France 2014: Etihad Experience and Beyond

The red-eye special has never been our favourite flight, but in this case it was even worse. WARNING: Do not read on if you don’t want to read about a negative experience, but at the end of the day these sort of things make the best anecdotes.

I have never before been on a plane where they virtually ignore you for over two hours before you get anything. In this case it was almost two and a half hours before we were given a meal. And bad luck about getting a drink; even water. EY461 was our first impression of Etihad and we were singularly, or doubly (because there are two of us) unimpressed. Even though the second leg of our flight from Abu Dhabi to Paris was better, first impressions last. I know we have been spoiled by the high quality of food on various cruises, but aeroplane food has now become quite second-rate and particularly because it arrived only lukewarm.

Arriving at Melbourne Airport, e-tickets and allocated seats in hand, we were rather disgruntled to find the plane had been changed and rather than having a cosy pair of seats near the tail end of the plane, there was a third seat. Fortunately the man who had the third seat was a slim, friendly fellow who happened to be wearing a really nice aftershave. Thank goodness for that, as when we had walked down the extremely narrow aisle an offensive waft of body odour accosted us. Remember, it could always be worse.

Our departure time of 22:40 ended up being 23:10. A few late arrivals appeared to have caused this, but I thought that was fair enough if there had been connection problems. The pilot made up some of the lost time, only to find that our own connecting flight from Abu Dhabi to Paris would be delayed half an hour.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, suddenly that  connecting flight was delayed for three hours. Oh dear, we had already booked and paid for our train journey from Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to Argenton-sur-Creuse, having allowed a generous two and a half hours to get from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the station.

flying into Abu Dhabi

in Abu Dhabi airport

Abu Dhabi airport control tower and palms

The narrow seats and aisles on the B777-300 hardly provide enough room for me, let alone a larger person. Intermittent sleep occurred. Meanwhile, we had put my laptop up in the cabin overhead lockers as I knew I wasn’t planning to use it on the flight and besides, my large handbag needed to fit under the seat, only to find that when I pulled it out to use it during our layover in Abu Dhabi, the screen was broken and hence I couldn’t use the computer. Spoke to an Etihad employee who took a note of this and told me to contact Feedback at Etihad and ground staff at CDG airport.

devastated to discover broken laptop screen

The highlight of the layover was spending AU$20 on two coffees and a muffin at Abu Dhabi, but it was worth it. I had also managed to sleep for forty minutes on a chair that looked a little like a sun lounge. Funnily enough, outside the temperature would have been at least 40 degrees, and yet here we were inside almost shivering due to the air conditioning. This paints an unrealistic picture in your mind of what it’s like in Abu Dhabi!

At CDG the Etihad booth was closed, apparently opening up three hours before the next flight, so I took a photo to prove that they were closed. Spoke to at least three other ladies who had various complaints against Etihad.

at CDG there is no ground staff

We caught the train into Paris on the RER Line B. Met Patrick, a very nice French guy with a good command of the English language. We exchanged details and Dutchy and I might catch up with him and his family in Perpignan during the next week.

We duly got off at the Metro station St. Michel-Notre Dame, only to find Correspondance to Line C was undergoing maintenance work, necessitating catching the Castor bus to Gare d’Austerlitz, and losing even more of our precious time.

I explained in French to the line of people at the Billetaire that I was Australian and our plane was late and the train would be leaving in ten minutes. They kindly let me get in, but in retrospect why did the ticket guy sell us tickets down at the far end of the train? I like to believe that he incorrectly thought he was giving us tix closer rather than further away, but qui sais? Who knows? As it was, this cost us 92 euros, which we hope to retrieve from Etihad, since it was all their fault. Having purchased the tickets, we managed to race to the platform with barely two minutes to spare; and it was the last train for the night. In our mad rush, I managed to fall over on the platform, skinning my elbow. One of the attendants helped us get to Carriage 16, where we collapsed into our seats with a sigh of relief. The 16 euros spent on the train on beer, wine and a shared sandwich constituted dinner.  Time passed quickly typing all my initial notes for this post on our fantastic little Samsung tablet and before we knew it the 2 1/4 hour trip was over and we were disembarking at Argenton-sur-Creuse station, with only a 25 minute walk left, with our luggage to reach our destination, which took, including the layover and transport, a total of 35 hours’ travelling. No wonder we were exhausted, not to mention jet-lagged. I told you not to mention jet-lagged!

typing up notes on our tablet on the train to Argenton

Dutchy is pleased to be on the train to Argenton

Hey, I’ve heard worse stories than this, and these adventures are all part of the travel experience. We got here safely after all, ready to relax.

 

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Happy Hour Thailand

On our 2006 and 2008 trips to Thailand, where we stayed at Merlin Beach Resort, there was a happy hour for cocktails, which we enjoyed occasionally. Well yes, probably every day. Why not, we were on holidays! We also had a duty-free bottle of Jim Beam to imbibe.

