Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Sleeper Train Review

If your heading for Thailand, one thing for the to do list is a trip on their excellent train network.

If your heading for Thailand, one thing for the to do list is a trip on their excellent train network. One of the most popular routes is up to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, the sleeper train gives you the best of both worlds , experiencing life on the rails, whilst saving the price of a hotel room and no pesky baggage limits, it’s a win win all round. The route has undergone an upgrade in 2016 with fancy new electric powered rolling stock from China added on this route, which makes for a much smoother ride.

Its best to book as early as possible, seats are released up to 3 months in advance. I recommend using a booking agent who can secure your chosen seats for a relatively small booking fee. I used 12gotoAsia, and was able to pick up my tickets from their offices across the road from the station the day before departure, with minimal hassle, and well worth the modest booking fee. If you want to make the most of your time in Chiang Mai, I recommend booking your seats on train number nine , this is one of the upgraded train, which gets into Chiang Mai around 7am.

This is my Thailand Railways on board experience …..

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All aboard to Chaing Mai

Route Hualamphong Station, Bangkok to Chiang Mai ( Train 9 )

Duration: 12 hours Dep 18.10 Arr 7.10

Class : 2nd Class with Air Con

Seat Lower bunk 25 / Upper Bunk 26

Fare : 941 Baht ( £25 gbp / $ 30 ) – upper bunk 1041 Baht ( £27 gbp / $33 ) – lower bunk ( plus agent booking fee 250 baht / £6.50 / $8 per ticket )

At The Station

Hualamphong train station is adjoined to Hua Lamphong metro station on the blue line, you access the train station via an approx 10 minute in a thankfully air conditioned underground walkway. Due to the notoriously bad Bangkok traffic, this is the best way to travel to the station if your travelling light.

On the platform there is a food centre with vendors selling hot food as well as a coffee house , dunkin donuts stall and a small supermarket, perfect for loading up with snacks & drinks for the journey, though its worth noting alcohol is strictly forbidden on the train, along with smoking.

Boarding

Passengers are advised to be on the platform approx 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time, as soon as the train pulled into the platform, staff went to work loading clean linen and food supplies and cleaning down the cars ready for the next journey.

After approx 20 minutes the train was ready to go again, and passengers were allowed to board. All the seating on the sleeper is allocated, you are assigned your carriage and seat number when booking, there’s a choice between an upper or lower bunk, the lower bunk is slightly wider and longer than the top bunk and a 100 baht more.

In the Carriage

Upon boarding, I noticed that everything was spotlessly clean, which for the time they had to clean, was pretty impressive. When I booked approx 6 weeks in advance, I was unable to secure a first class cabin, and I was very dubious about what the second class experience was going to be like , thankfully all my doubts were squashed when we boarded.

Each carriage has 40 seats / bunks , 20 on each side arranged over 10 bays of an upper and lower bunk. each bunk has its own reading light and more importantly a plug / usb socket , though sadly  there was no wifi onboard this service.

Upon boarding the upper bunk was locked , At roughly 8pm the steward came into the carriage and started making up everyones bunks ready for bed.

All the linens ( sheets and pillow cases ) were sealed in plastic bags straight from the laundry, a blanket is left on your bunk still sealed.

Settling down for the night I was quite surprised as to how spacious the lower bunk was, at 5ft 7 I’m hardly tall, but there was bags of room at the end of the bed .

Shortly after the steward had finished setting up all the beds , people started drawing their curtains and retiring for the evening. The curtains gave total privacy, but one thing to note is the carriage lights are on all night, so if your a light sleeper, I’d recommend bringing an eye mask. The air con is also pretty fierce, so long trousers and a fleece are necessary so you don’t wake up freezing.

One of the main concerns I had about travelling 2nd class was the shared facilities, each carriage had three toilets, and they were kept scrupulously clean throughout the journey, as well as a separate double sink.

After a solid six hours of sleep, the steward came thru the carriage at around 6.30am gently waking everyone, and began changing the beds back to seats ready for our arrival into Chiang Mai.

Whilst waking up at 6.30am whilst on holiday is not my idea of fun , it gives you a chance to catch a glimpse of rural Thailand from the train.

Food & Drink

I was expecting great things in regards to food offerings on this journey, but I was sadly disappointed. As I boarded the train, a staff member came through the train offering orange juice and fruit plates, be warned this is NOT FREE , someone will come back and charge you 50 baht for each item , which for Thailand is grossly overpriced, so you have been warned.

After we settled in, someone came round with menu and was taking food orders. There was a choice of just four set menus. There were no other food options available, so as we hadn’t eaten before boarded the train and had anticipated a better selection, we were forced to go with the set menu. Sadly the quality was very disappointing , I went for Menu B , the duck was very fatty, the chicken sauce was very gloopy and there were more nuts than chicken plus the jasmine rice was rock solid, I barely touched it, a waste of 210 baht.

I’d advise checking out the food options at the food centre in the station before you board the train, as there will more choice and probably a lot cheaper than eating on the train, there seemed to be any issue with people bringing their own food on to the train.

Small bottles of water were also handed out by the steward free of charge , though i’d would advise to bring at least a 2 litre bottle each as the carriage gets very dry due to the air con, as none of the windows open.

In My Opinion …..

If your looking for side trip out of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a great place to escape to for a few days out of the hustle, bustle and heat of Bangkok, where the temperature is cooler and the hotel rates are cheaper. The sleeper train is great to do with kids, as there’s loads more space on the train for them to stretch their legs than being trapped in a plane seat , and for a sleeper service its bargain, especially as you save on a nights accommodation.

Second class was perfectly fine, and much better than I expected, the carriage was a mixed of locals and tourists and as soon as the bunks were made up, people drew their curtains and went to sleep. I would advise bringing something to chain your luggage to your seat for extra piece of mind , but your carriage is looked after by a dedicated steward so it would be pretty difficult for someone to make off with your luggage without being noticed , but you can never be too careful. I slept with my valuables ie phones passports and money in a backpack in my bunk, with my luggage stowed under the seats.

When you arrive at Chiang Mai , you will be met by a sea of taxi drivers all fighting for your business , a tip, when choosing a taxi, I was reliably informed that it should cost more than 200 baht to get anywhere in the city.

For further info regarding routes and schedules, please got to Thailand state railway website here . For information regarding other routes in Thailand, and around Asia , check out Man in Seat 61 a worldwide rail travel website.

EL AL 787 Dreamliner, Premium Economy Cabin, Tel Aviv to London Heathrow Flight Review

EL AL was formed in 1948, when it operated its maiden flight, bringing home Israel’s first President, Professor Haim Weizmann, from a diplomatic visit to Geneva. EL AL owes its name to David Remez, the first Minister of Transport, who based the name on a passage from the book of Hosea. With a current fleet of 42 aircrafts including 9 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, EL AL now flies to over 50 destinations in Asia , Europe , Africa and North America.

EL AL Security

Famous for their tight security measures, If your nervous about security when flying , EL AL is your go to airline. Security checks are said to start from the moment you book your ticket, as I was on the return leg of my journey, I had effectively already been screened and cleared on my outgoing flight from London. It’s worth noting everyone is interviewed before being allowed to check in, I was only asked a couple of questions at Tel Aviv and I was waved through in literally 2-3 minutes , but allow at least three hours when checking for an ElAl flight just on case you get delayed in security.I found the whole EL AL Security experience a tad nerve racking, just make sure you can account for everything in your luggage or things could get awkward.

This my premium economy cabin experience flying from Tel Aviv to London Heathrow…

Flight LY317 5.20PM

Route Tel Aviv – Yafo to London Heathrow

Cabin Premium Economy 2-3-2 Configuration

Seat 20K

Flight Duration 5 hours 25 minutes

Plane Type Boeing 787-900

Checked Baggage allowance 2 x 23kg

Boarding

When reaching the gate there were again extra security checks just before boarding, I wasn’t selected this time, but If picked you out will need to make all your hand luggage available for further screening, this delayed boarding somewhat but impressively we still managed to get away on time.

El AL crew on board the new boeing 787 dreamliner

Premium Economy passengers were able to board after Business class passengers, I received a warm welcome upon boarding the aircraft from the two dedicated crew members assigned to our cabin. After I got seated I was offered a hot towel and drink whilst economy passengers were boarding.

Cabin & Seat

The premium economy cabin is located in rows 17 to 20, inbetween the business and economy cabins, featuring 28 seats arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration.

Seat Map ( courtesy of SeatGuru.com )

Each seat has a pitch of 38 inches and is 19 inches wide. Sitting in the last row of the cabin sometimes can be uncomfortable , but if anything I felt I had a bigger recline than normal due to there not being a seat behind me.

On my seat I found a comfortable pillow , and a decently thick blanket and I was handed an amenity kit after takeoff.

ELAL Premium Economy Dreamliner seat

The Amenity kit was a nice surprise, especially as most airlines are cutting back on offering them. Whilst the kit is quite basic, it contains the essentials , and I found the eye mask to be of a good quality.

ELAL Premium Economy Amenity Kit

ELAL Premium Economy Amenity Kit

Entertainment

For a new aircraft , I found the ELAL entertainment offering to be quite limited, though the screen was a generous 13 inches, there were only a few current blockbusters available on this flight which were straight out of the cinema, but in addition there was a large number of classic English and Isreali films and music so there was plenty to watch on a relatively short flight. Im also a fan of the moving map so I can keep track of my wereabouts in the air

The Dreamliner is WiFi enabled and I’m happy to report that I had a strong signal throughout the flight and was able tweet and post to my social media with no problems., which is no easy feat especially when flying internationally. The WiFi is available to purchase on the flight using a credit card. A free package is available, but its only for using the Whats Up app.

Food & Drink Service

After take off there was a full alcoholic bar service, with my drink I was served with a small snack bag of crackers and dinner menus were handed out ( please note all meals served onboard ELAL are kosher ).

Approx 90 minutes into the flight dinner was served, the crew member came and took everyones order individually and the meals were brought out one by one. Playing it safe I plumped for the cooky bag spring chicken, intially when presented with the chicken in a plastic bag, I wondered if the crew had forgotten to plate my meal , but after a quick explanation, a cooky bag I was advised, ensures that the chicken complies with kosher rules.

There was one meal service on this flight , the food served was delicious hot and well presented on china plates. To be honest I could have easily managed another cooky bag of chicken.

In My Opinion…

I was originally booked into the Economy Cabin, but was offered an upgrade to Premium Economy cabin for $250 / £190 at the check in desk. It must have been popular as the cabin was full , but to answer the burning question of is it worth splashing out for the upgrade ? If it was a night flight or I was 6ft plus yes absolutely, but in all honestly for this early evening mid haul flight I would have been fine in the economy cabin, so this was a bit of a indulgence for me.The cloth seat was very comfortable with plenty of room to stretch out. I could also get out of my seat without disturbing my seat mate, which is always a plus, and as the cabin was only over four rows, the crew were always on hand, and were pleasant and efficient and didn’t do a disappearing act after the meal service. The only downside was on the ground with the constant security checks, but it wouldn’t put me off flying with ELAL again.

For more information on EL AL and their routes and fares check out their website https://www.elal.com

Please note I was travelling as a guest of EL AL in economy, but paid for the upgrade into premium economy myself, but as usual all opinions here are my own

Easy Jet London Gatwick to Reykjavik, Iceland #A321Neo Flight Review….

EasyJet was established in 1995, by Greek Cypriot businessman Stelios Haji-Ioannou , as a low cost airline that served all of Europe.

Now as one of Europe’s leading airlines, EasyJet is currently operating on over 900 routes across more than 30 countries with a fleet of over 275 Airbus aircrafts.

Here’s is my Easy Jet experience flying from London Gatwick to Reykjavic Iceland.

Flight EZY 8503

Cabin Economy – Easyjet operates all planes with one cabin

Seat 16A

Flight Duration 3 Hours 20 minutes

Plane Type Airbus A321Neo

Boarding

Passengers who purchased speedy boarding were allowed to board first , though since the introduction of allocated seating, I fail really to see the point of speedy boarding.

Boarding was done via external stairs to the front and back of the plane onto a brand new A321Neo aircraft.

Cabin & Seat

The A321 Neo is the largest aircraft in the Easy Jet fleet with a whooping 235 seats, in a single aisle, 3-3 configuration

The first thing I noticed about the seats were, they looked a lot slimmer than usual , which initially was worrying, but with a seat width of 17.3 inches , I didn’t notice any difference once I sat down.

With a standard 29 inches of legroom, and new look pleather seat covers instead of the usual fabric seat, I definitly found the seat a lot more comfortable that usual.

The only difference on the new seat that I noted was, they no longer recline, which in my opinion is a good thing, theres nothing worse than having your someones head literally in your lap even if it a short flight.

Food & Drink

There is no complimentary food or drink service included on any Easy Jet flights , but there is a pay on board option of snack type meals, consisting of toasties , sandwiches as well as drinks including some alcohol, available from the Easy Jet Sky Cafe.

The only issue I have with the food service is they understandably only carry a limited amount of food, but sometimes they tend to run out, before they reach your row if your sitting near the rear of the plane. So I normally just bring my own snacks, or buy something before boarding at the airport.

In my Opinion …..

Easy Jet provides exactly what it says on the tin, low cost no frills air travel, and with return fares regularly as low as £50 return to Europe from the UK when booking in advance, Easy Jet provides a solid low cost service. If you travel light, and bring your own snacks on board you can keep your costs to a minimum.

Whilst I personally have a Easy Jet limit of flights under four hours flying time , this new more comfortable aircraft could be a total game changer for travelling beyond Europe for Easy Jet in the future. Great flight , good service , massive network , really what’s not to like ?.

For more information on routes and fares , check out the Easy Jet website

http://www.easyjet.com

Please note I purchased my ticket for this flight and recieved no concessions to write this review for Easy Jet. As usual all opinions are my own.

Emirates A380 Economy Class London Gatwick to Dubai Flight Review

The Emirates story started in 1985 when they launched operations with just two aircrafts a leased Boeing 737, and an Airbus 300. Fast forward and now Emirates are flying to over 155 destinations in more than 80 countries around the world. Over 1,500 Emirates flights depart Dubai each week on their way to destinations on six continents, from their dedicated terminal in Dubai Airport.

