Sep 292014
 

Soooo this will be kinda brief – what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, yada yada.

Headed off to our hotel, the Aria Las Vegas. On the way, I got confused for a second and thought I was still in Paris:

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First night was early to bed, because we were getting up early to drive out to the Hoover Dam. We took the dam tour. We took lots of dam pics. We made lots of dam memories ;)

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Sep 272014
 

I woke up early. Way too early. I somehow managed a shower and managed to cram things into my bag. I found the elevator. I tried to speak French to the check out people. “Aloha, j’voudrais faire le chcekout.” Um, non. Coffee. Stat. Medical need.

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Hawaii Coffee Company was closed. I mean, yeah, it is 4:30am, but does the Geneva Convention on torture not apply here? They are denying treatment to someone with a serious medical condition. I’m calling Obama!

Quick…and chatty…taxi to the airport. Great thing about 4am is it’s 10am in DC, and friends back home were pinging me to make sure I was still alive and functional, and about to appear in Vegas for a bachelor party. Oh that. Yes, because I hadn’t put my body through enough in the last 5-6 days. There’s a bachelor party to do.

Got to HNL, Pre Check was closed, but went through the elite line with a special pass that meant I didn’t have to take shoes off or take laptop out, so colour me a happy camper. Less than 5 minutes from taxi through security – can’t beat the aloha. DO YOU HEAR THAT DULLES?  HUH?!

Went to Starbucks in search of emergency supplies…and there was a line. A very long line. Filled with what appeared to be half of America’s armed forces. I’ve never minded a line so little.. I bought coffee. I supported the troops.  Yeah…moving on…

Got to the gate, and it was time to board!

United Airlines flight 72
Honolulu, Hawaii (HNL) to San Francisco, California (SFO)
Depart 6:28, Arrive 14:32, Flight Time 5:04
Boeing 767-400ER, Registration N76054, Manufactured 2000, Seat 1D

Nothing like a glass of bubbly Jeff…I mean, it’s grape juice…to wake you up!

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So what was for breakfast?  Well, there was fruit, which was decent and semi-fresh. There was grape juice with bubbles, which was also pretty good. The carb roll was good for 2 bites as usual until I felt the need for an emergency dental appointment. Then, the main. The seasoned hockey puck, I mean sausage, was a total no-go as usual. The potatoes…well I’m not sure what’s in them…it could be crack or heroin, but I inhaled them. The eggs? Flavourless as usual, but I kept telling myself they might contain large amounts of protein, so forced them down. The tomato…well, I ate it because it was colour. The mean was far too tan and yellow without it.

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Sep 262014
 

Running on only about an hour of sleep, huffed it to Châtelet station to catch the RER to Roissy. Didn’t have long to wait, and soon the train arrived and I shared it with a group of sleepy French commuters. I was wearing the “Ch’ten Vacances” t-shirt I’d been wandering in Paris in all night, which led to a fascinating conversation with the gentleman seated next to me. I didn’t think anyone in France worked in August, so was surprised to see so many people in business dress on the train.

I’d managed to check-in on the United app, so had plenty of time to grab a tasty breakfast and some much-needed caffeine:

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After fueling, passed the boarding pass control, and took the silly little escalators up into the terminal to try and find the Star Alliance lounge.  Up some elevators, down a random corridor, and greeted with this sign:

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…because even at 8am, well over half the lounge was drinking.  Who knew there was actually a drinking age in France?  Don’t tell all the French parents who serve their kids wine with dinner that.

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There was a small but decent selection of snacks and light breakfast, and it was a perfectly respectable lounge.  Internet was a reasonable speed, there was enough room to fit a seat, plenty of outlets, etc.  Overall, not too bad, except for the fact it was brimming with loud Americans talking about their trip of a lifetime to Paris.  Trust me, we don’t all need to hear about your shopping spree in Paris, or how much money you let your wife spend to make up for all those late nights you worked.  Ugh!

