Travel Review: Burg Rheinfels, Our Favourite German Castle

28 Sep

317Burg Rheinfels, located in St. Goar, Germany was a wonderful, unexpected find. It was on our itinerary in a “We’re staying in St. Goar so I guess we should go here” kind of way. Because it was so convenient, I didn’t look anything up about it until we got to our hotel. Let’s just say, we started getting a bit more enthused about it when we read “bring your torches (flashlights)!” and when we got there, we didn’t want to leave!

From St. Goar’s town center, it’s probably about a 15-20 minute walk uphill to the castle. The trek isn’t particularly difficult–there is a well-marked, paved pathway up that isn’t too steep. It is still a hill, though, so if you have any issues walking you might want to consider a different method up. We liked walking up ourselves as it was nice to get away from crowds for a few minutes.

Once there, it was easy to find the ticket office where we paid just €4 apiece to wander about the ruins. I say “ruins’ loosely, as I’ve been to castle ruins before that were mere piles of rocks in comparison. Huge portions of this castle, which was built in 1245, are still very much intact. Apparently the castle stopped being in regular use in the late 1700s when it was handed over 325to the French revolutionary army and its outer walls were blown up.

Because the castle was in such great condition otherwise, we were impressed with the architecture–my husband was particularly intrigued by the various strategic defenses which showed that Rheinfels really was a functioning fortress. But more than all that, it’s the sheer size and labyrinthine nature of Rheinfels that impressed us the most–plus the fact that we were able to wander around by ourselves, at our own pace, through nearly the entire castle, which was hugely refreshing!

Seriously, they weren’t kidding when they said to bring a torch. Among the big caverns and little rooms there are hidden passageways, tunnels, and mine shafts that require some327 serious navigating. Some of these places aren’t for the faint-hearted or claustrophobic. The mineshafts in particular were dark, short, and narrow, but it was SO much fun walking through them!

This was by far our favourite castle that we visited in Germany, largely because of the freedom we were given to roam. That’s something we didn’t experience in any other castle; in most places, we had to go on a tour with a tour guide, and in others there were a few set rooms we were able to see. On a weekday afternoon in September, there was barely anyone there, making the experience that much more exciting. If you’re planning on staying on the Rhine, I’d make this castle your #1 stop–great for kids and adults alike!

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Travel Review of Sankt Goar, Germany: 2 Nights on the Rhine

27 Sep

I knew that our main purpose in Germany was see as many castles as we could. A bit of research and asking around on travel forums told me that the Rhine Valley was the place to be for exploring various castles. After staying for a couple of nights in Castle Hotel Auf Schoenburg in Oberwesel, we headed up the Rhine just a little ways to stay in cheaper accommodation in Sankt Goar for the rest of our Rhine stay.

St. Goar was recommended to me by someone on a travel forum, and I can’t sing its praises enough! It’s a relatively small town, but much more lively than Oberwesel. There are tons of restaurants and cafes which are tourist-friendly, and it has its own KD river cruise stop (that is, easy access to other towns on the Rhine). There’s also a castle there–Burg Rheinfels–which was so amazing I’ll be dedicating a different post to it.

Day One

We arrived in Sankt Goar by train, but we had a bit of a mishap first. We got on the wrong train from Oberwesel, which was some sort of “express” train that took us straight to Boppard–oops! Word of advice, take the silver trains between Oberwesel and St. Goar, not the red one. Anyway, because of that–and because we left Schoenburg a lot later than initially planned–we decided to stick around St. Goar for the day rather than try to get to Marksburg, which is up the Rhine even further. That meant for Day 2 we were going to have to make a decision–go to Marksburg, or go south to the three castles we were planning on seeing that day anyway.

364But for Day 1, we decided to first  go up to Burg Rheinfels–which again, I’ll be covering in a different post. I will say that the castle is within walking distance of the town. It’s a bit of a walk uphill, but nothing a moderately fit person can’t handle! There are signs and a pathway leading all the way up to it, making for easy access.

When we came back down from the castle, we ducked into a few different stores. There’s a shop on the main stretch that had some cute dolls I wish I could have brought home for my nieces (they were just a bit large to want to carry around for the rest of our trip!). There are also souvenir shops, a tourist information centre, and at least one very handy bank with an ATM that we saw stuffed in among all the restaurants and cafes.

