May 242016
 

I had decided the night before that given a 9:35 flight time, and the desire to be there 90 minutes minimum before, combined with the fact the Bakerloo Line wasn’t running all the way to Paddington Station, that I was going to take an Uber to Paddington. I figured I already had my ticket from there, so this would be the best value for time and money.

Uber showed up within just a few minutes of requesting it, it was a pretty inexpensive ride to Paddington, and I even had time to grab some Starbucks at Paddington before my train departed. Say what you will about UK trains, but the fact trains were running on a reduced schedule this Saturday due to track work was well-posted everywhere, and the train left exactly when the sign said it would. Pretty good in my book!

Had to catch the shuttle train over to Terminal 4 for Etihad, which meant about a five minute wait followed by another two minutes or so on the train. Overall not too bad. From there, it was a relatively short walk to the check-in area, where the Etihad checkin was deserted about 1:30 before flight time. Quick and efficient check-in at the dedicated first class counter, no questions asked about checked bags, and off to security.

No wait at all at the priority security line, and was through and to the lounge maybe ten minutes after check-in. Could have been even quicker if it wasn’t a slight bit of a walk to the lounge. Took the elevator down to the lounge, checked in, and went into what was an extremely crowded lounge. There were only a few seats to be had, since Etihad operates a combined lounge for both first and business class. In fairness, as soon as I sat down an attendant came over to ask what I would like to drink and delivered it quickly, but there is nothing first class about a crammed full lounge with nearly 100 people in it.

After about 15 minutes I was over it, and decided to go for a short walk up and down the terminal to stretch my legs a bit before the big event. Unfortunately, this was another area where Etihad missed the mark. After boarding those with disabilities and families with children (at which point 50+ people boarded), they offered combined boarding for first, business, and elite members all at the same time. There was a fair bit of pushing and jostling (I hadn’t lined up, expecting first to be called first) and probably should have just waited to board last. To top things off, my boarding pass beeped and I was informed my seat was inoperative. Fortunately, it would turn out I was the only person in first class and they had put me in 3A instead of 3K – the same exact seat, just a different side.

Etihad flight 12
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Abu Dhabi, UAE (AUH)
Depart 9:35, Arrive 20:10, Flight Time: 7:35
Airbus A380, Registration A6-APF, Manufactured 2015, Apartment 3A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 79,194
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,268,719

I was welcomed on board by the agent at the door, and shown to my apartment for the flight, first impressions were WOW – that’s a lot of space!

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I was told to just leave my bags, and they would stow them for me after everyone had boarded. See what I mean by a lot of space? This is the perspective of the apartment from the seat:

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As soon as I was seated, it was suggested I might like a glass of champagne. Apparently, word about me had gotten out. Although the Bollinger Grande Année isn’t the most expensive first class bottle out there, I give Etihad points for originality and trying something different. Served with some dates and Arabic coffee:

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So, what’s the menu?

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Panoramic view of the suite:

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Since I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, I decided to go with a full lunch just after departure. Not just mixed nuts, but also wasabi peas and olives were offered, very nice touch!

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After that, the table was set for lunch:

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A rather unusual pea terrine as an amuse-bouche…different…

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The Arabic mezze as an appetizer. It was good, but a bit on the bland side overall. I was pretty surprised for such an extravagant hard product Etihad wouldn’t offer caviar as a starter.

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Extremely strange palate cleanser…I couldn’t quite make out what the flavours were supposed to be.

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The salmon main course. In fairness, most places usually overcook salmon on the ground, so it’s no surprise this was also a little overdone. However, considering it was done on a plane and served with creative sides, overall it was a pretty good main course.

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Now that’s better – this is what I call a cheese plate! However, the fact there were only two cheese was a bit on the stingy side, although the self-described “fruit paste” was a tasty addition.

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I wasn’t in the mood for anything sweet at this point, so spent the next few hours watching some movies and tv on the entertainment system. There was a very good selection of both movies and tv, and plenty to keep you entertained on the longest of flights.

Just over an hour from landing, I used the call button (something I’ve only recently become comfortable doing) and asked if I could have the famous Etihad steak sandwich and a glass of the Malbec. The sandwich was a bit underwhelming, but the Malbec definitely exceeded expectations:

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One last shot of the door to my apartment before landing. Maximum 3 passengers during flight:

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Upon landing, there was an extremely long line at passport control. Fortunately I’d been given a priority lane card, but this was shared with every other first and business class passenger arriving at the same time. All told, I had to wait over 20 minutes for passport control, which again is not very first class. Normally I wouldn’t blame the airline for lines at passport control, but given that Etihad (along with Emirates and Qatar) receive significant government support, passport lines are certainly within their control if they wanted.

Overall thoughts on the Etihad apartments? The seat was far and away the most space I’ve ever had on a plane. Granted, I wasn’t able to try it for sleeping so I’m not sure how comfortable it is as a bed, but overall the space was amazing. Plus, being the only passenger in first sure didn’t hurt either! The service was also top notch. The crew was the perfect balance of being friendly, personable, and professional. They were friendly and willing to chat if you wanted, but also were never the least bit bothered by any request.

The food service was slightly below what I would have expected. I expect international first class meals to have a bit of a wow factor, and on this flight it felt just like super fancy business class food. Nothing special to set it apart. The real disappointments were the ground service. Overcrowded lounge, poor boarding process, and poor airport experience on arrival.

Speaking of arrival…I had prebooked the airport transfer, and not knowing the process I went to the transfer desk where they confirmed that yes, I had preordered it, and should just go curbside to be taken care of. The curbside process was quite efficient, with the queue managers having scanners that would scan your boarding pass and confirm your transfer, and in just a couple minutes they had you in a car. Again, one more area Etihad fell short, first class was grouped with business class so I ended up waiting nearly 10 minutes for a car. If you’re going to offer a first class product, you need to make sure to provide more than business class on the ground as well.

That said, the car was very comfortable, equipped with water, powerful AC, and reading materials, and after a short ride I was at my hotel – the Aloft Abu Dhabi. Normally, I avoid “discount” chains like the plague, but my previous Aloft experiences in Bogota and Denver have left me with a rather positive impression of the brand. To top that off, many reviews list Abu Dhabi as the best Aloft in the world, so I was curious to give it a try given the extremely low rate for SPG redemption.

Friendly reception, confirmed an upgrade to a larger room, and then offered me free breakfast, two free drinks at any of their bars or restaurants, as well as two free gourmet coffees at any venue. Wow, not bad on a 2,000 Starpoints rate!

It was getting late at this point, and I was pretty tired, so I headed up to the rooftop bar to enjoy my two free pre-bed drinks. How can you resist something called the Absolutely Fabulous when you’re in Abu Dhabi?

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Overall, big points to the Aloft Abu Dhabi! I was super pleased with the experience, and it’s probably one of the best SPG value for money experiences I’ve ever had! I didn’t have a huge breakfast the next morning, but they had a huge buffet open as well. There was quite literally nothing about this hotel that could have been improved. Location-wise, I’m not sure how great it is, but it was convenient to the airport, and unless you’re a diva who needs the Ritz Carlton every time, this hotel can’t be beat. Anyone who reads my blog knows what a princess I can be when it comes to hotels, so when I say this property has it all…it really does!

