Since I relaunched the Wiener Wanderland website, I’ve been filling its pages with old trip reports from the first website and writing new reports based on past trips. Living in a time of a pandemic isn’t the best time to launch into a career as a travel writer. My backlog of old photos meant that content was fairly easy to come by, at least up until now. As of today, the cupboard is bare, more or less. There are shots from Vancouver, Canada, and Tokyo, but these go back many years and perhaps aren’t up to the level I’m happy to write about. There are enough to write an article around though. For every trip I’ve had ample pictures of though, there are more than a few destinations I visited for work, where time was too short, or where things went wrong, so there’s just to enough to cover a whole article, but maybe there’s a nice story to tell. So here we are. Welcome to the ‘Almost’ trips.
Why ‘Almost’ trips?
To explain the almost trip, you’ll need a little background. From November 2017 until November 2019, I worked as a feature writer for a few magazines about Airlines, Airliners and Airports. My job was to travel to various places around Europe, meet with Airline CEO’s, Talk with Airport CEO’s, chat with pilots and so on. There was a lot of travelling, and on paper, it was a perfect job for someone who enjoys travelling. It wasn’t. Often it meant early mornings and if you had an overnight stay, more often than not, you were in an Airport hotel, miles from the nearest city. If I had an opportunity to enjoy a little personal time to explore, it was often just a few hours or less, most of which would be taken up by travelling. In the end, I became disillusioned with the life of a freelance journalist and decided to leave the aviation world behind. Given that COVID arrived just 4 months later, I got out just in time. If you can’t travel on an aircraft, then a feature writer has no work. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a few stories to tell, and so the Almost trip was born. Here are three of my favourites.
Bern – June 2018.
My first overseas trip to the Swiss capital of Bern. I was to meet with the CEO of Swiss regional airline Skywork and talk to the press officer at Bern Airport. The first rule of Freelance travel is to do as much as possible in the shortest time available. The trip was going to be two overnights due to the airline’s schedule. I’d arrive mid-afternoon at Bern-Belp airport, enjoy a pleasant evening in Bern (I was staying in the town of Belp a few kilometres away from Bern, or a 15-minute train journey. The next day I’d meet with the Skyworks guys, conduct the interview, and then spend some time photographing the aircraft. That evening I’d head back into Bern, camera in hand, ready to photograph the beautiful medieval city centre. Then on the final morning, I’d meet with Bern airport people before flying home. Oh, how I wish that was the trip I had.
To begin with, the flight was delayed due to a maintenance issue, then a huge thunderstorm closed in on Vienna airport. My mid-afternoon arrival became a late evening arrival into Bern. Nevertheless, I could look forward to my hotel that evening. Uh….No. When I booked the hotel, there was very little space in Belp itself and nothing in Bern. the place I picked was a small motel. My contact at Skywork was appalled at my choice. Apparently, it was next to a brothel and was frequented by many truckers. He instead arranged for me to stay at a friends restaurant.
The room was essentially a flophouse for the restaurant’s seasonal workers to stay. There was no wifi, or tv, or much of anything. I spent two days off the grid. It was also located next to a beautiful river, but nowhere near the town centre, and its only bus stop saw its last bus leave at 1930. so no visit to Bern for me. I managed to get into Belp itself the next afternoon, a town described by my contact as a ‘hole’, but I found it quite pleasant. Instead of beautiful pictures of Bern, I got a few shots of Belp from the fields. I really wanted to see Bern and was looking forward to a beer at Einsteins cafe, but it was not to be.
46 Hour in…….Everywhere.
A month after my Bern trip, I was flying the friendly skies once more. This time it would be two days with one overnight. It was and still is, the weirdest, most destination infested trip I ever took. I’d be heading to Berlin to meet with the operating officer of German charter airline, Sundair. After the meeting, I’d be flying with them to Varna in Bulgaria before flying back to Kassel in Northern Germany. An overnight in Kassel would lead to an interview the next morning at Kassel Airport, before heading out to Paderborn-Lippenstadt airport for an interview with a flight simulation company, before heading to Hannover and my flight home.
My day begins at 03.45 to reach Vienna Airport for my 0600 flight to Berlin. By 0800 I’m sat at Berlin Hauptbahnhof heading from Berlin Tegel Airport to Berlin Schonenfeld, and out to SundAir’s offices. Two hours later I’m heading back to Berlin Tegel for the flight to Varna. There’s a worry that I may find myself in the cockpit as the flight is almost full. Soon enough I’m on board, in my assigned seat heading to Bulgaria, A country I have no clue about. Three hours on the ground and I’m back at the gate for a late-night flight back to Kassel, SundAir’s base. It’s late and we’re delayed. At this point, I’ve been on the go for over 18 hours and I’m feeling Gorgeous I can tell you. I plan on having a nap on the aircraft, but that’s not going to happen. Our 150+ passenger aircraft is less than a third full, and as I settle into the row of seats I have to myself, A flight attendant checks my name and informs me that the Captain has invited me to enjoy the flight from the cockpit. I’m not passing up the ultimate upgrade. It’s a 2 hour 30 minutes flight, we’re running late, and Kassel has a curfew, meaning if we miss the midnight cutoff we need to divert. We make it by ten minutes and the memory of that night flight, complete with thunderstorms seen from a distance, the in-flight meal of cake and coffee at 37000 feet, and an approach that was swift and exhilarating. I get a lift with a flight attendant to my hotel, reaching bed at 1 am, 22 hours or so since I got up.
