Trains do not run on time, but on electricity so this year we decided to have a look at Berlin, Prague, Budapest and Vienna all by train.
Our overall plan was as usual to fly Malaysian Airlines in to Kuala Lumpur, over night for the morning flight to Colombo to pick up the Qatar Airways flight to Frankfurt. As I explained last year I think Colombo, in Sri Lanka, is the cheapest origin to buy a business class ticket for the long haul to Europe. The pleasure of flying Qatar Airways last year caused us to do the same again this year. Colombo to Frankfurt this year was cheaper than Colombo to Paris last year, and Frankfurt was our desired European gateway! Can’t help bad luck.
We left Sydney on the MH 122, which departed at 1.50 pm, a lot earlier than the flight we have used on other holidays. This was due to it being our winter and we normally travel in our summer months, which means our clocks have gone forward an hour.
Regardless of our clock time we always seem to arrive around 8.00 to 8.30 pm in Kuala Lumpur because they do not have ‘summer time’.
When I book hotels I always e-mail the hotel a day or so before leaving home as a gentle reminder that my wife & I, and our friends, will be arriving as planned. We’d booked the Youniq Hotel, which is a new hotel close to KLIA, so we thought we’d risk a night.
Front views of the hotel
The hotel was different, but it was clean and it was fine for our single night, plus I couldn’t fault the price, which included tea or coffee and toast in the morning. We were booked on the 11.10 am flight to Colombo, so missing a decent breakfast at the hotel was not as problem, the tea and toast was adequate before we left the hotel at 8.30 am to be at the airport for the two hour pre-flight check-in.
Our flight arrival time was just after 8.00 pm. and we were at the meeting place to meet the hotel driver at 8.50 pm. The hotel had e-mailed that the driver would meet us ate 9.10 pm. By 9.30 pm he still hadn’t arrived, so I phoned the hotel only to be told that the driver was at the meeting place at 9.00 pm – I was not a happy chappy! When I asked the hotel receptionist what he was going to do about the failed pick-up I was told that the next airport run was at 11.00 pm! I then asked the cost of a taxi, and was he happy to pay this cost. Of course he wasn’t, and told me that a taxi would be RM50. The agreed price of the hotel pick up was RM 20, in addition the normal taxi would not be big enough for four adults and our large suitcases and hand baggage. Two taxis would be required, which meant the cost had jumped to RM 100 all because the driver wouldn’t or couldn’t be bothered to make another run. The hotel rep told me that we would have to pay for the two taxis, of course I wasn’t having a bar of this and we had ‘words’. I was put on hold for a few minutes and when he eventually came back to the phone it was agreed that the driver would do an extra run and would I please wait 20 minutes. I agreed, but stressed that I would not wait until the 11.00 pm run. It was exactly 20 minutes later when the driver and a male receptionist arrived and to whisk us back to the hotel.
Not to be too negative; the hotel rooms were large enough for an overnight stay. The only problem was that the shower had half a glass wall, which was a slight problem as the floor around the toilet was flooded even though we had a small towel on the floor to soak up the excess water that escaped from the shower. On the other hand the price was cheap enough to put all but the failed airport pick up, in to the shade.
We arrived in Colombo on time at Noon, thanks to the time change after a three-hour twenty-minute flight – we few back in time by two and a half hours.
We stayed at the same hotel as last year – The Paradise Beach Hotel – they have an efficient airport pick up service, friendly staff, and we were there for just the one night so as to be able to catch the Qatar Airways morning flight to Doha. Last year we had lunch at the hotel and we really enjoyed the food, which was tasty and well presented. What a change from this year. We decided to have our evening meal in the hotel, rather than going out. I ordered a chicken curry and asked if it had any bones in the chicken and was told that the curry didn’t have any bones, so I looked forward to the meal, because I enjoy Sri Lanka curries. It was a big disappointment, and it was the worst meal I’d had for many a month. Each of the four pieces of chicken had bones, and the ‘curry’ was very mild, although I had asked for a real Sri Lanka curry. In addition to the bones, each piece was burned black or should I say cremated and was ‘crispy’. I did complain to the waiter, but I think there was a language barrier, because a few minutes later another waiter appeared and offered us various pieces of the ‘charcoaled’ chicken. We thanked him and refused his kind offer.
On checking out the receptionist undercharged me by Sri Lanka rupees 8000, and he managed to cross the bills from my room to our friend’s room. This was not a problem because my friend and I soon sorted the money out between us, and I had to run my credit card through the system again to pay for the missing 8000 rupees. Perhaps checking out of this hotel at 5.30 am is not such a bright idea after all. We checked out early because last year the security system at the airport was an absolute madhouse. It took ages to get through security before we got anywhere near the check-in counter. As it happens they have sorted themselves out and on arrival at the airport they had a new system that only allowed people in to the check-in area two, to two and a half hours, before take off. The security system had been tightened and was far more efficient than last year.
Check-in was a dream and we were invited to the business calls lounge, which was the same lounge as last year. The lounge is pleasant and the food was hot, both in heat and in spice. They also have various cheeses and cereals so they have tried to please all nationalities. The only problem this year was that the coffee-making machine was broken. Fortunately Sri Lanka is famous for their teas.
