127-129 Germany 2017

127-129 Germany 2017
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this is what you pay extra for, a wee salami sandwich in a cute box

127 Edinburgh-Cologne (Eurowings): I’d raved about my first experience of flying with Eurowings back in February, so I was happy when the excuse arose to fly back to Germany with them again in June. The prices for the basic fare were fairly reasonable. However, I paid a little extra in order to have a pre-booked seat, snack and checked bag, with the express intention of filling the hold bag with German beer and sausages on my return trip. And having downloaded the very nifty Eurowings app, checking in and getting my boarding pass on my phone was easy. But the extravagance of that checked luggage meant standing in a queue at Edinburgh Airport with other people to drop the bag, not something I’d done much in the last few years. As luck would have it, I ended up in the middle of a large bunch of German school kids, but their teacher noticed I had somehow been caught up in the midst of their group, and kindly offered to let me skip the line ahead of them all.
My usual caution had gotten me through bag drop and security with plenty of time to spare, so I had more than an hour to kill before heading to my gate. And whilst wandering around, I came across three pilots sitting at one of the gates having a coffee, clearly waiting to board their aircraft. Given the gate number, I realised these would be United pilots for flight UA109, one of the three daily United services I catered for personally at work. In fact, I knew I would have made these guys their lunch for today’s flight the day before. Since we never get to meet any of our customers, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to meet some now, and maybe ask why United’s pilots insisted on asking for so many damn special meals. So I introduced myself, and explained where I worked and that I had prepared their lunch today, successfully recounting who had asked for what (‘Oh, so it was you who wanted that chickpea salad eh?’), much to their delight and amusement. Sadly they didn’t have much time to chat longer, but I was able to revise my opinion of United’s pilots being bloody awkward bastards who just request any old special meal to be dicks. I wish I had thought to take a selfie though.
As for my own flight an hour later, there was a slight delay in boarding the aircraft, although not enough yet to upset the careful meeting arrangements I had in place with Derek at Cologne. But after sitting immobile on the tarmac for thirty minutes, apparently waiting on clearance from Eurocontrol in Brussels to depart, I was getting concerned enough to start sending a few texts. We finally left the gate about forty minutes after the scheduled departure, but then held for another ten minutes on a taxiway next to the runway, presumably waiting on final clearance to depart. Several other aircraft eased past us on their departure before it was finally our turn, leaving almost exactly an hour late. If there was any explanation for the delay, then I must have missed it.
Having had such a great experience with Eurowings before, I was aware that it might just have been a one-off, especially having subsequently read some of their Skytraxx reviews. I wasn’t going to take the delayed departure into account, as that could’ve been due to factors beyond their control. The on-board service was the same as last time, with the little snack box, soft drink, digital entertainment etc. The only difference this time was that the crew weren’t quite as friendly and attentive as they had been before. Maybe it was because this flight was operated by an Air Berlin crew, rather than a Germanwings crew (although my one experience of Air Berlin had been fine two years ago). I never did find out why we were delayed though.

128 Stuttgart-Brussels (Germanwings): When I’d flown home from Stuttgart in February, the ticket was bought through Brussels Airlines, mainly so that I could have a Quick burger at Brussels Airport whilst in transit, and maybe buy a few cans of Jupiler. Being a big fan of Bacon Deluxe’s and cheap lager, I was happy to book the same route again, and it meant that I could also add to my SAS Eurobonus points by flying with one of their codeshare partners. As before, the first leg from Stuttgart to Brussels was actually a Germanwings flight, which was operated on behalf of Eurowings, who themselves are a subsidiary of Lufthansa, one of Brussels Airlines’ Star Alliance partners. Clear? Sadly the Brussels Airlines app on my phone didn’t think so, as once more I wasn’t able to check in online with my booking reference. I’d had exactly the same problem in February, and hoped that somebody might have fixed it by now. So, for the second time on this trip, I had to go through the distress of having to speak to an actual person at a check-in desk, (although I would’ve been doing this anyway to check my bag full of beer and sausages, purchased at Lidl earlier that afternoon). Once more I had a paper boarding pass to carry around and worry about losing, so retro. Once I’d gotten through security, I treated myself to one last schnitzel with kartoffensalat, just as I’d done in February. However, unlike February, I actually had some money left, and was able to treat myself to a few boxes of Fazer. Quite why Finland’s finest chocolate should be on sale at Stuttgart’s airport was beyond me, but it was probably the only way I was going to get some before December.
Despite being full on this occasion, the flight (operated by Germanwings), was as enjoyable as before, elevating my opinion of Eurowings again after a slight dip on my flight out (operated by Air Berlin). Maybe this was why Eurowings seemed to get such polarizing reviews, because so many of their flights were operated for them by other airlines (Brie and Tyler’s flight’s to Cologne had been with Eurowings flights too, but operated by Sun Express Deutschland). This flight was also memorable for seeing my first rainbow from above, though sadly I wasn’t quite quick enough with the cameras to take full advantage.

