188. A night at the Sheraton Milan

Shelling out for a four star airport hotel? Me? I just WISH I was that much of a flashpacker. Luckily there is this lovely rule in the EU where (if I remember rightly from the one time I was diligent enough to actually read the T’s and C’s on a flight ticket) if your flight is delayed more than a certain amount of hours the airline has to organise accommodation or a cash rebate. My flight from Milan to Berlin was delayed by 12, so EasyJet put us up in the  Sheraton, including breakfast. The downside was that it took hours for them to actually arrange the accommodation, and then to check people in in groups of 10. By the time I got to my room I had only 4 hours before I had to go check in to the new flight, but I was so glad to have a chance to shower and change. I was particularly looking forward to a shower, after the mayhem that came out of trying to catch the airport express from the city. As it turns out, Centrale Stazione in Milan is a huuuuuuuge railway station. When I was buying my ticket in the little machine, it popped up with a message saying “your train is departing in less than 3 minutes, are you sure you want to purchase this ticket?” Naiively, I thought to myself “sure, I can make that.” After lumbering up the escalator with all my bags, it dawned on me just how large the station was, as I tried to work out where to find my platform. Naturally, it was the furthest away platform and I had an epic sprint, in what was maybe only down to 36 or 37 degree heat, with a pack and two other bags. I made it just in time to the train, and once I had sat down I was feeling so faint from the heat I was practically seeing spots! Won’t be making that mistake again.

Other entertainment of my many hours spent in Milan Malpensa Airport, was spending less on an imported Danish beer at inflated airport prices than actually being in Denmark, and the two lovely friends I made whilst waiting. One was a music publisher for Sony BMG (who’s job I am most definitely jealous of) from Berlin who gave me lots of good advice on things to see and do, the other was a male model from South Africa who spouted my favourite quotable quote – pointed to the giant Armani billboard in the airport and said “Oh, I used to flat with that guy in New York.”

164. Budget Airlines in Review

Having now flown the with the three most notorious budget airlines (at least where I’m from, anyway), here is my review so far.

Air Asia was my flight from NZ to London. Unfortunately they no longer go to London/Europe – the half empty plane seems to have been the writing on the wall. I do wish demand was higher though, as there was absolutely nothing wrong with my flight and it was a steal. Air Asia seems to be a budget airline based around extremely careful planning, and pay as you go. If you don’t want a meal, you don’t pay for it, and only supplying what has been ordered probably works quite well for them. The flight was perfectly fine, although the seat didn’t go back that far, they probably fit more people in that way. I was happy to make a few sacrifices for my cheap fare, though it was around $200 more in extra fees than the advertised price.

My next budget airline was RyanAir. I am fairly sure Ryanair is the reason for the stereotype of crappy cheap airlines in Europe, and had a ludicrous amount of advertising. Not only when booking the flight (they even try to sell you a suitcase as you book), but on the plane there were ads on the back of every seat, on the outside of the luggage compartment, and the air hostesses read out sales scripts! It’s just lucky everyone knows they are on the cheapest airline so they put up with it. It’s the airborne version of a shouty ad on TV – a totally unwelcome interruption as opposed to something you might ever be interested in. The advantage (sortof) is they fly to smaller airports with lower fees, in order to reduce their prices. So Ryanair will fly to Aarhus rather than Copenhagen, which works for me. Not that handy if going to the most popular places. A flight from Aarhus to London (Stansted) is ludicrously cheap though.

Finally, EasyJet, which so far is my favourite of them all. With far less shameless advertising than Ryanair but similar prices and a really good onboard travel magazine (the only one I have ever a) really enjoyed, b) not finished in the first 30 minutes, c) not been full of useless ads or travel destinations of the rich and d) wanted to take with me. There were no problems or annoyances with EasyJet, just a great, cheap far.

To get a super cheap fare you are going to have to make a few sacrifices, and in my opinion they are all worth it. Ryanair was the worst of them, but also the cheapest. As for people complaining about safety? Well Ryanair pilots are trained by Lufthansa who have a great reputation, and one need only look at Qantas to see that high prices doesn’t mean safe flights.

163. “The luckiest girl in the world”

I was succesfully fooled by the labarinth that is Copenhagen airport and in a fit of blondness was waiting at the wrong gate. When I finally realised, it was just after my flight to Milan should have departed. Once I got to the right gate I was relieved to find out it had been delayed, and I just made it! Everyone was already waiting in line to get on the tiny plane, and once I got to the gate all the Danes stared at me, while all the Italians either laughed, shook their heads or smiled and said “Oh you are the luuuuckiest girl in the world!”

