Nov 142011

This is probably a good time to explain why we chose Mozambique in the first place. Yes, we’d heard it was pretty cool with a decent amount to see, was pretty easy to get to from Swaziland but most importantly….there was a daytime flight to Europe from Maputo! We actively try and avoid redeye flights as much as possible, and there was a daytime flight to Lisbon that would not only get us there in time for dinner but also…had a really good fare! Sold!

We got up early, since upon asking the night before the hotel had told us that breakfast started at 630am. Only one small problem: that was for weekdays…it was 7am on weekends! The buffet staff was great, however, and let us in at 630 for some coffee and pastries – more than enough to hold us over until the airport. We were determined to get in as many pastéis de nata (portuguese cream tarts) as possible when in lusophone countries, so it was a good thing!

Hotel arranged a taxi to the airport which was completely reasonable and put it on the room. At this point, I need to gripe. We stayed at the hotel Cardoso, and were quoted our room price in dollars. Upon checkout, it was converted back to Metecais before being billed. They used a rate which was around 5% disadvantageous to us…I absolutely detest when hotels in developing countries pull this scam. We asked to pay in US$ cash at the quoted rate, and they refused. GRRR! Another thing…we had asked to borrow an outlet converter since Mozambique uses strange non-standard plugs. It appeared on our bill at a rate of over $30. These things can be bought in local markets for $3, and it was a battle getting them to take it off even though borrowed had been made very clear. Staff at the Cardoso were friendly, rooms were cool and clean, and no complaints other than the feeling they were trying to fleece you at every turn.

Got to the airport, and here’s where things went tits-up a bit. Despite being in business class, the check-in agent refused to let us carry on our rolling bags because they were over 8kg each which was the limit. No amount of arguing would help. Fortunately, they were just filled with clothes and replaceable things, so it wasn’t a big deal if they went missing (which they didn’t.) Passport control and the lounge were completely uneventful, and soon it was time to board.

TAP Portugal Flight 264
Maputo, Mozambique to Lisbon, Portugal
Depart 8:50, Arrive 19:00, Flight time 11:10
Airbus A340-300, Registration CS-TOA
Seats 1H and 1J

I’m not going to comment a whole lot about this flight because, well, it was pretty much exactly as expected. A few thoughts:

The seats: They were old-style business class seats, but perfectly comfortable for a daytime flight. They went flat or nearly so, were the shell-type, and in the bulkhead just fine. No complaints at all about the seats. They had power adapters, movies were adequate, so overall…nothing special.

The crew: Unfortunately, they were of US-standard and seemed to be doing the absolute minimum…except with the non-rev passengers. There were clearly several TAP employees on board, and they were plenty chatty with them. They also seemed to warm up more to the other Portuguese-speaking passengers…and it wasn’t a language issue. Their English was fantastic, but they just seemed cold and bothered towards us. Even requests for water or a diet coke seemed a chore for them most of the time.

Now…the food. All in all, it was a pretty standard business class meal, although I found the portions rather smaller than one would normally expect…even when compared to United or Delta which are the ones I’m most familiar with.

First, there was an amuse-bouche…a nice start, since you never see this in US business class any more:

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Aug 292011

When we were planning our hops around the ABC Islands, I was hoping to fly into one island, then to the next, then the next, and then out to somewhere in northern south america to continue the trip. The main challenge, however, was that once you were in the islands, all flights seemed to go via Curaçao. However, a bit of research turned up a small airline called Tiara Air who flew nonstop from Aruba to Bonaire, and then we could easily fly on to Curaçao and out to Caracas or Bogotá. Easy choice!

Booking Tiara Air was also pretty easy. Their website was quite easy to use and user-friendly, and soon we were confirmed at times that worked perfectly with our schedule. The big drama came when I checked my AmEx, and there was a strange charge from some company in Peru. I’ve never been to peru, and was pretty sure something was up so I called to have AmEx look into it. About 6 weeks later they e-mailed me a PDF of my Tiara Air tickets. Why they billed from Peru is beyond me – so just something to be alert to.

One thing I was pretty excited about was the plane. Tiara flies a fleet of Shorts 360 aircraft (also known as the SD3-60) which are manufactured in Northern Ireland and can hold up to 36 passengers. We’d flown planes made in the US, Canada, Brazil, Russia, China, the Netherlands to date, but definitely nothing from Northern Ireland – this was going to be fun!

