Aug 142011

One of the best things about this itinerary was that despite having to wake up at 3am or so for a 5:45am flight I was able to connect to the noon flight out of Heathrow still getting me home at a really good hour! I wasn’t going to complain about that!

Through transfer security, and soon I was in the Star Alliance lounge. I find even the main lounge to be a great improvement over the old Red Carpet Club in T3 at Heathrow (well, I have to admit I only tried it once before using the SAS/Air Canada lounge, and that was before I discovered the Singapore Lounge that was also available!) but the First side is quite nice. It looks nearly the same as the regular lounge, but is far less crowded and has food to order. However, this trip, there was no listing of what was available, so one was left to guess. No matter, my request of a bacon roll was soon delivered!


Quick shower in the lounge, and it was time to head to the gate to board.  Since United now boards from somewhere out in Wales, it’s a good 10-15 minute walk from the lounge to the gate. Continue reading »

Aug 132011

Now, before I start this segment there are three things I must confess.

1)  Those of you expecting a fabulous business class report are going to be sorely disappointed.  Not only is this “European Business Class” it is all on ERJs!

2)  I don’t do redeyes or early morning flights.  Matt REALLY doesn’t do redeyes or early morning flights.  Our flight was set to depart Yerevan at 5:45am.  Yes, this would be lots of fun, and I admit I fudged a bit.  “Oh, it’s early, before 7, like 6 something I think?”

3)  Neither of us had flown LOT, so I was kinda excited, Euro business or not, for this.  Though, EVN-WAW-LHR-IAD was going to make for a very very long day.

So that said, on with the show!  We’d made it to bed somewhat early, but the room was a bit warm and wouldn’t cool down much, so I’m not sure how much sleep we really got.  Alarm was set for something like 3:45 if I recall directly, which was a nightmare not to be repeated….at least until next month. Continue reading »

Aug 122011

This one might get kind of long – you’ve been warned!

After waking up, we headed up to the top floor of the Sheraton Tbilisi for the breakfast buffet which was included…and huge!  Lots of fresh local fruit – apricots, cherries, etc, and all perfectly in season.  Combined with other food, it was enough to fuel a long morning of walking around Tbilisi.

Headed out of the hotel, and the first stop was the Holy Trinity Cathedral.  Built in 2002, this is one of the largest Orthodox Churches in the world.  We were lucky that being Sunday, there was a service going on.  Despite studying in the USSR years ago, I’d never been to an Orthodox church service, and certainly not a Georgian Orthodox one.  It was fascinating to me to spend time in there, and in retrospect I wish we’d stayed a bit longer.  It was just one of those really authentic local moments that I really enjoy when traveling.

After the Cathedral we made our way down to the river, across a bridge, and took a view up the hill/mountain on the south side of the city.  We wandered through Old Tbilisi, and took a look up the hill towards Narkala Fortress which we planned to visit after lunch. Continue reading »

Aug 102011

After getting back to the Park Inn, we had no trouble locating a taxi who would take us to the airport.  Only problem is – we knew how much it should cost based on previous rides, so that’s all the cash we had saved up.  A bit of negotiating in Russian, showing the wallet to prove what we had left, and we were good to go.  Down to the last coin!

Got to the airport around two hours before the flight, and check-in was not yet open.  Baku is not exactly JFK – it seemed like there were very few flights, and the airport really only came to life about 75 minutes before our flight.  Checked-in, got boarding passes and seat assignments (no advance assignments on AZAL, despite the rather hefty one-way fare) and off through immigration and security to the gate area.  No lounges were to be had, and there were no restaurants that would take credit cards, so we sat in the gate area for around 30 minutes waiting for our flight.  About 45 minutes prior they loaded us onto the bus, and out to the plane…which was nowhere in sight despite the airport not being that busy.  We were hoping that the promised ATR wasn’t to be had, but…

Flight J2 225 – Baku to Tbilisi
Seat 3A, ATR-72 – Registration 4K-AZ67 – Manufactured 2008
Departure 23:30 – Arrival 23:50 – 1 hour time change

Honestly not a ton to say about this flight. It was 80% or so full, service, for what it was worth was efficient. I got water, and a better “snack” than any US airline would ever give on a segment of this length:

Landed a few minutes early, and was off to immigration, where despite being the first one to the counter in this ultra-modern airport, I was the LAST one out of 50 or so to be through. Seems my passport was “слишком болшой” – too fat – too fit into their passport scanners. Eventually they gave up, typed the data in manually, and we were good to go. Out to the taxi queue, where we negotiated what seemed a mildly reasonable (although higher than advertised online) rate to the Sheraton. At this hour, I wasn’t about to quibble over $5 or so.

Off to the Sheraton at around 150kph down “George W Bush Highway” – where there were signs – complete with pictures of the former President on them. Obviously, there’s still one place in the world that he’s well liked. Soon, we were at the Sheraton and checked into to what was promised as a “suite.”

The room was quite large – huge living room and kitchen area, with a completely separate bathroom and bedroom area. Only problem was…the room was rather warm. Somewhere around 22-24C would be my guess. Two fans were delivered which made it sleepable (mind you, I’m someone who prefers rooms in the range of 17C to sleep), so we were out cold considering it was past 1am in Azerbaijan, and ready for the next day’s adventures!

