#TravelTuesday – Review Edition – Virgin Atlantic Airlines

Finding flights to Mexico from Northern Ireland seemed like it would be quite a challenge, but, SkyScanner came to the rescue and suggested a great deal with an Airline we had never travelled with before – Virgin Atlantic.

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All in all, it was an excellent experience. The price was great, booking was easy and the flights themselves were wicked. What I only knew as “first class” luxuries, such as complimentary headphones, blankets, pillows, “comfort kits” (including toothbrush/paste, eye mask, socks and ear plugs) as well as an open Bar (!), were all included in the economy price.

The flight attendants were friendly and quick, in-flight entertainment was almost exhaustive and even the pre-flight safety video was not only informative but hilarious!

You can find the video review that I created for this flight, on my YouTube Channel, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQacWKMEj3E 

There were, however, a few not so great points, that in all fairness for a good review, I need to bring your attention to also.

Connection in London – Outbound 

Because we had to get from Belfast to Cancun, and Virgin only fly from London, our ticket included a transfer from Dublin to London, operated by British Airways. (Which turned out to be an AerLingus plane… very confusing…) However, once we got to London Gatwick (at T1) there were signs by British Airways (who technically provided our first flight) saying that passengers heading to Cancun, Mexico should please proceed to T2. Once we got to T2 however, we were told that this was wrong, since our connecting flight was Virgin Atlantic and that we needed to get back to T1. #HeartAttack

By the time we finally got back to T1 and through the second batch of security, we were run ragged and I was in quite a huff by the time we finally reached our plane.

Security Embarrassment 

Long story short, on the flight home, the gentleman in the seat in front of me appeared to be smoking an electric cigarette. I kept seeing puffs of smoke appear above his head, it smelt like the fruity e-cig filling, and so I was in a pickle. Would I tell the flight crew? Smoking e-cigs was prohibited, but more so for me, it’s punishable (if discovered) if you do not report an infraction. So, on my way back from the bathroom I decided to pop into the galley (which was in front of where we sat) to mention my suspicion to the crew. The lady whom I spoke with, was very reactive however, and rather than waiting to let me return to my seat, waiting a couple of minutes (and maybe even watching the Gent for a while to see if he really was using an e-cig) she just marched toward him, right ahead of me. She asked him to raise his hands as she searched his seat and belongings for the device. I was mortified! I specifically told her that I didn’t want to say anything to her because I hadn’t seen the device as such, just the smoke, and didn’t want to make false accusations… but she basically just charged at him! I slithered back into my seat, put on my eye mask and earplugs and tried not to listen to anything, because I was afraid that the man in front of me would know it had been me who said something and would get angry with me.  That was definitely the number 1 way to make sure that people like me are uncomfortable ever reporting anything.

Connection in London – inbound 

On the way home, we ended up with a 6 hour layover in London Gatwick, this wasn’t tragic since we found the Yotel Airport Hotel Service, which was an excellent way to rest and spend time at the airport, but it was just a shame, given that with all the flights going from London to Ireland daily, there was no better way for the combination ticket to get us home; especially considering that we had an additional 2 hour bus ride back to Belfast on the other end.

Conclusion

All in all though, it was an excellent experience, and we would be very happy, not only fly with Virgin Atlantic again in future, but to also wholeheartedly recommend them to others.

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Easter in Switzerland – travel review

Derek and I are very blessed to have friends all around the world, who generously invite us into their homes when we travel. This Easter we found ourselves invited to the beautiful country of Switzerland, where we stayed with some wonderful friends.

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For the purpose of this blog I will refer to them as the “Schnubsi Family” since that’s how the mom of the house refers to themselves in her own blog. There are Schnubsi, Schnubsi Mama and Schnubsi Papa and you can find her fantastic blog about home sewn clothes, accessories, arts and crafts right here: Schnubi’s Fadenkiste

Forgive me if this blog ends up being a bit long, but we got up to a lot!

First of all, we had to get from Belfast to Switzerland, which we did with the help of the Air Coach bus which very comfortably took us to Dublin and then AirLingus, with whom we always enjoy flying. (I will add a review for this particular set of flights later.)

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But suffice it to say, there was wine and comfort and friendly staff, so we got to Zurich well relaxed and looking forward to adventure.

