Monday, June 27, 2016

Classy Business - Emirates Business Class

Spain offers duty free in most stores. You simply pay the full price and then reclaim the tax at the airport. Simples! Madrid airport is designed to minimise the number of people who successfully claim the refund.

There are only two steps. Get the receipt stamped by a customs tax official and then present the stamped receipt to the refund desk. The customs tax official is no where near the customs check point where passports are stamped.

To get there you simple take the elevator down one level, catch the train one stop  the take the escalator up two levels. Go through to doors turn right, then left , down the corridor turn right at the end and then run as fast as you can at the wall for platform  93/4.

Armed with a stamped receipt it is then off to the refund counter. Back down the corridor, take the escalator down one level, go through  the duty free shopping area, turn right, turn left go to the end f that corridor and then it is the little door on the left. Knock three times…

This sandwich is the business
There is a big different between the business class lounge in Madrid and the first class lounge in Melbourne and Dubai. I am not sure whether this is to do with the class or the location. First let me say the wine selection is excellent range of local Spanish wines. The food is, well, pretty average cafeteria food. On the upside, the chicken sandwiches are extremely fresh and do have the crusts cut off. They also have a lot of margarine. They are just like the sandwiches the CWA ladies might serve at the local church fete – just. The only hot food is the same chicken sandwiches that you put through an automatic toaster. Good luck if you are wanting to go gluten free.

Emirates business class seats, A330
To compare business class to first class is only fair when comparing the same carrier and same aircraft. My comparison is for Emirates Airlines on the Airbus A330. 
Comparing business to first class there are many things that are the same
  • express line for security
  • express line for boarding
  • door for boarding
  • leg room
  • menu, food and wine
  • contents of toiletry bag
  • mini bar
  • television screen and channels
  • chauffer transfers to and from the airport
  • electronic window shades
  • fine bone china, metal cutlery, glassware and linen tablecloths
    Emirates stand up bar, A330
  • access to the stand up bar

And now for something (not so) completely different
  • the chair is slightly narrower and only leather trimmed instead of all leather
  • whilst still in a personal pod there is no door
  • no personal supply of chocolates and other nibbles
  • the toiletry bag is canvas instead of leather
  • instead of pyjamas there is a pair of socks.

The socks appear to be a randomly arbitrary item of clothing, why not gloves or a jaunty hat?

Grilled beef with vegetables
need to describe the business class bed. The first class bed was flat, wide and when extended filled the pod. In business class the seats are arranged in a alternating fishbone style arrangements. The legroom is under the mini bar and general serving are of the seat in front. This means that when the seat is extended to its bed configuration it actually slide forward so that it is slightly under the pod in front, like the seat in the Bat mobile in the Dark Knight Trilogy. First class beds are fantastic, business class beds are cool.

In Dubai airport there is separate lounges for Emirates first and business class passengers, they are even on separate floors, by which I mean they take up an entire floor each. It is to be noted that business class is on a higher floor. The menu appears to be the same, though it is with great pleasure I can report the presence of bacon on the breakfast buffet in business class – albeit turkey bacon. I earlier reported no bacon in the first class lounge – turkey or otherwise. The main difference appears to be the absence of fountains.

Most importantly when comparing first class to business class, they still called me sir!
Breakfast in bed - chocolate pancakes

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Arriving at Porto Airport, ready to board my TAP Portugal flight to Madrid excited to be upgraded from economy to business class, the check in desk told me to go through Express Security because “I am entitled”. Yes I am. The questions is, what was I entitled too?

Alfonso VII Monument
Express security had three staff and one passenger (me), right next to the standard security line in which the numbers were reversed so it only saved me about two minutes. I did get to board the plane first. I was the very first passenger on the plane, for the very first time in my life. The seats in business class and economy class were identical, with business class afforded an additional 15cm or so leg room. After the canyoning in Porto I was as grateful as I was entitled to this room. (For those playing along ay home I have almost regained full movement in my right leg) The inflight entertainment was non existent for any passengers. The catering reminded me just how entitled I really was. A pre-prepared roll that had a smear of something that may have been salmon and a couple of wilted roquette and a fruit salad consisting of two orange segments, four cubes of tart pineapple and two cubes of rock melon. To drink I was offered a warm can of Coke and a glass with an ice cube.