This is my Economy Cabin experience flying from London Gatwick to Dubai…

View from the  emirates A380 cockpit
View from the A380 cockpit

Flight EK012 9.40am

Route London Gatwick to Dubai

Cabin Economy 3-4-3 configuration

Seat 68A

Flight Duration 6 hours 50 minutes

Plane Type Airbus A380

Boarding

Boarding started promptly at approx 9am, economy & business boarded at the same time due to the cabins being on separate decks , which ultimately cut down on the boarding time.

Boarding on Emirates A380
Boarding on Emirates A380

I recieved a warm welcome from a crew member and the flights Cabin Manager who were at the aircraft door welcoming passengers onboard.

Emirates crew in A380 entrance door
A warm welcome upon boarding

Cabin & Seat

The economy cabin takes up the entire lower deck on the A380, from rows 52 to 88, with seats in a 3-4-3 configuration.

Seat map courtsey of SeatGuru.com

The cabin is split into three sections , with the rear section being the smallest with only eight rows.

I was sitting in the middle section in seat 68A , in my opinion one of the best economy seats in the cabin, this is due to the seat in front being removed due to the curvature of the plane. The seat is classed as an extra legroom seat, which is £75 to pre book , or you can take your chances at check in and nicely ask if its available for allocation on the day.

Seat 68A

Its worth noting that on the A380 seats rows 68 & 81 A& K in the economy cabin all have no seat in front of them , which means these are the ones to aim for if you need plenty of legroom.

Legroom for days

A regular economy seat has a pitch of 32 to 34 inches , I’m 5ft 7 and found it comfortable when I tried out the empty seat next to me in 68B.

Legroom in a regular economy seat

Arriving at my seat I found a decent cotton covered pillow, a lightweight fleece blanket and a pair of headphones for the flight.

Whilst there were no amenity kits in the economy cabin, I noted there were toothbrush packs stocked in the restrooms for passengers to take.

On the seat

Entertainment

Emirates on board entertainment system ICE is as good as in flight entertainment can get with over 4,000 channels of movies , box sets and music , there’s plenty to keep you entertained. If your a sports fan you won’t even miss the big game whilst your in the air, Emirates streams live sport events straight to your seat in all cabins.

Emirates pull out entertainment screen

As well as the entertainment channels you can follow your flight’s progress on the moving map, or see the world from 40,000ft on the planes external cameras.

Emirates moving map
Emirates moving map

Whilst the plane was wifi enabled, sadly I was unable to connect as the system was not accepting my Emirates Skywards number, so despite a number of attempts, so im unable to provide any feedback on this, but wifi is avalible up to 150mb or up to 500mb for a fee paid onboard by inputting your credit card details.

Inflight wifi charges

Food & Drink Service

Upon boarding crew were handing out menus and serving water and juice with a small bag of pretzels before take off.

Once in the air, I noted there was no drinks service before the lunch service which started a tad early at 11.25am in my opinion, especially as I’d had breakfast in the terminal just moments before boarding started.

Emirates economy cabin food menu
Emirates economy cabin food menu

On the menu there was a choice of two mains , a chicken curry ( pictured below ) or a braised beef, I was surprised to see that there was no main vegetarian option offered on the menu.

The meal was served with a small appetiser of coleslaw, finishing with a desert of apple and blackberry torte , which was more like a crumble. It’s worth noting, all meals served on Emirates are halal as standard.

The meal was tasty and served pipping hot , which is no easy feat with plane food, especially in large economy cabins, I finished everything , and easily could have eaten another chicken curry.

Emirates economy cabin main meal

After the meal there was a bar service with the usual beers, wine (basic red or white ) and spirits. Champagne was also available for a fee of $20 for a small 200ml bottle.

In between the meal service , crew would regularly come through the cabin with soft drinks , and would get alcoholic drink when requested.

Approximately 90 minutes before landing an ‘afternoon tea’ was served, with a chicken tikka and cheese and pickle sandwich and a warm scone served with cotted cream and jam and a cup of tea.

Emirates economy cabin afternoon tea

Emirates economy cabin afternoon tea

In my opinion …

This was my first experience on Emirates, Its well known that Emirates works hard to provide a great passenger experience, and on this flight I found the crew warm and friendly, and willing to go the mile.

I found my seat comfortable and had plenty legroom and the entertainment system had more than enough to keep me entertained during the flight. The food was more than adequate for plane food, and more importantly was served hot which is always a plus. I found flying in the economy cabin on Emirates was a good experience, this was enhanced by me having a great seat which I think is worth paying for on longer flights, so you are guarenteed to be able to strech out in comfort.

For more information regarding Emirates routes and fares check out their website https://www.Emirates.com #Flybetterwithemirates

Top tips for visiting London for the first time … Part One

Get an Oyster card

 

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If you only buy one thing when you get to London, make it an Oyster card. ( £5 deposit is payable) These handy pay-as-you cards are issued by Transport for London (www.tfl.gov.uk) and make travel on London’s buses, trains and tubes much cheaper and easier. Using an oyster doesn’t just save time, but it saves money, a central London cash tube journey is £4.20, while using an Oyster card the fare is only £2.20. Can be picked up any tube station including Heathrow, and Oyster ticket shops.

Get a London A to Z Map Book

 

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Despite everyone owning a smart phone , nothing will replace the humble A to Z London map book.Long after your phone battery has died , the A to Z is worth its weight in gold with every London street clearly marked , you can pick one up at any bookstore.

Get good waterproofs

London is well known for its unpredictable weather. The day may start sunny & bright but by lunchtime there could be torrential downpours, ALWAYS carry a foldable mac or an umbrella you have been warned

Do your Web Research

There are a number of sites to check that will save you cash, & give you itinerary ideas here’s are a few of the most popular

http://www.lastminute.com – as it says on tin last minute deals for literally everything Hotels , trips , attractions , spa days , show tickets .

http://www.opentable.co.uk – a London restaurant discount booking site that finds the closest restaurants to your location or budget , discounts can be up to 50% off.

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com– not necessarily a tourist site , but sometimes they have great deals for all so worth checking out.

http://www.airbnb.co.uk
With the average London hotel room hitting £160 per night, AirBNB is an ideal solution to finding accommodation . Also by having an apartment, you can make your own meals saving more cash for that big night out. Just pick somewhere near to transport links and within zone 3 of the tube map as a rule so your not wasting time travelling back & forth.

http://www.southbanklondon.com – For all things cultural in London , theatre , gallery events , art , head to the the Southbank located steps from London Waterloo station on the river always good for an afternoon stroll.

See London from the River

 

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Cruising down the Thames is a great way to see London and rest your weary legs. Check out http://www.thamesclipper.com for times & routes and the good news is you can use your oyster card for a discounted fare.

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Check out the best free view in London

The Sky Garden , aka the walkie talkie building is London’s best kept secret , located across the river from the famous London Shard which charges an eye watering £32 to check out the views down the Thames, book into the Sky Garden for totally Free entry for the same view , plus you get a shot of the shard in all your pictures , the only catch is you need to book in advance at https://skygarden.london . There is also a cafe and restaurant at the top so maybe splash out on dinner with the money saved on entry fees.

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Check out Londons best Museums

Great activity for a rainy day there will be a few rainy days , no matter what time of year you visit, this is London it rains accept it. London’s museums are world class and more importantly most are FREE , here are the main ones not to miss ….

British Museum

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Where: Bloomsbury
Open: 10am-5.30pm every day, till 8.30pm Fri. Closed 1 Jan, Good Fri and 24-26 Dec.
Description: An always busy and always fascinating collection of over eight million objects. Themes include Leaders & Rulers, Animals, and Money.

Museum of London

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Where: London Wall
Open: Every day 10am-6pm. Closed 24-26 Dec.
Description: One of the world’s largest urban history museums. Exhibitions include the story of modern London from 1666 to today.

Science Museum

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Where: South Kensington
Open: Every day 10am-6pm, except 24-26 Dec.
Description: Vast museum of advancements in science, medicine, technology and industry. Suitable for young and old alike.

Natural History Museum

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Where: South Kensington
Open: Every day 10am-5.50pm. Closed 24-26 Dec.
Description: Life and earth science specimens in five collections: Botany, Entomology, Mineralogy, Paleontology and Zoology.

National Portrait Gallery

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Where: Just off Trafalgar Square
Open: Every day 10am-6pm. Thu-Fri until 9pm.
Description: Founded in 1856, it has over 195,000 portraits, from modern subjects to paintings from the 16th century.

For more ideas on what to do and what to see check out the official Visit London Website https://www.visitlondon.com

 

Emirates A380 Business Class Dubai to London Gatwick Flight Review

The Emirates story began in 1985 when the airline launched operations with just two aircrafts, Today, they fly the world’s biggest fleets of Airbus A380s .

emirates gold logo

Flying to more than 155 destinations in more than 80 countries around the world, more than 1,500 Emirates flights depart Dubai each week on their way to destinations on six continents from their dedicated terminal in Dubai Airport.

This is my business class experience flying from Dubai to London Gatwick….

Flight : EK009 14:35

Route: Dubai (DXB) to London Gatwick (LGW)

Seat : Allocated 10D (aisle) then switched to 8B (partial window)

Cabin : 76 Business class seats / 1-2-1 Configuration

Flight Duration: 8 hours

Plane Type : Airbus A380-800 (3 Class)

Check-in

The best way to travel to the airport is by metro, which comes straight into the Emirates-dedicated terminal 3 at Dubai airport. It was then a short walk over to the raft of check-in terminals.

emirates check in information stand
Emirates check in

There is a dedicated Business Class check-in desk, and due to the sheer number of desks available, there was no passengers waiting. When I checked in, I was informed that there were no window seats left, which was disappointing, so I was allocated one of the dreaded middle seats. Thankfully, there are two types of middle seats on the A380: one suited for couples (no console between the seats—nice and cosy) and one for solo travellers who failed to nab one of the single window or partial window seats. These have the consoles in the middle as well as a privacy screen, and I had a promise from the agent of the possibility of a move once I had boarded. After getting this squared away, I headed for the lounge.

Emirates Business Class Lounge

As a semi-regular Business Class traveller, I’m partial to a nice lounge. It’s a nice addition to the whole Business Class travel experience, but Emirates take lounges to a whole new level. Located a short walk from security via a lift to concourse A, the Business Class lounge at Dubai Terminal Three is HUGE. It literally stretches the whole of the concourse. A word of warning: if you want to try everything on offer, you’ll need to arrive in plenty of time.

There thankfully is a map just past the lounge reception area to help you plan your visit.

Emirates Dubai lounges is so big your gonna need a map

There are two fine dining areas, which are both buffet style, as well as a number of snack and coffee areas. You’re never going to be searching for somewhere to sit even on the busiest of days as there’s loads (if not way too much) seating, with desk space to catch up on work as well as loungers for taking a quick nap. There is also a kids contained play area with PlayStation consoles, a pay spa, and showers. To be honest, it didn’t feel like a lounge but instead like a massive posh terminal—just without the crowds, which is always nice. I wouldn’t mind being delayed here for a few hours.

Dubai business lounge

Boarding

Boarding for Business and First Class passengers is straight from the lounges onto the walk bridge, which saves passengers from dragging themselves out of the lounge and trying to find their gate—a definite plus.

Boarding is done simultaneously for the Business Class and Economy passengers as they are on different decks, which cuts down the boarding time, and with only 14 First Class passengers who are boarded first, I was able to enter the cabin with no delays.

As expected, I was greeted by name and shown to my seat, which they had been able to switch as requested to 8B, a semi-window seat.

Cabin & Seat

The Business Class cabin on this three-class A380-800 has a whopping 76 seats split over two cabins located in the middle of the upper deck. The very front of the deck is taken up by the First Class suites, and the rear of the cabin has the famous Emirates in-flight bar.

The front cabin has 58 seats, and the smaller rear cabin has 18 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. All seats have direct aisle access without having to climb over your seatmate, which is a plus. If you are travelling as a couple and are not worried about a window, the best seats are E and F.

If you’re a solo traveller who prefers a window or wants to get some shut-eye, you need to go for seats A and J, as these have the console on the aisle side so it’s best for privacy.

Seat map courtsey of seatguru.com

If you miss out on these, try for seats B and K. You will still get a window, you just have to lean over your console to check out the view. I ended up in this seat and it was perfectly fine, I still managed to film the take off as usual.

And then there’s seats D and G. If there can be such a thing as a “bad” seat in Business Class, these would be it. They’re out on the aisle so constantly disturbed by people moving up and down, and you’ll be too far away from your adjacent seat mate to hold a conversation.

I was surprised to note that the Business Class seat was only half an inch wider than the economy seat at 18.5 inches, but to be fair (being on the slightly chubby side myself), I didn’t feel squeezed in, and with a pitch of 48 inches there was plenty of room to stretch out on the fully lie-flat bed at the press of a button.

Emirates Business Class Seat 8B

On the seat was an almost full-size comfortable pillow with a lightweight blanket and a pair of noise cancelling headphones with the kleptomaniac-proof two-pin plug just in case you were tempted to take them home. I was disappointed to note that there were no amenity kits available on this flight, there was a packet with socks and an eye shade in the console.

There were also toothbrushes in the Business Class toilet, but I felt this was a bit of a cut too far. I know there are amenity kits given on Emirates Business Class, so I can only presume they are given just on certain routes or on flights over a certain flight time.

The well-publicised seat console had an array of goodies to play with during the flight: there was a central panel containing a single reading light, a multi-charging point for two USB points, a 110-volt power point, and the headphone jack. There’s also a mini soft drinks “bar” containing a bottle of water, juice, and two soft drinks.

Emirates business class seat console

There was also a tablet which acts as a controller for the excellent ICE entertainment system—if only I could have gotten it out of its docking station. Not wanting to break anything, I enlisted the help of the cabin crew, but it was firmly wedged in, so sadly, I didn’t get to try it out.

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Also there’s the option if you tire of your seat, you can take a short walk to the rear of the plane and hang out with the other passengers in the bar area, which the A380’s have recently been fitted with new a table area , which is a good place to socialise.

