Dec 062019
 


Since we had a relatively early flight (well, not really that early, but when you take into account time to get to the airport, etc) we hadn’t planned much for the morning other than a lazy breakfast at the hotel to enjoy one of the better hotel buffets in the world.

No trouble getting a Grab, and since it was the weekend traffic to the airport wasn’t terrible either. We had managed to check-in online, so no need to stop by the desks, and queues for immigration and security were minimal so we had some time to try the Cathay lounge.

Just as on previous visit it was a little difficult to find, and once we did it was unfortunately absolutely packed just like the previous time. I don’t know if this is always the case for this lounge because it has flights to Singapore and Hong Kong at the same time, but it was difficult even finding a place to sit.

A couple of glasses of bubbles later, I didn’t terribly care, and decided to chat up the lounge agent and see about changing my set to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). A couple weeks prior they had swapped in an aircraft with first class seats on this route, however, they were not selling first – getting access to these seats was at the mercy of airport agents since the app wouldn’t permit it.

I totally admit that I might have been a bit flirty back to the lounge agent when they initiated it, and after much back and forth with a supervisor in some mysterious location on the phone, this exchange took place: “I would love to help you, but that seat is reserved for the bassinet.” I made a joke that “it’s ok, I’m pregnant and promise to give birth before Hong Kong” to which they laughed hysterically. First class seat was mine. Hopefully it would hold…

Cathay Pacific flight 750
Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Depart 11:40, Arrive: 15:30, flight time: 2:50
Boeing 777-300, Registration B-KQT, Manufactured 2014, Seat 12K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 186,401
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,878,703

Boarding was a bit of a scrum with everyone rushing the gate the minute they started boarding, and my first impression of the seat was pretty good. Reasonably private, lots of space, and I would be happy with this seat on a 10 hour flight, not to mention a regional flight of under three hours! Ian had the seat behind me, and off to Hong Kong we went!

Bubbles and water for a pre-departure beverage…

What’s for lunch today? Can you imagine if US airlines served nice meals like this (complete with a menu!) for mid-con flights?!

In case of evacuation, throw your baby in a rubber sleepsack…

Lunch was served right after takeoff, complete with garlic bread, more champagne, and a nice thai salad.

I went with the Thai pork which was delicious. The perfect combination of savoury and sweet.

Choice of three flavours of ice cream for dessert. Strawberry for me, please!

After lunch was over, I walked past the galley and noticed a sign saying “work quietly, speak softly” – can you imagine this in the galley on US airlines? I’m sure the flight attendant unions would throw a fit! It would interrupt terribly important gripe sessions about their jobs, passengers. On the upside, a quiet environment would improve their concentration for Candy Crush and Suduko.

Arrival in Hong Kong was right on time, and since Hong Kong doesn’t trust Thai security we had to clear again – unfortunately behind what seemed like dozens of inexperienced travellers. We barely had enough time for the connection as it was, and were determined to stop in the AmEx Lounge for at least 10 minutes.

Hong Kong (along with a few other locations like Mexico City and Buenos Aires) is one of the few AmEx Lounges that has a “lounge within a lounge” for Centurion Card holders, which actually makes it a lounge I’ll go out of my way to visit.

As usual, Hong Kong was quite warm and we were a little sweaty by the time we arrived, but the champagne was poured and all was forgotten.

Despite having a very short time we were promised they could get the meals on the menu to us in five minutes or so, so we decided to order the caviar. Definitely a wonderful choice! Caviar and champagne make everything better!

Quick gobble of the goods, and then a bit of a run to the gate…where of course boarding was delayed meaning we could have spent some more time in the lounge. Said goodbye to Ian, and I was off to Ho Chi Minh City for the first time in 15 years!

Cathay Pacific flight 799
Hong Kong (HKG) to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (SGN)
Depart 16:50, Arrive: 18:35, flight time: 2:45
Boeing 777-300, Registration B-KQM, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 187,326
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,879,628

My seat assignment had stuck, and I was shown to seat 2K by the crew. It technically would be business class today, but the crew was still acting like it was first class, apologizing that they would only be able to offer business class champagne today. Could they get me some?

A bit warm from the run to-and-from the lounge, but my kitty fan and some champagne while settling into 2K made everything better.

What’s for dinner tonight? Similar to the lunch menu from Bangkok.

The thai red chicken curry was delicious – I do love the thai dishes that seem to appear frequently in Cathay business – they’re always tasty.

Choice of ice creams once again for dessert. They were out of Tegrity, so I decided to go with cookies and cream…and more champagne…this time around.

It had been fifteen years or more since I’d been in Vietnam, and in that time tourism had taken off and getting a visa had become much easier. No need to go to the consulate or embassy anymore, you can now do a visa on arrival by paying/arranging with an agency online who sends you an approval letter.

The whole process was quite confusing, and there was a waiting area where you had to fill out a form and wait. I asked about a dozen people if I needed to wait there with my letter, and the first several indicated yes, but eventually I just went up to the windows (causing several people to get upset with me) and they told me no, go straight to the arrivals queues.

Well, that would have been great, except with 20+ queues open they were all still 50+ people deep. It was going to be quite a wait. Still better than having to wait for the visa-on-arrival counter where some people said they had been waiting more than four hours!

I eventually found a line for VIP/diplomats/SkyPriority so decided that despite flying Cathay I would stand there since I have SkyPriority through Delta. That line only took about 10 minutes, but I was then berated by the guy at the counter who insisted I show him my boarding pass with SkyPriority on it – not just my card.

Feigning a bit of not understanding him he finally gave up on me and just stamped me into the country. I’m not usually a fan of gaming the system like this, but hey, to save a few hours and be able to at least enjoy the evening? Absolutely.

The other thing that had changed since my previous visit were the hotels. 15 years ago, there was no such thing as chain hotels in Vietnam, and we stayed at the Grande Olde Dame the “Rex Hotel” which was about as good as it got back then.

Now? There’s a half dozen different Bonvoy options, not to mention Hiltons, Hyatts, and everything. Grab worked well to get me to the Le Meridien (which seemed to be the recommended hotel based on online reviews) and I was given a nice room on the executive floor.

I have to wonder, however, as someone afraid of heights, what’s with all these hotels lately with 20+ floor atriums and waist-high railings where I felt I might plunge to my untimely death:

It wasn’t too late, so I figured I would head out for a walk and try and get my bearings for the coming days. The city had changed so much a walk was in order, and there seemed to be a great craft beer place less than a mile away that looked walkable.

I immediately wasn’t a huge fan of the changes in the city, as literally dozens of younger ladies from massage parlours grabbed my arm as I walked by and tried to get me to come inside. Ugh. It reminded me of Bangkok 20 years ago and the seedier side of tourism in Southeast Asia.

I managed to keep going, and was eventually rewarded with a great selection of beers at Heart of Darkness brewing. How amazing to find a Joseph Conrad-themed pub in the middle of Vietnam. While globalization definitely has its downsides in the homogenization of culture, there are some benefits…

After a couple of beers to tire me out, it was back to the hotel to rack out. I had two days to enjoy Vietnam, and wanted to make the most of them!

Dec 052019
 


After sleeping off the massive meat coma from Meatlicious the night before, we slept in a little bit before heading down to breakfast. I used to think the W Bangkok had the best hotel breakfast in the world, and while it’s still very good it’s just not up there any more.

A lot of the problem seems to be that the hotel now caters to large tour groups especially on the weekends, so the breakfast is usually crawling with people and often quite picked over and not at all relaxing. Reminder to self, it may finally be time to stop staying at the W and choose one of the other excellent hotels in Bangkok.

That said, the breakfast was still excellent, with plenty of fresh fruit, great vienoiseries, and dim sum.

After grabbing some Starbucks for proper caffeination, we headed out to do a little bit of exploring since Ian had never been to Bangkok before. It was a shockingly pleasant morning out, not too humid, and on the walk to the SkyTrain we encountered a worker cleaning the koi pond next to the W. There was something “creature from the lagoon” about it…

We road the SkyTrain to the Siam stop, where the celebration of Pocky Day (apparently that’s what 11/11 is now in Asia?) was well underway:

We wandered a bit in the CentralWorld Mall, and I really wanted the “Stranger Trump” t-shirt, but decided to be good and resist:

The “Bloody Bunny & Friends” store just left me confused.

