Last June I returned after spending a semester abroad in Paris. It was an awesome experience and none the least because of all the traveling I was able to do. This trip report will string together two interesting trips that I took during my time abroad: Croatia Airlines CDG-ZAG-ZAD, and Kuwait Airways FCO-CDG.
For the last break we had for school before the end of the semester, my friends and I wanted to go somewhere unconventional, somewhere that not everyone gets to or goes to when they’re in Europe. After much discussion we decided on Croatia after all the amazing things we had heard about it (the fact that they don’t use the Euro and the exchange favors the US dollar was just a bonus). After searching around and researching we had decided on an itinerary: Fly into Zadar and spend two days on the coast, take a bus inland to Plitvice Lakes Park and spend a night there, then onto the capital Zagreb for two nights. The cheapest flight we found was actually with Croatia Airlines (I was glad as it’s not an airline many people get to fly and I hadn’t flown them before) for about $300 round-trip flying CDG-ZAG-ZAD outbound, and then ZAD-CDG returning. This report will cover the CDG-ZAG-ZAD portion only.
Croatia Airlines changed with flight schedules slightly a few weeks out from departure which wasn’t a problem for myself and my friend, but the change created a scheduling conflict with classes for my other friend. Croatia Airlines rebooked him on a Lufthansa flight but unfortunately it would cause him to miss most of the first day in Zadar.
LV 11:35 am
AR 1:30 pm
Flight Time: ~1h 40mins
My friend Kaitlin and I left for Charles-de-Gaulle, taking the express train from Gare du Nord and then took the CDGval to Terminal 1 where we checked in at the Lufthansa desk. I gladly took advantage of the free checked baggage allowance and the friendly Lufthansa agent tagged my bag all the way through to Zadar. With our boarding passes and passports in hand we proceeded through security which, thankfully, wasn’t crowded and sat down at the rather spartan gate area. Our plane had yet to arrive but there were two US Airways A330’s boarding for Philadelphia and Charlotte respectively.
Ready to go!
After about 20 minutes our aircraft finally arrived, and A319 in the Star Alliance livery. About 40 minutes later, boarding began, the load for the flight was fairly light, about a 50% I’d say. As we stepped aboard we were greeted in Croatian (“dobar dan”) by the smiling flight attendants. The plane had recently been refurbished with all new blue leather slim-line seats and the cabin looked clean and well-maintained. Kaitlin and I had a row to ourselves which was nice and legroom was decent.
Because of the light load today we were able to push back on-time and begin taxiing. It seemed to be LCC rush hour as we got stuck behind a couple easyJet and Vueling flights before we finally took off. After about three hours (joke ) we finally left CDG airspace…seriously though, CDG land-wise just seems to be a massive airport that takes forever to fly over. The FA’s were quick to spring into action beginning the lunch service which I was pleasantly surprised to find out OU offered complimentary. Per my understanding from their in-flight magazine, the menus were to be rotated monthly to showcase the different regions of Croatia and that particular month was the Istria region. Lunch consisted of a ham sandwich with a particular type of cold-cut from Istria with olive bread, something called a pepper cookie, and a small cake topped with some regional berries. Everything tasted great but the drink service didn’t come around until well after people were finished eating which I found odd, also Kaitlin had found a hair on top of her cake which definitely wasn’t acceptable, otherwise, she said the sandwich was good as well. The pepper cookies were different, apparently a Croatian creation, they tasted a lot like Biscoff cookies but had a slight spice to them which I couldn’t decide if I liked or not, but it was great to try none-the-less.
Taxiing at CDG
The rest of the flight passed fairly uneventfully with good views of the Alps along our route. About 45 minutes before landing in Zagreb, a tourism video was played on the overhead screens which only helped psyche us up more for our trip. Touch-down in Zagreb was smooth and we quickly parked alongside other Croatian Airlines planes as well as a TAP airbus (charter?).
Beginning our descent towards Zagreb
Shortly after landing at ZAG's Pleso Airport
We deplaned by stairs and were bussed to the terminal which had no jetways, but this was ok with me as the weather felt absolutely great! It was actually warm with a nice breeze and the sun was out unlike the cloudy, cool, rainy weather we left in Paris. Immigration was painless but the terminal was incredibly small and fairly crowded, per Wikipedia they’re apparently planning on building a new terminal which all I can say is badly needed. Our connection time was tight so we really had to run to our gate and rush through security to make our flight to Zadar. Unfortunately, because of all the rushing I was unable to take and photos of the Zadar leg of the trip.
