Saturday, 31 July 2010

Ailment Spotting

A sister-thread to Wound Spotting, I’ve been in Copenhagen for two days and I can’t help but notice that an awfully large number of people appear to have colds.

Everywhere I’ve been there have been people sneezing, coughing, sniffing (and more unpleasantly snorting).

I checked, it wasn’t me, though will I be able to get to the end of my trip without catching Købenflu?

Just how many links do you need?

As I was walking through the city centre earlier today I noticed there was a bus stop for the airport express to Copenhagen Airport.

Normally this wouldn’t be a particularly odd thing, most airports have an express bus link.

It’s just with Copenhagen, it’s so well connected to the airport that does it really need this extra one.

To put it into context, Heathrow is the UK’s largest airport, and one of the most important airports in the world. Copenhagen is certainly the most important airport in Scandinavia, and certainly comes in the top 10 of major European airports.

  • Quarter hourly train service taking around 20 minutes at the cost of around £20

  • Tube every 10 minutes or so, taking well over the hour, but only costing around the £6 mark

  • Coaches pretty regular, taking well over the hour, but again costing only a couple of quid

  • Buses, local buses from nearby train and tube stations, nearest advertised link is in Feltham taking 30 minutes and costing £1.20

  • Train every 10 minutes, taking around 10 minutes, cost £4

  • Metro every 4 minutes, taking less than 15 minutes, cost £4

  • Bus every 4 minutes, taking less than 30 minutes, cost £4

Which brings me back to the question, why, on top of 6 trains, 15 metro’s and 15 busses an hour (and that’s only the buses from the city centre, not the local ones closer to the airport) would you need a coach service?

And then, in small writing, I discovered the real reason. And it’s an old favourite, it’s RyanAir.

The “Copenhagen” airport express is actually to take you over into Sweden to an airport on the outskirts of Malmo that RyanAir use as their “Copenhagen” base.

They used to actually call it Copenhagen, but then some busy-body in the EU decided that landing at an airport in another country which uses a different currency to the city your advertising you are flying to is a bit misleading and perhaps they should be a little more honest. Just who do these EU Bureaucrats think they are? Next they’ll be saying the plans to rename Birmingham as London-Birmingham International are not on!

Friday, 30 July 2010

Ah, so it’s not just Britain

I thought it was something unique to Great Britain, that nowhere else in the world would hamstring themselves in the same way, but the Danes have proved me wrong.

For an eight week period a large chunk of the S-Tog network is replaced by buses whilst they carry out engineering works.

I have to say every place that the replacement bus went near the tracks there appeared to be lots of people working and getting on with stuff the whole length of the line that was closed, which is more than Network Rail ever manage in the UK (one bored looking bloke with a pickaxe picking at a bit of track in the distance is all I think I have ever seen.)

It’s obvious that there are major works going on, and they intend on getting many kilometres of track re-laid and several stations rebuilt in the, in the grand scheme of things, short closure.

It also helps that there are multiple replacement buses, including ones running express from a station on another line to Hillerød (where I was headed) without the need to sit on a bus stopping at every stop along the line (perhaps something someone at Southern could learn about perhaps?)

The whole operation appeared to be running very smoothly, with no issues, excellent signage (in more than one language, recent experience has shown that Network Rail and most of the train companies struggle with the one language) and comfortable replacement coaches.

If engineering works were carried out like this in Great Britain then I doubt there would be so many complaints.

So come on Network Rail, I’m not asking for the signage in English and Danish (just intelligible English), just get engineering works to work and not turn into their usual farce.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Getting back to the rat race

It’s amazing how quickly you get out of the habit of certain things.

For the last couple of day’s I’ve been wandering round Tórshavn with the roads all closed off for the national day celebrations so haven’t even had to think about traffic.

On the few occasions I did come across traffic there were zebra crossings. In the whole of the Faroes (according to the tour guide on Tuesday) there are four sets of traffic lights. One set controlling access to a narrow crossing in the Northern islands and three sets in Tórshavn, and those were switched off today.

Thankfully, I did remember in time when I got to the first crossing in Copenhagen, but only just I was just about to walk out when I remembered about the little green man.

For how much longer

It’s been an interesting couple of days on the Faroe Islands.

Seeing their national day has show how fiercely proud of their Faroese culture, language and life the islanders are.

Whilst they may technically be part of Denmark, you get the distinct feel that this is a separate country.

And that’s been highlighted by some of the language I’ve heard to describe Denmark.

It’s been said in jest, and I get the impression that the chance of an armed uprising to remove the colonial power is not likely to happen, but on lots of occasions I’ve heard the Danish (and more importantly the Danish Navy and Army who have bases on the islands) described as the Occupiers.

