Virgin Australia – whatever you’re on, can I have some???

Virgin Australia make flying easy

Virgin Australia make flying easy

Now look here Virgin Australia (aka Virgin Blue), what’s going on?

I’ve just had two fabulous, peaceful, friendly, efficient flights with you in the space of a week! Are you on something????

My Christmas holiday began with a godawful Qantas International Flight from Sydney to Adelaide on QF81 (20 Dec). Arghhh! We were herded into a departure gate area that comfortable fit about 60 people…all 200+ of us were expected to fit. The flight was due to leave just after 12noon but boarding wasn’t due to begin until 11.45am. Who the hell does that? The gate staff were pfaffing around talking to each other and basically being rude to anyone who went up to them and asked if they could board/why they couldn’t board etc. They even sent a couple of business class passengers away – twice! I was gobsmacked.

They made an occasional rude announcement telling us to relax and take a seat. The only thing is that 100-150 of us couldn’t take a seat because they were all occupied. It was almost like a send up of the Qantas we all know and hate: badly organised, inadequate facilities and rude staff treating passengers like garbage.

The flight was the same. 1 set of crew each side to serve an almost full A330 plane. My travel companion and I didn’t get served anything until more than half the elapsed flying time to Adelaide. The service was shoddy and indifferent. There was one older, bald guy serving who was amusing and polite. The rest were little better than department store dummies.

Not being able to have even a cup of water for so long his really annoyed us because the plane took off half an hour late (they were still boarding when the departure time came and went). No explanations why. As we left the plane I thought “oh those poor bastards who will be on this plane for another 7-8 hours for the flight to Singapore!”

Anyway, it was a good reinforcement to not fly Qantas wherever possible.

But back to Virgin….

We checked in at Adelaide – or Bag Dropped-Off – in the morning for an late afternoon flight and the check in lady couldn’t be nicer. She changed our seats, reprinted our boarding passes and made us feel quite valued! Then the actual flight from Adelaide to Melbourne was terrific. Fast, great smiles and friendly service. They came around with the trolley in good time and were all happy, happy, joy. joy. We bought drinks and food and parted with the credit cards without any concern 🙂

Arrival at Melbourne was also fab – bags off quickly and we jumped into the Skybus and were in town before we knew it!

I thought “oh well, pretty good but probably a one-off.”

But last Monday afternoon, after a week’s holiday in Melbourne, we experienced the same thing – fun, friendly check-in (or Bag-Drop-Off) staff member. Then boarding was smooth and the service on board was also good. The only thing of concern that was, in row 6, with the purple plastic barriers of business class in our way, there was no way we could see any of the safety demonstration. All we saw was the top of the cabin crew member’s head as she stood in business class and did the demonstration.

Overall, we loved the flight. It landed on time or early and the bags didn’t take forever to arrive either.

Two for two!

I have had good Virgin flights before but I’ve had some bad ones. Where the staff thought they were in “Australia’s Next Top Model.” But I think something has changed – consistency is the word that keeps coming to mind. To have one good flight is excellent – but receiving a consistently good level of service is what you want as a traveller. And Virgin Australia seem to be providing that.

The 737-700 and 737-800 we flew on both were modern and clean and did not feel claustro as far as leg room is concerned. That is another big plus.

Anyway, I just had to share…I used to love flying sooo much then Qantas and British Airways turned into card carrying c*nts and it all got ugly and unattractive. I really hope Virgin Australia continues to make it enjoyable again. It’s not just getting from Point A to Point B like in a bus. It’s F-L-Y-I-N-G – it should be a great experience!

 

 

MYKI is tricky and dicky!

Melbourne's MYKI system is a farce

Melbourne’s MYKI system is a farce

I’ve just spent a week in Melbourne on holiday trying to come to terms with MYKI – the new ticketing system for their public transport system. OMG….it is a pain in the arse!!!!

Firstly, there were supposed to be tourist packs available but there weren’t when I decided to travel. I eventually bought a MYKI card – no actual fare value on it – for $6 at a 7/11. I then topped it up with another $10. I think the $6 thing is an absolute rip-off. You have to buy this card but it isn’t worth anything. As Liza would say “Tahhhhrifffficcc!!”

Then you can’t register the card on line for 24 hours – I have no idea why – it is all supposed to computerised and they’ve spent over 1 billion dollars to set it all up. Then, after 24 hours, when you finally are able to register, it then takes up to 4 hours to receive an email that everything is completed and active. What is this, the 1960s????

Even when you do register – which you need to do to keep track of what you’ve spent what they’ve charged you, top up on line etc. – any time you use your MYKI card to go on a bus or a tram or a train, it doesn’t show up in your account on the website for a day or so. How f*cking useless is that?

