Oct 312014
 

Got to the airport in no time and check-in was quick and easy. No line at all at security, and was in the Qantas lounge less than 10 minutes after arriving at the airport. Darwin airport is tiny with only five gates, so it had a surprisingly large and crowded lounge. The new lounge had just opened about a week before, so it was the perfect time to visit!

IMG_3834

Mmmm potato wedges with sweet chili sauce:

IMG_3835

Around 11:45, people starting queuing at the bar. No drinks until noon, and everyone wanted to be there the second it opened. It was like vultures descending on a carcass. So, when in Rome…a James Squire One Fifty Lashes…surprisingly decent:

IMG_3837

OMG there was a PANCAKE MACHINE! This will come in handy one of these trips…

IMG_3839

Boarding right on time, and since the airport had all of five gates it wasn’t too hard to find!

Qantas flight 825
Darwin, Australia (DRW) to Brisbane, Australia (BNE)
Depart 12:45, Arrive 17:10, Flight Time 3:25
Boeing 767-300, Registration VH-OGI, Manufactured 1991, Seat 5K

Looks like an empty flight today! I remember when we used to call the United domestic 767s the “ghetto bird.” Looks like Qantas is taking a page from that playbook…

IMG_3841

Continue reading »


Oct 302014
 

Hotel arranged a taxi to the airport for me for $10, and it was a quick and uneventful trip. Got there about 2 hours before flight time, and check-in wasn’t open yet. Chilled..well not really chilled since it was hot and humid…in the arrivals area for about 30 minutes until they announced check-in was open.

I was steered to a check-in counter, and my bags tagged to…Bali. Wait, what? I’m going to Darwin, not Bali! Oh, that’s the other check-in counter. Yes, they issued me bag tags and boarding passes without even verifying I was on the flight. Well done Sriwijaya Air, well done. Checked in with Air North, and paid up $30 for being overweight by 6kg on baggage…26kg when 20kg was the allowance. Yuck. I’m not used to flying like this!

Immigration was easy, except for the detour to another counter to pay the departure tax. Then it was through to the departure hall, where it was still an hour before the flight. Oh well, lesson learnt…no need to arrive the least bit early. Boarding was called about 15 minutes before the flight, and we walked out to the plane>

IMG_3803

IMG_3804

Once on board, a couple shots out the window. Welcome to Timor Leste posters:

IMG_3805

Air North flight 519
Dili, Timor-Leste (DIL) to Darwin, Australia (DRW)
Depart 17:00, Arrive 18:45, Flight Time 1:15
Embraer ERJ-170, Registration VH-ANV, Manufactured 2009, Seat 15F
Continue reading »


Oct 292014
 

My ride was waiting for me when I exited immigration, and we were off to dive! Volker, one of the owners of Dive Timor was there to pick me up, and took me straight back to their dive shop / guesthouse / restaurant. I was staying at their guesthouse, which consisted of around ten different rooms/apartments/etc. It seemed the convenient option given my limited time, plus would help me to maximize diving time. In addition, one of the most popular restaurants in town was listed on TripAdvisor as being above their apartments, so seemed a win win.

Got to their location, and quick lodging check-in. They weren’t too full, so I ended up on a two bedroom apartment. Unfortunately, the air conditioner in the common area didn’t work, but the two in the bedrooms were quite strong so kept the whole place reasonably cool. For the price, it was a fantastic choice!

After about 30 minutes waiting for everyone to arrive, we packed up the scuba gear in the van and headed to the first dive site, Dili Rock West.

IMG_0717

I hadn’t been diving since St Kitts back in July, but really wasn’t nervous. I had my gear, etc, and the only nervousness was that this would be my first short dive. I’d never gone into the water from the shore before. Plus, being on the other side of the world was kinda cool. I guess after diving in Seychelles it shouldn’t have been a huge deal, but hey.

Plan was to walk about 10-20 meters into the water, and then try and get the fins on and head further out. Unfortunately, the waves kept crashing down on us, and I panicked a slight bit. Eventually managed to get things sorted well enough that we could descend, and once underwater things were zen and peaceful. Unfortunately, I’d wasted quite a bit of air at this point. Fortunately, I’d decided not to take my camera on the first dive, so I could really just focus on getting used to the water again and enjoying the coral.

I’d used a full 1/3 of my air at this point, and we were only 6 minutes in. I was kind of nervous I was going to be the reason we had to come up early (especially since I often am the first one out of air) but once I calmed down I started using the rest of it really slowly. There were only four of us diving, and two divemasters. Two beginners with one, and me and a guy doing his advanced certification with the other.

