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Posts Tagged ‘Airport’

The journey home from Chile

January 30th, 2016 No comments

Normally I consider paying extra for better seats a luxury or an unnecessary expense, with standard seating usually being adequate, but after my final flight home I think the ones I paid extra for were worth every penny. In total I paid in the region of 150 euros for an over-wing exit row from London to Madrid and front row exit row seats on the flights to/from Chile, electing to save my money and have a standard seat on the final flight from Madrid to London. Big mistake.

Never in my life have I had such uncomfortable seats and so little leg room, on any aircraft and with any airline all around the world including the North Korean state airline. The seat was uncomfortable and gave me a back ache, the head rest was too low for my height which hurt my neck and even spreading my legs as far as they could go without squashing the person next to me or tripping people over as they walked past my knees were still pressed into the seat in front of me so solidly that walking off of the plane upon arrival in London caused me a lot of pain. I am just thankful that the person in front of me didn’t even attempt to put their seat back or I could have sustained real injury. Apparently Iberia don’t think people above the size of small child travel on their aircraft.

Iberia have horrible leg room

Horrible leg room Madrid – London

Iberia ()lack of) leg room

Another photo of the painful conditions I found myself in on Iberia.

The flight itself was made worse by a large group of Uruguayan school children who, after hitting me in the face with their bags several times as they boarded, proceeded to be so loud that it gave me a headache. We also did not receive any drinks or food service for the entire flight due to severe turbulence which, although I am not affected by it usually, combined with the lack of food and drink made me feel quite sick. Neither of these problems were the fault of Iberia, but they made my uncomfortable conditions a lot worse due to the fact I couldn’t get up to stretch my legs, use the bathroom or drink any water to calm my stomach or head. Although I guess in some way at least the turbulence meant that the Uruguayan kids couldn’t run around and annoy everybody like they did during the first 30 minutes of the flight as they had to remain in their seats.

Maybe next time I will fly with a different operator, or via a different route, although if Iberia work out to be the best option again I will definitely book the extra leg room seats no matter what the cost especially for the transatlantic legs. No way could I have survived 13 hour flights in those conditions.

Luckily the rest of my journey home was much better. After breakfast we left the apartment for our journey to the airport, which went fairly smoothly. It was a short metro ride to Los Heroes, where the airport bus starts, and the next bus started boarding shortly after we arrived. It is a very efficient service, has a bus every 10 minutes during the day, and is cheap but I do wish they had more space for luggage. By the time everybody boarded the small luggage area on board looked more like a jenga tower. Hopefully they will extend the metro to the airport soon which will make the process even easier, but I had no real problems with the transfers.

Santiago de Chile

Our apartment was in the smaller building in the background

Santiago de Chile

The neighbourhood that our apartment was in

I was able to check straight in when I arrived at the airport which gave me a chance to have a quick lunch and final catch up with Steven. There aren’t that many food options at Santiago Airport, just a couple of cafes from what I saw, so while the airport seems to be very efficient don’t get here too early as you will end up frustrated.

I always like to write about issues that I encounter when I travel just so that anybody reading my blog has an idea of what to expect. I don’t generally moan or complain about anything I encounter when I travel as it is only fair to play by the rules of the countries you visit, and my return journey from Kyrgyzstan to London last year was far worse than anything I encountered returning from this trip. However, the more information you have the more you are prepared and the more you are prepared the more you will enjoy your trip as you won’t let little things get to you.

As I said though the extra leg room seats were worth every penny I paid. I had an extremely comfortable flight from Santiago to Madrid and, while I didn’t sleep for more than a few minutes, I arrived in Madrid refreshed and relaxed. I saw some interesting cloud formations and watched some good movies but other than that the flight was fairly uneventful.

Extra leg room on Iberia

Extra leg room Santiago – Madrid

Santiago Airport

Santiago Airport, waiting to depart

Cloud formations over Brasil

Cloud formations over Brasil

Arriving back in your home city from a great trip is always a low point, but having been in Latin America for 11 days I almost had a culture shock when I got back to The UK. After leaving the aircraft it was well over an hour before I saw anybody smile and in that time I heard 11 people either shouting at people or having arguments with random strangers, in most cases over the smallest of things, and there was a severe lack of eye contact compared to Chile. I guess when you live somewhere you get used to the way things work, and the attitude of the population, but this enforces what I have said several times about travel being essential to personal growth and to opening you up to new ideas / cultures. The more you travel, especially off of the beaten track or at least away from tourist hotspots, the less things tend to bother you and the less you tend to rely on things being exactly how you expect them. That is my experience anyway, I don’t know about in general.

But for now it is time for sleep. It has been an exhausting but absolutely amazing two weeks which I have enjoyed immensely, and one which has made me fall in love with another country all over again. This is only the second time I have been to Latin America but I always have such an amazing time so I know I will be back. I don’t know when, I don’t know the countries I will visit and I don’t know what format my trip will be but I will definitely be back. So many good experiences and so many good memories.

