Hotel Esplanade Zagreb

Once upon a time, a very long time ago and long before the age of airspace congestion and low cost carriers, when travel still had the aura of glamour and adventure and passengers travelled with a set of valises and not just a backpack, the Compagnie Internationale des Wagon Lits operated a network of luxury trains across Europe. In their heyday, many of the routes operated by the Compagnie were often the only reliable connection to get from one place to another.

The legendary Orient Express is perhaps the most notorious train of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits, made famous also by Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which firmly established her as the Queen of crime fiction through the cunning of her most successful character, the eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

The Orient Express originally ran from Constantinople to Paris, with slip cars from Athens and Bucarest joining the train at Belgrade and some cars continuing on to London from Paris. The journey would take the train three days to complete.

Along the route of the Orient Express a whole series of luxury hotels was established to accommodate the illustrious guests of the Orient Express when they needed to interrupt their journey. One of these establishments is the Hotel Esplanade in Zagreb, which still stands today.

The hotel is located right on the square just in front of Zagreb’s main railway station, on the fringe of the city’s elegant centre, which traces its history back to when Croatia was still part of the Habsburg empire. The hotel is now ninety years old. A few years ago it was completely renovated and has now been beautifully restored to its former elegance, underscoring its reputation as the most prestigious hotel in the city.

If you’re visiting Zagreb, you should definitely pay the Esplanade a visit, even if only to walk through the very grand foyer and to relive, just for a brief moment, the luxury and style of a bygone era.

Here’s the link to the website of the hotel.

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Turkish Airlines, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Istanbul to Basel

Introduction

I’ve been travelling for a week now. My journey started last Sunday when I took a HOP by Air France flight from Basel to Paris Orly to attend a meeting with the ICAO Regional Office on Monday and Tuesday. The meeting went rather well I’d say. As for HOP, to be honest I don’t see the difference. It felt like a normal Air France regional service.

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Then from Paris I had to go to Istanbul to attend a conference that was being hosted by Turkish Airlines. As I wasn’t sure if the Paris meeting would really be taking place, I decided to book myself from Paris via Zürich to Istanbul on two separate tickets. That way, I would not need to buy an entirely new ticket should the trip to Paris not go through.

The trip from Paris Roissy to Zürich was with Swiss International Air Lines on an Avro RJ100. Although the service was fine and the crew were very friendly, I really do think those Avros have reached a state of repair which is simply no longer acceptable for the passenger. From where I was sitting on row 18, towards the back of the bus, the smell of shit emanating from the toilet was disgusting and nothing else.

And then from Zürich to Istanbul I took the evening Turkish Airlines flight, operated by an A321 aircraft. The aircraft did not have the standard Turkish Airlines cabin and, if I’m not mistaken, I think it may previously have been in service with Kingfisher Airways.

This trip report covers the return leg from Istanbul to Basel, also with Turkish Airlines.

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Airline: Turkish Airlines
Aircraft: Boeing B 737-800
Cabin: Economy
Seat: 18A, window
From: Istanbul Atatürk Airport
To: Basel Mulhouse
Date: 05 October 2013
Departure: 11:55
Arrival: 14:00

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Getting to the Airport

The venue of the conference is the Radisson Blue Istanbul Airport. The hotel is located at the north end, slightly to the side of the two parallel runways at Atatürk airport, which is rather cool if, like me, you like watching planes. Here’s the view from my window this morning.

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However, if you have a light sleep, perhaps this is not the place for you. Istanbul has no night ban and the sound of departing aircraft is rather loud, given that they pass nearly directly over the hotel at very low altitude.

The only downside really, is that the hotel is quite far away from the splendid sights of the city of Istanbul. To get from the hotel to the city there are basically two options. You can take a taxi for about 50 Turkish Lira. Keep in mind however, that the journey is likely to take you up to an hour or even more from the hotel to Taksim square or Sultanahmet, due to the really appalling traffic in Istanbul. You may also not necessarily want to fork out the money to spend an hour surrounded by the stink of stale cigarette smoke which seems omnipresent in Turkish taxis.

The other option is to take the hotel’s shuttle bus to the airport terminal. From there you can either take the Havatas airport bus to the city or the underground. Unfortunately the shuttle only runs once an hour.

