tom911 goes to London, Helsinki, Dublin (AA,BA,EY)

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  1. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Left SFO at 11am Monday morning with an AA 737-800 flight to Chicago. Came down from Benicia via 0640 bus and BART from Pleasant Hill. Meal choices were lemon chicken or a beef salad. I've had the beef salad before, so opted for the lemon chicken which was very good.

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    Had a 4 hour layover at Chicago O'Hare by choice so I didn't have an early morning arrival in London. Spent most of that time in the Flagship Lounge (international first class lounge) where I had some shrimp and vegetable samosas, along with a Sam Adams and a Diet Coke.

    Our 2130 London departure went out 30 minutes late as we waited for connecting passengers. Business class, which has 35 seats on an AA 777, was only about half full. I had an empty seat next to me. Only watched one movie over dinner (Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise). Lincoln and Argo, which I saw back in February, were also still available.

    My dinner choice was Lemon Grass Chicken served with achiote citrus sauce, potato-rutabaga puree and a coconot curry chayote squash, and it was delicious. Other items available were grilled fillet of beef, rosemary garlic shrimp or germelli pasta.

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    Prior to arrival they served a cheese omelette with potatoes, sausage and cut fruit. I slept about 5 hours of the 7.5 hour flight.

    Scheduled 1130 arrival in London was pushed back to noon by air traffic control as we circled waiting our turn to land. Made it quickly through passport control, as I only had carry-on, and was on the platform for the Tube into London at noon. Normally it's about a 60 min trip to the station near my hotel, but due to someone under a train and signal malfunctions it took 75 mins.

    Headed out to a rainy London in early evening, starting at Green Park, walking over to Leicester Square, and then finally up Regent Street to Oxford Circus (with a stop at Hamley's toy store, of course). Made a stop for a sandwich at a Pret A Manger shop which was enough after all the airline food and at the Cotswolds outdoor store to look for a new daypack.

    I'm in London through Friday morning. Should add that this ticket cost just over $800 which isn't bad for travel at this time of year. I applied a $500 bump voucher from the Olympics last summer to bring the price down some.

    Rest of the AA photos are here: http://tom911.smugmug.com/American-...rrier/21772732_vzL6js#!i=2449248358&k=kGD7tH5
     
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  2. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    It's Thursday morning in London and it's raining outside. Might be a good day for a museum once I head out.Will see how the day develops.

    Wednesday morning I took the train over to Euston Station as I wanted to get a look at the restored Renaissance Hotel nearby at St Pancras Station. Along the short walk I passed by a London Fire Brigade station (these are really rare to run across—they are well hidden) and the British Library which is across from a YHA I used to stay at.

    Renaissance Hotel:

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    Made a brief stop at Kings Cross Station, which I last visited before the Olympics for an Edinburgh train. Harry Potter fans will recognize track 9 ¾:

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    I continued on the Tube up to Stratford to take a look at the Olympic grounds. As I exited from right next to the Westfield Mall, I noticed fencing up along the exterior of the grounds, so it was not possible to just walk in. There is an organized tour that starts out from the Pudding Mill Docklands Railway Station, but that was a little more than what I wanted and not sure if it required prebooking. Just wanted to see what the pool looked like 8 months later. I walked around the exterior and across a bridge over some train tracks to get my photos. Nice to see the grandstands coming down as the view from those was not very good and you could not see the stands on the other side of the pool due to the sloped ceiling design.

    I took this photo with my Samsung tablet while holding it over a fence (could view the screen while taking the photo--couldn't do that with my camera that was used for all the other photos):

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    Had lunch at a pizza place in the mall and spent some time touring the mall, something which I didn't do last year. Clearly a school holiday here as the place was packed. The mall does offer free wi-fi and I posted a photo of the pool on Twitter while I was there.

    Headed back out Wednesday night wearing just a polar fleece as it wasn't that cold. Hadn't counted on rain, though, so ended up inside at Charing Cross Station at a Cornish pasty stall where I had a lamb and mince pasty (they look like apple turnovers and are brought up from Cornwall). It was just under 4 pounds ($6). Headed back to the hotel after this.

