This, perhaps, wasn’t going to be one of my usual days out. A few days before I was due to fly – out of Stansted at 7am on a Tuesday – an email arrived from Ryanair announcing certain restrictions on the flight.
Amongst other words of caution, it said:
• Customers will not be allowed to carry alcohol on board and all cabin baggage will be searched at the boarding gates.
• Boarding gates will be carefully monitored and customers showing any signs of anti-social behavior or attempting to conceal alcohol will be denied travel without refund or compensation.
For a moment I wondered what I had let myself in for. In the event, though we did have a stag party on board, they were very well behaved and remarkably quiet. The plane was too, empty seats an indication that some of our passengers had fallen victim to one of Stansted’s worst mornings for queues at security I’d ever seen. I’d made the flight in good time and jetted off on time to the hippy isle with a row of three seats to myself.
Arriving slightly ahead of schedule, I picked up a hire car and set off on an itinerary I’d found on the Ibiza Spotlight website. As my main focus of the day was to be a trial of a Sunwise kaftan, I’d originally planned to hole up at one of Ibiza’s stylish beach clubs and chill out all day. In the event, my geographer’s curiosity got in the way and I just couldn’t resist the chance to go exploring, especially up in the north of the island where the agricultural landscape was more verdant and prettier than the south. That said, I needed to be in the sun, so there were going to be plenty of stops.
The first was supposed to be in Santa Eulària des Riu, Ibiza’s third largest resort. Incidentally, road signs are in Catalan, though my map was in Spanish, with this particular resort being Santa Eulalia – mostly the names were similar enough for this not to be confusing. I’d read about an excellent ice cream parlour called Mirreti’s. Reaching the town, I decided it just wasn’t my kind of place: too busy and lacking charm. I drove straight through, headed for Sant Carles de Peralta.
This small village, dominated by a delightful whitewashed church, was the perfect spot for a stroll in the sunshine. There wasn’t much to see, but I’d been tipped off about a cafe called Bar Anita across the road. I spent a pleasant half an hour sipping a cold drink in the warm sunshine, watching the world go by.
Onwards and northwards, as the hire car wound its way around the back lanes following the Cala de Sant Vicenç coast road for a few kilometres before ducking inland across the Serra de la Mala Costa. Turning north at Sant Joan de Labritja, I snaked across country on a tiny lane which led to the resort of Portinatx on the island’s rugged north coast. Smaller than Santa Eulària des Riu but nevertheless a resort, it was more my scene and I had a wander to explore.
Back in the car, I drove back to Sant Joan, this time via the main road and on to my next stop, another village dominated by a magnificent church, Sant Miquel de Balansat. Sited on top of the hill, this whitewashed church is impossible to miss. It’s the second oldest on the island, after the cathedral and like the one in Sant Carles, had three crosses on the front wall, something you’ll see on all the churches on the island, the symbol of Golgotha. The painted chapel walls are very special. This bronze sculpture outside also caught my eye.
But by now, I was getting hungry and so drove the few kilometres to Santa Gertrudis de Fruitera. This was my favourite of all the villages I stopped at, and I feasted on jamon serrano and queso manchego in the sunshine, choosing a spot opposite the church.
Somehow the village managed to hang onto its character despite its popularity with day trippers. I had time to browse in a few boutiques before they closed for a siesta and I hit the road again.
This part of Ibiza is greener than the scrubby south and I drove across the countryside towards Santa Agnès de Corona, known as Santa Ines in Spanish. I passed olive groves, almond trees and orange trees laden with fruit. Ruined windmills completed the agricultural scene.
The road layout here forms a circle, so it as it was such a fine day, I decided to backtrack a bit and go for a short hike. My target was the hidden fishermen’s cove of Es Portitxol, said to be one of the prettiest spots on the island.
The road was in pretty poor shape, so I parked up and picked my way down the lane on foot. When I saw poor shape, it looked like a digger had gone rogue and there were great rifts gouged out of the stones. I wished at that point I’d had on walking boots rather than sandals, as it was hard going. The path did level out for a while and led through a shady forest; alongside were sweeping views over the ocean and towards the cove. Improperly clad, I decided to bail before I ripped my sandal straps, but had I continued, I’d have been rewarded with one of Ibiza’s hidden gems. Ah, next time.
It was time to head into Eivissa, the island’s capital. I’d seen the cathedral and fortifications of its Dalt Vila or old town as I’d passed earlier, and now it was time to explore on foot. Luck was on my side when it came to finding a parking space; yellow spaces reserved for workers become free for anyone who finds them empty after 4pm.
