Hamburg; a fabulous maritime city that's 110 kilometres from the sea
posted by Richard Green on 10/12/2019

Captain Hoffman stands on the bridge in naval uniform intently watching an approaching container vessel. But instead of barking orders for a change of course he takes up a microphone and announces in a kindly manner - from two 600-watt speakers - the tonnage, length and homeport of the oncoming ship. Then at the click of a mouse a lofty anthem booms out across the water. 

Herr Hoffman welcomes arriving ships with an announcement and their national anthem. Photo My Bathroom Wall 

“I have 153 national anthems here,” Herr Hoffman says proudly. “They used to be on vinyl, then cassette tapes, and now they are MP3’s. That one was from the Marshall Islands because that is where the ship is flagged.”

Before you think the German navy has completely lost the plot, we’re on dry land, Herr Hoffman is retired, and his ‘bridge’ is a small office on the side of the Schulauer Fährhaus restaurant. This bonkers little ceremony takes place at a narrow point in the Elbe River 22 kilometres west of Hamburg, conducted for all arriving and departing ships over 5,000 tons. It first began in 1952 – initiated by the restaurateur who was constantly being asked by customers where the ships were from.

A ship passing the Schulauer Fährhaus and so called 'Welcome Point'. Photo Schulauer Fährhaus

Hamburg is Germany’s richest city, the country’s media, design, and music capital, and Europe’s second biggest port. It feels more chilled than Munich, less swaggering than Berlin, and despite being 110 kilometres from the North Sea, the connection with seafaring is ever present.

You can’t miss the giant port that smothers one bank of the River Elbe. The city is clearly proud of it, and flaunts it with an historic riverfront that grandstands the dry-docked cruise liners here for refits, the banks of containers and rows of cranes.

And the love of shipping doesn’t stop there.

The splendidly shipping-themed lobby of the 25hour HafenCity Hotel. Photo 25hours Hotels

I stayed at the 25hour HafenCity Hotel, a funky new place where standard bedroom décor includes a rope ladder, a life size cartoon of a sailor in the bathroom, a globe and a faux antique Louis Vuitton travel trunk. I could however have chosen the Atlantic Kempinski, which was built for first class passengers travelling on the Hamburg-America line and has a lobby bar like a cruise liner’s; or the recently refurbished Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, where older rooms have double doors with a space in between, formerly for the discreet delivery of luggage – just as posh old liners once insisted upon. 

The Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten. Photo Fairmont Hotels

The ‘Love Boat’ theme was playing when I entered the Fairmont bar, which is a cabin-like nook with wood panelling and a spiral staircase. The chap taking red wine and cheese at the bar immediately chatted: “This has been my ritual to escape the hustle of every day life for forty years now.” And with an air-twirl of his fork he added, “Did you know that Hamburg has 64 kilometres of docks and more bridges than Venice and Amsterdam put together?” I looked sceptical, but a short while later the white-coated barman returned and said he’d checked his mobile and it wasn’t correct. “Wikipedia says that there are 2,400 bridges in Hamburg, more than Venice, Amsterdam and London put together,” he beamed. 

The almost seaside vibe at the Strandpearl bar/restaurant. Photo My Bathroom Wall

At the Strandpearl beach restaurant, I joined the tables of beautiful people on a rather grey beach and watched as the mammoth blue bulk of a container ship slide past. As I chomped through a bratwurst and beer, two mates in their 70s asked if the seats beside me were taken. Wolf excitedly told me that the blue container ship was the APL Sentosa – “Too big for the Panama Canal even, 70 meters longer than the Eiffel Tower and carrying up to 14,000 containers!”  His friend Berndt rolled his eyes: “Oh, here we go again,” he bemoaned through a huge smile. “Wolf knows everything about ships.”

