Smitten with Helsinki

imageTo be honest, I couldn’t get myself excited about coming here. I did try. I booked this trip months ago when a casual brain fart at the start of the year took me on an adventure to Denmark, then Sweden and Norway. One of my life’s Bucket List has always been to set foot in all of the five Nordic countries. Just Finland left (Iceland happened some years back). So I booked a long weekend via Expedia. I downloaded a guidebook on Finland months ago. I’ve read it over and over but just couldn’t get into it. The language didn’t help. Though everyone speaks fluent English here, Finnish is one of the most visually daunting Western languages I’ve come across so the thought of asking any of the locals how to get to wherever was a terrifying prospect. Yet now I’ve been here just a day and a half…and I love it. I really love it.

On the drive from Vantaa Airport about 45 mins from the city centre, I already had a feel Helsinki was different from all other Nordic cities I’ve visited. It just felt bigger and that surprised me. I didn’t do my homework well enough before I left but I’m glad now of that. I’m completely enchanted. With my other trips I researched hugely and knew the places I wanted to visit as I hit the ground. I saw and did lots but ended up knackered and feeling that I just did the tourist thing instead of just chilling and experiencing the place outside the guidebooks. But when I arrived here I had no clue. When I stepped out of my hotel today onto that road – any road – that as JRR Tolkien always warned might carry one-off on high adventures unknown…I was carried away. I just got out and strolled up any street that caught my eye, not caring if it took me to such and such ‘must see’ place or not. I loved just taking in the calm and laid-back atmosphere, drinking it in after the madness of my home city, London.

I’d love to be a travel writer, but I can’t pretend to play at that with so short time in my host city so all I can do is comment on the biggest thing that’s hit me here: of all the new cities I’ve visited this year – Copenhagen, Malmo, Oslo and Geneva – this is my favourite. I liked Helsinki instantly.

As I walked out this morning under a clear blue sky and in T-shirt I just could not help but feel a liking for this place. The drive in the evening before had already influenced me. The closer we got to the city centre the more I could see how I’d underestimated this place. Helsinki is 3rd largest of the Nordic cities after Stockholm and Copenhagen. It does not have the bustle of the Danish capital but it feels far bigger and more grand than Copenhagen. I haven’t been to Stockholm yet so can make no comparison.

Though I never fully understood why until now, Finland is of Nordics but also at arm’s length from its cousins. Its language immediately sets it apart from the other 4 though Swedish is also an official language here too. Helsinki is also known as Helsingfors in Swedish. But it’s more than the language that creates the difference. It was once and for many years part of Russia and that is what I can feel so strongly around me. The city has a noble and grand feel to it unlike ‘cutesy’ and brash Copenhagen or laid back sleepy Oslo. St. Petersburg is only 3 hours away by sea and from pictures I have seen of that city I can see somewhat mirrored in some of the architecture here. The Finns also seem markedly more reserved than their Swedish, Danish and Norwegian counterparts. Not unfriendly and certainly not xenophobic: like all the other Nordic cities I’ve visited this year, Helsinki seems cosmopolitan. There are a lot of East Asians here, either living or passing through. Finland’s national airline, Finnair, has positioned itself as a prime European connector to China and the Far East. My very pleasant flight over here was full with passengers of Asian origins flying into Vantaa to take connecting flights to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo. This is the other real significant thing you feel here. It’s one of those places where West and East and East-East meet.

Oslo Harbour and its Islands were one of my highlights of that trip but not to belittle it in any way because I have very deep and fond memories of there…but Helsinki’s harbour and islands follow the trend of the city: Grand and awesome.

As I write, I’m now back in the hotel after a very fulfilling day. Tomorrow I set for the Estonian capital Tallinn in what was the former Soviet Union. Tallinn’s Old City is a World Heritage Site as one of the best preserved Medieval cities in Europe. I have done absolutely no homework at all on it but up for the adventure. When I booked my tickets on the Hydrofoil crossing tomorrow, I jokingly asked the cashier whether Estonia was open on a Sunday but was met with stony silence and a menacing frown. When I posted this experience on Facebook, my only Finnish friend who now lives in London posted back: “The funny thing is that I’m not sure Estonia IS open on Sunday”. Could be an interesting day.