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Bienvenido a Chile

January 20th, 2016 No comments

Welcome to Chile! I have just checked into the apartment where I will be staying for the next 10 nights and it’s really close to everything. It looked a little far out on Google Maps but my friend assured me it was central and he was right – the nearest metro stop is less than 5 minutes walk away, and it’s only 10-15 minutes walk to what I would class as the centre of the city. The apartment is basic but we don’t need anything fancy just somewhere affordable, safe and central. The owner seemed nice, and she even bought us a selection of fruit as a welcome gift, but other than when she took payment we won’t see her again.

Charlie in Santiago de Chile

Charlie enjoying the view from the apartment

Santiago de Chile

Our apartment was in the smaller building in the background

This is my 3rd day in Chile and for the past few days I have been staying at my friend Steven’s house in La Granja, a residential area to the south of the city. The idea of me staying there was to see where Steven lives, meet his family, play with his cat and just relax after a long flight. Oh my what a long journey it was.

I decided to book a cheap Travelodge near Heathrow the night before my flight, even though I didn’t depart until mid-afternoon, as being a weekend I didn’t know about engineering works and also as I just wanted to relax. I’m definitely glad I chose to spend the night as there was so much engineering on that I had to take 2 trains, 3 tubes, a bus and do some walking to get there, compared to the usual 1 train and 1 tube plus a small walk, which would have been stressful on the day of the flight. I knew I would have 24 hours of travelling ahead of me the next day, including a 13.5 hour flight, so all I did at the hotel was relax in the restaurant and then watch TV.

Waking up to snow near London Heathrow

Waking up to snow on the morning of my flight to Chile via Madrid.

I woke up on the morning of my flight to be greeted with freezing temperatures and a covering of snow on the ground which, considering I had not taken any thick jackets due to travelling to South America during their summer, made me look forward to my trip even more than I already was. Transport that day was a lot smoother than the day before and I got to the airport, checked in and boarded my first flight to Madrid with ease. Upon arrival at Madrid I was transported by shuttle bus to the non-EU section of the airport ready for my flight to Chile which, luckily, was on time. There aren’t many options for food at Madrid airport from what I have seen, just a couple of cafes, fast food outlets and a Starbucks but I passed the time eating in a cafe and using the free WI-Fi in Starbucks.

Then it was time for my 13.5 hour transatlantic flight. For the whole outbound journey, and the transatlantic portion of the return leg, I have booked extra leg room seats at a cost of 150 euros total but it seems that it was worth every penny as Iberia, who I’m flying with, seem to have some of the worst leg room I have ever seen. On the way to Madrid most people had their legs pressed very firmly into the seat in front of them and there’s no way I could survive that especially not long-haul. Luckily I had this much leg room.

Exit row on Iberia

This is the leg room I received by paying for an exit row

The flight itself was very smooth, on time, the food was nice and the entertainment system was pretty good considering I had heard lots of bad reports in advance. Plus, being a night flight, having the exit row meant I was able to get up and stretch my legs whenever I wanted. Although a piece of advice – don’t pick the exit row at the front of economy on the left hand side as this is by the entrance people use to board the plane and I got knocked by bags and elbows a lot. The other side should be fine. The man next to me, I think a Chilean businessman, was kind enough to let me have the window seat for descent and landing as it was my first time in South America and I was treated to some amazing views.

Flying over The Andes

Flying over The Andes on my approach to Chile

Santiago Airport

Arriving in Santiago de Chile

Immigration, baggage claim and customs went very smoothly considering the long queues and I think I went from plane to arrivals in 30 minutes – so quick that Steven had not arrived yet. I took the opportunity to change some money and stretch my legs.

One thing you should know about Santiago airport is that there is no metro or train service to the city. They have plans to build it but it’s not there yet and so your options are taxi, private shuttle or airport bus. We took the airport bus as it’s reliable and fairly cheap, only a few thousand pesos per person. The ride into the city, to Los Heroes metro station, took around 30 minutes and from there we took the metro a few stops before taking a shared taxi to Steven’s house. The shared taxi system will be confusing for non-Chileans but it seems efficient – they travel on vaguely set routes, for a cheap fixed fee, and leave either when full of when the egg timer they have reaches the end. I think we were in the taxi for maybe 10 minutes before we arrived in La Granja.

La Granja is not an area of the city that you will ever visit as a tourist unless you have a reason as there isn’t much there. It’s a fairly residential area, I believe with houses mainly built in the past for the military, with a couple of malls but nothing for tourists. It’s also a commune which a number of guide books say to avoid but I never felt unsafe there, although granted I never went out at night. Except for a few Mormons, and the Chinese family that run a general store on the main road, there generally aren’t any non-Latinos in the area either so you will stick out like a sore thumb, unless you are Latino yourself, but this is never something that has bothered me. But as it’s an area with a certain amount of crime I didn’t take many photos.