Don’t I know it! Should have bought a lotto ticket that day.

67. The Best Semla in Stockholm

Stockholm is famous for a most delicious tradition: between Christmas and Easter, bakeries all over town make Semla, best translated as a cream bun, although that description does them absolutely no justice. Semla are quite incomparable to anything else I have come across, which definitely makes them a necessity to try.

Like restaurants in Japan, as spring draws ever closer, bakeries will display Semla replicas in their windows and there is an annual competition to determine which bakery makes the best ones. These ‘buns’ are a sweat bread-y pastry, (seeds from vanilla pods visible in the dough), with a hole carved out of the bun which is then filled with cream and sometimes a vanilla almond paste, before the lid is replaced and it is dusted with icing sugar. They may not look like much initially, but dam do they taste good!

In my quest to eat my way across Europe, I felt it only appropriate that I track down the winning Semla. It was at a bakery called Tossebageriet in the trendy district of Ostermalm. It was quite the beautiful walk on the way there, with tree lined streets and the sun shining gloriously. The bakery had a whole collection of other amazing treats, but I had my eyes on the prize!

This particular Semla was delicious, and one of the ones filled with an amazing vanilla almond paste. I could absoltely see why this bakery was the 2012 winner and I thoroughly recommend anyone looking to experience Stockholm’s best food to try one.

51. The Old Town

Smack bang in the middle of Aarhus is ‘Den Gamle By’ AKA The Old Town.

Apparently old Hans used to live here

It is a huge, and really beautiful, reconstruction of a number of famous buildings from all over Denmark. Furthermore, the Old Town is very interactive, with actors in costumes cooking food inside old houses, or selling old-fashioned goods at the local bakery. There isn’t a set year or time-period for the Old Town – in fact it pitches itself as ” the world’s first open-air museum of urban history and culture” from “Hans Christian Andersen’s days” (Hans Christian Anderson appear’s to be Denmark’s historical hero, or perhaps he’s the only one they pitch to foreigners as they think we won’t know anyone else).

From the original Lonely Planet guide to Aarhus

As you move through the old town, you go from the 1800s right through to the 1970s with an old style electronics/hi fi store. Just about every type of shop or stall is represented – as well as invading people’s homes you can also like through old bike repairers or cigar manufacturers to book binders a printing press, and an old pharmacy.


The houses themselves were beautiful. Most of them that wonky old Scandinavian style that I love and the full range of houses was represented – from the smallest, most humble home right through to the Mayor’s house and the Mintmaster’s Mansion. It was a bit strange in the first house we went in to, as there were costumed actors standing by the stove cooking, or sitting at a desk in the bedroom – it really felt like we were just walking straight in to someone’s home uninvited! They were pretty hilarious once they started chatting though, explaining Hans Christian Anderson (there he goes again) lives over the road and being all shocked and surprised that there was even a country called New Zealand and gosh how far away it must be. Luckily they confirmed for me that the world is no longer flat so it made the explanation a little easier. Although, they were pretty convinced that China was directly opposite them which complicated things.

The reconstructed town bakery confirmed that Danish baking was just as good back in the 1800s as it is now, and I really enjoyed seeing the signage outside all of the shops – i.e. a big brass image of what the shop was selling. I was a tad confused at the one with a black flag – was it where the pirates hung out? But it turned out to be a fabric dyeing operation. Made a bit more sense.

Hat shop...

...Pirate shop?

While I thought suddenly jumping to the 1970s was strange, even more-so was the morbid-toy-art exhibition. A famous children’s TV show host is the creator of a range of displays using children’s toys but with in rather creepy situations. One depicts a doctor chopping off limbs, another shows them all rolling drunk. If that’s what children’s TV is like in Denmark I certainly am worried! On the way out of the toy exhibition there is a maze made of doors where you have to try them all out to get through – a pretty good idea for a maze!

Trollied dollies

Lost in the door maze!

All in all it was a really fun afternoon with loads of great things to see and interact with. Also yet another expedition where I was probably a little more interactive than was intended, but it made for an awesome adventure!

She's a witch! *Monty Python gag

70s radios. Hipster's dream.

Climbing on more roped-off things...

8. Master the London Underground

I tried to catch snippets out the window as the train whizzed through somewhere-between-Gatwick-and-London. The train was faster than any I had been on before and it was nighttime so I couldn’t see much. Just blurrs of light smudging past. At one stage I thought I could see lanterns hanging across a street, but I couldn’t be sure. I thought I would be far more excited, having made it to the other side of the world, but aside from novel bakery stalls in the Gatwick Airport train station it didn’t seem like anything I hadn’t seen before. One of the stations even looked like the Auchenflower Station in Brisbane, a big carpark behind it, exactly like the Auchenflower Hospital. Perhaps it was because I was too focussed on making sure I got off at all the right stations, diligently following the instructions printed off from the London Transport Journey Planner site.
My ticket cost me more than my flight to Denmark, but I made sure I was getting the cheapest option and the fastest route, AKA I was that annoying person asking the ticket man a million and one questions. Poor guy.