The flight from Colombo to Doha was uneventful except for the lack of entertainment. The aircraft was an AB321 series, I think, and it did not have in seat screens. I asked for a portable DVD player and was told that the player wouldn’t work for some reason.
Our transit time at Doha was as smooth as last year.
The aircraft between Doha and Frankfurt this year was the new B 787 – what an aircraft for passengers. The trip was so good that this aircraft, and Qatar Airways business class seats would influence me if or when I decide to fly business class again. The pod like seat has plenty of storage space, from a locker for your shoes, to dedicated shelving to place your computer. As you see I didn’t use the locker, but placed my shoes on the tray under the TV screen. The armrest next to the aisle, on my left, has dropped down to allow me to exit my seat without a hindrance. The previous picture shows that the armrest in the upper position. Small details like this make the experience so pleasurable. In addition to the seating we received the faultless service from Qatar Airways cabin staff.
Larger than normal aircraft windows bring the outside in dramatically
Arrival at Frankfurt and passing through customs and immigration was a dream. We had a slight delay while we waited for our bags, but overall it couldn’t have been any longer than half an hour from plane to outside pavement – unlike the queues at Sydney airport, just to get your passport stamped.
A free phone call to the Mercure Hotel let us know that we would have to wait about 15 minutes for the free shuttle from the airport to the hotel. The bus arrived on time and the driver was pleasant and helpful when he loaded our bags in the luggage compartment. Check in was efficient, and the two staff members at reception were very pleasant. I booked a large taxi for the following morning to take us to the main train station in the city to catch the train to Berlin. We could have boarded a train at the airport station, but this would have required a change of trains at the main Frankfurt station, so we decided to use a taxi from the hotel to the station, which meant that we only handled our bags on / off a train once.
The female staff member who made the booking asked the taxi company for a minibus due to us being a party of four with four suitcases and hand baggage. I was told that the price would be around Euro 30.00 to 35.00, which was fine with me.
The following morning after we had loaded our bags and ourselves in to a small minibus (more like a large people mover than a minibus) we set off for the city railways station. A few hundred yards in to the journey the driver asked us to confirm the destination and the price that we had been quoted. When we mentioned the Euro 30 to 35 Euros he stopped the car and told us that the price would be Euro70 to the city, and that the Euro 30 was the rate to the airport. There was no way we could change our plans so agreed to the Euro 70 because we had already purchased our rail tickets for journey to Berlin.
The trip at that time of the day, being a Saturday, had us in the city within 25 minutes. I think the driver had a hint of a conscience as he started to point out places of interest during the journey, but he didn’t lower his price.
I don’t know where the error occurred as the hotel staff receptionist who made the booking kept me informed of each stage of the booking, and I heard her ask about the price, at my request, and I understood enough to grasp that the error was not her fault.
As an update on this, when we returned to the Mercure hotel area at Frankfurt the airport, (Ibis Hotel) four weeks later, the cost of a large taxi from the railway station to the Ibis hotel, which is around the corner from the Mercure Hotel, was Euro 36.00 (which included a tip) Perhaps the Mercure Hotel should change their taxi supplier, because not all of their guests will be able to listen to the booking conversation with the taxi company. It left a bad taste, but I do not blame the Mercure Hotel, but their supplier.
As for the Mercure Hotel, it was clean, the staff was friendly, the breakfast was expensive, but our plans did not allow us to eat anywhere else, and the night cap (a glass of wine the previous evening) was very expensive for 100 mls.
Frankfurt to Berlin
Our ICE train to Berlin arriving at the platform in Frankfurt
The one thing that you can say about the German rail system is that it is efficient. The four-hour trip was a pleasure. We had booked first class seats around our own table. We were not cramped, and we were offered drinks and meal service at the table. The small additional cost of first class was worth the money.
We’d experienced the Pullman group of hotels in Asia so we decided to book the Berlin Pullman for four nights. By paying well in advance we were offered a good discount, plus the Australian dollar was much higher at the time of booking than when we arrived – another saving.
The staff members that we met were very polite and helpful. The room size, for Europe, was good and everything worked as expected. Plenty of space in the bathroom and the shower was hot and powerful. Breakfast was good with a wide range of different food – do try the red and blackberry mix. View from the bedroom was across the zoo area – didn’t see any animals, but the greenery was pleasant. The hotel is a short walk to the subway, and to a wide range of restaurants and shopping area. This is a hotel that we would stay at again if or when we next visit Berlin.
View from our bedroom window – and the room was a good size
We had four nights in Berlin and managed to cover quite a lot of sight seeing. We wanted to do a city walking tour, so we contacted Insider Tours of Berlin.
City walk – Insider tours.
We met Brian, our guide, at the Zoo subway station (about a five minute walk from the hotel) and because there were four of us he suggested the cheapest way of train travel around Berlin. The ticket allowed five people to travel as a group. This discounted ticket was cheaper than the 24/48 or 72 hour tickets. Our ticket allowed us to roam the city up to 2.00 am the following morning. The cost was 15.50 Euros for five adults (although we were only four). The cost per person was cheaper than a day ticket in Sydney, Australia, our hometown.