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My first Russian plane, not keen…

129 Brussels-Edinburgh (Cityjet): I’d had plenty of stops in Brussels in recent years, so there was pretty much a set routine to them by now; Bacon Deluxe from Quick, hideously expensive can of Jupiler from a bar, quick message to Simona to say hello whilst I was in town. But there were two unwelcome additions to the routine this time; a late change of gate, and my first flight on a Sukhoi aircraft. I must admit to holding the Russian aviation industry in fairly low esteem, and was only slightly calmed by reading the Wikipedia article on the new Superjet 100’s, which was licensed to fly in the EU to be fair. I was mildly annoyed by my aisle seat (that’s what happens when you can’t check in online), and even more annoyed by the forty-five minute wait for our pilot, who was apparently arriving on another flight at a different gate. This started bringing back dark thoughts about all those delays returning from Paris recently, and I was due to work at 5am the next day after this trip as well. But we got underway eventually, and at least I didn’t have a hen party for seatmates this time.
The flight crew did their best to make up a bit of time on the way home, however, any thoughts of reaching my bed before midnight were about to be dashed by Edinburgh Airport. After a week of sunshine in Germany, it was pretty depressing to descend below the clouds and see the miserable, pishing rain that awaited our arrival. Even more so when we realised that we would have to brave it to dash across the tarmac and reach the buses that would take us to the terminal. Well, when they turned up. When they did, I was fairly streetwise and headed for the first bus, climbing on at the door nearest the front to ensure I would be one of the first to exit when we reached customs. As it turned out, there was actually no queue at the border when we arrived, but better safe than sorry. I felt I was doing well for time so far, but I still had to get my bag, not something I’ve been doing much recently. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that I’d forgotten how appallingly slow the baggage handlers could be at Edinburgh. As the wait went from ten minutes, to fifteen, to twenty, myself and my fellow damp passengers stood and fidgeted with varying degrees of frustration and anger. Finally, the belt jerked to life, and our sodden suitcases started to bleed slowly through the little hatch, at a steady rate of possibly one or two a minute. Luckily, my bag was one of the first out, and I gleefully yanked it off the belt and made for the exit. Unfortunately, I could tell straight away that something was wrong, as there was a distinct beer smell emanating from my luggage, and it was lot wetter than I would expect from its brief journey across the tarmac. There was no time to worry about the implications right now though, as the clock was very much against me, and the need to catch the first available transport into town was very much the priority. Luckily for me, I chose the Airlink with possibly the slowest driver in the entire Lothian buses fleet. This led to a maddeningly slow crawl into the city, and a frantic dash along Princes Street in heavy rain to catch the last 23. Once home, I was able to assess the damage; a single can of Kolsch had burst open, soaking all my dirty laundry; could’ve been worse.
Generally speaking, as it is my hometown airport (and I technically work there), I will try to defend Edinburgh when people knock it for delays, customer service etc. But even I have to admit that sometimes, it is one of the most brutal airports around to be arriving at. I timed our progress from touchdown to leaving the terminal, and clocked it at around fifty minutes. Considering the fact that there had been no queue at customs, that’s effectively fifty minutes to get off the aircraft and collect a bag. Sorry, but for flying into a relatively small airport on a Tuesday night, that is absolutely shocking.

