Oct 202019
 


I had been so busy running around all day after deciding I was going to not only make this work, but getting it booked, that I’d pretty much forgotten to eat all day.

I popped in to the Turkish Airlines lounge at Dulles which I know lots of people are a fan of (and which generally has better food than Lufthansa) but…it was its usual late-afternoon standing room only and the only option would be to share a small table with someone. I don’t need that kind of hassle before a hectic but fun trip, so back to Lufthansa it was!

It always bums me out that Lufthansa doesn’t have a first class lounge at Dulles, and makes me sort of giggle that they just rope off a section of the lounge for First Class and Hon Circle passengers. Looking at the lounge, which was surprisingly not crowded today.

Food was nothing overly special, but enough to hold me over until the flight. The flower was a nice touch, since I’d be away a short time (and remember how hot ANA likes to keep the cabins) I’d decided to bring my own USB fan with on the trip.

Also, apparently they “don’t have anymore” champagne glasses today, so will this be ok? Hah!

Boarding was straight from the lounge which is one of the things I love about Lufthansa at Dulles, and the agents came and got the first class passengers individually before announcing boarding for business class. Nicely done – even without a dedicated lounge!

Lufthansa flight 419
Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 18:15, Arrive: 08:10 next day, flight time: 7:55
Boeing 747-8, Registration D-ABYD, Manufactured 2012, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 126,120
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,818,708

Friendly crew immediately upon boarding, and when I got to my seat…wow…wine list was brought over along with macadamia nuts and champagne right away. I could tell this was going to be an extra-good (and photogenic) flight!

Despite a snack in the lounge I was still hungry, so perfect time to explore what’s to eat today!

It was a little warm during boarding, but fortunately I had come prepared! The crew got a good laugh out of it.

…and when I say a little warm, I’m not kidding!

Slightly late departure, but a mercifully short taxi, and soon we were lined up on runway 30 ready to take off into the sunset!

This crew was absolutely fantastic. About 15 minutes after takeoff they came around to each passenger in first, introduced the crew, and asked how we would “prefer our flight paced.” I told them I probably wouldn’t sleep much, if at all, so I’d prefer the meal service to be slower and drawn out. They were more than happy to accommodate, starting with a canapé.

About 30 minutes into the flight we were treated to a gorgeous purple sunset above the clouds. Loved the way the purple hue came through the windows across the cabin.

What better way to start a fabulous, spontaneous trip around the world than with caviar service! Smallish portion today, but it seems everyone was enjoying it so this is just the “normal” portion…

Since it was a leisurely meal, I decided I would go with all the appetizers. From right to left, the halibut on vegetable ceviche was super light and tasty. The burrata and baby tomatoes and maitake mushrooms was also outstanding, and the beef tenderloin with baby beets and tartare sauce was also really good. Usually at least one of the three appetizers is a little weird or not great, but tonight they were all super. We were off to a fantastic start for the trip!

I’ve been skipping the beef on planes lately, but how could I resist “tenderloin of beef with lobster claw.” It was really tasty, a nice medium, and the lobster was really good too. I worried the beef might be overcooked like usual, or the lobster rubbery, but my fears were totally unfounded tonight.

I have to admit, I do love seeing the giant cheeseboard wheeled out on Lufthansa, and watching as the cheese is cut up and served. The lovely flight attendant asked me if I would mind, however, if she plated it in the galley as by this point the lights were out as all the other passengers were asleep.

No problem at all – and a delicious selection as always tonight!

Finally, the grand finale, passion fruit panna cotta with butter crumble. Out of this world, and with a glass of Johnny Walker Blue or two it was a perfect way to end the first decadent meal of the trip.

I did end up napping about three hours before landing, which was unexpected, but I also had a hotel room booked since I would have nine hours in transit…and only planned to spend the last three in the lounge.

Managed to get four hours of sleep on top of the three I got on the plane, which was absolutely wonderful. Then…it was time for the short walk to the First Class Terminal (with a stop at Starbucks on the way of course) and enjoy a bit of food and drink…all while chairing my meeting!

Oct 192019
 


Having had a great four hour nap, I finally left for the airport around midnight for a 02:50 flight, just in case there was traffic or other snafus. The flight appeared completely sold out in all classes, so I definitely didn’t want to risk it!

As it turned out, there were no problems at all, and I was at the airport a good 2.5 hours before the flight. Even immigration and security were unusually quick considering how full the flights all seemed tonight, so I was left to kill time in the lounges.

Now, I really don’t like the lounges at Delhi late at night. They always seem to be heaving with people, and a pain to even find a seat. Tonight I decided to try the Singapore lounge first, and it was completely empty…maybe five people total. I have to wonder if it’s because United and Air Canada both still had their flights cancelled, so having 100+ less people spread across the lounges helped?

Either way, it worked out charmingly, and I headed off to the gate about an hour before flight time. Gotta take a selfie with the giant statue!

Boarding for this full A380 was a bit nightmarish. Despite getting to the gate an hour before departure, I was at least 50th in the queue for boarding group one. Fortunately, no problem finding storage for my bags once on board.

Lufthansa flight 761
Delhi, India (DEL) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 02:50, Arrive: 07:40, flight time: 8:20
Airbus A380, Registration D-AIMJ, Manufactured 2012, Seat 22G
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 117,958
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,810,546

Something about Lufthansa’s pre-departure sparkling wine (or is it actually champagne?) is so much classier than United’s.

What’s for dinner on this very late night/early morning flight?

Snack was fairly substantial, and served all at once if you wanted to eat. I would say about 90% of the cabin opted to go straight to bed instead. It wasn’t the most appetizing looking, but was reasonably tasty.

About 90 minutes before landing all the lights were turned on, and breakfast was brought by. I imagine even if you wanted to sleep it really wouldn’t have been an option.I like the alternating colours in the melon…

With six hours between flights, I thought it was worth getting a room to get just under four hours of sleep, which turned out to be a good decision and helped me beat jetlag a bit.

I even had time to stop by the Lufthansa Senator Lounge for a snack on the way to the gate. I never tire of the cheesy pretzel with a sausage and potato salad! Yum!

Off to the gate, where in direct contrast to the flight from India, I was wondering where everyone was! The gate area felt really empty for a 747, and I hoped my looking at the seatmap was really accurate.