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In Zurich we were greeted by none other than Schnubsi Mama, who generously came (and had to wait through our plane delay) to collect us. We went to their very beautiful home, about 40 minutes from Zurich, where I joyously discovered that Schnubsi Papa and my hubby Derek were able to muddle through just fine language wise, with just enough functioning English and German on either side of the conversations, that there was nothing a little sign language and beer couldn’t fix. 😉

Now, Schnubsi herself is a delightful blonde little firecracker, with more energy than any of us four adults possibly knew what to do with, and she made the entire trip even more fun and adventurous. Imagine, discovering a country for the first time, but with the added magic of a child’s fascination with everything, from the fairytale castles to the worms in the ground. It was so exciting!

So. what we saw:

On Saturday (and every subsequent day of the long weekend) we awoke to a beautifully set breakfast table, boasting goodies such as warm bread rolls, various toppings, boiled eggs and coffee straight from a high tech looking fountain of coffee glory.

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We then got all strapped in and went to visit the flower island of Mainau, which those of you with a better geographical sense than me will know, is actually located at the Bodensee in southern Germany.

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It’s a magical little, privately owned island, bustling with flowers, unique garden ornaments, princess towers and even a castle. They have some impressive restaurants there, as well as a breathtaking butterfly sanctuary where the butterflies live right along with fishes and turtles! It was a sweltering haven of colour! You can find my TripAdvisor review for the island here: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g3206516-d8088474-r274171281-Gartenanlage_Insel_Mainau-Mainau_Baden_Wurttemberg.html 

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While we were busy taking pictures of all the different captivating flowers, which were gorgeous even in the relentless downpour of rain, it was a delight to watch little Schnubsi as she got the most fun out of finding rainworms, chasing ducks and jumping into puddles. It was so simple and yet so incredibly magical to watch.

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We also got to experience a bank holiday shopping trip very close to the German boarder; people from Switzerland and Austria were all crammed into what should have been a gigantic grocery store, trying to get the best pre-easter bargains before the stores all shut for Sunday and Monday. The way people were stocking up you’d have thought the shops were closing for a week! While I was fighting off a claustrophobic panic attack I was amused to see our hosts taking all of this in easy stride, chatting, giggling and laughing through the cacophony of voices and cash registers beeping, as though it were the most normal thing in the world. I found that very (and oddly) comforting.

Sunday started with an Easter surprise for us, as we found that Switzerland greeted the Easter Bunny with a light dusting of snow. It was beautiful to wake up to.

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Geared up for the day, with our fluffy companions in our backpacks we were ready to head out for an Easter Sunday of adventure, but not before thoroughly searching the back garden!

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Of course the Easter Bunny hadn’t fought his way through snow for nothing and had left some treats for little Schnubsi, all around the yard. A very international bunny he must be, since he even brought treats that I was sure were only available in Ireland. They came a very far way indeed. 😉

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We explored the magnificent Rhinefalls that day; a spectacularly rough waterfall that interrupts the river and has a minuscule island right in the middle of the falls.

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IMG_1700The view was breathtaking and you can find my TripAdvisor review of the site as a whole here: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g188070-d1208681-r263913905-Rheinfall-Neuhausen.html 

Other than that, why not let the pictures do the talking:

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I must admit, I had a bit of a panic attack at the restaurant above the falls when faced with the menu and the bankrupting prices thereon. Clearly we had not done our research properly and it turns out that the price of a regular, middle class, lunch time meal in Switzerland is approximately the same (per person) as what we would pay for an opulent night out for two in Northern Ireland. Ouch.

IMG_1768Now, our hosts were very gracious about this and had offered to pay, but I was just so in shock that we settled for coffee, cake and some friendly chat before heading back to their home to eat. (And even then, the bill for 5 lives of cake, 1 chocolate milk, a coke and 3 coffees came to a startling CHF 64.00… which translates to about £44.50 or $84.64 CAD [US $68]… just for a bit of perspective!)

The dinner ended up being a succulent BBQ of various sausages prepared on the home’s own professional yet viking look grill, and a serving of delicious salad.

Now, what you need to know is that, Schnubsi seems to be very well aware of the fact that her father is a chef, so she always wants to be his sous chef. She held the plate containing the uncooked sausages with pride, before she got so excited that the precariously slippy things fell right onto the ground and getting covered with dirt and grass clippings. “It’s a way of seasoning” Schnubsi Papa said in jest as he continued to happily flip the sausages that did make it onto the grill, while unabashedly enjoying his beer; which he was so generous to share with us by the way.