The next day I get a delicious breakfast at the hotel, before heading to the car rental place to grab my car for the day. I manage to snap a few pictures of Kassel before I head back to the airport for my first interview of the day. Coffee and chat later and I’m heading to Paderborn. The airport has more travel agents than I’ve ever seen, and I stop for a drink before my interview. Finally, I head to Hannover for my late evening flight. Hannover airport was…..an experience and a subject for a review all its own (And airport reviews are something I’m looking at in the future.)
I arrived back at Vienna Airport at 22.40, some 40 plus hours since I left the morning before, exhausted, and having seen just glimpses of some beautiful places, and Hanover airport!
Iceland – November 2018.
Our final almost trip for this article covers what I can only describe as a disastrous trip to Iceland. The basic trip was to be a simple three day, two-night visit that would see me interview the CEO of Wow Air and enjoy a round trip to Isafjordur with Icelandair, in the cockpit of the Dash 8-200. Wow Air arranged two return tickets for some reason, meaning I could take Lynda on a rare work trip. Our wedding anniversary was coming up around the time of the trip, so it seemed like kismet. Oh, it was not. To get there I had to fly from the UK. Wow Air flew from Frankfurt but since I was writing for a UK magazine, the press team in the UK booked tickets from the UK, meaning Gatwick. I hate Gatwick. It’s the one airport that just leaves me shouting ‘GATWICK’ as I shake my fist in the air. This meant I’d need to book a hotel on either side of the Wow Air flights. Still, an extra two days to spend with each other is a good thing. And it was. There’d even be space to enjoy a look around Reykavik Where things started to go wrong was when, just two weeks before I was due to take the trip, Wow Air announced they were in talks with IcelandAir about a takeover. Suddenly my whole trip was in jeopardy. So much so I had to do something I had never done in 8 years of working with my magazine publisher. I needed to visit the office. I flew to the UK and met with my editor to discuss if I still should go. Since I had the tickets, we all agreed I should go. I even arranged an extra interview with the team at Keflavik airport for a feature. We were set.
We left Vienna late at night, bound for Gatwick. We arrived late, with most shops closed and the hotel restaurant was shut. We managed to grab a sandwich and headed to bed. I had a bit of a cough. The next morning the ‘bit of a cough’ was turning into a full-on cold. By the time we reached our hotel in Keflavik (As I said, Airport hotels are the home of the aviation feature writer.) I was feeling pretty bad. A dose of Day Nurse, bought at Gatwick that morning, would get me through the day for now. Despite it being November, The weather was ok, and we took a little wander around the town, finding a branch of UK supermarket Iceland, In Iceland. That evening we tried the hotel bar, the local beer, and got chatting with the barman, who was very friendly.
The next day I headed back to the airport feeling even worse than the day before. I held the interview, making sure not to shake hands and keeping my distance from the person I was talking to, before picking up my hire car and heading back to the hotel. The evening came and we visited the wonderful Cafe Petite across from the Hotel. I had a book and settled into one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been in.
The day of the IcelandAir trip comes and problem number three arrives. The weather has closed in. My flight has been delayed. Winds outside are gusting to 50kts and the rain is going sideways. It’s rough, but if you’re Welsh, it’s also familiar. Despite the weather, and feeling the need to explore, we head into Reykjavik to a mall that offers us a chance to shop, stay dry and wait out the delay, hoping for a break in the weather. The break doesn’t come, my flight is cancelled, all we have left to do is take a spin around Reykjavik, before returning to Keflavik and our hotel room. Once parked up, we open the car doors only for a gust of wind to remove a bag of gifts Lynda was holding. She retrieved 2 of the three items, the third of which was already two kilometres away before she got all the way out of the car. The rain soaks us almost instantly. By now the cough is a chest infection and I spend the evening coughing up a lung. We leave the next day, arrive back at Gatwick by 1900, quickly eat at the hotel before getting more day and night nurse. when I arrive back home in Vienna, I head to bed, exhausted.
So those are the Almost trips, the trips where there wasn’t time to take it all in. They are part of the reason I wanted to move into travel writing, simply because these destinations felt like unfinished business. I plan to visit all of the above destinations again, drink that beer, see that attraction, and tell that story. There are more Almost trips, but those are for another article I think. for now, enjoy the almost trips with a wry smile and a cup of tea. I certainly did.
The almost trips may have been too short to make a whole report, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few links to share.
Restaurant Campagna – The place I stayed, with excellent food.
Belp – The town which I visited for an afternoon.
The Golden Tulip Hotel – A lovely 4 Star hotel in Kassel with a great breakfast.
Kassel itself – A beautiful city I’d very much like to visit again.
Hotel Keflavik – A great place to stay if you have a layover in Iceland (And lots of people do!)
Cafe Petite – A cozy, very Icelandic cafe that’s full of friendly people and a great choice of drinks.