Joyrides Around Europe
Europe - what can you say? I’d never been there before. I hadn’t been anywhere close.
Welcome everyone to my latest TR. This one covers my joyrides across Europe from January.
Picking up from part way through my previous report, the Cathay Pacific Marathon, I find myself in Amsterdam.
1 January 2012
I had planned to meet up with a couple of friends for some spotting around Amsterdam Airport. Schiphol is such a great airport for photography - there are only canals separating you from the planes so you have an unobstructed view over the runways. A pity that the weather was bad.. But it’s such a fun place for photography I know I’ll be back. I had stayed the night at the Novotel Amsterdam Airport. The clever designers placed the smoking area right outside the front entrance to the hotel which left me gagging between the bus and the hotel lobby until I simply held my breath when boarding the bus/leaving the bus.
2 January 2012
A frantic dash through to the train station got me to my train to Dusseldorf just in time. My first ICE train journey was a very pleasant one. I had never come across such high tech trains before - the ones in New Zealand are diesel powered and are extremely loud and rickety. In comparison, this trip was quiet and smooth. I understand why trains are so important for intra-European travel.
I arrived at Dusseldorf hbf and met up with another friend for some spotting at Dusseldorf Airport. While not the busiest airport, it has a couple of great viewing terraces at either end of the airport and few widebodies, including those from Lufthansa. Air Berlin, Emirates and Etihad.
I stayed at the Mercure Dusseldorf. Next time I know that staying near the train station isn’t always a good idea!
The weather wasn’t the best but it was good enough for some photos. The same couldn’t be said about the following day though so we took a daytrip to Cologne, a quick train ride south of Dusseldorf. A nice little city with a grand cathedral!
After spending the day there, I was a bit closer to my next stop - Frankfurt. Cologne is rather odd as it has two train stations on either side of the Rhine; and while the S-Bahn trains tend to stop at both, the ICE seems to only stop at one or the other. It required a walk across the river from the cathedral to get to the station from which I’d be taking my train to Frankfurt Airport.
A couple of nights in FRA had me set - one full day of spotting and then off to London the following day. FRA is huge and has an impressive list of aircraft and airlines visiting it from around the world. Anyway I won’t clog this TR up with my hundreds/thousands of aircraft pictures.. You can always go to the links provided at the bottom of the TR to see pictures.
The fine weather was deceiving as the wind was really cold. A few showers came across as well. Thanks to Frankfurt Aviation Friends member Ralf, I also managed to do some spotting at the new runway, 25R.
5 January 2012
Time to leave Germany for now and head back to London. The weather forecast was horrendous for that day - visibility was poor, winds were strong and there was some rain about. Staying at the Mercure Frankfurt Airport, it was a short bus trip away from the terminals.
Although Frankfurt Airport was looking a bit old, the size made up for everything. And I encountered things I had never seen before such as baggage trolleys which can go on escalators! A pity that they were installing coin boxes when I was there and I suppose they may have started charging for them. My flight back to LHR was on BA so I made my way over to a self check-in kiosk, which didn’t work. The check-in desks were empty so I headed straight there and was quickly checked in.
Not long after that, I met up with Daniel (LH4532) and had a good chat with him. Unfortunately, the observation decks at FRA are closed over the winter but the weather would have kept us inside anyway. Thanks for coming out to the airport to meet me!
I didn’t realise that there was basically nothing airside at FRA until I went airside. With a while before my flight, the gate area was completely deserted. The one thing keeping me amused were the pre-recorded announcements over the PA. They seem to use the same person who does the LHR announcements in English however when it is played, it is broken up with many pauses and sounds hilarious. I saw the BA 763 which I could have booked myself on still waiting at the gate next door when G-EUPX, the A319 to take me back to LHR, rolled into Gate D1. The weather by now seemed far worse than earlier on. Soon enough, it was time to board.
