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Jakarta, Istanbul, Santorini, Cinque Terre, Monaco, Paris, Malaga, Dubai...

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casanovawa

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This was a trip report for a little adventure I took a month or two ago, nearly finished but thought I'd post for people's enjoyment and if they have any questions... i have put the text in, and a link to my blog if you would like to see the pictures...
 

casanovawa

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The first stop on the trip was Jakarta...

Jakarta, Indonesia – Diving into The Big Durian Part 1

Many tourists when they think of Indonesia will often associate it with the island of Bali, one of Indonesia’s main tourist hot spots and tropical island getaway to around 3 million foreign visitors each year. I’ve visited Bali 7 times so far and I’m schedule to go again mid 2014 as I find the people so friendly, the prices reasonable, the activities abundant and the short 3.5 hour flight from Perth, Australia where I live is also a big plus.

However, last year I booked a trip to Europe for April 2014 and for a few reasons the stars aligned and I chose Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, as the starting point and so was able to spend several days in the city nicknamed the ‘Big Durian’ (a play on the Big Apple) and gain another perspective of Indonesia.

For a start Jakarta is BIG with a population of some 10 million people, and 28 million in the Greater Jakarta area, it is the largest city in South East Asia and one of the largest in the world and it also has a long history having been established in the 4th century and gone through several name changes including Jayakarta, Batavia (during the Dutch Colonial era) and finally Jakarta in 1945 when Indonesia declared independence.

The city also provides an assault on the senses to visitors with that many people (and cars, mopeds, ojeks etc) crammed into such a small area. You can experience the whole range of living circumstances from quite well off residences to small, dirty, cramped passageways, exotic scents to sometimes choking exhaust fumes from the ever increasing traffic jams caused by 10 million vehicles on the city’s roads and amazing food on offer, including diverse regional specialties from Indonesia’s provinces.

I chose to stay in a hotel in the Central Jakarta area of the city close to the Monas (National Monument) as that seemed to be where a number of the city’s attractions were located, which would make for easier access in a city that I had often heard about how hard it was to get to places because of the unpredictable traffic situation.

I had originally booked a direct flight from Perth to Jakarta on Jetstar Airlines, but was then told that they were cancelling that route with the last flight some 4 days before my departure necessitating me flying up to Singapore first and then down to Jakarta, with a trip time of 9 hours instead of the original 3-4 hours. I made it a little more enjoyable by visiting a couple of airport lounges in Perth and Singapore, but still those overnight red eye specials can leave you feeling a little flat on arrival.

After booking in and getting squared away at the hotel and freshening up it was time to hit the city and see what it had to offer. First off, under some grey threatening skies, was a visit to the National Monument. Nicknamed Monas, the monument includes a 132 metre tower in Merdeka Square built to commemorate Indonesia’s struggle for independence. Construction started in 1961 under former President Sokarno (founding President of Indonesia) and took until 1975 to complete.

The tower has a gold coated flame on its top and under it is an inverted pyramid holding the Hall of Independence which has a number of elements within it including a large bronze-covered coat of arms of Indonesia and the original of the Proclamation of Independence. The coat of arms is the Hindu bird Garuda with 8 tail feathers, 17 feathers on the ends of its wings and 19 feathers on the body below the shield and 45 feathers above the shield to represent the date of the proclamation of independence – 17 August 1945.

The shield on the national coat of arms is meant to represent the 5 Pancasila principles laid down by President Sukarno:

* Belief in One Supreme God;
* Just and Civilized Humanity;
* The Unity of Indonesia;
* Democracy that is Guided by the Inner Wisdom in the Unanimity Arising Out of Deliberations Amongst Representatives; and
* Social Justice for the Entire People of Indonesia.

The monument is also designed to represent a rice mortar and pestle from traditional Indonesian culture.

After the visit to Monas there was time for a brief visit to a street market close to the hotel before heading back to get dinner and plan for the rest of the visit.

The next day I decided after breakfast to make my way down to the Kota area, or Old Batavia or Jakarta Old Town, by taxi. This is the part of the city that was built by the Dutch in the 1500s when Jakarta was a much smaller city and contains several older colonial buildings that have now been converted into museums. Unfortunately some of this area is deteriorating quite badly and could do with some love.

Although now looking a bit dilapidated Batavia was actually a major trading port for the whole of Asia during the days of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Fatahillah Square is the main open area here and is where several museums are located including the Jakarta History Museum (located in the former city hall of Batavia which also housed the the office and residence of the VOC governor general), the Fine Art and Ceramic Museum, the Wayang Museum (dedicated to puppetry) and the Café Batavia.

A bit further up a road that has been closed to traffic and now houses an open air market are a couple of museums dedicated to some of Indonesia’s banks. I visited the Bank Indonesia Museum which actually provided quite a hi-tech audio/video cataloguing of the rather turbulent times Indonesia has experienced monetarily throughout its history.

After getting a meal from a restaurant I went to the train station located in Kota and caught a train to Juanda Station and a quick walk brought me to the National mosque or Masjid Istiqlal (the third largest mosque in the world and the largest in South East Asia). Non-Muslims can enter and get a guided tour of the mosque, but can only stay inside for 15 minutes. After leaving the Mosque I walked across the street to look at the Jakarta Cathedral.

By now it was starting to get towards dusk so I walked back over to the Monas to take a few night photos before heading back to the hotel to call it a night.

Jakarta, Indonesia – Diving into The Big Durian Part 1 | Life's To Be Lived.com
 

casanovawa

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Jakarta, Indonesia – Diving into The Big Durian Part 2

I awoke on Day 3 having arranged to meet some Indonesian friends and to go and visit the Taman Mini Indonesia park with them.

I had met them when they had come down to Perth about a year earlier to do some training where I work for and I had kept in contact with a couple of them since.

Paying a return visit to see them was one of the reasons I chose Jakarta to begin my trip to Europe, as well as being able to get a really cheap business class flight to Europe through a trick with one airline’s frequent flyer program.

Mini Indonesia park is quite a way out of Jakarta so it wasn’t a case of simply hopping on a train or ojek to get there. Instead one of the ladies kindly agreed to come and meet me at the nearby Kemayoran train station and help me navigate the train system out to one of the outer train stations.

From here we hopped off and walked a bit until we got into the back of a sort of van/taxi to take us to an office building where the group worked and where I would meet up with two others. One of them had very helpfully brought along a vehicle so that we could all drive in comfort out to the park.

Roughly 30inutes later had us arriving and meeting up with the final member of the group after which we first had lunch at a restaurant indulging in some traditional Indonesian dishes, before then proceeding to look around the park. This first consisted of hopping on a cable car ride which took us from one side of the park to the other and back again to get a good bird’s eye view of most of the park.

We then got back in a car which made it much easier to cover the sizeable park that’s designed to lay out examples of the many traditional styles of building and costumes from the various provinces comprising Indonesia. As we walked around members of the group were able to tell me a little about their particular local cultures.

There were also several museums at the park that we were able to visit and explore including a science and history museum.

The visit to the park took most of the day and we didn’t leave the park until after 5pm and from there we headed back towards the city. As it was the birthday of one of the ladies on the following day, we decided on the way back to stop at a restaurant near where she lived and we had dinner, giving me another chance to sample some different Indonesian cuisine.

From there I was dropped back to the train station and was seen off by one of the ladies to make sure I got on the right train in the right direction (which always helps :) ) and then it was back to the hotel.

