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A Top Gear Top Holiday, Austrian-Swiss-Italian Alps

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ozkid

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Hi everyone, my first TR
A bit of an apology as well, as this trip was done in the last week of April, and I'm only posting now. Work has been crushing all year, and I've just managed to come up for air. The only consolation was I knew some time ago that I was in for a tough 6 months, so when a work trip to Vienna was on the cards, I deliberately tacked on this fun side trip before the serious stuff.

So with only a few days of leisure, and driving the Alpine mountain passes on the bucket list, I channelled the trio of Hammond, Clarkson and Captain Slow and pulled out the European map and plan to conquer the Stelvio Pass! As it turned out, not quite what I anticipated, but you'll have to read the blow by blow account below.

I'll split my posts into some logical (?) progression, with each day of the Top Gear side trip chronicled. I'll do a mini-review of the car I was finally given for this trip. I will describe my experiences of the flying and the lounge experiences, using QF and TK. The sequence was SYD-SIN (QF B744), SIN-IST (TK A333), IST-VIE (TK A321). The same occurred in reverse, with the exception of flying the A333 back from SIN to SYD.

Ok, enough hot air, let's get to the good bits
 

ozkid

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Day 1 started with the F lounge in SYD. Thanks to the awesome info in this forum, I re-organised my flying habits and credit card reward choices from mid-2013; I changed from purchasing flight options and normal everyday spending habits from what is "good" to doing what is "better" and "smarter". It only took less than 12 months, then, to find a shiny new black QFF card in my post - something which I never thought I'd ever get, and unfortunately with the new changes probably something that will be enhanced away from me. A bummer, I was pretty loyal QF customer but now...another story of course...

Being only the second F lounge experience, I totally forgot about the camera to take the gratutious foodie photos until dessert! Not having a spare endoscope around to show you the "after" shots, here was the toffee pudding and glass of Noble One. All I can say was that the ragu fettucine, S+P squid, paired with the Clonakilla and Delamotte were great. This was followed by a tension pulverizing neck and shoulder massage at the spa, and I was one happily fed, slightly tipsy, de-stressed blob of contented humanity by the time the announcement came for boarding IMG_0827.jpg
 
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ozkid

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Boarding was quick, pleasant, and I chose the front of the the B744 for the experience. It is really weird! And I guess with these graceful ladies of the air being phased out, somewhat nostalgic as well? Or perhaps an excuse to go first class on the refurb 747ER birds, haha.

I am an aisle fan, and really liked the big spaces around me with the centre pair selection in this configuration. There was an empty seat next to me too, so I really spread out.


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AdMEL

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Toffee pudding looks very good! Was the Clonakilla the flagship Shiraz Viognier?

Looking forward to the car and driving review, as that's on my list too!
 
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TomVexille

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This sounds like the start of a fantastic report. Looking forward to reading it :)
 

ozkid

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The flight was smooth and uneventful; we landed on time in SIN and I wandered off to duty free to pick up some nice whiskey - work friends introduced me to the good stuff, and they got me hooked on Glenfiddich. I'd thought I would try something a bit different, so I chose the Laphroaig. A heavy, smoky flavour, from all the peat used in the preparation of the malted barley. I really enjoyed it, a great night cap.

There was a 4 hour wait for the connecting flight TK67 to IST, leaving just before midnight. The lounge is a shared SATS branded thing; it's fairly ordinary. I didn't take pics, basic stuff of buffet food and drinks from the fridge. More importantly for me, it had comfy seats next to power points so I could catch up on emails and sending off documents that I was working on the flight over.

TK67 departed on time; it is a A330-300 plane and looked relatively new. The FAs were efficient if a bit distant; it might have been a combination of a full cabin, and maybe language as I had to repeat myself several times over the course of the flight whenever I had a conversation with them.

The funniest sight was the person who is decked out in full chef's attire, complete with toque. This was repeated again for the short haul flight from IST to VIE, so I wonder if all international TK flights will have one in the J cabin. Food was great again, a nice selection of Turkish dishes (or a more conservative western meal, if that is your fancy). I helped myself to the midnight munchies, and again a traditional Turkish breakfast before the flight arrived in IST.

I was seated aisle, 2nd row back from the front. The seat is a lie flat, with a foot ottoman that will lie flush with the foot rest of the seat in flat mode, thus extending the real estate by another 20cm or so. It actually wasn't the most comfortable lie flat J I've been on; I think the padding is too firm. Worst of all, the cabin temperature was waaay too warm. I woke up several times, sweating, despite being in a T shirt and jeans, and the supplied blanket. I thought maybe it was this flight; unfortunately the experience was repeated on the IST-SIN flight back. Trying to suggest to the FA that it was a bit too warm got me a concerned look but no action.

Yes, that is correct...no business class PJ's I'm afraid

The front of the cabin, where normally another 2 pax could be seated, is converted over to a bar. FAs can pour and mix drinks here to deliver, it looked crowded for them and thankfully they closed the bar after service so there was no noise to disturb the cabin.