For dinner we headed in to Hotel Restaurant am Markt on the corner the square more or less opposite the KD dock. My husband and I are a bit restaurant-shy, to be honest–we kept feeling bad that we didn’t speak the language and we are terrible about having to flag someone down to get the bill! But this restaurant was very tourist-friendly (as most restaurants are, to be honest). Our waiter spoke very good English and the menu had English translations as well.

I had the most amazing steak that was covered in garlic butter–um, YUM–with a side of fries, and my husband had pork schnitzel with mushrooms. He also had a beer which he really liked, and he isn’t usually a beer guy. We considered going back again the next night but decided against it only because we figured we should be trying new things. But the food was great, matched by excellent service and a fun atmosphere filled with laughing customers. We sat inside, but there was an option to sit outside where you’d have a view of the Rhine.

After that, we headed back to our hotel.

ACCOMMODATION: HOTEL RHEINFELS

Hotel Rheinfels sits just across the road from the Rhine and the KD river cruise stop. It’s about a two minute walk from the train station and has a restaurant practically right outside its front door, so it’s very conveniently located. We paid 74 Euro per night which was a steal compared to a lot of places, and it’s really great value for money.

Our room was at the top floor. We didn’t pay extra for a Rhine-view room as it wasn’t that important to us–you could walk out the door and have a view of the Rhine! The room was big, clean, and cozy, and the hotel itself was very quiet. My one complaint about the actual room is that the bed was a bit uncomfortable and the free wifi was a bit spotty as we were on the top floor.

Breakfast was included in the price and was one of the better spreads we encountered on our trip. Lots of choices between different breads, meats, cheeses, spreads, yoghurt, fruit, juices. Tea and coffee was also on offer. There was something there for everyone, and we left satisfied.

Our biggest issue was the stress of checking out, which I will say is partially our fault! I had times confused for our train the morning we checked out–I thought we left at 9, but we actually left at 7:20 a.m. I checked this the night before we left, but by the time we went down for dinner, there was no one at reception. My Booking.com receipt said that reception would open again at 7 a.m. As it was only a 2 minute walk to the very small train station, we weren’t too worried.

We headed down at about 6:45. No one showed up until about 7:15, and that was only after we’d gotten someone’s attention (after spending some time banging on doors). Needless to say, we were freaking out a little bit! Again, if we had let them know that we would be checking out early I’m sure it would have been fine, so I do lay the blame on ourselves partially. Just be warned, if you stay here and leave early, make sure to inform them beforehand. (We DID end up making our train–just!)

Day Two

360On our second day, we didn’t spend much time in St. Goar. In the morning we headed out to the KD dock and purchased tickets to Marksburg. While Marksburg is only one castle and we’d be missing out on the other three I mentioned earlier, I’d heard some really great things about it and didn’t want to miss out. Marksburg is located in Braubach, another small town on the Rhine and a stop on the KD line.

The KD cruise is a bit expensive compared to how much it would cost for a train — it was something like 25 Euro each for a 1.5 hour ride there and back — but we thought it was worth it for the experience. The boat was equipped with a restaurant, bar, and weirdly a Subway, so there were plenty of options for refreshments on the way. It was so much fun to sit up top and look at the towns along the river. There are SO many options for places to stay in the area, and it seemed like each town had its own quirks.

Getting tickets for the KD cruise was easy, and the lady at the desk was super helpful. I’d forgotten where exactly Marksburg was, but when I told her that’s where we wanted to go she said, “Ah, Braubach!” and gave us our tickets. In addition, a boat that wasn’t going to Braubach showed up before ours. We were in a shop across the road at the time and so missed the announcement, but dashed over thinking it was us and she remembered where we were going and told us not to get on–thank goodness!

I’ll cover Marksburg in a different post as well, but let’s just say for now that it lived up to expectation. The great thing was that the KD cruise lined up exactly with us being able to get up to Marksburg (again, another walk–a bit more strenuous than the Rheinfels trek, but by no means impossible) and the start of the English tour. We only had to wait five minutes for the tour, which was great. This was probably a fluke, but hey, worth a mention.381

We sailed back to St. Goar later that day and decided to eat at a restaurant just down the way from our hotel. There was tons of outdoor seating, and I’m afraid I don’t remember the name of the place, but it’s hard to miss! I had more or less the same thing as the night before–a steak with garlic and fries–and my husband can’t remember what he had, but both were pretty good. We did think that the restaurant the night before was better and had better service, but it was nice to eat outside almost right on the Rhine.

