Mar 192017
 

Got a very good night of sleep, and was all set for a day of adventure ahead. Originally when I planned this trip, I had planned two days in Paris on the return, but when I had to skip the Cape Town side trip, I was no longer able to get the stopover in Paris on the way back. The options were Frankfurt and Munich, and having been to both several times I picked Frankfurt figuring I was likely to have more options for side trips from there.

After playing around on Die Bahn’s website I settled for a sidetrip to Nürnberg. I had really wanted to see Dresden or Leipzig, but spending 4-5 hours each way on the train wasn’t my idea of a good use of time. I’ll save those for another trip later this year when I have more time. I had also wanted a train trip side it had been a long time, and there were still some decent ICE first fares to Nürnberg. It was far from cheap, but at two hours each way with great times, and plenty to see in Nürnberg, I figured it was a good option

Train left super early – around 8a – which meant being up early. The great thing of being at the Sheraton attached to the airport is I just had to walk into the departures hall, and I had my own Starbucks for breakfast and wakeup. There was a good breakfast spread in the Sheraton lounge, so it made for a nice and convenient morning.

Train was about 10 minutes late, and absolutely packed. I didn’t see an empty seat anywhere in my car. Fortunately I got one of the seats on the single side, so no dealing with climbing over people – definitely plus! When I got to Nürnberg I found the machine to buy day tickets for local transit, pulled up google maps, and found out which tram I needed to take to the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände – the Documentation Centre at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds.

The museum opened in 1994, and the entrance is a long glass and steel tunnel into the front of the building – a creative play by the architect to mock Nazi architect Albert Speer. The place was much busier than I expected for a museum on a Monday, filled with school groups:

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The new Neue Kongresshalle – New Congress Hall – which was never finished. It was intended to seat 50,000 people during rallies and is the largest piece of Nazi architecture still standing.

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I spent about two hours walking through the exhibits, and there was a fantastic audiotour that you could either do a short version, or listen to lots of background in each room. It was an incredibly well-done museum with lots of historical facts as well. It was also slightly chilling given how many parallels were easy to draw to current events in the United States.

After finishing the museum, I went for a walk around the Dutzendteich – or dozen ponds, which are adjacent to the Kongresshall and museum. It was a grey a gloomy day, which somehow seemed appropriate.

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Grandstand at the Zeppelinfeld – or Zeppelin Field. It was one of the first architectural sites build by Albert Speer, and based upon the Ancient Greek Pergamon Altar. On the top of the review stand there used to be a giant swastika that was blown up in 1945 at the end of the war to symbolically show that naziism was over. It got its name because it was the site in 1909 where Ferdinand von Zeppelin landed one of his zeppelins.

 

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Looking out from the top of the grandstand:

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Sideways view when standing on the podium on the Zeppelinfeld grandstand:

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How the site looked in the 1930s and 1940s. Note the giant swastika on the top of the grandstand and the columns which no longer exist:

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From the Zeppelinfeld I continued walking around the water, and got this view of the Kongresshalle from the other side:

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Danger! Crazy-long German word ahead!

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Looking down the Große Straße – Great Road. Over a mile long and 40 meters wide it was a parade route for the Wehrmacht during the annual party meetings. It points toward medieval Nürnberg Castle and the direction was an attempt to link old Nürnburg to the Nürnberg of the Third Reich. After the war ended, the US Army actually used the road as a temporary airfield since so there was so much damage to other infrastructure.

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Outside the Kongresshalle:

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After all this walking I was getting pretty hungry so pulled up google maps again. Figured out how to get to the restaurant I wanted to go to, and there was a direct bus leaving from the museum. Perfect! Between google maps and the daypass transport around Nürnberg was really simple.  Bus dropped me right in the centre of the city near an old church:

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Statue of Albrecht Durer, a renaissance painter from Nürnberg:

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Lunch at the Hausbraueri Altstadthof – great homemade beer and Nürnberg Rostbratwurst with Kartoffelsalat – YUM!

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After lunch went for a long walk back towards the train station, passing the Frauenkirche – a great example of gothic architecture from the mid-1300s:

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Stopped at Starbucks for some caffeine, and had an absolutely terrible view on the Pegnitz River:

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The Wetterhäuschen Lorenzkirche – or St Lorenz church. Ground was broken in 1250, but the church was only finished approximately 200 years later. It was badly damaged during World War Two but later restored:

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Selfie on the Königstraße heading towards the train station:

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Train back to Frankfurt was on time, and once again managed to get lucky and get the single seat. Once again the train was completely full all the way to Frankfurt. Is this the norm lately, or was it because it was a Monday? I haven’t taken many train trips in Germany in the last ten years, but I remember first class on the ICEs used to be relatively empty lots of the time.

Had a quiet evening in Frankfurt just walking through the centre of the city, stopped at a couple of small random bars/restaurants for a beer, and then back to the airport early so that I could turn in. I had a relatively early flight the next morning, and wanted to maximize my time in the Lufthansa First Class Terminal!


Mar 092017
 

Woke up right on time, nice quick check out from the Le Meridien, and a short walk over the bridge over the airport road and I was in Terminal 3. There is a baggage x-ray before you can get into the check-in area, and the guards will not let you in without either a printout or phone copy of your ticket. That accomplished, over to the check in desk where there was no line.

Asked about getting a seat with nobody else in the row, but the check-in agent informed me that all seats would be taken on the flight today. Oh well.

15 minute wait for immigration because the priority line wasn’t open, which left me 15 minutes to “enjoy” the EgyptAir Lounge. It’s gotten even worse (if that’s really possible) than the last time I was there, because on top of the horrible food offerings, they no longer have Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi either. The espresso machine was reasonably functional, so had a quick coffee then off to the gate.

Security at the gate was pretty easy, and we boarded right on time. All things considered, for Cairo, it was a pretty easy and relatively pleasant transit to get on board.

Lufthansa flight 587
Cairo, Egypt (CAI) to Munich, Germany (MUC)
Depart 7:35, Arrive 10:40, Flight Time: 4:05
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIQT, Manufactured 2000, Seat 4C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 26,977
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,391,378

Upon boarding, it was clear why we were full today. There were six rows of EuroBusiness today, which meant 24 seats, and at least 10 of them were filled with uniformed Lufthansa crew. Not sure if a plane broke down in Cairo or what, but that explained all the full seats. Fortunately for me, my window seat was taken by a teenager who slept the whole flight and never got up once, so for being a full flight it wasn’t bad at all.