Apologies for no pictures in this post. Hotel wifi seems not to be coping.

R.I.P UK?

imageTwo weeks from today just over 4 million people north of the English border will be voting in an election that could have the most profound impact on my life. I’m powerless to do anything about it and not allowed a say on the matter. The matter being decided is the life or death of my country, the United Kingdom. Two weeks from tomorrow I will have not long landed in a foreign capital on the passport of a country that may no longer exist.

This post is not about the arguments for and against Scottish independence. It’s also not my perspective on the valid reasons the Scots have for seeking independence I believe they have. I am a unionist. It’s about the lack of realisation of what could be in store I perceive from the rest of the country, the other 55 million whose lives may be impacted. I can understand the lethargy in some ways. Not being able to have a say in the matter is incentive enough to want to disengage. The real shock is that the British Government has admitted it has no Plan B if the Scots vote to leave the Union. As the polls stand now, the long-standing ‘No’ majority has been whittled away to just a 6 point lead: 53% over 47% in the Yes camp. All either side needs to win is 51% and there are still 2 weeks to go. For our Government to have no Plan B is evidence of breath-taking arrogance and complacency in their disbelief such a state of play would exist as I’ve always suspected could.

On the morning the results are announced, the media group I work for will, like very many others, be broadcasting live from Scotland. I may not know the results until My flight touches down. Only then will I know whether I still have the same nation to belong to, the same flag to be proud of, the same passport to travel by or whether it will all be about to change. My employer will contemplate whether it can carry on broadcasting to Scotland or not. Every British bank will know whether it’s business as usual or profound volatility on the Stock Markets and a possible run on the pound sterling. Every business in the UK that has a dot.co.uk domain will be assessing the financial costs of reprinting corporate stationery should ‘dot anything dot UK’ be no longer valid. The Northern Irish may be re-assessing their own place in the Union as Irish Republicans may gain momentum for a vote to join with Ireland. The Welsh, for me a country with a far more obvious national identity and language than the Scots, will be rethinking their place in the Union. The British Labour Party may be assessing the loss of 50 Labour MPs that Scotland currently sends to Westminster to bolster their numbers and that impact on the political landscape south of the border which grows more Conservative the further south you go. The Queen may be re-assessing what her role will be north of the border if any at all. Our military personnel employed to run our Nuclear Deterrent based in Scotland will be wondering whether they still have jobs seeing that becoming a nuclear free zone is part and parcel of an independent Scotland. With that comes the possibility of a UK exit from having a nuclear deterrent altogether as there is no Plan B to move the naval facilities elsewhere and no obvious replacement to the Faslane naval base.

Further afield, the remnant UK (or whatever we might be called) will be contemplating less voting power in Europe, a potential loss of seat at the top table of the UN. The USA maybe contemplating life without the guaranteed assistance of its strongest and most dependable ally. NATO will be assessing the risks to its North Atlantic defences capabilities. Governments in Madrid, Rome and Brussels who face similar rumbling sentiments for national break up (most pressing in Spain) will also be watching the results of the Scottish vote very closely.

I’m aware that some or much of the above might not necessarily be bad outcomes to the rest of the UK for some. Fair do’s. There are myriads of other minutiae none of us know yet that will affect us both north and south if Scotland is to become like the Irish Republic: in close proximity and culturally more like brothers yet nonetheless foreigners and no longer part of our national psyche.

Fellow Brits in the other 3 Home Nations: if you have thought up to now that the vote in Scotland in 14 days time is just a matter for them and not us…think again. We are 14 days away from possibly the most seismic shift in our lives any of us have ever known and I include all wars in that assessment. A seismic shift of such great magnitude than our 4 united nations have known for many centuries. A seismic shift that will extend beyond our borders and ripple across the world. That is not me being grandiose and over-stating our significance. It’s just the way it will be.

