I’m back from my weekend in Finland and Estonia. There’ll be more photos throughout the week from what was a smashing trip to the Nordic region. I also have stacks of photos from my earlier visit to Hong Kong to post.
There’s so much awesomeness to come! Enjoy it!
This weekend, I’m visiting Helsinki in Finland and Tallinn in Estonia.
I got here via Norwegian Air Shuttle, a low-cost and mostly no-frills airline that gets you from A to B. Norwegian differs from the likes of RyanAir and EasyJet though in two ways; everyone gets a comfortable leather seat and everyone gets free on-board WIFI. Being able to share photos on Facebook whilst 11,000 up in the air was very enjoyable and made the short journey fly by.
I can’t say the overall experience with Norwegian sparkled, but they got the job done efficiently and got me to my destination safely (despite the best efforts of some very windy conditions upon arrival). Considering what I paid for my fare, I can’t really ask for more.
In which my epic journey comes to end and I run out of things to say, to the extent that I just start listing tv shows and films.
19 April 2011 - 0505 Hong Kong
Just arrived at Hong Kong International Airport which is completely dead. There’s no staff & nothing’s open. I’ve never seen an airport like it. Mine is literally the first flight of the day so as a result, there’s about 20 of us here, all milling around with nowhere to go. All the desks are closed. Staff are now arriving.
Taxi journey was a breeze and came to $362.50. It took 40 minutes. Enjoyed the ride.
Right, boarding to commence shortly. My last flight, thank goodness. 12 hours and 50 minutes. Hopefully my row of four seats is still completely vacant by the time I get on board.
0440 United Kingdom
That’s 1140 Singapore time. Been up in the air for 3 hours.The flight has felt shorter than the other flights which is a good sign. Watched Griff Rhys Jones explore Hong Kong on my entertainment screen. I was interested in seeing what he thought. On the whole, he saw the same Hong Kong I did, though he found the people of HK to be ‘hospitable’. Personally, I didn’t experience any notable hospitality. He didn’t appear to experience any of the pace or rudeness either. Not that he mentioned anyway.
Also watched a film; How Did You Know starring the lovely Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson. I give it two of a possible five MorelliStars. It passed the time and had some nice, well portrayed moments. Jack Nicholson was excellent given the script he was given.
Going well. Lots of bumps. While I can’t ignore the turbulance, I’m certainly coping with it a lot better. Just watched Undercover Boss USA which was excellent. Next, I’m going to give Due Date a try. If it doesn’t work out, I have another episode of Undercover Boss to watch. After that… hmmm. While there’s plenty on the system, there’s slim pickings when it comes to good stuff. By Qantas’ own rating system, most films have 2 out of 5 stars.
Almost half way. Pleased I’m coping so well and that time isn’t crawling like on my 12 hour flight from London to Singapore.
Landed. On the M1 on my way back home. Mum and dad kindly came to pick me up.
And that’s it. Thanks for reading. Now to start planning for my next trip!
In which I’m very much outnumbered by old people as I arrive in country number 3, New Zealand.
27 March 2011 - 0834 Sydney, Australia
Sydney airport is nice, but enough already with the audible announcements! Every frigging minute there’s a “final call”. Every other airport in the world has dispensed with the audio announcements. It’s time to do the same Sydney. It’s annoying!
In other news, Gate 25 for QF55 is rammed full of old people. The number of people around my age is in single figures.
2301 Auckland, New Zealand
After an arduous and tedious customs procedure where I was asked multiple questions, I’m now in New Zealand. And wow, is my host pulling out the stops!!! I’m in Leigh in what is officially still the City of Auckland but really isn’t. We’re spending the night at Iain’s holiday home. His intention is to show me the Northland Region before heading back to Auckland at the weekend. He’s picked me up from the airport, he’s driven me around & he’s bought me an amazing dinner of enormous New Zealand Green-lipped Mussels. He’s already been an exceptional host. But with plans including going to see Stone Temple Pilots live in concert, a birthday party and live rugby, I really have won the travel lottery. It’s going to be an exciting week!
Outside, the wind is blowing in off of the Pacific Ocean, buffeting the single pane window frames. A strangely comforting sound.
Anyway, best get some sleep. A busy day awaits.
In which I take my first tentative steps in Singapore. It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for me.
10 March 2011 - 1153 Singapore Time
Well then. Singapore. Here I am after a marathon 12 hour 50 minute flight on-board a Qantas Boeing 747. I surprised myself as to how well I dealt with it. In the past, short haul European flights have been more or less a nightmare, but despite frequent bouts of turbulence (particularly over the Himalayas), I stayed calm and controlled. Food was reasonably good and in good supply and service was great, but boy was I fed up 6 hours in. The last 6 dragged. I tried to nap but I couldn’t get comfortable enough, so instead I watched tv programmes and films for the entire flight.
