Jonny the Pilot

Commercial Airline Pilot. Vlogging Europe. Loving life. Ironman. Feminist.

I’m off to Love Island…

It’s got it all – Sun, Sand and Sangria. Its aquamarine water and raw adventure is simply second to none (and of course it’s home to the set of popular tv show Love Island).
You won’t get bored here! Welcome to Mallorca. Or is it Majorca…

It’s got it all – Sun, Sand and Sangria. Its aquamarine water and raw adventure is simply second to none (and of course it’s home to the set of popular TV show Love Island).

You won’t get bored here! Welcome to Mallorca. Or is it Majorca…

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Welcome to Love Island (Aka Mallorca!)

Last week I hung up my cap and epaulettes for 6 days of escapism. Some of you will know I’ve been a few times in the past couple of years – once to go windsurfing after missing a flight to Greece (note to self Mallorca isn’t actually a surfer’s paradise due to the general lack of wind!) and another time to go road cycling with a friend who lives half the year on the island, getting our sweat on winding up and down the incredible Tramuntana mountains.

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SOS! 🚵🏻‍♂️

This time it was just me and Claire enjoying a mix of relaxation and exploration of the west of the island. Here’s some of the best places we found during our stay.

Sa Calobra

Two things to know about this small but beautifully formed beach: (1) get there early, it gets packed pretty swiftly; (2) bring goggles/snorkel.

The drive down to the car park seems like an endless pattern of twists and turns but it’s worth it. Get ready to stroll through some pedestrian cave walkways as the view of the bay you’re heading for emerges. 

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First you’ll likely spot some super yachts already moored in the bay – there will be more as the day progresses. Eventually you’ll spot the small pebble beach poking out between two cliff faces that you’re heading for – probably a ten min walk from the car park.

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Yep, that’s me. I’ve floated further from my super yacht than intended. 😜

We arrived at about 10am and we’re glad we did. After soaking up the scene we hobbled across the pebbles down to the lapping Mediterranean Sea. Goggles on we plunged in – amazing! Water’s so clear and just an awe inspiring place to swim.

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We found a couple of rocks to jump off if you’re feeling adventurous.

After a good long swim we headed back to the beach – this is when we realised this place gets busy! After sticking it out for 20 mins we retreated with our beach towels in land and eventually left for some food and a drink back at the nearest cafe.

Definitely worth a visit but I’d recommend getting there around 10am if you can to fully enjoy and appreciate the natural surroundings. And if you’ve got a yacht definitely a spot worth mooring up at (and if you invite me to join I’ll accept).

Valldemossa

A stunning town 30 min drive from Palma into the Tramuntana mountains. It’s promoted internationally as a place of outstanding beauty and makes for a great two-three hour visit in either the morning or afternoon if you’re in the area. 

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The beautiful Valldemossa. I took this photo in April when I came cycling.

We stopped for a late lunch in a cafe called ‘Cappuccino’. There are lots of shops to pop into and cafes/restaurants to eat at. It’s renowned for its ice cream so worth sampling as 1 of your 5 a day 😉

Beyond that soak up the traditional architecture and wander up and down the cobbled streets. There are a couple of beautiful churches worth exploring and an art museum for the more cultured among you.

Sa Foradada, Deia

WOW! This place is something special…but you’ve got to be prepared to feel the heat (i.e. sweat A LOT!) to reach this secluded bay.

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Thinking about the walk back up already… it’s worth it though, trust me! 🌡 ☀️

The views you get on the 30 min walk down give you a taster of what’s to come – beautiful secluded bay, a load of rocks you’ve got to try and make yourself comfy on (it’s worth it), crystal blue waters and some pretty spectacular super yachts and sailing boats ⛵️ who all seem to have been tipped off about this idyllic spot.

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All the essentials. Rubber ring, goggles, towel ✅

 

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On the walk down. You’ll struggle not to stop and take pics. It’s stunning.

The other attraction of this place – beyond it feeling like a bit of a local secret – is the restaurant ’Sa Foradada’ perched overlooking the bay. Amazing location and apparently good food but if you don’t book they’re not interested in your custom – not a huge fan of that attitude but I will say that the food looked. 👌🏻🦐 

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Sa Foradada restaurant. The food looked delish – remember to book!! 📷 |Tom Exwood

We had a fantastic day here so if you’re up for the challenge, check this spot out.