    Two other photos from this trip:

    Piccadilly Circus

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    Oxford Circus

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    London photos start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/London/2013-London/28845745_7wxDwM#!i=2450053857&k=6vhZbdf
     
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  3. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Hello this Friday evening from Helsinki, Finland, a brand new country for me. Just after 11pm here. I booked this one-way ticket from London Heathrow on the British Airways website for $138 including taxes. That was a pretty good value compared to AA award travel in business for 20,000 miles and $90 in taxes/fuel surcharges. They did not have any coach awards which would have cost less. I will build up some AA partner miles on the paid ticket.

    A chicken wrap was served in coach on BA. Scheduled 1210 departure had us sitting on the tarmac for a while and we were not airborne until about 1250. I had looked at the schedule while at the gate and most flights were taking 20-40 minute delays so not unexpected. I cross two time zones to Helsinki and arrived at 1705, so about a 2 hr 15 min flight. On both sides we had buses take us to/from our aircraft.

    Left my hotel just after 8 and boarded a Jubilee Line Tube train to Green Park. Transferred to the platform for the Piccadilly line to Heathrow, but that wasn't going to work out well from overhead announcements advising of a “severe delay” due to signal issues and to “seek out alternate means of transport”. Figured I'd wait on the platform a while and see what developed, along with hundreds of my closest friends, and about 20 minutes after I arrived the first train came along. I knew better than to even try to get on that with luggage, so waited for the next train right behind it and had plenty of room to set my bag down in a marked area near the doors. My backup plan, if the delay had continued for another 10-15 minutes, would have been to work my way over to Paddington station on other Tube lines and get the Heathrow Connect which is a much faster service (10 pounds/$15, plus the Tube fare to get there). The Tube trip out in the morning to Heathrow, because of peak fares, is 5 pounds/$7.50 (coming in off-peak I paid 3 pounds, $4.50, on my Oyster card).

    Arrived at Terminal 3 just before 1000, checked in at a kiosk, left my bag at the dropped bag counter, and worked my way through security to the British Airways sparsely occupied first class lounge. Enjoyed some yogurt, cheese and sparking water as I checked e-mail.

    THURSDAY

    Was raining in the morning when I went down for breakfast, so was thinking it would be a museum day, but by the time I went out the door after 10 it was only cloudy and stayed that way the rest of the day.

    Took the Tube over to London Bridge station and walked over to the Borough Market. Some of you may recall that the U.S. Olympic families were hosted by Proctor and Gamble at a vast visitors center here last year consisting of several adjoining buildings they had taken over. One of those buildings is now a pub/restaurant and another is a large wine shop. I talked to someone in the wine shop and he told me they vacated the premises for a few weeks and moved to a smaller location. I took a few photos and you'll see those in the London gallery.

    Walked over to the Borough Market and saw everything from rabbits to cheese on sale. I had an almond croissant as I browsed about. I also briefly stopped at Southwark Cathedral (photo permit 3 pounds/$4.50). I did not take any photos, though I have in the past and left a donation.

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    Rabbit, anyone?

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    Walked across the Thames to St. Paul and found a free wi-fi signal there on “The Cloud” network, something I remember signing up for a few years ago. Sent out a Twitter post with a photo of St. Pauls while I was standing right in front of it. I did not tour because it's 16 pounds/$24 for entry. This is the church where Margaret Thatcher's funeral service will be on Wednesday.

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    Continued walking down The Strand, which will be part of the funeral route from Westminster. Popped into an office supply store to look at memory cards as I was getting error messages on my camera that my memory card was defective. Decided to clean it when I got back to my hotel and that didn't clear the problem, so on arrival in Helsinki I swapped memory cards with my backup camera.Think I only lost one photo.

    Wanted to pop into a coffee shop or sandwich shop but they were all packed and I wanted to sit down. Ended up buying a tuna and sweetcorn sandwich at a Tesco and walked over to Trafalgar Square for lunch. Was enjoying my sandwich until a woman sat next to me and lit up a cigarette. That was enough for me to relocate to the other side of the square.