Now, off to the airport for one more Etihad first flight home…


May 222016
 

Got to sleep in a slight bit since my flight wasn’t leaving until around noon, and I just hoped there wouldn’t be metro/RER drama this morning on my way to the airport. Stopped for a coffee then headed to the metro; quick transfer at Les Halles and caught an RER after just a few minutes. Unfortunately, the train was absolutely packed and was hotter than a sauna. Everyone was starting to drip sweat, and since I had extra time decided to get off at Gare du Nord and wait for the next train.

Next train was much cooler, and empty to the point I even got a seat, and from there it was a quick 30 or so minute ride to the airport. Quick walk back over to Terminal 2A, where there was a super long check-in queue for British Airways – even in the priority line. Seemed most passengers were connecting onwards to North America and had 1,400 suitcases each. Finally got to the front of the line, and got to have a bit of an argument with a check-in agent who insisted my rolling bag could not possibly fit in overhead bins. She insisted I check it.

I told her it does fit, agents don’t have a problem with it, and finally she gave in and said “fine, I’m working the gate too, we can ask the flight attendants!” With that, I headed off to a painless security queue and eventually made my way to the lounges…since the every-so-friendly check-in agent hadn’t told me which lounge to go to, when confronted with the choice of Cathay or American, well, I made the logical choice.

Since I’d only had coffee I was pretty hungry, so decided to see if there was anything interesting to eat….and OMG there it was…crack from Hong Kong. I was given a buzzer to await my crack dealer to arrive…

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Soon it buzzed, and crack in a bowl was delivered – DanDan Noodles. The glass of champagne almost didn’t happen since I encountered some kind of stopper I couldn’t figure out how to get off the bottle. Neither could the other two people who were trying. Fortunately, we were saved by a lounge attendant, and brunch was salvaged!

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Got to the gate just as they were about to begin boarding and of course nothing at all was said about my bag…which of course fit just fine in the overheads just as it had on the way in.

British Airways flight 309
Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 12:05, Arrive 12:25, Flight Time: 1:20
Airbus A319, Registration G-EUPS, Manufactured 2007, Seat 5F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 75,762
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,265,287

Super quick flight, but not too quick…and lived up to the challenge of managing two minis of champagne before landing. Another very impressive meal for such a short flight that hit the spot perfectly.

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Took the Heathrow Express into the city, and assuming that I would have Etihad chauffeur service I’d booked in at the Le Meridien Piccadilly. Unfortunately, Etihad decided my ticket was a connection despite the overnight, and thus not eligible for chauffeur service in London. Not a big deal at the end of the day…until I found out the Bakerloo line wasn’t running from Paddington to Piccadilly, meaning a transfer. Three trains to get to the hotel wasn’t bad in the middle of the day, but the next morning that wasn’t going to happen.

There was a line of eight people waiting to check in when I arrived at the hotel, so did something I rarely do which is go to the side of the counter dedicated for SPG Platinum check-in. No problem until the next in line was called, and I walked over to the agent. I got rudely shoved by a rather rotund American gentleman who was the next in the regular line and insisted “I was next!” I told the agent I was waiting for Platinum and his comment was “well I’m gold so f*** off.” What’s that thing about the ugly American again… Not wanting to waste time, I waited the two minutes.

It was 2:15 at this point, and I was told my room wasn’t ready. They had upgraded me to a junior suite, but it would be another 30 minutes before it was ready. I was told I could either leave my bags, or go wait in the lounge. Since it was only 30 minutes, I opted to wait in the lounge and the agent said she would call up when the room was ready.

An hour went by, and still no call. So I went down to the front desk, and “oh, yeah, it’s ready – sorry I forgot.” Ugh. I know the hotel can’t be blamed for the rude guy in the check-in line, but so far I wasn’t overly impressed. On the plus side, the junior suite was quite nice, and unusual for hotels in London the temperature was actually decently on the cool side.

I was starting to drag at this point, so walked around the corner to perhaps the poshest Starbucks I’ve even been in…which didn’t stop them from spelling my name wrong yet again:

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Spent the evening catching up with friends, including drinks, followed by dinner, followed by more drinks. The hotel did turn out do be in the perfect location for walking from place to place, and was definitely a good choice! Got a nice view of Piccadilly Circus at night on the walk back to the hotel:

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With that, my short stopover in London had come to a close and it was time to get some rest so I could enjoy the capstone of the trip – flying Etihad in Apartments and First Class to Washington via Abu Dhabi!


May 212016
 

Arriving Paris early afternoon, I was looking forward to getting to my hotel and resting a bit. Of course, the trains had something completely different in mind for me. Back in January when I was in Paris, after an annoying hour waiting for passport control I ended up having major drama with the trains due to some track problems that took over three hours to get into the city from the airport. Unfortunately, this trip was to prove to have even worse drama.

The walk from terminal 2A where British Airways has its gates to the RER station is relatively long, but not too bad and was nice to have the exercise after spending all night on a plane. Got to the train station, bought my ticket, and then there was an announcement. I only began to hear it because people started yelling and the station flooded with heavily armed police. I decided the wise thing to do was follow the panicking crowds back up the escalators in the direction the police were yelling and pointing.

When I got to the top of the station and started walking back towards the terminal the announcement was much clearer: please evacuate the station due to a suspicious package. Seriously, that’s all? It seems to happen pretty frequently in the D.C. metro these days, so was surprised at the level of panic. After waiting over an hour, we were finally allowed back into the station. I headed towards the platform for the RER, and was directed back again by the police. Seems now, the Terminal 2 RER station was closed due to track problems. Please head over to Terminal 3 and get the train from there. Seriously, ugh.

Took the inter-terminal shuttle train over to the Terminal 3 train station, only to find out with a bunch of other passengers, that trains were now suspended all the way to Aulnay-sous-Bois about six stations down the line. Oh, did I mention it was also pouring rain at this point? Instead of getting on the shuttle bus towards Aulnay, I decided to wait it out for 15 minutes in the station. At this point, they still had no idea when the line might reopen, so I resigned myself to the shuttle bus, which took nearly an hour to Aulnay after stopping off at every station along the way to pick up more passengers. Fortunately, I’d managed to get a seat because the bus ended up packed with soaking wet uncomfortable people. It was NOT a pleasant experience.

Fortunately, once I got to Aulnay the ticket I’d purchased at CDG still worked for the trip into Paris (it better since it’s a shorter trip!) and I made it the rest of the way to the hotel in less than 45 minutes. As an added bonus, it was now only misting out so the five minute walk to my hotel from the Metro station wasn’t bad at all. By this point, it was nearly 5pm and all of the afternoon had been lost. Fortunately, this time of year it stays light until nearly 21:30 in Paris, so was able to go out and grab some drinks with friends still.

Got back to the hotel around 9pm, and was ready to collapse. The restaurant I’d wanted to eat at was completely packed and couldn’t promise a seat until after 10, so I pulled up TripAdvisor and decided to see what else was within a short walk since it was nearly 21:30 at this point. Of all things, there was a Thai restaurant that was highly recommended just around the corner.

Communication was an interesting experience. Their accents were incredibly difficult in French, so we made due with some Thai-French-English blend which resulted in me getting my Pad Thai just as I wanted it – no fish, extra chicken, and very spicy. Ironic to get Pad Thai after I’d just been in Thailand a few days prior, but hey, that’s Globalization for you!

