I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

the wifi in the Turkish Airlines CIP lounge at Istanbul Airport is fucking useless

I was going to write a blog post, but it has just taken me 15 minutes or so to bring up the "new post" page. I am epically annoyed. The internet access here would be quicker if I wrote URLs on scraps of paper, handed them to a street urchin to go get someone in central Istanbul to bring the page up, print it out, and bring it back to me. I swear I had more reliable and faster access over a mobile phone in 1999-2000. I would rather there was no access than the promise of some, only for it to be frustratingy slow, fluctuating in strength, with periodic complete drops in service. Also it said it would be free, yet there was no "click here to get your username and password" link as promised by the instructions. So I paid. After paying, I got booted off. When I eventually got back online, the link was there. But, of course, I'd already spent my cash by then.

Fucking fail. And Turkish Airlines were doing so well up 'til now.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

the road to HEL

Ooh, a bed. I like beds. I slept in one last night, and as I type I'm lying on the one in which I'll sleep tonight. It's Wednesday 29th September 2010, and I'm in the Holiday Inn Helsinki-Vantaa, a hotel close to Vantaa airport which serves Helsinki. I'm sure you could have figured that out from the name.

Tomorrow and Friday night I will not be sleeping in beds.

Well, I guess I will, kind of. Not proper beds, but big fancy seats which kind of turn into beds, in the business class cabins of Turkish Airlines and Thai Airways planes. This is assuming I get the types of plane I'm expecting (and, in fact, deliberately engineered my trip to try out). Unfortunately both of these airlines are moderately notorious for swapping out their planes at late notice, so I'm just keeping my fingers crossed for now.

Aaaaanyway. I'm in Helsinki. This morning I was in Surbiton. This is how I got here.

Last night I booked a cab for 9am today to take me to Heathrow terminal 3. This morning a cab turned up at about 8.43am ready to take me to Gatwick. Score minus one for Mogul Cars, Surbiton.

Cab driver was friendly but boring and didn't really want to talk. Think he thought the same of me, but really I was just finding him sort of hard work. So instead I had conversations over SMS and twitter. Some of the SMSes were keeping up with t'other Darren, who happened to also have a flight from T3 this morning, leaving 35 minutes before me. We'd arranged to meet airside for a pint and some breakfast before making our way to our respective gates.

Check-in was a bit messy. T'other Darren was embroiled in lengthy process grief with a Virgin agent, while I was foiled by BA's policy of only opening bag drop 2 hours before the flight. I'm sure it used to be 3 hours. Sure.

From check-in to sitting down with a pint took 20 minutes. People bitch about security lines at Heathrow all the time, but even the long lines really don't take that long to get through. This without fast-track, on an economy ticket, etc. Meh. The whole place is a fucking zoo though, so so crowded land- and airside.

Guinness. T'other Darren wanted an ale, which looked like it was going to be Bass on tap until at the bar I spotted London Pride on draught. Phew! Also ordered two breakfasts, and sat back down. T'other Darren then consulted his boarding pass, which said he should start boarding at 1015 for an 1130 departure. You what? Even for transatlantic that seems like a huge lead time. Nonetheless, it was already quite beyond 1015 so he cancelled his breakfast, got a refund, and buggered off.

Unfortunately (and through no fault of his own, just misunderstanding with the bar staff) he also cancelled my breakfast. And I couldn't be bothered to order again, so I just finished my pint and started taking notes. Tell you what, my new pen's nice. Not that it's particularly new -- I was presented with it as a gift on my last day of a 2 week work trip to India back in February, and have only now got round to using it. Interesting, huh? Moving on...

Point is, I was now on me own. When I first started travelling around the world by meself, I took incessant notes and wrote loads of blog posts. I lost myself for 90 minutes just reliving my own trip from September 2006 the other day, and am trying to blog this trip (as you can see). It's all a bit different now: lots of the experience isn't new, and I've got someone at home to think about and miss. Will I be more boring, less boring, will I sustain it? Who knows.

On my last foreign trip, the only way to sustain a useful UK plug-adaptor-wall socket relationship was to construct a banana/travel hairbrush contraption on which to balance the various parts. Since I'm travelling solo and thus have no hairbrush, I figured I'd buy a new adaptor. Yes, I could have bought a hairbrush, but I'd have felt a bit daft doing that.

Gate 24 at T3 is more like a bus station than an airport gate. Especially because you can't board planes from it, only buses. Which take you to planes, admittedly, but still.

I left the UK without Marmite.

BA flights within Europe are thoroughly unremarkable. I had an exit row seat which didn't feel particularly legroomy, but I did think it felt wider than usual. Which actually means I feel/am narrower than I used to be.

The food was an egg and ham roll, in a plastic bag which was all blown up and mine made the loudest pop in the cabin when opened. Had a beer and water to wash it down, then there was a second drinks run. "Did you want another beer?" I was asked, to which I (of course) answered "yes". The bloke next to me asked for a coffee; she said "OK, but you'll have to wait. Beer is easier, see". SCORE ONE (more) FOR BEER.