Cheesy Dreams…

imageI think I might be a prolific ‘lucid dreamer’. I’ve jokingly titled this post Cheesy Dreams (as in being about dreams induced by eating cheese before bedtime as the old wives’ tale would have us believe). I don’t consume a lot of cheese and seldom before bed but I do have some of the wackiest dreams.

A Lucid dream is one where the dreamer is aware that he is dreaming while dreaming if that makes sense. Once he is conscious of this he may have the power to predict where the dream is going and may even manipulate the dream to some degree, replay it over and over or even pause and rewind. I’m not sure if all Lucid dreamers can do all of the above but I can.

For a dream to be classed as Lucid, some scientists say all the following criteria must apply (source Wikipedia ‘Lucid Dream’):

Awareness of the dream state (orientation);
Awareness of the capacity to make decisions;
Awareness of memory functions;
Awareness of identity;
Awareness of the dream environment;
Awareness of the meaning of the dream;
Awareness of concentration and focus (the subjective clarity of that state).

In most of my Lucid Dreams all of the above apply except I don’t always know the meaning. The most recent production was one of those. In nearly all cases I can remember and replay the dream in my mind while awake anywhere, anytime. Lucid dreaming is thought to be rare and has in the past been linked to the Occult, Eastern Religions or New Age. I don’t practice any of those – all I know is I dream in spectacular hi-def colour. Most people including me most times aren’t aware we are dreaming, which we all do (including PJ my cat who seems to have whole conversations with himself in his). We seldom remember our dreams and then only fleetingly before it is swallowed by our waking rational minds.

imageSo to the latest epic (and this whole blog as just been an excuse to write about it as I just had to do SOMETHING with it). I’m on an airliner. Not just any old airliner but the new Airbus A380 Double Decker. I’m in the dream but very much an observer of the action rather than part of it. I seem to be one of the Cabin Crew as during the ensuing plot I have access to parts of the plane only authorised personnel would have. It’s not just any old airline but my favourite British Airways. Ok, I can see where this dream might be coming from. As a kid I always wanted to work for BA. I’ve flown with them 4 times this year already with 2 more flights to come. Back to the Dream…

I’m on the lower deck of the plane and we have just taken off heading west out of Heathrow to the US. Now at this point I should say I woke out of the dream several times but went back into it, starting from the beginning. The first time in, I didn’t know where we were flying to. By some point later it was New York. As we were ascending the plane suddenly lurched violently to the right while the in-flight service was starting up. Then the dream jumped forward by a few hours. It was daylight when we took off but now it was dark outside and the passenger cabin was quiet as people slept.

Then one guy sat on the very last window seat on the right of the cabin called us (Flight Attendants) to say that a mysterious sleeping passenger, covered in a blanket had appeared in the seat next to him. The man was not sat there on take off and was not known to the guy complaining. When he checked in, he had this whole row to himself. The sleeping passenger was a blonde, good-looking young guy. His head was rolled back, mouth open, eyes shut. One of my colleagues went to wake him up. He slumped forward and the blanket covering him fell off…and he was bleeding from his chest profusely.

imageWe didn’t want to start a panic (it seemed) so we carried the bleeding guy through to the crew quarters at the rear of the plane. As all this happened at the back, the passengers all seemed to be asleep and unaware. There was no panic in any case. The crew quarters held a number of bunk beds where crew can rest on long haul flights. We laid the guy out on one bunk and then two things happened: one of the crew called the pilots on the internal phone to explain the situation. He immediately ordered a head count of all passengers on both decks. Next thing, we were walking through counting, checking bathrooms and locking doors. The other thing was we knew there was a medical doctor on board called Dr Singh who was in First Class at the front of the upper deck. BA doesn’t put its First Class on the upper deck of the A380 btw. A small detail but one I picked up on in the dream.

Two further shocks were to follow…actually four before the dream would end frustratingly abruptly. The passenger head count revealed there was now one more passenger on board than was accounted for on the passenger manifest or the head count before take-off. The young still unconscious bleeding boy was included in the count. Somehow, not sure how, it turned out the young guy was Dutch. His first name was Martin but he was not or should not have been among the passengers on our flight. The next shock was Dr Singh arrived on the lower deck to examine Martin…whom he pronounced dead at the scene.