Hey, I’m not high, Jer high! (Well, at a minimum the cat in the ad is definitely high!)

Whatever I was battling had me feeling pretty sick again, and after some sitting around and a fresh orange juice I was feeling better so it was back to the hotel to rest up a bit.

We’d decided that since Bangkok is the home of affordable massage we would book for the afternoon, and based on great reviews we decided to try Perception Blind Massage. Bangkok has hundreds and hundreds of massage places, so it’s a bit hit and miss, but the reviews for Perception were quite good so we decided to give it a go.

I was feeling just better enough that a massage sounded like a nice idea, so we headed out. It turned out to be barely a five minute walk from the W, so that was definitely nice. We booked the two hour thai massage plus head/neck/back, and were in for an adventure.

You know it’s gonna be fun when Ray Charles greets you in the entrance:

Other than the massage school at Wat Po the only massages I’ve done in Bangkok before have been high-end hotel massages, so I was a bit surprised we were led to what were essentially mattresses on the floor with curtains separating the massage areas. That said, it was dark (not like anyone could see anyways?) and once I relaxed it was an excellent experience.

It was definitely one of the better massages I’ve ever had, and I really enjoyed the whole experience…and at less than $40 including tip for two hours it was a bargain.

They even take a picture with you at the end to post on their social media if you’re ok with it. Very cool experience, and it’s great to see a company creating jobs for the difabled (my new word from Indonesia) and assuming they do pay people fairly you not only get a massage but get to do some good.

Nice and relaxed, it was late afternoon and time to shower up and head out to our early 6:30p dinner at Sorn. We were still a bit bummed out that Gaggan had closed, but were really looking forward to the 20 course menu at Sorn in its stead. Things started off with the classy menu:

First two courses: (1) young mangosteen with crispy krill, shallot, and coconut plum sugar and (2) cashew nut relish with cashew nut butter and cucumber. Both were delicious bite-sized starters, and the hidden chili paste at the bottom of the cashew packed a huge punch!

Next up was course (3) called “The Beach” – sand mole crabs with seaweed powder. This also had some Thai chilis and while a little spicy, was an awesome combination of flavours and textures.

Course (4) was a bonus course, and was charcoal-grilled abalone. Delicious! The presentation of every course was amazing – nothing was just served, every course was a production.

Next up as course (5) was the “2 degree lobster” which was phuket lobster with mixed thai herbs and lime zest. Served super cold, it was absolutely delicious, and you could really taste the sea in the lobster. Not at all fishy, but a briny taste that was really awesome with the texture.

Number (6) is one of their traditional dishes which never changes, the “Gems on crab stick version 2) – crab, crab roe, yellow chili paste, ginger, and lemongrass. Absolutely delicious, with a really fierce chili burn on the back end from the yellow chili paste. One of the highlights for me – especially the crab roe in the mother of pearl spoon.

Up for number (7) to cool some of the heat from the previous course was “coco on coconut” – “all good things from coconut” – southern plants, dried quid and shrimp – the coconut milk broth was wonderful for killing the heat and was served quickly enough after the previous course to help. I loved the serving bowl and spoon!

The eighth (8) course was called “Fresh off the Boat” (version 2) – and was black squid, squid ink, and squid roe. Absolutely delicious.

For course (9) we had what was definitely one of the highlights for me, roti crab curry (version 3) with roti pastry, crab curry, and pepper tree leaf. Just enough spice from the curry, but you could really taste the crab. I loved this course.

For course (10) we had a dish called “vegetables” which was prepared table-side. The tray of vegetables came out, and then the chef prepared it. It was called “the forest meets the sea” and was described as southern herbs, tumeric rice, morinda rice, and fish innards dressing. It was an absolutely fantastic salad – very fragrant, but also super combination of tastes.

Courses (11) through (16) were all served family style at the same time and included (11) fresh yellow curry with mangosteen and fish roe, (12) pumpkin and egg with lobster and pork, (13) grilled smoked duck breast with southern chili paste, (14) steamed egg and winter melon soup, (15) stinky beans, and (16) oxtail curry.

The condiment tray for the family style course:

Pumpkin and egg – Nakon Si Thammarat pumpkin, free range organic egg, lobster, and pork. Absolutely my favourite disk, but rather rich. On the top you can see the stinky beans with homemade abalone, mantis shrimp and hoof fermented sauce with sea conch. These two dishes together stole the show.

Oxtail curry with fresh coconut milk – a little too fatty for my preference, but very tasty.

Next was a palate cleanser of torch ginger sorbet.

Dessert was natural tapioca boiled in coconut water with longan ice, longan jam, frozen coconut milk, and grilled coconut. Very unusual and not textures I was used to having combined, but really good.

Finally, a signature desert to end things off.

…and because that wasn’t enough, Thai tea with coconut cakes. An amazing way to finish an amazing meal.

We may not have been able to eat at Gaggan, but still had an amazing dinner, and would recommend Sorn very highly to anyone who’s up for some rather spicy southern Thai food!

It was still early, so we decided to stop by Mikkeller to have a couple beers to end the night. They were having a tip fundraiser to support Justin Bieber’s retirement, so I was definitely a big supporter!

Back to the W, and it was still early, so I stopped by the bar for a nightcap. They no longer had the purple cocktail I’d had on previous visits, but the bartender remembered it and agreed to make it. The staff really make the W for me, and are one of the biggest reasons I keep coming back.

Fat and happy full of delicious Thai food it was off to bed. The short tour around Southeast Asia was coming to an end and we had to head off to the airport in the morning. Ian was headed home after what was mostly a short mileage run, and I would head on to Vietnam for the next segment of my trip!

Dec 032019
 


KLIA Ekspres Train to the airport was a piece of cake, and since we’d checked in online we headed straight for security and immigration before taking the inter-terminal train out to the satellite where our flight would depart from.

The Malaysia Airlines Lounges had recently been renovated, and this would be at least the third renovation since the first time I flew with Malaysia back in 2005 – back when they still had recliner seats in first class between LA and KL via Taipei!

Back then, the first lounge was still rather glamourous with free-flowing champagne, but these days in the business lounge you have to contend with $7 per bottle sparkling wine.

I will say the lounge was nice and open and felt spacious, but overall it still felt a little low-end. There was nothing “nice” or luxury about it, but it was definitely a solid and quiet place to spend time before the flight. Plus, it had reasonably tasty sweets:

We got to the gate about five minutes before the boarding time listed on our boarding passes, but they were nowhere near ready. Security is at the gate at KUL, and they weren’t even ready to start security screening passengers to get into the gate area.

I always wonder about airports that have security at the gate It’s one of the things I find the most puzzling about Singapore. It’s an amazingly-advanced passenger-friendly airport in so many ways, but why is security at the gate?

Anyways, enough wondering. We eventually were allowed into the gate and boarded right on time!

Malaysia Airlines flight 782
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (KUL) to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)
Depart 14:50, Arrive: 16:05, flight time: 2:15
Airbus A330-300, Registration 9M-MTF, Manufactured 2012, Seat 01K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 185,352
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,877,654

I hadn’t experienced an A330 on Malaysia before, but based on the configuration I expected seats very similar to SWISS or Brussels. I had managed to reserve a “throne” seat in advance, and got exactly what I expected!

Unfortunately, on flights under three hours Malaysia Airlines is still completely dry, so PDB choices were juice or water. I was still feeling pretty run down and sketchy this morning, so opted for water…the PDB of champions…

Beverages may have been lacking, but there were completely proper printed menus for the relatively short flight.

I went with the “Nasi Hujan Panas” which was described as basmati rice cooked in aromatic herbs and spices served with chicken rendang traditional achar rampai. Only half those words were familiar to me, but the chicken rendang was absolutely delicious. Definitely one of the best short-haul business class mains I’ve ever had. I seriously wanted seconds!!

Arrival in Bangkok was right on time, and it was the first time in ages I wasn’t arriving in Thai First so instead of a buggy I had to walk to immigration. Fortunately, I was feeling quite a bit better at this point, so it wasn’t a big deal.

Queue for passport control was about 20 minutes (which seems on the short side these days in Bangkok) and soon we were through. I’ve always used the airport taxi service before, but having enjoyed Grab in both Jakarta and KL this trip we decided to use it in Bangkok. Super easy to find the car, and about half the price of the airport service, so it was definitely a good call.