The napkin was fabric, the cutlery metal.

It was less than expected for business class, even on a 50 minute flight, but still more than offered to economy class. The surfs received two thirds cup of warm Coke served in a plastic cup with only one ice cube.

Catedral de la Almudena
It appears I am not however entitled to electricity. 24 hours after arriving my apartment lost all power for more than a day. I moved to a hotel room around the corner that although provided a kitchenette did not provide power to said kitchen – that is another €5 per day. If one did chose to pay the extra then it is extensively equipped with a wide range of cooking utensils…one ladle.

Madrid is much flatter than its western neighbour, and warmer. Unlike the Australian sun, which can feel like a BBQ hot plate on your face, in south western Europe it is more like being in a slow cooker. Nowhere is this more true than Madrid. Many of the alfresco cafes have fans with constant water misters attached. I am now well into my fourth bottle of sunscreen. Sadly Madrid let me down. I needed to put on a jumper, once, during the day even. Just for a couple of hours, but still!

Also the toothpaste and supply of take-with-you-tasty treats provided by Emirates first class has sadly run out, 18 days after they were first supplied.

Madrid loves vast royal and government buildings and galleries. The galleries often housing the original artwork that once hung proudly in the palace or parliament. A replica is often hanging in its place. As a tourist this does create a sense of déjà vu.

Templo de Debod
Adding to the confusion is Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple. An actual, real, original temple that was dismantled, shipped to Spain and rebuilt. Imagine the cost of postage. It was a gift to Spain after it came to the aid of Egypt when a great archaeological area was under threat of ruin with the Nile under flood.

It must be said it is a small temple as is the original art work carved into its interior wall. It is more like a temple that Egypt had put down in the back shed when it discovered other, better temples. Then years later, having a bit of a clean up rediscovered it, and instead of throwing it out simply put a pretty bow on it and gifted it.

Royal Palace
I did visit the royal palace, with plans to catch up with King Filipe VII and Queen Letizia. I was going to have churros and a hot choccy with Fil to celebrate the second anniversary to him ascending the throne, however they were called away to prepare Spain’s response to the Orlando massacre. Being very proud of being the third country in the world to legalise same sex marriage despite being staunchly catholic country the Spanish community are deeply upset by the event. Having discovered America I think they feel partially responsible. I did catch up with Hollywood royalty instead.

I awoke this morning to notice a larger than normal police presence in the main square, including riot police. It turns out that Thursday’s in Madrid appear to be protest days. Everyone who has anything to protest is there with a microphone and a sign. The biggest group forming was definitely to show solidarity with the people of Orlando. A much smaller, much, much smaller group was listening to a lady holding a large placard with a clearly labeled drawing of a rectangle and a circle. The labels were in both Spanish and English so must be very important.

She was either wanting change in Spanish architectural design or demanding a Tupperware Shape-O for every child born in Spain.

I rounded out my holiday with a night of Flamenco. As my mother would say, “it was a bit loud” even after turning off the hearing aid – there is a lot of clapping and stomping. The women were amazing and their feet so fast. The male dancer was a lot more prancey than he was dancey. He was very impressed with his own abilities despite how poorly he compared to his two female colleagues.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Next stop Porto, Portugal

My apologies from the outset if my writing is a little slllurred. I am in Porto, the home of port – the fortified wine not the shipping yard. It appears that any time is the right time for port. It would be culturally insensitive to be in Porto and not drink port. Like visiting Champagne and not drinking champagne, Cologne and not wearing some or visiting Adelaide and not eating a pie floater.

