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.

Rennes to Fontainebleau via Paris

Rennes railways station is about 15 minutes from the Balthazar Hotel on foot if you’re walking at a leisurely pace or if you’re carting along a suitcase. The station is an interesting design and looks fairly new.

At the entrance to the station I find this sign of the name of the station in both French and what I presume is Breton.

Access to the trains is via the upper level of the station. To access the platforms, passengers need to show their ticket to one of the SNCF staff waiting by the stairs. It’s a lot like boarding a plane.

There’s even a lounge, but seeing as I only arrive at the station about ten minutes before departure, I don’t have the time to visit.

The TGV to Paris today is sold out. Access to the platform is restricted to holders of a valid ticket for exactly this train. In Rennes two TGVs are merged to run as a twin composition nonstop to Paris. The first train to arrive is the TGV from Brest. This is followed a few minutes later by the train from Quimper. The number of the carriages are numbered through from the first train to the second.

I know, I know. I’ve already said this before. But damn it, that TGV is really something. We slowly pull out of the station at Rennes at 11h35, so we’re on time (are you reading this Deutsche Bahn…?). We run over a few points to change tracks until eventually we’re on the TGV’s own dedicated line. And then, about five minutes out of Rennes, the TGV accelerates to 300km/h and just keeps on going like that until we reach Paris ninety minutes or 350 kilometres later. Trains heading for the Atlantic coast arrive and depart from Paris Montparnasse, which is one of the smaller stations in Paris. Deutsche Bahn, are you still reading this? Because we actually pull into Montparnasse station four minutes ahead of schedule.

But I’m going off again. Sorry. In any case, the short-haul trains that serve Fontainebleau leave from Gare de Lyon, which is also the station for the Mediterranean division of the TGV and all trains heading south to France’s Mediterranean coast. Funnily enough, this also includes Switzerland, which is in fact landlocked…

To get from Montparnasse to Gare de Lyon I take the metro line 6. I alight at Bercy station, which is then only a short walk of about ten minutes to Gare to Lyon. I guess you could also change to another metro line at Bercy to take you the one stop to Gare de Lyon. But with all the walking you do in the metro, I doubt you’d be any faster.

By the time I reach Gare de Lyon it’s just coming up to 14h00 and I haven’t had lunch yet. They’re also working on the line to Fontainebleau until 15h30. Which is why I wisely made a reservation for 14h00 at the Train Bleu to while away the time with some good food. At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…

Today my pleasure is pissaladère of langoustine with shellfish cream bavarois and anchovy purée.

Followed by a divine gratin of macaroni with lobster in a thick bisque, served with nice, crusty bread.

And the fluffiest lemon soufflé I’ve ever laid eyes on, served with wild thyme sorbet.

Tickets for the RER short-haul train to Fontainebleau can be purchased at the machine. Just be warned though that there are machines for the long-distance and TGV trains, and other machines for the short-haul and île de France trains. The trip to Fontainebleau takes 39 minutes and costs EUR5 for a oneway in second class. To the best of my knowledge, there is no first class carriage on this train.

I alight at Fontainebleau Avon, which is a different village to where the château is. From here I can either take the bus lines 1 or 8 to Fontainebleau. It’s a journey of a little less than 15 minutes and costs EUR1.50.

I’m aware of the fact that I probably don’t travel enough on the TGV to say I’m an experienced TGV buff, and I’m sure they have delays like other trains too. Nonetheless, I think the state of the French railway network is nothing short of impressive. It’s not just that they have the funkiest, meanest rolling stock out there and a very nice onboard product. It’s also the fact that the network and infrastructure have been invested in continuously to be able to offer passengers a good and reliable service. Which is exactly where the Deutsche Bahn have failed. The ICE trains may be nice and comfy, but the obsolete infrastructure make the trains prone to serious delay and unreliable service. I fully support shifting to rail travel within Europe. But for that to happen on a large scale, the railway companies need to put on their big-boy trousers and step up to the plate. From what I can tell, the French railways with the SNCF are already doing a pretty good job with their extensive TGV network.

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.

Paris – Le Train Bleu, Gare de Lyon

Introduction

Le train bleu was the unofficial designation of a scheduled service provided by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-lits, who also operated the infamous Orient Express, that ran from Calais to the Côte d’Azur from 1922 on. The train got its name from its carriages’ blue livery.

Le Train Bleu was eventually terminated when travel became more affordable and demand for luxury travel gave way to mass tourism. What remains, is an excellent restaurant within the Gare de Lyon in Paris. And today, I am going there for lunch.

