Archive for April, 2009

Ryanair

Posted in Getting around on April 23, 2009 by fonglh

Ryanair is the budget airline we’ve been using for most of our flights. Flights can really be ridiculously cheap. For example, I just spent 20 cents on an air ticket from Stockholm to Glasgow. Flying from Glasgow to London cost another 1 pound. I can even forgo my already booked Stockholm to London ticket. It’s a bit of a waste but then it’s only 10 sgd.

The great part is that there’s no need for any promotional codes or membership stuff to be able to enjoy such low fares. It simply requires you to visit the website now and then to find out about their latest offers. As long as you pick the right dates, usually weekdays or obscure timings, there will probably be tax free super cheap flights.

As the date of the flight approaches, the price generally increases. The tax free offers evaporate, and soon they cost over 100 sgd. However, this is not a certainty. Unpredictable offers sometimes materialise, leading you to wish you had waited a week or two before booking a flight. The percentage discounts increase, the taxes vanish and once again it costs less to fly across Europe than to eat a meal at the local MacDonalds.

These price vagaries have led to a love hate relationship with the airline. More love than hate I say. It’s kind of like playing a stock market.

Comfort and service are acceptable. They pride themselves on being on time, and 90% of their flights do arrive on time or even ahead of schedule. When that happens, a very cheesy tune is played, followed by an announcement that you are on yet another on time flight. Aerobridges aren’t used, so you’ll have to use the stairs. The airports are also smaller and more obscure, thus the airport transfers usually cost a few times more than the flight itself.

The seats don’t recline, but then the flights aren’t too long and hey, lunch cost more, so what’s there to complain about? van finds it disturbing that the amount she spends on food in sg can get her across Europe. Very true. To save cleaning costs and reduce turnaround time, there are no seat pockets either, and the safety information is printed on the headrest of the seat in front of you. Personally I think it’s a much better place to put it as it’s much more visible.

There are advertisements on the doors of the luggage racks and they constantly advertise various sales and promotions during the flight. It can get a bit irritating, but the most useful one is the sale of airport coach tickets on board. They’ll usually accept the currencies of the origin and destination cities but they don’t carry any change.

To reduce their costs, they don’t assign seats, so all flights are free seating. You can also do online check in for free and print your own boarding pass. If you need any extra services like check in bags or airport check in, then each component costs more. There is also a card fee if you don’t use Visa Electron to pay. Other than the card fee, all the other stuff is optional and the price you see once you search for flights is really the price you pay if you choose to fly with no extras. This is much better than many other airlines, who exclude taxes from the first page and only show you when you move on to the next step.

I’ve never checked out the budget airlines in Singapore, but while looking for holiday possibilities, it seems like budget airlines flying out of Singapore simply cannot match the prices of Ryanair. There are always taxes and prices always seem to cost above 100 sgd for return flights. Nowhere close to the 40 cents return flight between Stockholm and Hamburg. Some of them even pull off the sneaky tactic of not displaying taxes at first, so it looks like they’re cheap when they’re not.

Ryanair has really revolutionised the industry in Europe. It has also made it much more affordable to get around Europe, a wonderful thing for us exchange students. 😀

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Helsinki

Posted in Sightseeing on April 15, 2009 by fonglh

Opps it seems like I have forgotten to mention anything about our cruise to Helsinki. I went with NOC batch 8 and SY, right after our 1st period exams. Thanks to a membership card, it was still quite cheap though we left on a Friday.

7 hours isn’t enough for Helsinki. As it was, we nearly missed the boat and had to run for the last part. We seem to be doing that quite a lot.

At Helsinki, we visited a few churches, both Russian Orthodox and Lutheran, as well as the Rock Church. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside the Rock Church as it was outside opening hours.

Lunch was at a Chinese restaurant for 10 euros. Finally some Chinese food which tastes acceptable, and at a quite OK price too, considering it’s Europe.

In the afternoon, we headed over to Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a fortress island and the walls are still standing. With lots of snow still lying around, it was only natural for a snowball fight to develop. An attempt by a couple of the guys to use the fortress for a flanking maneuver ended in dismal failure when they were caught in a cul de sac and found themselves pelted with snowballs.

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The view from the island was stunning. Large open seas and the winter sun in a blue sky with wispy cirrus clouds. More pictures will come later when there’s time to post them.

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Thanks Antonia for spending the whole day showing us around.

20090314helsinki_0204There she is on the left pointing something out to her tour group.

The cruise itself was quite boring. There’s supposed to be lots of stuff to do, but it basically meant that there were lots of people roaming half drunk around the upper decks. We watched movies in our cabins instead. During the 1st night, as we could hear a grinding noise above our heads as the ship sailed to Helsinki. It turned out to be ice grinding on the hull. Going up in the morning, we could see the ship sailing through a sea of ice. Very beautiful, but just a little discomforting.

The wind up on the highest deck was very strong. We could lean back a little and let the wind support us. Attempts to do vertical star jumps resulted in us being blown back by the wind.

On the return trip, we caught the sunset as the ship sailed out of Helsinki. Simply beautiful. Ok just 1 picture.

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Copenhagen

Posted in Sightseeing on April 15, 2009 by fonglh

Another weekend spent on holiday, this time I went to Copenhagen with my family.

Copenhagen is a very nice city, with an old European feel. There are buskers playing accordions on the sidewalks, and these serve to add to the atmosphere of the whole place.

However, things are really very expensive. The numbers are similar to those in Sweden, unfortunately their currency is about 1.5 times stronger.

Having just a couple of days around, we decided to explore the whole area on foot, following the suggested paths in the very useful map provided by the tourism office.

The little mermaid was a bit of a disappointment. It’s really very little.

We managed to watch the changing of the guard and covered all the marked sites in the 2 days we were there.

The free town of Christiania was quite interesting. It’s a self declared independent country which is not in the EU, so when you are leaving the entrance, it says “You are now entering the EU”. Pictures weren’t allowed inside, and especially not on Pusher Street, so named because it used to be where drug pushers peddled their wares. I think they still do so.

Took the direct train back to Stockholm on Monday night. 95 SEK!! Compared to the trip there which involved changing trains and cost over 400. SJ trains are very comfortable. The X2000 has power points for every seat, and if you’re willing to pay, there’s internet access too.