Suite entrance
I started my time in Porto with two days at a 5-star hotel and spa – I needed to unwind from all of the stress of this first class holiday. I was upgraded from a room to a suite, a suite, which was bigger than my Melbourne apartment. It did not help with my desire to not get lost for at least a couple of days. I am not used to a space big enough to have two wings. Everything I wanted was always in the other wing and bathroom breaks needed to be planned ahead. Two days of massages, spas and saunas… and complimentary port.

The Clerigos church tower was clearly not designed for modern tourism, Kryal Castle on the other hand was designed not only to protect Ballarat from the centuries of attacks from Horsham and Bendigo it also accommodates tourists with babies, backpacks and cameras. Clerigos barely allows room for a soldier armed with a bow and arrow let alone a machine gun or a cannon. As a defensive tower it does provide 360o view of the city, hence the need for room for people wielding cameras.

A glass of port helped to overcome the disappointment of this tour.

Porto like its bigger cousin, Lisbon seems to be loose and easy with the offering of marijuana. This might explain why McDonald’s signs whilst still containing the signature golden arches they are on a green background instead of the more traditional Ronald’s-hair-red.

Another glass of port helped calm my nerves after this shock.

I joined a cruise of the Douro river which is really a tour of Porto’s bridges. Porto loves a bridge even more than Seville. My tour was crammed full of retirees and the chop of the waves meant that the flap of upprt arm skin acted as either an effective fan or dangerous slapping machine depending on how closely one was situated.  The Douro River flows through the Douro wine and port region, one of the best wine rejeons, and only port resshions in the world.

Porto’s port cellars – listen in Australian wineries serves only small samples of wine on a wine tour, in Porto the glass is full. Considering port is a minimumum 20pershent alcohol, an afternoon spent tasting nine different ports is a fun summer activity. What is not so fun is negoshiating the
Cocburn's cellar
cobblestone streetsh in a hilly regssion down to a river bank. I still had enough of my wits about me not to order a tasting of a port left to age since the mid 1800s at $120 a glass.

To help soak up the alcohol I went for a local dish, the Francesinha sandwich. Please note this not a local delicacy as there is nothing delicate about it. It is a cube of fat and carbohydrates. Start with about 5cm of the whitest bread you can find – so white that it should not rap and definitely can not jump. Fill the sandwich with steak, a hot dog sausage or two and some cured ham. Lightly toast and then cover top to bottom with sliced cheese. Put it back under the grill to melt the cheese. Serve this with fries and the cover with a special beer-based gravy. The flavour of this gravy is like Gravox and American ketchup got together and had a child. The gravy is equally salty as it is sweet, and very runny.

Porto was meant to be the location that I ticked off a fifth continent on my bucket-list item, white-water rafting on every continent. Unfortunately the rivers in Porto were too low for rafting so I will have to return to Europe again. The rivers however were the perfect depth for canyoning. Canyoning is a mix of hiking, rock climbing, swimming, body surfing, abseiling, cliff jumping and caving; sometimes more than one at a time. It is a total adrenalin rush and completely exhausting. The parts of my body that do not ache are completely numb and the parts that are not numb totally ache.

Ribeira at dusk

Friday, June 24, 2016


TAP Portugal Flight
TAP Portugal flight from Seville, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal was not the international flight I was expecting. (read my about my first class experience here).  The twin propeller plane offered only two classes; passengers and crew. The 50 minutes flight just gave enough time for crew to pour everyone a 2/3 full cup of soft drink (not enough time to either pour or consume the remaining 1/3) and collect the empty cups.

On arrival in Lisbon I learned why marijuana is considered a gateway drug. Having alighted from the airport bus into Rossio Square, my gateway into the city, I had not even fully extended the handle on my suitcase when I was offered a bud or two of grass (with a free try if I wanted).  My saying “no” was not a refusal but merely a gateway to immediately being offered cocaine or ice. I either look like a soft touristy target or an experienced user of hard drugs.

