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.

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.

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 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.

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.

Qatar Airways #A380 London Heathrow to Doha Economy Cabin Flight Review

Qatar Airways, is the state owned flag carrier of Qatar, with a fleet of more than 180 aircrafts, all flights go throught their hub airport Hamad International in Doha, recently voted best airport by Skytrax. Qatar Airways was also awarded best ” Up in the Air Experience” in 2016 by the Future Travel Experience Awards, so my expectations were high from the off. Here’s my A380 Economy experience.

Flight: London Heathrow (LHR) to Doha (DOH)

Seat: 59k ( upper deck )
56 seats / 2-4-2 formation

Plane Type: Airbus A380

PSX_20170608_014436

Boarding

Upon boarding I made my way up the back stairs to the upper deck, there’s a galley and toilets located at the rear for the economy cabin, so there’s no need to venture back downstairs.

IMG_9506
Economy Amenity Kit

When I reached my seat, I was surprised to find that Qatar Airways are still giving out amenity kits in economy, as these seem to have been cut from a number of airlines economy cabins recently. It was standard stuff , but the eye mask was nice and thick so it made it home with me after the flight.

IMG_9513
Entrance to the Business Class Lounge is firmly roped off

One of the downsides of sitting on the upper deck, is that you get to hear the constant clink of champange glasses coming from the business class passengers in adjacent lounge, just the other side of the curtain, it was a proper FOMO moment. A rope was firmly fixed across the entrance, just in case any economy passenger decided to try and sneak in when the crew’s back is turned.

Cabin & Seat

With only 7 rows and 56 seats , in my humble opinion Qatars Upper Deck Economy Cabin is on par with some other airlines Premium Economy offerings.

Screenshot_20170608-005449

Theres only one tiny snag… , these seats are not bookable online, the official line is you’ve got to have status, ie be a frequent flyer to be offered an Economy seat on the top deck. My best advice is to ask Very nicely , if there’s any chance you can be moved to the upper deck . I managed to get my seat changed, but not until I got to the gate, and totally lucked out and got bulkhead seat 59k. The cabin was only at most only 50% full, so everyone got to spread out over the cabin.

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spacious upper deck economy cabin

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bulkhead seats

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Seat 59K aka Legroom for days

Entertainment

The Qatar Airways Oryx One entertainment system, has a 10.6 inch touchscreen TV screen with more than 3,000 entertainment options, in more than 30 languages. There’s blockbuster movies , full box sets to popular TV series, and music from around the world, there was more than enough to keep me entertained on a relatively short 7 hour flight. The screen also had a USB plug to keep everything nicely charged throughout the flight.

IMG_9502
Oryx One entertainment system

Food Service

When travelling in the economy cabin I usually try an order a special meal , this is to ensure that I get served ahead of the general service, ie no waiting ages to get served.

This flight I requested a low calorie meal , and whilst i would question if cod is really a breakfast food, the presentation was good and it tasted great. In fact I ended up skipping the mid afternoon snack as I was so full ( apologies, totally forgot to photograph it for the review ). I believe the afternoon snack was a sandwich, there was a couple of the usual drinks service , plus I also got a couple of tea’s on request. The upper deck had it’s own dedicated crew & galley , so the dinner service was pretty swift with a half full a cabin.

IMG_9515
Low Calorie breakfast

In My Opinion….

I have a confession , before this flight I was already a great fan of the A380. Getting a seat of the upper deck was the icing on the cake for me. Service was attentive, friendly and professional. As far as i’m aware Qatar Airways is the only airline that has an economy cabin upstairs on the A380, so it would definately be worth booking and trying to get upstairs. The Qatar Airways A380 economy cabin comes highly reccommended and I wouldnt hesitate to book with them in the future.

For more information fares and routes check out Qatar Airways website

Please note I paid for my ticket in full for this flight,and I was not compensated in any way by Qatar Airways to write this review, opinions are all my own as usual.

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

 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.

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.

Norwegian Airlines Dreamliner London,Gatwick to Oakland,California Flight Review

Low cost air travel , it’s enough to strike fear into the most seasoned traveller, I mean no one wants to travel low cost, unfortunately it’s a case of having to for most of us, if we want to be able afford a long haul break away.