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    Back out Thursday night via Tube to Bond Street, and from there I wandered around the shopping district and SoHo. I did get a photo of some display dogs in a shop window that I thought were cute. Saw every thing from Sotheby's to Victoria Secrets---lots of name-brand shops and businesses you would recognize. Broke my rule of not eating at McDonald's and did pop into one near Tottenham Court Road Tube station around 8. Convenient enough and they had seats. Can only walk so long without sitting down to rest my feet.

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    Walked down Charing Cross Road and went into my favorite London bookstore, Foyles, and gravitated right to the travel section. Checked out books on Helsinki, but, just like the ones I had researched before leaving home, you either had to buy a book that covered all of Scandinavia, or get one that covered all of Finland with a handful of pages on Helsinki. Figured I had enough stored on the tablet to get by (Trip Advisor has a Helsinki app). I'll also touch bases with the tourist office as I understand they have an excellent handout on sights along the 3T tram route—supposedly the best tram for touring Helsinki.

    Continued all the way down to Charing Cross station and back to the hotel to call it a night. Arrived back just before 10pm.

    My London hotel was the Holiday Inn Express Swiss Cottage (self-serve breakfast included in my rate, about $130 a night, a good rate for London), . It's a convenient location just a block from Finchley Road Tube and is across from the O2 Shopping Centre which has a huge Weatherspoons Pub on the top floor facing the hotel.

    Hotel and neighborhood photos here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Hotels/Pr...Swiss/28845704_rQzgV6#!i=2450048615&k=x3CsHvC

    New London photos start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/London/2013-London/28845745_7wxDwM#!i=2453750694&k=8V2fr4X
     
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  4. tom911
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    Let me throw in an extra photo for Rolling Stones fans:

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  5. tom911
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    Hello this Monday afternoon from the Helsinki Airport where I'm in the Finnair Lounge waiting for my 2pm Finnair flight to London with a BA connection onto Dublin. Having some vegetable soup and sparking wine from Spain.

    Came out here via Finnair airport bus (6.30 euros, $8.50), about a 25 minute trip. I tried to flag the driver down at the marked stop near my hotel, but that didn't work and I walked into the city and caught the next bus in 13 minutes at the train station. I'm on an AA business class award which costs 20,000 miles and $90 tax/fuel surcharge. A similar paid routing on the same convenient flights was 250 euros/$330 if I purchased it, so a decent savings to use miles. I leave here at 1400 on Finnair and arrive in London around 1500 (2 hour time difference). Connect to Dublin on BA and arrive there around 1830.

    High temperatures this weekend have ranged from 3-5C/38-41F. Overcast all of Friday and Saturday into the afternoon, then rain Saturday night. Saw some sun by Sunday afternoon and as I leave this Monday the sun is being covered up by more clouds moving in.

    FRIDAY

    Landed at 1705 and my bag was already circling on arrival in baggage claim about 10 minutes later. Big challenge here was finding an ATM as I only had a few euros with me from a prior trip. I could not find one in our arrivals terminal at T2 so walked down to an adjoining terminal T1 and found one hidden in a corner with the “Otto” logo which you see on ATMs here.

    Caught the 1750 bus to the Opera stop and then a 5 min walk to my hotel, the Crowne Plaza Helsinki.
    Photos here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Hotels/Pr...sinki/28923126_stmMX8#!i=2457995002&k=9pTV9zv


    On check-in I was upgraded to a 9th floor Club room (top floor). This has significant value as it includes a continental breakfast in their lounge (cereal, rolls, yogurt, juice, sliced meats and cheese). My nightly rate here was $116. I could have paid a few dollars less and stayed at a Holiday Inn Express next to the main train station in the city center, but I'm only a 15 min walk from there. Happy with my choice. I also had lounge access throughout the day for soft drinks and they offered beer/wine from 6-8pm along with some snacks (chips, cheese). I did have some bread and cheese after arrival with a Coke Zero.