Security is in the individual satellite, but took less than 10 minutes to clear.  Made it to the gate just as boarding was starting, however, the boarding pass scanner was unable to scan mobile boarding passes.  Go figure.  After nearly half the plane had boarded, they agreed to just manually type in my seat number to board me.  I’d been suggesting this for 15 minutes already… the United staff at CDG were not among the friendliest nor most competent I’ve encountered…

United Airlines flight 991
Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to San Francisco, California (SFO)
Depart 10:05, Arrive 13:00 , Flight Time 11:55
Boeing 767-300, Registration N676UA, Manufactured 2001, Seat 1D

Figuring I was operating on Hawaii time now, where it was 10 pm, I chose a glass of bubbly upon boarding. Door closed on time, takeoff was quick, and soon it was time for a glass of Château le Jeff and some cashew pieces.  Overcooked and soggy/chewy nuts…mmmmm mmm good!

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However, there was an upside. Garlic bread, and lots of it! This was the first of at least four or five helpings. Today’s appetizer? We present for your dining pleasure two shrimps and a lemon wedge!

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Sep 252014
 

After dropping off Pépé I headed straight for security, since this time I’d managed to get Vueling to deliver my boarding pass to my phone. Security was a piece of cake, and soon I’d made it through and eventually found my way to the Priority Pass lounge. Signs were very poor, and I couldn’t seem to figure out I needed to take the escalator upstairs.

At this point, I was starving. I hadn’t eaten any real food since breakfast, and it was now late afternoon. I probably should have grabbed something in Llívia, but wasn’t really thinking. I was praying for some food in the lounge. Um, no.  here were a couple of stale looking sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and peanuts. But there was beer. Local beer. Which kinda made up for it. Beer on an empty stomach is good, right?

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About 30 minutes before boarding I headed to the gate, and there was already a line 100 deep forming to board. Ugh, the indignity of flying low cost carriers. Eventually an announcement was made…in spanish only…to split into two lines…one for the first 15 or so rows, and the other for the last 15. Everyone looked confused…because most of them were french. Translated for a few nice old ladies, and managed to skip ahead in line a bit. It was a mess.

Vueling flight 8244
Barcelona, Spain (BCN) to Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
Depart 17:00, Arrive 18:50, Flight Time 1:50
Airbus A320, Registration EC-MBF, Manufactured 2008, Seat 14D

Flight was about 95% full, but fortunately the E and F seats in my row were empty…or were they. Two 20-something french guys moved into them from the row behind…but I wasn’t going to argue about it.

The flight attendant came around to do her safety briefing…asking first if we spoke Catalan or Spanish. Si. The two french guys gave her a blank look. She asks again “do you speak english?” Another blank stare. She tries to tell them in English that they must move, because you must speak Catalan, Spanish, or English to sit in the exit row. They looked at her like she was an alien.

At this point, the door was closed, and it was delaying the flight. None of the crew, it appeared, spoke french. So, in order to get the flight moving…and maaaaaybe because I wanted the whole row to myself. I translated…explaining to them. They wanted me to tell the flight attendants a long story about how they knew what to do, they could handle it, etc. I started telling them….and the flight attendant raises her voice. YOU. GO. TO. YOUR. OTHER. SEAT. NOW. OR. WE. WILL. TAKE. YOU. OFF. THE. FLIGHT.

Reluctantly, they finally moved, and we were under way.

About 15 minutes into the flight, as the crew was starting the drink service, I went to the washroom.  I came back to find them in the E and F seats again.  I told them the flight attendant was not going to be happy…and they just gave me a shhhhh!

Well, they came around with buy on board, and the fireworks started.

The flight attendant tried once again to tell them they couldn’t sit there. It ended with the two of them up in her face, and two other flight attendants’ faces, in the aisle, just shy of yelling at them. “Why can’t we sit there? Is it because we’re french? Why don’t you speak french when you fly to france” No translating needed, they weren’t even listening at all. Finally the flight attendant threatened to “have the pilot land the plane” and one of the french guys called her a “racist spanish pig” and took a swing at her.

