Athens: visiting the Benaki Museum

Hi Frugalistas!  Regular readers will know that I always say there is no point visiting any site just because you are there, or just because everyone else does.  As far as I am concerned there isn’t really any place in the world that is a “must visit” or a “must do”.  If it isn’t something that you are interested in, something that “floats your boat”, then it is a waste of your precious travel time or travel budget.  So it may come as no surprise that I didn’t make the time to visit the National Archaeological Museum of Greece when I was in Athens last year.  That’s right, I didn’t visit the greatest museum of ancient Greek antiquities in the very cradle of democracy and civilisation.  Yes, I went to the Acropolis, and yes, I enjoyed the wonderful Acropolis Museum.  But that was enough for me.  My interests are different.  That’s why visiting the Benaki Museum of Greek History and Culture was a much greater priority for me than another Museum of statues………………

Entrance to the Benaki Museum of Greek History and Culture - Visiting the Benaki Museum

Even the entry foyer impresses

Why visiting the Benaki Museum was important for me

Regular reasons will also know that I love costumes, textiles and crafts.  I also like religious and domestic arts.  So when I discovered the Benaki Museum in my guidebook  (which you can buy on my Amazon site) and read about it, I knew that was the museum I really wanted to visit.  Regardless of how important it was.

The Benaki Museum is a little slice of Greek historical life

The Museum building itself is a treasure – a gorgeous 19th century mansion just off Syntagma Square.  Inside the Museum, displays are organised in a very logical manner.  Starting on the groundfloor are a small number of antiquities.  But what is more interesting among those antiquities is a display of jewellery.  Far more interesting to me than any statue!

Then as you head upwards through the floors, you travel through time, with the most modern displays of Greek life on the top floor.

What to look for when visiting the Benaki Museum

The Benaki Museum can perhaps best be described as the Greek equivalent to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, for those who are familiar with that Museum. I think the best of the Benaki Museum is best summed up in this slide show:

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Details for visiting the Benaki Museum of Greek History and Culture

There is more than one Benaki Museum.  The Benaki Museum of Greek History and Culture costs EUR7, but is free on Thursdays (a donation will be gratefully accepted).  It is located in a pretty mansion on Koumbari just a stone’s throw from Syntagma Square.

There is also a rooftop café, and a very smart (but somewhat expensive) gift shop.  If you are looking for gifts beyond the usual Greek clichés it is a good place to try.  In particular, there is some lovely (read pricy) jewellery if you want to treat yourself or someone special – expensive yes, but very one bag travel friendly!

If you like arts and crafts, costumes or textiles, visiting the Benaki Museum of Greek History and Culture makes a very enjoyable alternative to statues and antiquities in Athens.

Using the best airline hacks I know

Phuket sunset The Best Airline Hacks frugal first class travel

 

 

Hi Frugalistas!  You know how I wrote recently about my ambivalence towards resort vacations?  Well, I’ve been outvoted by Mr Frugalfirstclass and MissG, so it’s off to Phuket for our summer holiday next January.  But the rules of the game are a little different.  MissG is now too big for the extra bed in a double room.  She also falls outside the “kids eat free” age group.  So, our accommodation costs are going to go up – a lot.  But, we still don’t want to fly cattle class.  Yes, we want it all:  premium flights, plus upgraded accommodation, but we don’t want to spend extra money.  It’s going to take every one of the best airline hacks I know to pull this one off!

Step 1:  Start early

No, you did not read it wrong when I said we are going in January 2016.  So yes, I’m starting now.  Firstly, to make sure I’ve got plenty of time to research options.  Secondly, to get a good feel for prices, so I know a good deal when I see one.  But thirdly, and most importantly, so I can take advantage of whatever frequent flyer redemptions or other competitive products I can access – it’s school holidays in Australia in January, so there’s hot competition to redeem those mileage points.

traditional Thai fishing boats on Phang Nga Bay Thailand

Yes, Phuket wins the next family holiday vote

Step 2:  Study my Virgin Velocity Frequent Flyer benefits

I hold Platinum Status with Virgin’s Velocity Frequent Flyer scheme.  That buys me a lot perks.  It’s easier to access mileage redemptions.  I’ve also got access to two benefits that I think could come in handy:  I can access free upgrades from a flexi Economy ticket to Business Class, and I can also use points to upgrade from a flexi Economy ticket to Business on international flights.  I’ll need both, since flights from Sydney go via Perth on separate flight numbers.  I also check what points I’ll need to redeem a flight in Business Class and their availability.