The amnenities bag was pretty lux. A red folding affair with a soft suede-like material, with felt pockets inside for smaller bags containing the kit. Became a great present for the daughter, who is using it as her craft bag with crayons, colouring pencils, and pages of peel and stick Princess Anna and Queen Elsa Frozen characters :)


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Looking forward to the TR , just returned from CDG on MH and watched the Top Gear Burma special ,very funny.
 

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TK have had chefs on board for a few years, at least on long haul flights. I hadn't heard of them on the shorter flights. I think it is a great touch when you can chat about the meal to the person preparing it.
 

ozkid

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After these flights, I ended up in IST for a 2hr transit for the short hop over to Austria...and I needed all 2 hours!

It was simply a melee. The immigration area has a narrow corridor linking it to either side of the terminal, so pax were milling all over the thoroughfares and trying to navigate through was like in the Grand Bazaar. Signage was poor, and the people coordinating the traffic flows had no idea where the transit queue was, and quite honestly was indifferent as well.

I finally found it, joined the business/express line (served by a single officer). It was also the same line for disabled and wheelchair access; but the cordoned off line was barely wide enough. So we all had to lift up our carry ons off the floor whenever the wheelchair went past us and press ourselves flat against the rail. The airport staff also loved roving around in Segways; and they wanted to use our line too. After 30min of not moving, some people in the business line got a bit shirty with the staff waving their BP for their connecting flights that was supposed to leave soon.

After finally getting through the security checkpoint, dogleg left and right and up the escalator to the relative peace of the terminal. I ducked into the TK lounge, for a quick freshen up and grab a coffee - it was almost straight to the gate, I was so delayed.

The photos below are from the lounge on my return trip; far more leisurely as I had a 7 hr transit. The lounge is huge.

IMG_1006.jpg
 

ozkid

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The architecture of the lounge is pretty cool; the roof has domed arches and the pillars naturally subdivide what is an imposing space into smaller areas which is decorated differently. Food is plentiful, both buffet style, and cooked to order small plates of grilled meats and vegetables. This is very yummy, I kept going back. There are pide carts, pizza carts, alcohol carts, and a central zone with oh-my-god-my-calories desserts.

On the upper level is the showers and day beds. As a passenger with a long transit, I had access to these. The bed was comfy and easy to get some zzz. Across the corridor is a great marbled bathroom, complete with rainshower head. Tip: have to book the bed and shower room separately; they have different bookings and you don't automatically get access if you just got a bed (there's no ensuite).

Down the lower level are games areas, with the famous slot car racing track, a golf game, reading nooks, massage chairs, and sofas. A movie theatrette, computer terminals, and large TVs are also there for those needing audiovisual entertainment.

Clear glass bag lockers are distributed at both entrances to the lounge, with eye catching lighting.
 

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ozkid

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Day 2: Transiting from a jet flying at 36,000 feet to a jet flying at zero altitude - arrival in VIE and picking up the car

Or so I would have liked! A tough decision was what car to drive on this Top Gear Top Holiday. Obviously it has to be sporty, fun, manual gearbox, and have drop dead automotive sex appeal. Definitely no fridge with wheels please. A quick google led to me to several sports car rental websites. As it turns out, they probably are the same company with different shop fronts. I don't have any hard evidence for this hunch, apart from the similar webpage layout...

My first weapon of choice was the Porsche Boxster. S if possible.
- sorry mein herr, no Boxster, either S or non-S available. We do however, have the Ferrari 458 Italia!
 

ozkid

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Toffee pudding looks very good! Was the Clonakilla the flagship Shiraz Viognier?

Looking forward to the car and driving review, as that's on my list too!
It was the O'Riada shiraz. A lovely drop, quite different in style from the shiraz viognier (which I personally prefer - if you can, grab hold of the current 2012 vintage. It is superb)
 

AdMEL

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Day 2: Transiting from a jet flying at 36,000 feet to a jet flying at zero altitude - arrival in VIE and picking up the car

Or so I would have liked! A tough decision was what car to drive on this Top Gear Top Holiday. Obviously it has to be sporty, fun, manual gearbox, and have drop dead automotive sex appeal. Definitely no fridge with wheels please. A quick google led to me to several sports car rental websites. As it turns out, they probably are the same company with different shop fronts. I don't have any hard evidence for this hunch, apart from the similar webpage layout...

My first weapon of choice was the Porsche Boxster. S if possible.
- sorry mein herr, no Boxster, either S or non-S available. We do however, have the Ferrari 458 Italia!
This is sounding very promising!

It was the O'Riada shiraz. A lovely drop, quite different in style from the shiraz viognier (which I personally prefer - if you can, grab hold of the current 2012 vintage. It is superb)
I opened a bottle of O'Riada Shiraz a couple of weeks ago, which I acquired at the cellar door a few months ago. Couldn't justify the price of the Shiraz Viognier!

Great trip report and photos so far!
 

ozkid

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The 458 Italia is yours for only 1800euro per day.

Gott im Himmel! This price is without VAT. Definitely without insurance. Fire extinguishers installed for both the engine block and for my credit card. SWMBO finds out I did this, I might as well buy the car as I will be living in it for a while
Err, yes thank you. Let me come back to you on this one...

This stumped me quite a bit. I wanted a proper sports car - but at a reasonable price. Not Bill Gates, so I need motoring purity without economic penury.