But the absolutely piece-of-resistance is this: trying to touch on and off. What a farce!!! In all the times I used MYKI my tap on or tap off only registered first time correctly ONCE. Every other time it felt like being a failed magician – the ‘trick’ of touching on or off just didn’t work. I had to try and try and try again – and I saw others in the same predicament. I’ve used Oyster Card in London and that city has about eleventyzillion more commuters than Melbourne and tapping on and off works fast and efficiently. Did Melbourne spend a billion dollars plus on a $2-Shop version of a ticketing system???

And then we have the “when do I touch off” dilemma. It was hilarious watching the discussions of frustrated transport users about this. In fact, you don’t have to “touch off” if you’ve been travelling only in Zone 1 and are exiting a tram in Zone 1. This doesn’t apply to trains or buses. Of course if you’re catching a tram for a journey solely in Zone 2, you must both touch on and off! Oh my god how it confuses people. And then there’s the question of Zones. No-one I heard discussing it, actually knew what was Zone 1 and what was Zone 2. And don’t even mention poor old tourists like me! I was more confused after reading the multi-paged MYKI brochure that I was at the start.

And you can forget about getting a cheap fare if you’re just going a couple of stops on the tram. No, under the MYKI system please pay for a full two-hour fare no matter what!

So MYKI is a system two Governments have approved and signed up for. And despite similar systems working well around the world, Melbourne & Victoria seem to have signed up for “Brand X” model!

Oi vey!

Stockholm Tonight

If you’re ever planning to visit Stockholm, you must go during the summer. The city is more beautiful than you could imagine and the citizens come to life for just a few short months each year. In fact, everyone goes just a little crazy because they know they only have this short time to fully live in the sun before the winter and the short days and long, cold nights return.

Stockholm, by night, in summer is magical. A walk through the old town and around Stockholm harbour at night is something you’ll never forget.

Swedish singer Peter Jöback’s song “Stockholm Tonight” (or “Stockholm By Night” if you prefer) captures a just a small part of the magic. My best friend Yoda did this wonderful English translation of the song for his website, Twist In The Dark, and it includes links explaining all the places and people mentioned in the song.

Oh, did I mention just a few weeks ago I was in Stockholm? It was summer. It was beautiful. And I walked around the city at night, I had my own “Stockholm Tonight” experiences.

It’s a love song to a city I dearly love.

I hang up and run out without locking the door
I’m on Götgatan [a street on Södermalm]
The wind always seems to be blowing here by Skatteskrapan
It feels as if the whole sky is falling down

I hurry further northward through the night
I remember that it was here at Medborgarplatsen
That Anna Lindh gave her last speech
It was September 2003

The same year we met sometime at Gondolen
Then we saw each other again and I yearned so
There was something in the air that autumn
There was fog and light and the voices

I see the grime and the darkness in Gamla Stan
Sense the scent of fear from Stureplan
And I just want to cry
So beautiful is Stockholm tonight

And I walk along Skeppsbron and lean into the wind
It seems to rain now, I dry my cheek
And the boats lie in the water
I suppose that they long to get away from here

I am at Norrmalmstorg, I think about Clark Olofsson
So many chances, why didn’t he ever take any of them?
And the same thing with me, it is so easy to stay behind
So hard to go

And I remember that I saw you at Bern’s Terrace
And I thought about everything I could have had
And I thought about the life I had lived and I regret most of it
How did it get like this?

I see Strandvägen stretching ahead, satisfied and happy
I see the blue lights flicker atop Södermalm
I just want to cry
So beautiful is Stockholm tonight

I see the grime and the darkness in Gamla Stan
Sense the scent of fear from Stureplan
And I just want to cry
So beautiful is Stockholm tonight

And you finally rang and I rushed out
All the years, all the dreams about happy endings
Is it finally going to happen in Stockholm tonight?

In Riche, Lilla Baren is full and cosy
And I feel a hand take hold of my arm
And I just want to cry
So beautiful is life tonight

I see the grime and the darkness in Gamla Stan
Sense the scent of fear from Stureplan
And I just want to cry
So beautiful is Stockholm tonight

I see Strandvägen stretching ahead, satisfied and happy
I see the blue lights flicker atop Södermalm
I just want to cry
So beautiful is Stockholm tonight

Tonight

Tonight

Magnus Carlsson at GoldenHits in Stockholm

There’s a place in Stockholm called “GoldenHits” and upstairs it has a bar/club area entirely devoted to schlager.