Check-in was quick and efficient in Aruba, and the “non-US” check-in area was in a room which could double as a walk-in freezer it was so cold. Then, it was on to a connecting area outside which took us to the main terminal and immigration. Our incoming flight was late, so we ended up boarding and leaving about 15 minutes late.

Tiara Air (3P) Flight 303
Aruba to Bonaire
Shorts 360 – Seat 7A – Registration P4-TIA, date of manufacture unknown
Depart: 9:10 Arrive: 10:00, actual arrival 10:10

Continue reading »

Aug 222011

We made it to the airport in Erbil in plenty of time, and soon were through the several layers of security and in the check-in area.  There was a vehicle-check, an x-ray in a building a couple hundred metres from the terminal, and then finally another layer before getting into the terminal.  Oh, not to mention another layer before getting into the “gate” area.

Check-in was completely uneventful, but unfortunately Austrian didn’t have any sort of lounge here for business passengers.  I’m not sure if this is the first time I’ve been on an inter-continental flight in business class without a lounge, but it was what it was.  Managed to get a couple of Diet Cokes and a can of Pringles in the small cafe in the gate area, and soon we were boarding the flight to Vienna. Continue reading »

May 222011

You may have noticed the title of this post, yes, the plan was to fly Lufthansa. Up early and to the airport for the final segment of our trip. We were flying LH first from DXB-MUC-LHR and then on another ticket I had to unexpectedly continue on LHR-IAD on United with a 2 hour or so connection in LHR. Piece of cake.

Check-in at DXB at the LH F counter was horridly slow. They had called some passengers over from another line, and it was an elderly couple with lots of issues to sort out. Nearly 15 minutes later a supervisor finally realized what was happening, and called us to the business queue to check-in. Not the best, but also not totally their fault.

We didn’t have a lot of time, so opted to skip the lounge in favour of caffienation at Starbucks, and then off to the gate for boarding. I didn’t spot it but when when we hadn’t started boarding 45 minutes before departure the other Mr Ironmanjt realised one of the engines on the A340 was open…and they were tinkering around with something. Not a great sign. Even worse when it was announce that there has been a “mechanical issue with the aircraft” and more information would be available in 2.5 hours. Um, say what? There goes my connection…. Continue reading »

May 222011

The goal of this day was simple: rent a car, and visit the remaining Emirates of the United Arab Emirates. In a large part, this was driven by the list put out by the Travelers Century Club of what they continue to be a “country.” I personally don’t agree with this list, but we figured while we were in the neighbourhood we should get to collecting.

There are seven emirates in the UAE, and we had visited Dubai years ago. Flew out of Sharjah to Afghanistan on this trip, and had taken a trip south to Abu Dhabi before Iran (the other five emirates are all north of Dubai, so it made sense to swing south to Abu Dhabi on its own) so that left four more to visit.

As you can see on this map:

There were two other interesting places we wanted to visit in the east of the UAE: the Omani Exclave of Madha which is entirely surrounded by the UAE, and the UAE Enclave of Nahwa which is entirely surrounded by the exclave of Madha! Confused yet? Continue reading »

May 212011

Up early the next morning to take part in what was a pretty extensive breakfast buffet at the Sheraton Khalidiya in Abu Dhabi. I know this place doesn’t get the best reviews on FT, but between the Platinum Suite upgrade, a great buffet breakfast for two, I really can’t fault it at all. On top of it, the staff were fantastic and helpful. Two thumbs up from me!

Got a cab, and 90 minutes later we were pulling into the Le Meridien Al Sondos (chosen for being near DXB and the subway) to drop our bags before the daytrip to Kish Island. Checked in pretty quickly, bags dropped, and it was off to the Chaos of DXB T2 to begin the adventure to Kish.

Flight was at 11:15 and we were in line and waiting to check in by 9:00, but there wasn’t an agent in site to help us. At 9:45 the finally showed up, only to send us away because our Kish Air tickets hadn’t included the tax. We weren’t the only ones, it seemed most of the line was getting sent away. Ok, wander through T2’s back rooms, find the Kish Air office, pay 15 Dirhams each, back to the check in, get boarding passes and off to security.

