Seebad Bansin

Bansin was established in 1897 as one of three imperial baths on the island of Usedom, together with Heringsdorf and Ahlbeck. Following the reunification of Germany, a lot of money was invested in the three baths in the 1990s in a bid to improve their infrastructure and to generate revenues for the former DDR holiday spot. Today, Usedom is well connected to the mainland, and there are frequent and reliable rail connections to Berlin and Hamburg. There’s even an airport that sees mostly seasonal holiday traffic in the summer.

Bansin is very quiet. It’s not a place you go to if you’re looking for excitement or entertainment. The average age of visitors is somewhere between sixty and seventy, if I had to guess. In as much, life happens at a very leisurely and laid back pace here, which is really nice! A stay in Bansin is relaxing to the extreme, and that’s what I enjoyed about it. You can spend your days on the beach, walking in the dunes or just simply reading a book on the balcony of your hotel room.

Just watch out for the seagulls. One of them shat on the keyboard of my laptop while I was sitting outside on my balcony. Chapter 13 of my PhD thesis will always be remembered now as the chapter I was working on when the seagull poo incident occurred. I swear I could hear the bastard laughing at me as he flew away…

Puccini’s Turandot at the Berliner Staatsoper Unter den Linden

Turandot is probably Puccini’s most problematic opera. In fact, it took him so long trying to come to a convincing ending, that eventually he died before completing his work.

The plot of Turandot has its issues. Let’s face it, after the beautiful aria at the end of which Liu kills herself, it was always going to be difficult to top that and come to a convincing happy end. And that’s where the production in Berlin was so good – because there is no happy end!

In the production I saw in Berlin, the conductor was none other than the fabulous Zubin Mehta. The role of the vicious Turandot should originally have been played by Netrebko. But after she refused to take a stand and condemn Russia’s vicious attack on Ukraine, she was dropped by the Staatsoper. And rightly so. And to be honest, I don’t think it’s a great loss, seeing as she is slowly getting a bit past it.

From my hotel to the Staatsoper it’s about 45 minutes on foot and the route takes me through the Brandenbuger Tor to Unter den Linden. Just before you reach the opera, there is the Russian embassy and the Aeroflot offices next to it on your right. Exactly opposite, on the left side of the road, a banner has been put up in support of Ukraine – in full view of the embassy.

On my way back to the hotel it’s already dark, and the Brandenburger Tor and the Siegessäule are beautifully illuminated.

National Archeological Museum of Greece

Undoubtedly, Athens has the rather questionable distinction of being the most unattractive city in Europe. It’s ugly, dirty, dilapidated and run down.

During my brief stay, I decide to visit the archeological museum, which houses some of the few remaining bronze statues from the Greek period. The museum has a vast collection of artefacts on exhibit. Unfortunately though, it’s very old school, in the sense that there is only a brief description for every piece to explain what it is, and where it was found. So, rather than narrating, the museum just shows. It’s a bit like the Egyptian museum on Midan Tahrir in Cairo. The upshot, of course, is that if you don’t read up about ancient Greece ahead of your visit, you’re probably not going to know what half the stuff is that you’re looking at.

Below is one of the most prestigious pieces in the collection. Scholars are still debating whether this is a depiction of Poseidon or Zeus. The big question, of course, is what was he holding in his right hand. And thereby hangs a tail – or rather: a bolt of lightning or a trident?

Originally, the bronze statues had eyes that were made of ivory and amber (for the irises). Through the millenia, most of the figures lost their eyes. However, in those cases where they still do have eyes, it’s quite uncanny just how real the eyes make the facial expressions look.

Le Château de Fontainebleau

The château at Fontainebleau dates back to the 12th century, when the original building was commissioned by King Louis VII. Every subsequent ruler of France added to and expanded the château, with some of the most significant changes being commissioned by King François I, who is also credited for bringing Leonardo Da Vinci’s Gioconda to the Louvre.

The château de Fontainebleau is very different to Versailles, in that it was intended and mostly operated as the residence of the royals of France, whereas Versailles was never a home and only ever served as a showpiece for Louis XIV to enact his role as the roy soleil who ruled by divine prerogative.

Today, the château is open to the public. An adult ticket costs EUR13 and can be purchased either on location or online. Figuring there might be queues, I opted to get the ticket online. Although I needn’t have bothered because the place was far from crowded while I was there.

On the ground floor there is also a very nice café that serves an excellent lunch that I can highly recommend.