Brian is Canadian, and he is the artistic director of the Edmonton Opera. His speaking skills allowed him to communicate his passion & love for Berlin as he showed us the old and the new of this great city. The tour was set for four hours so we thought we’d have plenty of time for our booked tour at the Bundestag (Reichstag) for 3.00 pm. Brian’s enthusiasm, with his hidden tales of Berlin extended the tour so much that we were forced to leave just before the end. We had an appointment, which we had booked before leaving Sydney, to see the Bundestag, and it couldn’t be altered.
Fortunately we used the same company two days later (Sachenhausen concentration camp) where we met Brian again (at the common meeting place for all walks), so we were able ask the ending of one of his stories about the Berlin Wall. The walk and the information gained were well worth the price of Euro 12.00. There is so much history . . .you can feel it . .from Frederick the Great, through to Hitler and the Cold War.
We were told that beneath us, was the remains of Hitler’s bunker,
Across the road is the memorial to the murdered Jews.
Perhaps it is because we eat a lot of Asian food at home that we found the traditional German food to be little ‘heavy’ for our taste. The servings could be too large at times – I asked for a Caesar salad, as a side dish, to go with the main course.
If I’d have known the salad was this big I’d have skipped the main course . . .
The Dome of the Bundestag was very interesting.
I was particularly interested in the computer controlled automatic shade from the sun. To help keep the building cool the sunshade follows the sun across the sky. It can be seen in this picture.
Berliners enjoying the sun.
This reminded me of summer holidays in Wales when I was a child.
We visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp on quite a hot day. After meeting the guide at the Zoo suburban station we were taken to the main Berlin station to catch the train to Oranienburg, which is the nearest station to the camp. From the railway station it is a 20-minute walk to the camp. The guide was a German tour guide, so it was interesting to hear how he explained the various facts of the camp. He was knowledgeable and overall ‘neutral’ about the history and the various details of what happened in the camp. He did not dwell on the atrocities or make any comments. At the conclusion of the tour he told us that the camp tour was the hardest tour for any tour guide, because the guides considered it disrespectful to make the normal friendly jokes to help the tourist to feel relaxed. I studied the build up to WW2 and the rise of Hitler at college; so to visit this c amp was a very moving experience for me as it brought to ‘life’ the Nazi era of the late 1930’s. If you have the time it is a ‘must see’ place just to make sure we don’t repeat history.
The sign on the gate means ‘Work makes you Free’
The small white sign below the picture on the right, states that this is the burial ground of the ashes of the victims.
The ovens – mans inhumanity to his fellows.
All to soon we had to move on to Prague – again by train, and again we booked first class seats. Only after I had paid for the tickets did I realise that the Czech rail system had a higher travelling class called Business Class! The tickets had been bought from the German rail system, but the train was a Czech train. Let’s just say that it was not as comfortable as the Frankfurt to Berlin trip.
Berlin railway station , clean and dramatic.
Berlin to Prague.
The 8.46 am train from platform one at Berlin’s mainline station was a huge change from the German rail first class service. We had four seats in a compartment that required us to use the corridor to change our minds. The six-seater compartment wouldn’t have been too bad, if there had only been the four of us. Unfortunately the remaining two seats were also occupied. With four large suitcases and our hand baggage the available space required two of our suitcases, plus one of the other occupiers suitcases to be stowed across our feet & leg area. This did not make for a comfortable five-hour ride. Every compartment was packed with holidaymakers and this was supposed to be first class. After we had left Berlin, and settled down for the journey, we moved our suitcases in to the corridor. It was then that I noticed the next compartment was the Business Class compartment, with just four seats and plenty of room. Only after the occupiers of this compartment left the train, about three quarters of the way through the journey did we spread out and take advantage of the extra space.
We stayed at the Hotel General, where all the bedrooms are dedicated to different military generals.
The reception desk at the Hotel General.
Hotel General – Prague – the building dates from 1890 – and was converted to the current hotel in 2007.
This is a hotel that is out of the tourist area, which is a positive, because the evenings were quiet and traffic was light. The hotel is first class, and all the staff go out of their way to make your stay memorable. Vicky, the receptionist who greeted us, spent time explaining how the transport system worked in Prague, and she suggested restaurants, as well as answering all our questions. Our chat time was over complimentary drinks of our choice – we had Champagne – it was a very pleasant way to be welcomed to a new city.
Breakfast was from 7.00 am, which was a buffet for the cereals and juices etc, but white gloved waiters served eggs to order and all coffee was made on request. If you want to have breakfast in your room, this would not be a problem. During breakfast, in the dining room, you could, if you wished, watch the DVD of interesting places in and around Prague.
Rooms were a good size, and were spotless, as was the en suit, which had the shower over the bath. We had plenty of room in the bathroom for stowing our personal items. I booked two double deluxe rooms, one for my wife & I and the other for our friends. Our friend’s room was not of the same standard as ours, due to the sloping ceiling, which reduced the usable space for anyone who is taller than average. A small point, but a point tall people should be aware – unless the ambiance of a sloping ceiling is an attraction. This is my only negative comment, as I would stay there again when visiting Prague, but I would ask for a particular room.
