Ryan Air – Friend or Foe

New Zealand is great, but one thing we lack is cheap airlines! We only have two domestic airline choices so as it goes in economics, with high demand and lack of competition, airplane tickets can basically cost you an arm and a leg. So when I got to Europe I felt like my arms and legs were perfectly safe when I realised I could get from Madrid to London for €19.99!!! The possible adventures were endless at these ridiculous prices.  If you think I’m exaggerating, I just took a screenshot to prove a point.  Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 6.46.19 pm

RyanAir has clearly made a reputation for themselves for offering some of the cheapest flights around Europe and also for charging fees for everything. Apparently at one point they were considering charging to use the lavatory on the plane. I’ve seen posts that claim the Irish company don’t give a rats ass about customer satisfaction and go by a “Talk to the Hand” policy. So when I flew with RyanAir the first time from Madrid to Belgium I was actually a little nervous before the flight. (I’m never nervous before flying). 

I read and reread the fine print on the website, I double checked that my carry on back pack was within the size limits as I was not prepared to pay 50€ (more than the cost of the flight) to have it checked in. I printed off my boarding pass twice and kept one in my handbag and one in my back pack as I was also certainly not going to pay 15€ for a stupid piece of paper to be printed at the airport. If you know me, you’d realise that these are rather drastic measures I took as I usually; a) never read fine print on anything and b) rock up to that airport 10 minutes before last boarding call. Luckily I had no extra fines to pay! Yaaaay. The flight was on time, comfortable and I didn’t have to pay to use the loo. All in all, I got from Spain to Belgium in 2 hours for 35€.
Not too shabby.

Buuuut, my bargain flight quickly turned from “omg this is ridiculously cheap”, to “sorry how much for a shuttle?” The flight was at 6am in the morning, as at this time the flights are usually less expensive so I had to be at the airport by 5am at the latest. Unfortunately the metro/train system doesn’t open until 5. Add 5€ for the 4.35am shuttle from town to the Airport.
Great, landed in Belgium and we wanted to spend the one day we had there in Brussels, clearly. RyanAir only operates from Charleroi South Airport which guess what…is a 40 minute drive from Brussels. So, add a whopping 17€ shuttle ride one way from the airport to Brussels.
All together my 35€ flight actually cost me 74€.

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Stop the damn fees already!

This was the result of poor planning more than anything, but it showed me that a cheap air deals are cheap because of the early morning time slot and the far out airports.
I did miss the fantastic safety videos; leg room; the free water, cookie and sometimes even wine from domestic AirNZ flights. But essentially I got from A to B on an international flight and I got what I paid for. There is certainly a limit as to the amount I would pay for a flight with RyanAir and it’s worth doing some research into other modes of transport.
But hey, if you’re a struggling student that sits in class all day dreaming about the next trip to take, deal with it!
RyanAir and I are still hitting it off like old friends.

This video is certainly worth a watch, Hilarious

Spotlight on: Amseterdam and Brussels

Next stop/ prochain arrêt/ volgende halte/ nächster Halt Amsterdam and Brussels!

Brussels has 3 official languages; French, Dutch and German. At the main station we needed some directions so I went into the closest magazine store at the central train station and asked the lady if she spoke English. I naively thought she would, but alas I was out of luck there. Surprisingly though, we were able to have a conversation in Spanish. Who would have thought.
They speak different languages in different parts of Belgium, but most people know at least two plus English and maybe Spanish. It just blows my mind that people naturally grow up being exposed to and learning so many different languages that it is very rare for someone not to be multilingual. Especially when in New Zealand many people only speak English, and apparently, not very well.

I thought that only having a few hours in Brussels was not going to be enough time to see and do everything and feel the city. Maybe it was because I could feel myself getting the early signs of a massive fever, or the dismal weather, but 1 day in Brussels was more than enough for me.
The waffels = delicious.
The chocolate = even better.
The delirium beer bar = we needed more.
Other than that, I can’t say t much about the city. We were very unprepared and didn’t really plan on how to spend our time wisely which was certainly a mistake given the short time period. But I am usually very content with wandering around to get a feel of the city, but not this time. I’m sure if I maybe had a local to show me around I could definitely get more from the “capital of the European Union.”