Emirates new A380  business class bar area seating
Emirates new A380 business class bar area seating

Entertainment

Emirates’ on board entertainment system, ICE, is as good as in-flight entertainment can get with over 4,000 channels of movies, box sets and music. There’s plenty to keep you entertained. If you’re a sports fan, you won’t even miss the game whilst you’re in the air; Emirates streams live sport straight to the plane, where you can watch it on your in-seat screen. There’s also a large screen in the bar area if you’re feeling sociable.

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Watch the match on the big screen whilst at the bar

As well as the entertainment channels, you can follow your flight’s progress on the moving map or see the world from 40,000 feet on the plane’s external cameras.

Whilst the plane was wifi-enabled, sadly, I was unable to connect as the system was not accepting my Emirates Skywards number despite a number of attempts, so I’m unable to provide any feedback on this.

Food & Drink Service

Upon boarding, crew were offering a pre take-off drink of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label champagne, which was offered along with water and juice. A drinks and food menu was handed out by the crew before take-off and orders taken. All meals served on Emirates are Halal. This is not something that concerns me personally, but it’s worth noting. With a mid-afternoon take off, the food service started approximately 90 minutes in.

Having a scan through the menu, I went for the lamb shank, sadly the presentation was poor, and apart from the lamb looking wholly unappetizing, the gravy was slopped all over the edges of the plate and the vegetables looked soggy and overcooked, so I sent it back untouched.

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The crew did ask if I wanted to try something else, but luckily, I’d already eaten in the lounge, so I wasn’t particularly hungry. I had great expectations for the Emirates onboard food service, but sadly it fell well short of a Business Class standard on this flight.

In my opinion….

Emirates was the last of the big three Middle East carriers I had to fly, and I was not disappointed. Emirates works hard on providing an all-round experience rather than just the flight.

This experience was excellent, from arriving at the enormous lounge at DXB with two fine dining restaurants and a spa as well as a fully-equipped kids gaming room and being able to walk straight from the lounge onto the plane, to hanging out at the on-board bar at the rear of the plane where the crew are happy to snap a souvenir photo of you behind the bar to take home.

As far as downsides, there were a couple I noted: firstly, the onboard food service was not up to scratch on this particular flight, which was disappointing, especially flying from their home airport. The second was the lack of an amenity kit, which I had expected.

In conclusion, Emirates go out of their way to make your flight memorable, though the experience doesn’t come cheap. A return Business Class fare on this route averages around £3,000, but there’s definitely above-average bang for your buck flying with Emirates.

For more information on Emirates’ latest routes, and fares check their website at http://www.emirates.com.

Please note, a complimentary upgrade into the Business Cabin was kindly provided by Emirates, but as usual, all opinions are my own.

First time on a plane ? things to know know before you go…

It seems like only yesterday when if you wanted to travel you’d have to go down to your local travel agent , who would book your flight for you , and once booked off you’d go with your paper ticket in hand. Thankfully due to the internet, you don’t need to leave the comfort of your own to home to book your flight

The travel website Kayak done a survey and found out that 22% of British adults have never been on a plane. Doing anything for the first time is pretty scary, especially if you don’t know what to expect, so heres a few things to know before you before you go on your very first flight.

Booking your Flight

It seems like only yesterday when if you wanted to travel you’d have to go down to your local travel agent , who would book your flight for you , and once booked off you’d go with your paper ticket in hand. Thankfully due to the internet, you don’t need to leave the comfort of your own to home to book your flight, and more importantly with a raft of comparison sites you can search for the best flight to fit your budget. Here are a few sites to start with:

  • Google flights
  • Momondo
  • Skyscanner
  • Expedia

When booking be sure the name you use on your flight booking matches the name on your passport exactly , otherwise you could be hit with fees for a name change ( could be as steep as £100 per ticket ) or worst ways you could be denied boarding on the day of the flight if your travel documents don’t match.

If you have any extra requirements such as you have a disability which makes travelling difficult or are traveling with small child , let the airline know well in advance so they can make the necessary arrangements to assist you , this also includes food if your travelling on an airlines that serves food as part of your ticket . You can order a wide range of specalist meals such as low calorie , halal , kosher or vegan but again this needs advance notice.

Where to go on your first flight ?

For your first flight , Its definately worth doing a ‘practice run ‘ take a trip in your own country first. This is good firstly because the flying time will be short ( try and keep it under two hours flying time ) and if you really hate the whole flying experience its easier to get back home rather than be stranded overseas because your too scared to get back on the plane to come home. If your not sure where you want to go, google flights has a nifty feature where you can search flight to anywhere and it lists the countries and flight options and prices.

Get your Paperwork in order

In order to board a plane you will need Photo ID. If your flight is within your own country, acceptable ID other than a passport for flights within the UK would be:

  • Valid armed forces identity card
  • Valid police warrant card/badge
  • Valid photo driving licence

If you decide to go a bit further afield ie abroad, you’ll need a passport. If your applying for your very first passport it can be can be done online via the YouGov website it costs £75.50 for a standard 34 page passport.

https://www.gov.uk/apply-first-adult-passport

or another option is to pick up a passport application form at your local post office ( get two you will make a mistake ) fill it in and then go back to the post office where they will check that you’ve filled out everthing correctly before sending it off securely.

For your first passport this in my opinion this is the best way, because then you know that you haven’t missed anything out and everything is correct. Your first passport will take longer to process, as more backround checks are required. The passport office advises allowing six to eight weeks processing time. For more info on the post office check and send service go to their website , the cost for the passport via the post office is £85.00 again for 34 pages.

https://www.postoffice.co.uk/passport-check-send

Know your luggage limits

As this is your first flight its best to keep it simple , pack light using backpack or overnight bag which can fit under the seat in front or in the overhead locker. Different airlines have different weight limits be sure to check , ignore airline weight limits at your peril , if your caught overweight you will be charged, Ryan Air curently charges an eye watering £20 per kg, you have been warned.

At the Airport

So you’ve got your brand new passport , you’ve packed your bag, and its time to head for the airport. The recommended time to arrive at the airport before your flight is 2 hours for domestic flights ( inside the UK ) and up between 2 to 4 hours for international flights.

Most airlines offer an online check in and a mobile boarding pass stored on your phone.On the boarding pass it will have your seat number if you prefer a certain seat ie window or aisle you can pay for the seat when doing your online booking, this usually costs around £10 on short haul flight up to £80/100 on long haul routes each way. If your over 6ft you may want to consider booking an extra legroom seat , again these options are available when booking.

If you already have checked in online you can bypass the check in desk and head straight for the security area.

An important thing to note is if your carrying liquids in your hand luggage, a single containers must hold no more than 100ml. Containers must be in a transparent, resealable plastic bag and its one bag per person, there are no exceptions, so be sure to pack some travel sized toiletries .

At security you have to remove your coat, belts, any metal objects you have your person and take your laptop and or i pad out of its case and place everything in a tray to go through the scanner , and you will also have to pass through a metal detector, and if your really really lucky you could be chosen for ‘extra checks ‘ don’t panic just follow the security personals instructions and you’ll be fine , unless of course you’ve fired a gun recently or have carried drugs in any of your belongings as swabs can be taken of any part of your belongings , ie inside your bag lining , your bank card , phone etc . If these come up positive needless to say you won’t be making your flight.

So you’ve made it through security now all you need to do is locate you flight on the departure board, and more importantly how far away the gate is from the main concourse, otherwise your gonna have to make a run for it when you realise the gate is 15 minutes away but the gate closes in 10 minutes .

Boarding

So you’ve made it to the gate , keep your passport and boarding card handy as you will need to show this to the check in agent as you pass throught the gate to the plane. Depending on the airport and airline you will eithier enter the plane via an enclosed walk bridge or have to get onto a bus which will bus you out to the plane and use external steps.

Onboard

So you’ve made it to your seat , depending on the length of the flight there may or may not be seat back tv’s , a tip is to always take an i pad and / or phone loaded with a few films so you wont be caught out.

Again with regards to food , depending on the flying time your ticket may or may not include food. The good news is food is usually available for purchase on most flights, but you can also bring your own food on board if you wish. Just think of your fellow passengers and leave smelly food at home, sandwiches , rolls , cold pasta are all good things to bring with you and are security friendly.

After everyone is on board the crew will go through a safety demonstration , its extremly important that you pay attention to the safety information , it could literally save your life in an emergency.

Then after everyone’s buckled in its time for the pilot to head for the runway and its up up and away enjoy your flight and then you can look forward to the next one !!!

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Bon Voyage !!!

Royal Air Maroc Rabat to London Economy Class Flight Review

Royal Air Maroc Rabat to London economy cabin flight review

Royal Air Maroc , more commonly known as RAM, is a four star rated airline by Skytrax

RAM logo

RAM is fully owned by the Goverment of Morocco and has it headquarters located within Casablanca Airport. From its Casablanca base, RAM operates a domestic network within in Morocco, as well as scheduled international flights to Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.

Ram route map
RAM Route map

This is my Economy Class experience flying from Rabat, Morocco to London Heathrow.

Checking in

Flight : AT804 Departure 15.10

Route: Rabat (RBA) to London Heathrow (LHR)

Seat: 19F (Economy Class )

84 seats / 2-2 configuration

Duration: 3hrs

Plane Type: Airbus Embraer E190

RAM Embraer 190 Seat map
Embraer E190 seat map ( via http://www.seatguru.com )

Boarding

Boarding was a swift affair due to less than 100 people boarding , just having the one aisle was tricky with everyone trying to stuff their luggage in the overhead lockers , but once boarding was complete we were up and away on time.

on board ..

Cabin and Seat

The economy cabin on the Embraer E190 has 84 seats in a 2-2 configuration , with a seat pitch of 32 inches and width of just 17 inches. I found the actual seat pretty comfortable with good padding, but a tad snug around the hips.

Economy Cabin view

At 5ft 7 I found the leg room ok, but I would have struggled if the flight was much longer. pillows and blankets were avalible on request, but the cabin temperature was fine for me. As on most short haul flights, there was no seats back TV’s nor were there any amentiy kits, also no in seat power.

Food Service

I was surprised to see that a full meal was on offer on this realitively short flight. There was a choice of pasta or fish , I prefer to stick to quite plain food when I fly, so I went for the fish , which was hot and surprisingly tasty. There were two drinks services during the flight, though sadly just soft drinks in the economy cabin , with tea and coffee being served after the meal.

Economy Class meal

In My Opinion …..

I’ll be honest , I’m not a fan of smaller planes , purely down to the bump factor , smaller the plane bigger the bumps during turbulance. The flight whilst a tad bumpy over the English Channel, the rest of the flight was fine. The service onboard was prompt and efficient. and the meal service and complimentary drinks was a welcome change to pay food & drink charges on most airlines these days. My only annoyance was the single aisle , it was nigh impossible to go to the toilet and get back to your seat without getting stuck behind the catering trolley, but it’s not really something that can be avoided.

RAM Short Haul Economy Class flights include :

One piece of checked luggage weighing 23kg

One piece of hand luggage weighing 10kg

Full meal service

Complimentary soft drinks

For more info on more destinations and fares, check out the Royal Air Maroc website at http://www.royalairmaroc.com

Looking for Accommodation in Rabat ?

Check out the best hotel in town Sofitel Jardin Des Roses

http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-6813-sofitel-rabat-jardin-des-roses/index.shtml

For things to do and see in Rabat , Check out how I spent my time there using the hashtag

#SeemoreofMorocco

Please note my flight was kindly hosted by Royal Air Maroc in order to write this review , but as usual my thoughts & opinions are all my own.

Royal Air Maroc London to Casablanca Business Class Flight Review

royal air maroc London to Casablanca business class flight review

Royal Air Maroc , more commonly known as RAM, is a four star rated airline by Skytrax.

RAM is fully owned by the Goverment of Morocco and has it headquarters located within Casablanca Airport. From its Casablanca base, RAM operates a domestic network within in Morocco, as well as scheduled international flights to Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.

RAM Route Map
RAM Route Map

This is my Business Class experience flying from London Heathrow to Casablanca……

Checking in …

Flight : AT801 Departure 17.10

Route: London ( LHR ) to Casablanca (CNM )

Seat: 3k (Business Class )

12 seats / 2-2 configuration

Duration: 3hrs 20 mins

Plane Type: Boeing 737-800

Heathrow Sky Team Lounge

Heathrow Sky Team Lounge
Lounging

As a Business Class passenger flying with RAM , a Sky team member , you are entitled to access to the Skyteam lounge within terminal four.

Sky Team lounge seating area

The lounge is light and spacious and has plenty of seating, but as it’s a shared with a number of other airlines , when I visited on a Friday afternoon admittedly a peak time, I found it pretty busy. There was a decent choice of hot & cold food and a serve yourself bar, but sadly no champange.

Sky Team pour your own bar

Boarding

RAM CREW
A Warm RAM Welcome

Boarding started promptly approx 40 minutes before take off , Business Passengers were invited to board first , I received a warm welcome at the door of the aircraft. with the business cabin half full on this flight ( six passengers ) , we were seated quickly, but as there was only one entry door on the 737 , economy passengers had to pass through the business cabin to the economy cabin, which interfered slighly with crew trying to serve pre take off drinks and hot towels, as it’s a single aisle aircraft. In my opinion it would be better for Business Class passengers to board last rather than first.

Cabin & Seat

737 Front of Cabin view
Front of Cabin view

The 737 has 12 Business class seats in a 2-2 formation, over 3 rows in the one front cabin.

A737 RAM BUSINESS CLASS SEAT MAP
A737-800 Business Class Seat Map ( http://www.seatguru.com )

With a generous seat pitch of 36 inches and width of 21 inches, I found there was plenty of leg room and wiggle room in the seat , the leather seat frame was especially comfortable, think comfy office chair with a decent recline.

I also was able to get out of my window seat into the aisle without disturbing my seat mate, which was a plus. As it was a short haul flight there was no amenity kits or individual entertainment screens. But you could track the planes progress via the map on the overhead screens at the front of the cabin.

View from my seat

My only gripe was that there was no in seat charging points, as someone who relies heavily on my smart phone I watched as my battery die throughout the flight as i presumed there would be in seat power, so by the time I landed in Casablanca the battery was well and truly dead.

