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Hotel review – Holiday Inn Montreal Airport

After a superb transatlantic flight with Air Canada, I had a one-night layover in Montreal.

I chose to spend the night at the Holiday Inn close to the airport, using my IHG points.

Shortly before my arrival, I received an e-mail informing me that my booking had been upgraded to a one bedroom suite with a balcony.

The hotel was a short and very easy ride with the hotel’s shuttle, which was sent to collect me after a phone call to the front desk.

My suite was comfortable and well appointed, with a king size bed, living area and kitchen.

There was also a balcony, which I found convenient despite the rather cold weather.

Breakfast, which was included in my booking, was pretty reasonable and included cereals, fruit, yoghurt, juice and coffee, as well as a hot selection of bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, potatoes and baked beans.

The hotel also has an indoor pool and hot tub, which I was not able to photograph as it was in use for most of the evening.

Photographs can be found on the hotel website.

The water in the larger pool was a little too cold for my personal preference, so I stuck to the hot tub, which was very pleasant.

Overall, this was a convenient, comfortable and good value option at 22,100 IHG points, booked during a 15% off redemptions sale.

This is a hotel I would happily stay at again.

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Flight review – Air Canada Business Class, Paris – Montreal

After my flight to Paris and a short stopover it was time for the first long haul flight of my 5-month travel season.

A fortuitous deal meant that this would be in Air Canada’s Signature Business Class.

As my flight was leaving from Terminal 2, I started my travel day in the Extime contract lounge rather than the Star Alliance Lounge in Terminal 1.

The lounge was located after security but before passport control and offered a reasonable selection of food and drink.

After around an hour in the lounge I boarded the flight and settled in.

This flight was operated by a 777-300ER with business class seating in a 1-2-1 configuration. All business class seats on this aircraft offer a fully flat bed and direct aisle access.

I was given a small amenity kit and a pre-departure glass of champagne.

The dinner service began shortly after take-off with nuts and another glass of champagne.

The menu and choice of drinks offered an impressive array of options.

The appetiser was tasty and the salad was fresh.

For the main course, I was informed that the beef cheeks were not available. This was not an issue for me, as I had already chosen the chicken curry.

The curry was tasty and unusually for an airline meal, had a nice spicy kick.

I chose the Côtes du Rhône white wine to accompany the main course and this was generously poured and regularly topped up.

I finished off the meal with the cheese platter, a glass or two of port and a couple of brandies.

By this stage there were only around four hours left of the flight, so I decided to put my seat into flat-bed mode for a short nap.

I had a nice two-hour sleep before a light pre-arrival meal of Arabic mezze with fruit and coffee was served, along with a couple of tasty little chocolates.

After this, we began our descent to Montreal, where I had a one-night layover before continuing to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Air Canada’s Signature Class was a very relaxing experience and a thoroughly civilised way to begin my long-haul travels.

I can recommend this product as a very solid option for a trans-Atlantic flight.

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Hotel review – Millennium Hotel, Paris CDG

I recently had a two night stopover in Paris between flights.

For such a short time, it didn’t make sense to travel to a city hotel when I could stay at the airport and travel to the city without my luggage for the free day.

For that reason I booked the Millennium Hotel a short distance from the airport.

My arrival was complicated slightly by the fact that CDG is very badly signposted and there is very little information about which shuttles depart from which part of the airport. A quick phone call to the hotel established that this particular bus departs from the bus stops between Terminals 2B and 2D.

A further complication was that the shuttle runs only once per hour, at 5 minutes to each hour. Unfortunately I missed one by around 10 minutes.

However, things improved once I actually got to the hotel.

My room was comfortable and reasonably sized and had everything I needed for a short stay, including tea and coffee making facilities, storage space and a mini fridge.

Some of the furniture was a little battered and scuffed and had seen better days, but this was only a minor cosmetic issue and it certainly didn’t reduce my enjoyment of the stay.

The hotel offers a small indoor swimming pool, which was heated to a pleasant temperature and provided a nice opportunity to relax.

The restaurant offers casual meals in the bar area. I didn’t actually try these and couldn’t get any decent photographs as it was very crowded due to a couple of cancelled flights from CDG.

I did, however, try the buffet breakfast, which at €20 was decent value by European standards. The price included bacon, sausages and eggs, as well as bakery items, cold cuts and unlimited juice and coffee.