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Slept a solid 10 hours which was awesome with the big time zone shift the night before, and headed out in the morning to get some coffee. After coffee I felt like going for a walk, so just decided to start wandering. About 15 minutes later I was at the Louvre, which was absolutely packed with tourists. After taking pictures for three different Russian weddings and a group of loud Midwesterners (seriously the only people in the area without selfie sticks – which are EVERYWHERE in Paris these days) I snapped a quick photo for myself:

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The day was the perfect amount of overcast – just enough to keep things cool for a long walk, but the sun poked through just enough times to keep things warm as well. Headed out of the Louvre past the Place du Carrousel:

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Kept walking through the Jardin des Tuileries and stopped for a bit at one of the fountains to people watch, and watch some baby ducks splashing around:

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Past the statue of Julius Ceasar:

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To another small pool, where I sat for a bit to take enjoy the view of the Grande Roue de Paris:

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This is where things got a little weird. A tour group of Americans came by and their French leader asked them to get themselves arranged to take an end of tour photo. I wasn’t really paying attention – just zoning out and enjoying the view – and he came up to me and asked “excuse me sir, can I bother you a moment?” My tired brain wasn’t registering at the moment, and he sounded like another trinket seller trying to get me to buy something, so I asked him to please go away. He persisted and asked “no, I just want you to take a picture please.” This is when I’d realized I’d been a little rude, and of course agreed to take the photo.

He got the group together, I gave them the “1-2-3 Cheese” and then “one more” and went back to sitting down and enjoying the view. He switched back to English with his group and said “yes, they’re good! sorry about that, it’s those kind of people who give us Parisians a bad name with tourists!” Never in my life has my terrible French been mistaken for Parisian, so I guess – in a way – it was a compliment!

Statue at the Place de la Concorde:

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The Obelisk of Luxor:

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Love this kinda artsy shot of one of the fountains…ruined only by a Calvin Klein ad in the background:

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Took a nice leisurely stroll up the Champs-Élysées stopping once at the park and another time in the middle for some coffee and people watching, and finally got to the Arc de Triomphe:

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I could only have so much playing tourist, so didn’t bother going up to the top for the view, plus the lines were absolutely insane! Instead, since my “short walk” had already taken me so far, I decided why not keep going. Wandered down some side streets I’d never found before, which appeared to be through a bit of an Embassy district. Also found a little sign of home:

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Kept walking until I got to the Trocadero Gardens, and finally got a great view from across the Seine of the Eiffel Tower:

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Kept walking along the Left Bank, and eventually the pedestrian Passerelle Debilly:

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By this point, I’d had enough of walking. I considered walking up the Left Bank all the way to the Musée d’Orsay and Notre Dame, but it was already mid-afternoon at this point, and I was getting pretty tired out. So, I caught the RER and decided to get off at Bastille, since I hadn’t wandered through that area in several years:

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By this point, I realized I was starving since I hadn’t eaten in over six hours and had just had a few coffees during the long walk. I picked a café at random that looked just local and busy enough, and grabbed a seat for some people watching. Relatively friendly service for Paris, efficient, and a tasty glass of Médoc and a Croque Madame for a tasty late lunch:

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With that, I ended up meeting some friends out for evening drinks and passing out early. The long day of walking had worn me out but it was nice to just take in the city without any plans or itinerary. Was a great way to spend a full day and enjoy Paris without being too touristy. Drinks with local fiends and just taking in the city and people watching made for a very nice trip.

Fortunately, my flight out the next morning wasn’t too early, so I also got to sleep in just a little bit. Next up, quick stop in London!


May 192016
 

Grabbed the Airport Express train to the airport, and went straight to Cathay Pacific check-in. This was to be my first experience with them, and I was looking forward to seeing if it lived up to the hype. Many people compare Cathay and Singapore as Asia’s premier airlines, so having flown Singapore a number of times I was curious to see if it was all true. I didn’t get any pictures of the check-in area, but it was very strange. Several stand-up desks that were like cocktail tables where you stand with your agent and check-in. It was kind of strange, but I assume it’s to make things feel more personal.

Security and passport control at Hong Kong are a bit of a pain, because there’s no priority line at all. I had several hours to kill so it wasn’t a big deal, but it’s still a pain to have to wait nearly 45 minutes for this when you’re in first class. So far, the ground experience wasn’t so hot – but that’s not Cathay’s fault, just a fact of life at HKG. The other fact of life I wasn’t overly looking forward to was getting to what is supposed to be the best lounge – Cathay’s recently refurbished “The Pier” lounge. The airport at HKG is shaped like a giant capital letter T, where you enter at the base of the T and the Pier is in the far upper right corner. There’s a train which runs out to the juncture of the T, but I opted to walk it to get in a slight bit of exercise before the flight.

Upon entering the agents warned me that my flight would be departing all the way from the entry of the terminal area, and that I would have to walk back because the train only runs one way. No big deal, and I appreciated the warning. I immediately sat down in the bar/lounge area which was nice and roomy, and almost felt like living room at home. Plenty of space, but the roaming bartenders/service people were nowhere to be found. If you wanted something to drink, you had to go up to the bar to get it yourself. Awkward. There was also a small room with some light snacks, but if you wanted something more substantial you had to go to the sit-down dining area. After working for about an hour, I was getting rather hungry since I skipped lunch and headed to the restaurant. Today’s menu:

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I opted for a glass of the rosé to get things started:

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First up, I went with the tuna appetizer. Very bland and flavourless…but a decent helping of protein. Nothing to get excited about.

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I was a bit torn on what to get for a main, but went with the Dandan Noodles because I were told they were a Cathay specialty…and like crack. Now, funny fact. I hate peanut butter…have ever since I was a kid. But, I love peanut butter sauces, peanut soup, peanut butter cookies…you get the drift. It just can’t be all gooey and stuck to bread I guess. That said…I wanted a second bowl of these noodles. They were absolutely amazing…and I almost ordered another bowl. I would have if not for the upcoming flight…

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The toffee pudding…also pretty bland, and very little toffee taste. I finished it, but probably shouldn’t have…

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After a nice dinner, I grabbed a shower. The shower rooms were nice – and quite functional – but far from the nicest I’ve seen. I think Singapore and Lufthansa do far nicer, but that said not the end of the world. They were plenty nice. I worked for a little bit longer, and then took the long slow stroll back to the gate, stopping on the way at “The Wing” lounge right next to my gate. Now, I’d been warned that all the Cathay lounges have some flaw or another. The Pier – too far and inconvenient. The Wing – open air, and loud. That said…it wasn’t my complaint with The Wing.

For a first class lounge, it felt like a zoo. A zoo with no power outlets. It was more crowded than many United Clubs I’ve been in, and there were very few spaces to sit. I get that it was peak departures hour, but this place was packed. A first class lounge should never feel packed! Since this was my first real One World first class experience, I had to wonder if the One World rule granting access to first lounges made them more like Lufthansa Senator lounges – crowded because everyone and their mother gets access.

…eventually I found a power outlet…and a bottle of rosé…and all was soon forgotten. Walked downstairs from the lounge just as we were ready to board.