 

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124-126 (France 2017)

124-126 (France 2017)

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124 Edinburgh-Southampton (Flybe) 26/4/17: I’d only flown with Flybe once before, and had been fairly underwhelmed by the experience of their noisy, grubby and grimy little Dash-8’s. But you can’t judge an airline on one flight, and they were flying where and when I wanted to go, and at a reasonable price too, so I decided to give them another chance.
For most people, getting to the airport for a 6:40am flight would mean a miserable, bleary-eyed morning, but for me it just meant getting the bus to work at the same time I usually do. Security being a breeze at that time on a Thursday morning, it wasn’t long before I was being bussed across the tarmac to the aircraft for the first leg of my trip. Flybe’s little purple prop planes were exactly as I remembered; slightly worn and dirty-feeling, fairly noisy (as the booking computer had put me under the wing and right next to an engine), and with mildly shop-soiled and weary-looking cabin crew. The actual cabin itself was maybe only one-third full though, which gave everyone plenty of space, though the purple ‘mood’ lighting was a little nauseating. And the broken luggage bins that had been taped shut with a paper ‘Do not use’ sign sellotaped on were a bit embarrassing. It wasn’t the worst flight I’d ever been on, but it didn’t do anything to change my impressions from my first experience of flying with them.

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Southampton’s snug terminal

125 Southampton-La Rochelle (Flybe) 28/4/17: I’ve transited through some of the biggest, busiest and best airports in the world; Dubai, Singapore, Schipol, Heathrow etc. But I never thought I would add Southampton’s transit facilities to that list. Actually, there were no transit facilities, as transit passengers had to go through arrivals then come back through security to departures (well, after standing outside the terminal for ten minutes because the door through to arrivals wasn’t working, luckily it was a beautiful spring morning in Hampshire). That wasn’t such a big hassle given the size of the airport, but it did mean I couldn’t buy any drinks in Edinburgh or I would have to bin them before going through security again.

The departures area was all you would expect of an airport that size; Duty Free, bar, Costa and WH Smith’s. There were comfy couches and free wi-fi though. Flights didn’t seem to be departing with any great speed however, and I was mildly irritated (but not surprised), when our advertised boarding time came and went without anyone even manning the gate. We were finally boarded a short time later, and the flight deck made no mention or apology of any delay, so I guessed there was quite a bit of leeway built into the schedule.

Once again I endured a noisy flight from the same seat under the wing, but the cabin was in slightly better repair than the last one, and the crew were markedly more enthusiastic and personable, enough to make me think I might actually fly with these people again. The flight was short and pleasant, albeit with some heavy turbulence on approach; maybe that’s to be expected landing at the coast in a smaller aircraft. But there were some wonderful views to be had, with the harbour’s famous towers clearly visible in the distance. As for the airport itself, despite probably being one of the smallest I’ve ever arrived at, was modern, comfortable and welcoming. Admittedly there was a fair wait at the tiny border control point, but that was only to be expected with all that’s been happening in France recently. The airport was so nice that I actually regretted the fact I wouldn’t be departing from here; I would have been quite happy to have sat at one of those little cafe tables in the French sunshine on Sunday evening…

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La Rochelle’s small but perfecrtly formed terminal

126 Paris CDG-Edinburgh (Easyjet) 30/4/17: When planning this trip, I was surprised to find it was actually cheaper to get a train to Paris and fly home from there than it would be to fly back from La Rochelle itself. Happy to add a day in the French capital to the itinerary, I booked the late Easyjet service from Charles De Gaulle. Getting there was fairly straightforward, with a direct train from my base in Montparnasse. And despite all the various parts of terminal 2 attached to the train station, finding the right one wasn’t a big deal. And despite the constant terror alerts in France at the time, security was fairly painless. In fact, I had probably allowed too much time for getting to the airport and clearing security, as I found myself with over two hours to kill. So I was fairly relieved when we finally started the boarding process. However, the wait was only just beginning. After checking everyone through the gate, my fellow passengers and I were left in the corridor connecting to the air bridge for twenty minutes, with no explanation forthcoming form either airline or airport. With no aircon in the narrow corridor, older passengers started to struggle with the heat, whilst the younger ones wailed and complained at our inactivity, When we were finally allowed onboard the aircraft, we discovered the reason for the delay; the outbound aircraft had to return to Luton that night for its scheduled maintenance check, and the crew had had to wait for a replacement aircraft. By the time we were boarded, and had taxied to the runway, we were almost an hour behind schedule. I was acutely aware of the fact that I was working at 7am the next day, and being surrounded by a large hen group on the flight did nothing for my rapidly shortening patience.
We finally arrived in Edinburgh, still hopelessly behind schedule, to find that the E-passport gates were broken, and another two flights were already in the queue in front of us, leading to a lengthy delay at the border, Having finally cleared customs, I sprinted to the bus and only just managed to get onboard before a group of thirty French schoolchildren. It was well after midnight when we arrived in the city, meaning there were no more domestic bus services, so I had to make the final mile of my journey on foot. I eventually arrived home around two hours after I should have. Much as I loved my day in Montparnasse, I wish I had paid the extra money had a beer at one of those tables outside La Rochelle’s cosy little airport..