Out came the zip ties. In a first after 2,000,000 miles of flying, I had to help a flight attendant hold down a passenger while his hands were zip-tied behind his back.

Oh, and he still didn’t get to sit in the exit row…and I got my pringles and beer comped ;)

Upon landing, we taxied past Concorde:

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The Gendarmes met the flight, and I had to walk with them to an office and give a statement. Only took about 10 minutes, and I was pretty pleased with myself that my french was adequate for giving an official statement. Let’s just hope they don’t call me back for a court appearance or something. That would absolutely suck ;)

Took CDGVal to the RER station, and ended up waiting nearly 15 minutes for a train.  Straight shot to Châtelet, and then roughly a 10 minute walk to my hotel.  I was pretty tired by this point after driving nearly 8 hours through Spain and France, but was determined to enjoy my night.  Headed to Les Philosophes for dinner, where I had no problem scoring a table for one. It was nearly 9pm by this point so they were out of lots of things, but the restaurant was packed. Ended up having a nice chat with a couple from Québec on their honeymoon at the next table over.

But first, red wine and bread. I still don’t understand why red wine in France is always colder than anywhere else in the world.

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…and an amazing onion soup, with onions from their own garden.

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…and perhaps the simplest, yet most amazing, steak tartare I’ve ever had.

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Unfortunately they were out of the apple tart dessert I wanted, but this chocolate mousse was absolutely terrible and went terribly with my wine ;)

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Now, it was nearly 11pm, and the smart thing to do with a 10am flight would have been to go to bed.  I wasn’t smart.

Went back to the hotel, made a few phone calls, and a little bit after midnight, I was thinking “it’s only noon in Hawaii…if I go to bed now, I’ll never sleep in Hawaii. Let’s go for a walk.” So, I started walking.

Past the Pompidou, the Jardins de Luxembourg, up the Champs Elysée to the Arc de Triomphe.  Back down Ave. Kléber to Trocadéro, over the Pont D’Iéna, and to the Eiffel Tower.  It was an amazing stroll, Paris by moonlight, and absolutely magical. I’ve been to Paris probably 50 times, but this was a whole new side of Paris, and I loved it! Walked back along the left bank, and finally got back to my hotel around 5am…this was not going to end well…but it was 5pm…an appropriate nap time in Hawaii.

So, I aid down in my hotel for a 1 hour nap:

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Alarm woke me up fortunately, quick shower, and I was out the door…the long trip to Hawaii was about to begin…again!


Sep 222014
 

Plan was to wake up early in order to have a nice casual drive to Barcelona. However, jetlag was starting to catch up to me, and I just couldn’t do it. Finally made it up around 9am, and headed down to the hotel restaurant for a quick breakfast. Hard boiled eggs, baguettes with Nutella, and some good strong coffee. What’s not to love? The very nice dining room of the Casa Canut:

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After breakfast, I wanted to mail a few postcards, so wandered the town trying to find the local post office to mail them. I’d purchased postcards and stamps the night before and wrote the out over breakfast. The walk was a nice wake-up, and I got another good view of the ferris wheel in daylight:

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Then, it was time to drive. Checked out of the hotel around 10:30, and the doorman brought Pépé the Smart Car around for me.  First stop was Llívia, a small Spanish enclave completely surrounded by France. The route highlighted on the map below is the route I took into Andorra from Spain. I was planning to go out the east side on the yellow road you see, and head down the E9 highway to Llívia. This border of Andorra was supposed to be much, much more mountainous, and a very scenic drive.