    Walked into town and toured the train station and shopping district. Stockmann's department store was open late (8pm?) so I stopped and picked up a tuna sandwich in their to-go section (3 euros/$4). Everything was in Finnish so it was a challenge deciding what different sandwiches/salads were. Walked back to the hotel.

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    Restaurants are expensive here. Some have names like Santa Fe or Memphis. Main courses tend to run 18-20 euros ($24-26) or a set menu for 40-50 euros ($52-65). The guide books certainly warn you of the costs here so I was not surprised, but I can easily survive in backpacker mode. The pub just down from my hotel had a drink price list in the window and the cheapest beers were 7 euros/$9. Alcohol is heavily taxed here.

    When you look around town you do see a handful of vehicle licenses from Estonia and Russia. Easy enough to get here via car ferry.

    SATURDAY

    After hotel breakfast out for a day of touring. I walked into the city and purchased a two day tram pass at the stop in front of the train station for 12 euros/$16. Boarded the 3T tram that eventually turns into the 3B tram that follows a figure 8 pattern around the city. We passed the Olympic Stadium from 1952, an amusement park, and I got off at Hakaniemi which has an outdoor market that's not very active this time of year, as well as a busier indoor market with meat and cheese vendors, as well as flowers and crafts. Took a number of photos inside.

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    From there, off to to the south harbor which has ferry service to Stockholm. You'll notice sheets of ice on top of the water in these photos. There is smaller, local ferry service to nearby islands from here, also. Pretty foggy down here.

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    Walked back into the city through a park area known as the Esplanade, leading into the shopping district.

    Back out for dinner with intent of going to Vapianos, the pasta chain I've been to before in Munich and Frankfurt, but there were 30 people in line after 7pm. Found Finnish and Russian menues, but didn't find one in English. Didn't matter, though, as I was not waiting in line with 30 people. Found a Pizza Hut that offered two slices of pizza and a soft drink for 7.70 euros/$10 with indoor seating in a hallway (this was different than their restaurant next door which was full. That worked for me. Trammed back to the hotel after.

    SUNDAY

    Trammed over to the west harbor which has ferry service to Tallinn, Estonia, as well as St. Petersburg. Was there too early to visit an electronics superstore in the port area so came back about two hours later for a visit there. When I returned a very colorful ferry was departing for Tallinn—wasn't there earlier in the day, so must just come in and turned right back around. Tram back into the city and spent a bit of time exploring.

    In the interim, I visited the Lutheran Cathedral which is pretty austere inside compared to the grand cathedral of Europe, but gather from guide books that's how that particular religion prefers the interior of their churches. Also passed by the government palace, national archives, and a short visit back to south harbor where the views were much better as it was not foggy like Saturday.

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    Back to the hotel in late afternoon and visited the sauna which is part of a health club in the basement. Access to an upscale gym, pool and sauna are included in my rate here. These Finns must have a contest going as to who can ladle the most water on the rocks to generate the most steam and hottest sauna. It was hot in there. Had to exit twice for a cold shower to cool down before going back in and enjoying the sauna while sitting naked on my towel (well, when in Finland....).

    Headed back out with the intent to go to Vapianos, a chain I've visited in Munich and Frankfurt, where pasta courses were somewhat more affordable than other restaurants at 11 euros/$14, but when I arrived in the city center just wasn't that hungry and opted instead for a kebab stop at Chilis for 9.20 euros/$12. That came with fries and a soft drink. Amazing that Vapianos was empty Sunday night yet it was packed on Saturday night. Pretty quiet in the city center on Sunday night. Back at the hotel around 10.

    One thing I've noticed here is a lack of graffiti. It looks like it would be a great summer destination, in conjunction with a ferry trip add-on, though I don't know how hotels price in the summer. Still plenty to do that I didn't get to in a weekend visit, so you'll probably see me back here again. Lots of parks, cafes, coffee houses to enjoy, too.

    Heading to the gate in 10 mins to board my London flight. Glad I'm not on the JFK flight as they've just announced a delay for it.