For my final day in Jakarta I did my packing up and went for a swim in the hotel pool before deciding I might go and check out the Ancol area of Jakarta.

Ancol is currently the largest integrated tourism area in South East Asia and holds several attractions for locals and visitors alike including a water park (Atlantis), a theme park (Dunia Fantasi) and an Ocean Eco Park. On the way there I got caught in one of Jakarta’s traffic jams and then the weather started to turn a bit average, so I didn’t have a long time to spend there, but its the type of place you could spend the whole day with a family.

I did take a ride on the cable car over the whole area which gives a pretty good idea of the size and lay out of the attractions and had something to eat there as there are several restaurants and eating establishments.

To give myself plenty of time before my flight out that night I went to the bus station at Ancol and managed to work out which bus was generally heading close to my hotel. After boarding this it took only 25 minutes or so to get to the stop near where I was staying (using a combination of trains and taxis it took me over an hour to get there) and this was in peak hour traffic, so if possible I definitely recommend using the buses in Jakarta!

From there I revisited a local street market at Pasar Baru to have a bit more of look around to see what was on offer, bought a few DVDs and then walked back to my hotel. After taking another swim in the pool whilst watching a thunder storm going on in the distance it was time to grab my bags and a taxi and head to the airport.

So that was my experience of Jakarta, an interesting, vibrant, pulsating and chaotic city. I continued to find the Indonesian people to be friendly and helpful, the food options were wide ranging and interesting and I’m sure if shopping was more my thing to do on trips I would have found many malls and other outlets to explore as well.

If you would like to get a slightly different experience to places like Bali I would recommend you consider including a visit to Jakarta.

http://lifestobelived.com/2014/04/15/jakarta-indonesia-diving-into-the-big-durian-part-2/
 
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casanovawa

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I visited a few lounges on the way up to Jakarta, the Qantas lounge in Perth Airport

Lounge Review – Qantas Business Lounge Perth International

Verdict - I’ve used this lounge quite a few times when leaving Perth and always found it a reasonably pleasant, well laid out and well equipped lounge that makes a nice start to a holiday or adventure.

Entrance – The entrance to the lounge is to the left when you have passed through the duty free store and approached the stretch of gates. The Qantas lounge is also next to the entrance of the Emirates Lounge.

Showers - Yes – 3 showers for public (one also being a baby change room), a shower for staff and men’s and women’s toilets. When I arrived for my flight the showers were all being used as there were quite a few people in the lounge with several flights due to leave in the next hour or two.

Computers and Wifi - Yes wifi is available and there are 10 computers available for users who don’t have their own.

Food - There was a good selection of one hot dish of curry and rice and also a soup and then a range of salads and cold cut meats and rolls. There were also vegetarian and ham and cheese sandwiches and a sandwich grill available to toast them.

Beverages - There was a decent ranges of spirits and apertifs available as well as a good range of cans of beers and soft drinks and some red and white wines available. There were also several coffee machines.

Entertainment - A reasonable selection of magazines and several tvs with sports and news on. Boarding calls were also made for flights.

Ambience - This visit was about as crowded as I had seen this lounge, as several large flights were due to leave over a couple of hours so that meant quite a few people were in the lounge, but even though it required a bit of a wait for the showers, the food and drinks available were still replenished and there were chairs and tables available. While it doesn’t have a view of any airfield operations for those that like to watch planes taking off and landing, it is still a nice location to sit down and prepare for your flight.

Staff - Staff were pleasant and helpful.

Airlines serviced - The Qantas Lounge serves all the One World airlines out of Perth (Malaysian, Cathay Pacific, Qatar etc) plus Thai Airways, South African Airlines, Air New Zealand, Air Mauritius and Qantas offshoot Jetstar.

Lounge Review – Qantas Business Lounge Perth International | Life's To Be Lived.com
 

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And the Cathay Pacific Skyview Lounge in Changi, Singapore

Lounge Review – Cathay Pacific Skyview Lounge Changi Airport Singapore

Verdict - I was using this lounge between a flight from Perth to Jakarta, Indonesia. The lounge had a very open feel to it, the food selection for breakfast had several options, but not sure if it was because it was so early in the morning (6am) the ambience seemed to be lacking a bit. Still a pleasant place to spend some time between flights and to freshen up.

Entrance – Departure Transit Lounge, Terminal 1, Level 2

Showers and toilets - Yes several toilets for male and female and 3 showers, because the lounge was sparsely filled there was no wait to use the showers.

Computers and Wifi - There was an area available for computers but only two screens seemed to be provided for those without their own equipment.

Food - Decent selection of hot dishes with some chicken congee with condiments, some sausages, omelettes, pancakes and noodles and several pre-prepared sandwiches and pastries and also bread available to make toast with toppings.

Beverages - These were a little lacking, basic supply of about 4 spirits and an aperitif and two different beers in a fridge with a selection of white and red wines as well. Coffee making facilities and soft drink dispensers were also available.

Entertainment - There were a decent selection of newspapers and magazines available together with a couple of tvs with news on them.

Ambience - The lounge had a very open feel as you could see out into the airport after going up the escalators to enter the lounge. While I was there it was mostly dark before sunrise but as the sun came up the view outside started to reveal itself, so if you like a view of planes moving around that’s an interesting point of the lounge. But being so early few people were in the lounge, the upper deck part of it with extra seating was closed, so the ambience was a bit lacking at this time anyway.

Staff - The staff didn’t seem overly welcoming, no one came to clear up plates that obviously weren’t being used and no particular smiles or welcomes were forthcoming from the staff as they moved around.

Airlines serviced - Cathay Pacific and One World alliance airlines, Skyteam alliance airlines, Priority Pass members and others.

Lounge Review – Cathay Pacific Skyview Lounge Changi Airport Singapore | Life's To Be Lived.com
 

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There were now a couple of Business class flights on Asiana Airlines up through Seoul to Istanbul and a few lounge reviews along the way...

Lounge Review – Premier Lounge, Soekarno-Hatta International Airport Jakarta

Verdict – This was a nice lounge, with some decent food offerings although the beverage offerings were less impressive (perhaps ok for a spirits drinker like me). The shower only having cold water was a let-down as I would have liked to have a hot shower, but I assume this was a one-off problem, the priority processing and immigration was a positive.

Entrance – There was an entrance into the lounge once you were airside for those with credit card or airline status, but as I was booked in business class on Asiana, when I approached the check in counter after entering through check point D1, I was escorted by an attendant over to a priority check in area which was a separate room with check in agents where you sat down while they processed your boarding passes, then went through a separate priority immigration area and then straight into the lounge which all seemed to work pretty well I thought.

Showers and toilets – There was one shower available in the male toilet area, and so I assume also one in the female area as well, and a separate toilet for disabled persons. I wasn’t having a lot of luck in Jakarta as the shower in my hotel room had hardly any water pressure when you turned up the hot water and the shower in this lounge had been having some problems and so there was only cold water available – I passed.

Computers and Wifi – There were 8 computers available for those who hadn’t brought their own and 3 desks each with 3 sections where people could plug n devices for charging. Wifi was available throughout the lounge although mine was cutting in and out a bit which was somewhat frustrating.

Food – There was a decent selection of food available including several hot dishes (fried fish with lemon sauce, fried rice with mushrooms, stir fried vegetables, roast potatoes with rosemary), there were also a couple of types of pasta, some salad/vegetables and a couple of fridges with some pre-prepared sandwiches/rolls as well as some desserts.

