My Ideal……Airline

Another in a series, this is based on in particular long-haul flights but many of these services will be ideal on short-haul too.

Service

Service

From the minute I reach the website until I get out of the airport on the return journey, what I need is real customer service; where I can call on a normal number rather than having to have to listen to two minutes on a premium rate just to hear all the options. Or better still, an actual email address that reaches a person rather than an automated ‘we’ll get back to you when we can be bothered’ message. This is on top of the expected standards of politeness and courtesy of course.

Treats

One example is a delightful indulgence to eat while watching the movie, having eaten a decent meal earlier. I love the way Virgin always give old fashioned ice cream.

 Food

Lots of food – keep the options coming so I can choose when and what I want to eat.

On board drinks

Serve refreshments immediately we’re up in the air, or if there’s more than 20 minutes of waiting before we’re airborne.

Loyal points 

Or air miles, even if I book through a third party and for on-board purchases

Customer focused staff

Groomed, friendly and ready to help and greet customers like guests of the airline.

Discounts and additional services

For booking in advance, booking multiples flights and for airline loyalty

Ideally discounted or VIP treatment for insurance, hotels, theatre tickets etc

Seats

Choose our own seats for free and have somewhere under the seat to neatly place footwear. Have a warning light on the seat so person behind knows it’s about to move, like a reverse light. When it does go back, make it so the difference can be felt and it’s easier to fall asleep. To this end, we need a flap that comes out of the head-rest (rest?!) so the head can lean against it.

Refresh

A clean roomy bathroom with somewhere to place toiletries is a must and a mini hairdryer would be handy for 60 second touch ups.

A shower room (pay extra and possibly book in advance) including towels and toiletries will be a nice addition.

Socks, toothbrush/toothpaste and headphones are good as a basic requirement with each seat purchase as are decent blankets, pillows and reading material. A bottle of water will be very handy.

Entertainment

A variety of choice of music and films and an in-flight radio station

This is not a description of the perfect airline as then I’d want 30 minutes from check in to plane (need 20 minutes to mooch around shops), unlimited luggage that a porter will carry, no delays, drink & snack immediately upon boarding, fine food restaurant for main meal, a large armchair in a suite on my own with a cinema screen that I don’t need wear uncomfortable headphones for. Come to think of that some off that is available on business class – but a complete waste of money, I’d rather travel 3-4 times a year than pay that once a year.

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Adventures in Vancouver: Day seven, a day of inspiration

It’s my last day of waking up to this fantastic view, tomorrow I will be waking up to Heathrow airport and then to street level, there is no floor-to-ceiling window at home.

Good morning Vancouver

 

I never do get to have pancakes at the very local Joe’s Grill in Davie Village, upon which the Century Plaza is situated on the end of. Instead, I decide upon a last look at Gastown, the old part of the city on the edge of the water that Vancouver is built around, including the statue of ‘Gassy Jack’, John Leighton, around whose pub the area was built so the nearby mill workers could have a drink. They say Gastown is less touristy and much improved but I remember enjoying this neighbourhood much more last time.

Yesterday, I spent the best part of an hour trying to catch a photo of a bus when the sign flashes up ‘Go Canucks Go!’. The buses have had this all week so why I choose my last day to try and catch a photo I will never know. In any case, when I’m standing at the right spot for a bus to go past me that had the signage (it seemed like they all had it but it’s not the case) I realise I can’t take the shot as I can’t work the zoom on my phone, I gave up on the dodgy camera long ago. (Incidentally, I decided to buy a Canucks supporters item but too late again, I was already at the airport and all they had were shirts, no mugs or pens or anything I would actually use. I do buy the Oprah magazine though!).

I love how the whole town ha ‘Go Canucks Go!’ signs everywhere, from small shops with posters to big stores, train stations and mobile phone shops that have electronic messages posted as large as they can. There’s something to be said for just having one team per city rather than having derby matches.

Last pancakes

I’m not allowing myself in any more book stores but have a very long list of books to buy upon my return, particularly coffee table books like ’This is East Vancouver’ and fashion photography by YSL. The case ends up being.7lb over in weight anyway. I also want to buy every home decoration magazine but I figure I can import these later if the addiction holds.

I have noted that in Vancouver my train tickets have not been checked once; do they have electronic monitors that check you are carrying a ticket maybe?!

Today is about walking. After I realise there is indeed nothing doing at Gastown, I race to find the place I went to yesterday, knowing they serve breakfast until 11.30 and I’m so glad to make it. After checking in on-line for tonight’s flight and a little blogging, I tuck into my last pancakes then work my way back through Yaletown, saying goodbye to all the book shops, boutiques and vintage stores on my way back to Davie Village.