Cathay Pacific flight 261
Hong Kong (HKG) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 23:55, Arrive 05:40, Flight Time: 12:45
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration B-KPF, Manufactured 2008, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 75,330
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,264,855

No sooner had I taken my seat and been welcomed than a glass of Krug and an amuse bouche showed up. It was some strange salmon and shaved ice thing, but hey, the Krug is what’s really important here!

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Have Krug, am happy:

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Despite the midnight departure, Cathay serves a full “supper” service:

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The burger snack sounded tasty, but sleep sounded better…

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Takeoff was right on time, and service began quickly with more Krug and mixed nuts. Was glad to see a few pistachios in there…

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Caviar service…I’ve heard tales if there is extra caviar you can ask them to save it and do scrambled eggs and caviar in the morning…must try on my next Cathay flight!

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Caviar done properly, with mother-of-pearl spoon:

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Very boring salad, ruined with in-flight shrimp:

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The lamb loin main was recommended, but I have to say I didn’t find it very tasty. Normally, lamb has a lot of flavour to it, but this was pretty bland. So much so that I didn’t even bother to finish it…

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Fantastic choice of cheeses…fortunately I didn’t finish the lamb, because these were delicious!

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Despite being stuffed, it was insisted I have a few chocolates with my final glass of wine before dozing off.

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Slept over 7 hours, thanks to a cabin temperature which was kept just cool enough for sleep. I managed to fall asleep right away, and woke up wrapped in a warm duvet which clearly the flight attendants had done. I can’t imagine a United flight attendant caring enough to put a blanket on a sleeping passenger…woke up, and for some reason I craved tea. I never drink tea…but it was fantastic!

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Followed by a delicious mango smoothie and entire basket full of breakfast breads.

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I went with the dim sum main (when in China?) which was pretty tasty, although a little on the dry side.

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Thank you note from the crew. The little hearts were a cute touch:

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So, what’s to say about Cathay? The food was fantastic other than the lamb, but any airline can get it wrong once and a while. The crew was very attentive and helpful without being overbearing, but it lacked the personal touch – same as I often feel with Singapore. Maybe it’s the American in me that I prefer crews to be a bit warmer and chatty, but they did seem to be that way – but only with what appeared to be two Cathay employees in first and the other three passengers, all who were Chinese. Hard to say. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the flight – I did very much – just that it didn’t WOW me. I think that extra little bit depends so much on the chemistry between the crew and the passenger, and that’s something you’re just not going to have every time.

Landed at Terminal 3 at Heathrow, which meant taking the bus over to Terminal 5 and doing transfer and security theatre there. Not a big deal, took maybe 30 minutes total, and had plenty of time to enjoy in the BA first lounge.

Here’s where I’m going to be harsh – again. Just like The Wing in Hong Kong, the lounge was a zoo. Coming from Star Alliance, first lounges should be somewhat exclusive and relaxing, and this place was absolutely heaving at the seams. Plus, shower rooms were shared with the business lounge, meaning people were being told a wait of more than an hour. Thanks to smiles and stretching the truth a bit on the time of my connection, I did manage to get a shower in about 15 minutes. On the showers, I was disappointed again. Very small and sterile – felt like a cubicle and some low-end health club. Not at all appropriate for a first class lounge.

That brings me to the lounge in general. They do put on a rather nice breakfast spread with tons of options, but it felt like eating in a giant cafeteria with dozens of your closest friends. Nothing nice restaurant about it at all. Contrast this with a Lufthansa First lounge for dining, or even The Pier, and the difference was nice and day. Long way of saying, my experiences at The Wing and the BA First Lounge were far from relaxing, and far from what a first lounge should be. It’s ok if you want to let Emerald members in, but then you need something more exclusive for your first class passengers – which I understand BA does with the Concorde Room. However, without being allowed in connecting from Cathay First, the alliance fell short in that regard for me.

British Airways flight 308
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
Depart 10:50, Arrive 11:10, Flight Time: 1:20
Airbus A321, Registration G-EUXM, Manufactured 2007, Seat 5F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 75,546
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,265,071

Quick 35 minute flight onward to Paris and BA still managed to serve a full snack. Yes, I know people complain about this snack all the time since it’s also serve on three hour routes, but for a short hop to Paris it was rather impressive! I behaved after the Cathay flight and stopped at one mini bottle of bubbly…

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Next up – time to celebrate making it to Tuvalu by enjoying two days in Paris!


May 182016
 

After a leisurely morning, I grabbed an Uber to the airport. I have to say, it’s hard to remember what we did before Uber. You always had to either take the expensive hotel car or try and figure out how much local currency you needed to save for a cab. Uber has made all of that a piece of cake!

Originally, when I had booked my Sydney-Bangkok-Hong Kong award Thai was running one 747 a day with first class to Hong Kong, and so I booked on that flight, despite it being at the gross hour of 8am. About 48 hours before, I decided two hours in first class wasn’t worth getting up early for and switched to a later flight. Turned out to be the right call, because 24 hours before the flight they changed it to a two-class plane anyways! I decided when I got to Bangkok to check in to try my luck:

“Yes, I moved to this flight because you switched my plane from the 747 to the 777.” Yes, they agreed, very sorry about that, etc etc. So, I asked if this meant I could use the first class lounge since I was initially booked in first. Much chatting in Thai, and ultimately they agreed that would be ok. Got my escort through fast track security, and down the escalators to the lounge where my buggy was waiting to drive me through the business class lounge and down the corridors to the first class lounge:

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Got to the lounge, where I was the only person in the entire lounge, and got a whole room to myself:

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I wasn’t terribly hungry after breakfast, but they insisted on making me lunch. So, tasty green curry and mango and sticky rice…yum!

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I was half expecting to be driven in the buggy to the gate too, but nope, I had to walk. The struggle is real I tell you…a whole five minute walk to the gate!

Thai Airways flight 638
Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Depart 13:55, Arrive 17:40, Flight Time: 2:45
Airbus A330-300, Registration HS-TBE, Manufactured 2012, Seat 11A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 69,336
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,258,861

Business class was just over half full today, and they were happy to block the seat next to me since I was originally scheduled to be in first. Definitely a more comfortable flight with two seats to myself. Impressive to have printed menus and a full lunch for a flight just over two hours:

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Plus, Veuve on a regional flight – I’m impressed!

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…so of course, I’m not going to turn down a glass of Veuve. Really liked the menu cover art:

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More Veuve, and some almonds…they were kinda mushy and just so-so.

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Garlic bread! Ugh, knowing my fear of shrimp on planes you can guess how much of the appetizer I ate…

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Tasty curry, but incredibly small portion of protein:

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Some post-meal fruit, which I figured was dessert…

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Nope, there was a very rich chocolate cake as well, which was super tasty!

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By the time the meal was finished we had already started the descent in to a very grey and dreary Hong Kong. I had purchased my ticket for the airport express train in advance, so after immigration it was a quick shot to the Kowloon stop and the W Hotel. I’m a big fan of this hotel, largely because of its friendly staff and amazing views. I was upgraded to a corner room this time, which had great views. I tried to get a pic across the harbour, but the angle was kind of odd so it was hard to see. But it definitely had a partial harbour view as well:

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Grabbed a light dinner and did some walking around the mall that was under the hotel. Looks like it was hockey practice night at the ice rink in the mall, and turns out the coach is the coach of the Hong Kong national team, and also a former NHL-er!

