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Best of 2018 (3)

all seasons in one day 6 °C
View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

Hôtel Dieu, Toulouse

Hôtel Dieu, Toulouse

This award category is for accommodation.

My hotel in Barra - the Castlebay - was the year’s only disappointment but this did not come as a big surprise. The place was below average and the prices very high. Poor value for money. The view from my room was the only positive I could find.

Bedroom View

Bedroom View

Bergen was a big success all round, and the Magic Hotel was part of it. An ideal location, good food and excellent comfort. Add to that the excellent value for money, and there we are.

Magic Entrance

Magic Entrance

On my way to Bergen I stayed at the Jury’s Inn at Aberdeen Airport. As airport hotels go, it was just fine.

I also stayed in the Jury’s Inn in Bradford. Among the budget brands it is one of my favourites. Bradford is no exception.

My stay in Stornoway was excellent - just what you expect from a good Scottish B&B. Comfortable, quiet, friendly and a great breakfast.

In Klaipėda I had two nights at the Memel Hotel. It was lovely. The location is good, close to the city centre but not in it. I enjoyed a comfortable room and an excellent breakfast.

Memel Welcome

Memel Welcome

I had Airbnb stays in Toulouse and Vilnius - and both were ideal. They were just what I expected from their listings. I also had two Airbnb experiences in Northern Cyprus. In Girne it was an apartment I’ve stayed in before so obviously it was good. The Nikovlita Garden Hotel in Kumyalı was wonderful. Just so laid back, welcoming and… different.

Nikovlita Garden Hotel

Nikovlita Garden Hotel

In Istanbul I had a few nights at the Terrace Guesthouse. It is truly special and a past winner.

The year had begun in the Novotel in Casablanca - I like it for all kinds of reasons. Location is a big part of it - on top of all the usual things I like about the Novotel brand. It is almost across the street from the Casa Port railway station and so really convenient from the airport.

Dawn

Dawn

I also stayed in a Novotel in Glasgow on my way to catch the plane to Barra - I like the brand and the Glasgow version lived up to the usual standards.

My third Novotel stay (some kind of record, I suppose) was in Sheffield. It was just what I expected. Excellent.

Helsinki in December meant 2 nights in the Vaakuna Hotel across the street from the central railway station. The hotel was completed in 1952 to house athletes at the Helsinki Olympics. Although refurbished since then, of course, it retains some 1950s style features. I loved it.

Hotel View

Hotel View

When I’m trying to decide on my favourite, step one is usually to choose my top three. This time it is tough. The Airbnbs in Toulouse and Vilnius have to be in the top three. I think the Vaakuna Hotel in Helsinki has to be the third.

Apartment - Front

Apartment - Front

Ultimately I have gone for the Toulouse Airbnb as the winner. It had pretty much everything I could have wanted. Quiet. Comfortable. An ideal location.

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Posted by IainT 23:13 Archived in Scotland Tagged bergen helsinki turkey island istanbul finland morocco norway cyprus aberdeen denmark copenhagen vilnius lithuania lewis toulouse casablanca kibris barra sheffield klaipeda bradford stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh leòdhas castlebay barraigh best_of_2018 Comments (0)

Best of 2018 (2)

all seasons in one day 0 °C
View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

Skyss Catamaran

Skyss Catamaran

This annual award category is for transport other than flights.

In 2018 my ferry trips were quite limited by comparison to previous years. I took very short crossings between Klaipėda and Smiltynė, Barra and Eriskay, and Bergen and Kleppestø. I also took a vapur up the Bosporus in Istanbul.

Tight Fit

Tight Fit

The one in Lithuania hardly counts as a travel experience as it lasts 12 minutes. I did it twice, of course (there and back).

The Barra /Eriskay trip was a massive 35 minutes (each way), but it was the first time I’d taken a ferry as part of a cycle trip.

MV Loch Àlainn

MV Loch Àlainn

The Norwegian one was fast and efficient. It was a great way to see the city from the fjord too.

The vapur brought back memories of my first Bosporus trip, and no end of vapur crossings between Kınalıada and the city.

As far as trains go, I took a couple of good ones in Lithuania. I had a day trip from Vilnius to Kaunas, plus the one between Vilnius and Klaipėda - a 4 hour journey.

Comfort

Comfort

They were great.

In France I had a day out in Albi while I was in Toulouse. A local train, but modern and comfortable for an hour each way.

Toulouse

Toulouse

I also used the RER in Paris - an old friend.

I used Danish trains to get travel between Copenhagen Airport and the city centre, but also for an outing to Helsingør. It was all very modern and efficient - compared to the UK.