It was a good 45 minute dive, and I was excited for the second. We walked about 1/2 mile down the beach to “Dili Rock East” and got ready for the second dive. This one was much easier, because I knew what I was doing a bit better and how to fight the waves when getting into deeper water.

Almost right after descent was a cool lionfish hanging out:

IMG_0721

The reef dropped down to about 60 feet pretty quickly, and it was a cool view:

IMG_0723

Cool coral:

IMG_0727

Continue reading »


Oct 282014
 

Woke up super early the next morning due to the whole time zone thing, and managed to catch a bit of the sunrise over the hotel pool. Few cups of coffee and it was time to head to the airport where I hoped to avail myself of some Starbucks. No such luck, the Starbucks was located in the domestic terminal, and my flight was in the international terminal. Sad panda.

IMG_3718

Check-in was nice and smooth, and soon it was time to pay the airport tax of 200,000 Rupiah (around $18) and wait in line for immigration. They had 6 desks open, but still took nearly 30 minutes to clear immigration. Sriwijaya had invited us to the “Premier Lounge” which was an adequate place to wait. There was caffeine and little raisin rolls, so life could be a whole lot worse!

IMG_3720

The lounge was nice and spacious, however, it was rather warm inside:

IMG_3723

Soon they called boarding, and I rushed over to the gate…which was right next to the lounge. Boarding was just starting, and I got some dirty looks for walking to the front of the queue, but that’s part of what you pay for with business class.

Sriwijaya Airlines flight 270
Bali, Indonesia (DPS) to Dili, Timor-Leste (DIL)
Depart 9:55, Arrive 12:50, Flight Time 1:55
Boeing 737-500, Registration PK-CMC, Manufactured 1995, Seat 2F

IMG_3725

These seats look awfully familiar….wait…this used to be a United Airlines plane, and they’re the exact same seats! A quick check of the registration number, and check against my spreadsheet, and I’ve been on this plane before back in 2006! Matter of fact, I was in the exact same seat…as I doubt they’d changed them since then!

Oh, look what’s in the loo! Now THAT is just terrifying. They got this plane from United over a year ago, but still haven’t changed the soap dispenser?!

IMG_3726

My seatmate was a very cranky Timorese guy, who kept complaining about everything. He was trying to seem worldly and important by speaking English with the flight attendants, but they were having none of it and kept speaking back to him in Bahasa, lol. He was a little Napoleon who just liked complaining and feeling important.

Pre-departure beverage choice was apple juice…so there was no choice. Take it or leave it. Not many drink choices once we were underway either…no diet coke, so I settled for water. The “chicken rice” was pretty decent at least. The desert was some super gelatinous thing that tasted better than it looked, but was still rather scary.

IMG_3728

About 90 minutes later, we were on approach to Dili:

IMG_3729

IMG_3730

IMG_3733

IMG_3736

No jetbridges at Dili, and this is the walkway to the terminal:

IMG_3739

View of our plane parked at Dili:

IMG_3740

Overall, Sriwijaya Air was a perfectly pleasant experience. Decent small meal, relatively clean plane. It was clearly showing its age, but that’s not necessarily the most important thing as long as it’s well-maintained. I survived it, so I’ll just leave it at that. Overall, I’d fly them again if they were convenient on a route I needed to go on.

Visa on arrival counter was quick and efficient – pay your $30, stamp in your passport, receipt, and you’re on your way in 5 seconds. Immigration was also quick and it was time to get exploring my 160th country visited…Timor-Leste!


Oct 272014
 

Ah Asia. I got to the gate area about 10 minutes before boarding, and there was nary a gate louse in site. I politely sat in the first row of seats near the boarding door, and nobody was anywhere near. There was going to be no fight for overhead bin space on this flight. There was a guy sitting a few seats down who had his own Singapore Airlines personal assistant, and she was filling up his Indonesia immigration card. I caught something about “you must be having people to do this for you as next in line to the throne” but couldn’t figure things out. Based on looks, I’m going to guess somewhere in Northern Europe, but once we boarded he was in economy, so who knows!

Singapore Airlines flight 942
Singapore (SIN) to Bali, Indonesia (DPS)
Depart 9:35, Arrive 12:05, Flight Time 2:30
Boeing 777-200, Registration 9V-SRH, Manufactured 2001, Seat 12A (bulkhead window)

First on the plane, and this is what regional business looks like on a Singapore 777-200:

IMG_3652

…bubbles are delivered, and I’m happy.