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Slept in a slight bit the next morning, went and got coffee, and it was a torrential rainstorm out side. Checked the weather, and they were expecting up to 25 cm of rain during the day and it just kept coming down with high winds. Unfortunately, this is my second straight trip to Hong Kong where my wandering outside was ruined by terrible weather.

So, instead I caught another Uber and went out for a nice Dim Sum lunch and some people watching. It was a nice relaxing stopover, and I figure I’m due for nice weather one of these times! The W was fantastic and gave me a 6pm late checkout, and soon it was time to head to the airport for my first ever Cathay Pacific first class experience!


May 172016
 

After hanging out late with friends in Sydney the night before, unfortunately I had a far too early start for the airport. I had planned to take the train back to the airport but unfortunately had also forgotten my jacket at my friend’s house. Fortunately, it was on the way to the airport, so after grabbing a quick coffee at Starbucks (the essentials, you know) I grabbed an Uber. With a quick stop en route, we were soon off to the airport. However, there’s a problem.

It seems that traffic heading in towards the international terminal is an absolute nightmare for the last two kilometers on Sunday mornings. These two kilometers alone took us nearly 30 minutes, and I arrived at the airport barely 80 minutes before my flight. Fortunately, the crew was walking into the airport at the exact some time as me so no problems at all.

Minimal waits to check in and clear security, but this also meant no time to stop by the lounge. I was pretty sure I wasn’t missing anything and if nothing else it would remove the temptation to snack in the lounge since I knew much better options were likely coming up in flight!

Thai Airways flight 476
Sydney, Australia (SYD) to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)
Depart 10:00, Arrive 16:20, Flight Time: 10:20
Boeing 747-400, Registration HS-TGG, Manufactured 2003, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 68,287
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,257,812

Immediately upon boarding, one of the flight attendants insisted on showing me to my seat. As soon as she saw my seat number, she addressed me by name (I was impressed they’d memorized all five passengers in first in advance) and showed me to my seat. First impression was great:

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I really like the purple and gold colour scheme, something about it just feels classy to me:

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Bright pink Rimowa amenity kit and a glass of Dom Pérignon 2004, great way to start a flight!

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So, what’s to eat on this flight?

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…and to drink?

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Shortly after takeoff my champagne was refilled, and macadamia nuts were offered. I obviously ate them too quickly, because the flight attendant insisted I must have more!

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Amuse Bouches – points for presentation, but overall they were just average in taste:

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Extremely generous serving of caviar was provided. I was surprised that with all the attention to little details they missed the seed in the lemon, but at the end of the day…what’s the point of lemon with caviar anyways? The breadbasket was a nice touch as well, and had several tasty options in it:

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Scallop and duck liver terrine appetizer, super tasty and still relatively light:

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This was followed by an extra meh salad, but it did score points for the thousand island dressing. Lost a few points, however, for not asking how much dressing I wanted on it. Fortunately, it was almost the perfect amount.

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Barramundi with lobster sauce main. I have no idea why, but I’ve been doing fish more and more lately on flights and have had several outstanding dishes. This one was no exception…plus it paired well with the champagne!

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Now THIS is what I call a cheese plate. I would have ordered more if I wasn’t so full – it was a great selection – especially the one on the far right which had small pieces of fruit in it. I believe it was dried apricot, but it was super tasty. Plus, kiwifruit and pineapple – two of my absolute favourite fruits. This might be the best cheese plate I’ve ever had on a flight!

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Of course, I couldn’t resist the chocolate dessert, which paired nicely with a glass of red wine. I also switched to sparkling water at this point. One thing that I really noticed is that on most airlines when you ask for more water, they have to ask you still or sparkling because they can’t keep track. On Thai, that was never an issue. This crew memorized everything, and never once had to ask a second time to confirm. It’s a very little thing, but made a huge impression about how much the crew cared.

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At this point, I was out for a couple hours for a nap. When I woke up, and put my seat upright, it took no more than 30 seconds for the flight attendant to appear and refill my water glass and wine. If I didn’t know better, I would think they hovered behind my seat the entire flight looking for the perfect moment to provide service! It was that good!

About 90 minutes for landing, another small meal was served. The Szechuan soup was a bit on the salty side, but incredibly tasty:

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I went with the dim sum snack, and it was surprisingly pretty small. It was plenty, given the size of the first meal, but I was still a bit surprised at the size. Ferrero Rocher chocolates were also offered…yum.

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Of course, on top of the chocolates, there was desert as well!

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Right before landing, was probably one of the nicest moments of the flight. The purser, as well as the entire first class service team came over to my seat, did the traditional Thai wai, bowed down, and thanked me for choosing Thai. What struck me the most was not that this just seemed to be part of the job, but that they were truly proud of the service they provided and were thankful to customers. While so many Asian airlines provide outstanding service, this personal touch that really did demonstrate on some level a connection between crew and passengers really made a big impression on me.

After rolling off the plane the famous Thai golf carts/buggies were waiting to drive first class passengers to their transfers or to immigration. There was an older Thai lady in first class, who had five people with her in business class – possibly her children. She chewed out the buggy drivers royally, and eventually her and her entourage got the whole buggy and the rest of the first class passengers were “stranded” until another buggy arrived. I guess DYKWIA passengers exist in Thailand too!

Considering the length of the flight, I was in no mood to deal with a taxi that might or might not have working air conditioning so shelled out for the airport car to the hotel. Sure, it’s quite a bit more expensive, but after a long flight being able to relax in an air conditioned Mercedes is a nice treat – especially when it’s a 30+ minute ride.

I had decided to stay at the W Bangkok, which I tried last visit instead of my usual Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit. The two hotels are very different, but both very nice in their own ways. The major deciding factors for me on the W is that it’s much newer feeling and also has an amazing breakfast buffet. I’d been upgraded to a suite, which was rather roomy:

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Typical W bling on the pillows:

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“Lights Out” sequined oversized Thai boxing gloves on the bed. At least I didn’t get the hot pink version I got on my previous stay!

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Oversized washroom, with a double sink:

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Overall, it was a great room. I find the desk very comfortable for working, fast WiFi, plenty of convenient outlets, and ice cold air conditioning. Plus, the hotel is in a great location just five minutes walk from the Skytrain, and right next to a convenience store, Starbucks, and Dean and Deluca. Overall, it’s a solid choice in a city full of great hotels.

After being on a plane all day, the last thing I wanted to do was walk outside in the rather nasty heat and humidity. So, I headed to the mall to try and find the New Zealand Natural ice cream shop and more hokey pokey ice cream. Unfortunately, it was nowhere to be found, but I got in a ton of walking trying to find it.

