Ljubljana, Slovenia

You know that you are approaching Ljubljana courtesy of the roadsigns, but you find no other evidence of a capital city approaching.  Most cities announce themselves from afar, with tall buildings, some industry, or at the very minimum a water tower.  Not Ljubljana, which I shall now refer to as the hidden city.  It goes from forest to a city in an instant.  One moment you are looking at trees and the next you are on the off-ramp into the center.

As you leave the motorway and drive through the city you cross nothing special.  There are some clean and modern glass offices and some old grey concrete blocks of flats.  It looks and feels like like most other Eastern Bloc cities.  Hopefully the center will be interesting.  Looking for a parking space you are unable to spy any of the pedestrian area.  Doing a few loops you are amazed to find that there are no spots, which seems old on a weekend.  Giving in you pull into a garage and park right next to the elevators.  Why the spot is painted red you don’t understand.  Another car parks next to you and asks in English why the spots are painted red.  You answer that you have no idea.  They decide to drive higher into the garage but you decide to risk it.  IMG_20170917_124448.jpg

Leaving the garage you enter an empty and dark plaza.  In the corner is a casino, which is the national icon of Slovenia.  Walking towards the center you start to see people wearing hiking packs and other obvious tourists.  On your walk you pass a little fountain decorated with many cute and fat horse statues as well as a very colorful building that would be more at home in Barcelona.  IMG_20170917_124551.jpg

Arriving in the old town surprises you.  The city opens up and a beautiful view presents itself.  A large predestrian area complete with river and bridges fills your view.  To your right is a church but you skip it.  You cross the river and walk along beautiful shops and restaurants.  In front of you rises a castle up on a cliff face.  You would love to go up there but time is not permitting, so instead you roam up and down the little alleys of shops.  All clean and beautiful as you have come to expect from this country.  IMG_20170917_125249.jpg

After ducking into a few of the shops you settle down at a restuarant on the riverside and get a coffee and nachos.  The river is flowing heavily due to the recent downpours.  The water is not the crystal blue you hope for but for some reason the brown water doesn’t bother you.  Your view upriver is fantastic and the one downsteam isn’t too shabby.  After finishing your meal and watching all the well behaved dogs being walked, it is time to explore some more.  Crossing to the other side of the river you stumble across a little market.  Vendors are selling what would best be discribed as junk.  Toys from your childhood, old books, posters, and kitchenware.  You wonder to yourself if anything might be a collectible, but are there really such finds these days? IMG_20170917_130349.jpg

Loving this city you are sad that you have to get to the mountains in the west before nightfall to set-up your camping tent.  A shame that you haven’t gotten to see more of the sights.  A castle on a hill, a huge park, and even dragons on a bridge.  If only you could spend a few days here, but no worries.  You make a mental note to return as soon as possible.

Walking a zig-zag back to the parking garage you stumble across more shops, plazas, government buildings, and restaurants.  All of it looks wonderful.  Lucky Slovenians you mumble to yourself.  IMG_20170917_134519.jpg

Arriving back at your car you are happy to find that the red spot apparantly doesn’t mean anything, as your windshield is free of any papers and the tires are free and clear.  Exiting the structure and driving to the motorway you bid the hidden city farewell.  You will return, given that the road signs stay up and you are able to find it again.

Lufthansa – Premium Economy

Just finished my first Premium Economy experience with Lufthansa and I am very impressed.  It surely was not only two extra inches of legroom like I was expecting.

Boarding my A330 was normal.  No special treatment for Premium Economy, which is fine by me as we all get there the same time, no matter how early you board(Amazing how many people do not seem to understand this).  On board all was excellent as is normal with Lufthansa.  Spotlessly clean and everything in good nick.  Passing two rows of business class seats and the bulkhead row of Premium Economy I arrived at my aisle seat.

The overhead bin swallowed my two carry-ons and coat with ease.  Moving my blanket, pillow, and amenities case(toothbrush, blindfold, ear plugs, socks, headphones), I sat down.  What a difference from Economy.  The seat felt much more comfortable and wider.  Legroom was outstanding, but the star of the moment was the recline angle.  As I leaned back I assumed my seat was broken as it just kept going and going and going.  It was beautiful.  No complaints were heard from the seat behind me, unlike in Economy where anyone over six feet tall hits their knees if you lean back.  Beyond this the video screen is huge and beautiful.

