Friday, 14 December 2012

Hilton on the Park - Melbourne

As long time readers will know, I have a history with this hotel, my first stay was appalling and things have been getting better and better since. This pattern continued with the check-in this time.

I was some hours before check-in. Originally, I would have been happy to drop bags and go for an extended wander, however, Friday 14th was a day when it decided that it was going to rain rather heavily in Melbourne, so I'd decided that if I could hole up in some corner with WiFi, that would be find.

I've opted on this trip to get non-smoking rooms (no choice in Sydney) on the grounds that I feel that the upgrade pool is better and that it's usually warm enough to go out for a smoko. 

I was welcomed, not chided for being several hours earlier than check-in starts (I'm looking at certain Londump Hiltons here) and was told that they would prioritise my room, but if I wanted to go up to the Exec Lounge, I could wait there, it might be a couple of hours. That seemed fine to me and here's a wifi voucher.

Two long blacks and a pastry later, they showed up with a key and had already transferred my bags. It's a modernised corner suite, I couldn't be much happier.

Anyway, day 1 was Zombie day, apart from the odd smoko and a trip to the 7-11, it pretty much confined to base, where I worked out that what I had forgotten and what I needed to get for my stay in Melbs. I did whinge about about the WiFi, which seemed a bit slow and determined to only allow one device at a time - on reflection from the other two stays in Australia, it was decent. Dinner on Day 1 was room service - Chicken Parm and Fries, the fries were good, the Chicken Parn wasn't. I didn't order room service again.

Day 2 was a nice walk down into Central Melbourne, picked up the essentials, charged up my MyKi, had a couple of coffees, back to the hotel, scoped out Bridge St and ended up at Grill'd for a late lunch. Grill'd was good. A slow walk back up the other side of Bridge St back to the hotel for a short nap and then out to Two Fat Indians for dinner. Good Lamb Saag, but I need to remember to order it desi style, skippy doesn't do spice.

Day 3 was a rather longer walk along the Yarra, starting at the Casino and ending at the other end of Bridge St (I meant to go on a further 5km, but my heel was starting to chafe), pho for lunch and then back for a somewhat longer rest that I had managed. Dinner was a take out pizza from just up the parade - great toppings, weird base.

Day 4 was the traditional trip to St Kilda and a lovely day for it, an early lunch then a snap decision to go to the zoo, returned from that and head down Brunswick St to have dinner at Vegie Bar and then back to repack.

Then the next morning, it was time to repack and head off to Brisvegas, but there were early morning balloons to make me happy. It's nice to open the curtains and have hot air balloons hanging lazily in the sky just outside the window.

You'll notice a lack of mentions of the lounge. I used the lounge for breakfast every morning, I found it decent for that. The staff were very friendly and good at customer service. The view of the MCG from the lounge was great. However, both afternoon tea and evening canapes were, ahem, disappointing in terms of quality and after day 1, I only used the lounge for breakfast and the odd swift bottle of Coke Zero.

However, the suite was great and the cleaners did a good job of picking up after me, the only slight disappointment was turndown service, which seemed to occur about 5pm and consisted of no changes to bedding arrangements, just placing a mentos and a room service breakfast hanger on the bed. What's the point?

My point stands, every time I've been to the Hilton on the Park, it has got better and better. Next time it should be fabulous.

Trip Report 13: SIN-MEL (SQ C)

On arriving at the Silver Kris Lounge in Terminal 3, I went and cigaretted mightily on the balcony by it. It was warm and rainy outside, which makes a change from freezing cold and rainy inside.

The Business Class section of the Silver Kris Lounge is a good lounge, it's almost at excellent lounge level, but needs a bit more work to reach that level (more plugs, a cigar lounge, better wi-fi), but for a four hour stay it will do nicely. I showered at a leisurely pace, continued with my hydration programme and caught up on emails etc, although the wifi was showing sighs of being overloaded. 

The food selections were plentiful, but few of them took my eye. I had a nibble at some chicken tikka (good) and a couple of forkfuls of pork with bitter gourds (not to my taste), but that was more time wasting than anything else to be honest.

Eventually, I got bored, had more cigarettes and went hunting through duty-free to see if I could get hold of any bargains. Prices weren't as keen as I remember them to be and as Australia now only allows 50 fags duty-free, I ended up buying nothing except a drink of teh tarik. After a short break in the butterfly garden, it was time to board, in fact I was running a teensy bit late.

Security was not a problem, I picked the wrong queue, where there was a family travelling with two small children and more hand luggage than I thought was humanly possible. But as my boarding pass was scanned, there was a beep. For one moment, one brief moment, I thought the impossible was going to happen and I was getting an upgrade to Suites. Alas, it was merely to tell me that the IFE wasn't working in my seat and that the Chief Purser would be along to see me later. This wasn't actually a problem, I haz iPad, but I probably would have watched it as KrisWorld has a very good selection of drama serials.

It's also obvious that the Business Class seats are starting to be ready for a refresh, they looked a little worn compared to when I first flew them four years ago, one or two corners looked like a deep clean might be useful and one or two of the many storage containers were a little more difficult to keep shut than they should be. However, the SQ 380 C seat remains in my opinion an excellent seat, although I do understand those who do have criticisms of it's positions other than fully-flat.