For anyone whose experience of Ibiza is solely the lively mass tourism resorts and club scene, Dalt Vila is the very antithesis: elegant, ancient and impressive. The thick wall and fortifications once protected Eivissa from marauding pirates; now they provide lofty vantage points from which you can admire the Mediterranean and watch the fishing boats bring their catch in, trailing clouds of seagulls in their wake. This defensive settlement dates from the 7th century BC when the Phoenicians founded the city, though the walls themselves are even older.
Today, Dalt Vila is threaded with alleyways and tunnels which, unsigned, invite you to partake of a lucky dip; when you step through the doorway, you might have no idea where you’ll emerge. I popped up in the Plaça d’Espanya for a time. One of the tunnels here was a Civil War refuge; Ibiza was Republican for a time before Franco stepped up his campaign and occupied the island, forcing the Republicans to flee.
In the Plaça d’Espanya traders were setting up a mediaeval fayre which should, according to the road signs, have opened three hours earlier but looked like it was still a while off. From there, I climbed a little further to the cathedral, its fussy architectural details contrasting with the simplicity of the whitewashed churches I’d seen in the villages.
Overlooking the marina, it was a good place to perch on a wall and soak up both the sun and the view. Refreshed, I wandered the streets of the old town for a while before ducking randomly into a tunnel and emerging some considerable way beneath them. I took it as a sign and headed back to the airport.
Outbound: Ryanair STN to IBZ departing 0700 with a scheduled arrival time of 1040 (we were about 20 minutes early)
Inbound: Ryanair IBZ to STN departing 2140 and arriving at 2320 (also early)
Flights available from £19.99 each way.
Car hire with Alamo purchased through the Ryanair website was a little over £30 for the day; airport buses into Eivissa cost 3,50 euros each way.
Have you seen my other blogs on days out by plane? They’re perfect if you are desperate to travel but can’t get the time off you need for a longer trip. You’ll be surprised at how much you can do in a single day. For how to visit Amsterdam, Belfast, Bremen, Budapest, Lisbon, Regensburg and Copenhagen for the day from London, please follow this link:
While parts of Central America have been blessed with direct flights from Europe for some time, others have been a bit more disconnected. Honduras is one of those places. But now, with the launch of a weekly flight from Spain, it’s possible to get there a little quicker. When I visited Honduras a few years ago, getting there involved an overnight layover in Houston, adding both considerable time and expense to the journey. Air Europa’s flight from Madrid at first might appear to be less than ideal, arriving shortly before 5am in what was once the world’s worst hotspot for murders. (San Pedro Sula has now passed the Murder Capital of the World crown to the Venezuelan capital Caracas.) But this late departure means that a connecting ticket from the UK is possible and you no longer have to lose a day of your holiday just to get there.
Honduras might not be the first place that springs to mind if you’re looking to holiday in that region, especially in terms of safety. But it’s easy to get straight out of San Pedro Sula and the early arrival means you’ll have plenty of time to reach somewhere both safer and more beautiful well before nightfall. Copan Ruinas is one such place. I spent a pleasant time there in 2014, riding horses out to the Guatemalan border, drinking the excellent locally-grown coffee and exploring some of the least crowded Mayan ruins in the region. Visitors were outnumbered by scarlet macaws by some considerable margin.
While I’d still be loathe to recommend spending any more of your time in San Pedro Sula than is absolutely necessary, the country’s Caribbean coast is as laid back as they come. It’s well worth risking the journey back to San Pedro Sula’s airport after your Copan Ruinas sojourn to make the short hop to Roatan Island. It’s the perfect place to unwind in the sunshine, sink your toes in the sand and sip a cocktail or two.
When are we going?
I stood, motionless, in the middle of the crowded space. People came and went around me. Some queued, others waited patiently next to piles of luggage, still more hugged relatives in emotional goodbyes. For all the world, it looked like a regular airport, going about regular airport business. I reckon I’ve been to thousands of airports in my time, striding confidently across halls, dealing with airport officials, polite on the outside even if seething on the inside at petty officiousness and stupid rules. I’m no fan of airports, you understand, but they are a necessary evil to get me to somewhere exotic and exciting.
But this one had me stumped. For the first time, I couldn’t find check-in.
How do you lose check-in? How is it possible not to see row upon row of impersonal white desks and grubby baggage belts, with their maze of retractable queue barriers that make you pace this way and that like a caged lion? How do you lose the planeloads of people that must have got to the airport before you as your flight is going out late afternoon?
Like a detective, I scoured the room for clues. The space was devoid of signage, even in Russian. I couldn’t see anyone holding a boarding card and most people still had large suitcases. Was I in arrivals, I wondered? I headed back outside. The sign read “Departures”.
