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

 

24hrs in…. Casablanca, Morocco

I travelled with Royal Air Maroc, to their hub airport in Casablanca, With time to kill between flights , here’s is a mini guide in what to Eat, Sleep, See & Shop… stopover guide to making the most of your time in Morocco’s capital city.

RAM Aircraft

EAT

For sweet treats in Casablanca there is only one place to head , Pâtisserie Bennis
2 Rue Fkih El Gabbas, Quartier Habous, Casablanca.

Casablanca’s best bakery

Patisserie Bennis is Casablanca’s most famous bakery, they have been delighting the locals with their speciality of cornes de gazelle (marzipan-filled pastries) and plenty of other traditional Moroccan sweets since the 1930’s. They sell by weight so grab a box and get some munchies for your hotel room.

Anyone for cake …. ?

For an authentic traditional Moroccan meal , I recommend dropping into Cafe La Sqala, in front of the Casablanca Marina.

La Sqala

Situated in an 18th-century fortress, go there for brunch served daily between 8am to midday.Be sure to grab a table in their shaded garden area for the best seat in the house. , I would recommend pre booking during peak months as it gets very busy with locals, foodwise its as authentic as it gets .For further info check out the La Sqala facebook page https://m.facebook.com/lasqala

Traditional Moroccan Breakfast

SLEEP

If your only stopping over for one night , I highly recommend blowing the budget and staying in the best place in town. The Four Seasons Casablanca is the ultimate in five star luxury.

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well worth blowing the budget ….

Located right on the oceanfront and a 10 minute taxi ride from the centre of town, be sure to ask for a room ( or suite !) with amazing views of the Atlantic .If you fancy it there’s also direct access onto the beach from the hotel.

View from the terrace

If you like being pampered the service here is nothing short of impeccable, I genuinely didn’t want to leave. For more information check out their website https://www.fourseasons.com/casablanca/

Four Seasons Casablanca Suite Bedroom

SEE

The major sight to visit in Casablanca is the Hassan II Mosque, its the largest mosque in Morocco, and second largest in Africa and fifth largest in the world. Its Minaret is the world tallest at 210 meters.

There are daily tours inside the mosque available for non muslims several times a day, as its located right by the sea front , so its a great place for a wander whilst you lust after the amazing tiles.

Guided tours are from Saturday to Thursday at :

9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00 or 14:00, or daily at 14:30 in the summer.

Tours cost 120 dirhams and visitors should be aware before visiting that knees and shoulders should be covered when entering the mosque and shoes need to be removed.

SHOP

For authentic Moroccan souvenirs the place to head for is Quatier des Habous.

Here you can pick up tourist staples such as good quality handmade rugs , olives, leather goods and traditional moroccan slippers at a fraction of the cost you’d pay in Marrakech.

The souk is a great place to pick up amazing handmade rugs
Authentic Moroccan Slippers

For more information and ideas about what to do on a visit to Morocco , check out the national tourist board website https://www.visitmorocco.com/en

Please note I flew to Morocco courtesy of Morocco’s national carrier Royal Air Maroc , but as usual all opinions are my own.

For information on Royal Air Maroc’s routes, fares and stopover programme check out their website https://www.royalairmaroc.com/int-en/

Gulf Air A330 Bahrain to London Heathrow Economy Cabin Flight Review

gulf air economy 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 Economy cabin inflight passenger experience from Gulf Air’s Hub airport in Bahrain to London Heathrow.

Time to fly …

Flight: GF0003 10.10am

Route: Bahrain (BAH ) to London Heathrow (LHR )

Duration: 7 hours 35 mins

Seat : 20A ( Economy Cabin )

172 seats / 2-4-2 configuration

Airbus A330

A warm welcome aboard

Boarding

Boarding started promptly approx 40 minutes before take off , Falcon Gold passengers boarded first and then there seemed to a bit of a scrum for everyone else.

The Crew welcomed everyone on onboard at the door, even those of us turning right.

I note that economy passengers are permitted to pre book lounge access for approx £49 per person when booking your flight.

Falcon Gold Lounge – Bahrain
Falcon Gold Lounge – London Heathrow

Seat & Cabin

When flying in the Economy Cabin with Gulf Air on the A330 , If you want legroom for days, I highly recommend you to consider paying to reserve a seat in row 20 ( approx £40 per person per leg ) As a frequent flyer never have I seen the legroom that Gulf Air offers in their bulk head seats, like never ever. If your beaten to row 20 , you can try row 40 , but as these are exit seats there are strict rules as to who is & isnt allowed to occupy these ( ie no under 12’s ).

Gulf Air A330 Economy seat map

When arriving at my seat to the envy of the other cabin passengers who not been quite so diligent with their seat choice research ( check http://www.seatguru.com for the best seat info ) , there was a small but adequate pillow , but sadly no blankets or amenity kits are given out in the economy cabin.

Seat 20 A/C
Bulkhead rear seat view
Leg room for days
Economy cabin view

Entertainment

This is the area in which Gulf Air could improve the most. I had flown out two weeks earlier and was disappointed to note that they were still showing the same movies as on my outward journey. The movies are extremely limited ( approx 10/15 current block buster movies) , and a number of bollywood movies. The TV offering was also quite limited, so probably best to load up the i pad with your favorites shows. On the plus side the tv monitor had a USB charger point which is always useful in keeping things charged.

side mounted tv screen

If your sitting in the bulkhead seat the tv screen is located down the side of the seat, which again restricts the width of the seat some what.

Sealed headphones were handed out upon boarding , they were perfectly fine to use and were promptly collected before landing.

sealed headphones

Food Service

The first drink service was approx 30 minutes after take off , with a drink and a small snack.

first drinks service

After my excellent Falcon Gold experience on my outbound flight ( Read about it here https://wp.me/p4AB93-25T ) I knew that the Economy food offering was always going to be a bit of a come down. I have a criteria in regards to plane food , can I identify it ? , Is It edible and is it hot ? If It passes all that I’m good to go.

Approx half way into the flight lunch was served, I was surprised to note that there were three meal choices on offer, chicken , fish and veggie. I plumped for the chicken & mash which despite it’s appearance was both hot and edible, this was the only meal served on the flight.

There was another drink service after the meal, and crew were happy to serve individual drinks when requested.

Main Economy Meal

In My Opinion……

Economy plane travel is never going to be a particularly enjoyable experience, more like something to be endured. With some careful planning, the right seat choice and a loaded i pad, the Gulf Air experience was certainly bearable. Whilst I personally found the seat width quite snug around the hips (18 inches ), the legroom more than compensated and I was perfectly comfortable on a relatively short 7 hour flight, and I would certainly consider Gulf Air for long haul journeys. I also note that its possible to bid for an upgrade prior to the flight, so you could strike lucky and grab a cut price upgrade.

For more 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.

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.

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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.

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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

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