Aug 092011

I managed to survive my cab ride with the non-communicative driver and his non-ACd car to the Park Inn, and headed into what must be the most barren lobby I’ve ever been in…filled with….Koreans and Chinese!  It seems the 2012 Olympic Taekwondo Qualifiers were in town this week…go figure in Baku!

Up to the room which was nothing special, but was functional.  I guess at the prices I’d heard in Baku I expected slightly more, but then again at the same time, the location seemed great.  Right on the Caspian Sea, walking distance to the old town and the brand new mall in town – no complaints at all.  I would definitely stay here again if I ever returned.  Especially because Monica Lewinsky seems to recommend it!

Since it was nearing 10pm at this point, I checked out the mall across the street to procure some bottled water and just walk and get a feel of the place before crashing.  It had been a very long day, and I wanted to get up and check things out a bit before heading back to GYD to pick up Matt at noon. Continue reading »

Aug 082011

So, drama-free trip with Brussels Airlines, and I was soon making my way through Schengen Emmigration on the way to the FLounge when I got the message….the drama to potentially end all drama…from Matt:

“I’m still at London City – appears our inbound flight sucked in a SWAN into the engine…they’re assessing damage now.”  Now, on first thought, I chalked this up to drama.  We had 2.5 hours in Frankfurt to connect, and I wasn’t terribly worried.  As long as he was delayed less than two hours due to swan drama, things would be ok.  A quick check of expertflyer showed there was another LCY-FRA flight 90 min after his original, so I told him to watch both flights, and get on whichever left first.

That was a wonderful idea, until….the SECOND flight went mechanical due to some sort of sensor or another going tits up.  Oh, and plane number one?  Still having miscellaneous bird innards removed from its engines.  At this point, we were at a two hour delay, and I was getting worried.  How worried was I?  I’d spent over an hour in the Lufthansa FLounge, and was still only halfway through my glass of champagne, and hadn’t even hit the showers for the Lufthansa Rubber Duckie.  It was THAT bad!

Soon it become obvious that the inevitable was going to happen:  there was no way he would get to Frankfurt in time, and was going to miss the onward connection to Baku.  Now, normally this wouldn’t be the end of the world, but Baku isn’t one of those destinations with dozens of daily flights.  Lufthansa doesn’t even fly there daily.  So, I passed on the champagne, cornered a third lounge employee, determined to fix this.  Oh, I didn’t mention perhaps the biggest part of the drama.  I had Matt’s passport with the Azeri visa.  Plan was he would fly to Frankfurt on Passport #1, and then I’d give him Passport #2 with the Azeri visa, and we’d go to Baku together.  So, small problem!

Thankfully, after trying three lounge attendants (first two were the very rigid “sorry, there is nothing I can do” types) the third was awesome.  She agreed to hold the passport, and to rebook him on the only other option:  Frankfurt to Baku via Istanbul.  One small problem though:  It arrived Baku at something like 4am.  I don’t do redeyes unless absolutely necessary, and Matt definitely doesn’t do them.  I had her book that option, as well as an option where he got to Istanbul around 8pm, forced overnight, getting into Baku the next day at noon – I was convinced that given all the flight drama that was a pretty damn good solution.

That sorted, I advised him the backup plan, got in my Mercedes, and was driven to the plane…with perhaps the creepiest person I’ve ever met.  I had the honour of sharing the car with a guy who spent the entire 5-10 minutes on his cell phone calling every escort/woman for hire/friend he had in Baku advising them he was going to be in town that night and wanted to see them.  Ewww.  When he caught on I understood his German he switched to Russian.  BZZT!  You lose, it just got creepier!

Up to the plane, on board in Seat 1K and it was confirmed – we would have been the only two in first as expected.  Woo hoo – private plane for me!

Continue reading »

Aug 072011

So the time had arrived, time for my second eastbound transatlantic with United in first in just under a month. However, since we’d crossed the month marker the menu should theoretically have changed, and should be an interesting flight. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of the “early” flights out of Dulles – they make it far too hard to sleep normally, and they mean skipping out of the office slightly early. Oh well, nothing a little red wine can’t fix! Continue reading »

Jul 072011

Ok, so first of all, I lied. There, I admit it. I hadn’t planned another trip so soon after the Svalbard adventure, but with a very long weekend in honour of kicking King George out of the country, I decided it was time to check off a few more countries.

Playing around with schedules a bit, I decided to fly into Baku, Azerbaijan (GYD) and back from Yerevan, Armenia (EVN). Sounded like a good plan for a very long weekend, and would allow me to check off two more countries. Just one small problem…I neglected to check how easy it would be to get between them.

Very atypical for me…see, there’s a small problem. These two countries (while not actively shooting at each other at the moment) are still technically at war with each other, and the border is closed. Great. Oh well, I did what any (in)sane country collector would do: traveled between them via a third country! So, in the end, it ended up being three countries in five days, #92, #93, and #94 on my list.

Tickets booked, drivers and hotels set, and it was time to head off! Of course, there’s also a fair amount of drama in this trip, and unfortunately it was worse than the two trips above. When you pack so much into a very tight timeframe, there’s very little room for error should things go tits up, which unfortunately this trip did in a very ugly way. At least I’m trying to get most of the drama out of the way before the big trip in a few more weeks.