If RAM was looking for ways to improve the cabin, this would be my suggestion. In a business cabin in seat power should come as standard, and would be relatively easy to resolve with just 12 seats.

Food Service

I was nicely surprised to see that there was a full long haul style meal service, complete with white table cloths and hot towels, on a relatively short flight.

Prior to take off I was offered a choice of juice & water , then shortly after take off I was offered an alcoholic drinks service, with a full bar including the delicious Laurent Perrier champange . As the Cabin was half full, the crew were happy to serve alcoholic drinks on demand throughout the flight.

Drinks service on RAM
More champange madam ?

The Dinner Menus were handed out with the drinks service, there was a choice one starter, two hot mains ( Chicken roulade or Lamb Tagine ) , cheese plate ,and dessert , all rounded off with refreshing moroccan mint tea just case the prior courses hadn’t quite finished you off.

Whilst the food options were quite basic for a business cabin , it was well presented, tasted good and was served hot , which is no easy feat with plane food.

Tea Time

With two dedicated crew members in the business cabin, service was prompt and friendly.

In my Opinion ….

If your looking for a long haul business class experience for a fraction of the price in a quater of the flying time , its definately worth considering flying RAM on your next trip to Morocco. Added with the generous 2 x 23kg luggage allowance per passenger and just 12 seats in the cabin, the service was prompt and efficient from the start. Whilst the 737 does not have flat beds , the business seats are extremely comfortable with no climbing over your seat mate required, so it’s a win win, so there’s just the in seat power issue to resolve.

RAM Business class flights include:

Priority check in lane

Two pieces of checked luggage up to 23kg each plus cabin baggage up to 10kg.

Priority boarding

Free seat assignment.

Lounge access

For more information on RAM’S flights & fares , Check out their website

http://www.royalairmaroc.com

Looking for accommodation in Casablanca ?

I stayed at the exemplary five star Four Seasons Casablanca during my time in Casablanca. Check out their rooms & rates via their website

https://m.fourseasons.com/casablanca/

For things to do and see in Casablanca , Check out how I spent my time there using the hashtag

#SeemoreofMorocco

Please note my flight was kindly hosted by Royal Air Maroc in order to write this review , but as usual my thoughts & opinions are all my own.

Gulf Air #A330 London Heathrow to Bahrain Falcon Gold Business Class Flight Review

Gulf Air Falcon Gold Business class flight review

Gulf Air is the principal flag carrier of Bahrain, the airline operates scheduled services to 41 destinations in 23 countries across Africa, Asia and Europe, all flights transit thru their hub airport in Bahrain. Gulf Air operate two cabins of service , Economy and their aptly named Falcon Gold Business Class cabin.

This is my Falcon Gold cabin inflight passenger experience on one of two daily flights from London Heathrow to Gulf Air’s Hub in Bahrain.

Flight: GF0002 Departure 9.30am

Route London (LHR) to Bahrain (BAH )

Seat: 1K ( Falcon Gold Class )

30 seats / 2-2-2 configuration

Duration: 6 hrs 30 mins

Plane Type: Airbus A330

Gulf air falcon gold check in London Heathrow

Heathrow terminal four check in

Falcon Gold Lounge – Heathrow

Falcon Gold Lounge- London Heathrow

Located between gates 6 & 7 on the main concourse in Heathrow’s Terminal four is the Falcon Gold Lounge.

Falcon Gold Lounge – interior

With a light and airy decor, separate lounging & dining areas as well as showering facilities, its small but perfectly formed with everything you need for a brief visit.

Whilst not extensive, there’s was perfectly adequate selection of hot and cold breakfast items were available prior to my 9am boarding call.

Falcon Gold food buffet

Boarding

Boarding started promptly approx 45 mins before departure. Falcon Gold passengers were invited to board first , in their own dedicated lane. After being greeted at the aircraft door by name , I was shown to my seat and offered a pre take off drink and hot towel.

Welcome aboard

Cabin & Seat

The A330 has 30 Falcon Gold seats in a 2-2-2 formation over 5 rows, split over 2 cabins eithier side of the main cabin door separated by the toilets and galley.

Gulf Air A330 seat map Falcon gold cabin

A330 Falcon Gold Seat Map

Whilst the Cabin is quite neutral , it has a spacious feel, and there is generous leg room between the rows, so no akward moments trying to climb over your seatmate when exiting your seat mid flight. There’s also a pull down privacy screen if your travelling alone.

Rear Falcon Gold cabin

Falcon Gold mid cabin seating

The seat was a standard forward facing full flat bed , there was a comfortable pillow & duvet style blanket stored in the cubby hole under the tv monitor. There’s also a bottle of water and noise cancelling headphones stored down the side of the seat. There was also a usb charging point in the console, but I found it pretty slow when charging up my smart phone.

Seat 1K

Amenity kits were handed out before take off , All Falcon Gold passengers recieved a Cerruti branded amenity kit, I particularly liked the Aigner products ( body lotion , mosturising lip balm and a refreshing facial spritz ) , the black leather pouch was handy to reuse as a washbag / make up case.

Falcon Gold Cerruti amenity kit

Entertainment

This is where I feel that Gulf Air can make their biggest improvement , I found Falcon entertainment system , clunky , dated and extremely tricky to use.

In flight entertainment controller

I also found the actual movie selection quite limited, and it was the same selection on both outbound and inbound journey, so I found I’d already watched the films that I wanted to on the way out. There was approx ten mainstream hollywood blockbusters , a number of bollywood films, some random tv shows and a muslim selction.

Food Service

With two crew members & a Sky Chef serving the Falcon Gold Cabin , service was prompt and efficient.

Falcon Gold dining menu

Gulf Air Sky Chef Sanjaya

The food service was hands down the highlight of this flight, with a relatively short flying time of just over six hours, service began approx two hours after a take off and the food just kept coming kicking off with a generously sized main course of a surpringly tender lamb shank cooked to order, followed by a fully stocked cheese and dessert trolley. with then just in case you were feeling a bit peckish there was an afternoon tea served about 90 minutes before landing.

Sky Chef prepared main course

Cheese trolley

Afternoon tea

Transiting in Bahrain

With over 41 destinations, for transiting passengers, Bahrain airport is pretty compact, from disinbarking it took approx 15 minutes to reach the Falcon Gold Lounge on the 1st floor of the main concourse. With comfortable seating ,a business section for catching up on work, shower facilities and a full food & drinks with waiter service, and a view of the run way it’s a pleasant way to spend a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of the main terminal.

Falcon Gold Lounge – Bahrain airport

Interior Falcon Gold Lounge

In My Opinion….

I’m baffled as to how Sky Trax can rate Gulf Air as a three star airline, clearly they are long overdue an upgrade in my humble opinion.

I was pleasantly surprised at the level of service I received in the Falcon Gold Cabin , from a decent lounge before boarding, to being greeted by name as I entered the aircraft, being shown to my seat , and the Sky chef coming out to personally discuss the dining menu , all the things that I’ve experienced on other five star middle eastern carriers such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.

But the highlight for me on this flight was the food service, this was one of the best meals I’ve had on a plane, with comfortable seating which converted to a flat bed and great amenity kit. Well worth the short detour through Bahrain when I’m travelling to the UAE and highly recommened.

With a major rebrand scheduled for 2018 , I look forward checking out a new and improved Gulf Air and a well deserved skytrax reclassification.

For route information and fare details, check out the Gulf Air website http://www.GulfAir.com

Please note my flight was kindly hosted by Gulf Air in order to write this review , but as usual all views & opinions are my own.

48 hrs in Valencia ….

If Barcelona is the big brother of Spain, then Valencia is the fun and flirty little sister. With less than a 2 hour flight time from the UK, British visitors can fly direct from London airports, plus Manchester and East Midlands from the north of the England , making Valencia more accessable than ever from the whole of the UK.

Depending on what you fancy doing on your weekend away, Valencia has it covered. There with so much to offer, from world class museums and the city of arts and sciences, or chilling down at the cities beach. With over 2,500 resturants for the foodies , there’s plenty to pack in to your weekend away. Valencia has more of a local Spanish vibe about it, with less crowds , and tourists prices a good 20% lower on both accommodation & eating out its a win win.

Here’s my few of my favorite things to do in Valencia …

 

Park Life

The Garden of the Turia was created in the dry riverbed of the Turia after a catastrophic flood in 1957 . In place of 120 hectares of dry riverbed, the city centre has a lush green gardens, its a park for the people, it’s home to an athletics track, artworks, climbing walls, football pitches, cafes, ponds and flowers, it’s the perfect place for an afternoon picnic or evening stroll after dinner.

Culture Vulture

The first stop on any culture trail is the Valencian Museum of Modern Art ( IVAM ) . Here you will find permanent collections of local painters Ignacio Pinazo and Julio Gonzalez, as well as changing exhibitions often featuring some of the biggest names in national and international art.

Food Glorious Food

The most famous dish to come out of Valencia is unquestionably the Paella – a dish of rice, green vegetables, butterbeans and a variety of meats seasoned with olive oil and spices. The dish originated in the 19th century and is particularly special due to the excellent rice crop grown in the Valencia region. You could eat paella every single day of the week in the city and not run out of restaurants for months. If you want to really impress, you can learn to cook paella at Valencia’s School of Rice Dishes and Paellas.

For a real treat, come to the city, during the Valencia Cuina Oberta-Restaurant Week taking place twice a year usually in the months of June and November, the ten-day festival sees some of the finest restaurants in the city offer diners, the opportunity to enjoy their cuisine at a special price. The festival is designed to promote Valencia cuisine to the wider world and offers a fabulous dining experience.

Family Fun

The Spanish are renowned for their love of children , and Valencia is no exception, there’s is plenty to keep little and big kids alike entertained.

The City of Arts and Sciences is home to:

Oceanogràfic

The largest aquarium in Europe, and contains representatives of the world’s main marine ecosystems. Each building is identified with the following aquatic environments: the Mediterranean, Wetlands, Temperate and Tropical Seas, Oceans, the Antarctic, the Arctic, Islands, and the Red Sea, as well as the Dolphinarium

Príncipe Felipe Science Museum

the main objective of the museum is to stimulate curiosity and critical thinking and amusing the public by its contents from the world of science, technology, and the environment. The building contains over 26,000 square metres of exhibitions on current scientific and technical matters, full interactivity is one of its special features, and touching is postively encouraged.

BioParc Valencia

An innovative zoo, in which the barriers are practically invisible,
contrary to traditional zoos, this park has the unique feature of bringing the visitor totally into the habitat of the animals, this is known as zoo immersion. Bioparc’s main objective is to promote respect for animals and make the general public aware of importance of protecting the environment through a commitment to education and the preservation of the animals. Leopards, lemurs, hyenas, lions, giraffes, gorillas, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, porcupines, ostriches, elephants, otters… all coexist in this zoological world.

Beach Baby

The city of Valencia boasts beaches just a few minutes out of the city centre. Arenas and Malvarrosa beaches are easily accessible via bus and tram. Here, you can enjoy a walk, roller-skating, jogging, sun bathing or stop off at one of the restaurants for a delicious paella or a fresh fish stew

For further information on visiting Valencia check the Visit Valencia Website .

Please note my trip to Valencia was kindly hosted by the Spanish Tourist Board, though as usual all opinions are my own.

Virgin Atlantic A330 London Heathrow to Dubai Premium Economy Flight Review 

I’ve always been a fan of all things Virgin, back in the 90’s, it was my airline of choice when I worked in the US . My last jaunt on Virgin Atlantic was well over a decade ago, so I was excited to get back onboard to see what they had to offer. Here’s my onboard Premium Economy experience.

London Heathrow (LHR ) to Dubai ( DXB )

Seat 20 A

48 Seats / 2-3-2 formation

Boarding

Upon boarding I found my seat with a pillow & blanket and an amenity kit placed in the seat pocket.


The pouch was by trendy bag brand Herschel and definitely worth taking home, though its contents were pretty disappointing. The kit contains a basic toothbrush & toothpaste , pen , eye shade and socks. I suspect by the quality, its what was previously given out in economy, which has now been shifted up to Premium Economy. That said , i did use the eye shade and toothbrush and I took the pouch home , which i intended to use as a make up bag until it got swiped by my teen as a pencil case grrrr.
After taking my seat I was offered a complimentary glass of champagne for take off, sadly this was the only time complimentary champagne was offered during the flight.

Cabin & Seat

Premium Economy is located in it’s own cabin between Upper Class and Economy from row 18 and 25.

The seat was comfy and spacious, upholstered in Virgin Atlantic’s signature purple leather, with a generous seat width of 21 inches and 38 inches of legroom.

Premium Economy seat 20 A/C

The central arm rests is an extra flat surface for drinks to be placed, and there’s also a pull out footrest for extra comfort.

Entertainment

The seat back TV’s are 10.5 inch touch screens with the remotes located in the side of the armrest and a handy USB socket for keeping everything charged.

There is an extensive library of movies , TV , games and music system called Vera ( nope me neither ) which is guaranteed to keep even the pickiest viewer entertained.

The headphones are the same as the economy cabin and pretty poor quality, so I’d strongly advise to bring your own.

Food & Beverage

As this was an evening flight ( 10pm departure, delayed until 10.30pm ) the drinks service started promptly approx 30 minutes after take off , with the usual spirits and snacks, I was sad to see they no longer serve Virgin Vodka.

Food menus were handed at the same time as the drinks service for the evening meal which was served shortly after.

The main difference with the Premium Economy food service in comparison to the Economy cabin is, the main dish is served on china crockery , as well as having a proper metal knife and fork and a cloth napkin, which is a nice touch. You also get Virgins most “pitched item” , the Wilbur & Orville plane salt and pepper shakers ( no i didn’t, if you were wondering ! )

The evening meal came with one starter option , a salad and then a choice of Beef & Mash , Chicken Tagliatelle or Vegetable Curry. I plumped for the Beef and Mash which despite appearances was hot, tasty and very filling. The meal also came with a delicious mango cheesecake and cheese and crackers. The meal ended with a nice touch , tea served in a proper china mug lovely !!.

As soon as the meal service ended the lights were turned off in the cabin, as it was nearly midnight UK time. I found the seat pretty comfortable to sleep in.

