Friday, 30 December 2011

It's decision time again

The last part of 2011 was a bit chaotic, contract problems at work, the Thai floods, a nasty cold which would not go away and several other things combined meant a couple of cancellations, no trip report for a couple of Business Class trips and ending up on a mad dash on a Fokker 100 to Zürich to score the last few miles needed for Senator Status for 2012/2013.

Now I am in the position of thinking of spending a few miles, but I have two possibilities in hand.

1) Try to get a Star Alliance First Award for Christmas 2012 in Australia, chances of this are slim to none.

2) Get two business class awards for October 2012 to Singapore, the dilemma being either to use a Senator Companion award and face the slope seats of Lufthansa or try and bag some SQ space from MAN or LHR. The first is fairly available, the second is hard to find.

Obviously First space might open up later to Australia, but it's unlikely and if it didn't I'd be stuck with a high priced ticket. What I may do is look at it using KVSTool and if not I'll be looking at getting a ticket with another airline.

WIth SEN status safe for two years, I can contemplate going to Oz not on a Star Alliance airline, so if the price is right, I may consider something One World-ish. Musts for this time are Sydney and Brisbane, possibles are Hobart, Perth and Auckland (if it's open). Looking at funds, it's likely to be business, as there is a new kitchen calling to me, but I shall look at first as well, just in case.

I'm trying to save my eVIPS for a possible trip to New York in 2013, assuming Lufthansa ever open up First Class space on the A380.

There you go, I shall tell you how my deliberations are going in a few weeks.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Trip Report 9, Part 2 LH HKG-FRA-BHX

I managed the first part of the morning pretty well for someone with four hours sleep. Shower, breakfast, extra coffee, finish packing and out to a taxi to HKG.

On arrival, it took me a little while to find the Lufthansa Check-In but I soon had boarding pases and my bag was on the way to BHX, festooned with various tags including another HOT tag (this time for a 2:40 transit!). I then made my way through exit immigration and security, there was no priority line for either which I found a bit odd (or I didn't spot one if there was).

I then perused my way up through various duty free shops and via several smoking rooms of varying quality to the United Airlines International First Class Lounge - which is a designated Star F lounge. What a dismal dump.

I was the only person in there, but there were still plenty of traces of former occupants, cups, saucers, spillages etc. The furniture looking like it needed a good clean and the air-conditioning was set to sweaty. Having perused the selection of cheap spirits and two-buck-chuck wines, I settled for a quick Perrier and then went back to mentally pricing up cameras. To be fair, there seemed to be a reasonable food selection. I dread to think what the Faded Carpet Club proper was like. I was going to try and glom into the Thai lounge, but I found myself lost in shiny electronic toy world for too long.

Our steed today for the trip back to Frankfurt was the mighty Potsdam, a 747-400, sadly not refitted with the New First Class. Boarding was nice and fast and I swiftly settled into 84K on the upper deck. The crew for First consisted of two ladies assisted by the purser, who all introduced themselves, offered drinks (Ginger Ale for me) and handed out various amenities including the piss-poor amenity kit, a rather nice jumper and some magazines etc.

We were off on time and spent about 20 minutes having a bit of turbulence whilst climbing through the murky clouds which had infested the Hong Kong area throughout the trip. After that, we had post-take off drinks and the distribution of the menu with an amuse,

The amuse was a asparagus frittata, quite pleasant. I didn't get my first choice of main, which would have been the salmon, but I honestly wasn't that bothered, I would have happily tackled all four. From what I know of LH's catering that means 4 out of the other 5 pax ordered salmon.

The HorsWagen turned up - I had the caviar and Courgette/Parma Ham/Parmesan

Some people dislike LH's farmed caviar, I would agree that is isn't as nice as SQ's, but it was more than acceptable. The other plate was some quite delicious ham, nice parmesan and slices of courgette - light and pleasant. I skipped the salad course, nuts lurked within it.

For mains I had Agnolotti with Porcini Mushrooms and Thyme Cream Sauce with braised leek and more courgettes. The Agnolotti were delicious. but I was feeling a little over courgetted by then.

I failed to take a photo of the cheese course, there was  Edam (OK), Double Gloucester (a bit meh), Brie (good), Goat (very good) and Danish Blue (avoided). I then went onto the Ricotta Cheesecake with Berry Compote and a glass of the offered dessert wine which was a Auslese and quite nice - but not as nice as the Yquem I'd had back in Birmingham just before leaving.

I avoided the pralines, they did look very nice and settled down to a few hours of fizzy water and doing some writing on the MacBook. I was mildly chastised for working so hard, and explained that it wasn't echt work, but some creative writing - I was writing another couple of chapters of an alternate history (entitled Where you still up for Balls) and catching up on the last episode of series 4 of Dexter on my much larger screen on the MacBook.

Drinks were constantly offered and a tray of cakes, rolls and fruits was wheeled out at about half way as I watched various places ending in -Stan through the window. I took a nice selection of tropical fruit (dragonfruit, melon, papaya, pineapple) and some coffee.

About two hours before landing, there was another meal. This was slightly larger than expected and stopped my plans dead from taste testing the FRA F-lounges renowned Schnitzel Wiener Art. To start with there was an HorsWagen containing, Bayerisch Wurstsalat, Obzatda and something oriental. I took a small plate of the Wurstsalat, although a larger plate was offered with more if it was wanted.

The Warm plate was a choice between a Dim Sum basket and a traditional Biergarten snack. I foolishly chose the latter and waved bye-bye to the schnitzel.

It was quite large, three Nürnberger Röstbratwurst, a piece of smoked pork loin, mash, sauerkraut and gravy, nice gravy. Nom, Nom, Nom.

I didn't really have room, but it would have been rude not to have a tiny bit of Strudel with Vanilla Sauce followed by another cup of coffee.

By this time we were somewhere just to the north of Prag and so, I packed everything up and prepared for landing. It had been a nice, but somewhat lengthy flight and I thanked the crew on leaving. I must say this was a great crew, all three were helpful, drinks were constantly topped up, nothing was too much trouble and they had time to chat etc, especially during the last couple of hours, when every one was awake feeling at bit "have we got there yet"ish. They stood out sufficiently from the fairly high standard Lufthansa set that I sent a compliment through to Lufthansa.

We arrived at B28, which is right next to the First Class Lounge, but this is Frankfurt, there was a considerable walk on a high floor, which I think was round in a circle to get to the B-B transfer security - which was slow, bored and lousy. But a couple of minutes later I was welcomed into the B First Class Lounge, I headed straight for the Cigar Room, which was even more impressive than the München one and consumed two cigs with a nice cold Coke Zero.