Again I couldn’t get any decent photographs due to the number of people at the buffet, but it was a fairly standard hotel buffet and I considered the convenience to be worth the price.

Overall, I feel that this hotel offered a perfectly adequate experience for a short stopover and in a city as expensive as Paris, was reasonably priced at €84 per night, excluding breakfast.

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Flight review – Air France Economy Class, Zurich – Paris

After my first normal Summer at home on the shores of Lake Constance for four years, it was time to take flight again for another five months on the road.

My journey started with a short flight to Paris, from where my next long-haul adventure would begin.

For this short flight, I had booked myself in Economy Class with Air France, using 7,000 Flying Blue Miles. During the online check-in I was offered an upgrade to Business Class for €79 (£69/$83). For a one hour flight, I declined this offer.

My flying day started in the Marhaba Lounge, accessed via Priority Pass.

After a decent lunch in the lounge, I boarded the aircraft for the short run to Paris CDG.

The flight was very lightly loaded and I had a row of three seats to myself.

The legroom was perfectly fine for a short flight.

A snack and drinks were served shortly after take off.

Almost as soon as I finished my coffee, we were descending into Paris for an on time arrival.

I was glad that I had decided to decline the €79 upgrade offer. Some time ago, I wrote a piece on whether business class travel is really worth it and at times I believe it is.

On this occasion, however, I was glad I kept my credit card in my wallet.

This flight was one of the better short-haul experiences I have had in recent years and an easy and painless way to begin my Winter travels.

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Lounge review – Marhaba Lounge, Zurich Airport

The Marhaba Lounge is one with which I have become well acquainted during my various journeys from Zurich Airport.

Accessed via Priority Pass as well as several other lounge programs, Marhaba is located after security control and is accessible for passengers travelling both within and outside the Schengen Zone.

It offers a range of drinks, as well as hot and cold snacks.

Although Marhaba is used under contract by several airlines as well as lounge programs, I have never known it to be overcrowded and have always found it to be a pleasant place to spend some time while waiting for a flight.

I once ended up stuck there for around 5 hours during a rather bad travel day and it was a welcome respite during the delay.

Marhaba is a well organised contract lounge and in my opinion the best of the Priority Pass options at Zurich.

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A very poor experience with Swiss

Last Monday, I decided at the last minute to take off to Barcelona for a few days.

Barcelona is a lovely city and I will be reviewing it in the coming days, but getting there and back was far from straightforward.

I was booked on a direct flight from Zürich to Barcelona on Swiss, returning via Munich on Lufthansa.

I got to Zürich a few hours early and checked out a couple of the Priority Pass lounges, which again I will review in the next few days.

Around an hour before the scheduled departure, I got the dreaded cancellation SMS from Swiss. I had been rebooked on a connecting flight via Frankfurt, with a 28-hour delay. Needless to say, on a 4-day trip, this was totally unacceptable.

By this stage, Zürich Airport had descended into chaos, with many Swiss and Lufthansa flights cancelled. As I waited in the 2-hour queue for the transfer desk, I researched other available options.

I found a Vueling flight some 4 hours later, bookable under an Iberia codeshare, which I know that Swiss are capable of booking. Mindful that there were very few seats left on this flight, I called Swiss Customer Service while standing in the queue.

Unfortunately, Swiss flatly refused to rebook me on that flight, regardless of their obligation under the EU261 Regulation to rebook passengers in the most expeditious manner possible.

As this was clearly in contravention of that condition, I took matters into my own hands and booked myself on the Vueling flight at a cost of €329.79.

The last step was to make sure my return was not cancelled when I no-showed the unacceptable rebooking option. This was done when I finally reached the transfer desk.

The final insult was delivered when I was informed that the cancellation was due to “weather”.

Forgive me if I am somewhat sceptical of this, when the only cancellations were from Swiss and their parent company Lufthansa, but every other airline was flying with short delays.

Are Swiss claiming they were subject to different weather conditions than British Airways, Finnair, SAS, Tailwind, Sun Express and Vueling?

Either way, a reasonable attempt to mitigate the delay was clearly not made, as I managed to beat their rebooking option by 24 hours.

As it happened, I arrived at my hotel in Barcelona at 1am, a delay of around 5 hours. Actually not a disastrous result, but only because I fixed the issue on my own initiative.