After a getting nearly four solid hours of uninterrupted sleep , I was woken by the cabin lights being turned on for breakfast. Sadly no hot items were served, but as it was less than an hour to landing the fruit salad, yogurt and danish were fine with another mug of tea until i made it into the terminal.

In My Opinion ….

With fares on this route sometimes as low as an extra £100 on top one way of the economy fare , its definitely worth stretching the budget a little for an extra 7 inches of legroom. My Premium Economy experience overall was a positive one , I particularly liked the small cabin which means service from the crew was prompt , plus as there was a bathroom located either end of the cabin, so there was no stream of people walking through, and I loved the mugs of tea.

I was initially worried that the leather seat would be uncomfortable to sleep in, but i actually managed to get a good sleep which is no mean feat on a plane, but it turned out to be pretty comfy. I didn’t like the deep seat recline though as I was literally watching the top of my seat mates in front’s head. If i were to fly this cabin again, I would try and get a bulkhead seat, but all in all a good experience, which I would recommend.

For more information on routes and prices check out the Virgin Atlantic Website

Please note I purchased an Economy ticket, and received a complimentary upgrade, but as usual all opinions are my own

Five things to know before you go to Cape Town 

Known as South Africa’s ‘Mother City’, Cape Town sits nestled at the foot of Table Mountain. If you’re visiting for the first time, here’s five important tips to know before you go….

1. Download and register with Uber

Uber is king in Cape Town, as a lone female, I felt perfectly safe jumping into an Uber, the minimum fare is a tiny 20 rand (£1.25!! ).Grab an Uber from the airport into the center of Cape Town for around 200 rand (£12 ). There’s a designated Uber pick up spot in the airport, just ask at the information desk and they’ll point you in the right direction.

uber-logo

Uber

2. Prebook major attractions
The weather in CapeTown is extremly unpredictable, despite having a reservation to Robben Island booked well in advance, the tour was cancelled due to rough seas. As I had the tour booked it on my last day in CapeTown,sadly I didnt make it to the Island. Try and book it in the begining so if need be, you have time to reschedule.

I nearly didn’t make it up Table Mountain either due to the high winds which constantly shut down the cable car. It took three visits to the cable station before I made it up. Pre book your cable car tickets and go early or late or you’ll be caught in the queues.

Table Mountain Cable Car

Robben Island official website

Table Mountain Cableway

3. Bringing the kids with you ? be prepared

If your travelling to South Africa with a child under 18 , you’ll need to produce the childs full long version birth certificate showing both parents details, along with their passport. These rules includes all UK passport holders , please note you need the original certificates, photocopies are NOT ACCEPTABLE.

South african imigration

South African Immigration info

4. Take a Tep

Wifi in South Africa is notoriously expensive, to ensure you stay connected. Consider hiring a Tep, a mobile hotspot unit that fits in your pocket, and provides unlimited data for up to 5 devices from £7.95 per day.

Tep Wireless

Tep wireless

5. Hop on and off around the City.
If your not comfortable driving in Cape Town, the best way to get around the main sights is using the City Sightseeing Hop on Hop bus. With buses routes going to Cape Point , a mini wine route, a hour long pennisular tour and a stop off the Table Mountain cable way base station.

Cape town sightseeing bus

City Sightseeing Cape Town

For more information on CapeTown and south Africa, check out the tourist information below.

South African Tourism

Cape Town Tourism

Ten Photos to make you fall in love with Cape Town… 

10 shots that will make you fall in love with cape town, south africa

As I craned my neck to look out of the plane window, there was no mistaking the moment I had my first glimpse of Table Mountain out of the plane window.

After years of seeing Cape Town on the telly and pictures in a book, I was worried that I’d be bitterly disappointed with the reality on my visit to Cape Town. I needn’t of worried , it was everything I’d hoped for , a wall to wall smorgesboard of sights, sounds and vibrant colours everywhere, but none more that in the lively Bo Kaap district where I based myself for my whistle stop tour of the city.

Here’s ten of my favorite shots that I captured during my time in Cape Town ….

View of Table mountain from the plane
Great view from the Plane

1.Table Mountain

If your lucky enough to visit Cape Town in the future, be sure to ask the flight crew, which is the best side to sit to capture this magnificent view.

Walking in the Bo Kaap
The Colourful houses of the Bo Kaap

2. The Bo Kaap

Be sure to bring your sunglasses, it really is that bright, a fun vibrant neighbourhood, a short walk from the main area of the city , a great place to base your stay.

Grilled Crocodile
Getting exotic with Grilled Crocodile

3. Eat something “Exotic”

Cape Town is a city of meat eaters, in fact Capetonians joke that chicken is classed as a vegtable in Cape Town. I reluctantly tasted Crocodile, despite my reservations, it really did taste like chicken !!!.

View from Table Mountain
View from Table Mountain over the Lions head

4. The Cableway

Getting up Table Mountain was no easy task , during my stay I tried three times to get up the mountain. I learnt that the weather is extemely tempermental in Cape Town , the wind regularly shuts down the cable cars. But on my last morning my luck was in, and up i went.

Capetown Street Art
Capetown Street Art

5. CapeTown Street Art

Cape Town has an exciting emerging Street Art scene, if you fancy spotting some for yourself, then head to Woodstock or Salt River areas.

Charlys Bakery Cape Town
Best cakes in town at Charlys Bakery Cape Town

6. Charlys Bakery

Its cake , damm good cake what more is there to say ?

CapeTown Wine
Wine is always a good idea in CapeTown

7. Cape Town Wine

See above and replace cake for wine, CapeTown has some of the worlds best wine , and at a fraction of Uk prices. There are wine shops all over the city, offering tastings and wine tours.

8. Hit the Road

Within an hour you can be out in the winelands of Stellenbosch or whale watching in Hermanus. Or go a bit further and watch the road unfold in front of you, on a drive along the Garden Route.

District Six Museum
District Six museum

9. Make time for a history lesson

District Six was a multi cultural area in Cape Town that was dismantled by the goverment during apartheid. The District Six Museum attempts to recreate a picture of the community, well worth a visit.

10. Take a Tour

I’m a big fan of the free walking tour. Its a great way of getting your bearings in a city, and I usually make It the first thing I do.

Fallen in Love ?, then it’s time to plan your own Cape Town adventure

My flight from London Gatwick direct to Cape Town was kindly provided by Thomas Cook Airlines For flight and fare information go to

Http://www.thomascookairlines.com

For more information on Cape Town contact the tourism board

at http://www.capetown.travel

Thomas Cook Airlines A330 London Gatwick to Cape Town South Africa Flight Review  

Flight review on thomas cook airlines long haul a330

thomas cook a330 picture

Thomas Cook Airlines is one of the biggest leisure airlines in the UK, with a fleet of 31 planes, flying from 20 airports across the country to over to 60 destinations around the world.

This is my long haul experience, flying non stop from London Gatwick to Cape Town South Africa, on a fully refurbished Thomas Cook branded A330.

Thomas cook a330 & crew
Welcome onboard !

A330 thomas cook seat map
A330 Thomas Cook two cabin seat map ( Long Haul )

Economy Cabin

Economy has 273 seats in a 2-4-2 formation with a seat pitch of 31 inches and width of 18.2 , the last 5 rows a offer a more roomier 2-3-2 formation, so if you have the option book these seats.

Economy seat thomas cook airlines
Economy seating

As I reached my economy seat , I was grateful to find a free of charge pillow & blanket. Alas amenity kits are only given out in the premium cabin so dont forget to bring your own.

Thomas cook A330 economy seating
Seat 40A/B

Im 5′ 7, and I comfortably fitted into my seat , though anything over 5’10 and I think you’d would be in for a bit of a squeeze in a regular seat. So definately worth considering purchasing an exit row seat or check out the premium cabin review below for a few extra inches of leg room.

Legroom a330 Thomas cook
Economy leg room ( regular seat )

In Flight Entertainment

This, in my opinion is where Thomas Cook could make its biggest improvement. Firstly you need to bring your own headphones, or you’ll need to purchase them onboard, though if your not going to upgrade to the premium package its hardly worth it.

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There are just four, yes this is not a typo four movies avalible to watch for free in the economy cabin, alongside 6 tv choices. On a 11 hour flight you could find yourself twiddling your thumbs for a large portion of the flight if you don’t come prepared.

If you decide to fork out for the premium package (£5 ) there’s not exactly a massive choice ( 30 movies / 50 tv shows ) but enough to find something you like to pass the time. If you decide to bring along your own devices there’s an in seat USB plug, so you can keep everything fully charged throughout the flight.

In Flight entertainment upgrade

Food

Included in your economy ticket you get two meals , as this was a 7.30 pm departure, dinner was served approx 90 minutes after take off. Its important to note drinks ( tea / coffee / juice ) are only free with your meal, all other drinks must be bought, but water is avalible for free through out the flight.

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Economy Cabin evening meal

There are always two food choices availible , I chose the chicken which came with rice and a few veggies. Whilst its not the best plane food i’ve ever eaten, it was totally adequate, it came with a box of extras below which helped stave off the hunger.

Economy cabin dinner side dish

If you do find yourself not liking the meal choices, there is food avalible to buy onboard , the choice is limited, but rest assured you wont starve. All alcohol sadly has to be purchased in the Economy Cabin.

In Flight Bar

Breakfast is more of a snack, but as its served close to landing , you don’t have long to wait and I was happy with a cup of tea.

Economy Cabin breakfast

Economy Cabin Verdict

I was nicely surprised by my economy experience with Thomas Cook , in my opinion there is no difference between their service and British Airways world traveller service , in fact Thomas Cook inches ahead due to its refurbed cabin. Long haul in economy is never going to be a luxury experience, but it was certainly bearable and id be happy to travel long haul in this cabin again. Tips to remember bring snacks , headphones and load up the ipad with your favorite movies, and try secure the roomier rear seats and your ready for takeoff.

Premium Cabin

The Premium cabin is located at the front of the plane in its own separate area , with just 49 seats in a 2-3-2 formation.

Thomas cook premium cabin
Premium cabin

With a seat pitch of 35 inches and seat width at 19.7 and upto 6 inches of recline and adjusable head and foot rests. Most people should find these seats pretty comfortable.

Premium cabin Thomas cook A330
Premium seat 1 H/J

My only gripe about the premium seat is if the seat next to you is empty, theres no way of stretching out over the two seats due the barrier in between.

In Seat Goodies

In my seat there was an amenity kit , with a decent quality eye mask , ear plugs , lip balm , socks , toothbrush & paste and free headphones which honestly were pretty crap. I loved the world map case,which I’ve been reliably informed can be used as an i pad mini case, definately a keeper.

Premium cabin amenities kit

Sitting in the premium seat i found the actual seat base extremely comfortable, and it’s amazing the difference an extra four inches of leg room makes.

Premium cabin leg room

And just because your flying charter, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your pre flight glass of champers.

Pre Flight Champers

Inflight entertainment
The inflight entertainment is slightly better in the premium cabin, with a choice of 30 movies and 50 tv shows free of charge to keep you entertained but I feel theres still room for improvement here.

Premium cabin In flight entertainment

Food

Approx 30 minutes after take off the crew started the first drinks service , and with only 49 seats in the cabin nobody is kept waiting too long. All drinks in the premium cabin are free of charge ( champange is only served on take off sadly ). Theres the usual selction of premium brand spirits plus mini bottles of wine, I found the Bottega rose extremely refreshing.

inflight drinks service

About 90 minutes into the flight, dinner was served, instead of the crew dragging the trolley through the cabin and asking what you wanted on the spot, a crew member came round and discussed what was on the menu and personally took your order. I loved this , I had the same experience when I travelled in business class on Etihad last year and its nice to see its something that Thomas Cook Airlines are doing.

James Martin evening meal

Its no secret that Thomas Cook Airlines are very proud of their collaboration with chef James Martin for their in flight meals. It was one of things I was most looking forward to trying in the premium cabin, the presentation of the meal was excellent , and the food was also way better than I expected.

James Martin evening meal

I went for chicken breast wrapped in ham with wedges and green beans , it was hot and succulent, which is no mean feat, as most chicken I’ve eaten on planes is usually dried out and tasteless.

Sides of cheese and crackers , with a banoffee mousse for dessert.

Breakfast was served around an hour before landing , to be honest I was expecting something a bit more substantial, especially as i’m not a fan of pasteries or muffins , but I was fine to make do with a cup of tea.

Premium cabin breakfast

Premium Cabin Verdict

The premium cabin is definately an upgraded experience in all areas of service. If your flying long haul, especially at night its definately worth blowing the budget. But theres only 49 seats available per flight , so you’ll have to be quick. Upgrades from economy are also available to purchase on the day if seats are available from £250 each way . 

Hello Cape Town …

 

Fares start from £269.99 one way, from London Gatwick, non stop to Cape Town, please note this route is currently a seasonal service between the middle of December to the end of March.

For info on all of Thomas Cook Airlines long & short haul routes check out

https://www.thomascookairlines.com

Please note my flight was kindly hosted by Thomas Cook Airlines in order to write this review

 London to Glasgow Scotland on the Caledonian Sleeper Train

Lonely planet Travel Quote

Travelling overnight between Scotland and London on the Caledonian Sleeper, is often touted as a travel must do. It’s not the fastest nor even cheapest way to get to Scotland from London, but it’s certainly the most exciting.

Boarding the train in London Euston, at around 11pm, then after a quick night cap in the lounge, its time to retire to your cabin, before waking up to a view of the Highlands whizzing past your window.

Check out my onboard experience below.

Included in my 1st single berth ticket:

  • Exclusive use of 1st class single berth cabin
  • Free hot or continental breakfast to eat in your cabin or lounge car
  • Complimentary toiletry pack and sleep kit
  • Free access to First Class lounge at London Euston and other station

Upon arriving at Euston station I headed for the Virgin 1st class Lounge, and before you start getting excited , it’s nothing like Virgins airport lounge, but it is away from the hustle and bustle of the main station. The lounge serves a limited range of free refreshments, ( tea ,coffee & soft drinks ) and snacks ( crisps , biscuits & fruit ). There is alcohol available, but it’s chargeable, there are comfortable seats , plug sockets and quiet work spaces so it’s definately worth stopping by.

