Aug 042016
 

The Almaty airport has to go down as one of the worst major airports in the world. First, you scan your bags, and then proceed to the check-in area. Etihad staff were quite nice, and when I asked if the flight was full in business class today, they couldn’t understand. Switching into Russian he said “oh no, there are only two passengers, but economy is very very overbooked, so it will be full.” Great, just my luck, 14 people getting for free what I paid extra for. Oh well!

Through passport control and security, and into departures. Departures is one large hall with one lounge, a few cafes and smoking lounges, and a large duty free shop. At least I was able to get some caffeine duty free while I waited:

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I’m quite amazed that for such a modern city with such so many high end luxury malls, Starbucks, and tons of international brands, the airport is so poor. In the business lounge, you get two drink coupons…but not valid on alcoholic drinks! Only coffee, tea, juice, and water…and only two of them. Probably the poorest excuse for a business class lounge I’ve seen at a major international airport. Only Abidjan was almost as bad. To its credit, it did have reasonable AC which almost kept it cool…and compared to the departures hall that was very welcome.

Walked over to where my bus was boarding from (since everything here is a bus gate) and there were only like 50 people waiting….and then, looking over to security, it was obvious what had happened. There was a group of 100+ Indians clearing connecting security. It was a large sports team that was coming from Uzbekistan and just connecting, which explained why the flight was so oversold. On the bus to the plane, we passed the very unfortunately named SCAT Airlines:

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Etihad flight 297
Almaty, Kazakhstan (ALA) to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (AUH)
Depart 17:20, Arrive 20:25, Flight Time: 5:05
Airbus A319, Registration A6-EIE, Manufactured 2003, Seat 3D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 122,245
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,311,382

It was easy to determine which plane we would be on, as Etihad only has one A319 with business class. Fortunately, it was on time, and we boarded right on schedule. Pre-departure beverages were offered, and champagne was no problem:

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Printed menus:

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The mezze starter was rather tasty, and great presentation for a narrowbody flight:

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The lamb tikka was delicious, and went quite well with a glass of wine:

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Chocolate cheesecake dessert was nothing special, but went well with red wine:

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The flight took a very roundabout route, presumably to avoid Afghan airspace:

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Not terribly much to say about the flight. Five hours is a bit long on an A319, but Etihad gives plenty of legroom, way more than US carriers do on a narrowbody. Only one of the free upgraders was a bit obnoxious, constantly putting his bare feet up on the armrest of the woman in front of him. Oddly enough, despite banging her arms with his bare feet repeatedly, she didn’t seem to mind at all.

No line at immigration which was nice, so it was off to the Etihad Chauffeur service to get a drive to the hotel. No wait at all, unlike my last time, and was in the car and off instantly. About 20 minutes later, checked into the Aloft Abu Dhabi. I had stayed there a couple months prior, and been really impressed for an Aloft. This time, wasn’t as good. The staff seemed a bit overworked and puzzled, and not quite sure how to do their jobs. They were incredibly nice, but it was just a little bit off. As an example, previous visit they had offered two complimentary drink coupons. This time, it was one. When I asked for a second, she said, “oh, well, I guess that is ok.”

At least they upgraded me to a larger room, same type as previously, and the AC operated on arctic:

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Typical functional Aloft washroom, but plenty spacious:

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Nice selection of little cakes was waiting in the room:

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Decided to head upstairs to the top floor sports bar and enjoy my free drink coupons. Apparently, they were about to show games from the European Football championship and the floors were covered with tacky green fake grass and there were flags everywhere. Did enjoy a couple of beers, and then headed back to call it a night just as all the football fans were beginning to show up.

Woke up, went downstairs, and enjoyed their rather large buffet. It’s no St. Regis, but for an Aloft it was rather amazing. I’ve been rather impressed overall with Aloft properties – they’re at a lower price point, but not as old and run down as many Four Points. I’d be happy to stay in one again.