Service was friendly, willing but a tiny bit haphazard on this flight, which had slightly more Singapore Boys than usual. I had to refuse the bowl of nuts three times, but other than that dinner was just as I expected. (No pics due to dimmed cabin) A nice crabmeat timbale for a starter, the usual excellent garlic bread (no other airline gets garlic bread as well as SQ does), a lamb dish which looked dull, but turned out to be flavoursome, having much much more rosemary flavour than you would imagine and then some slightly naff cheese to finish with. All matched with a couple of glasses of what was NZ Sauvignon Blanc, but kept on being introduced as French Medoc (wrong colour, dear).

Just before I retired, the Chief Purser came and made one last attempt to get KrisWorld going and then handed out a reasonably substantial sum in duty-free vouchers which I shall spend on the way back to SIN on December 30th.

I flipped the seat to bed and had just managed to nod off when things got a bit bouncy, quite a bit bouncy and by the time that had subsided it was breakfast time. This is the problem with night flight to MEL. It was only 6:30, by the time you have cleared out dinner and served brekkie, you only really get about 2 hours potential sleep. Breakfast was a bit haphazard, the fruit was nice (but too cold) and the breads didn't turn up until very late because they didn't serve my aisle. Two attempts were made to give me someone else's cup of darjeeling, but on the positive side, I got two large refills of tomato juice.

Arrival at MEL was on time, but we did do a victory lap of the airport whilst taxiing and there was a bit of a farce waiting for the doors to open. However, quickly through immigration, my bag was already on the belt, not selected for customs inspection nor did I get to meet the cute spaniels they use as drug dogs. From landing to kerbside was 50 minutes, from doors open to kerbside was 22 minutes - that's excellent for an Australian arrival.

There were just about enough little niggles on this flight to take it from an excellent flight to merely a good flight. Some were more down to the hard product, some felt more like a bit of a crew problem. However, this is merely by rating them against other Singapore Airlines flights which have been uniformly of a very, very high standard.

Trip Report 13: FRA-SIN (LH F)

I was a cranky and grumpy Yanto by the time I boarded, but I was swiftly soothed by the attentions of an excellent crew who very much agreed with me that the Frankfurt transfer experience left a lot to be desired. In fact they told me a few tales of woe that put mine in the shade. 

The Lufthansa A380 has First upstairs and at first glance, it doesn't look like a terribly exciting product.

There were five of us today out of the eight seats. One of us was no problem, he went straight to sleep as soon as we took off and remained asleep all the way to Singapore. Because I was so late arriving, I had to wait to get the usual boarding gifts, I declined the nuts, had two glasses of sparkling water and looked at the rather sparse amenity kit and the rather improved pyjamas (nearly all my pyjamas come from airlines), whilst reading the menu. I quickly found the sweet spot in the seat for relaxing and powered up the iPad from the seat so I could get on with my SVU marathon that I had downloaded previously.

As you, know, I have been critical of LH's First Class food as being a bit too fancy for in the air and there were certainly dishes tonight which were in that category. There was an amuse, which was undistinguished, there was then caviar and a chanterelle salad.

The caviar was the usual presentation, although the toast points were better than normal. Indeed the whole breadbasket was tip-top except the brezn, which lacked the required saltiness. The Chanterelle salad was very, very refreshing, but needed more chanterelles. All this was washed down with lots of sparkling water and a couple of glasses of Riesling. But the highlight was the Roast Goose.

Which is a meat which stands up to ovens every well and therefore was succulent and went down great with the Red Cabbage and the dumplings. I did get a funny look for staying with the Riesling, but in the absence of Corton Charlemagne or a VT Gewürz, I thought it for the best.

As usual on the flight, I didn't do dessert, but I had a little cheese, the cheese showed great promise (especially the Livarot) but had been kept too cold, Livarot in particular shoudl be almost motile. So I moved on to peppermint tea.

And thence to bed, this seat converts into a very nice flat bed with an excellent amount of privacy without going the full suite. Very comfortable duvet and a good pillow helped a lot. I managed to get about five hours sleep before my tickly throat got to me. As soon as I arose,   a crew member checked if I wanted to get the bed returned to a seat (yes) and when I went to get changed, I came back to a glass of hot lemon to help my throat which was much appreciated. I did try and keep the Christmas star chocolates, but they were guzzled on waking up I'm afraid. A need for sugar.

I will mentioned the magnificent bathrooms on the 380 on my return journey, I need to take some photos, but I think they are bigger than the bathroom in my first apartment.

Two expressos and a spot of breakfast (fruit and the continental plate) and I was ready for landing at Changi where someone was waiting to escort me to the SQ lounge for my break for my onward flight and then came and informed me that my bag had made it on board at Frankfurt.

All in all, an excellent flight and left me ready for the journey onwards.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Trip report 13; BHX-FRA (LH C)

I'll just start this on the right note for the first half. FRA security management are still wankers. OK. However, despite their best efforts, I'm writing this from the SilverKris Lounge T3 at Changi.

So, I'll off for the biennal Christmas in Australia. I've got the tail end of manflu which did not endear me to this journey, but it is the tailend, so I thought it was liveable with and it turned out to be so.

BHX was easy, as I've commented before, check-in has improved considerably, polite pleasant and efficient. The grunters have gone elsewhere. Security, with a properly working fast track was over in three minutes despite a swab of the iPad and the guys doing it were very pleasant. Compare and contrast to the average FRA experience. I decided to use the new No 1 Lounge for a quick stop using my Priority Pass, where I had some cheese (meh) and nice crackers and topped up the Diet Coke levels.