At that point I went in search of the showers, they weren't busy and they were really rather good. Having washed and changed, I had a little prowl around, the buffet looked delicous with all the jambon Iberico and salads and Zander with fava beans and decent wines with real stemware, but I couldn't manage a single mouthful. Not even a pretzel passed my lips, not even a gummibear could have been managed.

However, I did save my alcohol ration for something from the Wall of Whisky.

Which turned out to be some of the 18 year old cast strength The Macallan, they have lurking there. A very large shot of it, far more than I should have had. They did have an nice selection of Schnapps and offered to make a number of cocktails - perhaps I should have had a WooWoo.

After that, I spent a quiet hour drinking black coffee, coke zero and having the odd cancer stick before going to get my connection. Now, the great thing about this is that the bmi A320's (who are the wet lease for LH on 3 out of 4 BHX-FRA's) end up out on remote stands, which means you get a car from the First Class Lounge to the aircraft. However, this is not just a car, but Mercedes S-Class. Very nice (and the driver was rather delectable as well) which makes for a very nice ride out to the remote stands.

There were downsides, all the other passengers were on board, so you get the full "evils" treatment as the sole pax to board last. But we were ahead of time and bounced out onto the runway at precisely the right time. The flight itself was pretty fast, we left on time and arrived 12 minutes early. I could have had a hot meal but I just took a diet Pepsi as I couldn't have eaten another thing. The crew seemed nice enough and we helping always offering drinks etc.  Note to LH, I know you are going to sell BD, but can we keep them on BHX-FRA please, the 320's are much nicer than those 735's you used to inflict on us.

The final bit to mention is that incredibly, I was home within 30 minutes of the wheels touching down. Now it's true that  I've moved a bit closer to BHX, but given their track record on arrivals so far this year, it was straight to immigration (no queue), 5 mins wait for the bags to come off and my bag was first, off to the ATM, taxi queue and a driver who knew the shortcut through Sheldon and Olton. I was greeted by an ungrateful feline demanding food and was in bed by 11:45pm, about 23:30 mins after waking up.

Conrad Hong Kong

Some people rave about this place, they think it and the Conrad Tokyo are the ne plus ultra of Asian Hiltons. I'll not know about the latter until a) I summon up the balls to go to Japan and b) I give up the evil cancer sticks.

This is, errrm, my third visit. On the first I was downgraded, on the second I was only overnighting but got the right treatment for a Gold. This time was pretty decent, except for Sunday but Sunday was self-inflicted wounds. I'm not supposed to drink too much, bad things happen with my medication if I do, unfortunately the Saturday wedding meant bad things happened on Sunday  - all Sunday. I'd like to thank the Conrad staff for obeying the Do Not Disturb light for most of the day, then whizzing in and doing it all immediately I staggered out for some form of grease based hangover killer.

Anyway, on arrival I got the big lie, "as a Diamond we have upgraded you to a Harbour View Room" - I booked a Harbour View room. Please don't do this, Hilton, I know what I booked. "You get a free breakfast" - no, I booked a B&B rate because I didn't realise I was going to have an virtual exalted shiny card last February.

There were no cancer rooms on the Exec Floor, but I got access to the fabled lounge. More on that laters.

I got a 49th floor Harbour King, very nice, had one before, it's my idea of the near perfect hotel room. It was a bit bare of goodies at the time, but a small stream of people arrived with fruit, choccies, water, bikkies, bears and rubber duckies in a matter of moment. If you run out of hanging space, you are carrying too much and damn if they didn't get all the wrinkles out of my suit in double quick time. Housekeeping were utterly top notch throughout, although with a disturbing tendency to catch me on the can.

Breakfast, the first day was in the lounge. Nice, decent selection for lounge brekkie, major absence of bread, you could order toast. English breakfast tea was disgusting, switched to perfectly good coffee. There was no breakfast on Sunday, I did not dare. I overslept breakfast on the Monday.

Room service was pretty good, if pretty expensive. Used it on the Monday night in a two martini haze.

The Pacific Bar was like the grave, went there with a friend on the Monday night, pretty good drinks, but expensive.

Wifi was like a rock, solid and a decent speed and they automated roaming onto your mobile as well.

My other visits to the lounge were confined to an afternoon tea stop and snacks on my arrival evening. I wasn't comfy there, it was a bit too formal for my liking. I like my lounges more like Berlin. Afternoon tea was pretty good through, nice cakes.

Checkout was fine apart from the bag-grabbers. I can handle my carry on fine, thanks. Points posted quickly, including the double points from the Q4 promo.

All in all, I'd stay there again, it's a good hotel, but I might go next door and indulge my Shangri-La habit sometime.

As ever, comments are welcome.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Trip Report 9, Part 1 LH BHX-MUC-HKG, J/F

I had a need to be at a wedding in Hong Kong, I also was very short of holiday but had a small cash surplus , I'd also really like to be a SEN before my holiday in November.

All this added up to a F ticket, well an A ticket - I'm not paying full price for LH F. I did toy with the idea of LX F out and LH F back, but LX have annoyed me lately. Or rather the B bus gate bag police have.

Anyway, as usual, it all started with a taxi to BHX in glorious warm sunshine, a silly 27C for the tail end of September. Check in was, errm, up the the outstations usual standards, as in minimal eye contact, minimal speech and the odd placement of a HOT tag on my bag when I had a 1:45 connection at MUC - perhaps they knew something I didn't.

Anyway, I did security which was good, avoided the spraying women in the walk through duty free which was good, did my usual shopping and then decided to proceed through to the lounge for some water and shelf-stable cake.

Boarding time came about 20 minutes late and it was the usual extremely poor performance by LH's contract ground staff. Three people there, one half heartedly checking tickets and docs whilst  chatting to her two mates. When the holding pen was full, they walked up opened up the door to the air bridge and walked back without a word. Classy.

Mercifully, there had been no late substitution this time and it was a E-195 on the MUC run, but it had a small technical problem and we lost our slot. So we waited on the ground a bit and finally took off about 35 minutes late, l saw my valuable lounge time slipping away.

2D was reasonably comfy and I settled into my magazines, the service was the usual from a MUC crew, fairly friendly but fairly quick. I declined the food, thinking of the feast that was coming later (plus it really looked pretty poor) and took only a plastic cup of still water. A second round of drinks was offered and then the crew had a rest for the rest of the flight.

