Well that didn’t go to plan

April 15, 2010

As Robert Burns so aptly noted:

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley [Often go ugly]

After a long and tiring 13 hour flight from Hong Kong to Zurich which at times seemed to be a rather convoluted loop through China, Khazakstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, over the Caspian Sea over Azerbaijan and then along the Black Sea probably designed to avoid Iraqi and Russian airspace, we found ourselves looking slightly dishevelled and in desperate need of sleep in an almost deserted Zurich airport.  Looking to find the transfer station, we checked the departure boards and noticed our Zurich – Dublin flight had a strange red German word next to it. A couple of seconds later that word changed to the equivalent English word.  “Cancelled”.  Our hearts sank.

There then ensued some almost frantic discussions with a couple of airport staff where we discovered that a rampant Icelandic volcano was doing its best to thwart our [and thousands of others] travel plans.  All flights in and out of Ireland, the UK and Scandinavia had been cancelled.

When we got to the transfer station we worked out where everyone had got to.  The queue at the transfer station rivalled the best that Sydney airport could ever hope to throw up.  There was nothing for us to do but join another 2 hour queue to finally get a new flight to Dublin [via Frankfurt] tomorrow.  So Swiss Air have put us up in the Park Inn near the airport for the night,  including vouchers for lunch and dinner [breakfast was included in the room charge].  This was very decent of them considering that the volcano had nothing to do with the airline.  For those that have ever stayed in Formula1 hotels, the Park Inn is a slightly upmarket version.

So what this all means is that we will be arriving in Dublin at 10:30 pm on Friday rather than at 9:20 am on Thursday.

Wandering around HKIA

April 14, 2010

Arrived safely in Hong Kong after a fairly uneventful 8 hour flight sitting in cattle class.  The only thing remarkable about the flight was the little inseat TV kept freezing or reverting back to the menu which was quite frustrating.  Eating on the plane hasn’t improved any.  Especially now that the food is more “gourmet’ .  Nothing beats the experience of trying to eat couscous elegantly with a blunt plastic fork while crammed between other passengers also attempting to eat the same thing.

Spent some time wandering around Hong Kong International Airport trying to decipher the various maps so that we could get our boarding pass. After getting some directions, we got our passes and went through security again to get to the departure lounge

Managed to get some Hong Kong dollars from an ATM and got ourselves some food …  two dishes of number 225, some steamed pork buns and drinks for $205 HKD. 

Now we have a 3 hour wait until our flight to Zurich, which we will probably spend browsing the shops or just chilling out in the lounge area.

So it begins…

April 14, 2010

Its 4:45 am … we were supposed to get up at 5:00 am but have been awake since 4:30. We are all packed and ready to go, and will be leaving in about an hour for the airport. We are looking forward to our trip but not to the 35 hour journey covering 4 legs of plane flight that starts it all.

It will be Canberra – Sydney [1 hour] with 2:30 hour layover then Sydney – Hong Kong [9 hours] then 5:10 hour layover then Hong Kong – Zurich [13 hours] then 3:20 hour layover then finally Zurich – Dublin [2 hours].

See you all on the other side of the planet.

Talk about the last minute …

April 7, 2010

We have made a last minute change to our accommodation in Luzern. We were planning on staying at the Tourist Hotel, but have now decide to switch to the Hotel Bellevue. The reason for this was two-fold. One, we worked out we had spent much less on accommodation than we had planned. And two, we decided that while at Luzern we would like to have a lake view, yet not be too far from the town. So based on tripadvisor.com reviews, the Hotel Bellevue got the nod.

Glacier Express

March 31, 2010

Glacier ExpressOne of the highlights of our time in Switzerland will be a trip on the Glacier Express, advertised quaintly as “The Slowest Express Train in The World”.

This train travels through the Rhine gorge between the mountain village of Zermatt, (which nestles at the foot of the Matterhorn) to the celebrity strewn mountain resort of St Moritz.  We are travelling about 75% of this journey and will be getting off at the town of Chur [famous for being the birthplace of H.R.Giger who inspired the creature in the Alien movie series].

Glacier Express Route

The reason for terminating at Chur is that we want to be in Luzern by the end of the day [and, truth be known, we didn’t see ourselves fitting in at St Moritz].  We leave Zermatt at 10:00 AM and arrive at Chur at 3:15 PM.  An hour in Chur [with maybe a visit to the Giger Bar] and then its on to Thalwil before changing trains again to head to Luzern.  Our expected arrival in Luzern is at 18:25, 8 1/2 hours after leaving Zermatt.

We will be travelling 2nd Class, but from all accounts the only difference between 1st and second class is the size of the seat.  And as you can see in the advertising photo the views are just as spectacular.  As we have purchased a Swiss Rail Pass, the cost of the journey is covered, however for this train, there is a reservation charge of 33 CHF each plus an extra 44 CHF for a 3 course meal served at your seat.

This will definitely be one of the days we will be looking forward to.