Breakfast was another story – definitely not the tastiest thing I’ve eaten. My request for champagne was met with “we don’t have that.” So I asked for sparkling wine. Ok, that she could do. Normally I love Lufthansa crews, but for whatever reason this one definitely wasn’t having a great day. I probably wouldn’t be either if I was working a 7am flight out of Cairo.

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Other than that, flight was super uneventful. Immigration to get into Germany had no line, but unusually they actually asked questions like how long I would be in Germany and what I would be doing there. Avoided “no clue, I had planned to go to Paris but changed my mind at the last minute” in favour of “three days, just a bit of tourism.”

Nice and easy, security was also quick, and I had time for a bit of time in the Senator Lounge. I’ve never actually been in the Munich Senator Lounge, only the first class lounge, so this was a new experience.

To go with that white whine, a bit of white wine:

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There’s something about the Lufthansa pretzel bread with cheese, salami, and tomato that I love. Unfortunately there was no cucumber today.

While in the lounge, I looked up the registration of my upcoming plane, and was excited to see it was one of Lufthansa’s relatively brand new A320-neo planes!

Lufthansa flight 105
Munich, Germany (MUC) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 12:00, Arrive 13:05, Flight Time: 1:05
Airbus A320neo, Registration D-AIND, Manufactured 2016, Seat 3F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 27,163
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,391,564

Unlike the last flight this one was totally empty in business. 24 seats again, but only four were taken. Can you believe this was the meal on a 40 minute flight…and that refills on beverages were offered? It was much tastier than the meal from Cairo, especially the salmon, and I actually enjoyed most of this one.

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When I had changed two days prior from Paris to Frankfurt, the Airport Sheraton was by far the most reasonable Starwood option, and being on top of the airport (and thus Starbucks and an ICE station) made it a very convenient choice for me. My two nights here would be the closest I’ve ever come to living in an airport, and I have to say it was kind of fun.

Stopped at Starbucks after landing to get some coffee before checking in, and then after a shower I headed out for a bit of a walk around the city. I’ve never had the time to do much exploring of Frankfurt, so I just went on a bit of a random wander. Caught the train into the city, and then just started walking. The giant Euro symbol in front of the European Central Bank:

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Walked for a while and came upon the main square:

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…and Frankfurt Dom/Cathedral:

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Kept walking for a bit, and eventually decided to check TripAdvisor for somewhere tasty for dinner. Settled on a place called Naïv which was a bit of a Germany craft beer geek’s heaven. German craft beer sampler:

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Bacon wrapped dates…which were absolutely amazing!

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Why a German beer is called Miss Florida IPA is completely beyond me, but there you have it….(and it wasn’t very good)

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I was still a bit hungry, so asked the bartender for a light recommendation. I was told I had to try the Handkäse mit Musik – or “handcheese with music” salad because it was a Frankfurt specialty. Definitely tasty and different!

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I was exhausted at this point from a very early morning, so headed back to the airport to head to bed in my unusually warm room. It was winter, and being Germany they had the heat on, and there was really no way to cool the room down much. They were happy to deliver a fan to me, and perhaps the nicest thing about the Towers Lounge is their happy hour goes until 10:30pm and they leave beer, wine, and snacks out until that time. Rather nice!

As tired as I was, it didn’t bother me that it was warm, and I passed right out. It would be another early morning with the daytrip I had planned!


Mar 062017
 

As soon as I exited the plane, there was an escort with my name on a sign, waiting to walk me to the lounge. Nobody else in first had an escort, pretty much confirming what the purser told me about the upgrades. The escort was sort of strange, however. It was useful I guess to know where to go for transit security, but following the masses of people would be just as easy.

When we got to security, there was a long line, and she just stood in line with me. I’m not sure what the point of an escort in transit is if they can’t even get you to the front of the security queue? After security she dropped me at the lounge, and wished me a pleasant flight. It was a nice touch, but there are several little things that would have made it a much better experience.

Inside the lounge, I asked where the showers were, and I was escorted to the spa area. I had to wait 10 minutes because they were “very busy” according to the agent, and eventually they showed me to a room. I’m not sure if all the rooms are the same, but it a mini bedroom with a desk and washroom/shower all in one. The thermostat in the room showed 27C despite being set at max AC – which clearly was broken. In hindsight I probably should have asked for another room, but I just wanted a quick shower so it was fine. The idea of being able to nap if I wanted was a nice one, but for a simple shower it was overkill.

After freshening up, I headed into the dining area for a little “lite” breakfast. I asked for some eggs benedict, and was informed they would take some 10-15 minutes, so it was insisted I have some juice and a pastry. I chose a pain au chocolate, and was brought two of them.

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Eventually the Eggs Benny arrived. They were good, but far from great. The hollandaise sauce was quite bland.

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The expansive foyer in the lounge. Looked to be a good 10 meters high. Note the water feature.

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Eventually it was time to board, and I had my own bus from the lounge to the plane:

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Qatar gives nice boarding pass jackets in Doha. I switched my seat when I learned the flight was practically empty, so got a new boarding pass.

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Time to board. It was nice having my own bus and being the only one boarding the plane…

Qatar Airways flight 402
Doha, Qatar (DOH) to Amman, Jordan (AMM)
Depart 07:55, Arrive 09:55, Flight Time: 3:00
Airbus A330-300, Registration A7-AEO, Manufactured 2008, Seat 3A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 25,053
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,389,454

Exceptional seats for a shorthaul flight. I wouldn’t be too pleased with these on a redeye, but they were great for this flight.

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Champagne? Don’t mind if I do! Also, choice of cold OR hot towels offered. A nice touch.

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Reminder: for your safety, please stay seated while praying on board.

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After a turn, great shot of Doha on takeoff:

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Avocado and date smoothie – I was dubious on this one, but it was delicious!

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There was a choice of three appetizers. I went with “feta cheese, cucumber, tomato and green olives” – the other choices were fruit, cereal, greek yogurt and granola.