On arrival, LH had arranged some minibuses for some direct connections, which I thought was very good service. However, as we were at a remote stand, a car had been sent for me to take me directly to the First Class Lounge. With about 30 mins before boarding (and knowing how long it takes to fully board an Airbus 340-600), my imp of the perverse almost sent me onto the bus and to take my rightful place in the FTL lounge, but I carefully resisted this.

Instead I was whisked off in a Mercedes and escorted to the Holy of Holies the First Class Lounge. I wouldn't have long in there at all, but it was enough time for a cigarette and some rehydration.

The last picture is of the minibar in the small "Cigar Lounge" which must be the classiest smoking room in an airport anywhere. I did nibble some cheese and ham and have a glass of Helles in there as well, but I was feeling a bit anxious about a small clothing malfunction - so I went to the extremely classy toilets and sorted that out.

By this time, it was time for boarding, so I collected my passport and headed off to the gate. Hopefully, I will get a bit longer at FRA on the way back.

Boarding the Airbus was very swift, two gates were being used, one for economy and one for First, Business and I assume Star Gold members. The F/J line was very short, so I was straight on board. There are eight seats in F on the Airbus A340-600, but there were only three passengers which is bad for LH, but good for the passengers.

LH currently has two types of First, New First on the A380's and some 747's and Old First on the other 747's and the airbus fleet (I think one of each type of Airbus has been converted as a test bed). Old First is a bit of an aged product, whilst it has a lie-flat bed, it's first generation and a bit cranky, there's also a fairly poor IFE and some suboptimal storage. However, it's still better than LH's poor inter continental business class.

As usual at this point there was an offer of pre-flight drinks, I had a glass of water and the handing out of the goodies, which consisted of some rather nice pyjamas, slippers (too small for my plates of meat) and a very empty and naff amenity bag. I was really rather unimpressed with this. Menus were saved until after take off.

We were a few minutes late leaving, but nothing that couldn't be made up in flight and we were swiftly on our way to Hong Kong where the pilot warned us there would be turbulence for the last half hour or so of the flight.

About 10 minutes after take off, the crew came around with menus and offered pre-flight drinks, I decided on a scotch and soda. This was actually a bit of a sin really, as they opened a new bottle of Johnny Walker Blue just for me and I only had one drink out of it - the rest will be poured away. I felt slightly guilty. It was a large and strong one. There were three crew for the first class section, two ladies and a rather dishy young man, all three were excellent and a credit to Lufthansa.

The menu was not what I expected, I had seen the standard Sept/Oct Star Chefs menu and wasn't that impressed. This, however, was a special Oktoberfest menu for MUC flights only.

This may have been a "beerhall" menu, but it had lots of appeal to me and I enjoyed.

We started with a amuse, which was a small chicken boulette on a crouton.

This was rather good, although quite large for an amuse.

I switched for the meal from the scotch to the special Dunkel (dark beer) that was on board, whilst not the best Dunkel I've drunk, it complemented the food very well.

My starter choice was Weißwurst, I know it's a morning food, but I like Weißwurst and one pair of those, a salt pretzel and some sweet mustard and I got a really good feeling about the flight. I even remembered to peel the Weißwurst, something you occasionally see not happen. I've had better, but not at 10,300 meters.

There was then a salad course, now I know I'm a bit of a salad dodger in my figure, but lambs lettuce with bacon and pumpkin is right up my street. I took the potato dressing for it (very German). The salad was excellent and the potato dressing did no harm.

By this time, it was time for a second glass of Dunkel and onto the mains. Now all three Bayerisch mains were tempting, but I resisted the veal shank sheerly out of the memory of tackling a few slices of one of these in München once. I went for the mushrooms with dumplings. Sounds odd, doesn't look great on the plate either.

Tastes fantastic, a good selection of mushrooms and excellent rich creamy sauce and Fried Bread Dumplings. That was one completely cleared plate. By this time I was getting a little bit stuffed, so I just had a smidgen of the cheeses available.

The squidgy stuff isn't some Kräuterquark, it's Obatzda - something normally for that snacky moment with your beer - I love it and this wasn't a bad one. Nice to have some radish as well to go with it.

I refused dessert, I really couldn't have managed another mouthful and after a few pages of book, changed into the PJ's in the tiny loo and then tried out the bed. I would say that I rested more than slept for about 5 hours, but I obviously slept at some point because some kind soul (hopefully the dishy dark-haired purser) covered me with a blanket/throw, bless them. It did it's job and it's better than I'd manage in LH C.

After that, there was about three hours left of the flight, I was offered immediate breakfast if I wanted it, but I settled for two large cups of strong coffee and a bottle of water whilst I got the MacBook out and cracked on with my best man's speech.

With about 75mins to go, it was suggested that I had breakfast if I wanted it. I did consider not having it as I was still quite full, but decided to have a bite. Apple juice, coffee and some freshly scrambled eggs and bacon.

To be honest, I could barely manage that, but it was nice to have fresh eggs.

As we had been promised, it was a bumpy ride down to HKG where it was raining quite heavily and we did seem to have a very long taxi to the gate. However, we were only about five minutes late and after a bit of a trek to a trouble free immigration, it was off to baggage claim and to see if the mystery tags had worked. They obviously had, second bag off, virtually no wait at all for it. With this, it was time to locate a smoking area and then off in a taxi to the Conrad.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Trip Report 8, Part 2, LH C TXL-FRA-BHX

I won't review the Berlin Hilton, let's just say I had the same room as last time, the breakfast was just as tasty, the lounge was just as comfy, the lounge food and drink were just as nice and the staff were lovely.

I didn't eat anything special - although my Sunday evening steak binge at Block House was very good. It cost a small bomb, but I did enjoy my fillet with pommes and their very good mushrooms.

Anyway, come check out time and the fairly modest bill for that hotel (booked direct through the clubroom last time and upgraded on the spot) and I taxied back to Tegel with the driver using the route up by Plotzensee.

Check-in was a bit of a mare, not LH's fault, but more the faulty of two elderly couples who were a) very slow and b) spent 15 minutes trying to get their seats rearranged. By this time, I decided it wasn't worth a trip to the lounge for, oooh, 10 minutes and went outside for a fag before passing through security to the gate. There's a new feature at gates 8 and 9 in that there's a little "gallery" with tables above the cattle pens, I took a bottle of apfelschorle up there and waiting for boarding.

Quickly onto the A320, which had sadly been NEK'ed with a much more friendly crew when who should pop up but the elderly couples. They still weren't happy with the seats, I was asked to move from 3D to 4F to help placate them and I did so - I prefer an aisle, but it doesn't really matter on a 45min TXL-FRA hop. This still wouldn't do, they wanted to be in adjacent rows as well. However, it was resolved by the presence of the first officer.

