Sep 222019
 


With three nights and two full days in Sydney, I didn’t feel too guilty sleeping in a bit and taking some time to relax. I had pretty much been nonstop go-go-go since leaving home, and despite wanting to get out and enjoy Sydney I also wanted to do some relaxing this trip.

Finally up and going, a look out the window; it’s pretty miserable when you have views like this from your hotel room. Almost makes you not want to leave…

Finally though, seeing the ferries coming and going, I decided that I wanted to get out and enjoy the time I had. One of my favourite things to do is a relatively short hike from Coogee to Bondi Beach, and it takes 2-4 hours depending on your pace, so off I went. I’ll tell the story in pictures, since I’ve posted about it before.

At the end of the hike, I rewarded myself with a late lunch at Bondi Trattoria. Barely seared tuna pasta with chili oil was out of this world, and I absolutely devoured it.

Back in Sydney later in the day, I ran into one of the more terrifyingly-named businesses I’ve come across in a long time. One is bad enough, we don’t need an “alto ego!”

The next day was also gorgeous, so decided on another hike, but this one a bit longer, the Spit Bridge to Manly Beach hike. Again, I’ll tell the story in pictures.

I was pretty inspired on this one, and focused on trying to see what my (relatively) new iPhone XS was capable of. I admit I know pretty much nothing about photography, so if you want to comment with tips I’m happy to hear them!

Bit chilly after the hike due to a stiff breeze, so of course, had to have a flat white to warm up. I love how commonplace good coffee is in Australia!

As the sun set on the ferry back from Manly Beach, the wind whipped up and it was a freezing ferry ride back to Circular Quay. Lots of great shots tonight!

As much as I liked those pics. we did even better!

So, that’s about it. I spent two days pretty much just relaxing and walking around enjoying the gorgeous weather and seeing the sights. I realize that I actually enjoy travel most when temps are 60-75F or about 15-20C, and I’ve been planning my trips more around the weather so I can enjoy hiking.

A great time in Sydney down, it was time to enjoy a little AvGeeking next…with Thai Airways First Class!


Sep 142019
 


After getting to my hotel it was still relatively early, so I figured I had a bit of time to head out and get some drinks with friends. Couple of pints and a relatively early night, and I was hoping that I would finally be more or less adjusted to the time zone. Tried to make sense of cricket at the pub, but it still completely mystifies me.

Woke up, found a decent-looking place I forgot the name of that made a pretty respectable french-press coffee, and I was caffeinated and ready to make the most of my full day in Melbourne!

Friend picked me up in the (wrong side of the) car, and off we went to the Yarra Valley for a day of exploring outside Melbourne. One thing I think I never make enough time for is getting out of large cities when I travel, and it seems to be where I always have the best time so I was looking forward to this mini adventure!

First stop was the Yarra Valley Dairy which served up an amazing and huge platter of fresh farmhouse cheeses. I can’t believe I neglected to take a picture of all the cheese, but possibly that’s because we were so busy devouring it.

I did, however, remember to take a picture of the amazing cow at the entrance to the tasting room:

After stuffing ourselves with cheese (and of course a couple more delicious flat whites) it was down the road a bit to go to the Chandon Winery. For those of you who don’t know (like me) Chandon is indeed related to Moët and Chandon, and was born when they decided to try and produce some sparkling wines outside of France. The Chandon Winery is the result.

It was truly a gorgeous day to be out in the vineyard (although a bit chilly and windy) but was nice to walk near the vines before headed to the main event…the wines!

Decided the most proper way to explore all they had to offer was the tasting tray…and I swear I didn’t do this just because it made an amazing picture!

Super tasty wines, and even better company. It’s always great when travel allows the opportunity to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a very long time, and honestly that was much more fun than any sparkling wine or cheese…and if you know how much I love sparkling wine and cheese that’s like the biggest compliment possible!

Back to Melbourne, walked around a bit, and I was starting to get a bit sleepy, so what better than another flat white…and a delicious mango and lemon tart. A bit more on the posh side than it needed to be, but absolutely delicious nonetheless!

Fuelled by caffeine and sugar, it was off to stroll randomly around Melbourne a bit more, and ended up outside a theater where some Harry Potter nonsense or another was just ending and it seemed half the city was outside taking pictures of some things I had no idea why I should be interested. So, I just took a picture of all them taking pictures instead.

More walking, random palm trees, seemed very out of place on this evening that was becoming rather cool and windy.

Ended up at some place that a colleague wanted to go where we literally ate squid, drank beer, and were entertained by aged hipsters. It was a rather strange environment, but also one of those cool and unique experiences you would only have when traveling!

Off to bed, more catching up on sleep….and after a good long rest it was time to get up and randomly stroll around trying to find somewhere intriguing to find a good coffee.

This random sculpture on the street was far too terrifying before I’d had a proper caffeine fix:

Caught the tram to the train station (cool fact about Melbourne: trams in the City Centre are completely free!) and then the bus to the airport which was rather convenient. In no time at all I was at the terminal and through security, and ready to enjoy one final Qantas lounge.

It was just about lunch time, and I was rather hungry, and the Qantas buffet definitely didn’t disappoint. Can you imagine a selection like this in the US, on a domestic flight, solely by virtue of purchasing a business class ticket? Oh, that’s right, in the US you’d get no lounge at all!

Qantas, however, had a make your own toastie machine, proper sparkling wine, and delicious pickled veggies and lemon bars. Grilled cheese? Beetroot? Sparkling wine? AND lemon bars? I was honestly in heaven…

Off to the gate, where we were a little behind schedule in boarding. Our incoming aircraft was late from Tasmania due to some weather nonsense or another, but soon enough we were aboard our 737 for the rather short hop up to Sydney.

Qantas flight 440
Melbourne, Australia (MEL) to Sydney, Australia (SYD)
Depart 14:30, Arrive: 15:55, flight time: 1:25
Boeing 737-800, Registration VH-VYH, Manufactured 2005, Seat 02D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 63,187
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,755,775

Super impressive three choices of meal on a flight that was barely an hour long, however, despite being in the second row there was only one choice when they got to me which was a “vegetable lasagna.” It wasn’t all that impressive, except it was a hot meal with great bread on a one hour flight! That alone was impressive!