121-123 (Germany 2017)

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121. Edinburgh-Stuttgart (Easyjet) 10/02/17: Like the flights with Easyjet to Reykjavik and Geneva, the trip to Stuttgart was also becoming a little bit routine. However, thanks to my work, it’s now no problem getting up early in the morning and out to the airport for an early flight. Also, I now have the added bonus of looking out the window on take off, and literally watching my work recede into the distance…

122. Stuttgart-Brussels (Germanwings) 13/02/17: My trip home had been booked with Brussels Airlines, who I’ve flown with a few times with no problem, and I knew I would earn points on my SAS Eurobonus account. But it involved a code-share flight to Brussels first with Germanwings, which they operated on Eurowings’ behalf, as Eurowings was a subsidiary of Lufthansa, a fellow member of Star Alliance along with Brussels Airlines. Clear? Not surprisingly, my newly-downloaded Brussels Airlines app got very confused and wouldn’t let me check-in online, meaning I actually had to do it at the airport by speaking to check-in staff, not something I’ve done for quite a while.

Having finally gotten checked-in, I was looking forward to flying with a new airline (whoever it was that would actually be flying me to Brussels), for the first time. It didn’t look like the flight was particularly busy, as all the passengers squeezed onto the bus quite comfortably, before being ferried out to the (Germanwings) aircraft. And I’d barely sat down before I heard the boarding complete announcement from the cabin crew. Looking around, I had an entire row to myself, and the rows in front and behind were empty. The aircraft was perhaps one-third full. The decor was nice with plain, grey leather seats, the cabin crew were friendly and the buy-on-board menu looked good, although I would have to give it a miss due to ‘budget restraints’. So I was quite surprised when, after take-off, the cabin crew came round and offered everyone a complimentary snack bag, containing a basic sandwich (salami with some mustard), a small packet of Haribo bears and a bottle of water, all tucked inside a neat little Eurowings bag. I was even more surprised when they came around again soon after, offering a choice of tea, coffee or fruit juice. I thought this was supposed to be a budget airline?

Munching on my sandwich, I decided to check out on board entertainment system ,which was offered via wifi to your mobile device; my device connected no problem, and there was loads of content to keep everyone happy; a lot of it was premium and offered at a small price, but there was plenty free stuff too, such as destination guides and moving map etc). This seemed to be a ridiculously good level of service for a budget airline to be offering; I hadn’t really checked any reviews or anything beforehand, so I had no expectations, but this was turning out to be one of the most pleasant short flights I’d ever had. Suitably impressed, I took a moment upon arrival to tell the cabin crew as much whilst I was leaving; they certainly seemed happy to hear it, and I know from experience how much a wee thank you from a happy customer can mean.

