Posts
2 Dec 2010

So, friends – the show is over. No more Quality Hunting from this day. My colleague, Wolfgang, already said au revoir and counted how many miles he flew in 60 days. I wish I’d done the same, counted the miles that is, but all I can say is, that it’s A LOT. More than some people fly in a lifetime.

As predicted my most memorable experiences on this trips has not been food, hotels, sights or flights (sorry Finnair, but it hasn’t). What I’ll remember most is the people I’ve met during these past two months. People I already knew and people I met for the first time.

In Tokyo Melinda Joe taught me to enjoy sake and shared her knowledge on Japanese food with me. Hanae was the loveliest company and answered all my silly questions about Japan. And in Osaka Dave volunteered as my tour guide on a day trip to Kyoto.

When I got sick in Prague Marino and Hana offered to drive me to a doctor although they’d never met me. And in Budapest David and his friends were kind enough to let me in on the communist pizza secret.

In Berlin all the amazing people in Biebricherstasse took me in, fed me, washed my clothes and showed me Berlin. Thank you Anna & Co. In London friends once again welcomed me into their home and took me for a Sunday Roast – thank you Gabrielle and Chris. And when I arrived in Stockholm one of my dearest friends picked me up at the bus station and for three nights his home was my home and he cooked me dinner and listened to all my crazy travel stories.

Along the way I’ve even had friends, who flew to Hong Kong and to Paris to see me and spend time with me in my search for quality for Finnair. I believe that’s what you call true friends – Emmanuelle and Gertrud, thank you so much.

And thank you to the Finnair aircrew on my flight to Hong Kong for giving me a wonderful experience.

The biggest thanks of all, is to all the readers and the people who have actively engaged in discussions on travel and has been commenting on my posts. Without the comments and the feedback it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun writing the blog, also when the feedback has been negative and when you guys didn’t like, what I wrote.

I’d like to make a Top Ten list of things I liked and disliked during the trip, but at the end of the day quality for me might not be quality for my neighbor or for the readers of the blog. So instead of a hit list I’d rather encourage you readers to venture the world to find out what is quality for you.

All there is left to say is Goodbye, thank you for the music and for following my journey. And a Merry Christmas to everyone.

1 Dec 2010

In Paris there is a term known as ’Metro Boulo Dodo’, which is a far more poetic version of, what in English is known as ‘the grind’ or in Danish as ‘trummerum’. It describes the monotony and repetitive things that happens in everyday life in Paris – metro – work – sleep. The same as in any other major city around the globe – a portion of which, I’ve been lucky enough to visit over the past 60 days.

I’ve been observing the ‘metro boulo dodo’ in cities such as Tokyo, London, Hong Kong, Stockholm and now Paris. I’ve had some of my most memorable experiences on metros. I experienced the madness of a tube strike in London, I was saved by a girl in a batman t-shirt on the underground in Tokyo and I enjoyed the history and roughness of the U-bahn in Berlin. Public transportation is the best place to observe the human specie, in my opinion.

In less than 24 hours I’ll be on the metro in Copenhagen on my way to my home, which I haven’t seen for over two months. I will be going back to my own ‘metro boulu dodo’ and I never thought I would say this, but I’ve actually missed it.

One of my favourite Danish poets, Dan Túrell, wrote a poem in which he praises everyday life, the grind, the metro boulo dodo. I’ve never really understood the text in the poem, where he praises the little things like having your morning coffee in your own kitchen or going to sleep in your own bed, but after two moths on the road, 21 flights and a ridiculous amounts of alright, excellent and horrible hotels, I know exactly, what he means.

For two months I’ve had my morning coffee in hotels and airports and my bed has been a hotel bed for most of my journey (or a seat on a Finnair flight). Vantaa Airport has been my second home and the Finnair crew has been my second family and friends and they’ve been absolutely wonderful, but by now I’m looking forward to go home to my real home and my metro boulo dodo.

PS:

If you’re not really into my pseudo philosophical thoughts and all my yadadada, here’s a video of what the Parisians might run into during a day of metro boulo dodo.

