Our thoughts on air travel

We have had an opportunity to visit many airports across the world.  Sometimes we are surprised with how different things are!

Boarding a Thai Air flight to Bangkok in London

Some differences in Europe:

  • Many times the plane departure and arrival uses a corresponding bus to get you to the plane / terminal vs. a jetway.   We would say this happens about 50% of the time.   One negative is the stairs required to get into the plane.  This can be difficult for some people.
  • Speaking of stairs, we are surprised how many stairs are required sometimes within the terminal, especially while toting carry-on luggage.  Most US airports have escalators or elevators if you have to change levels.
  • We have found many instances where people are still up putting bags away into the overhead bins when the plane starts to taxi.  This would never happen in the US.
  • Cell phones are not supposed to be used until the plane door opens in Europe.   However, in the US, its common to boot up your device, check email, text, and make calls while taxiing to the gate.  It’s something we always forget living in Europe.
  • In Europe, you don’t have to take off your shoes to go though the security x-ray.  So nice!

Which continent is best for connections?

We advised our parents to connect in the US when they came to visit us in Europe.   The pros to this advice are that the airports are usually laid out in a way that makes sense to them, as well as they can ask in English comfortably if they are confused.

Contrary, European connections are a little more difficult to navigate.  You have to go through immigration and out to the public area of the airport which requires you to go back through security.  This can be confusing to some who aren’t used to it.   The bus factor above can add stress to connections because you have to board a bus to get to the terminal and board a bus to get to your next plane.

You also want to think about where you’d rather be stuck.   We generally like to take the longer flight first.  Thus, if you are late, you are at least on the same continent you are supposed to be on, rather than getting stuck another day for the next International flight.

What about bags?

When landing in Europe from the US, you don’t have to take your bags with you through immigration.  Just yourself.    When landing in the US from Europe, you have to go through immigration, claim your bags, and go through customs with the bags.  You then have to re-check them if you aren’t at your final destination.

Most friendly airports:

I love IAD / Washington Dulles.  There is a direct flight from Geneva so it is my favorite.  It might help that I grew up in Virginia so it is close to home.

We really like GVA / Geneva too.  It is small so you don’t have to get there so early.  Its tiny size also makes it easy to pick guests up.  Plus, the city gives out a free 80 minute public transportation ticket to anyone flying into Geneva.

We just flew out of ATL / Atlanta International.  What a difference they have made – a shiny new terminal just for international flights.  The staff is friendly, lines short, and the food course is awesome.  Before this, I would have put ATL down below into the Worst Airports for International flights due to their old method of making you go back through security and take the train to baggage claim, even if it was your final destination.  This wasted on average 45 minutes to an hour for the international traveler.   Kudos for changing this, ATL.

Airports where we have been the most challenged:

HER / Crete – Heraklion – Check in is done by flight, not airline.   So each destination city has an individual desk.  You are not allowed to check-in until 2 hours before your flight, when the check in desk # is posted on the screen.   We arrived 3 hours early, so we had to sit in absolute hot & steamy Greek chaos to wait until we checked in and got into a mad rush of people all arriving at the same time – a line about 30 deep.    However, we ended up in the wrong line because we went for the line saying Geneva.  Who knew there could be another flight to Geneva 15 minutes later on a different airline?     We got to our plane just in time for our flight which is ridiculous for getting their so early.   Again, something solved by going to an airline desk vs. city desk.

GIG / Rio de Janeiro – again, you couldn’t check in until 2 hours before.  I don’t understand why these airports are so against people checking in early.    Our flight time was supposed to be 7:16am.   Upon arrival, the board said 7:53am.   Maybe its late??   The flight didn’t open for check in until 5:53am.  All which wasn’t clear at all, just a guessing game to just get in line.  Luckily it was the right line.   But after asking if we’d miss our connection with the flight time push back, the clerk said the flight time was 7:16am, not 7:53am, we’d be fine to make our connection.  But my boarding pass said 7:53am.  And they started boarding the domestic plane at 6:16am.  Bizarre.  And also weird that they only allowed for 23 minutes to get from the check in counter, through security and to the gate.