So, I went through the list of available cars, and went through a selection process of what's really important for me and for the road conditions.
911 Cabrio. Not bad idea. This got me thinking about convertibles. Save as option

911 GT3. Will be a hard ride

BMW 1-er. I used to drive a 135i, quite enjoyable and quick, but let's go for something I've never driven before

SLK cabrio Mercedes, A5 and S4 cabrio Audi. Not enough of a road weapon

Lambo, Maserati, other Ferraris - out of my paycheck

M3 convertible - the soundtrack is great from the V8, and pushing the M button transforms purring kitten to snarling cheetah, but have driven this too

Aston Rapide/Volante. Wow. I. Want. To. Have. Your. Babies. Not a great cornering vehicle, heavy beast, but reeking of sex appeal and another glorious engine to rev

I then remembered the Hertz Adrenalin collection, and wandered over there for a look, and the car that jumped out was the Mini Cooper. Hey, why not?
 

ozkid

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I love driving, give me a driver's car and a twisty road and I'm there. So it is a bit of an oddity that I've never driven the Mini.
This is the BMW engineered retro car, wheels at the corners ensuring a planted, go-kart experience, small and nimble for European roads and towns, star of The Italian Job. After some more research:

Mini Cooper S, R56, 1.6L turbo. Manual. 900euros for 4 days, all inclusive, GPS hire, and they will fill up the tank on return.
Hertz Gold Plus 5 star (courtesy of Westpac Black Amex), booked a week before the trip
Fingers crossed, hope it's not the French car rental attitude ("You booked a car, yes? There's something with wheels in the carspace. So what if it's not the model or size you booked, eh?")
 
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JMFK

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Awesome so far! I've rented a Mini from Hertz in SYD before (by accident, it was an upgrade) absolutely awesome little car.

I thrashed the daylights a out of it.
 

ozkid

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Hertz Vienna was located underground and accessible through a pedestrian tunnel from the arrivals area of VIE. Upon reaching the desk, the staff was efficient and got me processed quickly.
"Here's the keys. We upgraded your car. The mini cabrio is parked over there"

Big breath. Cabrio? It is. 2014 version, plain Cooper, 90kW, 4 cylinder job. The folding roof is automatic, and takes up enough real estate in the already small boot that it is better to think of it as an oversized glovebox. Back seats are best described as a parcel bench, or will comfortably fit any passenger with detachable legs. 16inch wheels. Still the same chassis though, but relatively underpowered - not going to win any drag races.

Initial impressions - rear visibility is terrible with the roof up. The gearbox is ok, but 6th is an afterthought. 2nd and 3rd are honest and where the engine really pulls. Surprisingly throaty exhaust which is pleasant, but difficult to run through and make it bark. Brakes are very good. Love the dials and retro switches. Clutch is forgiving, and easy to ride on the friction point. And the steering is the star; great feel of the road, steer using the throttle, and point and squirt on the accelerator. It does not feel like 9 seconds to 100, as the sensation from being so close to the road changes the perception of speed.

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AdMEL

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I love driving, give me a driver's car and a twisty road and I'm there. So it is a bit of an oddity that I've never driven the Mini.
This is the BMW engineered retro car, wheels at the corners ensuring a planted, go-kart experience, small and nimble for European roads and towns, star of The Italian Job. After some more research:

Mini Cooper S, R56, 1.6L turbo. Manual. 900euros for 4 days, all inclusive, GPS hire, and they will fill up the tank on return.
Hertz Gold (courtesy of Westpac Black Amex), booked a week before the trip
Fingers crossed, hope it's not the French car rental attitude ("You booked a car, yes? There's something with wheels in the carspace. So what if it's not the model or size you booked, eh?")
Whilst a Mini is a decent car (I'm surprised you haven't driven one!), bit of a let down! Having said that, the last one I drove was a mid 2000's naturally aspirated version, which was slow/gutless! Handled like it was on rails though!

Would you mind clarifying hertz Gold membership courtesy of Westpac Black? Hertz Gold Plus Rewards is free to join. Do you mean 5* status?
 

ozkid

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In homage to Richard Hammond and in true Top Gear style, over the next few days I emotionally bonded with the Mini cabrio, and you will see the car stops being a mechanical "thing" and becomes my companion, posing in my photos. Thus henceforth, she is called Veronica!

Day 1 is a positioning run, Vienna to Innsbruck. This will set me up for the next day drive onwards to Stelvio, which is south across the border into Italy. It is a beautiful day, the sun is great and immediately having a cabrio just makes sense. The top comes down immediately, and me and Veronica hit the road.

We point west along the A1 towards Salzburg, with the first stop at the Salzkammergut. This region has multiple lakes, surrounded by mountains. Salt mines (hence "Salz") dot the region. Austrians flock here during the summer for their holidays, and it's not hard to see why. The region is simply gobsmackingly pretty. I arrive at Mondsee for lunch, and stroll along the lakeshore to stretch and take in the scenery. Boats ply the waters, and I chatted to some brave kayakers about to go into the water - while the sun is high in the sky, it's still April and the water is frigid.



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