Le Train Bleu restaurant opened back in 1901 on the occasion of the inauguration of the Gare de Lyon in Paris. Originally, it went simply by the name of Buffet de la Gare de Lyon. However, in 1963 it was renamed to take its current name.

The restaurant’s interior is spectacular in the opulent fin-de-siècle style and really unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. It looks more like a cathedral than a restaurant.

Access to the restaurant is via the grand staircase in the middle of Hall 1 of the main concourse of the Gare de Lyon.

The menu

The menu offers a wide selection of seasonal dishes that nicely showcase French cuisine.

The waiting staff

The staff at the restaurant are all very friendly and helpful. I think what impresses me most though, is a) just how many waiting staff are active in the restaurant at the same time, and b) just how nicely paced the meal is.

The meal

We begin with an amuse bouche of lightly smoked white fish on cream cheese.

For the starter I go for the lightly smoked salmon with seasonal pickled vegetables and blinis. The presentation of the dish is lovely, and the taste is excellent, with a nice variety of subtle flavours.

For the main course I have the quenelles à la Lyonaise. Quenelles are a kind of fish dumpling. They are served in a rich bisque infused with cognac and a side dish of grilled basmati rice. And lovely, crunchy French bread.

The main course is absolutely divine, and mopping up the bisque with the bread when I’m done has me making the most obscene moaning noises.

My travel companion has the grilled scallops, which are nicely presented and apparently taste very good. The scallops are served on a bed of chickpeas.

For dessert, I really just can’t resist and go for the crêpes Suzette. What a classic! At le Train Bleu the dish is prepared at your table, including the bit where they set the whole thing on fire with a healthy dose of Grand Manier. And this is just heaven. I shove a fork of the sweet goodness in my mouth and all the frustrations of the last two years are just washed clean off me. And all that remains is the zesty flavour of the orange juice combined with the creamy, buttery richness of the crêpes.

My travel companion has the chocolate fondant, served with creamy vanilla ice cream and an elegant hint of licorice.

Once I’m done, I do for a moment consider a cup of mint tea to round off the meal. But I’m running out of time. I have an appointment at the Louvre at 15h00 to see La Gioconda, otherwise also known as Mona Lisa, and I don’t want to be late. Luckily, I’ll be back in Paris next week, and already have another reservation at Le Train Blue, so perhaps I can try all the things I missed out on this time…

And tomorrow? I’m in Paris, and tomorrow is the start of the IATA winter time table. With that you can probably figure out what I’m up to next…

Le Palais de Versailles

Introduction

Shortly before his death in 1643, King Louis XIII expressed in his testament that a council should be put in place to rule on behalf of his underage son, who would later become Louis XIV. However, upon his death, his newly widowed wife, Queen Anne, had the testament annulled. She had most of her husband’s former ministers sacked or exiled, declared herself her son’s regent and appointed the mercenary Cardinal Mazarin as her minister to oversee the affairs of the state.

Queen Anne successfully expanded the range of the crown’s power with the help of Mazarin. She appears to have held the unwavering belief that the crown’s entitlement to rule was divine providence, and in her view that meant that the monarch was destined to reign supreme. In as much, a lot of the decisions she took as regent were aimed to secure her son’s reign by increasing his powers.

Eventually, Louis XIV assumed control of the government upon the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661, at the age of 23. It had been expected that he would appoint a minister to oversee the government of the state, similar to the way his mother had with Cardinal Mazarin and his father before that had with the ruthless Cardinal Richelieu. But Louis XIV was his mother’s son, and believed that it was his duty to shoulder the divine burden of ruling the country by himself. And so the young Louis proclaimed to his astonished parliament that ‘l’état, c’est moi ‘-‘I am the state’, and assumed control of all affairs of the state.

Louis XIV went on to rule the French monarchy for 72 year. His reign saw the rise of absolutism in France and in Europe, which firmly placed the monarch at the very heart of political power.

I mention this all here, because the château de Versailles played an important role in fostering the image of the King who ruled by divine appoinment. The building is imposing, to say the least, and its dimensions are difficult to grasp, even from close quarters. Clearly, its main purpose had been to impress and to indimidate, to make sure the Roi de Soleil’s claim to power went uncontested.