Despite the late start we got to Sydney right on time, and it was time to catch the train back to the Marriott again and enjoy the first of several nights in Sydney.


Sep 122019
 


Since my last visit a couple years back, a new Bonvoy hotel option had opened in Perth, and I liked the location a bit better than the Four Points, so I opted to give the Westin a try. I’m usually a fan of Westin’s clean aesthetic (and a sucker for the white tea scent they blast throughout the property) and along with Renaissance and AC they tend to be my preferred Bonvoy brands.

This property was no exception, and I had an upgrade to what I believe was called a junior suite, but regardless it was pretty spacious with a nice sitting area as well.

After a long walk to stretch my legs I stopped by the room to clean up a bit, and enjoy the gorgeous nighttime view from the room. This will do, this will definitely do!

Some small snacks in the lounge which was nice and had a pretty reasonable spread (but as is usual at international Bonvoy properties the lounge was packed with American business travellers and their families…and yes I realize this is the pottle calling the kettle black, but hey, at least it was just me…) so I enjoyed a glass of wine before heading out for an evening walk.

You know you’re in Australia when you walk by the Kangaroo Inn….

Found a good, happening pub with several local craft beers on tap, but with all the time changing I didn’t last long and it was off to the Westin for a good night of sleep to try and catch up after all the travel from Tunisia.

…of course, what did I wake up to? Yup, my evening flight from Perth to Melbourne was canceled, and I was supposed to “call Qantas to rebook.” I can’t do that without caffeine, so off I went to find breakfast at a quirky little coffeeshop I’d found on the previous trip.

La Veen Coffee serves not just amazing coffee (I am a huge fan of their rocket fuel cold brew) but also delicious brekkie: (I mean come on, when you’re in ‘Straya you can’t really call it breakfast can you?)

While enjoying a delicious eggs benedict with bacon and fresh spinach on homemade sourdough (and a couple of delicious cold brews) I did a bunch of searching, and it turns out supposedly Qantas has a text messaging service where they will answer customer service problems.

I decided to text them despite my 50 cent/text roaming fee, and see if I could accomplish this for just a couple dollars. Based on looking online it seemed there was a flight a few hours earlier which had not been available on points when I booked, and a bit more sleuthing revealed why. It only had two seats left, and was the continuation of the “world’s longest flight” from London to Perth which continues to Melbourne.

I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask since there were two seats left, and my flight had been cancelled. It took them about 45 minutes to answer my text, but after they did the back and forth took only another 15 minutes or so, and about six texts later I was confirmed on the Dreamliner. Cool!

Unfortunately, this meant my nearly full day in Perth would be reduced to a morning, so fortunately I’d had a couple of very powerful coffees to power me through it. Right, off we go!

First stop was a wander down to the river, where an ice skating rink had been set up! It was chilly (maybe 10C?) or so outside, but not cold enough for this. The condition of the ice definitely showed it…plus $24 to go skating? Yikes!

That’s so punny of them….ig-loos…get it?

I totally wanted a picture as the kangaroo or snowman, but unfortunately (or fortunately) maybe, there was nobody around to assist me.

Scenic stroll along the river…it was slightly overcast, but a great day for pictures.

This reminded me of the Dragon Blood Tree from Socotra Island Yemen, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the same.

Beware of giant, bronze statues of Skippy!

After walking for almost two hours it was back to the hotel for a quick shower and freshen up before heading to the airport to check in for my flight to Melbourne. I would have cut it a bit closer, but unfortunately the Qantas app wouldn’t let me check in online.

When I got to the airport, I found out why. Because this is the continuation of an international flight, all domestic passengers have to go through special procedures since passengers continuing from London to Melbourne don’t clear customs until Melbourne! I got the appropriate sticker on my boarding pass, and headed up to security and the lounge.

As usual, despite being a domestic lounge the Qantas lounge was fantastic, and had nice fresh pizza and good Aussie shiraz to enjoy while I waited. For some reason, we’d been warned to leave the lounge an hour before boarding to head to the gate. Uh, ok?

Soon it became clear why: we had to go through security again and clear immigration to “leave” Australia despite not “leaving” Australia. Spoke to the immigration officer, he saw the sticker on my boarding pass, gave it some official stamp that said “domestic passenger” and off to the gate it was. We didn’t actually clear immigration (aka they didn’t “check us out” of Australia) but we had to be cleared to go on an “international” flight as domestic passengers. Confused yet?

The gate area was quite small, and was filled with the passengers continuing from London, and there was a really nice outdoor area next to the gate where you could wait to board:

Boarding was pretty quick, and while business was completely full, economy class seemed to be nearly empty. Maybe there’s a lot of economy traffic to Perth, but business class folk tend to continue to Melbourne? Who knows.

Qantas flight 10
Perth, Australia (PER) to Melbourne, Australia (MEL)
Depart 13:25, Arrive: 18:55, flight time: 3:30
Boeing 787-9, Registration VH-ZNC, Manufactured 2018, Seat 03K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 62,748
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,755,336

Upon boarding the seat was similar to the seat on the A330, but I’d managed not only to get one of the last seats, not only to get a window seat, but also to get the kind next to the window instead of next to the aisle. Score!

What’s not to like about a printed menu for a barely three hour flight?!

Plus pre-departure champagne…real champagne since it was still an “international” flight, but unfortunately the cabin was quite steamy and warm according to the temp sensor cube….

Sourdough bread, artisan/craft butter, and a nice salad to start with more champagne. Jacquart Mosaique was the bubbles on offer for this short flight. Not sure if it’s the same for the longhaul segment.

Poached egg, bacon, and spinach on sourdough. No hollandaise sauce, so you can’t claim I had eggs benedict twice in one day! I decided I’d stay with the champagne as long as I was on the brunch theme.