The next shock was revealed by the Captain. He had radioed back to Heathrow explaining our situation with one too many passengers on board and a fatality and was requesting an emergency return landing slot. The Control Tower guy he was speaking to replied back how odd it was that a Dutch KLM flight had earlier landed from the USA reporting one of their passengers missing. A guy went missing sometime time while they were in the air and they were one down on their manifest and head count. It also turned out that we had been in a near miss accident with that same KLM flight on take off accounting for the violent lurch to the right at the start of the flight.

imageThe final happening in this weird and fascinating play out was that as we were preparing to return to Heathrow, all the Cabin Crew and Dr Singh, had come out of the room where Martin’s body lay. The room was dark and silent and was the closing scene for me though I woke and tried and tried and tried to go back into the dream because I HAD to know what happened after the last thing I saw. That last thing was inside the darkened crew quarters but the body of the young deceased Dutchman was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a mysterious and sinister beautiful dark-haired, dark-eyed BA Flight Attendant in pristine uniform stood there adjusting her make-up. And she had most certainly not been on board at take off.

So there it is. My latest Lucid dream. I’m not aware of any meaning to it but I have wanted to go back into it to find out what happened next. Maybe the dream will manifest itself into a short story one day.

Or maybe it just has.

Son of Hamas

imageTo some he was known as the ‘Green Prince’, the son and heir to a father much beloved by a suffering people. His father was one of the seven men who founded the entity we know today as Hamas – leaders of the Palestinian people in Gaza, classified in the West as one of the world’s most deadly terror organisations. He was raised from childhood living and breathing the mind and soul of Hamas and was expected to be among its next generation of leaders who would continue the struggle against Israeli oppression. He is now living in exile in California under a death sentence from his own people, publicly disowned by the father he worshipped whom he betrayed by secretly working for Israeli Intelligence for a decade before turning his back on violence and hatred for good. He now spends his time speaking out for peace and reconciliation. How is it possible anyone in the boiling pit of Middle Eastern hatred centuries old could do this?

People who know me or anyone who has read this blog will know that I am an avid Middle East watcher and have been most of my life. It would be fair to say I am openly pro-Israel but never label me a Non-critic also. As I write, war rages in Gaza. In the lead up to and during I have consumed far more information, news and opinions on the situation than the average Joe. That’s not a boast, it’s fact. I am a news junkie – news and opinions from all angles, not just mine, and I’ve read the thoughts of those closer to me whose opinions matter more because they are in my social media circles. Until now I’ve not really posted up my own thoughts in any great depth and not because I haven’t wanted to. I felt a very firm nudge in my spirit not to…until now. The reason was because of a book that came back to mind I started reading I’d heard about but never read called ‘The Son of Hamas’ by Mosab Hassan Yousef.

A shameful admission for an Arts graduate is that I hate reading (books, that is). Can read all day stuff online or in newspapers so for any book to get my attention is going some. I’m late coming to this book. It came out in 2010 and been reprinted with a postscript since. It came across my desk at work some time ago and I can’t remember in what context. Don’t think I read more than the back cover. As the situation in Israel/Gaza looked set to blow big I felt prompted to get the book and from the first paragraph I was hooked.

I have never read a book that has done my head in so much.

The book is an autobiography by Mosab co-written with American freelance journalist, Ron Brackin. On its release it made the top of several international Best Seller lists. Mosab tells his story in an un-emotive yet instantly engaging way. Case in hand, I was reading it on my iPad on the Tube on the way to work one day and noticed the young, smart Muslim guy next to me start leave off what he was doing on his smart phone and I could sense him reading my iPad over my shoulder several times. I didn’t let on I knew this but later caught a glimpse of his phone screen where he had Googled and found the book and author and was taking a read through. I wonder if he ever bought it. It will not be the read he may have been expecting from the part of the story I was up to at that point that’s for sure.

imageThe autobiography charts Mosab’s childhood in the West Bank and what life was/is like for Palestinians. The perpetual struggle against Israel and Israel’s iron fist intelligence activities to stay ahead of terrorism. The account of his abduction and torture by Israel when only 18 is brutal and not a one-off occurrence for him, his father, brothers or many of his people. Yet, without giving anything away you will not read on the back cover, Mosab eventually agrees to work covertly for the Shin Bet, Israel’s notoriously ruthless intelligence arm. Was this through a sheer and understandable desire for self-preservation or had the Israelis brainwashed him to such a degree? You’ll have to read it to come to your own conclusion.