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Cheese and chive omelette with grilled lamb kofta. One of the best egg dishes I think I’ve ever had on a plane…and it came with Tabasco!

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Other than that, pretty typical flight. First was only booked to 3 of 24, so there was plenty of space. This was good, because Typhoid Mary was one of the three, and she spent the whole flight coughing and sneezing and hacking away. Despite her sitting on the other side of the plane, I was convinced I would end up sick in the next 24 hours. She CLEARLY should not have been on a plane with recycled air in the proximity of lots of people.

I hadn’t been to Amman in almost ten years, and since then the new terminal has opened – and wow, what an improvement. Transit security was rude and belittling, but after TSA they seemed positively pleasant.

On the other side of security, I was rewarded with Starbucks!

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After coffee in a vain attempt to wake up, I headed up to the Royal Jordanian lounge. This place is absolutely massive, and spans pretty much the entire balcony level overlooking the terminal. One small part:

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View into the terminal:

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I found a nice quiet corner of the lounge to camp out and do some work. The big plus of the lounge is space, and plentiful beverage offerings. There was a reasonable amount of food, but nothing that looked remotely appetizing to me. Another huge minus was a lack of power outlets. There was tons of seating, but very few places to plug in your devices. Also, the staff was rather unfriendly. I asked if I could have my boarding pass reprinted on Royal Jordanian stock, and was met with “no. why do you need that.” I explained that I would like to have it as a souvenir, and got “no. this one is fine.” Ummmm, alrighty then!

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Off to the gate. I was in the bulkhead, and wanted to move to another seat, so asked the gate agent if there were any other “A” seats left. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak good enough english to understand what I wanted. I was rather surprised. No worries, at least in 1A nobody will recline into me!

Royal Jordanian flight 503
Amman, Jordan (AMM) to Cairo, Egypt (CAI)
Depart 13:15, Arrive 14:45, Flight Time: 1:30
Embraer ERJ-195, Registration JY-EMB, Manufactured 2007, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 25,347
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,389,748

pre-departure water and arabic coffee were offered. This is seriously the tiniest sip of coffee ever.

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for a 75 minute flight, I was impressed that a meal was offered. Unfortunately, it featured some room temp ceasar dressing, sketchy looking shrimps, and some mystery coldcuts. I ate the cheese and desert and called it a day.

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Can’t be in de-nile any longer, we’re approaching Cairo!

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Now, upon landing, there was a small problem. This terminal is gorgeous, wtf. Pulled up google on my phone, and realized that the brand new Terminal 2 had recently opened to serve regional flights. Not only was it nice inside, but there were no huge queues for visas or immigration, and I was through in maybe five minutes. One small problem – how do I get to Terminal 3 where my hotel was connected. Of course, asking a couple people led me to find out they had “friends” who would take me in their taxi.

According to google maps it was walkable in 10 minutes, so I decided to risk walking on the roads (there were no sidewalks) and see if I could make it. It was a reasonably easy walk, I lived to tell the story, and soon was checked into the Le Meridien. The hotel was just as nice as I remembered, and I was upgraded to a reasonably big suite. The only unsettling thing is that the windows rattled – badly. It took me a while to figure out it happened when I walked around the room. That didn’t give me much faith in the construction, but at least it wouldn’t bother me when sleeping.

After showering up and changing, decided to head out a bit rather than hang at the hotel all afternoon. I didn’t have time with Cairo traffic to get to any interesting sites, so chose the mall near-ish the hotel. I decided to call Uber and pray…Mohammad showed up quickly, and it was a nice easy and cheap ride over to the mall.

You know you’re in Egypt when there’s smoking at Starbucks:

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While sitting and enjoying my coffee, this monstrosoty passed by:

Supposedly, this is actually pretty close to Jason:

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I’m gonna assume that says “Starbucks Coffee.”

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What is it with me and finding the one ice rink in a country. Inside the Sun City Mall, so I couldn’t resist getting a little exercise. Just a little, however, because these rental skates were terrible!

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After finishing up, went and got a shot of the rink from above. Not too shabby for a rink inside a mall in Egypt! Certainly much better ice than the swamp in Bangkok!

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Hailed another Uber, who had no trouble finding me at the exit of the mall despite no English at all, and made it back to the hotel around 8. Had a quick beer and appetizer in the hotel sports bar (which was not half bad) and then was asleep by nine. Next morning and the onward flights to Germany would come very early!


Mar 032017
 

Easy trip by train to the Sydney airport, and soon was at the Qatar check-in area. Qatar slightly unusually has one queue feeding into separate check-in counters for first and business, so after asking an agent I ducked under the ropes and waited for the first agent to be free. When she was, I started walking up and the guy at the guy of the long queue literally rushed over and physically shoved me out of the way. I politely asked “are you in first class?” and he just glared at me and went to the desk. Ok, whatever.

When the agent was free she did apologize for what happened (although it was not her fault) which was a nice touch. She informed me that I was all alone today in first, so I would have the cabin to myself – which seat would I like? The cabin was empty when I booked so I had already selected the seat I wanted, but I appreciated her letting me know I could have whichever one I would like. Immigration and security were painless, and soon it was into the departures lounge.

I’ve flown into and out of Sydney multiple times, but never on a OneWorld airline internationally, so I haven’t had the chance to use the Qantas First lounge before now. In general, I’m not a fan of what OneWorld calls first lounges, because they’re usually heaving with all the OneWorld Emerald members, so they’re usually no more quiet or exclusive than a Star Alliance business class lounge.

This lounge was no exception as there were well over 100 guests, but it was huge and well laid-out, so didn’t seem quite so noticeable. Decided on a quick shower to wash off all the rushing around the city, and on the way to the showers noticed our plane parked right in front of the lounge. At least it would be a short walk!

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Showers were fine, nothing special, but definitely got the job done. I decided to head over to the dining area and order some light snacks. I had reached out to a few friends who are well-versed in this lounge, and they told me I had to try the salt and pepper calamari. It was good, but not mind-blowing:

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I was going to leave after this, but the very charming lounge agent named Henry wouldn’t let me leave without some dessert. Ok, now this is fun:

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I stayed around a couple more hours getting some work done, with Henry always being attentive. Despite him only asking once, he never forgot any preferences and as I was leaving, I complimented him on his memory. He smiled and told me “there are three rules in hospitality: smile, genuine, and remember.” I need to hire this guy! I honestly can’t say I remember the last time I’ve received such fantastic service from an airline.