As I got comfortable the flight attendant offered me a refreshing towel and then an orange juice while still at the gate.  This equated to business class on domestic flights.  I was very satisfied as I watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and napped.  Before landing breakfast came around and put a cherry on the whole experience.  Usually I am displeased with Lufthansa food but my omelete plate was outstanding.  Now perhaps it is the same food Economy had and I fooled myself into thinking it was better than it really was but I don’t think so.

I can highly recommend Premium Economy on Lufthansa.  It is a much nicer experience than Economy and not too much more expensive.  It is especially worth it if you need two checked bags, as two are included in the price but in Economy you only get one.  Give it a shot, you can thank me later.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is probably the best carrier in the USA, full stop.  I have heard good things about JetBlue but have never flown on them.  Though it is considered a low-cost carrier it beats the pants off of the major American airlines.  It is incredible how bad the major American airlines are.  It is difficult for me to say that as my father retired as a pilot from United Airlines.

Let us begin with Southwest’s best perk, two free checked bags.  All airlines now charge for checked bags on domestic flights, except for Southwest.  Not just one checked bag, but two heavy checked bags.  It is incredible.  Fares are reasonable and they have sales often.  Then there is their route network.  It covers the country quite well and as long as you are just flying domestic there is no reason to fly any other airline.  The employees are usually quite friendly and fun(especially in comparison to the ancient and bitter national carriers cabin crews).  The seats are comfortable enough except when you have two whales sandwiching you in, as happened on my last flight, and actually happens quite often in the USA.

The only disagreeable thing I have found is the boarding process.  It is a bit of a mess.  But then again since people on all flights always crowd the jetway and ignore their boarding zone there really isn’t much of a difference.  Their fleet is all Boeing 737’s which is a very old plane, but they take good care of them and are updating with the newer versions.  It is true their pilots are young and aggressive but I have never had an uncomfortable or scary ride.  Just fast taxiing and landings.  So I truly have nothing bad to say about flying on Southwest.

My father hated them when he was flying but that was back in the golden age when there was a difference between major carriers and low-cost carriers.  Now that they are on the same level of service I have no qualms about being a fan of this airline.

 

Saudia Airlines

Saudia most likely will not be on your radar of flight options if you are not a Muslim.  This is simply because Saudi Arabia is not a big tourist destination for non-Muslims and there are much better and more convenient connecting flights through Istanbul, Dubai,  and other Middle East gateways. But if you are a Muslim or contract worker there is a good chance you will fly on Saudia.

Their fleet consists of small Airbuses for domestic routes and Boeing 747s and Airbus A330s for long haul.  They have also received new 787 Dreamliners.  Domestic flights are quite disgusting.  The planes are beat up with broken arm rests and tray tables,  disgusting carpet, filth everywhere, and no entertainment system. The cabin crews are excellent foreign workers but appear burned out as most of the customers do not listen to them.  So on some flights they just hang out in the galley chatting with each other.  I don’t blame them.

Food is good but only if you like rice and chicken.  I believe I have gotten the same chicken and rice every single time.  Orange drink is in unlimited supplies and is what most people have.  Not orange juice mind you, orange drink. Juices are also available.

I detest mobile phones for many reasons but in public spaces and especially the confined space of an airplane cabin I hate how people share everything they do.  Headphones are a rarity on these flights and phones only have one volume, maximum.  So you will have to listen to everybody’s conversations, Youtube videos, and children playing games.  Noise cancelling headphones are a life saver on these flights.

If you are a male traveling alone be prepared to move from you assigned seat if a Muslim woman has a seat in the same row.  A Non-Muslim is not allowed to be close to a Muslim women.  This might mean losing your nice window seat and instead settling into a middle seat between two big sweaty blokes.

The larger aircraft are slightly better.  They are just a faction cleaner and in better repair plus they include an entertainment system.  Be warned that any films you watch will be shortened quite a bit as the Saudis censor very liberally.  Anything that hints of sex is gone.  Violence is fine, but not sex.  So enjoy John Wick but not any women being anything less than fully clothed.  Kissing and touching are also out.

I have gotten to fly the new Dreamliner a few times and it is fabulous.  Clean and perfect.  I do not expect this to last much longer though.

Saudia does have one benefit over other airlines and that is its baggage allowance.  Two large heavy bags for International flights and sometimes three.  This is because Saudis shop like mad on vacation and bring back luggage stuffed to the point of blowing off a zipper.  So the airline does have one thing going for it.

But here we end with the biggest reason to not fly Saudia.  No alcohol.  Not a drop on any flight anywhere.  So if you enjoy a twelve hour flight without even a glass of wine with your dinner go right ahead.  But if you enjoy a little taste on your flights stay well back.