Lufthansa flight 418
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 13:15, Arrive: 16:05, flight time: 8:50
Boeing 747-8, Registration D-ABYT, Manufactured 2015, Seat 82A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 122,039
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,814,627

I know lots of people love to sit upstairs on the 747, and I admit that I love to as well, however, I refuse to sit in climbover class if at all possible, so on Lufthansa I always skip it. Plus, downstairs, the seats in the middle section have much more space between them and are much roomier than the side seats.

However, today’s flight was under 50% full in business class – something I’ve never seen on Lufthansa before…and not only did I get two seats to myself upstairs, the two seats behind me both stayed empty as well.

The strange part? I saw at least three groups of seats where strangers were sitting next to each other. With this much extra room why wouldn’t you want to spread out?!

What’s to eat and drink on the way to Washington?

Today’s mixed nuts after takeoff….almonds!

Marinated black angus beef….tasty, but served almost TOO cold….

The salmon, however, was excellent. I’ve been eating a lot more fish in-flight lately, and really wonder why I was so stuck on the terrible beef courses for so many years. Healthier AND better prepared almost every time!

Even the cheese course was above average for Lufthansa…and look at those crackers…in their own cute little plate/bowl and not wrapped in a package. *MIND BLOWN*

So, I admit it: to me this was better than United’s sundaes. Yes, it’s still ice cream, yes, it’s in a package and not a bowl, but it’s nice to have adventurous flavours instead of the exact same desserts that United has served on every flight for years and years. Mango & Maracuja crème brûlée?! YES PLEASE!

We took a super northerly routing for a Frankfurt to Washington flight, and passed right over Greenland….not a Trump Casino as far as the eye can see!

Even the pre-landing meal was much better than normal! A nice salad with parma ham, crayfish soup, and a pretzel! Normally, Lufthansa business class flights are just kind of “meh” in my opinion, but this one really stood out for me.

Part of it was being upstairs in a semi-empty cabin for sure, but the food and definitely the crew really stood out. Once the flight attendant working my section found out I’m working on my German she made a point to speak only German, but also clearly and slowly so I could follow along. It was really a treat and left me with a great impression! Unfortunately, I need to fly as much United as possible the rest of the year if I want a chance at Global Services….

With that, seven weeks of crazy back to back travel with less than five total nights at home was over. Switzerland, South Africa, India…what an adventure it was. I was really looking forward to four weeks at home until I had to head to Ghana for work.

…and then I woke up on my birthday and thought “I wonder if I could go around the world in first class for my birthday on a long weekend?”

Oct 142019
 


My time in Johannesburg was over far too quickly – as it always seems to be – and soon I was at the airport preparing for my trip home. Due to work finishing a bit sooner than expected I had moved my flight forward by a day, and in the process moved from SWISS to Lufthansa up to Europe.

I immediately waitlisted both flights for upgrade, but with the flight to Frankfurt at F2 it looked pretty hopeless. The flight from Frankfurt to DC, however, was F6 so looked much more promising! I tried to stick with United over the water to build more flights towards Global Services status, but the United flight only had J class availability and was more than double the price. No thanks!

At check-in, the agent offered to immediately confirm my upgrade out of Frankfurt (didn’t know they could do this!) and called a supervisor to try and clear my upgrade to Frankfurt as well. I found this odd as the flight was down to F0 in the meantime, but wasn’t going to argue. Unfortunately, she couldn’t and told me it would have to wait for the gate.

Got to the South African Airways lounge, where my favourite bartender in the world remembered me instantly and told me to “go sit down, I will bring it to you!” No order, no anything, and he showed up immediately…with two glasses of wine. I might need to break this reputation…

Boarding was absolute chaos as it always seems to be with Lufthansa in Johannesburg (I’m not sure what’s behind this, but it’s always a madhouse with a million pre-boards and salty gate agents) and I asked about the upgrade and politely told “if you get it we will tell you.”

I wasn’t counting on it, so when boarding started I joined the mass rush to the plane…and enjoyed a glass of bubbles while everyone else tried to part the sea and get on board as quickly as possible.

Lufthansa flight 573
Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 19:00, Arrive: 05:35 next day, flight time: 10:35
Boeing 747-8, Registration D-ABYS, Manufactured 2015, Seat 8D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 102,131
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,794,719

We had a great crew tonight, and they worked on being quick with service so people could sleep while at the same time being professional. It’s a nice balance. Also, I think Lufthansa might be the only airline I know who puts macadamia nuts in the business class mixed nuts (but why are they always over-roasted in business but perfect in first?!) along with walnuts.

Salmon appetizer was relatively light, but tasty. A nice change from the ever-present prawns lately.

A salad was offered separately (wow, a multi-course meal in business!) which was really tasty with feta cheese and roasted vegetables. Small, but one of the best appetizer salads I’ve had in business class in quite some time!

Grilled beef with chimichurri sauce, asparagus, and polenta. I still don’t understand the recent fascination airlines seem to have with polenta, but maybe it’s trendy again?

Baked bread and butter pudding with vanilla sauce for desert was outstanding, but the cheese course, sadly, was well below-average.

After dinner, I still wasn’t tired, but after a few more hours did manage to fall asleep and get around four hours of sleep in flight. Woke up to breakfast being served, and figured I might as well try it. I went with the roasted vegetable frittata, but it was very meh and I only had a few bites. the deli plate and muesli were more than enough food, however.

After landing, I did my usual with a seven hour layover and headed straight to the Sheraton Hotel for a solid four more hours of sleep. Feeling nice and rested, I walked to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal since my upgrade had already been confirmed.

I do love what I call the “Wall of Whiskey” that greets you upon entering the terminal.

But first, a glass of rosé and the seasonal duck to kick things off.

I wasn’t terribly hungry, but also didn’t want to pass up the usual deliciousness in the lounge, so grabbed a seat and helped myself to some snacks from the buffet. Mmmm quail eggs!

I had to order it because, I couldn’t imagine Tom Kha Gai soup in a lounge in Germany could be good. I was right. It was outstanding…and amazingly spicy just as I requested!

After lunch, it was time for a quick shower (I had maximized sleeping time in the hotel room, and went straight to the lounge sans shower) and some whiskey tasting to round off another outstanding Lufthansa lounge experience. So much choice!

It never gets old being driven from the lounge to the plane, and taking a selfie below the plane that’s about to deliver you more than 4,000 miles away!

Lufthansa flight 418
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 13:15, Arrive: 16:05, flight time: 8:50
Boeing 747-8, Registration D-ABYO, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 106,212
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,798,800

Boarded….and love seeing the reflection of the plane in the window!

Pre-departure mixed nuts…odd…usually first on Lufthansa is macadamia nuts only, but today included almonds and cashews. (…and the macadamia nuts were perfect as always in first…not over toasted!)

What’s for lunch today?

I may have enjoyed the champagne a little TOO much before departure…that or it was the whiskey tasting in the lounge…

….beautiful sight on pushback from the gate

Off we go!

Once airborne, I noticed there was a second champagne on offer as well (but only one bottle) and the purser was a total character “I call her Alex, because she is beautiful. Perhaps you’d like to take a picture with her?”

Lunch started with an amuse bouche of tuna tartar.

Followed by caviar service with a rather generous helping.

Alex also kept me company during the appetizers, which today were roast beef with asian glass noodles, tuna with mashed green peas, and “coconut mousse with curry bok choy, cliantro, and ginger mayonnaise.” The last was a bit odd, but they were all pretty tasty.

Palate cleanser of sorbet and champagne before the main event.

The butter gets me right in the feels every time.

I decided to go with the tomato and pine nut crusted tenderloin of beef which was delicious, and almost perfect at a nice pink medium.

Lufthansa first’s always-delicious cheese cart. It’s hard to pick a winner in this category between Emirates, SWISS, and Lufthansa. Now that would be an amazing trip….

Desert was outstanding – which has been the case on many of my flights lately (with the obvious exception of United and their sundaes which are basic, but good) – iced dome of white chocolate on curried pineapple carpaccio with crumbles.

Napped and worked for a few hours, and then it was time for some light bites before landing. I didn’t really need them, but it’s so hard to say no. Started with a “gourmet salad with water melon balls, olives, baked feta, and grape seed oil vinaigrette.”

Couldn’t resist trying the “club sandwich” which was incredibly soggy and disappointing. Not often I’m let down in Lufthansa First, but this one was a huge miss by a mile.

After years of not knowing that Lufthansa offers arriving passengers at Dulles a private car to immigration instead of having to take the shuttle I’m now much wiser, and sought out the agent outside the jetway, and got one more pic of my beautiful plane. YO! this was an awesome flight! (look at the wheel well…)

…and with that I was home…for a very short two nights before heading out on the road for the last instalment of this epic six weeks of travel. Next up: off to India!

Oct 112019
 


After a bit over three weeks in Switzerland, it was finally time to head home. I would have just a bit under four days at home before heading out on the road again for a couple of back-to-back trips, but after three weeks away every day matters!

Got to the airport, and what better way to say tschüss to Switzerland than to pose for a selfie against the SWISS sign. Not really goodbye, however, since just four days later I would be connecting through Zurich again!

Strangely, my United flight would be leaving from the B Gates today (which I’ve never seen before) and while it would save me a train ride out to the E gates, I wondered if there was a respectable lounge on the other side of immigration in B.

Yes, it turns out there was, but there was no air conditioning! According to my temperature gauge, it was 81 degrees in the lounge too. Ouch! Fortunately, they had brought in a few fans, and sitting in front of one of them it was just barely tolerable.

You know what makes it tolerable, though? Swiss chocolates and Mövenpick ice cream! Mmmmm!

Off to the gate after about 30 minutes in the lounge. I’d never actually been to the B Gates before, so wasn’t sure just how long it would take to the gate…or how long and confusing the boarding process might be. Every day a new adventure!

United flight 53
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 11:55, Arrive: 14:45, flight time: 8:50
Boeing 787-8, Registration N29907, Manufactured 2013, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 87,136
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,780,083

Boarding was relatively chaotic, with people not really line up well or the agents controlling things well, so it was unclear where to queue up. It’s one thing I really like about the newish boarding is that as a 1K you can pretty much stand anywhere you want, and hopefully if the agents are good you’ll still be called ahead of group one.

Worked like a charm today, but it didn’t really matter since we were at a remote stand and it would be a bus gate anyways. Off to the plane, easy boarding, and time to explore what’s to eat!

Pre-departure beverages. Trying to be positive and remember for someone that doesn’t get to do business class often this is still considered a real treat. However, unless it’s a special occasion I need to start giving the pre-departure sparking plonk a pass. It’s just not worth the calories on a regular basis. I do, however, appreciate the real glassware now.

Meal started off with some Spiderman socks from the amenity kit and mixed nuts and wine. I’ve started requesting water more regularly inflight now to survive the crazy mileage I’m flying this year, and this crew was great and proactively offered lemon or lime with a stirrer to make it easy to fish out and squeeze. Oh, and some shiraz, but that was probably a given.

I like the salads United has been serving out of Switzerland lately, and they’re relatively fresh, light, and tasty. Throw in some garlic bread and it’s delicious. In principle, the tomato, basil, and mozzarella caprese would make a nice starter, but every time I’ve had it the basil has had rotten spots and the tomatoes have been bland and underripe.

I went with the chicken breast and polenta cake as a lighter option, and with the skin off (and skipping the polenta) it did the trick without being too fancy. Kinda looks like institutional cafeteria food.

Note to self: ice cream sundaes for dessert are always worth the calories, especially with cherries and fudge. Cheese was decent without being too memorable, but I wish they would try some more memorable crackers to go along with it. Maybe something nice and savoury?

After a bit of a nap, decided to hit up the snack cart because I was craving the little pastries they always have. Goes well with a side of Ebola monkey on the iPad as well.

Was curious about the pre-landing chicken ragout option, and while it was pretty tasty and would make a great domestic dinner, it actually felt a bit heavy for a second in-flight meal on a relatively short flight.

I have to admit – I was starting to miss the relatively heavy “hamburger wellington” that’s been around for a lot of this year.

The flight passed relatively quickly, and just like that I was home after more than three weeks away. Time to see if four days is enough at home, or if I would really be craving getting back on the road sooner.

I had originally booked just one night at home, and then three days vacation at my next work stop before the work began, but I gave up that three day mini-vacation in favour of the time at home. I was very glad I had, but four days, well, I might start craving travel….

Sep 242019
 


Thanks to a relatively solid night of sleep I was up at a reasonable hour, and able to have a leisurely morning and coffee before heading to the airport to begin the next leg of the journey. While enjoying coffee, I looked up in the atrium and thought “this might make a neat artsy picture” – you be the judge if it was successful!

Back to the hotel to check out – the “for sale” display in the lobby of the W Bangkok always cracks me up. The giant sequinned muay thai boxing gloves that are always on the bed are funny enough, but I really wonder if they manage to ever convince anyone to buy any of this stuff….

Uber is no longer operating in Bangkok, so I had to use Grab to get to the airport. Worked just as well and just as conveniently as Uber, so not really a huge deal – I assume Uber has been spinning off some of its less profitable countries to other companies?

Check-in was nice and easy, and there was no line at first class immigration or security, and soon I was into the Suvarnabhumi Airport. It’s a really neat airport, but my biggest gripe is that it always feels quite humid and warm to me. Probably due to all the glass. I do love the Thai art throughout the terminal, however!

The Cathay Pacific Lounge was actually quite difficult to find, tucked away behind some elevators, but when I did eventually manage to find it it was absolutely packed without a seat to be had in the whole place.

This isn’t a small lounge, either. I was pretty surprised Cathay has so much traffic at Bangkok that it could fill a lounge of this size, but in addition to my flight to Singapore I assume there was also one to Hong Kong, so maybe because they use it as a transit point? Why knows.

I did finally find a seat at a computer in the “business center” area to enjoy a glass of champagne. I have no idea what I was thinking, since I was feeling a bit sketchy from the night before at this point, but I guess it’s always time for champagne! (and of course a few delicious biscuits!)

Boarding area for my flight was relatively quiet, which compounded the question of why the lounge was so full. Hmmm…

Cathay Pacific flight 717
Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi, Thailand (BKK) to Singapore (SIN)
Depart 11:55, Arrive: 15:25, flight time: 2:30
Airbus A350-1000, Registration B-LXA, Manufactured 2018, Seat 21K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 68,724
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,761,312

This was my first time on the A350-1000, and my first impression was positive. The seats were quite private, had a ton of space, and the cabin felt open and light. I’d selected a seat near the back of the cabin, and it was completely empty back there. All told, business was hardly 50% full to Singapore today.

Pre-departure beverages were offered, and I decided it was still an appropriate time for champagne, but I did also get some water…because it’s important to remain hydrated you know!

For a two hour flight, I was pretty impressed that a full meal was served with salad, bread, a tasty thai pork main course, and some ice cream to finish. Nice meal for such a short flight!

We landed in Singapore at the newish Terminal 4, which I have to say at least from an arrivals perspective did not impress me. Everyone pretty much universally loves Changi Airport, but this terminal felt like what it is: a budget terminal. I’m quite surprised that Cathay opted to relocate to this terminal.

Grabbed a grab (see what I did there?) to my hotel since apparently Uber doesn’t work in Singapore either, and on the way we passed by the Singapore Flyer:

I had two nights in Singapore, and hadn’t made any plans. I was meeting up with a friend who was making a mileage run from the States for the weekend, so we decided to play things by ear. First night was really just chill, a few drinks and early to bed.

Woke up the next morning without too much of a plan, so started with coffee…and thinking about next steps.

In all my visits to Singapore I’ve never really done a proper visit to a hawker center for food, so today seemed like as good of a day as any to give it a try. Our first stop would be the Maxwell Hawker Center, since it was just about a 10 minute (hot and humid) walk from our hotel. We were there by around 11am, but the long line had already formed and was around the corner for the famous Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. I have to say it was quite tasty, but somehow I expected something a little more mind-blowing.

After some lunch we walked a bit more to try and walk off the chicken rice before our next mean, and walked through the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple on the way. Very cool, and packed with locals.

The next stop would be Hawker Chan, which is known as the world’s cheapest Michelin Star restaurant. For something like $5 you got a plate of chicken rice. The place was so popular they actually moved out of the hawker center and into a proper storefront. I have to disagree though on the chicken rice – I thought Tian Tian was much tastier. This didn’t really impress me at all.

Full of chicken rice, and having had about all the heat and humidity we could handle, we headed over to the Marina Bay Sands mall to walk around indoors and cool off for a bit while still getting in a tiny bit of exercise.

After some cooling off we took the elevators up like 50 stories to the rooftop bar for some amazing views of Singapore:

Stopped for drinks at the bar which had recently-ish been renamed “Cé La Vi” and of course, I had to do the tourist thing and enjoy a Singapore Sling…while enjoying the great views! Despite the humidity, it was nice and relaxing up there.

By this point in the afternoon, the heat was really taking a toll, so it was back to our hotel the Westin for some relaxing in the lounge, catching up on email and such while resting up.

After snacks in the Westin lounge we really didn’t need a full dinner, so decided to just head out to Mikkeller Bar Singapore for some craft beers. Of course, after a few beers you really need food, so we decided to end the night back where we’d started the day, in the hawker center near our hotel.

Lau Pa Sat is known for having one street outside that at night turns into “satay street” with well over a dozen different stalls selling satay. The smell of grilling meat was heavy in the humid air, but it made an absolutely delicious late-night snack before heading back to bed!

After gorging ourselves on satay it was back to the hotel to get some sleep. I had really been looking forward to leaving Singapore on EVA Airways Hello Kitty planes first to Taipei and then Chicago, but unfortunately due to the strike my flights had been canceled. Sad kitty!

Fortunately, I managed to find a reasonably good alternative home which while not as interesting and “fun” as Hello Kitty, would at least be nice and comfortable while saving a good deal of cash!

Stay tuned!

Sep 012019
 


Eventually found my way to the A gates, and from there to the elevator up to the First Class Lounge/Floor. I say floor, because the A terminal is one long pier, with the entire second floor being business class lounge, and the top floor being first class. Given that first class on most planes is 20% the size of business class or less, you can imagine just how spacious it is!

I really needed a shower at this point, despite having read multiple times online that you’re almost better off skipping it due to the heat and humidity in the shower rooms due to lack of good ventilation. Well, out came my temperature cube while I took an ice cold shower. At the end it was reading 81.4F in the room with 77% humidity….and that was 10 minutes post-shower. Yeah.

Went to have a nibble to eat (not so much because I was hungry, but because who can pass that up?) and was still warm…and getting a little sweaty. Ugh! Probably the most extensive made-to-order lounge dining menu anywhere in the world:

I love a good poke bowl, although I was really reluctant to risk raw fish in an airport. Oh well, if a first class lounge can’t get it right who can! In fairness, it was super tasty!

If they’re going to go through the trouble of having a signature sandwich (the Emirates Sandwich) I had to give it a try. The sweet potato fries were actually really good, and the sandwich was pretty meh. Only ate a little of it for the novelty factor…and to have something to soak up the champagne. I’d heard the catering on the next overnight segment would be sparse (and being honest, I was getting really tired so hoped to sleep a fair amount).