In 2008, staying at the same place, we were a little wiser, as we had worked out if you sat at the bar during Happy Hour, they had no choice but to make the cocktails at regular strength. We suspected that if you were sitting elsewhere the drinks were a little less potent. No evidence, just suspicions.

Two years later it looks like we were drinking the same cocktail. Perhaps it was a specialty of the house, and obviously yummy!

The Last Post:

The Aftermath:

Days of washing and unpacking and sorting ensued after our safe arrival home, managing the Qantas flight in between all their nonsense of strikes and cancelled flights.

We came home to our lovely house, with sunshiney fresh sheets on the bed, thanks to Nola and Tony. After the miniature dark beige ensuite on the ship, our white and chrome ensuite, remodelled five years ago, looked great.

Part of the reason to take the cruise from Honolulu to Sydney was to avoid jet lag, but no-one had ever mentioned ship lag to me! Just as one has to contend with obtaining “sea legs” when on a ship, so too does one need to re-adjust to terra firma with “land legs.” After seventeen days on a ship, with a lot of mileage, every now and then for several days we felt as though the house was moving, when in fact it was just us gently swaying.

Because of that, we left it a couple of days before we attempted to ride our bikes (his 650cc V-Strom and my 250cc Bolwell Firenze scooter). When we did ride again during that particularly sunny week, it was glorious. Once he had charged up my (almost dead) battery a few times, it was all good. Later I had to buy a new battery, but again, another small cost as a result of a large trip!

It’s always delightful to sleep in your own bed again – bliss! I can recommend Sealy mattresses to everyone. There are lots of rooms to move around in, although I was amazed at how much stuff I actually have, which is prompting a severe de-cluttering season in our house.

The cats were only stand-offish for a little while, but it was lovely to be back with those furry little rascals, Shadow and Zorro. They settled back into their own routines soon enough.

Simple pleasures like going out into our large garden, watching Season 10 of Stargate on our big screen, and jumping in a car or going for a walk so far have outweighed the other price of the trip – work, housework, cooking.

It’s back to Karaoke every Friday and Saturday night, hosting at the Ming Pavilion, ready to replenish “the trip fund.” All in all, it’s good to be home and planning the next journey in a couple of years!

Thank you, readers!

A special thank you goes out to all my readers, particularly those who have felt they travelled with us. It’s been a pleasure to have you on board. If you haven’t made a comment, or have sent your comments via email only, please post some comments on this site for others to see, to encourage more traffic. Find the post you enjoyed the most, and say your piece there.

I plan to continue writing, posting more blogs about various subjects under my new author name “princessprattles” and in the meantime I will try and work out how to link things together on WordPress.com. For a little travel blog, this has ended up being just under 35,000 words and accompanied by many photos.

For those just starting to read this blog, remember to start at the first entry, dated 13th August, and work your way up. Bon voyage!

Heading Home:

Bobby’s Top Ten:

At the end of the last night’s entertainment Cruise director Bobby Brown gave us a list of the ten most stupid questions he had been asked on the cruise, some of which are listed below:

  • Do you have to get off the ship for a shore excursion?
  • What do they do with the ice carvings after they have melted?
  • Are the toilets flushed with salt water or fresh water? Who cares?
  • Does this staircase go up or down?
  • Does the ship generate its own electricity?
  • Do the crew live onboard?

Last Days on Board:

Although the food was generally really, really good, I think during the last week the dining room chefs particularly outdid themselves with the quality and variety of the courses presented. Everyone donned their glad rags for the final formal night, but the mood was a bit pensive as we all knew the fun was drawing to a close.

                   

           

             

It was interesting to note that the roughest seas we encountered seemed to be west of New Zealand, but because we were well-conditioned to the ocean it didn’t bother us at all. We could possibly become cruise-aholics after the two wonderful experiences we have had.

I booked in for a 20-20-20 at the Day Spa for $100 on the last day, as a special treat. Foolishly I was wondering how long the entire process would take. Oh yes, three 20 minute sessions adds up to an hour. Selecting the foot and ankle massage, plus the neck and shoulder massage, topped off with the facial, I felt fantastic and fully pampered at the end of my appointment.

Homeward Bound:

Everything ran smoothly at the end. We had to put our suitcases out the night before so that they could be taken off the ship as soon as we arrived in Sydney, then everyone was allocated a number and time to be at various meeting points around the ship on disembarkation day. Ours unfortunately, was quite early because we had a flight to catch. Mind you, the flight wasn’t until midday but our muster time was something like 7.45am. In any case we knew at the end of that day our own bed would await us. By this time I was allowing myself to really miss my cats, as I had steeled myself against getting too sentimental while we were away for the ten weeks.

The weather in Sydney was lousy, but in both Sydney and Melbourne we do tend to get a lot of rain in October. We were more concerned with what the weather would be like down south. At least during the past few days we were becoming acclimatised to middling sort of weather.