So, the neighbourhood where I’m staying at is the perfect one. It wasn’t last I was here but now Davie Village has come out, a fact that is immediate as I turn the corner onto Davie street which is covered in flags to represent Vancouver’s gay village. For the solo woman traveller, this is the best place to stay.

I’ve walked from Yaletown all along the beach so go a little further than I plan, almost into West End and so dive into the first coffee shop I see, (I think Meeches but no amount of searching has found it). Finally I hear John Cougar Mellencamp (Hurts So Good) – my trip is complete! I always say when I turn on the radio in North American I’m guaranteed to hear certain artists within the first hour, usually Bon Jovi, Journey or John Mellancamp. I’d heard the former so this felt very apt for the last day!

I drink my last London Fog and make my way slowly back to the hotel to get changed for travelling and then have a final drink. I reflect I’ve not been to the cinema once, a habit I normally have each night of North American travel. There wasn’t anything on and besides, I was busy!

Century Plaza is the most green hotel I have stayed in. I imagine Vancouver (probably Canada) is more green than most cities as the country customarily looks after it’s environment. Vancouver is also much more social media savvy than the UK; every shop, guide book and even the bus advertises their Twitter name.

Century Plaza give $5 back each day if you say ‘no’ to housekeeping. For them this actually means I don’t have a housekeeper come to the room at all so it means making my own bed and doing the washing up – like I do every other day of my life. I’ve asked for ‘no towels’ before but housekeeping normally still just give you them, despite my hanging them up to dry.

I accumulate $5 vouchers to spend in the hotel so it meant a large chai for me each evening, without leaving the hotel, and now whilst I wait for my bus to the airport.

What a fantastic week; this time the pre-trip excitement is validated and I cannot wait for Calgary next.

Vancouver Adventure, Day Six: Staying Local in Yaletown

I cannot remember the last time a trip came to an end all too soon. Normally after 5 days I am looking forward to going home, to my own bed, to all my clothes, to my fully stocked kitchen, but despite having some exciting projects to work on my return, not to mention completing my first book, I wish for the week to be a little longer. For one, I feel so at home; Century Plaza is the most comfortable hotel I have ever stayed at, it has a large restful bedroom, a fully working spacious bathroom and a home from home kitchen; I have need for nothing else.

When I say I’m going away for a week, people always say, ‘only a week?’, like I am being hard-done by. To me, that’s my maximum, four or five days is adequate but given the distance, a week is perfect. After all, I went to San Francisco for five days! Longer than a week and I will forget my log-in, never mind my name or my alarm code to get back in my home. I prefer to have more adventures then just one big one every year or two.

 

Vancouver Library

 

And of course, keeping it short means I pack in every minute, there are no lie-ins for me. How can you wake up with a view of the Rockies and want to stay inside? Although the aforementioned comfortable suite meant it was hard to leave the hotel but lovely to come back to.

It’s customary for me to find my favourite neighbourhood on the last day, as happened in San Francisco when I discover the adorable Haight neighbourhood next to my own. This is where I first found Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic Store that I have hunted down wherever I have been since.

So on my last full day of the Vancouver Adventure, there is no sky train, no boat or ferry as I stay local in Yaletown. It’s not as preppy as it sounds and having walked through it on a rainy Easter Sunday evening, I already had my bearings.

After devouring two eggs (over easy) and three pancakes (plain with maple syrup) – a first for me, whilst poring over a new addiction, ‘Traditional Home’ magazine, I hit the home wares shops.

Rachel Ashwell has spawned a plethora of shabby chic shops around the world and Yaletown has it’s fair share, headed up by the shabby chic Mecca that is, The Cross. As tempting as it was, it’s horrendously over priced and I spent my whole time there making notes on what I’m at my Birmingham Vintage Fair stall, at a fifth of the cost. I loved every second though.

The Cross in Yaletown

It was a very stimulating visit and I come away with an armful of ideas for my vintage event. In fact the day turned out to be dry and sunny rather than the forecast showers and I’m full of inspiration to bring back home.

Talking of inspiration, I whiled away a happy lunch period in book shops, where I bought two too many books and then on to the much flaunted Vancouver Library. A piece of heaven which made me look forward to the unveiling of the soon to be opened Birmingham Library. Vancouver is great but I think this will be better.

Of the areas I marked out to visit from one of the excellent books and magazines in my room, Kitsilano (Kits) was top of the list but it would have meant finding out about buses. I didn’t get to Richmond either although drove through it no less than four times. I have to leave something new to explore on my next visit!

 

The library with shopping baskets

Later, I stay even more local by going to the West End, where the English Bay is and do some blogging in a cafe whilst watching the end of the Montreal game. They lost.

There was the matter of getting home in time for the Canucks match at 6pm. I thought it may start at 7pm but no, the TV programme came on at 6, the match started at 6.10. How refreshing.

Vancouver Adventure, Day Four: Victoria trip

 Victoria not at all like England; no-ones drunk, they don’t complain about the weather & the workmen politely say hello.