There are a number restaurants / bars near the hotel so you are not required to travel in to the city, unless you wished, for your evening meal. The cost of the local tram in to the city was around $1.30 – the tickets are bought from sellers (newsagents etc) rather than from the tram driver. The ticket has to be validated when boarding the tram. Most days we walked to the city (about 20 minutes) for the exercise and to experience Prague. It is an easy flat walk. We used the tram to get back to the hotel after a day of sight seeing.
I think Prague was our favourite of all the cities that we visited during this holiday.
It was a slower pace than Berlin and small enough that one could walk around all of the main areas without too much trouble. My friend and I were in a small bar waiting for our wives to finish some shopping when the waiter offered me a Budweiser beer. Thinking he was referring to the American beer that I had some years ago, which I didn’t like, I refused, and asked him for Czech beer. The Budweiser, he told, was Czech beer and had nothing to do with the US brand. I trusted him and ordered the local Budweiser, which was very good.
Everyone walks – narrow streets leading to Charles Bridge.
There is always a gimmick – as soon as he saw me taking his picture out came his sword.
and we loved to people watch.
We had a lovely meal in the Blue Duck restaurant – a little expensive but the ambiance and the taste was worth that little extra.
There so much to see in Prague, from clocks to castles and palaces.
Prague – Budapest by train
Prague station is easy to navigate and all announcements are made in Czech and English. We were booked in first class, which was the first coach (wagon) after the engine. This trip was a much more pleasurable journey than Berlin to Prague. We had our own table and plenty of storage space for the suitcases. The storage space, other than on the rack over our heads, was the unused seats. The coach was not crowded and the ride was smooth once we left the main area of Prague. Passing through the Prague area the train was jerky which caused an unsettling feeling of being in the back seat of a car when
the driver keeps speeding up and breaking. This went on for the first hour after which, it stopped and the remainder of the trip was smooth.
Our train to Budapest
Being a train lover from my childhood I found the different coloured coaches from various countries across Europe, such as Russia, German, Slovakia fascinating.
On arrival at Budapest station from Prague we had to buy our onward tickets to Vienna. I’d tried to buy them over the internet, but Hungary’s rail system would not allow this to happen. We found the office for international tickets and entered, only to be greeted by a packed booking section. Every nationality you could think of seemed to be hanging around waiting for a free window. I looked around and realised that I had to take a ticket from a machine to secure a place in the queue. My number was 502 and the flashing light board was calling for 470. It was going to be a long afternoon,. My friend returned to our wives and warned them that it was going to be a long wait. We didn’t wish to go to the hotel, and then have to come back the following day, because this would have used up too much time. After about forty-five minutes my number was called and I was able to speak to a very helpful lady, even though my Hungarian was nil, and her English was intermittent. Eventually I understood that she wanted to sell me a return ticket to Vienna, when I only wanted a single. After a bit more broken chat and sign language I grasped that the return ticket was much cheaper than the single, so I was quite happy to buy the return. This lady saved us enough money to pay for our evening meal.
In Budapest we stayed at the Victoria Hotel overlooking the Danube – what more could one ask?
Pictures taken from our bedroom window.
We had a good size room – picture window over looking the River Danube where we could see the Chain bridge and the Parliament building. The breakfasts in the small dining room were good and the hotel offered plenty of choice, and eggs to order. In the evening we were offered a happy hour system based on buy one – get one free from 5.30 to 6.30 pm, which we used before heading out for our evening meal. They also offer free wi-fi, and I never had a problem with signal strength on the seventh floor.
On our third night the phone rang at midnight and we were warned that a 50 kilo World War Two bomb had been found not far from the hotel. We were informed that the police had visited two hotels, the Victoria being one of them, and that we had to be out of the hotel by 7.00 am as a precaution, before the bomb squad could begin their work. Breakfast would be served from 5.30 am instead of the normal time of 7.00 am. We were not allowed back until 3 pm, after the all clear had been given. On returning, the hotel management gave us a bottle of wine as a ‘thank you’ for our cooperation. A very nice gesture considering that the incident had nothing to do with the hotel, and they didn’t have as choice, but to evacuate everyone. Our location was the Buda side of the river, close to restaurants and bars. We found this side of the river to be a little cheaper than the more popular Pest side. The Victoria is located a short stroll from the Chain Bridge, so visiting Pest was good for our daily exercise as we crossed the river via this bridge. If we return to Budapest we wouldn’t have any hesitation in booking the Victoria again.
Taken from a position just outside the hotel.
Like Prague we found that Budapest was easy to get round so we just walked everywhere. We did do a ‘free’ walk – donate what amount you think the walk was worth at the end. It was an interesting three hours and we ended up at the ‘castle’ at the top. The castle is more a large house where the President lives rather than a castle as in the Welsh or English castles. The guide was entertaining as well as being educational. He was well worth his money. The tour ended in the basement area of the Hilton Hotel. When they excavated for the hotel’s foundations they discovered an old church, which walls have been incorporated into the Hilton area.
The local market in Budapest has been voted as the best market in Europe for 2013, I would argue that point, but it was still interesting to visit. We bought a few items, but overall we found this market to be expensive. It was much more expensive than Prague, by the saving grace was that the beer in the market was cheap.