Drinks in Notting Hill and Soho

Things got a lot more interesting when I moved from the ‘overground’ to the underground. My station (Edgeware Rd) looked like something straight out of Harry Potter and I got far too much entertainment out of whizzing past stations with names from Monopoly. Maturity stepped down a notch as my friend told me about a stop called ‘Cockfosters’ on his line that makes him laugh every time.

The backpackers I checked in to gets an A+ for efficiency, with triple layer bunks in the room, but after the concierge (read:bartender) proudly let me know reception (read: the bar) would be open 24/7 and Karaoke would be going all night I made the executive decision to not even bother sleeping. I could here awful renditions of rap songs (who ‘sings’ a rap song at a karaoke bar?) loud and clear in the room. Plus I had to be on the road at 3am and allow time to either wear most of the items in my suitcase or cram them in to my pockets.

After drinks in Notting Hill (it was JUST like the movie) and a wee spot of clubbing in Soho with a friend from Brisbane and 2 friends from Uni who are now studying at Cambridge I then took my London public transport skills to the next level as I mastered the double decker

Goblet of Cider!

buses. So good, was I, that on both the buses I needed to take before getting to the Stansted airport I managed to have just the right amount of foreign naivety for the drivers to waive me on without paying! (Giant notes also help).

My final experience in London was what can only be described as the most invasive security procedures imaginable. I had to take my shoes off and put them through the scanner, my bag had to be opened up and examined because there was so much in there. In fact, I received some very skeptical looks for having a 2 phones, a laptop, ipod and harddrive. I also had to have all my liquids re-scanned because one lip balm tube fell out of the not so well sealed bag. I think I got off pretty lucky though, as the girl before me set off the detector and had every inch of skin on her body rubbed (not patted) down by Airport Security (luckily a woman). They took particular interest in the poor girl’s underwire bra – I could have sworn I was witnessing a mammogram! I would take the full body scanner over that any day.

And with that I was away on my Ryanair flight direct to Aarhus. There may not have been a movie to watch, but there sure was a lot of in-flight entertainment – an astonishing amount of advertising going on! Every seat has an ad on the back, as do each of the overhead lockers, and every 20minutes or so the air hostesses would enthusiastically read out a sales script. So bizarre.

DiscoDisco! Dancing in Soho. Ever so European of us

7. Dumplings in Malaysia

Presentation wasn’t the highest priority, but they were ah-mazing

You can guess how excited I was when I stepped off the plane to walk straight in to a dim sum food stall selling dumplings. It was literally the first thing I saw after going through security! I instantly forgot my flight had been delayed by four hours, instead of the 40 minute stopover I was meant to have, because I was so excited I would get a chance to eat dumplings in Asia. And they were RM$5.50 which was about NZ$2.30. The rest of the shops in the Airport were pretty exciting (translation: so many bargains) apart from the bar, but every airport has one retailer with the monopoly on alcohol. This one also had the monopoly on power plugs, so after some deliciously prawny dumplings and a 60c bottle of water I settled down with a glass of what I can only assume was chardonnay. At NZ$9.50 a glass you’d think they could tell you a bit more than ‘white.’ Also featured on the shelves:

Skin whitening cream at the pharmacy. Just a bit sickening that that even exists

Landing in Malaysia provided some quite interesting views. The vast majority of trees were all in perfect rows (on the flight path at least), and there were beachside resorts right next to big industrial plants and quarrys, with views obscured by oil rigs ( that’s what they looked like anyway – I’m no expert on these matters).

In order to beat the luggage limits, I was wearing all of my heaviest clothes: boots, jeans, 2 tops, cardigan, a wool jersey in my backpack and carrying my heavy wool coat. I’ve felt worse in shorts and a tshirt in Brisbane, but I definitely felt like I was in training for the Scandinavian Sauna Championships landing in 25 degree heat.

6. 25 Hours in one seat

It wasn’t until the day of my flight that I actually worked out the amount of time I would be on the plane (that time zone changing business is deceptive, you know). 11 hours first leg, 14 second. Definitely the longest flight I have ever been on!