I did, however, find an indoor ice rink. Unfortunately, it was clear the chiller and AC couldn’t keep up with the unusually hot and humid weather, and the ice was basically a puddle:

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By this point I was tired from a long day and all the walking, and decided to just head back to the hotel for dinner. Some tasty pork satay:

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Slept like a rock, and then it was time for what I consider one of the W’s strongest selling points – its breakfast buffet. The rate I booked had it included, so I didn’t have to even use my platinum amenity on it – however, I definitely would have considering how epic it is. Huge selection of fresh fruits and pastries, eggs cooked to order, full Indian and Chinese stations, meats, salmon, cheeses, bacon, you name it – if you want it for breakfast this buffet probably had it. Some fresh fruit and pain au chocolate to start:

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Dim sum, fresh squeezed OJ, and just a little bacon…

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With that, it was time to finish packing up the bags and head to the airport to continue the trip…


May 102016
 

I had decided the night before to prioritize sleep over possible time in the lounge/etc, and learned that the check-in cutoff for Fiji Airways was 45 minutes, so I was comfortable cutting it closer than I usually would. I arrived at the airport about 80 minutes before the flight due to no traffic at all, and check-in took under a minute, then it was time for security, then immigration.

The security line was maybe five minutes, and no wait at all for immigration, so maybe 10 minutes after setting foot in the airport I was already in the departures hall. Guess there would be a little lounge time after all! Nadi International terminal is under heavy construction, which is expected to finish in a couple more months. The lounge, however, seemed finished. It was rather teeming this morning with all the international departures, but finding a seat wasn’t hard. Decent selection of drinks and snacks – all self serve. I grabbed a can of Diet Coke and a chocolate muffin since I hadn’t had breakfast, and soon our flight was called.

Short walk upstairs from the lounge, and boarding was already underway.

Fiji Airways flight 911
Nadi, Fiji (NAN) to Sydney, Australia (SYD)
Depart 9:00, Arrive 11:45, Flight Time: 4:45
Airbus A330-200, Registration DQ-FJT, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 63,625
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,253,150

If these seats look familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same aircraft I took from LA to Fiji just a few days prior…now that there’s daylight I can get a few decent pictures!

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Breakfast flights usually don’t interest me too much, but since all I had was a muffin let’s see what’s to eat:

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Breakfast flight with a wine list…now we’re talking!

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Fruit, cereal, and make-your-own mimosas:

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Bread…on it’s own…as a second course. This is right before tragedy struck…some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced. We were shaking all over the place, repeated sudden drops in altitude. But more seriously…right after this my entire mimosa ended up on the floor. Flight attendants had to be seated for nearly an hour at this point…

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Eventually I did get an omelette…but it was boring and flavourless, so after two bites I was done.

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Watched a couple of hours of terrible movies, and since noon was approaching (well, in fairness it was after noon without the time change) I decided to try their “signature Fijian rum cocktail.” It was basically smashed up cherries, soda water, and rum. Um, pass. Later, I found out he forgot the orange juice.

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Landed in Fiji a full 35 minutes ahead of schedule, and had a couple of days to just veg and enjoy. Took the airport train, which was a rather poor value at nearly 19 Australian dollars, and still required a walk to my hotel – the Four Points by Sheraton Darling Harbour. They offered me an upgraded “premium deluxe” room, and I asked if perhaps they had any suites available. The rather nice young gentleman working check-in was eager to please…and found me a “corner harbourview maritime penthouse suite” on the top floor! Yowzers!

How’s that for a view:

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Not a half bad room at all:

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A few more words on the hotel. It’s undergoing an extensive remodel in the lobby area, so things were closed off everywhere. The bar and restaurant were clearly in a makeshift space, so I didn’t spend any time in them. Beyond that, the staff were fantastic and the room was super nice and comfortable, so I would definitely return again!

So, not much to report on my two days in Sydney. Hung out with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while, walked a ton since the weather was absolutely perfect. Around 22C/72F the entire time, strong sun, and gorgeous days to be outside. Although I’d been to Sydney before, had to take the obligatory tourist photos. Opera House:

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Harbour Bridge:

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Sunset from the Penthouse Suite:

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On my final day, woke up and went out to get coffee, and started coughing immediately. Seems the government was doing controlled burns outside the city, and the wind suddenly changed direction and surprised them…blowing all the smoke into the city. You could tell it was bad from this picture:

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More walking all day, more hanging out with friends, and a pizza…with crocodile, emu, and kangaroo. I  mean, when in Australia…I highly recommend checking out the Australian Heritage Hotel for lunch or dinner…plus they have a great craft beer menu too!

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With that my two days in Sydney were done, and it was time to begin the truly luxury part of this trip…off to Thailand next!


May 102016
 

Slept in a bit, and had one final walk around the town before getting ready to head to the airport. It was maybe a 90 second walk from my hotel to the terminal at Funafuti…the terminal which is huge:

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Went to the airport at 9:30 to check-in three hours before the flight as recommend, which was maybe a 90 second walk…if that. I was ticked off the list of passengers they had, they checked my bag, and I got to choose my seat from one of those sticker seatmaps. Then, I was asked to complete immigration…which took about 5 seconds. After immigration…we were free to go. Yes, we had technically left the country, but they didn’t care if we left the airport. To quote the immigration guy “small country, we can find you!” Hahaha, guess there’s not a big problem here with people getting stamped out of the country and then deciding not to leave…

My hotel had a 10a checkout policy, and I really didn’t want to wait around in the hot and sticky airport terminal for 2.5 hours. They offered 11a checkout for an extra 20 Australian dollars, and I was sold. Small price to pay for an hour of air conditioning!

Finally at 11, I walked over to the Hotel Filomena, which is right next to the terminal, and does a brisk business on its patio selling drinks to waiting passengers. Right beyond the patio fence, you see the runway:

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Plane arrived right on time, and we boarded about 20 minutes before scheduled takeoff. Quick boarding, and doors were closed 10 minutes early. Every seat was taken today, except the one next to me! Everything was going right this trip. It’s easier they said to take a full plane back to Fiji, since there are other diversion options near Suva.  However, if they get near Funafuti and can’t land, it requires going almost all the way back to Fiji!

Fiji Airways flight 280 – Operated by FijiLink
Funafuti, Tuvalu (FUN) to Suva, Fiji (SUV)
Depart 12:20, Arrive 14:50, Flight Time: 2:30
ATR 72-600, Registration DQ-FJZ, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 61,579
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,251,104

View just after takeoff of Funafuti Atoll. See the wide part on the “corner?” That’s where the airport and “city” of Funafuti are located:

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Full lunch offered, beef or chicken. Went with the beef, and it was surprisingly good!

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Landed in Suva right on time, and had a nearly three hour wait for my connection to Nadi. I decided since the Tuvalu jinx was now broken to hit the cafe in the Suva airport, and enjoy a slice of their now-famous chocolate cake. It was just as tasty as I remembered!

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Time actually passed rather quickly, and soon it was time to board the final leg.

Fiji Airways flight 18 – Operated by FijiLink
Suva, Fiji (SUV) to Nadi, Fiji (NAN)
Depart 18:00, Arrive 18:30, Flight Time: 30 minutes
ATR 42-600, Registration DQ-FJY, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 61,655
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,251,180

Boarding our ATR at twilight made for cool views of the plane:

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Nothing to say – very uneventful 30 minute flight. Sat next to a Fiji Airways employee and discussed the challenges they’ve had in the past and how they’re really working hard to overcome past problems. I have to say, my experience was night and day better compared to my previous attempt 18 months before, and it looks like Fiji Airways, formerly aka Air Hot Mess, might actually be improving!

Grabbed a taxi back to the Sheraton, where I had an incredibly honest driver who told me the fare was $25 when I asked him to confirm it was $30. It’s always nice getting honest taxi drivers!