The following day we decided to visit the Hero’s Square and we worked it out that it was too far to walk, so we would go by train. We bought the tickets and saw that a train was about to leave so hurried and caught it, just as the doors were about to close. We checked the map on the train wall and decided that we were on the correct train. It took us a couple of station before we realised that we were on the wrong train and we were on our way to a country area. The local station where we alighted from the train was a quiet station, where the public crossed the railway line to gain access to the train going the other way.
On returning to our starting point we had to buy new tickets because the tickets we purchased had already been validated and the guard would not allow us back in to the system. There wasn’t one guard at the top of the escalators, but three arm waving guards blocking our way. We’d boarded a country train instead of a metro. A simple mistake because the ticket seller had waved us to the appropriate platform, and as all the platforms were underground, we thought we had boarded the metro system. The metro system was further underground which we only realised after we’d bought our second set of tickets for the trip.
We eventually reached our destination
An impressive square, come plaza. The square was created at the end of the 19th century to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary in 895AD
At the centre of the square is the Millennium Monument – designed in 1894, but not completed for another 35 years. Around the base of the monument are equestrian statues honouring the chieftains of the seven Hungarian tribes who conquered the area now known as Hungary. The figure at the top of the column is the Archangel Gabriel with his trumpet.
After lunch in the city we took a short cruise around Margaret Island. Along the Pest bank we saw a number of river cruise boats.
It was an interesting trip with some great views from the water.
River cruise boat passing the Parliament Building
We left the hotel during the bomb scare and walked across the bridge to the Pest side of the Danube and turned left along the riverbank. We were looking for an unusual monument.
This memorial honours the Jews who were killed by Arrow Cross militiamen during WW2. The Jews were ordered to remove their shoes, and were then shot so that their bodies fell in to the water to be carried away by the river flow. The memorial shoes are made of iron in the style of the 1940’s and they have been attached to the embankment. It was a very moving experience to stand and watch the river flow past the shoes, while your mind tries to visualise the horrors of the war years.
We had four nights, but three very pleasant days in Budapest, a city well worth visiting. I’d go back in a flash if getting there wasn’t so expensive from Australia.
Next, it was all aboard for another train ride, but this time to Vienna.
Budapest station and our train arriving
It was a short drive from the hotel to the main train station where a porter inquired of our destination and class of travel. On learning that we were first class he showed us to the special lounge and pointed out the refreshments. Later, as the train approached the same porter entered the lounge and asked us to follow him.
The porter showed us to our carriage and loaded our bags in to the storage area. He made sure we were in our correct seats and turned to leave. At no time did he indicate that he was doing anything but his job, and he seemed surprised and pleased when he received a gratuity. To say I was impressed is an understatement, when all of the bars and restaurants point out that service charge is included or not included, and they tell you how much they expect (as a percentage) as a tip, even if the service is lousy. Our porter was a fine example of a man offering excellent service for the wage that he was paid.
First Class coach Budapest to Vienna – we had a table for four.
In Vienna we hired a taxi from the station to our hotel, the Beethoven Hotel, which took about 30 minutes. The distance we covered surprised me as it didn’t appear to be that far on the map (about 9 kms), but we had to negotiate a number of one-way streets and the traffic was heavier than expected. On arrival we were greeted in the reception area with cardboard and plastic sheeting all over the floor, and plastic sheeting covering the furniture, due to the hotel being refurbished. Couldn’t complain about the reception that we received from the staff at the desk, which was warm and friendly. Our room was quite large with a small corridor leading from the main door to the bedroom area. The bedroom had a small bay window come alcove, which contained a writing desk and chair. The bay windows overlooked the street.
Each Sunday the hotel offered a complimentary musical recital for their guests. Champagne would be served during the interlude. Our last day in Vienna would be a Sunday so we thought we would take advantage of the recital to experience the music of Vienna. On the previous Friday we were site seeing near the Opera House when we were ‘accosted’ by young men dress in 18th century costumes who were selling discounted tickets for a concert on Saturday evening at the Palais Auersperg to hear the Wiener Resdenzorchester. The concert would be a sample of Viennese orchestral music, opera and dance. So we booked for the Saturday evening.
On returning to our hotel we were presented with a letter from the management that stated due to unforeseen circumstance the complimentary recital would be held on Saturday afternoon, not Sunday afternoon. This was the first time that this had happened since the hotel started the complimentary recitals. Of course we could not attend due to the Saturday evening booking, for which we had just paid not an hour earlier. It was a disappointment, but we thoroughly enjoyed the ninety-minute experience of orchestral music, opera and dance. It was not too long, particularly for tourists, who have limited time, and perhaps could not afford a full evening at the Opera House. As you see from the photos we were close to the stage.
Stairs leading to the concert hall Orchestra
Opera & Dance
The Beethoven Hotel was close to everything that we wanted. A five-minute walk to the Opera House, a further few minutes and you were Karntner Strass (think shops and more shops for the ladies, and side street of restaurants and cafes). A fifteen minute walk from the hotel and you would be at St Stephen’s church (Stephans Platz) or the Hofburg.