Step 3:  Start costing

Next, it’s time to hit Skyscanner, my favourite price comparison website.  Apart from Jetstar (that we don’t like) it’s pretty slim pickings.  In fact the Virgin Australia Business Class flights are actually cheaper on the Virgin Australia website than on Skyscanner’s partners.

Virgin Australia International Business Class meal frugal first class travel

We want Business Class, but on a budget

I’ve heard Scoot are about to start offering a Business Class offering between Sydney and Singapore.  Because we need to do a transfer on Virgin Australia, and because the International Virgin Australia leg is not lie flat, I think Scoot is worth a look.  And yes, indeed it is.  At just over AUD600 per ticket it’s about half the price of a one way Virgin Australia Business Class ticket.  There’s just one problem.  That’s just to Singapore.  And on the way over, there’s no connecting flight that evening, so a night’s accommodation in Singapore needs to be factored in.

Step 4:  Compare the options

At this point, I’m coming to the view that going to Phuket on Virgin Australia, and coming back on Scoot Biz may be the best option.  Now it’s time to put my best airline hacks and knowledge to work to get the best overall combination and deal.

The best airline hacks I know frugal first class travel

As MissG grows up our family’s needs are changing, but our budget isn’t!

Off the Virgin Australia first.  I’ve got enough mileage points to buy one redemption to Phuket (but that will clear me out).  Buying three flexi Economy tickets and then doing the upgrades costs about $500 more than buying 2 Business Class tickets and doing one redemption.  So that’s the solution to get there.  I’ve got Platinum Status with Virgin and Mr Frugalfirstclass holds Gold, so it makes sense that we pay for our tickets.  We buy MissG’s with the mileage redemption to maximise the points we are going to earn on those paid flights.

I do the sums, so I know how much the return trip will cost on Virgin Australia before I head to Scoot.

Over at Scoot I book our three seats, with meals and luggage included.  That’s from Singapore to Sydney direct.  The best option for Phuket to Singapore looks like Silk Air, the Singapore Airlines regional carrier.  Because it’s only a short flight we agree that Business Class is a waste of money.  Now to get the best deal on those flights.  This is where my trusty Amex card comes in handy.  There’s enough Membership Rewards points to pay for all three Economy tickets.  Those flights are free.  There are plenty of flights from Phuket to Singapore, so we can get good connections at the huge Changi Airport.

Step 5:  Compare the savings

The best I could do going all Virgin Australia Business Class was in excess of AUD6000.  Because we made our decisions much earlier than last year, that’s still over AUD1000 less than we paid last year.

But I could do better than that.  I took over a thousand off by buying a redemption for one ticket.  Then saved over a thousand again by booking Scoot Biz and using Amex Membership Rewards to pay for our tickets home.

Step 6:  Lessons learned

Start planning early.  I got the Virgin Australia seats we paid for much cheaper by booking much earlier.  And who knows how long that mileage redemption seat would have been available?

Understand the rules of your mileage program.  I researched all my options so I knew exactly what was possible before I started pricing.

Compare prices.  What looked like an obviously good deal to use upgrades was actually more expensive than buying 2 business class tickets and using points for the other.

Take a risk.  I’ve never flown Scoot.  I don’t know what it’s going to be like.  I know it’s not going to be the lie flat luxury of Singapore Airlines, but then I know the overnight flight on Virgin Australia from Phuket isn’t either.

Don’t put all your points eggs in one basket.  By having those Amex Membership Rewards points sitting on my card I could get maximum value out of them.  You can’t get much better than three free flights, can you?

It’s taken me all the best airline hacks I know, but I’ve booked our flights for just over half what I did for the same trip this January.  That gives us a great nest egg to put towards the upgraded accommodation our family needs, and to pay for meals for our growing up fast MissG.  I’m sure we’ll have a great time, without missing out on any comfort – exactly what frugal first class travel is all about!

 

 

Visiting the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum

The Parthenon Visiting the Acropolis and Acropolis MuseumHi Frugalistas!  I’ve written a number of posts about my adventures in Athens, but am yet to write about the number one thing on everyone’s Athens wish list:  visiting the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum.  That iconic site that dominates the Athens skyline, and its accompanying museum make a wonderful half day tour.  Even if ancient ruins and statues aren’t your thing (and I must admit I have limited interest), this is the one trip I do recommend.