…and a cheese course. Perfectly lovely. I should have switched to red wine maybe, but hey… Maggie Beer ice cream again, today was burnt fig, honeycomb, and caramel – I think it’s their tastiest flavour.

Sun setting on approach to Melbourne. I love how the orange bounces off the engine and wingtip!

Landed right on time, and being a few hours earlier than expected I figured if I hurried I might have time to still go out and get a bite to eat. Making lemonade from lemons, I might have lost my lunch in Perth, but I’d be gaining dinner in Melbourne!

Unexpectedly, we landed and everyone was sent to immigration – including domestic passengers. Had to show passport and boarding pass with the stamp, and still got questioned as if we were entering Australia…a bit strange. This was definitely a unique experience!

Fortunately, didn’t take more than a few minutes and I was off to my hotel by Uber and ready to enjoy Melbourne!


Sep 122019
 


So, I’m very aware I’m a bit overdue with a post. Sometimes, work and life get in the way, and there are priorities to regaling folks with tales from magical places and magical flying machines.

Other things that get in the way? Waking up the day before your birthday, looking at award availability not really intending to go anywhere, and eight hours later you’re sitting in Lufthansa First Class headed around the world. Totally normal. I know all y’all have done it. Almost took four days too….so, that’s where some of the time has gone. Anyways, back to writing!

Landed in Sydney at 0h-dark-thirty, had no queue at immigration and the train to the hotel was super quick, and soon I was in the lobby of the Marriott begging for a room at something like 6am. This was a new property to me, having stayed for years at the old Four Points Darling Harbour, then at the Westin, and now with Bonvoy…trying something new.

Not only did they allow me a 6am check-in, I was upgraded to a nice bridge-view room. Got to the room, quick shower, napped for about three hours, and woke up to this. They’re not kidding – what a view:

After a slow start the first thing on my mind was coffee, so I set out to find that…with no real plan for the day. After coffee, I found my way to the Manly Ferry, and got an even more close-up look at the bridge on this cool late morning:

Bit of a walk around Manly and I was getting a little hungry, so stopped for some salt and pepper squid and a beer at Four Pines Brewing:

Wandered a bit, and the single beer had made me sleepy, so I stopped for what I was sure would be the first of many, many proper flat whites over the coming days:

After a couple of hours walking along the coast I eventually caught the ferry back to Circular Quay, and ended up lazing around for an hour before walking out to dinner.

I’m not sure if everyone else is the same, but when I go back to a place I tend to spend most of the first day visiting places I’d been before that I really enjoyed and missed. This time, it was dinner at the Australian Heritage Hotel for some crocodile, emu, and kangaroo pizza:

Fairly early night after the pizza since despite the nap I was definitely feeling the impact of two straight “nights” spent trying to sleep on planes, and I was out cold for a good long time.

Woke up relatively early the next morning, headed out to get some coffee, and on the way realized that someone is trying to Make Australia Great. Seems a rather sad situation, since at least America has been great before and we’re trying to make it great again! *wink*

After a nice relaxing coffee it was time to pack up and head back to the airport. It was time for my whirlwind tour of Australia to begin!

Quick stop in the Qantas lounge in the domestic terminal which was nice, but really nothing special, then off to the gate to board my widebody with proper business class to Perth.

Qantas flight 577
Sydney, Australia (SYD) to Perth, Australia (PER)
Depart 12:20, Arrive: 15:25, flight time: 5:05
Airbus A330-200, Registration VH-EBA, Manufactured 2002, Seat 07K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 61,017
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,753,655

Can you imagine if US airlines had seats like this on domestic flights frequently? I was surprised when I booked a month out that the last row was the only window seat left on this flight (indicating that a good number of folks book domestic business class way out) but despite a seat next to the aisle instead of next to the window, it was a treat for a relatively long domestic flight:

Wow, even a proper menu! I had heard Qantas had been slipping, but there was no sign of that yet:

Plus, a footwell even in the last row with plenty of space for the feet…despite the seat being a little bit beat up.

Delicious roasted almonds to start. Everyone seems to get excited by the “warm nuts” on US airlines, but I often find them kind of mushy, as if they’ve been severely overheated. These? Nice crunch to them and just a little bit of salt.

Soup and salad to start…with artisan butter…and super tasty fresh bread…not like the poor excuse for bread we often get in the US. Stop me now, before I go on a rant about the quality and “realness” of food in the US compared to Australia, Canada, etc….

Presentation sure wasn’t beautiful, but the chicken tagine was really flavorful and a great meal: (yes, with a big more of the good Australian shiraz, of course):

Wait what, a proper cheese course? By this point in the US you usually get a cookie if lucky, and if luckier it’s “freshly-baked” and not pre-packaged. (Though I do love me some Dancing Deer Cookies…are you listening Delta?)

Everyone knows I love a good cheese plate, and while small it was perfectly appropriate for a domestic flight, especially with dates:

…oh yeah, and there was delicious chocolate and salted caramel Maggie Beer ice cream as well. I was in Heaven.

All in all, it was an amazing domestic flight, probably one of the better ones I can remember ever taking, and I arrived in Perth feeling relaxed and rested despite the rather terrible jetlag I was surely dealing with. The sunny and cool day probably didn’t hurt, but I was wide awake and feeling great!

Used Uber to get to my hotel which was a piece of cake at the relatively quiet Perth airport, and soon I was ready to head out on a walk and enjoy the late afternoon in Perth. But first….time to end this post and move on to the next.


Sep 022019
 


So, right, off the plane in Singapore after back to back flights and straight for a walk around the airport. Singapore is cool because T1, T2, and T3 are all connected, but if you have a long way to go and don’t feel like walking you can take the train between terminals.

After back to back flights I definitely needed the walk, so walked for about 45 minutes around the terminals to stretch my legs before heading to the lounge. Fortunately, I had done my research online before visiting, and knew that there was no dedicated first class lounge in Singapore for Qantas. It will be opening later this year, but for now I would have to share with the masses in business class. Oh the horrors!