In Helsinki I used the train to travel from the airport to the city centre - 35 minutes for €5. Good value, as well as being quick and comfortable - oh, and warm. It was -12⁰c outside.

My main train trip of the year was from home (Fife, in Scotland) to Bradford, then on to Sheffield, and home from there. With such fragmentation of operators under the UK’s privatised franchise system, I used at least 4 train operators in 3 days.

I rented cars in Cyprus, Klaipėda and Stornoway. The Lithuanian one sticks in my memory because the rental staff were so friendly and helpful.

Solorent's Best

Solorent's Best

The Cyprus one holds memories of some crazy roads and crazy drivers.

Hyundai i20

Hyundai i20

I rented a cycle on Barra. It was a fantastic way to get around the island - and over to Eriskay.

My Transport

My Transport

Trams - I used the Bergen “light rail” a lot, including the line to/from the airport. It is great and good value for money. I also used the trams in Toulouse - again, ideal for the city/airport journey.

I suspect I also took a tram in Sheffield…

The metro in Toulouse is ideal to get to the main railway station from the St Cyprien neighbourhood where I was staying, so it is on the list. I took the metro in Copenhagen too - from the ice arena back to the city centre. As in Toulouse, the trains are driverless.

In Helsinki I also used the Finnair Citybus to travel from the city centre to the airport - €6.90 each way, fast and comfortable. They run every 20 minutes most of the day.

Well, it is decision time. My top three are my cycling experience on Barra and Eriskay, the vapur in Istanbul and the rented car in Klaipėda. Any of them would be worthy winners.

The Dune

The Dune

In the end I have gone for the Klaipėda Toyota because the whole trip with it - ferry across to the Curonian Spit and then driving as far as the Russian border and back - was just an amazing day.

Posted by IainT 09:11 Archived in Scotland Tagged trains bergen helsinki scotland paris france ferries istanbul finland transport norway cyprus denmark copenhagen vilnius lithuania toulouse kibris barra albi sheffield kaunas klaipeda helsingør bradford stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh barraigh bhatarsaigh eiriosgaigh eriskay Comments (0)

Best of 2018 (1)

semi-overcast 1 °C
View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

Wait in Lounge

Wait in Lounge

The first category in the annual awards is for airlines.

This year has brought a lot of variety and - like last year - a new experience.

Widerøe is the airline I used for the first time, on its Aberdeen-Bergen route. As I blogged at the time, it was very positive.

On Approach

On Approach

SAS is the airline I used most - 8 flights - but the reason really boils down to a couple of trips to Vilnius via Stockholm or Copenhagen. All those flights were good.

I had two trips with Loganair (Barra and Stornoway) and they are a lot of fun to travel with. It helps that small airports and small planes are so user friendly.

Loganair Saab 340 at Steòrnabhagh

Loganair Saab 340 at Steòrnabhagh

Turkish Airlines featured 4 times - to and from Ercan (in Northern Cyprus) via Istanbul. I was very happy about all of them and of course with a longer flight (4+ hours between Edinburgh and Istanbul) you have more chance of finding something to be unhappy about!

I flew 4 times with KLM too - not so positive, but most of the negative aspects relate to a missing suitcase. It arrived eventually, but the delay and absence of anything resembling customer service was appalling.

I renewed acquaintance with easyJet and Norwegian on my weekend away in Copenhagen. In a direct comparison of two of the better low cost, no frills operations, Norwegian is a clear winner.

Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air

Air France took me from Casablanca to Edinburgh via Paris on 1st January. It seems like so long ago… It was good.

I flew Finnair from Edinburgh to Helsinki at the end of December. It was another renewal of old acquaintance. My only other flight with Finnair would have been over 20 years ago. They had reindeer on their inflight menu.

Helsinki Airport

Helsinki Airport

My journey from Helsinki to Vilnius via Rīga on Air Baltic went so smoothly it was a pleasure - an excellent airline and three excellent airports.

Rīga Transit

Rīga Transit

My top three out of all these is not an easy selection, although conversely the winner is. My top three are Air Baltic, Turkish Airlines and Loganair.

Loganair Disembarking

Loganair Disembarking

This year my decision for a winner is really easy because flying in and out of Barra is a unique experience - the tiny airport, the beach as the runway, the weather… So, yes, this year’s award winner is Loganair to/from Barra.

Posted by IainT 02:45 Archived in Lithuania Tagged planes bergen helsinki france turkey istanbul finland transport morocco flights cyprus aberdeen denmark copenhagen sas vilnius lithuania klm airlines casablanca kibris barra stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh barraigh Comments (0)

Travel Tips - Bergen

sunny 30 °C
View Bergen on IainT's travel map.

