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.....