Pancracia

Steven’s cat, called Pancracia

The two days in La Granja I spent mainly relaxing, adjusting to the time zone and heat, playing with Pancracia thr cat and eating some good home cooked food. Wow what food it was. We did a little bit of shopping and walking around seeing the area where Steven grew up but didn’t do too much as we knew that we would be doing a lot of walking around for the rest of my trip. We did travel a few stops on the metro one afternoon to visit the Mall Plaza Vespucio, where Steven used to work, to stretch our legs and have some coffee but that was about it. As I said this area isn’t really for tourist so you won’t really have a reason to visit here.

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A nightmare journey home

June 6th, 2015 No comments

After arriving back in London I think I needed the luck that I wished for in my previous post as the journey was certainly an experience. This is going to be a fairly text-filled post as I didn’t take many photos due to it being a travel day and due to the crazy fellow passengers – sorry about that.

When travelling, especially on trips like this, I plan for the unexpected. That’s why when I was told I wouldn’t need to arrive at Bishkek Airport until 2 hours before my flight I told my hotel the wrong flight time in order to arrive there 3 hours before and I’m glad I did as the first half of the return journey, from arriving at Bishkek airport until transferring in Moscow, was a nightmare.

I arrived at the airport about 3 hours 15 minutes before my flight was due to depart, as they were starting to set up ready for check-in to open, so I ate the on-the-go breakfast which my hotel provided while waiting. By the time I finished eating the check-in desk was open and I joined the queue behind maybe 4 groups, totalling around a dozen people. You would have thought that check-in would have been quick with that few people there but this was not the case. No sooner had I joined the queue but a couple of coaches of Russians arrived all at once and caused chaos. A large number of people decided to just push in because they didn’t want to queue (some used trolleys as battering rams, some picked up children and placed them in the queue so that when they got to the front and started crying the family would join them). During the time it took to get to the front more queues had formed either side of the real one so that people could just barge in. Several of the people who jumped the queue, after being checked in, then proceeded to walk back up the queue to attempt to sell mobile phone sim cards to fellow passengers. I eventually got to the check-in desk over an hour after joining the queue.

Then came the fun of passport control. After completing check-in I proceeded straight to the passport control queue and there were maybe 100-150 people in front of me in the queue. Once again I use the word queue lightly as it quickly turned into one big mass of people all pushing each other out of the way to try to get to the front quicker, which delayed things for everybody. It took so long for the queue to begin to clear that they had to keep calling passengers forward when their flight was boarding. Other than the fact people were pushing in I’m not sure why it took so long to go through passport control as both myself, and a friend I made in the queue who was on the same flight, were processed in less than a minute. We were both stamped with the incorrect exit date but were told that it was not a problem – we didn’t query the officer in case he sent us to the back of the queue.

By the time I made it through security and into the departure lounge my flight was due to board within 10 minutes, despite how early I arrived at the airport. I grabbed some snacks in the shop and then tried to find which gate my flight was due to depart from, but it was not listed on the board. I tried to find some staff members to ask but other than the shop cashier there were no staff to ask. Eventually me and the other passenger walked up and down the departure lounge until our flight appeared on the screens at one of the gates.

About 5 minutes after they started processing people for boarding an announcement was made in Russian which prompted everybody, including the gate staff and passengers who had already been processed, to start rushing to the other end of the terminal. I asked a lady near us what was happening and she told me that the announcement said the buses which were due to take us to the plane had turned up at a different gate and the drivers didn’t want to move. No I’m not kidding!

I eventually made it to my seat, after what seemed like a mission, and found out that I was sat directly behind a large, drunk, loud man whos first act after sitting down was to slam his seat back with such force that be broke it and slammed it into my knees making me jump in pain. Throughout the flight the Aeroflot staff did a brilliant job of trying to control him, and refused to serve him any alcohol, but he proceeded to open a bottle of cognac he had smuggled onto the plane and became even more annoying. He was so drunk by mid-flight that he couldn’t get out of his seat to go to the toilet so tried to call for help. Unfortunately he couldn’t focus enough to work out which was the call button so ended up making some sort of disco effect with the overhead lights of his row until he eventually pressed the correct one and was pulled out of his seat by Aleksei, a very patient flight attendant.

On the way back from the toilet he tried to get back into his seat but couldn’t work out how to so launched himself sideways, headbutted the man in the middle seat, and ended up with one leg over the arm rest and waving into the aisle. A lot of people were getting embarassed by this point, including the elderly Russian lady next to me who started shaking her head muttering various things under her breath.

Throughout the remainder of the flight he kept asking for alcohol and was continually refused. From the little Russian I understood I worked out that after being denied alcohol he just kept asking for Vodka, because apparently that isn’t alcohol, and was then denied this because on Aeroflot only Business Class are served spirits. He wasn’t happy about this so waited for the cabin crew to walk away before getting out of his seat, storming into Business Class and being chased by the cabin crew for a few minutes.