This best thing about access to the Euston station lounge , is that theres a decent shower to use, ( there are no showers on the Sleeper ) so you can get a hot shower on arrival, before you head off to start your day. If your travelling first class its free, including towels and shower gels etc. If your on a standard ticket, you can still have access to the showers for £5.00, you just need to buy a voucher from the on train host.

Virgin trains 1st class lounge Euston shower room

The Sleeper runs 6 nights a week , Sunday to Friday in both directions. Boarding starts at 11pm and the train leaves Euston promptly at 11.50pm.

Before turning in for the night, theres just time to visit the onboard lounge for a night cap, or a traditional Scottish supper of a plate of haggis, neeps and tatties.

Night cap on the Caledonian Sleeper Dining car on the Caledonian sleeper

Then is back to your extremely snug cabin, check out my in room vlog below.

There are no plugs in the cabin, but there are 3 newly added USB sockets, oddly located above the sink area, if you want to use your phone / laptop while charging, a 2 meter lead just about reaches the bed.

The bed was comfortable, and I managed to get a decent nights sleep, but I personally found them extremely narrow, and there was certainly no room for tossing & turning.

As previously mentioned there are no showers on the train ( the whole service is due an major overhaul in 2018 which will include ensuite showers ) . There are a couple of toilets at the end of each carriage and a wash basin in each cabin.

The cabin comes with bottled water, and a cute sleep kit from Scottish company Arran Aromatics, body wash & lotion, an eye mask , flannel , ear plugs , socks and a pretty nice smelling pillow spray to help you drift off into the land of Nod.

If your getting off in the Lowlands, ie Edinburgh / Glasgow the train pulls in at approx 7 am, I was disappointed that due to leaving late and arriving early there is no view from the window, as your travelling in darkness. So its worth noting if your taking the train for the view, you wont see it on this train, you’d have to travel further up to the highlands i.e. Inverness , Aberdeen & Fort William, where ive been told you’ll be able able to take in the amazing mountain views over breakfast.

I was given a prearranged knock on my cabin door at 6.30am and headed down to the lounge for my breakfast , A hot breakfast is included in the price of your first class ticket , you can choose from porridge , salmon and eggs or a traditional Scottish breakfast. You can also take it in your cabin if you wish.

Breakfast on the Caledonian Sleeper

Unfortunately there are no on station shower facilities in Glasgow , so its worth enquiring with your hotel if you can check in early, so you can take a shower when you get off the train.

Conclusion

As already noted this is not the fastest nor cheapest way to travel to Scotland , but you do save the cost of a hotel room. And it really is a great experience. Whilst i did the return journey between London and Glasgow , I probably would advise, if you just want to do it to tick it off the bucket list, one way is enough.

Booking

In order to get the cheapest fare , its best to book as early as possible , tickets are avalible up to 12 months in advance, and fares start from £130 for a single berth and £70 for sharing a twin ( one way )

To book go to

http://www.sleeper.scot

For a sneak peek at the new trains lauching in spring 2018, with double beds and ensuite showers check out the link

http://newtrains.sleeper.scot/on-board/

Please note that Serco the current operator of the Caledonian Sleeper kindly hosted my journey in order for me to write this review, but as usual opinions are all mine.

Etihad Airways A380 Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow Business Class Review…

etihad a380 business class inflight review

Last year I wrote about my very first trip on an A380 with Etihad in economy,check it out here http://wp.me/p4AB93-y8

After that, it was love at first sight for me and the A380 , instead of dreading flying , I actually began to look forward to the flight, as much as the actual trip.

So I was particularly excited, when I finally got the the opportunity to climb the stairs to plane heaven, and not just to sneak a peek either.

This is my Etihad A380 Business Class experience, travelling from Adu Dhabi which is their hub city to London Heathrow.

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Check In

When travelling business class, there’s none of this dragging in the main entrance with the rest of the world. You pull up to your own dedicated business class, kerb side check in area. Your bags are magically whisked inside, and your escorted to the carpeted check in desks, and after the most pleasurable of check in experiences , there’s a dedicated business class security area, where every lanes a fast track and your through security in less than 5 minutes.

No Queues here ….

Boarding

Heading for the plane , I had not one, but two Etihad escorts to guide me to the gate, I felt like a total rock star , as they cleared a path through the crowds to the gate. At the time, it felt like a total extravagance, but in hindsight, as someone who regularly gets lost in airports, it was helpful when your cutting things a bit fine.

My Rock Star Moment …

This way to plane Heaven …

The Cabin

Taking the gangway straight to the top deck upon boarding , I noted apart from the Residence and Nine First Class cabins right at the very front of the plane , that the Business Class cabin takes up literally the whole of the top deck . The Business Class cabin has 70 seats and is split into front and rear cabins in a 1-2-1 formation. On this flight the cabin was totally full.

Etihad Business “Studio “

The center two adjoinining seats are perfect for couples and friends travelling together while the solo traveller would be suited to the single window seats. Its also worth noting that seats face both forward and rearwards . I was assigned a rear facing seat which I can confirm was a very strange experience upon take off and landing , but when your in the air it doesn’t make any real difference.

Top deck Business class A380

The Seat

This is where where Etihad earns their 5 star airline status in my opinion. The Business Class seat aka on the A380 “Business Studio”, is 6ft 8inches long when flat, and 22 inches wide. The seat is tan cloth, with a signature Poltrona Frau leather headrest, and an Etihad branded pillow. There’s lots of concealed personal storage space to store your stuff, and plenty of space for your handbag under the foot rest.

The seat is totally lay flat with a great vibrating massage feature, and now you can even get to choose how firm or soft you would like your seat, and all controls are within reach of your finger tips.

I found the headphones extremely fiddly to connect up to the console , so much so I had to get a crew member to connect them up, but after that they were fine, and they even managed to drown out the engine noise.

I have a thing about airline blankets , most offerings are way too thin , so much so when I’m travelling on a night flight, sometimes I bring my own. The Etihad blanket was lovely and thick like duvet, with cosy fleecy lining ,and I found it very comfy.

I loved the new LUXE of London city themed amenity kits , ( this one pictured is the AbuDhabi one) which contained mini travel guide along Scaramouche and Fandango products ,including a lip balm, hand cream, toothbrush , toothpaste, ear plugs, a sleeping mask

More video choices you could ever hope to watch …

Entertainment

The tv screen is a massive 15 inches in Business Class , you can control it by touching the actual screen or by using the remote control handset .

There’s more than plenty to watch from the latest blockbusters to tv series to Bollywood more than enough to keep me entertained on a relatively short 7 hour flight.

Food

So once your settled in your seat the food and beverage manager comes round to discuss the menu , theres two menus to choose from one a la carte and the other is a casual anytime menu if you don’t feel like a full meal. There’s also a very good wine list. As I was driving when I got to back to Heathrow, sadly I was unable to indulge.

After eating a full breakfast before boarding, I wasn’t particularly hungry , but I was determined to put Etihad’s in flight chef to the test. Usually reserved for the requests of First class passengers, Our chef Valad gracefully agreed to show me how he manages to cook from scratch, with just an aircraft oven. I decided to keep it simple with a couple of fried eggs

Later on I was also a bit peckish so went for a steak sandwich from the all day menu which was delicious.

And the staff bought me almost hourly refills of tea & cake to keep me going.

The Lobby

The Lobby, is the hotel inspired hang out area on the on the top deck of the A380. Located between the rear of the First Class cabin, and the front of the Business Class cabin, for all top deck passengers.

I doubted if people would actually leave their seat and use it, but I was proved wrong, it was positively buzzing with people hanging out, and sharing a glass of champers with their fellow passenger.

Hanging with the Business Class Crew ….

“The Lobby”

In My Opinion …

Contrary to belief , I’m not a regular in Business Class , and it’s a real treat to fly up front. With a round trip Business Class ticket between London & Abu Dhabi normally costing in the region of £3,000, with a saver Business Class fare booked well in advance it can be as low as £800.00 each way.

I feel the A380 definitely gives you more wow for your buck in Business Class. The separate deck , the newer seats , The Lobby area which is not not on the 777.

For overnight flight, flying, Business Class allows you to have a shower before you board in the lounge , even having a full meal, so the moment you get onboard you can go straight to sleep . It definitely beats squashed up in economy where’s it impossible to get any sleep unless the cabins half empty.

If you can get a saver fare , it’s definitely worth considering mixing and matching cabins getting a business seat on a night flight and bearing economy on a day flight.

For more fare information and booking check out Etihad’s App or go to http://www.etihad.com

Please note I was travelling as a guest of Etihad Airways , but my opinion as usual are my own.

Are pay to enter airport lounges, worth the money ?….. 

I hate to travel , If I won the lottery tomorrow I’d be down to the Lear jet showroom in a shot . For me it’s  the whole rigmarole of dragging to the airport , going through numerous security checks then having to trawl round the terminal looking for a spare seat away from the crowds with a plug socket and some free wifi is like mission impossible. 

So when the lovely folks at Plaza Premium  Lounges offered me the chance to check out their Abu Dhabi pay airport lounge on my way back home to the UK this week, I was more than happy to stop by and take a look. 

  
Usually in order to enter the world of the plush airport lounge you either have to shell out  megabucks on a premium ticket or amass a squillion airmiles to step over the threshold. But not anymore , with lounges in 35 airports including a brand new opening in Heathrow T4 just this month, Plaza Premium are bringing a bit of luxury to the masses. 

So after getting airside , I made my way to the Alreem Lounge. I was greeted at the entrance desk desk, and with a quick scan of my boarding pass, I was rest assured that even if  I was having a good time I wouldn’t miss my flight which was reassuring.

 
Inside, the lounge is on 3 levels, with zoned areas for eating , watching the big screen TV , a bar and most importantly a quiet zone ideal for grabbing a snooze on one of the lazy boy chairs. 
 

  

   
As with a traditional lounge there was plenty of  food on offer from a snack to a full hot meal with a an alcoholic bar.

 

  
   
As someone who usually avoids plane food,  eating in the lounge is the perfect solution, I would normally pay to eat in one of the airport restaurants before my flight , where here a meal is already included in the entry fee. As well as a constant supply of tea,  I had a lovely Thai green curry which was excellent. 

  
And with plenty of plug sockets to go round and fast wifi access, my 2 hour stay flew by. 

  

But Is it worth it ? entrance  here is 150Dh so roughly £25 or $40 for a 2 hour stay. For me its a small price to pay to escape the crowds in the terminal , especially when your travelling in economy on a long haul flight, I found it the perfect way to relax, so I’ll certainly be looking out for Plaza Premuim’s other 34 locations in the future.
For more info on Plaza Premium lounges and their locations check out their website https://www.plaza-network.com

Please note I was given complimentary access in order to write this review  

Qatar Airways, 777 Doha to London Heathrow Business Class Flight Review 

onboard review of Qatar Airways 777 business class experience.

Flight: QR1 12.55pm Doha, Qatar ( DOH ) to London, Heathrow (LHR)

Seat: 1A ( Business Class )

42 seats / 2-2-2 formation.

Plane type: Boeing 777-300ER

In July 2016 Qatar Airways won three awards at the 2016 Skytrax World Airline Awards , including World’s Best Business Class, so I was expecting great things when I boarded my flight home after a weekend in Doha.

This review is of my in flight experience flying from DOH to LHR in Business Class on Qatar Airways Boeing’s 777-300.

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Seat A1, unofficially the best seat on the plane obviously …

Boarding

Upon boarding there were two separate boarding jettys one for business & one economy passengers, so with only 42 seats in business everyone was on board, packed away and seated swiftly, without waiting for all 316 economy passengers to traipse through the cabin.

Boarding in the front Business class cabin

There was already a pillow & blanket on my seat waiting for me, the pillow was nice and firm and the blanket was decent quality and kept out the onboard drafts.

Seat & Cabin

Seat A1

legroom for days …

Upon taking my seat , the Cabin Services Director came over and introduced herself to me, addressing me by name which I thought was a nice touch.

The flight attendant then came round taking drink orders and handing out hot towels , unfortunately I’m not a frequent visitor to business class, so I thought I’d push the boat out with a glass of pink champagne before take off .

Enjoying some pre take off Champers

I was happy to see that despite being on an older plane, that the seat was wider than normal and the seat reclined totally flat as well a great vibrating back feature.

Lots of buttons to play with …

A genuine flat bed

Entertainment
I found the entertainment system disappointing , the film selection was the same on both legs of the flight, so I’d already watched what I wanted on the flight out.

I struggled to find anything to watch on the flight back, and in the end I resorted to watching BBC i player on my I phone. It was also impossible to use the handset with my false nails !!.

Great comfy headphones

Oryx on board entertainment system , fiddly to use with nails !!.

Food Service

Qatar Airways has an anytime dining menu, so as soon as your ready to eat the crew will prepare your meal in approx 10 minutes. the service was prompt , professional and there was an extensive food choice considering your on a plane.

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One of the things I love about business class is the dinner service. I started my meal with the Arabic mezze, it was beautifully presented with generous portions. Just because your on a plane, you still get the full resturant service, with metal cutlery and a crisp white table cloth.

Dinner is served ….

For my main I went for a low calorie option of plain chicken with wild rice & vegtables , it was a tad bland, but I think this was to do with my what I chose, rather than the actual food.

Even on a plane you can keep it healthy

after saving calories on the main course , I decided to splurge on some icecream & fruit for desert, which was of course divine.

After the dinner service, just in case you had a spare inch of stomach space left , some fancy chocolate were handed out to munch on.

Posh chocs

In My Opinion …

How anyone could ever complain about a business class flight I dont know, as I usually sit alot further back at the rear of the plane on my travels, this was a rare treat. I almost wished they’d fly around a bit longer so I could enoy a few more hours in aviation heaven. The main thing that stood out to me on the flight was the service, I staged my own experiment by ringing on the bell for the attendant, usually a big passenger no no, the flight attendant was there in less than 5 seconds!, it seems the skytrax world airline award for best staff service in the middle east was richly deserved. And just when I thought the dream was over , as I disembarked, I got handed a fast track card to get me through immigration in record time , just what you need when your trying to fight through the queues in Heathrow.

For route information and fare details check out http://www.qatarairways.com

Please note my flight was kindly provided by Visit Qatar in order to write this review , but my views & opinions are as usual all my own.

