning here any time soon unless I really have to. The rooms are old and dated and look as though they were last renovated in the nineties. The temperature in the building is also a problem. The rooms are severely overheated, the air conditioning doesn’t work and the windows can only be tilted to let in some fresh air.

Other than that, no matter when you go down for breakfast, you always have to queue for at least 15 minutes before you are given a table. What’s more, the breakfast buffet is rather bland, everything tastes prefabricated and rather boring and the cook will even manage to burn a simple thing like an omelette or a fried egg! Of course I’m aware of the fact that tastes are different but all in all, I think it is hardly worth it to pay EUR31 for the breakfast at this hotel.

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The queue for breakfast
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The queue for breakfast

Mamà Framboise, Madrid

Mamà Framboise is a confiserie and patisserie with various shops scattered around Madrid. I visited the one in the Recoleto quarter of the city, which is located on the ground floor of a mall just off the surprisingly named Plaza Margaret Thatcher (Say what?)

The service concept is a bit strange, mainly because the staff are all too busy to explain properly. But it’s still worth it. First you have to wait to be assigned a table by one of the waiting staff. Once you have a table, you can then go back to the entrance and queue at the counter to place your order and pay. The food will then be brought to your table. The queues can be rather long, but they tend to move quickly. Besides, the delicacies they serve are, in my humble opinion, well worth the wait.

I went with the Tiramisù and the Blueberry Cheesecake, both of which were sinfully good and oh so tasty. The cheesecake was filled with fresh blueberries and the combination of coffee and chocolate in the Tiramisù was heavenly.

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My partner went with the Chocolate Sacher and Caramel, both of which were also very good.

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www.mamaframboise.com

Segovia, Spain

Segovia lies about 70 kilometres north of Madrid. To reach the town by train, you have to catch a RENFE mid-haul train from Chamartin, which is the main station for all trains heading north from the Spanish capital. The journey to Segovia only takes 27 minutes, with the train travelling at an impressive top speed of 250 km/h for most of the journey. The railway station of Segovia is literally out in the sticks though. You exit the station building to find cows grazing in the fields opposite.

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To get into town you can either take the bus lines 11 and 12 or you can take a taxi. The journey takes between 10 and 15 minutes by bus. The bus services are infrequent, but they are timed to coincide with the arrivals and departures of the trains. So it’s best to check for trains back to the station once you arrive at the city centre.

The centrepiece of Segovia is the Roman aqueduct that is believed to have been constructed in 98 A. D. Apart from its impressive length and height, the amazing thing about the aqueduct is that the building blocks are held together by precision and weight only. There is no mortar or anything of the sort to keep them in place.

Other than that, there is the Alcazar, which lies on the opposite side of the city from the aqueduct. The castle is rather strange because it does not really fit in, architecturally, with the rest of the buildings in the town and looks more like a French château, and not like something you would expect to find in Spain.

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For EUR2.50 you can go up the tower of the Alcazar. I can highly recommend doing this. It’s only 156 steps and from the top you have these amazing views of the surrounding countryside and those big skies you rarely get to see in a place as mountainous and densely populated as Sitzerland, where I live.

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I had three hours to walk around and explore the old town, which I really enjoyed. If you can make it, I would definitely recommend a visit to Segovia.

 

Santo Stefano di Sessanio

Santo Stefano de Sessanio is a small, beautiful medieval town high up in the Abruzzi. For many years most of the village lay in ruins, a situation that was exacerbated by the fierce earthquake that shook L’Aquila in 2009 during which the old Medici tower of Santo Stefano was destroyed.

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Currently, a project is underway to restore and preserve this old village. Parts of Santo Stefano have now been turned into a hotel, the Sextantio Albergo Diffuso. The hotel’s ambition is to restore and maintain the buildings in their original state and appearance. The result is a beautiful gem of a hotel that has the look and feel of a time gone by. The rooms are decked out with old wooden furniture and the only concession to modernity has been the installation of electricity and running water. Staying at the Sextatio is not so much about staying at an exclusive, luxury resort.

But it’s an interesting experience to walk through this silent town, moving among the ruins and getting a glimpse of just how hard life must have been back in the old days.

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Here’s the link to the hotel.

 

 

Recanati & Loreto, Italy

The old town of Recanati lies perched on a hill in the Marche Region of Italy. To the east the Adriatic expands to the horizon in beautiful shades of dark blue, while to the southwest the Abruzzi emerge like an apparition above the haze of the midday heat.

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Recanati is a nice, sleepy town that looks a lot like the setting of one of those old Don Camillo films from the fifties. Perhaps they’re just clichés, but it’s still surprising just how well Recanati lives up to those clichés: from the old grannies wobbling along the cobbled streets in all their finery on the way to mass, to the young ladies walking down the street in their skimpy short, languorously enjoying a gelato and seemingly, but only seemingly unaware of the effect they have on the young men that pass them in the street.

Close to Recanati is the town of Loreto, which was made famous by its basilica, in which the alleged house of the Virgin Mary of Nazareth is preserved.

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In Recanati I stayed at the Gallery Hotel, which is also where the meeting took place that I was attending. If you’re thinking of staying there, try to get a room with a view overlooking the valley. It’s worth it!

Here’s the link to the hotel.

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg is the capital of the Grand Est region of France and the official seat of the European parliament. It’s a very neat and pretty city that is easy to navigate on foot. The centrepiece of the city is, of course, the magnificent cathedral – a huge, imposing building with intricate masonry and a very tall bell tower.

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Personally though, I think my favourite it the main railway station. The original building is already very nice, with large windows with coloured glass looking onto the platforms. The entire building is now covered inside a huge glass structure that is quite unusual.

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In Strasbourg I am staying at the MGallery Hotel Cour du Corbeau, which belongs to the Accor Group of hotels and is ideally located just on the other side of the canal from the cathedral. The facility has been open since 2009 and is obviously very well maintained, because there are hardly any signs of wear and tear. The hotel consists of a number of old buildings and town houses that have been beautifully restored and parts of the original buildings have been integrated into the hotel’s structure.

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The rooms are nicely appointed and very clean. Next time I’m visiting Strasburg I’ll definitely be staying at this hotel again.

Here’s the link to the hotel.