Hello everybody, I'm back with my first trip report in over year. After finishing college I moved back home to Wisconsin and spent the last two years preparing to apply to medical school. I took some extra classes to raise my GPA, worked as an EMT, and did a couple other things to beef up my resume. Since I'm going to be starting school this upcoming fall near Chicago, I really wanted to try and do some sort of trip beforehand and have some fun. Some of my other friends that traveled throughout Europe had a blast doing it, plus two guys I went to high school with were now living in London and Amsterdam so I thought it'd be cool to visit them. It was about a year ago that I first broached the idea of a Euro trip to some of my other high school friends, and then the planning got more serious in January. I had been to Europe previously, mostly a couple visits to Poland (my whole family is from there) and then I had also been to Paris and Switzerland.
I was the one organizing everything, and as you can imagine with that came some headaches. First off, everyone had their places that they wanted to visit. Next, I don't know about you guys, but for something like this I'm the sort of person that likes to have everything planned out and finalized well in advance. Well, some of my friends are more of the last-minute type when it comes to booking flights, so that just made me a little more anxious. In the end four guys came on the trip and the final itinerary was London-Barcelona-Paris-Amsterdam-Prague-Berlin, though due to work commitments some people had to leave early. For my flights to/from Europe I managed to get it for $934 on UA. I was considering going with LH through FRA for the return leg so I could try out the 748, but since I was booking with UA I wasn't sure I'd be able to get a window seat. Obviously the short intra-Europe flights are fairly straightforward and not that interesting so I won't give a full detailed report for those, but instead just touch on a few things down below. Now on to the report! (May 12-27)
My flight to LHR was at 9 PM. I favored choosing a late flight to help stave off the jet lag and help increase the chances that I actually fall asleep for a bit on the plane. I mentioned that my friends had put off booking their flights, so by the time they got around to it the ones that I had already bought were no longer among the cheaper options. Therefore, for most of the travel segments of the trip we were all split up. Two of the guys, John and Ali, had taken earlier flights on UA and AA, and then my other friend Bennett was flying UA MKE-IAH-LHR. However, a couple hours before heading to the airport he got notified that his IAH flight was delayed and he got switched to my flight instead. Of course, he still had to fly down from MKE, which I found a bit amusing since I was driving. Its an hour's drive from my home in Southeast Wisconsin to ORD and my mom dropped me off with about an hour and forty-five minutes to go until departure. As we were coming down the Kennedy Expressway I noticed a lot of cars just pulled over and parked on the side of the road right in front of the airport. I guess there's no cellphone lot at ORD?
I had already checked-in earlier in the day via the app on my phone, but I still had to stop at the kiosk to print out my luggage tag. That was taken care of relatively quickly and then it was off to the security screening. I ended up getting in the wrong line because it turned out TSA Pre was actually at another checkpoint down at the other end of the ticket counters. The regular line didn't look too long but I figured I should get my money's worth so I made the walk over. I've been able to take advantage of TSA Pre a few times so far but I think it was money well spent - a much more seamless process! Once past security I took the underground walkway over to the C concourse and when I got to the gate our 767 had just arrived from its previous flight.
I must say I was a bit disappointed to be flying on a 767 (no winglets even!) since nearly of my previous TATL flights had been on the type, and then my flight back to EWR would also be on a 764. AA's ORD-LHR flights are now flown with 787s but UA is still running the route 3x daily with 767s. There was still plenty of time before boarding so I walked down the concourse to check out all the various flights that were arriving/departing.
LH flight to MUC.
When I got back to the gate my friend was waiting for me following his arrival from MKE. With some time to spare yet I went over to the Berghoff Café and got myself a small pizza, because we all know how meager airplane meals are. A few gates over from our flight was this UA 738...heading to MKE! After all those years of RJs its nice that UA has finally added mainline at MKE, and ORD-MKE has got to be one of the shortest mainline flights out there!
When I got back to the gate I just hung around and waited for boarding to start. My seat for this flight was 29K. Once onboard I noticed that some of the flight attendants were British. I wonder if that's just a coincidence?
We pushed back relatively on-time and then taxied out to runway 10L. There was no takeoff queue to speak of and we took off immediately to the east, climbing out over Lake Michigan. About an hour after departure the flight attendants came through the aisle with the drink service and then followed that up by serving dinner shortly afterwards. The options included vegetable pasta, a vegetable stir-fry, or chicken with rice. I went with the latter and it tasted fine. The salad was kind of interesting because I'm not exactly sure if it was beans, seeds, or what was in there, but at least it wasn't your typical, bland mixture of greens. Following dinner we got small cups of mango sorbet for dessert.