But that was then, now it’s positively trendy to go low cost , and thus the rise of Norwegian was born. Voted best low cost operator in Europe for the past 3 years in a row , CEO Bjorn Kjos had his eye on a bigger prize , the coveted transatlantic routes and in 2013 Norwegian launched their first low cost long haul route, and Norwegian now serve seven US cities soon to be eight with the latest route Gatwick – Las Vegas due to start on the 31st October 16

Now over 2.2 million transatlantic passengers later, and us Brits can finally enjoy and more importantly afford that cheeky weekend in New York for less than £400 return. But what’s it like ? surely for that price your packed in like a sardine , clinging to the wing with only a packet of peanuts for your 7 hour flight.

Here’s my Norwegian in flight experience on one of their longest flights of 11 hrs , from London Gatwick to Oakland California, in both economy & up front in premium class.

Firstly, here is the essential fare information, Norwegian has 4 fare categories.

Low Fare
This is the basic fare, it gets you an economy seat & 10kg of hand luggage with 31 inches of legroom.

Low Fare Plus

This is the enhanced basic fare with a few extras in addition to the Low Fare, that you would usually expect to be included on a traditional carrier, such as, 20 kg of checked luggage, all meals on board , plus a drinks service, including alcohol. It also includes free seat reservation when booking.

Premium

Booking a seat in premium gets you in the front 5 rows in a separate cabin of just 32 seats. The seats are bigger, more legroom at a whooping 46 inches, plus reclining seats. You also get increased checked baggage allowance of 2 pieces x 20kgs each , fast track entry through airport security and in some places there’s even lounge access. All meals & drinks are included through out the flight.

Flex tickets

If your plans are likely to change, getting a flex ticket allows you free changes or cancellation at no charge, though tickets are more expensive. Flex tickets are available in both cabins and also include meals, 2 pieces of checked baggage up to 20kg of checked luggage , fast track thru airport security and seat reservation.

Upgrades
If there’s seats available in premium , it is possible to upgrade your low fare ticket at the airport from £250 each way.

On Board

Economy

The economy cabin is split into 2 on the 787-800 , rows 6-23 in the main cabin and rows 24 -35 in the rear , the seat configuration is 3-3-3 .

Norwegian airways Dreamliner seat map

If you can’t nab the bulkhead seats in row 6 or 24 , and you don’t mind being at the back, rows 34/35 have a seat missing between them, so there’s a bit more room but you are on top of the toilets, so there’s a trade off. I’d advise choosing a seat in the rear cabin, purely as there’s less people, which equals less noise, and you’ll get served quicker by the crew.

Norwegian airways economy seat

I’m 5ft 7 , and though I’m not particularly tall, leg room on long flights is always a concern. Whilst there wasn’t much to spare, thankfully my knees weren’t jammed into the seat in front and I was able to stretch out ish .

Norwegian airways economy seat legroom

I was beyond ecstatic to see there was a USB port in my seat , which as a I phone user always in need of power , it kept everything nicely charged up during the long flight. You will need to bring your own headphones or you’ll have to buy a pair on board for £5, it’s a normal headphone plug so standard headphones will fit.

The one area I was disappointed was the entertainment offering, there was only a merge 10 ‘new movies ‘ on offer to choose from , and they were the same on my way back too, a week later. There were some classic movies and tv series available, but not really enough choice for a long flight. Luckily I always load up things to watch on my BBC iplayer / Amazon app before I travel, so I’d advise you to do the same.

If you opt for low fare plus, food is included , there was 2 servings on this flight , dinner was served within an hour of take off .

Norwegian airways inflight meal

Dinner was sweet & sour chicken , with a cous cous side and a chocolate pudding. I’m not the biggest fan of plane food , it was pretty bland , but it was edible and it filled me up . The highlight was naturally the chocolate pudding ….

The 2nd food serving was approx 2 hours before landing , and was more of a packed snack, I could have easily eaten 2 of these to be honest, I was wondering if I got a child’s snack by mistake, not really enough to fill an grown adult in my opinion.