Slight scare

March 31, 2010

Yesterday we had a slight scare re our trip.  Glenda has been bugging me for about a week to check our seats with Qantas as they were not showing up on our booking on their web site.  I told her not to worry so much and that they will be fine.   Yesterday she decided that rather than bug me again, she would ring them herself.  When she rang Qantas and asked if she could confirm our seats on Flight QF87 from Sydney to Hong Kong leaving at 2:20 PM, she was told “Oh, that flight was cancelled about 8 weeks ago and we moved you to a new flight leaving Sydney at 10:45 AM”  This presented a slight problem as our connecting flight from Canberra to Sydney was scheduled to arrive in Sydney at 10:40 AM.

When asked why Qantas had not advised us of the change, Glenda was told, that because we had booked through FlightCentre, Qantas had informed FlightCentre and left it to them to call us.   In fact, as it turns out, our flights had been changed twice.  When the flight was first cancelled, we were moved to a flight leaving at 9:00 PM.  Then Qantas realised we were connecting to a Swiss Air flight in Hong Kong and would therefore miss that flight if we left Sydney at 9:00PM, so they moved us to the 10:45 AM flight.

Well, those of you who know Glenda can imagine what happened next.  Yep, she got a tad worried and more than a tad annoyed.  She rang Swiss Air and confirmed our flights with them hadn’t changed, which they hadn’t.  Then she rang Qantas back and asked them to change our Canberra to Sydney flight which they did.  (We are now leaving Canberra at 7:30 AM instead of 9:50 AM).  Then she rang me and organised with me for us to go into FlightCentre at lunchtime to “discuss” why we had not been informed.

When we got to FlightCentre we spoke to one of their agents who listened while Glenda explained what the problem was and how annoyed she was.  The agent then spent about 10 mins typing at her keyboard,  probably checking all our flight details, before finally saying she was new and that we should probably talk to the Manager.  We then stood and waited about 15 mins while the Manager saw two other people, [one of whom arrived after we did, but who had an appointment].  By this stage Glenda was getting extremely frustrated, so that when we finally got to talk to the manager she let fly.  The guy was a little taken aback at the sudden onslaught and got defensive and a little annoyed himself.  Once she had calmed down, and he had calmed down, we explained the situation.  He then spent another ten minutes at his keyboard, we assumed he was checking the same facts that the previous girl had checked.  He then told us that a voice message had been left on Glenda’s phone the 2nd of February asking us to call.  Now as far as Glenda was aware she never received any message on her voice mail and its extremely unlikely that if she had received it that she would forget such an important message.   We asked him why they hadn’t called my number and he said that Glenda’s number was the only one they had on file.

He then tried to shift the blame to us and said it’s every travellers responsibility to check their flights for changes and/or cancellations.  He said the best he could do was print off the new itinerary for us which he did.  Frustrated, we left with the new itinerary and without any semblance of an apology.  It was only later that we found printed at the top of  the itinerary were not only Glenda’s phone number and our residential address, but also my phone number and email address.  Telling us that they only had Glenda’s number on file was either an outright lie or a display of total incompetence.  Also, I’m not a customer service expert, but I would imagine it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to notice that we had not responded to their original phone call and either to call us back again or to try another contact.

So the upshot of all this is that we now leave 3 hours earlier from Canberra, we have an extra 4 hours in Hong Kong waiting for our connecting flight to Zurich and have a much lower appreciation for FlightCentre.  Oh, and when bugged by Glenda to check some detail or fact, I will trust her instincts a little more.

London to Paris to Bern legs booked

March 2, 2010

Have now booked the London to Paris and Paris to Bern legs of our trip.  In both cases, I relied heavily on advice from The Man in Seat 61 [www.seat61.com].  I’ve said before and I’ll have no hesitation repeating myself that this site is an excellent resource for anyone contemplating train travel through Europe.

London to Paris

We are travelling on Eurostar for this leg.  The trip will take us about 2 and a half hours.  Leaving London’s St Pancras station around midday and arriving Paris Nord at around 3:30 PM.  I was quite impressed by the Eurostar.com online booking site which even gave me the option of choosing which seats I wanted in which carriage.  By booking this trip 120 days in advance we managed to get 2 adult seats for less than 90 Euro.

And no, we didn’t choose seat 61.

Paris to Bern

We are travelling via Lausanne for our trip to Bern from Paris.  We leave Paris at around 8:00 AM on the TGV Sud-Est, change trains in Lausanne around midday to a Swiss rail intercity train and arrive in Bern around 1:30 PM.   We booked the tickets using the French site [The Man in Seat 61 helped again here with excellent instruction here].  By booking direct and 90 days in advance we were able to get 2 adult tickets for less than 100 Euro.

Now that those two trips are booked the only rail booking left to do is our Swiss rail pass and any Swiss rail trips that require reservations.

Note: the fares mentioned here are based on non-refundable tickets.  Given we know exactly which days we are travelling, this was the cheapest option for us.