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.