Category Archives: Exploring the UK
I am admittedly late with my year-end travel review this year, and for the sake of all, I’m going to make it more succinct than in the past. This is the third annual year-end review – 2011 was “The Year of Travel” and 2012 was “Crossing the 100k Line”. I’ve chosen 2013’s title because the year was slightly less crazy than 2012, involved a bit less total travel and an overall somewhat better work-life balance, as seen not only in more personal travel but also working fewer weekends.
In 2013 I was not at home for 116 nights, just a bit shy of 1/3 of the time (and only 3 nights less than last year’s monster total). With 27 nights away with Astrid (very similar to last year’s 26), that meant we were apart for 89 nights, or just about 25% of the year – which is about one week each month on average. The greatest difference from last year was more personal travel – in addition to time with Astrid I was away for 11 additional nights that were not for business (although usually tacked on to the end of business trips).
Looking at where I was, I spent 41 nights in North America (vs. 42 in 2012) and a lot of time in South America – 26 nights over two trips including our long vacation in Argentina and Chile. I just had one long trip to Asia, with 15 nights in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. That trip featured my only night on a train, to match last year’s night aboard the Caledonian Sleeper to Scotland – but quite a different experience!
The rest of the time away was closer to home – 18 nights in Europe highlighted by my trip through France to Barcelona with Bill and our end-of-the-year vacation to Dubrovnik, and 7 nights here in the UK, including our romantic getaway to the swanky hotel in the former eye hospital in Exeter around Valentine’s Day and two nights in a hotel in London (same as 2012, and again for a big local work event). In addition to the night on the Thai train mentioned above, 11 other nights were in transit – two nights on Brittany Ferries’ Pont-Aven to and from St Malo in France, and 9 nights on airplanes (on five different airlines).
The year’s total flying came to about 92,000 miles. Although this is nearly 20k fewer than last year, it still comes to more than 3.5x around the Earth! Interestingly, despite traveling less distance I took 6 more flights – 43 individual flights in 2013 compared to 37 in 2012. To make the math balance out, that means that there were more short flights; 63% of my flights were short-haul, this year all about 4 hours or less.
Although 2013 doesn’t look all that interesting on the map compared to 2012, the flying highlights were different. In 2013 I flew for the first time on both the Airbus A380 super jumbo and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. My A380 flight from Singapore to London was also my longest flight at more than 6700 miles and about 13 ½ hours, and it was on 5-star Singapore Airlines, the launch customer for the world’s largest passenger aircraft back in 2007. Despite its size, you really don’t even notice that the plane is two levels because each deck is boarded from a separate jet bridge. The other really noticeable characteristic is noise – there is virtually none! I have to give Airbus credit for being dramatically quieter than Boeing.
Although the A380 was memorable, it was actually my only long-haul Airbus flight this year. The other 15 long-haul flights were all Boeing. The highlight was probably the my Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from London to Newark on British Airways. Luckily, this was in November, well after the innovative aircraft got back in the air following its worldwide grounding early in 2013. The 747 with its short upper deck is still a favorite, though – I’ve had 16 flights on 747s in the past three years, and it will be sad to see them disappear over the coming years – although British Airways is the largest 747 operator in the world with 52, they are going to be phased out in favor of new and more fuel-efficient planes.
I flew the most on the old Boeing 767s – eight times including three short-haul flights and long-haul flights on BA and twice each on Delta and LAN.
The other highlight of 2013 flying was airlines – although nearly 1/3 was British Airways (14 flights), I flew six totally new airlines as well as first-time long-haul flying with both Delta and American. I covered a lot of ground in Singapore and Malaysia, flying for the first time not only on the superb Singapore Airlines, but also on Malaysia Airlines and two of the top low-cost carriers that are following the path of easyJet and Southwest – Jetstar Asia and AirAsia. Despite not flying previously with LAN, I flew with them five times in 2013, including two long-hauls between Miami and Santiago, and they definitely appear to be the best airline in South America. I also note that the newest premium long-haul products on both American and Delta were both quite good, and it is nice to see the US-based airlines posting a decent showing.
Rounding out my new airlines was Vueling, a fast-growing ultra low-cost carrier based in Spain, and now owned by both the Spanish flag carrier Iberia and IAG, the parent company of British Airways. It was perfectly efficient for an hour-long flight from Barcelona to Paris, but they sure do pack them in – with the maximum number of 180 seats in an Airbus A320 (as compared to just about 150 seats on the same plane as operated by British Airways).
Looking at airports for a moment, it is no surprise that Heathrow again is in the lead. Over the last three years I’ve taken off or landed at Heathrow 58 times, including 18 this year – meaning that in 2013 one in five of my flights either started or ended at Heathrow). Heathrow gets a bad rap all around the world, but actually I don’t think it’s so bad if you know how to navigate it. Even though London has now six airports, in 2013 I used only Heathrow, apart from departing Gatwick twice – to Las Vegas in March and to Dubrovnik last week. Second-place in airport frequency this year was New York JFK at the start or end of 8 flights, followed by six at Singapore Changi (which is often rated the best airport in the world) and five at Santiago.
Rather than go back through the entire year, I thought it might be worth just touching on a few highlights via pictures.
The year ended with a great trip to Dubrovnik for New Year’s – see the scene at Midnight here. More to come on Dubrovnik soon. As for my 2014 travel outlook, I’ve got some new and exciting (if challenging!) destinations coming up – Mexico City, Delhi, and Beijing before the year is out. Best wishes to you and yours for a healthy and successful 2014 and happy travels!
Whilst in Scotland and in Inverness we made the requisite trip down to Loch Ness to see if we could spy a monster. Yes, I must admit, Loch Ness is surely one of the worst tourist traps in the world, and going on a cruise to look for Nessie ranks right up there with “going to the top of the Eiffel Tower” as one of the most cliched things you can do … but it must be done. These places are tourist traps for a reason, after all, because the tourists love to do them! So we played tourist for a day, and took the boat out on Loch Ness. We tried to something a bit different though, and rather than merely monster spotting we took the cruise to Castle Urquhart, a lovely ruin on the shore of Loch Ness. Unfortunately, our “something a bit different” turned out to be the same thing that 4,276,294 other tourists wanted to do that day! Oh well. It was very scenic, if you can see past all the annoying Americans. 🙂
The title of this blogpost is just as annoying as it sounds, and yes, it is the tourism slogan for Inverness. I find it annoying because the name isn’t pronounced with an accent on the IN, the accent is on the NESS, so this slogan flips it all around and makes me sound like an idiot when I say INverness.
All that is beside the point, however, because both Alex and I really enjoyed our stay IN the city IN the Highlands. The city is considered the capital of the Highlands, but I definitely didn’t feel like I was IN the Highlands whilst there … I heard lots of seagulls, and not many bagpipes. But it’s really a nice place. The river Ness (which is where the city name, Imbhir Ness in Gaelic, comes from – it means “Mouth of the River Ness” was a charming and babbling brook. We were both astonished at how clean and clear the water was – you could see right through to the rocks below. I think we’ll have to go back for the Highland Games next July, as I really do want to see those!
We enjoyed a charming walk about a mile upriver to the Ness Islands, which seemed really idyllic. Just a few small islands in the middle of the river, you feel like you’re totally on your own. They also have some really cool artistic benches scattered about, providing the perfect spot to enjoy the scenery.