Rush hour traffic was pretty bad but not terrible, and soon we were at my usual choice of Bangkok hotels the W and checked in. It was already getting rather late and we had dinner reservations, so we headed off to Meatlicious.

So, a bit of history. The whole point of this stop in Bangkok was to eat at Gaggan, since it would be closing in just a few months. Then, despite the fact we had a reservation, they ended up closing down with zero notice.

We decided not to bail on Bangkok, and at least try one of Gaggan’s affiliated restaurants and look for something higher-end Thai for the next night.

Reviews for Meatlicious online were decidedly mixed, but my reading sad that this was people with unrealistic expectations, so we decided to go with it. First impression? It was much smaller and more intimate than I expected, and we sat at the “bar” which was more of a chef’s table since it faced the open kitchen.

We ordered the tenderloin tacos as a starter, and they were absolutely delicious:

The good thing about the bar/chef’s table was being able to chat with the chef’s and some regular patrons, which led to us being offered some raclette as well. I swear Switzerland is stalking me this year…

We decided we had to go big or go home, and ordered the smallest of their tomahawk steaks to share. At around 1400 grams it was definitely not small, but we were confident in our abilities. Was awesome how they showed it to you before throwing it on the grill:

MMmmm, sizzle sizzle, we were even invited into the kitchen as it cooked:

Carved table-side…that’s what I call a steak!

A perfect rare to medium-rare. Absolutely delicious…and don’t worry, we finished every last gram of it’s beefy deliciousness.

Absolutely stuffed, it was still hard to say no to dessert. How can you go wrong with a meringue and passionfruit combo:

Loved the cow-themed artwork around the restaurant.

With that, our day in transit and awesome dinner was in the books. Next up: one full day in Bangkok and figuring out how to relax! We had amazing dinner plans coming up the next day as well, and no daytime plans, so after one night in Bangkok, we’d say what kind of adventure awaits!

Dec 012019
 


After finally waking up early afternoon and realizing just what getting hit by a truck feels like, I rushed to make the most of what was left of the day. Fortunately, Ian hadn’t completely waited for me and had done a bit of exploring so I didn’t feel completely awful.

On the way out, admired the view of very dark KL from the hotel elevator lobby. It definitely looked like rain was on the way…

Of course, the first stop was Starbucks to get some caffeine to try and undo the haze from 12+ hours of sleep. Can someone please explain to me why you’d want to add cheese to a glazed donut?!

Caffeinated, we grabbed a grab to the Batu Caves. Ian had never been to Malaysia before, and this is one of my favourite sites, so I decided if we had time to go “see” one thing, this should be it.

Of course, the minute we stepped out the door to get our Grab, the skies opened up and heavy rains came down. The hotel doorman suggested maybe this wasn’t a good idea because “it will probably rain for a long time” but the radar didn’t look too bad to me, so off we went. It would be a 30 minute drive, so hopefully the rain would at least let up a bit….

The Batu Caves are a Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Murugan in this predominantly Muslim country, and are over 100 years old. They had done a lot of work, maintenance, and painting since my last visit. and things were extremely colourful now. The 42+ meter tall statue of Murugan was also looking resplendent with a fresh golden painting:

Feeling like death from oversleeping, I wasn’t looking forward to climbing the 272 colourful steps to the top in the heat and humidity, but the rain had mostly stopped and was just a very light mist now, and the temperature had really dropped. It was only around 22C now, and actually almost cool and pleasant! What luck! Finally inside the caves, lots of the individual shrines had also been brightly repainted:

Loved how the bright green of this peacock contrast with the rest of the shrine it was next to:

It looked even more brilliant against the rainbow-coloured shrine:

From my first visit, I remember hundreds of begging monkeys everywhere. Some effort had clearly been made to get rid of many of them, but there were still a couple dozen hanging about begging for bananas:

Love the gesture I caught this one in…seems to be saying “what do you expect from me? She gave me a banana!”

Looking back down towards the city from the caves:

Nom nom nom, banana! …and post-banana carb coma face:

After the caves we had a fairly difficult time getting a Grab, with the app repeatedly saying none were available due to metering. I guess the local taxi mafia managed to get caps put on how many Grabs could be on the road and being rush hour there weren’t enough to go around. We finally got one after 20 minutes or so, and headed back to the hotel to get ready to get drinks and dinner.

It felt a bit odd going to dinner when I’d barely been awake four hours, but hey, it was what it was. I wanted to take the Monorail to dinner because I’ve been on a bit of a “subway / monorail / urban train” counting kick lately, and hey while it’s a bit more of a Shelbyville idea, I felt I had to ride it!

Finding the monorail and buying tickets was a piece of cake, and soon we were at our stop. It looked on google like it was a 5-10 minute walk to the bar we were headed to, but it turned out to be right at the bottom of the monorail station.

Heli Lounge Bar is on the 37th floor of an office building, and it has two parts. The first is an inside bar where you get the drink included free with your cover charge. For some reason, you have to order this inside. But hey, they had a mirrorball helicopter, so that was kinda cool. I went with the lychee martini:

After getting your free drink you’re allowed to go upstairs to the rooftop helipad to drink it. Carrying a full martini up two flights of stairs wasn’t an easy task, but finally we made it and emerged to the awesome view. We had timed the visit for shortly before sunset, and timing was perfect!

Had to pose for a photo with the Petronas Twin Towers!

Sunset over KL…nice oranges and pinks in the sky, and the buildings were all lighting up for nighttime.

Petronas Twin Towers lit up at night:

After having a couple drinks and bar snacks we were pretty much over the place. It was a neat one time experience, but as someone who doesn’t like heights to begin with I was a bit unsettled the whole time. That combined with feeling poorly due to oversleeping I’d had enough, so on to dinner we went.

Another friend had recommended a local pub that did good pizzas, so we ended up going there for pizza and a couple of craft beers. It was good, not great, and we assumed from the pizza prices on the menu that the beers were similarly reasonable. Nope, not at all, and 2 individual pizzas (which were like $10 each) and 3 beers each came to over $100. Clearly Malaysia is not the place to come for craft beer!

After a good (and more reasonable six to seven hours) night of sleep I was awake at 530a. Ugh. Hello jetlag, this was going to suck. I made the most of it and went to the hotel for a short workout, followed by Starbucks while I let Ian sleep in. Hooray, I’m in Malaysia!

A couple hours later when Ian was ready to go I was in need of more caffeine to struggle through the long day, so we headed off to another coffee place he’d found the day before.

It seemed to be a Vietnamese chain and was called “CONG Caphe” and I was able to get a delicious iced Vietnamese coffee. We sat in the upstairs balcony, despite warnings that we should “mind the naughty step” whatever that meant!

Fully-caffeinated and ready to go it was back to the hotel to pack up a few things and then head to the KLIA Ekspres to the airport. Bangkok awaits!

Nov 262019
 


After a bit of time relaxing and enjoying my last few hours in the Presidential Suite, I decided to head down to the executive lounge for one last snack. All things considered the haze and humidity wasn’t too bad, and I had a nice view of Jakarta. I really enjoyed my short time, and can’t wait to come back for longer.

Afternoon tea was being served, and I took the opportunity to have a diet coke and some sweets before checking out.

Grabbed a grab to the airport, and since KLM’s app was cooperative I had managed to check-in online with no problem. Took a couple work calls en route before heading to security…and proving that yes, I’m in Jakarta!

Security and passport control lines weren’t too bad, and I was through both in under 15 minutes and decided to start looking for the Garuda lounge. It’s not easy to find, but eventually I did. Very warm staff at reception…and even warmer in the lounge. They even had a sign apologizing that the air conditioning was broken. It was about 78F in the lounge so very warm, but not horrendous.

The lounge was reasonably bright with plenty of seating, and I had no trouble getting a good seat near a power outlet. I was also near the “Difable” washroom. It really begged the question: is this just a common Asian English mistake, or is it short for “differently abled?”

The food selection was so-so with quite a few options, but I wasn’t that hungry and nothing really spoke to me so I settled for a glass of wine and what I thought were prawn crackers. Unfortunately, no prawn and they were just flavourless puffed rice, but still something crispy to munch on.