The views are fabulous from the open air section of the 'Clouds' Bar. Photo Clouds Bar

The hippest places for cocktails are ‘Clouds’ and the ‘20up Bar’, both topping tall buildings and angled for the best floor-to-ceiling harbour views. There are bars down on the river, too -- cheap eats on the ten Landsbrücken pontoons with a seaside-feeling medley of excitable children and excruciating postcards. Nearby I sat in a deckchair and felt the sand between my toes at the mellower Hamburg del Mar bar, then I had a drink on the floating Astra floating biergarten, and rounded off on the curvaceous wooden deck of a little red lighthouse ship.

The 'Hamburg del Mar' bar, even though the mar is 110 kilometres away. Photo My Bathroom Wall

On the U3 metro line I was startled when the train emerged from a tunnel to reveal fantastic views of Hamburg’s river. Between Landsbrücken and Baumwall stations, the train trundles over rails elevated on spindly iron stilts for views not unlike those heading in or out of Sydney’s Circular Quay Railways Station. Public transport ferries fuss along the Elbe and dozens of harbour cruise options vie for the tourist’s attention, and there’s an extraordinary river tunnel too, built in 1911 for workers to commute to the docks. Glass lifts for pedestrians, and older garage-sized ones that take two cars at a time, descend 75-meters to the tunnel floor.

The late afternoon sun drew me to stroll westwards along the riverbank on my last day in Hamburg. I passed U-434, a Russian submarine (now a museum) and an office block in the shape of a ship, and eventually reached a cute cluster of historic vessels at the Oevelgönne museum.

The welcoming wooden interior of the old ferry boat restaurant. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Inside the cosy dining room of a converted 1952 Hamburg ferry, I tasted the city’s speciality of Labskaus – once a common seamen’s dish - a delicious hash of beef, potato and onion topped with an egg. The young waitress bent beside the table like a First Class airhostess and after the meal suggested that I should get a ferry back to where I’d started - and that one was leaving in four minutes. “At night when I finish it feels like a village here,” she said, “all peaceful and quiet. I get the ferry back to the centre sitting on deck watching the lights of the docks cranes and ships, and I feel very lucky.”

Four minutes later, the tug-like ferry arrived and lowered its gantry. I hurried on and took her advice, sitting on deck to watch the eerily lit cargo ships, their containers stacked like toy bricks, and red lights pinpointing the toiling crane tips.

I felt very lucky too.

Sunset over the River Elbe. Photo Visit Hamburg

puzzle Hamburg makes a great city break. It's an intriguing place with lots to see, a buzzing atmosphere, and outstanding maritime heritage. It's easy to get to, yet noticably less touristy than other top tier European cities.
31 Hamburg Airport is 8.5 kilometres north of the city and handled 16m passengers in 2016. There are flights to many European cities, plus to Dubai with Emirates, and Tehran with Iran Air
weather The best time to visit Hamburg is in summer from May to October. Temperatures rarely top  the high 20s and there is the chance of showers at any time of the year. Winters are chilly to cold, but snow falls only a few times a year. 
35 www.hamburg.com is the city’s website. Public transport day pass is €7.5 and the Hamburg Card is €9.5 a day, including discounted entry to museums and places of interest.  

Laudable or ludicrous? ANA's latest fuselage fandango?
posted by Richard Green on 29/10/2019

Can you see what it is yet? Well it's an airborne interpretation of the humanoid robot 'C-3PO' from Star Wars of course. And I reckon if you are going to adopt a fun livery, you may as well go the whole hog and execute it well, as All Nippon Airways (ANA) have done.

ANA is a Japanese airline with a 5-star rating (as per the Skytrax) that has long had a tie-in with the Star Wars franchise. The particular paintjob above first flew in March 2017, and to mark The Rise of Skywalker's release (the latest of the Star Wars slew), ANA has published the flights that the big yellow C-3PO Boeing 777-200 will operate to, plus some extra treats for its passengers.

Looking at the details, the large swirls represent the 'primary power coupler outlet' (the circle on C-3PO's chest), the black lines are the external wiring, the gold colour echo's the metal plates, and the black section is the battery pack - I think.

