Mar 092017
 

Woke up right on time, nice quick check out from the Le Meridien, and a short walk over the bridge over the airport road and I was in Terminal 3. There is a baggage x-ray before you can get into the check-in area, and the guards will not let you in without either a printout or phone copy of your ticket. That accomplished, over to the check in desk where there was no line.

Asked about getting a seat with nobody else in the row, but the check-in agent informed me that all seats would be taken on the flight today. Oh well.

15 minute wait for immigration because the priority line wasn’t open, which left me 15 minutes to “enjoy” the EgyptAir Lounge. It’s gotten even worse (if that’s really possible) than the last time I was there, because on top of the horrible food offerings, they no longer have Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi either. The espresso machine was reasonably functional, so had a quick coffee then off to the gate.

Security at the gate was pretty easy, and we boarded right on time. All things considered, for Cairo, it was a pretty easy and relatively pleasant transit to get on board.

Lufthansa flight 587
Cairo, Egypt (CAI) to Munich, Germany (MUC)
Depart 7:35, Arrive 10:40, Flight Time: 4:05
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIQT, Manufactured 2000, Seat 4C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 26,977
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,391,378

Upon boarding, it was clear why we were full today. There were six rows of EuroBusiness today, which meant 24 seats, and at least 10 of them were filled with uniformed Lufthansa crew. Not sure if a plane broke down in Cairo or what, but that explained all the full seats. Fortunately for me, my window seat was taken by a teenager who slept the whole flight and never got up once, so for being a full flight it wasn’t bad at all.

Breakfast was another story – definitely not the tastiest thing I’ve eaten. My request for champagne was met with “we don’t have that.” So I asked for sparkling wine. Ok, that she could do. Normally I love Lufthansa crews, but for whatever reason this one definitely wasn’t having a great day. I probably wouldn’t be either if I was working a 7am flight out of Cairo.

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Other than that, flight was super uneventful. Immigration to get into Germany had no line, but unusually they actually asked questions like how long I would be in Germany and what I would be doing there. Avoided “no clue, I had planned to go to Paris but changed my mind at the last minute” in favour of “three days, just a bit of tourism.”

Nice and easy, security was also quick, and I had time for a bit of time in the Senator Lounge. I’ve never actually been in the Munich Senator Lounge, only the first class lounge, so this was a new experience.

To go with that white whine, a bit of white wine:

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There’s something about the Lufthansa pretzel bread with cheese, salami, and tomato that I love. Unfortunately there was no cucumber today.

While in the lounge, I looked up the registration of my upcoming plane, and was excited to see it was one of Lufthansa’s relatively brand new A320-neo planes!

Lufthansa flight 105
Munich, Germany (MUC) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 12:00, Arrive 13:05, Flight Time: 1:05
Airbus A320neo, Registration D-AIND, Manufactured 2016, Seat 3F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 27,163
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,391,564

Unlike the last flight this one was totally empty in business. 24 seats again, but only four were taken. Can you believe this was the meal on a 40 minute flight…and that refills on beverages were offered? It was much tastier than the meal from Cairo, especially the salmon, and I actually enjoyed most of this one.

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When I had changed two days prior from Paris to Frankfurt, the Airport Sheraton was by far the most reasonable Starwood option, and being on top of the airport (and thus Starbucks and an ICE station) made it a very convenient choice for me. My two nights here would be the closest I’ve ever come to living in an airport, and I have to say it was kind of fun.

Stopped at Starbucks after landing to get some coffee before checking in, and then after a shower I headed out for a bit of a walk around the city. I’ve never had the time to do much exploring of Frankfurt, so I just went on a bit of a random wander. Caught the train into the city, and then just started walking. The giant Euro symbol in front of the European Central Bank:

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Walked for a while and came upon the main square:

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…and Frankfurt Dom/Cathedral:

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Kept walking for a bit, and eventually decided to check TripAdvisor for somewhere tasty for dinner. Settled on a place called Naïv which was a bit of a Germany craft beer geek’s heaven. German craft beer sampler:

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Bacon wrapped dates…which were absolutely amazing!

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Why a German beer is called Miss Florida IPA is completely beyond me, but there you have it….(and it wasn’t very good)

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I was still a bit hungry, so asked the bartender for a light recommendation. I was told I had to try the Handkäse mit Musik – or “handcheese with music” salad because it was a Frankfurt specialty. Definitely tasty and different!

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I was exhausted at this point from a very early morning, so headed back to the airport to head to bed in my unusually warm room. It was winter, and being Germany they had the heat on, and there was really no way to cool the room down much. They were happy to deliver a fan to me, and perhaps the nicest thing about the Towers Lounge is their happy hour goes until 10:30pm and they leave beer, wine, and snacks out until that time. Rather nice!

As tired as I was, it didn’t bother me that it was warm, and I passed right out. It would be another early morning with the daytrip I had planned!

Aug 142016
 

The best part about The Wing lounge was that I could watch the boarding gate while sipping champagne, and as soon as they announced boarding I could just stroll downstairs and to the front of the line. Nice view of our plane:

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There were a few agents milling around, and as soon as I told one “first class” she escorted me straight to the front of the line and the jetway.

Cathay Pacific flight 846
Hong Kong (HKG) to New York, John F Kennedy (JFK)
Depart 18:45, Arrive 22:40, Flight Time: 15:55
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration B-KPL, Manufactured 2009, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 136,159
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,325,296

I was looking forward to an amazing flight this time, having gotten some tips from frequent Cathay fliers. My previous experience was Hong Kong to London, and while I thought it was a great flight, I didn’t think it was amazing. After 195 countries, I still have things to learn…and the reason I felt the service wasn’t “amazing” before is because part of their amazing service is not disturbing you if you don’t want to. However, use the call button, and they are more than happy to help. Today’s crew provided a warm welcome, and showed me to my seat:

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Welcome about glass of Krug was poured:

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Tuna amuse bouche while boarding was taking place and Krug was being enjoyed:

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Krug with a view:

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Today’s menu:

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Shortly after takeoff the sun was already setting, and more Krug was offered with mixed nuts. This is a small area for improvement, as almonds and cashews aren’t really an inspired choice. I think Lufthansa’s macadamia nuts may win in this category:

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Table was set, Tom Cruise was pouty, and caviar was served:

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Caviar close-up, complete with the mother of pearl spoon. It’s a toss-up who does the best caviar service, but Cathay is definitely one of the best!

