For this year's family visit to South Africa, we decided to go during the Easter school holidays. Of course, being school holidays meant that prices were sky high, but I found a good price on Ethiopian, flying from and to Paris. Even considering the addition of Eurostar train tickets, the overall cost was much lower than a London departure, and a 1/3 of the cost of a Norwich departure.
Map showing flight routes, courtesy of www.gcmap.com
The first leg of the journey was by taxi, from our home to Norwich station, followed by trains from Norwich to Cambridge, then Kings Cross - we'd decided to change in Cambridge as it would involve less walking and steps, therefore avoiding the Tube.
A swing in a birdcage outside Kings Cross
Checkin for the train was easy, with almost no queue. We were still invited to join a special queue for Groups and Families, which helped a bit. Our luggage was scanned, and we waited in the departure area for our train. A Brussels train was announced first, which cleared out most of the people. Soon our train was called, and we found our carriage and seats. We had a row of 4, across the aisle. The children elected to sit together, and asked to play on tablet computers - we relented, as they had spent the morning on trains playing and reading nicely.
Children playing in their seats
Overview of the carriage
Towards the end of the journey, the children were getting hungry, so I went to the buffet car to find some food. Pretty much the only option for a fussy child was a pizza. Speaking to the attendant, I was told that this weekend, due to pollution levels, in an effort to encourage Parisians out of their cars, all public transport in the Ile de France region was free. This included the RER train to the airport, which instantly saved us quite a large sum!
Getting dark on the train
By now it was getting dark, so on arrival at Paris, we headed for the hotel, the Ibis Styles Gare du ord TGV, which I'd booked based on its location. To be honest, it couldn't have been better placed for the station!
View from our hotel room
After a good nights sleep, and included buffet breakfast in the hotel, we went sightseeing for the day, leaving our luggage in the hotel's store room. More details of our visit (and the rest of the holiday in South Africa), can be found here: http://signol.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/2015-03-south-africa-and-paris-visit.html After a nice day out, we retrieved our luggage and took the (free) RER train to the airport.
Sleepy after a busy day sightseeing
My friend Chris's favourite bakery
Checkin was easy enough, especially as we could join the Priority queue thanks to my Star Gold card. Our bags were tagged as far as Johannesburg, and we could then pass through security, which seemed almost empty. By this time, there weren't many flights left from T2A that evening. Of the food options, there was a Starbucks, where we had a drink and a read before heading towards the gate. The Gold card would have got two of us into the lounge, but not the children (or myself and one child, leaving my wife with the other child outside).
Reading in Starbucks. Matthew got told off for putting his feet on the seat.
Our flight left from a satellite building on the end of the main terminal, accessed by a walkway. The children said it looked like a spaceship, or an airship!
Amy waiting patiently
First view of our aircraft, a Boeing 787. It had started its journey in Brussels, stopping in Paris to pick up passengers only.
Families,as well as Business Class passengers, and Star Gold card holders were invited to board first. So we made our way to our seats, where we had the A and B seats of two consecutive rows.
Matt watching the personal TV
Cabin view whilst boarding
Safety card, already slightly tattered
It was a very short taxi to the active, before taking off. By now it was very late at night, and the meal service started. The childrens' meals were the same options as the adult ones. I don't remember what my meal was, but Matt's was a piece of white fish, with potatoes, carrots and gravy. He ate none of it.
We all then settled as much as we could to sleep for the night. Whilst dozing, Matt must have been sick, as when I woke, I noticed some remains on his shirt, as well as the wall panel and floor - he himself was still asleep. I cleaned up as best I could, and made a mental note that he needed a change of clothes at Addis during the transfer.
Sunrise over Africa
It was still early morning when we landed, and we disembarked and picked up the pushchair in the bridge. There was about 2 1/2 hours between flights, so we headed upstairs to the transfer area, and found a bathroom where Tam could take Matt to change his shirt. There was also a drinking fountain, so we filled up water pouches (like a water bottle but they squash flat), but then realised that we would have to clear security again, so we drank it quickly. The security queue was very long, but we were requested to come forward to a "priority" queue as we had the children.
The layout of Addis airport is a bit strange, especially the international terminal airside. One half is the secure zone, with 2 security checkpoints, one at either end, and the departure gates. At each end (one of them downstairs) was a shipping container with toilets - there were no other facilities. Outside the Secure zone was the facilities zone, which was still "international", which contained the cafes, bars, duty free shops, etc.
Anyway, we found the gate, and didn't have to wait too long before we could board. Again we could use the Priority queue. I had preselected the same seats as the first flight, but the equipment was upgauged from 787 to 777, so we had been reallocated, to a group of 3 seats, then another across the aisle (which I had).
Addis airport isn't big, and there wasn't much traffic, so takeoff was speedy. We took off towards the east, and turned round to head south. Before long, lunch was served. This time the fish option was with rice, and tomato sauce.
Climbing out of Addis
This being a day time flight required more entertainment for the children. Fortunately they managed to watch the PTVs for a while, as well as read some books and play with some of their bags of toys. Taking a walk back to the toilets also seemed to be a popular pastime of Matt's, I think we visited at least 12 times in the 5h flight! Though we have always said, that on hot days and on aeroplanes, you always need to drink lots. Approach to JNB was straight in, landing from the north. Having been here plenty of times before, we all knew exactly where to go. We showed the immigration official our children's birth certificates as well, but he said that the requirement to show them had been delayed again (it is now apparently active).