My visit in July 2021

Today, the palace and its grounds are open to the public and are one of France’s major tourist attractions. The palace sits on a vast domain of land that sprawls over an area of more than 800 hectares. My plan had been to visit the palace during the Covid pandemic, in the hope of avoiding the worst of the notorious crowds that are usually lining up to enter the building and its grounds. And I think I managed that rather well. I purchased a ticket in advance with a jump the queue option. And indeed, I was able to enter without delay. There still were quite a few people. Nonetheless, it was still possible to amble through the palace and enjoy it at my own pace.

Where to stay

I stayed at the MGallery The Louis in Versailles itself. MGallery is one of the many brands of the Accor group of hotels. Usually, I rather like their properties. But sadly, The Louis is not one of them. The infrastructure is a bit dated and the staff could really do much better. However, what The Louis has going for it, is its excellent location only 200 metres away from the main entrance to the Palais de Versailles.

Conclusion

Below I have added some pictures taken during my visit. However, I am painfully aware of the fact that they do not really do the place justice. I also don’t think I would be able to fully describe the grandeur of the place in words. So I’ll just say that I’m glad I visited the Palais de Versailles. Not just because I wanted to tick it off the bucket list, but because it really is a truly very impressive sight to behold that is so closely linked and so prominent in the history of Europe.

The Salon des Glaces

TGV Lyria, Business First: Paris Gare de Lyon to Basel SBB

The meeting at ICAO ends just after noon. But by the time everybody has said good bye to everybody else and pretended the whole situation isn‘t just one big fat mess caused by ICAO and EASA together, it‘s gone 13h by the time I get to have lunch.

Getting to the Station

My train isn‘t leaving until 16:23. But the weather in Paris today is something nasty. And so, at 14:15 I descend down into the Metro at Les Sablons in Neuilly Sur Seine. From here I have a direct train on the line number 1 all the way to Gare de Lyon.

The journey takes thirty minutes between Les Sablons and Gare de Lyon.

The SNCF Salon Voyageur Lounge

Today I‘m travelling in BusinessPremière, which is located in car number 11. In BusinessPremière passengers receive complimentary newspapers, a welcome drink and a hot meal. It also means I‘m entitled to use the Salon Grand Voyageur, which is located in Hall 3, one floor down from Hall 2.

The Salon is quite small, which is why I don‘t take any pictures. But it‘s comfortable enough. There are toilets in the lounge. There is also a coffee machine serving complimentary hot drinks.

Boarding for the train starts 20 minutes before departure and terminates two minutes before departure.

The train is quite full, presumably because it‘s Friday afternoon and people are on their way home for the weekend.

The Cabin

The seat is quite comfortable. There is a power socket and a footrest. Seat pitch is good, but the foot rest is in a slightly inconvenient position…

The Meal

The service begins about 20 minutes out of Paris with the distribution of the scented hot towels, newspapers and drinks. There is a full bar service available. I settle for some sparkling water.

The meal consists of a carrot cake with goat‘s cheese and peppers and two small pieces of salmon quiche.

And for dessert I have a slice of lemon cake with apricots.

It‘s really more of a snack than a meal, but given the time of day, I think it‘s perfectly adequate and quite tasty.

The meal ends with a cup of ginger and lemon tea.

Arrival

The rest of the journey is uneventful. We arrive in Basel with a delay of three minutes which, funnily enough, we picked up only on the last eight kilometres of the journey from Paris.

As you may have guessed by now, I‘m a great fan of the TGV. It‘s fast, safe, reliable and it comes without the hassle of security checkpoints. And if everything else fails, the train just looks good inside and out.

The BusinessPremière product is attractive and certainly competitive with the airlines, especially when you take into account the much lower ticket price and the city centre departure from the Gare de Lyon.

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Paris to Beirut… or maybe not

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Getting to the Airport

The Sheraton at Roissy Terminal 2 is not a bad hotel. And without a doubt there’s hardly a hotel here with a better view of the apron and the runways beyond. The hotel’s main entrance is located right above the railway station. From here it’s just a short five minute walk to Terminal 2E, from where the flight to Beirut will be departing.

Check-in

Air France checks in on rows 4 to 8 at Roissy 2E. The SkyPriority counters are on rows 6 and 7. There is a separate exit from the SkyPriority check-in area, which leads passengers directly to the priority lane for passport control. As my flight will be departing from one of the M gates at the satellite terminal, I will first have to catch the automated shuttle. Security checks for the M gates are carried out in the satellite.

The Lounge

This is the same lounge I visited about three weeks ago when I last flew to Dubai with Air France. The lounge has been designed in such a way that it looks and feels like walking through a small park. It’s very bright in the sunshine, and the lounging areas are all set in green carpets that really do make it look a lot like a stylised park.