Pollença

Just a quick mention on this town as we didn’t really explore it but we did go for a sea kayak here with a company called Mon d’Adventura. A great 3 hour afternoon trip including gliding through a natural arch, a quick view of some local mountain goats in precarious places and a refreshing stop halfway through including a dip in an empty bay again only accessible by boat, kayak or mountain goat.

Good for the arms 💪🏻 And beware as the default is you share a twin kayak if you book as a 2…doesn’t always make for plane sailing 😬😜  (45 Euros/pp)

Puigderros

If you enjoy snorkelling and exploring rocky enclaves then this is the place to go. Overall I think this was my favourite place to swim, dive, jump off rocks into the sea and swosh past plenty of sea life 🐟🐠🦀. 

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Negotiating the rocks!

As with most of the other beaches I’ve mentioned it’s not sandy (try Mallorca’s East coast for sandy beaches). But there are plenty of rocks to accommodate you, other tourists and the many locals! Crystal blue waters, fish in abundance, I loved it! 

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Right above the rocks there’s also the Mhares Sea Club where you can base yourself if you’re looking to enjoy the day with the comfort of a padded lounger.

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Evening view of the Mhares Beach Club 😎 

This was a fantastic way to spend the afternoon. Dinner there was great (try the salt baked sea bass!) It was also refreshing to come back up to a mojito after hitting the waves. 

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This place is only 10 minutes from the airport so we made a second and final dash to the sea here before jumping on our British Airways flight back to London that afternoon.

Sóller & Port de Sóller

Finally, the place where we started our trip – Soller is another beautiful town centred around a lively square bustling with cafes and restaurants with a mix of locals and tourists soaking up the atmosphere. 

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Port de Sóller

Sóller has some great restaurants (try Restaurant Ca’n Boqueta if you’re feeling romantic – 55 EUR pp for 5 courses with wine paring!) and benefits from being well connected thanks to its unique tramline. 

We spent a while figuring out where it stopped but once we did, jumped aboard heading for Port de Sóller – a 20 min trip (€7 one way) and worth doing to get a different view of the surrounding area. 

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Tram from Sóller down to the Port

The tram also goes all the way to Palma if you’re thinking of a day trip – sounds awesome. 

Port de Sóller is pretty beautiful despite being fairly commercialised. The beach doesn’t get as crowded as you’d expect and there are plenty of shops and activities to keep you entertained.

We did a spot of paddle boarding in the bay. Always good for a laugh.

Overall, a big thumbs up for Majorca/Mallorca. It’s not somewhere I get to stay when I’m working but it’s a fantastic and easily accessible destination (2 hrs from London) for a week’s summer holiday.

The locals are incredibly welcoming of tourists and we also enjoyed being surrounded by such a great mix of nationalities – Brits, Germans, French, Norwegians, Belgians, Dutch, etc, etc… an island that offers so much adventure and fun times – that’s what it’s all about! 

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This was an absolute steal! Booked through the travel supermarket – 35 Euros for 6 days 💰

To get a great Instagram pic as you come into land sit on the right hand side of the plane. This will give you a great view of the Tramuntana mountain range that lines the north of the island as you descend towards this summer paradise. 

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Cheers 🥂

Hopefully I’ve inspired you to give Mallorca a go? I simply can’t wait to come back! Totally fell in love 😉

Hope you’re having a great weekend,

Jonny.

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A very swanky 4th July Party 🇺🇸

If you’ve ever been to America you’ll know that Americans don’t do things by halves! It’s that time of year and what better excuse to party than to celebrate the…

If you’ve ever been to America you’ll know that Americans don’t do things by halves!

It’s that time of year and what better excuse to party than to celebrate the country’s  independence in serious style.

It was time to sharpen up

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Taken by the amazing Mark Harrison 📷

I was lucky enough to receive an invite to the swankiest party in town. The US ambassadors annual 4th of July celebration at Winfield House set in 12.5 acres of Regent’s Park…

I approached the 15ft high iron gates around which there is a serious level of security (lots of black suits and sunglasses). After an ID check I was ushered through to the Ambassador’s garden where there is absolutely everything I love about America. We’re talking a Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Gin cocktails, a Jim Bean whiskey tent and a Craft Beer Motel!

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People danced the night away to a fantastic live soul band (The Soul Jets) on a centre stage fit for a music festival with a mix of familiar faces from TV, Radio and politics, all dressed to impress.

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The garden was lined with Marines in uniform who entered the party in true military fashion providing quite the show. Check out my Instagram TV for the video.