Portuguese police should simply dress as tourists to find all of the dealers, during a 15 minutes walk along a shopping mall I was approached at least ten times.

25 Abril Bridge
Lisbon cartographers have invented a new map style, “stylised”. Unlike a actual map a stylised map is defined by a few features;
1.     Not all roads included on the map actually exist.
2.     Not all actual roads are included on the map
3.     Not all roads included on the map are named, not all of the actual roads are named either however the ones named on the maps are not necessarily the same actual roads that are named
4.     The roads included on the map are more general in their shape, direction and length than the actual roads.

Stylised maps are more artists impressions of the city than a map. It they were printed on boxes of breakfast cereal they would include the disclaimer “suggestion only”. Perfect time to hire a vehicle and drive on the right-hand side of the road.

Pastéis de Belém and GoCar
I drove to Belem, a coastal region brimming with 25 historic sites and museums. The highlight was fresh Portuguese custard tarts straight from the oven at Pastéis de Belém. They are always straight from the oven (in their hundreds) because they are so good there is usually a line down the street.

My vehicle of choice for this journey was a GoCar. The is a vehicle that is half car, half motorbike and Nana’s gopher/scooter and comes complete with its own GPS directions and commentary. It was a silly as it was scary. That said the driving was largely uneventful except for two separate and unrelated incidents. I did manage to drive over my own foot and did need to be rescued in the end.

I was also pick-pocketed at some point on this driving /pastry adventure. Thanks to my fool proof security measures all that Fagan acquired was about €1.40 in change and a sachet of icing sugar left over from the custard tarts.

1755 earthquake
Lisbon suffered a major earthquake in 1755, arguably one of the most destructive earthquakes ever. According to all of the local museums and historic sites Lisbon’s history can be divided into two parts, before the quake and after the quake. Now my Portuguese is not great so something may have been lost in translation however, according to all of the museums and commentaries, it appears that everything before the quake was in some way responsible for the quake and every event after is as a direct result of the quake.

·      The 1910 revolution leading to Portugal first becoming a republic – caused by the quake.
·      The brutal Salazar dictatorship from 1933 to it being overthrown in 1974 – both directly caused by the quake.
Lisbon stairs
·      The embarrassment of scoring no points in the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest – caused by and as disastrous as the quake.

The earthquake was so devastating that all of the Portuguese people including the royal family had to assist in rebuilding the city. That said, King Jóse I contributed by building himself a few adjoined huts, lining their interiors with velvet and refusing to leave until his death some 15months later.

Castelo de Sao Jorge is on top of a hill…Lisbon is a city of seven hills so to be fair everything is at the top of a hill. Stepping inside is like entering a scene from Game of Thrones. GoT producers do find the castles of the wider region quite Moorish. Perhaps why the reason they keep attacking cities and taking over the castles is really about the profits from the obligatory gift shops.

Castelo de Sao Jorge
Like many castles and palaces in the region Sao Jorge is built on the grounds of a former Islamic site.  Out of all of the daily household items created, what is it about water vessels that make the main if not only remnants to be discovered in archaeological digs.

Lisbonites throughout history, starting with the Moors, like a good tile. Lisbonians have not limited their use to the bathroom or even the interior of a building. Many Lisbonese building exteriors are also covered in decorative tiles. Less decorative, but the Lisbonish footpaths are also paved with small tiles. Maybe National Tiles’ own Alan Walker is a Lisbian.
Nothing says Lisbon like washing on the line

During my stay Lisbon was celebrating its annual festival Festas de Lisboa. One of Portugal’s national dishes is salted cod. Another is sardines. During the festival one restaurant was boating its special Festas dish, grilled sardines served with cabbage soup. This city knows how to party! Lisbon is also very fond of pastries. There are a lot of pastry shops and bakeries. Freak family tradition is to frequent bakeries freakuently whilst on holidays and who am I to break such a tradition. Also, I wish to show that I am culturally sensitive so visit a bakery at least once a day.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Flying economy with Vueling Airlines is a long way from first class with Emirates. The two hour delay prior to take off was not a good start. The only explanations given were;
1.     It takes a long time to organise a plane for flying
2.     The airport is a busy place

Given that this was not Vueling Airlines maiden flight I would have thought that these two issues would have been considered when creating the flight schedule.