Boarding for FRA started on time, but the flight was very full and the issue of those with excess bags rose its ugly head again. There were those who did not want to put it under their seat. I don't think this delayed anything, but it certainly wasn't the best of boardings. The First Officer had to make an appearance to settle one guy down (and force a gate check). Anyway, we went out about 10 minutes late, which we were promised they would catch up. With a full 12 in C and I'm told 1 spare seat in Y, the crew were up and at it immediately. 

I declined the offering, it looked unpleasant, there appeared to be a micro salad, a micro dessert and what looked like a cube of fancy meatloaf. Anyway, there was a feast to come as long as I made the connection.

We came into FRAkenstein about 2 minutes late and spent about 15 minutes navigating to the gate. Yes, no buses, although in actuality, this was no reason to celebrate. I was off like a rabbit out of a hat, only to be turned away from B transfer security where I was trying to do the FCL limo to gate trick. Seems there is an FCL in Z which must be used. There isn't. Wankers.

There was then a very long walk to the Skytrain and an equally confusing walk from it. A boarding pass checkpoint where only one lane was operating and the guy was taking about two minutes to glance at the boarding pass, umm and ah and then misdirect people. Which meant the next warden along was busy trying to get people into the right lane. There were two lanes open for security.

There were about 50 people trying to get through Z-transfer security, which was proceeding at the usual arthritic snails pace. There were about 10 in fast track (which was slower than the other lane) and 40 in the main lane. Some people from the Main Lane were directed in front of us "because they had to catch their flight to Singapore".  Several of us commented that we were trying to catch out flight to Singapore and were ignored. Wankers.

Then the police came with some deportees and, of course, they had to use fast track and they had to go in front of us. No Comment.

22 minutes to clear security, I managed to half a fag in a kiosk before my name was being called by the gate and scraped on board with 4 minutes to spare. 

Lufthansa and FRAport really need to sort this out. UK passengers should not have to go through transfer security at FRA, it would speed up their sclerotic security. Fast Track should actually work for your premium passengers, not actually be used for anyone you feel like and the whole First Class ground handling experience should be looked at. In parts, it's wonderful, in other parts its distinctly Third World.

Anyway, the flight was lovely, more on that later.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Here we go again

It has been a dull autumn of travel, hence no reports. Several out and backs with the full Lufthansa Y experience which every few of you want to hear about again, revisits to pretty much the same gamut of hotels and odd trips to lounges which disappoint somewhat (except for the CIP lounge at IST). The nearest thing to being reportable was an other trip to IST, except this time more as a tourist and somewhat better weather. However, as it used the same flights and the same hotel, I thought it was probably worth a miss. Other highlights of the last three months:

  • My upgrade ratio at Hilton continues to decline, probably because I want a room in cancer corner. I have now have four proper upgrades out of 19 stays this year, had three faux upgrades (we've put you on a higher floor - big fat hairy deal), had one downgrade and nary a sniff of a suite. For my next four stays in warm, balmy climates, I have opted for non-cancerous and will stay outside to smoke. May be I'll get an upgrade...
  • I will, just, requalify for Hilton Diamond on base points this year. The new level increase for 2013 means I won't do it next year, time to start burning those 1.2million points I have. Hello Conrad Japan.
  • Despite having gone through Hell-on-Main six times since the last blog, I still have yet to sample the new A+ pier and its lounges. However, I am still intimately familiar with the B Non-Schengen bus gates.
  • FRA B SEN lounge is nice, but the hot food selection does seem a bit odd. Now I like Fish Fingers, but I have heard mutterings from the assembled crowds and does it get crowded at times.
  • On a thread on Flyertalk, people seem to be nominating Hilton Berlin as one of the best Hiltons in Europe. Now I like the Hilton Berlin, lots and we go back over a decade together, but is it really that good?
  • I am slowly losing my Zürichphobia, although being confined to the D-wing, sorry, pier, most of the time does help that. Transfers are very quick and security is very pleasant.
  • Waldorf Hilton, London. Never again. That's all I'm saying. 
  • I may be flying ScaryTeam in the spring to Montreal and in the class we do not do long haul in at that. I must have been very, very bad in a previous life.
  • I haven't decided if I'm going to requalify for SEN next year or not. I may be wandering off to Miles and Smiles instead - if I can persuade TK's website to fecking work. I can hear you all saying "Aegean" and I'm saying enhancements coming soon as the rest of Star gets pissed off with low-rent Golds.

Anyway, it's getting towards twitchy time. It's December and I have a 65 minute connection at FRA on Wednesday evening, the forecast is for snow, the BHX connector has not been well-behaved recently. Now until A+ opened, I was confident about this connection, we would be dumped at a remote stand, a nice car would pick me up and take me to my favourite bus gates, I would clear security, walk to FCL B and have time for a fag before another car took me to the C-gates. Now, the bloody thing gets to a gate position in Z sometimes or some strange new hell called A Non-Schengen Bus Gates. 