IST / Istanbul – you have to go through the full metal detectors and security check to even get to the check in desks.  So this security process is required twice for travelers flying.  One for people picking up people.   Awesome.  Love doing it twice.  Especially love the thrill of being late for an early a.m. flight not knowing this.

BKK / Bangkok – We had such a debacle with Bangkok Airlines when flying to Cambodia.  We showed up 2 hours early for a 7am flight but they said that they sold our seats because we were too late.  We got booted to the next one and missed our tour that day.  Note: never take Bangkok Air if you can help it!

LHR / London Heathrow – Every time we go through here, we have issues.  Either me with my visa or Gabe with his refusal to use a plastic bag or his iPad.  They are not fans of us.

FRA / Frankfort – It’s sheer size makes it hard to make connections.  An hour layover? Forget about it.  I got stuck in Europe after missing my plane with a full hour layover.  Not enough!  Also, wear your walking shoes if you are connecting in this monster!

JFK / New York– I had a 2.5 hour connection and barely made it….talking running.  They need to hire more immigration officers to help speed up the line.  I sat for over an hour in the immigration line.   The line for non US citizens was 10 times longer.  I don’t think those people had a prayer of making it out of the line that day.  Also, at JFK, you have to sometimes walk between terminals to get to connecting flights.  Make that RUN after you have spent over an hour in immigration….

Do you have any favorite or least favorite airports?

Over the river and through the Alps, to Italy we go….

We used our last Honeyfund this weekend to go to Cinque Terre in Italy.  Every time we take a road trip, we are in awe of the beauty of Central Europe.   I wanted to share a pictorial recap of the drive.

Immediately after leaving Geneva, we drove through the French Alps.  Here, there were a few signs of Fall but we don’t see it as strongly as we do in The States.

Starting our drive out of Geneva

A bit more Fall foliage here

Mt Blanc was being shy that day, hiding behind cloud cover

The glaciers near Mt. Blanc. I joked that if we were playing the car alphabet game, this would be a good one for “Letter G…I spy a Glacier!”

We entered the Mt. Blanc tunnel and emerged in Italy, surrounded by Italian Alps in the Aosta Valley.

The Italian Alps.

We drove through tunnels in 3 countries: Switzerland, France and Italy.   Italy had the most tunnels, as we traveled on the Ligurian coast which is covered in mountainous terrain.   In total, we completed 119 tunnels during the course of the 6 hour drive.

French tunnel ahead….

Many of the Italian tunnels (114 of them in total) had homes teetering above the entrances

 

The exit our GPS instructed us to get off on was closed, so we had to take the next one.   We ended up on curvy Ligurian roads in the Cinque Terre forest.   The location was so remote, we had to do a little road clean up to get there.

The hubby moving a tree out of the road, in his dress shirt.

 

While a six hour road trip can be a little tiring, we are really happy to have had such a neat journey.

 

Our trip, by the numbers

We are finally home in Geneva.   Below is a recap of our most recent trip, by the numbers.

Our route: Pink is me. Blue is Gabe. Purple is when we were together.

20,000      # of miles flying, averaged (19270 for me, 20126 for Gabe)

1,250         # of miles driven from Charlotte to Appomattox to Charlottesville to Appomattox to Blacksburg to Ohio and around Ohio for the wedding

56              # of hours spent flying in a plane

28              # of days I was gone

21               # of days Gabe was gone

11               # of beds slept in (3 in Charlotte for me, Appomattox, Blacksburg, Mendon, Rio, Goiania, Perinópolous, hammock, Atlanta)

10               # of legs of flights, each

8               # tanks of gas filled with our rental cars

7                # of loads of laundry done – 2 Charlotte, 2 at my moms, 2 at Gabe’s moms, 1 at the Courtyard Marriott Atlanta

5                 # of pumpkin spice lattes consumed during the trip (only available in September)

4                 # of overnight flights (over 9 hours)

3                 # of continents

2                # of different rental cars

2                 # of wedding ceremonies for Gabe’s brother & our sister-in-law attended

1                # of college football games attended

But, attending cross continent weddings and seeing immense numbers of friends & family……Priceless.

Aside from it being priceless, I think I can vouch for both of us that we have a little bit of travel burnout.   We’ll be sharing our Brazilian travels in the coming week so look for those on the blog.  I’ll be taking a nap in the meantime, recuperating from our journey.