If you opt for the Low fare option , as well as bringing your own food ( highly reccommended ), you can purchase food from the on board snack bar , though it only opens after the food service has finished, and it’s for limited times, so if your starving, you might be in for a bit of a wait.

It’s important to note, they don’t accept cash on the flight , it’s card only. You swipe your card on your tv screen at your seat, and then your order is brought to you in a matter of minutes.

For the AV geeks they had some pretty cool maps & flight info to follow during the flight, if that’s your thing.

Economy – The Verdict

I’ll be honest, I was dreading this flight , 11 hrs in economy is not my idea of a fun time , but I really noticed the difference, the larger windows and the higher ceilings inside the cabin helped with not feeling quite so crammed in.
The lower flying altitude of the Dreamliner also helped with the jetlag , and I arrived in Oakland in almost perfect condition.

Premium
Unsurprisingly I was really looking forward to this leg of the trip, the Premium cabin is in the front 5 rows of the plane in a 2-3-2 configuration.

Norwegian airways premium seat

Upon boarding, your offered a non alcoholic drink, and after take off the curtain is pulled across from the main cabin behind. There are two toilets at the front exclusively for the premium cabin, so no waiting in long lines for the toilet.

You get a blanket to use during the flight and free headphones are offered ( to keep). For this flight I was sitting in seat 3C , I’d keep away from the dreaded seat E in the middle section at all costs unless your travelling in a three.

The legroom is stated to be 46 inches , this actually bigger than every other airlines premium economy offering, where the standard leg room is 38inches. Even with my legs stretched out, I didn’t quite manage to touch the seat in front, and there was plenty of wiggle room in the actual seat also.

The seat does recline and there’s a foot rest , whilst it’s not flat, it’s was perfectly good enough to get a good night sleep, though I found the foot rest a bit annoying so I left it flipped up for the flight.

As soon as we were in the air the crew came round with the drink trolley , with the usual wine and sprits on offer. I’m not a big wine drinker but I believe there was a couple of decent white & reds to choose from.

In premium, food is included in the ticket, there was the same two services as in economy, but the food was significantly better.

I was served beef with polenta & green beans and mushrooms , and it was actually very tasty, so much so I finished the lot. There was a delicious coleslaw side and another chocolate cake for dessert, But I got so carried away I ate them before remembering I should have taken a picture!!.

As it was a night flight, the second meal serving was breakfast.

Breakfast consisted of a lovely warmed bagel , with smoked salmon , capers and cream cheese, which was a build yourself job, which was preferable to coming ready made. It was served with juice and tea or coffee and was perfectly adequate.

The entertainment was sadly the same as in economy , and the film choices hadn’t changed since my outbound flight a week earlier .

Premium – The Verdict

For me booking a premium ticket is really all about the extra space. As someone who was lucky enough to have travelled long haul in BA’s Club World cabin for a number of years , I would pitch Norwegians premium class in terms of space offered, between Premium Economy & Business class for a fraction of the price. Yes they don’t have all the bells and whistles of a traditional carrier, but you have to remember, it’s all these thing push up the ticket price.

If you book well in advance it’s possible to get a Premium return for less than a £1,000 , which is granted still a lot of money for effectively a plane seat, but on a long haul flight, I would definitely consider buying a premium ticket on a night flight to ensure a decent nights sleep.

Norwegian has only been flying long haul for 3 years and I’m sure that service in both cabin will improve with time , but so far they have already been voted the best low cost long haul operator by Skytrax for 2015, so I can’t wait to see what they come up next , I just hope that the ticket prices stay affordable.

Low cost fares to the US start from £135 one way from LGW to Boston, for more info regarding routes and pricing check out their website http://www.norwegian.com

Please note, my ticket to Oakland was kindly provided by Norwegian in order to write this review , but as usual, all opinions are mine.

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.

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. 
 


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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10 ways to enjoy Christmas like a Londoner…

If your heading to London in the next 6 weeks , here’s a round up of a few things, us Londoners like to get up to over the festive period. So ditch the tourist trail, and come and experience Christmas like a local.