The Sheraton, however, was a mess. The first room they gave me the AC didn’t work, and it took three visits from maintenance before they would admit it. All this time, I was also waiting for a room service menu in the room, since it didn’t have one, and it took them over an hour to bring it. Two hours after check-in, they finally agreed the AC would never work and reluctantly agreed to let me move rooms. The second room was perfect, and I have no idea why they were so reluctant.

Overall, this stay really left me with a sour taste in my mouth. There was no warmth or desire to help from the employees, and they acted as if they were being annoyed when you asked for things. To top it off, when I checked out it took 10 minutes of arguing about the rate despite me having a printed confirmation. Overall, while Fiji Airways seems to be well on the road to improvement the Sheraton is definitely going the other direction. Next time, I would definitely look elsewhere on Denarau.

I’d originally planned three nights in Fiji in case I had to try to go to Tuvalu a second or third try, but since I made it on the first I cut my stay in Fiji short and instead of heading directly to Hong Kong, I decided to head to Sydney for a couple days in between. Next up: Nadi to Sydney on the Fiji Airways A330.


May 092016
 

So, this was it. The whole reason for this trip – my second attempt at making it to Tuvalu. If it didn’t work out this time, I was faced with trying to make an immediate out and back on Thursday since the flight only goes twice a week. I’m not sure why I had such fear of this flight, but given how Fiji Airways behaved last time I tried to get there, I feel like the worry is justified.

I had arranged a cab with the Sheraton the night before, and of course when I got to the front desk to check out at 6am it was nowhere to be found. They did manage to scare one up around 615, however, and I was still at the airport nearly an hour before the flight. The Fiji Airways domestic terminal in Nadi is extremely small, so arriving 45 minutes before the flight is absolutely no problem at all – as long as nothing goes wrong! You can only get seat assignments at check-in, but let’s be honest on these little regional planes seats are the same anyways.

I saw we had the ATR72 this morning, which supposedly has two rows of “business class.” It’s the exact same seats as economy, and on domestic flights they’re the last to be given away. I had to ask really nicely and point out that I had booked business class on the onwards flight, and they reluctantly ended up giving me 1A.

Fiji Airways flight 7 – Operated by FijiLink
Nadi, Fiji (NAN) to Suva, Fiji (SUV)
Depart 7:30, Arrive 8:00, Flight Time: 30 minutes
ATR 72-600, Registration DQ-FJZ, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 60,267
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,249,792

Small bottle of water handed out to all passengers right before takeoff, and not much else to say for the 25 minute flight. I was the only one in the eight seats up front, and got to chat with the flight attendant a bit. Seems a typical day for this plane (and crew) on Tuesday and Thursday is go to Suva-Nadi-Suva-Funafuti-Suva. That was good news, since if you get on the plane out of Nadi apparently you know your plane has arrived to leave for Tuvalu too!

Upon arrival went back to the check-in counter, as they can’t do check-in for the Tuvalu flight from Nadi. Met the same agent that had worked there last time I tried this, and sure assured me the flight was just fine, and would be on time today. I was less optimistic given past performance, but hey, at least the plane and crew were there…

Fiji Airways flight 281 – Operated by FijiLink
Suva, Fiji (SUV) to Funafuti, Tuvalu (FUN)
Depart 9:00, Arrive 11:35, Flight Time: 2:35
ATR 72-600, Registration DQ-FJZ, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 60,923
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,250,488

Small bit of drama, however. It seemed that there was “quite some weather en route” so they were going to have to offload 18 passengers. Priority was given to business class and Tuvaluans returning home, so I have no idea how they chose which 18 would not be able to go. Despite that, boarding was on time, the door closed 10 minutes before departure time, and soon we were taxiing for takeoff! About 20 seats empty in coach and we were only four of eight in business, meaning I had an empty seat next to me.

Breakfast was offered – french toast or omelette. Nothing super fancy, but definite the fanciest I’ve ever had on a prop plane:

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Flight time was nearly 2.5 hour, and soon we had our first views of Funafuti Atoll and we were descending into my 192nd country visited! Of course deplaning was via the plane stairs (seriously, jetways in a country that only gets two flights a week?) and I was there! One room airport building, where agents were stamping passports on a card table:

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The plane that finally got me to Tuvalu:

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There was a van waiting from my hotel, the Hotel Vaiaku Lagi, said to really be the only hotel of any standards at all in Tuvalu – with a whole 16 rooms. I don’t know why we needed to take a van as the hotel is literally a 90 second walk from the terminal, but it is what it is! More on that when I leave…checked in, was assured I was (as requested when I booked) given the room with the absolute best air conditioning out of the 16. Super fancy 1.5 star room, complete with a vase of flowers:

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It was clean, moderately comfortable, and the AC was arctic. Overall, I was pleased. It wasn’t cheap at nearly $100 a night, but for being clean, cool, and safe I wasn’t about to complain. I checked out a couple of the guesthouses in town, and they were pretty grim. No way they even qualify as 0.5 stars….

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By the time I checked in, it was just after noon, and when I asked the desk agent for suggestions on places to see she laughed at me. Seems from about 12-4 is time for what they call “Pacific Exercise” in Tuvalu, where basically people lay around and hide from the fierce afternoon heat and humidity. I joined the other 15 guests in the hotel restaurant, where there were three lunch options: chicken chow mein, stir fried prawns, or ham and cheese sandwich. I decided the sandwich was safest, but ham apparently means Spam! Mmmm grilled spam and cheese:

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As it started to get reasonably cooler, I headed out to Tuvalu Telecom to buy a wifi access card. It took four trips back to get it to work, because even when you scratch off the code the number/password are pretty much illegible. Hooray for high-quality Chinese manufacturing. Eventually it worked, and it was just fast enough to read some emails and check facebook…kinda.

I decided then to head for a walk. Down the main road in Funafuti, which other than a three “block” stretch is all residential like this:

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Then, I headed over to the airport runway, which is the hub of social activity for about an hour before sunset. It’s the one time of day it’s not too hot to be outside, and since the runway is the biggest stretch of open land in the whole country it’s used for hanging out and recreation, and some families even SLEEP on the runway at night because there’s a reasonable breeze!

Kids playing football behind me on the runway:

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Back to the hotel, and again for dinner there were three choices. I went for the grilled tuna steak, and it was actually phenomenal…and hey, frozen veggies are better than none at all!

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Slept in a little bit, and headed out for a morning walk before it got too hot again. A block from my hotel, and next to the airport, was the central government building. I’d heard it was possible to just walk in, so I did. Security wasn’t a concept, and of all people I ended up meeting the Prime Minister! I was so surprised by actually meeting him I didn’t think to ask if I could take a picture, but I told him why I was in Tuvalu and he seemed super pleased and impressed with the story!

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Continued my walk down a residential road, and politics, Tuvalu-style:

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Tuvalu House, which I believe might be the residence of the Prime Minister?

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Next stop was the post office to buy stamps. Yes, they were able to sell them, but seemed completely uninterested in doing any work. I guess there’s not much call for stamps in Tuvalu. They had lots of commemorative ones, as well as post cards, so I bought some to send to family and friends. There’s not too much to do in Tuvalu, so writing postcards would be a nice diversion. Hundreds of commemorative stamps on sale all at face value. Some of the more interesting ones:

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The super-fancy Tuvalu Post office:

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Just down the street was the Tuvalu National Library and Archives. Please take off your flip flops when entering:

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Went back to my hotel and wrote postcards, then a walk back to the post office to mail them. They promised the would go on tomorrow’s flight…or maybe next week if the plane is full. We will see if they ever arrive!