If you’re close to Paris and have a few days to spare, I can highly recommend a visit to Fontainebleau. I think it’s worthwhile to stay in the town of Fontainebleau for a few days, because it’s really quite charming. Also, the grounds of the château are mostly open to the public. Walking through the park in the evenings is lovely, with the golden light of the setting sun seeping in between the trees.

Mont Saint Michel

What is it

Mont Saint Michel is a tidal island situated one kilometre off the French Normandy coast. In the eleventh century it was decided to build a monastery on the island. Over the following centuries several parts were added to the original buildings, turning them into a complex labyrinth that is impossible to navigate as a tourist.

How to get there

Mont St Michel is about an hour’s drive from both St Malo and Rennes. However, you can’t just drive up to the island and park it there. Instead, there is a vast and very well organised parking area located on the mainland. From there, you can either take the complimentary shuttle bus, or the horse drawn carriage (that you need to pay for), or you can walk. On foot, it should only take you about forty minutes to reach Mont St Michel from the car park, it’s only a distance of about 3.6 kilometres in each direction. Just a word of advice though, don’t forget your sun block!

What is there to see

The centrepiece of course is the huge monastery and abbey, sitting atop of Mont St Michel. You can purchase tickets online in advance, which I would highly recommend given the amount of people. Or you can buy a ticket once you get there, if there are still any available.

A visit to the abbey is certainly worth it. First, because of the sheer size of the building and how it sprawls on several levels up the mount. And second, because you get some of the most breathtaking views from up top.

What you need to know

As the result of Covid, online tickets can only be purchased for a specific time slot. To be honest, I’m not really sure how strictly they enforce the rules. The ticket to enter the abbey costs EUR11. The parking is EUR15.

As the town and abbey are built on a hill, you’re going to do a lot of climbing on your visit. So be warned. And the place is crawling with visitors. So you can’t move quickly through the narrow alleys, and for half of your visit, you’ll be climbing steeply uphill.

Conclusion

Having said all that, you should still go visit Mont St Michel. It’s one of the most extraordinary places I’ve ever visited.

St Malo

What is it

St Malo is a walled town in Brittany on the English channel. Many of the buildings and the town wall are built of dark grey granite stone, which dominates the appearance of the town. It actually reminds me of Quebec City a lot. The town traces its history to the 6th century, although most of what you see is much newer. During the second world war, the allies heavily bombarded the city, which had been used as a garrison for the Germans.

How to get there

You can get to St Malo by fast ferry if you’re coming from Jersey or Guernsey. Alternatively, you could, like me, rent a car and travel there from Rennes. It’s about 85 minutes to St Malo, and the route there takes you through some lovely green landscapes with softly undulating hills.

At St Malo there are plenty of car parks outside the city wall. Even so, if you come after 11 in the morning, you may not find a parking space straight away and might have to queue.

What is there to see

You can walk right around the city on the bastions, which overlook the beaches on three sides. You can stroll through the narrow streets of the old town and do some shopping, while you stuff your face with some of the many delicacies this part of France has to offer. Or you can just go down to the beach and enjoy the breeze. And if it’s always as windy as it was when I visited, I’m quite sure you could do some pretty decent wind surfing.

What else…

St Malo is a very touristy place, even without all the Asian and American tourists that would normaly be visiting. Even so, it’s really is worth a visit, especially if you’re lucky with the weather like I was during my visit.

Aeropark Museum, Budapest Ferihegy

Here’s the link to the museum’s website.

WARNING: If descriptions of grown men geeking out at the sight of an airliner make you uncomfortable, you may not want to continue reading.

How to get there

The Aeropark at Budapest airport is easily accessible on foot from Terminal 2. There is a clearly signed path from the lower arrivals level. The walk takes about fifteen minutes at a leisurely pace.

How to get in

The entrance fee is fairly small and payment by credit card is possible. More information can be found on the link at the top of this post.

What is there to see

Let the geeking begin… The Aeropark Budapest is a museum dedicated to the history of Hungarian civil aviation, and that means mostly to the history of its now defunct former flag carrier – Malev. The carrier’s name is an acronym of Magyar Légiközlekedési Vállalat, which is, admittedly, a bit of a mouthful unless you’re Hungarian. In addition to a very large collection of civil aircraft, there are also a few ground vehicles.