Security was a complete non-event, and soon we were in the rather unimpressive T2. Quick brunch at Cafe Nero (not knowing when we might find somewhere to eat in Kish) and off to the gate. To wait. And wait. 11:15 comes and goes. No agent, no plane. Wait, wait. Wait. Around 11:45 an agent finally shows up, and a mad dash to the bus gate ensues…we had no idea what type of plane or anything awaited…

Kish Air 7143
Dubai, UAE (DXB) to Kish Island, Iran (KIH)
11:15 am, flight time 45 minutes
Aircraft Registration: EP-LCC Fokker F50
Seats 7E and 7F Continue reading »

May 202011

So we made it to the airport, and first thing inside was a baggage scan – all bags went through, and soon we were in the check-in area which was absolutely mobbed. Took probably 30 minutes to get to the front of the queue, and check-in was taking place from a list of names that had been printed out…and they were checking them off! Based on the list, we were the only ones with prepaid and pre-assigned seats, so we were in 1A and 1C again.

Upstairs, into the security check, and some how these folks I think managed to be more efficient, more aware, and shockingly more respectful than the average TSA agent. Go figure! Then we were dumped in a giant holding room from where four flights were boarding. One was a domestic flight, another was a flight to Delhi on Ariana, and a fourth was headed to Karachi. Sharjah here we come. Continue reading »

May 192011

So, we made it to Kabul, we had found our driver, and it was time for the adventure to begin. First impression heading out of the airport was how relatively “normal” things seemed. No large-scale obvious military presence, and things in the city seemed more typical developing-world-run-down than war-scarred. This part if the report is going to get a bit long, but I figured there’s not much out there about Afghanistan so I wanted to share more details than normal

First stop was at the offices of the tour company we had arranged things with. Afghanistan being more than a little bit of the tourist track these days we’d decided to leave the arrangements to Afghan Logistics. Only thing I’ll say here is that I have nothing but good things to say about their services. If anyone wants more details, feel free to message. So, off to their office not far from the airport where our driver passed us off to the guy who would be our driver and guide for the duration of our time in Afghanistan. A quick swap of cars, and we were off to our first stop: lunch. Continue reading »

May 182011

So let’s see….Sharjah Airport. After the manic taxi ride from Dubai we somehow made it there right around 70 minutes before departure…and Air Arabia’s website dictated a 60 minute cutoff for check-in. Oh, and it was 90 minutes with checked luggage…time to pray that the rollerboards wouldn’t be looked upon harshly.

So, if Dubai (and thus DXB) are Las Vegas in the desert, then Sharjah (and SHJ) is, hmm…well I could pretend to compare it to small airports in the southern U.S., but honestly even Memphis Airport looks like a cultural mecca. See, it’s important to know that Sharjah is one of (or maybe the only?) dry Emirate in the UAE…and also by far the most conservative. It’s also where many expats working in Dubai live since the cost of living is much much cheaper.

Anyways…the airport. Get inside, and run frantically over to the Air Arabia counters. Agents are surprised to see us, but when they hear “Kabul” they get surprised…and very friendly. “Are you SURE you are on flight to Kabul?” Yes yes, baggage carry-on no problem, go go, you are fine.

So, with that we’re off through UAE emmigration, no problems at all. Have to give a HUGE ^^^ to the Air Arabia staff. Friendly, efficient, and smiling. U.S. airlines could learn from these guys…and this is a low cost carrier! Continue reading »

May 182011

Ok, so where were we…ah yes, I remember…the dark, dank and crowded mess known as the non-premium terminal of the Doha airport about to get on Fly Dubai…a no-frills low-cost airline from a definite no-frills terminal.

Check-in itself actually wasn’t bad. We had prepaid something like 10 Dirhams (around $3 US) each for reserved seating to make sure we at least ended up on the same row. 2A and 2C had no extra legroom promised, but it was a small price to pay to be in the front of the plane. Plus, if the flight didn’t get too full who would want 2B?

Check-in was quite efficient, and no complaint at all about having rather largish rolling bags. Passport control was a mob scene, but still probably no more than 10 minute queue. This was also the first place I noticed a “women’s only” lane where they could go to lift up their niqab to match their passport pictures without being seen by strange men. Continue reading »