So it's BHX-FRA (LH C)-SIN (LH F) - MEL (SQ C) on Wednesday and Thursday. There will be photos, there will be reportage and hopefully there will be no missed connections.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Curse of Barcelona

The curse of Barcelona has struck again. I think I may have to give up going to that fair city. I've been once, but was struck down with manflu the entire time, so apart from a short walk down the Ramblas and a wander around the Barrio Gotico, I didn't see much of it. The other three times I've planned to go have never materialised, once the conference was cancelled due to a problem with the venue, another time the airline (Duo) went bust the day I was supposed to fly and this time a family illness has meant that it wasn't possible for me to go. I'm not sure if I should try and go again, there's obviously a bit of a curse on the place for me. Anyway, if it stops raining, I shall spend the Bank Holiday weekend in the garden instead.

This, of course, is why travel insurance is very important, although my losses are so low (it was a £99 fare) that I won't be bothering making a claim. I get mine through my Amex Platinum card and through my bank, so I'm doubly covered, but it's always worth looking at the conditions - especially when they change. Amex in particular have recently "enhanced" theirs.

So apart from a couple of work trips, there's nothing planned until October when I'm taking a friend to İstanbul for her birthday. Hopefully, the weather will be a lot better than last time, because what I saw of the city, I loved.

On the future good news front, my return from Australia has become a five hour connection in Frankfurt, but as I have a confirmed upgrade on the Singapore-Frankfurt leg, that means five hours in the First Class Lounge or even possibly in the First Class Terminal. How terrible...

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The horns of two dilemmas

As we all know, loyalty programmes change and not always for the best. They are frequently "enhanced", also contracts changes and this isn't always for the best either.

My first dilemma is with Miles and More. There have been changes, fairly dire changes concerned both the mileage earnings from 'Z' fares (a discounted business class) and to be able to upgrade from the said fares except on Swiss. It is also noticeable that what used to be the 'D' fare is now the 'Z' fare in terms of price on some routes and that what used to be the 'Z' fare is now the unspeakable 'P' fare - a business class fare which earns sub-economy milage.

Now, regaining SEN in 2013 was going to be a doddle, however, it's now looking like a somewhat expensive proposition, but just doable as long as my gambit holds up. But the question is, is it worth it. Two e-vouchers is nice and the SEN lounges are a distinct improvement on the FTL lounges, but with no additional miles accumulation - I do begin to wonder. However, FTL has been "enhanced" as well, no doubt as a consequence of the 30 segment rule and various contract lounges are now unavailable to FTL's. Other Star Gold schemes are possible, I am fairly sure that the Aegean bargain won't last the year out and am looking at a possible hidey-hole in Turkish Airlines Miles and Smiles. Actually, I'm looking at Turkish in for some long-haul trips due to their additional services from BHX, HKG looks very attractively timed and priced and the lounge at IST is a delight. I'll probably go for requalification with LH, I'm a sucker that way.

With hotels, it's well known that I'd defect in a heartbeat if there was anywhere to go to. Despite changes to Diamond which supposedly include "suites", I am still batting on 3 very ordinary upgrades out of 14 stays this year and have had to accept a downgrade on booked room once. However, it seems we have done a deal at work with Accor, I have been assured this doesn't mean Ibis, but it is still disturbing as the Accor programme is about the worst in the business. I suspect this means 2013 is burn-baby-burn time as I have nearly a million Hilton points to deal with. 

Anyway, I'm off to BCN at the bank holiday. I may or may not do a report depending on how I feel about it at the time.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Trip Report 12: Part 2 WAW-FRA-BHX LH Y

The return should have been more relaxing than it was, but it was still better than the outbound. A taxi took me swiftly to WAW in lovely sunshine and then I had to queue to use the self-check in machines. I went to drop my bag at the business class counter, but was thwarted by a young lady who felt that because I was in Economic Class I couldn't despite flashing my shiny card. So I had to wait for a couple of people in front of me, which isn't a big deal. Had there been a big queue for bag drop, I might have made an issue of it.

Security, however, did direct me to the business class queue, which had no-one in it and so I was very swiftly through that. I then went to do spend some złoty I had left over. 800 fags and a small mountain of chocolate later and I still had some left, but I suspect I'll probably return to Poland at some point, so I kept them. I then went in search of a lounge, LH tries to direct its passengers to somewhere down by its gates, but as I had loads of time and as it wasn't that far, I went to the LOT lounge.

The "Polonez" lounge operated by LOT is quite nice, comfy chairs, cold beers and a selection of food. I took an early lunch in here with a cold bottle of Lech and then wandered out about 10 minutes before boarding to get a smoke before getting on the A320 to my favourite airport.

Boarding was a few minutes late and the strangeness that is Senator Blocking struck again. I was in 8C, no one in 8A but someone had been allowed to take 8B. Luckily, when the doors shut, he moved over to 8A. We pushed back on time and then we sat there. After about half an hour, there was one short announcement in very abrupt German which basically said, we will be taking off in a small number of minutes. No attempt was made to render this into Polish or English.

However, we were fairly quickly in the air after that and I think we did a direct routing to Frankfurt at top speed as we did arrive in FRA only 5 minutes late. It was the normal service, with a pot of pasta salad being the offering, I rejected it and stuck to coffee and water. Sadly, arrival was on the new runaway which is closer to Groß-Gerau than FRA, but I still had plenty of time. We had also lost our gate position and had to be bussed, but as the gate position was A40 and the A Schengen bus gates are much closer to the Tunnel of Hate than A40 and as they did the buses properly this time, that may actually have been a win.