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The cauliflower cream soup was pretty bland, and just had a few bites:

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Breaking all my rules had the salad with prawns, and ate them. I figure if anyone can serve non lethal shellfish on a plane it’s Cathay. It was good, but as with the soup rather bland.

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The pork chop was enormous, and the veg flavourful and quite tasty:

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Cheese course was solid, but I have to give the nod to Lufthansa here…if only for the variety of crackers and a few more cheese options:

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At this point, absolutely stuffed, I declined desert and had the bed made up. I didn’t want to sleep for too long so that I could hopefully fall asleep again shortly after landing at 1030p in New York. Still slept 6-7 hours, and woke up with about five hours left in flight. Now, about that dessert I skipped…time for tea and dessert with another movie:

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About two hours prior to landing seemed like a good time for breakfast. Nice fruit plate, croissants and muffins, and some fresh squeezed orange juice to start things off:

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I had heard rumours this was possible, and the flight attendant seemed a bit confused when I asked for it…but hello scrambled eggs topped with caviar, bacon, sausages, and mushrooms:

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…of course, caviar and scrambled eggs wouldn’t be complete without a glass of krug!

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Overall, an amazing Cathay experience – I couldn’t have asked for much more! Super friendly crew, very comfortable seat, and when I mentioned the cabin was slightly warm they were happy to turn it down a bit. I would have to say with this experience Cathay is right up there with Lufthansa, Singapore, and ANA as my favourite airlines in the world to fly in first!

No drama at all with immigration thanks to Global Entry, and hailing an Uber at JFK was also really easy. Short ride to the hotel for the night.

Change of plans meant I had to head straight to DC from New York instead of going on to Toronto as originally planned. This meant an overnight in New York, or taking a 1am regional train. It was an easy choice, and I stayed at the Sheraton Hong Kong….I mean Sheraton LaGuardia East…in beautiful downtown Flushing…named for being a bit of a toilet…

Uber to LaGuardia in the morning where I had breakfast in the AmEx Centurion Lounge first. Glass of Veuve Cliquot and some eggs benedict while doing some plane watching:

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I haven’t seen a plane this yellow since Hughes Air West in the 1980s!

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Proof I was back in ‘Murica….is it wrong I was hoping it would spontaneously combust?

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Caught the shuttle bus over to the old Marine Terminal for my next flight.

Delta flight 2713, Operated by Shuttle America
New York, LaGuardia (LGA) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 12:00, Arrive 13:22, Flight Time: 1:22
Embraer E-170, Registration N872RW, Manufactured 2006, Seat 5A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 136,373
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,325,510

Can’t say too much for being in coach, but hey, 40-50 minutes max flight time in economy comfort with a free firefly and orange juice and snack can’t be beat! Only downside was no Biscoff catered today:

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On approach to DCA…welcome home!

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Overall a fantastic trip, and couldn’t have asked for a better set of flights to end my penultimate country tour with. Now there’s only one more to go with Iceland coming up just over two weeks away!

May 102016
 

Slept in a bit, and had one final walk around the town before getting ready to head to the airport. It was maybe a 90 second walk from my hotel to the terminal at Funafuti…the terminal which is huge:

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Went to the airport at 9:30 to check-in three hours before the flight as recommend, which was maybe a 90 second walk…if that. I was ticked off the list of passengers they had, they checked my bag, and I got to choose my seat from one of those sticker seatmaps. Then, I was asked to complete immigration…which took about 5 seconds. After immigration…we were free to go. Yes, we had technically left the country, but they didn’t care if we left the airport. To quote the immigration guy “small country, we can find you!” Hahaha, guess there’s not a big problem here with people getting stamped out of the country and then deciding not to leave…

My hotel had a 10a checkout policy, and I really didn’t want to wait around in the hot and sticky airport terminal for 2.5 hours. They offered 11a checkout for an extra 20 Australian dollars, and I was sold. Small price to pay for an hour of air conditioning!

Finally at 11, I walked over to the Hotel Filomena, which is right next to the terminal, and does a brisk business on its patio selling drinks to waiting passengers. Right beyond the patio fence, you see the runway:

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Plane arrived right on time, and we boarded about 20 minutes before scheduled takeoff. Quick boarding, and doors were closed 10 minutes early. Every seat was taken today, except the one next to me! Everything was going right this trip. It’s easier they said to take a full plane back to Fiji, since there are other diversion options near Suva.  However, if they get near Funafuti and can’t land, it requires going almost all the way back to Fiji!

Fiji Airways flight 280 – Operated by FijiLink
Funafuti, Tuvalu (FUN) to Suva, Fiji (SUV)
Depart 12:20, Arrive 14:50, Flight Time: 2:30
ATR 72-600, Registration DQ-FJZ, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 61,579
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,251,104

View just after takeoff of Funafuti Atoll. See the wide part on the “corner?” That’s where the airport and “city” of Funafuti are located:

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Full lunch offered, beef or chicken. Went with the beef, and it was surprisingly good!

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Landed in Suva right on time, and had a nearly three hour wait for my connection to Nadi. I decided since the Tuvalu jinx was now broken to hit the cafe in the Suva airport, and enjoy a slice of their now-famous chocolate cake. It was just as tasty as I remembered!

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Time actually passed rather quickly, and soon it was time to board the final leg.