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Elevator up to the room encouraged me to take a selfie, and always one to listen to elevators, I complied:

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This is when disaster struck in the form of a notification from TripIt. Apparently my flight from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne had been delayed. Opened up Etihad’s website to look…and it was delayed seven hours! Instead of a 5pm arrival into Melbourne in time to do a planned dinner and evening with friends, I would be arriving at midnight! Did lots of frantic research for the next couple hours using Etihad’s website along with FlightRadar24, FlightAware, and a few other tools to map out Etihad’s fleet of A380s. Fortunately there are only eight of them, so it was easy to tell where they were coming/going from.

Etihad flies the A380 to New York JFK, London, Mumbai, Sydney, and Melbourne. I was able to trace the delay to one of the A380s going mechanical in Melbourne, and being out of service for over 48 hours. They seemed to be trying to run all flights with just seven planes, which meant JFK was delayed as well…by 14 hours! Apparently JFK and Melbourne worked best, because the other routes were still operating on time. I waited a couple hours to confirm the two A380s that COULD help me leave near on time did leave (to London and Mumbai) and once they had, it was set. My delay officially meant the point of my going to Melbourne was moot and while I considered still going, it just wasn’t going to be worth it.

So, I did what I’ve never done before: canceled all my onward flights, and decided to throw caution to the wind and live in the moment.

Called the front desk and extended my room for one more night since it looked like I wouldn’t make it out. Then, it was time to start thinking where to go next. But first, caffeine would be needed. Headed off to Yas Island Mall, where Jerab got some Starbucks:

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Now, all together please, say YAAAAAAAS!

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Back to the hotel after a couple hours and started to sort out a plan. I really wanted to try the A380 apartments again, and it looked like I could do that if I headed to Mumbai the next day. So, why not! Decided to book a ticket to Mumbai and go to India for a few days…from there, who knew where the rest of the trip would lead me!

Headed back up to the sports bar planning to get a burger or something for dinner, but was promptly refused entry for wearing shorts. Sports Bar apparently means classy in Dubai, so back to the room to put on some trousers and headed up. I began to wish very quickly that I hadn’t. The place was filled with smoke and eastern european women that I had a hard time telling if they were expatriates, flight attendants, or what. I was like some trashy eastern european nightclub in there…and so bad I couldn’t even stay for a beer there was so much smoke.

This is where Aloft continued to lose me. Apparently, room service also isn’t a thing at this property. You can get something from the takeout cafe and have it brought to your room for a small charge, but you actually have to go down and pay for it yourself…then they will bring it up for you if you want. Overall, it was beginning to feel much more like the budget experience I expected and less like a nice relaxing stay…next morning it was up, and hopefully my car would show up to take me to the airport…

Aug 022016
 

After breakfast, I decided to give Uber a try for the ride to the airport. This allowed me to use one of my favourite tips for international travel: if you know how much your travel to the airport will cost you, spend all the rest of your local cash on your hotel bill if you don’t see coming back to the country any time soon. This ensures you don’t get stuck with any currency which may be hard to get rid of, but I usually keep some small coins for my coin jar.

That said, Uber worked like a charm. The car didn’t have AC, but it wasn’t warm in the morning and the driver (although he didn’t speak English) was super friend and excited to talk about how much Novosibirsk had changed in his lifetime. I was impressed someone going on 60, who’d grown up in Soviet times, was so in touch was modern technology that he was driving for Uber. Turned out to be a great experience, and only about $7 for the 30+ minute ride.

Gorgeous blue skies above Tolmachevo Airport:

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After checking in, I was told that “international VIP passengers can use Door #1” so back outside I went. Turned out the VIP Terminal was for all International Business Passengers. Sure, it’s no Lufthansa First Terminal, but for a small airport like Novosibirsk it was pretty cool having a separate terminal. My lounging area:

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Stand-up view from my lounge cubicle:

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More views of the lounge. It was empty except for three of us:

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30 minutes before flight time, all three of us were escorted out of the terminal from the back door…which led into another waiting lounge complete with security. X-ray done, all three of us were loaded into the van for the drive to the plane. However, the other two were going to Frankfurt so I was beginning to wonder if I was the only passenger to Almaty. When we arrived at my plane, the driver said “no, it’s hot, you wait here. Business class does not wait in lines!” So, I got to admire the peasants from afar:

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As soon as everyone was on board, except me, it was time to board.