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123. Brussels-Edinburgh (Brussels Airlines) 13/02/17: I always enjoy flying through Brussels. Message to Simona? Check! Bacon Deluxe meal at Quick? Check! Cans of Jupiler to take home? Check! The only thing that could ruin a connection through Brussels was knowing I had come off a great flight and the next one would be nowhere near as good sadly. This flight was full, and hand luggage was a real problem. Myself and the girl next to me both arrived at our seats to find the bins full on both sides of the aircraft already (fucking jackets and duty-free for the most part, a pet-hate!), and had to sit with our bags stuffed under our seats all the way back to Edinburgh. Actually, the same girl had been sitting next me at the gate, and also ended up on the Airlink too; I probably shoulda spoken to her as I noticed she was listening to LCD Soundsytem and Sleater-Kinney on the flight, oh well. Anyway, suffice to say there were no cute snack bags for the passengers on this leg sadly

#easyjet #eurowings #germanwings #brusselsairlines

119-120 (Iceland 2016)

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119. Edinburgh-Reykjavik (Easyjet) 1/11/16: The Easyjet flight on the first Tuesday of November was becoming a bit of a routine, and it always seems to be notable for some kinda special event. Two years ago had marked the last trip on my passport, and last year had marked the occasion of my 100th flight. This was another special occasion as, for the first time, I actually had someone travelling with me, having convinced Derek that attending Iceland Airwaves with me was the best way to celebrate his upcoming 40th birthday (albeit seven months early). And I had plenty of fun watching him try to escape disaster on Prepare For Impact, easily the best passenger safety simulation game for mobile devices, (though in fairness, I once opened the wrong emergency exit on a water landing, flooding the aircraft and drowning everybody).

This was also the first time I’d flown since starting working in the aviation industry, but, as my company don’t cater for Easyjet, I wasn’t really bothered what they were serving.

 

120. Reykjavik-Edinburgh (Easyjet) 6/11/16: Another ‘sort-of’ first on this flight home, although not a particularly welcome one; I was introduced to the unwelcome feeling of walking down the steps upon arrival, and being literally able to see my work across the tarmac. Ah well…

#easyjet #icelandairwaves2016

 

 

116-118 (Finland 2016)

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116. Edinburgh-Stockholm (SAS) 14/04/16: This trip had been booked six, long months previously. All my hopes and prayers had finally been answered; Finnair were starting a direct Helsinki-Edinburgh route. No more Stockholm-Arlanda, and no more six-to-ten hour journey times. Naturally, having probably single-handedly created the online demand for the route with my constant searching, I wanted to be on the first direct flight from Edinburgh to Helsinki. But after initially being offered for around seventy pounds, the prices shot up to over two hundred; surely too much to pay just for the novelty of being on the first flight? But then I realised that the actual first flight would be from Helsinki to Edinburgh; what if I flew out a few days beforehand with one of my usual carriers, had a weekend in FInland, then returned on the landmark flight? This turned out to be a much more sensible and cheaper option.

After so many visits, I naturally have several friends spread across Finland, and I’ll always try to catch up with them if I’m in their neighbourhood. So it was just a little bit unfortunate when it transpired that one of them, Miira, would actually be arriving for a weekend in Edinburgh on the exact same dates that I would be in Finland. To add insult to injury, she would even be arriving on the same aircraft that I was departing on. I had hoped that we could try and arrange to pick the same seats on our flights, so that maybe she could hide some chocolate or something under the seat for me, but it didn’t happen. But as I stood at the gate, watching the aircraft arrive and the passengers disembark, I did try and keep my eyes peeled for a tall, blonde girl coming down the steps, (not easy on a flight that had just arrived from Stockholm). Strange to think of one of your friends being on the same aircraft just before you…

117. Stockholm-Helsinki (SAS) 14/04/16: Me and SAS had seen plenty of each other over the last eighteen months, but there was every chance that this might be the last time we flew together. Naturally I had accrued a considerable amount of Eurobonus points in that time; not enough for a reward flight, but certainly enough to purchase some free beers on board. But when I had ordered said beers and handed over my Eurobonus card as payment, the stewardess looked a little confused, as if I had just handed her a teddy bear with its legs missing. Apparently using points to buy goods onboard wasn’t that common. I actually had to use my credit card as payment as well, as they had no way to tell if I had any points on my card. I don’t know if that was due to a fault in the card reader, or if was the usual practise, but it was an awful lot of hassle that I’m not sure I could be bothered going through with again.

