Thursday, 31 May 2018

Cathay Pacific's Airport Lounges - Hong Kong International Airport - review

Got a late night/early morning flight at Hong Kong Airport? Flying Cathay Pacific in Business Class?
Why not spend the afternoon/evening exploring Cathay's four lounges? Just ensure that you wind up at the closest lounge to your departure gate for your late flight.
The Cathy reception staff stamp your boarding pass so you can enter/re-enter any of the four lounges.

The Wing (near Gate 2) - our least favourite, even though it's the newest (too hot, glaring late afternoon sunlight), showers downstairs

The Deck (near Gate 18) - cosy, intimate, lots of smaller sitting areas - noodle bar, relaxation room

The Bridge (near Gate 35) - our favourite
Turn left from reception desk - it's quieter on that side - bistro, IT room, coffee/ice cream bar (where you can also order champagne), showers
Turn right from desk (for some reason most people do) - busier - bakery/TV lounge/noodle bar

The Pier (near Gate 65) - it's HUGE - it has everything, right at the end of this expanse is a tea-room followed by relaxation/massage rooms

The Deck - cosy

The Pier - huge space
The Bridge - quiet and classy - remember to turn left

Flying to Europe via Asia with Finnair Business Class

We flew Melbourne-Singapore-Helsinki-London-Helsinki-Hong Kong-Melbourne on a multi-destination ticket. This fare allowed 3 stops so we opted for Helsinki (with St Petersburg only 3.5 hours away on high speed train), London and Hong Kong.
Watch for Business Class sales with Finnair. Unbeatable price. Finnair has other Asian destinations for stopovers. The flight to Hong Hong was a remarkable 9.5 hours. We had a tight connection LHR-HEL-HKG but the Finnair gates were close together.
Helsinki Airport (Vantaa) is expanding. You may have to use a bus rather than a sky bridge to board your plane (e.g. HEL - LHR).
A train station is underneath Terminal 1. Fare to Helsinki Central Station ("Helsingfors" on noticeboard) is 5 euros. Travel time 28 minutes.
On the LHR-HEL leg, the Business cabin was just a curtained-off section with Economy seats, but the middle seats were left vacant so you could stretch out. Service was definitely Business.
On the long haul flights, if you are a tall or large person,you might find the lie-flat beds a wee bit cramped (especially the foot well).
Food in Business Class is plentiful - wholesome/comfort food rather than fancy/fiddly.

 Baked salmon for dinner Singapore-Helsinki

Cameras in the tail and under aircraft make great viewing in A350-900 planes, particularly if you have a middle seat in the plane.

Huge breakfast - but there are other options if you want something light.

Suburban train links directly with airport. Central Station Helsinki is 28 minutes away.
Information screen on board Helsinki-Vantaa train

Finnair Lounges - there are two, one for flights within EU zone, the other for flights beyond


Love the slippers (Large size too) provided on Airbus 350-900

Friday, 25 May 2018

Hotels and bottled water - cutting down on waste

Why don't more hotels provide refillable, reusable plastic bottles? Hilton hotels in Finland do. So does Novotel Century Hong Kong.

Monday, 21 May 2018

What to do with one day in Edinburgh - for free & avoid the tourists

Avoid the crowds, noisy guides, selfie-snappers, tourists coaches and the like. These activities are free as well.
For a great overview of the city and environs, climb Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park (at the east end of the Royal Mile).
Trails start near the car park, there is a visitors centre with free maps

Free guide with map

View from the summit, 252 metres above sea level
The Museum of Edinburgh (Canongate, close to Holyrood Park) has rooms of fascinating exhibits (don't miss Greyfriars Bobby's dog collar and bowl) in a historic house.

Visit Greyfriars Kirk (off Grassmarket).

The National Galleries of Scotland comprises 3 galleries - all free, except special exhibitions.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Russian high speed trains

The "Sapsan" takes three and a half hours to travel from Moscow to St Petersburg (over 700 km away). For the cheapest ticket, book with the Russian Railways (RZD) website, 60 days in advance. Avoid third-party ticket sellers (you will pay at least double the price).
"Allegro" (travelling between Helsinki and St Petersburg) is jointly run by Finnish Railways (VR) and RZD. Ticket prices are the same, whether you book with VR or RZD. As of May 2018, prices were as low as 29 Euros (Fri-Sun period).