Boarding

Air France tends to start boarding for its flights early. Today’s departure to Beirut is scheduled for 09h05. But boarding already starts at 08h10, according to the boarding pass. By the time I finish writing a few e-mails and make my way to gate M24, it’s 08h30 and I figure they’re probably just about to start boarding. But in actual fact, by the time I reach the gate they’ve already made the final call and the aircraft is in the final staged of boarding.

The Cabin

The flight to Beirut is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER. There is a small mini cabin ahead of the L2 galley with four rows, from 4 to 8. And then there is the main galley from row 9 onwards. I’ve already reported on this seat in a post from January. I think this is the best business class seat Air France currently has in the fleet. It’s comfortable, private and has ample storage space. And it looks good too.

Service

Service on the ground begins with the welcome drink. There is choice of water, champagne and water melon juice – which is what I have. Next, the vanity kits and the menus are distributed. A pillow, blanket and slippers are already at my seat when I arrive.

A Problem

By 09h00 the doors are closed and we’re ready to go. We slowly start to push back from our stand, when suddenly there’s a loud thump and we come to an abrupt standstill, right there on the taxiway. For a few minutes, nothing happens. But then the one engine that had already been started up is shut down and we start moving forward, back onto the stand.

A few minutes pass, then the captain informs us that the tow truck oversteered the nose gear and that therefore, we have had to return to the gate for inspection. At around 09h45, the doors close, and we are informed that everything is fine. We push back again, only to stop in more or less the same position on the taxiway. Once more we stop, and then start moving forward again. Once we’re on stand again, the captain informs us that the nose gear is leaking hydraulic liquid, and that therefore, we’re going to have to swap aircraft. At 10h15 we are allowed to disembark the aircraft. The gate agent tells me it’ll be a while before something happens, so I might as well go to the lounge.

I inform her that I only have a connection of two hours in Beirut, which I’m not likely to make. She gives me a reassuring smile, tells me not to worry and instructs me to go to the lounge. At 12h05 one of the lounge agents pages me. I go to reception, where the staff inform me that the Beirut flight has been cancelled. Passengers for Beirut have been reprotected onto tomorrow’s flight. And I have been put on the Air France nonstop service to Dubai. Well crap. Don’t get me wrong, I think Air France handle the situation very well. But I was just rather looking forward to my flight from Beirut to Dubai on MEA. Maybe next time…

The nonstop service will be departing from gate L48, which means I’m going to have to make my way back to the main terminal. Fortunately, I find a friendly and very helpful security agent. He explains that if I take the train, I’ll have to go through security again. However, if I take the shuttle bus, the journey might be longer, but at least I will not have to go through security again. I figure the shuttle bus is the better prospect, mainly because that will give me a complimentary tour of the airport and the aircraft.

Eventually, by the time I arrive at the L concourse, it’s just gone 12h30 and boarding is expected to start at 12h45. I figure I might as well make use of the food voucher I was given by Air France and get myself a smoothie from a place called naked. Only, the voucher is for EUR26, but my smoothie is only EUR6.90. I explain to the young lady that it’s okay. But she’s not happy and before I know it, she’s prepared a bag for me with a large bottle of Vittel, two cookies, the smoothie and a packet of cheese and onion crisps – which brings the total to EUR23.90. She clearly looks happier now…

Boarding Again

At 12h45 boarding starts by zones from gate L48, starting with zones 1 and 2 for SkyPriority passengers.

The service on the ground pretty much follows that of the previous flight. The departure of the second flight goes well. Although by the time we enter the runway for take-off behind a Thai Airbus A 380, we’re running 45 minutes late. But the flight time is announced at six hours and 25 minutes, so we should be arriving in Dubai on time after all.

The Meal

Amuse Bouche

The meal service begins with a glass of champagne, a glass of sparkling water which are served with a packed of Cranberries and cashew nuts. For an amuse bouche there is a smoked scallop in a velvety vanilla and parsnip cream.

The good thing about the change of my travel plans is that the menu for the flight to Dubai is more appealing than that for the Beirut service.

First Course

shrimp tartare with fresh ginger and a lemon and mango salsa & edamame with pea cream

Salad

The Cheese

Goat’s cheese, Cantal & Camembert

The Main Course

And for the main course, I have the cod fillet with a creamy Noilly Prat sauce and artichoke cooked in two different styles (grilled and puréd)

Dessert

For dessert I go wit the pâtisserie: wild blueberry clafoutis, opera cake and a cannelé cake

All the dishes are excellent. The smoked scallop is an unusual but tasty combination with the vanilla and the fresh ginger with the starter is refreshing and goes well with the shrimp. The main course is a signature dish created by Air France’s chef, and I have to say, this dish is outstanding. It’s a really nice, chunky piece of fish and the glazing on it is lovely.