The IFE on this 767 was a bit underwhelming. The PTVs in the seat-backs still utilized the old-school volume and channel controls in the armrest. I hit the audio button and tuned to channel 9 to try and listen to ATC, but it didn't work. Finding something to watch consisted of flipping through the channels to see what was on, except there was no way to watch a show/movie from the beginning or pause it. The choices weren't great, but in the end I settled on watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean and then once the main cabin lights were turned off I turned my attention towards trying to get some sleep. Unfortunately, I've never had much success falling sleep in planes and this time it was no different. I took some NyQuil but in the end I'm not exactly sure if I even fell asleep at all. I'm not the smallest guy either so its difficult to get comfortable. With about two hours to go in the flight and the sky brightening up outside I gave up on sleeping and listened to music. About an hour later the flight attendants passed out a "light" breakfast. At least it was better than my AC flight a few years ago when all we got was a big chocolate cookie.
During the descent we got put into a holding pattern and circled around a few times before making our way in. Looking out the window I could see multiple other aircraft circling around with us. We came in from the east right over the heart of London and luckily I was seated on the proper side to get a good view of the city. We landed on runway 27L and then taxied over to terminal 2.
After exiting the aircraft via the jetway it was a bit of a walk over to the border control checkpoint and baggage claim. I guess we must've arrived at an off-peak time because there was pretty much no line to get your passport stamped, but my other friend who had arrived earlier on UA said it took him an hour to get through. The two guys who had who had arrived early in the morning had already gone into town, and then the fourth friend Alex was coming in on FI from KEF. After collecting our bags we sat around in the baggage claim and waited for him. Despite the fact that his flight landed shortly after ours it took him almost an hour to show up. Once we were all together we exited the terminal, ordered an Uber, and headed into town for the start of the trip!
For all of the stops on our trip we stayed in hostels. Not only was it cheap, but when I traveled in Australia and New Zealand I really enjoyed the social atmosphere and meeting other travelers. The rest of my friends were more used to staying in hotels so I was a little worried they might not like it, but in the end I think they were all pleasantly surprised. Of course it probably helped that all of the places we stayed at were among the highest rated in terms of the reviews. In London we stayed at Wombat's and it was conveniently located near the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
We had three nights in London and our friend who lives there did a good job of showing us around. Of course we checked out all of the main sights such as St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the London Eye.
I really enjoyed stopping for drinks at some of the "traditional" pubs, although some of the English beers are rather flat! To be honest, when planning the trip I wasn't overly excited to visit London because it just didn't come across as that exotic of a place. I mainly just wanted us to visit our friend there, but the hustle and bustle of such a large city combined with a cosmopolitan vibe sure makes for a cool setting! Its like a newer, cleaner version of New York City.
Spain was the next stop on the trip, and my flight to BCN was at 7:40 AM so unfortunately that meant we had to get up pretty early. We didn't stay out late the night before but I still struggled to get much sleep. In hindsight, it might've made more sense to fly FR from STN because I didn't realize it was the same distance from the hostel as LHR. Once again I traveled with Bennett, while the other three guys had different flights from LGW.
Since we were flying BA I assumed we'd be going out of the newer terminal 5, but instead we had to go to terminal 3 (overflow gates?). The process here was a little different than what I was used to. There was a main departures lounge with shops/restaurants where everyone waited until a certain time for the departures board to reveal what gate the flight would be departing from. From there it was quite a walk to some of the gates, some of which were sort of sealed off in their own separate rooms. We had some spare time so I did walk down there and explore, but it was pretty quiet, plain, and the windows didn't really offer any good views of the outside.
This was my first time flying BA and I only recently found out that they had scaled back their in-flight service on short-haul routes. Its disappointing to see a legacy airline like BA go that route, but I guess these types of practices are becoming more common nowadays. Unfortunately I made the mistake of sitting on the left side of the aircraft, so while everyone on the other side was treated to a nice view of the coast during landing, all I saw was the water!
Our hostel in Barcelona was close to the main Gaudi buildings Casa Batllo, Casa Milà, and Sagrada Familia. We didn't get to go inside the church since tours had already ended for the day but it was still an impressive structure to see in-person, especially when you consider that its been under construction since 1882!
On day two we walked down La Rambla and then made our way to the beach. Unfortunately we all underestimated the Barcelona sun and got fairly sunburnt. One of my friends in particular got it real bad - he was red like a tomato afterwards and his feet/ankles got so burnt so bad that they swelled up and bothered him for the rest of the trip! I think the only reason we didn't totally get burnt to a crisp was because this girl we met down there was nice enough to give us some of her sunscreen.
We ended the day by taking a bus up to Park Guell. We followed these trails leading up a hill and it was a bit of a hike, but that view at the top was sure worth it!