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The incredible Laura Wright sang the National anthem and the party began…

Mr Ambassador, Robert Wood Johnson (Woody) then gave a fantastic speech joined on stage by his wife and 2 sons in suave matching Ralph Lauren outfits.

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Thank you Mr Ambassador for putting on such a great party.

A spectacular firework show drew the evening to a close.

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Happy 4th July! 🎉

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S – Magazine Photoshoot

Hi everyone, Remember a month or so ago when I shared with you some behind the scenes images from a photoshoot for the Times Magazine? Anyway, this weekend, I’ve been…

Hi everyone,

Remember a month or so ago when I shared with you some behind the scenes images from a photoshoot for the Times Magazine?

Anyway, this weekend, I’ve been at it again.  This time for S Magazine in the Sunday Express with my ‘big sis’ Kay B

We were raising awareness for the British Heart Foundation.  If you of your family have had heart problems in the past, you’ll know just how important their work is.

Check out a couple of our photos here and for more information on how you can help BHF check out their link here. https://www.bhf.org.uk/

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BA means business with the new Dreamliner

  Ever wondered what it’s like to travel in business class? Well, cue Kay. Just back from a trip on one of our new 787 Dreamliner to Nashville, Tennessee! As…

 

Ever wondered what it’s like to travel in business class? Well, cue Kay. Just back from a trip on one of our new 787 Dreamliner to Nashville, Tennessee!

As usual, she means business!

Reclining in a rather plush business class seat, I was holding on tight to my comfort blanket and concentrating on one of my distraction techniques: naming an A to Z of fruit.  I’d only reached ‘elderberries’ when the British airways captain came to say hello.

My fear of flying is well documented and he wanted to make sure I was as comfortable as I could be aboard his Dreamliner from Nashville back to London Heathrow. Captain Hand was armed with his IPad, programmed with the planned route back across the Atlantic avoiding any pockets of turbulence. His calm, gentle reassurance was suitably soothing.

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As Captain Hand, shook my hand… and headed for the cockpit, I lessened the grip on my comfort blanket and began to tentatively explore the contents of the rather impressive sleep bag.  British Airways has recently joined forces with upmarket retailer, the White Company, to provide luxury bedding and amenity kits onboard.  There were lots of fun things that I hadn’t seen before including a padded mattress topper for the seat, a soft day blanket and a duvet that was big enough for me to get lost under.

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I had several interviews scheduled for the moment I arrived back in Blighty so the second the seatbelt signs were switched off the attentive crew furnished me with a bottle of water and made sure I was ready for bed.  If I wanted to wake up for breakfast then I should let them know. If I’d rather be nil by mouth til we’d landed, that was absolutely fine too.  The award- winning menu did look tempting but sleep time was at a premium.

 

The newly configured club world Dreamliner cabin means all the seats are suitably secluded, but for added exclusivity I’d recommend seat 3E.  It’s a little cocoon sheltered from other passengers by the concertina screens the moment the safety briefing has finished.  If that’s already taken 3A and 3K are also winners, window seats and you don’t have to clamber over sleeping fellow passengers when you need to visit the loo!

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Ready to settle into my luxurious cocoon… 📺 😴

BA has had its fair share of criticism of late.  Sometimes, rightly so.  But with industrial action now firmly in its contrails, the airline has invested £400m focusing on the lucrative, premium cabin customer.

New routes have been added and the flag carrier is the only European airline to fly direct to Nashville, one of the fastest growing cities Stateside.

Few native Nashvilleans remain in the Music City making room for more than 100 people a day moving to the capital of Tennessee.  There are plenty of Brits among them including the son of a Yorkshire rag and bone man, Andrew Clancey.  His edgy boutique – Any Old Iron – has caught the eye of superstars including Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.

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Me and the fabulous Andrew

 

Andrew says he’s delighted with the introduction of the new direct route.  Nine hours out from London Heathrow and only around seven back to the capital.  Not only does it make the return journey easier to Yorkshire, the five days a week route also brings plenty of curious travellers right to the heart of the city.

 

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High spirits in the Concorde Lounge

The transatlantic flights I took were absolutely rammed. Come soon and bring your dancing shoes.

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Fancy Lisbon?

Why Lisbon? I hear you ask For staters you can indulge in fine wine, Superlative seafood, sun-ripened fruit, listen to Fado – a genre of 18th century Portuguese music whilst…

Why Lisbon? I hear you ask

For staters you can indulge in fine wine, Superlative seafood, sun-ripened fruit, listen to Fado – a genre of 18th century Portuguese music whilst you soak up the Iberian spring wether on offer.