I wish I had made the above story, and the details of my bus ride to Bishkek yesterday, up but unfortunately it is all true. The general response of people who I have told the story to has been utter disbelief, and a lot of open-mouthed shock. I have a feeling that I will be telling this story for many years to come, but for some reason the entire experience didn’t get to me. I sometimes let things get to me in my day-to-day life but when travelling you have to expect crazy things like this. I must admit I wasn’t expecting so may crazy things all in one journey but whether you enjoy travelling to unusual destinations like Kyrgyzstan depends on whether you are able to handle things like this. I did keep thinking “this has to be some sort of test” to myself throughout the journey and maybe in some way it was – I now know that when travelling I can overcome some pretty crazy things!

Moscow Airport

Transiting through Moscow Airport

My transit through Moscow airport and the flight back to London were fairly uneventful. The flight, in comparison to the last one, was luxurious and I had an entire 4-seat row of a Boeing 777 to myself to be able to stretch out and watch TV in.

After arriving back at Heathrow I changed my unused US Dollars back before making my final journey back home. I already know that my next trip will be to Chile, I just don’t know when it will be yet. Either way hopefully my journey will be less eventful. Stay tuned to my blog!

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I’m on my way to Central Asia

May 22nd, 2015 No comments

Central Asia is an area that I’ve wanted to visit for a while, so I’m glad to finally be on my way.

When I travel I like to visit new places, maybe places that have a unique culture, but definitely places that I believe I’ll discover things and experience something new. That’s one of the things that appealed to me about Central Asia – the area has had influences from so many cultures over the years from Europe, the Turks and Chinese during the era of the Silk Road, to the Russians more recently. This, from what I have read, has allowed the area to develop into a melting pot of people and ideas from around the region while still maintaining its own identity.

The second reason I wanted to visit the area is because it just looks so beautiful. Several years ago I discovered a photo of a Dragoman vehicle and tents next to a beautiful lake and thought “I don’t care where this is, I want to go there one day”. I later discovered that this photo was taken in Kyrgyzstan and so when last year I discovered a sale on flights to the region, and a special offer with Dragoman, I thought I had to jump at the chance!

I’m at London Heathrow waiting for my flight now and I’m really excited about my journey ahead, although for personal reasons this will be an emotional trip. There were the usual last minute rushes to get read but I got here with plenty of time to spare in the end. My mum decided to accompany me as she had the day off so we had a meal at the airport before I went through security.

The next couple of weeks should be amazing, as long as the group are nice and relaxed, so expect lots of updates to the blog and lots of photos. Although just a reminder that all of my travel blogs, due to the locations I travel being generally away from reliable internet connections, are typed up after I get back based on notes that I make on the road.

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Hong Kong and home again

March 12th, 2014 No comments

I’ve arrived back home after a great trip. Myanmar is a country I have wanted to visit for a long time and even though I didn’t see much of the country itself as it was a sailing trip I had such a great time. I also ticked off three new places on my list – Myanmar, Thailand and Hong Kong which was great. I even found a way to get around Hong Kong not stamping passports anymore and have just glued by arrival paper into my passport as a permanent proof that I have been to the city.

Unfortunately my time in the city wasn’t as productive as I would have liked. When I woke up this morning I saw that the fog was just as thick so most of the things I had planned to do – the Victoria Peak, sailing across the harbour, enjoying the skyline etc, would all have to be abandoned. Instead I decided to just wander round and enjoy the atmosphere of the city before grabbing food at the airport.

Fog

This is the view I was greeted with this morning

This is all I could see of the city from my room due to fog

This is all I could see of the city from my room due to fog

After checking out I wandered towards Central Station via the back roads to take in the atmosphere. Even though it has been more than a decade since Hong Kong was ruled by the UK the British influence is still felt here – from the language use to the side of the road you drive on all the way to the use of double decker buses which until now I thought were a purely British thing. It’s a weird mixture of Chinese and British cultures that’s fast paced and I really liked it. The city felt like somewhere that I could wander forever and still not see anything but as I had a flight to catch that evening I had to walk with a purpose.

I spent some time sitting in Statue Square, outside the Hong Kong Parliament, watching the world go by and assessing my options as I wanted to make the most of my time in the city but most of the things I had planned to do relied on good visibility. I decided that there was one thing I couldn’t miss and that was the Star Ferry to Kowloon. I knew that I would be unable to see the skyline but my friend who has visited Hong Kong told me it’s something I had to do and so off I went.