Beverages – There was a person manning a bar in the lounge rather than it being self-service. I was told there were three types of spirits (gin, vodka and whiskey) and only one beer, served on tap, called Bali Hai, not sure what this tasted like as not really a beer drinker myself. There was a fridge with soft drinks and mixers and also some dispensers with fruit juices.

Entertainment – There were several tv screens in the lounge although as you might expect they were all showing Indonesian language shows. There were also a range of newspapers and magazines, many in Asian languages, but also a few in English.

Ambience – The lounge had a decent feel to it, it was large, well lit and clean. There were no external views or those that like natural light or watching planes.

Staff – The staff were friendly (one even offered to take a few pictures of me while I was going around snapping a few photos of the lounge for this review) and boarding notices were called out as flights were ready.

Airlines serviced – Entry was available to First and Business class passengers on a range of airlines across all 3 alliances as well as independents such as Etihad and Emirates, Priority Pass and a large collection of credit cards.

Other facilities – There was a separated smoking room available for those needing it.

Lounge Review
 

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Flight Review – Jakarta to Seoul – Asiana Airlines – Business Class

Summary

What’s to like – Asiana Airlines usually provides a solid service, this was a night flight so it was more about sleeping than being wowed by the food and service and they did get the snack service over and allow the cabin to sleep in a reasonable amount of time.

Could improve – I have to say that the snack service was a little underwhelming when we got on as it was pretty dry and average, the angled lie flat seat seemed a little lumpy and not that ‘flat’ and the second course of the breakfast was also a bit of a let down.

—————————————————————————————————————

Flight number –OZ 762

Seat Number – 3A

Aircraft type – Airbus 330-300

Check in – Because I was flying in Business Class on Asiana after approaching the designated business class check in counter I was personally lead to a priority processing area where you are ushered through and sat down with a check in agent and processed, this seemed to be a service offered to a number of airlines, after which you were lead through to a priority immigration booth and processed. From there it was straight through into the JAS Premier Lounge. It was a very efficient and pleasant experience.

Lounge – I have reviewed the Premier Lounge here – http://lifestobelived.com/2014/05/06...rport-jakarta/ . In short the lounge was a pleasant place to spend a few hours prior to my flight as the flight ended up being delayed approximately 45 minutes and the ride to the airport was fast and uninterrupted by the traffic jams that Jakarta is known for and for which I had allowed time for.

Seat – The seat was an angled lie flat type and there were 30 seats laid out in 5 rows in a 2-2-2 arrangement in Business Class. The seat on Seatguru.com is listed as having a 60 inch pitch, 26.5 inch width and angled at 168 degrees. It may be described as lie flat but even when extended fully there seemed to be several dips and bumps in it which I know occurs in many seats, but this seemed a little more bumpy than I tend to experience. The flight was only approximately six and half hours so its probably sufficient for the duration and I was able to get several hours of sleep. The entertainment system was reasonable although a larger selection of movies and other items would be good, the only tv episodes available was Elementary so I guess if you’re not into that series you were out of luck.

Food and beverages – As it was a midnight flight it was obviously geared to a quick snack on boarding so that the cabin could be darkened to allow people the maximum amount of sleep possible. Shortly after departure a roll was provided with turkey, salad and fried onion. While it didn’t taste too bad it was seriously dry and so this detracted from it and I didn’t finish it.

After watching half a movie I then attempted to get some sleep and eventually woke up in the morning as other people were being served their breakfasts, so I guess the crew were allowing people to get the maximum amount of sleep, but perhaps you should be given the choice of if you want to be woken for breakfast? Anyway from there I chose the hot western breakfast option after a first fruit course which was a frittata, hash brown, tomato and sausage. The hash brown was soggy, the frittata not that great, in short not that great a meal and most of it remained uneaten.

Service quality – The quality of the service was reasonable, although as it was a night flight and most of it spent with the cabin darkened or asleep the service wasn’t truly tested. For those wanting to get the maximum amount of sleep the meals were served relatively promptly which would be helpful.

On time – The plane left Jakarta about 45 minutes late or 12.30am which had me a bit concerned as my booking had the plane leaving at 11.45pm and getting into Seoul at 8.55am before connecting to another flight at 9.45am, so a tightish connection. With an hour and ten minute transit and my first flight leaving 45 minutes late I was anticipating not only not having any lounge time in Seoul, but missing my next flight completely. Not sure why, but anyway even with leaving 45 minutes late the flight time was only six and half hours rather than 7 hours plus in my ticket details and so we arrived only a few minutes after 9am. Having a look at some recent flights on this route instead of 11.45pm most flights seem to leave after midnight and often 10-15 minutes after, so not sure why there is an often late departure of this flight? Anyway it was a late departure, but didn’t have catastrophic results as we arrived roughly on time.

Conclusion – This was an ok flight, as mentioned above it was a night flight and so the service wasn’t tested as thoroughly but was designed to ensure passengers in the cabin got the maximum amount of sleep. The movie selection wasn’t that great on a regional flight although Asiana offer a better selection on their longer haul A330 flights. Some improvement in the meals could produce a better product.

Flight Review
 

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Lounge Review – Asiana Business Class Lounge, Incheon International Airport Seoul

Verdict – The Asiana Business Class lounge in Seoul is a nicely laid out lounge, well-appointed and with lots of complimentary facilities. I think the food offerings could be slightly better to be in keeping with the quality of the rest of the lounge, but definitely a nice location to spend a few hours if you’re in transit (Incheon airport also offers some free tours as well that you can ask about at the information counter if you have some time to kill)..

Entrance – The entrance is up an escalator near Gate 28 in the Passenger Terminal. On leaving the escalator there is a desk where you are processed into the lounge and then you can head left or right into different sections of the lounge.

Showers and toilets – There were 4 shower rooms as well as separate toilets for males, females and disabled. The shower rooms were well stocked with toiletries, although I can’t help thinking some sort of deodorant wouldn’t go astray in some of these lounges as well as its often hard to carry with you through security checkpoints. Anyway, the showers were well appointed.

Computers and Wifi – There were 3 rooms with 4 lots of computers for those who hadn’t brought their own and also Wifi was available throughout the lounge.

Food – For the size of the lounge and how nicely it has been constructed I have been a little disappointed with the food offerings the couple of times I have used this lounge. It did have several bread/pastry products and toppings available, noodles, salads and Korean porridge with condiments. I didn’t really get to try much food on this occasion as my inbound flight from Jakarta was 45 minutes late departing leaving less time than usual to enjoy the lounge.

Beverages – There were several spirits and wines available for self-service as well as a fridge with beers, mixers and soft drinks. There were also several fruit juices and a coffee machine available.

Entertainment – There were plenty of magazines and newspapers available and several television screens to watch. As mentioned earlier if watching planes is your thing there is also a good view of what is happening outside.

Ambience – The lounge is nicely laid out with good views of airport operations and also plenty of natural light. The inside of the lounges is also well appointed with furnishings and even books on the walls and a piano. The lounge is divided into two large wings either side of the central reception desk.

Staff – Staff were friendly and efficient.

Airlines serviced – Entry was available to First and Business class passengers on Star Alliance airlines as well as Star Gold status holders.

Other facilities – There was a meeting and conference room as well as at least 5 relaxation rooms and other cubicles.

Lounge Review
 

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Flight Review – Seoul to Istanbul – Asiana Airlines – Business Class

Summary

What’s to like – Asiana Airlines usually provides a solid service, and the food and service on this flight were once again pretty reasonable.