Before that I had a pretty long wait in Christchurch Airport (4 hours, plus the flight was delayed a further hour). I managed to get 90 minutes (instead of the usual 30) of free Wifi by logging in with three different devices: iPod, phone and laptop and three different email address. Proud of myself for that stroke of genius! I also started a movement by stealing couch cushions and sitting in the kids play area so I could plug in my phone and computer. Next thing it was packed with adults and their technical devices.

All kudos for airport ingenuity was out the door at the check in desk though. In in epic display of idiocy, the man behind the counter pointed out I had mispelled my own name when booking the flight. I knew I was going to do something stupid when booking everything, but that’s a special brand of idiocy right there.

For a brief few minutes I almost didn’t think I was going to be allowed on the plane (based on when the man behind the counter said “we can’t really allow you on the plane”). Luckily only one of the 3 G’s in Geoghegan was missing and my doe eyes worked a charm on the guy behind the counter. I was ready to whip out some tears but a little white lie: “Yeah, someone else booked it for me” was sufficent. Thank God. I didn’t want to check my Ryanair boarding pass because I had a hunch that the folk at Stansted wouldn’t be nearly as nice as Christchurch…

After that minor stressful moment, I was ready to go! Not as ready as this girl, though…

Pre-departure neck pillow

I had pre-booked my Air Asia comfort pack, an absolute winner. Note to anyone else thinking of flying air asia, bring your own earplugs too. I also pre-booked a meal on each flight. I was astonished that on the NZ-KL leg the meal cost $25 and from KL-London it was only $10. The only reasoning I could drum up was that they pass on the savings from buying ingredients in Malaysia to the passengers. I was pretty worried that I would get hungry on the flight – 2 meals in 25 hours isn’t much. And I get grumpy and forgetful if I don’t eat enough! So all afternoon I was carbo-loading like I was about to run a marathon. Anything with calories, send it my way! Turns out they did two rounds of food per leg, so my backup box of meusli bars wasn’t essential (but definitely handy). Judging by other passengers (and the smells wafting through the plane) the ‘Malaysian Meal’ was a winning choice, with the ‘European’ meal looking rather sad. I figured I ought to stick with what they know best.

First AirAsia Meal

Plus my love of all variations of asian food helps. I definitely would have eaten those meals again, which is lucky because I they were going to be my next two meals. Another bonus of the comfort pack was all the plastic wrapping it comes in. Next tip – don’t rip it all apart, the air hostesses don’t come round to get your meal rubbish and the pockets in front of you are tiny so they make for good resealable rubbish bags.

Second Airasia Meal

A lot of people seemed to screw their noses up at me when I said I was flying air asia, but it really was no different to most other flights apart from the lack of complementary anything. But who needs a few free drinks when the price difference is $400? If you really have problems going without you could buy one of the mini bottles at duty free… The seats went pretty far back too (compared with Jetstar) which was great until I was getting up to go to the bathroom and as I was squeezing past the girl on the end the guy in front put his seat back rather violently, resulting in my sitting awkwardly on her lap. On returning the guy in front wasn’t there so I kindly put his seat up for him.. We were about to land, after-all. Next tip: if you are a frequent toilet goer, book an aisle seat.

The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful, armed with a fistful of not so legally acquired prescription drugs I planned to knock myself out for the rest of the flight. I woke up very refreshed, just in time for my next meal (unnamed Malaysian rice concoction).

The second leg was much the same, only 3 hours longer. The sleeping pills didn’t do too much the first time, so I took two the second and slept on and off for most of the flight. One thing that was interesting was the difference between the meals on the first leg vs the second, particularly as they were meant to be the same. They were noticeably more stingy, but also a whole lot more spicy! I also learned from Captain Lim, a columnist in the in-flight magazine that being seated by the wings is the best place if you don’t like turbulence (plane’s centre of gravity) and down the back if you don’t like screaming babies (loudest engine noises).

Second round, decidedly more ‘average,’ to be polite

As per usual there were quite a few screaming babies on the plane. Every single time I fly I am astounded by how many parents don’t realise that when their ears are popping as the plane lands, their babies ears are popping too so of course the child is going to cry. On one of the flightsI actually gave a child a lollipop to shut it up – worked a treat! I laughed at Dad when he gave me corporate branded lollipops from work as a joke farewell but they were actually quite useful.

5. Reduce my material possessions to <30kgs

This is a big deal for me. I’m a massive hoarder. Not quite worthy of a 60 minutes episode, but I hate to waste things or even throw things out that may have a potential future use.