5 Reasons to fall in love with San Francisco 

If America were a school playground, you’d find all the cool kids hanging out in San Francisco corner. 

There’s just so much to love about Americas second biggest city, so I’ve picked my top five things, that’ll get you putting San Francisco at the top of your travel list. 

1. They have a great free walking tour 

Every day there’s a great free walking tour that leaves Union Square at 10am. You don’t need to book, and in 3 hours , Filip, the tours founder will uncover all of the cities hidden gems. From secret public roof spaces for an alfresco lunch, to a fortune cookie factory buried in the middle of the China Town district, it’s a great way to get an overview of the city. 

For more info check out  http://www.freesftours.com, although it is a free tour , tips are gratefully received.  


2. They have great vintage trams  

If you love vintage transport, San Francisco is the place to go. As well as being the only national historical monument that’s able to move, There’s a great tram museum located at one of the tram stops. you’ll be in tram heaven in no time. 

For more info on the museum check out http://www.cablecarmuseum.org/


3. They have great wine 

It would be criminal to visit San Francisco, and not visit a vineyard or two for tasting some great California wines. Instead of heading out to the Mecca of wine Napa , I went low key to avoid the crowds and headed over the Golden Gate bridge to Napa’s kid brother Sonoma. Located 45 minutes from San Francisco, and with over 400 vineyards to choose from you’ll be spoilt for choice, without the flashy price tags. 

I took a day trip with local tour company Green Dream Tours,  a wine tour specialist, which included a trip to 4 wineries for tastings as well as a picnic lunch, check out their tours here https://greendreamtours.com

 For more info on Sonoma county check out http://www.sonomacounty.com

4. They have great Art 

After being shut for major renovations for the last 3 years, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), finally reopened in May this year. 

It’s one of the worlds biggest modern art museums , with over 33,000 works. If your a fan of modern art , this is a can’t miss. To get the most of your visit , go on a Thursday when the galleries stay open til 9pm. It’s pretty goddam amazing. 

https://www.sfmoma.org

5. They have great views 

San Francisco is best seen by foot , from walking over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge , to hiking up the hill to get a glimpse of the painted ladies. San Francisco is definitely a city where you’ll be able to keep up with your fitness regime, just don’t forget your comfortable shoes or its gonna get painful. 

So these are my SanFrancisco favourites , what’s yours ?, is there something great that I missed? ,if so let me know !! 

For more info on SanFrancisco check out http://www.visitcalifornia.com

48 hrs in Budapest ….

Budapest, is hands down one of my favorite European cities, with great architecture, great food and a thriving nightlife, even on my second visit there was still loads to see. It’s a great place to explore on foot.

If your off on a weekend in Budapest, and wondering what to do, here’s a few of my favorite things to do in Budapest.

Jump on a tram…

Riding the number 2 tram is a ‘must’, from the parliament buildings, it travels along the Danube , past St Stephens Basilica to the Chain Bridge, with Buda Castle across the Danube in the distance , then down to the Liberty Bridge, where you can jump off for a stroll round the central Food Market. Free travel on the Tram is included with a Budapest Card

Budapest no2 Tram

Chain bridge Budapest

Eat strudel… 

My favorite place for strudel in Budapest,  is the Retesvar bakery up in the castle district, just steps from the Fishermans Bastion. It’s a great place for a quick cheap lunch of sweet & savoury strudels



Buy great chocolate…

Down by the Liberty Bridge tucked away on a side street is Rozsavolgyi Csokolade, a husband and wife chocolatier team, Conde Nast recently voted their chocolate in the Top Ten in the world, as if you need pursuading  http://www.rozsavolgyi.com


Take a Bath… 

Budapest is awash with thermal baths, It’s a great way to relax after a day of pounding the streets sightseeing.

There’s free entry into the Luckas Baths with the Budapest Card, which leaves plenty left over for a massage .

See some Art…

Get a culture fix at the Hungarian National Gallery ,  Hungary’s finest Art  is spread over four floors, including the ‘Hungarian Nabi’ Jozsef Rippl-Ronai. Free entry is included with the  Budapest Card.

Go for a posh cuppa…

Lotz Hall aka The Book Cafe , is located within the Alexandra Book shop on Andrassy Avenue. Possibly one of Budapests most grandest place to stop for a cuppa. If your lucky you might even catch a pianist having a tinkle on the ivories.


On my weekend, I used a 48 hr Budapest Card, check out more info at http://www.budapestcard.org

For more information on Budapest and Hungary check out http://gotohungary.com/

48 hrs in Gothenburg Sweden……  

As Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg is sometimes overshadowed by its more famous cousin Stockholm. But on my trip, I found Gothenburg has gems all of its own to uncover.

Coming into land  at Landvetter airport on a snowy morning, it felt like i was having a second Christmas.

My base for the weekend was Hotel Flora, a centrally located 4 star boutique hotel perfectly located for exploring Gothenburg.

With my Gothenburg one city pass in hand,  giving me free travel  on all public transport in Gothenburg, on top of entry to Gothenburgs main attractions , I headed out to explore .

With a good couple of feet of snow to contend with, it  definitely felt like I was getting a workout ,whilst having a wander round the city, no wonder those swedes keep so trim.

Gothenburg definitely wins the award for the most stylish public transport system, with their retro style trams, they blast through piles of snow effortlessly , and it’s easy to hop on and off .

Gothenburg is stuffed to the brim with culture , the museums are world class.  The Gothenburg museum of Art houses  all the greats from a Monet to a Deagas ballerina.


And the Natural History museum is small but perfectly formed .

The Gothenburg city museum is also worth a peek, with plenty of Viking artefacts from around the city.

Fish is big in Gothenburg , they even have their own ‘fish church’ known as  FESKEKÔRKA. There’s even a couple of excellent restaurants inside, if you get the sudden urge to eat fish.


There’s  also an indoor food hall, where you can hang out and grab a typical Swedish  lunch at Kages Horna

Or grab some chocolate,  from local producer Kanold.

The place for the perfect afternoon stroll is in Haga , the once dodgy part of town, since  rescued by the hipsters. With plenty of quirky independant shops, it’s a great place to pick up something Swedish to take home.

And when you fancy a quick fika stop , check out Cafe Husaren for a traditional gigantic cinnamon buns.

In the summer when the ice breaks ,  you can see Gothenburg from the water on a boat trip along Gothenburg’s picturesque canals.

Gothenburg was so much more than I expected , it’s a compact, easy to navigate city , with great public transport , I especially liked the trams, there’s more plenty to see and do on a weekend break.

Check out http://www.goteburg.com to plan your Swedish getaway. 

Please note my stay in Gothenburg was generously provided  by Gothenburg Tourist Board, but my opinions as usual all my own.

Virgin Trains 1st Class London to Liverpool ….

I was in Euston station, for my first trip on Virgin Trains, up to Liverpool. I was excited to bag a seat up front in first class, but what’s it really like ?, is it worth it? , it was time for me to get on board & check it out.

The Lounges

  
  Euston’s first class lounge


Liverpool Lime Street first  class lounge 

On a first class ticket your entitled to lounge access , but before you get all excited, it’s nothing like the Virgin Atlantic clubhouse , much to my bitter disappointment.

To be honest it’s somewhere to grab a snack , and escape from the crowds. There’s pay bar , with free soft & hot drinks and a few snacks which were pretty thin on the ground. Limited to crisps, biscuits and some sorry looking fruit. I wouldn’t bother getting to the station early just to spend time in the lounge, but if you find yourself with time to kill before your train its worth popping in for a cuppa.

On Board

This is where the magic happens, the first class carriages  are usually grouped together at the front of the train , shut off from the rest of the train with frosted glass to keep out prying eyes.

 Plenty of room to swing a cat or two 

The first class carriage was nice and spacious , with plenty of room to stretch out. Seats are configured on a table of 4 or 2, and every seat has a power point , so perfect for keeping everything in your electronic arsenal  fully charged. Though I’m disappointed to report, the promised free wifi failed to work at all on both legs of the journey, which was a bit of a bummer.
 Table for two 

About half an hour into leaving Euston , the food & drink service started passing through the carriage. Wine & spirits are free on board , and the food choice served is dependant on the time of day . As I was travelling mid afternoon it was mainly sandwiches & salads on offer.  I had dinner plans in Liverpool , so my deli plate successfully plugged the gap til I made it to dinner .


Yay it’s the Wine Trolley

  Mid afternoon food offering
 Ain’t no party like a in seat vodka party 

Even going to the loo gave me a bit of a giggle, in typical witty Virgin style.

But Is it worth it ? 

Virgin Trains regularly run special fares, and the on board experience in first class  is definitely worth the splurge , especially during busy periods as you can pick your seat when booking, so you know exactly where you’ll be sitting.

On weekends you can pay £15 on the train to upgrade your standard ticket to an available first class seat , but there’s no free alcohol and the food is limited to a small snack box. But it’s worth it for the comfort and power socket especially on longer journeys. The seat & space are the main factors your paying for here.

Weekend food offering in first class 

With journey time to Liverpool an extremely swift 2 hours, and fares bookable up to 24 weeks in advance , starting from just £16.50 each way travelling to Liverpool, was speedy efficient, and extremely comfortable, they just need to work on getting that Wifi up and running .

Check out all their UK destinations at http://www.virgintrains.co.uk

Please note my ticket to Liverpool was generously provided by virgin trains in order to write this review. 

10 things to do with your teen  in Berlin, Germany.     

I really thought I was going to struggle, to find enough things to keep my 12 year old entertained whilst in Berlin. The plan was, that in the evening we would visit the Christmas markets, then in the day we would do family stuff. To be honest I could have easily filled another week, Berlin certainly gets the  family friendly seal of approval!!

Here our top 10 things to do in Berlin …… 

1. Learn about the Story of Berlin 
The story of Berlin, is a unique interactive museum where visitors can explore 800 years of Berlin history. In 23 themed rooms where visitors  can experience everyday life of the people of Berlin during different eras.

The highlight of the exhibition is a guided tour of an original nuclear bomb shelter from the Cold War below the museum,  which still can be used in case of an nuclear attack today.

http://www.story-of-berlin.de

Ideal for children aged 7+


2. Pop into the Natural History Museum and say hi to Tristan the T Rex 

The Museum für Naturkunde, now exhibits one of the best-preserved T Rex skeletons worldwide. The museum also holds more than 30 million items relating to zoology, palaeontology, geology and mineralogy, which are highly significant for science as well as for the history of science.

http://www.naturkundemuseum.berlin

Ideal for children aged 5+


 

 

   

3. Check out what life was like in the DDR 

The DDR Museum is located in the former governmental district of East Germany, right on the river Spree, opposite the Berlin Cathedral.

Its exhibition shows the daily life in Deutsche Demokratische Republik aka DDR. The museum prides itself in being totally “hands on” , kids will love the new interactive Berlin Wall with a chance to try virtual graffiti or belt up and drive a virtual trabant round Berlin.

http://www.ddr-museum.de

Ideal for children 7 +

 

 

 

 



4. Go all retro at the Computerspielemuseum

Computerspiele Museum is the first European museum for video and computer games, and a must see for any gamer . Containing over 300 exhibits, including rare originals, playable classics, from classic arcade games to a giant pac man. Be prepared to drag them out kicking and screaming.

http://www.computerspielemuseum.de

Ideal for gamers young & old




5. Step into the future at Game Science centre. 

The Game Science Center is an interactive Future Museum, run by a team of game developers. the exhibition presents a lineup of innovative technologies and playful projects. Where you can try out futuristic ways to interact with computers , where you can even try out controlling games with your eyes!!.

http://www.gamesciencecenter.de

Ideal for children 10 +


  

6. Strike a pose at Madame Tussaud’s 

Be whisked off into a star-studded world with interactive exhibition of fascinating waxwork figures getting up close to Hollywood stars, sporting heroes, famous figures from the past and present as well as new Star Wars figures.

http://www.madametussauds.com/berlin/de/

Ideal for children 7+


  

7. Find some animal magic at Berlin Zoo 

The Berlin Zoological Garden  is the oldest and best known zoo in Germany. Opened in 1844 it covers 35 hectares  and is located in the heart of Berlin’s Tiergarten. With about 1,500 different species and almost 20,500 animals the zoo presents the most comprehensive collection of species in the world.

http://www.zoo-berlin.de

Ideal for all children


  

    

8. Walk the Berlin Wall 

You can’t visit Berlin without a visit to the Eastside Gallery,  and check out a vital part of Berlin’s history. The wall was constructed overnight on 12 August 1961 and divided the city of Berlin until 9th November 1989.




9. Get your photo in a vintage  photomatic booth 

For €2, squeeze into the booth, close the curtain, and strike a pose and wait for your strip of black and white shots to emerge.

Two Berliners, came up with the idea of buying and restoring an old analogue photo booths in 2003. The first Photoautomat was stationed at the city’s central Rosenthaler Platz intersection , now there are machines dotted all over Berlin, a great unique souvenir.


10. Climb up to the dome of the Berlin Catherdral  

The Cathedral of Berlin is the largest church in the city, and it serves as a center for the Protestant church of Germany. The Dome walkway is reached by 270 steps (no lift ), and once you’ve made it to the top  your rewarded with a view of Museum Island, the synagogue, Gendarmenmarkt, the Reichstag. Please note unusually there is an entrance fee of 7 euros, but 3 kids go free per adult.

http://www.berlinerdom.de

Ideal for children 7+


  

10 Must have photos of Greece 

This summer I was lucky enough to Discover Greece, check out my top ten must have shots that every photographer should have for the album. 

1. The classic whitewashed street avalible on every island 

  

2. Boats it’s got to be small and greek 

  

3. Classic churches a bell tower and a blue roof are essential  

  

4. The perfect Greek Sunset  is happening everywhere not just in Oia !! 

5.   The Foodie shot a perfect summer salad, as long as it’s Greek.

 

6. The Locals fishermen,  grandmas in black ,  but it’s gotta be candid 

  

7. The Shirley Valentine under 40?  ask your mum  

    
   

8. Sweeping Skylines  head for the hills for the perfect view 

 9. Iconic History  wall  to wall history,  just there for the taking 

  
   

10 Animals  cats, dogs,  donkeys you names they just look cuter in Greece … 

   

   
 

 

Etihad Airways #A380 London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi Economy Cabin Flight Review …. 

