FLIGHT REVIEW; KLM FROM DURHAM TEES VALLEY TO COLOGNE

KLM Amsterdam

KLM Amsterdam

Though overall a relatively short journey, this one could so easily have gone wrong. Flying from Durham Tees Valley to Cologne via Amsterdam Schipol, allowed me only forty minutes’ transit between the two flights. And yes, I was a bit concerned about my luggage.

It’s incredibly sad to watch the continual downward spiral of Durham Tees Valley, a spiffy little airport that deserves so much better. It has sensational ease of access, and is truly human in scale. I arrived at four in the morning and, for a long time, my only company was the tumbleweed flitting through the lounge. And, while check in and processing was friendly and efficient, I was still charged the infamous, £6 fee to depart from the airport-something I’ve never encountered anywhere before. Really? I mean, I know Middlesbrough is no photogenic beauty, but charging people to leave it is not an ultimate winner, guys.

The flights; both of these were on the seventy seat, Fokker 70 planes that KLM use on their city hopper routes. At DTV,  we simply walked out onto the tarmac and up the short, retractable flight of steps. It really was as easy as that.

Inside, the Fokker 70 has two abreast seating on the left hand side, and three abreast on the right. Seating in trim KLM blue had plenty of room, was spotlessly clean, and featured tables in the armrest, with magazines and flight info in a pocket built into the back of the seat in front. We received a welcome greeting from our pilot, pushed back on time, and were airborne within minutes.

I had seat 5F on the way out, an aisle seat that gave me more than enough leg room (disclaimer- I am 5′ 6″ height) and, though I did not use the recline, the short flight out to Schipol was supremely comfortable. Smart and efficient cabin staff brought around cold drinks and a snack that consisted of a small oatmeal bar. But after all, this was a one hour, forty minute flight and, all things considered, it passed quickly and pleasantly.

We arrived on our stand at Schipol ten minutes early- a bit of a relief, if I’m honest- and debarked onto a bus for the short ride to the terminal. The transit for my onward flight to Cologne was painless- I was actually at the gate twenty minutes early.

Part of this is down to simple, intelligent design and execution. Though Schipol is a huge airport, it is far and away the most user friendly of any major airline hub on the continent. There were no problems whatsoever here; this airport is almost a joy to use.

KLM livery is distinctive, and immediately recognisable

KLM livery is distinctive, and immediately recognisable

The second flight- also on a similarly configured Fokker 70-also embarked via a short bus ride and a set of in built, exterior steps. Other than that, it was a repeat of the short flight that preceded it- even down to the cranberry oatmeal bar and water service.  Again- and as always with KLM- the staff were smart, crisp and efficient, and the plane was spotlessly clean.  For my money, the Fokker 70 is unbeatable as a short haul product.

Touchdown was smooth and on time, and our bus transfer to the terminal at Cologne was flawless. Customs and immigration was a breeze and- typical German efficiency- luggage was on the belt by the time I came through. Total time from landing to exit? A gratifying ten minutes. The baggage arrival was a huge plus, too.

Recommended? Absolutely. Well done, KLM. A pleasure, as per usual. Thank you for your service.

A-ROSA FLORA; THE RHINE GODDESS

Dreaming wide awake; sailing the Rhine in spring

Dreaming wide awake; sailing the Rhine in spring

The surface of the springtime Rhine was like a mirror, still and silent as a string of cotton candy clouds flitted across it like so many ghostly galleons. From the balcony of the the A-Rosa Flora, I watched entranced as as succession of stunning vistas unfolded around me like a series of staggering drum rolls, one after another.

One minute we motored effortlessly past giant, hulking industrial plants, the new cathedrals of the 21st century. Another minute, and we ghosted past small villages clustered round the spire of some ancient church. A bend in the river would offer up broad, sandy beaches dotted with improbable gangs of roaming horses, enjoying the returning springtime sun.

Passing under vaulting, arched bridges and through long, deep canal locks, we nudged effortlessly into ancient, fabled Dutch and Belgian cities and some lesser known gems along the way. There was sturdy, Gothic accented Ghent, with its cobbled streets and looming spires, and poignant, pretty Arnhem, with its flower strewn waterfront promenade and the famous ‘bridge too far’ that still straddles the Rhine at this juncture.

Vibrant, swaggering Amsterdam and cutting edge architecture in the vast harbour of Rotterdam formed a fabulous contrast to the breezy, yacht studded harbour at Hoorn. Antwerp was all clattering horses’ hooves on cobbled streets and impossibly gorgeous waffles, lashed in hot chocolate sauce, savoured against a soundtrack of ringing church bells in one of the most magnificent grand squares anywhere in Europe.

Pool deck on the A-Rosa Flora

Pool deck on the A-Rosa Flora

We moved deftly through an endless hinterland of street cafes and flower strewn streets and squares, sailing past flotillas of sturdy Rhine coasters, each one with a car or two strapped to it’s stern and, often as not, a furiously barking dog standing guard on deck. Lines of plane trees stood like sentries as the setting sun flitted skittishly between the foliage, warming the ancient river with an amazing, translucent wash.

Our passage was almost dreamlike; our transport a paragon of modern luxury. The A-Rosa Flora was making only her third voyage, yet already she has become an amazing cocoon of style, warmth and excellence. With open seating dining in a window walled restaurant that regularly offered up the most amazing food I have eaten on any river boat, it was a feast for both the palate and the senses.