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118. Helsinki-Edinburgh (FInnair) 18/04/16: Finally. Being a bit of an aviation geek by now, I knew that airlines generally made a bit of a fuss when a new flight was launched. So I arrived at Helsinki-Vantaa in a good mood, despite having to get up at half-five on a Monday morning. When I arrived at the gate, the airport had certainly made an effort; free tea, coffee and oatcakes were laid on for the departing passengers. A large display, (with a slightly rubbish photograph of Edinburgh), proudly announced the launch of today’s new route. And there was even some bagpipe music drifting around the departure lounge, provided by a guy in the corner with a laptop. I happily got in the spirit of things, getting my picture taken with the sign, and showing some of the marketing girls some real pictures of Edinburgh on my phone. They were actually quite impressed that I had flown to Finland specifically to be on this flight, something I don’t think any other Scottish people had done. The flight was fairly standard, although I did get a free drink; when the drinks service came round and I asked for a beer, I was happy to pay for it. But the purser went to the front of the cabin and returned with a Karhu, and told me not to worry about it when I made to pay for it. I had noticed business class was practically empty, so he probably had a surplus of complimentary drinks sitting down the front.

As we started our approach to Edinburgh, I noticed the crew were actually getting quite excited, taking every opportunity to peer out the windows at the landscape below, even taking pictures. I supposed it must be a novelty for them, flying into a new city, even if they were only going to see it from above before leaving an hour later. But I noticed that they kept looking out of the wrong side of the aircraft. So when the purser passed, I got his attention, and explained that, when approaching Edinburgh from the East along the Forth estuary, we would have a view of the entire city to the port side of the aircraft. He was grateful for the local info, and it was only fair that I had told him; I did owe him a beer after all. Plus I couldn’t bear the fact that people were looking at Fife and getting all excited, thinking it was actually Edinburgh.

On arrival, I knew that we would get a water salute from a few fire tenders on the apron, and I wasn’t disappointed; something to tick off the list. But we had an extra welcome waiting for us at the gate, as we were piped off the aircraft. The tarmac was crawling with photographers, and pretty much every passenger stopped to take pictures and video too. For once, nobody was in any rush to get out of the cold and into the terminal. Finally, the crew came down the stairs and posed for more pictures with the piper in front of their aircraft. There were smiles all around, everybody certainly seemed very happy that Finnair were finally in Edinburgh, nobody more so than me.

114-115 (Germany 2016)

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114. Edinburgh-Stuttgart (Easyjet) 04/03/16: Another of those ‘flight number xx should actually have been…’ stories; in this case, number 114 should have been Edinburgh to Vienna, then onwards to Berlin, as I tore the continent up on my annual birthday pub crawl. But a combination of illness and lack of funds resulted in a last-minute cancellation. So when I was feeling a bit better (and wealthier), a few weeks later, I quickly arranged a substitute break. Nowhere near as long or lavish, but much-needed all the same. When I had first gone to Stuttgart I hadn’t really known much about the city, plus I didn’t feel I had really done it justice on camera. And it was still one of the cheapest options for a flight and accommodation from Edinburgh, not to mention the abundance of great beer and sausages on offer. Throw in a night of drinking with Heike for good measure, and it made all the sense in the world to make a return trip

Stuttgart to Edinburgh (Easyjet) 06/03/16: Another flight home from Germany after getting drunk the night before, would I never learn? I seriously contemplated rebooking my flight til the next day and adding a night to my hotel, but I eventually decided I would just have to get on with it. I wasn’t too bad by the time I had made it back to the airport, which is more than could be said for a bunch of Scottish lads who were waiting for the same flight home. In fact, these guys had been on the flight out with me on Friday. And I had also seen them in Mata Hari, (my favourite Stuttgart bar), on Friday night. And I had even seen a few of them at the football on Saturday; I’d been in a quiet corner of the stadium concourse, enjoying the novelty of currywurst and beer at the fitba, and spotted them getting pished at one of the bars. It seemed I was not the only one aware of how cheap a weekend in Stuttgart was. In fact, it’s no secret that a lot of British football fans are heading to Germany each weekend to enjoy the experience of a Bundesliga match, and why not? A great atmosphere in large, modern stadia, much cheaper ticket prices, plus you could drink beer at the game. Although it wasn’t the main reason for me going to Stuttgart, I was certainly happy to catch a match while I was there. I probably let the novelty of drinking at the game get to me though; five pints is probably a bit much when you’re going out to meet your mate later on.