LV 2:10 pm
AR 3:00 pm
Dash 8 Q400
Flight Time: ~30mins
This was my first time on the Q400, so I was actually somewhat excited, but Kaitlin was fairly apprehensive to be flying a turboprop despite my reassurances. The cabin was small but clean, and unlike the previous leg, this flight was packed and it’s final destination was actually Pula, so Zadar was only going to be a short en-route stop for this flight. Service consisted of a bottle of water and those pepper cookies again. I was surprised to see though that they had a first class section curtained off of the Q400 and saw that they actually received a full meal/snack service which looked like a shrimp cocktail-type dish, pretty nice for such a short flight.
Arrival in Zadar presented no problems, the terminal was brand new and my only complaint was that bus service to the city from the airport was very infrequent and we ended up having to take a taxi, I suppose this was more because the heavy tourism season had yet to start.
I could write paragraph after paragraph about Croatia, but I'll spare you and let the pictures do most of the talking. Croatia is my new favorite European country and I will definitely be going back at some point. Practically everyone we encountered there was incredibly nice and seemed genuinely proud to show us their country. Because the bulk of summer travel had yet to commence, we were able to get a great deal at the Villa Gravic hotel in the Diklo district of Zadar. The owner of the hotel was extremely gracious, welcoming, and excited for us to see Croatia, she was always happy to call taxi's for us and recommend local sites and restaurants. Zadar had excellent weather, great locals, relaxing beaches and was very walkable, we were all sad to leave after our two days. Plitvice was such a surprise for all three of us as we really decided to see it on a whim, having never really heard of it before...it is easily among the most beautiful places I've been to in my life, the only disappointment was that swimming wasn't allowed! After Plitvice we took the bus to Zagreb which we curiously weren't charged for. We tried on several occasions to flag down the conductor issuing tickets, but he kept ignoring us. Initially I wasn't all that thrilled about seeing Zagreb and leaving the coast behind, but it's a city that really grows on you. There's a certain old-world charm about it that you can't help but like and, again, the locals couldn't have been more kind or obliging to us "tourists".
View from our hotel in Zadar
Beach walk shortly after we arrived from the airport
Need I say more?
Having a couple local brews at a bar on the beach.
I'll take the one on the end...
Entering the old town
Enjoying the view
We couldn't resist the opportunity! Haha
No idea where this came from! Had to have been a counterfeit-type operation like those fake Apple Stores in China
Plitvice couldn't have been any more beautiful
Ilica Street, the main shopping area in Zagreb
Ban Jelacic Square
Scenic overlook of Zagreb
The Ban's Palace
This next portion of the trip report covers my return leg from FCO-CDG. After the school semester ended, my roommate and I went to Rome for a few days to meet up with his dad. Because I was unsure of what my plans would be when we planned the Rome trip initially, I had only purchased a one-way ticket on easyJet ORY-FCO, same flight as my roommate. Weeks later, once plans were firmed up, I had to start looking for a return flight to Paris. After much searching, the cheapest option that was showing was a $132 flight on Kuwait Airways on the FCO-CDG portion of it's flight from Kuwait City. Knowing little about the carrier, I was a bit hesitant but went for it as, at the very least, it was the most interesting itinerary.
I won't drone on about how Rome was, unlike Croatia! All I will say is that the sites were great and the Vatican was amazing, but everything was ridiculously crowded...almost like a tourist trap, I don't think I would go back to Rome again unless it was the off-season. Although my roommate and I were on two separate flights, they departed around the same time, so we left for Rome's da Vinci airport together on the same shuttle bus. He stepped off at the easyJet terminal and wished me luck on Kuwait Airways and we parted ways.
LV 4:55 pm Actual: 6:11 pm
AR 7:05 pm Actual: 8:07 pm
When I arrived at the terminal, it was almost 1 pm and check-in for my flight had yet to open, so to kill time I grabbed some lunch at McDonald's. The terminal was very crowded and not extremely clean, I had a tough time finding a place to sit down and relax. I kept repeatedly checking to see if KU 165 was on the screen yet, and when it finally did appear, it was marked as delayed until 6 pm! This wouldn't have been too bad were it not for the terminal. Apparently FCO has yet to install wifi, so internet access, even for pay, was a no go. Again the terminal was pretty crowded and almost all of the seats pre-security were taken, so all I could really do was sit on the floor and read for a couple hours until check-in finally opened.