5 January 2012
Routing: Frankfurt - London Heathrow (FRA-LHR)
Airline: British Airways
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1150hrs (GMT+1)
Actual Departure: 1222hrs (pushback), 1239hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1245hrs (GMT)
Touchdown: 1322hrs (GMT)
Flight time: 2 hrs
Aircraft: Airbus A319
Here was my first A319 flight on a 10 year old BA plane. I learned that the front rows of the plane were interchangeable between J and Y; and thus had more legroom than the seats at the rear of the plane. The extra legroom was much appreciated, especially since we had an extra wait on the tarmac; however I would never pay full price for so-called Business to sit in these seats! The headrest was awful. We were onboard at 1145 and the 763 was still next to us - it should have left before we even boarded. The pilot came across on the PA and said that there would be a 200mph headwind back to London, there were thunderstorms in the area and also that the winds were too strong for Runway 18 departures; so it slowed everything at the airport down. The BA 763 finally pushed back at around midday (after the scheduled departure time of our plane), showing the slot restrictions. Luckily, the pilots managed to get into an earlier slot so we were pushed back at 1222. They were going to serve drinks before departure but the improved time meant that they both didn’t have to and ran out of time to do so on the ground.
The flight was surprisingly smooth as we fought the strong headwinds. I was expecting it to be a little rougher. Anyway, another uneventful flight over cloud had us eventually descending for LHR. A holding pattern followed for the 10-15 minutes prior to arrival and as we pulled out of the holding pattern, we descended through a hole in the clouds, revealing a wonderful view of London City! That was spectacular. Everything from the new Olympic stadium to Buckingham Palace could be seen. A simple touchdown on 25L and that was the end of that flight.
I had a bit of time to kill so I ended up trying to find my way to Myrtle Ave. The tube was quoting some ridiculous price of 5 Pounds to get from T5 to Hatton Cross.. And I didn’t know of the free bus which went around to Hatton Cross from Terminals 1,2 and 3. So I took a train to T4 and somehow walked out of there by going through the Hilton and some other odd roads with a full suitcase. Now I know how to get there for next time!
London was my home for the next few days. A few photos follow. I recommend the London Pass if you think that you’re going to go to a lot of sites. One of the ‘highlights’ of London included being “Piccadillied” - a term I made up for being stuck on the Piccadilly Line heading into town from LHR for more than an hour in one spot. It happened again a few days later as well.
Next stop, Zurich. I didn’t write anything on this as I wasn’t feeling very well; plus there was hardly a difference between the other 2 BA flights I took. As it was a night flight, no pictures were taken either. I met up with another friend for a bit of an adventure to a few southern European cities.
After a day of rest, it was time to head up into the Swiss Alps (Bernese Oberland) with my friend Tis. Although I would have loved to be skiing that day, we were there for the Patrouille Suisse display at the Ski World Cup held on Lauberhorn; and also to shoot helicopters on what could be described as the most scenic temporary helipad in the world. We were approximately 2200m above sea level and across the valley from us stood 3 giant mountains - Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. The last of the 3 is known for having the highest train station in Europe. No time for a visit this time but the view was breathtaking enough as it was!
Our next flight left from Geneva. It was an early morning get wake up to reach our train on time to take us across the beautiful country. We managed to fit a fair bit of spotting in Geneva before our evening flight on Easyjet to Lisbon.
GVA seemed like a rather tired airport. OLCI had been done a while beforehand so there was no issue about the strict check in times. Without anything else to do, we passed through security and waited for our flight.
15 January 2012
Routing: Geneva - Lisbon (GVA-LIS)
Airline: Easyjet Switzerland
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1650hrs (GMT+1)
Actual Departure: 1700hrs (pushback), 1715hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1830hrs (GMT)
Flight time: 2 hr 23 min
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Easyjet was the easy choice for this sector. Rather cheap and at a good time for us. Although the gate area looked chaotic, boarding was orderly and the load turned out to be quite light, meaning I managed to get a row all to myself.
The sun was starting to set as we took our seats on the right hand side of the plane. Little did we know what we were in for! The seats on Easyjet have no recline but there was sufficient legroom for this leg.
The engines eventually started and made the taxi to Runway 05, right past where we had been standing in the cold wind for a few hours! There was a little bit of traffic but it didn’t take long before we were on our way.
Our departure on Rwy 05 was followed by a 180 degree turn with a brilliant view of the Swiss Alps, including Mont Blanc. Since we were flying southwest, we were chasing the sun and we had a whole 2 hours of sunset until we started our descent into LIS. I spent the flight relaxing and enjoying the longest ‘golden hour’ I have ever experienced. It was a shame that most of the cloud was covering the parts of France and Spain in which we flew across.