I check out of the hotel just after 10:00 in the morning. Of course, I’ve just missed the shuttle. To take the one an hour later would probably be cutting it a bit fine. So instead, I’m going to have to take a smelly taxi for the short drive to the airport. I can always hold my breath to avoid the smoke stink.

Check-in

Istanbul airport is quite a mess when I arrive. Evidently, the airport was never intended to endure the droves of passengers Turkish Airlines is currently feeding into the facility. To enter the building you need to queue at security. The lines are orderly and move relatively quickly. But even so, it takes me 15 minutes to reach the head of the queue. There are simply too many people.

Once inside the terminal, I head for the Business Class and Star Gold check-in counters, where there are also queues, but at least not as bad as for the Economy Class counters. My suitcase is tagged and I’m good to join the next queue for immigration and another queue for a further security screening behind that. And then, finally, I am airside.

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The Turkish Airlines Lounge

The last security check ejects me into the middle of a big square within the terminal. There are people everywhere, making it quite impossible to take a pleasant stroll through the terminal. Very quickly I decide to retreat to the quiet and calm of the Turkish Airlines Lounge. Or so I thought.

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But the situation here is not much better, and although the place is really huge, it’s still nearly impossible to find a place to sit for all the people everywhere. A lot has been said and written about the legendary Turkish Airlines Lounge in Istanbul. And although the food and beverage options are indeed quite impressive and the place is elegantly furnished, I can hardly say I like it. It’s just too big and too hectic to be able to offer a decent respite from the stress of air travel.

Boarding

At about 40 minutes before departure, I leave the lounge and slowly make my way to the gate.

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I’m not sure how far it is to the gate and with all the people, it’s difficult to walk briskly. Eventually, I reach gate 210, from where my flight will depart and just a short while later, boarding begins.

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The Cabin

The first impression of the aircraft is good. There is a dedicated Business Class cabin that is separated from Economy by a fixed cabin divider. The seats are black leather, with the headrests alternating between black and red. Each seat has its own personal video screen, which can be operated by using the remote control or by touch screen.

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The Crew

The purser is a middle-aged gentleman. And then there are also four very attractive and oriental looking ladies as cabin crew on the flight. The Turkish Airlines crews are a bit strange in that they don’t really smile much, interaction with the passengers is limited. At the same time however, they are very obliging, polite and attentive.

Fortunately, at this time of day the amount of departing traffic is not so bad and we make our way to the runway for an on time departure towards the north. Our route today will take us from Istanbul to Belgrade, onward to Zagreb and then from there due north of Zürich and eventually to Basel.

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The Meal

The meal service starts about 30 minutes into the flight. The first course is smoked salmon on a green bean and yoghurt sauce with black olives. It’s quite tasty and the smoked salmon is obviously of the good quality variety.

For the main course, there is a choice of minced beef in aubergines or a chicken kebab with rice and vegetables. I have the chicken, which is okay, although the spinach is really very bland and boring.

With the meal there is a bun. Also, inside the small box that arrived with the tray there are savoury crackers and cream cheese and butter. For dessert we have a vanilla pana cotta with chocolate shavings.

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Once the meal service is over, it takes a while for the crew to come through the cabin with tea and coffee. But this is hardly their fault, as the service has had to be temporarily suspended due to the severe turbulence.

Arrival

For the rest of the flight, I watch a few episodes of Big Bang Theory, until eventually it is time for us to land. Our arrival takes us on a somewhat circuitous route, mainly due to the fact that a storm is passing over the area. Subsequently, we begin our descent too late and have to execute a whole series of turns with the spoilers deployed before eventually we are able to make the approach.

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Conclusion

My previous experience with Turkish Airlines was a short hop in Business Class from Bangkok to Saigon on an ancient A 340-300, and I was not at all amused. This time round, I must say the over all impression was much better, even though I was travelling in Economy. The flight was uneventful and pleasant.

Turkish Airlines certainly has ambition and I think it is quite apparent that the powers that be are willing to invest heavily to ensure these ambitions come to fruition. But with its rapid expansion, Turkish Airlines is at risk of falling into the same trap as Emirates, who – at least in my view – have been unable to maintain service standards as the workforce expands. I also have my doubts if the development of the infrastructure will be able to keep pace with the airline’s rapid expansion.