Could improve – The angled lie flat seat seemed a little lumpy and not that ‘flat’ although angles lie flats are never as comfortable as total lie flats.

—————————————————————————————————————

Flight number –OZ 551

Seat Number – 2K

Aircraft type – Airbus 330-300

Check in – I was transiting between a flight that had just arrived from Jakarta, so I already had my boarding pass for my next flight so the check in facilities at Incheon/Seoul were not really tested.

Lounge – I was able to spend some time in Asiana’s Business Class lounge where I was able to have a shower and a bite to eat before making my way to this flight. My review of the Asiana lounge can be found here – http://lifestobelived.com/2014/05/26...airport-seoul/.

Seat – The seat was an angled lie flat type and there were 30 seats laid out in 5 rows in a 2-2-2 arrangement in Business Class. The seat on Seatguru.com is listed as having a 60 inch pitch, 26.5 inch width and angled at 168 degrees. It may be described as lie flat but even when extended fully there seemed to be several dips and bumps in it which I know occurs in many seats, but this seemed a little more bumpy than I tend to experience and so restricted getting a lot of sleep for me (I’ve shown the seat in normal, recline and flat modes below). The entertainment system was good and had a larger selection of movies and other items on this long haul A330 than Asiana offers on it’s A330 regional short haul flights (I’ve included both for comparison). There was also a fairly decent amenity kit for this longer haul overnight flight.

Food and beverages – The meals on board were all pretty good and I enjoyed most of my selections even though I am not a great fan of scallops, but for others this might be fine. I chose the Western options over the Korean menu. As I tend to go for fish and chicken meals I chose the Halibut for my main and enjoyed it with the risotto being pretty good as well. I’ve included the menus first and then my meals.

During the night portion of the flight the Flight Attendant saw that I was watching a movie and asked if I would like a snack prepared and I chose a croissant which was nice.

Two to three hours before arrival the 2nd meal service commenced and all the meals I had were nice. I was a little doubtful when I read a sweet potato cake for desert and it did have a slight, unmistakable potato flavour to it, but it was actually pretty light and fluffy. All up I was happy with the meals and options available on the flight.

I mainly stuck to bourbon and cokes and a cognac and coke for my drinks, but here are the beverage lists.

Service quality – The service provided on the flight was efficient and reasonably personable without being intrusive which I like. I liked when the snack was provided during mid flight without prompting as on some flights the FA’s can disappear into the galleys shortly after the cabin lights are dimmed and you don’t see them again so it was a nice level of service on this flight.

On time – The flight left approximately 30 minutes late and arrived approximately an hour after the times I had on my print out. The leaving late wasn’t quite as bad in this instance as I was connecting from another Asiana flight that had departed 45 minutes late from Jakarta, but made up some time in-flight until it was only slightly late arriving making an already tight connection even tighter. Between the two flights it wasn’t a great example of on-time arrival and departure.

Conclusion – The flight was all up pretty good. The angled lie flat seats are never quite as comfortable for sleeping as the total lie-flat seats but I’m sure these seats seemed a little bumpier than usual even though it was a pretty new plane, but I was able to get some sleep, perhaps not as much as I would have ideally liked. The meals were pretty good as was the service and entertainment options so all up Asiana provide a pretty good service with this route.

Flight Review
 

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Lounge Review – Turkish Airlines Business Class CIP Lounge, Ataturk International Airport Istanbul

Verdict – I’d been looking forward to experiencing this lounge as I had heard a lot of good things about it. Perhaps the only knock on it was that at times it could be a crowded, but this wasn’t the case when I was in there and it would have to be pretty busy to feel crowded with it having some 6,000 sqm capable of holding 1,000 customers after being expanded in 2013 and 2014. Everything about the lounge was impressive, large and spacious spread over two floors, I didn’t use the showers but they are supposed to have specialty toiletry kits, the food was plentiful, diverse and freshly prepared, the beverage options extensive, the entertainment options numerous. To be short it was a lounge I would be happy to spend quite a bit of time in and if you can get in and experience you should.

Entrance – The entrance is located on the departure level near gate 220. The lounge has a reception desk or you can just swipe your boarding passes on readers on some turn styles to enter the lounge.

Showers and toilets – The toilets were large and nicely laid out, as I said above I didn’t get to use the showers as I was enjoying the other facilities of the lounge, but the showers are meant to have their own toiletry kits and I can imagine that these would be in keeping with the high standard of the rest of the lounge.

Computers and Wifi – There were several banks of computers available, one of the ones I used the mouse wasn’t working quite so well and it was very slow to bring up information I was seeking on Istanbul, but I was able to move to another, look up the required information and then print it out for free. Wifi was also available throughout the lounge.

Food – There was a wide selection of local foods available and much of it freshly prepared, and so it was a good opportunity to try some local Turkish dishes over a few courses. Foods available included a special salad bar with a wide range of choices, desserts (including as you can see from some of my selections Turkish Delights, baklava and cheesecake), Turkish pides and böreks, various chicken and mince dishes straight from the grill, Turkish ravioli, pies, bagels and a range of olives, nuts and other snacks. The selection and the freshness I found impressive.

Beverages – There was a good selection of alcohol and spirits available for self service and several large refrigerators full of mixers and soft drinks. There were also several stations where a wide selections of teas and coffees were available. In short it was well stocked.

Entertainment – There was an extensive selection of entertainment options to keep one amused including local and international papers/magazines, a library, a cinema, numerous tv’s, a grand piano on the bottom and top floor, a golf driving simulator (which I tried a couple of drives on), a playroom for children and a table set up with racing cars for the kids (and the big kids) and a billiard table.

Ambiance – The lounge was well lit, nicely designed with modern and traditional Turkish influences and laid out with a number of large, open zones for sitting and eating. There were also several stair cases and a lift connecting the ground and first floors of the lounge. Nice views out of the windows we also available. It was definitely the sort of environment that you would enjoy spending some time between flights or waiting for your flight to depart.

Staff – Staff seemed efficient and willing to help, plates were removed and tables cleaned relatively quickly and food freshly prepared by cooks.

Airlines serviced – Turkish Airlines Business Class passengers, Turkish’s Miles&Smiles Elite and Elite Plus members, Star Alliance Gold members, Star Alliance airlines First and Business Class travelers and Turkish Corporate Club card owners

Other facilities – The lounge is well equipped with a range of other facilities including luggage storage, meeting rooms, a teleconference room, a prayer room, a suit rooms and massages.

Lounge Review
 

casanovawa

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I had a short one day visit in Istanbul..

Amazing Istanbul – History around every corner Part 1

I had visited Istanbul back in 2010 when I was doing a bit of a tour around the Eastern Mediterranean and spent some time there, so this was a short stop in the city to reacquaint myself and revisit a few sites I had seen and maybe some new ones I’d missed.

For a start Istanbul with it’s population of 14 million people is the largest urban agglomeration in Europe, 2nd largest in the Middle East, the third largest city in the world as well as straddling the meeting point of Europe and Asia. In other words it’s a happening place.

If you love history (which I do) Istanbul is an extra amazing place. Founded around 660 BC it was originally called Byzantium and since then it has had a long and notable (and bloody) place in the annals of history through several empires and religions all the way up to the 20th century.

This has included being renamed Constantinople in 330 AD by the Roman emperor Constantine and being the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the capital of the Byzantine Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the capital of the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and after a siege and its eventual fall to the Ottomans, the capital of the Ottoman Empire from 1453 to 1922.