Visiting the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum without the queues

You, like everyone else wants to visit the Acropolis and its nearby museum.  That means it can get incredibly crowded with tour groups and cruise ship passengers.  The best way to beat the queues is to arrive early – as I recommend for all iconic sites.  Not only will you avoid the entrance queues, but you will be able to wander around and take photos without everybody else being in your way.  In the Acropolis Museum you can enjoy the displays and get a table at the rather nice little café much more easily.

Depending on the time of year arriving early has other advantages:

  • In high summer you can beat the heat.  The Acropolis is very exposed, with little to no shade.  Going early will make your visit far more pleasant.
  • The opportunity to capture some amazing shots.  One particular blogger friend of mine went very early (I’m sure they must have been the first ones there in fact).  She was rewarded with some of the most stunning photos of the sun coming up between the columns of the Parthenon – with not another person in sight…….
  • Most people visiting the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum do one after the other.  They are next to each other, so it makes perfect sense.  What that means is if you are late getting to one and get stuck in a queue, then you will get stuck in a queue at the other.  A double waste of time.  Going early enables you to miss the queues at both.

But there’s another trick to visiting the Acropolis………

You don’t need to buy your ticket at the main entrance off Dionysiou Areopagitou.  Beat every possible queue by walking up Areos Street from Monastiraki Square.  Turn left at the top, head round the Northern aspect of the Roman Forum, then follow the signs up the hill to the Acropolis.  It’s a fairly quiet area, but don’t worry.  Just at the bottom of the Acropolis itself is a tiny ticket booth.  Buy your ticket and follow the path round to the right to the Beule Gate and the main entrance.

Enjoying the Acropolis

The term Acropolis refers to the actual hilltop site.  The Acropolis is made up of a number of structures, the best known of which being the Parthenon, the main temple.  The other well known structure is the Erechtheion, home to the Porch of the Caryatids. It is likely that parts of the Parthenon will be under scaffold – like much of the ancient world, repairs and maintenance are a constant presence.  I have photos from my first trip to Athens in 1990 with the entire Northeast façade covered……. Have a good look around.  It all looks very plain doesn’t it?  Not really anything by way of decoration.  That’s because all the decorative treasures are in the Museum.  The beautiful Caryatids at the Acropolis are replicas.  Most of the friezes are missing from the Parthenon.  But it’s OK, pay attention, and when you go the Museum it will all make sense.

Feel free to walk around the perimeter of the site.  There are some beautiful views across the city – on a clear morning, I was fortunate to be able to see all the way to the sea looking out to the Southwest. Look down.  The stunning ruins on the South border are the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Theatre of Dionysus. There are bathroom facilities at the top of the Acropolis in the old Museum, but no snacks (and more importantly in warm weather) or drinks.  So make sure you take a drink with you in warm weather.  Just outside the main entrance is a small stand selling drinks and snacks, more toilets, and most helpfully, a small post office and letterbox.  There is also a small gift shop, but really it is the saddest thing and not at all befitting of an historic site of this significance.  If you want to shop for Acropolis souvenirs, do it at the Museum.

Enjoying the Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum is located on Dionysiou Areopagitou.  If you’ve been to the Acropolis first, come out of the Acropolis, down the steps and then turn left onto Dionysiou Areopagitou.  The Museum is the large modern building on the right hand side a few minutes walk down the street.

Rather than heading straight down to the entrance, use the handicapped ramp and walk through a pretty Mediterranean-style garden, complete with lavender and citrus trees.  A small Greek Orthodox Church completes are very pretty scene.  As you approach the entrance, there is a glassed area of excavations.  Yes, even the Acropolis Museum is built on an archeological site.  So plenty to enjoy before you even enter. The big thing about the Acropolis Museum is that photography is strictly forbidden.  The rule is strictly enforced (except for some reason at the Caryatids).  But don’t let that stop you enjoying your visit.  There is an excellent bookshop – I was able to pick up a small, light book with pictures of the key pieces for around EUR4.

My advice for enjoying the Acropolis Museum is to spend more time in the upper galleries.  It’s where all the big, fancy statues and friezes are.  The friezes in particular are beautifully displayed, and give you a great perspective on how they would have looked on the Parthenon.  The marble statues are also very interesting, with displays of how they would have looked in their original colours – yes, in colour! By now you are likely to be in need of some refreshments.  There are two options: a simple coffee shop on the ground floor adjacent to the gift shop, or a larger cafeteria style restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating options.  Outside on the terrace there is another great view of the surrounding streets. Even if you aren’t into archaeology and ancient history, visiting the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum is a morning well spent that I thoroughly recommend.