Sankt Goar was an excellent choice for our stop on the Rhine, and I’m glad I listened to the recommendation. There are plenty of other towns to explore too, of course, but if you’re looking for a place to stay, I highly suggest St. Goar!

Living Like a Queen: Two Nights in Castle Hotel Auf Schoenburg

24 Sep

293It has been my dream to spend a night in a castle since I learned that ordinary people could spend nights in castles. Castle Hotels are quite popular in Germany, sometimes used as a way to generate revenue for the upkeep of the historic site, and they provide a unique experience for castle enthusiasts.

Schoenburg is nestled atop a hill overlooking the small town of Oberwesel in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. This section of the river is best known for being a inundated with castles–over 60 in a 65 km stretch, or castle every mile. This makes Oberwesel (and Schoenburg!) an excellent staging point for exploring other castles in the area.

We arrived by train from Paris via Bingen. The town of Oberwesel is quite tiny and it isn’t difficult to figure out where the castle is–it’s an imposing figure guarding over the village. But you might want to do as we did and get a taxi up, as it’s quite a hike! We were a bit confused about what to do at first as there’s no taxi rank outside the train station. My suggestion would be to find the tourist information center, located in the middle of town, or the ferry dock, which is what we did. The lady there was extremely helpful and called a taxi for us–probably used to tourists!

From the parking lot, you cross over the bridge and have to walk up a hill through the castle walls. I read several reviews before we arrived where people complained about this hill, and at first I wondered why, but I can see why older people might have some difficulty as it does get a bit steep! I believe there is an option to take a golf cart up (we saw golf carts bringing up bags, anyway, and I’m sure another person wouldn’t be an issue if necessary).

We were able to check in immediately despite being early and were shown to our room–#38–by one of the workers who showed us around. We picked out room 38 on the website before booking. On the site, you can scroll through pictures and information about each of the rooms and see the prices. 38 was on the cheaper side for a double room and isn’t actually in the main castle (I believe it was a guard house) which might put some people off, but we loved that it was secluded (there are no other rooms around!) and it has the most fantastic bathtub. I’m serious–three grown people would be able to stretch out side-by-side in this thing with no worries of touching any of the sides, and the water comes out of a marble carving of cherubs holding a pot. The bathroom comes equipped with a shower as well, plus enough bubble bath to fill the tub up with foam multiple times, a towel warmer, and comfy robes.

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Our room at night.

The bed is nestled into a nook that can be separated from the rest of the room by regal-looking curtains. A small window beside the bed looks out on to the private garden. The rest of the room contains a couch and chair, coffee table topped with free sherry and fresh apples, a closet, bookshelves, a desk with a quill and stationary, a TV hidden in a cupboard, a small safe, and a free mini-bar which has still and sparkling water, juices, and beer. If you stay more than one night, all of these things are replenished the next day.

When we got bored of exploring every nook and cranny of our room–which took a while–we decided to go look at the garden.

The garden, which is exclusive to guests of the hotel, is like a fairyland. Filled with flowers and greenery, it also boasts hidden cubby holes that adults and children alike would have a blast exploring (check out the cave under the bridge and see who lurks within!). The garden is complete with an adult-sized tree house with a spiral staircase and little library inside; a giant chess board; a pool table and dart board; a little gazebo; and a fruit and vegetable area (we heard some of these fruits and vegetables actually make their way to the dinner and breakfast table!). And if that isn’t enough for you, the views from the garden are absolutely stunning.

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After going to the garden, we were some of the first people to march into dinner at 6:30. A four-course dinner is also included in the price of the room, and wow is it delicious! There are two dining rooms, and we were able to eat in each of them during our two night stay. The first night we were placed in a little alcove which felt more private, which we liked.

The dinner is not for people who have never eaten at a fancy restaurant before, as we soon learned. The fanciest we usually get is going to our local Mexican place or Burger King. We did have the forethought to wear nice clothes–I had a skirt and dress for the two nights, and my husband wore collared shirts–but didn’t think to research how to use so many different knives and forks. You get a set of cutlery for each course, and we figured out that we needed to start from the outside in by counting toward the soup course, which had a spoon. Whew!