Now, that said, if you have to spend time in a business class lounge, a Qantas lounge is an excellent place to do it. I was feeling the need for a brief detox at this point after two flights of back to back champagne-fuelled nonsense, so went with the coke light along with a little bit of curry and some dragonfruit.

After a quick snack, I felt like I should walk a bit more, so went out for another 30 minute or so stroll around the terminal before coming back for a shower. Fortunately, the Qantas showers were a much more reasonable temperature than the horrendous Emirates ones, and I actually would be heading to my Qantas flight feeling a bit fresher.

…which was definitely a good thing, because I think my Qantas flight was boarding from Malaysia the walk to the gate was so far! Oh well, it was good to get more of a stretch in before boarding!

Qantas flight 2
Singapore (SIN) to Sydney, Australia (SYD)
Depart 19:30, Arrive: 05:10 next day, flight time: 7:40
Airbus A380-800, Registration VH-OQK, Manufactured 2011, Seat 03A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 59,026
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,751,614

The signs in the boarding area weren’t clear, and I hadn’t researched, so I followed the jetbridge to the upper deck…only to discover the saddest first class seats I’d ever seen in the front of the plane. Fortunately, it was just a momentary confusion and I was able to trudge back downstairs where I found a seat much more to my liking!

This definitely takes the cake as the most unique first class seat I’ve ever been on. Faces forward for takeoff and landing, but then you can swivel the chair about 45 degrees to the light so it lines up with the monitor and foot rest. Definitely unusual, but I really enjoyed the spaciousness of it!

Nothing says welcome aboard quite like a glass of Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 2004. This is actually one of my favourite champagnes, and I know I’ve said it before but it’s always nice to see airlines taking a “risk” in first class and deviating from the common offerings of Dom Perignon or Krug.

After takeoff, I must feign confusion. I remember the amuse bouche of a caviar tart…but I have no idea what this glass of what appears to be white wine is. Maybe it’s the angle of the pic, but I’m certain I would have been enjoying champagne at this point!

So what’s to eat? That’s a good question, because I also don’t have a picture of the menu! I know I was exhausted on this flight, but it’s very not like me to forget to take so many pictures. At least you can see what’s to drink!

Note that despite serving the Sir Winston during departure, they actually had Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame during the flight. That much I remembered and actually added in my trip notes!

Probably one of the largest tables I’ve ever seen, even in first class! I do remember switching to the rather nice syrah for the main event.

Delicious appetizer, if I remember right it was a thai style spicy shredded chicken salad.

After all the eating the past few days I decided to go with the lighter fish option, which was absolutely outstanding. I’ve been ordering fish a lot more lately on flights, and so far have had mostly excellent luck with it!

Of course, I couldn’t skip the cheese. It pales in comparison to Emirates’ or Lufthansa’s offerings, but was a reasonably solid showing.

The desert, however, was a lemon tart that was out of this world. If I wasn’t so stuffed from all the flights I might have shamelessly asked if there were more, but my waistline thanks me. Plus, despite all the time zone confusion I was feeling pretty tired so decided to chance a bit of sleep.

I must have been exhausted, because I had absolutely no trouble passing out for a solid four hour nap. At this point, after two consecutive redeyes, my body had no idea what time it was anyways, so I was definitely in “nap when you can” mode.

Woke up with just enough time for a light breakfast, and enjoyed some muesli and a tasty cinnamon roll. Before anyone judges me, yes, that’s Coke Light and not red wine with breakfast. Unfortunately, the strawberries with the fruit were seriously underripe, but other than that it was the perfect light breakfast right before landing.

…and just like that it was 5am, and we were arriving into Sydney. Fortunately no queues at immigration at this hour, and had no trouble catching an airport express train straight to my hotel.

The stop was just about a three minute walk from the hotel, and despite showing up at 6am they were ready for me, and let me check in super early. Another solid four hour nap, and around 11am I was ready to head out and make the most of my day in Sydney!


Sep 012019
 


Eventually found my way to the A gates, and from there to the elevator up to the First Class Lounge/Floor. I say floor, because the A terminal is one long pier, with the entire second floor being business class lounge, and the top floor being first class. Given that first class on most planes is 20% the size of business class or less, you can imagine just how spacious it is!

I really needed a shower at this point, despite having read multiple times online that you’re almost better off skipping it due to the heat and humidity in the shower rooms due to lack of good ventilation. Well, out came my temperature cube while I took an ice cold shower. At the end it was reading 81.4F in the room with 77% humidity….and that was 10 minutes post-shower. Yeah.

Went to have a nibble to eat (not so much because I was hungry, but because who can pass that up?) and was still warm…and getting a little sweaty. Ugh! Probably the most extensive made-to-order lounge dining menu anywhere in the world:

I love a good poke bowl, although I was really reluctant to risk raw fish in an airport. Oh well, if a first class lounge can’t get it right who can! In fairness, it was super tasty!

If they’re going to go through the trouble of having a signature sandwich (the Emirates Sandwich) I had to give it a try. The sweet potato fries were actually really good, and the sandwich was pretty meh. Only ate a little of it for the novelty factor…and to have something to soak up the champagne. I’d heard the catering on the next overnight segment would be sparse (and being honest, I was getting really tired so hoped to sleep a fair amount).

So, how about a quick tour of the lounge? When I said it was enourmous, I wasn’t kidding. The “features” like the restaurant, showers, etc were in the middle, and down the sides by the gates (yes, there are gates and if you leave from the A Terminal you get to board directly from the lounge) there are nooks with chairs and such.

I had time, and the bar area was calling, so I decided to have some bubbles. It was also the most populated and social area of the lounge, so it looked inviting. Sometimes privacy is nice, but this lounge was so huge it was almost too much. Lovely bartender from Kenya, who instantly became my best friend when I wished “asante” after getting the champagne. Refills were very quick to arrive…

Sadly, at a fairly late moment, my A380 got moved to the B gates (I thought A was supposed to be the A380 terminal and nearly all A380 flights leave from there? Boo hiss!) but it wasn’t too bad, so took the underground people mover over just as boarding was starting.