1. See the Christmas lights
London’s christmas lights are some of the best in the world. A good way to see all the lights close up, is from the top deck of a London bus , so nab a seat in the front row and take in the sights. The best bus routes are
52 from Grosvenor Place to Knightsbridge. 10 or 73 from Knightsbridge, up Park Lane, along Oxford Street, get off at Oxford Circus.3, 88, 159 or 453 from Oxford Circus down Regent Street.
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2. Spend an afternoon at Winter Wonderland
Kids will be spoilt for choice at Hyde Park’s annual Winter Wonderland, which includes a giant observation wheel, Zippo’s Christmas Circus and the capital’s biggest ice rink. As well a Santa Land, with rides, games and food stalls. Where kids can meet Father Christmas then jump on board the Santa Express. Entrance is free, but you’ll need to buy tokens for the rides.

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3 Grab a Santa suit and join SantaCon
SantaCon is on the 6th December, it involves a gang of Santas running around London, singing carols, giving out gifts, and encouraging strangers to sit on their laps. Why ? Well just like the real Santa, they want to celebrate Christmas and spread some festive cheer. Anyone can take part as long as they follow the 3 rules for participating All Santas must a) be jolly b) wear a Santa suit, and c) don’t get arrested. The meeting point and route is top secret and won’t be announced until. 24 hours in advance, so keep an eye on the website http://www.santacon.co.uk/ and make that appointment at the fancy dress shop now.

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4. Check out the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square
The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, is a donated by the city of Oslo each year since 1947, In gratitude for our support during the second world war. The tree is on display in Trafalgar Square from the beginning of December until 6 January.

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5. Go for a skate in the open air
Nothing feels like Christmas more than skating in open air, at an iconic London location. Choose from Hampton Court Palace, Somerset House or The National History Museum. Its also compulsory to have a post skate hot chocolate.

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6. Exercise those vocal chords at a traditional carol service
From the end of November , carol services start popping up all over London. Check local listings magazines such as Time Out for that weeks services . Most are in aid of a specific charity , so are free to enter but donations are expected. All Hallows Church by the Tower , is one of London’s oldest church’s , they have various christmas services but for Carols by Candlelight head down on 18th December at 6pm

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7. See a traditional Christmas Panto taking the kids to the pantomime is as much a part of Christmas as decorating the tree and giving presents. Pantomime dames ,heroes and villains ,its a british institution For a Panto near you check out http://www.bigpantoguide.co.uk/

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8. Grab a meaty bargain for Christmas dinner at the Christmas Eve Meat Auction.
London butchers Harts of Smithfield, have held their annual Christmas Eve meat auction for the last 30 years, everything’s got to go , so get a wad of cash, a sturdy bag and be prepared for a load of yelling to secure that bargain turkey. It starts promptly10am, but for a prime spot in the auctioneers eyeline get there early.

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9.Midnight Mass at Westminster Abbey
All faiths are welcome to midnight mass at Westminster Abbey , the service starts at 11.30pm. Its a free service but you do have to book via http://www.westminster-abbey.org/

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10. For the ultimate Christmas Day,
Christmas isn’t just about the presents, for the true meaning of Christmas head to St Paul’s Cathedral for their Christmas Day service. For the early birds there’s a service at 8 am, or if you fancy a lie in head on down for the 3.15 pm service. But there’s no public transport, so you’ll have to beg,borrow or steal a lift to get there.

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First timers guide to visiting Petra, Jordan.

Petra a unesco world wonder is undoubtedly Jordan’s most valuable treasure, and greatest tourist attraction. Petra is visited by tourists from all over the world, and a independent visit is easier to plan than you think, keep reading for practical tips for your first visit to Petra.

Getting to Petra 

Start by flying into Jordans capital Amman, and then depending on your arrival time you’ll need to spend the night in Amman before catching the Jett Bus  down to Petra at the crack of dawn the next morning.

