In Rome I’m staying at the Sofitel Villa Borghese, which is perfectly located in a fairly quiet part of the city (as quiet as it gets in a place like Rome…). From the hotel it’s a twenty minutes walk to Roma Termini railway station. The Spanish steps and the luxurious Via Condotti, the Fontana die Trevi and the Vittorio Emanuele monument are all within walking distance.
The hotel’s facilities are excellent, the rooms and reception are elegantly appointed and very comfortable. What’s more, the restaurant is located on the top floor of the building and offers excellent views of Rome. Most importantly though, I think this Sofitel’s outstanding feature is its staff. Everybody at the hotel was very friendly and open, and gave the impression of actually liking their job.
The room I stayed in had a fully stocked fridge, tea and coffee making facilities and bottles of still water. The room overlooked the street leading up to the hotel, but it was still quiet enough to get a good night’s sleep.
Schaffhausen is probably best known for its proximity to the spectacular Rhine falls in Neuhausen. But it’s definitely also worth a visit in its own right.
In Schaffhausen I spend the night at the lovely Hotel Rüden, which is located close to the railway station, on the fringe of the old town.
Getting to the Airport
There are two ways to get from Schaffhausen to Friedrichshafen airport. The boring way is to take the train and change in Friedrichshafen. The journey will take 1 hour and 27 minutes. The alternative is quite a bit longer at 2 hours and thirty minutes, but definitely more fun!
First, I take the 09h49 train from Schaffhausen to Kreuzlingen, which is a journey of about fifty minutes, part of which run along a very scenic route next to the river and then the lake.
In Kreuzlingen I have three minutes to make the connection to Konstanz, which is only another four minutes by train.
And then in Konstanz, I have twelve minutes to connect to the catamaran that goes across the Bodensee to Friedrichshafen.
Only, it turns out that because of the wind, the catamaran will not be operating. So I’m just going to have to take the train.
But that’s not quite so straightforward. First, I take the 11h40 train to Radolfzell, which is a ride of fifteen minutes.
And then in Radolfzell I have ten minutes before my train to Friedrichshafen arrives. This being Germany, it’s late of course. But it’s a diesel train, which we don’t have in passenger service in Switzerland. I think it’s kind of cool, and sounds like a bus more than a train.
In Friedrichshafen I just have enough time to walk down to the lake to take a look at the water, which is starting to look a bit rough.
And then from Friedrichshafen Stadt I take yet another diesel train at 13h09, which takes five minutes to get to the airport.
From the airport station it’s just a short walk across the road to the terminal, which is a nondescript, flat building. But there is an Ibis hotel.
Departures are to the left of the building. Despite its limited size, inside every carrier has its own dedicated check-in counters. Although having said that, I hardly think there are all that many operators out of FDH.
Security for all gates is off the the left of the check-in hall. And of course, once you’re through security, you’re immediately ejected in the duty free shop.
All in all, there are seven gates, of which the five A gates are for Schengen departures and the two B gates for non-Schengen flights.
About 45 minutes before departure, the immigration officers appear to open up shop. The guy at my counter looks at my Maltese passport and just says ‘cool’ with this gleeful tone in his voice. ‘I’ve been there, you have great weather down there…’. And then he just lets me through.
At 14h20 the inbound from Gatwick glides down on runway 24. The A 320 looks slightly out of place and a but oversized compared to the terminal.
Boarding starts at 14h45 for a 15h05 departure. But that’s okay, because it turns out there’s only 49 passengers on the flight anyway…
Originally, I’m seated on 1C. But once boarding is completed two minutes later, I switch to the window on 1F and have the whole row to myself!
On the first row the pitch is comfortable enough. I don’t think it’s much less than on the first row of SWISS’ A 320s. The only complaint I have though, is that there’s cold air coming in through the R1 door inflight. Obviously it’s not enough to depressurise the cabin, but it certainly gives you cold feet!
On the climb out of Friedrichshafen we’re treated to some excellent views of the lake.
Once the buy on board service starts, I purchase a large cup of hot chocolate with two shortbread finger biscuits for GBP4.-, which I think is quite fair.
The crew are a friendly bunch and they’re obviously enjoying not having a full load of passengers for a change.
The flight passes quickly, and eventually we land after a flight time of 90 minutes and taxi to our stand at the satellite of the North Terminal.
Getting into Town
The airport is surprisingly quiet and I’m through immigration in no time. From arrivals I head one floor up to catch the shuttle train to the South Terminal, from where the Gatwick Express into London’s Victoria station will be leaving.