IMG_3658

Brunch looks tasty, and it was a tough call between nasi lemak and dim sum, before I remembered that I’d pre-ordered via book the cook:

IMG_3659

Flight was looking about 75% full in business, despite showing completely sold out online. Was looking like I was going to get lucky with an empty seat next to me. Until. Heavyset 30-something guy boarded, holding two small infants, maybe 2 months old, which looked like twins. Yes, I’d booked the bassinet row and know it’s a possibility, but ugh. I have nothing at all against children in business, especially if you’re going to pay to get them there, but be considerate. Seemed he’d upgraded last minute, and his wife was in coach, so he was holding both of them until departure.

Cabin filled up about five minutes later when a delayed connection arrived, and the agents came on board and upgraded his wife as well. Few last minute seat swaps, and the heavens opened up and I was spared. Nice Indonesian woman ended up to me, and I was relieved to have no small children. Until…

She asked me if I had peace in my heart? Did I have the true inner peace which could come from meditation? I couldn’t pull the “no speak english” card because I’d already thanked her for saving me from the children, so I had to cowboy up. Told her I was happy with my spiritual situation, and prefered not to discuss it with strangers…thanks.

Despite waiting for the connecting flight we were off on time, and the crew was quick with the meals. They seemed confused when I told them I’d pre-ordered with book the cook, but found it quickly enough. Mmmm lobster thermidor:

IMG_3662

Continue reading »


Oct 272014
 

Headed down to the gate, and boarding was just starting as I got there. As usual, United was being super classy and all of “Group 1″ was being invited to board at the same time. 1Ks, business class, first class, doesn’t matter. All lumped together. Not even a priority announcement for Global Services. We’re clearly not on ANA anymore!

United flight 803
Tokyo, Narita (NRT) to Singapore (SIN)
Depart 18:00, Arrive 00:10, Flight Time 7:10
Boeing 777-200, Registration N788UA, Manufactured 1997, Seat 2K

Welcome aboard…can I get you a glass of Krug? Oh, wait…I mean a glass of Veuve Smisek. Mmm…delicious!

IMG_3619

Wait, where’s the caviar service?!

IMG_3620

Quality construction. I went to put my feet on the footrest, and it fell off.

IMG_3623

Takeoff was on-time, and in fairness the crew was very pleasant and efficient, I will say in general despite Jeff’s best efforts to the contrary, the hard product is pretty decent (not good, or great, but decent) and the crews are almost always very good.

There were two choices of red wine today, and I went with a glass of the Changes-You’ll-Like Shiraz. It was perfectly drinkable, and would make a reasonable $10-15 table wine for every day drinking. Certainly not international first class quality, but…

IMG_3624

Continue reading »


Oct 242014
 

So, finally the big day was here. Rainy day in Washington, and grabbed the new-ish Silver Line metro out to Dulles. Check-in was smooth, with 14 agents (I counted) and no lines yet. Agents had a bit of trouble figuring out how to tag my bag all the way to Bali (since it was different tickets) but soon had it sorted and I was on my way to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.

I decided to do a few laps of the A and B terminal first to get a little bit of walking in, but was soon seated with a glass of bubbly and a little breakfast:

IMG_3555

IMG_3557

Continue reading »


Oct 162014
 

Insanity. I can’t believe it’s almost finally here. I started booking this trip well over six months ago – and I never plan that far in advance. I didn’t expect it would actually come to happen, but figured that I should spend the United miles before they were devalued…so I booked it. So far…everything is still on track.

Then, I realized I return home the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I sort of forgot that and booked a trip to Israel…over Thanksgiving. Yes, I’m going on a 33 day South Pacific trip, and then after 3 days home going to Israel for 5 days…plus an overnight in Zurich on the way back. I get home Tuesday night.

Then, I realized I was a bit short requalifying on United next year…over 12,000 miles short. Europe wouldn’t cut it. It was already going to be early December…I’m out of time. I have a Friday off…so yes, I arrive home from Israel on Tuesday night..and Wednesday night fly right back out to Lebanon.

6 weeks of traveling with a total of 4 nights at home. 73,100 miles. 24 countries, of which 12 will be new for me.  5 flights across the Atlantic Ocean. One across the Pacific. Numerous shorter flights in between. Then, it’s a whole two weeks at home before going to Africa for two weeks as part of my annual new years trip…and 8 more new countries.

I’m already exhausted. I should probably pack.

updatedmap


Oct 072014
 

So…as you may recall, I have a big trip coming up to the South Pacific. 4.5 weeks and 9 new countries…it’s huge, and I fully expect something to go wrong.

In order to accommodate diving plans, I called Expedia today to change a Fiji Airways flight. No problem, but they couldn’t get it to ticket. I should mention that hold time was 2 minutes. That is, until they hung up on me.