We left about 10 mins late and there was a "bento box" on offer, I didn't partake as I was busy with the MacBook, but they were kind enough to do a plastic glass of water. We had rather a circular and very bumpy approach into the dreaded Frankfurt and ended up about 20 late in. This left a short but perfectly doable connection from A30 to B33. So down the A-Pier stopping at a Raucherhütte to the lifts, one of which wasn't working, through the Tunnel of Hate, a very swift immigration and straight to the B2x Business Lounge.

The main reason for visiting was to admire the quark display get a bit of charge in the MacBook, I notice multiple types of quark on display and some hot food, supposedly meatballs and tomato risotto. However, the steamers only had the sauce left in them, not that I would have been tempted anyway. I charged up for 15 mins and guzzled some Coke Light and went to use the facilities.

We boarded on time, into the usual series of manky buses, I did crease up at the "Our First and Business class passengers may board at their leisure" - I've always been sooo keen to get on one of FRA's sweaty buses.

The BHX has three out of four rotations wet leased to British Midland these days and I must say that the non-NEK'ed 320's are much better than the old 733's and 735's and the BD crews have been very pleasant. Perhaps BD should be redeployed to BHX and MAN and leave THAT airport alone. It is nice to have a seat where you can use a laptop without sitting at a funny hunched angle.

Today, there was a choice of prawn linguine or gnocchi with spinach and pumpkin. I choose the latter, it was very nice and i forgot to take a picture of it before it was consumed. That, coffees, two rounds of drinks and a smooth flight meant that we were in Birmingham before we knew it. Obviously the stormy bits had moved on from Frankfurt in the hour I was there.

As usual, the UK Border was slow and by the time I got through, the bag was on the belt, so I was back home by 2pm, a mere 6 1/2 hours after leaving the Hilton.

Next report will be in about a month. A bit of long haul for you all, I'm off to Hong Kong in Lufthansa First, out via München and back via Frankfurt. If I end up in a bulkhead on the MUC again, I shall downgrade myself and only the captain will move me back.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Trip Report 8, Part 1, LH C, BHX-MUC-TXL

Bum, Buttocks, Basingstoke. There are days when you know things aren’t going to go right and this was one of them. The journey was OK to the airport, after that it just got worse and worse.

The check-in was the usual no recognition, grumpy delight that I’ve come to expect from CircusAir at BHX. I think they uttered one word, or rather more of a bark Frankfurt? To which I replied Berlin via München. This was the business class and Star Gold queue, Lord knows what they do in economy. Security was a doddle, but might have been rough without the priority line.

I then went to the lounge, that was a mistake as well, I should have gone and had breakfast at Pret, but at least I got a free cup of coffee, I foolishly ignored the top quality breakfast repast of shelf stable cake and Walkers French Fries provided for us here – some people actually pay for this!

Anyway, after the usual BHX boarding tricks of get them to the gate way too early and then leave them hanging round whilst discussing X-factor or so such drivel. Anyway, eventually we geese were herded on board and to my horror, I saw a CRJ-900 instead of an Embraer 195. Now I the CRJ-900 is actually fairly tolerable for that series of nasty curved walled, tiny bogged, flying skidoos from Soviet Canuckistan – but it meant I was in a bulkhead.

Now some people love bulkheads, but I hate them on shorthaul. I’m a fat bastard, but I do still fit in a standard Euro seat (even NEK, if I don't want to use the laptop), however, a bulkhead can be a bit tight, especially on a CRJ or a Fokker 100 and I am sufficiently porky that I can’t use the tray table which means that I can’t have my breakfast.

However, I have a solution to this, as boarding is completed, I’ll just nip back to the empty row behind me , it has tray tables, I can have a nice flight, not a slightly squashed one.

So, I ask, I explain my predicament to the crew, can I please move to 3D? It seems it can’t be done, 3D is economy class. Well, it may be beyond the curtain, but I explain that it is a more comfortable seat for me and because it’s not a bulkhead and anyway all the seats are the same on the CR9. I say, I don’t care if it's economy class – anyway, the two crew have a bit of a conflab and decide I can sit there, but they have to move the curtain back and evict the poor bloke in 3A back to 4A. Well, I’m not having that especially as if he’s in row 3 he’s probably a SEN or an HON. So I stop then and I sit in my poxy bulkhead for the flight, with no brekky and just a plastic cup of water. It should be easy, I’ll take the downgrade for comfort, they can even give me the Eco snack rather than the fairly rubbish LH small breakfast (just as long as they give me the miles for the flight I paid for), but it can’t be done without evicting poor old 3A and I'm not that mean.

We take off a few minutes late, but I’m not sure what happens during the flight as we end up 35 minutes late into München, which leaves me with 45 mins for my connection which really isn’t a problem normally, in fact it’s dead easy. However, immigration into Schengen takes rather longer than usual, although bless MUC’s little cotton socks, we don’t have to go through security again, but I do end up nowhere near the lounge, but I am near the smoking room – so I go and cigarette vigourously and with extreme pleasure.

By this time, there’s about 25 minutes left, I can’t really get to the lounge have a belated breakfast and get back in time, not with my dodgy ankle. But there’s a café just down here, so a filled roll and a cold drink will set me up. If it wasn’t for a queue of 15 people and one bloke serving slowly. I settle for a slightly sweaty Twix from the machine and a second fag.

Anyway, we are boarding, but there’s no aircraft there which means it’s time for another nasty bus journey, MUC starts to feel more like FRA at this point. Luckily the airbus parking area us a bit nearer than the regional jet parking area.

The airbus 320 has been NEKed, that means that the seats are nearly impossible to do any work in without sitting at a very strange angle and not being able to use your tray table or the middle seat tray table. Don’t get me wrong, if you are just looking for a seat for a short flight, they are fine. Want to get that laptop out, kiss goodbye to the food and drink and even then you'd better have a middle seat free and be ready to creep out your seat opponent.

The visible crew are a pair of Schiki-Mikkis (there's probably another two at the back) , camp, groomed to an inch of their life and showing vast potential of being a bad crew by handing out the economy snack at the door instead of inflight. However, we are off on time and it’s a beautiful day for flying over Central Germany, but I am in a bit of a mood by now. I decline the food (which is going to be variations on a theme of Krauterquark) as I need to finish my document off, but ask for water. It seems I can’t be served a glass of water unless I have my tray table down, so I ask for a paper cup – they can’t do a business class drink in a paper cup. As I suspected, a pair of wankers, I get zilch and they ignore me when doing further drink rounds and handing out ice-creams (that’s a new touch).