View of Karntner Strass from the Skybar and street level.
St Stephen’s church
The hotel is located in a quite side street, which is two minutes from the Naschmarkt. The Naschmarkt offers a wide range of restaurants serving food from all over the world, from India through to Japanese and of course Viennese food. The market is closed on Sunday evening, but we ate in the market, at different restaurants, for the three previous evenings. It was convenient, and we had a wide choice, at reasonable prices.
Most of our time in Vienna was set aside for sightseeing. Shortly after we arrived we used the hop – on –hop – off bus to familiarise ourselves with the layout of the city. It was after this that we realised that we could walk to most places of interest, including the Hofburg Palace. Walking can make one thirsty and one of the great things about Budapest and Vienna, was that our water bottles could be refilled from many of the fountains. The water was potable and free. It was mineralised and very cold. It is a pity many other cities haven’t followed their example.
More people watching
The main site that we did not walk to, was the Summer Palace (Schoenberg Palace) – we used the metro. Like Buckingham Place we had to book a time for use to enter and view the various exhibits.
Gardens at the rear of the palace.
Distant fountain taken from the rear balcony & close up of fountain area .
As I mentioned before, we were in Vienna for a Sunday. Many places were closed, as was the Naschmarkt, so we had to find somewhere else to eat for our last evening meal in Vienna. We walked around the area near the hotel, and checked various restaurants. None of them attracted us until we came across an Asian restaurant called Restaurant Quick Box. It didn’t look much from the outside, but we all fancied an Asian meal after a month of mainly European food, so we thought we’d give it a try. The front area was mainly for take away and the restaurant area was at the back. The menu consisted of three types of Asian food, Thai, Chinese and Japanese. The furniture was basic, but the place was spotless, as were the toilets. I ordered sushi and my wife had crispy duck and we ordered the house wine. My platter of sushi was fresh and sharp, with a wide choice of items, couldn’t fault the presentation nor the taste. My wife considered the duck to be one of the best that she had ever tasted. The bill at the end was one of the cheapest we’d had in Vienna, and it included the wine. I’m only sorry that I never took any photographs of the restaurant and the presentation. I’d definitely return if I was ever to visit Vienna again.
All good things come to an end and the following day we took a taxi to Wein Westbahnhof for our train to Frankfurt. The trip would be seven and a half hours, but as we were again first class we had been allocated a semi-enclosed compartment.
On the left the semi- private compartment.
Table folded up, seats had power for IPad etc
viewing area behind driver
Seven and a half hours sounds a long time, but time past so quickly. Plenty to see as we sped through the countryside, restaurant car for meals, viewing areas, good company and books to read.
A taxi from the main railway station to the airport area; we stayed at the Ibis which is close (walking distance) to the Mercure where we stayed on our first night in Europe. This trip proved that we had been ripped off by the taxi driver from the Mercure to the city.
We’d read about restaurants in the area on Trip Advisor but we couldn’t find them, and as it was a very hot day we called it quits and returned to the hotel. At least they had a small bar and we decided to eat in the restaurant in the evening – not much else to do for a single night near Frankfurt airport.
We booked the hotel transport for 8.55 am the following day to take us to the airport. The four of us hung around the hotel reception area waiting for the coach. Fortunately as 8.55 am approached I commented to the reception that the bus was late – only then was I told that we had to meet the bus on the street, not outside the main entrance to the hotel! As we made our hurried way to the meeting point the bus arrived! If I hadn’t made the comment we might have been there yet.
Check-in for our Qatar Airways flight was as expected – smooth, with an invitation to the business class lounge. Qatar Airways shared the Lufthansa Lounge, and what a difference from last years debacle with the Air France lounge in Paris.
I must admit I have become a fan of the B 787, so quite and Qatar Airways have still managed to make if friendly.
The sale and consumption of alcohol in Doha, Qatar, during the month of Ramadan, is banned. It occurred to me that perhaps the ban would be enforced on the aircraft (Qatar’s national carrier), fortunately it wasn’t. Instead of the cabin crew walking around with a bottle of wine to top up passengers’ drinks, the steward removed ones used glass and brought a freshly filled glass from the galley. By doing it this way he was satisfying non-Muslims, without offending Muslim passengers.
On arrival in Doha we had our own ‘Business Class’ transport to the terminal.
On arrival at the arrival terminal we had to queue to gain a visa to enter Doha. I realise that times have changed, and that the last time I was in Doha was in the mid 60’s I came ashore in a dhow from the ship, and walked up the sandy beach to the ‘main’ street – nobody asked for a visa. Now it was air-conditioned buildings, high priced perfume for sale, and a row of six visa officers. Eventually we were called to one officer who started a conversation with us (I think he was bored). He thought my wife was my sister, and when he found out that we were married he wanted to know how long we had been married. I told him 44 years and he wouldn’t believe me, he did eventually, but then wanted us to guess his age! He was dressed in traditional Arab style of robes. After a number of different guesses it turns out he was 22 years old and was fascinated with our background – both my wife and I are only children, which he found hard to accept, because he was one of eleven. It took us twenty minutes to gain the entry visa compared to the standard time of about two or three minutes. The cost of the visa was about $31 each (Qatar Riyals 100.00). Overall it was an interesting time but we were never sure if he was ‘playing’ with us and would refuse us entry.