Other than that, I spent most of the journey alternating between reading the Independent/flight magazines, listening to music, dozing off. and dicking around with the note taking stuff on my mp3 player. My phone has no such app, what the fuck? The Cowon one allows for 60 notes of 200 characters each. The on-screen keyboard is nice, but it could do with the word completion and mis-hit detection that the HTC has,

The approach to Helsinki was gorgeous. Loads of lagoony lakey watery bits, loads of trees and fields, very sunny, it was just all lovely. But I have no photos (even if I had my camera out it was "turn yer devices off" time).

At the airport, there was no-one else at immigration when I went through. Don't know how that worked really, I was nothing like first or last off, and neither hurried nor dallied. Anyway, the guy didn't even stop chatting on his mobile as he waved me through. My bag was 3rd on the carousel and I headed out into a very very empty arrivals bit landside. Couldn't find an ATM nor easily spot my hotel shuttle bus stop, so asked about both at tourist information. I'd walked past the (rather large and obvious) ATM twice. There are 2 slots to put cards in and I chose the wrong one first (it told me so). Odd.

The free bus to the hotel is called "Free bus" and has "FREE BUS" written on the side in massive letters. Handy.

I might go eat reindeer. Except it doesn't sound too appetising. But the Finns do do good vodka.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Round and round

Ooh, I'm going on holiday again. Hurrah! Even considering my travel habits of the last 4 years, this is a fairly crazy trip, and the first time I'll have circumnavigated the globe twice in a calendar year. In January/February I flew London to Sydney via LA and Auckland, and came home via Incheon (Seoul). 2 airlines, 3 hotels, one new passport stamp, nigh-on 24,000 miles (great circle distance). This time beats that.

On Wednesday I'm flying to Helsinki. A new country for me, on a paid ticket with BA. Which means no lounge access, 'cos the days of me having a silver or gold card with them are long gone. However, this is what's known in certain frequent flying circles as a positioning flight: I'm heading to Finland not (just) to tick a box, but because that's where my part cash/part miles ticket to Australia starts on Thursday. It was about the same price to do this as to start in the UK, thanks to Air Passenger Duty and a few other taxes, so I thought, why not? I am indulging my flight geekery quite a bit here. It's quite a journey.

First, I fly from Helsinki to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines. Contrary to my brother's eyebrow-raising and smirk, they're actually a top notch airline with real, safe planes and everything. Mind you I've never flown with them before, so can't say much more about their service yet. I'm looking forward to giving 'em a go, not particularly on this leg but on the second leg, which (after 5 hours or so in the lounge) takes me to Bangkok. This is onboard one of the posh new planes they've borrowed from some other airline, which have awesome seats and a bar at the front of the business class cabin. A bar. Apparently their solids are none too shabby 'n all.

Last time I flew through Bangkok I had about 18 hours between flights, so I went off and did a day trip around some temple or other in the city. This time I was meant to have 11 hours, but in fact I only have 6, because the flight I was originally booked on got pulled from the timetable. Bah. Still it's a fairly nice airport to hang around in, especially when there's a free massage available. The problem for me, though, is that I'm now going to arrive in Sydney at 7.15am on Saturday instead of 1pm. Which means I need to try harder than usual to sleep on the plane, and then stay awake all day in the city. Can't even go to the hotel and check-in for 6 or 7 hours! And to top it off, the clocks change in Sydney on Saturday night, giving me an hour's less kip. Not that it makes much odds to me.

That last flight is with Thai Airways, who I've flown with before, but never on this type of plane. Last time I did Bangkok to Sydney it was on a rotten old plane with shit seats and crap entertainment. This time it's on some modern Airbus thing with good versions of both (I hope).

After a week in Sydney, I'm flying to Melbourne with Qantas. Never been there before. And I'm not going solo - all the southern hemisphere Foremans are heading there too, 'cos me bro's running a marathon there on the Sunday. Ace.

Oh, I have dicked around a lot with my return flight. Originally I booked Melbourne to Hong Kong to London, then a few weeks ago I changed it to Melbourne to Hong Kong to Amsterdam to London. Then I cancelled it and instead booked Melbourne to Auckland to LA to London. Hence the circumnavigation. It's a lot more miles this way round, but massively preferable in lots of ways. It's all with Air New Zealand, who are fantastic, and I get back to Heathrow at about 11am, so no rush hour to deal with. This'll be the 3rd time I've flown between Auckland and London and I am proper looking forward to it. Best business class flights in the sky, some would say ... and a huge bargain considering I got it for less than £300 (plus a bunch of BMI miles). That there is full-on win.

All in all, in the space of 15 days I'm taking 8 flights on 5 airlines coming to almost 26,000 miles. I'm staying at 4 hotels, and have 3 or 4 overnight flights. Is NZ2 from Auckland to LA overnight? It takes 12 hours, but lands 8 hours before it takes off. You heard.