Hong Kong

Walking around Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Walking around Hong Kong some more

Statue Square

Statue Square

Hong Kong

This was the best view I got of the skyline all day

The ferry ride was really cheap and only takes a few minutes. The boats are in good condition but have that old maritime feel to them which I liked. As we sailed across the harbour the Hong Kong skyline quickly faded into the fog and was replaced by nothing more than a grey blur by the time we arrived in Kowloon. I decided to spend some time walking around, taking in the sights, and enjoying the atmosphere for a little while before heading back to Hong Kong Island. Among the things I saw were the Museum of Art, the Space Museum, the Cultural Centre and Nathan Road which is the Hong Kong equivalent of Regent Street or Fifth Avenue – nothing but a long road flanked by high rise buildings containing brand name shops. If I had more time I might have popped into the Space Museum as that’s a topic I’m interested in but it was also school outing day so I would have shared the museum with several hundred screaming children.

Before heading back I had to have a photo taken, even though the skyline wasn’t visible, so spoke to a Canadian couple who were in the same predicament as me – they were in Hong Kong for an overnight stopover and were a bit lost on what to do because they wanted to do the same things as me. The photo came out a bit grey but I had to at least have one photo of me while in Hong Kong.

Kowloon

Walking around Kowloon

Kowloon

Walking around Kowloon some more

Me in Kowloon

This should have been a great photo if not for fog

After arriving back on Hong Kong Island I decided to check out another unique Hong Kong experience – the mid-level escalators. As Hong Kong is very mountainous most of the commuters live in apartments built high up on the hills. This leaves a predicament about how to get to and from work and the Hong Kong authorities decided that a kilometre long series of escalators would be the key. During the morning rush hour the escalators go downhill to bring people to work but for the rest of the day they travel uphill. I decided to ride them all the way from the bottom to the top to take in some more sights and to see a more residential side of Hong Kong.

As I rode up the escalators the buildings changed from glitzy Dior shops to smaller shops and bars, then to office buildings and finally to run-down apartment buildings where the locals live. There isn’t much to see up there so I wandered around for a bit taking photos before heading through the botanical gardens and back towards the city.

Trams

Trams are regularly seen in Hong Kong

Escalators

Riding the mid-level escalators

Hong Kong

A more residential area of Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Walking back to catch the Airport Express

By this time I had run out of things I could do when time pressured in Hong Kong on a day with low visibility so decided to head back to the airport for some food. I made my way back to Hong Kong station and not long afterwards I was being whisked at high speed towards the airport on the Airport Express train. Why we can’t have something as efficient as that in London I don’t know.

Airport Express

Travelling back on tha Airport Express

I bought a few souvenirs and had dinner at Pizza Express before walking around the terminal to stretch my legs and get the blood flowing before my flight. I doubted that I would be lucky enough to have a row to myself on the way back again and I was right – I was next to an elderly Chinese couple who couldn’t work their interactive TV and kept interrupting me while I was watching my movie to ask for help. I didn’t mind just it happened far too often but I wasn’t planning on sleeping anyway and wanted to watch movies all night to get my body back into the correct time zone again.

The flight was uneventful and quick and we arrived back in London on schedule early this evening. I’m now back in my room and thoroughly exhausted but I couldn’t be happier that this trip went well considering the problems I had before departure. In my usual fashion this blog is written in note form so will take some time before it’s typed up online but when it’s finally online I hope you find it informative and that it helps you make a decision about whether a trip like this is right for you.

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From Thailand to Hong Kong

March 11th, 2014 No comments

I’ve arrived in Hong Kong and even though I’ve been here less than an hour I’m already impressed with the city. Everything just seems to work so fast and efficient compared to other places I’ve been in Asia and it’s a whole world away from Thailand where I started the day.

As my flight from Phuket to Hong Kong wasn’t until this evening I decided to have another day of exploring so after breakfast on the roof terrace I was straight out into the city to do some more exploring. I decided I was going to start the day at Monkey Hill which is just north of my hotel and is a hill overlooking the city which is home to hordes of monkeys. I thought this could be an interesting experience but the main reason I wanted to go here was to see the view due to the disappointment on Rang Hill yesterday. Unfortunately there was more disappointment as I just couldn’t find the entrance to the road leading up to the hill no matter how hard I tried looking online and at maps. Maybe the view from the hotel is the best one I will get of Phuket Town.

I decided not to let this spoil the day and decided to divert back towards the city centre to check out some more sights. My first port of call was the Chinpracha House which is the last remaining colonial mansion in Phuket that is open to the public. I passed it yesterday while walking towards Rang Hill and the guide book said it was worth a visit if you’re in the area. I would agree with that description as it was worth seeing but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit again. It was nice to see a mansion set up how it was back in the colonial era but other than few rooms with a pond and a lot of china there wasn’t much to see, although it was cheap to visit so I can’t really complain.

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Lunch Time

This is where I had lunch both days

As the Chinpracha House was just down the road from the great little cafe I had lunch at yesterday I decided to head there again for another great meal. I had the same as last time, stewed pork on a bed of leaves with various sides such as hot sauce and soup, but I really liked it so didn’t see the need to change.