It has also played a major role in the Christian religion through the Roman and Byzantine Empire phases and then became a centre of the Islamic religion during the Ottoman Empire when it was renamed Istanbul.

I flew into the city on a cheap business class airfare I was able to work out and on arriving found a massive queue to get through immigration, several planes must have just landed so it was looking like being quite a wait. First thing I needed to do was to get a visa on arrival (like visitors from many countries) to enter Turkey and so I walked up to the counter and the first surprise was that instead of the 15 Euros it had cost me back in 2010 it was now 45 Euros or 60 US dollars (I ended up paying in USD) which was a bit of a steep increase.

(Note: From the 17 April 2014 the visa on arrival system is being phased out and an e-Visa system implemented where you need to log on at http://www.evisa.gov.tr, provide the information, make the payment and download the e-Visa.)

As I had only bought a US$20 note with me I needed to find somewhere to get some foreign currency and there didn’t seem to be any bank ATMs in the arrival area so I had to think up a plan B.

Because of a trick that I had used when booking the flights from Jakarta to Istanbul I was able to access the Turkish Airlines CIP Business lounge at Istanbul airport which was pretty amazing, and so I was able to head through into another part of the airport and relax and get something to eat and drink there while I let the queues shorten a bit, as well as get out sufficient US dollars to pay for my entry.

When I finally went back to the arrivals area it took me only a few minutes to get the visa and to get processed through into Turkey. At the lounge I was able to access some computers and work out what was going to be the cheapest way to get to my hotel in Sultanahmet, and so was able to head straight out of the airport to the metro station.

I have to say I have used quite a few metro systems around the world and this one had to rank down the bottom in terms of being able to work out what was needed to get a ticket. Eventually after asking an attendant I put 10 Turkish Lira in (about A$3) and out popped a card that I would need to catch the metro to a stop and then transfer to the tram to take me to Sultanahmet. As it was starting to get towards evening it made it a little easier that I was roughly familiar with this area even though on my previous trip to Istanbul I had stayed around Taksim.

After getting to the boutique hotel (boutique could be translated as smallish but sufficient) I stowed my gear and went straight out to the Sultanahmet area which has a beautiful fountain with the Hagia Sophia Mosque/Museum on one side and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (or Blue Mosque) on the other as I wanted to get some nice night shots of these.

After having a bit more of a look around the area it was time to head back to the hotel and settle in for the night and work out the plan for the next day.

Next morning the sunrise call to prayers ensured I was awake nice and early and so after leaving the hotel the first cab off the rank was to go in and see the Hagia Sophia Mosque/Museum. This is an amazing building with an amazing past. Built by Emperor Justinian I in 543 it remained the largest cathedral in the world for almost a 1,000 years. In 1453, when the city was conquered by the Ottomans, because of the cities refusal to surrender, it was turned into an imperial mosque.

The current building is actually built over two earlier churches which were both destroyed by rioters, but the Hagia Sophia has stood the test of time, despite being damaged in several earthquakes and requiring several restorations. In 1935 the first President of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, had the mosque transformed into a museum and it continues to be so today.

After this I crossed Sultanahmet Park and visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or as it is commonly referred to the Blue Mosque because of the colour of the tiles on the walls of its interior.

The mosque, finished in 1616, is considered to be the last great mosque of the Classical Period and was built by Ahmed I after a war with the Persian Empire. It certainly is an amazing and beautiful building (Note: As with all mosques you have to take off your shoes and you need to be wearing modest clothing, although coverings are available in the visitors entry area for those not properly attired).

Amazing Istanbul – History around every corner Part 1 | Life's To Be Lived.com
 

casanovawa

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Amazing Istanbul – History around every corner Part 2

By this time I was starting to get a bit hungry and thought a bit of street food might do, and one of the best things about Istanbul is that it is quite cheap to experience with food being fairly reasonably priced, and the many mosques being free to enter (with opportunities for donations). A 2 hour cruise on the Bosphorous later in the day was only 10 TL as was the entrance to the Basilica cisterns.

With chicken gyros and can of coke in hand for 7 TL the next stop was to walk up to see Constantine’s Column and the Grand Bazaar.

Constantine’s Column is a circular column erected by Constantine in 330 to mark the new Roman capital and is not far from Sultanahmet Square standing some 35 metres tall and is an important example of Roman art. There was originally a statue of Constantine/Apollo on top of the Column which was toppled in the 12 Century.

From there it was just a short walk down to one of the entrances of the Grand Bazaar. The Bazaar, which commenced construction in 1455, is one of the largest and oldest covered marketplaces in the world with 61 streets and over 3,000 shops. It employs some 26,00 people and the daily total of visitors can range from 250,000 to 400,000!

The Bazaar has survived earthquakes, fires and other calamities and several rebuilds of various extents. The roads within the Bazaar used to be named for the sellers of particular goods that composed the shops along that street. Although this has gradually changed there are still concentrations of certain businesses on some roads.

If you’re in Istanbul and are planning a visit the Bazaar is open every day except Sunday and public holidays from 9am 7pm.

Next stop was the amazing Süleymaniye Mosque which is the largest mosque in Istanbul (although it is smaller than the Hagia Sophia). It was built by, and named after, Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and was completed in 1558.

The mosque was ravaged by a fire in 1660, has suffered some damage from earthquakes and during the First World War the courtyard was used as a weapons depot, and when some of the ammunition ignited, the mosque suffered another fire. Not until 1956 was the mosque fully restored again and today it is truly impressive spectacle.

After a look around the mosque and the gardens that it is set in I walked further west looking at different aspects of the city until I reached a part of the Valens Aqueduct that still remains standing and is a major landmark of Istanbul.

Built in the late 4th Century AD the aqueduct was a major source of bringing water into the city during the Roman period and remained in use into the later Byzantine and Ottoman eras. Once in the city, the water was stored in three open reservoirs and over a hundred underground cisterns (more on these later).

From the aqueduct I walked part of the way and then took a tram down to the where the ferries leave from near the Galata Bridge and bought a ticket for a cruise up the Bosphorous. On a previous visit I had just taken a ferry across to the Asian side before coming straight back to the European side, but this was a longer 2 hour trip up the straight and back down.

The cruise took in some amazing views of the waterfronts, palaces and bridges stretching across the waterway that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara (which eventually leads down to the Aegean Sea) and is both an important strategic and trade route separating the European and Asian continents.

When the cruise finished I made my way back up to the Sultanahmet area to go down and view the Basilica Cistern, which is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city and held water brought from the Valens Aqueduct. The first thing to say about this is that the small building on the top is very non-descript and you could easily walk past it without realising what is below.

After a quick line up and ticket purchase I then descended the steps down below to see the amazing lay out of the cistern.

After having a good look around the Cistern and taking quite a few photos I ascended back up to the surface. This left some time to go and have a look around the site of the ancient Hippodrome of Constantine a location of social and sporting events (horse racing) dating back to the Roman Era with several notable landmarks including the German Fountain, the Serpent Column, the Walled Obelisk and the Obelisk of Thutmose III.

From here it was back to the hotel to collect my gear before heading to the airport.

So that was my day and night in Istanbul, its a vibrant city with an incredibly rich and interesting past and it looks like it is really going places into the future as it continues to grow and develop. Over ten million visitors a year can’t be wrong and if there is any way you can include it on your itinerary you should take the time to experience it for yourself – you won’t be disappointed.

Amazing Istanbul
 

casanovawa

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From Istanbul I took and overnight flight through Athens down to Santorini for a few days...