Comfortable restaurant car on Allegro (St Petersburg - Helsinski

Second Class on Allegro - Why pay double for First Class (Business Class)?

Helsinki's 5 Euro travel bargain - Suomenlinna Sea Fortress by public ferry

Take the Suomenlinna ferry for Helsinki's 5 Euro travel bargain. Allow at least 2 hours to explore the historic sea fortress and township spread six islands. A free map is available at the ferry terminal ticket office. This means you can take a self-guided tour at your leisure.
The return ticket has a 12 hour travel period

Departs from ferry terminal on Market Square 

Suomenlinna - 18th century sea fortress

Thursday, 3 May 2018

10 euros bargain - Ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn

Book on Eckero Line website. 10 euros one -way for 9:00 a.m. departure. Return trip is cheaper!
Print out ticket - no queuing at terminal, just register barcode at turnstile.

A tram (No 7) drops you off at the terminal door.
The morning ferry seemed to be full of 55+ year olds ready to shop, party and buy cheap booze. Nice crowd, though. There was a convivial atmosphere onboard.

Tourist tip: wait near the gates pre-boarding, when ferry is docked (you enter on Level 6), dash upstairs, head for the huge bar area at the bow (Level 8) so you can relax in a comfortable booth (enough room under table for luggage). Free entertainment.
Eckero Line's "Finlandia"

Live band and dancing . Note: the seating booths have plenty of room for you and your luggage.

TV style game show with host celebrity
The bar opens straight after departure (9.00 am.). Cheap booze.

Tourist tips for avoiding the queues at State Heritage Museum, St Petersburg - self-guided

There are a bank of tickets machines (marked with red "T" on map) on the left and right after you pass through the archways into the main courtyard from Palace Square. The machines are in English and Russian. Admission: 700 roubles, change given.
We went both in the morning and afternoon (early May) and the wait at the machines was only a few minutes. You can then proceed straight to main entrance - we choose the left side, avoiding the long, slow-moving queues. The long queues are for Russian citizens who can claim ticket concessions. At the front of the gate there is a sign saying entry for pre-bought tickets.
Buying tickets from the museum website is much more expensive, plus you will still have to queue to show your printed-out ticket (at a separate entrance on Millionnaya Street).
Don't forget to visit the General Staff Building (across Palace Square). Entry is covered by your ticket. Priceless 19th century masterpieces on the 4th floor - Monet, Manet, Degas, Gauguin, Picasso, Van Gogh, Lautrec, Cezanne, Renoir - self-guided, allow 1-2 hours.

Other tips:

  • After you enter, use the free cloakrooms - for coats, umbrellas, backpacks - or you will have to queue up twice when you are sent back.
  • Wednesdays and Fridays hours are extended to 21:00. 
  • Arrive in the afternoons (after 16:00 if you want to avoid more crowds), this allows you 5 hours of viewing if you visit on those 2 days.
  • The first Thursday in each month is free, if you don't mind the queues. On free-Thursday there are 3 other Hermitage Museums that offer free entry. We found no queues for these: Winter Palace of Peter I, Menshikov Palace and the Museum of Imperial Porcelain.
  • Frees are available near turnstiles, make a note of the number of the room show above doorways (from 11 to 400), mark off with a pen so you don't miss a room - the place is a maze.
  • The Middle Floor will take the longest amount of time.
  • This is crucial if you have a 60 year old bladder....there only 2 toilets inside the museum (both hidden on the Ground Level). The other toilets are near Cloakrooms but you will have to exit, so this is a problem.
  • Closed on Mondays.
  • The Summer period is the busiest.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Tallinn Airport, Estonia Best little airport in Europe?

Tallinn Airport was a pleasant surprise.  Can you name another domestic and international airport that is 3 km from the centre of a capital city? Pay 2 euros to travel on a modern tram that takes you from the CBD right to the terminal door.
The airport bag security area is smoothly run; thanks to a nifty system where carry-on luggage/laptops/coats, etc. are placed in trays that are a magically returned (by underground conveyor system) to the front of the queue for next passenger.
Many terminal gates are sponsored by a particular company. One gate has comfy sofas, book shelves, armchairs as it is sponsored by a book store. Another gate has gym equipment and machines as it is sponsored by a fitness company. You are never bored or idle while waiting for your flight. Fast free wifi also.
Imagine a mini-Changi. 
Gate 1 - a relaxing library

Tram link, direct to terminal