109-113 (Finland, Sweden and Belgium 2016)

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Approaching Stockholm-Arlanda yet again

109. Edinburgh-Stockholm (SAS) 07/01/16: I was in understandably buoyant mood for this trip, having left my job of seven years the day before. I’d felt slightly guilty about having to leave the guys to get on with it, as there was no apparent replacement for me on the horizon. But I wasn’t feeling bad for very long, because I was going to Finland deep in winter, and for Lux Helsinki too.

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Lux Helsinki

110. Stockholm-Helsinki (SAS) 07/01/16: The staff at Stockholm-Arlanda were reassured to see that I was getting on the five-thirty connection to Helsinki as usual, instead of that weird Berlin trick I had pulled on them last time. But I was getting sick of the sight of gate 10 in terminal five…

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leaving Tampere-Pirkkala, the ghost airport

111. Tampere-Stockholm (SAS) 12/01/16: Most of my visits to Finland had involved leaving Helsinki to somewhere like Pori or Savonlinna, then wasting time and money, (and possibly a night’s accommodation), by going all the way back down to Helsinki for my flight home. Wasn’t there any other airports with international connections so I didn’t always have to do that? After some research, I found that there was a daily service from Tampere to Stockholm, which seemed ideal; no pointless back-tracking to the capital, a night out in one of my favourite drinking cities in Finland, plus I’d wanted to see Stockholm in winter. It was even an SAS flight too, earning me more Eurobonus points. And I could easily get an onward flight home from there too.

I arrived for my night in Tampere two hours later than intended. I was originally booked on the short train journey from Toijala at half-eleven. But the night before, I had made the earth-shattering discovery that there were actually two pubs in Toijala, who knew? I had befriended a few locals, and had entertained them with my karaoke skills until the wee hours. So I figured it would be no big deal if I took advantage of my hotel’s midday check out and had an extra hour in bed to recover. I was at the station in plenty of time, and had bought a new ticket for the half-twelve train. I was amusing myself in the waiting room by mentally translating the station announcements, when I realised that one of them was actually the train I was supposed to be on. It was at the other side of the station, and was already departing even as I got up to make a half-hearted dash for it. So, as nonchalantly as I could, I strolled back over to the ticket machine, bought myself another new ticket for the half-one train, and settled down to wait for another hour.

Once I eventually made it to Tampere, I had a couple of things to do before anything else; firstly, I needed to get some loose change to leave my bags in one of the lockers at the train station for a few hours, as it was too early to head to the hotel. Secondly, I needed a local bus pass for twenty-four hours, as my hotel was too far to walk, and I would need it to get to the airport tomorrow. So I struggled with my luggage in the snow to the nearest cash machine, and was more than a bit miffed when, after great deliberation, it informed me that it was now out of service. Sod my luck. Down the street to the next one, and, bizarrely, I got the same result. And again at a third one. Was the whole banking network of Finland collapsing today, just when I needed to use my card? I couldn’t see how there could be a problem with it, as I had used it earlier (twice!), to buy tickets at the train station at Toijala. But I got the same result at a fourth machine, and had to wonder if the card was maybe damaged in some way. What was I going to do? My hotel for tonight was already paid for; it was a bit of a walk, but doable. But there was no way I could walk to the airport tomorrow. And even if I somehow got there for my flight, it was completely impossible to walk from Stockholm-Arlanda into the city. I used my smart phone app to check the balance on my card, just in case, but there was still over three hundred pounds on it. Maybe the card was damaged, but I definitely had money; how could I get to it?

The worst case scenario (apart from wandering Finland homeless for the rest of my life), was using my card online to purchase a train back to Helsinki and then a new flight home, neither of which would involve using physical cash. It’s not really what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t see any other option. As I wandered aimlessly around the city, considering my next move, I found myself outside the Western Union. Unlike that similar situation in New York two years ago, I no longer had some random souvenir bank notes in my wallet to exchange. But maybe I could use my card to actually buy some currency.