Fiji Airways flight 18 – Operated by FijiLink
Suva, Fiji (SUV) to Nadi, Fiji (NAN)
Depart 18:00, Arrive 18:30, Flight Time: 30 minutes
ATR 42-600, Registration DQ-FJY, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 61,655
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,251,180

Boarding our ATR at twilight made for cool views of the plane:

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Nothing to say – very uneventful 30 minute flight. Sat next to a Fiji Airways employee and discussed the challenges they’ve had in the past and how they’re really working hard to overcome past problems. I have to say, my experience was night and day better compared to my previous attempt 18 months before, and it looks like Fiji Airways, formerly aka Air Hot Mess, might actually be improving!

Grabbed a taxi back to the Sheraton, where I had an incredibly honest driver who told me the fare was $25 when I asked him to confirm it was $30. It’s always nice getting honest taxi drivers!

The Sheraton, however, was a mess. The first room they gave me the AC didn’t work, and it took three visits from maintenance before they would admit it. All this time, I was also waiting for a room service menu in the room, since it didn’t have one, and it took them over an hour to bring it. Two hours after check-in, they finally agreed the AC would never work and reluctantly agreed to let me move rooms. The second room was perfect, and I have no idea why they were so reluctant.

Overall, this stay really left me with a sour taste in my mouth. There was no warmth or desire to help from the employees, and they acted as if they were being annoyed when you asked for things. To top it off, when I checked out it took 10 minutes of arguing about the rate despite me having a printed confirmation. Overall, while Fiji Airways seems to be well on the road to improvement the Sheraton is definitely going the other direction. Next time, I would definitely look elsewhere on Denarau.

I’d originally planned three nights in Fiji in case I had to try to go to Tuvalu a second or third try, but since I made it on the first I cut my stay in Fiji short and instead of heading directly to Hong Kong, I decided to head to Sydney for a couple days in between. Next up: Nadi to Sydney on the Fiji Airways A330.

May 072016
 

Flight landed just a few minutes ahead of schedule at the Nadi airport, which I found out after boarding was under major major construction. Two good things about landing just after 5am: no immigration lines, and the normally super hot and humid outdoor terminal was still pleasant and breezy at this hour.

Immigration was a snap, no questions, and I was off through baggage claim to get a taxi. Two taxi drivers were waiting, and I picked the first one. Asked him “it’s still $25 to the Sheraton, right?” “Oh no, it hasn’t been that in 10 years, it’s $35 now.” Hmmm, I was starting to smell a scam, so I went over to the other driver…same thing even though he hadn’t heard me talking to the first. Sigh, at this hour there wasn’t much choice. (As a side note, I did confirm later that $25 is the correct fare – grrr!)

Rather short 20 minutes or so ride to the Sheraton since it was Sunday morning and there was still no traffic. Got to the Sheraton, checked in, but was told unfortunately my room wasn’t ready yet. Given it was 6am I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was tired, cranky, and sweaty, and when she suggested “maybe you can go get some breakfast and wait by the pool. Maybe it will be ready by 12 I was less than thrilled.

I asked if perhaps there was ANY room ready now – it didn’t need to be the ocean view suite they had upgraded me to. After going in back and checking – yes – there was another room I could have until mine was ready. Woo hoo! Got a rather boring garden-view room with two beds, but the AC worked and I was able to get a couple hours of solid sleep so that was fantastic!

Shortly afterwards, around 11am they called and told me my new room was ready, and the buggy would come and pick me up and drive me over. That’s the service I remember from this hotel. Not only was it a suite, but it was at the corner of the beach – probably the best of all the ocean view suites the property has based on location. Can’t argue with the view:

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See, here’s where I could pretend I did anything the rest of the day, but… I grabbed lunch at the beach-side restaurant, plopped down by the pool, and pretty much spent the afternoon on and off dozing and reading. Considering I normally suck at relaxing while on vacation, I was pretty proud of myself for doing absolutely nothing. Before I knew it, it was late afternoon, and the sun was setting. Not a bad view from the beach right outside my room:

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That evening, I took the Bula Bus to the Denarau Port for dinner. The Bula Bus makes a loop through all the resorts on Denarau Island (Westin, Sheraton, Radisson, Sofitel, Hilton, etc) as well as the port. The port is filled with restaurants and shops, and probably the best place to go for a bite if you want to get away from the resorts.

I had dinner at the Nadina Fijian Restaurant which I had eaten at a couple years prior. It was just as delicious as I remembered from before, but I don’t think I was able to fully enjoy it because I was so exhausted. I recommend the Kokoda which is a Fijian version of ceviche – basically cubes of raw fish and veggies served in a lime and coconut broth. It’s delicious!

Took the Bula Bus back to the hotel, and promptly passed out for nearly 10 hours – guess I needed it!

Next morning, I got up and grabbed a coffee just outside the front of the resort at Bulaccino. No, it’s not amazing coffee, but given the location it’s a huge step up from the awful drip coffee you get in hotel restaurants, and almost as good as you’d get in a small independent coffee shop in the US or Europe. Highly recommended – and their iced americanos are like rocket fuel – not something that can usually be said for coffee in developing countries! Also, they made a mean eggs benedict for breakfast.

Got back to my room after some breakfast and heard music coming from outside. Turns out the hotel wedding chapel was also right outside my room, and a Chinese couple were having a “traditional” Fijian wedding:

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That was my cue to head back to the pool and read for a bit, before I got hungry again and headed back to the port for lunch. Decided this time to try a new restaurant called The Rhum-Ba which gets great reviews on TripAdvisor. Can’t argue with the view, as the restaurant is housed in the yacht club:

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You can, however, argue with the service and the portions. I had kokoda again, and it was literally three spoonfulls…for US$10. Also, there was a strong wind which actually picked up my glass of cider and sent it flying all over. I suggested MAYBE they could get me another…and he had to “check with the manager if that’s ok.” Service and portions were severely lacking, and although what I did have was tasty, I’m not sure I’d go back.