What is a Business Class Flight Like?

What is (1)

Hi Frugalistas! My work colleague D is taking her first Business Class flight. She is heading to Europe in April. It’s only her second flight to Europe, and is definitely not an experienced flyer. She is excited, but a bit intimidated. What goes on behind that curtain, or up those stairs?  What is a Business Class flight like, and what does a Business Class ticket even buy you?

What does a Business Class flight include?

Everybody knows that a Business Class ticket buys you a bigger seat. It also buys you a lie flat seat on most airlines’ long haul flights. But of course there’s far more to a Business Class flight than a big, lie flat seat and more space.

A Business Class flight buys you priority.

While exactly what that means will depend on your airline and your destination, expect a priority check in, priority baggage handling for checked luggage (and an increased luggage allowance), and often a fast track card for priority clearance at Customs and Immigration counters. You will be invited to board ahead of other passengers, often through a separate boarding lane.

Emirates business class lounge for a Business Class flight

A Business Class flight buys you peace and quiet

A Business Class flight buys you perks.

Everybody knows about the lounges airlines offer to First, Business and high value frequent fliers.  Often tucked away in a quiet corner of the airport, lounges offer a peaceful haven away from the noise and crowds, refreshments and food, often showers, and sometimes even Spas.

Some airlines (particularly Emirates and Etihad) will also offer chauffeur car pick up in certain destinations.  It’s so nice to know when you arrive in strange city that there will be someone waiting to deposit you at your hotel front door. The perks don’t stop on the ground of course.  Sit back and enjoy your preflight champagne or juice.  Refresh yourself after that “icky” walk from the lounge with a sweet smelling hot towel.

Emirates Business Class flight amenities kit with Bulgari toiletries

A Business Class flight buys you the comforts of home

Then of course there is the amenities kit.  Ah, yes, the amenities kit.  Along with the lie flat seat, the holy grail of premium class travel.  Before you dig into the goodies in your kit, my advice is to check the amenities in the bathroom.  Why you say?  Because often the exact same toiletries (even down the toothbrush and toothpaste) are available in the bathroom for your use.  When that is the case, I save my amenities kit content for my 3-1-1 bag.

Airline food often gets a bad rap.  Sometimes it is deserved, sometimes not.  While a Business Class flight doesn’t make you immune to a menu failure (like the paperweight croissant served to me once), airlines certainly do step up the options and experience.  From 5 course gourmet extravaganzas, to “anytime” snack menus, your airline will tempt you with a consistent procession of tempting treats.  A proper table cloth and place setting (and often no tray), full bar and premium wines will complete your experience.

In lfight snack on Emirates Business Class flight

A Business Class flight buys you as much (or as little) food as you like

A Business Class flight buys you space

Now, finally, the lie flat seat.  Add in the larger, comfier pillow and a nice soft warm blanket or duvet and you should sleep like a baby.  The only downside?  Sometimes fellow passengers sleep so well that snoring does break out – even on a Business Class flight!

Etihad Airways Business Class flight seat

A Business Class flight buys you space

Not all Business Class seats are created equal.  On some airlines, the seating is still in a side by side seat configuration.  So yes, even though the seat pitch is much better, you do need to climb over.  Many airlines have now moved to a staggered configuration, so everyone has direct aisle access.  You can check out what your airline offers by looking on their website.

On long haul flights you should expect a lie flat seat unless you are travelling on a very cheap airline and/or a very old plane.  Some airlines offer a Business Class flight with an angled seat – lie flat, but angled downwards to save space.  I have heard travellers complain of sliding down these angled seats, although I’ve never personally had that problem.  Airlines are moving away from the angled lie flat seat to more modern fully flat versions, so hopefully you won’t experience that problem.

Short haul international Business Class seating is a  bit different.  More like what a Business Class flight was like 15-20 years ago.  Expect a reclining, but not fully flat seat and a foot rest that won’t elevate your legs to horizontal.

Making the most of your Business Class flight

My number one tip for making the most of your Business Class flight is to make use of the services that are available, provided they are of value to you.

You have paid for them, and the airline wants you use them.

If the airline offers free transfers, and it fits with your travel plans, use it.

Avail yourself of the priority check in counter and express Customs & Immigration lanes.  No one likes standing in a queue longer than they need to, and when you have booked a Business Class flight you don’t need to!