Santorini – A slice of Greek Island culture Part 1

I’d been wanting to experience one of the Greek Islands for a while, both to sample one of the island destinations in the Mediterranean area (I have heard good things about the Croatian Islands and the Spanish Islands are also well known) plus as a bit of a photographer I have always loved those iconic photos of the white buildings and blue roof tops on Santorini.

As I had some spare time on my European trip I decided to book a relatively cheap flight from Istanbul through Athens and then down to Santorini on Aegean Air. They use an A321for the flight from ATH to JTR with the flight only taking some 25 minutes and we had barely gotten up to a cruising height before it was time to descend.

The process of getting from Istanbul to Santorini was not without its dramas, however, with delayed flights on both legs and I almost left my camera in the airport at Athens, but it all ended well and these hiccups make for good banter later when reciting your travel adventures.


On arrival and then exiting of the rather small Santorini Airport I jumped in a taxi to the main town of Fira where I eventually caught a bus out to the town of Oia (pronounced ee-a) which is the town with those iconic buildings of Santorini and it sits right on the northern tip of the Island.

A 20-30 minute ride later, with some spectacular scenery as we climbed up into some hills, I arrived looking forward to finding the hotel I had booked for several nights and settle in and start to get my bearings.

Where the bus drops you off at Oia is right next to a little tourist office where someone was kind enough to call the hotel to inform them I had arrived and they sent someone to bring me to the hotel and also carry my bag, which was welcome after not much sleep the previous night and a bit of a winding and climbing route to get to the hotel through the small town.

After resting up a little and getting something to eat I decided to explore the town. Oia really only has one main street with several restaurants, hotels and shops lining it and many narrow passageways branching off to the sides for you to explore before you come to the end where cliffs drop away to the sea below presenting some amazing views as the sun sets in the evening.

After exploring for a few hours and admiring the view together with many other people as the sun sank into the sea it was time to get something to eat (there are quite a few restaurants in the area as well as a grocery store and some cafes to choose from) and go back to the hotel and get a good night’s sleep to prepare for the next few days.

I was up early next morning and went out to get a few morning shots around Oia before going back and having breakfast and getting ready to catch the bus back into Fira and spend a day looking around the main city of the island.

Mid-April seemed to be before the tourist season kicked in on Santorini, with many of the budget airlines not having flights scheduled until May/June, so I suppose this helped during my visit with the island not being overrun with hordes of tourists.

Getting off the bus at the little central depot I walked towards the Orthodox Cathedral of Ypapanti. From there you can get a panoramic view off the cliff side into what was the caldera of a volcano that erupted approximately 3600 years ago leaving the islands of Thera (Santorini), Nea Kameni and Thirassia in a roughly circular shape of where the larger island used to be.

The view is simply spectacular!

Fira is an interesting town and it has a few museums on the history of Thera/Santorini. Like tourist meccas it also has a large supply of shops selling all sorts of souvenirs and novelties. It has a street a bit further up from the bus depot where you have several bars and shops where the night life I imagine would centre around.

It also had a range of restaurants as well as faster food offerings that were good for grabbing something at and continuing to explore. It seemed to be of a sort of size that you could have a good look around it in a day, which probably suits the cruise ship itineraries.

After looking around the town a bit and buying something to eat I decided to descend down a winding path which leads to a small landing down at the base of the cliff. This is where several boat tours leave from and also where passengers arriving from the cruise ships that anchor in the lagoon reach land before ascending up to Fira for the day.

Before going to Santorini someone had mentioned to me about the tradition of donkeys carrying guests from the cruise ships up this steep winding path and not at just at a gentle walk but quite a decent trot and so I thought I might have to give that a try.

But after going and having a look on the internet about exactly what it entails I found that the owners of the donkeys on Santorini have a pretty poor record of animal welfare with several websites talking about how the donkeys are not well looked after and suggesting tourists not use the service.

While I try not to be overly touchy feely when traveling, realising that a lot of the world has necessarily different standards to Western countries about how animals are used for work purposes and even how humans are worked and expected to perform, I don’t see a need to go out of my way to exploit animals if they are being needlessly mistreated.

I can’t see a reason as to why the donkeys need to be driven at such a pace other than to make more trips and earn more money and many of them looked quite sweaty and the shelter etc didn’t look that great, while I’m sure the donkey owners would say I’m not much off an expert in the animal management business so who am I to talk.

Having done a cruise before I know of the copious amounts of food that are usually available and this struck me as a good opportunity if on such a cruise to actually burn off some of those calories by walking up the hill at a pace each individual could handle.

I guess if you were small or had some major issues moving about there might be a reason to use the donkeys, but why a large, healthy person would want to get on one of these things and make it’s life difficult is a little beyond me.

I had it easier though as I chose to walk down the winding path and while it took maybe 15-20 minutes or so at a reasonable pace, I’m sure the climb would take a bit longer.

There is a cable car system has been installed going from the landing up to Fira but at about 6 cars each holding 6 people running every 4-5 minutes some quick calculations meant that it could only probably handle several hundred people an hour which might not suffice when one or two thousand passengers suddenly disembark from a large cruise ship.

I did notice at the end of the day there was quite a long line for people wanting to take the cable car back down so I imagine it was something similar for the cable car up in the morning (I took the winding path down and took the cable car back up a bit after lunch so had practically no wait time as I was going in the opposite direction to the tide of cruise ship passengers).

Anyway, apart from expanding the cable car system or people choosing a bit of exercise at a pace they can handle over taking the easier option of the donkeys I’m not sure what the answer is, but there is some food for thought for visitors.

After ascending back up on the cable car I had a bit more of a look around Fira and taking some more photos before heading back to Oia on the bus, getting some dinner and calling it a night.

Santorini – A slice of Greek Island culture Part 1 | Life's To Be Lived.com
 

casanovawa

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Santorini – A slice of Greek Island culture Part 2

For the final day I was a bit undecided as to whether I should hire a car or moped or something and do a bit of a driving tour of the island or go back to Fira and do a boat tour of the lagoon which I had seen advertised whilst down on the landing the previous day.

I figured with the bus trips I had been taking and some of the great scenery I had been able to view I had a pretty good sense of what the island had to offer and that the couple of other towns on the island would be much the same as what I had seen.

While I wouldn’t have minded having a swim at a beach, the weather was actually on the coolish side, pleasant but I prefer the temperature to be quite hot before I inch my way into cold water, plus I have to admit that I don’t find many beaches traveling overseas that compare to the beautiful beaches we have in Western Australia, so in the end I opted for the bout tour.

These usually left in the late morning or the afternoon or there was a longer all day one. I chose the version that took you over to the small island in the centre of the lagoon (Nea Kameni) which was meant to have evidence of the volcanic activity that still takes place beneath Santorini and then you had the option of going swimming in bay that had some water also warmed by the volcanic activity.

So firstly I took a bit more of a look around Oia with some more obligatory photo and then caught the bus to Fira to do a bit more exploring.

I then went down to the landing and off we went. The boat tour consisted of a short trip to the centre island after which we were told we would have about 90 minutes to climb up to the top of the island before having to descend back down and be back at the boat to ensure we weren’t left behind.

So off everyone jumped and up we all started to climb on the loose, gravel/shale tracks. The climb wasn’t too difficult if you are in half reasonable shape, but near the top, the amazing evidence that volcanic activity was still occurring was in a small depression there was a slight amount of steam escaping from a hole and a sort of sulfury smell in the air……..