I arrive in Berlin, slightly dehydrated and utterly starving, my meeting is at 3pm, I decide to taxi it to the hotel, I’ll have time for a decent lunch and a pint. Also the idea of the TXL bus in 30 degrees of sunshine is a bit too much to bear and my stress levels might reach psychotic if I do, especially as only one ticket machine is working and only one member of staff in the kiosk.

Sum result – two business class flights, total service one cup of water, due to the seat shifters and the NEK crap. I’d complain but I’d just get a form letter telling me how other passengers love bulkhead seats and the NEK cabin. Perhaps I should look at ScaryTeam more closely for next year, or lift my self-denying ordinance on LX, although that will probably end with me in a slammer in ZRH after another encounter with the bus-gate Gestapo there. 

The good thing about this trip so far, priority baggage worked, bag off first and my hotel room was ready, the same one as last time, which is great because I liked that room last time.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Trip Report 7 - Part 2 - OS - VIE - LHR

And so back to the joys of London Thiefrow, I think one journey a year is about right for that destination personally. A nice checkout, followed by a quick journey on the CAT meant that we were well in time for our flight, checkin was painless and of course, security is at the gate at VIE, so after a bit of shopping (fags for me, choccies for work), I went to the Austrian Business Lounge in non-Schengen. The Schengen Business Lounge is rather colourful, the non-Schengen is a bit better than that, seats were found easily, even ones with plugs near them and there was a small selection of cold food and drinks. I was there for the pretzel sticks myself and lots of fizzy water.

Going to the gate area spoilt the pleasant experience, security was a badly signposted zoo, there was a priority sign, but it was for the Beijing flight, which was not clear at all, then you went through to a small area which didn't have enough space for a full A321, never mind a full A321 of Austrian teenagers with multiple hand luggage items. The luggage police were in full operation, many bags were weighed, many were tagged and taken away. There were quite a few protests, mainly from a couple of ladies who had a backpack each, a roll-aboard each, a laptop bag each and a handbag that could hold my laptop each. They also had a longer bag hidden from the baggage wardens.

However, we were eventually settled aboard about 20 mins late and after some more bags had to be taken out for gate checking and took off in towards Heathrow.

Service was a bit slow to start with, but we were soon served a fairly large lunch.

It must be said, it was a very crowded tray, even more crowded after it was insisted that we took two warm bread rolls (LH, please take note). I washed it all down with some Grüner Veltiner.

Nice prawn salad on a bed of remoulade, leaves were terribly bitter though.

This was sort of like a cross between goulash and pasta and reminded me of a scratch meal I had in Malta once, it like that scratch meal was delicious and suited to air travel.

Bad, bad dessert, very nice, all disappeared.

The crew came around with seconds of bread, refills on the wine and a selection of tea and coffee. Very enjoyable and a nice traditional contrast to LH's bistro boxes or LX's fine cheese and dubious dried meats.

Being an EU flight, there wasn't any OK, Scum whose for booze and fags so we watched the weather get better as we got closer to London. We ended up about 10 late, which is pretty acceptable. As is usual at LHR, you walk for five miles to immigration, where there are plenty of staff to deal with the forrins and one bloke to deal with EU/EEA and he was on the phone. So, you'd expect bags to be out and indeed they were, but not the priority bags, oh no, they came off dead last. I expect there's some horny-handed son of toil at Heathrow delighting over his small victory over the "rich bastards"

After finding the latest refuge for smokers at Terminal 1, I proceeded via HEX, taxi and a slightly faster and less dirty Virgin back to a very sunny Brum. Now, how can I lurk OS to BHX.

Next another Berlin in a few days.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Hilton Vienna (am Stadtpark)

Sorry about the delay, the joys of moving house has taken it's toll on my spare time, however, we are mainly moved now and the property has been "done up", so hopefully back to a more regular schedule.

I normally get the CAT, but it was a cold and rainy Vienna that day and as there were two of us, I got a taxi, we were quickly deposited at the hotel where I was welcomed back and given the room I had selected through on-line check in which was on the executive floor. The room was facing the park and very near the lounge, where we quickly went for drinks and some dessert.

The weekend itself was cold and blustery except for one day and so the lounge became a bit of a haven, it has lovely staff - the morning ones being very friendly and welcoming and helpful with suggestions on things to do etc. The lounge has upped it's offering since the last time I was there - whilst brekky is still the same, as are the cakes in the afternoon (which are very sinful), there is now soup every evening, plus hot food and the cheese, at about 8pm, this is taken away and some cheese and desserts are put out. The soup is a welcome addition and makes the big lunch, evening grazing plan very worthwhile.

The room was maintained very nicely and quite promptly, and additional water and turndown service was offered every night. They aren't mean with the toiletries either. Reception were friendly and charming as well and I didn't use the concierge service.

With a Vienna newbie in tow, I did some very touristy things in downtime. We went to Figlmüller for Schnitzel, it's still the best in Wien but it is expensive, there was coffee and cake a couple of times, a nice visit to the Naschmarkt and the Fleamarket just beyond it which include a fish lunch at the place opposite the renowned Umarfisch - my Zander was lovely. We also had lovely Italian at Danieli (Himmelpfortgasse 3) where the service is good and the garlic breadsticks are to die for.

I have maintained a preference for the Hilton am Stadtpark over the Hilton Plaza for some years now and I see no reason to change on my annual visits to the city.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Trip Report 7 - Part 1 - OS - LHR-VIE

2C, 15:35 (16:20)-19:05 (19:40)
Airbus 321

The journey to the Great Wen was not without it's horrors, the Pendolino was a Voyager, the crew were sullen and stroppy, the power didn't work. There was the curious logic that it was not breakfast for food, but it was breakfast for beverages. I really must remember to book on Chiltern next time.

Anyway, with my pre-meeting over, it was off to Heathrow, which was done via the usual painless but pricey route of the Heathrow Express. A final fag in whatever gangrenous corner we addicts are allowed in now and then on to check in. Check in was reasonably painless in Zone K (which will be familiar to old BA flyers), although the business class check-in desks are not well signposted. Security was even more painless even if there wasn't a fast track and no nude-o-scopes were noted.

We went into the Star Alliance Lounge, which is on the site of the old BA Terraces lounge in Terminal 1 but has been substiantially changed. It was fairly full and it took a while to find a table with a spare plug. Actually, there wasn't a spare plug, but there was an unneeded light :-)

There were snacky bits - mainly of the "goujon" and diet coke, this made up slightly for the bag of crisps on the train.