 

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The Jett bus,  leaves the bus station in central Amman at 6.30am every morning ( returns daily at 5pm from Petra ) for 11 Jordanian dinar ( JD ) pp each way (approx £11/ $15 ) . The journey takes approx 3 hours arriving at approx 9.30am , with a short bathroom break halfway. The bus pulls in right by the Petra visitor centre, and seats can be booked online on the Jett website in advance , or in their office in Amman.

http://www.jett.com.jo

 

Entry into Petra

 

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Entry into the site of Petra is only permitted to visitors holding valid tickets. These are available at the Visitor Center and can be purchased on arrival. Prices differ for foreigners and locals and a range of ticket types are available depending on the length of stay and number of visits to be made into Petra.

A 3 day pass for 60 JD is the best value for money due to the sheer size of the place. if your  just visiting for the a day it’s a steep 90 JD entry especially as its impossible to see everything in a day. ** Please note you will need to show your passport as id so don’t forget to take it with you. **

For more info check out the Petra visitor Centre website http://www.visitpetra.jo

 

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Petra’s main trail

 

Petra is not the place for the faint hearted, there is a lot of walking and step climbing to reach some of the attractions , the main trail is 5 miles long from the main gate and the attractions are all accessible off the main trail.

Licensed guides are available to hire at the visitors centre from 50- 100 JD on top of the price of your ticket (for the group not pp) as I was travelling alone,  I couldn’t justify the expense, so I purchased a Petra easy guide via I tunes, which gave a short audio on each of the sights, a helpful map and it worked just fine for me.

 

 

The best time to visit Petra is as soon as the gates open at 6am. You’ll pretty much have the place to yourself, not even the Bedouin can be bothered to get up that early, to harass the unsuspecting tourist. It’s claimed that the ticket price includes a horse ride down to the Siq, what they don’t mention, is the horse owner will expect a hefty tip when its time for you to get off, so you have been warned.

 

From the visitors centre it’s a 15 minute downhill stroll to the Siq,  then approx 20 mins to walk through the Siq to the Treasury . This is the main hang out for horses & donkeys owners plying for trade, once you get past the hustle and bustle of the Treasury area there are clear signs pointing out the main trails.

Due to well documented animal abuse that goes on at Petra,  I do not recommend hiring any animals whilst in Petra.

 

 

Most sites are up steps from the main trail but there are 2 sites which require a bit of extra planning . The Place of High Sacrifice is an 45 min upward climb, challenging but doable at a steady pace.  The main and biggest climb,  is to The Monastery the big brother of the Treasury, noticeably harder than  the Place of High Sacrifice, at around 90 minutes of a continuous upwards climb from the bottom of the steps , so lots of  water and sensible walking boots with a good grip are essential.

 

As the start of the trail to the Monastary is the furthest away from the main gate (at least an hour ) , I suggest going straight to it when the gates open. Then you’ll get the place to yourself when you reach the top. There’s even a cafe  where you can grab a mint tea, and take it all in, but be warned I didn’t see a toilet, so maybe best to stick to just the one tea.

 

 

The Bedouins do offer donkey rides to the top, which I wouldn’t recommend due to the sheer drops and narrow ledges of the path and the questionable health of the donkeys.

 

 

Along the trails , you will be invited by the bedouin to stop to drink tea, which out of sheer exhaustion I stopped for a while to catch my breath. To their credit they were hospitable and the tea was delicious , I made sure to leave a dinar or two  for their troubles before continuing on.

 

Petra by Night Tour

If you are overnighting in Petra, it’s also worth doing the Petra by night tour, This is a magical way to see Petra by candlelight, the experience starts by walking the entire Siq to the Treasury, lit with over 1,500 candles. Petra by Night runs every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday starting at 20:30 from Petra Visitor Centre and delivers you back to the Visitor Centre around 22.30pm. The entrance fee for Petra by Night is 17 JD, children under 10 years are admitted free of charge.

 

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Where to stay

With regards to accommodation, I stayed at the excellent  Petra Moon Hotel, a solid 3 star hotel approx  5 minute walk from Petra’s main gates, and right next to where the bus from Amman pulls in . With free wifi , comfortable western standard rooms and a roof top pool, I highly recommend it rather than the pricier Movenpick next door. After a day at Petra, you won’t have the energy to do anything more strenuous than order room service for dinner  anyway.  http://www.petramoonhotel.com



 

For more information on Petra and Jordan check out the tourist board website http://www.visitjordan.com