Lest anyone forget, C-3PO is a humanoid robot who made his first appearance back in the 1977 original Star Wars film. The likeable metal 'man' is the protocol droid with a frightfully pleasant demeanour, designed to assist with customs, etiquette and translation - it's fluent in six million 'languages' apparently.

And ANA has modified the interior too - in this case to reflect the human-like robots's gold coloured 'skin' and visible circuitry. Surely George Lucas at his most visionary couldn't have foreseen a 136-ton aircraft sporting a C-3PO themed livery complete with golden pinnys and antimacassars in the cabin.

The ANA treatment follows in a long line of creative paintjobs; some of which are on MyBathroomWall, like Nok's brill bird beaks, Icelandair's Aurora Borealis, Kulula's playing a livery for laughs, and Braniff's wonderful jelly bean liveries of old.

Back to ANA's C-3PO though - if anyone happens to be travelling between Tokyo and Itami or Fukuoka on certain dates in December passengers will receive branded boarding certificates and the chance to win 'a variety of prizes' - pin badges and pens yes, but also a plane model autographed by Anthony Daniels - the chap who has played C-3PO from the first film onwards.

And with impressive thoroughness, ANA has even gone so far as to C-3PO brand safety cards, pens, model planes, though perhaps not sick bags. Passengers even get credit card sized commemorative boarding 'certificates' too.








For more information, crank up the volume and visit ANA Star Wars Project


How can ANA work for you?

Getting to Japan: ANA has its hubs at Tokyo's Narita and Osaka's Kansai International airports, and operates flights across Japan, and to Japan from Europe, Asia and the USA. It's largely a business focussed airline, with the exception of its Hawaii flights and a few other holiday destinations. 

Pro's: ANA was awarded five stars for the fourth consecutive year by the world's leading Airline and Airport review site, SKYTRAX, and was also the launch customer and current biggest operator of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. On board service is very good indeed, and the airline has an especially good business class product, not least with dining on demand. My whim to have a lobsters curry from the menu a little before a morning landing was a tad eccentric, but it was as delicious and memorable an in-flight meal as I've ever had.

& Cons: It's not so easy to find cheap fare deals on ANA, as the carrier is gunning for the higher yielding business passenger, rather than holidaymakers.

The frequent flyer club: the ANA Mileage Club has more than 26 million members and thanks to ANA's membership of the Star Alliance, has a large number of airline and other travel partners on which to collect and spend points.

A few facts: ANA was founded in 1952 as a helicopter operator, and has grown into the largest airline in Japan, carrying 47 million passengers in 2017. A big boost came in 1986 when the government of Japan lifted the condition that state owned Japan Air Lines (JAL) be the only carrier allowed to operate international flights.

ANA now flies to 87 international routes and 116 domestic routes with a fleet of around 250 aircraft, with an average age of about 10 years. It also owns the regional airline ANA Wings, the low cost carrier Vanilla Air, and it's also a majority stakeholder in naffly named Peach and wait for it - Air Do.

For further information see ANA

All you need to know about connecting flights...
posted by Richard Green on 22/10/2019

Glancing hurriedly at the departure's board can eat up a few minutes at the world's biggest airport hubs

Making a transfer between two flights can be a great way of getting somewhere cheaply, but it can prove stressful too, and especially so if the first flight is delayed, or if the connection is tight.

Happily, every airport has an MCT (minimum connecting time), which is a semi-scientific calculation of the time needed to change planes there. It takes into account the amount or walking involved for passengers to get from one gate to another, and how quickly the airport is able to move hold luggage from one plane to another.

The MCT is different for each airport. Vienna airport’s MCT is just 30 minutes, but Heathrow - between terminals 1 and 4 say – is an hour and a half.  

The good news is that airlines, web booking sites, and travel agents, will only book connecting flights that are equal to or more than the MCT for the transit airport on your journey.  