The menu is set, which means everyone in the room is going to be eating more or less the same thing. I have pictures of our two set menus below. Don’t like the look of the food? Don’t panic! They will gladly make substitutions for dietary restrictions and picky eaters. For instance, I don’t like any kind of seafood, so Night 2 was a bit of a struggle for me, but they substituted with chicken items instead of fish.

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So much silverware!

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Fixed menu for Night #1.

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Menu for Night #2.

When you first sit down, you’re asked if you want anything to drink. We chose water both nights, but didn’t specify “tap water” as you’re supposed to for free water in Europe, and so had extra euros added to our bill at the end of everything. We didn’t mind, though–the food was delicious! Each course was nicely portioned and we were stuffed by the end of it. Each dinner easily took 2.5 hours to complete, though, so fair warning–don’t have much else scheduled for your evenings.

After dinner, we both took baths and went straight to sleep. This was our second stop on our Europe trip and we were still a bit jetlagged and exhausted. The bed was probably one of the most comfortable beds we slept in on our whole trip. As our room is set apart from all the other rooms, we had a very quiet, restful night’s sleep.

Breakfast is also included in the room’s price, so in the morning we headed up to the dining room to eat. There’s a buffet laid out and you can eat as much as you want. One of the workers will ask if you’d like coffee or tea (the peppermint tea was fantastic–don’t forget to use the strainer though, as it’s made with leaves rather than a bag!), and will also bring you an egg dish. My husband gladly ate mine (I hate eggs!) and said it was delicious.

The buffet is quite a spread–different types of juice, milk, and cereals; yoghurt; tons of fresh fruit; meats and cheeses; bread, rolls, croissants, pastries, cakes, and condiments like butter, jam, and Nutella. Our eyes were a bit bigger than our stomachs but we managed to jam it all in and didn’t need lunch later in the day, we were so full. (As a side note, lunch is not included in the price but is served at the castle for an extra cost, so there’s no need to leave Shoenburg in the middle of the day if you don’t want to!)

Another item of note that I didn’t hear a lot about in the other reviews is the museum. This is located at the base of a tower between the main building and our room, so we passed it and its lively “medieval” music on our way to meals or the garden each time we went up, and our interest was piqued. We headed in after breakfast that first morning and paid something like 5 euro for both of us to head up. The stairs are not for the faint-hearted, but we loved it. Aside from the valuable information learned about castle life on each level of the tower, the views at the top are absolutely amazing! (I know I keep saying that, but seriously, this area is so picturesque!)

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We were so sad to leave after breakfast on our last day, but I think we’ll make a point of coming back some day. It struck me how child-friendly this place would be (except, perhaps, the dinners!) with some rooms having beds for children in hidden cupboards and the gardens which could offer days of exploration and games. We were hugely impressed with Burghotel Auf Shoenburg, and despite it being the priciest leg of our journey, it was worth every penny!

 

Travel Review: Two Days in Paris, France

23 Sep

The first stop on our three week Europe journey was Paris, France. To be honest, neither of us was hugely excited about Paris–it just wasn’t at the top of our priority list. But it offered a convenient staging point for the first few weeks of our trip and it was much cheaper to fly into Paris than into Germany when we purchased our tickets. As such, you should know that we weren’t intent on hitting up every attraction that we could. Mostly, we planned on wandering around the city seeing what looked interesting, making a stop by the Eiffel Tower, and recovering from travel. In addition, we found out that our cat was hit by a car our first day there, which sort of put a damper on things, so if I seem less than enthused about Paris, you know why! That said, I think we saw a good amount for the time we had there.

Review of Auberges Internationale des Juenes (AIJ) Hostel

We took a taxi from Charles de Gaulle Airport to AIJ Hostel in the Bastille district, which cost about €60. After 21 hours of flying, plus several more hours of layovers, we were absolutely exhausted and not up for navigating public transportation, so it was worth it!

We arrived around 11 a.m. AIJ has a lock-out period between 11 and 3 for cleaning purposes, which meant of course that we were unable to check in and rest right away. Thankfully they do have a luggage room and we were able to put our big bags in it. A word of warning–the luggage room is in the basement and it looked like there was some leaking, so make sure you put your bags up on the shelves if you can!