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Lisbon was also the first city in the world to import Guinness and has the worlds only public tie mirror… at least that I know of, there’s no other city in the world with a public mirror like this oneYou’ll find it in Rossio, close to door number 115 on D. Pedro IV square.

It reads something like: “tidy your tie’s knot” (componha o nó da sua gravata).

There are few well know places around Europe where you can park yourself on a sunny terrace of a trendy cafe surrounded by such historic beauty and not get stung for an over priced beer or coffee. Welcome to the exception – Lisbon.

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This is one of the best value major Cities you can visit and I can fly you there in just 2hr 45min from London. This enchanting city feels anything but cheap.

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Food and drink

It’s all about Presunto (dried ham), port, seafood, and the original Nando’s Piri Piri Chicken. 🐔 🍤 🍷 It’s all absolutely delicious and reasonably priced.

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I’d lost count as to how many Pastel de Nata I’d eaten by this point… 🙊  #SoGood

 

’13 sardines per second’ 🎣 

The timeout food hall is a must visit for any foodie. Whilst the dishes on offer aren’t all strictly Portuguese, it is a pretty cool place with so much to choose from. You’ll find stalls run by some of the best chefs in Portugal, selling some of the best food you from around the world. The choice is almost overwhelming so make sure you have plenty of time.

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Desert leaves you with other option other than one created by the catholic monks of the 18th century- the Pastel de Nata or Portuguese custard tart. Made using layer upon layer of puff pastry and dollops of set custard. Im salivating at at the thought of one… or 3. In fact if you want to bring some back they come in sleeves of 6. I frequent the airport terminal if we don’t have the luxury of staying in Lisbon. But be warned they don’t always make it back to London (irresistible when warm).

 

 

Visit in June ☀️ 

June is the perfect time of year to visit Lisbon. The flowers are in bloom and street festivals create a friendly buzz around the city. The feast of St Anthony being one of the festivals in June and its all about sardines! 🐟 In fact its reported that on average 13 sardines are consumed per second!

Getting around

Take tram 28 for a tour of the city – touristy but marvellous

Be sure to hop on tram 15 to see Torre de Belém and Jeronimos Monastery and make sure you try the Pastel de Nata at the top. They’re devine and its a rite of passage!

The Metro system runs from the airport to the city centre easy to navigate and use on arrival with your bags at the airport as an alternative to a taxi/Uber.

Uber is widely used in Lisbon and its cheap. I took a ride to the top of the hill and started my day with a walk around the castle and magnificent views over the city. It was then pleasant to meander through the streets down towards the port and the food hall rather than the other way round.

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Where to stay

If you want convenience and character Pick accommodation in the Alfama, Baixa or Bairro Alto districts. There are plenty of options from Air BnB’s, to hotels to hostels.

 

Jonny’s Top tips

  • Tram 28 is a favourite for pickpockets. Absolutely no need to be paranoid just be aware of your belongings and take sensible precautions
  • Other months: Apr-Sept – Warm Oct-March – Cooler, more rain.

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Travelling further…

  • Cascais is only 26km on the train – Beaches, great surf, buzzing nightlife
  • Sintra is only 27km on the train – Fairytale palaces, subtropical gardens, lush forests
  • Mafra is 40km by car – extravagant monastery-palace, beautiful parkland

 

 

 

 

 

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Lights, camera, action…

Hi everyone, Thought I would take a bank holiday break from travel blogs and share with you a behind the scenes photoshoot I did for the Times Saturday magazine. What…

Hi everyone,

Thought I would take a bank holiday break from travel blogs and share with you a behind the scenes photoshoot I did for the Times Saturday magazine.

What an awesome experience!  The photographer, his assistant, a stylist, make-up, journalists all gathered together in a white-walled studio.  Music playing, images flashing up on a computer screen.

The finished product is slick, polished and ready for a Saturday morning breakfast readership.

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A shot from Mark Harrison’s portfolio.  Recognise the subject?

Below is how the process begins with low res shots captured on an iPhone from the photographer’s computer.  I was sent a whole host of shots to choose from.  Compare these to what appeared in the magazine and let me know what you think…

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The article was about fear of flying so of course I wore my BA uniform

 

 

 

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This is my ‘take me seriously I know what I’m doing’ pose

 

 

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The fabulous make-up artist said I looked like superman!  At least I can fly

 

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Let’s try John Wayne in my fabulous Richard James suit

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Look natural, look natural, look natural!