Walking out of the lounge to my plane, the lounge features a very interesting living green stuff wall:

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Boarding was a mad rush for first and business, no separate lines or boarding call, and we were soon aboard.

Qatar Airways flight 909
Sydney, Australia (SYD) to Doha, Qatar (DOH)
Depart 22:10, Arrive 05:05, Flight Time: 14:55
Airbus A380-800, Registration A7-APD, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 24,006
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,388,407

First thing I noticed…I was already the fourth person in first. I thought I was the only one? Very polite Korean crew, but there was a rather significant communication gap. Their English was some of the poorest I’ve ever had from a crew on Qatar/Etihad/Emirates. They were perfectly polite, however, and Krug soon made an appearance along with olives and cheese. Unique and tasty choice.

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Lots of space, but the seat is rather lacking in privacy. By this point, the cabin had filled to seven of eight seats. I asked the purser what happened and she said “business class is too full today” so I guess there were six lucky people who got operational upgrades to first. Small silver lining, the one seat kept empty was the one across the aisle from me, so they at least tried to keep it as private as possible.

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Lots of folks are fans of Qatar’s lifejacket demo guy in the video, and it appears they have a special guest in the current video:

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Soon after takeoff, it was warm. Very warm. I asked the crew several times if they could turn the temperature down, and they said they were trying, but the cabin remained extremely warm – I would say approximately 25C/80F.

Started off with the caviar course, which came with blinis and toasts, as well as plenty of sides:

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Rather odd what I think was an attempt at a crab cake, but whatever it was was bland.

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Nice bread basket and amazing butter.

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Sous vide lamb  with spinach and feta cheese gnocchi, crushed peas, baby carrots, and radish. Noticeably lacking: anything resembling spinach or feta cheese or gnocchi. The lamb was also cooked well-done. This whole meal was a huge miss.

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The empty seat across the aisle. With the privacy screen up it was pretty private, but had that seat been taken there would have been very little privacy.

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Rather sad cheese plate. The one thing they did nicely was add some jam/chutney to the offering.

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The entertainment selection was pretty extensive, but every video started with an annoying few minute ad for tourist in Qatar. I got kind of sick of them asking this woman about her wedding day. It was more irritating since I was watching tv shows, so every 20-30 minutes I got to watch her.

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Chocolate soufflé  with strawberry coulis:

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Despite the efforts of the crew, the cabin remained an oven. I decided to change into lightweight gym shorts and shirt to try and sleep as opposed to the rather heavy pajamas they were offering. I also tried to stay awake as long as possible on this flight so that I could somewhat switch to arrival time. It must have done the trip, because I slept for a solid eight hours and woke up just about an hour before landing.

Wasn’t too terribly hungry, but the crew insisted I eat a little. Nice little bread basket, some tea, fresh orange juice, and a banana and cinnamon smoothy, which was actually quite tasty.

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I really wasn’t feeling a big breakfast, but I wanted to eat a bit in the lounge, so I just asked for the “cured balik salmon with chive cream cheese, egg and caper berries.” It was smaller than I expected, but plenty untilI got to the lounge. The crew actually seemed offended whtn I wouldn’t let them cook me eggs.

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The cabin hadn’t cooled down at all in flight, so I waited until the last moment to change back into regular clothes. We landed in a very dark Doha about fifteen minutes ahead of schedule and I was wide awake thanks to the time shift.

Overall, Qatar was pretty much what I expected: good, but not great. Like Emirates and Etihad I think the first class product was a lot of show without the little touches that make first class “exceptional.” You can’t just spend money on things like caviar and champagne and expect a world-class product to materialize. It was a big step up from Thai/United/American, but nowhere in the same league as the big boys like Cathay, Singapore, Lufthansa, Air France.

Next up, two hour transit and on to Cairo!


Mar 022017
 

This one is going to get a little long. Yes, it’s only two days in Australia, but there’s just that much to see and enjoy that I can’t do it justice without at least a few dozen pictures.

Australian immigration is super easy now that ePassports can be scanned at the gate and you don’t have to deal with an immigration officer. Through the gates, straight to customs, and hand my slip to the customs agent. After asking how long I was here for, and hearing three days, he asked why so far for three days. Told him it’s been a rough few months at work, so decided to take a bit of a trip around the world to get away from all the drama in Washington DC lately. His response was so typically Australian: “yeah, that President’s a bit of a wanker, isn’t he?” Perfect welcome to Australia!

On to the Airport Express Train and off to my hotel – the Westin Sydney. I’ve always stayed at the Four Points Darling Harbour before, but it’s in the process of rebranding so it was time to check out a new part of the city. I’m very glad I did, because although it wasn’t on the water I was very happy with my stay here. Yes, I had the perfect storm of problems with my room (bad air conditioning, a door lock that froze in the locked position and needed a manual key to open, etc, etc, etc) but major kudos to hotel management for doing their best to make things right in the end. Suffice to say, for a stay with so many problems, I will definitely be giving them another chance.

Check in, quick shower after sleeping on a plane, and given it was already mid-afternoon it was time for a walk. Strolled down to The Rocks, and on the way stopped at a small pub I like for a couple of beers and an emu, crocodile, and kangaroo pizza. Lunch al fresco, ahhh….

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Got down to the waterfront just in time, while it was still full daylight, and enjoyed playing tourist a bit. The Harbour Bridge:

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Sydney Opera House just as the sun was beginning to set:

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Bridge selfie:

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Harbour panorama:

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Opera House just before dusk:

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Late afternoon Harbour Bridge:

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I definitely stayed around the water for a couple hours just walking around and people watching. Even after having been to every country there’s something I really enjoy about going to the World’s great cities and just tourist/people watching. It’s amazing to see people who are still excited about the vacation of a life time, and watching the joy as they discover new places.