Our flight arrived from KL about 45 minutes late, just 30 minutes before we were supposed to leave, and the lounge agents were great about telling the KLM passengers that there was no need to rush to the gate. I waited about 30 minutes longer than I would have and then headed down. Good choice too – I’ve never seen a flight with so many people swarming the group one lane!

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight 810
Jakarta, Indonesia (CGK) to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (KUL)
Depart 19:25, Arrive: 22:30, flight time: 2:05
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration PH-BVK, Manufactured 2013, Seat 01D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 184,598
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,876,900

After boarding, my suspicions on the seats were confirmed. They were in a 2-2-2 configuration, and seemed identical to what you would find on United’s ex-Continental 777s. A decent seat in the middle section, but absolutely zero privacy. As an added bonus, however, my seat today came with no pillows but bonus earplugs….

Pre-departure beverages were offered, and the champagne came in probably the most elegant looking PDB glasses I’ve ever seen in business class. I’m personally not a fan of overly ornate glassware (except the amazing Ultima Thule on Finnair) but it did feel a little more “special” than what I’m used to…

Despite a flight time under two hours, a full dinner was promised tonight!

Other airlines may have larger washrooms, or fancier fru-fru amenities, but nobody has Delft Blau Huisjes on the walls! AMAZING!

We were only airborne about 15 minutes when dinner was served. Yes, it was all on one tray, but quite a large meal for a short flight. I love the water glasses too – I think KLM now has my second favourite glassware after Finnair! It was way more food than I needed, and I think I only had the chicken, some rice, and of course can’t say no to chocolate cake!

As soon as my tray was served, the drama started. A page went out (20 minutes into flight max) asking if there was a doctor on board. It took me a bit to realize what was going on…and that the stricken passenger was right behind me! He was a younger guy, maybe mid 20s, and was foaming at the mouth getting super agitated and hyper.

The crew did a great job surrounding him and holding up blankets for privacy, but it was pretty clear that someone had taken something and was higher than our 777…

Meal service completely stopped, I think only row one got food, and for the next hour there were several crew members and doctors with him the entire time. I was shocked we didn’t divert to Singapore given just how terrible the guy looked, but the crew and ground-based medical services obviously know better than me!

While landing, one of the flight attendants even knelt in the aisle holding on to keep him in his seat which remained mostly flat even for landing. They had him on oxygen and he looked a little better, but wow what a crazy experience.

The downside of the service ending is that they also weren’t able to offer the little huisjes either. One of the crew apologized to me after landing and I said no problem – I was really looking forward to it, but obviously safety and health come first.

That’s what something that restored a bit of my faith in humanity happened. The woman across the aisle had two of them (from AMS-KUL-CGK a few days prior) and offered me one – commenting to the same flight attendant that she hoped they could give her two to make up for it. I wish I’d gotten her email or something to thank her more properly, but it was the nicest onboard gesture I’ve seen in a long time. In this age where tensions are often high in the air, it was so nice to see!

Landed right on time, and unfortunately I had to sit in the terminal for an hour taking a work call before clearing immigration and heading to the hotel. I was meeting my friend Ian in KL, and even with my phone call he was still at least 30 minutes behind me, so I decided to head to the hotel on the KLIA Ekspres Train which is wonderfully convenient.

Checked in to the Le Meridien, no upgrade despite being a titanium member, but at least there was a Tiffany blue carton in my room with sweets for pre-bed!

Mmmmm macarons! They were pretty good quality too – not amazing, but definitely good!

Met up with Ian, and chatted a bit before crashing. Since I’d already been in Asia a couple of days I was sure I’d be up early so didn’t set an alarm, while he promised to set one for late morning to ensure we didn’t waste the whole day.

At some point I rolled over to the phone which wouldn’t stop ringing. WTF, why was someone calling me in the middle of the night. No way I was answering….but it had woken me up, so after 10 minutes or so I gave up and rolled over to look at my phone…it was after 1pm! I’d managed to sleep more than 12 hours – something I don’t think I’ve ever done before! I don’t even think I’ve broken 10 more than a couple of time.

I felt like I’d been hit by a truck (and it couldn’t be from two glasses of wine) so clearly all the travel had gotten to me. Rushed to get going so we could at least enjoy what was left of the day…

Nov 262019
 


After landing the walk to immigration seemed endless, but eventually made it and signs seemed pretty clear where I needed to go. The visa on arrival desk was well marked, and despite a rather lengthy queue pretty efficient. The lines for passport control looked pretty long, so I was relieved to see that after paying my money and getting my visa I was also stamped in and waived past normal passport control. Overall, pretty efficient!

I already knew there was no Uber in Indonesia anymore, but Grab was available. It took me a bit to figure out where the Grab pickup point was, but once I got close there were helpful Grab “agents” in “Grab green” helping you to find the car that was picking you up. Overall, it worked quite well.

The drive to my hotel wasn’t too bad, and soon I was at the Ritz Carleton Pacific Place. I attempted to check-in at the desk in the lobby, but was escorted up to the Executive Lounge for check-in. What hadn’t been fully clear to be before arriving is that the Ritz is the top floors of the hotel and all rooms have Executive Lounge access, while lower flowers are the “residences” which you can still book as a regular hotel – but don’t necessarily have Executive Lounge access. Confused yet? Read on.

Once I arrived with my escort in the lounge, the lounge agent instantly knew who I was and told me she would escort me to my room to check in. “I hope you do not mind, but we had to change your room for an upgrade.” Ok, I’ll never complain about an upgrade. I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention until we got outside and I realized…

I’d been upgraded to the Presidential Suite. All 3,600 square meters of it. It’s pretty awesome when your room has its own website! I was a bit floored…and it was a new experience sitting on “my” own living room sofa to do check-in.

Best part of all? I was informed that “President Obama has stayed in this room as well!” Sweet! Maybe greatness will rub off on me after all!

So, let me give you a tour. The dining room:

The kitchen, complete with bar. The door to the left is the kitchen area with a fully stocked fridge (chargeable as minibar) and full silverware, crystal, tableware, etc…

Living room #1:

The foyer:

Living room/lounge #2:

The office…which strangely had no outlets, so I didn’t find very useful…unless I wanted to invite my minions over and shout at them across the table?

The master bedroom:

I’m definitely not fancy enough to need a dressing room complete with walk-in closet, but just in case you are…

The washroom. Biggest question I never figured out: why the need for a chair? In case someone wants to watch you in the jacuzzi tub (with great views of Jakarta) or while you’re on the throne?

Yup…this is mine (for one night). All mine!

After luxuriating a bit I was a bit tired, so decided to go to the attached Pacific Place Mall to find some caffeine. While attempting to locate Starbucks, I first came across a really odd sculpture display in the mall of smiling food…and then a restaurant oddly-named…”Fook Yew!”

It was super convenient being on top of the Pacific Place Mall, which is connected to the Ritz via an underground walkway with no need to go outside. It’s definitely a high end upscale luxury mall with super fancy brands, but also lots of restaurants and most importantly: Starbucks!

Adequately caffeinated, but still super tired, I headed back to my room for the evening, in hopes I would have enough energy the next day to enjoy Jakarta before heading to the airport.

Back to my room, and noticed something I’d overlooked before. Looks like President Obama left something behind…I knew it! LOLZ

After a bit of rest, I decided to head down to the executive lounge and see what “Happy Hour” was all about.

So yes, it was a regular happy hour with free-flowing drinks, but also a buffet so large you could easily make a meal out of it. I wasn’t terribly hungry still from the flight, so light snacks was all I wanted…and they were absolutely delicious.

On top of that, the service was absolutely stellar. I don’t know how they do it, but all the staff knew my name the moment I walked in (do they take pictures at check-in? This was a different crew…) and never once was I not addressed by it. Not that this is a big deal to me, I was just really impressed by all the little details. It was a wonderful and relaxing evening especially given I was too tired and jetlagged to really adventure much.

After a great night’s sleep, it was back to the lounge for a light breakfast:

I say light breakfast, because you could easily have stuffed yourself with made to order hot items and a huge expansive buffet as well. You really would never need to leave the hotel if you didn’t want to. Breakfast was provided, morning tea, full lunch service, afternoon tea, and evening cocktails and a buffet. It was basically an all-inclusive hotel, and probably the single best hotel experience I’ve ever had….and I’d even be saying that without the generous upgrade.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, the AC was also wonderful in my room(s). All five AC units worked wonderfully – LOL)

While the choice of like 12 different teas at breakfast was nice, you know where I headed for my predictable caffeine fix in the attached mall. Complete with Christmas decorations in early November. Ugh.