Eventually, boarding was called, but knowing what it's like, I popped to WH Smug and bought a copy of *wallpaper so I could avoid anything praised in it. Needless to say, despite boarding being called, the gate staff from whatever British Midland are calling themselves this week were not in evidence.

However, eventually they turned up and eventually we all boarded the A321, although there was a bit of bag grabbing as a full 321 means no room in the bins. Especially for some of the odder items, such as the tyre someone tried to board with. Perish the thought that I checked my boarding pass said VIE not LOS.

We then had a comedy moment, one of the BD gate crew stood at the front of business and said "Whose the upgrade" very loudly. Very Penny from "Great British Airways" (hint, love, it was the Unaccompianied Minor in 1A) and really rather rude. I do not want to know that the person sat next to be has been upgraded, mind you, they usually tell in whilst in the process of drinking the bar dry. Anyway, we had about two minutes of gate agent/Purser discussion with the purser speaking very quietly and the gate agent booming over the cabin. Basically, the gate agent wanted the purser to know who the Upgrade was and the Purser didn't think it was important. In my view, the purser was correct.

However, after the usual fun and games with bags having to be removed, we missed our slot, but we didn't have to wait too long for another one and then joined the usual Heathrow takeoff queue. Once up in the air, the crew sprung to life and fired up the ovens and started rattling the bars and quickly came around with drinks, I had a Weißwein and my seat opponent had a full sized can of Coke Light. The Weißwein turned out to be a very good Chardonnay. So thumbs up on the drinks for OS.

A nice dinner tray was then presented, it was rather full to the gunnels

The starter was a thick piece of white lightly smoked fish on a bed of cream cheese with a bit of smoked salmon and some salad. The white fish was very enjoyable. The main was chicken with potatoes and veg, the chicken was a bit dry, but it was a decent portion size. The pudding was some baked apple with custard. Several passes were made with a bread basket with a fine selection of breads and top-ups were offered on drinks. Sadly, the coffee was poor, coolish, thin and watery, the only downside to the F+B experience on this flight.

Arrival at Vienna was further delayed by a go round at VIE, obviously I should be ringing up the Daily Hate and claiming "Flight of Terror", but as usual with go-rounds, it was absolutely nothing. We landed at a wet and cloudy VIE a few minutes later, immigration was a doddle and I used the Raucherhütte which they have kindly put in arrivals before Shiny Case came off the belt. All in all, a pretty positive and pleasant experience.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Today I should be heading for Bremen

But instead I'm getting ready to complete the purchase of my new house on Tuesday. It was supposed to be today, but the vendor changed his mind, but not until I had cancelled the trip *sigh*.

I expect not to have too much travel for the next couple of months, but having said that, I have another rare trip to LHR coming up at the end of July - this time to fly to VIE with Austrian (I have a meeting in London that afternoon), then it's back to Berlin but this time on Swiss at the end of August, a quick dart to Köln in September (via DUS, of course) and then at the end of September it's off to Hong Kong for a wedding. Then in November, it's my holiday/business trip to BKK and SIN. The question is, do I do a quick dart somewhere in Europe in October to get Senator status before the BKK/SIN trip (which may involve disturbing scenes in Economy Class).

My upgrades have cleared for both MUC-HKG and HKG-FRA, so that will be my second report on here for First Class travel.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Hotel Review - Courthouse Doubletree by Hilton London Regent Street redux

Another short trip to London and another stay at the Courthouse.

Again, there was the "confirmation" email and phone calls, I'm not too keen on this and I don't see why they do it.

However, the actual stay itself was quite faultless, I was upgraded to a non-smoking room but ashtrays were provided. This was exceptionally large and spacious for a London hotel room and whilst it had no view, it did have a good working area, a couple of seats and a very comfortable bed. I was provided with a fruit plate and two bottles of water as my Gold amenity. Check-in was charming and well-handled, especially considering the late hour.

Obviously, I didn't spend too much time in the room, but the internet service was fast, although I had to use wired rather than wireless. Housekeeping were very efficient and non-intrusive and myself and a friend did enjoy a post-theatre drink in the bar, although we weren't lucky enough to get one of the former courthouse cells as a private room. Checkout was swift and painless.

I've decided that this will be my Central London hotel of choice when the rate isn't too injurious to my wallet, mainly because of the great location and it seems to offer everything else I want. I haven't tried room service yet, but considering where it is - why would I.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Trip Report 6, Part 2 TXL-MUC-BHX

Monday was a lovely day for flying, it would have been an even lovelier day for relaxing in the Tiergarten or by the banks of the Wannsee, but it was a lovely day for flying.

After a smidgen on breakfast in the lounge, I went back up to the room, packed and then finally headed off after a slightly extended checkout as I commented on the refurb (favourably), I decided to taxi it and got to Tegel in about 25 minutes. Bag Drop was swift and efficient and I waved bye-bye to shiny case for a few hours. I headed for the Lufthansa Business Lounge, which is one of the better ones in the system and I did so by walking outside taking advantage of Tegel's somewhat unusual layout.

The lounge was fairly empty, but all I wanted was some water and a place to sit (something in short supply at Tegel). As my flight was coming up for boarding, I wandered back down and headed for the gate and did the security thang (which is at the gate), I then sat in a hot and overcrowded gate area for a few minutes before boarding the Airbus A320 to München.

The problem was that this was one of the NEK planes and had the new seats, whilst fairly comfy, they are quite close together. It proved fairly difficult to use my MacBook whilst seated which was annoying. There have been a lot of complaints about NEK, but this is my first one.

Entertainingly, we had an Ipad wanker in row 1. He didn't want to shut it down, he was reading and it was in flight mode. There was a short argument, he still didn't shut it down until we actually started taxiing.

It's just under an hour from Berlin to München and there were seven rows of business class to serve, again it's a bento box and drinks with the bento box again having a Spargel theme. Possibly a bit too much on the Spargel, as it was Spargel Kräuterquark with pesto, two prawns on a bed of Spargel and strawberries and cream. The American lady next to me, just had the bread roll and the strawberries and cream.

I drank water and drank in the scenery as we flew south, as I said it was a perfect flying day and the route takes in some great scenery, if anything it was over too quickly.

München is one of the best airports in Europe, it's very easy to transfer in, it has a simple layout and it has pretty good shops and some decent places to eat. It's also the only airport I can think of with it's own brewery. I did a bit of shopping, some chocolates for people at work and some fags for personal usage. I then proceeded to the Schengen Business Lounge as the non-Schengen lounge is closed for refurbishment. I did wonder if it would be rammed to the rafters, but whilst busy, it wasn't that busy.