When we were allowed into our room just after 3, we found it was pretty good value for just €20 per person per night. The room was very spacious and exceptionally clean. We had space to put our bags and hang up clothes if we wanted; a safe; a sink and mirror; bunk beds; and a window to let some cooler air in. There wasn’t a fan, and if we were staying there in some of the hotter months I think we would have been a little uncomfortable.

Our room was a private double and did not come with an ensuite bathroom–apparently the four-person rooms do come with an ensuite. Instead, there was one toilet for women and one for men down the hall, and three unisex shower stalls. Again, everything was quite clean. I was worried we might run into issues with having to line up to use the amenities, but we never did. It’s possible our somewhat weird schedule helped with that, of course, but we found the number of stalls adequate for the number of people on our hall.

Breakfast in the morning was included in the price. It was a simple affair, but I’d say it was one of the better low-budget breakfasts we had on our trip. Included was one baguette with butter and jam, a madeleine (type of cookie-cake thing), box of juice, and as much coffee/tea/hot chocolate as you could drink. You could also purchase more baguettes and condiments for quite cheap if you were still hungry.

Free wifi was also included, but we found our connection was a bit spotty in our room on the 4th floor. It worked better in the common room where breakfast was served, but you’ll find that it gets pretty crowded there.

The only bad thing we have to say about AIJ was that the walls were a bit thin, but then again, I think most hostels probably have that problem! Everyone was pretty respectful of others’ sleep, but we did hear people coming back in late at night and leaving early in the morning. If you’re a particularly light sleeper this might be a bother to you, but it really can’t be helped.

Overall, AIJ was great value for the price. It’s pretty close to most of the main attractions and within walking distance of public transport too. The staff was helpful, friendly, and spoke excellent English, the place was clean, and breakfast was satisfying. Definitely consider staying here if you’re a traveler on a budget!

Attraction: Jardin des Plantes

After we stopped by AIJ to drop off our bags that first day, we were absolutely exhausted and felt disgusting–travel will do that to you–and so we didn’t want to do anything major. We ended up wandering around til we reached the Seine, crossed over, and found Jardin des Plantes. It was a nice open area where we were able to sit back with our books and read a bit. There’s also a zoo very nearby, which we wandered into for something like €9 each. The zoo wasn’t top-notch, but for a couple of people who were just trying to kill time, it was interesting enough to keep us entertained for a few hours.

We ended up eating lunch at one of the kiosks in the area which served various snacks and sandwiches which were a bit pricey for what they were–we found much better, cheaper fare the next day. But as I said, we weren’t up for doing much so the convenience was worth it.

We only spent a few hours here before heading back to the hostel to check-in as soon as we could. We took a shower almost immediately and promptly fell asleep, not waking up until the next day.

Attraction: Notre Dame

In the morning we headed off toward some of the main attractions in Paris. Our first stop was Notre Dame, which is about a fifteen minute walk from AIJ. Neither my husband or I are religious, but we were able to appreciate the beautiful architecture and history all the same (and, in his case, sing “Hellfire” under his breath!). Notre Dame is free to get into, though there are places to leave a donation, and you are able to take non-flash photography. Lots of stuff to see in there, and it was fun to hear the bells a few times while we wandered around!

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It looked like there are tours of Notre Dame that you can take–for a fee, obviously–but we decided against it. If you’re particularly interested, though, it might be worth looking into.

Attraction: Jardin des Tuileries

The Tuileries Garden is the giant garden near the Louvre. Some people are going to ask, where’s the Louvre on this list? Scandalous, I know, but we didn’t go in! We just weren’t interested enough to wade through a crowd, wait in a giant line, and pay money to see the Mona Lisa over the heads of dozens of people. We did take a photo outside of it, though–does that count for something?

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I was much more interested in seeing the Tuileries Garden, simply because I’ve been reading several books set during the French Revolution and nearly all of them mention the characters walking through this garden. The entry is through the archway (Arc de Triomphe) near the Lourve. It was gorgeous, but beware: tourist scammers operate in the area. We were approached by several Bosnian women who wanted us to sign a petition and hand over money. At first we thought they were in need of directions as they were asking everyone around, “Do you speak English?” and holding what looked like a map (was actually a list of signatures). Don’t be fooled–they aren’t giving the money to blind children in their home country or whatever!