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Total travel time was forecast at one hour and 13 minutes, so I was expecting 1:30 to 2 hours with stops along the way for photos:

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Leaving Andorra la Vella, some amazing views:

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Sep 182014
 

After fueling up at Starbucks…

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…it was time to find terminal 3 at CDG. I made my way to the CDGVal train, which was pretty self explanatory, and then there was the maybe 200 meter walk to T3. It seemed kind of silly, but I’m used to the C-terminal train at Dulles which also involves a long walk to the terminal, so I’m used to strangely planned train systems.

What I’m not used to is airport terminals that feel like a warehouse. Or bus terminal. Some place that not only doesn’t have first class facilities, but no lounges whatsoever. It was a terrifying place. I started to break out in a cold sweat. What’s this…a line…and there’s no way to cut to the front of it. What’s worse, after 20 minutes standing in it, I was still stuck in the line!  Dear God, I take back every thing I’ve said about how being elite on United no longer is what it used to be…it was traumatizing.  30 minutes later, I was at the front of the line…and based how slowly the line moved I expected the Spanish Inquisition (see what I did there?) before I could check in.

J’ai déja enregistré et j’ai besoin seulement de mon carte d’embarquement….” (looks at passport, tap tap tap, clunk clunk clunk) and out comes my boarding pass. That’s it.  15 seconds. I waited in line for 30 minutes for a 15 second transaction. Dear Vueling: YOU NEED KIOSKS. KTHXBYE LOVE YOU.

I still had about an hour until my flight, so find a little store selling bottled water…it was reasonably priced and I decided to head for security. Took all of 5 minutes to get through, and the waiting area on the other side was just a large collection of seats for 5 or 6 “gates” which were really just doors to busses since T3 has no jetbridges.

Bus to the plane at departure time, and we finally left about 20 minutes late. I’d paid an extra 10 euro to sit in the exit row, which at 6’3 is more than worth it. I shared the row with two very lovely ladies from Kansas who were going on a Mediterranean cruise.  They spent the next 90 minutes telling me all the fascinating things they’d discovered in their few days in Paris. I did lots of smiling and nodding and pretending to be fascinated ;)

Vueling flight 8243
Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Barcelona, Spain (BCN)
Depart 9:50, Arrive 11:35, Flight Time 1:45
Airbus A320, Registration EC-JSY, Manufactured 2006, Seat 14D

So, what was it like to fly a low cost carrier?  Well, not that bad.

I had legroom.  Chatty, but nice row-mates.  I got a Coke Light…it cost me like 3 euro, but I got one.  We were only 30 minutes late, so all in all, I can’t really complain too much.  The best part was the exit row briefing…you had to speak and understand either Catalan or English to be allowed to sit there.  I got briefed in Spanish, which I was super proud of being able to pass well enough in, and the nice ladies from Kansas got briefed in English.  All went well.

Then…it was off through Barcelona to find my car.  I have a confession here.  I can’t drive a manual transmission.  About 100 countries ago I said I’d learn.  I still haven’t.

My options?  A Mercedes E Class at 199 Euro a day (for two days…ouch!) or a Smart Car for about 50 Euro a day.  You can guess what I chose.  The rental agent spoke basic english, and combined with my basic Spanish we got the song and dance done…including the “are you SURE you don’t want extra insurance?”  Yes.  “Oh, and one last thing…se llama Pépé.”  Yes, my car had a name according to the rental agent.

Introducing…Pépé:

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Now, it’s important to remember.  I’m not a small guy.  I’m 6’3 and north of 200 pounds.  There was enough room in this car for me and my one tiny bag, but that’s about all.  I was welcomed with this hangtag in the car:

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She’s winking at me…there’s something she knows I don’t.  Oh, wait, it’s how to drive this thing!  Wait, I have to shift even though it’s an automatic?  Yes, there’s no clutch, but still the shift from 1st to 2nd up to 5th etc was a manual shift.  Once I kinda got the hang of that…I was off.  Fortunately it took a long time to get out of the car park, which gave me lots of practice.  Programmed Google Maps on my iPhone to read me directions to Andorra…and I was off to brave the highways of Spain!