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Schnubsi Mama was then called to the window as we wanted to ask her to please rinse the sausages… this entire scene then repeated itself another two times!!! By the end of it, everyone was in stitches and Derek and I had taken to calling for Schnubsi Mama kind of like this:

MAAAAAMAAAAAAAAA!!!! hahahaha (needless to say she stopped believing that Schnubsi was dropping the sausages and accused that we were just doing it for attention! LOL)

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It was a very classy easter dinner, we even had Christmas napkins to go with it! 😉

Monday came around and  Schnubsi Papa had to return to work that day, but Schnubsi and her Mama were waiting for us in Kitchen for a lovely sit down breakfast. We had a very relaxed morning around the house and when Schnubsi Papa got home to spend the afternoon with Schnubsi, Mama took us for a local adventure with a drive up a mountain; then we hiked for a while… did I mention that Switzerland has loads of mountains? And that they’re very steep? Well; it fell like it took us a literal age to get to the top of the mountain (my lungs hurt just thinking about it) but it was most certainly worth it. Check out the view!

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IMG_1829And if that wasn’t amazing (and exhausting) enough, we then took up the challenge of climbing the “Wiler Turm”. It’s a 38 m tall observation tower, that stands 747 m above sea level. It has 189 steps to get to the top and thee steps are very unique because they are all full horizontal beams that are laid in a way to make a spiral 2 way staircase… one way up and one way down. It was terrifying (you could feel it moving in the wind), exhilarating (especially the view) and made completely of wood!

Let the pictures tell the tale:

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That evening, we then got dressed up in our best and went out to a lovely local restaurant.  Our hosts had invited us out to dinner and it was for a local specialty – Horse!

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IMG_1851Now, I went for the veal myself, as did Schnubsi Mama, but Schnubsi Papa and Derek each had the horse (and yes I tried a bite of Derek’s). Now, horse meet tasted very similar to game meats that I have tried, was very succulent and very rich. I actually really enjoyed the flavour but there was a part of me that just couldn’t get over that it was horse… so I happily (and yet oddly) stuck to my veal. Isn’t it odd that we carry just strong sentiments with us?

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The next day, we had a lie in worthy of a holiday. Schnubsi Mama and Papa were both at work and Schnubsi went to her day-home. Derek and I slept in rather late (10 am I think) before having a quick breakfast and then heading out to explore the neighbourhood on our own.

Our hosts graciously let us use their bicycles and so we head out, down through the town and along a lovely path along the river.

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Then we eventually returned back into town, where we stopped at a café for some coffee and cake and to do a spot of shopping. That consisted of stocking up on chocolate. hahaha

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Back at the house, Schnubsi Papa came home at around 2 pm, little Schnubsi was ready to go play outside, so we went to the local park and had a blast! We took our stuffy pup Al with us, and Schnubsi loved playing with him!

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Even Derek had to take a turn on the slide and Schnubsi Papa was expected to catch him!

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We had a lovely home cooked dinner that evening and had to say goodbye to Schnubsi Papa, who would leave for work before we got up on our last day.

The next morning we were up, packed and ready to go, but I knew that I had woken up sick as soon as I opened my eyes. It was probably the rainy day at the flower island that did me in, but boy was I in bad shape. (Full blown cold symptoms.) Luckily the Schnubsi family had just been sick the week before, so they couldn’t catch anything from me.

After dropping little Schnubsi off at her day-home, Schnubsi Mama drove to the train station with us and took the train most of the way back to Zürich with us, since she works in that area. We said a bitter sweet farewell on the train and then Derek and I headed in Zürich for our last day.

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Now, this part of the trip was sadly quite disappointing since the city was very bland in comparison to other European cities we’ve seen and yet it happily lives up to the fact of being the most expensive city in the world. CHF 6 (£4.17, €5.81, CAD $7.94) for a cup of mint tea!!! Needless to say, we avoided eating while we were there… there were several other things I would like to say about the experience in the city, but I would rather end this blog on a high note, so I will leave that disappointment for another time… instead, here are some pictures of the lovely things we saw. (And Derek explored a lot!)

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The Trainstaion in Zürich has a full underground shopping centre and I was adamant to find myself a Pandora Charm to take home as a souvenir from my holiday (it’s a tradition that I have that instead of buying silly statuettes and postcards that would gather dust on a shelf, I now get myself a Pandora charm when I go on holiday)… after quite a bit of searching and shopping around, we found the (only) shop and to my surprise my Derek treated me to the cutest charm of a traditional Bernese Mountain Rescue Dog, with the Swiss Flag on its Whiskey Flask.

