Aug 302019
 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug 302019
 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air Caraïbes heading somewhere nice and tropical

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

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

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

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

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

At least I was upgraded to a spacious junior suite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 212013
 

Slept nearly 10 hrs, and woke up feeling even more like death than the night before.  Ugh!

Went to the Sheraton Executive lounge for the breakfast, where there was fresh-squeezed orange juice.  Fantastic.  I think I had 3 or 4 glasses, along with several espressos, and began to feel marginally functional.  Rather than deal with a cab, I decided to take the hotel shuttle to the airport for 10 TND, and be at least marginally more comfortable.

Check-in for Lufthansa at Tunis took an eternity – or at least it felt like that.  Waited in line for at least 15 minutes, and even then they could only check me in for the first segment to Frankfurt…and seats?  It was one of those old 1980s sticker maps where they peeled a sticker off a sheet with your seat assignment.  Once all the stickers were gone, there were no more seats.  Anyone have a clue why Tunis operates SO old school?   It’s as if they’re not connected to any global systems at all!

Through immigration and security, and into the TunisAir lounge which is used by Lufthansa.  First time in ages I’ve seen a lounge where smoking is permitted…ug.  Not what I needed with a horrid cold and congestion already.  Combine that with three or four sick people in the lounge who made me look like I was a rolemodel of health, and it wasn’t the recipe for the best time.  I was ready to get out of there!  The lounge did have a buffet and drinks (I did have one glass of wine…it kills germs, I swear) but I didn’t explore it much so can’t really comment on the quality.

Lufthansa Flight 1323
Tunis, Tunisia (TUN) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 13:40, Arrive 16:25, Flight Time 2:45
Airbus A319, Registration D-AIQF, Manufactured 1991, Seat 2F

I honestly don’t remember this flight too much.  We boarded just 5 minutes before departure, and ended up leaving nearly 20 minutes late…getting into Frankfurt 20 minutes late.  This brought my connection down to barely an hour….totally doable, but definitely not optimal in Frankfurt.  There was a full meal offered with two meal choices, but I skipped it so can’t comment on it.  Seemed to be the pretty typical Lufthansa meal, nothing overly special.  I spent most of the flight dozing in and out and watching some tv on the iPad…just trying to get through it.

The one big disappointment upon landing in Frankfurt – although we were at a remote bus gate, there was no car transfer waiting for me.  I had to take a bus to the terminal, and use the regular security lines with everyone else.  I’m not complaining, but part of the reason I’d booked a first award was that being sick I wanted the absolute minimum time standing around and waiting, and wanted to be as comfortable as possible.  Waiting in a cold bus, and long hot security lines…not my idea of fun.  Service failure:  Lufthansa.

Got to the lounge in Frankfurt with about five minutes to use it, but that was enough time to get a few glasses of water and freshen up again before heading to the next flight.  The lounge agents were very apologetic, but nothing they could do about the missed transfer request at this point.

Lufthansa Flight 118
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Munich, Germany (MUC)
Depart 18:00, Arrive 19:05, Flight Time 1:05
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIQK, Manufactured 1991, Seat 7F

For some reason, Lufthansa had blocked off nine rows for business on this flight, despite there only being 8 people total in business class.  Economy was pretty full, so no clue what they were thinking.  There was a small snack on this flight, but again, I skipped it and had only water so can’t really comment on it.  We arrived in Munich nearly 20 minutes early, and at an actual gate, so I had plenty of time to unwind in the lounge – over two hours!

The lounge was actually relatively full when I arrived just after 7pm, but it did thin out quite a bit by 9pm.  The lounge attendants couldn’t have been more wonderful.  I was blowing my nose a lot, and she actually brought me two small packs of kleenexes to take with me on the flight – that’s service!  Had several glasses of water, and couldn’t resist a couple glasses of champagne, otherwise just tried to relax and take it easy as much as possible.  Caught up on some stuff online, and before I knew it it was time to head to the gate and board.