The advantage of the München lounges is that they have decent beer on tap and as it was mid-afternoon there was cake, in fact there was rather good poppyseed cheesecake to go with the Löwenbrau Helles.

I left a little earlier that I prefer to, but I had to go through exit immigration and to the somewhat distant bus gate. We boarded the bus which was chokka, which wasn't pleasant in the heat and was made even more unpleasant by a 10 minute delay out on the tarmac before we were allowed to board.

The flight back to Birmingham was on an Embraer 195, so new that it still had the "new plane" smell, but luckily not fitted with the NEK seats. They have a 2-2 layout and in Business Class that translates to 1-1.

The crew were great on this flight, you don't normally have pre-departure drinks on shorthaul, but water was offered to Business Class - much needed on a hot day. We took off a few minutes late, and proceeded up through Germany to Belgium and across the North Sea, sadly as we got nearer Blighty, the weather worsened.

As a longer flight, you get a cold tray rather than a bento box, which of course features Spargel. It was supposed to have a salad with it, but that had been replaced by melon balls with mozarella, which was probably the wisest thing. Then there was ham with Spargel and chopped egg and a rather large strawberry tiramisu with caramel sauce. I had water and black coffee with it.

Arrival at a grim and rainy BHX was ten minutes early, but immigration was the usual shambles (three flights - five officers, one not working, one only doing the handful of non-EU) and baggage wasn't much better - taking 35 minutes to come off.

Next, it's Bremen, in economy.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Berlin and Hilton Berlin

It's normally best to say What happens in Berlin, stays in Berlin. However, for once, I can claim to be all sweetness and light. After arriving at the hotel, I unpacked, took a shower, had a bit of a rest and then wandered off in the general direction of the U-Bahn to find out how bad the U2 disruptions were. It wasn't too bad, but any late night forays to Motzstraße would really mean a taxi back. So perhaps I might check out P'Berg instead ;-)

With my foot playing up a bit, I didn't want to walk too far, so I U-Bahn'ed to Alexanderplatz, had a coffee stop and got the tram a few stops to look around some shops and buildings, I then had another coffee and headed off to find something to eat. I wasn't spectacularly hungry and nothing really appealed so I S-Bahn'ed and U-Bahn'ed back to the hotel and sorted out my email inbox and ordered a Club Sandwich about 9pm. That's when I found out about the great Cucumber problem.

After a good nights sleep, I went for an early breakfast in the restaurant (as opposed to the lounge) and then headed off to meet my friend at the ZOB. That was quite complex journey on the U-Bahn and I resolved to get a taxi back, the bus was a bit late in from Dresden, so I took a walk around and admired the radio building and tower which is just up the street.

We then spent the day being tourists, the Wall, the TV tower, Alexanderplatz, Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie and even a short foray into Kreuzberg. We ended up watching the football back in the hotel with some bottle of beer after a short dip into the hotel lounge for snacks. It was a nice day but a bit windy and the weather could have been a bit better.

Sunday dawned early and we had breakfast in the lounge and then a whistle top tour of Charlottenburg and the Tiergarten before my friend caught his bus back. I then crashed out for a couple of hours, before going to have dinner with friends in Schöneberg, Sunday evening was particularly nice weather - a precursor of the next day.

As for the hotel, the Berlin Hilton has long been a favourite of mine, whilst MItte can be a bit soulless, its position by the Gendarmenmarkt and Stadtmitte U-Bahn station is hard to beat. I've always had good service there as well. They have refreshed the rooms recently and it's a good refresh, a better bathroom and improvements to the desk and bed as well. The storage is better organised and ample. Housekeeping are efficient, but if you don't use the Do Not Disturb sign, they will start knocking at 8am. As a Gold status member, I got a welcome gift of some dried banana slices covered in chocolate (yum) and a litre of mineral water every day.

The new lounge was a vast improvement, whilst missing the great views from the old lounge, it's about three times the size. This resolves the problems with seating that could occur at breakfast and at cocktail time. There's also a nice array of seating, from tables to bench tables to comfy chairs by the window, a small area with three computers that work and some side rooms which can be used for meetings.

The food and drink are similar to what used to be there. There's a slightly larger range of food, both hot and cold of a good quality. I every much enjoyed the mini-kebabs and BBQ chicken cones on the Sunday night. My friend had high praise for the fish goujons and prawn kebabs the night before.

I hope to return in August and at New Year/Silvester. I would always think of here first when staying in Berlin, although if the room rate continues to climb.....

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Trip Report 6, Part 1 - BHX-FRA-TXL

Ah, the pleasures of a bank holiday weekend and the first time on an aircraft for 2 months. So, where to go - Germany, of course and I fancied a weekend in Berlin. So, the usual place was booked and in line with this years Senator run, a European Z-fare was booked as well (ouch).

I had no real plans for Berlin, just to mooch, hope for nice weather perhaps go a bit further abroad than usual. A few days before, a friend indicated he could pop up for the Saturday from Prague, I rang the hotel and no extra charges were applied. Nice one, Hilton.

Anyway, I had no real need to get their extra early, so I chose to get the mid-morning flight to Hell am Main, which is the only one still operated by Lufthansa, the others are British Midland wet leases. The pleasures of getting up at the usual time are quite ineffable and my taxi driver was one of my regular ones so it was a good journey to the airport. I quickly checked in the shiny case, popped outside for a last fag and then went through security in a matter of minutes before popping into the new BHX main concourse.

Now they have linked Terminal 1 and Terminal 2, they have ways of making you walk through duty-free before getting to where you want to go. Personally, I find this annoying, but it must make good business to the OK, Scum, who wants booze and fags crowd. Anyway, I quickly bought the papers and some paracetamol (and found a full pack in the laptop bag when I put them away) and not fancying shelf-stable cake or quavers for brekkie, I proceed to Pret a Manger for the "Posh" Bacon Baguette

Well, that and a black coffee sorted me out for the morning flight. Boarding was called a little before schedule, but I am wise to the ways of Servisair and ignored it for ten minutes whilst finishing the TImes. This was to be a bit of a "cut it fine" trip. Our noble steed today was a 737-500, my 84th journey on the type and my 28th on BHX-FRA according to my flight memory.