 

Don’t forget, you can see the finished photographs in the Saturday Times Magazine…and there’s also a couple of bonus shots in today’s Sun too…

Normal service resumes with my blog about Barcelona next time.

Happy flying

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Cruising the canals of Venice 🇮🇹

Known as the city of love but you should know that if you’re not presently in love or are taking a break from that particular emotion then Venice offers so…

Known as the city of love but you should know that if you’re not presently in love or are taking a break from that particular emotion then Venice offers so much more.  Home to St Mark’s square, the Bridge of Sighs and one of the most magnificent hotels in Europe.

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We stay across the water on the mainland, but its only a 10 min taxi or a 20 minute bus journey so definitely worth considering if you’re on a tight budget.

On 99% of my flights to Venice we approach and land in an easterly direction onto runway 04 so picking a seat on the right of the aircraft at checkin will give you the best view of Venice and the constant flotilla of boats gliding to and from the floating city.

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For drinks you should definitely head to Harry’s bar. Eye-wateringly expensive but arguably the most famous in Venice! Birthplace of the ‘Belini’ and a brilliant buzz. Try it.

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Piazza San Marco or St Mark’s square to most of us Brits. A great place to start your day. One of the last stops on the water taxi so a good stating point to begin meandering back to the other side of the island.

Not open late but one of my recommendations to start the evening is ‘Al Prosecco”. They serve a great selection of wines by the glass. Most of which I have never heard of but, hey, it makes the experience all the more exciting!

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One of the liveliest bars in Venice, tucked away from the tourists, is ‘Margaret Duchamp’. We often enjoy a down-route beer here after a busy three sector flying day.

For somewhere to eat try the myriad of small side street restaurants. They’re generally great. Be adventurous and try something different to pizza, or pasta.  I love eating the black squid ink risotto.  The crew can always see when I have…

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The following morning, if its not an early flight back to London Heathrow, I like a wander over to ‘Caffe Florian’. It is popular with tourists, no bad thing, and claims to be the oldest restaurant in the world.  I always choose the Casanova breakfast!  Coffee, OJ, fruit, croissant, toast,, focaccia and cake.  Its around €40 but leaves me satisfied for the whole day.

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Gondolas are pricey but very romantic.  Don’t bother if you’re travelling alone. Try one of the water taxis instead and head down to St Mark’s Sq.  I would recommend Caffe Lavena.  A great place for people watching. My record for making a coffee last here is 90 minutes.

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That’s my pilot-eye view of Venice covering some of my favourite spots. Hope you enjoy visiting them as much as I do, often on my days off to explore further the places I’m lucky enough to visit with work whether it’s a nightstop or even better a standover.

Ever been to Berlin? 🇩🇪 

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Berlin are you ready…

Berlin is Uber cool! Getting around is easy and relatively cheap by metro or indeed by Uber.  I lived there when I flew as a senior first officer for EasyJet so…

Berlin is Uber cool! Getting around is easy and relatively cheap by metro or indeed by Uber.  I lived there when I flew as a senior first officer for EasyJet so know it well.  Believe me its a great place to party. Half the population is single which probably contributes to the fantastic night life.

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Some nightclubs stay open for days. Not really my thing anymore, but I can recommend plenty of alternative bars. KLO bar in Leibnizstrasse in the West of Berlin is utterly barmy. Expect drinks served in urine sample bottles, to sit on a toilet or a coffin and be served food in a bed pan. To clarify, Klo translates into english as toilet.  I don’t want to give too much away but a word of advice, you don’t want to be the first of your group to walk into the bar.

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Stagger Lee, in Nollendorfstarsse is named after an old American folk song, about a Missouri pimp and is listed as one the world’s top 50 bars. Think bourbon cocktails, candles, antique furniture all set in the American midwest.  This place usually has a mixed crowd and is unpretentious, like most of Berlin. Might be worth calling ahead to make a reservation. To get here you hop on th U-Bahn to Nollendorplatz and then a five minute walk back in time.

 

When you’re hungry, one of my favourite steakhouses in Europe lies just behind Mauerpark in the north of the city. The Bird in Am Falpl is insanely popular and for good reason. Arriving without a reservation is, well, for the birds!  You won’t get in. Low key, a well-stocked bar and mouth-watering messy burgers. Good luck and enjoy!

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During the day one of my recommendations would be enjoying a stroll around the German capital starting at the Brandenburg Gate. Don’t forget to take your passport and ask for all the historic checkpoint stamps to add to your collection.