Opera House just after sunset:

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The next morning, I ended up sleeping in a bit later than planned (thanks jetlag and finally catching up – I think this was my first full night of sleep since I left DC) so by the time I headed out it was just afternoon and already approaching 40C / 105F. I was convinced it would be cooler by the water, so decided to head out on my planned excursion regardless.

My friend Ryan had suggested heading to Coogee Beach to do what is known as the Bondi to Coogee Walk. He suggested, however, doing it in the reverse direction, because finishing the walk in Bondi has great views and drops you in a much more happening area where you can celebrate and enjoy a long walk better. Bit of googling seemed to agree with this, and a couple pages suggested actually starting the walk even further down the coast in the the town of Maroubra.

Only problem was – how do I get there? Those of us over 35 remember when traveling meant maps, guide books, etc, but now things are easy. You tell google maps where you are, you tell it where you want to go, and it gives you bus directions. It works like a charm. I had already purchased a local transit card and loaded fare onto it, so it was an easy matter of finding the bus stop, waiting for the bus, tapping on, and getting off and tapping the card in the right place. Couldn’t be easier!

Even the busses in Sydney are sports-crazed:

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Near the bus stop in Maroubra, getting read to head down the South Coogee Stairs towards the water:

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After about 15 minutes of walking Coogee Beach appeared:

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Fantastic view of the water against the beach:

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After Coogee Beach I had to stop. I was already baking 30 minutes into the walk, and severe sunburn was imminent. Fortunately every little corner store sells 100 types of sunblock, so after stopping for a can of spray-on SPF 50, water, and red bull, I was back on my way. A short while later, I rounded the corner again to Gordons Bay:

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Looking back towards Coogee:

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Next up was Clovelly Beach, with an ocean pool. Didn’t get pics of the pool, but did manage a selfie up against the small inlet:

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After walking around Shark Point, with some serious elevation gain and fall, I came upon Waverley Cemetery. The main walk along the water had been washed out in storms the pervious summer, so a detour straight through the cemetery and a bit inland was in order.

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Path right through the cemetery:

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Gravestones with Ocean backdrop:

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Rounding the next corner after the cemetery brought me to Bronte Beach. Time to stop for a bit, reapply sunblock, before continuing on my way.

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Local kids contemplating some cliff diving:

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Tamarama Beach – the last beach before Bondi, and the fourth beach I’d passed on the walk already:

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Rounding Tamarama Beach to Mackenzies Point:

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Coming around the bend, Bondi Beach was in sight:

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Rock overhangs on Mackenzies Point:

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Bondi Beach:

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Great view of Bondi:

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By this point I was starving, and found a great little Italian place for a late lunch/early dinner thanks to Tripadvisor. Highly recommend checking out Bondi Trattoria if you’re in the area.  Burrata, figs, and balsamic. Outstanding.

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Angel hair pasta, raw tuna, and chili oil. Again, outstanding, and makes me wonder why such simple, fresh dishes are so hard to find in the US:

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After stuffing myself post-walk, headed back to Bondi and sat down on the hill overlooking the beach to watch the sun go down:

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Sunset:

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Found a fun little Star Wars-themed bar near my hotel when I got back, which had several great local NSW craft beers and was a fun way to close out the evening. All the walking had tired me out, and it was a relatively early night. I had nearly a full day the next day, but wanted to be sure I could get up at a reasonable hour and make the most of it.

Despite that, slept in a bit longer than I wanted, so hurried back towards the water to catch the ferry to Manly. Great view of the Harbour Bridge heading out:

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After docking in Manly, a quick shot of the beach. It was a gorgeous, although slightly hot, morning:

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Manly’s fierce and fearless avian inhabitants:

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Still wasn’t really hungry, but decided to stop by the 4 Pines Brewing Company to sample their beers. Definitely a great selection!

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The clouds were starting to gather, so I rushed back to the ferry to head back to Sydney and get my bags before the weather looked too bad.  Of course, a quick stop at Starbucks first to re-caffeinate for the long night ahead. About five minutes into the ferry ride the clouds started looking ominous, so I went to the railing and put the camera on rapid fire mode, hoping that I would catch something exciting. Just a few minutes out from Sydney, I got this amazing shot! Perfect way to end the trip!

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Had to wait about 30 minutes at the pier for the super torrential rains to let up, and grabbed another crocodile pizza on the way back to the hotel and then it was time to check out and catch the train back to the airport. It had been an amazing few days in Sydney, and I can’t wait to go back.

But first, the Qatar A380 in first class to Doha…


Mar 012017
 

After landing, I had initially planned to head to the office for a few hours to get some work done, but it was absolutely pouring outside and the Private Room was beckoning. Had a rather long walk from my gate today to the lounges, but once inside and after showing my boarding pass, one of the agents insisted on escorting me to the Private Room.

What I’ve personally always loved about Singapore is they manage to deliver perfect service without ever coming across as “hovering” over you or being at all pretentious. It’s the perfect combination of letting you know you’re a valued customer, but giving you the space and amenities to enjoy your time with them how you please. This was my first visit to the Private Room and it was nice to be walked to my seat, asked what I want (Coke Light, still water, and a cold towel please) and then left alone for a couple of hours to get some work done on the laptop.

It was about 2pm by this point, and I was starting to get hungry, so I wandered over to the dining room to check out some lunch. I had the entire place to myself. In the entire lounge at this point it was just me and one other couple. View from my table:

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Panoramic of the Private Lounge dining room. I can’t imagine people eat from the small buffet often.

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Glass of bubbly and some delicious mixed satay to start. The peanut sauce was fantastic. I would quite literally come back to the Private Room just for another helping of this!

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Main course of lobster and asparagus. Skipped the potatoes – don’t want to fill up on empty starches!

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Ice cream? I really shouldn’t..you insist? Fine, for research purposes, of course…

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At this point, it had stopped raining outside, so I decided to walk off the calories and head into the city for a bit as I had almost nine hours left before my connecting flight. Here’s the one thing I didn’t like about the Private Room – nowhere to store luggage. I asked…and then I asked even more nicely, but was sent away to the main terminal left luggage. Got there, and of course the T3 left luggage was closed today. Seems they alternate every day, and today only the T1 terminal left luggage was in service. Seriously?