Anyway, through the garden there were lots of pretty flowers, some fountains, bunches of statues, a goat, etc. etc. etc. We ended up eating at one of the little cafes towards the end (there are two across from each other, but I can’t remember their names–we went to the one on the right). I had the most amazing chicken sandwich there for a reasonable price. After, we sat in some chairs nearby and read for a while.

Attraction: Les Invalides (Napoleon’s Tomb)

My husband’s favourite part of Paris was visiting Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides. He loves wars, empires, guns, swords, and the Napoleonic Era, so it was perfect for him. I was quite interested too, though not as much.

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Les Invalides is across the river from the Tuileries Garden and down a bit. It’s a huge building with a golden dome. Tickets are about €10 for an adult with reduced prices for students, and with it you could spend hours and hours in here if you have the time. There’s a little bit (well, a LOT) of everything here–old armour from the 13th century, weapons from World War II, clothes and uniforms, model artillery, and, of course, Napoleon’s Tomb.

The tomb itself is gorgeous–it seems like everything is made of gold and marble, no expenses spared. My husband thought this was one of the coolest things he saw on the trip, and I also appreciated the history. We spent several hours here and I’d say it’s time well spent.

Attraction: Eiffel Tower

Of course, no trip to Paris is a trip to Paris without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. Initially we had been planning on going up into the tower, but when we went to pre-purchase the tickets online everything had already been taken for the only full day we had there. It’s possible we could have asked at the ticket office when we got there (I’m honestly not sure if you HAVE to have a prepaid ticket or not) but it was on the Champs de Mars that we learned about our poor cat getting hit by a car, and we ended up rushing back to the hostel to get some stable internet so we could figure out what to do from there.

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That said, we did stay long enough to appreciate the tower and get some good photos in front of it (before we decided to post one to Facebook, where we got the news!). There were also some amazing Nutella crepes to be purchased at one of the kiosks in the area. Another word of warning, this is another place rife with tourist scammers! In this case, we found a lot of people trying to sell us bracelets and roses (they were very grabby too–kept touching us, which made me hugely uncomfortable!).

Beneath the tower are lots of little souvenir shops and carts–probably a bit overpriced, but convenient nonetheless.

The Final Verdict?

I’m glad we decided to go to Paris because I think it’s one of those necessary stops on a trip to Europe. That said, I’d say it was probably my least favourite place we went on our trip. This was, of course, due in part to the reasons I listed above–we were jetlagged, looking forward to other things, and got some pretty stressful news that affected our time there. But aside from that, Paris is fairly dirty (we passed two disconnected toilets, a torn up mattress, and lots of other rubbish just lying in the street on our walk to Notre Dame) and the scammers made me feel uneasy and uncomfortable.

That said, if I had to do it again I wouldn’t skip Paris. The activities we did–in particular seeing Les Invalides–were totally worth it and we definitely enjoyed tasting some delicious French food.

Long-Haul Flight Reviews: Thai Airways and Austrian Airlines

22 Sep

Hey everyone! We’re back from our trip to Europe and I have roughly a million things to review and talk about. I thought I’d start with these long-haul flight reviews since that’s where the trip started.

The thing with living in Australia is that it takes a long-haul flight to get just about anywhere. My husband and I have been on numerous long-haul flights to the US (see my reviews of Qantas and Virgin Australia long-haul flights here) which are usually about 14 hours long. As such, we thought the 9-10 hour flights to and from Europe would be easy… but we hadn’t prepared ourselves for two long-haul flights back-to-back!

Thai Airways

The first leg of our trip was Brisbane – Bangkok, operated by Thai Airways. This was a 9 hour flight, and I thought that it lived up to Thai’s catchphrase: smooth as silk. The cabin was large and roomy, and both my husband and I had space enough for our long legs in a middle and window seat. There are foot pedals in front of you which I’d never seen on a plane before, but using them made the trip very comfortable.