Back to the hotel for lunch and Pacific Exercise. “Chili Chicken” was the lunch of the day, and it was reasonable. All the meals were between six and eight US dollars plus drinks, so extremely cheap, and reasonably large portions. Pacific Exercise takes lots of energy!

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After exercising (aka reading in a hammock and napping) I went for another walk. Tuvalu Telecom, where you go to buy wifi cards:

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Then on the other side of the runway, I found the Tuvalu Sports Ground, where a rugby game was in progress:

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For a little “real” exercise, I took a walk down the entire length of the runway:

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On the way back to the hotel, I passed the Development Bank of Tuvalu. Maybe I should apply for a job…

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Sunset from the coral “beach” behind my hotel:

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Another shot of the “beach” where land reclamation is underway. Considering the whole country is eight feet above sea level I’m not sure the point of doing reclamation when the whole country is projected to be underwater by 2050 thanks to climate change:

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Back to the hotel, where tonight’s dinner was “stir fry chicken.” Again, reasonable.

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With that, it was time to head to bed and pray my plane would arrive in the morning to take me home. Tuvalu was pretty much exactly what I expected, maybe even a slight bit smaller. You can see everything there is to “see” in a couple of hours, so bring plenty of things to read and plan on doing relaxing. It was actually quite nice to have the downtime without the pressure of having to be go go go and see things.

Two days was the perfect amount of time in Tuvalu – I think the only other option would be two or more weeks so you could try and get a boat to some of the outer islands (where there are no hotels) and spend some time seeing really authentic rural life and villages. Now, will the plane come back…


May 072016
 

Flight landed just a few minutes ahead of schedule at the Nadi airport, which I found out after boarding was under major major construction. Two good things about landing just after 5am: no immigration lines, and the normally super hot and humid outdoor terminal was still pleasant and breezy at this hour.

Immigration was a snap, no questions, and I was off through baggage claim to get a taxi. Two taxi drivers were waiting, and I picked the first one. Asked him “it’s still $25 to the Sheraton, right?” “Oh no, it hasn’t been that in 10 years, it’s $35 now.” Hmmm, I was starting to smell a scam, so I went over to the other driver…same thing even though he hadn’t heard me talking to the first. Sigh, at this hour there wasn’t much choice. (As a side note, I did confirm later that $25 is the correct fare – grrr!)

Rather short 20 minutes or so ride to the Sheraton since it was Sunday morning and there was still no traffic. Got to the Sheraton, checked in, but was told unfortunately my room wasn’t ready yet. Given it was 6am I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was tired, cranky, and sweaty, and when she suggested “maybe you can go get some breakfast and wait by the pool. Maybe it will be ready by 12 I was less than thrilled.

I asked if perhaps there was ANY room ready now – it didn’t need to be the ocean view suite they had upgraded me to. After going in back and checking – yes – there was another room I could have until mine was ready. Woo hoo! Got a rather boring garden-view room with two beds, but the AC worked and I was able to get a couple hours of solid sleep so that was fantastic!

Shortly afterwards, around 11am they called and told me my new room was ready, and the buggy would come and pick me up and drive me over. That’s the service I remember from this hotel. Not only was it a suite, but it was at the corner of the beach – probably the best of all the ocean view suites the property has based on location. Can’t argue with the view:

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See, here’s where I could pretend I did anything the rest of the day, but… I grabbed lunch at the beach-side restaurant, plopped down by the pool, and pretty much spent the afternoon on and off dozing and reading. Considering I normally suck at relaxing while on vacation, I was pretty proud of myself for doing absolutely nothing. Before I knew it, it was late afternoon, and the sun was setting. Not a bad view from the beach right outside my room:

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That evening, I took the Bula Bus to the Denarau Port for dinner. The Bula Bus makes a loop through all the resorts on Denarau Island (Westin, Sheraton, Radisson, Sofitel, Hilton, etc) as well as the port. The port is filled with restaurants and shops, and probably the best place to go for a bite if you want to get away from the resorts.

I had dinner at the Nadina Fijian Restaurant which I had eaten at a couple years prior. It was just as delicious as I remembered from before, but I don’t think I was able to fully enjoy it because I was so exhausted. I recommend the Kokoda which is a Fijian version of ceviche – basically cubes of raw fish and veggies served in a lime and coconut broth. It’s delicious!

Took the Bula Bus back to the hotel, and promptly passed out for nearly 10 hours – guess I needed it!

Next morning, I got up and grabbed a coffee just outside the front of the resort at Bulaccino. No, it’s not amazing coffee, but given the location it’s a huge step up from the awful drip coffee you get in hotel restaurants, and almost as good as you’d get in a small independent coffee shop in the US or Europe. Highly recommended – and their iced americanos are like rocket fuel – not something that can usually be said for coffee in developing countries! Also, they made a mean eggs benedict for breakfast.

Got back to my room after some breakfast and heard music coming from outside. Turns out the hotel wedding chapel was also right outside my room, and a Chinese couple were having a “traditional” Fijian wedding:

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That was my cue to head back to the pool and read for a bit, before I got hungry again and headed back to the port for lunch. Decided this time to try a new restaurant called The Rhum-Ba which gets great reviews on TripAdvisor. Can’t argue with the view, as the restaurant is housed in the yacht club:

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You can, however, argue with the service and the portions. I had kokoda again, and it was literally three spoonfulls…for US$10. Also, there was a strong wind which actually picked up my glass of cider and sent it flying all over. I suggested MAYBE they could get me another…and he had to “check with the manager if that’s ok.” Service and portions were severely lacking, and although what I did have was tasty, I’m not sure I’d go back.

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After this, I discovered a place that will be my potential downfall in the future. New Zealand Natural ice cream. Supposedly this is a chain ice cream shop, and maybe it’s not that special, but I ordered rum raisin and another flavour called Hokey Pokey. What’s hokey pokey? Basically vanilla ice cream with little chunks of crystallized toffee and honey. It was out of this world…and I might be addicted now!

Back to the resort, where I spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach reading:

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Followed by another absolutely amazing sunset:

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Just after sunset, the power went out. Fortunately, the generators for the hotel kicked back on. But, it was the weirdest thing. They only powered some things, but it seemed like the strangest subset. In the room, all lights worked, but nothing else. No power outlets, no internet, no AC. So, I headed to the Port to get dinner. Unfortunately, the port also had no power, so all the restaurants had closed.

Went back to the Sheraton, and still no power, but fortunately the kitchen was powered by the generator, so the bar was hopping, and I was able to get a sandwich. Not sure powering the band at the bar should take priority over AC, but it was what it was. I was exhausted again, so fortunately had no trouble falling asleep without AC – and fortunately the fan did work, however. I was woken up about 2am when power finally came back on and the AC/TV/etc all kicked back on, but can’t really blame the hotel for the poor power situation. I guess rolling brownouts have become a fact of life in Nadi in recent months.

With that, my two super relaxing days had come to a close, and it was time for my third try at getting to Tuvalu!