Sunday, October 5, 2014

Comfortable Barcelona Airport

I love Barcelona's airport. El Prat. Being that I have flown quite often on Vueling, most connecting flights are at Terminal 1. The first thing you notice coming off the plane is the big, bright and airy space. Even on a busy time of the day, it never feels crowded or oppressing. If your gate is near the tip of the terminal, it is a long stretch, but with the moving walkways you don't even notice.

The best feature of this airport is unquestionably the two large outdoor terraces located on each side of the main building. There is a Haagen-Dazs in the southern terrace and a Costa Coffee in the northern terrace. Very few airports have open air areas these days, most were closed due to security concerns by the turn of the century. My all-time favorite remains Bangkok Airways' Koh Samui airport where the entire airport is open-air with a collection of thatch roofs without walls. Makes you want to change into your swimsuit and look for the pool!

Back to Barcelona, the other area that is big and bright in Terminal 1 is the shopping area. The stores are much larger than usually found in airports. The Desigual shop, a brand from Barcelona, is larger than I have seen in most shopping centers. There are over 30 restaurants, bars and coffee shops with a great choice of local flavors to be found beside the usual fast-food brands.

If your destination is Barcelona, you will get to town quickly being that the airport is only 14km (9 miles) from city center. After sightseeing the best known attractions, the Sagrada FamiliaPark GuellCasa Batllo, etc., look further afield and discover Barcelona's two cable cars and three mountain trains! You will get great views of the city from any of these.

Last but not least, the food! This is Catalunya country with mountains and the Mediterranean coast. The cuisine draws from both sides with the fantastic seafood along so many fresh vegetables to choose from. Do try at least a few of Barcelona's restaurants, but do not miss a visit, including lunch, at La Boqueria Food Market.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Airline food is looking better!

A la Carte selection on Air France by LENÔTRE
Denigrated, ridiculed, yet eagerly anticipated! Airline food is a paradox of expectations where one looks forward to a meal that one would never consider in a restaurant. It is a popular subject: Google “Airline food” and you get 100+ millions results … a hundred millions! There are dedicated web sites like showing thousands of meal pictures sorted out by airline, class of service, special meals and even historical with meal pictures from the 50's and 60's (makes you appreciate today's offering!).

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Dreaming about a resort vacations? 5 things to consider

Bathing machine! circa 1910
It is easy to overlook the obvious when browsing through wonderful presentations of enticing destinations. Searching for a resort is unlike that of searching for an hotel as you will be spending most of your time within the resort. So,facilities, amenities and services are more important than location. After you have looked at the pretty pictures and read the glorious descriptions, get down to business, go through your own checklist of expectations and minimum requirements and consider the following five points:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is your holiday destination safe enough?

Thailand? Ukraine?
No! Lausanne, Switzerland, September 2007
You had been looking forward to your great vacation until headlines started popping up in the news about trouble in your expected destination. What to do now? Should you change your plans or brush off the bad news as media hype? This is an increasingly frequent dilemma with the growing popularity of holiday destinations in emerging countries which tend to be less stable and mature, politically or socially, than the “old” world, which is, in part, why they are called “emerging”! The Arab Spring affected the entire Mediterranean southern coast, shutting down the most popular holiday destinations from Algeria to Egypt. Now it is Ukraine, Venezuela and Thailand, all at once.

Thailand is the most visible example being the most frequently affected destination by the popular protests and demonstrations that we currently see on the news, and yet remains one of the most popular destinations in the world. A chronic political crisis going back a very long time erupts in the streets of Bangkok every couple years which, as would be expected, makes for news headlines that have nothing to do with its famous beaches and delightful people. But Thailand is also the best example of a destination where the effects of unrest are magnified and generalized by both traditional and social media causing tourists to cancel or change their destination to another country even if their intended holiday spot is nowhere near any disturbance.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

How to pack a suitcase: the missing bit!

No! This is not about the fold, the roll, the stuffing … if you need help with that, Google will give you 13 millions results to show you how. Many of them even have how-to video with all the tricks. But what about the weight? Oddly enough, very few pages bring up it up even though that could become your vacation shock expense.

Adding a 20kg piece of luggage to your low cost flight is reasonable enough, I booked an EasyJet flight and the 20kg luggage was only 26 Euro, 1.30 Euro per kilo. You can even add two more bags of 20kg each for another 26 Euro each. Fair price. But what happen if your bag is 23kg or 26kg? That's going to cost you, respectively, 50 or 74 Euro per bag. Meaning that every kilo over 20kg will cost you 6 Euro each! Instead, book a second 20kg suitcase, pay 52 Euro and now you can pack up to 40kg!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

How to avoid tourist restaurants!

There is a world of difference between “tourist” restaurants and restaurants catering to tourists. That difference is often lost on review sites like TripAdvisor where the common tourist critic “This is a tourist restaurant ...” immediately sets a negative view of the restaurant and makes you click to the next choice. I wish it was that simple!

A “tourist” restaurant is a large restaurant with an industrial kitchen and often coach parking nearby. It is designed to serve tourist groups fast with a boring international set menu and, sometimes, a “tamed” local specialty added. That pretty much defines what you ate on the flight over, right? It is not bad, but certainly not memorable. On the positive side, you are not going to be surprised with odd exotic flavors and you will be in and out in no time, group tours do lunch or dinner in one hour flat! It is also likely to be inexpensive assuming the restaurant offers the same menu to walk-in tourists as they do to booked tours. The downside being that the meal can be pretty bad (but you will not get sick! Because tour operators generally do not care about quality or taste as long as no one gets sick), overly priced (the price shown on menu may be far higher than what groups actually pay … because it makes the group tourists think they are getting a fancy and expensive meal!) or you sit and wait, being ignored while they serve two groups of 50 tourists.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Is Thailand still safe for tourists?

As the anti-government protests continue in Bangkok now with two violent incidents days apart, I field many questions from increasingly worried Europeans about to go to Thailand or thinking thinking about it. Most everyone understands that the events unfolding in Thailand have no parallel whatsoever with the violent events of the Arab Spring. This is not about religious extremism or nationalism, the two opposing factions are actually relatively moderate ideologically. At the root of the current crisis is the enduring social and economic divide that far too frequently has caused chronic political crises and recurring military coups for the last forty years of modern Thailand.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The not so "free" hotel WiFi

According to HotelChatter, two-third of hotels now include free WiFi, notice that I say “include” not “offer” as WiFi should be a convenience like a shower and a TV. So, you book, check-in and ask for your Internet access key. No problem, front desk hands you a small sheet of paper with access code and instructions. You get comfortable in your room, kick of the shoes and log-in …

If this hotel is honest (and smart), login is quick,simple and you do indeed get good and free WiFi in your room, as you expected. Unfortunately, in too many hotels claiming to offer free WiFi, that’s not the case. Let’s break down these hotels in three categories: