Dec 312013
 

Normally, I wouldn’t make too big of a deal of yet another transatlantic with Lufthansa. I’ve posted many, many reviews of it. However, see, this time I jinxed it. I kept promising another Lufthansa first report and…the upgrade didn’t clear. I was to be stuck with the commoners…in business! ūüėČ Anyways, scroll back to 4 in the ungodly morning when my alarm woke me from my slumber. Well, it didn’t so much wake me as it did annoy me – I’d strategically put the phone on the other side of the room so I’d get up as quickly as possible, since I’d only given myself 30 minutes to get out the door.

Check out was quick, I think there was a shower that I don’t remember, I know there was a can of Red Bull I don’t remember…and I was off. I’d booked the hotel car, figuring there was no telling what a taxi would be like at this hour. I should have stuck with the taxi. My driver insisted on doing his best Nascar impression, gunning it at 140-150 kph the entire way down the highway, all the while telling me about his side job as Serbia’s most famous iPhone repairman. I kid you not. I suspect he had a lot more Red Bull than I did.

Got to airport way early, and check-in and passport were a total non-event. ¬†The agent harassed me about the weight of my carryon (around 12.5 kg) but eventually gave in as she wasn’t prepared to argue at this hour.

IMG_2121

…because EVERY airport needs a tree with Bambi!

Continue reading »

Dec 292013
 

After arriving and checking into my hotel, I headed out to dinner.  The choice was Lorenzo and Kakalamba, which got great reviews on TripAdvisor and sounded fun on top of it.

I’ll admit, when I walked in and saw this in the entryway I was a little scared:

IMG_2053

…and when I sat down and got the menu, I was even MORE scared:

IMG_2054 Continue reading »

Dec 272013
 

Check-in, security, and immigration were a breeze in Podgorica. ¬†The airport is so small there’s no real gates, just one large room on the other side of immigration with multiple doors leading out to busses. ¬†There was a VIP lounge as well, but unfortunately (for some odd reason) Air Serbia had no agreement for business class passengers to use it. ¬†Yes, I said Air Serbia. ¬†So what happened to flying JAT? ¬†Well, for once, I trusted my travel agent (who knew JAT was gone) that I was JAT, but they’d actually rebranded several months prior to Air Serbia when Ethihad took a 49% ownership stake.

Air Serbia flight 173
Podgorica, Montenegro (TGD) to Belgrade, Serbia (BEG)
Depart 15:40, Arrive 16:30, Flight Time 0:50
Airbus A319-100 Registration YU-APE, Manufactured 2007, Seat 2A

15:40 came and went, and no sign of boarding, although the area leading to the door outside was a madhouse.  Finally 5 minutes after scheduled departure, the floodgates were open, and everyone madly rushed our plane:

IMG_2032

I was expecting the usual crappy Euro Business by this point, but it was proper 2×2 US-style seating up front…quite nice!

IMG_2034

Quickly was asked for a pre-departure, and I asked if by chance they had sparkling wine.  She went to the galley, and brought it on a tray with my glass to pour in front of me, and OMG it was Veuve!  Now THAT is seriously impressive on a 50 minute flight gate to gate!

IMG_2037

Continue reading »

Dec 252013
 

Taxi back to the airport in the morning took over an hour thanks to traffic, adding another 10 euro to the meter from the previously ridiculous fare that I had from the airport. ¬†Can’t seem to win! ¬†Check-in, security, and passport control were all a breeze – this is the first time I’ve been through Vienna since the remodel, and I was seriously impressed how efficiently things seemed to run.

The new Austrian Senator lounge was quite nice, with a good variety of munchies and drinks, but given the hour I behaved and stuck to water and munchies pre-flight. ¬†Soon it was time for the walk to the gate, which turned out to be a bus gate. ¬†Being a prop plane they fit everyone on one bus, and off we went. ¬†Turned out the plane was completely full, except “business” class, which consisted of 2 rows of 2×2 seats, thus 4 possible to sell. ¬† ¬†Felt kinda bad coach was completely full and I had the front eight seats to myself, but I guess there’s some consolation to having paid for business class on a short prop flight.

Austrian (operated by Tyrolean) flight 727
Vienna, Austria (VIE) to Podgorica, Montenegro (TGD)
Depart 12:50, Arrive 14:25, Flight Time 1:35
Dehavilland Dash 8-400, Registration OE-LGH, Manufactured 2002, Seat 1A

Takeoff was quick, and I was curious to see what the food would be. ¬†Being a prop, I expected the same cold sandwich I saw economy getting, but nope…it was the full real deal. ¬†Kudos to Austrian and Do and Co catering! ¬†Nice little meat pie, some bubbly, and a tasty desert – not bad at all all things considered!

IMG_1992

It’s no Dom, but I was beginning to actually enjoy the Austrian sparkling wine, and it worked well with the dessert…at least that’s what I was telling myself!

IMG_1994

Amazing views over the mountains as we descended into Podgorica:

IMG_1999

IMG_2002 Continue reading »

Dec 252013
 

Given my experience getting to my hotel on the way into Moscow, I decided to leave for the airport a solid 4.5 hours before my flight just in case it took four hours again. No such experience this time, and in right around an hour I was at Domodedovo Airport for my flight to Vienna.  Check-in went pretty quickly, and then it was off to passport control and security, which also was really quick.  Soon I was in the lounge with over three hours before the flight Рugh.  Oh well, better early than late!

Good planespotting from the lounge:

IMG_1957

A Saravia Yak-42 – not a plane you see every day!

IMG_1959

Uzbekistan Airlines…making up for the photo I couldn’t get when I flew them back in May.

IMG_1961

Continue reading »

Dec 202013
 

As I mentioned before, the first time I ever left the US/Canada was exactly 25 years ago, when I headed to the USSR on a student exchange program.  Now, 25 years and 146 countries later I was finally headed back to Russia, and a very changed Moscow!

Although I didn’t get to the hotel until maybe 9pm, I thought I’d still go for a short wander and find dinner, to try and get a little bit of an impression of the city before playing tourist. ¬†10 minute walk away was Mayakovskij Square:

IMG_1812

Which was a little more welcoming in daylight the next morning:

IMG_1814

First thing I had planned was to see Red Square and the surrounding area. ¬†It was maybe a mile walk which normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but it was -10C outside, and lightly snowing. ¬†No worry, time to walk!

First stop was the Tomb of the Unknowns:

IMG_1821

A monument to those who died in Leningrad in WWII:

IMG_1822

Continue reading »

Dec 142013
 

Fortunately my flight out of Istanbul wasn’t all that early, but I decided to try and get an early start to “enjoy” the Turkish lounge, crowded as it usually is. It’s a good thing I did, because traffic was nightmare-ish this morning, and took well over an hour to get to the airport. Due to that, it was also going to be much more expensive than on the way in. I had 74.60 lira on me, and prayed it wouldn’t go over that. I had some dollars and euros as backup, but didn’t want to get in a negotiation.

Pull into the business class check in and the meter reads? 74.32 lira. Obviously, I’m doing something right! w00t for that!

Business class checkin was quick with zero line, as was passport check and security. ¬†I was curb to lounge in 15 minutes max…for once Istanbul airport is redeeming itself to me. ¬†Of course, the lounge was mildly packed, but I not only found a seat, but one with a power outlet. ¬†This day keeps getting better and better, ¬† Time for a snack! ¬†Mmmm…baklava!

IMG_1776

Soon, it was off to the gate. Boarding only started 20 minutes before departure…this was not looking good…except…upon boarding it was “new” style A321 barcalounger business class…and only 3 of the 16 seats were taken. I’m obviously living right today!

Turkish Airlines flight 415
Istanbul, Turkey (IST) to Moscow, Vnukovo, Russia (VKO)
Depart 11:45, Arrive 16:35, Flight Time 2:50
Airbus A321-200 Registration TC-JSG, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2F

I was glad to see that even though the flight was shorter, and with real seats, we had the chef again!  Hahhahaha!

IMG_1778

 

…and pre-departure fresh-squeezed OJ is always welcome!

IMG_1779

 

Continue reading »

Dec 122013
 

I’ll be up front here: I’m not going to do Istanbul justice. I’m not going to even pretend to. I landed at 9a, having been up since 1a Istanbul time, and I was pretty tired. My main goal was to rest up in between stops, maybe see a few things, and have some good Turkish food. I did alright all things considered!

Finally out of the hotel around 11:30 after I got checked in and re-caffeinated, and it was off to the old town. The hotel suggested I walk about 10-15 minutes to the nearest tram stop, and then take the tram all the way. Awesome call, because it allowed for seeing some of the city along the way.

Got to the old town, wandered a bit, and soon was coming up to the Blue Mosque.  Outside, is an obelisk:

IMG_1709

The outside of the Blue Mosque:

IMG_1711

Continue reading »

Dec 102013
 

This will be a relatively short one, since I griped a few posts back about how miserable Turkish A321 business class is.  Got to the airport approximately two hours before my flight, which was about right, as check-in took nearly 30 minutes. There was only one line, for all passengers, forget about any priority or business class. Immigration and security were completely painless, and soon we were in the departure room. I say room, because it was one big room, with a tiny snack bar, and that was it. Almost every seat was occupied.

This morning’s 5am entertainment was provided by a group of around 10 soldiers in uniform, getting completely trashed throwing back vodka shots. Fortunately, they weren’t on the flight, but makes me wonder what they were doing on that side of security. Maybe I’m better off not knowing.

Bus gate (no jetbridges in Dushanbe, which was hella fun in the pouring rain. That meant when the bus doors opened, it was a mad dash to the stairs…and of course the first people on the plane jammed the aisles so everyone else got soaking wet. It was a great way to start a long flight in Turkish’s craptastic Euro business class! ūüėČ

Turkish Airlines flight 255
Dushanbe, Tajikistan (DYU) to Istanbul, Turkey (IST)
Depart 6:00, Arrive 9:00, Flight Time 6:00
Airbus A321-200 Registration TC-JRB, Manufactured 2006, Seat 2D

Once again, our friendly young man in the chef costume presented orange juice and a few other fruity drinks right before takeoff, along with some Turkish delight, and soon we were off into the rainy skies. ¬†Flight was completely full this morning, with every seat taken. ¬†Literally five minutes off the ground the crew sprang into action, impressive since they’d just worked the inbound from Istanbul. ¬†Yes, they’d be pulling a 13-14 hour day…don’t think that would fly with the FAA.

Very soon it was hot towels and the meal service.  So, to start we were promised:

Fresh Fruits

Yoghurt with Honey

Chicken and Turkey Breasts

Assorted Cheese

IMG_1703

Pretty tasty for an appetizer/starter, and I will admit that the food is one thing Turkish really manages to get right.

Then, we had a choice of:

Turkey Ham & Cheese Toast (Turkish style spinach puff pastry, chicken sausage / herbed mushrooms)

or

Gratined Crepe with Scrambled Eggs

I asked the “chef” which he recommended, and he said definitely the crepe, the other one is not at all good. ¬†I’d say he was right on the crepe, but can’t really speak to the other choice.

IMG_1704

About an hour before landing, only 2.5 hours after the main meal, we were offered a snack. ¬†A bowl of hazelnuts, and a “cheese sandwich and sour cherry cake.” ¬†Skipped the sandwich because I was still full, but had the nuts and the delicious cherry cake with a couple of coke zeros in an attempt to wake up.

IMG_1705

 

Landed in Istanbul right on time, no line at all for visa on arrival, and I still ended up waiting nearly 30 minutes for bags to be delivered.  Not a huge deal, but I was anxious to get to my hotel and get seeing the city!  I had a 24 hour rest stop, and wanted to see as much as I could, having only been to Istanbul once briefly before.

Bags came about 45 minutes after deplaning, no line for a cab, and it was off to the city in Istanbul’s terrible traffic. ¬†Was a surprisingly expensive taxi, over $40 due to traffic, and soon we were at the W. ¬†I had the choice of a standard room available right away, or waiting an hour for a suite. ¬†Easy choice. ¬†Dropped my bags with the concierge, and headed out to refuel with some coffee. ¬†Felt much better, and it was off to the W.

I’ll talk about my wander around Istanbul in the next post, but I’ll give a quick review of the W here.

Staff: ¬†absolutely fantastic. ¬†Warm greetings, genuinely seemed interested in helping, and were extremely friendly. ¬†The only small drawback were the staff in the restaurant, who I’m sure were trying their best, but I’ve seen turtles that moved faster.

Room: ¬†awesome upgrade to a studio suite, which had a fantastic rain shower in it. ¬†Well, it would have been fantastic if there weren’t oddly placed pieces of furniture everywhere which caused me to break my toe when I stubbed it in the middle of the night. ¬†Not real thrilled with that. ¬†Oh, and since I always complain about it, the AC worked wonderfully, and kept the room nice and cool.

Restaurant and bar:  food and drink were good, but prices were absolutely outrageous.  Service was also, as I mentioned above, insanely slow.  I wanted turkish food, but not fast-food takeout, and after a day of wandering I was too tired to go far, and everyone I talked to seemed to agree there was really nothing good in the neighbourhood which met that description.  I mean, food was tasty, but an appetizer, some kebabs, and two glasses of wine should not cost $70 in Istanbul.  Highway robberly.

Location: ¬†everything you need in walking distance, but not a great selection of restaurants. ¬†Also, it’s about a 15 minute walk to the tram to old town, or 15 minutes uphill to the cable car to the metro. ¬†So, it takes a while to get to sites, but I really didn’t mind. ¬†Gave me a chance to see things along the way.

In summary, I love this hotel, well, maybe not love but really like.  This was a rest stop in between intense work stops for me, and it was relaxing and comfortable, which was just what I was looking for.

Dec 092013
 

So, I had a weekend in Dushanbe, and the good fortune to have a seasonably unusual heatwave….highs reached 22-24C which for late November was way above normal. ¬†The one bad thing about the Hyatt as a hotel is location. ¬†It’s a good mile out of the edge of the main city, which means you’re more or less trapped there in the evenings. ¬†I’ll get to the hotel a bit more later, but on Saturday I got up relatively early and ended up walking 14 miles all around Dushanbe. ¬†It was a great day for walking, even though the sites…well not a ton to see. ¬†I’m going to give the highlights, mainly in photo form:

Statue outside the national museum:

IMG_1624

Entrance of the National Museum:

IMG_1625

Another statue outside the National Museum:

IMG_1627 Continue reading »