S7 Airlines flight 3298
Novosibirsk, Russia (OVB) to Almaty, Kazakhstan (ALA)
Depart 10:50, Arrive 13:20, Flight Time: 2:30
Airbus A320, Registration VQ-BDM, Manufactured 2004, Seat 2F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 120,424
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,309,561

Pre-departure beverage of water was offered…to go with the bottle of water which was already at my seat:

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There did end up being three other people in business, no idea why they weren’t in the terminal with me, but the seat next to me was open so I moved to the window to do a bit of plane spotting:

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The amenity kit is something even United would be embarassed of. It was essentially a folded brown paper bag with some art on it. There was also nothing of any real use inside:

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Even for this relatively short flight, a printed menu was on offer:

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In addition to a breakfast menu, there was a lunch menu. I almost thought we might have a choice…but nope, we got lunch:

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A little red wine to start, and no 10 year old seated next to me to steal it this flight:

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The meal looked nice, but the self-described “meat starter” looked to be way too much processed meat product for my taste. Salmon on a plane is a dicey choice, so I enjoyed the olives, and decided to at least have the chicken for some protein…

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…or maybe not. It was without a doubt the driest most-overcooked bird I’ve ever seen. Completely inedible…and on plain pasta to top it off.

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Desert…I managed one bite. It was the most sickeningly sweet cake I’ve ever tasted. I swear it was 99% sugar and 1% flour….

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Although the meal was a huge let-down, we were arriving nearly 45 minutes early! Almaty from above:

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Super old aircraft on the tarmac:

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Immigration was quick and painless, and the fixed-price taxi line was super convenient for getting to my hotel, the Ritz Carlton Almaty. I can’t remember the last time I’d stayed at a Ritz Carlton, but had some hopes they would give some perks for Marriott Platinum status, but nope, nothing at all beyond a 2pm checkout. The room was very small, but comfortable:

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Nice wood paneling:

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Nice marble bathroom with heated floors:

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One of the best parts of the hotel was the view. The lobby is on the top floor (30th or so) and the whole hotel is like 8 floors going down from there. The rest is an apartment building I believe. It was a bit annoying having to take the elevator from the lobby up to 30, and then catch another elevator down to your room, but the views made up for it:

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I had to go attend a few meetings, so walked out the front door to the main road, held my hand out, and had no problem negotiating a driver to take me for a 25 minute drive for barely $2. Taxis in this part of the world are very informal, and anyone who has the time will offer to drive you where you’re going, usually for very little money as long as you speak the language.

So, apparently, Kazakhstan had heard I was coming, because the first Starbucks in the country had opened this year! So yeah, apparently I’m Jon:

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After wrapping up my meetings, it was back to the hotel, where the Almaty Ski jump was very visible on the nice clear day with the mountains in the background:

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Went for a walk to check out the super upscale mall next door, which was practically empty but was full of pretty much every international luxury brand you could imagine…including Kazakhstan Cola of course:

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When I left the mall, there was a huge musical performance going on outside with hundreds of people watching performers on stage. Turns out it was an offshoot of the Kazakh Idol competition and some sort of a local talent event. I watched for a bit, and the strangest part was that most of the songs were in French. According to one lady I asked French songs are very trendy in Kazakhstan now, so everyone was trying to imitate the style. Maybe it was just one person’s impression, but…

It was evening by this point and the 100+ Fahrenheit temperatures had dropped a little (but, given it was a dry heat it wasn’t too bad) so I headed to the hotel’s bar/cafe for something to eat. Turns out, apparently, the cafe is sponsored by Veuve Cliquot. While I was tempted to get a bottle to enjoy but decided to exercise at least a little restraint this trip:

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Theemed right down to the VC  bicycle, umbrellas, and aprons on the wait staff:

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Three of the largest “sliders” I’ve ever seen made for a very tasty dinner:

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Slept in the next morning, and as tempting as it was to grab a taxi to Starbucks for some coffee, I wasn’t in the mood for a 50 minute roundtrip taxi just for coffee when the luxury mall next door had a Paul which served up a very tasty croque madame:

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Which went well with a pain au raisin and a iced coffee. They couldn’t however, understand the concept of either a triple espresso or an iced coffee, so I did have to order three espressos and a big glass of ice. They seemed very puzzled by this behaviour, but were more than happy to provide it:

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After a relaxing breakfast it was time to head to the airport, and continue the trip onward to Abu Dhabi.