Right now, I’m standing on the rooftop terrace of my hotel, Hangout @ Mount Emily. The skyscrapers of the CBD are nearby. It’s comfortably warm but also noticeably humid, with plenty of cloud in the sky.
Things I’ve noticed about Singapore already; The birdsong is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It’s really tropical sounding. Well, it would be. I’m in the tropics. Also, everyone is very smiley and friendly. The number of people who’ve smiled at me is into double figures. I asked a fella in the street for directions to the hotel and he bubbled over with smiles, politeness and friendliness.
Off to do some light exploring. Gonna take it very easy today. Feeling slightly groggy from the flight. My body is still bouncing around from the turbulence strangely enough.
Raining on and off. Big blobs. Many people put up umbrellas but most enjoy the break in the humidity. Wandered aimlessly (which is the best way to wander by the way) for a few hours in the centre. Found myself mixing with bankers and other office workers on their lunch breaks. The CBD is just a cluster of skyscrapers plastered with the logos of banking giants. I followed the crowds into Telok Ayer Market(also known as Lau Pa Sat Festival Market), a Hawker Centre, one of many food halls across the city. It was buzzing inside. I had a disappointing Noodle Soup followed by a dessert of Mango Milk Ice and a slab of Raspberry Ripple ice cream folded into a slice of colour dyed bread. It was yum! I think puddings are gonna be the big thing on this leg of the trip.
Another observation; You always hear people use the phrase ‘melting pot’, but I really don’t think there’s a better example of a melting pot than Singapore. Most of the population are ethnic Chinese, but the rest represent all the other nations of the world. It’s actually quite amazing how many nations and religions are represented here and how well they mix.
In this second edition of my trip notes from Spain, I muse some more on the Spanish and Spain itself, I have a splashing time at the Water Park and we visit the smart and sophisticated city of Alicante. Sun block and hats at the ready! Let’s go!
0057 CET Spain is an odd place. Everyone stays up very late, even on a Sunday night. Right now, I’m ready to turn in, yet down on the street, people are having lively conversation, cars drive past with music blaring and the bar/restaurant is playing music which is audible up here. For all you can critise Britain and the British for, at least it’s built into almost the entire population that make unecessary noise past 2300 hours is not cool. Only drunks break this rule. Everyone else tiptoes about as if it’s ilegal. Here in Spain though, it’s perfectly acceptable to play music in a residential area at 1 in the morning or have a fireworks display at 4. Thankfully, the bins are being emptied as I write this so at least I won’t be woken up by that like I was at 3 last night. Still horribly sticky tonight. The crikets are playing their soothing music. Aqua park after a sleep. Goodnight.
1836 Man am I beat! And also, man, am I burnt! Spent the day at the local Water Park, Aquopolis, with slides, flumes, wave pool, etc. Good fun, but rather expensive. Bit cooler today, helped largely by a steady breeze. Everyone seemed to have fun, even Jill who conquered her fear of putting her head underwater by going on a couple of rides. Near the end of our time in the park, I had a nasty reaction to the chlorine in the water and couldn’t keep my eyes open. Right now, we’re all shattered. Oddly, just mentioning my eye problem here has brought the pain back slightly, suggesting it might be partly all in the mind. Later, Jack and I prepare dinner; a tomato, rice, chick peas, spinach and chicken concoction. Mmmm. 2316 Dinner was a success! Really tasty!
1046 On the bus to Alicante. Hopefully it’ll provide an opportunity to experience some real Espagna.
1204 Really enjoyable journey. Now to see some sights.
1759 Wow! Alicante is nice! I thought it was a typical seaside town, but it’s actually a smart and sophisticated city with attractive plazas and squares, interesting architecture and lots of of attractions. We wandered the streets, visited the Castillo de Santa Bárbara (a castle) on Mount Benacantil and generally chilled out as best we could in the heat. The castle is well worth a visit. It’s surprisingly large for a free attraction. You can walk up, or you can pay a couple of euros and take the lift. Glad we came! Very hot today. Some temperature displays were indicating it was 36 degrees, although I doubt their accuracy and think it was nearer 30. On the bus back now.
