Off-Topic: Loka Brunn

More travel notes. This time from Loka Brunn, a spa hotel and conference facility in the vicinity of Grythyttan in mid-west Sweden. The place dates back to around 1720, when an organized “Kurort” was founded. I spent a weekend there with my wife, and found the place to be very relaxing and professionally run.

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Off-Topic: Playa Garden Hotel & Spa, and Mallorca

It is summertime, and time for another off-topic blog post about travel. This year, we took our family vacation on the island of Mallorca, at the Playa Garden Hotel & Spa. It is located in Playa de Muro, between Port d’Alcudia and Can Picafort on the east coast of Mallorca. The goal was to enjoy a bit of sun & sea, and that worked out very well. It looks like we were lucky in our hotel choice, too.

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Off-Topic: Nerja, Costa del Sol, Spain

I and my wife recently took a short vacation in Nerja in Spain, a tourist town on the Costa del Sol. Late February was definitely low season, which made for a rather relaxing experience without the huge crowds that would be expected to fill up the place later in the year.

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Off-Topic: Cruising Holiday

The family and I spent last week on a cruise in the Mediterranean with Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCC). It was a wonderful vacation, and very family friendly. We did a number of shore excursions and got to see historical landmarks like the stadium at Olympia where the original Olympic games were held. Lounging by the pool on the ship was nice on our sea days, if a bit crowded. Service was fantastic, and you really do not need to think much at all about practical things while onboard. It just happens. Very relaxing. If I compare it to a typical all-inclusive hotel vacation, it is definitely higher quality with the added benefit of moving around and seeing multiple places in a week.

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The Mary Rose, Victory, and Warrior

portsmouth historical dockyard  Today, I visited the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, UK, together with my kids. Somewhat surprisingly maybe, the kids mostly loved it and I got to see and learn a lot of interesting history. I found it particularly usful to compare the three main ships on display: the 1510 Mary Rose, the 1765 HMS Victory, and the 1860 HMS Warrior. They show both the development and continuity of the Royal Navy over a very long period of time.

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Off-Topic: Military History Tourism in Göteborg

gbg logoThis is another vacation-related post, of the kind that I do every once in a year or so. I recently came back from a family vacation to Gothenburg (Göteborg in Swedish), where I had some time to visit a few great museums dealing with history, and in particular with military history and the history of technology.

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Off-Topic: Sälen in the Summer (Vacation)

This Summer, our travel-away-from-home vacation was spent in Sälen, Sweden. Sälen is normally considered a winter destination, one of the biggest ski resorts in Sweden – but they are working on making it more of a year-round attraction. To be more precise, we went to Lindvallen, which is one of the seven or so separate “villages” that form the “Sälen” area. It was a nice and relaxed place, with little stress from having too many things to do, but enough to keep the kids happy. Seeing the mountains in the Summer was nice.

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Off-Topic: Lalandia Billund (Vacation)

Another Summer vacation has come around, and as usual that causes a blog post or two on Summer tips and comments on places where I have been. This year, we went down to Denmark to visit the city of Billund, home to Legoland and Lalandia. Lalandia is an interesting mix of indoors activity center and camping village. We rented a house there for our vacation, and are overall very pleased with the place.

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Eyjafjallajökull is Showing us Something

Wow. The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland and the resulting ashcloud has had an effect that I would never ever have expected. A near-total closing down of the European airspace is such a drastic thing to happen to nobody seems to have expected. It has certainly not been included in the list of worst-case scenarios to plan for in company and government contingency plans. Where does this leave us? In a very interesting situation indeed. Worst-case, we will have to do without air travel for months.

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Off-Topic: Another Troubled Train

sj-logo_largeAlmost exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog post about an adventure with delayed trains getting from Uppsala to Stockholm. As I said then, I am a train fanboy, preferring trains to most alternatives for most travel. Trains do have one big disadvantage though: when something goes wrong, you are unusually powerless and stuck. That happened to me last Friday. I spent some five ours in a dark train in a dark winter evening in the middle of the forest south of Laxå. Here is the story of that journey, and an observation about the impact of technology on our lives.

It was on a Friday the 13th, by the way. Not that I believe in that bad luck happens more on certain days, this certainly was an unlucky Friday (and very early Saturday).

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A Weekend in the Netherlands

We spent the past weekend in the Hague and Delft in the Netherlands. A short weekend trip, certainly, but still quite interesting. The obvious place to go visit in the Netherlands is Amsterdam, but these other places are well worth visiting too. Here are some observations on what I found interesting.

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Immigration, Visas, and other Hassles

passport iconI have travelled to the United States more times than I care to remember now, starting back in 1997. Business tends to make me come here for the interesting, exciting, large events. Being here is usually a nice experience, but getting here is not. Apart from the bother of a 12-hour flight in economy class, there is the green form called I-W94.

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Travel Topic: Linköping and Kolmården

visitlinkoping_logoHere comes another non-technical post about travel destinations, and this time we visited Linköping in south-east Sweden. Linköping is not a big tourist destination, rather a typical real city. We also went to Kolmården, the biggest Zoo in Sweden, which is “close” to Linköping, only some 70 km away. Continue reading “Travel Topic: Linköping and Kolmården”

Travel Topic: Iceland and Reykjavík

icelandWhen I started this blog almost two years ago, an early set of posts were about travel. Since summertime is the natural vacation time, that is, well, natural. It might be against all principles of “audience collection” for blogging, which seems to be first and foremost about sticking to a topic and keep writing about that same topic incessantly. Unfortunately for me, I can’t quite stick to that principle. So here are some observations on Iceland in the Summer of 2009.