The Crew

The crew on this flight were only so so. They’re friendly, but they don’t really seem to be in the mood to work. As a result, the meal service is uncoordinated and chaotic and takes forever to complete. Later on during a flight, I ring to ask for a coffee. Eventually, I ring five times, at the end of which still nobody had showed up. So I stand up and go to the galley, only to be told off because of ‘the turbulence’ and the fact that the fasten seatbelt sign is on – despite the fact that we haven’t experienced any turbulence at all for the last ten minutes. Of course, this is just a minor thing and I guess it had to happen sooner or later. There are only few airlines that you can consistently rely on with regard to their staff. And I should also say that so far my experiences with Air France have always been very good.

The Second Service

An hour out of Dubai, the lights in the cabin go on for the crew to start the second service, which consists of a small plate with a smoked salmon wrap, an apricot tart and a profiterole. With that I finally get to have the coffee they wouldn’t deliver.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Dubai at 22h50. In the end, the flight time was longer than originally anticipated because we had to fly around a thunder storm. Because of our later arrival, the queues for immigration are something nasty, and I end up queueing for 35 minutes to have my passport checked. And it looks as though Air France has prepared a little parting gift for me. Because in addition to the delay, they’ve also managed to make my suitcase vanish…!

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Paris Roissy to Bucharest Otopeni

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Introduction

I just arrived in Paris on a flight from Zürich. The walk from 2F to 2E takes about 10 minutes to complete and is quite painless. Of course it helps that the airport is not very busy. What I find impressive about Paris Roissy, is that although the airport as a whole covers a huge surface, the individual terminals are still quite pleasant and easy to navigate through.

With Bucharest being non-Schengen, I will have to go through passport control to enter 2E. Behind the checkpoint they have these brilliant machines where you can scan your boarding pass. The screen will then give you information about your flight and tell you from which gate you will boarding. But I still have some time to kill anyway, so I decide to check out the Air France lounge first.

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The Lounge

I’ve never been to this lounge and I must say, it really is very nice. It’s spacious, with lots of place to sit. In addition to the toilets, there are also showers, a sauna and a quiet area if you want to relax.

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The food options are also very good and include a variety of fresh salads with different dressings and vinaigrettes, as well as a selection of warm dishes.

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Unfortunately, when I check the status of my flight, I notice that the departure time has been moved back from 18h15 to 20h25. Apparently there were a few ATC related delays on the aircraft’s previous journey to Algiers.

Boarding

Eventually boarding start just after 20h. Finally! I mean, I think Air France has done a good job keeping passengers updated. But at some point all you want is to either go back home or just get on the damn plane.

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The Cabin

The cabin on this aircraft is slightly different to that on my previous flight. This aircraft has another type of seat that is covered in leather, whereas the seats on the previous aircraft had cloth covers. There is also a row 1 on both the port and starboard side of this aircraft.

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There are four rows of Business Class with a total of 16 seats on tonight’s flight. 14 out of 16 seats are occupied. There is a pillow and every seat, which comes in handy later on when I doze off…

The Crew

There are two flight attendants welcoming passengers aboard. They’re quite friendly. As on the previous flight, the crew distribute packaged cold towels and drinks. They also pass through offering blankets to passengers, which is a nice gesture of goodwill given the long delay and the late hour.

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The Meal

Once we’re airborne, one of the crew members passes through the cabin distributing menus.

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I kind of like that, not many airlines still give you a menu on a short intra-European flight. The meal consists of

  1. a starter of smoked salmon with salmon roe and a lobster terrine,
  2. a choice of guinea fowl or shrimps for the main course,
  3. a plate with butter and cheese – served with bread,
  4. a dessert made with some kind of puff pastry and cream.

I go with the shrimps for the main course. And I must say, the quality of the meal is good. Although I’m certainly not the world’s greatest Quinoa fan, this stuff is nice and creamy, with a rich cheesy flavour.

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As soon as I finish the meal, the tray is removed and the flight attendant asks me if there’s anything else I’d like. So I order a refreshing mint tea and then relax into my seat. And nod off.

