I was fortunate enough to gain a spot on an educational trip to Berlin & Abu Dhabi in December; courtesy of helloworld, Etihad Airways, Air Berlin and Visit Berlin.
When arriving at the Etihad Airways check-in desk at Melbourne airport, I received some exciting news about an upgrade from Economy to Business class whilst travelling to Berlin. Which meant of course that I was able to make use of my waiting time at the Etihad Airways/Air New Zealand Business Class lounge. This was the start of a week full of getting spoilt rotten (and I hadn't even left Melbourne yet!)
The features of Etihad's Business class on the Boeing 777 is out of this world! Even with a late evening departure, passengers are able to indulge in a delicious 3 course meal after take-off. You can also enjoy direct aisle access with every seat transforming into a comfortable flat bed for a goodnights' sleep. Pyjamas were provided for the flight with a duvet, pillow and even an in-seat massage function.
From Abu Dhabi we travelled on-board Air Berlin's A330, where we were once again lucky enough to secure an upgrade to Business. With a total of just 20 seats in the cabin, it had a very intimate feel and came with similar characteristics to Etihad's Business offering.
We were met on arrival at Tegel airport by our chauffeur who whisked us straight on to the Hotel Amano Grand Central. A newly opened 4 Star property located a short two minute walk from Berlin's main train station - Hauptbahnhof. The hotel has a very modern, architecturally designed feel and a number of convenient (and delicious) restaurants on offer.
Berlin comes alive at night during the Christmas period - and so we visited many of the Christmas Markets, which feature both gift and food stalls.
The atmosphere at the markets were very festive, with all Christmas lighting, decorations and carols - it really got you into the spirit of the season!
On our first full day in the city we visited the Berlin Wall – a devastating reminder that the East and West of Berlin was quite literally divided between 1961 and 1989. Also not to be missed is the interesting Story of Berlin Museum, the Brandenburg Gate - an 18th century triumphal arch in Berlin and one of the best known landmarks in Germany, the Reichstag building, and the East Side Gallery - which was probably one of my favourite spots. This is where artists express their sense of freedom in the form of graffiti on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall.
Transport in Berlin is extremely easy. We travelled extensively around the city using the Berlin Welcome Card – a travel card, but not your average MyKi Card like we use in Melbourne! It is a pre-paid travel card which you can purchase for nominated days and enables free travel with all public transport services and includes discounts at over 190 speciality restaurants and shops around Berlin – great value and highly recommended!
My highlight of Berlin was the "Gastro Rallye Night Tour" an exquisite food tour of different Berlin culinary hot spots with a course taken at three restaurants. We walked to each restaurant between courses; which helped somewhat to work off the food and wine consumed!
Next stop - Abu Dhabi! The flight back was very crowded and long. We arrived in Abu Dhabi to extreme heat, the very opposite of Berlin which was very cold! Abu Dhabi airport is huge and still under construction as they are building another Terminal. If staying in Abu Dhabi prepare for very long wait times to get through customs!
Finally we got through and we were met for transfer to our gorgeous hotel, the Dusit Thani. A 5 star luxury hotel located in Abu Dhabi's new business district, near the Eastern Mangroves and the Corniche.
The hotel has a very Thai theme to its decor and presents a very fresh and innovative design. My room was spacious and had spectacular views.
When in Abu Dhabi you can’t miss the Sheikh Zayed Mosque - a grand palace of worship. You’ll also most likely visit the Corniche (a pristine waterfront stretch featuring its own beach, many hotels, restaurants and cafes), Yas Island (a man-made island which can be reached by air, sea or road. It is home to Yas Island Marina GP Circuit, Ferrari World (an amusement park) and Yas Mall (one of the largest shopping malls in the world).
Another attraction that really can't be missed is the Desert Safari Experience (a 4x4 Jeep drive in the desert sand dunes, a camel ride and wearing native costumes) and Sea Wings (a scenic flight over the city of Abu Dhabi). These 2 were the highlight of my time here!
While at Yas Island we inspected the Crowne Plaza, which is a family friendly 4 star resort located next door to Yas Links Golf Course and features spacious rooms with many interconnecting which are great for families, many restaurants and bars, pools and a great kids club.
Back to work again; we visited the Etihad Airways Innovation Centre - and WOW was this spectacular! This state of the art facility is home to a walk-through reconstruction of the new A380 and B787 aircraft cabins, which also includes a real life model of the much talked about 'Residence by Etihad' (a luxury living space in the air with its own living room, ensuite bathroom and separate bedroom. Passengers are able to also take advantage of being privately served by their own butler and in flight chef), First Apartments and First Suites (a spacious living area with a shared bathroom and 5 star dining in flight chef). I relished that moment as this was probably the only time I would ever get to experience these facilities!
For our last night in Abu Dhabi we were fortunate enough to inspect and dine at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers which was a lovely and memorable way to end our journey.
I thoroughly enjoyed every moment spent there and although this is seen as a stopover destination, I found that there is so much to see and do, that a quick trip is just simply not enough!