Took the tram over to T1, found left luggage where a very friendly gentleman patiently weighed my bags and took my money, and then I was able to head through immigration. Just going to the city for three or four hours? Apparently that’s not suspicious at all in Singapore, passport was stamped and I was on my way. Quick train ride into the city, and a great walk through Bugis and and the Downtown Core. I resisted stopping for an overpriced touristy Singapore Sling, and was content to just wander and have some Starbucks. (Again, research purposes of course.)

On my way back to the train I ran into a special Valentines Day outdoor concert where people were having an Adele lip synch contest. It was all at once the most culturally fascinating and disturbing thing I think I’ve ever seen! Made it back to the airport around 7pm and had a quick walk through the terminals before heading back to T1 to retrieve my bags. Tried for 20 minutes to get a good shot of a butterfly in the butterfly garden, but no luck, so finally settled for a picture of people taking a picture of butterflies:

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Back to the Private Room, showed, my boarding pass, and as it was a new shift the desk agent wanted to walk me back to the Private Room. I told her I knew the way and could show myself since I was returning from earlier in the day, and she was happy to let me go. Again, service offered, declined, and no “are you REALLY sure?” Perfect service. The real kicker was when I got back to the Private Room desk, the agent greeted me by name – despite the shift change. I had to ask her. “My colleague from earlier today told me you would be coming back and what you looked like, so I’ve been expecting you.” Now THAT is service.

Couple more hours of work, and it was time for some dinner. I had heard the couple earlier in the day mentioning that the Thai mango salad was delicious, and they were absolutely right!

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The satay was so good earlier, and I didn’t want a huge meal, so I ordered it again. Unfortunately, it wasn’t mixed this time – so wasn’t quite as good, but still excellent.

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Back to my seat to do a little more work, and immediately the attendant was over suggesting I should have more champagne. Well, if you insist…

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“You’re not having desert? I can’t convince you? How about some chocolate ice cream?” Well, how can I resist that. “Maybe some red wine with that?” I swear, these people are enablers…

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With that, my lovely day in the Private Room was over, and it was time for the short 10 minute walk to the gate.

Singapore Airlines Flight 231
Singapore (SIN) to Sydney, Australia (SYD)
Depart 00:45, Arrive 11:40, Flight Time: 7:55
Airbus A380-800, Registration 9V-SKD, Manufactured 2008, Suite 3F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 16,319
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,380,720

Upon boarding, I was met at the door with “Good Evening Mr. Jason, we’ve been expecting you.” I asked how they knew my name – was I the only one in Suites tonight? “There is one other, but they have an Asian name.” Again, impressive personalized service.

It was noted that I ordered Book the Cook, but “you may like to look at the menu regardless”

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The suite from above:

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Yeah, this is a horrible way to fly.

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Looking across the plane at the empty suites:

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If this suite is a’rockin…don’t come a’knockin!

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Tasty macadamia nuts and cashews with a glass of Krug.

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Very shortly after take off my Boston Lobster Thermadore was delivered. From research online, the difference between the Boston and the classic seemed to be that the Boston is the full lobster, and indeed it was:

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Clearly, it was awful:

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I would post more about the time I enjoyed in suites, but, well, right after eating I fell asleep and was out for fix straight hours, landing just 30 minutes out of Sydney. The crew seemed very disappointed I wasn’t up for any breakfast, but was happy to make me some tea when I asked.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience, and now I have to find an excuse to fly Suites on a much longer daytime route to enjoy all the service (and hopefully get some caviar!) With that, a couple of outstanding flights in Singapore First were behind me, and it was time to enjoy a couple of days in Australia!


Feb 272017
 

I’d planned ahead the night before, and knew exactly what time the first airport express train headed for the airport. Got there five minutes ahead of time, no problems at all, and was at the airport with almost 90 minutes to spare before my flight. Unlike my previous few experiences there was absolutely zero wait at immigration and security (Hong Kong doesn’t have priority security for business/first class) and I had plenty of time to spare. Quick stop at Starbucks for my fix, and then into the lounge.

Nothing says good morning like a glass of Veuve, a nice large cold brew, and a bottle of pretentious French water.

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Decided to eat a light breakfast before boarding, and some maple smoked bacon and poached eggs did the trick nicely.

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Very excited for my first flight in Singapore Suites! The first class section of the lounge wasn’t very big, but plenty big for the five or so people that were in there, including two couples in transit from San Francisco. I had really wanted a window seat, but they were all gone when I booked. I was kind of surprised both couples preferred windows to being together in the centre.

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Short walk to our gate, where my chariot awaited. Normally I find the Hong Kong airport to be a bit of a furnace, but it was nice and chilly at this hour in the morning. So far everything was going great!

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There was already a long queue forming at the gate, but I just held up the boarding pass, and someone ran over and walked me to the front of the line. Now this is the Singapore service I remember!

Singapore Airlines Flight 1
Hong Kong (HKG) to Singapore (SIN)
Depart 8:00, Arrive 12:00, Flight Time: 3:00
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration 9V-SWY, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 12,411
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,376,812

Once boarded, a super wide seat, although I’m not a huge fan of the leather. It can get kind of sticky if it’s warm. Fortunately, the cabin temp was perfect on this flight.

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This morning’s menu:

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There were still three seats open in first when I checked in, but they all filled at the last minute. Not sure if it was upgrades, OpUps, or what, but my seatmate decided the whole world needed to see his bare feet. Taking the “class” out of “First Class.”

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After takeoff, more champagne was offered. It’s always Krug O’Clock somewhere!

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Since I wasn’t interested in seeing bare feet the entire flight, I built a wall…and made my seatmate pay for it!

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Best fruit plate I’ve ever had on a flight. Not a large portion, but every fruit was perfectly ripe and sweet.

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Cereal with strawberry greek yogurt. I didn’t ask for them combined, and when it came like this I asked “how did you know I wanted the yogurt on the cereal?” I got “Well, Mr Jason, we know all your preferences of course!” I doubt it’s really true, but nicely done…

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Braised beef rib. Phenomenal dish! Just the right amount of savoury and sweet, protein and fat, everything about the dish was perfect.