Everything felt fresh and relatively new. There are touch screens in the back of every seat in economy for entertainment purposes. I found that both going over and coming back, the touch screens were a little finicky; sometimes, they wouldn’t pick up on the fact that I was touching it, meaning I had to tap multiple times to get where I wanted to go. Other times it would be a little too sensitive and it was like the heat from my hand hovering over the screen would set it off. This was only a mild irritation though!

In terms of entertainment offered, there were the standard movies, TV shows, music, and games that you’d find on other long-haul flights. They had a pretty good selection (admittedly, not quite as good as Qantas!) and had a mix of old and new movies which I enjoyed–I mean, having the option to watch Mary Poppins is fun. Some newer movies on offer for this September 2014 trip included Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars.

Food was a mix of Asian and Western cuisine. We were served two meals on the flight, a dinner and a breakfast. I can’t remember exactly what we were offered on the way over, but on the way back dinner options were chicken and potatoes or beef curry with rice. Dinner also included a roll, dessert, and a mixed bean side dish with a bit of salmon on it. On the way back, we didn’t have an option for breakfast; we were just given an egg dish, fruit salad, and croissant. I hate eggs, but at that point the croissant and two fruit salads (my husband doesn’t love fruit) was more than enough. It was all pretty good as far as airplane food goes, so no complaints there.

On our way back, the plane was nearly empty which we were so thankful for! This made the plane that much more comfortable, as my husband and I were able to have a middle seat empty between us and there was no one in front of us to put their seats back. I’d recommend Thai to anyone travelling long-haul!

Austrian Airlines

From Bangkok, we flew to Vienna, Austria with Austrian Airlines. This flight was 10 hours long. I think another reviewer summed it up perfectly when they said, “This is not how you’re supposed to treat a human.”

The Austrian cabin was jammed full of the smallest seats I had ever had the displeasure of sitting in. My husband isn’t a huge guy, and his shoulders were wider than his seat. Both of us struggled with the leg room (I’m 5’11, he’s about 6′) and our knees were crunched against the seat in front of us from the start–before the people in front of us reclined! I ended up putting my feet up on my seat with my knees to my chin for most of the flight as this was more comfortable than the alternative.

Speaking of reclining seats, they don’t recline far. They also have no lumbar support, so I also stuffed a pillow behind me to avoid lower back pain (though in doing so, I made the seat even smaller and my feet barely fit on it). The seats are hard, small, and just not what you want to be sitting in for 10 hours straight.

The cabin itself was also extremely hot. I’m usually freezing on airplanes, but not in this case. I don’t believe air conditioning was working, or something. Both my husband and I sweat through our shirts by the time the plane landed, and given the multitude of people we saw fanning themselves with their tickets, I’d say we weren’t the only people who were uncomfortable. I mean, if you pack that many people into a plane and put them that close together, you should probably make sure there’s some sort of air conditioning working.

Another thing to mention was how dry my mouth and nose became on both Austrian flights (to/from Vienna). I’ve never had this issue on planes before, even on the 14-hour flights to the US. On the way to Vienna, I thought for sure my nose was going to start bleeding or something (it didn’t, admittedly). This isn’t for lack of liquids offered–there was someone coming around with drinks regularly throughout the flight, and drinks and snacks left out near the toilets to grab whenever you wanted–so I’m not sure what caused this exactly. Maybe the heat? Who knows.

The entertainment was more of the same movies, TV, music, and games. This airline also had a touch screen which was much more receptive than Thai’s. However, there were fewer movies to choose from which might be an issue if you’re picky!

The food on the way over was some of the worst I’d ever eaten on a plane. It was chicken and vegetables and TONS of salt. I’ve never tasted anything so salty. There was also an option of fish, which neither my husband or I tried. There was another snack offered toward the end of the flight–a ham and cheese sandwich–which I didn’t eat, but my husband quite enjoyed.

All in all, I would not recommend Austrian Airlines to ANYONE for a long-haul flight. It was absolutely miserable on the way over and only marginally better on the way back (the food was a bit nicer and the cabin a bit less hot!).

I mean, my husband and I seriously considered upgrading to business class. We looked into it after we landed. Austrian offers a “bidding” system where you can offer a sum of money you are prepared to part with for an upgrade. Within three days before your trip, you are notified about whether or not your bid is accepted. We bid an extra $1000 AUD to upgrade (which, if you know us, is ridiculous; we hate spending money!) and didn’t end up getting it. We asked again at the counter at check-in and were told it would be 800 Euro each if we wanted to upgrade, and decided against it.