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After this, I discovered a place that will be my potential downfall in the future. New Zealand Natural ice cream. Supposedly this is a chain ice cream shop, and maybe it’s not that special, but I ordered rum raisin and another flavour called Hokey Pokey. What’s hokey pokey? Basically vanilla ice cream with little chunks of crystallized toffee and honey. It was out of this world…and I might be addicted now!

Back to the resort, where I spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach reading:

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Followed by another absolutely amazing sunset:

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Just after sunset, the power went out. Fortunately, the generators for the hotel kicked back on. But, it was the weirdest thing. They only powered some things, but it seemed like the strangest subset. In the room, all lights worked, but nothing else. No power outlets, no internet, no AC. So, I headed to the Port to get dinner. Unfortunately, the port also had no power, so all the restaurants had closed.

Went back to the Sheraton, and still no power, but fortunately the kitchen was powered by the generator, so the bar was hopping, and I was able to get a sandwich. Not sure powering the band at the bar should take priority over AC, but it was what it was. I was exhausted again, so fortunately had no trouble falling asleep without AC – and fortunately the fan did work, however. I was woken up about 2am when power finally came back on and the AC/TV/etc all kicked back on, but can’t really blame the hotel for the poor power situation. I guess rolling brownouts have become a fact of life in Nadi in recent months.

With that, my two super relaxing days had come to a close, and it was time for my third try at getting to Tuvalu!

Apr 252016
 

Before heading home, only fitting to add a few shots from Cape Town. Like the sunrise view from the Westin Executive Lounge:

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View of Table Mountain from the waterfront:

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Another view, this time from the water:

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Fantastic sunset on the water:

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Looking back towards Cape Town, and a full moon:

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The Cape Wheel lit up at night on the V&A Waterfront:

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One last sunset from Camps Bay:

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Another daytime view from the Westin Exec Lounge. This hotel was absolutely fantastic in every way. Great rooms, fabulous Platinum treatment, great restaurants, and the brightest star was the staff. They went out of their way over the course of a week to accommodate every request I had and went above and beyond the fall of duty. It’s hard to fail, though, with a view like this:

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Soon enough, over a week had passed, and it was time to get back home. My hockey team had made the championship game in the meantime, and I was anxious to get back in time to play!

Check-in was easy, although they were only able to check me in as far as Johannesburg. Long line for security, and took nearly 30 minutes to clear. Once through, the walk to the South African lounge wasn’t too bad, and there was great plane spotting today. TAAG 777:

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Kulula 737 with a very awkward “this way up” paintjob. Just in case, idk, the plane gets turned upside down?

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…and my ride for today for the short hop to Joburg, a South African A340-600:

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South African flight 346
Cape Town, South Africa (CPT) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 15:20, Arrive 17:15, Flight Time: 1:55
Airbus A340-600, Registration ZS-SNG, Manufactured 2003, Seat 4D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 41,950
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,231,475

Once airborne, a small snack was served. The couscous, cheese, tomato, and olives were ok, but the mystery meal was…pretty nasty:

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Other than that, not too much to say about this short flight. Same wine selections as the flight down to Cape Town, friendly crew, and about 80% full in business, but the seat next to me remained empty which was a super nice surprise. The crew didn’t even say anything when I used the seatbelt to buckle in my laptop bag for landing! Nice!

Bus gate in Josie, and unfortunately we had to wait to fill up the bus – no special treatment for business class! Rather long walk to the international gates, and another 30 minute wait for passport control. Ugh! But once through, the South African lounge was absolutely packed for evening departures. Since the onboard meal wasn’t really edible, I grabbed a small snack in the lounge – I jokingly told friends back home this was crocodile stew, and most believed it. Goes to show how even South Africa is considered exotic!

…that said, it wasn’t labeled. Tasted like lamb, but there’s no guarantees…

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Long walk to the gate for the Lufthansa flight, and waited forever to board as the crew was stuck in traffic. This was to be the first time I transfered 747-8i to 747-8i and I was looking forward to a very comfortable trip!

Lufthansa flight 573
Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 19:40, Arrive 05:25 next day, Flight Time: 10:45
Boeing 747-8i, Registration D-ABYF, Manufactured 2012, Seat 8D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 47,330
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,236,855

So…what’s for dinner tonight?

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…after a couple glasses of wine in the lounge, I decided to try out my very limited German, and ordered my wine and starter. The super friendly FA continued in German, so I decided to see how long I could keep this going. I always joke that I don’t speak German – I speak Lufthansa, and the extent of my German is to tell you that Zu jedem Sitz gehört eine Schwimmweste. In der First und Business Class finden Sie die Shwimmweste unter der Armiehne!

I must have been reasonably understandable, because I got my wine and mixed nuts. I’m so glad Lufthansa has finally upgraded from the pre-packaged nuts:

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I went with the sweet chili beef for the starter, and it was reasonably tasty:

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I’m not sure why I decided on the pasta as a main, but it was pretty bland, as expected. I won’t do shrimp on a plane, and I’ve been burned by bad beef so many times that I guess the pasta was a default. Maybe I should have risked the beef after all…

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Tasty, but incredibly stingy cheese portion:

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After eating, I passed out for over seven hours of sleep, and slept right through the pre-arrival breakfast service. No matter, I wasn’t really hungry anyways.

Passport control agents were waiting at the top of the jetway as they often are in Frankfurt for Africa flights, and after a quick flash of the passport (without even opening it) they waived me on. Several others weren’t as lucky…

Through formal passport control, again managing the whole very brief exchange in German, and I was in the airport at 5:30, only 5 minutes after scheduled arrival. Very short walk to the airport Sheraton, quick check-in, and by 6am I was in bed and sleeping soundly. Clearly seven hours wasn’t nearly enough, and I managed another 4 hours of solid sleep.