The Ilyushin IL-14

The Ilyushin IL-14 was a Soviet-built mid-haul airliner that first flew in 1950. This aircraft is preserved in it’s authentic Malev livery from that period. In case you’re interested, the restaurant 34 at the end of runway 16 in Zürich has an IL-14 preserved inside. You can eat under the aircraft and it’s also possible to take a look at the interior, which has been converted to a lounge area.

The Ilyushin IL-18

The IL-18 was the Soviet union’s answer to the DC-7 and first flew in 1957. There are two aircraft of the type preserved at the museum. The one in the older livery is open to the public. Inside, only the cockpit remains intact. The cabin is empty and houses an exhibition on Malev’s history.

The cool thing about this museum is that’s possible to get real close and personal with the aircraft. The fact that you can actually step inside to look around is the icing on the cake.

Study of a nice pair of spinners.

The Tupolev TU-134

The Tu-134 was commissioned by Nikita Chruschtschow himself after he got a chance to see the Caravelle on a state visit to France. The Tu-134 first flew in 1963. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy features of the example on display at the museum is its glas nose, which was used by the navigator. The Tu-134 is also open for visitors.

An interesting difference between Western and Soviet airlines that was the trademark of the Tupolev airliners what that the wings were angled slightly downwards, whereas Western jets either have level wings or wings that point slightly upwards. I suspect that perhaps the Tupolev was intended to take advantage of the ground effect, considering that the engines were not so powerful back then, and aircraft tended to be seriously underpowered.

On the Tu-134 and the 154 the main landing gear did not retract into the fuselage but into a pod protruding from behind the wing.

The cabin on this aircraft is quite well preserved. Back in the good old days the overhead compartments were open, which is something that is impossible to imagine these days!

The wood table marked the Business Class section. My dad flew on the Tu-134 several times and always said he would have preferred travelling in Economy Class simply because he was worried that in case of an emergency landing, the table, which could not be folded away, would likely crush your ribcage.

The Tupolev TU-154

As far as I’m concerned, the Tu-154 is certainly the jewel in the crown at this museum. The Tu-154 had its maiden flight in 1968. Its dimensions are slightly larger than the Boeing B 727-200. However, it has a lower seating capacity. This aircraft is also open to the public, bust most of the interior is currently still being worked on.

So pretty…!

The business end of the T-154.

Other exhibits at the museum include two nicely preserved Yakovlev Yak-40s and a Lusinov Li-2, which basically a DC-3 built in the Soviet Union under licence. However, I didn’t manage to take any photos of them.

Conclusion

The Aeropark museum is certainly worth a visit. I really loved it. The next time I visit Budapest, I’m certainly going there again. I think for me the attraction of this place is that it offers a rare glimpse into the history of Soviet airliners that we don’t often get in the West.

Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace

Introduction

The Musé de l’air et de l’espace is housed in what used to be the terminal building of Le Bourget airport, located to the North of Paris. Le Bourget served as the only airport of Paris for a long time. With the opening of Orly airport in the South and Charles de Gaulle airport close to Le Bourget, there was no longer any need for the facility. And so, in 1977 the airport was closed for international airline operations, and then in 1980 also for domestic flights. Today, Le Bourget only sees Business Jet traffic. If you’re flying in to Charles de Gaulle airport approaching from the West, you fly past Le Bourget at a fairly low altitude.

Getting to the museum

Le Bourget is located on the RER B suburban train line that connects the centre of Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport. From Le Bourget station you then need to catch the bus line 152, which takes another 15 minutes.

Otherwise, if, like me, you’re travelling from Charles de Gaulle airport, you can also catch the bus line 350 from Roissypole, which runs straight to the museum. The journey time is indicated in google maps as being 37 minutes, but in reality it’s more like 57 minutes.

Entry fees

A single entry ticket to the museum costs EUR16 for an adult and gives you full access to all the exhibit halls, as well the aircraft standing outside on the old ramp. Access to the interior of the two Concordes in the Concorde hall and to the Boeing B 747-200 is also included.

The interior

Your visits to the museum starts with a short tour through what used to be departures area, which takes visitors through the beginnings of aviation, from the Mongolfiers to Blériot. The building’s interior is beautifully restored to its original Art Deco splendor. I just find the building very romantic, it harks back to the good old days of travel that seem so impossible today.

By the way, the museum also has an excellent souvenir shop with a lot of interesting books published by the museum on various topics of aviation.

The Dassault Mercure

For me as an airline geek, the outdoor exhibits were certainly the most interesting. Just as you exit onto the the ramp, to your left there is the ill-fated and horribly unsuccessful French-built Dassault Mercure. Air Inter was the only airline ever to operate the Mercure, and I can actually still remember seeing them at Basel airport when I was a kid.