Decided to do a little shopping after coffee, and picked up a couple of awesome batik shirts for myself.

After that, I decided to ride Jakarta’s relatively-new subway system and find myself somewhere authentic and local for lunch. An Indonesian co-worker told me one of her favourite places, and since I’m a subway geek I rode it to the nearest stop before taking a Grab the last mile or so. The subway is only about a three minute walk from the Pacific Place mall, so not terrible even in the extreme heat and humidity.

I exited near the Selamat Datang monument, so had to grab a picture to prove I was in Jakarta:

Lunch was at Gado Gado Cemara, which my coworker had told me to visit when I told her I liked gado gado. The Grab driver was hysterical – when he saw my destination he just kept saying “salad – you get salad!” – which I only later learned that gado gado is bahasa for salad.

The menu looked promising:

Although the inside was spartan, it was 100% locals and packed, which was a great sign. (This picture taken after everyone but me left – every seat was taken when I arrived):

Amazing and delicious gado gado and chicken satay. The perfect “local” lunch and a great experience of wandering into a neighbourhood where there wasn’t a single westerner or tourist, the staff spoke not a word of English, and the food was delicious. Given it was crowded I figured it was “safe” but we would see in 24 hours….oh, and all this was maybe $4.

Full and happy, I grabbed a Grab back to the Ritz to wind down, cool down, and shower for a couple hours before heading back to the airport. I was really happy with how much I did in such a limited time given the jetlag, and excited for the next stop: KL!

Nov 242019
 


After a night of relatively poor sleep thanks to the rather warm hotel room and the first night of jetlag, I was up earlier than I really needed to be to start getting ready to continue my journey.

Today’s flight was at a rather reasonable 11:30, and Tunis airport is actually relatively easy to navigate, so I was hoping for a bit more in the sleep department, but that wasn’t happening.

Off to the hotel gym for a short workout to try and get rid of some of the jetlag and the previous day’s food-borne excesses, but the body wasn’t terribly interested in that so I admitted defeat and decided to head up to the executive lounge and see if breakfast was any better than the not-so-happy happy hour.

Overall, the breakfast wasn’t great, but it was reasonable. Fresh orange juice, plenty of breads and pastries, hard-boiled eggs, and a bit of cheese was more than enough to make a substantial breakfast.

One odd thing I noticed in the lounge, which I’d noticed in Accra, Ghana in an executive lounge just a couple months back, was a group of military contractors making lunches to go. In Ghana it was Americans, and in Tunis it was Dutch, but the MO was the same. Absolutely jacked guys with huge biceps making several sandwiches with sliced meats/protein (I think it was smoked salmon in Ghana?) and wrapping several of them in napkins to go. The lounge staff not only tolerated it, but accommodated with bags and boxes. I guess if you’re a long-term guest on an important contract?

Checked out, where my grumble about the non-working AC was met with indifference, and took the hotel shuttle back to the airport since I didn’t want to play two hours ahead to order a taxi which is roughly what’s needed in Tunis.

Check-in was very easy, although the agent was rather bemused by my routing, and the wait for immigration and security wasn’t awful (maybe 15 minutes for immigration and 5 for security) and I even had a bit of time to stop in the TunisAir lounge for a bit before heading to the gate.

The situation was grim, and the lounge was packed, so I just had a couple of glasses of water before giving up on the barely-functional WiFi and heading to the gate.

Wish I could have gotten a better shot of the special livery that would take me to Cairo today, but this will have to do: (if you want a better look, you can check it out on JetPhotos)

EgyptAir flight 844
Tunis, Tunisia (TUN) to Cairo, Egypt (CAI)
Depart 11:35, Arrive: 15:35, flight time: 3:00
Boeing 737-800, Registration SU-GEN, Manufactured 2017, Seat 9H
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 178,333
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,870,635

The only downside to getting a brand new EgyptAir 737-800 is that unlike the older ones they only have four rows of business class, and the seat pitch is more similar to US domestic flights. The older ones have six rows, with miles of seat pitch, and I’ve never seen them more than 1/3 full.

In contrast, today, every seat would be taken, but I was fortunate to be next to a very quiet and polite seatmate who I think only got up one time in the entire three hours. Can’t complain about that at all!

Welcome aboard TANG! If it’s good enough for astronauts, it’s good enough for me! Seriously though, the crew called it orange juice, but as a kid who grew up in the midwest in the 1970s, trust me I know Tang when I taste it. EgyptAir is still a dry airline, although there are rumours that if you BYOB crews are happy to pour it. I’ve never needed or wanted to try, however.

Lunch was served in two parts, with the first being some cheese (wrapped in plastic wrap), a couple of salads, and some chocolate cake (which was delicious actually!)

About 15 minutes later out came the trolley, where chicken, fish, or beef were offered. You’ll probably notice I wasn’t too adventurous with the salads…but the chicken was absolutely delicious. Moist, with a nice but not heavy sauce on it…and I don’t know how they made the rice but it was delicious. Seemed like normal white rice, but almost a milky consistency to it…is it possible to cook rice in milk?

Not too much to say about this flight. It went by rather quickly between lunch and watching tv on the iPad, and soon we were descending into Cairo, where I just realized I would likely have to change from EgyptAir and the bit older Terminal Three to Oman Air which was likely in the newly (a year or so?) refurbished Terminal Two. That should be interesting.

Signs in the terminal for transit were reasonably good, and soon I found myself at an EgyptAir transit desk…although since I wasn’t connecting to EgyptAir they couldn’t help me. Oman? Oman? Lots of talking in Arabic and I was lead to the “boss” in a side office who could help me “in maybe 15, 20 minutes.”

After five minutes, I decided this was nonsense, and went back to the same guy and tried the “I’m going to miss my flight!” If only I’d have known…I pushed, and pushed, and finally he said “ok, follow me.”

I was lead down the hallway and down some stairs to what seemed to be a waiting room for shuttles. Now we’re talking. The room was filled with what appeared to be Hajjis, many of them with prayer mats unrolled and praying, and I couldn’t imagine that they were going to Oman. I was told to “wait, wait.”

Soon, a big bus pulled up, and everyone bolted for the door…so I did too. The security guard at the door clearly knew what was up, and in my very limited Arabic I got “Oman, no!” from him. Did a bit of googling on the phone, and Cairo does have a Hajj terminal, so maybe this was that transfer? Either way, now it was just me and the security guy in the waiting room.

Then…this pulled up. LOL! At least they knew who they were dealing with!

The ride to Terminal 2 took all of 30 seconds (seriously, I could have walked it in under five minutes if they’d allowed me outside) and I thought the hard part was over. Oh no. The transfer van dumped me in the immigration hall, but the guy there had clearly seen this before and directed me to the elevator up one level…where there was an actual transfer desk.

They took my boarding passes and passport…and once again: wait, wait.

After about 10 minutes, another guy arrived who actually spoke a little English, and took my boarding passes and passport and said “I take you.” What followed next was a bit surreal. He walked me through passport control in the wrong direction, through security in the wrong direction, and to the check-in hall to Oman Air’s check-in desk.

Now, if you didn’t follow that, I was now outside security, and outside passport control, and inside Egypt without having cleared passport control. The check-in area was mobbed, but being business class he forced us to the front of the line, where a helpful agent managed to check me in and even change my seat at my request.

Back we went….through security (without clearing security) and through passport control (without clearing passport control) and I hoped….I would be dumped in the area with gates. Oh no….we were going back to the transfer desk….where the guy who needed to “clear” me and log my details was…on a smoke break.

About 15 minutes later, he did show up, finally sign off on me and my friend who had escorted me to check-in escorted me again…this time only outside security. He dropped me at security and said “ok, you go. maybe you have tip for me?” Bwahahah…you have to love Egpyt.

Also, in case you get lost at security, if you’re going to Moscow, there’s arrows on the floor. Is someone trying to tell me something?

Security wasn’t bad, and I even had 15 minutes for the lounge. Over the years I’ve developed a fondness for the terrible mini pizzas in the lounge in Cairo with olives…and every trip just as I’m leaving I realize there’s a microwave and they’re not intended to be eaten cold. One of these days I’ll get it right…

Got to the gate a little early, and realized this is also the terminal with a Starbucks in it. How could I of all people forget that! It was evening now and I was fading pretty badly, so a coffee would have been nice. Oh well, no time now since we were almost boarding.