An entire bar devoted to Swedish Schlager music. I discovered this with the eclectic James O’Brien a couple of weeks ago when we were in Sweden. To say we had the night of our lives is an understatement! There was a moment, after a couple of hours of perfect schlager music,  drinking latt öl and good company –  a moment when they played “Du är så Yeah Yeah Wow Wow” by Martin – that I literally and honestly thought “if I died right now, if I had a heart attack and died right here, right now, it would be okay.”

Never, in all my years on planet Earth did I think that I would have the experience of being in a bar/club (especially a straight one) and hearing Martin being played loud and proud. And witnessing the dance floor light up with a slew of Swedes strutting their stuff and singing along to every single word.   It would be a perfect way to go because I can’t imagine there will be any better moment than this in my life. I experienced bliss, joy, emotion, vindication, fulfilment, warmth, love and hysteria all in the one moment. I was in a bar/club, city, country with a people who “got it”, they really, really “got it” – they loved the music we were listening to all night as much as I do. It’s normal for them…for me, living on the other side of the world in Australia, it’s something you can’t even explain to people properly.

James and I had been to the slightly disappointing Stockholm Pride Schlager Night for most of the night and then moved on to GoldenHits. They were having a special schlager night with a live appearance by Magnus Carlsson, ex-Alcazar, ex-Barbados, uber-fab-Swedish-entertainer and prominent Svensk Homo. I’d seen Magnus perform live before, in 2009, and was instantly converted to fandom and worship. I’d even met Magnus and had my pic taken with him. He’s a darling. But James, an uber-uber-Magnus Carlsson fan, had never seen him live, in the flesh. He was almost wetting his pants in anticipation.

Magnus did not disappoint. In about 35 minutes he did just about his entire career. Seriously. This was the best of the best. And the crowd went nuts. As did James. As did I.

I’d recently purchased a new camera – a Panasonic FS-33 (known in Oz as FH-25) – and had been enthusiastically trying it out all week in Stockholm. But with still photos. I decided, on the spur of the moment, to do a test of the camera’s video recording capabilities. I don’t really have much experience of this with any camera so it was definitely an experiment. I filmed a few minutes of Magnus live on stage. I thought I might surprise James with the footage later on.

It hasn’t come out too badly for a first attempt. I got sick of holding the bloody camera still – your  arm and hand get tired after a while! But anyway, tonight I uploaded it to Youtube and you can see it below.

Big hugs to Magnus for being so fabtastic. Hugs to GoldenHits for providing me with the night of my life. And a big puss och kram to James for being my partner in crime for a week in Sweden!

The Dining Plaice, Berwick Street, London

The best fish & chip shop in London

London is my equal favourite city in the world (along with Stockholm, Sweden). I can never get bored there no matter how many times I go back. There’s always something to do, something to see and something new to discover.

Something I discovered on one of my early trips to London was “The Dining Plaice”, quite simply the best fish and chip shop in London.

This gorgeous little old-fashioned piece of London is located in the heart of Soho at 20 Berwick Street. Inside it feels like stepping back into a bit of history – when fish & chip shops were everywhere in England. Yes, there are still many around – but there’s so much competition from other food outlets and choices thesedays, the traditional fish & chip shop doesn’t hold the market share it once did.

I’ve introduced a number of friends to this little gem over the years and they’ve all loved it. You can sit down and have a meal at the old fashioned tables inside the shop or you can order at the counter and takeaway. The counter area of “The Dining Plaice” is often packed at lunch times as nearby Londoners rush in for a feed. I’m not sure many tourists know of this place – and they should. Fish & Chips hold a special place in English history going back many years. Not fries or burgers – but traditional fish & chips.

Hot chips

Yum....unbeatable taste!

On my recent visit to London, I did pop in for those delicious chips. Nearly every day, in fact! You can have them “open” or “wrapped”. I chose “open” and naturally had one of those gorgeous little wooden forks they give you in English fish & chip shops! As I stood across the street, devouring my chips, I wondered how many times, in the last 17 years, I’d done the same thing. And I also vowed to write a post about “The Dining Plaice” because everyone visiting London should pop in at least once.

As a reviewer on a food blog says “The Dining Plaice’s fish and chips are really very good – it’s the only fish and chip shop in central London that I happily return to. They serve *proper* fish and chip shop food – crispy batter encasing light, meaty fish, and slightly crispy-on-the-outside and slightly soggy-on-the-inside chips, just as they should be. Coated in salt and vinegar of course. The only downside is having to queue for takeaways. Although – on the plus side – this does mean that food is always freshly cooked and piping hot.”

So if you happen to be in the most exciting city in the world, pop in to “The Dining Plaice” and treat yourself to a bit of English tradition!

Gotta love Thai Airways!