On boarding, I was slightly be perturbed to be sat in the same row as an infant in arms. It's not much fun for small children flying at times, but it's not much fun to be sat in close proximity either. Mercifully, the crew intervened so that granny could sit in that row and I could snag the front row. Also, I am happy to report, not a peep was heard out of the babe in arms either. We took off about 10 mins late and proceeded on our way to Bankfurt, I declined breakfast as I'd had the bacon baguette and proceeded drink coffee and do some work on the way to the joys of transit. We ended up landing on time, but had to taxi from one end of the airport to the other to a suitable remote stand where we could get the bus to the dreaded B-bus gates.

As usual, B Non-Schengen bus arrivals was shite, one of the escalators wasn't working and the Kettles were out in force milling around. Sadly, being first on the bus means being last off it, which means the Kettles are ahead of you. A bit of power walking and some gamesmanship at immigration (passport spotting is useful to avoid long queues) and I was through to the joys of transfer security, I had a whine about this last time, it was a bit better but still horrifically slow. Anyway, a slow jog through the Tunnel of Hate and then straight into the nearest Rauchenhutte at A22.

I decided to risk the "Business Lounge" at A26, because I needed a cold drink, it has supposedly been refurbished. I couldn't tell to be honest, there may have been more seats, but there was still a shortage except in the Ostalgie-ridden "Sports Corner". Dodging a couple of cleaners, who were intent on having a nice chinwag in front on the drinks dispenser, I retrieved a Coke Light and some rations. I also noticed, grimly, that it was Spargelwoche - which meant Asparagus soup in all the lounges.

Now I like asparagus, but I have a real preference for fresh, young Evesham Grass in late April, early May - not forced white asparagus, often served in quasi-industrial quantities. However, there were also some Wienerpaar and what was described as Munich-style potato salad.

The Wienerpaar turned out to be turkey and were tasteless and crusty. The Münchener Kartoffle-Salat, whilst probably having been no nearer to Bayern than an industrial unit near Groß-Gerau was really quite decent. There was no bread, well, no bread that I'll eat, there were some packets of *that stuff*. I even found a seat, once I'd removed some bags from

Anyway, as the Berlin was called, I proceeded to A23, via the Raucherhutte and found that there was the usual scrum at the gate. I left them to it and boarded in the last handful, with only a laptop bag, it wasn't as if I needed overhead space.

The flight was on an Airbus 321, my 32nd flight on that type and it was chokka, there was one spare seat in Business and a couple in Economy. I was happy to find that they had a copy of The Economist on board, so I didn't do any work on this flight. With a 45 minute flight time, the crew have to work very hard and as soon as the pings went, they were up and serving. The offering was the new "bento" box and I took something deeply unpleasant that masqueraded as a glass of Weißwein.

It was, of course, Spargel themed. There were a couple of pieces of ham, some Aspargus with pesto and rosemary, a mini bread roll and some strawberries and strawberry pudding. Small, but quite acceptable. For my second drink, I had water.

We arrived at Berlin-Tegel pretty much on schedule, although the clouds meant there wasn't a  particularly good view of the city on arrival. Bags came off fairly swiftly and I made my way to the bus stop, bought a day ticket and headed into the city. Luckily, I had been warned that the U2 was out on one section and not fancying a U2-U1-U2 journey, I got the bus all the way to Unter den Linden and then walked down to the Hilton. As it was a cloudy, muggy day, perhaps I should have gotten a taxi.

Status Reports - LH FTL renewed, 40% of the way to Senator. Hilton Gold renewed, 65% of the way to Hilton Diamond. Aiming for Senator before my holiday in November and Hilton Diamond by September.

As ever, comments are welcome.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Hotel Review - Courthouse Doubletree by Hilton London Regent Street

I was going to post this one up some time ago, but I have been a bit busy.

I'm in two minds about this hotel. It has fantastic location for there shopping and theatre trip I had planned for my birthday.

I booked a large smoking room about three days before at a fairly horrific price - but this is the dead centre of Londump. The day before the hotel contacted me three times, once by email and twice by telephone to get me to confirm. I found this annoying, to say the least but confirmed that yes, I wanted a large smoking room.

The hotel is very easy to find and a very short distance from Oxford Street tube, no problems with luggage. The young woman at the desk greeted me, acknowledged my status and then started on the lies.

i) You've been upgraded to the larger room. No, love, that's what I booked
ii) You've been granted a free continental breakfast for one of you. No, love, I booked and paid for full breakfast for both of us as I don't think Spouse stays free really applies to second dates.
iii) Your room is non-smoking - we haven't got any larger smoking rooms - this may be a problem with the website. Many hotels do this, hence my snarky comments about the cancer downgrade. The Shangri-La Sydney does cancer upgrades :-)

FFS, two porkies and despite annoying confirmation calls and emails, I still can't get the room I booked. The manager was summoned, there were apologies, a standard smoking room was found, I insisted on the lower room rate for it. This shouldn't bloody happen, too many times the Hilton website allows the booking of a room category that doesn't exist in the hotel for smokers. I have now started putting in my comments - don't upgrade me if you don't have a smoking room in that category.

Anyway, by the standards of inner London "standard" hotel rooms, this one wasn't that small, I thought it was a bit tiny, but my companion thought it was fine. I liked the opening window, even if the view was a bit naff. The bed was great, the bathroom was good (but with naff toiletries), the lighting was pretty decent as well. All a bit bland and modern, but it is a Double tree.

Breakfast was good, OK, it wasn't the full Hilton spread, but we are one category down on that. Continental looked weak, but we were here for the fry-up and that was fine, coffee was a bit better than normal for a UK hotel, service was pleasant and swift and they had the weekend edition of the FT.

Unusually, I used the concierge, my companion decided he wanted to go to the theatre and I used the concierge to get us decent tickets for a show. He got very good ones, albiet at a bit of a price and the show was great.

We ate out with a quick pre-theatre meal at a Malaysian/Singaporean place on the edge of Soho. It was OK, it felt expensive to the queen of the hawker stands. The roti prata was good, the curry sauce less so, the Nasi Lemak was OK, the Hokkien Mee was good. Would probably go there again if I had a hankering.

Checkout was painless and yes the bill had been reduced.

All in all, I'll probably use the hotel again for similar trips, it's got great location and the breakfast room is nice and the concierge is helpful, but it is expensive (£250 per night) and I'll continue to lurk out at Kensington (now Islington is non-smoking) for business trips.

I've decided, despite the impending house purchase, that I will go to Berlin this upcoming bank holiday, so you can expect some more Lufthansa action and a review of a Hotel I've visited many times, the Berlin Hilton and I've been invited to a wedding in Hong Kong at the start of October, so there will be two lots of longhaul action this year - including if my upgrades clear - some LH First.