One phrase that I think hints at an underlying sadness that the Faroes are still part of Denmark was “When the British left one set of occupiers were replaced with another. We still invite the British back”

The British invaded the Faroe Islands shortly after Denmark had fallen to the Nazi’s to stop the islands falling into their hands and to secure the North Atlantic supply lines. The Faroese, in turn helped to keep the British alive through fishing and running goods to Scotland. The cost in terms of Faroese lives lost was high. Following the end of the war it looked as though the Faroes could become a separate country, but by 1948 all the plans had been watered down to effectively “Home Rule” within Denmark.

Whilst the language is more civil it’s very reminiscent of the issues raised by the Scottish regarding the UK.

I doubt either situation are tenable in the longer term, so perhaps the question should be, which one will happen first – The Faroes gaining their independence, or the dissolution of the UK?

Small facts of Island Life

According to the tour guide on Tuesday, the Faroes get their fruit delivered on a Monday. Fresh fruit is therefore only really available on a Monday or a Tuesday, except for the Banana’s which are delivered green on the Monday so they ripen up towards the end of the week.

So, no popping to Waitrose on a Thursday for a fresh ugly fruit and two kiwis then!

(The sound of a Londoner, well out of their depth with Island life!)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Feel sorry for the cleaners

I’ve never been particularly sporty, so have never participated in sporting celebrations, which appear to be emptying champagne over yourself, your competitors and anyone else in range.

I’ve always felt that the correct place for Champagne is in a glass and then shortly after down my throat, not all over the floor.

So I’ve never experienced what the aftermath of these celebrations is actually like.

Wandering back through town from the restaurant this evening I wandered past the area where the prizes for the rowing competition had been handed out.

The winners had been given trophies and medals and then had done the customary champagne spraying ritual.

A couple of hours later and the area absolutely stank (and I’ve had to walk through Car Parks in Croydon on a Saturday morning before, to put it on a scale). It was also incredibly sticky.

I’m assuming that they are going to clean it up the same way they prepared the area last night, by getting the fire brigade trucks to blast it with their hoses.

However it was a bit of an eye-opener (or more a nose-opener) and I now can only feel truly sorry for the poor person who has to clean up the podium after a Formula 1 race or other Champagne fuelled celebration.

Góða Ólavsøku

Good St Olaf’s Wake!, today is the eve of Ólavsøka, a national holiday in the Faroes and as with all good eves, it’s when all the boozing and celebrations take place before the serious business of the day proper including religious ceremonies and the opening of the parliament.

The population of the Faroes is around 48,000 people, and it looked as though every single one of them and quite a few more had crowded into Tórshavn today to celebrate.

The streets were filled with people wandering around in national dress (including young kids), and everyone was in a party mood.

I couldn’t help but notice a couple of interesting points:

  • I think the Faroese must have a target of smashing the 50,000 mark as the number of babies was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large number of buggies in the same place at the same time.

  • The big sound of the event was the very Faroese Vuvuzela, and the Irn Bru stand appeared to be doing a roaring trade, but apart from those small examples of Globalization the rest of the celebrations were very much Faroese.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Interesting interpretation of day

The Faroese appear to take a different approach to the concept of a day.

For most people a day lasts for 24 hours. Here in the Faroe’s they appear to have made that up to at least 60 if not more.

Of course, it’s not every day, just on particular day.

Thursday is the Faroese national day – St Olav’s day.

Except today is Tuesday afternoon and the national day celebrations have already started with the town centre completely closed to traffic and bands playing live in the streets.

Then again, perhaps the Faroese have a slightly more mature attitude to dealing with their national day than other people.

The really heavy party is tomorrow night, so the hang-over’s from hell take place during National Day and not on the day afterwards.

Of course, that’s assuming that it doesn’t just turn into a 60 hour drinking marathon, in which case the hangovers won’t strike until Friday.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Did it shrink in the wash?

It’s pretty wet in the Faroe Islands. So you would expect that some things might shrink a bit in all that water.

I’m slightly concerned that it appears to also be shrinking the planes.

When I checked in at Stansted I was assigned seat 17F a seat on the back row.

The fact that the plane only went back to row 17 already indicated that this wasn’t the largest of aircraft.

We were called forward to the gate 10 minutes early and I was one of the first people to board, which was lucky as I walked down the plane and got the distinct feeling that there was something missing.

What were missing were rows 16 and 17.

They did sort of exist, in so much as there was a 16 A, B, C and a 17 A and C, but no D’s, E’s or F’s for either row.

I checked with the stewardess who suggested I sit in 15F for the moment as the flight was almost full, but they didn’t normally fill those rows.

Thankfully nobody boarded with a boarding card for 15F, but it’s a bit of a concern that between the details being loaded into the system and the plane arriving it had shrunk by two rows.

Of course, there is always the chance that it was just ServiceAir being incompetent...

Sunday, 11 July 2010

When Speedy Boarding goes wrong

I’m quite happy to buy speedy boarding when it’s going to be to my advantage, but I’ve learnt quite quickly where to spot when it’s not such a good deal.