It wasn’t exactly like reaching the top of Mount Everest or looking down into a fiery, volcanic abyss……

A small climb further up and you reached the summit of the island which had some nice 360 degree views. There was someone there who gave a short little talk at a couple of points in the climb, but after reaching the top and taking in the view it was time to start descending again.

On re-boarding the boat we pulled out and headed around the island to a the small bay, but because it was so shallow the boat couldn’t get in there and so people who wanted to swim had to jump into some cold water and swim over to the warm water.

As I mentioned that getting into cold water (at least jumping rather than slowly inching to adjust) isn’t really my thing, and so although I had brought bathers I elected to stay on the boat and just watch for 10 minutes and take a few photos of some mountain goats up on a bluff looking down into the bay.

After that we headed back to Fira. All up the tour was about 3.5 hours long and cost approximately 15 Euro. Was it worth it? It was something to do, but probably won’t be a memorable experience that will stay with me a long time.

The thing was I found on Santorini, me personally anyway, that there wasn’t a great deal to do there. Maybe I went to the wrong places and if I had gone to a beach area there might have been more water sports available? Maybe because it wasn’t full on tourist season that not as many tourist operators were open and marketing themselves?

I did see in one or two places some diving tours being promoted but I wasn’t really looking to do that on this trip. So apart from hiring a vehicle and driving around, doing this sort of boat tour to the other local islands, or maybe going to several of the pubs in parts of Fira it seemed to me that there wasn’t exactly a great deal to do on Santorini.

This might suffice if you are travelling with a group from say a cold country and just wanting to get away for a bit of partying and lying on some beaches, but I personally would probably struggle to not get bored after a certain amount of time as just lying around grows old with me after a bit while for others its what they love.

I compare that to some of the tropical islands in Asia where diving, snorkeling, white water rafting, zoos, elephant rides, adventure activities, visits to temples and shopping complexes, water parks etc, etc are all available and at reasonable prices as well.

I guess it’s a different experience that Santorini offers, but I actually pictured there being more to do, more on offer. From that point of view, and with my extra interest in photography and a bit of culture, I thought my three days were about enough for me on my visit to Santorini.

After the boat tour I did a bit more looking around Fira again before heading back to Oia for some last hours of having a look around before turning in.

Next morning was packing up and taking a shuttle back to the airport before a short 30 minute flight back to Athens.

So all up about Santorini, I found it an island with some beautiful scenery and some very picturesque towns and architecture. I thought some of the other activities and diversions I would typically expect on one of the premier holiday islands you hear talked about were a little lacking.

You could certainly go there for 3-7 days depending on what your interests and focus were and have an enjoyable get away from it all or if on a cruise and stopping for a day you could probably have a good look around Fira and the very picturesque view down to the lagoon, but you may be swamped with tourists if you tried to do the coach rides out to Oia and back to the cruise ship.

If you’re in that area of the Mediterranean though Santorini is well worth a visit just to experience some of those beautiful sunsets.

Santorini
 

casanovawa

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Milan and picturesque Cinque Terre – Part 1

I was tossing up between visiting Lake Como or the Cinque Terre area of Italy as I had heard good things about both and wanted to experience them both.

While it was a coin toss I guess in the end it came down to the fact that I was also wanting to visit Monaco next and it was probably slightly easier to travel to Monaco from Cinque Terre and so that won the day.

Lake Como is still on the list of places to go next time I am in Italy (the list of destinations around the world to visit is a long and distinguished one and seems to keep growing!)


I had flown into Milan as there isn’t an airport in Cinque Terre (I was coming from visiting Santorini) and so you need to choose a city somewhere close by (Pisa, Florence and Genoa are also good options) after which you can train or drive it to the 5 villages.

As I hadn’t been to Milan either I decided to spend and afternoon there having a quick look around before taking a train down to Riomaggiore where I had booked accommodation.

With only an afternoon there was limited time so I just did some of the highlights, going and checking out the Sforza Castle and its gardens and surrounds, and then walking down into the city centre to look at some of the shops as well as the amazing Milan Cathedral.

The castle was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, on the remains of a 14th-century fortification. It was later renovated and enlarged in the 16th and 17th centuries which made it one of the largest fortifications in Europe. The castle underwent extensive renovations and reconstructions by Luca Beltrami in 1891-1905, and it now houses several of the city’s museums and art collections.

There were interesting panels telling of the history of the castle and how it had changed over the centuries including how amazingly in the late 1800s the castle was in such a state of disrepair that the city considered demolishing it.

It was Beltrami that suggested that the castle could be rebuilt/renovated and used as a place for cultural institutions and public buildings. In the Second World War the castle was also damaged by allied bombing and needed further repairs.

Parco Sempione, one of the largest parks in the city, was created on the former parade grounds of the castle.

Next was the amazing Milan Cathedral, a Gothic cathedral built over the top of several former churches and commenced in 1386, which took nearly six centuries to complete and because of this it has a range of architectural styles incorporated into it. It is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the largest in Italy.

The Cathedral is located in the Piazza Duomo which also has the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II running along one side of it which is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls.

After going back and sleeping it was time to get up in the morning and after breakfast head to the impressive Milan Central Train Station, built from 1925-31, before boarding my train for the 3 hour train ride down to Riomaggiore.

Milan and picturesque Cinque Terre – Part 1 | Life's To Be Lived.com
 

casanovawa

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Milan and picturesque Cinque Terre – Part 2

On arrival at Riomaggiore I didn’t scout the small train station enough instead following the crowd on quite a winding road up a hill pulling my luggage up with me until I was able to find the main office of my accommodation, only to find that the actual rooms were all the way back down the main street and just around the corner from the station via another exit through a tunnel!?!? Hmmm, chalk one up for having a look at a bit of map first…


But I was probably going to have to climb that hill via the winding route or the main street anyway, and probably had to take my luggage up with me with as there was no where to store it to save me the hassle. From there it was just a matter of getting squared away in the room and having a bit of a rest before going out and doing a bit of a circuit of the town and getting some dinner.

To provide the setting, Cinque Terre (or roughly the five lands) has five separate villages hugging the coast of the Italian Riviera in the Liguria Region of Italy. The villages are: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a World Heritage Site.

The first historical documents on the Cinque Terre date back to the 11th century. Monterosso and Vernazza sprang up first, whilst the other villages grew later. But the history of the area goes back even further with remains found, such as bones and primitive tools, proving the presence of earlier occupation. The ancient Romans also occupied this zone during their empire because of its strategic location.

The region and its locals have fluctuated through good and hard times over the centuries and the population has also risen and fallen. Agriculture and fisheries has played an important role throughout its history and obviously tourism has become a major industry and generated wealth as the railways have connected the region to several larger Italian cities and its attractions have become better know.

The villages of the Cinque Terre were severely affected by torrential rains which caused floods and mudslides on October 25, 2011. Nine people were confirmed killed by the floods, and damage to the villages, particularly Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, was extensive. There is a sign near the railway station in Vernazza with photos of some of the shops in the village after the floods and the damage done as the store owners returned to try to clean up and start over which was interesting.

Riomaggiore, where I was staying, is the most southerly of the five villages and is a pretty little location. It’s main street, Via Colombo, rises from the coast quite steeply up the side of the mountain with quite a few tourist stores, bars, restaurants and food outlets and other shops lining it. A little further up it has streets that branch out that you can explore, including a church and some amazing views out from the coast.