Emirates flight 354
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (DXB) to Singapore (SIN)
Depart 03:05, Arrive: 15:00, flight time: 7:55
Airbus A380, Registration A6-EDV, Manufactured 2012, Seat 03K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 55,118
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,747,706

I really wasn’t looking forward to a 3am flight, but given I was going from Tunisia to Australia I’d be crossing so many time zones I’m not sure my body would know where it was anyways. Plus, I’d take a flight in this seat any day of the week! …even at 3am!

Not sure if it’s a known fact, but I’m convinced that Emirates caters their wine lists by destination, with “cheap destinations” like Tunis catered with nice stuff like Dom Perignon, but not ridiculously nice stuff like 2006 Dom Perignon Rosé – was nice to have something a little less common!

Shower orders were taken right before takeoff, and I was informed that I only had one choice of time left – 3 hours before landing. There was a large family of eight in the cabin, and apparently they’d reserved the eight closest slots to landing. Ugh. I told the flight attendant I’d take it if awake, but please don’t wake me up three hours before landing just to shower.

More interesting than a shower, the food and beverage list. Confirmation it would only be light snacks on this flight. Probably good, more incentive to sleep!

Crew was fantastic, and right after takeoff I asked for more rosé, and he said he’d just located a second bottle despite telling many other passengers they were out….so I’m guessing this was to make up for the shower disappointment. The FA serving my section was from Belarus, and when he found out I spoke (pretty awful) Russian we became even better friends…

Decided to snack on the nasi goreng which was actually delicious, and have some of the Château la Mission Haut-Brion 2004 which is an excellent bottle that’s quite hard to find. Generally receives ratings of 98-100 from many of the large wine raters lately, and was shocked when asked “maybe you’d like it decanted into a carafe?” Are you kidding me? Forget the shower, this is onboard living!

I’m not certain if the carafe was refilled or not…maybe it was…the wine was definitely delicious…so I’m guessing it was. Passed out for several hours…and must have tossed and turned a bit because I remember being gently asked if I wanted the shower or not…and saying no and falling right back asleep. So long that I actually missed any pre-landing food. I would have said breakfast, but when you land at 3pm it’s hard to think of it as breakfast.

So, yeah, it was honestly a super rough schedule on the body, and when we landed it was 3pm and I was staring yet another redeye in the face. I was starting to feel a bit out of it and not great again just like I had in Tunis, so decided the best strategy instead of going to the lounge in Singapore would be to walk around the terminals…all three of them…and then go to the lounge for a cold shower.

Turned out to be a good call, because after a stroll I was starting to feel more human. (Yes, I’m sure two long flights of good eating and drinking had nothing to do with this…) I’m getting ahead of myself, however…


Aug 302019
 


Woke up reasonably early, and headed up to the Sheraton lounge for breakfast, although I didn’t have high expectations based on the previous night. The espresso machine worked well, there was reasonably fresh orange juice, hard boiled eggs, and most importantly nice and warm pain au chocolate, so overall it was a success!

On the way up to breakfast, however, I made sure to stop by the concierge desk and order a taxi for an hour later so I could make the most of my time and head to the Bardo Museum.

Taxi showed up right on time, we negotiated a price by the hour so he could wait for me, and we were off.

Got to the museum, and there was an extremely ominous sign on the front: apologies, due to some sort of construction work, there was no air conditioning in the entire museum. That might have been nice, but it was 90F and climbing and it was sweltering hot inside.

The museum has an amazing collection of mosaic tiles, and it’s really sad the facilities that are housing them. These are an international treasure, and it was hard to think they’re not being damaged by the harsh elements. That said, they did survive hundreds of years under the desert, so maybe not?

I managed about 90 minutes in the heat, and got to see a fair amount of the museum – there’s only so many mosaics you can be interested in if you’re not some sort of art historian! Perhaps most interesting is the second picture below, that shows where a bullet hit a glass case when the museum was overrun by ISIL terrorists a few years back killing two dozen tourists.

Driver was waiting for me and back to the Sheraton for a quick shower and to cool down after the hot museum, and soon it was off to the airport. I had agreed to take the hotel shuttle since it beat trying to get another taxi, and soon I was there and checking in.

No problems at all with my slightly unusual itinerary, and immigration and security were both remarkably efficient. Soon I was in the departures area, free to roam the duty free shops and explore the lounges.

Not often you see two flights to Libya on the departures board!

Another mosaic outside the TunisAir lounge…I’d seen enough for the day, and headed inside.

Honestly, the lounge was a really pleasant surprise. During my previous visit, I remember it being super unremarkable with broken air conditioning, but today there was plenty of space to sit and it was nice and cool. I wouldn’t go early for the lounge, but it was definitely a comfortable place to wait!

Knowing there would be a feast waiting on Emirates I only had a small snack to tide me over, and a but of Coke Zero. There was quite a buffet spread, but none of it really looked all that good…

Walk to the gate was relatively short, and with no additional security or anything it was relatively straight forward.

Of course, everybody in the gate area was mobbing the door thinking they needed to be first on board, and the gate staff did a terrible job of anything resembling priority boarding, so I proactively went up to the counter and asked if first class could please board first…so the agent shouted out “ok, we’ll board first class now” and that’s where things got interesting.

A rather angry woman in an abaya and her young (I assume) daughter of about 10yo mobbed the door and were shooed away, told they were in economy and would have to wait. Lots of yelling in Arabic ensued along with arm waving…and when I say yelling, top of her voice yelling to the point airport security and several guys in suits came over. I have no idea what it was about, but at one point in english she yelled “I NEVER SIT IN ECONOMY!” No clue how, but she ended up in first in the end…with the kid… (fortunately both slept the entire flight)

Emirates flight 748
Tunis, Tunisia (TUN) to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (DXB)
Depart 14:05, Arrive: 23:10, flight time: 6:05
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration A6-EBW, Manufactured 2006, Seat 01K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 51,485
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,744,073

Although it wasn’t my first time in Emirates First, I was still giddy about the whole thing, seat and all! The over-the-top bling definitely isn’t my thing, but hey, you can’t argue it’s an amazing seat!