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From Zürich,we took a train back to the airport early, because I was too unwell to continue sightseeing… Derek was my hero that day. He watchfully sat by my side as I slept, on and off, on an airport bench for almost 3 hours, and even went to get me water and a snack in between. I couldn’t have ever asked for a better husband, friend and travel partner. I love him so so much.

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Our plane was delayed due to an air traffic control strikes in France, but we eventually got onto our plane and said farewell to Switzerland at sunset!

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Back in Dublin, my parents had generously agreed to come pick us up so that we wouldn’t have to take the bus which I really really appreciated.

All in all, we had an amazing trip. Switzerland was beautiful. Our friends were so generous, welcoming and kind, and we were spoiled the entire time we were there.

What an amazing trip it was! If you ever consider going Switzerland, just bear in mind to save ALOT and budget carefully. 😉

Thanks so much for reading… I know this was epically long! Take care! (And don’t forget to check out Schnubsi’s Fadenkiste… even though it’s in German, use google to translate it!!) lol xoxox

Travel Review: AerLingus & Sky Dine

Review;

This was our first time travelling with AerLingus and as such, it seems naught but appropriate to share my findings of this delectable experience so that others may choose their next airfare wisely.

AerLingus

AerLingus, the national flag carrier of Ireland, offers a very welcoming and truly Irish experience from booking all the way through to landing at your destination. The booking process was swift and easy, with a very easy to navigate website, that should put even the most internet illiterate travellers at ease, as well as offering an ever open line of communication from the moment you confirm your booking. To the great relief of my paranoid nerves, I received my booking confirmation almost instantly, and was permanently kept reminded of my upcoming journey with them, through regular offers of upgrades and satisfaction surveys that kept me clicking through their pages in my down time, yet pleasantly without finding myself inundated with junk mail.

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On one of those curious click through adventures it came to my attention that upgrading to business class with AerLingus is just as outrageously expensive as on any other airline (I booked us into economy) , yet since it is common practise to charge extortionate amounts of money for an incremental increase in leg-space and the luxury of arriving at your destination completely inebriated at no extra cost (which I believe to be almost necessary in order to drown the guilt of the money you just wasted), I shall not judge them on that too harshly. However what was interesting to see, was their “make us an offer” gauge. Yes, you can make AerLIngus an offer on what you would like to pay for your upgrade to business class, and they will judge your offer from “unfair” to “excellent” and then (presumably) award or not award you your upgrade. It is an interesting looking system, albeit not one I felt the need to experiment with, at the risk of accidentally promising my humble sum of spending money for my trip on the aforementioned leg room and promise of gratuitous amounts of alcohol. (Even though the new business class, does look tempting….)

Business Class

I did, however, opt to upgrade to their SkyDine experience (which according to their website has in the 5 days since my flight been discontinued and replaced with what they’re calling “bia” in flight dining *sigh*) , which in essence lets you upgrade your standard airline meal to something a little more extravagant and delicious, without having to upgrade into another class.

It may not look like in the picture, but it sure was delicious and worth every penny. :)

It may not look like in the picture, but it sure was delicious and worth every penny. 🙂

I opted for the steak meal, which came with two sides, bread, crackers, a yummy salad, a chocolate caramel dessert, a personal bottle of wine, mineral water and coffee/tea. All of this, served hot and fresh, on real ceramic plates with metal cutlery, for the very reasonable price of €17. Not bad at all.

We will most certainly be upgrading the breakfast to the full Irish breakfast as well for our flight home, since it was most certainly worth the money, and breakfast is only €7.50.

"The angriest Man in Brooklyn" was my first movie of choice, followed by "Noah". It was a great way to pass the time.

“The angriest Man in Brooklyn” was my first movie of choice, followed by “Noah”. It was a great way to pass the time.

In addition to this, the AerLingus staff was very friendly, charming and efficient. Everything you could ask for in a cabin crew. Soft drinks, water, coffee and teas were complimentary and additional snacks and alcoholic beverages could be paid for by card and cash, in either Canadian Dollars, Euro or Pounds (cash) which was refreshing given that many other airlines won’t take anything but credit card anymore. The seats were by no means large, but surprisingly spacious in comparison to most other economy flights I have been on, with comfortable wee pillows and head sets provided complimentary in every seat (*yay*) and a very comprehensive, individual entertainment system in every seat.

All in all, the trip was a very pleasant experience from start to finish, great value for money, especially considering the connection straight to Dublin, rather than having to go via London or Frankfurt, and so in conclusion I am happy to say that I am very much looking forward to my next AerLingus experience.

Do you have a favourite airline?

Take care. xoxo