Over the next couple of days I visited the other 4 villages. There are several ways of getting between them including a train line which runs from La Spezia in the south past all five villages and continues up the coast to Genoa, there is a ferry service that runs along the coast and then there are the walking/hiking trails up the top of the coastal range.

I chose to use the train line as it was reasonably fast and efficient and didn’t cost that much, but if you’re in ok physical shape the walking option would also be good.

I’ll include pictures of each town but the things that stand out to me were that Vernazza was a particularly pretty and scenic village as its main street winds down towards the coast like Riomaggiore, but ends in a small harbour which was nice for taking photos and for just sitting down and relaxing.

This was originally the town that I was thinking of staying in before my procrastinating meant the accommodation types I was looking at were all booked out, so I chose Riomaggiore instead.

Corniglia was perhaps the hardest to get to as it is situated about a hundred metres above the coast and surrounded with vineyards and terraces. What this means is that after arriving at the train station, if you don’t take a small mini-bus that can run you up to the town, you are confronted with a decent amount of steps (33 flights adding up to 382 steps in total) which will give you a workout.

Corniglia dates back to roman times and its name is derived from a Roman family’s name, Gens Cornelia, to whom the land belonged. Make the effort to climb up and have a look through the village and you will also be rewarded with some spectacular views.

Monterosso al Mare is the most northern of the villages and is also the only one of the five to have much of a sand beach which stretches along the length of the village with the railway track separating it from the village proper. The village also has an “Old Town” and a “New Town” to it.

So if relaxing on the beach is your thing this could be the place to stay although if you like the other towns its easy enough to catch a train there and then back. It also has a partially ruined castle built by the Genoese that can be visited.

Manarola is also a nice little village to have a look around.

Each of the villages have in common a bright and colourful theme to their buildings, which I usually associate with fishing villages as the off-told story is that after some heavy drinking it made the houses easily recognisable to their owners.

After 3 days of enjoying the food and hospitality of Riomaggiore and visiting each of the towns (some several times) it was time to leave.

The Cinque Terre villages, and the region in general, are certainly beautiful. They are all small villages without lots of the mod cons and fancy accommodation options that you would find in bigger, more modern cities.

But this is part of the rustic charm that makes them attractive to visitors from around the world, romantic for couples and you can certainly spend an enjoyable time there exploring and just getting away from the hectic pace of the rest of the world.

Santorini
 

casanovawa

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Monaco – Nothing succeeds like excess

I’d seen pictures and heard stories from friends about the city of Monte Carlo, with its abundance of fancy cars, beautiful people and a harbour filled with every sort of boat you could imagine up to and including mega yachts to make your jaw drop.

As a bit of a Formula 1 racing fan I’d also wanted to go and see a the city that has probably the most storied and glamorous race, if not always the most exciting on the very narrow street circuit that runs through the city.

I thought a reasonably priced and picturesque way of getting to Monaco would be to take the train from the Cinque Terre area up along the Italian coast and through just into France and the principality of Monaco so I made sure to book a few months out to get a decently priced train ticket.

The 5 hour or so train ride went reasonably quickly although at times the cabin did get a bit crowded as this must be a pretty popular route for visitors and locals.

I’d also left it a bit late to book my accommodation in Monaco (as I sometimes do while traveling) and so rather than book a 3 star hotel room for $500 a night I made a snap decision to head on to Nice, the next major city along the coast.

The accommodation prices there were substantially less and with only a 20 minute travel time by train to get back to Monaco it made sense to do it this way.

After arriving in Nice I detrained and was relatively quickly able to find my accommodation and get myself squared away and have dinner and settle down for the night.

Next morning it was up bright and early, have some breakfast and head back to the train station in Nice. I have to say the ticket machines in the station weren’t the easiest to negotiate and the crowds were also quite large in the station hall.

There was a tennis tournament happening in Monaco and so quite a few spectators had obviously made the same decision as I to stay in the next town and now were queuing up to be able to get to the stadium before the games started.

Anyway, with queues negotiated and ticket in hand it was time to find a seat on the train for the short ride.

The station for Monaco is actually inside a hill/mountain I guess you’d call it. You detrain onto a platform and then have to go down a series of escalators and walkways before emerging onto a street corner with a road that starts climbing up towards the Casino and Opera de Monte-Carlo.

It’s a nice easy walk up there to see some pretty buildings and a spectacular view out over the harbour.

The Casino in particular is housed inside an ornate, beautiful older building with some amazing interiors. Unfortunately (but probably understandably) they don’t allow cameras (along with bags and hats etc) into the establishment so I couldn’t take any pictures, however in the older part it is quite magnificent.

I didn’t bother to play any games (I always seem to lose!!) but sat down inside an enjoyed the ambiance for a bit.

Out the front of the casino is where you can see many beautiful cars either parked or doing laps of a round-about (that also had some promotional material for the tennis tournament occurring at that time) and there is also some dining options as well.

From there I went for a walk through some of the winding streets including some impressive looking hotels and luxury shops.

I stopped in at a pastry shop I found along the way and was able to get a nice quiche and chocolate pastry and go and sit at a lookout and take in the views of the harbour and coast which was nice.

The city is an interesting mix of styles, some of it older and ornate, other parts with a decidedly 70s look to the buildings and infrastructure and other parts new and modern. I checked out a few real estate shops along the streets and confirmed that you just about need a professional racing drivers salary to buy into anything other than a shoebox in the city.

I then took a lift down from the lookout several levels and walked over past the exhibition centre that was housing a car and boat (and other lifestyles of the rich and famous sorts of things) exhibition.

They had several super cars available for members of the public to take for a drive so I decided to have a general look and take a few photos of some of the hardware on display.

Unfortunately again everything here was quite a bit out of my price range!!! For now anyway… (you can always dream)


Next to the exhibition centre was the Japanese Garden of Monaco which was nicely laid out.

From there I walked through the tunnel that the F1 cars pass through that anyone familiar with the sport will well know to get through to the harbour area where I then proceeded to stroll by and take in some of the boat that dreams are made of.

I could well imagine spending the summer cruising around the Med on one of these beauties, although I think just keeping the thing fuelled up would drain my bank account. (Note if anyone owns one of these boats and needs a 1st mate or something I am available)

It was only a short walk further around the harbour and then over onto some streets (including the start finish strait of the F1 race.) I always love going to places that I then see in movies or on tv as it feels like I have more of an attachment to it having been there and seen it in the flesh, so now all my future Monaco F1 Grand Prix’s will be slightly more special.

The day ended with a look at a few more shops, buying a fridge magnet and heading back to the train station to catch my train back to Nice.

After getting back to Nice, getting something to eat and then turning in for the night it was only left to hop up in the morning and catch the bus out to the very decent NCE airport for my flight up to Paris.

So how to sum up Monaco? It’s an interesting experience, obviously one where a lot of wealthy people live and are comfortable showing off their wealth, and then there are the tourists that like to come to this little principality and people watch, car watch and enjoy taking in all the ostentatiousness of the place.

It’s amazing to see all the toys the people have as well as the way the city transforms itself to host the sporting event that it has managed to hang on to throughout the years, and that magnifies it reputation for celebrity, glitz and glamour, while the other races on the calendar have modernised and moved to bigger and better hi-tech circuits.

It’s a place that is well worth visiting for a few days just to rub shoulders with all the beautiful people.

Monaco – Nothing succeeds like excess | Life's To Be Lived.com
 
Joined
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Interesting read, casanovawa.. Jakarta and Cinque Terre are both on my hit list, so great to hear the 'real' story of both...
 
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