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.