So, how about a quick tour of the lounge? When I said it was enourmous, I wasn’t kidding. The “features” like the restaurant, showers, etc were in the middle, and down the sides by the gates (yes, there are gates and if you leave from the A Terminal you get to board directly from the lounge) there are nooks with chairs and such.

I had time, and the bar area was calling, so I decided to have some bubbles. It was also the most populated and social area of the lounge, so it looked inviting. Sometimes privacy is nice, but this lounge was so huge it was almost too much. Lovely bartender from Kenya, who instantly became my best friend when I wished “asante” after getting the champagne. Refills were very quick to arrive…

Sadly, at a fairly late moment, my A380 got moved to the B gates (I thought A was supposed to be the A380 terminal and nearly all A380 flights leave from there? Boo hiss!) but it wasn’t too bad, so took the underground people mover over just as boarding was starting.

Emirates flight 354
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (DXB) to Singapore (SIN)
Depart 03:05, Arrive: 15:00, flight time: 7:55
Airbus A380, Registration A6-EDV, Manufactured 2012, Seat 03K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 55,118
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,747,706

I really wasn’t looking forward to a 3am flight, but given I was going from Tunisia to Australia I’d be crossing so many time zones I’m not sure my body would know where it was anyways. Plus, I’d take a flight in this seat any day of the week! …even at 3am!

Not sure if it’s a known fact, but I’m convinced that Emirates caters their wine lists by destination, with “cheap destinations” like Tunis catered with nice stuff like Dom Perignon, but not ridiculously nice stuff like 2006 Dom Perignon Rosé – was nice to have something a little less common!

Shower orders were taken right before takeoff, and I was informed that I only had one choice of time left – 3 hours before landing. There was a large family of eight in the cabin, and apparently they’d reserved the eight closest slots to landing. Ugh. I told the flight attendant I’d take it if awake, but please don’t wake me up three hours before landing just to shower.

More interesting than a shower, the food and beverage list. Confirmation it would only be light snacks on this flight. Probably good, more incentive to sleep!

Crew was fantastic, and right after takeoff I asked for more rosé, and he said he’d just located a second bottle despite telling many other passengers they were out….so I’m guessing this was to make up for the shower disappointment. The FA serving my section was from Belarus, and when he found out I spoke (pretty awful) Russian we became even better friends…

Decided to snack on the nasi goreng which was actually delicious, and have some of the Château la Mission Haut-Brion 2004 which is an excellent bottle that’s quite hard to find. Generally receives ratings of 98-100 from many of the large wine raters lately, and was shocked when asked “maybe you’d like it decanted into a carafe?” Are you kidding me? Forget the shower, this is onboard living!

I’m not certain if the carafe was refilled or not…maybe it was…the wine was definitely delicious…so I’m guessing it was. Passed out for several hours…and must have tossed and turned a bit because I remember being gently asked if I wanted the shower or not…and saying no and falling right back asleep. So long that I actually missed any pre-landing food. I would have said breakfast, but when you land at 3pm it’s hard to think of it as breakfast.

So, yeah, it was honestly a super rough schedule on the body, and when we landed it was 3pm and I was staring yet another redeye in the face. I was starting to feel a bit out of it and not great again just like I had in Tunis, so decided the best strategy instead of going to the lounge in Singapore would be to walk around the terminals…all three of them…and then go to the lounge for a cold shower.

Turned out to be a good call, because after a stroll I was starting to feel more human. (Yes, I’m sure two long flights of good eating and drinking had nothing to do with this…) I’m getting ahead of myself, however…

May 312019
 


Well after I had already committed to going to Florida for the ultramarathon in the Keys, I had a work commitment come up which would require me to be in Brazil the next day. Problem was: the drive from Key West to Miami is 3-4 hours on a good day, and I would need to be in Sao Paulo by 9am for meetings.

The problem is: most flights from the states arrive after 9am, making it near impossible to get a full day in upon arrival. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I found out there was a flight nonstop from Fort Lauderdale to Campinas (about 100km northwest of Sao Paulo) on Azul which arrived at 05:00. Even with the long 1.5 hour taxi to Sao Paulo, it would work out.

To top things off, it appears that Azul is partners with United, so I could even earn some miles. Oh, and did I mention it was like 1/3 the price of United, American, and Delta and had nice seats? This was looking like a win all around!

Unfortunately, this report will be mostly about Azul…and in comparison, the nonstop flight home on United. We worked most days until 8 or 9pm, leaving me only time to check out a couple of local craft beer places and see how the scene was shaping up in Brazil…but then again you knew I’d make an hour in the evening for that…right?

So, right. I was able to check-in on Azul’s app (Portuguese only – the English version doesn’t allow check-in) but when I got to TSA (no pre-Check with Azul) the boarding pass wouldn’t scan from Apple Wallet, so I had to go back to the counter and get a paper one. Not the end of the world.

End of the world, however, is the disaster known as Terminal 3 in Fort Lauderdale. No lounges at all, and Azul doesn’t give food and beverage credits either. Fortunately, one of the restaurants does give a credit with Priority Pass, but it was a 15 minute walk from the gate. Was good for a couple glasses of wine, and I got to the gate where it was just getting time to board. Better hurry, or I’ll get stuck on Spirit!

First impressions of the seat and cabin ambiance on Azul were really positive:

right, so on with the flight!

Azul flight 8705
Fort Lauderdale, Florida (FLL) to Campinas/Sao Paulo, Brazil (VCP)
Depart 19:30, Arrive: 05:00, flight time: 8:30
Airbus A330-200, Registration PR-AIT, Manufactured 2003, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 39,622
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,732,210

Couple of early observations: no clue why Azul uses such odd flight numbers. Most airlines use lower numbers for premium/international routes, but Azul seems to use very high flight numbers. No clue why. Also, there are only four really “good” seats in each cabin, as they’re the ones offset from the aisle by the armrest. The other seats aren’t bad, but four of them are extra good!

Pre departure champagne in a proper glass with a folded napkin even…unfortunately it was a tiny bit warm:

I was very curious what kind of menu Azul would offer, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. Full multi-course meal with lots of options:

The cabin was, unfortunately, extremely warm on the ground, but the air vents delivered just enough breeze that it wasn’t miserable. Fortunately, Azul’s website is quite helpful when you have a problem! It did cool down to about 75F in flight which was still warm, but not awful.