Grabbed a quick shower, followed by coffee and pastry in the Sheraton exec lounge, and then headed back to the airport. Stop for the obligatory Starbucks to finish waking up, where once again my name was strangely misspelled:

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Through immigration and security. It was the day before Easter, and this group of Chinese tourists was absolutely fascinated with this random duty free person posing as the Easter Bunny:

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Quick stop in the Senator lounge for a pretzel and easter eggs, along with a glass of riesling:

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Then, very short walk to the gate and it was time to board.

Lufthansa flight 418
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 12:50, Arrive 16:55, Flight Time: 9:05
Boeing 747-8i, Registration D-ABYR, Manufactured 2014, Seat 7D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 51,411
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,240,936

Having slept 11+ hours I was pretty sure I was going to stay awake this whole flight. The flight to DC was completely full in all classes, and they were offering a 200 euro voucher to go the next day. Um, no thanks. So now, let’s eat!

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Mixed nuts and red wine again, are you sensing a pattern?

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The medium-rare roast beef as advertised. Tasty, especially with the pretzel roll:

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A rather anemic salad:

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The tandoori chicken breast was ok, but nothing special.

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Much better serving of cheese…and a dessert! Bonus!

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Plus, mark this as the flight where I learned Lufthansa has an on-board espresso machine. This was the first of four double espressos consumed in the next eight hours…

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After lunch, I spent several hours doing work and watching tv, before it was time for the pre-arrival meal. The salad was pretty sad, and the curry soup was even worse. The whole meal was pretty poor…the riesling was the star…

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So what to do? Another glass of riesling and dessert. Best part of the meal!

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Landed at Dulles right on time, immigration was a zoo but was through in two minutes thanks to Global Entry. The line for immigration stretched down the hallway and looked at least 30-60 minutes long. Fortunately, the Global Entry line was much shorter and I was through in five minutes.

Taxi ride home, quick shower and pick up the hockey gear, eat a pack of fig newtons, and it was off to the hockey rink, where I arrived just in time 30 minutes before the championship game. The picture below tells all the story…it was well worth rushing home for!

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Stay tuned…next up is my next attempt to check off country #192 visited – Tuvalu!

Apr 232016
 

Had to head to Cape Town for work, and debated taking Qatar for the service (and crediting to American) but in the end decided the chance to earn some Star credit was too good to pass up. After that, if came down to who to fly: South African? Lufthansa? Maybe try something new and take SWISS? Decided to go with SWISS because, if I was going to spend the day in Europe I wanted to do it in Zürich, plus, United had upgrade space available on the flight to London, so it was a no-brainer!

Quick check-in at the first class counter at Dulles airport, no wait at TSA PreCheck, and was quickly off to the United First lounge, despite my flight leaving from the D gates. My usual glass of bubbles along with some shrimp cocktail and salmon:

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Caught up on work emails, and then the long trek down to the D gates. I don’t think I’ve ever departed Dulles transatlantic from the D gates before in dozens of flights, so I guess I should count myself lucky!

United Airlines flight 918
Washington, DC Dulles (IAD) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 19:35, Arrive 06:50 next day, Flight Time: 7:15
Boeing 777-200, Registration N798UA, Manufactured 1998, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 34,668
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,224,193

What’s this…not just welcome aboard bubbles offered, but anything you want to drink? Wow, United, careful, someone might start to think you’re a real international carrier…wait, the plastic glasses dispel that notion!

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Fun new historical postcard amenity kits. This is my fave of the kits lately, because the case actually makes a fantastic toiletries bag. I have a few of them now, so hopefully they last a while!

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Sunset departure from Dulles:

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So what’s to eat tonight?

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Takeoff was on time, and now it’s time to eat…excellent!

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Château le Jeff 2016 and warmed split cashews…groovy!

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Garlic bread…this flight is off to a good start!

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Shrimp tempura and corn…that sort of thing ain’t my bag, baby!

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I love mushrooms. I love leeks. I did NOT love this mushroom and leek soup. Two bites and gave up. Fortunately, the Château le Jeff was in plentiful supply tonight, as was the garlic bread!

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The salad was…unmemorable.

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BRING ME ZEE PORK CHOP! As usual, it was solid…the stuffing thing is pretty tasty, and broccoli pretty much is my favourite veg, sooo…

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Pre-plated cheese, but it was delicious with some sweet biscuits. For once I was stuffed, and didn’t ask for seconds.

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Ice cream “with hot fudge and cherries” only yielded two cherries tonight. Below average.

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I passed on the offer of more drinks as a nightcap…

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Slept four solid hours, which for a six hour flight is excellent for me. Was super happy with it, plus, if I needed it, I would have all day to nap. The usual super long walk to immigration at Heathrow, followed by the equally long walk back to the remote terminal for the United First lounge. Skipped the shower, and opted for breakfast since I’d slept through it on the plane. If I was going to be in London, at least I was going to order some bacon rolls and a buck’s fizz, even if it wasn’t on the menu. Not a problem at all, and the lounge was happy to prepare:

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Super long back to the other pier for my SWISS flight on to Zurich, but it felt good walking after being on the plane.

SWISS flight 317
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
Depart 08:50, Arrive 11:40, Flight Time: 1:50
Airbus A320, Registration HB-JLR, Manufactured 2012, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 35,159
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,224,684

Flight was only about half full in “business” so I switched to the window seat and had a whole row to myself. Very solid breakfast for a short flight, complete with Coke Light. Wasn’t terribly hungry after lounge breakfast, so pretty much just nibbled at it:

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Got to Zurich, and was definitely ready to crash. Quick train ride, and I was at my favourite hotel, the Sheraton Zurich. Checked in, crawled in bed, and was out for a good 4+ hours of sleep. Felt much better after that, so went out for a good hour-long walk to the city centre before heading back to the hotel to do a bit of work. Headed to the hotel bar for happy hour, since a drink and snack was included for platinum members. Decided to get a little fuel for the trip back to the airport:

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I was already checked in, so headed straight to immigration, where I had a little bit of drama with the immigration officer, who refused to accept my documents despite the fact I’ve entered Switzerland on the same passport multiple times. Finally, he agreed to let me through, but the whole experience was odd…anyways, headed to the brand new SWISS pier lounge, and had a nice cooked to order light dinner of rosti, pork, and gummi bears!