Bit of welcome aboard Dom Perignon? Don’t mind if I do!

Warm cashews and almonds were served on the ground, and then after takeoff the crew suggested maybe I’d like some savoury Japanese crackers with another glass of champagne. Who could say no to that?!

Since the second flight would be a redeye to Singapore I decided to max out the dining this flight and enjoy the entire experience. First up was a starter combo of buffalo mozzarella with pea cream and smoked olive oil, salmon with panko herb crumble, and bresaola with feta and cinnamon poached pear. YUM! (Yes, I’m talking about the appetizers…)

Moving on from the starters…as distinct from the appetizers…next up was smoked fois gras with chicken and mushroom terrine and asparagus. More yum!

The main event was Bzar Lamb with emirati spices with aromatic rice, fried onions, and pistachios. This was absolutely amazing and the lamb was so juicy and tender. I could have eaten two… Delicious with a glass of Château Lynch-Moussas 2008 Pauillac.

So, anyone whose read my blog before knows I like cheese, and that nobody does an in-flight cheese plate quite like Lufthansa in first class. Well, I have to officially announce that Lufthansa has some serious competition with Emirates. Especially the soft cheese in olive oil…wow…it was absolutely out of this world.

Sad to move on, but there was dessert to be had. But first, a glass of Johnny Walker Blue to aid with digestion…and for science of course. Of course, some apricot pudding was also in order…

Stuffed, I watched some tv, and then later in the flight when it was dark the turned on the in-cabin stars on the ceiling so we could have a landing under the stars. Awww… I’m not a cognac drinker generally, but when Hennessey Paradis (which retails for over $900 a bottle) is on offer, it would be insulting to my hosts not to try it…right?

Landed on time, but ended up at a remote stand at the C gates, which is pretty much the world place to end up in Dubai! Oh well, it’s not so terrible when you get your very own bus to the terminal! Fortunately I didn’t have to share it with angry lady who had forced her way into first class.

Meanwhile, if you’re going to East Sketchistan, please take the bus below:

I had a few hours, so I was determined to head to the A gates where there is an entire FLOOR of the terminal dedicated to the first class lounge!

Next up: Emirates A Gates First Class Lounge Dubai, and the A380 to Singapore!


Aug 302019
 


Thanks to the jetlag which was worse than usual I woke up pretty early and managed to go for a short few mile run around Paris before heading back to the hotel for breakfast.

I have to admit: I was really looking forward to breakfast. I’m not generally a big breakfast person, especially big hotel breakfasts, but when I was in Paris for work a month or two prior I hadn’t found a Starbucks nearby to grab my mandatory morning caffeine, so went with the hotel option.

Since the Renaissance doesn’t have a club lounge, breakfast is served in the regular restaurant, and I was super impressed the four nights I was there that not only wasn’t it buffet, but the staff insisted on taking your order and serving you anything you wanted.

It seemed in a few weeks that had changed, and they were happy to take hot orders for eggs, but everything else was now self-service from a buffet table. Quality was still the same, but the relaxing element just wasn’t there any more. It was still excellent quality as far as included free hotel breakfasts go, but the “magic” was gone a bit. That said, come on, hard to argue with amazing espresso, a great omelette, and unlimited delicious pastries!

Left a bit earlier than I normally would for the airport, mainly because I’d never actually been to Orly Airport before, and didn’t know how easy the metro to RER to “OrlyVal” connection would be. Easier than expected it turned out, and I have to admit OrlyVal was cute. It’s basically a light rail with just a couple of stations that runs from the metro to the airport. I know there’s a long history, probably dealing with union issues, but hey, it was more efficient than I expected!

Plus, when I got inside the terminal at Orly, nirvana awaited me in the form of proper high-voltage coffee:

While drinking my coffee, I started to feel really “off.” A bit of alternating hot flashes, chills, dizziness, and just not feeling right. I actually debated if going to Tunisia feeling off like this was a great idea, but since this had happened a few times in the prior few months decided I might as well go for it. YOLO and all that.

Off to the TunisAir check-in, red carpet and all:

Walking to the lounge, through duty free, I found the most French duty free display of all time, avec baguette:

They lounge was a major disappointment, I scarfed down a couple bottles of water on the off chance that the previous diagnosis when I went in feeling “off” like this of dehydration was the problem, and headed to the gate to try my luck.

TunisAir flight 717 operated by GetJet
Paris, Orly (ORY) to Tunis, Tunisia (TUN)
Depart 12:00, Arrive: 13:25, flight time: 2:25
Airbus A330-300, Registration LY-LEO, Manufactured 2006, Seat 03K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 48,719
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,741,307

So, if you read carefully, you’ll notice this flight was operated by GetJet, which I admit I’ve never heard of. There was no indication of this at all, except when checking FlightRadar24 you could see for the past two weeks the flight had been operated by a GetJet plane, so I figured chances were high.

Boarded, and I wasn’t disappointed….if you can call GetJet that. So, what’s GetJet? Turns out it’s a Lithuanian airline with one A330, who’s trying to get permission to fly from Vilnius to New York. Until they get it, they’re leasing out their A330 and crew to the highest bidder. I’d never been on a wet lease flight before this trip, and now two in a row! What are the odds!

Orly tends to be where a lot of low-yield and leisure flights from Paris operate out of, so I was extra alert on the plane spotting. Plus, business was only booked about 25% full, so there was no problem moving to a window seat and having the seat next to me empty as well.

Air Caraïbes heading somewhere nice and tropical

I was really curious to see what TunisAir operated by GetJet would serve for food, and it turns out to have been the typical TunisAir offering, which for a two hour flight was super impressive. Several things not to my taste including the prawns/cockroaches of the sea, the extra tough beef, and veg that had seen fresher days, but at the end of the day I wasn’t feeling well so wasn’t that hungry and it was still impressive the quantity on such a short flight.