28 Nov 2010

Leaving Stockholm I was flying from Arlanda Airport, so naturally I had to figure out a way to get there and I found out that I had two options:

The bus, which would be very slow, but rather inexpensive

The train, which would be fast, but expensive

I ended up choosing the fast and expensive option and it is really a VERY expensive option to use the Arlanda Express. It left me short of 240 Swedish Kroner, which is almost 26 Euro. For a 20 minute train ride!!! That’s just a ridiculous price and I can certainly understand, if people opt for the bus instead or even a taxi, if two – three people are travelling together, would be cheaper.

This guy will rob you

On the train to the aipprt a pleasant male voice will inform you that taking the Arlanda Express is the most environmentally friendly way of getting to the airport. Alright, sounds great, but if this way of transportation is good (or better at lest) for the environment then it would make sense to get as many people as possible to take the train instead of the bus or the car and then the price of the train should be adjusted according to that.

25 Nov 2010

I arrived in Vantaa Aiport in Helsinki yesterday for a layover before going to my next destination Stockholm. I had a window seat on the plane and when I wasn’t sleeping or watching Finnair’s quite good selection of  tv-shows (like the Simpson, Modern Familiy etc.) on the inflight entertainment system I had a look out out of the window and it was beautiful. I’ve really seen some amazing views on some of my many, many Finnair flights over the past weeks.

By the time we were about to land  in Helsinki I had another look out of the window and it looked like this:

It occurred  to me that while I’ve been on the move constantly for the past seven – eight weeks the seasons has changed and it’s now winter in Scandinavia, which also means clearing the runways etc. for snow.

Snowy Vantaa Airport

After an easy and smooth layover in Vantaa I was on my way to Bromma Airport in Stockholm. The plane ended up being delayed 30 minutes and it was never really clear why, but I told myself that if it had something to do with icy runway or the cold weather in any way,  I would happily have waited  hours. Better safe than… well, you know…

Arriving in Bromma, which my colleague Warren blogged excellently about, I was greeted by this sign:

Oh yeah? Says who?

Oh, Swedish modesty, how I love you… I’m not sure the people in Copenhagen, Helsinki and Oslo (is Iceland Scandinavia? In that case Reykjavik as well) got the memo that Stockholm is apparently the capital of Scandinavia. Stockholm is the capital of Sweden (please tell this to people in the US, as many of them are convinced that the capital of Oslo is Sweden and the capital of Denmark is Stockholm and so on…) – end of story. And surely, if any city should be the capital of Scandinavia, it would be Copenhagen. Full stop.

21 Nov 2010

Just as things started to hot up in Berlusconi’s office (and not for the first time) with paparazzi and news crews crawling all over the city, I had to leave the drama behind in Rome and depart for Venice. Keen to try out Italy’s premier train operator- Trenitalia- I arrived at Rome’s Termini station two days before departure to buy my ticket. Good thing I had the foresight to do so!

Queuing for 40 minutes, I was one  of around 30 people being served by two open ticket desks! I have never seen customers treated with such disregard and indifference. We could actually see members of staff behind the desks laughing and chatting- but not serving- while we all waited. At one point, a group of renegade pensioners in line started to bang on the glass windows (one of which had already shattered, probably as a result of  the previous day’s angry octogenarians) in order to get attention from the lackadaisical staff.

When I (finally) got to the front of the line, a grunting staff member booked me onto the 10:45 Eurostar Italia service to Venice at a cost of 72EUR, which I didn’t think was that bad at the time but when I compare it to my journey from Vienna to Frankfurt, where the distance was much farther and the starting price was 30EUR, it didn’t seem like such a steal after all. I may have been better off booking my ticket online. Other than the perplexing waiting time, staff didn’t seem that helpful although this could have been down to a language barrier more than anything else.

Me: “Is this train direct to Venice?”

Assistant: “Yes”

Me: “Yes? Directo?” (I don’t even know if directo is a word in Italian, but I was trying!)

Assistant (getting angry): “YES! Direct!”

Okay.