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Only had a little time in the lounge to catch up on emails and such, before boarding my onward flight.

SWISS flight 288
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 22:45, Arrive 10:25 next day, Flight Time: 10:40
Airbus A340-300, Registration HB-JMO, Manufactured 1997, Seat 10A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 40,370
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,229,895

Tonight’s menu features cuisine from the Canton of Baselland:

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The smoked trout and char starter was interesting…first time I’ve ever had a lavender-honey sauce:

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Grilled John Dory for a main, which was excellent…and the pretzel roll made it even better. I’m warming to this whole fish on planes thing!

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Basic, but tasty dessert…I’d already had the cheese, so was pleased:

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One final glass of wine and a chocolate before bed:

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Slept nearly seven wonderful hours, and woke up just as the flight attendant was bringing breakfast. Meats, cheeses, and muesli with rhubarb? I was in heaven…I love rhubarb!

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Immigration was a hot mess in Johannesburg, as we had landed behind several other flights – at least an hour wait if not more. Fortunately was able to jump to the head of the queue, where I got a very strange agent who decided to look carefully at every stamp in my passport before asking where my visa was. Ugh, dude, I don’t need a visa…calls over his equally clueless supervisor. Finally, they agree, ok, you don’t need a visa, stamp stamp, welcome. The whole experience, again, was very odd.

Off to the domestic side of the terminal, quick stop in the South African lounge for a Coke Light, and just as quickly it was time to board. Unfortunately we were at a bus gate this morning, but it was on time and efficient, so really can’t complain!

South African flight 333
Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Cape Town, South Africa (CPT)
Depart 12:10, Arrive 14:15, Flight Time: 2:05
Airbus A340-600, Registration ZS-SNG, Manufactured 2003, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 41,160
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,230,685

It was a treat being on a widebody for a short domestic flight, and we had a super friendly crew today. They were pretty much forcing drinks on people, and I decided to go with the vegetarian snack…which came “sealed in freshness” hahah:

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It didn’t look any more appetizing once the plastic came off. I refuse to touch anything with mayonnaise on a plane, so gave everything but the water and wine a miss. I tried the fruit, but as usual dry and flavourless, sooooo…..

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After a quick flight we landed in Cape Town right on time, where we actually had a jetbridge, quick domestic arrival, and it was time to get to work! My driver that I had pre-arranged from the Westin was waiting for me, so it was a nice quick and comfortable transfer to my home for the next week.

Jan 172016
 

About two weeks before the trip, I got an email from SPG that the Sheraton Gambia Resort was no longer the Sheraton, but had kindly agreed to honour SPG awards but not benefits. Well, considering it was like 2,000 SPG points per night (a complete bargain since I value points at 2.5 cents…meaning $50 a night and the paid rates were over $200) I could forego the benefits for a super cheap stay.

Upon arrival, the resort looked much better than online reviews would lead you to believe. People complained about shoddy run-down facilities, terrible food, disinterested staff, mosquitos eating you alive in the middle of the night, you name it. People did not have nice things to say about this property.

I got a nice little bungalow on the second level, and overall it seemed good. It was a bit damp and musty smelling, but hey, this is a country where humidity hovers around 99% so what do you except. Clearly not rebranded toiletries:

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After a quick shower to wash off the plane gross, headed down to the hotel outdoor bar and cafe for a bit of dinner. The creatively named JulBrew (Banjul, get it?) and a big heaping plate of chicken yassa. Definitely super tasty! I don’t know why people were complaining about the food…AND cheap! Most of the people at the resort were Brits and on all-inclusive package tours, so they seemed quite confused when we wanted to sign our drinks to the room.

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Had a good night of sleep, and in the morning had to be up at oh-dark-thirty for our “Roots Tour.” Daniel had found the tour, and since the former Sheraton was a bit out of town, we were the early stop on the tourbus pickup. The bus kindly came with a map of The Gambia on it, so you could see the river – part of which we’d be navigating. This seemed like a good way to spend the day, since when an entire country is named after a river it would be a shame not to spend some significant time on said river!

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The views from the pier weren’t half bad…it was a bit overcast, which was great for keeping the temps cool:

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Our boat:

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Just kidding…this was our boat…marginally better:

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After a nice two hour or so cruise up the river in relative cloud cover, we finally docked on this beach:

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…and arrived at the twin villages of Albreda and Juffureh:

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The “Roots Tour” was so named because in the 1970s American author Alex Haley wrote a book called Roots which claimed he had traced his slave ancestry all the way back to The Gambia and “The African Kunta Kinte.” These were the villages Kunta Kinte were supposedly from. I say supposedly, because there’s lots of controversy around the book involving plagiarism and allegations that the book is largely a work of fiction based on what he experienced trying to find his roots. Regardless, it was a very interesting insight into his journeys. A “never again” monument to slavery in the village:

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The remains of an old Portuguese church – possibly one of the earliest Christian churches in Africa:

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The women and children of the village were all assembled to sing for us…and of course the donation basket was out:

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Jali, playing the Kora – he wrote a special Ode to Jordan the Traveler…unfortunately I can’t get the video to post!

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Jufurreh…a baby-friendly community!

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…and there were certainly lots of children around…again, note the donation tin. Pay us for being cute!

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Women pounding out grains for either tourist photos or to eat…it was unclear which. But the way she pointed at me…and said YOU PAY ME…I have my suspicions…

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We were followed around the village the whole time by a group of local Gambian police, including my friend “The Colonel.” He kept saying to me “Big man! My friend! You lift weights!” To his credit, he never asked for money or anything, he just wanted a photo as we got on the boat and ready to leave…I love this pic!