Back inside, I started to ask fellow passengers but drew only blank looks. Pointing at my suitcase and shrugging my shoulders in a kind of a “what do I do with this?” mime wasn’t working. Pointing at the airport page in my phrase book and again at my suitcase wasn’t working. I glanced at my watch. At this rate I’d miss my plane.
Half an hour before, I’d been so relaxed. Russia, so daunting at first, had lost its ability to intimidate. My vocabulary was still limited to a dozen words (and only then if “Big Mac Meal” counts) but I’d learnt to match the Cyrillic alphabet to their Latin translation which was enough to make a quiz game out of most days’ activities. The people I’d met on the numerous trains and buses that had transported me 3500 miles across the Russian steppe to Ulan-Ude had, without exception, been helpful and charming. For three days, Aleksandr, the Russian Army officer headed for Chita, had fed me omul for breakfast on the slow train to Irkutsk, asking nothing in return save for a compliment about his red-haired wife in the photo album he carried in his kit bag. That same smoked fish hung in the market in Listvyanka, a tumbledown village on the shores of Lake Baikal. An elderly woman, head covered with a colourful babushka, pointed out the sights from the bus and used my phrase book to explain she was off to buy crystals.
I thought about her, in the airport terminal, and cursed my phrase book. What editor would include the word for crystal but not check-in? It was hot in the hall, and I wiped my brow with the back of my hand. I was starting to panic. The voice inside my head told me to calm down. I still had twenty minutes before check-in closed. There was a queue forming at the far side of the room and I joined the end of it. My question about whether this was the check-in queue leapfrogged up the queue like a Chinese whisper. Back came the answer – no.
I turned away from the queue and the mutterings of its occupants. I was running out of ideas. Now I started to mentally re-plan my journey home. If I couldn’t fly back to Moscow, I’d have to take the train, a four or five day trip. I’d miss my Moscow connection and have to pay for a new flight. More than that, I’d have to suffer the humiliation of telling friends and family the reason I’d missed my flight and suffer months of good natured ridicule.
Indignant, I thought to myself that no airport was going to beat me. I scanned the hall again. Along one side, there was a blank white wall. It looked like a recently-erected partition, free of scuffs and scratches, though I couldn’t be sure. I wheeled my case over for a closer look. On inspection, there appeared to be a concealed doorway. I knocked and waited. A businessman in a hurry pushed his way past me and through the door. I looked through, of course, to find out what was behind it.
There before me stood row upon row of impersonal white desks and grubby baggage belts. I made check-in with five minutes to spare.
I recently had the opportunity to travel business class across the Atlantic from London to New York. I’ve always been of the opinion that I’d rather spend my holiday budget on accommodation and activities at my destination rather than on travel to it. An opportunity to fly business class with British Airways for less than the price of an economy ticket was too good to resist – more about that in a later post – so for the first time I crossed the pond in style.
So what did I think?
Heathrow’s Terminal 5 has two business class lounges but I was tipped off that South Lounge was the better of the two, so that’s where I headed after a very pleasant fast track security experience. I was very pleased to find a decent breakfast spread and had several yummy pastries, read the paper, hooked up to the free WiFi and relaxed in the nice padded chairs while I waited to board the aircraft. All very civilised, though I don’t really mind the bustle of airside especially where there’s somewhere decent to get a coffee.
The thing I hate most about boarding these days? The fact that because everyone is carrying such an enormous amount of carry on luggage, the overhead bins fill up. Consequently, there’s a mad dash to get in the queue to board so you avoid having to do a long haul flight with a bag squashed between your legs. Now this is somewhere that business class scores highly: there are fewer people fighting for bin space and you get to queue jump and board when you like. Of course the amount of stress in the economy cabin could also be reduced if the carry on weight and size limit was reduced to something sensible as opposed to the current policy of “bring the kitchen sink or the equivalent, we’ll cram it in somehow”.
I was a little nervous I’d show myself up by not being able to work the controls of the flat bed seat. I’ve only flown business class once before, a short hop from JFK to Dallas Fort Worth after being snowbound in New York for so many days the American Airlines call centre staff just wanted to get rid of me, and in any case that was a regular seat. In reality, I had nothing to worry about. Raising and lowering the privacy screen was the hardest part (and not exactly difficult) but the actual seat controls were a piece of cake. The addition of pink champagne was a bonus. I broke my own rule of always flying sober, but only because it felt rude not to take the glass that was proffered, you understand.
Would you like to fly backwards or forwards, Madam?