The journey into London takes 32 minutes if you’re lucky enough to catch the express and there are multiple trains per hour.
For a change, this time I won’t be staying in the West End. Instead, I’m off to Brixton…
I won’t be writing a post about the return flight to Basel with easyJet, so this is going to be my last post of 2019. I want to thank all those of you who have visited my blog throughout the year and read the posts or just looked at the pictures, but especially all those of you who also were kind enough to leave a comment – be it a question, criticism, explanation or correction. Thank you!
I wish you all a happy holiday and a spectacular festive season!
Had I already mentioned it’s the monsoon season in Java? Goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this. No sooner have we left the hotel, the rain starts. This must be what they mean when people speak of the heavens opening. Within minutes the streets turn to rivers and it becomes nearly impossible to see anything up ahead of the car. I think it’s kind of atmospheric though, sitting in the comfort of the car with the rain pelting down on the roof as we drive through the rain drenched streets of Surabaya under a thunderous sky. And the Indonesians? To be honest, I think they hardly notice the rain. At least they all seem to be going about their business as usual – and their driving certainly hasn’t slowed down…
Getting to the Airport
My flight to Jakarta will be leaving at 18h00. Given how long it took me to get from the airport into Surabaya when I got here, I arrange for the car to pick me up from the Majapahit at 15h00. Of course I hadn’t considered that this being Friday there would be less traffic. And so it happens that the trip to the airport only takes me fifty minutes to complete instead of ninety.
Garuda has its own domestic terminal here in Surabaya, which is Terminal 2. The facility looks rather new and very modern. The check-in area is only accessible for passengers with a valid ticket and you are required to show your ticket or boarding pass to enter the restricted area.
There is a separate check-in are for premium customers, located opposite the regular check-in counters. The lady at check-in is friendly and obviously in a good mood, and apparently she was expecting me. I was able to check in using the app, but downloading the boarding pass to my Wallet or sending it by mail or text message didn’t work.
The Garuda Business Class Lounge
The security check point and lounge area are located one floor up from check-in. Much to my surprise, there is even a lounge for Business Class passengers. It’s fairly small. In addition, there are a few weather related delays, making it difficult to find a place to sit. But eventually I manage.
There are no washrooms in the lounge, and passengers should use the toilets next to the prayer room.
I think it’s safe to say we’re not going to leave on time. The previous service to Jakarta at 15h30 has been delayed due to weather and will now only be departing at 19h00. At some point, my flight shows up with a delay of thirty minutes, for a departure at 18h30.
Surprisingly though, 18h30 is when the boarding for my flight starts, which isn’t too bad. Eventually we close doors and push back at 19h10, with a delay of slightly more than an hour. The flight time is announced as one hour and six minutes. Although eventually, with the holding in Jakarta it’s more like ninety minutes.
The cabin and seat configuration on the A 330-200 is identical to Garuda’s A 330-300 that I flew on from Melbourne to Jakarta. There is a pillow at every seat and blankets are available upon request.
The flight is full this evening, so there are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin. Again they’re friendly and polite. The steward approaches me and ask me if I’d like a welcome drink. He returns shortly after with a glass of apple juice and a scented cold towel.
As on the flight from Jakarta to Surabaya, the meal consists of
a bowl of fruit,
a bread roll and butter,
a strange dessert which I suspect and hope is made out of rice,
a hot meal with a choice of either fish or chicken.
I go with the chicken, which is quite enjoyable. I have really no idea what the white and green dessert thingy is supposed to be, but it tastes okay actually.
Eventually we land with a delay of not quite two hours. The aircraft comes to a stop at a gate on the international concourse, which means that after disembarking, we are bussed to domestic arrivals. There are separate busses for Business Class passengers. I will be spending my last night in Indonesia at the FM7 Hotel close to the airport. Ground transportation in Indonesia really is a nightmare, and the FM7 is only about a ten minute drive away from the airport.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Surabya Johnny, warum bist du so roh…? Surabaya Johnny, no-one’s meaner than you…
I just landed in Jakarta on a flight from Melbourne. We’re coming up to eleven in the morning. I’m not staying in Jakarta though. Instead, I’ve decided to heed the advice of my friend P., otherwise known as the Flying Dutchman, and head for Surabaya instead.
Why Surabaya, I hear you say? Don’t worry, I will explain later.