There wasn’t much time left by this point so I decided to head back the hotel, via the memorial gardens to the Queen of Thailand and a few temples, to catch up on my reading before heading to the airport in my prebooked taxi. When I arrived I was told that even though I was an hour early there was a taxi available and so I decided to head to the airport straight away to allow for holdups, after changing into my travelling clothes. I could have delayed until my prebooked time and visited one of the other museums in the area or grabbed a coffee but decided there wasn’t much point and I would. rather just get there.

A park

The park dedicated to the Queen of Thailand

The park again

The park again

Phuket Town

Outside my hotel in Phuket Town

The journey to the airport was quick and I arrived an hour before check-in opened so relaxed outside reading a book and watching the world go by before checking in. The check-in process was fairly slow but the people themselves couldn’t be more helpful. As I’m only spending tonight in Hong Kong I asked if there would be a way to check my bags all the way through to maximise the time I had to look around and they were able to do this for me which was great. This way there was no waiting for luggage when I arrived in Hong Kong and no worrying about checking in on the way back as I’m checked all the way through.

The flight was on time and uneventful and I arrived in Hong Kong at 11pm which meant there was hardly anybody around. This was good with me as I wanted to get an early night and then rise early tomorrow in time to explore. The arrivals process in Hong Kong was very quick, due to the fact that they now issue slips of paper rather than stamps in the passport, and I was soon through to the Airport Express train which whisked me into the city in 20 minutes. From here I grabbed a taxi at a rank which was run with military precision and was soon at my hotel for the night, the Island Pacific Hotel. In total I landed less than an hour ago so I can’t believe I’m at the hotel already.

I decided to stay at this hotel as it is right on the waterfront and offers rooms on a high floor with a great view of the harbour. I thought this was perfect so upgraded to one of the expensive harbour view rooms on a high floor. However when I arrived I saw that the city was shrouded in thick fog so I couldn’t see a thing except the buildings next to the hotel and the ground below. Hopefully it’ll clear up by tomorrow so that I can make the most of my time in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Hotel

My room in Hong Kong

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Welcome to Kiev

June 17th, 2013 No comments

I’ve made it to Kiev, and am loving the temperature so far. It’s been a long and exhausting couple of days even though I haven’t really done anything but I’m relaxing in my room at the Rus Hotel right now and think I’m going to sleep well tonight.

The journey started yesterday as I needed to be at Gatwick Airport in the morning for my flight so decided to get a hotel room in Croydon last night. Not much to report yesterday as I mainly just chilled in my room and explored the shops but it meant a lot less rushing today which I always recommend before travelling (most of my travelling is rushed enough as it is).

I was awake early this morning so decided to make my way to the airport ahead of check in. No sign of the check in desks when I arrived so I grabbed a seat overlooking the check in area and after maybe half an hour they opened up some desks for my airline, Ukraine International Airlines. During my time waiting I saw two people with luggage tags for Regent Holidays a bit further ahead of me in the queue – too far ahead to say hi but it was useful to be able to eyeball some people I’d need to look for upon arriving in Kiev.

Until today I hadn’t been to Gatwick in several years and they’ve made some real improvements. I’m not a fan of e-border gates but the boarding card gates they have made to replace person contact were VERY quick and, except for groups of old people, should help reduce queues. They’ve also spent a lot of money improving the security area and it was very fast and efficient. The only bad change to Gatwick is that the viewing platform has been turned into a Frankie and Benny’s Restaurant so now the only way to see out of the terminal is to pay for food. However I was hungry so I had a quick breakfast before making my way to the plane.

The view of Gatwick Airport while having breakfast

The view of Gatwick Airport while having breakfast

Boarding was late, and chaotic, with nobody listening to the announcements about boarding by rows so I decided to just wait back until the queue had gone before boarding as I had been given an aisle seat anyway. The chaos, plus a few other things, resulted in being an hour late leaving but we managed to catch some of this up in the air. Ukraine International seems an ok airline – nothing special but acceptable compared to some I have used. The leg room was acceptable although it was cramped when people put their seat back. The food was ok – it at least tasted like food!

The chaos of the day continued when we arrived in Kiev. All desks in passport control were open but 90% of them were for Ukraine Passport Holders only with just 2 or 3 for foreign passport holders. I chose the nearest one, which was next to the crew passport desk, but when the officer at that desk went on a break he closed his desk and they changed the foreign passport holder desk in front of me to crew without clearing the queue. By this time the queue at the other desks were huge and there was only one more person in front of me so we decided to wait and jump in at the gaps – this took 20 minutes but was still quicker than joining the other queues. My advice – don’t pick a queue anywhere near the crew passport queue.

I thought by this time I would have been the last person to meet with our guide but the bags hadn’t even started arriving yet. When they did, approximately 10 minutes later, my bag was the 4th to arrive which never happens. It also meant that after all of the chaos at passport control I was the first person to meet my guide. Ironically the people who I eyeballed in the queue at Gatwick were the last to arrive… by a long time!