Etihad airways A380 flight review

So after months of trying to get on an A380, I finally managed to nail one down for my flight over to Abu Dhabi .

Here’s my In flight review….


A friendly welcome from the etihad crew 

Prior to my flight I’d pored over the seat map, with all the premium seats upstairs and the whole lower deck all economy, there was definitely a touch of  them and us. The  stairway to heaven was firmly  roped off during the flight,  lest one of us commoners should manage to stumble our way upstairs for a peek.


etihad a380

This way to plane heaven ….. 

I hit the jackpot when I managed to bag seat 76k , it’s a window seat in the rear section of the plane, where the seat in front has been removed on both sides so A or K is a winner. The rear section only has 9 rows so it felt far less crowded than the front cabins,  plus you got served food & drink faster so I would definately pick the back section again.

etihad a380 economy cabin

The rear cabin 

seat 76k etihad airways a380 

Magic seat 76k , legroom for days …. 

So once I got settled in my seat , it was time to check out the in seat entertainment ….

inflight tv screen
A massive 11 inch screen with in seat power 

The inflight entertainment has piles of channels than I could hope to get thru in a 7 hour flight , there was plenty of choice from the usual latest blockbusters to a good choice of classic favourites. Plus due to the USB seat power you can keep your own devices fully charged throughout the flight. The noise cancelling headphone are pretty nifty too, complete with a nick proof adapter , I mean where is the trust these days ?. 

etihad airways in flight headphone 

Kleptomaniac proof headphones 

I also found the onboard camera fascinating, and got a bird eye view of one of the best takeoff’s, I’ve had like ever , I found the A380 unbelievably quiet and smooth on both take off and landing . 

Take off A380 style 

Food wise I was kept well fed & watered, I ordered a low calorie meal and it was delivered promptly to my seat at the start of the meal service , consisting of steamed cod and bizarrely mushy peas,  but it was tasty and hit the spot and drinks and snacks were availible on demand unlike some other cost cutting airlines who think you can sit on a flight for 10 hours with only 2 drinks services, no such problems here.

 etihad airways low calorie in flight meal
So in review, my first A380 experience was pretty amazing , it was great to watch the plane in flight on the cameras and service was prompt and efficient what more can you ask ?. As a regular visitor to the Middle East,  would definitely reccommend giving Etihad a try.

 for more info on getting on board check out http://www.etihad.com

Five Top Budapest Foodie HotSpots…. 

Budapest is one place you certainly won’t go hungry in Hungary, there’s plenty of foodie hot spots to discover both sides of Danube. Here’s my top 5 must try’s.

1. The Book Cafe ( Lotz Hall ) 

Tucked away at the back of  of the Alexandra bookshop, the book cafe, not visable from the street, you have to step inside & take the escalator to 2nd floor to find this gem. The café is decorated with beautiful chandeliers and a fresco-style ceiling, painted by German-Hungarian artist Károly Lotz. Hence the official name for the cafe is Lotz Hall. The interior makes you feel like your just about to have tea with the Queen in the renaissance style ballroom.  Serving a cup of tea to light snacks this is a foodie & interior fans must visit destination. With a piece of cake & a pot of tea a reasonable £8-10 a head and free wifi it’s a great place to take a break and gawp at your palatial surroundings. 


2. Nagy Vasarcsarnok- Central Market Hall

If your feeling peckish head straight for the first floor to the food court. Packed with vendors selling everything from an Hungarian hot dog’s  to goulash soup , if you don’t mind roughing it with the locals for some authentic Hungarian cuisine,  then this is the place for you. With cheap eats its a great place to pick up lunch on the go and they even serve beer, it’s a popular lunch spot for locals so be prepared to queue or go early.

3. Budavari Retesvar – Strudel central 

Located up in Buda’s castle district, this hole in wall strudel shop is another great cheap lunch option, in a pricy tourist hot spot. With both savoury ( spinach & cheese ) and traditional sweet fillings (cherry & apple ) it’s nothing fancy but grab one of each and your set til dinner.

   

4.  Rozsavolgyi Csoklade 

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé is an artisan bean to bar chocolate company based in Budapest. Founded by Zsolt Szabad and Katalin Csiszar a husband and wife team in 2004, they source their cocoa beans directly from the growers in Venezuela. The chocolate slabs are moulded to look like a intricate tile and everything is excellently hand wrapped. There’s something for everyone to like from  77% dark chocolate with sesame seeds to white chocolate with matcha tea, which is coloured green but I’m told tastes divine just the same. Well worth stopping by and picking up some for posh gifts check out their shop at  Királyi Pál u. 6.

 
5. Go Traditional at Elso Pesto 

Elso Pesto is the one of the first strudel houses of Pest, five minutes from St Stephens Basilica , if its traditional Hungarian food you want in typical Hungarian surrounding this is for you.  With Goulash for starters , Ducks leg for main and Apple strudel for dessert it’s an Hungarian food fest all in one place. 
 


Visiting Sheik Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi – The etiquette  guide  

Rihanna got asked to leave mid a sultry photo shoot, whilst Selma Gomez got blasted for flashing an ankle. The Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi  is the biggest mosque in the UAE, and 3rd in the world , it’s a must see for any visitor to Abu Dhabi. Everyone  is welcome to visit, but here’s some essential information to know before your visit.

   

There is a dress code and it is riguarously enforced so it’s good to check it out what’s acceptable before your visit.   

As a woman visiting the mosque you are required to wear an abaya, no abaya no entry, it’s as simple as that, so if you not happy to comply there is really no point turning up. 
  

As soon as you arrive at the mosque,  you’ll  be directed downstairs to the dressing room. You need photo ID ( driving licence is ideal they don’t take passports ) which they will keep, until the abaya is returned. Everything  is drycleaned between lending so there’s no hygiene issues, though I would advise you to bring your own scarf to cover your head. 

 

I highly recommend arriving in time for one of the ‘behind the scenes ‘guided tours , it’s free of charge and you don’t need to pre book, you get to see a lot more of the mosque plus someone is on hand to answer questions and provide explanations. 

  

The tours are held at 10am, 11am and 5pm sunday to Thursday, on Saturdays there is an extra tour at 2pm though due to Friday prayers the mosque is not open to tourists until 4.30pm on Fridays. The meeting point is in the main lobby entrance. 

You enter the mosque via the main courtyard, be careful if your wearing sandals or flip flops, the marble floor is extremely hot and can burn your feet,  I speak after a very painful experience !!. 

 

Once you’ve made your way across the courtyard you will need to remove your shoes before entering , luckily there’s mats down to save the aforementioned burning feet. 

  

Once you get inside, unless your on the tour you just follow the ropped off path round, it takes approx 15-30 mins to check out the inside, heres a sneak peek Enjoy !!! 

   
       
For further  information check the Mosque website http://www.szgmc.gov.ae or Visit Abu Dhabi http://www.visitabudhabi.ae 


Sky Gardens London’s best views for free  

Visiting Londons best free view at the sky garden

It’s been criticised for feeling like an airport terminal, perched on top floors of London’s walkie talkie building.

 Sky Garden london

The Sky Garden is officially London’s highest public garden , and the waiting list for a free entry slot is now rumoured to be over 3 months long, the word on London’s best new freebie is certainly out of the bag.

 

As soon as you step out of the lift on the 35th floor, there’s an airport terminal feel about it., but don’t let that put you off. To be fair the garden part is pretty sparse , but this is totally forgotten when you catch sight of the view.

sky garden london
Londons best free view

 

The Shard is slap bang in the middle of your eye line. You can be smug in the knowledge that you’ve saved yourself the Shards pricy £25 entry fee,  and the angle is perfect for that Shard Selfie from the outside terrace.

 

Shard selfie time …

 

With the Gherkin and Cheese Grater building to the rear , and a birds eye view on the Tower of London to the left, the view is pretty amazing from all angles.

 

View down the Thames

 

Great views from all angles …

And with the entry money saved you can splash out a glass of wine from the Sky Pod, located on the atrium floor which serves coffees , wine , and bar snacks . 

 

Great spot for a glass of wine

My top tip is to book a late afternoon slot, when the day trippers have all gone home then you can watch the sun sink into the Thames. So hurry and book your slot now , and you might get in before the summer !! Highly recommended.

Book your free slot through http://www.skygarden.london  

 

Night time at the Sky Garden

 

My YotelAir Experience #LondonHeathrow

London Heathrow has been like my second home this year, but I must admit, I’d never thought to check out short stay hotel specialists Yotel, located in Heathrow’s Terminal 4.

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Previously dismissing it as, paying to sleep in a coffin sized room, I was pleasantly surprised when the folks at Yotel, invited me to stop by, and check them out. With an early flight, long before the tubes started running, it was the perfect solution, as you book in blocks of time rather than the usual overnight, so if you only need 4 hours that’s all you pay for. Arriving around 10pm and checking out at 5am the next morning here’s my experience;

It helps, if like myself , you had a hotel stay in Hong Kong. The apartment I spent a week in, was twice the price and roughly the same size, so when I opened the door, the size of the room didn’t phase me. And whilst the room isn’t by any means big, there’s more than enough room for 2 adults to move around.

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So what’s in the Room ?

The bed converts from a couch to a bed at the press of a button, when your ready to go to sleep. There’s a row of handy plug sockets and strong free wifi to keep Blogger HQ running, as well as loads of lighting opinions, including sexy purple for couples.

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The bathroom is a normal sized wet room, my only gripe is , when you have a shower, and then want to go to the loo your going to get wet feet, as there’s nothing to contain the water.

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With free hot drinks from reception aka Mission Control, I had a Blake Seven flashback when I was walking to my room , but you’ll have to be over 40 to get that joke .

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Yes there’s no windows, bell boys or plush lobby areas like the Hilton upstairs, but it depends on what you want. If you can put the bill on your expense account, then Yotel is probably not going to be your first choice. But for your average traveller, looking for somewhere to grab 40 winks on a layover, or myself got a crack of dawn flight Yotel is a great option.

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I could definitely spend a weekend in a Yotel , especially as I spotted that at the New York Yotel, some pods even have a deck and hot tub and presumedly windows or that would just be plain weird.

Yotel delivers what it says on the tin, its clean, efficient and comfortable.
I will definitely be giving their New York pad a look when I pass thru town, to give that hot tub party for one a whirl.

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For more information about Yotel and its locations check out http://www.yotel.com

Please note the room was complementary in order for me to write this review , but as usual the opinions are all mine

Ten Things To Do in Derry, Northern Ireland 

As Northern Ireland’s second city , Derry has certainly had a troubled past . But after being named 2013’s City of Culture and named by Lonely Planet’s as one of the top 5 cities to visit, things are certainly very much on the up for Derry.

Derry is a safe , vibrant city, rich in cultural heritage and more importantly compact with the help of the walls is easy enough to cover in an extended weekend break.

1. Walk the Wall
Built in the early 17th century, Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland. The Wall celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2013 and has been listed as one of the ‘World’s 1001 Historic Sites You Must See Before You Die (UNESCO)’. The wall is over a mile in circumference, standing 26 feet high and 30 feet wide in places, it also boasts twenty-four original cannons , including the mighty Roaring Meg and is popular with the locals for an afternoon stroll to take in the great views over the River Foyle.

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2. Have some Proper Irish Stew
An Irish staple, made with mutton, root vegetables, potatoes and lashings of gravy, be sure to make time to have an authentic Irish stew.

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3.Discover Derry’s Story at the Tower Museum
The impressively Tower Museum tells the story of Derry’s history, from its geological formation millions of years ago, right up to the present day, covering everything from the Plantation, through to the Siege of Derry and the city’s troubled political past. The museum also houses the Armada Shipwreck exhibition which deals with the recovery of La Trinidad Valencera which was shipwrecked off the coast of Donegal. Well worth an afternoon visit.

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4. Get the guided tour with Martin
What local man, Martin Mc Crossan and his team don’t know about Derry, just isn’t worth knowing . With 4 walking tours a day at 10am, 12 midday, 2pm and 4pm , there’s no need to book just turn up. Its a great way to get your bearing and an overview of the cities history. http://www.derrycitytours.com/

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5.The People’s Gallery of Murals
The world famous open air People’s Gallery consists of twelve large scale murals by 3 brothers known as the Bogside artists. The People’s Gallery, is located in the Bogside neighbourhood of Derry and depicts the events surrounding sectarian violence and civil rights protests in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Well worth a look.

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6.Walk the Peace Bridge
The Peace Bridge is a cycle and footbridge bridge across the River Foyle in Derry. It opened on 25 June 2011, connecting Ebrington Square with the rest of the city centre. It was built to help to improve relations between the largely unionist ‘Waterside’ with the largely nationalist ‘Cityside’, by improving access between the two areas.

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7.Visit the Bogside
Whilst Derry is now moving forward into the future, and trying to leave its previous troubles in the past. Its impossible to ignore what happened here, over 40 years ago on Bloody Sunday. There’s a Bloody Sunday Memorial garden, as well as the iconic, You are entering a Free Derry wall.

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8. Visit St Columb’s Cathedral
St. Columb’s Cathedral was built in 1633 by William Parrot for the Honourable The Irish Society, The Cathedral has many fine stained glass windows, regimental flags, memorials and a large collection of historical items. And is the city’s most historic building

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9.Check out the Peace Flame
Situated at the side of the Guildhall in the center of Derry, you’ll find this small park, In May 2013 a perpetual Peace Flame Monument was unveiled by Martin Luther King III and is one of only 15 such flames across the world. Great place to stop and take a breather on one of the benches.

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10. Get out of Town
After taking in sights of Derry, its time to get out of town and on to the Causeway Coastal Route. Rated as one of the Top Five Road Trips worldwide. The route runs between Belfast and Derry and follows the coast road through the nine Glens of Antrim, winding between various picturesque villages, deserted sandy beaches and unforgettable scenic locations. The route highlight is the unesco world heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway on the North Antrim coast which is approximately an hours drive from Derry. If you fancy taking in sights at a leisurely pace check out Causeway Campers, they have cute converted original VW camper vans, perfect for a few days on the road. http://causewaycampers.com/

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