Jun 132013
 

Got to the airport at 9pm for my 11:50pm flight, since I’d been warned by several colleagues that immigration to get out of Tashkent could be nasty.  I tried to check in at the VIP terminal again,  but turns out that’s only for those flying on Uzbekistan Airways.  No priority anything for other airlines.  There was no wait to check in, however, but there was probably a 30 minute queue for passport control.

The real nightmare began on the other side.  The person manning the baggage scanner decided I was a good target for harassment, and pulled me and my bags aside for a hand search and grope.  And when I say grope, it made the TSA look like naïve innocents.  Seriously, I’m pretty sure there are people hire “professional escorts” who get less of a grope.  Then, it continued on to a very very detailed baggage inspection, going through every little container I had, squirting a little bit of toothpaste out, looking in prescription jars, etc.  Eventually, I’d had enough and refused to answer any further questions until he called a supervisor over.  The supervisor continued the harassment, but when I told him where I’d been working when there, he finally gave up and sent me on my way.

Not that it was much better – the entire airport is one large waiting area, and again there was a lounge, but the doors were locked.  No access for Air Astana.  Rather bizarre.  I ended up just sitting around for nearly 90 minutes trying to kill time until it was time to board.

Air Astana flight 124
Tashkent, Uzbekistan (TAS) to Astana, Kazakhstan (TSE)
Depart 23:50, Arrive 2:55 next day, Flight Time 3:05
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration P4-KCH, Manufactured 2012, Seat 2A

Water, juice, and sparkling wine were offered during boarding, and the flight appeared to be completely full today. We pushed back pretty much on time, and were airborne shortly.  Despite the late hour and being a regional jet, Air Astana pulled out all the stops and served a full hot meal.  Actually quite impressive…starting with warm nuts and wine!

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This was followed with a full hot meal (and wine refills upon pressing the flight attendant call button):

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Shortly before landing, immigration cards were distributed.  I didn’t see any way to to an airside transfer in Astana, but it could be possible.  I didn’t require a visa with my passport, so I decided to just clear immigration and check in with Lufthansa.  I found the immigration forms mildly amusing, because watermarked across them in large text was the fact that they were free!

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Immigration took less than five minutes, but checked bagged took over 30 minutes to show up!  Not a big issue though, and went upstairs and checked in with Lufthansa quite easily.  Exit immigration and security were a complete non-event, and once again there was no lounge on the other side.  I’ve never been to a Lufthansa international destination that didn’t have a lounge for business class passengers, so this was rather surprising.  The airport had free, and fast-enough-to-Skype internet, so that was good at least, and helped to pass a bit of time.

Lufthansa flight 649
Astana, Kazakhstan (TSE) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 4:40, Arrive 6:45, Flight Time 6:05
Airbus A330-300, Registration D-AIKE, Manufactured 2004, Seat 3D

There’s not going to be much detail on this flight, other than to say it was about 2/3 full in business class, and I was lucky enough to have the seat next to me remain empty.  The downside is, at 4:40am in May this far north, the sun was already rising as we took off, and we flew into the sun the entire flight.  The crew was great about putting the shades down very quickly after takeoff so those who wanted to sleep could.  When the food/drink service came around I wasn’t hungry, but asked for and got two glasses of red wine, the proceeded to pass out and sleep for five straight hours.  Excellent!