We still had some time before our next flight down to Durban, so we first of all headed upstairs to one of the viewing decks. It was inside, so there's a slight reflection glare from the windows.
An SAA A340 in special livery
The children looking out
We then headed downstairs to the mezzanine level, to the Spur restaurant for a snack / early tea, before checking in for our next flight of the day, on SAA to Durban. Again, we could use the Priority checkin desks, though there wasn't much of a queue anyway. We passed security and went to the gate, after buying some drinks and popcorn to snack on. Again we could board first, and we had two rows of E and F seats.
View from the seat
View from the window
Matt with a toy
Taxi and takeoff were short, and the crew commenced the service. The children have a rule at bedtime, that after 5pm they can drink only water, so we asked for water to go with the snacks that were given.
It was only a 40 minute flight, so descent started quickly, before we landed and taxied to the gate. Our bags came out, and we exited the airport to meet Granny and Grandpa, and pick up our rental car for our time in kwaZulu-Natal.
After a nice time in Durban and surrounds (see here) it was time to head up to Gauteng, to visit my wife's brother and his family. Granny and Grandpa came too, but drove their own car, towing a trailer full of birds in cages that Grandpa had arranged to sell to a dealer. They left early in the morning, leaving us to have a leisurely breakfast before locking up the house and heading to the airport. this time the flight was booked on British Airways (or rather, their franchise partner Comair). The only non-Star Alliance flight of the trip, so we had to queue to check in in the regular Economy line. There weren't many people in front, and check in was easy - we still only had two cases instead of the limit of 4. through security, and drinks were demanded. The easiest place to satisfy thirst was Wimpy. Matt had a Creme Soda Float, Amy some orange juice.
Creme soda float. Much colouring.
It wasn't long before the flight was called, so we then headed to the gate to find boarding well under way.
Down the ramp at the gate
Tail of our aircraft
Through the bridge windows
Amy looking back
Out of the window. Not much traffic at this time of day.
South African edition of the regular BA magazine
Matt's lollypop for takeoff
Looking back over the Valley of 1000 Hills
The crew started the service. There was a choice of a sandwich or sweet pastry, plus drinks. Matt chose the pastry, so I chose the sandwich, but in the end he didn't want it, so I ended up with both. The soda float must have filled him up.
The flight is usually very short, and today was no exception, less than 45 mins in the air. Descent doesn't take too long either, as JNB is at high altitude. We land straight in.
Domestic baggage reclaim
This was a standard, short domestic flight in SA, and in no time we were out and heading to the car rental desk, where we picked up our car for the next week. We managed to squeeze everyone in, and the luggage, and drove to Centurion, to Tam's brother's house.
After a nice week with the family, including a few days at a game park in Limpopo, it was time to head home. We all squeezed into the car for the journey to the airport, and dropped it at the rental office without issue. We then found the Ethiopian checkin desks - and were they busy! Fortunately my Star Gold card enabled us to use the Business checkin, which only had one person in front of us in the queue (as opposed to at least 30 people in the Economy queue) - but all passengers seemed to take at least 15 minutes to process each. Eventually we were seen and dropped our bags, before heading for security.
Waiting in JNB
View of the cabin whilst boarding
Out of the window
Looking backwards, at a BA A380 lying empty for the day
Takeoff was lumbering, as it always is from JNB, being hot and high. We slowly gained altitude.
View over the city
The flight passed, with children watching movies, reading books and playing with toys. There was a meal service at one point, from my photo it looks like beef.
By the time we were approaching Addis, it was getting dark, and the landing was indeed in blackness. It was smooth, however.
Our aircraft on stand
Inside the Addis Ababa terminal
We had about 3 hours total before our next flight to Paris, which continued on to Brussels. The flight information screens showed it as departing from gate 10 - downstairs, a bus gate, but there was noone there - and we were directed back up to another gate, Gate 4, despite the screens not mentioning this.
Deserted gate 10
Screen at gate 4 telling us to go to gate 10
Eventually someone arrived and welcomed passengers to Paris and Brussels - the Gold Card helped again, though we would probably have been asked to board first anyway, as we had the children.
Matt enjoying a game
Personal AVOD. Required a reboot
This flight was almost empty. Most passengers could grab a row of 3 to themselves, as we let the children do next to us, after takeoff and cruising. We made sure they were strapped in.
It was still dark when we arrived into CDG, onto the same gate as we departed from all those days before. It was also Tam's birthday, though she wasn't feeling so great. After landing and getting our bags, we sat for a while near the checkin desks, before being moved on by the police - nothing personal, there was a suspicious bag that had been found and everyone was moved out of the area. We then headed to the station, and caught the RER to the Gare du Nord. It being Tam's birthday, I then took the children off to try to find something for her, whilst she sat and rested.
Canal St Martin
I had found the location of a patisserie that only sells gluten free cakes and pastries. I though this would be a good gift, so the children and I found it. We saw the sign, and went into the open door, to be told that is was still closed, and would open at 12:00 (in an hour). Unfortunately our Eurostar left at 12:30, so that was impossible, so we made our way back to the station, and the huge checkin queues for the trains back to London.
Gluten free patisserie
Matt is the boy in seat 61.