Yes, I still had to try the Tunisian wine despite not filling well. I had water too…don’t judge me!

Besides, if I started feeling REALLY badly, there was a barf bag, which you were instructed to “PLIEZ FOLD” when done:

No troubles at all at immigration (I think the dude honestly gave up trying to understand my accent) and soon I was fighting with the taxi mafia to get to my hotel. I actually enjoy this game in French-speaking countries, and it’s a chance to really practice negotiating tactics. Reasonably fair price and off we went.

Check in at the Sheraton Tunis was a nightmare, and I waited nearly 30 minutes to check in due to front desk staff who seemed way more interested in chatting with their friends. Not impressive, especially when I had fond memories of my last time at this hotel when the staff took great care of me when I got a fierce cold.

At least I was upgraded to a spacious junior suite?

The paintings in the common areas, however, were traumatizing, and I’m still having nightmares about them weeks later.

Then there was this. I’m guessing it was some sort of Wizard of Oz thing, but I seriously have no idea what this was supposed to be!

Headed down to the bellman, and asked for help getting a taxi, and was looked at like I was from another planet. “You need to order taxis at least two hours in advance.” Uh, I’ve been all over the world, and even in the most developing countries it’s easier than that to get a taxi.

So, I headed down to the street and tried to flag one down on my own. 30 minutes later, after being ignored by 100+ taxis, I finally gave up. I don’t know what the game here is, but fair warning….Tunisia has a unique taxi game apparently.

Since it was late afternoon anyways, and I wouldn’t have much time to see anything, I retired to my room and rested before heading up to the club lounge which I had such fond memories of due to the way they had looked out for me.

What. The. Hell. Happened. to this place in the intervening 6-7 years or so. The lounge felt only marginally above a high school cafeteria, with pretty terrible reheated frozen snacks are really terrible wine by the 1.5L bottle. I get cost-cutting, but when did this lounge go from memorable to terrible?! For comparison, this was my stay in 2013. The cake and cheese look the same, just a bit worse for wear.

Back to the room to rest a bit more before finding dinner, and they’d left some nice tunisian sweets, water, and fruit. While the facilities had clearly taken a hit, I have to say service was pretty good.

View from the balcony of my room…not bad at all!

Being exhausted and wanting to get to bed early, I decided to head down to the hotel bar/restaurant for some dinner. Had some mini “sliders” which were surprisingly tasty and a couple of local beers and was out cold pretty early. I would have another chance to get to the Bardo Museum in the morning, so a day of rest was just what I needed after starting off feeling so poorly.

Up to my room to retire, and there was a security goon in a chair watching tv on his phone (working really hard). I decided to ask what he was up to, and he was “protecting a VIP” in the room across the hall. I never did find out who it was, but hey, just another day in Tunisia!

Bed time, I had a big day the next day and wanted to be well-rested!!


Aug 292019
 


After getting to my hotel around 2am, it took a little bit of time to fall asleep, but I still managed around 5-6 hours before waking up in time to get some coffee and meet up with friends. London would be my second very brief stop in a row on this trip where I maximized the time meeting up with friends, and that was something a little sleep wouldn’t stop!

But first, off to get coffee. I was staying at the Great Northern Hotel right by St. Pancras station for two reasons: first because I really enjoy the property, but secondly it would be a short walk to catch my train to Paris. Looking at the posters in the hallway, it’s as if they were expecting me!

Coffee consumed, I took a quick walk through St. Pancras to re-familiarize myself with the lay of the land so I could maximize my time before darting to my train later. I love the architecture of this place.

At 11:00 (per the super cool reservation bottle below) I met up with Michael and the lovely Ellen at the Champagne Bar at St. Pancras for some celebratory bubbles. I’m not sure if this was the brunch excuse or the vacation excuse to begin consuming champagne before noon….but hey, does one really need an excuse for champagne?

Beverages and amazing conversation are two things that never seem to last as long as you’d like them to, and all too soon I had to head back across the street to grab my bags (cases if you will since we’re in London) and cross back across the street to catch my train.

I hadn’t taken a train out of St. Pancras in almost ten years, but was glad to see absolutely nothing had changed in that time, except for the waiting lounge after immigration. Oh yes, security and immigration. If you have a European passport, nice and slick, but if you have a non-European passport and are in the premier queue, they don’t seem to plan for this, and there’s lots of ducking under ropes and such to bypass the queue. Honestly, wasn’t bad, ten minutes tops, and I was in the lounge to wait for the train.

Lounge was nice but way too warm (around 24C), and the crystal glasses for water and wine were way too obnoxiously heavy and elaborate for my tastes. I’m just a simple redneck…it’s not like we’re having tea with the queen!

Soon enough it was time for boarding, and it was a mad rush with the rest of the proletariat to get on the train. Business Premier was at the very far end of the platform (I guess this is so that when you arrive you’re first off?) but honestly it all worked out well. Slightly sexier and curvier figure than Amtrak if you ask me….

Legroom wasn’t amazing, but was much better than I remembered from previous trips where even business class felt rather like a sardine can. The other good news is that Business Premier on this train was maybe 25% full, so there was plenty of room to spread out!

This is probably a good place to mention how the trains work on Eurostar. There’s economy which is, well, exactly what you’d expect. Business which is some sort of middle ground I guess? …then there’s Business Premier, which is the most comfortable way to travel. Complete with real Champagne and printed menus:

…and off we go, at 226 kph!

Not only was a meal served, but it was served in proper courses with an appetizer first and then the main event. The most disappointing part? Despite only being 25% full, by the time the attendant got to me the fish was the only thing left. Good thing the French are about the only ones I’d trust to get plane and train fish right, and it was delicious! Definitely the best meal I’ve ever eaten on a train!

Haddock with cheddar and tomato, turnip gratin, pea and majoram puree – fancy french eats!