Etihad Lounge in Abu Dhabi

A Business Class flight offers you a comfy seat in transit

Use the lounge, but also take the opportunity to walk around the airport if you need to stretch your legs.  Most lounges are quite happy for you to come and go as often as you like before your departure.  If there are showers (there usually are) and you want a shower, ask a staff member for a shower pack and enjoy it.

Eat and drink as much or as little as you like.  There is always plenty of food available between “meal times”.  If your supplied bottle of water runs out, don’t hesitate to request another (and another, and another……).  If someone has taken the last glass of champagne from the pre-take off drinks tray, feel free to politely ask for one.

Don’t assume that because it is Business Class that people will be “dressed up”.  They won’t be.  Dress appropriately, but comfortably.  I normally board and disembark in clothes appropriate to my departure/arrival cities, but change into comfy lounge wear once the seat belt sign is off.

light meal on an Etihad Business Class flight

A Business Class flight offers you restaurant meals on and off the ground

Enjoy and appreciate the experience.  The cabin crew really are there to make your journey as comfortable as possible.  If there is anything you need, don’t be afraid to ask.

But most importantly, remember that flying in Business Class is a privilege that most travellers will never experience.  Although I regularly fly internationally on a Business Class flight I still appreciate the privilege.  Savour every moment, and when things go wrong (as they will sometimes – yes, even in Business Class) keep it in perspective.  Don’t let a single paperweight croissant ruin your entire flight!

If you have travelled previously in Business Class, what would you recommend to a Business Class newbie?

 

The new frugal first class travel

Hi Frugalistas! Thanks so much for sharing this special post with me. While the new frugalfirstclasstravel.com has been live for a number of days now I’ve been patiently waiting for you, the wonderful loyal Frugalistas who subscribe by email and via WordPress to join me before I sent my first new post out.  Now that the migration of my site is complete, it’s time to head onwards.  I’ve spent much of the last few months thinking about how to implement the ideas I gathered at TBEX Athens in October. So, if you are ready, let’s take a walk through the new frugal first class travel.

Mezze plate Etihad First Class frugal first class travel

DREAM: When I go First Class you’ll be there too!

Navigating around the frugal first class travel website

I’ve designed the new site to make it easy for you to find that favorite post or to research a particular topic. The black menu at the top of the page contains information about me, the blog and my contact details.  I’d love you to send me an email either directly or via the contact form if there is anything you would like me assist you with. The blue and white menu under the header will take you to previous posts.  Here’s where you will find what you are looking for:

Dream – airline reviews and aspirational experiences;

Plan – itinerary planning and travel skills;

Pack – packing lists, packing tips and gear reviews;

Travel – destinations, experiences and travel guides.

There’s still a bit of work to do with updating the categorisation into the new menu structure, so if there is a particular post you are looking for you can use the search function on the right hand side bar.

signage at Hong Kong airport frugal first class travel

PLAN: You’ll never get lost with my travel planning and travel skills posts

What’s on the home page?

Regular readers will no doubt notice that I’ve kept some of the features of the old home page.  In particular I’ve kept the visibility of the last 10 published posts.  This makes it easy for you to find those recent posts you may not have had time to catch up on. In addition, I’ve added a new feature to the top of the home page.  Every time you click on the home page an post will randomly appear.  A great way to catch up on old posts, or to find a new favourite!

If you’re reading frugal first class travel on a mobile device you’ll find the right hand side bar at the bottom of the page – including the search function.

 

two jackets on hangers frugal first class trave

PACK: The right clothes, endless outfits, in one carry on bag

The geeky blogger stuff

I’ve moved frugal first class travel onto the Siteground hosting site.  So far so good, and I love their live chat help line – it’s been a life saver for me!  If you are a blogger and are interested in moving, contact me here, and I’ll happily refer you. I’ve stayed on the WordPress platform and am using a Studiopress theme called News Pro.  I’ve customised the site using their Design Palette Pro plug in – not a letter of coding required!

Aerial view of the Aegean Sea with islands frugal first class travel

TRAVEL: A front row seat to your favourite destinations

What’s still to do?

While the site is looking good and is quite functional, there’s still work to do. I still need to categorise about half of the old posts to make them easy for you to find.  Then I need to set up some sub categories to make it even easier. The other big job I’ve got is to compress my photos to improve your reader experience.  It’s a big, slow job – I’ve got over 1000 photos loaded.  Definitely an ongoing work in progress! Then all that’s left to do is:

1.  Get writing

2.  Get travelling!

I can’t wait, and I hope you can’t either.

What do you think of the new frugal first class travel?  Can you suggest any improvements to make the site better?