When I say that this book did my head in, I meant it. There were many times where what I was reading seemed so hard to comprehend or believe that I was many times tempted to abandon it. It also got to a point just before the end that I almost came to the conclusion that I did not trust the author anymore. I certainly could not comprehend how this man could apparently make a 180 turn from hating Israel to willingly working for it to protect Israelis at the expense of his own people. I Googled around to find out more about him, asked former colleagues who worked in publishing what they knew of him, asked Facebookers and Tweeters based in Israel what they knew of him. Even asked my friend on the staff of the Israeli Embassy in London what she knew. I got positive responses but not yet come across anyone who met him. Despite this and up to almost the end of the book I still had my doubts.

One person who I trust implicitly that I consulted as I tried to find out more on Mosab is a former colleague and current friend who has written a number of books on the lives of ordinary people out there on all sides of the divides. She managed to visit the West Bank for the first time this year. I emailed her on my angst at what I was reading and was it possible for this man to make such a volte face? Had she met him at all? Interviewed him? She hadn’t but had reliable friends who reported on his sincerity. In almost a scold at my lack of willingness to believe the impossible, she told me she has met other Palestinians who have made similar life-changing decisions in their regard toward Israel but who now live covert lives for fear of death if they speak out.

I pressed on with the book to the end. Just as well I did but also just as well I read the book now and not when it was first published. The postscript written in 2011 answered many of my questions on the author’s sincerity I still would have been left with after the first edition.

As the current situation in Gaza has intensified, I have had one eye on my TV screen and one on this book. I’ve read the blatherings and bleatings of the emotionally stimulated but uneducated and ignorant in both traditional and social media. I’ve seen the gathering pace of the global movement to ostracize and demonize Israel. Because I have watched this area for so long I can honestly say this is not a surprise to me nor should be to any Christian who has read to the end of that other Book. It is especially some of these people who need to read Son of Hamas.

Leaving aside all my doubts over Mosab, this book opened my eyes wider to my understanding and empathy with the plight of the Palestinians. Mosab took me deeper into the understanding of their mentality and culture. Moreover I got to understand the very many different ideologies that war with each other for control of the minds and souls of the Palestinians. Ask yourself this question: if what is going on in Gaza is war between Israel and the Palestinians, why is it that the far more numerous Palestinians on the West Bank are not up in arms too? What is the difference between those who lead the Palestinians of Gaza (Hamas) and those who lead the Palestinians of the West Bank (Fatah)? This is one of the many huge revelations Mosab reveals along with many, many others which will surprise and shock.

imageIn this book, the Son of Hamas or the Green Prince as was his code name while working for the Shin Bet, a man raised from childhood to eventually aspire to Jihad (Holy War against non-Muslims) reveals the mind and psychology of extreme Islam. If for no other reason than to gain an understanding of the global threat we all face by the Jihadis of ISIS and how they think and what their end goal is then you need to read this book. Hamas is aligned in thought, practice, hope and aspiration to ISIS, Hezbollah, Boko Haram and all the other extremists that threaten ANY culture that has not bowed the knee to radical Islam. I blogged on the coming creation of a pan-national Islamic Caliphate over a year before any of us heard of ISIS.

But even all the above is not the lasting core message Mosab wrote this book to leave the reader with. What was it that enabled a man of war to lay down his weapons and make it his mission in life to minister peace and reconciliation? What drastically life-changing experience did it take to bring him to forgive his enemies? What extreme antidote did it take to neutralise the deep poison of hatred birthed between two related peoples centuries ago? It is that tale that is the lasting legacy of this son of Hamas.

Son of Hamas is available in print at Amazon and is downloadable for e-readers.