Also there did not seem to be any imperative to actually check luggage, regardless of size or number of bags – never challenge a Vueling flight attendant to a game of Tetris.

The builders of Seville can sure build a palace or a cathedral but they sure can’t plan a city. Where Melbourne prides itself on the few laneways it has hidden amongst its grid of semi major arterials, Seville has done the opposite. There are a few main roads and the rest is a web of lanes and narrow alleys.
Plaza de Espana

The alleys were clearly designed in the time of horses and carts as that is all that can fit. Which might be why there are so many horses drawn carriages. In other cities I would say they are quaint tourist attractions. In Seville I think the horse/carriage combination is still a legitimate form of transport.

Seville has taken alfresco dining to a whole new level, so restaurants do not even have an inside. All dining is on the street…with the horses. Sevillians also love tapas. Tapas and pizza appears to be the only cuisines available, and even pizza can come in tapas size servings, that’s because everything on a menu can be served in a tapas portion size. No-one orders a main. Ordering a main in Seville would be as confusing to a waiter as not ordering fries is t o a waiter in New York.

Seville is very flat, and extremely walk-able. Sure you have to wander endlessly through a myriad of intersecting lanes and through countless squares but everything is no more than 10 minutes walk from the next place to visit, and there is so many secrets to discover along the way. It is also a great way to work off the limitless tapas and wine that cost €3 a bottle (nice wine too – none of the cheap stuff).

Original Seville wall
Seville was once surrounded by a wall as, as were many other European cities. It was the first line of defence against other kingdoms who might try to invade and conquer the land. Of course the wall failed, with the city ruled by the Romans then the Visgoths (German goths), the Muslims and then the Castilian Christians. There was also an internal rebellion. At best the wall slowed them down a bit.

Seville’s road layout is a much better defence than any wall. Armies could get lost for hours just trying to find the palace to invade.

For those considering constructing walls, learn from history. They are expensive, hard to defend and they fail. The Berlin wall, fail. The ice wall in the north, fail. The Chinese wall, fail.  The last one is even considered to be a great wall…but it still failed. When walls fail they also have a tendency to signal the end for the ruler of the day.

The Alcazar of Seville, the royal palace is as expansive as it is ornate. Similar to the city in which it is situated to the untrained eye the palace is a series of corridors, courtyards and rooms designed to confound guests. The palace also shows the artistic and architectural influences of rulers with Christian motifs sitting in harmony amongst Islamic symbols atop Roman pillars and arches. The designs sit in harmony together and in fact enhance each other’s beauty and elegance.

Cathedral - Seville
Cathedral ceiling
Seville is a very Catholic city, it was infamously the seat of the Inquisition. The Inquisition museum, which was the castle, or more accurately the foundations of the castle in which the inquisitors lived and the “trials” occurred. The museum really just talks about the rooms in the castle and their historic use, with only the slightest hint of the brutality and vindictive nature of the activities.

None of the audio or visual display worked, and looked like they have been in a state of disrepair for quite some time. It is like Seville does not want anyone inquiring unjustly into its past. Ironic really.

Cristo de la Expiracion bridge
Seville does like a church and a monastery. Despite being home to the largest gothic-style cathedral (and third largest church) in the world it has a lot of other religious buildings. Maybe it was the fear of the Inquisition, where not even a personal reference from the Pope himself was necessarily enough to prove one was catholic enough. Building a church or a monastery may have just saved the lives of the architect, builder and owner.

Seville is also bang up for a bridge. With a population of approximately 700,000 in a space that only take 3hours to circumnavigate on foot it has nine bridges. There is only one river and it is only on the western side of the city. Must be somehow connected to all of the horse and carts.