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Europe

07 Feb 2017

A winter Christmas

A winter Christmas is not something we are used to but travelling to the UK with Etihad Airways we were definitely looking forward to it!  My daughter Emma was also excited to spend Christmas and her birthday with her grandma in London!

Etihad Airways

Our 4:45PM departure out of Melbourne was great, as we could settle in with a movie before the dinner service.  The outbound journey was Melbourne to Edinburgh via Abu Dhabi, our return flights departed from Paris.  Three of the four flight legs were operated by a Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, with a 3-4-3 configuration in economy class.  Towards the back of the aircraft where the cabin is a little narrow, there was a section of 2 seats by themselves along the window which would be good for couples.  The Abu Dhabi to Edinburgh leg was operated by an Airbus A330-200, with a 2-4-2 configuration in economy class.  The seats seemed a little narrow, however I found there to be enough space for the three of us.

For children, Etihad offer a Flying Nanny Service to help settle young children, or keep the older children entertained.  We didn't feel that we received extra nanny service, perhaps thsi was because the nanny is a trained member of the regular cabin crew and our flights were full as we were travelling during the holiday period, there may be more time for the nanny to interact with children at a less busy time.  On the Melbourne to Abu Dhabi leg, Emma’s activity pack was not provided until around half way through the flight when most of the children were sleeping, once again I felt this was due to the flight being busy and the crew perhaps not having the time to hand it out earlier.

The activity packs and meals for children are all themed around Etihad’s on board animated characters, Zoe the bee, Jamool the camel, Kundai the lion, and Boo the panda.  The childrens meals come in a box themed with one of these characters which is something a bit different and made the meals a bit more exciting for Emma.  The meals themselves are children friendly, particularly for Emma who loves pasta as they had a few pasta dishes!  The activity packs contain stickers, games and activity books and helped to keep Emma entertained.

I found the meals provided throughout the flight quite good, with three choices available for the main dinner/lunch service.  In addition to the main meal service, there was also a lighter meal served (ie. light breakfast or supper) on all flights, plus snack items such as sandwiches, popcorn, crackers offered throughout – there was no chance of going hungry!  Drinks were also regularly offered, with a bar service of alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks available.

Each seat is fitted with a seat-back TV screen with your own entertainment system called E-Box.  The system offers movies, TV shows including live news and sport channels, documentaries, games and music.  I found that there weren’t a lot of new release movies on offer, there were older classic movies available however I would have preferred more new release options.  For Emma, there were a lot of children’s TV programs available however some only had one episode of a particular show that lasted 20 minutes or so.  The children’s movies were also a little limited.

I did find that some of the cabin crew members on the flights were a bit rude, and it felt like you were asking too much of them at times when making a simple request.  The flights were full and the crew were obviously quite busy, however that’s isn’t an excuse when it comes to customer service.

Overall the product and service that Etihad Airways has to offer was adequate and comparable to other international airlines, there is however some room for improvement with some minor adjustments.

Hertz Car Rental – Edinburgh to Glasgow

The car hire collection point is a good 5-10-minute walk from the main terminal at Edinburgh airport, outside in the cold winter air!  When speaking to the sales agents upon collection of the vehicle, he advised that the car type we had hired was not suitable for all the luggage that we had, and tried to upsell to a larger vehicle.  I was a bit dubious as I had made sure we got a car that was big enough, and insisted that I went out to look at the cars available before deciding.  In the end, I kept the same car we had booked, which was perfectly fine for our needs.  I guess it’s worthwhile checking before going ahead with any upgrades so that you are not paying extra money that you don’t need to.

We were supplied with a Skoda Octavia 4 door vehicle, and a child seat for Emma.  The car was spotless and ran well.

We were advised by the sales agent to purchase a full tank of fuel at pick up.  The Hertz depot have the same price petrol, if not cheaper, than from a service station.  We decided to do this however, upon returning the vehicle in Glasgow we had only used half a tank.  In order to get our money back, we had to re-fill the car at the local petrol station and Hertz refunded the whole tank

I would recommend to just refuel a car at the end of the hire, that way you will only pay for the fuel you need.

The pickup and drop off experience of the vehicle was quite smooth, and I would choose to hire again through Hertz, especially now having some extra knowledge on what to do, and what not to.

Eurostar train London to Paris

The Eurostar is a great way to travel between London and Paris with the train departing and arriving into central city locations.  Passport and security control is conducted when checking in for the train.  You must check in at least 30 minutes before departure, so during busy periods I would allow extra time to complete the formalities. 

Once through security and customs there is a large waiting area containing a few shops to purchase any last-minute refreshments.  On board, there is also a café available in carriage 8 of the train in second class where you can also purchase refreshments.  Each carriage has plenty of storage space for luggage, which was a relief considering the large amount we had  with us!  The seats are large and comfortable and we were seated in a section of four seats that had a table between us to spread out and relax into the journey.

The train departed on time, with the travel time between London and Paris approx. 2hours 15mins, travelling up to 320km/hr.  The ride was smooth and you really don’t feel like you are travelling that fast.  The train is fitted with a Wi-Fi service, which allows you to surf the web during the trip or access the Eurostar entertainment system for those that have downloaded the Eurostar app.  I actually couldn’t get the Wi-Fi to work at all during the trip which was disappointing as I was unable to see what entertainment options were available to watch on my device.