However, I did keep the menu, and appears there was no food service.  The flight comes from Almaty where they serve a small dinner (listed aso Chicken Breast stuffed with dried Tomato, marinated Prawn and Mango Sauce with fresh fruit for desert) but this flight featured a breakfast which I didn’t bother waking up for:

Fresh Fruit

Muesli

Marinated Prawn, moked Beef (not my typo, theirs), smoked Chicken Breast and Chili Cause, Bavaria blu and Goda Cheese

or

Cheese Omelette with Chicken Brochette, Potato Cake, Asparagus and Tomato Sauce

After clearing security in Frankfurt, I went straight to the Senator lounge and asked about upgrading my next flight with a United Global Upgrade.  I was worried because Expertflyer showed 4 seats left in first, and I know Lufthansa usually loads meals in sets of 4, and sometimes where there are exactly 4 seats left they will use it as an excuse not to upgrade you.  The agent said she would call the agent handing the flight and get back to me shortly.  Meanwhile, I decided it was time for a shower and an espresso while I waited.

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After the espresso, the agent came over to tell me that normally it would not be possible to upgrade on this flight, but due to my “corporate account booking” they would be making an exception.  Score!  I opted to wait out the next two hours in the Lufthansa First lounge, even though it meant having to clear immigration to the Schengen side.  I have no idea where there’s no First class lounge for the Z gates since they’re almost all longhaul international flights, but that’s how it is.  Once there, I had time to wait, so had a proper morning snack.  Pain au chocolate, kiwi juice, smoked salmon, and a bit of Veuve rosé bubbly:

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Back through immigration after catching up on some work, and soon it was time to board.

Lufthansa flight 416
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 9:40, Arrive 12:30, Flight Time 8:50
Airbus A340-300, Registration D-AIGZ, Manufactured 2000, Seat 2D

I’m going to mainly focus on the food service here, as the crew was flawless as usual.  I think I’ve taken around a dozen flights in Lufthansa first now, and every single crew has been absolutely perfect.  As a bonus, this flight had wifi so I was able to get quite a bit of work done.  I still think it’s ridiculous they charge for WiFi in first class, but it is what it is.  Unfortunately, all four window seats were taken when I upgraded, but I ended up with all four middle seats in the middle to myself.  Hooray!  Somehow I forgot to take a picture of the pre-departure champagne and macadamia nuts, however.

To start the meal service, the customary Lufthansa rose:

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This was followed by an amuse bouche:

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The table was set, and today’s bubbles were Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame….YUM!

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I asked the flight attendant to slow down service since it would be a long flight,  and I opted to start with the caviar before appetizers.  Ok, I’m going to confess to it here too….this was one of three servings I had.  They were all delicious.  I was the only passenger eating early in the flight (I noticed 3 of the other 4 never at at all) so I hoped I wasn’t eating it all, but hey…she offered…

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Today’s appetizer choices were:

  1. North Sea Crabs with Mustard Dill Sour Cream, Pumpernickel Cream and Cucumber Relish
  2. Prime boiled Veal with Frankfurt Green Sauce, Egg Salad
  3. Mozzarella with Giant Oxheart Tomatoes and Pine Nut Dressing
  4. Salad of meadow Herbs with Oyster Mushrooms accompanied by your Choice of Yogurt Dill or Tomato Tarragon Dressing

I decided to try everything but the crabs, and it was all quite tasty.  Yes, more bubbles please….

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I’ve seen Lufthansa serve some really unusual stuff in First Class before.  One of the more memorable oddities was the milk-wine they served, even though it was delicious.  Today definitely took the cake though, there was a palate cleanser which was described as “melon sorbet with cucumber tapioca and basil oil.”  I took one bite, and the combination of texture, taste, and smell was just not the least bit appealing…and this coming from someone who will eat just about anything.

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Palate cleansed (or revolted) it was time for a main meal.  Choices today were:

  1. Asparagus Spears with Sauce Hollandaise, Black Forest Ham, boiled Ham and Parsley Potatoes
  2. American Rump Steak on White Bean Mash with Feta Cheese
  3. Filet of Char and its Caviar with Grape Seed Oil and mashed Green Peas
  4. Oriental flavored Saddle of Lamb with Citrus Yogurt, Pomegranate and Couscous

I went with the lamb, and it was absolutely delicious.  Only complaint is there needed to be more lamb!

There were three red wine choices to accompany the lamb:

  1. 2007 Château Conon-La-Gaffelière Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé
  2. 2007 Guade al Tasso, Bolgheri Superiore DOC
  3. 2007 Neuquén Patagonia Malbec

Being a huge fan of Argentine malbecs that’s what I chose, and it went perfectly with the lamb.