Home Sweet Home: Hotlanta

While in The States, we were able to visit Atlanta for Gabe to work three days in his headquarter office.  While Gabe worked, I got to visit many friends and family members during the day.  We were even able to squeeze in a few at night together after he finished up at the office.

Some of our visits in Atlanta.

Even though Gabe had lived there 2 years prior to our move & marriage, and I was familiar with the city through work and visiting with him, we both were overwhelmed with Atlanta traffic this trip.   It was a combination of volume and size of the highways, most being six lanes on each side.   We aren’t used to this so we did experience a little culture shock there as we flew into ATL at rush hour.

Image courtesy of clatl.com

People also drive aggressively.  Sure, it may be attributed to the fact that I don’t drive in Switzerland so driving altogether is new to me when I visit The States.   However, the anger and impatient way in which people drive was something that took getting used to.

Also, why do people in Atlanta cut across parking lots versus driving in the lanes?   I had a lot of sightings of this behavior as we were staying in Perimeter, near Gabe’s office.  It is a shopping mecca with every store imaginable.  I took full advantage, stocking up on our much-needed supplies at Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target, Hobby Lobby, Marshalls & TJMaxx.  And of course, many stops at Yoforia and Starbucks.

But while driving to these suburban shopping centers, I was almost T-boned more than once.  Is this noticeable to anyone or is it that I have been living in the land of rules and now I am more perceptive of “rule-breakers”?

Other than our traffic woes, it was a great stop because we got to see a few friends and family members.  However, as you’ll learn Saturday’s post, our Atlanta stop was Day 26- 28 of travel for me, so I was starting to lose steam.  Sorry, Atlanta….next time I’ll be more peppy!

Au Revoir, ATL!

Amsterdam’s Bike-Loving Lifestyle

I think there are more bikes in Copenhagen than Amsterdam, but it more obvious in Amsterdam.   Every nook and cranny is filled with bikes.

Typical canal scene in Amsterdam

Bike parking

They even have a bike garage at Centraal Station to contain all of them.  We’d seen it last trip, but it was neat to see it from the water.

Bike garage

This trip, I noticed a “bike boats” that were built to contain some of the ones that were spilling off the street.

Red boats of bikes on the right

The Dutch are very talented at their bike riding.   You often see them talking on the cell phone, and some of the women apply make-up while navigating their bike.  I’d be in a canal if I were them!

I noticed a few things that are crucial if you are Amsterdam biker:

–Many people have “saddle bags” that are meant for their things – purses, work bags, groceries.

–A lot of folks have extra seats, for children or friends.  Even if there was no seat, we saw a lot of people “side saddling” the bike while their friends drove them along.

Image courtesy of bike-epic.com

–Carts are good for multiple children. We saw one fellow driving with his infant in a baby carseat and an extra toddler in the cart on the front of his bike.

Bike with a seat on the back and a cart on the front.

–It’s popular to decorate your bike.  Either by weaving your basket with artificial flowers, or by painting it an unusual color, like bright pink.   Heck, I don’t blame them.  I commented that I’d want a GPS tracking device for my bike since I’d be afraid if I lived in Amsterdam, I’d constantly forget where I parked with the bike storage chaos!  It pays to stand out!

–People with nice bikes have this special system that allows you to lock your bike without a chain-type mechanism.  Ferdinand and Isabella wondered if bike theft was a problem, since there were so many.  Ferdinand commented that as long as you didn’t have the nicest bike, you might be safe!   However, we know someone  living in Amsterdam who had their nice bike stolen, so it is possible.

–Some people who we met in Amsterdam taught us about the term “time travel”.  Apparently if one has had too much to drink, bikes home, and ends up the next morning with unidentified scrapes and bruises caused by a likely bike accident, you would remark, “last night, on my way home, I time traveled”.

–Some of my Dutch friends told me if they see a group of yellow bikes or people with matching parkas, they know to steer clear.  They said tourists are out of control.  I’d agree……when we rode in November, I didn’t fare so well on the bike (almost had death by tram).  But, it certainly inspires me to ride more when in Geneva or in the States when we return.

if I lived in Amsterdam, I’d want this bike