If the price at Gatwick is £8 and the price on the way back is £8 then it’s probably fair to assume that it’s an air bridge in both cases. When it is £8 at Gatwick and £5 at Cologne there is a pretty large chance that there is likely to be a bus journey involved.

And this is where the problems arise.

The Speedy Boarders get called forward first and take their seats on the bus. Then the Families with young children and those with special assistance board the bus, then the general boarding starts, onto the first bus, and then onto the second bus behind.

This means that the very last person to walk through the gate (me in this case) squeezes themselves into the bus, jammed up against the now closed doors and the buses set off.

The buses get to the plane and open their doors. First out of the doors and up the steps would be... me, I was right by the doors not jammed in the middle of the bus, in fact the very last people to board are those who have paid for speedy boarding.

Yes, you got a seat on the bus for the 5 minute boarding process and the 90 second drive to the plane, having paid at least £5 for the privilege.

I got the first choice of seats for the 60 minute flight back to the UK having paid nothing, and been able to stay seated at the gate until there were only three people left to go through!

Get to the gate on time

It was once called being a little odd, why would you want to be standing at the departures gate an hour before the plane is even due to land.

Today, with the low-cost airlines and the scrum of boarding (or Self Loading Freight as some in the airline industry refer to the passengers) there appears to be nothing wrong with running straight from the front of the checkin queue through security and to the gate to be the first to board.

The airlines appear to have everyone so well trained now that you end up with the bizarre scene I witnessed today at Cologne airport.

As the flight was back to the UK, outside of the Schengen zone, you have to pass through a passport check before you leave Germany. This means that the gates for the flights to the UK are the other side of some passport booths and a screen.

Once checkin had opened the first waves of passengers flooded through only to be stopped in their tracks at passport control by the total lack of any border police.

And there they stood, for the next 45 minutes, not bothering to wander through the terminal building, not bothering even to sit in the very pleasant restaurant right by passport control that I had settled myself into.

Then, 30 minutes before we had to be at the gate, a border police officer got into a booth, and within a couple of seconds a 60 person, at least, queue had formed for people to file through, so that they could wander down to the departure gate, where there were no facilities.

I finished my meal and drink and was about the one before last customer to go through, as the police officer who checked my passport appeared to finish his shift as soon as he had seen me through.

Perhaps there might be a happy medium between rushing for the gates and waiting to be final called.

Oh yes, it’s speedy boarding...

Saturday, 10 July 2010

There must be a very empty flight somewhere

I’m currently reading a very funny travel book “Ruinair: How to be treated like shite in 15 different countries... and still quite like it” (no prises for guessing which blue, white and yellow, Irish based, low-cost airline is the target).

One thing that keeps coming across is the concept of the “Load factor” that’s the number of seats sold on a flight. Ryanair and easyJet both coming in at the mid 80%’s

Which is odd, as the last few times I have flown easyJet the planes have been almost, if not actually, 100% full.

So who’s on the easyJet flight where there is only one other passenger?

Dutch Love

I can’t help but notice that the Germans have suddenly discovered a deep and undying love of everything Dutch.

A lot of the houses are flying Dutch flags next to their German ones.

Orange appears to be the colour of choice.

I can’t work out if it’s a sudden desire to be friendly with their neighbours, or more a reaction to being knocked out of the World Cup by the Netherlands opponents in the final, Spain.

Friday, 9 July 2010

An ode to chambermaids

This morning when I left the hotel I opened the window in my room to try and let some air in to try and keep it a little bit cool, given the weather was forecast to be slightly warm.

When I got back late this evening I was slightly concerned as I approached the hotel to see that the window in my room had been shut. How boilingly hot was my room going to be.

So imagine my surprise, and delight, when I opened the door and stepped into a veritable fridge.

At some point in the morning when the chambermaids had been round to make up the room they had obviously realised that having the window open wasn’t going to help keep the room cool, so they had closed the window, drawn the curtain to keep the sunlight out and then whacked the air conditioning on arctic.

I dread to think what it has done for the carbon footprint of Ibis, but frankly, after a day of 35C+ temperatures and humidity bouncing around the 90’s I couldn’t really care!

So to the chambermaids at the Ibis in Bonn, thank you

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Köln/Bonn – Not just an airport, instructions as well

When I last came to the airport in 2004 they were in the process of finishing off building works on the new terminal train station.

The trains were going to link the airport to the city centre in speed and comfort and replace the coach journey.

Unfortunately, I’d taken that to mean both city centres, not just Cologne.

Bonn is still linked by a pretty slow (especially at 6pm on a Thursday evening) bus link which crawls into the centre of town.

In fact when I searched VRS’s website (the local public transport authority) they suggested that as the bus takes 35 minutes I might have wanted to consider going via Cologne and the train and taking five minutes longer, all for the same price.

I think I know how I’ll be getting back to the airport.

Köln/Bonn isn’t just the name it’s the instructions. To get to Bonn, go via Cologne!