There was a great view of Lisbon as we descended. Unfortunately it was too dark to capture anything. The approach from the south took us over the city and onto Runway 03.
My first Schengen flight had been completed - that meant no stamp in the passport from Lisbon (or Geneva) for me. We were into the common Schengen gate area and found the toilets before we left. I took one look at the row of taps and thought to myself no wonder Portugal was in an economic crisis. There were 6 sinks in a row - The first was an empty hole where a tap should be, two were automatic sensor taps, the next was a push tap, the fifth had a spout with nothing to turn it on with and the sixth was an automatic sensor tap which happened to turn taps 5 and 6 on at the same time! I couldn’t stop laughing after noticing that. It had me wondering what impact austerity measures were having on the rest of the country!
The Airport bus is one of the easiest ways to get from the airport to the old downtown area; where we were staying. The hotel we had booked was called Hotel Vincci Baixa and was situated a couple of roads in from the sea. The hotel itself was really nice and quite new looking - I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again on future trips to Lisbon. Free wifi is always a blessing in hotels! The room was sufficiently big and included just about everything you needed for a night’s stay.
The old part of Lisbon is beautiful. The vast majority of Lisbon was razed to the ground following the huge earthquake of 1755 and a huge rebuild took place over the lower downtown area, known as Baixa Pombalina. The streets are layered with impressive mosaics instead of the usual asphalted roads seen today. The buildings are beautiful too. From my time spent in the city, it was hard to see that Lisbon was affected by the whole credit crunch/debt problem.
After some spotting at the airport, it was time to head airside for our flight to BCN. We had already checked in online at the hotel (laptops available free of charge from the hotel, thumbs up!) and we could use our phones as our boarding passes. Security took a little while but the airport itself wasn’t overly busy. There was a crowd of people for the gate leading to some stairs - we had a bus gate for TP. What I found hilarious about this was the fact that our Easyjet plane had used an airbridge the day before and we were looking out the window at a Vueling jet sitting at an airbridge gate too! Yet poor old TAP can’t even get a gate with an airbridge at its own hub! It was already dark by the time we boarded the bus so not much could be seen. We were the last ones up the stairs and onto the plane. We had barely reached our row, let alone sat in our seats, when the plane was pushed back! It was the most bizarre boarding I’ve ever had!
16 January 2012
Routing: Lisbon - Barcelona (LIS-BCN)
Airline: TAP Portugal
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1955hrs (GMT+1)
Actual Departure: 2000hrs (pushback), 2015hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 2245hrs (GMT)
Flight time: 1 hr 23 min
Aircraft: Airbus A319
So we had already pushed back - who knows if they were fighting for on time performance figures or something because there was no other traffic around! A quick taxi led us to the same runway we landed on the night before. A firm crosswind meant for a decent crab to fight the wind on takeoff and you could feel the whole plane shuddering and turning into the wind to stay on the runway. With a sudden woosh, we were airborne. More turbulence was experienced during the climb but it was calm for the cruise across the Iberian Peninsula.
The seat and legroom were fine, the decor seemed slightly aging.
Before the snack service, I headed to the rear to take a couple of photos. The flight attendant said I was not allowed to take cabin photos but allowed me to take one.. That really got me confused. But I took one anyway..
TAP serves a snack on these flights. We received a sandwich roll accompanied with this strange strawberry drink. The sandwich roll was very tasty.
The rest of the flight was uneventful and we made our way to BCN without a hitch.
One night and one morning in Barcelona. Not the longest time but a little taste of the place. The old part of the city looks nice and I won’t hesitate to return for another visit.
Our afternoon flight was on Ryanair. You can’t go to Europe without trying Ryanair! Our boarding passes were printed after the tickets were purchased so there was no problem at all with that. Ryanair uses Terminal 2 at BCN - the not so nice looking one. The only ‘issue’ with flying Ryanair was that anyone without a European ID had to get ‘clearance’ from the check in area that you were the same person booked for the flight. Odd rules! We just sat around the gate area until boarding.
17 January 2012
Routing: Barcelona - Rome Ciampino (BCN-CIA)
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1500hrs (GMT+1)
Actual Departure: 1459hrs (pushback), 1516hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1645hrs (GMT+1)
Flight time: 1 hr 18 min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
We had priority boarding - the small fee pays off big time for us photographers as we can choose whatever seat with the view we want! I was first onboard and took my seat in front of the wing. The cabin was hot for some strange reason. Luckily for me, nobody sat in the middle seat so it didn’t feel too bad. Legroom was sufficient but I found the seat hard. By the end of the flight, my lower back/backside was pretty sore!