    Helsinki photos start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Eu...nland/28923281_QsN7wZ#!i=2458006587&k=2k75xLr
     
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  6. tom911
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    Hello this Thursday morning from the Aer Lingus lounge at the Dublin Airport. Today is not starting off right as my 1000 AA flight to Chicago has been delayed until 1230, and U.S. Customs wants us in the preclearance area no later than 0930 (I was originally told 0815, but here in the lounge they made a call to AA and were told 0930 would work). That's still 3 hours from departure time. Should have us arriving in the U.S. around 1430.

    It gets worse. Instead of my 1430 connection to SFO at Chicago, the first open flight is at 2000, getting me into SFO after 2200. I'm going to have to get a hotel as that's too late to get home via BART/bus as the last Benicia bus leaves Walnut Creek at 2000 meaning I'd need to be on BART at SFO by 1830 at the latest. I'll make it work probably with an award stay.

    When we landed on Monday night the pilot said the weather was “fresh”. That's another way of saying “hold onto your hats as it's pretty windy outside”. It has been very windy during my visit, to the point that I saw a cardboard box blow by me and a man's Irish cap fly right off his head so that he had to go chase after it.

    Tuesday we had bright sunshine, but by Wednesday there were dark clouds all day with periods of rain, some quite heavy.

    I mostly stayed in the city center touring Temple Bar (where most of the pubs with music are), Grafton Street pedestrian mall where there's a lot of shops (though a half dozen were vacant—the economy here has not recovered yet), and O'Connell Street and the sidestreets around there that are packed with shops. I walked around St Stephens Green when it was sunny on Tuesday—yesterday I looked at it in the rain from my lunch stop in the Grafton Mall.

    GPO (General Post Office) on O'Connell Street--played a major part in the 1916 uprising
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    One of the more colorful pubs in Temple Bar that plays traditional Irish music (didn't visit this trip)

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    Guinness poster in Temple Bar:

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    Light rail crossing O'Connell Street:

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    Molly Malone statue near Trinity College:

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    Tuesday night I went to the Porterhouse Brewing Company in Temple Bar which had a decent band playing Steve Miller music and served a very good Porterhouse Red Ale. Last night was movie night and I went and saw Olympus Has Fallen (11.6 euros/$15).

    Did mostly sandwich or burger stops with the exception of having salmon cakes on Tuesday night at La Piazza on O'Connell Street (8.5 euros/$11).

    Very leisurely stay. I'm going to add some photos and then try to call AA to sort out better flights.

    Dublin photos start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Ireland/2013-Dublin/28967675_KML8vp#!i=2462926443&k=88B23fr
     
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  7. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Made it to Hyatt SFO after landing at 2000---glad I booked an award night while in Ireland as they are sold out tonight. Have been upgraded to a second floor suite. Don't think I've ever had a suite here before as I tend to not ask for them unless I'm traveling with friends. About 22 hours travel time from the time I caught the route
    747 airport bus on O'Connell Street in Dublin at 7 this morning.

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    My Chicago flight departed Dublin at 1300 (3 hour delay) and landed about 1540. Flagship Lounge at ORD was able to move me to the delayed 1625 ORD-SFO which was scheduled for 1700 and went out around 1740. I've never seen ORD (Chicago Airport) as jam-packed as it was today due to storms. I cleared the upgrade list at the gate (was #1 as I left the Flagship Lounge with open seats). Did have a confirmed seat in row 7 if that didn't clear. This was the fourth and final ORD-SFO flight I was booked on today--had been on others at 1430, 1800 and 2000. Can't recall ever having that many flight changes in a single day.

    My bag is still in transit and due in around 2300 on my original 2000 ORD-SFO flight. Flagship Lounge told me AA would get it out on first available flight but seems it stayed on last available flight of the day instead. Not an issue as I can claim the bag at SFO in the morning on the way home via BART/bus. Filed a lost bag report just before leaving the airport and asked them to hold it.

    Did have a nice meal on the flight from Dublin (chateaubriand) with pizza before arrival in Chicago:

    [​IMG]

    Think I did about as best I could with the delays today and expect to sleep well tonight. I did get 4 hours of sleep in on the 8 hour flight from Dublin, too.
     
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