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Off-topic: The Train to Furuvik

This is a short travel tip for the Uppsala-Stockholm area. Yesterday, I used the UL train to get to the Furuvik zoo/amusement park close to Gävle. Compared to the visit we did last year using a car, taking the train was generally a superior experience. And cheap. For 200 SEK, you get two adults + three children, with all rides included. Much cheaper than going there by car and then buying the rides. Not having to spend an hour driving with children is also a clear advantage in my mind, rather you can relax on the train and have fun with the kids. Being tired at the end of the day, I was very happy not to have to drive home.

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Off-Topic: Tallink Customer Service to Pärnu

I just had a nice vacation in the Estonian town of Pärnu. Pärnu is a really nice little town full of summer visitors and still with lots of local character.

Getting there, however, was less pleasant than it could have been, thanks to Tallink where we booked the trip and the hotel nights in Pärnu.

When we booked the trip, they told us that there were convenient buses from Tallinn to Pärnu, and that we did not need to bring a car. They also booked us on a nice brand-new integrated hotel containing a “water land” and spa services, and being located very close to the beach. Sounded perfect.

As it turned out, some of these things fell through:

  • The buses to Pärnu left from the central bus station in Tallinn, which is not close to the docks where the ferries arrive, but rather some kilometers away. It would have been nice if this had been clear from the start. Instead, Tallink representatives and information made sound as if the buses left directly from the docks, or at least in some place very close by.
  • The staff on the ferry to Tallinn did not know about the direct local buses from the docks to the central bus station (a tip: it is bus number 2, which stops right outside of terminal D. Or walk some more and take tram number 2). They gave us confused and incorrect information as how to get to the bus station. At least they told us where the bus station was…
  • At the last minute (one day before departure) it turned out that our main hotel was overbooked and that we would be given a different hotel. After some discussions they also promised us entrance tickets to the water land in our booked hotel. However, it was not clear how this was to work out in practice. Or if our new hotel was any better or worse than the one we were booked on initially. Customer service gave the impression that all would be handled at check-in in their terminal in Stockholm.
  • When we checked in in Stockholm, we did get hotel vouchers for the replacement hotel. But for a double room, not the suite that was what they had said initially. And the check-in personell had no idea about the entrance tickets to the water land. “there is no note of that in the computer system”. We got to talk to a supervisor who told us that things should work out, wrote a note to the hotel on a copy of our booking, and had the good sense to give us a name and phone number to call would they not.
  • Once we arrive in Pärnu, the hotel that we were staying at did provide an envelope containing the tickets to the water land that we needed. The hotel was also recently renovated and very fresh (it was the St. Petersburg hotel, in a carefully renovated 16th-17th-century building in downtown Pärnu). The location was more convenient for eating out and shopping, if a bit more removed from the beach (20 minutes walk rather than five).

Thus, in the end, things worked out and we got decent value for our money. Even so, it is still annoying how Tallink handled things, especially since the fixes are mostly in precision of communication and should actually be cheaper for them to do right.

So how could Tallink have done better in our case (and quite probably in general):

  • Run their own bus shuttle from Tallink to Pärnu and other interesting destinations. They do that in Sweden, so why not in Estonia? We would have been happy to pay some extra for a bus conveniently arriving at the docks to take us straight to the destination.
  • Present correct and complete facts about each destination on the phone and on their homepage. If they refer people to the bus service to Pärnu, do provide a time-table, a map on how to get to the main bus station, and a map of the end location to help you find your hotel. After all, Tallink have local staff in Tallinn that can easily find out for you.
  • Have their customer service staff be precise and clear. In the end, things did work out and we were not cheated of our vacation. But the details like the standard of our replacement hotel, how the water land tickets would work, and similar simple things could have been clearly communicated from the start. That would have saved them lots of phone service time, and us a bunch of unnecessary annoyment and anxiety.

Finally, the main drawback of a trip of this type where you spend a night on the ferry each way is that the ferry trip takes a lot of time from the vacation. This would not be so bad if it was enjoyable time, and they are trying to give off the impression that it is kind of a luxurious experience to travel on their modern ferries to Tallinn. And mostly it is nice. Going on a ship where you can walk around and have lots of space is vastly superior to inhuman modes of transport like long-distance air travel or car trips. For the kids, having a dedicated playroom is great.

But since the length of the trip makes it necessary to eat dinner and breakfast onboard, the food is quite a important component. And here Tallink and most other Baltic ferries I have tried fall down by simply providing fairly taste-less and disappointing fare. The tradition of a grand buffet is great in principle, but something makes it so that each course is cheapened down to its simplest least tasty version. Creating a rather disappointing experience overall. And there is no indication that the a la carte restaurants are any better. So for now, you eat because you have to and not as much because you enjoy it.

Why this is the case, I don’t know. Either they think their customers do not care or cannot tell a good meal from a poor one, or they lack pride in the kitchen, or they are saving money by using the cheapest stuff they can get away with, or something else.