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Next to my Krug and caviar scrambled eggs on Cathay, this has to be the best airline breakfast I can remember. Singapore really hit a home run with this flight. Down to every little detail, like the signature chopsticks:

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The short flight passed very quickly, and soon we we in Singapore and ready for my 12 hour layover. More to come on that in the next post, but I was really curious to see if Singapore could keep this up for 12 hours in transit as well as the Suites class flight to Sydney.


Feb 242017
 

It was already late when we landed in Hong Kong, and by the time I took the airport express into the city and checked into my hotel – the W Hong Kong – I was still full enough from eating on the plane that I wasn’t really feeling dinner. Decided instead to go have a good walk around to stretch out the legs and grab a few drinks before checking in for the night.

The W had upgraded to me to a nice suite with ice cold air conditioning, but even with this the jetlag was catching up to me and I was up nice and early in the morning. I went to bed telling myself I wasn’t going to set an alarm just to get up and see the sunrise, but jetlag conspired to wake me up early anyways, so off I went.

I had seen on FlyerTalk from someone who did a similar trip to mine just a couple weeks before that sunrise on The Peak could be awesome, so I caught an Uber up to the top to see if I could see it. Unfortunately, my Uber got slightly lost, so by the time I found the path, the first signs of sunrise were already out. Still was a very dark walk for the first part down to the observation point.

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Sun just moments away from breaking the horizon, with a great view of Hong Kong Harbour.

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Sunrise over Hong Kong, framed by a small tree.

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It’s a beautiful day….

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The sunrise cast a nice glow over some of the skyscrapers.

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Pro tip from Google – ask your taxi/Uber to take you to the top of Lugard Road, and follow it to the observation point.

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Rather than head back the way I came, I decided to walk down from the Peak. I would regret this the next day, with extremely sore calves and glutes from all the downhill.

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Part of the “Morning Trail” down from the Peak.

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Fortunately, we were heading downhill, because I was really starting to feel it in my legs. Just about when I was realizing I wasn’t 21 any more, we passed the Fitness Corner for the Elderly. All these flavours Hong Kong and you had to choose to be salty?!

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Trail eventually ended at the University of Hong Kong, where I had a nice wander through the campus.

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Sun Yat Sen meditation pond.

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Seniors doing Tai Chi in the middle of campus.

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…and I found Starbucks. Perfect end to a nice hike, sitting outside in the cool weather enjoying some coffee.

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After this decided a bit more walking was in order, so walked for another hour or so all the way to the Star Ferry pier. I hadn’t taken the Star Ferry in years, so figured since I was out playing tourist I might as well make the most of it.

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After the ferry docked I ended up taking a short nap while the iDevices recharged, and then it was off for some lunch. I wanted to go back to the Island for lunch, and debated taking the train, but it was so nice out that I decided another ride on the Star Ferry was in order. Heading back to Tsim Sha Tsui:

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Grabbed lunch a fun little brewpub I like called The Roundhouse which serves amazing brisket, then, a bit of wandering the chaotic streets of Hong Kong:

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Taking the mid-levels elevators:

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Typical Hong Kong street scene:

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After a couple more hours of walking, it was back on the crammed rush hour subway to my hotel:

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Met up with a friend for dinner near the hotel before crashing relatively early. It had been a really early morning, and I had to be up very early again the next morning to catch my flight to Singapore. It had been a wonderfully active day, and I forgot how much I’ve missed visiting destinations where you can just spend the entire day walking around. You can’t really do that in Afghanistan, Congo, etc…

Next up, Singapore First Class to Australia!


Feb 212017
 

Got to the check-in area, and the agents refused to let me stand at the counter while they checked me in. So I had to go have a seat, have some water, and wait while they do the check-in formalities. Bottled water, with a straw, on a tray, for the two minutes it takes to check you in for your flight.

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View of the check-in desk….with purple parasols in case the non-existent indoor rain or sun get to the agents…

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After being checked in, I was introduced to my personal porter. He insisted on wheeling my bags to the security counter, and from security to immigration. While completely unnecessary, it does make you feel like an ultra VIP.

Post-immigration it was to the escalator to the lounge….where he leaned over the side and said something I assumed translated as “get the buggy ready, Mr. Jason is coming!”

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My buggy to the lounge. Why a buggy if we were already in the lounge? Well, that’s because they drive you the entire length of the business class lounge so that everyone in there can see just how important you are…then out the door on the far side of the lounge, down the hall, and to the first class lounge!

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My lounge experience today, however, felt a bit off. After being checked in I was basically pointed into the lounge and that was it. No offer to take my drink order, no offer of spa services, anything. I finally found a lounge attendant, whose English skills were a bit of a struggle, and was able to confirm I would like a massage.

Eventually, it was all sorted, and there was no wait for a massage today, so a spa representative came and got me and escorted me to the lounge. They suggested I leave my bags right where they were (in the lounge? all alone?) and I agreed…figuring anyone who could be in the first class lounge wasn’t likely to steal from me.

Massage therapist was great, except for the fact she tried to hand me size medium pajamas for the massage. She insisted that was the only size they had, so who was I to question. I did manage to get them on despite being 6’4, and that’s when she realized how ridiculous I looked like a giant thai sausage. She did manage to then find a size large, which while still small was quite a bit better.

I went for the Thai massage over the oil massage, and I have to say it was quite a treat getting a full hour long massage in the lounge. She asked several times about the pressure, and although it was one of the more painful massages I’ve ever had it was amazingly therapeutic. She found some seriously nasty knots in my back and calves, and went to town stretching and working them out. It was amazing. Although it feels a bit awkward tipping on a complementary massage, as hard as she went to down she really put a lot of work into it, so I definitely felt like I should reward her with my remaining Baht.

When I got back to my little room in the Thai lounge, I was a bit hungry, so asked for some spicy pad thai and champagne. Seriously delicious.

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Unfortunately no mango and sticky rice today, but some Thai sweets were suggested instead. They were SUPER sweet.

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After eating I was told it was time to head for the plane, and I thought I would be getting another buggy ride or something. No, just an agent to walk me to the next gate while wheeling my bag for me.