Arrival

The next thing I know, we’re already descending through the snow as we make our approach into Bucharest. It looks decidedly hostile outside! There’re a lot of snow wafting across the apron and the baggage handlers I can see are muffled up to their ears to protect themselves against the cold. It’s definitely not a night you want to be outside.

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Conclusion

As far as I’m concerned, of the big European carriers, Air France offers by far the best short-haul Business Class product. Admittedly, their seat is the same Euro-style Economy Class torture instrument with the middle seat empty as that of its competitors. But apart from that, the crews are very professional and the food is good.

I also think that Air France and its hub in Paris are better than their reputation. I even notice about myself that I’m always slightly apprehensive when I’m travelling on Air France. But in actual fact, so far I’ve hardly had anything to complain about.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 318: Zürich to Paris Roissy

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Introduction

I’m on my way to Bucharest to give a course with the Romanian air navigation service provider. As I’m teaching on Tuesdays until 13h30, the direct flight with SWISS was not an option for me, because it leaves too early. And so I ended up being booked with Air France via Paris.

Getting to the Airport

I’m not having much luck with transportation this week. Monday started with a rejected take-off in Frankfurt that Lufthansa turned into a dog’s breakfast and which eventually saw me arriving in Zürich with a delay of four hours and several missed meetings late.

My flight today will start boarding at 14h40, so I figure I had probably best take the 13h55 train to get me to the airport at 14h10. But of course I miss that train and the next one, three minutes later, has been cancelled. And the one after that is running late. Crap!

But eventually, things turn out for me. At 14h20 my train pulls into the station at Zürich Flughafen. I even have enough time to change some currency before continuing on my way to the security checkpoint.

Check-in

Air France is checked in by DNATA at Zürich airport and has obviously succeeded in securing one of the best locations in check-in 2. As you get off the escalators, coming from the railway station, the check-in counters are just on your left.

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I’ve already checked in using the Air France app, so I can head straight for security. There is one lane open for Business Class passengers and the queue is fairly long when I arrive. But obviously they’re preparing for the evening rush hour and after only a few minutes a further line is opened to speed things up.

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By the time I’m through, there’s just another five minutes to go before boarding begins, and so I head straight for gate B31 from where the flight will be departing.

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Boarding

Boarding starts more or less on time. The first call is for Business Class and Platinum card holders to board through the attended gate. Once that is done, the remaining passengers are invited to board via the automatic gates.

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The flight is not full today, so boarding is quickly completed.

The Cabin

The Airbus A 318 is a strange little aeroplane. It’s essentially an Airbus A 319 which never fully grew. The aircraft has not been a commercial success and to be honest, I’m not sure if the production line is even still open for this type. In any case, Air France currently has a fleet of 18 of these short, stubby little aircraft.

They are configured with a seating capacity of a maximum of 118 seats. On today’s flight there are four rows of Business Class with a total of 14 seat. On the port side of the vessel there is no row 1, the bulkhead row on this side is row 2. I am seated on 2A, a window seat. With only three passengers in the Business Class cabin in total, I have the whole row to myself, which is obviously very luxurious and makes for a very comfortable ride. The seat pitch throughout is 32 inches. In addition, there is a red pillow at every seat, which gives the impression of a very bright and fresh cabin.

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The Crew

The service up front is done by the maître de, a young French woman. Apparently, the English language continues to be a problem for Air France. But as long as I can communicate with her in French, I think we should be alright. While boarding is still in process, she welcomes me on board, brings me a refreshing towel and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to drink. I order a bottle of still water.

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Throughout the flight she takes good care of the three of us, in addition to helping out with the service in the back. What I particularly like though, is that Air France strictly enforces a closed curtain policy on its flights.

The Meal

As soon as we’re airborne, the meal service begins. The flight time is estimated at 1 hour and 5 minutes, which is not very much. The meal service consists of one tray that has on it:

  1. a wholegrain, bresaola and horseradish sandwich,
  2. pickled vegetables served with a tartar sauce,
  3. a warm cheese stick,
  4. a bowl of diced pear in honey,
  5. a Tropézienne cake and a small but sinfully dense chocolate cake thingy,
  6. a box with two chocolate pralines.

To drink with that I have a Coke Zero. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are also available after the meal, but I decline the flight attendant’s offer.

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The meal is not particularly big or anything, but given the short flight time I think it is perfectly adequate.

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Arrival

Eventually we start our descent into Paris. It’s quite windy, but at least it’s a bright sunny day here – despite the cold. Terminal 2F is home to Air France’s European Schengen flights. My connecting flight will depart from 2E, which is in walking distance and very quick and easy to reach from 2F.

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