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Once back on the boat, a buffet lunch was served. Some spicy beef rice (with extra hot sauce), pumpkin, and other local vegetables. Rather tasty!

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Soon, we were approaching Kunta Kinteh Island:

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Why was this island so important? Well I’m glad you asked!

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Remains of the old fort where slaves were held, often hundreds to a room, before transport on to Goree Island in Senegal and eventually across the ocean:

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Cannons from the Old Fort:

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More ruins of the fort:

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After the island, we settled in for the long two plus hour cruise back to Banjul. Chatted with a couple of Londoners on the trip back, who snapped this pic of us just handing out on the boat…complete with passed out Swedish tourist in the foreground:

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On the way back into town, we convinced the bus driver to stop a second to snap a picture of the national liberation monument:

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Back at the ex-Sheraton, and after a quick dinner completely passed out. Daniel was staying at another place across the street, so once we had dinner he took off and I’m pretty sure we all passed out quickly.

Up early, and a nice view of the pool, with the ocean in the background:

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Beach chairs, and a volleyball net:

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The beach at the resort…only moderately crawling with local hucksters trying to entice you on boat tours, “come drink with me in my local bar” (I mean, I’d love the chance to get drugged and mugged, sign me up!), etc…and it was a nice beach, so worth the mild hassle:

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Strange art at the resort. There were several cats roaming the property, and this was apparently an artist’s rendition:

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The walls of the resort were covered with all sorts of local art:

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We had arranged with the bus driver from the day before to drive us to the Senegal border in the morning instead of trying to negotiate with some random taxi, and while we waited, I checked out the local news. The President was apparently urging all Gambians to live “as one strong family”

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There were also 20+ full page ads in the newspaper from various companies, wishing His Excellency, President Sheikh Professor Doctor Al-Hadji Yahya AJJ Jammeh Babili Mansa a Happy New Year. Now if that name isn’t impressive…

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Our driver arrived right on time, and it was time to get on the road for Senegal!

Jan 162016
 

Couple of days at home after Christmas to get things sorted, and it was time to head out on the more-or-less annual New Year’s Trip. I’m actually super excited for 2016-17 New Years, because I have no plans – nowhere I “have” to go, and I can actually do whatever I want. Pretty exciting after 10+ years of using the long weekends to take advantage and visit multiple countries.

Decided to be a bit economical, and take the Metro to National Airport, and no drama at all…which is much better than my usual commute where 15 minutes frequently turns to 30-45 at least once a week due to broken down trains, smoke in tunnels, you name it, it’s been a problem with Metro lately. Note that this post is going to be mostly photos, because there is only so much you can keep saying about United service.

Instead, this time, the drama was to be with United. No sooner did I arrive at the airport then I got notification my flight would be delayed an hour due to a late arriving aircraft. Of course. Nothing to do with weather in Chicago (for a change in December) it just looked like a crew rest issue turned into cascading delays for little things.

The United Club was open, however, and had this festive offering I haven’t seen before. United Club Eggnog? That just screams salmonella in a jug to me, so I decided to pass:

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An hour turned into two, and I finally headed to the gate hoping to have 30 minutes left to make my connection in Chicago. But, there was drama. When I checked in, United was “unable” to assign me a seat. Gate agent confirmed the flight was “overbooked” by two in first, and based on the seat I had originally reserved (and the person eventually occupying it) it was clear I was a victim of a Federal Air Marshal. I was offered “probably” a middle seat in coach – but since the flight was overbooked she refused to even guarantee that.

I reminded her that United’s policy for overbooked first is NOT to just downgrade whoever happens to not have a seat, but to downgrade upgraders first, followed by award tickets, and then order of status/fare. Being a 1K on a paid ticket, there’s no way I should be downgraded. She refused. I asked for supervisor. She refused. I asked for her name, so I could share with corporate that she doesn’t like their policy, because it makes her life difficult when I write them for compensation.

She relented, and called up the two upgraders – both of whom happened to be Global Services. Hahaha. To their credit, they were completely understanding and took the downgrade compensation. I guess when you fly THAT much you tend not to pull DYKWIA stuff. I know it’s only a 90 minute flight, but at the same time, being on a paid first ticket it was the principle of the matter…eventually ended up sitting next to a no-status bro on an award ticket who announced pretty much right away his intention to “get totally obliterated by the time we get to Chicago because I’m going to Vegas.” Maybe the new United policy should be to downgrade in order of behaviour…

United flight 619
Washington DC, National (DCA) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 13:46, Arrive 15:05, Flight Time: 2:19
Boeing 737-700, Registration N27724, Manufactured 1999, Seat 3A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 123,910
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,162,877

PDB were offered, and we were treated to a nice sunset on the way to Chicago:

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Other than that, pretty generic United 737 flight. Snack basket was offered, and when we pulled into the gate there were only 14 minutes to make my connection. We parked next to the United First lounge, and I decided to go there first. Having lost out on my 2.5 hour connection, I asked if instead of running for it they could just put me on the later flight to London instead, so I had some time to get work done. The same fare bucket was still available, and they were happy to make the change. I love this lounge.

Another reason I love this lounge:

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Had a small mini pre-dinner while getting some work done. Another reason to like this lounge past Veuve…it satisfies my cheese obsession:

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Somewhere around Veuve number three before boarding…

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Flight was parked just a couple of gates away from the lounge, and got there just as they started boarding.

United flight 938
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to London, Heathrow (LHR)
Depart 21:05, Arrive 11:05, Flight Time: 8:00
Boeing 767-300, Registration N658UA, Manufactured 1993, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 127,863
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,166,830

Welcome aboard glass of the ever-classy Oscar Cliquot, in fancy Maison Plastique crystal:

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Hooray…we get the short rib…again!

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Warm nuts, and a rather respectable malbec to start things off. I never understood the obsession with “warm nuts.” I actually prefer them at room temperature – lots of times when they’re warm they verge on hot and feel a bit mushy.