It took about 15 minutes to get from A-Schengen bus gates to the B Non-Schengen Senator lounge. The Tunnel of Hate was fairly busy with people who were rushing to make flights. Not that this stopped a couple of late teenage girls from sitting down on the travelator blocking it. There also had to be a bit of queue selection at the border. Every now and again, I hear people moan about the queues at B Non-Schengen immigration and I sit there and think of the 70 or so times I've been through it and not had any problem. I suspect that some of it is because you come up from the Tunnel of Hate and see three or four queues in front of you and join them and not realise that a bit further along there are another group of kiosks.

Anyway, to the SEN lounge, where I quickly check the FIDS (there's a 20 minute delay on the BHX), use the washrooms and have a cigarette in the smoking room before investigating the offerings. They are a bit sparse really, but there are fish fingers, there is Bavarian potato salad and there is Coke Light, so I'm happy. Whilst most of the lounge is attractively decorated and with comfy chairs, the area by the buffet is a bit DDR-canteen territory.

Anyway, I make full use of my additional 20mins before wandering off for boarding, it is, of course a bus gate and I perhaps came a little early as there is still a bit of a queue. Anyway, we are fairly quickly onto the bus, but have a bit of a delay in taking off. I am slightly wary as whilst the seat next to me is blocked, I do have a small child with mum in the window seat. I'm also slightly worried because the BD crew look really pretty miserable. Both fears can are allayed. Mum has enough treats, toys and drinks to keep the small child fairly happy, he's not perfect but he's not disruptive and whilst the overall demeanour of the crew doesn't change, the service is fine. I pass on the "pizza wrap" and just have coffee and water whilst getting through some more Law and Order: SVU. 

We eventually land 25 late at BHX, no queue at the UK Border and about a 15 minute wait for the shiny case, the taxi takes about 25 minutes to get home where I am greeted by a shouty feline who has been left alone for the afternoon. 

Next really reportable trip is BCN at the end of August, although I have a couple of dull-ish flights before then.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Warsaw and Hilton Warsaw

This was, to be honest, a bit of a mattress run. At the time it was booked, I was looking a bit marginal for Diamond re-qualification and it had some very attractive prices. In fact, very attractive prices were very much a feature of this weekend. 

Hotel arrival was, errm, standard. I got the room I booked, not even the teensiest hintette of an upgrade and a slightly robotic, "your Diamond status is on file". The room was rather nice with a separate shower cubicle in the well-appointed bathroom and a huge picture window which unfortunately looked out on an unprepossessing selection of Plattenbau interspaced with Chruschtschowka with a few high rise towers and what looked like an echt Palace of Culture. I noted the lack of a welcome letter and welcome amenity and after unpacking and showering went to the lounge for a cold beer and a bit of a planning session.

I designed a 3-4 hour walk, probably culminating in an evening meal and merrily got on my way. At least as far as the front of the hotel where I came a cropper as I failed to spot a small drop in the terrain - I blame my varifocals, it's one of the things they aren't very good at. Anyway, I dusted myself off and continued on my way, albiet in a small amount of pain. I was a lot more careful to look at the pavements etc from then on, which is probably a good job because some of them outside of the centre can be pretty rough.

Anyway, I kept my walk down to about 2 hours, directly down into the Centrum into the Saxon Gardens and the Memorial Flame and then back past the Eastern Wall and the hideously ugly central station. In this area where a lot of subways, which can be quite confusing and in them are a fascinating array of little shops selling all sorts of things.

My journey back took me through some quite, umm, interesting terrain. 75% of Warsaw was destroyed in the Second World War and the remaining 25% wasn't exactly in good nick, which is why parts of the Old Town and New Town don't quite look right. Some of the areas affected in the war hadn't had much done to them and there's a bit of that SSE of the Hilton, perfectly safe, actually rather interesting, but yes, those are bullet holes in the walls. 

Anyway, after the fall, I had decided to eat in the Hotel, so after patching myself up a bit - I went to the restaurant in the Lobby. The menu was very modern, but what struck me were the prices, considering this was in a five star hotel, it was all very moderate. I spent just over 120 zł including a couple of beers. My choices were scallops with radish and rhubarb, which were very good and some encrusted rabbit with a red pepper coulis, gnocchi. olives and pointless greenery. I passed on dessert.

The next morning I had a breakfast in the lounge, it wasn't that busy at 8am. It was the usual Mitteleuropa lounge spread, except for a better cheese election than usual and that hot items were on skewers. Decent bread, good cheese, properly ripe tomatoes, poor coffee and whilst the skewers were a nice idea, the bacon and sausage ones were not very good.

I then perambulated to the north of the hotel following Elektorna and Senatorska to the Old Town. I then walked up through the Old Town to the New Town and back on the Vistula side then down along Krakowskie Przedmieście on one side and back up it on the other. It was an interesting walk, where some of the reconstruction was a bit obvious like the Barbakan but in other areas it was more cleverly done. I did notice the preponderance of ice-cream shops and oddly enough of rather more Sushi Bars than I would have expected.

At this point it was time for a spot of lunch, the first half-litre didn't touch the sides, but I took the second one more steadily and concentrated on my meal. The bread was very good and the latkes with smoked salmon were satisfying, but my piece of zander was the high light.

After this I wandered back down to Nowy Swiat and started to explore the area around there, however, the weather started to turn so I decided on a more indoor attraction and it was off by tram to the Railway Museum, which was very interesting although pretty much exclusively in Polish. It was also very near the hotel - to which I retreated afterwards as my shoes were "full of feet". A quick cool drink and slice of cake in the lounge and it was time to shower, rest a bit and then take supper in the lounge. 