2050 Nothing better than cooling off in a pool after a days sightseeing in the sun. Now, where’s my dinner?
1015 Well, that’s it. That’s Spain done and dusted. What did I learn? Well, the Spanish don’t clear up after their dogs. Spanish streets smell of urine. It’s mostly paralysingly hot. Spain can be generally pretty ugly. The Spanish are a noisy lot who don’t seem to need much sleep. But above all, there’s nothing like good friends. I came to Spain thinking this trip would be dominated by me trying to decide whether I like Spain or not, but in actual fact, it was about spending time with the people I care about and having fun. And I did. While Spain might not be my ideal holiday destination, I learnt that that didn’t actually matter. So long as I was with friends, I could have been in Baghdad for all it mattered. Sometimes, it felt a bit like I was in Baghdad too. So, as I choke back the tears, I’m pootling along the coast road one last time, en route to the airport.
1050 I swear I just saw a flock of flamingos grazing on the salt lakes. They were so pink and flamingo-shaped, they had to be flamingos.
1316 Alicante Airport is one of the best airports I’ve been to. Really big and cool with plenty of space and plenty of shops and comfortable seats. Because it’s so big, it’s very easy to find a quiet spot to write trip notes. Flight starts boarding shortly.
1340 Just finished eating a massive Valencia orange. Oranges really aren’t a good fruit to eat in public unless you don’t mind people watching you dribbling juice over yourself and over the seats and floor. What a mess! It was a delicious orange though.
1621 GMT Back in Britain after a mostly smooth flight. A huge jolt on the approach resulted in a few screams and messy pants though. Noticably chilly and fresh here. I’ve had to put a jumper on for the first time in days. Earlier, I did a really nice sign-off, so now I’ll do a nasty one in the interest of balance; that was Spain, now bog off!
In part one of my trip notes from my first visit to Spain, I discover that some Spaniards like A-ha, that Spain is a bit like Iraq and that no one seems to need any sleep. Oh, and I also come last in a Go-Kart. Phoar, is it getting hot or is it just me?
0910 GMT “Sure, I’ll go to Spain with you guys. I wouldn’t go otherwise.” Will I live to regret saying this? I doubt it. It’s only for four nights and there’s plenty of fun things to do and interesting things to see. The only thing that may affect the outcome of this trip is other people. I’m going to the Costa Blanca region of Spain, a British holiday maker hotspot. Already in the terminal here at Luton Airport, I can see a group of women wearing pink cowboy hats who are almost certainly going to be on my flight. Unless of course, there’s a knees-up in Inverness or Krakow. Here’s hoping! Luckily, I’ve prepared for such an eventuality. I’ve loaded several films on my iPhone, so if there is any yeehahing and general Cowgirl behaviour on the flight, at least I can escape it by being on the run with Jason Bourne.
0910 The behatted ladies aren’t on my flight! They just stopped drinking for long enough to board their flight to Dublin.
1019 Still in the departure lounge. They appear to be playing birdsong over the public address system. Barely audible, but definately birdsong. Nice!
1410 CET In the plane, on the approach to Alicante. Just finished watching Yes Man staring Jim Carrey. Pretty good film. It did a good job of making me forget I was 39,000ft up. 30 degrees in Alicante. Great! I’ve got two buses to catch on arrival before I’m anywhere near where my friends are staying. On a side note, when it came to eating my lunch, I found my bag of crisps had inflated to popping point. I had to make a small hole with my teeth before opening in the usual way to avoid potato snack catastophe.
1430 Well, that was awful! Worst turbulance ever! The plane rocked, shook, swayed and dropped for all of the last 15 minutes of the flight. I adopted my unique safety position of clinging desperately to the tray table in front of me with sweaty palms.
1606 I’m on the last leg of the journey, the coach to Torrevieja. It’s absolutely packed, the back of my chair won’t stay still and it’s scorching hot. Still, could be worse. I could be in Fallujah. Actually, am I in Fallujah? It’s very desert like and run-down around these parts. Oh, Jesus! A checkpoint! No… Wait… It’s traffic lights. Going south now along a coast road with the med on my left with a single sailing boat on it. The sea really does nothing for me. There’s nothing interesting about it. I suppose the bit where the water meets the shore can keep me entertained for a bit, but otherwise, give me a mountain any day! Oohh wow! There’s a mountain!
1625 Coach driver is playing take on me by A-ha. Loudly! Good journey, running right along the coast of the med.
1943 Just got back from the pool. Very nice after a long journey and a long walk to the apartment (which will do just fine for four nights). First impressions of Spain; there’s no grass! Everything is sandy, brown or creamy brown or brownish. Like how I imagine Iraq to be.