Well unless ‘direct’ translates to ‘stops in Florence, Bologna and Padova’ in Italian, then yes, it was a direct service!

But ironically the purchasing of the ticket and the unexpected multiple stops of the service were the only hiccups. The train itself was sleek, clean and modern- the more widely known Eurostar (London to Paris) could take a few tips off of this lot.

Inside, seating had a 2-2 configuration, with some (like mine) facing another two seats with an unfolding table in the middle.

Seats were also accompanied by little remote buttons on the armrests, though I am still at a loss as to what they were all for but I know that at least one powered a reading light and another controlled volume if you plugged in your own headphones.

Not bad for second class, eh?

My only complaint was that there simply wasn’t enough room for luggage. I boarded the train in good time, with the carriage less than half than full and each of the two the luggage racks provided were already full, meaning I had to spend the four hour journey with much of my belongings on my lap.

Otherwise a good service. And we arrived on time!

Have any readers travelled with Trenitalia’s Eurostar service? What was your experience? And did you buy your tickets online or at a station?

17 Nov 2010

Some quick steps to aid tourists in Rome crossing the street.

Step One: Genuflect

Step Two: Grab the nearest Roman also crossing the street

Step Three: Before said Roman has a chance to complain, RUN with them to the other side of the street

Don’t bother looking at the Carabinieri for help. They are the ones most likely to mow you down.

15 Nov 2010

Yes, the world is indeed your oyster. Or at least it can be with one of these cards in your pocket, when you visit some of the world’s great cities.

In London it is known as the ‘Oyster Card’

In Tokyo it is the ‘Passmo’

And in Hong Kong the phenomenon is called the ‘Octopus Card’.

What they have in common is that they are primarily to be used, when you want to enjoy the pleasure of public transportation. And what is so special about that, you might as.

Well, in Tokyo and Hong Kong the cards don’t just serve as a rechargeable ticket for the underground trains and the buses. You can also use the cards to shop in convenience stores like 7-11, am pm and FamilyMart.

And to buy an umbrella at the umbrella vending machine (no, really) at the Star Ferry terminal in Hong Kong.

Or to enter the Happy Valley Racecourse and  gamble on horses.

The only thing you have to make sure is that there is in fact money on your card. You can use machines at underground and train stations to top up your balance.

One more thing the cards have in common is that they are widely available at train stations, underground stations and in some cases in convenience stores. You have to pay a small deposit for the card, which you will get back, if you remember to return the card before you leave the country.

The Oyster, Octopus, Passmo and their siblings in other cities make public transportation in these places a lot easier and hassle-free as you don’t have to think about buying tickets and stamping them (like Berlin). I wish my hometown, Copenhagen, would implement the same system, they’re big fans of the ol’ school paper tickets instead.

In London the Oyster’s ‘pay as you go’ method is cheaper than buying single tickets, so there is really no reason to not getting an Oystercard as soon as you arrive. My experience is that you will use it a lot more than you think.

9 Nov 2010

After my lengthy trip towards Paris airport and the overnight in Helsinki, I was headed towards London on a Sunday morning at 8am. The plane was only 1/3 full – as expected. The airport was calm at this point of time, check in without problems and the flight was on time and smooth.

Arriving at Heathrow Terminal 3, the luggage took some time to arrive, but it arrived. Then I started my walk towards the Underground – felt like 5 miles and took for ages. Arriving there, the same story as in Paris – no service on the Piccadilly line to downtown due to repair works on the weekend. At least, they tell you before you buy the ticket.

No tube service to downtown

Nevertheless, as the options are not that plentiful and exciting for going downtown, I opted for split Underground- bus service. 5 stations by Tube and then transfer to a bus which takes you direction downtown.

It all worked surprisingly well – there were sign everywhere, lots of Tube staff to help you around and the replacement buses ran every 3 minutes to shuttle you away. There were even people who were helping carrying suitcases up steep starways and into the buses – not bad at all. Unlike in Paris, London Underground seems to care about its customers.

It took me 45 minutes for the whole trip – and the bus dropped me right in front of the hotel in Chiswick – good service.