Geneva in a day. No way…?

imageAbsolutely no way. It’s an insult to any major city or country to say you can ‘do it’ in a day or even just ‘do it’ at all. But can you fly into Geneva from the UK and do some heavy duty sightseeing and experiencing and then fly out all within 12 hours? Yes you can.

I’m a big fan of British Airways. I follow them on Twitter so when I read they were launching cheap day return flights to 6 European cities for under £100 I sat up. Dublin, Edinburgh, Rome, Munich, Vienna and Geneva are the first 6 of these test day returns. The downside is that at the moment they are only available from Heathrow. Good for me as I live not far away. The upside is…BA.

So last Saturday, I put it to the test and flew out for a day trip to Geneva. Just what could I get done in how much time and at what cost?

imageBA’s cheap day returns are only available on the weekend. It’s hand baggage only of course. I took the first flight to Geneva from Terminal 5 (the 4th departure of the entire day) at 06:40. The flight was around 1hr 20mins so was on the ground in Geneva around 9am local time. No baggage to reclaim so headed for the exit. TIP ONE: do your research. Found out from Trip Advisor that EVERYONE who lands in Geneva gets a free 1hr travel pass into the city centre. I did my research and was able to help other new arrivals who hadn’t. A ticket machine is stood next to the exit from the baggage reclaim. Press the button. Get your free pass et voila.

TIP: Google or consult Trip Advisor before you go.

I’ve done a fair bit of first time travelling to European cities this year to make comparisons. I did find Geneva wanting in terms of clear directions for travellers but if you’ve got any sense and logic you’ll find your way.

So off into Geneva. Follow the signs to the buses and look for the No. 5 (usually parked outside the exit from the Terminal). Don’t expect the driver to open the door for you. Figure it out and you’ll open it yourself. Don’t expect him to look at the ticket you show him on entering. No-one pays. It’s all free. For an hour.

TIP: don’t throw away the boarding pass from your flight. You may need it to prove you are a new arrival by bus ticket inspectors.

imageYou won’t need an hour to get into a Geneva. I got off the bus at the ‘Nations’ stop. Having done a Google plus asking a sleeping Swiss sat next to me I knew this was the stop for the European HQ of the United Nations. Why is this a place to see? Well look, the Geneva Convention on human rights was brokered here. 160 international organisations are headquartered in this district, in major world crises Geneva is never far from the headlines and the world’s decision makers plus….they have some lovely fountains you can run through and get soaked in.

imageOnwards from the UN, I decided to walk into town. As ever I have a map on me. I always travel with one but never use it. If you (if anybody) read my blog from Oslo..I seldom use one. Yes I consult and study maps before I travel but not so far when I’m on the road. I head down what I think is the way to town. No sign of Lake Geneva yet or the one landmark by which I hoped yo navigate my way around – the ‘Jet d’Eau’ – or the 150ft high fountain which is the city’s signature. I spot the very top of it rising above the buildings as I descend.

imageSoon I spot signs to the City centre. I can set my course from these and from where I saw the Jet d’Eau but I walk through a residential area in a clearly poorer district of the city and one mostly populated by migrants. Their sort of car boot sale was on that day. Streets were closed and wares were for sale displayed on rugs and sheets just on the pavements. It was a generally a nice atmosphere. Some techie stuff looked too good and new to be 2nd hand and nothing was in packaging. I was just passing through but apart from a couple of photos, I felt it best to keep my iPad tucked away, hold onto my bag and to move on quickly, especially after I noticed some guys paying too close attention to me.

The guide books tell you that Geneva is small and compact, which it is in the centre. If you are not at all interested in the UN, ignore it, head to town and gain time elsewhere.

Into town and all before 11am local time. Found my way to the lakeside to be confronted by that fountain. And it is impressive. It shoots up the highest of its kind in the world – 150ft.

TIP: check the weather before you travel. The fountain will be switched off in adverse weather conditions.

Booked a 1hr 15min cruise on the Lake. If you want an instant tan in just an hour, forget tarting around on so sunbed. I’m brown skinned and I tanned in an hour and my workmates noticed.