Thai tries super hard with their ground service, but unless you’re the type who likes being fawned over and not having to lift a finger I feel it comes across as a bit awkward. It’s all very well-meaning, but a bit over the top. I feel like investing a bit in communication skills and understanding how to meet guest expectations would go a long way.

That said, I can’t imagine that would be easy. These are not highly-skilled workers in a knowledge economy, Thailand is still a developing country in many aspects, and I’m certain many of the lounge employees cannot fathom the world many of their customers live in with frequent international travel. No fault of the employees at all, who are all fantastic and friendly, merely an observation of what might take it to the next level.

Thai flight 606
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Thailand (BKK) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Depart 16:00, Arrive 19:45 next day, Flight Time: 2:45
Boeing 747-400, Registration HS-TGY, Manufactured 1998, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 10,824
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,375,225

Warm welcome onboard, and a very quick offer of champagne. No mention of the brand this time, but pouring “the good stuff’ on the ground is great. I’m always puzzled by airlines too cheap to pay a few dollars of duty who pour much cheaper stuff on the ground.

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Macadamia nuts. Yum.

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Started with the same salad as the previous flight…which I didn’t mind a bit as it was once again seriously delicious.

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I let the awkward skewered prawn alone.

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“Chinese Fish Maw Soup” – it was more mushrooms than anything, and I thought a bit flavourless. Points for originality though!

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Absolutely phenomenal “braised beef shank in green curry” – although it could have used a bit more chili. Also, I don’t know what was with the roti instead of rice. Odd.

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Terrible cheese plate. Felt like the $1.99 special from WalMart.

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More super-sweet Thai deserts. I had a tiny taste of each, but wasn’t a fan. But, offered gold leaf for the second time today, I had to make sure to eat it…

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Overall, a solid product and flight. Thai is definitely a notch up from United and American, but they just lack the polish to complete with the world’s best. The flight attendants and ground service are great, but it’s the little things that are just missing. I don’t think it would take all that much for Thai to truly become world class, but it would require executives with vision who understand their customers. They don’t have to settle for “cheap luxury” – they could be truly world class if they want!

Next up, time for two nights in Hong Kong.


Feb 142017
 

After a refreshing shower, I still had about 90 minutes to enjoy the ANA Suites Lounge. Not one of the more impressive first class lounges for Star Alliance, it was still pretty empty when I arrived. It did, however, fill up quite a bit over the next hour. Before it got busy, I took a chance to have some tasty Japanese snacks and plum wine.

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Not much more to say. I actually liked it when it got a bit busier, because the lounge attendants hovered less…and they actually let me pour my own water/drinks. It’s nice having helpful people around, but at ths same time I really don’t like being waited on hand and foot and feeling like I have “staff.”

Thai flight 677
Tokyo, Narita (NRT) to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Thailand (BKK)
Depart 17:30, Arrive 22:30 next day, Flight Time: 7:00
Airbus A380, Registration HS-TUD, Manufactured 2012, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 9,775
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,374,176

Boarding was a little late, and was the “usual” cast of characters. Three large western guys and their Thai “companions,” a Thai pop star (according to the flight attendant) and then there was me. While the hard product isn’t really world-class, it’s much better than what any US airline offers.

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“Can I get you some Dom Perignon?” Very first-world nit-picking, but while other airlines are more subtle, our flight attendant quite emphatically stressed the brand. As if he was trying to impress people. This perhaps goes back to my impression that Thai has some things in common with US airlines, including that lack of finesse in service. I suspect a much larger percentage of their premium cabin passengers are upgrades/awards.

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Thailand is still in mourning for the king, and after the safety video a brief video celebrating his life was played.

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Post-takeoff, more champagne quickly appeared.

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Very strange amuse-bouche. A curry puff and very fatty chicken yakatori.

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Delicious thai salad.

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Very nicely set table.

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Chilled seafood starter. Normally I avoid seafood and mayo on planes, but decided to go for it this time. I regretted it within 12 hours…

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Chestnut soup with duck liver mousse. A bit unusual, but quite tasty.

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The pork curry. Super tasty – definitely the highlight of the meal.

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Rather sad fruit and cheese course. Nowhere near expectations.

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Rum savarin with orange sauce, and a glass of Johnny Walker Blue. It was a bit on the sweet side for me, but definitely good.

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Unfortunately after dinner I passed out for two to three more hours, putting a dent in my plans to stay awake so I could get on a normal sleep schedule once I got to Bangkok. Oh well! The crew was largely absent after I woke up, but after using the call button they did show up with tea and water. They were perfecly friendly and helpful, but there was nothing proactive about the service. Nothing bad, just nothing outstanding.

I had an 18 hour overnight thanks to the award, so decided to stay at the W Bangkok. I’ve had very mixed experiences here before, but decided I would give it one more try. They proactively upgraded me the day before to a “Marvelous Suite” which was the largest suite I’ve gotten here. I think I actually prefer the junior suites I’ve had before, but on the upside the air conditioning was freezing in the room I got.

Six solid hours of sleep, and it was off to enjoy what I think is one of the best hotel breakfasts in the world – especially for the price! Sure some five star/$500 hotels might do a notch better, but for the price point this property’s breakfast can’t be beat! I wasn’t super hungry, but started with some super fresh fruit, salmon, and duck.

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After breakfast I went for a walk to walk off the jetlag. First, the view from the hotel:

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Stopped by the Siam Paragon Mall to walk around in air conditioned luxury, and then headed down the street to satisfy my craving for some Hokey Pokey ice cream. You can’t really find it in the US, so wanted to use this opportunity to make sure to get some…even if it was 10am!

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Very unusual sculptures in the mall.

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Walked by the in-mall ice rink, but no time for skating this morning.

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Back to the W, and decided to use my free drink coupons. Sure, it was only noon, but couldn’t use them the night before due to it being what the front desk guy called “some kind of respect the buddha holiday” causing a ban on alcohol sales. Decided to try the W’s signature cocktail, which was super sweet and came with 24 karat gold leaf.

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With that, it was time to call an Uber and got a fabulous ladyboy driver wearing a Hello Kitty shirt and giant silver bow in her hair. When we got to the airport, I asked to take a picture with her, and she suddenly got really nervous and wouldn’t do it. Awe!

Time to check in, and off to Hong Kong I go!