Transfer in Jakarta
The process is fairly straightforward. If you’re continuing on a domestic flight, you will have to clear immigration and customs in Jakarta. Once you exit customs, just follow the signs for domestic check-in. Eventually, the escalators will eject you on the second floor of Terminal 3, which is home to Garuda and its SkyTeam partners.
Domestic check-in for Garuda is on rows E and F. The SkyPriority counters are F2 and F3.
The Garuda Domestic Business Class Lounge
There is a dedicated line for security for SkyPriority passengers and when I arrive, the place is deserted. The staff manning the check point are very friendly and seem glad to see somebody. I suspect they’re probably just bored out of their wits.
The new terminal in Jakarta is airy and spacious. Surprisingly though, it’s also already showing first signs of wear and tear, despite that fact that it hasn’t been open that long. The roof is leaking in places, while other parts of the facility appear to be not quite finished or completed yet.
The Garuda lounge is fairly large, but here too there is some urgent need for repairs. The lounge’s big selling point though, is that they serve Indonesian food! I don’t know what half the stuff I’m eating is here, but it sure is tasty!
I think ‘organised chaos’ best describes the experience of flying in Indonesia. At 13h00 my flight shows up as ‘now boarding’ from gate 15. Only, when I reach gate 15 they’re still in the process of boarding the previous flight, which is heading for Denpasar. But still my flight is showing as being on time for a 13h30 departure.
About twenty minutes later, I decide to check on the departures monitors about my flight. Only to find that the gate has been changed to 20, which is quite a schlep from gate 15. So I trek down to gate 20, where apparently they’re boarding a flight to somewhere else. My flight is also on the display and still down as on time, despite the fact that it’s already 13h35.
The only thing in the way of an announcement is one of the gate agents yelling something at the top of her voice in Bahsa. I approach one of the ten (!) agents at gate 20 to inquire about the status of my flight. She tells me that boarding will start soon from this gate.
Eventually boarding starts at 14h20. By the time we push back it’s 14h40. So by now we’re already more than an hour behind schedule. The captain comes on the speaker to inform us that we’re currently number 15 in the departure sequence and will probably have to wait another forty minutes before it’s our turn depart…
The flight time is announced as one hour and twenty minutes.
Even for such a short hop, Garuda offers a Business Class product with a dedicated Business Class cabin. The seat has a pitch of 42 inches and a width of 19 inches. The design of the seat looks similar to the one I had on the Virgin Australia flight. The only difference being that Garuda also has a footrest installed on its seat, which really is much more comfortable to relax in when the seat is in the recline position.
There are twelve seats in a 2 + 2 configuration on three rows.
The Business Class cabin is taken care of by one female flight attendant. While boarding is still in progress she brings me a scented cold towel and a glass of orange juice. She’s obviously more focussed than friendly, but that’s okay.
Eventually we take off. The first few minutes of the flight are really bumpy, so it takes a while for the seatbelt sign to be turned off.
Quite surprisingly, the crew are planning on doing a full tray service, despite the short flight time. They even use tablecloths!
The tray arrives and consists of a bowl of fruit, another bowl with something sweet and a side plate with a cheese bun and butter.
It’s only after I start on the fruit that I realise there’s also a hot meal, which is served separately. There is even a choice between two dishes: one is a piece of fish, while the other is chicken in a spicy gravy. I go with the latter and I really must say, the meal is excellent. But apart from that, I’m quite amazed how Garuda manages to serve up a hot meal on a flight of just over one hour, and how one flight attendant manages to serve twelve passengers in that time and remains friendly and courteous throughout.
Eventually we start our descent into Surabaya. The light outside looks strange. It’s murky and wet. The approach is quite nice though. We come in over the sea, we make landfall, flying over these enormous rice feels. It’s a very poetic landscape, especially in the strange light.
Garuda operates out of Terminal 2 in Surabaya.
Getting into Town
Traffic in Indonesia is so bad, it’s legendary. And while Surabaya may not be quite as atrocious as Jakarta, it’s still bad. The airport is 19km away from the hotel where I’m staying. With the really nasty traffic it takes us ninety minutes to make the journey.
After two months on the ground, I finally resumed my travels last Friday with a flight from Zürich to Madrid and then from there on to Jerez, where I gave a presentation on the implementation of the ICAO language proficiency requirements and the need to also assess native speakers of English.
I wouldn’t have minded staying a little longer, the weather in Jerez was lovely. But alas, tomorrow I shall already be underway for my next trip. So I really should be heading home.
In Jerez I’m staying at the Hotel Casa Grande, which is right in the centre of town overlooking a quaint little square.