The mental process required to just cast my possessions aside, no matter how precious, useful or expensive they were has been made a lot simpler as I really don’t have much of a choice. I haven’t yet booked a return flight, and while I could leave things a bunch of things with mum and dad in Wellington, my bedroom was long ago converted to a guest room. My bright yellow walls painted inoffensive pale blue. My Enrique Iglesias posters removed…*

My objective is to get through every airport (I have to pass through 5, not including landing in Aarhus) with no overweight baggage issues. On every single long trip I can remember I have been well above the weight limit, but I have always managed to talk my out of a fee. In fact on many occasions I have really pulled out all the stops. Everything from befriending businessmen on day trips in the queue and convincing them to check in with me, to flirting, to doe eyes as I explain I am moving back to NZ and it was oh-so-hard to pack my whole life in to this here giant suitcase.

My favourite was a full on spectacle of crocodile tears in Tokyo with a number of classmates and my Japanese teacher in on it (she was actually the orchestrator of this fiasco). As we tore items out of my suitcase and put them in to others, completely blocking the check-in queue, the poor, polite little Japanese check-in counter operators did not know how to deal with this noisy mess of 14-year-old girls, clothes and newly purchased Japanese electronics blocking the counters. Eventually they waived me through just to get us out-of-the-way and I got my extra 10kgs of accumulated souvenirs to New Zealand, free of the $600 charge.

Packing my life in to a 20kg suitcase and 10kg carry-on bag has been an absolute mission. Especially considering I am packing for winter in Denmark, summer backpacking all around Europe and then transitioning back to winter in Prague, all whilst being properly equipped to study. It has almost been like a game show, with round after round of ‘Suitcase Idol’ gradually heading toward the winning collection of items.

The first auditions were held in Dunedin, once I decided to stay in Brisbane to save up for my travels. There were a number of instant no’s from the judges. Just like the obese Texan who describes his occupation as a professional World of War Craft player and is in a cowboy hat yodeling, it was entertaining going through my things but most items didn’t stand a chance. All furniture was donated to my sister for her first flat next year; study notes, posters and things that can only be described as ‘crap’ were chucked out. Judging was more difficult on some things: piano books, winter clothes to take to Denmark, sentimental items. These were boxed up to be stored with the parents. The vast majority was culled, but a great deal either made it to the Brisbane round or skipped to the next round in Wellington.

About 10% of contestants made it to the Brisbane round. For the lucky few, they made it through customs and got a fair bit of use in Brisbane. Largely summer clothes and of course the necessities: laptop, phone, iPod, backpack, straightener, hairdryer, a few special photos to stick on my wall and make me feel at home, and a tonne of cosmetic products. Upon leaving Brisbane, things were stepped up another notch. Half the contestants had to be cut to make room for winter clothes, the backpack had to fit in to the suitcase. There were a few special guests featured on the show. Never in the running but always quick to pop in to my mind were the things i would have to buy when I get to Denmark, despite already owning. Sheets, towels, blankets, shampoo, conditioner etc. Seemed such a shame to throw out the things I already owned in Brisbane when I was going to have to buy them again in 2 months, but I didn’t really have a choice.

Things really heated up in Wellington. This was where the audience got to vote and there were a number of guest judges. First guest judge: family friend who lives in Copenhagen and recommended a number of items to buy in NZ. Woollen tights (mmmm Merino) added to the suitcase. Guest judge number two was a very helpful man named Rick Steve, who writes a blog about travelling in Europe. He strongly advocates for travelling for as long as you can with everything you need in a backpack small enough to qualify for hand luggage on a plane. Loads of useful tips, but ultimately not necessary until I go backpacking in the middle of the year. A number of other blogs from international students and travellers proved very helpful, as well as chats with friends who had been travelling before. Handy hints included a NZ multi plug to go with my travel adapter and some good packing secrets.

The semi finals were held the weekend before I set off. I put everything in my suitcase and weighed it. It was under 20kgs but I would need to have all my shoes in my carry on bag. No contestants were eliminated but the judges had a lot to consider before the finals.

The final is always a long episode and this time the audience weighed in heavily. I put everything in my suitcase, then realised my carry on backpack fitted less than anticipated. Many elimination rounds ensued and items of clothing were individually voted on and eliminated. Everything was tightly rolled, most cosmetic products and jewellery were thrown out or donated to my sister. I tried not to think about how much they were collectively worth. Many suggestions were received from the audience and a few different carry on bags were auditioned. I opted not to take the largest one as small ones are less likely to be weighed. After 3 more quickfire rounds of weigh – cull – weigh, finally I had 20kgs in my suitcase and one small backpack. Just in time to down some dinner and race to the airport.

*I wish I had had Enrique on my wall. My teenage years would surely have been that much more enjoyable…