Naturally, this required me to pay upfront for the replacement flight, but this is recoverable under the relevant regulations, when the airline has failed to provide a reasonable alternative.

Most Ombudsman services and regulatory bodies will generally back up your claim if the airline has refused to rebook a clearly available same day alternative.

I will write an update with the result of my claim from Swiss, which will include the cost of the replacement flight plus €250 cancellation compensation.

As a side note, the Vueling flight, which I will also review in the coming days, was a pleasant experience and exceeded my expectations.

Swiss however, which is usually a very good airline, left a lot to be desired on this occasion.

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Bregenzer Festspiele – Opera on Lake Constance

Every year since 1946, my home town of Bregenz, Austria has hosted a month-long performing arts festival.

The centrepiece of the festival is an opera performance on the Seebühne, a spectacular overwater stage on the shore of Lake Constance.

This year, the stage is set for a performance of Madame Butterfly, a tragic tale of unrequited love and abandonment.

I was recently invited to a behind-the-scenes tour of the lake stage, in readiness for this spectacle.

The stage is beautifully set against a backdrop of Lake Constance and the Austrian hills.

The best view is offered from the indoor VIP area, above the stands.

The tour included the backstage areas and the layout of the stage itself.

This year’s festival takes place from July 20 through to August 20.

There are still tickets available for purchase on the official website of the Bregenzer Festspiele, starting from €30.

British Airways – Another IT SNAFU

Over the last few months and years, it is an understatement to say that British Airways has been subject to the occasional IT failure.

I was recently caught up in such an increasingly common SNAFU, when my BA Executive Club account was inexplicably locked, for no apparent reason.

What followed can only be described as a cascade of incompetence.

Over the course of 9 days, I spent several hours on the phone to BA’s Executive Club line, intermittently being randomly dumped into call queues for reservations or booking amendments.

Eventually I received an e-mail from a gentleman with a tangential connection to the correct department, and a 48-hour exchange began.

Finally, I am finally able to access my BAEC account and move forward with my travel plans.

Overall, this has been a frustrating experience and a disappointment from BA, which has been, without exception, my favourite international carrier over the last few years.

It is not hyperbolic to say that the service I have received from BA during the last few difficult years has been head and shoulders above the global competition.

It is therefore disappointing that they seem unable to resolve such a basic issue in anything resembling an expedient manner.

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Destination – One Day in Little Rock

Little Rock, Arkansas is an often overlooked option for a stop between Memphis and Dallas. I decided to call in on exactly this route and check out this pretty little city.

My day started with brunch at The Corner Diner in the Downtown area. There was a long line of customers waiting to get in, but I was assured it would be worth it.

It certainly was. My Hot Chicken Waffle was tasty and the service was excellent.

After brunch I decided a little exercise was called for, so I walked a roughly 5-mile stretch of the Trail of Tears, a network of trails spanning more than 5,000 miles across 9 states.

The trail took me along the Arkansas River, past the Main Street and North Broadway bridges and several pretty picnic areas.

After my 5-mile stroll I decided to catch the historic tram back to town to pick up my car and head onwards towards Dallas.

Little Rock is a pleasant little city and I definitely think it is worth either a day trip from Memphis, or a stop along the route to Dallas.

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Destination Guide – Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis is a stunning city in which to spend a few days.

I spent three full days in Memphis and could very happily have stayed much longer.

I started my tour on the iconic Beale Street. With its lively bars and soulful restaurants juxtaposed against historical stores, Beale Street truly has something for everyone.

From Beale Street it is only a short distance to the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

The distance from Beale Street is a very easy walk, but I chose to ride the Main Street Trolley, operated with historical trams plying the routes between many of the top sights of Memphis. This is a very economical option at $1 per ride or $2 for a day pass.

The tram also passes by the iconic Peabody Hotel with its famous duck pond.

To round off a day in Memphis, I can recommend two alternatives.

One option is a cruise on the Mississippi River with live music and a simple, but tasty and unlimited barbecue.

If, however, you really want to sample an authentic Tennessee barbecue, The Commissary in Germantown is well worth the half hour drive.

I have to say that Memphis is an extremely interesting and thoroughly enjoyable option for a city break and was one of my favourite cities of my 7,000 mile road trip.

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