Lufthansa Flight 730
Munich, Germany (MUC) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Depart 21:55, Arrive 16:05 Next Day, Flight Time 11:10
Airbus A340-600, Registration D-AIHU, Manufactured 2008, Seat 2K

This flight was absolutely wonderful.  That’s the only word I have for it.  First was only booked to 5 of 8 seats, including a mother and approx 8yo son in the first row…but he was perfectly behaved.  The minute I was seated, the pre-departure treats arrived!  Mmmm macadamia nuts and champagne.

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Jan 192013
 

Woke up the next morning, feeling like I’d been hit by a small truck. Full-on nasty cold…great…just what I need in the middle of a round the world trip. Guide insisted I needed to be at the airport three hours before my flight, but finally agreed with me that two hours would be sufficient but “I’m taking a risk.” The hotel was once again super helpful – when I told them I needed to get going early, they had the whole breakfast buffet out at 630am for me. Fantastic!

Guide showed up to say goodbye, and sent me on my way to the airport with the driver. Supposedly the driver was supposed to get me checked in for the flight because it’s “very complicated” but there was nowhere to park so I was on my own…and it was a total nonevent. Took all of two minutes to check-in, but boarding passes were handwritten and changing seats? Forget it. “No, that’s your seat!” Uhhhh, ok then!

IMG_4633

 

Through security which was a bit on the confusing side, through immigration where I got no questions at all, and into the common waiting hall.  There was a lounge, but apparently it was the wrong lounge for TunisAir.  For that, I had to take the lift up to the next floor – ok, that works.  The lounge was pretty big, and had maybe a dozen people total in it and a decent selection of food and drink…nonalcoholic of course.  A few diet cokes helped with the cold, and the WiFi was pretty fast so overall a decent place to wait and there was a really good view of the planes coming and going.

Each gate had its own holding area, and I got down maybe 10 minutes before boarding…just enough time to hang around.  The most interesting first observation was the number of women wearing headcoverings of various sorts on the flight.  I saw hardly any women covered in Libya, but it appeared that in Tunisia that was more or less the norm.

TunisAir Flight 512
Tripoli, Libya (TIP) to Tunis, Tunisia (TUN)
Depart 10:15, Arrive 11:30, Flight Time 1:15
Airbus A320, Registration TS-IME, Manufactured 1990, Seat 5A

Seat 2D, which I’d been informed was where I was sitting was an aisle, but 2F was occupied (the plane was in the european config where business was the same as economy, with the middle seats blocked) and rows 5 and 6 were completely empty so after asking the flight attendant if I could move I went back to 5A to get a window and a whole row.  The crew was a bit odd, in that when addressed in French (not just by me, but others as well) they responded in English.  Arabic, no problem, they spoke Arabic back…but they seemed to not want to speak French.  However, after continuing in French long enough they’d eventually switch.  It was strange.  Took me about 3-4 interactions before they’d speak French…odd.

Anyways, shortly after takeoff, the crew came around with table coverings…high class for those of us used to flying in the US.  They were paper, but still…it was Espace Privlège!

IMG_4498

 

…but PLIEZ, fold the airsickness bag when you’re done, LOL!

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Jan 082013
 

It all started back in 2009 – I decided I was bored with New Years in general, so decided to spice it up by taking a trip somewhere a little unusual….Iraq! It became a bit of an annual tradition, doing New Years 2011 in Afghanistan and Iran, and then last year 2012 visiting Somalia.

How to top that in 2013? Easy enough…Libya was soon planned, booked and I was ready to go. Of course, then that whole little Benghazi incident happened, and I was a little nervous about it, but still decided to go through with it. I guess this means it’s time to start searching for 2014 – Syria perhaps?

I’ll be breaking the trip report into roughly the following parts (subject to change as I get writing):

I. Minneapolis to Malta on US Airways and Lufthansa
II. Exploring Malta, and the Sheraton Malta
III. Malta to Tripoli, Libya on Air Malta, and Libya hotel
IV. Day 1 in Libya: Zawiyah and Sabrata
V. Day 2 in Libya: Tripoli and Garyan
VI. Day 3 in Libya: Leptis Magna
VII. Libya to Tunis on TunisAir, and Sheraton Tunis, Bardo Museum
VIII. Tunis to Yangon via Hong Kong on Lufthansa First + Thai A380 and the W Hong Kong
IX. Quick transit in Yangon…and why am I here?!
XII. Yangon to Washington DC via Singapore