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.