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Next up was the cheese course:

Brillat Savarin, Gruyère, Reblochon, Goat Cheese and Gorgonzola with Orange Chutney, Grapes and Celerey.

I took a little taster of each along with some more malbec.

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Then, it was dessert time.  There were two choices:

  1. Toasted white Chocolate, pickled Pineapple and Curry Crumble
  2. Cream Cheese Mousse and Ice Cream on Rhubarb Ragout with Strawberries

Now, I have a little confession.  I’m pretty sure I chose the second option, especially because it contained rhubarb which I love, but there’s no photographic evidence nor do I really remember it.  There is, however, evidence on my camera of at least two glasses of Johnny Walker Blue, one ice cube.  Hey, priorities!

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At this point I went to the washroom, changed into my Lufthansa pyjamas, came back to a made up bed, and proceeded to pass out for around four hours.  I did manage to snap a selfie in the pyjamas before passing out though and post it to facebook…a great use of in-flight internet if I ever saw one!

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Woke up about 90 minutes out of DC and  sampled the “snack time” service just to report on it of course.  Our options today were:

  1. Frisée, Radicchio, Arugula and Romaine Lettuce with Carrots, Bell Pepper, Cucumber, Cherry Tomatoes, Red Radish and Chives presented with your Choice of Champagne or Yogurt Herb Dressing
  2. Salad of Chilean Shrimps
  3. Marinated Cocktail Tomatoes with Mozzarella Balls
  4. Orecchiette Pasta with Green Peas, sun-dried Tomatoes, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Spinach and Italian Herbs
  5. Toasted Pine Nuts
  6. Fried Button Mushrooms
  7. Serrano Ham and Poulard Breast with Thyme
  8. Fried Swordfish with Herbs

I got a little sampler of things, since I was being indecisive:

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I was completely stuffed, but hey, there’s always room for desert.  It was a “chili flavored chocolate tart with whipped cream.”  Oh, wait, that’s where things went!  I actually stopped the first meal after the cheese… I did have the rhubarb from the main course…just later!

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…and to finish things off, a nice double espresso.

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At this point we were getting close to landing, so it was time to change out of pyjamas.  I briefly considered being obnoxious and going through immigration in pyjamas, but really didn’t need to risk running into anyone I knew, or having more fun dealings with CBP.

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Soon, it was time to stow away monitors and get ready to land.

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That wraps up this trip report!  Nothing on the horizon, but I’m sure that won’t last long!

Jun 082013
 

Wrapped up our session at around 4pm, and our driver picked us up at the office at 5pm to head to the airport, promising there would be lots of traffic…and you “must” get there early. Since it’s the largest city in Kazakhstan, I figured the airport would be pretty good-sized, so maybe there was reason. Plus, things move slowly with bureaucracy in central asia sometimes, so we’d see.

Got to the airport in about 25 minute, and it was still nearly three hours until flight time. Oops! The entry way was a long hallway left to right, but there were no check-in desks anywhere in sight. Oh, wait, they’re through the security checkpoint. That’s odd…but ok. Checkin took a couple of minutes, asked for a window seat in row two after being shown the wide-open seatmap…and ened up with 1B. Um, ok? I asked for row two aisle. She switched from Russian back to English, saying “yes, you take.” Sigh, ok. This was a non-winnable battle.

There were two lines for passport control, for business class and everyone else. It didn’t matter in the end, as both seemed to take about 20 minutes to get through. Right on the other side was security again, which had no line. So, in about 30 minutes, two hours before the flight, we were in the terminal. Let’s find a lounge!

There was a lounge it turns out, but it’s only open to passengers of Air Astana. Business class on Uzbekistan? Nyet, go wait in the terminal. Priority Pass? Nyet! Sigh. The terminal? It was one large room with a few hundred seats, shared by all flights. There were a couple small outrageously priced cafes around the edge of the room, and a good-sized duty free shop that was pretty well-stocked. That was it…we were just going to have to wait it out. Time went pretty fast due to free WiFi which was nice, and soon it was time to board!