I’d been advised to try to get a window seat as with the screen up, you were in a little cocoon. Taking off and landing backwards felt very odd. That said, the rest of the flight was fine and it was great to be tucked away. So tucked away, in fact, that when I finally uncurled myself to pop to the toilet (disappointingly cramped), I was amazed to see everyone else lying flat. If I have to be critical (I feel I ought to be objective), I’d say the footrest was a bit of a stretch. Oh the hardship! Her Ladyship had to reach forward a little to put her feet up.
Oh the food! A delicious sounding menu was presented. It basically said I could eat them out of house and home – and then they’d bring me more. Take a look at the feast that I consumed:
And the invitation to just pig out… I love the line: “Of course the best thing about tasty treats is eating them rather than reading about them…” Of course. Of course! Pass the Cadburys.
Actually, in reality I was so stuffed I could barely shuffle to the Club Kitchen, let alone raid it. Note to self: if you ever the chance again to fly business class long haul, make it to Sydney or Auckland. Or at the very least to LAX.
Having reached JFK at least three dress sizes larger than when I left Heathrow, I came down to earth with a bump to join the long queue into the US. At least the whole of the economy cabin were behind me. I don’t mean that in a condescending way. I’m usually quick off the mark out of the plane and walk relatively fast, meaning most of the economy cabin are behind me when I disembark from an economy seat too. This time, however, with all that free food and drink sloshing around inside me, I had to walk slowly to make sure I didn’t spill any.
Until I realised I could be reclining flat on the outbound leg, I’d been most looking forward to the return journey. Sadly, this wasn’t to be as good. Although I was upstairs, supposedly better, I was in an aisle seat – nowhere near as peaceful as being tucked away by the window. And being one of BA’s sleeper services due to the late departure, I’d planned on eating in the lounge before take off, but found a rather unappetising buffet presented in the lounge at JFK. If this sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not, any free food is good as far as I’m concerned, but it wasn’t the gourmet experience I had on the outbound leg. Nor was the service as attentive or as friendly, but in the crew’s defence, we’d had a three hour delay to take off and no one was happy.
So what’s the verdict?
Based on the outbound leg particularly, I’d say you are made to feel very special in business class. I enjoyed being addressed by name. It is also a real treat to eat the meals course by course and not have to juggle plastic pots in a confined space. I loved the flat bed and found it very comfortable; I don’t usually snatch more than an hour or two’s sleep on a standard economy flight and yet on this I was sleeping so soundly I was dreaming. Fast tracking through security at Heathrow was very welcome. I’m not sure why the same service wasn’t available at JFK, though in fairness it may have been because of the delays and the need to process everyone as quickly as possible so they didn’t miss their flights.
All in all it was an experience I’d be delighted to repeat, though not one that justifies spending such a huge amount more. But keep an eye on this blog. Soon I’ll tell you how I achieved this journey for less than the price of an economy ticket – perfectly legit and no air miles needed.
Regular readers may recall previous posts about days out I’ve done by air:
- to Amsterdam https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/just-back-from-a-day-trip-to-amsterdam/
- to Lisbon https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/just-back-from-a-day-trip-to-lisbon/
This time, Ryanair are in the hot seat and it’s off to London Stansted for my flight to the north German city of Bremen.
Flight times, for once, are very convenient. The outbound flight departs at 7.55am and is scheduled to arrive in Bremen at 10.20am. It’s a short flight with a one hour time difference. The only downside is that you hit Stansted at peak rush hour. Don’t be tempted to rock up too late; the queues for security are long and just as tedious as anywhere. Of course, with Ryanair your boarding passes are already printed and as it’s a day trip, there’s no luggage to worry about. If you are tempted to shop before you take off, Stansted offers a buy and collect service and you can pick up your shopping on your way back in. Coming back, the flight’s at 9.20pm, but the ten minute tram ride from the city centre and the diminutive size of Bremen Airport mean that you can get away with leaving as late as 8pm. Touchdown at Stansted is scheduled for 9.45pm though we were a little late.
After a take off delay of fifteen minutes or so due to earlier fog at Stansted, I passed swiftly through passport control at Bremen’s tiny airport. Ryanair use a separate terminal. It is as pared down as Ryanair users would expect, but the advantage of being apart are of course that there is no one else to share the passport queue with. In less than ten minutes from the wheels hitting the tarmac, I was through the airport and off to find transport into the city.