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2711 concrete slabs make up the Holocaust memorial just next to the Brandenburg gate

We stay in the west near to the Zoo and is well located for a stroll or a morning run round the Tiergarten Park. When I lived here I stayed in Friedrichshain an edgy district to the east which I would describe as the Shoreditch of Berlin.  There’s a great Thai restaurant, ‘Lemongrass’ on Simon-Dach-Strase for a casual evening bite to eat.

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Tiergarten Park – perfect for a run or picnic in the summer.

The majority of the time we fly in and land in a westerly direction onto runway 26 so I recommend sitting on the left for the best views of the city

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Don’t forget to leave your comments and requests for further city reviews. Have an awesome week and I hope to see you onboard very soon.

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Tartan at the ready but no kilt…

Travelling to Edinburgh to visit the capital as a pilot with British Airways. Edinburgh is my favourite place to visit in the UK. with so many flights a day it so accessible

My Instagram TV now has a video from the top of what I think is Arthur’s Seat. It was a big hill either way and I could hardly breathe. Don’t miss it… 😆 Instagram.com/JonnythePilot #IGTV

I’m always asked the best places to stay or where to eat, what bars to visit and even which side of the aeroplane to sit on for the perfect picture as we come in to land.

So where better to start than the beautiful Scotland.

Edinburgh 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 

The Scottish capital has to be my favourite UK destination. There is the famous castle, built on top of an extinct volcano. Climbing or running up to the 822 foot peak of Arthur’s seat when I have enough energy is one of the best starts to the day. The panoramic views are simply stunning. On May Day its traditional for young women to wash their face with the morning dew of the hill to make them beautiful. I’d argue that regardless of your gender it’s a pretty stimulating way to start your day any month of the year!  ☔️  🏃

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A run up to Arthur’s Seat in the rain is a great way to blow out the cobwebs. I may or may not have washed with the morning dew… 😆

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It was a lovely surprise to bump into Legolas, displaying his skills not with a bow and arrow but some bagpipes. Multitalented

Did you know there are more restaurants here per head than any other city in the UK. So depending on what you’re feeling like you could visit one of my favourite spots, ‘the Devil’s Advocate’, hidden just off the royal Mile. Minutes from the castle. An old Victorian pump house. Think bare brick, beams and wood with a fantastic bar, mixologists, whisky selection and dimly lit open plan restaurant that serves food that will quite honestly set the benchmark for the rest of your meals in Edinburgh. The place is always buzzing. The cocktails alone will certainly keep you going on those cold wet Scottish evenings. Not one to miss out on. 🍸

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A fantastic shot of Princes St taken from Calton Hill. You can see the Balmoral Hotel with the clock tower. Excellent afternoon tea. 📷 |@EdinburghPhotoWalk

I usually stay up towards Calton Hill and the Old Town. The city isn’t really that big so it’s easy to walk around but get those thighs ready as its anything but flat!

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If you’re standing in front of the Waverley train station in the centre of town, you’ll most likely be looking straight at one of the most luxurious hotels in Edinburgh. The Balmoral Hotel. If you stay here, you wont want to wake up anywhere else, ever! Make sure you ask for a room with a city view and don’t miss out on the afternoon tea!

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I’m still not sure if I made it up to Arthur’s Seat or if thats the one behind me…😆

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You can even have design and have your own tartan registered. So if you fancy joining Legolas on the royal mile this the place to come.

We usually land on runway 24 which generally means a flypast before making a 180 degree turn over the coast to head west. Sitting on the left side of the aircraft offers a fantastic view of the estuary and the bridges that span across to North Queensferry are a pretty spectacular sight as the sun sets.

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Slight word of caution, flying into Edinburgh can be a bit bumpy if there is a strong wind blowing over the hills so buckle up if we pop the seatbelt sign on.

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Snowboarding 🏂 : Canada 🇨🇦 Vs France 🇫🇷

Where to go skiing. Canada or France and where is the best snow? I’ve been to both this year and I’m comparing them both for you incase you fancy somewhere different this year. Enjoy.

2018 so far has been the year of snow! I’ve been lucky enough to hit the slopes on two different continents – Canada and France – and wow have they been awesome! Over 5000 miles (8000km) apart but some of the best snowboarding I’ve ever done.

The season isn’t over yet so I thought I’d compile a quick comparison of my two trips in case you’re thinking about getting your ski on this year.

GETTING THERE

Canada

3 pilot friends and I boarded a BA flight from Heathrow to Calgary – flight time just over 9 hours on the Dreamliner (this was my first time on the 787 and it’s an amazing machine…possibly my new favourite and what I’d love to fly next!).