Being honest, the best bit about the boat cruise was just being on a clear, freshwater lake in the sun on a Saturday that might otherwise be spent mowing the lawn. There was commentary in a dozen languages it seemed, but for me the joy was just being there. And I did at last get to breeeeeeeeeeaaaaaathe and chill.

imageBack on dry land and the short walk of say 20 minutes to the Old City was next. You can’t miss it…it’s on a hill and part of the city skyline. As you leave the modern city and head into the old I felt a very distinct change. Bearing in mind I was there on a Saturday, which is heaving at home. The Old City is sedate, refined, quiet, social, dignified and beguiling all at once. It was like I stepped over a line in a movie. It all became quiet and almost rural. Distant sounds of traffic, the square where I found a gorgeous Italian restaurant to eat was filled with the hubbub of people socialising and eating together. Just outside the al fresco restaurants you could hear the spring water public fountains from which travellers fill their bottles.

imageOnwards and upwards to the Cathedrale de St. Pierre. If you are into religious history at all, Geneva was a hotbed of the Reformation under Luther and Calvin. I’m not, so that kind of washed over me. The Cathedral I thought was sadly dead inside and depressingly austere. Its one redeeming feature is the hike up the tower to see the view over the city, but one I didn’t take. If you go, don’t follow my lead on this. As long as the Jet d’Eau is in full Flow, you won’t find any other viewpoints overlooking the fountain and city you can get to in time to make best use of your day so get your arse up those loooooong stairs.

So how were the Genevans or Genevois as I’ve read they are called? Geneva is the 4th first ever visited by me city I’ve landed in this year. As with the others, people were friendly, and welcoming and English widely spoken. That said, there is a very welcome caveat. English was not as fluent as I’ve heard on my other travels and surprising for a city that is host to the European HQ of the UN, also the HQ for 160 international world organisations but it was so good to practice the basic French I knew that sped back to mind just being there. The Genevois I met were all that one could want in a city you are visiting for the first time: welcoming, communicative and not surprised to see you there. It is without a doubt the most cosmopolitan city I’ve visited this year so far, bar London.

I still had time to mooch around town before my flight home but didn’t do that much shopping. Plenty to tempt me but I never went for that. I stepped into THE MOST amazing department stare ever visited called The Manor built on 5 storeys. Never seen any shop like it ever. Utterly fantastic and a must go visit.

So to costs. Flight was £79 return, scheduled from Heathrow. My travel to Heathrow was covered on my monthly London travel pass. Travel into Geneva from the airport is free for all arrivals. The 1hr 15 min cruise on the Lake cost £10. Lunch was the most expensive e item at nearly £40 (main, 2 beers and pud) and the 6 min journey out to the airport from the city cost £3. A couple of Starbucks coffees to add. Considering my normal weekly shop is around £70 and my cupboards and freezer are well stocked, this was money well spent and I would do it again and most likely will, hopefully with some friends in tow.

imageBritish Airways launched these day trips to fill otherwise almost empty regular routes at weekends. I can see why and so forbid any readers to forward this blog post on. On both the outward and home bound flights I had a whole row of leather-clad seats to myself. On my homeward, I had the entire back of the aircraft just for me. Thanks to the BA mobile app, I could check-in on both flights and choose my seats for free while drinking coffee in Starbucks. Unlike other national carriers I’ve travelled with this year, BA just does it for me. Smart, helpful, efficient and believe it of not…friendly staff. Complimentary anything is a bonus on any flight over 2 hours. My flight was 75 minutes and though it may seem just token, but you feel valued with a drink and snack. You’d think the sleek Scandinavians would have got this before us, but if they did they don’t now and are a poor shadow to what BA provides as standard.

If you are in a reasonable travelling radius of Heathrow, Geneva via BA is a a really good buy.

TIP: research all 6 cities via Google. Especially check for how far the airport is from the city centre so you can be realistic about how much time you will have there before you decide your itinerary. Not all flights you will find will be under £100 but not that much over. Be flexible about your dates of travel and check random weekends well ahead of time to see the going rate.