However, things don't always go to plan, so here are some tips on how to make a smooth connection...

When booking: save stress and book flights that are a decent time apart - 90 minutes is a sensible blanket minimum. It makes sense to have some leeway, just in case, plus I (like many people) prefer to stretch my legs, browse of the shops, and as likely as not have a beer in the bar. 

If you are worried at the booking stage and find that your only available option is a fairlytight connection, then consider choosing an aisle seat towards the front of the aircraft - it could save you a good 10 minutes when you are trying to disembark from a packed flight.

When packing: it's vital to know what's happening with your hold luggage. If you are transiting an airport like Dubai or Singapore on the way to your final destination, then you won't need to collect your luggage as it will be checked all the way through. However the rule is that you need to clear customs at your first point of entry to a country, so if you are flying from London to Baton Rouge via Atlanta, then you will need to collect your luggage in Atlanta, check in and make your way to the next flight's gate.

Try to keep your hand luggage to a minimum as you will have to lug this between gates when you change planes.

Airport signage can resemble a challenge from the Crystal Maze. An airport map can save time

In flight: the departure gate of your connecting flight may be printed on your boarding pass, but if your flights are long haul it is unlikely the airline will know so many hours in advance.

some airlines have real time flight connections information on the in-flight entertainment menu, or sometimes this is shown on the overhead screens just before landing. You can save valuable time if you already know the gate number your next flight leaves from before you land. To stay ahead of the game you should download a flight status app onto your smart phone or tablet - handy for airlines with in-flight wi-fi.

Once you know the gate number of your next flight, you'll probably find a gate map of the airline's hub airport in the in-flight magazine. If not, look for one on the airport's website using wi-fi, or look at the airport map that you printed out before you left home.

Some terminals are vast and have bewilderingly complicated signage - especially confusing if you are in a hurry with little time to spare - as you can't always afford to make a mistake. If you don't know the gate, look at the first departure screen you see, or ask a member of airport staff so they can point you in the right direction.

If your first flight is delayed: any decent airline will help out – possibly by delaying the second flight, or by escorting you to the next plane. And if you miss the second flight altogether, and through no fault of your own, the airline will book you onto the next available option, at no extra cost.

Don't suffer in silence; the sooner you let the airline staff know, the better. Tell the cabin crew, as they can help with terminal directions, seat you towards the front on landing so you can get off quicker, or if you are very late, get someone to escort you to your next gate, or even drive you across the tarmac to your next flight.

Low cost airline connections: none of the above applies if your flights are on two different bookings, even if they are with the same airline. If so you are on your own I'm afraid.

The same goes for connecting on low cost airlines like Wizz, EasyJet, Ryanair and so on. The latter suggests allowing at least 150 minutes between connecting flights. If you have done this and your first Ryanair flight is delayed so badly as to make you miss the second planned Ryanair flight then the airline will help you by rebooking you onto the next available flight to your final destination. 

Air Baltic is a low cost carrier based in Riga, Latvia, which already operates a booking and baggage system that handles connecting flights, so that passengers flying from London to Tbilisi say, will have their bags checked through.

As airports grow ever larger, walking distances between gates balloon too

Cities with multiple airports: like Paris, New York, Tokyo or Buenos Aeries, can be especially tricky. It makes sense to keep life simply by only booking flights that connect through the one airport. London has six airports for example, and schlepping from one to another is a big hassles. You'll have to cart all of your luggage (including any checked into the hold) to the next airport, plus there's the extra expense of taxis or public transport in between.

At first glance you might think that using the Underground or Metro system is the best option, but you'll have your hold luggage with you, which is irksome at the best of times, but becomes unmanageable in a rush hour. Best if you can to book a direct bus link between the two airports.

Do you need a transit visa? Travel agents should tell you if you need a transit visa to make a connection in another country, but this won't be the case for online bookings. So it's best to investigate this via your own countries passport agency.

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