Right before takeoff, and after the pre-departure champagne, individual chocolates were offered:

First couple of hours in flight we were treated to an absolutely stunning sunset:

Amenity kit was at the seat, and while it contained the basics it was nothing worth keeping:

Soon after takeoff beverages were offered, along with a dried fruit and nut mix. Definitely something different.

I know lots of frequent fliers complain when the appetizer and main course get served together, but I thought it worked out fine. With the super early arrival lots of people wanted to get to sleep as soon as possible, so it worked out well. I thought the plating was pretty nice too…and I loved the little salt and pepper shakers:

Both cheese and an ice cream sundae were offered. Above average.

We must have had good winds, because we arrived in Campinas nearly 45 minutes early. The airport was an absolutely ghost town, and other than passengers coming off our flight it seemed there wasn’t a soul in the airport. I know it’s a relatively new and empty airport, but seems like they have lots of growth in mind!

Through immigration and to the transportation area in under 10 minutes, and my Uber showed up less than five minutes later. He complained about the length of the drive to Sao Paulo (seems Sao Paulo and Campinas are different Uber bases) but eventually agreed to take the trip when I told him I was happy to wait for another driver. Then he asked for an extra 100 Reais for gas….ok maybe 50….and when I again said I was happy to just wait…he decided he’d rather take me.

Wasn’t a great Uber experience, and I felt like he was on the verge of falling asleep several times, so I made the best of it with my terrible Portuguese trying to keep him awake and chatting. Best part was, I made it to my hotel by 06:30, giving me time for a solid 90 minute nap before heading to meetings. Winning all around!

Busy few days of meetings, but did manage to find a couple of craft beer places for an hour in the evening. First find was “TapTap” which was a little hole in the wall place on a street corner, but they did have several really good local taps, and the special treat of getting eaten alive by mosquitos while you enjoyed your beer. I’m still itching a week later!

Second find, which was much more North American or European style was Bar Ambar which was a bit further away, and located near a BrewDog of all things! Had I had another night I definitely would have checked that out as well.

Of course I made it to Starbucks as well, and of course my name was butchered as usual:

This Uber driver really has his hustle going on:

Fun and unique sculpture/art in the lobby of the hotel where my event was being held:

Just like that three days flew by, and it was time to head to the airport to fly home. Unfortunately, there was a major accident and it took over 2.5 hours to get to the airport…enough I actually worried I would miss my flight. I did arrive 90 minutes before departure, and thanks to short lines for security and immigration even made it to the lounge for 15 minutes before heading to the gate.

United flight 860
Sao Paulo, Brazil (GRU) to Washington DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 21:20, Arrive: 06:10, flight time: 9:50
Boeing 767-300, Registration N663UA, Manufactured 1993, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 44,339
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,736,927

I think I have the absolute worst luck with United’s 767s this year. This is maybe ten flights in a row where I’ve gotten the old configuration instead of getting a new Polaris aircraft. It wouldn’t be so remarkable except over half the fleet is reconfigured now, so you’d think I’d have better luck. Oh well, at least it’s not bad if I get the solo “D” seat in the middle:

The usual PDB – sparkling plonk and water:

What’s for dinner tonight:

The usual warm nuts and a glass of wine to start:

Dinner was decent, but unremarkable. The best part of the flight was that I slept nearly seven straight hours, only waking up slightly before landing. I don’t know what it is, but every time I fly north from South America I end up sleeping like a baby. Must be some combo of time zones and being exhausted from a good vacation or work.

…and with that, four back to back trips were over and I was looking forward to almost four weeks at home before heading out on vacation. I’m going to make sure to enjoy the next three weeks remaining, because after that it’s a crazy-looking schedule:

Late June/Early June: two weeks round-the-world with short stops in London, Paris, Tunis, six nights in Australia, and two each in Bangkok and Singapore. Looking forward to a few things from this trip such as Emirates and Qantas first class, first time on the Acela train, first time business premier on the Eurostar, TunisAir A330 business class, Thai first class, and two long flights with EVA Airways and Hello Kitty service!

Then I have three weeks in Switzerland for work in July/August, followed by back to back work trips to South Africa and India. Hoping to tack a few days onto the South Africa trip to visit some favourite old haunts as well, and maybe even get up to Zim for a few days.

…but for now. Rest…and I’ll try and write some more random travel musings before heading out in a few weeks as well!

Mar 192019
 


Despite this trip being nearly three weeks long, it was over in a heartbeat. I guess that’s what happens when a trip is split up into several distinct “chunks” involving work and fun, before you know it…it’s over.

After sleeping in and enjoying one more leisurely morning in Moscow, it was time to head to the airport to start the long trek home. Since I had plenty of time I opted to take the metro across town and connect to the Aeroexpress train to Domodedovo. Looks like it was my lucky day, as I had the entire train to myself!

Through immigration no problem (I admit only slight concern due to our “weird” border crossing up by Kirkenes and Murmansk) and off to the lounge. I had lots of time, so I decided to head to the Lufthansa lounge. Got a big “nyet” from the provodnitsa, despite my protestations that it was Star Alliance policy that Star Alliance Gold members on a business class ticket get access to all business lounges, she said Swiss lounge only! I knew better than to argue with a surly provodnitsa!

Off to the Swiss lounge, where it was a very sad array of snacks, beer…and soft drinks. That was it. I had a bit of cash left, and with no exchange posts or plans to return to Russia soon I decided to head to a cafe and see what I could find. Mini bottle of wine and…a champagne flute…and a piece of apple pie. When the lounge isn’t to your standards, make your own lounge!

Soon, it was time to board our non-full flight which was delayed 45 minutes, and head westward!

SWISS flight 1337
Moscow, Domodedovo (DME) to Geneva, Switzerland (GVA)
Depart 16:00, Arrive: 17:55, flight time: 3:55
Airbus A220-100, Registration HB-JBB, Manufactured 2016, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 14,373
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,706,961

Once again, seating is 2 on the left and 3 on the right on this aircraft, which means on the left side in “business” you have an empty next to you, but on the right side only the middle between two people is blocked. Flight wasn’t full, but I enjoyed my seat 1A. Did some plane-spotting on the taxi. First time I’ve ever heard of “Iraero” – looks like they bought some of the old Transaero 777s.

Izhavia Yak-42….now I want to come back just to fly this! Apparently they are headquartered in Izhevsk which is home to the Kalashnikov museum. Seriously, sign me up!