Checking ExpertFlyer I noticed someone had taken the seat next to me, and there were still six empty, so I decided to ask the agent at the desk if he could move me. No problem at all, and please wait here, we are about to begin priority boarding…which shockingly was actually enforced!

Oman Air flight 406
Cairo, Egypt (CAI) to Muscat, Oman (MCT)
Depart 18:45, Arrive: 00:25 next day, flight time: 3:40
Airbus A330-300, Registration A4O-DZ, Manufactured 2013, Seat 15D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 180,048
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,872,350

I knew this was coming before boarded, but why must you taunt me so 2019? This flight was originally scheduled as a 737-800, so yes, a widebody is an upgrade, but why, oh why, must I for the THIRD time in 2019 be faced with these old Singapore Airlines A330 titling flat seats?

First time was on Norwegian (operated by Evelop!) where it was a huge upgrade from premium economy, and the seat next to me was the only empty one on the plane, so it was a giant win!

Second time was on Brussels when it was a redeye back from Ghana, which was a terrible, terrible seat. So bad that when I got their survey email I was scathing…and even got a phone call. Where they admitted they knew it was terrible, but oh sorry. We’re having fleet problems.

This time? Probably a win again. Empty seat next to me, and definitely better than a 737. Will there be a fourth time? (cue the foreshadowing music…)

Pre-takeoff juice was offered and I took the lemonade with mint, hot or cold towels (nice touch!) along with menu and socks. So far, from a service perspective, I was really impressed with Oman Air!

Tonight’s menu, with what looked to be a proper dinner. No alcohol listed on the menu, although according to a google they weren’t dry, so we would see what happened after takeoff….

Pre-departure date and arabic coffee. I love this touch. It really does feel welcoming.

I went with the chicken biryani, which was outstanding. I’ve had it on a few airlines now, and every time it was excellent. Sure, the meal was served all at once, but with three forks, three knives, and champagne….so how can you not be impressed by that, lol! I struggled to figure out what I might need three different knives for…

Even a glass of red wine with dessert, which was super tasty (both the dessert and the wine!)

The crew was fantastic, and while slightly awkward they were very warm and welcoming, proactive with drink refills, and overall I was very impressed. They managed to take a plane I wasn’t thrilled with and turn it into a really nice late night flight, and I was looking forward to my transit in Muscat and finally seeing the new terminal. The last time I was there Muscat was a horrid experience involving bus gates, temporary gates, and overall a mess.

First impressions in the arrivals area were good (although it was slightly warm) and the terminal seemed modern, welcoming, and had enough greenery to feel like there was “life” in it.

Security was needed for flights from Egypt (or maybe all flights?) but it only took a few minutes and soon I was searching for the lounge. Signage wasn’t great, but clearly I was the only one because this place was absolutely packed. Welcome to the lounge…from our 787 and from Sultan Qaboos!

It was a bit difficult figuring out where to get a drink, but the buffet was huge. I wasn’t took hungry so just got some cheese, fruits, and olives and finally found some champagne. (After at first mistaking the bubbles in the self-service area which were sparkling grape juice – ack!) I considered a glass of wine, but they were individual bottles of dubious quality, so I went with the safe bet!

Off to the gate, where I was curious to find out what had happened. Two days prior the flight only had three people in business class, and now all 30 seats were showing full on the seat map.

Getting to the gate, it soon became obvious. The flight had a group of well over 100 returning Indonesia Hajjis all with matching backpacks identifying them as a group, and the flight appeared to be very full.

I chatted up the friendly desk agent who was scanning boarding passes before letting people into the gate area, and she confirmed the flight was actually overbooked and they had upgraded 25 people from economy. Argh! Hopefully the configuration would be as it seemed online with window seats actually having aisle access, so it wouldn’t be a big deal….

Oman Air flight 849
Muscat, Oman (MCT) to Jakarta, Indonesia (CGK)
Depart 02:45, Arrive: 13:30, flight time: 7:45
Boeing 787-9, Registration A4O-SI, Manufactured 2019, Seat 11K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 183,899
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,876,201

On first impression, the configuration was exactly what I expected. The window seat was set just a little forward so both the aisle and window seat have aisle access. A very nice touch!

With the partitions down, you could see all the way across the cabin. When you put them up, as long as your seatmate wasn’t tall like me, it was pretty private. I put it up right away, and the flight attendants never asked me to put it down – even during taxi, takeoff, and landing.

What’s for noms on a 3am flight? Ok, we have a refreshment and à la carte, so I assume it’s eat what you want when you want.

Pre-departure juice was offered again, but I decided to ask if I could have champagne, and the excellent flight attendant was happy to help…bringing it along with some arabic coffee and dates. So far, I was loving this!

Shortly after takeoff mixed nuts were offered (with refill!) along with a glass of wine.

Then…I never saw the crew. For over 90 minutes. They didn’t even come to collect the nuts or the wine glass. This was getting a bit silly. I debated ringing the call button, but everyone else seemed to be asleep (except the occasional people running up from coach to be jealous of their upgraded friends) so I decided to walk to the front of the cabin to see if I could find flight attendants.

I found the helpful one who had helped me earlier, and asked him if I might at least get the refreshment. He snapped back rather nastily “I asked you, and you said no. I don’t think there is anymore.” I was floored…and went back to my seat. Clearly they’d served the front cabin and run out…so didn’t bother offering to row 5 (which is the only row in the second “mini” cabin). Just wow.

Yet, 10 minutes later, he appeared at my seat with this. I asked for a wine refill, and he grumpily replied. No clue what happened in the meantime, but pleasantness went from amazing to nasty pretty quickly.

Then, things went south. Literally 15 seconds after the food came we hit some pretty tubular turbulence and things went flying. Literally. The wine glass went at least several inches in the air during one particularly bad bump and came crashing down sideways, spilling wine all over my iPad and food. I managed to mop up a good deal of it, but to this day my iPad still smells like stale wine…

Despite all the wine-soaked napkins when the flight attendant finally came back he just took the tray and left. Sigh. Wonder who pissed in his hummus.

I decided to see if I could get some sleep, and did manage four hours or so, waking up just in time for lunch service – which was a formal service despite being advertised as à la carte. Go figure. Orders were taking, and lunch was done by the same flight attendant – who was back in a good mood again. Go figure.

Amuse bouche of pistachio and parmesan scallops with pineapple relish. Much tastier than I expected.

I went with the mezze as an appetizer, and it was good, but not great.

Braised kingfish and scallops in coconut and coriander sauce. This was pretty good. It could have been a bit more flavourful, but overall I was happy with it – and it was a bit of a lighter option.

For desert, I went with the cheese plate, which overall I was impressed with…and you can’t have cheese without wine! This was definitely above average for cheese plates, so a solid choice.

Carnage from the night before. I wasn’t kidding when I said the wine went flying:

Overall, I was really happy with this trip, especially given the price paid. The seats on the Oman Air 787-9 are fantastic, and allow you to have both a window and aisle, so it’s now one of my favourite business products – only thing I like better is 1-2-1 – which United and Air Canada both do quite well!

Time to enjoy my time in Indonesia!!

Nov 232019
 


So, you already think I’m insane. I get that, and I proudly own it. So, while I’m at it, let me reinforce it. This trip had been (unusually for me lately) booked several months ahead of time. Three weeks prior, I was in Switzerland for work, and some issues arose which necessitated an urgent trip back.

I looked at changing my vacation ticket to just go DC-Geneva a few days earlier with a layover, but due to the craziness of change fees and one-way fares it was actually a better deal to book the roundtrip to Geneva and then…um…

Yeah, I got home from Geneva on Friday afternoon. Turned right around Saturday night…back to Geneva.

Ok, yeah, moving right along….every great trip begins with…well, scratch that, not DC Metrorail, but it’s always fun to document the first leg of the trip!

Nothing interesting until I got to the United Club, where the same bartender as four days prior was working. He was like “I remember! Back from Switzerland so soon? Where to now?” Probably should have said Chicago or something so I didn’t reinforce the perception I’m crazy. Or maybe it scored me pity points…because somehow my (non free United Club plonk) wine magically refilled without asking…

You need something to wash down what passes for snacks in the Dulles United Club these days. United brags about the Polaris lounges, while in DC we get the big middle finger…not even a couple of premium drink coupons. Not feeling the love.