Thai Airways Jumbo - 747-400

Thai Airways 747-400 at Stockholm Airport

I just returned from London and Stockholm and my first trip flying Thai Airways. I’d heard good things about Thai but this was my first experience with them.

I flew Sydney – Bangkok, stayed overnight then flew Bangkok – London. On the return I flew from Stockholm – Bangkok, changed planes and flew from Bangkok to Sydney. Three out of the four flights were sensational, one was merely “pretty good.”

It is hard NOT to love Thai – the 34″ leg room in economy, the friendly and gracious cabin crew, the very generous food and beverage service and the immaculately presented planes.

From Sydney – Bangkok, I flew on an A340-600 with personal seat-back on-demand video and audio entertainment. On the Bangkok – London and Stockholm to Bangkok legs, the aircraft was a 747-400 without seatback entertainments. That did not worry me in the slightest. I much preferred being on an airline that had 34″ of leg room and terrific service than something like the Evil Empire (Qantas or BA) with 31″ cramped seat pitch, stingy food & beverage service and grumpy staff. Even though I was flying Economy on Thai, the 34″ seat pitch felt really spacious.

As soon as you’re in the air almost, the crew are coming around with snacks, alcoholic and soft drinks and hot towels. Then the meals are served, then more drinks followed up by regular water/juice/cola runs throughout the flight to ensure you don’t get dehydrated. The crew responds to the passenger call bells very quickly and nothing is too much trouble. I like to have a few beers at the top of the flight and then kind of zone-out for most of the rest of the time. This was no problem on Thai.

About 1 3/4 hours before the end of these four long haul flights, the crew come around again with more hot towels, bar service and another meal. And the meal proportions are generous which is quite refreshing.

I really also like the fact that the aircraft toilets are kept clean by the crew throughout the flight. On the last leg – Bangkok to Sydney – the crew was a little lax and service wasn’t as good as the previous 3 sectors – but seriously, compared to doing long haul flights with say Qantas or Air Canada or British Airways, all sectors with Thai felt luxurious in comparison. Rather than cutting back and being mean and stingy with their service, Thai are still doing economy the way it should be done and making passengers feel like they are important. They treated me like a valued customer, not like an inconvenience.

The price I paid was competitive and the flight scheduling was great for me. I arrived in London about 5.30pm and arrived back in Sydney about 8pm. Arriving at night allows you to crash into bed and starting adjusting to the new time zone to minimise jet lag. But anyway, Thai has multiple flights per day from Sydney and a couple daily from Bangkok to London. So they’re quite flexible in that way.

I just think they deserve a rave review. I’ll certainly be flying with them again.

See Me / Show Me

Last year I went to Sweden for the first time in maybe 8 years. It was a fantastic trip and centred around Stockholm Pride 2009. In fact, it was such a good holiday that I went back again this year for Stockholm Pride 2010! 😉

I saw a lot of performers and performances at Pride Park in 2009 including Magnus Carlsson, ex-Alcazar, ex-Barbados. I’d never liked Barbados but I loved Alcazar. I liked Magnus as an individual singer but I wasn’t a huge fan like my friend James O’Brien. That all changed last year at Pride Park. I saw Magnus perform twice…the first time in a little intimate afternoon performance on the small stage. I was blown away…both by his voice and performance but also by his geniuneness. It radiated from the stage. He was humble. I had my photo taken with him – I became a fan!

One of the songs he did – he did a combination of Barbados / Alcazar and his own hits – was called “Se Mig”. Now every Swede knows this song – it was a Barbados entry in Melodifestivalen, Sweden’s national contest to choose an entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. But I didn’t know it. By the second time I saw Magnus perform it, I was quite choked up. I’m not sure why – there’s just something about the music and the vocals that speaks to me. Of course I knew the title translated as “See Me” but that’s about all. I’ve since seen a rough Google Translation so I now know what the song is about. Nothing earth-shatteringly profound, but still…a beautiful song.

Then tonight, while I’m having a Magnus Carlsson-Youtube fest, I discover there’s an English version of “Se Mig” called “Show Me”. The only version I can find has an awful TV announcer speaking over part of it – but still, it was an amazing find and great to compare it to the Swedish version.

And not only is there an English version, there is apparently a Spanish version. Someone on Youtube has mixed all three versions together as one song. It was quite bizarre to listen to. Suddenly this little song I heard at Stockholm Pride 2009 for the first time pops up in three different languages!

I’ve put two clips below…one of Magnus & Barbados doing Se Mig at Melodifestivalen…and then them performing the English version, Show Me on Swedish TV. Apologies for the bad picture quality of the first clip and the TV announcer speaking over the second clip!