The on-board café also offers tourist friendly extras such as Paris Metro train tickets or city travel passes.  I would recommend however to purchase these locally in Paris when you arrive as the prices on the Eurostar are quite heavily inflated.  For those short on time it is a convenient option.

The disembarking process was easy in Paris and the taxi rank nearby for those in need.  There are currency exchange facilities in the arrivals area, along with shops and bathrooms. 

The Eurostar was an easy and convenient option for travel between the two cities and a lot less stressful when compared to the large queues you can often encounter going through airports.

Timotel Paris Place D’Italie Hotel

Having been to Paris several times before, we wanted to stay in a different area this time.  I had initially looked for an apartment style property, however we settled on the Timotel property near Place D’Italie in a family room (interconnecting rooms).  This is a three-star rated property and has recently changed hands from the Alliance Hotel to a Timotel property.  There are several Timotel properties located throughout Paris.

The hotel has been refurbished, with retro styling throughout.  The entrance to the property contains a reception area, a small bar area with tables and chairs to relax in the evening and an adjacent restaurant area where breakfast is served each morning.  The rooms themselves were quite small but clean and functional with two singles beds in each. One of the rooms contained a shower over a bath and the other just a shower.  International and local television channels were available in the room.  Some of the doors did have some slight chips on the bottom of them from general wear and tear.  There was also no fridge, but this didn’t affect our overall impression of the rooms which were of a high standard for a three-star hotel.

The breakfast served each morning, and included in our rate, was of a good quality with both hot and cold options available.  Eggs, bacon, cold meats, croissants, breads, cereal, fruit and juices filled us up for the day ahead.  We also sampled the bar each night, with beer, wine, spirits and soft drink available to purchase or charge back to our room.

The hotel had plenty of tourist information available in the reception area, with plenty of pamphlets on local attractions as well as city maps.  Within a short walk of the property were many bars, cafes and restaurants, and also supermarkets to pick up daily supplies.  There was also a large shopping mall nearby containing many well-known international retail brands and local French outlets.  The Place D’Italie metro train station was also on the doorstep of the hotel.

I would definitely recommend the hotel for those looking for a cheaper hotel option in Paris that isn’t necessarily in the main tourist area.  The hotel is easily accessible to all the Paris attractions on the Metro (the Eiffel Tower is a 20 minute train trip away), and has all the facilities nearby that you need.

Parishuttle Transfer to Charles De Gaulle Airport

Having accumulated quite a bit of luggage during our month away, we decided to book a departure transfer to pick us up from the hotel and take us to the airport.  We were picked up 4 hrs prior to the departure time of our flight, and we were the first to be collected.  Having booked a shared transfer, we spent the next hour travelling around Paris collecting other passengers before heading to the airport.  It was quite nice to drive around the city and having a free ‘city tour’ of the sites, particularly driving past the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night.  For those who are wanting to get straight to the airport though, I would recommend booking a private transfer as you never know how long you will be travelling around picking up others with a shared service.  The vehicle was an eight seater Mercedes van, and was quite comfortable for the journey.  We were also provided with a booster seat for Emma to travel in.

The service was prompt and on time, and got us to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

Attractions

Wimbledon Tennis Grounds Tour

Being a keen tennis fan, this was a great way to see the facilities at Wimbledon and get behind the scenes into the media centre, players area and onto the famous centre court.  The grounds are also home to the Wimbledon Tennis Museum where we were able to wander through looking at the history of tennis, as well as seeing the men’s and women’s Wimbledon championship trophies.  A must see for any tennis fan!

Tower of London

A great way to learn about some of the history of England and London.  The entire complex is made up of several buildings surrounded by a moat and walls.  It is home to the Crown Jewels of England, a very popular attraction, so I would advise arriving early as the queues to view the Crown Jewels can get very long (it was a 2 hour wait when we visited in the afternoon which meant that we unfortunately didn’t get to see them).   I would also suggest pre-booking admission tickets online as it is more expensive to purchase on the day and there are large queues for tickets as well.

Making of Harry Potter Tour – Warner Bros. Studio

One of the most popular tourist attractions in the UK, the legend of Harry Potter still lives strong!  The tour itself took around 3 hours, you can purchase an audio tour or walk through the studio lot at your own pace.  Most of the sets, props and costumes from the movie are on show with everyone also able to purchase some butter beer (non-alcoholic) at the Backlot Café around half way through the tour.  Very well done, and a definite must do for all Harry Potter and movie fans!

KidZania London

A ‘mini city’ built for kids from age 4 to 12, KidZania allows children to role-play in various jobs, earning money for a job well done or paying to be entertained with the KidZania currency.  Adults sit back and watch the children get involved, with adult ‘chill out zones’ available.  This is a great way for children to learn about life in the real world, which our daughter really enjoyed for her birthday!  Pre-booking is essential as on the day ticket costs are very expensive.

Eiffel Tower Paris

Although we didn’t go up this time, it is worth noting that due to recent events in Paris, there is now considerable security around the tower.  You can no longer walk freely underneath to take your photos without first having to go through a long security process.  There are also many security fences around the tower, which in some way takes away the glamour from this popular site.  Hopefully there will become a time again in the future where people can walk freely around this incredible icon.

Winter was no hindrance for us, we explored the UK and Paris despite the weather!  A snowy Christmas is something everyone should experience…I know Emma had a very special time!