After two quick days in Barcelona it was already time to head to Paris. Thankfully our flights were around noon so that meant we could sleep in a little, which was definitely needed after a late night out at the club. I was flying AF while my friends were taking VY to ORY. I had to check my bag since it wasn't carryon size, so after finding the AF check-in area I printed out my luggage tag and got in the baggage drop-off line. It should be simple enough but I ended up waiting in line for forty-five minutes - just to drop my bag off! They only had two folks at the counter serving AF/KL, one for economy class and the other premium. There was maybe twenty people in front of me and the line wasn't moving too briskly to start with, but then this family got up to the front and everything came to a standstill. I don't know if one of their flights got cancelled or what the issue was, but they had to bring some supervisor out and then he proceeded to make several phone calls. Instead of moving these folks to the side or having someone else open another position at the counter, we all just sat there and waited. I asked the AF lady that was walking around what the deal was and she simply shrugged and walked away. Eventually everyone else in the line started to become visibly frustrated and then finally one of the people that had been standing around decided to get behind the counter and receive our bags. I didn't really come close to missing my flight because of this but it was still a little ridiculous.
There was another holdup later on once I was aboard the aircraft. Everyone had taken their seats and it seemed like we were all set to go but then the captain announced that our departure time was being pushed back forty-five minutes due to "air traffic congestion" at BCN. During the flight I got served a small chicken salad sandwich, so on the bright side at least AF hasn't cut out the free snacks yet!
Like I mentioned above I had already been to Paris before so I had already seen most of what there is to see. This time though I actually went inside the Louvre, and then its always pleasant taking a stroll past the Eiffel Tower.
At this point one of the guys in the group had to leave the trip and head back home. He was set to graduate and his parents wanted him to attend commencement, so he only stayed in Paris for one night. Unfortunately, the trip didn't end well for him and it started when he left his wallet in the cab on the ride from ORY (he actually got it back in the mail a few weeks later). He wanted to get out and see as many sights as he could the day we got there, but soon after we arrived it started raining and it lasted throughout the evening. We decided to turn in early that night so that we could get up in the morning and hit a few of the main sights before he had to go to the airport. That plan backfired because when he woke up that next morning he had an email from AA stating that his flight had been cancelled. The only option was to take an earlier flight to DFW, so he pretty much had to head straight to the airport at that point. Basically he came to Paris for one night and got to see nothing!
For the journey to Amsterdam we mixed things up and took a train instead of flying. I was actually looking forward to it because we took the Thalys, and I had never been on a high-speed train before. At a speed of 180 MPH stuff out the window just whizzed by, and the ride from Gare du Nord to Amsterdam Centraal only took a little over three hours. Taking the train was also nice because that way you didn't have to worry about the various hassles you might encounter at the airport. You just show up at the station and head straight to the train.
Our hostel was right next to the red-light district, so it was a pretty busy, touristy part of town. While in Amsterdam I checked out the Sexmuseum and the Anne Frank House, the latter of which took an hour to get into. We also rented some bikes and rode through Vondelpark. All of the canals definitely create a picturesque setting!
Two more guys had to leave from Amsterdam, so continuing onto Prague with me was Bennett and our friend from Amsterdam. I originally wanted to fly KL, but OK cost half the price.
I can see why Prague is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities with all of the medieval-looking buildings. It reminded me of Poland, and judging from some of the signs/text and overhearing people speak it seems like the languages are similar as well. The nights out were pretty crazy, and cheap - it pretty was much only 1$ for beers!
The last stop on the trip was Berlin and for this final leg of the trip I was traveling solo. I figured while I'm all the way over here why not spend two more days and cross another place off the list? Traveling to Berlin consisted of another train ride and it only cost me 25$. Unfortunately no high-speed rail this time so the trip took around five hours, and the compartment-style seating wasn't conducive to getting comfortable and catching up on some sleep. On the plus side the scenery was pretty nice as we passed through the region around the German-Czech border.
When I got to Berlin I was pretty exhausted so all I did I was walk to Alexanderplatz and then I turned in early. On my last full day in Europe I went to see the Holocaust Memorial, the Topography of Terror, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag building, Checkpoint Charlie, and the East Side Gallery. I really appreciate the history of World War II and the Cold War so for that reason I found Berlin quite interesting.
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. After two extremely fun, memorable weeks it was time to head back home to the US.
The night before leaving was another late one. I went on this bar crawl organized by the hostel, except we didn't get to the nightclub until 2 AM. I basically had to leave right when we got there since I had to get up at 7 for my flight, so in the end I didn't really get to experience the famous Berlin nightlife. I had some trouble trying to order an Uber in the morning - it must not be as popular in Germany because there weren't any available drivers. At that point I started feeling a little anxious, but then I noticed the app gave me the option to order a taxi instead. It took about 20 minutes to get to the airport, and when I told the driver I was flying UA he dropped me off at terminal C. I asked him if he was sure since I could see the UA 767 parked at the other main building, but he insisted it was the right spot. Predictably, inside there was no sign of anything UA and I had to walk over to the other terminal.