Horse & Carriage outside Victoria government offices

 Today is what this trip was planned around, getting onto Vancouver Islands. It took five hours door to door to get here, as the hotel kindly arranged it but I will regret it if I don’t see Victoria, ‘more English than England’. Well it’s not, obviously, you’ll only think that perhaps if you’re American but it does have the English charm. There are none of the skyscrapers – well tall buildings anyway- that have sprung up on every road in downtown Vancouver since I’ve been gone but a calm, pacific coastline city, the size of an English town. I picked today as it promised sun and I did good. I had a glorious day walking up and down the streets before settling for a late lunch in the very first place I spotted, even whilst on the coach arriving, Dolce Vita. A lovely Moroccan soup and a London Fog.

What’s London Fog? A bit like chai but not.

On the way back to the bus I notice a sign offering 2 things: sightseeing tour around Victoria or a trip to IKEA. I feel that sums up Victoria perfectly.

My believe is that Victoria is filled with more mature people, confounded by the fact that my pink argyle socks worn under cropped jeans caused quite and unexpected stir. I was dressed for comfort and indeed we had 2 drops of rain and 10 seconds of nippiness, the rest of the day is perfect.

 

On route to Victoria

 

The day is topped by being on the boat back in time for the big game, Vancouver vs. Boston in a must win game to get to the next round of the Stanley Cup. I go without the burger and fries I’d promised myself as the pre-game line was too long.

I start seeing the game in Victoria and see the last touch back at the hotel in Vancouver some 3.5 hours later. The game is not that long; it’s just all the advert breaks that they stop for.

Canucks win – Vancouver has a street party into the early hours, I fall asleep to the noise of car horns. Blissfully happy.

Vancouver Adventure: Day 2, Easter

Vancouver Day Two: Easter Sunday

Easter Cookie

Well commerce may be closed but the shops are open. It remains dry and sunny whilst I walk all the way to through the West End, through Davie Village to the English Bay to walk on some sand, buy my first cupcake (Vanilla of course) even though the shop is barely open at 10am and I’m ready  for my first pancakes, at Joe’s Grill. A walk back to the hotel meant accidently coming across a gorgeous Safeway store and a very successful food shop including the maple syrup to bring back, although I realise now why it’s so much cheaper here than in UK, it’s not maple syrup, it’s pretend but it’s done the job for the last year so I pick up two.

It’s right after finding these that Jackson Brown’s ’Running on Empty’ and I almost burst with excitement. Can’t imagine this scenario in Tesco at Five Ways.

On the way back I also discover an IGA, the supermarket I frequented a lot in Montreal that I can’t help calling AIG, so get even more supplies, all the things I used to eat in New York and just as huge quantities; box of savoury scones and a box of cookies – the Easter variety and a lasagne, exactly what I fancied.

Later I cover one more neighbourhood that I can walk to, despite the rain that has now returned, Yaletown. The area is full of boutiques and arts stores, mostly closed this late on a Sunday but it gave me a flavour of the area. Then onto the first of my ‘sitting in coffee shops, looking out the window and reading out of date Sunday Times magazines (January). First up, a chai in Benz ‘Canada’s coffee shops’.

Things I love about Canadian (and North American) coffee shops;

  • ·         They call them coffee houses, much more apt as I live in them
  • ·         They open late, some till 1-2am and some 24 hours.
  • ·         They have chai tea or chai latte on the menu. In Canada they have something similar too, the fantastically  named ‘London Fog’.

Still not been to a Tim Horton’s coffee shop yet, I think of them as being ‘Canada’s coffee place’ but they are not as prevalent here as they are in Montreal.

English Bay

Vancouver Adventrue: Day 1, Arriving on a sunny day

 

View from balcony at Century Plaza

For once, there wasn’t a film I wanted to see. There’s usually one that I missed at the cinema or one I’d see again but this time I had to look through the one’s I’d never heard of:

Croupier (not bad Clive Owen flick 7/10), Somewhere (not as bad as worst film ever, Lost in Translation but still dull. I liked the premise, hot shot Hollywood actor gets to know his young daughter again but still dull 3/10) and Me You and Everyone We Know (pretty good find 7½ /10).

It’s a long flight so in between the three films I tried to get 40 winks and adjust to Vancouver time. Upon landing, I was through customs and luggage collection within 30 minutes but still missed my shuttle by a few minutes. It didn’t help that I wasn’t sure where to pick it p from and wasted 5 minutes walking right past the spot right outside the airport door.

This didn’t matter to the man looking after the limo shuttle service, who radioed in to find out about it and they asked the driver to turn around and come and collect me. In the few minutes this took, I’d had a lovely chat with a waiting limo driver and couldn’t help but quantify my belief in how friendly Canadians are.