Upon arrival, Paris was a bit on the toasty side at 35C on the front end of the canicule – or heatwave. The metro was barely tolerable as I headed off to République to my hotel, the Renaissance Paris République. For the one night stay they had upgraded me to a gorgeous suite on the top floor with wonderful views of Paris:

Simple but elegant design. I hate old and stuffy, and this room struck the perfect balance for me.

It was late afternoon at this point with the time change, so I decided to do my favourite Paris activity: head out for a walk. I didn’t really have much of a plan this time, but found myself wandering by Notre Dame where I ran into the gilets jaunes just hanging about, and fortunately not making too much of a protest.

She doesn’t look terrible from the front, despite the terrible damage from the first just a couple of weeks prior

I walked for nearly four hours around Paris (15+ km) until the sun began to set, and I found myself somewhere down on the Left Bank.

At this point I was about 3km from République, so I decided I could walk the rest of the way back, and grab a very late dinner around 10pm before heading to bed. With only one night in Paris, there was no stopping me from having a croque madame and some wine while people watching from a bistro and despite it being four-five weeks after I’d been there previously, the waiter at the bistro remembered me and was super chatty. Who says French waiters are rude!

Off to bed at a semi reasonable hour – I had to get up in the morning and make my way to a new airport I’d never been to before in order to fly to Tunis!


Aug 282019
 


Up relatively early the following morning to head out to JFK. For once, I really wasn’t complaining about being up early, because the alternative to Europe is always to take a redeye flight, so if I can get up a bit early and take a daytime flight I definitely always come out ahead with more hours of quality sleep!

Bit of coffee, and then because it was only estimated to take 15-30 minutes more than an Uber (and because this trip was kind of all about being a transit geek) I opted to take the subway to JFK. Figuring out how the cards worked was easy, no trouble buying with credit card, and then it was on the A train out towards JFK!

Unfortunately, not only was there some drama with the E train with it not running out towards JFK, but when I got 5o Howard Beach the signs alerted me that there was a full shutdown of the AirTrain to JFK and I would have to wait for a shuttle bus. Ahhhhh, at least I’m getting the full New York transit experience!

On the positive side, the bus was timely, and being packed with New Yorkers cranky about this unexpected detour I got the full experience. So, hey, could have been much, much worse.

Made my way to the terminal and Norwegian Check-in, where drama awaited me. There was no way there were going to let me carry my rollerboard and laptop bag on, claiming they were BOTH above the carryon weight limit for premier…not to mention that combined they were double the weight limit. Seriously? Plus the flight was sold out, so I did not have the option to even pay to check the rollerboard.

Full-world-traveler mode enabled, after seeing the check-in person was going nowhere, I asked for the manager, and when they were unyielding I asked for the airport operations manager for Norwegian.

The person eventually showed up, I explained the situation, pointed out the lack of clarity on their website, pointed out the absurdity that 20kg of bags couldn’t be brought on by someone in premier…and may have embellished a bit with some experienced learnt from dealing with international bureaucrats…and eventually with a nod and wink I was sent on my way. Experience pays! 😉 Yes, it was a bit of a DYKWIA moment, but seriously, if as an experienced traveler I had this much drama….I can’t believe how the “normal” traveler deals with these airlines!

I was expecting this to be followed by drama with TSA given my last experience with TSA at Terminal 1, but this time had a perfectly lovely and efficient experience. It really is about the individual at the end of the day!

Plus…once through security I was in Pride Country!

Thanks to being on Norwegian I had no lounge access, but thanks to Priority Pass I had the option of the Korean Air Lounge (miserable) or trying the Air France Lounge. Air France lounges are usually pleasant and have respectable beverages, so off I went.

After chilling and catching up on a bit of work, it was off to the gate to see what surprises Norwegian would hold for me. Boarding was a complete mess, with gate agents who acted like they’d never seen an airplane before, but eventually we were all allowed to board and spared from further misery from the airport known as JFK.

Norwegian flight 7014, Operated by Evelop!
New York, JFK (JFK) to London, Gatwick (LGW)
Depart 12:45, Arrive: 00:45 next day, flight time: 7:00
Airbus A330-300, Registration EC-NBP, Manufactured 2013, Seat 15D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 47,809
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,740,937

First impressions on boarding were positive. Based on the few online reviews I could find, I expected the Evelop! crew operating this flight for Norwegian to speak very little English and be cold, but this crew was quite chatty and friendly, and spoke excellent English. They were very welcoming, and the seats on this old Singapore Air bird were still quite nice…not to mention that the one empty seat on the entire plane was next to me! Clearly living a charmed life!

The safety demo was odd to say the least, with strange animated characters whose expressions were just plain weird. Idk if this is a “here, let me angrily look at your lap” from the child or a creepy guy being “ooh!” Just…awkward and uncomfortable!

Shortly after takeoff we were offered “headphones” (term used loosely, they were like 99 cent bargain bin special – the case was probably worth more) and beverages. I went with the red wine, which was totally undrinkable. I asked to see the bottle, and the flight attendant awkwardly said she “could not” show me. Uh, ok?

Meal was served, option of vegetarian or meat, but it was reasonably tasty!

After eating it was nap time, and other than not being perfectly lay-flat, the seat was nice and comfortable for a snooze. Hey, it definitely beats the 2-3-2 configuration Norwegian has on their own 787s! In this case, the plane swap was a definite win!

About 90 minutes before landing at Gatwick, we were offered a second boxed meal. Again, nothing super fancy, but the charcuterie plate with fruit was more than enough on such a short flight, and overall I had a really positive impression from Norwegian. No, it’s not a luxury experience, but it’s perfectly comfortable and for the price paid I was very happy with my decision!

Immigration at Gatwick was a breeze thanks to the e-Gates for US passports, and I was outside and waiting on my Uber in no time. At this hour, I’d already factored the price of transit into London into the cost of the ticket, so wasn’t too shocked when I saw it was going to be $100+ to get to my hotel. It’s all about managing expectations!

More on the hotel in the next post, as well as overnight in London before heading to Paris via EuroStar!