It must be said that the lounge staff work very hard to keep the food running during the evenings and to keep the tables clear, there were plenty of people in there and they kept the staff busy. The lounge fodder was decent but not brilliant - two hots, some "tasting spoons" some of which were a bit odd and a cheese board.

Sunday was much of the same, up early, breakfast and then a slightly different walk planned to take in some further flung areas. There is a very good one-day ticket available for 12 złoty, but the machines are only found at the busier tram stops (and railway stations) - for the Hilton that means the one to the north of the hotel on Aleja Solidarności. Unfortunately, the machine is on the opposite side to where I wanted to go, so there was a fair bit of road crossing to do, but it being Sunday morning there was not a lot of traffic. Warsovian trams seem to come in several varieties and there is a historic tram doing tourist tours, the new ones are very nice, the older ones are, well, getting on a bit. Mine broke down :-)

Anyway, after a bit longer than I though, I ended up in a very quiet Praga, walked around that area for a while and then to the National Stadium and then caught the train one stop over the Vistula. A walk down through the parks by the west bank of the Vistula to the Belvedere area where I stopped for an ice-cream whilst listening to a Chopin piano recital in the distance. Very pleasant.

After that, it was a long walk up Embassy Row (Aleje Ujazdowskie) through Nowy Swiat to go and buy a pile of chocolates for the office and then find quite a late lunch as it was past 2pm. This lunch was somewhat unspectacular, although reasonable priced, the chanterelles were good but the pancake wasn't brilliant. The trout was fine, but the roasted vegetables were meh.

Anyway, I then did some more tourist shopping and picked up another ice-cream before heading back via the old Ghetto to the hotel. Much of this area is now low-rise Stalin-era social housing, it's not an interesting walk nor an enlightening one, the ghetto monument is under repair at the moment, but I just about got back for the last slice of cake at tea in the lounge and then proceeded to have a bit of a doze as I'd done about a seven hour walk. I didn't mean to doze, but the bed was really comfy/

Anyway, I had a quiet evening, I was going to sit in the lounge for a while, but there were two families in there with a lot of kids, luckily, it wasn't quite "using the lounge as a creche" as I have seen before, but it was sufficient to drive me back to my room after a quick glass of coke. Oh, one comment, no turndown service at weekends.

On the next morning, check-out was just fine and I was swiftly found a taxi to take me to the airport.

On reflection, I really liked Warsaw and would happily return for another look around and I enjoyed the Hilton (and I very much enjoyed its room rate) and saw only the location as a bit of a downside. It had been hyped a bit on FlyerTalk and I was thinking that it might be in that rare group of exceptional Hiltons. It's not, but it's certainly in the good group although they could work on their customer service skills a little more.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Trip Report 12: BHX-FRA-WAW LH Y

Sometimes you forget, memories fade. My last few FRA transits have mainly been Schengen-Non Schengen, which apart from the Tunnel of Hate, is the best way to do the damn place. Anyway, WAW beckoned and the only way to really do it without either a really short connect at ZRH with double Fokker fun was a double FRA. 1:15 connect on the outbound, 1:45 on the return. Easy-peasy, right, after all Minimum Connecting Time is 0:45.

Anyway, BHX, no problem, check-in showed that last-time wasn't a one-off, security was swift, polite and professional, straight to The Meriden for a bacon bloomer and a black coffee and, what's that appeared but a smoking terrace. Bless you, BHX. Boarding was better than normal, but the two lads doing it were hampered by the machine that goes beep breaking down.

Anyway, this was one of the LH flights operated by the airline formerly known as BMI under a wet lease. so I was quite looking forward to it. Firstly, BMI crews are good and usually better than FRA crews, secondly, they have decent seats not the NEK monstrosities. However, we were a bit kettle-ridden today, which meant a) more hand luggage than you can shake a pointy stick at b) slow boarding and c) people who have flown Liarair too much just grabbing any old seat. Anyway, we all got aboard and the crew carefully evicted the self-upgraders from Business Class (But they said we could sit anywhere), gate checked a couple of rather large suitcases which wouldn't fit in the bins and sorted out the squabbles of people who wanted to sit somewhere other than they had been assigned to. I refused a trade for a middle seat on the grounds that I'm not stupid and in return got evils for the rest of the journey. Please note, I will only trade for a similar or better seat. I certainly won't trade 3C for bloody 17E on a short connect at Frankfurt unless there's serious totty in 17D and 17F. No Senator blocked seat for me, but with 138 in Y, that's not surprising.

Anyway, the flight was fine. Food offered was a "Posh Wrap" - scrambled egg and tomato, I understand. I declined, I had breakfasted previously. I had just had coffee and water. Not bouncy, but miserably weather all the way. Then we get to Hell-on-Main. Remember a) I have a 1:15 connection, b) Minimum connecting time at FRA Schengen to Non-Schengen within Terminal 1 is 45 minutes. c) the UK is a clean country and I should not have to re-clear security here except that FRAport are cheapskates.

Anyway, here's a blow by blow. Note, nothing really goes wrong here, it's just that even with a connection 30 minutes above the minimum you are up against it from the start. Yes, you will make it, but you will be reduced to a sweaty, semi-psychotic mess by the end of it and no, security is not like this in DUS, MUC, CGN, NUE, HAM, DRS, LEJ or even TXL (although they can be snarky so-and-so's at TXL).