Friday night we took a train from Brussels to the Hague! Three countries all in one day, talk about time efficient traveling. Nearly a two hour rather inexpensive train ride with the conductor reciting his speech in 4 different languages at each stop, we were greeted by a very kind friend of a friend who had agreed to host 5 wide eyed excited exchange students for the weekend. THANK YOU!
Hostels are great but there is just something about walking into the front door of a real homely home in the quaint little streets of the Hague. He took us out for Japanese dinner and I was one of the only ones that could actually handle the spice. The others without such a pallet for spice were drowning the poor noodles in soy sauce until they were swimming. He even gave us transport cards to use on the trams and busses. This made life so much easier!
After a slightly restless sleep and a fever well above what it should have been I was ready to take on Amsterdam!

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I loved Amsterdam. I would go back there in a heart beat. The ladies on their bicycles wizzing past  and looking oh so chic. Strolling along the long canals along side tall colourful houses and rocky little house boats.
We did several touristy things there and it was great.
1. The Heineken Museum: I really appreciated that the brand has been kept in the family for so many generations. Two beers and an extra beer for tasting were included in the museum ticket. It was actually a very interesting and interactive museum which was a nice change.
2. Anne Frank House: Very very long lines, and we all know why. A historic monument in the middle of the city is definitely worth a visit. Maybe get there as soon as it opens to avoid wasting time in line for an hour or so.
3. Canal cruise: Our little group had the boat to ourselves but it was a rather big boat for very few people. I was a fun and different way to see a lot of the city at once, but I think I would have liked a smaller boat where the driver.guide could have been more interactive instead of just listening to headphones.
4. The Iamsterdam sign: Classic, but you have to be pretty pushy to get a good photo, and you most likely will have some stranger posing next to you for a different camera.
5. Red Light District: We kind of just stumbled into this part on the last night and you’ve got to go. It is just ridiculous! Mostly tourists in the area but I don’t think I’ll see a scene like what I saw there again. Some creepy guys were hanging around and making stupid comments so I was glad to be there in a group and with a guy.
6. And of course, a “cafe”: Mellow yellow was our first one we tried, sharing a space cake that was ridiculously strong and delicious at the same time, and also some unground buds of weed. There was an actual menu with different types and everything! Having no idea what to get we randomly picked one, went into the smoky dungeons only soon to realise none of us knew what the hell we were doing. We got there in the end 😉

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The general feel of Amsterdam was definitely my cup of tea, Brussles not so much.
All in all though, a amazing trip with wonderful company!

Spotlight on: Toledo – “Imperial City”

Walking through this town is a like a walk through history. If you are ever in Madrid, the $5, 50 minute bus ride south to this magical town is definitely worth it!
Coming from New Zealand which was only discovered in 1642, Toledo is something almost incomprehensible.

The city has said to have been populated since the Bronze age, and was an important city for the Romans, then the Spanish Visigoths. It became an important Moorish city and is even know for the co-existence of Muslims, Christians and Jews under Islamic Arab rule. The city then succumbed to complete Christian rule and was the capital city of Andalusia, before that role moved to Madrid.

Driving into this amazing city honestly felt like we had entered a disney princess movie, surrounded by castles and towers and cathedrals all situated next to the biggest river on the Iberian peninsula. About 85,000 people populate this gem. There are narrow winding streets that are so old the cobbled stones are gradually slipping down the hills due to the amount of foot traffic over the years. There are even ancient Roman ruins of the Gigantic Visigothic style cathedrals hand built by Pedro Periz filled with art masterpieces from Greco and Giovanni Bellini, Francisco Goya, Raphael, Titian and Van Dyck.

This place has certainly turned into a massive tourist attraction so don’t go on Sundays if you want to avoid the crowds!

St Mary’s Cathedral of Toledo

Inside the Cathedral