Looks very cold and snowy below on departure from Moscow…

I didn’t expect much of a meal on such a small plane, and was trying to figure out what to do when I landed…except Swiss had a surprise for me. Some mixed nuts/crackers to start…a choice of appetizers…choice of mains…AND choice of desserts. Seriously, on a regional flight on a small plane that seats less than 100?!

Went with the fondue starter, because I figured there was no way that could be any good on a plane. Surprise, it was actually fantastic and delicious. Who would have expected that on a plane!

Then, because the flight attendant recommended it, I went with the veal main course, which was also absolutely delicious.

To finish it off, what was described as a “crumble” and was also amazing. Could have used a little ice cream, but who am I kidding. On such a small plane on such a short flight this meal was absolutely amazing…and as good as many airlines do on much, much longer flights. VERY nicely done, Swiss! Also, let’s not forget, the crew was absolutely amazing, and once they figured out I spoke enough French and German to practice, they mixed it up every time they came around to keep it fun. Seriously one of my best flights in ages – amazing!

Descent into Geneva was much sooner than expected, and despite departing over 45 minutes late we actually landed five minutes early! Holy winds, Batman. Plus, getting in on time allowed us to see the Alps as we landed. Absolutely gorgeous!

Easy arrival, quick train into the city, and checked into my hotel. Chose it for location right next to the train station, and the Hôtel Suisse, Genève met my expectations as conveniently located ,clean, and comfortable. For a three star hotel in a great location with super friendly staff, I highly recommend it if it fits your needs. Plus, look at the view out my window…I knew I’d like this place!

Since I’d already had dinner, and my body clock thought 7pm was the new 9pm, I just wanted a couple of delicious local beers and bed. Au Coin Mousse had been closed for summer holidays on my previous trip, so I was excited to see it open this time. Lots of amazing very local small batch craft beers – I was super happy!

After a super long sleep-in, of course on the way back to the train station I stopped at Starbucks for one last four cheese toastie. Mmmm….

Gasp….what happened to Swiss law and order. My train to the airport was defaced…but colourful!

Perhaps the most noticeable thing about the Swiss lounge in Geneva, which is plenty nice, is that between the Newark and Dulles flights it was packed with loud, obnoxious Americans, most porting surly teenagers. It’s funny that it only takes a few weeks away to make something I normally see on a daily basis seem out of place.

United flight 975
Geneva, Switzerland (GVA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 11:40, Arrive: 15:10, flight time: 9:30
Boeing 767-300, Registration N669UA, Manufactured 1999, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 18,464
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,711,052

So, not too much to say…another completely mediocre United business class flight. I keep hoping I’m going to get one of the 767s with new Polaris seats since more than 50% of them are finally done, but every time I seem to get one of the old ones like clockwork. I will say, however, the food was generally better than average. A few thoughts:

The starter was two rather sad slices of “smoked” salmon and some quinoa salad. Completely forgettable, and in line with the two prawn appetizer. Seriously United, is this the best you can do? The salad, however, was way better than average, so overall, I’ll call the appetizer a wash.

I ordered the shortrib, which I figured would at least be predictable since they’ve been serving it for going on six decades now. However, this flight, apparently the usual neon brown sauce that makes it sort of sweet and BBQ like was totally absent…and it was meh at best.

Cheese course from Europe….better than cheese from the US as always. It’s not because they don’t have good cheese in the US, I suspect United is just too cheap to pay for it. SAD! At least the ice cream was delicious as always!

Giving credit where credit is due, the pre-landing deli plate was tasty. Nice variety of meats, cheeses, and pickles. Overall, nice and light-ish and just what I wanted before landing.

United business class is certainly nothing to write home about, but the seats are adequate (as long as you’re not stuck in snuggle class in the 2-4-2 777 or the “two side” of 2-1-2 business class) and the meals are solid. Wouldn’t be my first choice, but the convenience of nonstop sure can’t be beat!

I thought I’d only be home for three weeks until my next trip, but due to some work drama llama it now looks like nearly nine weeks! What will I do with myself?!

Fortunately, options to Dubai and Berlin in the meantime are already presenting themselves…stay tuned!

Mar 102019
 


So, wait, you’ve never heard of Kirkenes? I mean, I’ve been to Norway before, so why am I going back?

Well, you see, Kirkenes is in the extreme northeast of Norway, just minutes from the Russian border. It’s well above the Arctic Circle, and the border crossing with Russia is also the northernmost staffed regular border crossing in the world. How could I skip that.

Just to put it in perspective, Kirkenes is circled below, and you can see Murmansk, Russia just to the east:

Fun sign in the gate area at Tegel Airport…yes, Berlin, you were wonderful and I really enjoyed my week. Actually sad to be leaving!

SAS flight 1674
Berlin, Tegel (TXL) to Copenhagen, Denmark (CPH)
Depart 13:30, Arrive:14:30, flight time: 1:00
Airbus A319, Registration OY-KBP, Manufactured 2006, Seat 3A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 9,637
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,702,225

So, in general, I do my best to avoid flying SAS. They have the same awful economy class seating as other airlines, but they don’t even block the middle seat! In fairness, they do call it “Plus” and not business, but if you redeem miles for it from United, it’s the same number of miles as business class. I was curious to see what the benefits were, other than sitting in the first row.

This flight was completely full with every seat taken, so thankfully the flight time would only be 40 minutes. Service consisted of a “snack” which was a wrap…either cheese or salmon were on offer. Only choice to go with it was water. Again, short flight so won’t complain too much, but there was absolutely nothing “premium” about this flight at all.

Arrived into Copenhagen and had 1:10 between flights due to an early arrival, so I set out on a mission to find the airport Starbucks. One, because I needed caffeine, but more importantly, I wanted to check the prices. I’m still putting together a listing of the price of a grande filter coffee around the world, and expected Copenhagen to be up there. At 31 kroner ($4.67) it was the third most expensive in the world that I’ve seen behind Geneva and Zurich, which comes in at $5.21 lately. Feel free to send me datapoints!

Walking away from Starbucks, it’s a good thing I didn’t have any longer….a Mikkeller Tap Room right in the airport? This could be seriously dangerous. I did stop for one 2dl beer, which turned into two because they poured the wrong one the first time, and at over $9 for a small pour it’s a good thing I didn’t have to pay for two!