The first hour was a bit of a hot mess.  I made several wrong turns, forgot to shift, got stuck doing 80 kph on the highway, it was a wreck.  But eventually after 90 minutes or so I was getting the hang of it.  Just in time to pull into a rest stop and refuel.  I needed caffeine and calories.  See, isn’t Pépé gorgeous in the sunlight?  It was about 85F and a gorgeous day.

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Sep 162014
 

Having landed right on time, I grabbed a triple iced espresso for fuel at the D-gates Starbucks, and headed straight to the Washington Flyer bus, where I learned that the bus doesn’t start until 7:45 on weekends. It was only 7:10. Grrrr. In an attempt to (a) be fiscally responsible and (b) curious about the new bus to metro service on the silver line, I waited. This meant a $5 bus plus about $5 metro ride vs a $55 taxi….

Shortly, the bus arrived, and the Washington Flyer bus is no longer a nice coach bus, but a glorified public bus with luggage racks. Actually was glad to see this, because the bus now runs every 15 minutes instead of every 30, and is $5 instead of $10, so it’s definitely a win. Soon we were at metrorail, and I was enjoying a quick ~25 minute ride to my place. Can’t really complain about 40 minutes door to door on public transit from Dulles!

Emerging from metro, looking a bit scruffy, bags already forming under the eyes, but none the worse for wear:

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So, I had exactly 10 hours in DC, one of which was eaten up getting home.  So, first order of business was a load of laundry.  Then packing a weekend bag for Andorra.  See, I’d left my luggage in Honolulu, to be picked up on the way to Vegas, so I had only my laptop bag with me.  Packed a weekend bag, and by 10am I met some friends at a local restaurant for a quick brunch and catching up on this crazy trip.  One of the friends did a 48 hour Johannesburg mileage run with me about a year ago, so the insanity was easily related to.

Now 11:30 and still 6 hours before my flight….so I unwisely went and played an hour of hockey.  Why not, right?  It’ll make me tired for the flight!  Had a great time, more than a little amused at my own insanity, and by 2p was home, showered, and right back on Metrorail to take me to Dulles.

I’d checked in online, so it was straight to security where there was almost no wait at pre-check, and less than 15 minutes after arriving at Dulles I was already in the D-gates Red Carpet Club, which I don’t think I’d been to in years.  It was time for some delicious Tilamook cheese and a few glasses of Château le Jeff.  Despite a huge brunch of french toast and two sides of bacon, I was starving from hockey, so I went to town:

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The Dubai flight was also leaving from the D gates shortly, and the people watching was nothing short of fascinating.  Several younger military looking types getting absolutely tanked on Bud Light (their lack of tolerance made me ashamed to be American) and perhaps the scariest part…a middle aged portly Texan guy who ordered “6 shots of Jack Daniels on the rocks.”  Yes, he paid like $70 for it and didn’t seem phased.  I’m gonna guess he has a fear of flying…more surprisingly the bartender didn’t seem surprised at all.

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Sep 152014
 

Thanks to an early night, managed to wake up early…around 530, and headed out for a “short” run to fight off jet lag.  Headed down Kalakaua towards Diamond Head, before realizing it was too early and it wouldn’t be open yet.  Slight detour to Starbucks.  Had coffee, read the paper for an hour, and then started the run.  Got to Diamond Head, hiked up to the peak, and ran back.  Around six miles total, and the perfect antidote to jetlag!

Got back to the hotel, and had a huge container of pineapple and some aloe juice from the ABC store before giving up on being productive at all.  Grabbed a towel, headed down to Waikiki, and just sat in the sun for a few hours.

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I may have only had 24 hours in Honolulu, but between a walk, dinner at Duke’s, the run up Diamond Head, and beach time, I’m pretty sure I maxed it out!