The journey to Kiev took about 30 minutes and was mainly through forested areas until we reached the city itself. During the ride our guide told us about the history of Kiev and informed us about the itinerary for the trip. She will be our guide for tomorrow when we have a city tour but turns out we will have another guide for the 2 days to Chernobyl and Pripyat.

Hotel Rus

My room at the Rus Hotel in Kiev

The Rus Hotel seems really nice, and my room is overlooking the Olympic Stadium which is a great view. According to a member of our group it has gone upmarket a lot since he was last here – there’s a shop, the restaurant serves actual food, there’s a 24/7 bureau de change and at night there are no longer ladies of the night patrolling the hallways. After checking in we freshened up in our room for a bit before meeting in the bad downstairs. It was too late for most meals but they allowed us to have pizza which was actually really nice, when it arrived.

Four Cheese Pizza

My Four Cheese pizza at Hotel Rus

A long day ahead tomorrow so I’ll be off to bed now.

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We’ve arrived in Amsterdam

April 12th, 2012 No comments

I’ve made it to Amsterdam and have found it to be a colourful and diverse city so far. Tomorrow is the day I see Nightwish but first about my journey here.

Yesterday I made my way up to the Travelodge in Luton where I checked in and chilled for a bit while waiting for my friends who were joining me from another direction. After they arrived we chatted for a bit about the arrangements for the weekend before finding a local pub for dinner. It was quite a nice pub and I had a great steak and chicken combo. After dinner we made it back to the hotel for an early night ready for our early flight to Amsterdam this morning.

Today we made our way to the airport car park before making our transfer to the airport. There isn’t much to do at Luton Airport other than wait for your flight so there’s not much to report except we were glad when it was time for our flight. We flew with Easyjet so there was the usual panic for seats but we left on time and we were soon on our way to Amsterdam.

After arriving we made our way to the airport station and travelled into the city by train. The journey was quick so we arrived in the city too early to be able to check into the hotel and decided to have lunch instead. We found a fast food outlet just around the corner from the hotel that had free wi-fi so we chilled there for a while. The food was nice but a piece of advice for anybody who, like me, really dislikes mayonnaise – they put it on everything whether you want it or not so stay away from fast food outlets and stick with supermarkets or nicer restaurants.

Hotel toilet

The hotel toilet room was a little hard to turn around in!

We checked in and made our way straight into the city centre to look around. One of the first places we stopped was Dam Square which is the main meeting point in Amsterdam and seems to be the hub of activity like the South Bank in London. Like the South Bank they also had people dressed up in costumes like Ghostface and Darth Vader who, for a small fee, would pose for photos with you. I decided to take on Ghostface but became his next victim.

Walking around Amsterdam

Walking around Amsterdam

Ghostface got me!

I became the next Ghostface victim!

Walking around Amsterdam

Walking around Amsterdam

Canals in Amsterdam

One of the many canals of Amsterdam

My friends were feeling sleepy so chilled back in the hotel for a bit with food from the local supermarket while I wandered around the city checking out some more sights including the Anne Frank House, The Homomonument, several churches and many, many canals. The Homomonument was an especially moving sight as it’s a memorial made up of three pink triangles within a larger triangle which commemorates the LGBT victims of the Second World War.

 

The Amsterdam LGBT district

The Amsterdam LGBT district

Homomonument

One of the three pink triangles of the Homomonument

The Homomonument

The land part of the Homomonument

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House

The entrance to Anne Frank's House

Me at Anne Frank’s House

After getting back to the hotel I saw my friend was making a skype call to the orphanage in Uganda where she volunteered for a few months (I visited during my last trip abroad) so I joined in the conversation to say hi. It was great to see how the kids were getting on a catch up about Uganda related things. However an early night is needed tonight, however, ready for a long day of queuing outside the Heineken Music Hall to see Nightwish so I’ll be signing off for now.

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Helsinki Day 4 – Returning Home

September 20th, 2009 No comments

Today was only really taken up with getting home. We had a lazy start to the day, showered, packed etc then walked slowly to the bus station via the market square again for some last minute photos. The bus to the airport doesn’t accept tourist cards so we had to pay for another ticket but it was only 4 euros and got us to the airport in about 35 minutes.

George, Anna and a Tortoise

George, Anna and a Tortoise

Helsinki Market Square

Helsinki Market Square

Walking to the bus station

Walking to the bus station

We got to the airport about 30 minutes before check-in opened so just took things easy then joined the queue early enough that we would be in the first boarding group. Helsinki isn’t set up for online check-in, which is given priority boarding with Easyjet, so we had to check in at the airport and get there early to be able to get on the plane first to get a good seat.

Helsinki Central Station where we caught the bus to the Airport

Helsinki Central Station where we caught the bus to the Airport

There are plenty of shops and cafes in the airport so, after going through security and getting a strange look from the guard for having a bag of confetti from the Nightwish gig, we bought last-minute souvenirs before just sitting down and relaxing over a coffee.