So I went inside, asked if they sold currency, and the girl behind the counter was happy to inform me that they did indeed. So I asked if I could I buy some Euros, much to her surprise. But I explained the situation, and she agreed to try to help me out. Unfortunately though, she couldn’t do it with a credit card, only a bank card. Dammit. However, she confided, (looking around nervously as if she might go to jail for what she was about to tell me), there was another currency exchange in the Koskikeskus, I could try down there. I thanked her, and trudged back off into the growing darkness. When I got down there, I saw that they had their own cash machine, so I decided to try that option one more time before embarrassing myself by trying to explain why I wanted to buy some Euros from them. And lo and behold, there was all my money, delivered with a particularly enthusiastic beep. What had been the problem all this time? I’ll probably never know, but at least I wasn’t finishing my holiday early or being found frozen solid on a park bench. Ironically enough, by now it was so late that I didn’t even need change for a luggage locker, I could go and check in to the hotel now. And I wouldn’t have to walk out there either.

Tampere-Pirkkala airport reminded me of Puerto Princesa, except for the heavy snow, complete absence of any other passengers and it’s distance from the city. It was about the same size though. It was slightly eery, walking into the empty terminal building, checking my bags at the automatic machine, sending them through on the baggage belt, all without another soul in sight. The only indication that I wasn’t in some strange, aviation-themed horror movie was the faint sounds of laughter coming from the kitchen of the small cafe, so at least somebody was in the building somewhere. According to the departures board, my afternoon flight to Stockholm was the only flight remaining that day, (even though it was only just after two o’clock). My fellow passengers started arriving in one’s and two’s over the next hour or so, and I realised that I could easily have arrived later. But when I thought of all the hassle I’d had in much busier airports around the globe, I reckoned the people of Tampere had it pretty cushy.

112. Stockholm-Brussels (Brussels Airlines) 14/01/16: After an extortionate break in the Swedish capital, my trip home would involve my first visit to Bromma, Stockholm’s second airport. Much closer to the city, but still just as expensive to get to using the Flygbussarna. And after over a hundred flights through countless airports, imagine my mortification and embarrassment at forgetting to take my belt off before security. Schoolboy error.

The terminal was about the same size as Tampere-Pirkkala, but with people in it. Most of the other passengers were business types on early flights somewhere important, and were presumably more intelligent than the kind of people I would usually fly with. So why would they start queueing at the gate when everyone can clearly see that the aircraft hasn’t even arrived yet? I mean, wouldn’t the captain, first officer and cabin crew sitting behind us in the lounge drinking coffee suggest that there wasn’t much point standing up to get in line? And why do people bother to queue anyway, we’ve all got a seat booked…
The flight itself was pleasant enough, though I made a mental note not to pick a seat underneath the wings on an Avro aircraft, as the overhead luggage bins were a little smaller in that section of the cabin. The buy on board food was actually quite good too, a really nice turkey meatball sub provided exclusively for the airline by Panos.

113. Brussels-Edinburgh (Brussels Airlines) 14/01/16: As I had suspected, there were plenty of options for flying back to Edinburgh from Stockholm on the dates that I wanted, but one stood out by a mile as being far cheaper than the rest; Brussels Airlines. When I checked the details a little more closely, I saw that it involved a lengthy stop of over six hours at Brussels, which probably explained the price. But surely I could kill six hours in the airport of the beer capital of the world, especially if the Quick restaurant was open again? In fact, why did I have to spend the time in the airport at all? If my luggage was already checked through to Edinburgh, and I had an EU passport, was there anything to stop me leaving the airport and spending the time in the city instead? I couldn’t see any reason why not, but I took the time to message the airport on their Facebook page and check; they told me it was okay, as long as I remembered to allow enough time to go through security again on my return.

Naturally I wasn’t going to visit Brussels without trying to visit Simona, and luckily she had time between work and her Thursday night tango class for a few drinks at the city’s newly opened Brew Dog bar. I was a little worried about leaving enough time to get back for my flight; with Europe on high alert after the recent attacks on Paris, I didn’t want to be responsible for checked luggage flying out of Brussels without its passenger. Simona assured me I would only need about ten minutes to get through security again, and she used the airport far more heavily than me. But I reckoned it would be at least fifteen minutes, so we made a bet on it, with the loser buying the drinks next time we met up. And, annoying as it was to wait nearly twenty minutes to get my bag screened, at least I know I’m getting a pint out of it someday.