Around 1:30 I called for the car, put down the sun roof, and headed back to the airport on a gorgeous day.  No problem dropping the car off, and soon I was at the extremely empty United check-in area:

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Thanks to the United mobile app and TSA pre check, I was already checked in…which was sort of a pity because it would have been entertaining to see the look on the agent’s face when I checked in all the way to Paris!

Less time in security means more time for liquid Aloha!  Went to the Kona Brewing Company in the terminal to grab a lite lunch…and of course a few Big Swell IPAs:

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I told the waittress to bring me the tastiest app on the menu whatever it was…the kalua pork quesadillas didn’t disappoint!

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After a quick lunch, I decided to do some plane spotting.  HNL is great for it, since it’s an open air terminal and you can get up close and personal with the planes.

Delta and a Korean Air A330:

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Sep 102014
 

Ok, this took far, far longer than I planned to get around to.  I figured “I’ll be spending 30,000 miles on planes over the course of 12 days, lots of time for writing.”  What I didn’t take into account is that my sleep schedule would get so out of whack that I’d find myself wandering streets at 3am enjoying cities in a whole new way, and sleeping when I could.  Plus, the trip ended in Vegas.  I don’t really need to explain much more.  I got home after this mother of all mileage runs absolutely wrecked in more ways than one.  Then there was life, and work, to catch up on…but finally…here we go!

In case you missed the post about how this trip came up, I’ve linked it here for reference.

Soon, the big day was here, and it was time to head out!  Decided to be a bit frugal and take the Metro to the airport, which in rare form was running with no delays and everything went smoothly.  So smoothly in fact, that I was from home and through TSA in under 30 minutes.  Ended up with almost an hour before my flight, so popped into the Delta SkyClub for a quick breakfast.  I wanted to check out their new offerings…and was seriously happy to find greek yogurt and hard boiled eggs.  No salt anywhere though.  Grrr.  At least I had a chance to stock up on protein knowing Señor Jeff would soon try and put me in a carb-induced coma.

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Boarding was right on time, and we were on one of United’s oldest 737-800s today…but at least there was WiFi!

United Airlines flight 1662
Washington DC, National (DCA) to San Francisco, California (SFO)
Depart 8:15, Arrive 11:19, Flight Time 6:04
Boeing 737-800, Registration N18220, Manufactured 1998, Seat 2E

Today’s route of flight was rather strange, I assume due to the storms covering the flyover states.  Although we were blocked 6:04 gate to gate, flight time was announced at just 5 hours and 5 minutes…rather quick for this route.  I was rather excited to be on this route, instead of having to trek out to Dulles and it was my third ever transcon out of DCA, and the first on United.  So happy to have this route as an option now!

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Not only were full pre-departure drinks offered, but they came with refills if you were a quick enough drinker.  This was going to be an excellent crew!  There was almost no wait for takeoff, and we were airborne less than five minutes after leaving the gate.

Today’s breakfast choice was either scrambled eggs and sausage (powdered scrambled eggs on planes scare me…Jeff’s sausage pucks scare me even more), or the big tray of carbs.  I decided to go with the carbs and a bloody mary, figuring at least it might put me to sleep.

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Aug 112014
 

Now that I’ve been to 158 countries, it’s kinda cool being about to watch CNN/BBC and see all sorts of places in the news that I’ve been. But, for some reason these last two weeks, the news from northern Iraq / Iraqi Kurdistan is really bothering me.  Reflecting on my photo album, it’s really amazing how much we managed to see despite the circumstances, and especially given where things now – I count myself very fortunately to have been there.

When I went there a few years ago, I really enjoyed it. It was my first “you’re going WHERE?!” country, and the people were fantastic and it was really an eye opening trip. So, I’m going to repost here that trip report, with a few edits/thoughts from the last few years. Enjoy!