 

Eventually the shuttle bus, which ended up being free, I am happy to say, took us to Sydney Airport. He couldn’t drop us at our various terminals because the luggage had been put in the cargo area willy-nilly, as people had been arriving at the coach at different times. This meant we had to lug all our stuff across to the Qantas terminal. Then, in accordance with Murphy’s Law, our plane was delayed since we had so much spare time. We whiled away our time at a restaurant where we enjoyed a good, Australian-made cappuccino. Dutchy went back to the other terminal where there was free wi-fi, to check emails on his itouch, but I stayed where I was and worked on the blog.

We were given a sandwich and a cuppa on the plane, which although not as good as airlines used to provide, was better than the zero meals you get on American planes. The landing in Melbourne was possibly the bumpiest and most turbulent I have ever experienced, and we weren’t sure even why it was like that. The weather wasn’t bad enough to create that sort of effect. Regardless, we were safe and sound and Nola and Tony met us at the airport to drive us to “Home, sweet home” and our adorable pussycats.

Stay tuned for one last post from this particular trip!!

Food, glorious food!

Culinary delights awaited us every day onboard the Radiance of the Seas, particularly at dinner time in the dining room. There were always three courses, obviously adding to the waistline, and very hard to resist. At least there were some healthier choices available from which I sometimes chose. For this blog, a picture says a thousand words. Let your tastebuds imagine the sumptuous flavours!

Excellent entrées:


    

Magical mains:

      

     

     

Divine desserts:

     


   

It’s not your birthday yet!

We had arranged to celebrate Dutchy’s 50th birthday on the cruise, although his actual birthday was a week later. During the evening prior to this, Dutchy was practising for his pre-birthday celebration with drinks and sport on television before dinner; then more drinks and some gambling after dinner. He enjoyed playing some Black Jack and winning then losing money. He didn’t want to come to see the tango dancing either because he was “busy.”

Later I was sitting on a stool in the casino, waiting to see what was happening, since he was flitting all over the place, pretty much like I do, but not necessarily when I’ve had too much to drink! But Dutchy accused me of being angry which upset me, because I was only a little impatient. Then two other people suggested the same thing to me, which did make me angry. I would rather have been left entirely alone, so I decided to go to our stateroom to work on my blog, and enjoy my own company. Then Dutchy arrived, deciding not to go out and have more fun as I was quite happy for him to do. It was one of those nights when you are happier just to go to sleep and look forward to a better morrow.

It’s good to add some details of everyday occurrences and annoyances, so that people don’t have a distorted view of travel. Remember, relationships continue wherever you are, because you are only changing the venue where the relationship is. With all due respect to my husband, of course there would have been many times he was annoyed by my actions, but since this is my blog, I am obviously a perfect princess – I wish! In my fantasy world I am never wrong.

As it transpired, the actual celebratory dinner was an anti-climax, as Dutchy had peaked early with his “pre-celebrations.”

I had enquired at Guest Services about Happy Birthday signs on the door but they cost about $30, which we preferred to spend on other things. A cake would have cost $14, as if we needed extra dessert! However, I was offered a bottle of wine as a goodwill gesture, which I was only too happy to accept, and everyone was happy to share at the dinner. The others had all “invested” in a wine package, which meant they “spaved.” They had to spend lots to save 25% on the normal cost of each bottle. We chose to stick with an occasional wine but concentrate on cocktails, beer and mixed drinks.

It had also been Chris’s birthday prior to the cruise, so they were both presented with a “Happy Birthday” sign and candle on their dessert to the accompaniment of the obligatory “Happy Birthday to You.”

Mission Les Mills:

A slow start after too much walking the previous day meant that it was mid-morning by the time we left the ship, this time by ourselves.

Meanwhile, overnight, the ship had moved from the Princes Wharf to the refinery for refuelling, which would take ten hours. I had this image in my head of someone holding the hose for the petrol bowser for an awfully long time.

As I am a mad fan of Body Balance, one of the Les Mills’ programs, originating in New Zealand, I thought it would be great to buy some of that brand of gym gear. At the internet café we found, for a fraction of the cost on the ship, we printed out my email receipt for the extra 20kg baggage allowance for our domestic Qantas flight. Looking at emails and even facebook, it cost $2 for half an hour plus $1 for printing two pages, rather different from 40 cents a minute onboard! The guy there kindly found the address of a Les Mills’ gym, giving us directions which led us to Victoria Street West, a good walk away.

Unfortunately, there were no items on sale, as you can buy them online. The girl was so sweet when I was really disappointed, that she rang their other gym and sourced a water bottle. I asked her how much it would be, but she said it would be free, so we set out again on the Quest for Les Mills, finally arriving at the other gym where the girl at reception gave me my lovely metal water bottle stating that I am a foundation member of their gym. That was an excellent piece of PR on their behalf, and a water bottle is a nice practical souvenir.