We took a huge taxi right around to the other side of Terminal 1 and departed on 07R.
The uneventful flight took us over the Mediterranean Sea and between Corsica and Sardinia before flying over FCO and Rome and landing at CIA. A few runs of food and duty free were made. It basically meant I couldn’t get out of my seat to take photos because there was always someone in the aisle doing something! I can’t fault Ryanair for anything - they provide a service which usually runs on time and gets you from A to B. No frills, but you can expect little from airlines these days anyway. Stick to their rules and you have a cheap mode of air travel.
Touchdown in Rome was made at around sunset - the final rays of sunlight caught us as we were disembarking. After many stories from my parents and others, I was prepared to be met with a whole group of gypsies in the arrivals hall. To my surprise, there were none at all! Maybe it was winter so they were hibernating or something..
The bus trip into Rome was fairly long and I got a taste of Rome’s rush hour. People are crazy! We made it unscathed to Roma Termini (Rome’s central station) and took the metro to our hotel located near the Vatican.
We had one whole day to spend in Rome and it’s quite obvious that it’d be spent doing some sightseeing and taking in the views of magnificent ancient buildings. Pictures speak a thousand words so I’ll let them show the way around Rome! What a city - there were no crowds/queues in winter so I probably picked the best time to go.
Pons Fabricius/Ponte Fabricio - the oldest bridge in Rome to cross the Tiber
After two nights in Rome, it was time to head back to Switzerland! How better to do that than by logging a new aircraft! That was the Dornier 328, operated by Skywork. They are unheard of down in this area of the world. The airport train from Roma Termini took us to Rome Fiumicino smoothly and efficiently. We checked in and got our window seats - the flight wasn’t expected to be very full. We were also informed of a slight reschedule and we’d be departing an hour later. We had plenty of time so it didn’t matter to us. There’s a nice spot at the McDonald’s restaurant which looks over the apron and one of the runways but unfortunately, the windows were double glazed and rather dirty.
Through security, we sat around our gate - another bus required here. As boarding was announced, two others turned up at the gate. Total passenger load was to be 4! The bus took us around to the hard stand. We were greeted by 2 flight attendants as we boarded and were told we could sit anywhere except for the front half of the plane due to weight balancing. A bit of a shame as I wanted to go up front to get pictures that weren’t going to be affected by the exhaust haze. So there were 8 people onboard and a ratio of one FA per 2 passengers! This ensured for excellent service!
19 January 2012
Routing: Rome Fiumicino/Leonardo Da Vinci - Bern (FCO-BRN)
Airline: Skywork Airlines
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1225hrs (GMT+1)
Actual Departure: 1332hrs (pushback), 1342hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1405hrs (GMT+1)
Flight time: 1 hr 18 min
Aircraft: Dornier 328
This 3-abreast plane is a nice little prop and a fairly spacious cabin for its size. Enough legroom for the short flight too.
We took off to the north. The FAs came around to offer entertainment of an iPad. Neither of the other two passengers took them so we both got one to use for the flight. They’re loaded with some stuff but I didn’t really play with it too much. And funnily enough, the background picture was of a wooden Maori wood carving; from New Zealand! I didn’t feel exactly homesick but it was one of the last places I expected to see something Maori!
Next to come was the inflight service - some cold cuts, a bun and a bottle of water. Not bad at all for a short hop up to Bern.
While we were eating, we were alerted to something below by the other passengers - they had spotted the Costa Concordia lying on its side, having run aground 6 days earlier. What a sight that was and hopefully I won’t see anything like it again.
A nice view of the Swiss Alps followed shortly after and that was the signal for the beginning of the end of the flight. It wasn’t the smoothest approach into Bern but one that got us onto the runway safely. Apparently Bern can be fogged out frequently in the winter and traffic gets diverted to other airports around Switzerland so it was good we managed to land. It didn’t take long for the disembarkation and we were on our way across the apron to the nice little terminal at Bern. I was surprised that they even had a working carousel! Any airport this small in New Zealand would be complete with a garage for the luggage cart to drive in and stop with all the bags still on the trailers.