We went through to the departure gates and relaxed for a bit longer before being called to our exact gate. When we got there we saw probably about 20 other people who had been to the gig – either because they were wearing Nightwish shirts or other random metal band shirts. On the bus to the plane we talked to some of them and decided it probably would have been easier to just charter a plane to and from Helsinki – there probably would have been enough people from the UK going.

I’ve had enough experience with Easyjet and have a good system worked out for getting a good seat which I won’t go into here otherwise you’ll all know it, but we managed to get the exit rows again on the way back which was great – I can’t fit in the seats without this extra bit of leg room.

Flying home

Flying home

The flight was uneventful, although we saw views this time, and we arrived back at Gatwick on time, where we split up and went through three different passport queues. Anna had one of the new passports so went through the automated booth, George has an old passport so went into the longer queue and I’m signed up for the iris recognition system so went to that booth – for which I was the only person in the queue so got straight through.

Anna got on the bus back to Oxford and we went back to the car park for an easy drive back to Kent. Overall I had a great time and would consider Helsinki again – and will definitely go to see Nightwish next time they play Hartwall Areena, although that isn’t likely to be until 2013 now!!

I found the way to Amarillo

I found the way to Amarillo

This deserves posting!!

This deserves posting!! George didn't notice I took it!!

There isn’t as much to do in Helsinki as there are in other major cities but it is possible to stay here for a few days to see all of the sights, or use it as a base to see other things in the local area, or even go to Tallinn in Estonia for the day. The Eurohostel was a nice, cheap, alternative to staying in the expensive hotels for which Scandinavia is well known. It has private rooms with shared facilities which, although basic and not soundproofed, are good enough if you just want somewhere to sleep before exploring the city.

Oh and did I mention they sell Mountain Dew in Helsinki? Here I am celebrating the fact I found some without having to travel to Uganda or the USA….

Me and some Mountain Dew

Me and some Mountain Dew

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Back from Australia

June 28th, 2007 No comments

I made it back to the UK but I had a really great time in Australia and I miss it already. Overall the people were great and I saw and did so many great things. The same with Singapore and although it was rather hot it was a really nice place.

On my last day in Sydney I left the hotel early to take some last minute photos before my 9am tour of the Sydney Opera House. I walked down past BridgeClimb to the area near the observatory, then down to Circular Quay to take some photos before collecting my ticket for the Opera House tour and leaving my bag in their baggage drop. This was perfect timing as there wasn’t much else I could do in the few hours I had spare and if I booked online in advance for an early tour it was less than half price!

Opera House

Opera House

The tour showed us all around the public areas of the Opera House including the lobbies, lookouts and concert halls. For copyright reasons we weren’t able to take photos inside the concert halls but were able to in the other public areas. Our guide, Troy, told us about the history of the building as well as the construction and also telling us who has played there. Something I was surprised at was Foo Fighters recently played a concert here – I guess I just didn’t associate it with anything other than Opera.

Opera House

Opera House

Opera House

Opera House

Me and the Opera House

Me and the Opera House

After the tour it was back to the hotel for a last minute freshen-up before checking out, leaving my bags with reception and going out for some more last minute photos. I went up the glass elevator to the walkway behind circular quay and there were some fantastic views and I don’t know why no guide books recommend it – if it wasn’t for the BridgeClimb guide I would never have known about it. After coming down I spent the last of my money on a CD of an Aboriginal musician that was playing along the quayside. Apparently he’s the one in all the adverts for Australia playing didgeridoo on top of the Harbour Bridge and was also the Aborigine that came out of the desert in that Priscilla Queen of the Desert movie. Random – but I shall have to watch it some time.

Circular Quay

Circular Quay

Musicians

Musicians

I went back to the hotel and collected my bags from the hotel (the woman that brought them was really short and thin I thought it was going to break her back) before waiting for my minibus to the Airport. I almost missed it as he parked on the other side of the road and down a bit so the scaffolding around the hotel was blocking my view but luckily I noticed him in time.

My flight was on time which was just as well as it would take me 23 hours to get back to the UK including the stopover in Thailand. We were there two hours and although we never left the airport I still class myself as having been there as we touched down on their soil. We had to go out into the departure lounge, come back through security and then re-board the plane. There was this woman from the UK that asked a cleaner where the flight to London was. He didn’t speak English so she said “Plane… London… where” loudly as if he would suddenly understand and it’s no wonder British people have a bad reputation.

Bangkok Airport

Bangkok Airport

Apparently I have lost weight these past couple of weeks too – my trousers almost fell down after taking my belt off to go through security but I guess that’s a good thing.

The rest of the flight was smooth too, except we had to rush to make our window over Afghanistan but we made it back to the UK on time where I met my Dad in Starbucks for a coffee before returning home. I was glad of the Starbucks after that flight. I had a few before I left the UK too as I didn’t think I’d see any more – but my hotel in Sydney was opposite one so I had some then.

I had a great time, and hope to return to this part of the world again soon.

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