Fortunately the hotel transport, that we had arranged, was still waiting for us after we had cleared customs. The drive to the hotel was uneventful, but we were glad of the vehicle’s strong air conditioning considering it was 40 c outside, even though it was nighttime.
The Ramada Encore Hotel was exactly what I expected. The rooms were clean, the showers were good and the air-conditioning worked very well. After we had checked-in and dumped our bags in our rooms, we decided to go for a walk and try and see the local Souq (market). We were not sure of the right direction (even after asking at reception), plus it was dark and the roads were very busy, so we ended up walking around the block back to the hotel. It was hot, and that short bit of exercise had us sweating greatly. We were glad of the efficient showers on our return.
The following morning we used the hotel transport to the airport, but in two vehicles, and of course due to traffic we were separated. Our driver asked if we were flying Qatar Airways, which we were, so he dropped us off at terminal one. Unbeknownst to us our friends were also asked the same question and if they were business or economy class. Being business class they were dropped off at a special area where they were speedily checked in and bused to the priority terminal. We, on the other hand, waited for our friends for several minutes before checking in and asking if our friends had already been checked through. They had, so we checked in and we requested that our bags be tagged through to Bangkok. This took some time, but it was eventually completed. Our friends requested the same bag tagging when they checked in and were given a flat ‘No, not allowed’. They were told that through tagging was not possible.
After checking – in my wife & I were directed to a business class lounge. The first one that we approached, in a very busy area, redirected us to another near gate ten. The entrance was hidden around the back of a security desk, some distance from gate ten. The attendant who checked our boarding ticket (we had not been given a separate invitation card) suggested that we should be at the priority terminal, which we agreed as we’d been there before, but didn’t have any idea how to get to this terminal. He told us to go to another area and to request transport to the priority terminal. We did so and waited four or five minutes while a staff member waved down a passing bus. This bus (we were the only passengers) took us to the priority terminal where we eventually found our friends, who had become concerned at our absence. I don’t know why the check-in person didn’t direct us correctly in the first place. We had about half an hour in this lounge, which was the same one we had used when in transit to Frankfurt some weeks earlier. The bus that transferred the business class passengers had quite a distance to go before reaching the aircraft. We drove round the airport for several minutes until we came to the correct aircraft, which I think was the furthest one from the terminal. The drive allowed us to see quite a lot of the city through the security wire that surrounded the airport. The drive showed just how large Doha airport is – all on reclaimed land.
The aircraft was an AB321 which is an older aircraft with overhead screens for public movies. I was offered a personal DVD player and a choice of films, but the DVD player wouldn’t work or the adapter for the power was faulty or none of the sockets had power – not sure which, but the flight attendant offered me a couple of DVD players and he played around with different adapters in an effort to make one of them work. I think the aircraft was the same aircraft that we flew on from Colombo to Doha three weeks earlier when we were told that none of the DVD players worked.
The food was nice and tasty, and the wine was fine although they did run out of the French Chardonnay and there were only twelve passengers, and some of them didn’t drink alcohol due to religious reasons. We had to switch to New Zealand wine, which wasn’t a hardship, but are all airlines suddenly limiting their in-flight stocks of food & drink? At the end of the meal I asked for a cheese plate for my wife & I, (it was on the menu) only to be told that they only had one plate left and would we mind sharing . . . . .another cost cut??
Colombo Airport – Serenediva Colombo Transit Hotel.
I booked this transit hotel for our return flight from Europe, some weeks before travelling on our outward leg. We arrived in Colombo on our outward journey so I thought I’d check the location of the hotel and check out the reception area. I’m glad that I did, because the receptionist couldn’t find my booking! In the end I had to produce the e-mail with the booking reference number, after which everything fell in to place. If you use this hotel have your booking reference handy.
We arrived from Europe three weeks later, at 5.30 pm, so decided to make sure all was well. The booking was still in place, so we did not check-in at that time, but told the receptionist that we would be back around 8.00 pm, because we wanted a meal. Obviously, the later we checked–in the lower the overall cost. We did check-in around 8.30 pm and paid for the minimum of six hours ($55.00 USD), which took us to 2.30 am, followed by a further 3 hours at $15.00 US / hour to 5.30 am; our flight departed at 7.00 am.
The room (207 similar to the picture) was an adequate size for two people. We only had our overnight bag as our suitcases had been tagged through to Bangkok – our final destination. The shower worked, but the hot water was a hit and miss affair – mainly a miss. The towels were on the thin side and small. I’m not particularly fat around the waist, but the towel only just wrapped around me, but I couldn’t ‘link’ it to stop it falling down.
Our sleep was fitful – not sure if it was due to the travelling or the noise in the corridor outside our room (which was near reception). Splashes of light came through the ceiling from the rooms or work areas above. Sri Lankan airline’s catering division runs the hotel, so above us or near our room could have been the kitchens. Beside the wake up call at 4.45 am we were phoned again at 5.15 am to be aware that another hour would be charged at 5.30 am. We left at 5.25 am, $100 USD lighter. As for breakfast, we waited until we were on the plane and consumed the food we’d heard being processed during our fitful sleep.