Soon enough it was time to board, and I was glad I’d made an effort to get to the gate for the start of boarding. It was clear this was a very heavy infrequent traveller flight, and Group 1 was being swarmed by people on the “trip of a lifetime.” Given that 767s are a little short on overhead space to begin with, I was glad to not have to fight for it.

After boarding and listening to chatter, it was evident it was a large group from DC going to Europe for a package tour. Hopefully that wouldn’t mean lots of excited chatter all night long…

United flight 974
Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD) to Geneva, Switzerland (GVA)
Depart 17:30, Arrive: 06:25 next day, flight time: 7:55
Boeing 767-300, Registration N651UA , Manufactured 1992, Seat 9A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 175,829
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,868,417

After going 19 for 20 in not getting United Polaris reconfigured 767s this year so far, I finally lucked out! Given that nearly 60% of the fleet is reconfigured, I’d had some seriously bad luck up until now!

One of the best things about flying at this time of year is that transatlantic flights leave right around dusk, so you tend to get some amazing sunsets as you break through the clouds. Tonight was one of the best!

As usual on United things began with some very salty mixed nuts…and for me a glass of wine.

Tonight featured a spinach salad that was much better than the normal salads out of Dulles lately, but unfortunately it also featured the extravagant two shrimp appetizer. Ugh. But there was a pretzel roll and garlic bread, so all was not lost!

This meal has been around on and off for over a year now, but I always smile a bit when it’s on the menu. I think the spicy chicken is the best meal United has going, even if I do manage to splash the broth on my shirt every single time! (This time being no exception.)

As usual, cheese and a sundae for dessert. The cheese was much better than average, and the sundae was…well…a sundae. In my quest to be healthier this is really a course that needs to be eliminated from my indulgence entirely.

Fortunately, I managed nearly four hours of sleep, which is a transatlantic record for me lately. For years I had no trouble passing out for 5-6 hours on most flights, but that was also when I would take 10pm flights out of DC and it was a more normal time to sleep. With the 5pm flights they tend to land at around midnight or 1am DC time, so I’d much rather book another night of hotel and take a 4-5 hour nap upon landing. Unfortunately, with connections this trip, that wasn’t an option, so I was glad to get some rest!

Speaking of healthy, I just asked for a Diet Coke. The lovely crew insisted that I needed a cinnamon bun as well. This was also the best crew I’d had out of Dulles in ages, and it’s amazing what a difference it makes when the crew enjoys their jobs!

I had a few hours to kill in Geneva, and since I had to go through immigration anyways (since my next flight was “domestic” to Frankfurt) I figured I might as well leave security as well. And get coffee. For science. To prove Starbucks in Geneva tastes the same. As it did 40 hours prior. LOL.

Back through security where there was absolutely no line, and I’ve been through Geneva so much this year that I know all the little nuances that can make security more of an experience (keep your phone til the last minute, don’t put it in a bin – they’ll need to scan your boarding pass before your bags go in, etc.) and even had a little time for the lounge.

I was starting to feel the jetlag a bit (that heavy airline meal and alcohol probably didn’t help) so stocked up on lots of water in the lounge and some orange juice to keep the blood sugars happy. Then, it was off to the gate, where of course things were running a little late due to some fog as crew stuck in traffic…which is odd because you would think this crew would just be a turnaround from Frankfurt….

Lufthansa flight 1213, op. by Lufthansa Cityline
Geneva, Switzerland (GVA) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 08:50, Arrive: 10:05, flight time: 1:15
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration D-AECH , Manufactured 2010, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 176,115
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,868,703

Shortly before takeoff the fog in Geneva turned to an absolute torrential downpour, but that apparently didn’t have too much impact as we had little wait for takeoff and soon shot into the skies.

Despite flight time only being 55 minutes there was a meal served. Often Lufthansa serves a small plated snack even on flights this short, but today it was just a packaged half-sandwich and a small snack bar. I had a few bites, but wasn’t hungry enough that I bothered with the rest – it was unremarkable.

The best part of taking off in a downpour for a short-ish flight and a small-ish storm is that occasionally, on descent, you get amazing rainbows. Today was extra-awesome descending into Frankfurt:

Fortunately, my flight today was leaving from the B Terminal at Frankfurt, but we arrived at the very end of the A Terminal which meant a rather lengthy walk to get there.

I was rewarded, however, by a nearly empty Lufthansa First Lounge in Terminal B, which meant that I could have a shower and relax with a glass of champagne before considering lunch.

A bit after noon I decided I was hungry enough to wander over to the dining area for lunch. I still wasn’t really hungry, and definitely didn’t need much, but as one tends to do when offered the delights of the Lufthansa First Class Lounge I threw caution to the wind and ordered the wienerschnitzel. Along with the potato salad, it was delicious as always.

…and a second failure at behaving. Because: apfel struedel! Yum!

Time passed (less than I should probably admit) and while doing some work and waiting for my life to board I decided that it would be a shame to let the Lufthansa First whiskey selection go to waste, and had just one class…ok, and maybe a berry tart to go along with it…

Finally off to the gate, where it was time to board what appeared to be a very packed A320 to Tunis. Quick look at ExpertFlyer confirmed the flight was still J1, and it appeared the only empty seat in “business class” was in my row…could I be this lucky yet again?

Lufthansa flight 1324
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Tunis, Tunisia (TUN)
Depart 14:55, Arrive: 17:10, flight time: 2:15
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIZY , Manufactured 2013, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 177,029
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,869,331

When the door closed on a very full flight with one empty seat (plus the middles in “business” of course) the one empty was indeed 1A in my row. I slid over after the door close and had the entire row to myself. This is living! If you have to fly EuroBusiness, having the whole row at least makes it much nicer!

Despite the short flight, a full linner service was offered, with multiple choices of main course. I obviously wasn’t very hungry, but accepted in the name of being able to take a picture for everyone…you’re welcome.

Of course, I ate way more than I needed to, but hey…that’s what happens. Side note: I’ve never liked gravy or sauces on my beef or veal, so why is it when there’s Spätzle it suddenly becomes magical? I mean, Spätzle and burrata? How can you say no!

Flight was pretty quick, and there was absolutely no queue at immigration when we arrived in Tunis, so it was a pretty painless process. Except the immigration guy who insisted on using his 10 words of English on me instead of speaking French. I couldn’t tell if he was just proud of his limited English, it was an “anti-colonialist” thing re: French, or what…but it was quite annoying, and made what could have been a 30 second transaction several minutes. Oh well.

Fortunately, I’d decided in advance I didn’t want to deal with the often-annoying Tunis taxi mafia so I’d asked the Sheraton to meet me with their shuttle. It’s probably twice the price a taxi can be negotiated for, and you have to wait for everyone on your flight to disembark so they can fill the shuttle, but…today it was definitely worth it.

If you remember my last visit to this Sheraton, it’s the home of some pretty disturbing artwork. The artwork had changed in the past few months, but not for the less-weird:

Fortunately, I’d had plenty to eat on the plane since the evening snacks in the executive lounge at the Sheraton weren’t worth the calories, but around 8pm I was hungry enough I wandered down to the lobby lounge for a small dinner snack.

My last time, the lounge had been absolutely packed with football fans watching a Tunisia game, but this night I was one of only two people there! Not sure if it was because it was a sunday night or not, but the hotel was actually sold out so there were definitely people around. Everyone must be eating room service.

They do do fairly reasonable “mini sliders” (aren’t sliders mini by definition?) at the lobby lounge, and that with a local Celtia beer to wash it down made the perfect end to a very long 24 hours of travel. I better get used to it, because the next day would be just as long!

Back to my room, where sleep was hard to come by. First reason? The room temp was 75F (23C) because the air conditioning in the hotel was turned off. Why? “The guests complain that it is too cold in the hotel.) WTF, it was 85F during the day, and if you think it’s too cold don’t turn it on in your room? (Haven’t you all missed my AC rants recently? Side note: checking out the next morning I mentioned it to the staff, and the other guy checking out was like “yeah, I have to sleep with the windows open for it to be tolerable.)