09:50 - Wheels down, somewhere near Rüsselheim
09:55 - Still taxiing
10:00 - Still taxiing, entire length of the airport it seems
10:05 - Are we taxiing to NUE?
10:07 - Phew, stopped, doors open
10:08 - Two buses, and damn them, two sets of stairs, take a punt on which one bus goes first
10:14 - Kettles milling around outside buses having an argument and not getting on. I'm handing out the evils now.
10:16 - Finally on way to B-Non-Schengen Bus Arrivals, which is, of course, at the other end of the airport
10:20 - Still on bus
10:23 - Bus doors open, duck, weave and probably shoulder barge kettles to find more kettles milling around waiting for lift and blocking the way to the escalator. Shout in four languages to get them to move out of the frigging way. Note new immigration cubicles mentioned by Newbie Runner and notice they are not open. I wonder what they are for.
10:25 - Play "select an immigration queue" - pick the right one for a change.
10:27 - Play "Transfer Security" or "in and out" - pick transfer as it's raining - PROBABLE FAIL
10:28 - Notice that Fast Track security flights mainly consist of ones that have left - FRAport fail, Notice only four out of six machines are working. Wankers.
10:32 - Get assigned to queue for machine out of the snake onto what looks like the slowest moving queue.
10:33 - Get told one item in each huge bin. Yes, kiddies, that's five bins. One that contains only my belt. Wankers.
10:34 - Work out what new stupid game they are playing and sigh deeply. Yes, You can only be allowed forward if there is a free officer of the correct gender to search you. So several mimsy-equipped travellers go ahead of me. The search officers in my section are three women and one man. Wankers.
** NOTE MCT expires here **
10:36 - Am finally allowed to go forward as the penis-enabled person is now free, for once I don't set the FRA WMD off.
10:37 - Get told off at other end of queue by officious Beamte for not having collected my bins earlier. Wankers.
10:38 - Beamte decides that she has to rescan my bins because they came out of sequence. Wankers
10:39 - Finally allowed to proceed
10:40 - Hurtle down stairs to Tunnel of Hate
10:42 - Get lift up other end of Tunnel of Hate (I'm not that stupid)
10:43 - Look at the FIDS board - WAW flight is boarding, so I will have to forgo the pleasures of the Turkey Weiners in the Senator Lounge slum at A26, leg it towards A10, stopping swiftly at cancer corner.
10:45 - Swear violently in cancer corner after working out A10 is a bloody bus gate
10:50 - Get to A10, grab a bottle of Apfelschorle from cafe and get on the bloody bus.

On boarding the A320, I noticed it looked a bit full. The overheads were full already, I heard various American voices - which is why the overheads were full. My seat opponent was French from one of the grand écoles, but she hadn't learnt enough to not pour the whole bottle of Canal No 5 over herself when flying. 

Anyway, full again, so no seat blocking. Off on time, decline drink as I've still got Apfelschorle, accept Butterbrezen - which turns me from mildly psychotic to a happy bunny in seconds because I really like Butterbrezen, laugh at Americans looking at Butterbrezen suspiciously and very, very quickly we are in Warsaw. Warsaw airport is a bit luridly coloured, but seems nicely organised enough and my bag is off within 15 minutes of landing and I'm in a properly marshalled taxi within a couple of minutes. Note Bene: there are a lot of gentlemen at WAW with official looking ID in the arrivals hall who would like to offer you a taxi. I do not recommend using their services and speaking Welsh at them usually makes them go away, go to the marshalled rank which is used by three firms with a high reputation and proper use of meters.

Oh well, only three more FRA transits this year (I hope) and one of those is of the "get off plane and get into limo" variety, I bet one of the others is A42-C13.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Hilton London Tower Bridge

No really exciting trips recently, but a quick Hilton review for you.

I just did a couple of nights at the Hilton London Tower Bridge, mainly because I'd seen a lot of good reviews on Flyertalk and secondly because the Doubletree was north of £250 a night for that weekend. The Hilton was somewhat less :-)

Firstly, the bad bit and there is only one, I was offered an upgrade to Exec Floor but declined it because it wasn't a smoking room. The hotel has 10 smoking rooms on the 4th floor, but the one they gave me was a pretty nice room - large bathroom, decent sized bedroom for London, considering it was street facing - a very quiet room and it had a large opening window. 

The good bits were a high standard of customer service - excellent recognition on greeting, follow up call to make sure the room was OK. Welcome gift (sadly with nuts, so left behind) and complementary water, check out was good as well with a real feeling that they cared about my stay.

The exec lounge was very nice, although it was absolutely rammed on the Saturday night, but the staff worked quickly and efficiently to keep everything moving. A decent continental breakfast (nice smoothies, good bread) and evening snacks were hot indian snacks, a large caesar salad (good) and a pretty decent range of drinks.

I indulged in room service on the Friday night due to a late arrival, the menu contained a number of different and interesting items, but I settled for a Club Sandwich which is one of those acid tests. It came promptly and was pretty good - I'd give it 8/10, bonus for good bacon, bonus for still runny egg, small minus for the chunky fries which were not more than OK. 