Uzbekistan Airways flight 764
Almaty, Kazakhstan (ALA) to Tashkent, Uzbekistan (TAS)
Depart 20:15, Arrive 21:05, Flight Time 1:50
Airbus A320, Registration UK32014, Manufactured 2010, Seat 2F

There was no such thing as priority boarding, so I did what lots of developing country travel has taught me to do well and stood up for myself….using all 6’3 210 lbs of me to make sure I stayed at the front of the scrum. Fortunately, once on board, someone was already in my seat. I took that as a cue to take the seat I wanted…2F…and in the end, I don’t think anyone ended up in their assigned seats. That works!

The sun was setting, and the view out the window onto the tarmac over the bright green engine was pretty cool:

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…and what’s this in the seatback pocket?  An “amenity kit” for a two hour flight?  Neat!

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Jun 072013
 

Apologies in advance this post will be a stream of consciousness mostly text post because, well, we were so busy working we didn’t get to see a whole ton!

Ended up working until mid-afternoon in downtown Bishkek, and at 4pm we got ready to head to the Almaty. Our office in Bishkek had arranged a driver to take us to the border, and our office in Almaty had arranged another driver to meet us at the border and take us the rest of the way. Sounded like an easy plan, and as someone who’s gotten used to negotiating minibusses and share-taxis the last couple years it was a rare treat!  Not only the chance to not have to negotiate, but comfortable and uncrowded.  Score!

Traffic in Bishkek wasn’t awful for a Monday afternoon, and about 30 minutes later we were at the border. Our Kazakh driver was already waiting for us on the Kyrgyz side, and walked us through the car lines (the pedestrian lines were super long on both sides of the border, and apparently he knew some tricks that we could just walk through the much shorter car lines…it took quite a bit of yelling, complaining, and posturing, but in about 15 minutes we were through the border. His car was parked on the Kazakh side, so he loaded up our luggage, and we got ready to head out. I turned back to take a quick snap of the border from the Kazakh side:

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Very soon after the border, things got very rural…very fast.  We drove for around two more hours before we started to see any signs of the city, and then spent nearly another hour fighting Almaty traffic trying to get to our hotel.  All total from downtown to downtown travel time was around 4 hours, and that wouldn’t include any time fighting at the border or negotiating with taxis.

Our hotel was the Rixos Almaty and appeared to be located pretty centrally in the city.  It was around 8pm by this time, so after checking in we decided to head out quickly in search of a bite.  Nothing was easy to find and we were getting pretty hungry at this point, so just decided to admit defeat and head back for room service since we had an early morning.  Unfortunately work was incredibly busy here, so there wasn’t a whole ton of time to sightsee.  So, I’ll do a mini hotel review first.

The obvious place to start, since I just mentioned room service, is with the food.  Let’s just start by saying that for the region I thought prices were outrageous.  I ended up with a club sandwich and a beer from room service, which came to nearly $45.  Stunning.  I was expecting to get something pretty awesome for that price, but you be the judge:

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Apr 262013
 

No sooner had I gotten back from Johannesburg than I found out that the new job I took starting the day I returned had a trip planned for me.  I expected it would maybe be one new country, but as planning has evolved it’s now planned for nearly three weeks and four new countries!  Score!  The downside is not getting to really play tourist too much, but you can’t complain about getting to go to four relatively out of the way countries  without it costing any vacation time or out of pocket expense!  Things are pretty much lined up now, and the the route looks like:

map

 

Plan is to visit four new countries:  Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.  Assuming the visas show up in time, all systems should be go for this trip!  Lots of long segments on Lufthansa…perhaps in First if upgrades clear, along with a couple long segments on dreaded Turkish 737s from Sarajevo to Istanbul to Bishkek.  Also, two new airlines:  Uzbekistan Airlines and Air Astana, one on an A320 and the other on an ERJ-190.  This assumes, again, that everything happens as planned…

Not sure how many sights I’ll get a chance to see, but I’ll definitely make an attempt to review the flights, check out the local restaurants, and use my evenings wisely to at least try and see some sights around town!  Plus, I should have a full weekend day in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, so that should be a chance to see a fair bit!

More to come soon!