Smart, crisp and modern, the A-Rosa Flora boasts a vibrant, modish palette that allows for the bright, linear decor to complement the wash of floor to ceiling natural light that suffuses the boat. An elegant observation lounge right forward leads to the dining room via a starboard side inner promenade. One deck down a small, beautiful jewel of a spa offered an almost water level perspective of the outdoor pageant as it slowly unfurled.

On deck, canvas chairs and wooden tables dotted the forward and slightly raised aft deck. In between was a pool, a small golf putting green, and even a sit up, outdoor bar. Like everything else on board, the quality of fixtures and fittings was superlative. Clean, crisp and incredibly comfortable, the A-Rosa Flora is a modern, modular marriage of intelligent design and subtle, finely styled flair. If the opposition isn’t worried, it should be.

The elegant dining room

The elegant dining room

It is no exaggeration to say that dining was a feast; from the freshly baked breakfast breads and strong, piping hot coffee to the gorgeous, unmissable soups, right down to the delicately prepared fish and such evening dishes as reindeer, it was simply fabulous. The desserts were creamy, custard and chocolate confections that dared you to try and ignore them. I failed. Repeatedly.

The cabins? Four suites had proper private balconies, but most- such as mine- had a French balcony. Twin beds that convert to a very comfy double,  a couple of comfy chairs, and a flat screen TV. Three wardrobes and ample drawers provide more than enough storage space; the dress code is smart casual right throughout the trip.

The bathroom is shower only, though it is an excellent shower. Best of all was the floor to ceiling sliding door that opened up onto that balcony rail; a beautiful place for enjoying a glass of chilled sekt as the A-Rosa Flora ghosted silently along the implacable, moonlit Rhine.

All things considered, those rooms are more than simply comfortable; each one is a little haven. And, this being a river boat, everything else is just a simple step away.

With an all inclusive drinks policy on board and a staff that absolutely work their socks off from top to bottom, dawn till dusk, the A-Rosa Flora serves up the storied, ancient Grand Dames that line the banks of the Rhine with singular aplomb and panache. It’s an elegant, indolent and all inclusive way to see these fantastic places, many of them looking like something straight out of the pages of a Brothers Grimm fable.

Exquisite panoramas from the forward Observation Lounge

Exquisite panoramas from the forward Observation Lounge

And, with all your shore excursions and transfers included for the duration, there is no more convenient or inclusive way to see the magnificent, medieval magic of old Europe. Just lovely.

COLOGNE PHOTO ALBUM

Cologne skyline view from the edge of the Rhine

Cologne skyline view from the edge of the Rhine, looking from aboard the A-Rosa Flora

View of the Hohenzollern bridge, from the pool deck of the A-Rosa Flora

View of the Hohenzollern bridge, from the pool deck of the A-Rosa Flora

Amazingly, the trademark Cologne bridge was rebuilt after being destroyed in 1945

Amazingly, the trademark Cologne bridge was rebuilt after being destroyed in 1945

Looking along the Cologne waterfront before sailing

Looking along the Cologne waterfront before sailing on our week long foray up the Rhine

Close up of the Hohenzollern bridge, named after Germany's ruling royal dynasty

Close up of the Hohenzollern bridge, named after Germany’s ruling royal dynasty

Walking along the Rhine, under the eastern span of the huge birdge

Walking along the Rhine, under the eastern span of the huge bridge

Some of the ornate Gothic stone work on the river front

Some of the ornate Gothic stone work on the river front

Another shot of the amazing, triple span bridge

Another shot of the amazing, triple span bridge that spans the Rhine

Cologne's world famous icon; the monolithic, twin spired Dom cathdral

Cologne’s world famous icon; the monolithic, twin spired Dom cathedral

Close up, the huge cathedral still bears the blackened scars of the 1945 bombing

Close up, the huge cathedral still bears the blackened scars of the 1945 bombing

While whole districts of Cologne were flattened, the Dom somehow miraculously survived

While whole districts of Cologne were flattened, the Dom somehow miraculously survived

Seen from close up, the awe inspiring Dom loses any actual perspective.

Seen from close up, the awe inspiring Dom loses any actual perspective.

You have to stand some way back to take in it's blackened, beautiful perfection

You have to stand some way back to take in it’s blackened, beautiful perfection

The centre of Cologne resembles nothing so much as a giant Gothic theme park

The centre of Cologne resembles nothing so much as a giant Gothic theme park

There are cobbled streets, lined with all souildingsrts of honey coloured b

There are cobbled streets, lined with all sorts of honey coloured buildings

Despite the wartime damage, parts of Cologne still look almost fairy tale

Despite the wartime damage, parts of Cologne still look almost fairy tale

The city has enough spires, turrets and towers for any Disney princess

The city has enough spires, turrets and towers for any Disney princess

The town centre looks like a scene from a story by the Brothers Grimm

The town centre looks like a scene from a story by the Brothers Grimm

Even the statuary has an almost scary, medieval kind of feel to it

Even the statuary has an almost scary, medieval kind of feel to it

Bombed and then a battlefield, it's amazing so much of Cologne remains

Bombed and then a battlefield, it’s amazing so much of Cologne remains

Today, the proud, scarred  Queen Of The Rhine is still a magnificent, must see gem.

Today, the proud, scarred Queen Of The Rhine is still a magnificent, must see gem.