We rented a Lincoln Navigator – this is basically a presidential 4×4 with 450 horsepower to liven up the drive…

Only one hour cruise later in temperatures of -20C and more fresh snow than I could dream of, we were already passing through Banff National Park. A further 2 hours later we arrived at our first and furthest destination, Kicking Horse mountain resort. Throughout the week we then worked our way back via Banff boarding some of the world’s best off piste.

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One of the best things about getting to Canada is that we departed at 2pm on a rainy London day and arrived at 4pm the same day in snowy Calgary (thanks to a 7 hour time difference). After a few films, some fizz and a nap on the plane (NB: the higher cabin pressure and humidity in the 787 does wonders for passenger comfort) I was honestly so pleasantly surprised at how fresh I felt on arrival!

France

22 of us this time boarding a flight from Gatwick to Grenoble for a friend’s 30th birthday – flight time ~1 hr 20m. We caught a 10am-ish flight arriving in France 12.30 local time.

After spending a good hour or so gathering bags and loading them onto a coach chocablock full of snow seekers, it was just over three hours to our accommodation for the week – a catered chalet in Val Thorens, part of the infamous three valleys (les Trois Vallees).

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Val Thorens is the highest ski resort in Europe and part of one of the biggest ski areas in the world.

Verdict: Despite the idea of going half way across the world to Canada potentially feeling like a chore, the time difference and well-timed flight from LHR actually means you’re effectively still only spending a day getting there. Having been to the Alps many times it really felt like a huge adventure heading over the North Atlantic Ocean. So while France is nearby it still takes a good full day to get to your resort so don’t let the distance to the Rockies put you off if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous!

ACCOMMODATION

Canada

We stayed in two apartments. The first was in Kicking Horse. The apartment slept 4 comfortably with a hot tub outside – good for a beer in -22C after a gnarly day off piste! It had a car park underneath to ensure our wheels didn’t freeze. Given Kicking Horse is essentially a village (there are a couple of lodges and a few apartments) booking accommodation in advance is recommended.

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The second apartment was in Banff – it was essentially a massive hotel full of apartments called The Fox Hotel and Suites (if you stay there definitely make use of the grotto-inspired pool for some R&R and the waffle maker at breakfast with the local maple syrup!). Compared to Kicking Horse, Banff had a lot more options for accommodation – from hotels to hostels.

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France

I’ve been skiing and snowboarding in the Alps many a time having been based in nearby Lyon for 3 years.

As I’ve done a couple of times before we stayed in a catered chalet – for a large group this is an awesome option. Some great chalet hosts, a space you and your group can call your own and some delicious food provided throughout – cooked breakfasts, cake and tea on the table when you arrive back after a hard day in the snow and dinner every night but one when the chalet hosts deserve a well earned break!

We stayed in one of SkiWorld’s many catered chalets in Val Thorens which was very comfortable and had the option to ski in/ski out which was a huge plus. If you’re feeling more upmarket the other nearby resorts of Meribel and Courcheval have plenty of other options too whether self-catered apartments, hotels or catered chalets. (I once stayed in Hotel & Spa L’Helios in beautiful Meribel – definitely recommend if you’re looking for a romantic getaway!).

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Head to Meribel’s Hotel & Spa L’Helios if you’re in need of some luxury

Verdict: if afternoon tea and dinner made for you each night is what you’re looking for then a catered chalet is for you – you’ll find these in abundance in the 3 Valleys. For my trip to Canada we went for the self-catered apartment option which gave us a base from which we could explore local restaurants and bars. Essentially, both areas have got many options of accommodation to meet your needs – ultimately your decision will likely be guided by cost, number of people…..and availability!!

THE RESORTS

Canada

Kicking Horse is a small resort centred around extreme skiing and boarding and was once only accessible by helicopter. There really isn’t much there in the way of apres 🍻 but it’s the champagne powder capital of Canada – enough said 👊.

2 hours along the powder highway Banff offers a completely different resort experience.  What’s odd about Banff for Europeans is that you can’t actually ski or snowboard in the town itself. It’s essentially used as a base to drive from each day to some new slopes and powder in the area (hence why the V-6 engine was a real necessity 😉).

It’s a picturesque resort, well catered for tourists – plenty of shops, restaurants and bars. Block Kitchen & Bar was our favourite – it offered a fusion of Japanese Indian food which was a welcome break from your traditional lunchtime piste-side food (e.g. chips, hotdogs etc.). For a delicious burger I’d recommend Eddie Burger + Bar. Finally, remember to try the local dish, poutine, which you’ll find in most eating establishments in the town.