Wait in Lounge

Wait in Lounge

Ok then… how about the nuts and bolts of my weekend in Bergen in July.

I flew with Widerøe from Aberdeen. It cost £163 (€183) return, with hand luggage only at that price. For a 2 night trip in summer that was fine, but with winter layers it might have been a struggle. They use Dash 8 turboprop planes on the service, so the lockers are small, and so is the size of bag they allow.

The whole “Widerøe experience” was excellent, and really good value for money. The airline has few international routes, but operates many domestic services, particularly in the north of the country. It was founded in 1934 and operates 45 aircraft - so it is an established and substantial airline. It just is not a well known name outside Scandinavia.

I got off-airport parking for £21 (€24) from Aberdeen Airport Park & Depart. That was for early Friday until late on Sunday. Their shuttle bus service was great, and waiting time was a minute or two. Their site is just on the far side of the airport and is less than 5 minutes away.

I stayed the night before my outward flight in the Jury's Inn at Aberdeen Airport - £68 (€77) without breakfast. It too was a happy experience in all respects. I had a salad in the bar/restaurant in the evening and although it was good quality it was very overpriced. On the other hand, you have plenty of other options nearby for food.

Jury's Inn

Jury's Inn

In Bergen I stayed at the Magic Hotel in Solheimsviken. It is located 2km from the city centre, but only 5 minutes walk from the Bergen Light Rail stop at Danmarks plass. As a result, the city centre is an easy walk away or a short tram ride. One advantage it gave me is that the tram line serves the airport, so transit was cheap and easy.

Magic Entrance

Magic Entrance

The hotel was (almost) all positive. The cost was kr881.50 (£82.55/€88.15) per night, including a buffet breakfast. I had a single room, and whilst it was definitely small, the hotel has plenty of communal areas for relaxation if cabin fever sets in.

Magic Corridor

Magic Corridor

I ate dinner in the restaurant both evenings. The first time it was just convenience. The second time it was because the first dinner was so good. It was expensive by UK standards, of course.

You will find a discount mini market next door to the hotel, and it offers a cheaper alternative for food.

I used the tram a lot. For most of the day it runs every 10 minutes. I bought 24 hour tickets for kr95.00 (€9.50/£8.90) each, giving unlimited usage. I used the Skyss app on my phone, so it was easy - no messing with machines at the tram stops - and paperless.

Skyss App

Skyss App

The tickets cover all public transport within the Bergen zone except the NSB trains, but it includes the ferry service to Askøy.

Skyss Catamaran

Skyss Catamaran

You can also buy single tickets for kr37.00 (£3.46/€3.70). If you want to avoid grappling with the automatic ticket machines when you’ve just arrived at the airport, the deli next to the information desk at arrivals sells them over the counter. They have to be validated using a terminal on the tram.

Writing this reminded me how smoothly all the travel arrangements worked out. If you know anyone who is looking for a travel planner, please get in touch.

Posted by IainT 13:10 Archived in Norway Tagged bergen ferries transport flights norway aberdeen airlines Comments (0)

Cool Bergen

sunny 30 °C
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Kleppestø

Kleppestø

Bergen was still hot and sticky on my second day in the city - my only full day. It was 29⁰c at 11am when I started to feel it, and checked. It went over 30⁰c again at lunchtime.

This was all predicted by the weather forecast, so I had a plan. I was out of the hotel about 08:30 and got the tram into the city centre to catch the 09:15 ferry to Kleppestø on Askøy. Askøy is a large island just across the fjord from Bergen. The 20 minute trip was included on my 24 hour transport ticket. It’s a commuter ferry.

Fjord & Mainland View

Fjord & Mainland View

As I thought, it was a good way to see the city from another aspect and interesting to see how similar Kleppestø is the the place I stayed “in” Oslo, across the harbour by ferry from the city centre.

I had hoped the island might be a bit cooler, but…

Express

Express

The heat meant I didn’t explore the town much, or the island, so it was just a short visit but worth it and “free”.

Once back in the city I wandered through the southern part of the city centre, past Den Nationale Scene (National Theatre) and Johanneskirken.

Den Nationale Scene

Den Nationale Scene

In the evening I spent some time just sitting on the quay opposite Bryggen, people watching and enjoying the evening warmth.

Vestre Torggaten

Vestre Torggaten

It is a great city for relaxation.

Posted by IainT 00:10 Archived in Norway Tagged bergen ferries norway islandlife kleppestø askøy Comments (0)

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