One idea occurred to me: As these type of transportation problems to and from airports are known in advance in the various cities, Finnair could pick up on them and announce these things already during the flight to its passengers as a value added service – lots of people would appreciate this advance warning which does not cost anything, but impresses passengers quite a lot.

8 Nov 2010

The Road from a train window

“I can’t wait to get on the road again.

Goin’ places that I’ve never been.
Seein’ things that I may never see again”

as Willie Nelson is singing.

After a wonderful week in London it was time to leave the homeliness of staying with good friends. I was back on the road. My feelings towards it were ambivalent. On one side I was looking forward to be on the move again, to the thrill of travelling. But on the other side I felt as if I hadn’t quite rested enough. I felt that the ‘32 countries in seven days’ mayhem I had been through had just worn me out. When arriving in London I woke up one morning not sure, where I actually was. I almost had to look out of the window to see Big Ben to confirm that I was in fact in London.

I really don’t envy the Business people who do this all the time throughout their entire career. I’ve always loved to travel, but in this pace it’s just exhausting. I felt like George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, from the movie ‘Up in the Air’, which I might have mentioned earlier. I have to remember to ask Finnair if they have a Platinum Card for me like the one Bingham gets in the film.

All aboard at Euston Station

Virgin Train to Manchester Piccadilly

Anyway, my flight out of England was from Manchester so I hopped on the 1pm Virgin train from Euston Station in London to embark on a two and a half hours trip to Manchester Piccadilly. I was pleasantly surprised that the trip was so short and that there was a working Wi-fi connection on the train unlike my Thalys experience.

Well out of London the train stops in the middle of nowhere. The staff informs us that the train doesn’t have any electricity and that they don’t know, when we will be on the move again. I find the train manager and explain him that I have a flight to catch.

- “Don’t worry, love. If they wont get the train running we will get you to Manchester Airport somehow that’s for sure”, he ensured me.

Eventually the power came back and the train started moving. Luckily I had left London early in case something like this would happen, which it never does, until it does.

On The Road Again...

During the power break down the Virgin staff was excellent at keeping everyone on the train informed all the time and the extremely helpful train manager talked to all the passengers, who had connecting trains or flights and told us that we had nothing to worry about. What a great service!

I made my flight and got to experience Manchester Airport. More on that in the next blog post…

5 Nov 2010

Yes, there is a secret stairway inside. If that weren’t enough, the clock’s been valued at $10-$20 million

If only more train stations were like Grand Central. Built in 1912, smack in the heart of Manhattan, this cavernous space, embellished with Beaux Arts ceiling murals, light fittings and statuary, is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms (44 on two levels) and one of the busiest places in New York.

From here, trains go out all over the north-east, serving the commuter communities of New York State and Connecticut. But catching a train isn’t the only reason to come here. Grand Central is packed full of high-end stores and places to get your shoes shined.

But there’s more.

Like any train station, Grand Central is an excellent place to people watch. This is made even easier by the colossal number of cafes, restaurants (from casual to fine dining) and bars that are dotted around the main concourse and the dining concourse below it.

These run the gamut from fast-food places and sandwich bars to see-and-be-seen places like Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse above the main concourse and gourmet gems like the Oyster Bar one level below.

The pearl in the heart of Grand Central

It’s one of the oldest restaurants in the station and opened when Grand Central did, back in 1912 and while it’s one of the grandest spaces in the station, it pales in comparison to the Campbell Apartments, a lovely period 1920’s cocktail bar (smart attire only) that used to be the office of one of New York’s legendary tycoons.

Cocktails worth dressing for

Because New York understands that you don’t always have the time to sit down and eat, there’s also the Gourmet Market….

Bringing home the Panettone

….where you can pick up raw ingredients, ready-cooked dishes, luxurious sandwiches, steaming soups and life’s little necessities (you know, like Salmon, Black Caviar and vintage Krug)…

….and cured meats too

…. making it the perfect place to pick up everything you need to ensure your cocktail party is a raging success.

Or as the billboards might go “The Grand Central. It’s more than just a station.”

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