It turns out I was the only passenger on the shuttle, strange on a holiday Saturday but it meant a short ride to the hotel. Worth every cent of $25 return trip.

Floor to ceiling views

All is going wonderfully on an unexpected sunny day, I packed for early spring weather so I plan to change into the one summer outfit I bought the minute I’ve checked in. However, there’s a surprise waiting for me in the hotel I’d previously stayed on my first visit in 1998, I’ve been upgraded! That’s the first time that’s happened in all these years of hotel stays. It’s already a suite with floor to ceiling views of the Rockies so how can they improve it? By giving me a huge lounge in a corner suite, with French doors going to the bedroom and three windows pointing in different directions. I can see all the way downtown and to the West End. Absolutely perfect.

 

This prompts many tweets whilst I frantically unpack, meaning get everything out of the case and spread out on the bed to prevent further creasing, and then get changed. I want to make the most of the only sunny day planned for the week and the concierge suggests Granville Island, accessible as the name suggests by a water bus.

Salmon Burger

Within two hours of the plane landing, I am on Granville Island, tiny with fantastic views of the city and all around. It has a beautiful harbour where they appear to have built something in between a boat and a house – not a boat house but a floating house. I decide on a salmon burger and fries in one of the pubs that looks out to the harbour which means it cost twice as much but worth it; I even celebrated my arrival with a bottle of Molson, a rare drop of alcohol for me. I ask for the lime pickle mayonnaise on the side; I don’t like pickle and I don’t like mayonnaise but somehow, lime pickle mayonnaise with salmon is fantastic.

After a good wonder around the arts shops and galleries and picking up some irresistible  photography the minute I walked into the fabulous Public Market (the photographer was once married to a Brummie (“I imported him in then I imported him out”) and then bought some celebratory crazy looking tulips, another celebratory purchase.

Davie Village

I come back into the city, relax a bit in the hotel before heading down Davie Village, the gay neighbourhood starting right by the hotel, which I suspect wasn’t in existence 13 years ago as I would have noticed. There’s something comforting about being in a gay neighbourhood when I travel alone. The plan was to grab a coffee and start the first in a long series of ‘watching the world go by’ but I start feeling very tired and realise it’s best to keep walking. I do this, whilst picking up supplies at the nearest supermarket. I managed to stay awake until 9.30, which is great considering the 5am start and the eight hour difference.

Song of the day: Gordon Lightfoot – If You Could Read My Mind

First cupcake of the week

If M&S made hotels…….My perfect hotel

I’m not a fan of Carling so in my world, Marks & Spencer is the benchmark of perfection

Second in an occasional series 

This is not my idea of a luxury hotel, that will be much longer list but just a perfect hotel for every day needs. 

Bath not just a shower.

I always say, if something is going to be a real pleasure it has to be worth at least sitting down for. A shower is such a rude awakening and I will rarely partake in this punishment at home so why should I in a hotel I pay for the privilege to be in?

Wireless It’s the 21st century and this costs pennies to run and is the most convenient modern invention. 

I make my decision on staying in a hotel on the above two; after that this is what then makes a hotel perfect: 

Selection of radio stations, ideally to include Radio 2 in the UK

 

A selection of TV stations ideally to include at least one (English speaking) entertainment channel and one music channel. 

A coffee machine and/or hot water (not necessarily in the room)

 

An ice machine (ditto) 

A close-by late opening coffee shop and ideally a grocery store

A large comfortable, fairly soft bed

4 pillows and a duvet, plus extra blankets 

Room service. I may never use it but it’s good to know it’s there.

 

Convenient check in by 12, Check out after 12 with safe luggage storage facilities (not a room where we can just go can get our own cases. Yes really, I had that in a Notting Hill Hotel) 

Last but really most importantly, excellent old fashioned customer service that panders to our needs;

           ♦ If we are ill, leave a get-well kit in the room, check in on us or leave a get-well note

           ♦ If  we are tourists, offer maps, directions, advice and ask how our day has been

           ♦ If we’re on business ask if we’re having a good day, if we need a newspaper or tell us about what news we’ve missed              

Best of the best

Loveliest hotel for decor: Radisson Edwardian Grafton, Tottenham Court Road, London. I like traditional luxury.

Fabulous hotel for facilities: Swallow Hotels (extinct). First time I’d seen phones in the bathroom. Totally unnecessary but they really are thinking of everything.

Luxurious hotel: Le Pavilion, New Orleans (thankfully still intact) Just perfect in every way.

Best hotel for view: A hotel in Vancouver I stayed in for just one night with a floor to ceiling view of the Rockies. I’m back there soon so must find this place again.

Nicest service in recent years: Siena Hotel, Verona, Italy

Update

I’ve since stayed in Century Plaza and this hotel has eclipsed all. With one additional service, recycling.

See blog post