0016 Still out and about. Had a good meal of stone baked pizza in a restaurant right on the coast. Good value too. While we were eating, two chaps sang and played guitars in typically Spanish fashion. After dinner, while the girls were looking through the night craft market, jack and I enjoyed an outdoor natural history photo exhibition. Some stinkers, but also some amazing shots. Well worth a look. Off to the dodgems and to find a bicycle hire shop (for tomorrow) before turning in. REALLY tired!
0756 Got back last night at 0200 after a long walk back to the apartment. It meant a slept for longer than I probably would have done (because of the mugginess). Still didn’t get much sleep though. The heat was opressive so I slept on the sofa in the lounge with the patio doors wide open. That provided a bit of air, but it also provided a night time soundtrack of people shouting and talking, cars going past, crickets (which are still going as I write this) and the bin lorry emptying the bins at 3 in the morning and a large fireworks display at 4. Still, didn’t bother me much. I slept between interruptions quite easily and the interruptions themselves were actually quite entertaining. Today, we’re going to try and hire some bikes and then cycle to a go-karting centre. Fun!
0826 Still sat on the balcony in the relatively cool air and peace. Here’s another Spain observation; I don’t know why anyone would want to come here. I haven’t seen anything that’s impressed me yet. Everythings ugly. Horribly designed buildings packed into as small a space as possible. Areas of waste land running along parts of the coast. Everything brown or cream. The sea is nothing more than an expanse of blue below another expanse of blue. What’s to see? The streets were absolutely packed last night. Sure, there was a fun fair and a night market and plenty of restaurants, but you get all that in other countries. Why come here? I really don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just not the best place in the world.
1519 At the go-karting track. Just did my 8 minutes in a 270cc kart. We reckon they go down the straights at 40-50mph. Good fun, although a didn’t feel like I was in full control of the thing. The bike shop was closed, so we walked here. It was literally miles and the heat made it a bit of a chore. Despite this, it was still pretty enjoyable. Off now for my second run around the track.
1827 Got a taxi back. None of us could bare walking all the way back. Go-karting the second time was better. I had a more responsive kart and more guts. Back at the apartment now. Just had another relaxing and cooling swim in the pool. Sorting something out to eat shortly before watching The Little Mermaid on VHS. Party time!
Carry on reading my notes from the Costa Blanca in part two of this series.
So, the tickets are booked, you’ve done whatever you need to do with the liquids in your hand luggage and you’ve made sure your passport hasn’t expired. You’re ready! You’re ready to fly for the first time. Oh, god! You’re going in an airplane! You’re going to be several thousand feet up in the air in a metal tube! What have you done? Fear not! Here are my top tips for first time flyers. These tips were originally posted on 28 October 2007 with my account of my first time in a plane. Once you’ve read these tips, you might find it useful to hear how I coped with my first time in the air.
- Don’t panic! It really isn’t that big a deal. As you read this, there are thousands of people up in the air on routine flights.
- Sit by the wing. I’ve read in various places that in the event of turbulence, it’s the most stable part of the aircraft.
- You are very likely to hit turbulence. It’s not that scary. I actually found it rather exciting. Keep your seat-belt on at all times regardless of what other people are doing.
- If something happens that worries you, look around at other people to see how they’re reacting. If they’re behaving normally, all is well.
- Listen to and read all of the safety advice.
- Sit by the window. Even if you don’t think you will now, I can guarantee you will want to look out of the window. The views are amazing, whether it’s a cloudy day or not.
- Take an iPod with you. If you really are terrified, at least you’ll be able to zone out with your favourite music, tv show or film.
- People told me the worst part about flying is the take off and landing. For me, the takeoff was exhilarating and the landing, while bumpy, was pretty non-eventful.
- Banking is fun. Looking out of the window almost straight down to the ground is wicked!
- I discovered to my horror that the lights get switched off inside the plane on night-time landings. They do this so that your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, so that in the event of an emergency, escaping is easier. Conversely, you will be instructed by cabin staff to make sure the window blinds are up for landings. This is so that in the unlikely event something unfortunate occurs, emergency crews can see inside. Anyway, expect the lights to be switched off on night-time landings. It’s normal.
- Chew gum. The descent when coming back home was AWFUL! I wasn’t chewing gum and I felt my head was going to explode. I almost lost my hearing completely and was in absolute agony. Don’t let this happen to you.
- Enjoy it! Doing new things makes life interesting. It gives you stuff to talk about and experiences to share with others.
I hope these tips help you with your first time in the air. If you have questions about flying or if you have further tips you think people might find useful, use the comment box below to get in touch.