France

Val Thorens is the highest of the three valleys resorts at 2300m (7500ft) and the highest ski resort in Europe so they say. While a relatively functional resort its height does mean you’re guaranteed some good snow.

As with the three main resort villages in the region (Courcheval, Meribel and Val Thorens), you’ll find shops, restaurants, cafes, bars and spas to satisfy either a day off or a good bit of apres. In Val Thorens you’ll find the infamous Folie Douce with pumping music on the mountain side (although the one in Val D’Isere is arguably bigger and better). We also popped into 360 bar for a quick afternoon wiggle…

In town head to Tango for a more sophisticated vibe which serves some great cocktails (and is a favourite of local ski/snowboard instructors). Or on the same strip  head to one of the many bars with live music – e.g. Saloon Bar – or pop to Crewzer which has a great atmosphere and serves Belgian beer. The local bar to our chalet was The Red Fox which we happily frequently a couple of times for a beer.

If you’re looking for a more picturesque resort, Meribel and Courcheval might be more your cup of tea or one of the smaller satellite villages such as St Martin.

IMG_4494Verdict: apres in Kicking Horse is a crate of beers in the hot tub – so chilled, I loved it! Meanwhile in Banff it’s a 10 minute walk into the centre of town where you can find some great food and bars if you’re interested….essentially you can find much the same in Banff as in Val Thorens. It’s up to you the extent to which you make the most of the amenities.

THE SNOW

Canada

The aim of this trip was to board as many double black diamond chutes and bowls (AKA crazy black runs for us Europeans) as we could in the week, working our way from Kicking Horse back to Banff. We weren’t disappointed.

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Different kind of flying

We went the second week in January and the slopes were practically empty, it was unbelievable. No queuing for lifts, no queuing for lunch.  The terrain was impressive – vast pistes lined by thick alpine forest amongst which live numerous grizzly bears…thankfully I met a friendly one!

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The steep alpine terrain was perfect for off piste. A constant booming of avalanche blasts by the snow patrol (not the band!) gave us the reassurance (and the odd startle factor!) that we were pretty safe despite having all the necessary equipment.

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In Kicking Horse you can get a gondola from the base of the mountain to the very top which in January temperatures is a massive plus! You’re also guaranteed to make new friends during the journey up as everyone is incredibly friendly.

The resorts we visited while based in Banff (Sunshine and Lake Louise) offered a wider network of pistes and in general were more beginner friendly. There were plenty of blue and green runs that take you cruising through the forest and are suitable for beginners. In fact, if the slopes are always as quiet as they were a couple of weeks ago then I’d much rather learn to master skiing or snowboarding in Canada than on one of Europe’s packed pistes.

As for the snow itself, during our visit we got a fresh dump of powder on arrival although it was limited thereafter.

France

The three valleys essentially make up one of the world’s largest lift-linked ski areas. The whole region is incredibly well connected via a huge network of gondolas, chair lifts and bubbles.

There are a huge variety of runs to satisfy all levels of skier and snowboarder. If you’re based in Val Thorens then the 3 valley lift pass gives you access to the pistes in Meribel and Courcheval as well so there’s a huge amount to explore and a lot of lifts and pistes to make your way up and down to get to the far reaches of the area.

Compared to Canada it is a lot busier. Mornings are definitely the best time to explore although if you’re heading off piste then generally it’s a lot quieter.

At lifts you’ll have to jostle with a cocktail of snow seekers – stay calm and inch yourself towards the lift, you will make it! This trip it wasn’t too bad but during school holidays you’ll need to stand your ground!

We had incredibly good weather for the end of January – sunshine nearly everyday offered good visibility. But by far the best day came at the end when, following a day of snowfall, the off piste was unreal. I headed out with a guide (Matt from Prosneige – such a cool guy!) and haven’t ever experienced snow so soft, powdery and deep!

Verdict: Canada is known for some of the world’s best snow and off piste and I had the most amazing time, especially exploring with 3 other snowboarders. However, this year for the snow Val Thorens just tipped it thanks to some mid-week snowfall – I subsequently experienced my best day ever of off piste (and possibly the best day of my life!!) – it was INSANE!!!!!

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The best day! Boarding with the Prosneige guys

 

Wherever you choose to visit, you’ll have an amazing time.

Remember, GET OUT THERE AND LOVE LIFE!

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