Immigration was a breeze, and soon we were really there…we were in Iraq.  But wait…where are the taxis?  Now, I guess we hadn’t really planned this part too well, because it’s not like I should have expected for the Erbil International Airport to be really prepared with a modern tourist infrastructure.  A couple years on, I can admit what happened…and just how stupid it was.  After about 15 minutes of standing around and looking lost, we started chatting up a couple of mercenary looking types who’d arrived on our flight.  Yeah, they were “private security contractors” and their company was picking them up.  They sized us up, decided we were worth the risk, and offered to give us a lift to our hotel…no need to pay.  So, into the Humvee it was when their driver arrived, and we were off.  In retrospect, it was pretty insane….but how well it turned out said a lot.  There’s only one other time since I’ve had to rely on strangers at an airport (this past January in Gabon) and that also worked well.  Anyways, back to the story…

Soon we were at the Ankawa Palace Hotel, which we had randomly stumbled upon online, and based on the website and little information we could find about looked like a reasonable and safe place to stay.  The rooms were clean and basic, the staff spoke very basic English, so all in all I would highly recommend it as a place to stay.  Plus, a reasonable breakfast buffet and internet were included in the reasonable rate of $154 per night, and given this was December 30 and 31, it was a pretty good deal.  It was 5pm at this point and we had two things to accomplish:

One, hopefully arrange a driver to drive us into the countryside the next day, and two find some dinner.  Number one, again, we weren’t in the best position to negotiate.  Like I said earlier, there aren’t exactly many tourists here, so if you want to arrange things there aren’t many options.  The guy at the front desk made some calls over the next hour, and managed to arrange us a driver for the day.  There were two waterfalls we wanted to see on the mountain road up to Hadji Omaran at the Iranian border.

Our plan was to drive past the Gali Ali Beg waterfalls and the Bekhal waterfalls, on the way to the mountainous region by the border.  A driver was found for the full day trip, which seemed semi expensive, but how often do you get a chance to be driven around the countryside in Iraq?!  That sorted, we headed off the the Mehdi Mall to hopefully find somewhere to arrange dinner.  We didn’t manage to find anywhere to get anything to eat there, but did find a bowling alley, and lots of very unusual Christmas decorations.  Now, Erbil does have a rather sizable Christian population, but it seems they’ve managed to take the American commercialization of Christmas to a whole new level!

Looking back now, it’s sad to see what’s happening to the Christian populations in northern Iraq.  I didn’t quite understand at the time just how large this population was, just that it existed.

Want a blow-up Santa?  For just 30,000 Dinars you’re covered!

There were also several rather strange costumed animals wandering around the mall, and Matt managed to make a new friend:

I wanted to go make friends with the giant cat wandering the mall, but he seemed incredibly popular with the locals (not to mention the half dozen santa people wandering the mall), so we opted to skip him:

They did, however, have a big grocery store in the mall selling, of all things, turkey!

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Having failed to find a reasonable looking dinner option, we headed back to the hotel and decided that despite being dark, we were going to wander the suburb of Ainkawa and try and find the “Happy Time” pizza restaurant for dinner.  It was listed on TripAdvisor, so how bad could it be…if it existed.  But first, we had a 10-15 minute walk through the dark streets of Ainkawa to find it. Eventually,  we found it, the food was adequate, and it put some of the nerves to rest having wandered around in the dark and not felt at all unsafe.  A view of the pizza from the Happy Time:

Then it was back to the Ankawa Palace and off to bed early for the big day trip adventure the next day.

Our driver met us early, and soon we were winding out of the city in yet more very heavy rain towards the Gali Ali Beg waterfall.  This is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iraq, and probably one of it’s most famous natural features.  It is even on the back of one of the dinar notes.

Unfortunately, we were pretty disappointed when we got there, because of the amount of litter and rubbish just strewn all over the place.  It was really rather sad.  The other waterfall we stopped by was the Bekhal waterfall.  Again, very similar.  They were really cool to see, but the amount of litter was just really sad.  In both places, we were the only people seeing them, but some of this probably also had to do with the rain.

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