Anyway, with a good location (5 mins walk down Tooley St) from London Bridge Tube, lots of shops nearby and lots of places to eat (and 10 mins from Borough Market), I can see me returning next time I'm in London.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Trip Report 11; BHX-MUC-TXL; TXL-BHX LH Y

Well, it was supposed to be a trip with the purpose of trying out the new shiny Berlin airport, but as we all know, Berlin's new airport is a bit of an epic fail. After a week or so where communications were non-existant from Lufty, I rang up to be told that the new service would operate from Tegel. This, of course, didn't stop the seat-shifters reassigning everyone to new seats (aisle, back of the bus, quickly corrected).

It wasn't the best of starts to a trip, for some reason I had a nuit gris and so ended up at BHX on about 2 hours sleep. However, I was to have a pleasant surprise when I dropped the case off, rather than the usual low-level grunting, a pleasant young man address me by name explained why he was giving me a HOT tag for the bag and wished me a nice journey. Mildly stunned, I wandered up to security, where there was a very short queue and I was quickly through to airside. I ignored the breakfast options in favour of free coffee, I wasn't feeling hungry but I did need a fix, so it was off to the CircusAir lounge. We were called roughly on time and I wandered up to gate 54, where I was again shocked by properly done boarding with priority boarding. Has someone from CircusAir been reading the blog?

Anyway, we had a shiny new Embraer 195, I had a decent seat, it was a bit full in steerage, so I had a seat opponent. We took off 10 late, which is sort of standard for the early MUC these days, there was a service, I declined the muffin, but I did have two cups of Lufthansa's tolerable coffee, I watched some stuff on the iPad to pass the time. When we got to MUC, we spent a good few minutes going to the bus farm but it was a fairly quick bus ride in. As MUC gets it right and doesn't lie like FRA, there was no need to reclear security, so it was off to the new Smoking Room (the old Rauchenhütten have gone) and then into the Schengen SEN lounge for a proper Butterbrezel and a quick sit down.

It was an Airbus 321 to Berlin and it wasn't quite as full, so I managed to snag one of the seat pairs in front of the exit row and escaped without a seat opponent. We were actually off bang on time and the service consisted of drinks and a choccy bar. Being a bit anti-sugar at that time, I declined the choccy bar and just had some more water. The 50 minutes to Berlin went quickly, although it was unusually bouncy on the way in. I waited only a few minutes for my bag and then it was quickly outside to have a smoke and contemplate how mean I was feeling,

After lining up the benefits of a taxi to the hotel and being possibly too early to check in versus being mean and dealing with an overcrowded bus, my innate pettiness won. I also contemplated a quick stop at Die Ess Bahn for a snack, but I still wasn't feeling too hungry, so I just queued up for a ticket and got on the X9 into town. Now the X9 runs to Bahnhof Zoo, but if like me you are getting the U2, the trick is to get off at Ernst-Reuter-Platz and get on the U2 there where you might get a seat. The trick worked and I got safely to Stadtmitte.

My ploy hadn't quite worked and my room wasn't ready, but they quickly found me another one (although I never got my Diamond amenity), I made a very quick trip out for some essentials (water, fags, crisps) and then came back, closed the curtains on my partial Dom view and crashed out for a  few hours, therefore missing about the only decent weather of the weekend.

Apart from that teensy glitchette, everything about the Berlin Hilton was fine. The lounge kept me in breakfast and sometimes in either afternoon tea or evening snacks, the wifi was solid, housekeeping were good and the refurbished bathrooms with the new showers are a joy. I wandered out plenty, but the wicked weather stopped several plans, but there was a decent exploration of the area South of the Tiergarten, a trip out to the Brauhaus in Spandau, a couple of attacks of Currywurst and a couple of Fleamarkets. 

Anyway, all too soon, it was time to go. As it was once again pissing down, I decided to get a taxi to Tegel and issued some route suggestions to the driver (like no Tiergarten Tunnels, no sneaking through Westhafen) and was swiftly facing the unsmiling visage of whatever ex-Interflug staff inhabit the Lufthansa bag drop off area. Having got rid of the Rimowa and popped to the WorldShop to pick up a model 747-800 for HWMBO, it was quickly into the SEN lounge for a quick pillage involving more Currywurst, Potato Salad and some cheese washed down with a couple of glasses of Coke. The TXL SEN lounge has a smoking room, which was better than standing outside that day.

After that, it was swiftly onto an Airbus 319 for the direct flight back to Birmingham, security (which is at the gate at Tegel) was quick and friendly and it was straight onto a half-full plane for the 1:40 mins journey back. I had no seat opponent, so it was out with the iPad and and use the middle seat as the table. The food offering was in a brightly coloured Berlin themed bag, but inside lurked the dreaded rooftile sandwich, I chose the ham, it was just as nasty as I remembered it to be, also lurking inside was an apple, a tiny bear-shaped choccy and a herbal cough sweet. There were two rounds of drink service and a rather long and bouncy decent into BHX. No queue at the UK border, bag off fifth and home in 20 mins.

I have realised that the direct Berlin has new opportunities, with it's 19:20 depart from BHX and its late afternoon departure from TXL, it means it's possible to have a short weekend in Berlin at the cost of no annual leave. Having found a cheap fare and a decent weekend rate at the Hilton, I shall be trying this out in September.

Where next, WAW in about five weeks - with a double dose of FRA for changing. I'm a glutton for punishment, but there's a miles promotion involving FRA at the moment and if I am going to pull next year off I need every mile I can get.