This transit hotel fitted our plans for this trip, we didn’t have to get up at 3.00 am to be at the airport for a 5.00 am for check-in, but if we pass through Colombo again, at a more social hour (flight times etc) we would use an outside hotel – they are cheaper on a room for room basis, but you would have transport costs to/from the hotel.
The Sri Lanka Airlines flight to Bangkok was uneventful. The driver of the pre-booked minibus met us on arrival. It was a lot faster drive to the hotel than out previous trips to Bangkok, because the freeway system had been expanded. Of course in Bangkok we booked the Pullman Kingpower Hotel, one of our favourite hotels.
As before, on arrival we were whisked to the Club Floor where we were offered drinks while the staff checked us in – we were upgraded to a suite – the perfect contrast to the transit hotel at Colombo, for not much more than the USD $100 for the eight hours that we stayed at Colombo airport. By the time we’d unpacked it was happy hour in the Club Lounge before taking a short walk to a nearby restaurant that everybody liked. I say everybody, but I was the only dissenter with doubts, because it is a famous fish restaurant and fish is not my favourite meal, so I had the chicken. The restaurant had been refurbished since our last visit in 2010.
The idea of visiting Bangkok was for pure relaxation and a little shopping on the way home. We walked miles as many of the shopping areas look the same and we were looking for a particular one (the name of which we could not remember) – but eventually we did find the place.
Bangkok is always Bangkok, but we love the place.
We also covered Chatachak market
The heat and the number of people among 20,000 or more stalls is not a place to visit for too long. We arrived early based on our experience last time.
On our last evening we decided to return to the restaurant of our first evening. The evening was pleasant so we sat outside on the balcony area. We ordered our drinks at the same time as the food. The drinks arrived quickly and we sat and waited for the food, and we waited, and we waited. We were offered additional drinks, but we really wanted our food. At the end of nearly an hour we stood and asked for the bill (for the drinks) when all of a sudden a waiter rushed over with a plate of food telling us this was our first course. A quick glance told us that the food was not what we ordered. We demanded the bill again and this time it was produced with a number of waiters offering us the world if we stayed and waited a little longer. We didn’t wait; paid our bill and left. I doubt that we will return.
Next door to the Pullman King Power hotel is the King Power Duty free shop, which is a favourite place of Japanese and Chinese (China) tourists. The problem is that they all arrive by coach, and in the early evening the place is packed with coaches. If one approaches the hotel from the rear, rather than the main entrance, the buses block the street. I counted fifty buses parked in and around the duty free shopping mall one evening. Admittedly they have all gone by 9.00 pm.
Checking out the following morning was a dream and we were presented with invitations to use the King Power Lounge at the airport. We had similar invitations when we stayed at the Pullman previously, but we had been unable to use the facility as we left Bangkok on a domestic flight for Chiang Mai, and the lounge is only available for international passengers. After security and immigration, finding our way to this lounge was a good hike, but the standard of the lounge was as one would expect for an international airport. Everything one had in an airline business class lounge was available at the King power lounge, but on a smaller scale. The airport is so large that it took us nearly twenty minutes to walk from the lounge to our departure gate for the flight to Kuala Lumpur.
The Malaysian Airlines flight was pleasant and the actual flight was only a couple of hours.
We decided to stay one night in KL because our flight to Australia left at 9.00 am. Later, in the planning stage, because we liked KL, we decided to stay two nights and enjoy the shopping. We stayed at the Concorde Hotel and we were fortunate to be upgraded to a suite. I think this was because we had stayed at this hotel a few time before. They do not have a frequent stayer system, so they upgrade regular guests.
The only thing I have ever bought in KLCC shopping centre at the base of the Pertonas Towers is a a book and a meal. Many of the shops are international shops and expensive even if the price is in Malaysian Ringgits. Regardless of the cost of the items we always seem to make a point of visiting KLCC. This time my friend and I left our wives to shop and we spent some pleasant time in a local bar talking to a Bangladeshi waiter who was very interesting.
Petronas Towers has a large upmarket retail centre.
After our short stay in KL it was a taxi to Sentral Railway station where we where able to check-in for our flight. We used to use the night flight from KL to Sydney, which departs at 9.50 pm and arrives at 8.05 am the next day. As we have become older we find that sleeping on a plane is not what it was ten years ago. The seats may be the same size, but I am sure the space between each row of economy seats is smaller. For this reason (and our age) we now fly daylight flights and sleep in normal beds. The early daylight flight from KL to Sydney leaves at 9.00 am, which requires us to check-in at 7.00 am. To get to the airport for 7.00 am would mean a 45 to 50 minute drive with all the early morning hassles such as a 4.30 am alarm. By flying with Malaysian Airlines we are able to take advantage of their full check-in service at Sentral station. With only our hand baggage we board the Ekspres train to the airport and arrive 28 minutes later. We don’t have to rush through security and emigration and can be at the departure gate cool and collected, rather than rushed and stressed. We have used the station check-in system a number of time and it works well.
It doesn’t matter how long the holiday is they all come to an end.