Other reason it was hard to sleep? The disorderliness of the pictures on the wall really bothered me…. only half kidding…

With that said, the first long segment of the trip was over, and it was time to sleep. Tomorrow will be another very long day!

Nov 032019
 


By the time the door had opened I had less than 50 minutes to catch my flight in DC. Since I’d never arrived from the US and connected to the US before, I had no idea how much work it would be, so I assumed maximum annoyance factor.

Fortunately , just like when I’ve arrived from DC before, we were dumped into generic international arrivals, meaning I could just run for my connection – and hopefully there was a turnoff for connections to the US before having to enter Canada!

The was, and with about 45 minutes to go I was already at the security line which wasn’t too bad with a NEXUS card. I was through in not too long, and got to US immigration with 35+ minutes to go. On the off chance you might not know, for flights from Canada to the US, from major airports you clear US immigration while still on the Canadian side.

The line wasn’t too bad, but for some reason despite using the Global Entry kiosk they were making everyone line up with their receipts, and the officer was grilling every person. Seriously, wtf is with this. I’ve only seen it in Toronto and Vancouver (never the US proper) where they basically ignore Global Entry and give you the third degree regardless. You can imagine how this is going to go.

“How long were you in Toronto?” “Oh, about ten minutes, I’m just connecting.” “Where are you connecting from?” “LA” “You’re going from LA to DC via Toronto?!” (and he holds up his hand to motion me over to secondary) . me: “yes, it’s an award ticket, it was the cheapest mileage option…but after a redeye from LA I’m regretting it.” Slight pause…and he waives me through. YES!

Quick glance at my phone to see which gate to run to….and I see the flight has been delayed by an hour. Hahahah, isn’t that how it always happens?

Decided with my bounty of extra time that the first stop would be Starbucks for some caffeinated goodness, and then the Air Canada lounge for a bit to get some water and charge the phone while I waited to see if the delay would get any worse.

Turns out that my plane was originally going Montreal – Toronto – DCA that morning, and had gone mechanical in Montreal, so they’d done a plane swap, and the new plane was in the air…so the hour delay looked pretty realistic…and it was.

Air Canada flight 7608 operated by Sky Regional
Toronto, Pearson (YYZ) to Washington, DC, National (DCA)
Depart 7:25, Arrive: 8:50, flight time: 1:25
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration C-FEJB , Manufactured 2005, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 140,739
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,833,327

Absolutely packed flight – which I’m guessing had to do with the delay. No misconnnects, a few people from later flights on standby, but I had my 1A so I was happy as a clam. They even served a meal on this one instead of the snack I’m used to from the noon flight from DCA to Toronto, and it was actually substantial. Still full from In ‘n Out and the flight from LA I think I just ate the fruit and pecked at the eggs.

So, there I was….home by 11am, a full half day to do laundry and recover before going into work the next day. In the end it was a little over 87 hours, and lots of stories and adventures. But would I do it again?

I think my worries going into it were twofold: one, that I’d end up exhausted at the end and go into the workweek absolutely wrecked. I’m not 21 anymore and can’t get away with that. The other was the money and miles….would I regret spending them?

Now, almost two months later, the second question is easy: the work travel has piled on and I’ve already earned all the miles back in under two months so I’m glad I did it or I might have more than I know what to do with!

On the being exhausted…yeah, there’s no denying I was. But staying home it would have been my birthday and who’s to say I wouldn’t have stayed up late or gone out. Plus, I wasn’t THAT wrecked, and I had a half day to recover…AND I had an amazing adventure and series of stores. End of the day, what it comes down to is, that old saying is true:

“You never regret the big chances you took….but you almost always regret the ones you didn’t take.”

Live big, live epic, make great stories….they’ll be plenty of time to be worm fodder later!

(Oh, and I’m writing this two days into the next epic adventure. Stay tuned for a trip to the Arctic Circle…aka Tuktoyaktuk….via the Middle East, Southeast Asia…and Toronto…that sounds almost as crazy as LA to DC via Toronto….

Nov 022019
 


After landing at LAX, I think we were at the very last gate of the Bradley Terminal, and it felt like I walked halfway to Arizona to find my way to customs and immigration. Thanks to Global Entry no wasted time at all, and I was through quite quickly with still over four hours until departure for Toronto.

At the very last moment, I found out my friend Karl of Great Circle Mapper fame was in LA for some aviation geek event called cranky dork geekfest or something and was actually nearish the airport. Quick call of an Uber, and I was off to see just how much I could accomplish in a short layover.

Got to the restaurant where he was at, but apparently there were multiple events. I was pretty sure he wasn’t there for Alyssa’s quinceanera!

So, first thoughts, how did I not know about The Proud Bird before? Great place to watch planes landing as it’s essentially at the end of a runway, and lots of great aviation memorabilia and good beers to boot!

Was awesome having an hour or so to catch up with Karl (and yes, I admit, geek out with AvGeeks watching planes land too. Everyone was glued to FlightRadar24 and when something “cool” was coming in they’d all bolt up and run outside to get pictures – it was awesome!) but all too soon I had to head out if I wanted to ensure a stop at THE reason for an LAX layover.

You knew it was coming…a stop at In ‘n Out Burger for a double double, animal style of course, and a neapolitan shake. The place was absolutely packed, and it took nearly 20 minutes to get my order, but it was worth every delicious bite and minute of waiting.

As I was enjoying dinner Al Fresco, this email came in…pretty sure I nailed it. Planespotting, friends, and In ‘n Out…all in a four hour layover. Pretty sure that qualifies as living my best life….oh and all that going around the world for my birthday thing…

Got to LAX, and in order to be sure I could use CLEAR (and because I was desperately in need of a shower) I headed to T4 to clear security since it was the shortest airside walk to the TBIT and Star Alliance lounge where I was sure I could get a shower.

No wait at all for security, a long-ish walk to the Star Alliance Lounge where I found out the wait for a shower was…”one to two hours” – wtf is it with lack of showers this trip?

I may have offered the lounge attendant a small gift….and voila my waiting time was less than ten minutes. I felt mildly bad about skipping the queue, but after no shower in Tokyo and then running around LA for three hours, I was pretty desperate!

Showered, and much happier, I began the long trek underground from TBIT to Terminal 6 underground through terminals 4 and 5, and finally arrived at the Air Canada lounge quite a bit sweatier. Thank God I’d had that shower…

Quick glass of wine, and was off to the gate…where the minute I got there it was announced there would be a 45 minute delay due to late arriving crew. Ugh, that was going to mean I had barely an hour in Toronto, which would make clearing immigration interesting…

Air Canada flight 788
Los Angeles, California (LAX) to Toronto, Pearson (YYZ)
Depart 22:15, Arrive: 05:38 next day, flight time: 4:23
Boeing 777-200LR, Registration C-FIVK, Manufactured 2008, Seat 7K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 140,380
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,832,968

Finally we boarded, where everyone promptly got themselves all ready for bed. It was clear the cabin was full of LA to Toronto regulars, some of the conversations around me were fascinating. One young woman who’d flow to LA that morning “for a commercial shoot” and was flying right back. Another younger woman in head to toe Gucci and Louis Vuitton going on and on about how she “caught her maid doing coke in the bathroom – that’s so 1980s!” and that’s just the ones I overheard….

As predicted the moment we were airborne 90% of the cabin went flat with their seats and were out cold for the flight. According to the flight attendant, I was one of three people still awake in a cabin of 35+ so I decided to see what’s to eat.

Ahhhh, the Air Canada omelet with cottage cheese and mystery pepper relish…I was hoping to see it and wasn’t disappointed. Meanwhile, let’s have some pre-departure bubbles…

After takeoff, the flight attendant was quick to bring me some nuts, cheese, and wine….and when it as gone quickly, she insisted I have a second since there was so much leftover with everyone sleeping. Just what I didn’t need after In ‘n Out, but how could I say no…

After a couple hours of watching tv, the cabin was woken up about an hour before landing (with a flight time of 3 hours and 50 minutes that meant people had about 2.5 hours to sleep max) and THE omelet. Unfortunately the fruit was quite disappointing which was sad…because that’s normally something Air Canada does really well. Maybe because it’s US-catered?

Good morning Toronto!

…and with that, I had a grand total of 50 minutes to run through immigration BACK into the US, clear security, and get to my gate. Easy, right?