SAS flight 1460
Copenhagen, Denmark (CPH) to Oslo, Norway (OSL)
Depart 15:25, Arrive:16:40, flight time: 1:15
Airbus A321, Registration OY-KBB, Manufactured 2001, Seat 8E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 9,959
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,702,547

In contrast to the flight from Berlin to Copenhagen, this flight was absolutely empty. Sure, the seven rows in front of me seemed to have all seats full except middles, but rows 9-21 behind me? Yes, 21 rows of “plus” class….and nobody at all in those 10 rows! Strange to see 10 completely empty rows! You’ll note I was also in 8E…a middle seat! Mainly to avoid people in front of me reclining into me…and site the seats on both sides of me were empty it worked just swell!

Beautiful views on takeoff:

Even better, I discovered on this flight that their beer was a nice Mikkeller IPA, which marked a very rare occasion for me of having a beer in flight. Pretty sure the last time I did was when I flew Brussels Airlines and their fantastic beer menu!

Short flight, only an hour, and was time to find the lounge and wait for Ian, who was meeting me there to continue the trip in Norway and Russia. Since Norway is in the Schengen Zone like most of Europe, no passport control at all, however, Norwegian domestic flights were in another terminal since there IS customs between Europe and Norway since Norway is NOT a member of the EU. For anyone who’s confused how this whole Schengen, EU, oh and don’t forget the countries that use the Euro, work, I love this diagram:

Right, so, through customs (so weird to clear customs but NOT passport control or security, and into the lounge. SAS lounges are weird in that they have a “business” lounge which you get into if you’re in “plus” or international business class, but then there’s a gold lounge in the back…which is even nicer…that you can get into as a frequent flier.

I hadn’t had a real meal al day, so decided on some Norwegian nibbles…..tuna, shredded cheese, olives, potatoes and pickles….odd, but did the trick and was tasty.

Ian showed up after a short bit, riding the struggle bus after flying Newark-Frankfurt-Stockholm-Oslo up until this point, so it was kind of nice to not be the one suffering jetlag for once! Off to our gate where boarding was just about to start for the two hour trek up to Kirkenes.

SAS flight 4478
Oslo, Norway (OSL) to Kirkenes, Norway (KKN)
Depart 17:55, Arrive:20:05, flight time: 2:10
Boeing 737-700, Registration LN-TUM, Manufactured 2002, Seat 3D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 10,812
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,703,400

I was determined to put “Plus” service to the test on this flight, so asked the flight attendant when she came around with my THIRD cheese wrap of the day, what else as on offer. Seems Plus means you can have ANYTHING from the buy-on-board menu, and don’t have to pay for it. So, I got some chips and another Mikkeller to go with the cheese wrap, and some high-quality iPad entertainment:

Unfortunately “anything” is a misnomer. When I asked for a second beer, I was told no. Apparently “by Norwegian law” they can only serve one complimentary alcoholic beverage on domestic flights. Seriously?! If I wanted to pay $8 for another I was welcome to it, but nope, only one complimentary. Way to go SAS, you are officially the cheapest non-budget airline in the world.

Disembarking in Kirkenes was at a remote stand. Doesn’t it just LOOK cold:

The Kirkenes Airport…looks more like an ice rink from the outside to me!

Bears at baggage claim! Oh no!

We went to find the bus into town, which was supposed to be like $10 a person, but when we boarded the driver told us it was free! Apparently, we’d arrived during some major festival – the biggest festival of the year in Kirkenes – and this year China was sponsoring the festival. That included paying for the bus during the festival. Whoah – finally – saved by China in all my travels!

After checking into my hotel, the Scandic Kirkenes, I was still pretty alert so went for a bit of a cold nighttime stroll. Getting artsy with snow-covered trees:

Outdoor ice rink! Turns out as part of the festival there was a big tournament of the “Bering League” the next day, but unfortunately we’d leave too early to see it. Bummer!

Sooooo much snow everywhere!

I found the library. You can tell you’re getting close to Russia when the signs are in Russian as well!

Oh look, a sign. Taking selfies to prove I was there!

World War II Memorial. Kirkenes was actually a major front in the war, where the Russians and Nazis faced off.

I found the local pub, which was absolutely packed due to the festival. So packed, that I ended up having to share my table with a local couple who spoke maybe 100 words of English (seriously, which Norwegians don’t speak English?! Ones that have lived their entire lives in Kirkenes, apparently) and a Russian truck driver who spoke no Norwegian OR English. I got to attempt to play translator from Russian to English…and then try English words until we found ones they knew. “Tax” and “expensive” and “price” were popular topics, and we had a great chat about driving across the border for cheap gas and booze. Great cultural moment!

Right outside the pub? Yup, a Chinese gate. Definitely the theme of the festival. Kirkenes was shaping up to be just as unusual as I’d hoped, and I looked forward to the next morning!

Back to the hotel, which was perfectly comfortable, and off for eight solid hours of sleep. Next up, day in Kirkenes and bus to Murmansk, Russia!

Jan 252019
 


Landed in Berlin right on time, and despite over a dozen trips my first time arriving by air and getting to experience the joy that is Tegel airport. For an arrival it wasn’t bad – we got a bus gate, the signs to the area to take the bus to Berlin Hbf station was pretty easy, and overall it wasn’t awful. I was later to find out I was deceived.

I’d decided to forego my princess side, and see if I’d enjoy staying at the Moxy Hotel Ostbanhof. Now, I fully knew that I was getting a very basic hotel, and the room would be tiny. Honestly, the room itself was completely fine, even though the neighbourhood was pretty dead. The service, however, was absolutely abysmal. It took over 20 minutes to check in because they were slow as heck, and the complete lack of desk in the room was not something I could deal with for more than one night. I’d booked the one night as an experiment, and sorry to say…I gave up and went to the Marriott after that. I had work to do, and as fun as working in a common lobby area is for people watching…it’s really not conducive to getting work and writing done.

So right…first time at the Marriott since it was my first post-merger trip, and in the past I’d usually chosen the Westin. I have to say, the Marriott was leaps and bounds above the Westin for me – and will definitely be my hotel of choice going forward in Berlin. Great executive lounge with a super long evening happy hour (albeit a bit crowded at times), and cool artwork as well:

Two of the days I was in Berlin I had a few hours free, so went on two long walks, probably about 12-15km each. Some cool graffiti:

Don’t tell anyone, but my guilty pleasure in Germany is the Starbucks Bretzelsnack and a Caramel Macchiato…

Hey Dotard….I found the wall…it’s already been built AND torn down. Plz to open the US Government back up now kplzthxbye!

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