People started queuing for check-in around 4:30 pm. While waiting in line, the biggest cockroach I had ever seen came out of nowhere and started scurrying around near the line, it was pretty disgusting yet darkly funny watching people react to it, I don't think I had ever heard "merde", "putain", and "degage" exclaimed more frequently even in Paris! Aside from that pre-flight "entertainment", check-in moved fairly quickly and it was soon my turn to approach the desk. The check-in agent was very nice but didn't speak English, thankfully she spoke French though, so requesting a window seat wasn't an issue. KU offers free checked bag service, but flying inbound to CDG, I've learned never to check your bag if you can help it...unless you feel like waiting 45 mins to an hour at the baggage belt in Paris, so I opted to just carry-on my little travel bag.
After I received my boarding pass I headed through security which was just a nightmare...incredibly crowded and hectic, it took about 30 mins to get through. After I had collected everything and gotten my things situated again post-security, I started looking for my gate. I had assumed because this was an intra-Schengen flight that it would leave with all the other European flights, so this caused me some confusion initially before I realized I had to go through passport control. I was actually fine with this however as my roommate and I were competing for passport stamps, so I'd be getting an FCO stamp while he got nothing After much meandering and taking a train to a satellite terminal, I finally found my gate. Since my plane had yet to even arrive yet, I walked around to get the lay of the land, this terminal was fairly new and A LOT cleaner than pre-security. There were a bunch of Alitalia long-haul flights departing, including one of their new A330's heading to EZE.
Finally, sometime before 6 pm, our plane arrived, a very attractive-looking A300-600:
Boarding commenced fairly quickly after the plane arrived and we were welcomed aboard by a smiling cabin crew. I was seated on the left side of the plane just behind the business class cabin. As this was a through flight that had just come from Kuwait, there were still a good amount of people on board, but the plane looked very clean and well-maintained and I was surprised to see that there were even PTV's installed in economy.
Leg-room was very decent
After all the passengers getting on from Rome had boarded, I'd say the flight was very near 100% full. I was sitting next a nice Francophone man returning to France from a visit home in Africa, he had said that the delay in Kuwait had been some sort of mechanical problem.
Once everyone had been boarded and seated the doors were quickly closed and the plane pushed back from the gate. We waited a few minutes for take-off behind a couple other heavies before we finally turned onto the runway and began our take-off roll. Take-off was very smooth with the exception of some thunderstorms near the airport which caused a bit of turbulence initially. The FA's quickly busied themselves with prepping for the inflight service. About a half-hour after take-off, the FA's were in the aisle starting the service. They worked very fast and it didn't take them long to get back to our row, offering us a dinner option, again they were very hurried about the service which I guess is understandable given the relatively short duration of the flight.
The tray was packed with a lot of stuff. The hot dinner portion consisted of a spiced chicken which was very good, some sort of fried dough ball filled with spiced beef or some other meat, and these sweet-tasting onion ring-type things...even though I had no idea what most of it was, it was very good. There was also a chicken baguette sandwich with a spicy mayo...also good, a sweet roll, and a water cup. It was a very filling and tasty meal and I couldn't believe the portions for such a short flight, but it was none-the-less very welcomed and surprising.
After dinner was cleared, I got up to stretch my legs and snapped a photo from the aft economy section:
It didn't seem like much more time had passed and we were already making our descent into Paris. As it had been for the past two months or so, weather in Paris was gloomy and rainy that evening (I thought I had chosen to study abroad in Paris, not London!). Touchdown was very well executed and happened a little over an hour after our original ETA. After another lengthy taxi, we parked at the gate in Terminal 1.
Finally at the gate
After deplaning, I got through passport control fairly quickly and headed straight to the CDGval to get back into the city and enjoy one of my last nights in Paris.
All in all, Kuwait Airways was pleasantly surprising. For the price I paid and what I received, it was very worth it. The planes were clean, the service generous (no alcohol of course though), and the staff helpful and genuine, I would recommend them without hesitation to anyone.
Hope everyone enjoyed and thanks for reading!
[Edited 2012-08-14 14:48:21]
[Edited 2012-08-14 14:52:59]