The taxi picks me up outside the hotel just after eight in the morning. The journey to the airport takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete, depending on the level of insane Spanish driving that you encounter, and will set you back about EUR20. There are busses to and from the airport too, and there is even a railway station opposite the terminal. But both the busses and trains are infrequent and the schedule is not always convenient.
I’ve already checked in using the Iberia app, the reliability of which is a bit of a hit or miss affair – but mostly miss. In the name of investigative blogging (yeah, right…), I nonetheless check out the departures area, to find that Iberia has two counters open for its flights to Madrid: one counter for regular passengers and another for Business Class passengers and status holders.
The terminal is an interesting building that looks more like a railway station, with a high ceiling and a mezzanine floor overlooking the check-in hall.
Security is swift and efficient. Once you’re airside, there are five departure gates. There is also a small café and of course a duty free shop. And that’s just about it really. There is no lounge, so I’m roughing it in the common gate area and hoping I won’t catch anything…
Just after nine in the morning the gate agent appears. Is that blue make-up she’s wearing? I thought that had gone out of fashion when ABBA broke up many moons ago. I really make my best effort to supress a laugh when I see her, because she looks and behaves just like that woman from Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. You know, the one with the wingtip spectacles that’s just come out of the asylum.
Her face, the gate agent’s that is, is set in a perpetual pout and she’s squinting her heavily made-up eyes as though she can barely see a thing. Boarding starts somewhat unceremoniously when she yells out to the public at large ‘Madrid, embarque passajeros de priority’. Looks like we’re boarding.
Aaaand, jackpot! Jerez does not have airbridges, so we’re having to walk across the apron to our aircraft and board using the stairs. Cool! It’s a shame the sun is directly facing, but I think I still manage to take a few good photos of my chariot to Madrid.
I am seated on 10F, which is a window seat on the emergency exit of the A 319. This aircraft looks slightly different from the A 319 on my flight from Zürich. First of all, where that aircraft had the typical Recaro slimline seat most European carriers seem to favour these days, this model has the same type of seat as Air France. The cabin divider is also different.
The legroom is good on the emergency exit. The only drawback is that the armrests on the emergency exit row are shorter. As such, they’re just a bit too short to be able to comfortably rest your arm on them.
The crew consists of a female purser in her mid-fifties, I should think, and two young men that look, quite frankly, as though they’ve never previously seen the inside of an airplane and don’t exactly instil confidence. Also, their English is atrocious, verging on non-existent.
Just past our scheduled departure time at 09h30, the captain comes on the blower to announce a slight delay, which is caused by a minor technical issue the ground engineer needs to sign off first. But the delay drags on and eventually we depart 45 minutes behind schedule.
Iberia has been offering buy on board service for a while now. On short flights such as this (one hour), they don’t even bother to bring out the trolley and all items have to be ordered using the call button for the cabin crew.
I’ve never liked the concept of buy on board, but so far I’ve never really been able to explain, rationally, why that is. It’s not the money I think. It just never really felt right. On this flight though, I think it finally dawns on me what it is exactly that bothers me. Or rather what it is about full-service airlines that I prefer: the on board service, is, quite simply, the only opportunity the airline gets to interact with its customers. And that is the only thing they can leverage to set themselves apart. Even if you only get a packet of stale biscuits. There is always some interaction with the crew and, by extension, the brand. But on a buy on board airline, the interaction only becomes possible once, or if, the customer decides to make a purchase.
And this flight is a good example of that. The seat is in the same boring grey you get on Lufthansa, for example, and apart from the inflight magazine and the crew’s uniform, there is nothing in the cabin that might indicate to you that this is an Iberia aircraft or that you’re going to enjoy the typical Iberia experience.
The flight is uneventful and eventually we land in Barajas just after 11h20.
By the time we come to a stop at our assigned stand, it’s already 11h30. I now have fifty minutes to make my onward connection.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The rooms are nicely appointed and very clean. Next time I’m visiting Strasburg I’ll definitely be staying at this hotel again.
Trelleborg is a quaint little town on Sweden’s southern cost. It’s really very small and there isn’t anything much to see, other than its quaintness. It’s the day after the summer solstice, which is a public holiday in Sweden. As a result, the already very quiet town seems deserted. You know something can’t be right when you walk into the local tourist information office and the clerk starts with ‘the problem is…’.
In Trelleborg I’m staying at the Best Western Magasinet Hotel, which is located right next to the exit from the port and also doubles at the passenger terminal of Trelleborg harbour.