Austrian Airlines short-haul is another matter entirely, if you were curious. We flew from Vienna to Paris, and then Rome to Vienna with Austrian. Both flights were only about two hours long. The seats are spaced with more leg room and we were able to stretch out a bit.

So if you’re looking to fly Austrian within Europe, I’d say go for it–but do not, under any circumstances, fly with them long-haul! Both my husband and I are seasoned long-haul fliers and know all the aches and pains that go along with it, and this was our absolute worst long-haul experience hands down.

Book Review: Witchrise by Victoria Lamb (Tudor Witch Trilogy #3)

28 Aug

Click to see my reviews of Witchstruck and Witchfall, books 1 and 2 of the Tudor Witch Trilogy.

Okay, so, not going to lie… this book disappointed me.Witchrise

I loved, loved, LOVED both Witchfall and Witchstruck, and I think they’re both worth reading if you’re after some quality YA historical fantasy. This third book just didn’t do it for me. It felt off; it didn’t contain a lot of the historical details I loved about the first two, and overall the writing just wasn’t as good.

Plot: Not nearly as fast-paced and suspenseful as the last two books. Marcus Dent, Top Villain, takes about half a book to show up, but all the while Meg keeps pointing things out that probably have to do with Marcus Dent, she’s pretty sure that was Marcus Dent, what if Marcus Dent is around? Except when things actually are Marcus Dent, she seems totally oblivious up to the moment that it’s too late to do anything about it. Drove me insane.

Characters: I just wasn’t sure what to make of the handful of new, random, seemingly quite important characters that made their debut in the third book. It has been a while since I read the first two, but I was blindsided–I would have been much more okay with their introduction if they had been mentioned in passing or hinted at in the last two books. As it was, it seemed like they were just thrown in there. Gilly Goodwife? Cecilie? Robert Dudley? (Who, yes, is a historical figure who has every right to be mentioned… but Lady Elizabeth is suddenly in love with him? What?)

The Love Triangle: Love triangles abound in YA literature, and I don’t always mind them, but this one just got on my nerves. It seemed forced, particularly since Meg thought she was so ugly that no man would ever want her, and yet she has THREE men vying for her attention the whole time (I mean, if you include Marcus Dent–which I guess would make this more of a weird square). Meg and Alejandro’s on-again-off-again, “I’m no good for you!” relationship just irritated me.

I can’t say how sorry I am that I can’t give a better review. I was so looking forward to this book and didn’t enjoy it much, but I really do believe that the first two books are still worth looking into if you’re at all interested in Tudor period fantasy. The conclusion wasn’t hugely satisfying, but the other two books do offer a page-turning adventure worth reading!

Six More Sleeps Until Europe!

24 Aug

Well, until we’re on our way to Europe, anyway.

I just can’t believe it! I created this blog a while back primarily for book reviews and, eventually, to document this Europe trip. We’ve been saving and waiting for two years and finally we’re heading off!

I have so many half-started posts about how we planned this trip, including resources we used and what our tentative budget looks like, and just haven’t had any time to finish them off. Unfortunately, it looks like my schedule is full up until take-off. I know, I know, this blog has been sorely neglected the past couple of months.

The good news is, I have something interesting planned for our trip in Europe. My husband and I are planning on vlogging each day and putting the videos up on YouTube. I’ll also be writing up my usual reviews about hotels, restaurants, and activities. I’ll be linking the videos here so that everyone has multiple ways to see Europe with me. You’ll have to wait to see both of these things until after we get back at the end of September (we’re heading off with minimum technology!) but we’ll start putting out videos (and posts) shortly after that.

Anyway, this post is basically just to document my massive EXCITEMENT and incredible STRESS and that overwhelming feeling of IS THIS SERIOUSLY HAPPENING that’s running through my mind right now. And, of course, to announce that YouTube channel.

If you want to check it out, it’s also called More Than One Page. Fair warning: there are no videos up right now and it’s just bare bones. But feel free to subscribe so that when we do start having videos for you, they’ll go straight to your subscription box without you having to remember to check.

SIX MORE SLEEPS!

Jodie Llewellyn

The ramblings of an aspiring YA author & book blogger

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