The check-in process was brisk, although one of the airport employees who was checking passports did slightly interrogate me about my travels. Right next to the check-in counter was my gate and its respective security checkpoint. I was somewhat familiar with the airport situation in Berlin about how they are building a replacement for TXL, and I could see now why that's needed. Its not exactly the most spacious terminal building, and it does give off a dim, old vibe. Once airside there was no means of walking around to explore, and there was only a small food stand offering a limited assortment of snacks and drinks. I simply sat around and waited for boarding to start. My seat for this flight was 32L.
After pushing back from the gate we taxied out to runway 8L for an immediate takeoff. It was a nice, clear morning in Berlin so I got a nice overview of the city during the climb-out.
About an hour after take-off lunch was served. The options were similar to what was offered on my flight from ORD: chicken, pasta, or stir-fry. Just like the other time I went with the chicken and I had no complaints. Shortly after the meal we got the same small cup of ice cream as on the initial flight, except this time it was coffee flavored.
Once I was done eating I threw down the window shade and tried to get some sleep. I don't know if the 764 cabin is actually more spacious but for some reason I was able to get more comfortable this time around. It still wasn't the best quality sleep but at least it felt like I got a few hours of rest. Our flight route took us over Iceland and Greenland but unfortunately I wasn't able to see anything due to the cloud cover. Thankfully the IFE on this flight was more modern and similar to what was offered on my recent long-haul flights on AC, LH, and QF. It was a touch-screen PTV and you could select from a range of moves, TV shows, games, etc. There was also a USB outlet so that I could charge my phone. Following my nap I watched the film Passengers with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. The movie was ok but I felt they could've made the ending more interesting. When the movie ended we were already over the Northeastern United States.
The pre-arrival snack consisted of a warm ham and cheese sandwich. The descent was smooth and we landed on runway 22L. With that, I was back in the US, and at EWR for the first time.
Here's the 764 that had brought us from TXL. It would be heading to ZRH later in the evening.
My layover was an hour and a half. I'm not sure how busy customs processing at EWR can be, but from the looks of it there was only 1-2 other flights that had arrived around that time so it was fairly quiet and empty. After getting through that I dropped off my bag at the re-check counter and then headed upstairs to the security checkpoint. Its kind of annoying having to go through security again, but at least I had TSA Pre. I must say UA's terminal at EWR is a lot nicer than I thought it would be, maybe even nicer than ORD. I especially liked the interesting array of restaurants and food options.
There was still some time until my flight so I sat down at this Asian place and got myself some Pad Thai and steamed dumplings. Looking out over the tarmac afforded a great view of the New York City skyline. I only visited here for the first time a year ago.
When I got to the gate they were already boarding my zone so I headed aboard. My seat this time was 30A.
Soon afterwards we pushed back, the engines fired up, and we taxied out to runway 22R. During the climb-out I got another good view of Downtown New York. I don't know how I had missed this, but I had no idea that they are also equipping 757s with the Scimitar-style winglets!
I was also pleasantly surprised that our 757 had PTVs, which is not something I had experienced too often on previous domestic flights. On the downside, midway through the flight the flight attendants were forced to suspend the beverage service due to turbulence right as they reached my row. The turbulence was a bit surprising since the skies were clear. In addition, I'm not sure if it was coming from the person sitting right next to me or what, but someone near me had some bad BO!
Obviously this was a much shorter flight and it wasn't long before Lake Michigan came into view and the engines spooled down indicating our descent into ORD. ORD is mostly an east-east operation nowadays as far as landings and takeoffs are concerned. The wind happened to be from the west that day, so we got a good view of the city and airport as we flew past.
We then spun around and landed smoothly on runway 9L. From there it was a bit of a long taxi over to gate B7. Our 757's next flight was to DUB.
I was able to get my bag fairly at the luggage claim, except then it took my mom 30 minutes to show up outside the arrivals curb. With that, I headed home for some much needed rest and recuperation!
This is my 37th trip report and I hope you enjoyed reading it! It would've been easy to plan a trip for myself and travel solo, but going with a group of friends definitely made it more fun and memorable. I liked each place that we visited for different reasons, but if I had to pick I'd say that I enjoyed Berlin and Prague the most. I'm hopeful we can do a trip to Italy next summer. In terms of the flights my main gripe would be not be able to sleep due to lack of space/comfort, but I guess I can't be too upset with UA about that because it wouldn't have been much different on other airlines. I'm kind of a big guy so I suppose the only solution would be to pony up some cash to sit in the premium cabin. I always prefer to choose foreign carriers for long-haul flights but I guess UA isn't a bad option. Once again thanks for reading and comments are always appreciated!
Will you watch the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions on Sunday? Only if coach Eric Mangini resigned after a loss.