A quick bus ride to the Bern train station to take the train back to Zurich completed the southern European leg of the trip and we were set to go to Innsbruck the day after.
The train to Innsbruck took us through fairly heavy snow which fell overnight.. And it was still falling while we were climbing the hills around Liechtenstein. In fact, it snowed all day so the spotting session was restricted to staying at the covered observation deck. Our accommodation was at the well known spotter’s chalet named Kranebitterhof - it lies near the end of the western end of the runway - a short walk to the perimeter. It’s a fantastic place, highly recommended. It takes 2 buses to get there from the airport. The breakfast offering is amazing as well!
If you are planning to travel to Innsbruck in winter, I highly recommend flying Austrian in and out as most of the pilots showed that they could actually land in this horrible weather. We were watching so many diversions from FR24 head to Salzburg and Munich.
The next morning, we woke up to more snow! It had dumped at least a foot overnight. I had never seen snow like it before. We were crazy enough to head down to the fence to try and get some pictures but the snow was too heavy to get many decent shots. The rest of the day was spent at the same observation deck. Luckily it cleared up later that afternoon to allow for some really nice shots before it got dark.
Next up was the evening train to Munich, where I’d stay for a few days. Not much to see and an empty train meant I had a whole compartment to myself. It was still snowing and the train back to Zurich for Tis has a bus component somewhere in the mix due to a line blockage. I had picked my hotel to be the Hotel Royal, not far from Munich hbf as I thought that it was best to be close to the main train station for moving around. Some reports on Trip Advisor had mentioned that it was quite a shady area and a few strip clubs etc around but none of that seemed to matter and it was a perfectly fine place, especially given the price. A full breakfast was provided without any extra charge every morning - a huge change to the chain hotels which charged ridiculous amounts. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay at that hotel again.
The following day, I had arranged to meet another friend at Munich Airport for a day of spotting. The weather wasn’t perfect but it was an enjoyable day.
A few photos of my time in Munich follow.
Time to fly back to Switzerland! I had eyed this flight up for a long time.. A chance to fly on what was my favourite plane when I was young - the BAe 146/Avro RJ100. It was off to the airport for my first Swiss flight.
They layout of MUC is rather interesting.. The area in between the terminals is a covered square. But it isn’t fully enclosed - it only has a roof which doesn’t even stretch the whole way between the two terminals. Getting from the train station located in Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 (Lufthansa’s terminal) requires walking outside in the cold. It’s one flaw to an otherwise seemingly fine airport. As Swiss is a subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group and a Star Alliance member, they use Terminal 2.
Using the check in kiosks, I had my boarding pass in no time. I only had carryon luggage so I headed for security. Through the x-ray machines, the lady wanted to check out my camera gear and lenses. That’s the first time on the trip I’d been enquired about it and she got me to take photos using each lens. Quite interesting!
I had forgotten all about the awesome self-serve coffee areas in the LH part of the terminal so I just sat around and waited for my flight to arrive. It eventually rolled up to the gate.
24 January 2012
Routing: Munich - Zurich (MUC-ZRH)
Airline: Swiss International Airlines (Swiss European Airlines)
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1405hrs (GMT+1)
Actual Departure: 1412hrs (pushback), 1425hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1500hrs (GMT+1)
Flight time: 37 min
Aircraft: Avro RJ100
Swiss European Airlines is the subsidiary of Swiss International Airlines operating the Avro fleets on behalf of Swiss. These will be replaced by the Bombardier CSeries jets, when they eventually arrive.
The airbridge drops right down to the RJ100 level - quite impressive. No more walking in the cold until Zurich! There was a friendly welcome onboard and I made my way down to my seat behind the wing. We sat in the plane for a good 20 minutes - something which increased the value of what I paid for such a short flight ;)
There wasn’t really much to the flight at all. We taxied to the runway, took off, got a drink and a chocolate and that’s all the time we had before we began our descent to Zurich. Nevertheless, it was great to be able to fly on a BAe/Avrojet once again - a plane which had been gone from scheduled services in New Zealand for 10 years.
A bit of WEF (World Economic Forum) spotting of bizjets and government planes followed over the next few days before taking the TGV to Paris and ending the trip to Europe. Some pictures follow.
That's it from me for Europe! Thanks for reading!