Getting to the city
Bremen Airport is obscenely close to the city centre and by far the easiest method of getting there is by tram. Exit the Ryanair terminal and turn right. Walk past the main terminal and ahead of you is the tram stop. You’ll need Tram 6 marked Universität which departs every ten minutes. The fare costs 2,70 euros. You can either buy your ticket at the machine at the stop or hop on board and buy one from the tram’s machine. Small notes and euro coins are accepted – don’t go trying to use a 50 euro note as it won’t let you. It’s only a few minutes to the Domsheide tram stop. Alight there and you’re a minute from the cathedral, town hall and main square. The tram then goes on to the main train station.
A network of buses and trams can take you all over the city. The Bremen tourist board have produced a series of very useful PDF guides which include a very clear street plan as well as a map of tram and bus routes. I downloaded these onto my Kindle app before setting out, but you can of course pick up paper copies from the tourist information desk when you get to Bremen if you prefer a hard copy, or they’ll send them to you through the post on request. Here’s the link: https://www.bremen-tourism.de/information-material
Much of the city centre is walkable as it is a compact place, but if laziness or inclement weather strike then it’s handy to know which tram to jump on and the guides also detail opening hours and which buses or trams to use. As with the airport tram ride, fares are 2,70 euros for a single but you can also buy a day pass for 8,90 euros which also gives you discounts off some of those city’s must-see attractions.
How to spend the day
First stop for me was the obligatory pose with donkey, dog, cat and rooster. The famous bronze sculpture resides beside the town hall. You’ll see donkey’s front feet are well worn – it’s considered good luck to give them a rub. The four creatures are Bremen’s mascots if you remember the Brothers Grimm’s fairytale.
Next, I walked through the main square. The Rathaus (town hall) was under wraps which was a pity as it is a splendid building minus its scaffolding. It’s UNESCO listed and it is possible to take tours of the inside. The cafes in the main square are tempting and I can recommend coffee and cake of course. Duck behind the Schütting (Guildhall), which sadly isn’t open to the public, and you’ll come across Böttcherstraße which is the marvellous Art Deco creation of a famous local coffee manufacturer. If you can, time your visit to coincide with the chiming of the hour at the House of the Glockenspiel (look up and you’ll see it).
A short stroll from Böttcherstraße took me to the Schnoor quarter. This is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Bremen and was once where the sailors hung out. The name Schnoor comes from the low German “Snoor” meaning string, which could have been a reference to the way the old houses line up or perhaps to the making of ropes or nets for the ships that passed through here. The area’s very touristy but worth a visit nevertheless.
Still in Schnoor, I had a schnitzel lunch in Beck’s; if you get there early enough you can bag the table with the window out onto quaint Wuste Statte. Flipping the main meal to lunchtime makes sense; most restaurants offer reasonably priced lunch menus and the local cafe culture lends itself to an early evening coffee or an aperitif with a cake or snack before you leave.
Wandering the streets of the Schnoor to walk off lunch was a delight. There, you’ll find many artists and artisans, but for me the delight was the intricate detailing and artwork that formed part of many of the buildings. It’s very important not to rush and also to look up, or you’ll miss them.
From the Schnoor quarter, it would have been logical to move on to Viertel, but as the sun was shining I decided to take a boat trip up the Weser instead. A 75-minute round trip cost 10,50 euros and was rather pleasant, passing the Docklands area of Uberseestadt. Boats depart from Schlachte. Look out for the Beck’s brewery and also some famous names on some of the factories and warehouses: Kellogg’s and Primark among them. With little wind and a clear sky, there were some lovely reflections on the water.
Back on dry land, I walked up to the park that lines the northern edge of the city centre. There’s an old windmill on a hill overlooking the park which was the perfect stop for a cherry juice: a cooling breeze to take the edge off a humid day. Because of the weather, I opted to catch a number 10 tram to Viertel. It’s one of Bremen’s more Bohemian neighbourhoods: think Notting Hill but not quite as affluent. There’s some fantastic street art to be seen, a few shops selling vintage clothes and furniture as well as plenty of decent cafes. I was glad of one of the latter when a thunderstorm brewed suddenly and equally glad when it was short lived.
Strolling back through the Schnoor, the thunderstorm had an unexpected silver lining. Crowds of tourists typically frequent the narrow streets but even though the sun had reappeared, people were slow to venture out again, so I almost had the district to myself. A meander to the main square for a coffee and it was time to head back to the airport after what had been a very pleasant day. The hot weather had prompted me to take it easy, but there is a lot more to see in this Hanseatic city. I could have taken a tour of Beck’s brewery, seen how Mercedes-Benz make cars or ponder whether modern works of art have as much value as their earlier counterparts. Another time, I think. This place is worth another visit.
For more on Bremen, check out my previous blog on the city here https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/beautiful-bremen/.