The Airbus A 380

Also on display is one of the Airbus A 380 prototypes. I’ve flown on the A 380 several times now, and although I still think the plane is ugly as sin, one simply cannot argue that it still is an engineering marvel. In Le Bourget you can walk around the aircraft freely. You get a good sense for the dimensions of the A 380 when you’re walking around it at ground level. Moreover, distances can be deceiving and it’s not until you try to take photos of the aircraft that you become aware of just how far away you have to stand to get it in one frame.

Boeing B 747-200

And then there is the old Boeing B 747-200 that used to operate for Air France. You can go inside this aircraft and have a look around.

Parts of the galleys and cabin have been restored to give visitors a glimps of what air travel used to be like in the early days of the wide-body jets.

And that includes access to the old First Class lounge on the upper deck.

The Concorde hall

The centre piece of the museum is certainly the Concorde hall, which houses one of the original prototypes as well as one Concorde that previously flew with Air France.

Both aircraft are accessible to the public, and if you’re interested in the history of Concorde, it’s quite fascinating to see the differences between the prototype and the production variants of the aircraft.

Conclusion

The Musé de l’air et de l’espace is a bit out of the way for a visit if you’re staying in Paris. Even so, if you’re interested in aviation in general and geek out when you see an airliner like I do, then I definitely think it’s worth a visit, despite the long schlepp to get there. I really enjoyed my visit, because it felt a lot like taking a step back in time.

Ghent

Ghent is the third largest city in Belgium and the main city of the East Flandres province. Much of the city’s medieval centre is still intact and has been meticulously restored.

Ghent is a lovely city that’s easy to navigate and that has a lot to see. There are coffee shops, tea houses and privately owned chocolatiers on every corner. At night most of the buildings in the historic centre are beautifully illuminated, and I can highly recommend a night-time stroll through the old cobbled streets – preferably a bit later in the evening, when the crowds have started to thin out.

Getting there

Ghent is easily accessible by public transport. There are several trains an hour that make the journey from Bruxelles Midi to Ghent nonstop in just 28 minutes. Just a word of caution though: Ghent is on the mainline to Ostend, which is Belgium’s main coastal resort. As a result, at the weekends – and especially if the weahter’s good – the trains heading up to the coast tend to be amazingly full, as in standing room only. However, if you’re not in a hurry and catch one of the trains that only run as far as Ghent or Brugges, you will find that these tend to be a lot less busy. From Ghent Saint Peter’s station you can then catch the number 1 or 2 tramlines to get to the historic centre, which is a ride of another 15 minutes.

Tickets for the train are best bought through the SNCB app, which is also available in English and shows the timetable as well as expected delays on the network. For public transport there’s the De Lijn app. In both cases you need to create an account. Tickets bought on the De Lijn app for busses and trams are valid for one year from the date of purchase. Before you board, you need to activate your ticket. Once it is activated, you have one hour before it expires.

Kinderdijk

Kinderdijk gets its name from a legend dating back to the St. Elizabeth floods of 1421, in which a basket was swept ashore containing a small baby and a cat that had both remained unharmed. Today, Kinderdijk is a large open air museum close to the city of Dordrecht. It houses a series of restored windmills that were originally built as part of an elaborate water system aimed at managing and draining the wetlands.

Getting to Kinderdijk

From Rotterdam, Kinderdijk is only about 25 minutes by car. It is not possible to access the museum directly by car. So your GPS will likely navigate you to the visitor centre with its large car park. From there a shuttle bus runs to the actual museum every fifteen minutes. Or you could rent a bike and ride along the river. From the visitor centre it’s only about five kilometres by bike along a very scenic route.

Where to get your tickets

The visitor centre is also where you get your tickets to enter the Kinderdijk. Alternatively, you can also purchase your ticket and access to the parking online. The parking tickets includes the use of the shuttle or bike rental.

Review

I visited Kinderdijk at the end of April 2022, and althought there were quite a few people around, the place did not seem overly crowded. The bike ride was good fun. The place really is flat as a pancake, so you easily get by with just the one gear on the bike. Having a bike is also useful for getting around the museum, as it sprawls over quite a vast area. Other than that, it was a lovely day when I visited. The flatness of the Netherlands allows you glimpses of these really big skies that you rarely get in a place as hilly or mountainous as Switzerland.