So, I called Fiji Airways to see what’s up. Turns out two of the other flights on the itinerary are no longer existing due to a trade war between Fiji and the Solomon Islands, necessitating completely replanning the last half of my trip.

I call back. Hold time is 2 hours 30 minutes. I wait on speakerphone while I do work…45 minutes into the call (3 hours 15 total on the phone)…they hang up on me. This goes on again and again.

I’ve now called Expedia 5 times today, spent over 9 hours on the phone, and been hung up on…5 times. They claim they can’t call you back because “we do not have outgoing lines.” To add insult to injury…the last guy I got in India told me “oh my name is Jason too.” Seriously dude?!

Anyone have tips for dealing with these scam artists? I just want a full refund so I can book ELSEWHERE.

map-1


Oct 042014
 

Tame last night in Vegas, and after dinner ended up sitting around having a few drinks. Was watching some tv and texting on my phone and…

…and next thing I knew it was 5 minutes before I’d planned to leave the hotel in the morning. Ugh, I’d fallen asleep texting/watching tv…and my phone was completely dead so the alarm never went off. I’d never done that before. Quick shower, packing, and was out the door about 15 minutes later than planned. No big emergency, but incredibly lucky I woke up when I did. I guess all the time zone changing and tiredness finally caught up to me and the body just crashed.

Made it to the airport in plenty of time, there was no line at security, and soon I found the AmEx Centurion lounge. The agent asked me how I’d liked the LaGuardia Lounge (impressive CRM – and good database) and offered to show us around if we needed anything. I just wanted breakfast at this point.

Some tasty pancakes and fruit, along with a poached egg in tomato basil sauce which was delicious. Oh, and a glass of Veuve. Won’t want to go cold turkey and risk getting the shakes or something! One nice thing the Centurion lounges do for Centurion card holders is offer a special drink at each lounge. At both LaGuardia and Vegas it’s Veuve or a glass of Johnny Walker Blue. I figured 8a was ok for champagne, but later in the day it would be a hard choice….

IMG_2845

Originally, I had ticketed Vegas-Houston-Chicago-DCA because I was afraid I might be short on qualifying miles this year. But at this point, I was exhausted…and there was one seat on the Houston-DC nonstop in P class so I called United to try and make a same day confirmed change. After being on hold 15 minutes, the agent had no clue how to do it, and pulled the “it’s under airport control” excuse. Ugh.

United Airlines flight 1236
Las Vegas, Nevada (LAS) to Houston, Jorge Bush Intercontinental (IAH)
Depart 9:32, Arrive 14:34, Flight Time 3:02
Boeing 737-900, Registration N47414, Manufactured 2008, Seat 2E

Not terribly much to say on this flight. I wasn’t very hungry after the lounge, but took the breakfast for photo purposes. Ok, I actually ate the fruit and greek yogurt and a couple bites of the egg, but that was all. I’d had way way too much United food on this trip, and was rather over it. The other option was the usual cereal and banana, which today was raisin bran.

IMG_2849

Landed in Houston a few minutes ahead of schedule, checked ExpertFlyer, and there was still one P seat on the nonstop to DC, so I tried to use the app to change it…and it worked! Yes, United technology succeeded where an actual agent couldn’t…go figure!  I’d get home nearly four hours sooner, which was sounding absolutely fantastic at this point!

I stopped at Le Grand Comptoir to wait for my flight, and had a couple of glasses of prosecco while waiting:

IMG_2857

Not only had I gotten on the earlier flight, but I had an aisle seat in row 2 – my preferred seat. Clearly it was my lucky day!

United Airlines flight 292
Houston, Jorge Bush Intercontinental (IAH) to Washington, DC, National (DCA)
Depart 16:37, Arrive 20:18, Flight Time 2:41
Airbus A319, Registration N846UA, Manufactured 2001, Seat 2E

One last class of Domaine Ste Jeff and one last bowl of discount warm nuts:

IMG_2864

Today’s lunch was some sort of sandwich on pretzel bread, bread on no plate, and scary halloween colored soup:

IMG_2865

Chatted with my seatmate a bit, who was a flyertalker coming back from Singapore (or was it Bangkok?) and was a fan of my trip reports. Made the flight fly by, and soon landed at DCA ahead of schedule. A very busy, very packed, very successful trip down in the books.

So, was it worth it? Absolutely! Although I would have liked to have more time in Paris, Barcelona, Andorra, and Hawaii, it was a great trip. I had lots of really cool experiences, saw lots of new things, managed to visit a new country, and had a great time driving through the mountains. The trip made for some fantastic stories, and I’d love to do something similar again…but not any time too soon!