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Coconut shrimp skewer and taboleh? Odd choice, but hey, it beats the two tiny shrimp shrimp cocktail they’ve been serving lately.

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All was forgiven, because the garlic bread was in plentiful supply tonight…and the salad had tasty olives on it:

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Baja Chicken Enchilada soup…a bit strange…and passed on it after a few bites:

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Nasty overcooked short rib. I really really need to learn my lesson about ordering beef on United.

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As cheese plates go, it was decent. Oddly, it came pre-plated, which was really strange for United. According to the crew, it came that way? Is this a new catering enhancement?

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Tonight’s request for “caramel and cherries” netted the average three…which overall is how this United flight was. Average.

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Managed a solid five hours of sleep, and woke as we were only about 20 minutes from London. Great view of the Thames this morning:

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Took the insanely long walk to the United First lounge, where I was asked why I wasn’t on my flight to Brussels. Um, excuse me? My new flight arrival time left a five minute connection, so there was no way to make it. Seems the agent in Chicago didn’t change my connection when she rebooked me for the later London flight, giving me a chance to make it if my arrival into London was earlier.

The club staff said they’d work on it while I showered, and when I came back 30 minutes later I’d been rebooked on the next departure – on BA! I was pretty surprised they didn’t make me wait an additional two hours for the Brussels Airlines flight, but it was a pleasant surprise! After a bit of rehydration, they offered to drive me to terminal five. Yes, it was no Lufthansa Porsche, but you read that right…United drove me across the tarmac to the other terminal instead of making me use the inter-terminal busses. I was floored…and yet another reason I think the London station remains the finest in the United system.

Having no status with One World, I got the honour of checking out BA’s regular business lounge. It was actually quite nice, I’d say even nicer than Lufthansa’s Senator lounges (note I didn’t even dare compare it to anything United offers) and I was pleasantly surprised. Can’t wait to see the First lounge on my next trip through. This was my first time in T5, and my gate was right near two very important things: Starbucks and the lounge. Enjoyed some Starbucks, and soon, it was time to board:

British Airways flight 398
London, Heathrow (LHR) to Brussels, Belgium (BRU)
Depart 15:15, Arrive 17:30, Flight Time: 1:15
Airbus A320, Registration G-EUYE, Manufactured 2009, Seat 1F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 128,081
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,167,048

Had a glass of water as a pre-departure, and being only one of two people in business on this very short flight, service was great. She insisted I have champagne for my first BA experience, and how could I say now. Even got my own bottle.

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While enjoying my second great inflight sunset in two days, she insisted on a champagne refill. Yes, that meant another bottle.

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Arrived to Brussels, and was absolutely wiped out. Additionally, security in Belgium was a nightmare. Apparently the Belgian police had received “very specific and credible” evidence the city’s New Year’s celebrations were to be the subject of a terrorist attack, and everything had been canceled. Trains were also running on a severely reduced schedule. I’d planned to head out and do dinner with friends in Liège, but given the late arrival, lower train schedule, I just couldn’t do it. Managed to stay awake until about 9pm, then absolutely passed out for nearly 10 wonderful hours at the airport Sheraton.

Nice leisurely stroll to the airport in the morning, stopping along the way for some Starbucks of course. Security at Brussels has been massively renovated and upgraded in the last year, and is so much nicer now. No more underground walkway between terminals, and everything is light, airy, and much more efficient. The only downside is the exit-immigration for the G Gates was a zoo today, and I had to wait nearly an hour to clear. Seems every Africa flight was operating today – along with JFK – so there were seven full A330s leaving at the same time. No priority line either, so wait wait wait.

As coffee was kicking in, I enjoyed a few pain au chocolates in the Brussels lounge, and soon it was time to board.

Brussels Airlines flight 203
Brussels, Belgium (BRU) to Dakar, Senegal (DKR)
Depart 11:05, Arrive 16:15, Flight Time: 6:10
Airbus A330-300, Registration OO-SFO, Manufactured 1994, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 2,778
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,169,826

Rather strange amenity kit, containing quite unimpressive contents:

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Wait…they have a beer of the month? Belgian beer on the menu? Wow – awesome and unique!

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Although the menu was a bit seafood heavy (which I try extremely hard to avoid on planes) it also looked super tasty, so I decided to go for it and inshallah all would be ok. There were only three people in business today on top of it, while economy was completely full. It was my lucky day!

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Wait, there’s an entire beer menu?! Sure, the Stella and Hoegaarden aren’t impressive, but look at all those great Belgian beers. You can mark this down as the first time ever I would get rather happy in business class, and there would be absolutely no wine involved!

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Mackerel starter with mixed nuts and raisins, and a Gulden Draak…delicious!

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The smoked eel and radish starter, continuing with the same beer. It was 10% ABV so had to pace it a bit. Also, look at that awesome pretzel roll and butter. Mmm…

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Decided to go with the scallops main (yes, even more seafood!) and switched to the Julius beer since the menu said it went well with seafood. I absolutely wasn’t disappointed! Delicious!

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…and with the fantastic cheese course, the “Forbidden Fruit” beer. The nice flight attendant said “ooooh, this one I know, it has made for many not very memorable nights…I predict you will sleep after this!”

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…and finally, I was looking really forward to the rum-pineapple-marscapone baba for dessert, but it was not to be. The chocolate mousse with passionfruit sauce was a pretty darn good substitute, however!

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Defying the odds (I had slept 10 hours the night before, after all) I stayed awake and watched movies, and two hours later was ready to take one more for the team and try the kriek. I usually don’t like fruit beers, but this one was pretty darn tasty and went well with some nice Belgian chocolates!

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…and, because I couldn’t let the last one go…

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Soon we were arriving Dakar on time, and the other three in business class deplaned, giving me a private plane for the onward short flight to Banjul:

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Since the flight time would be too short to enjoy a beverage, while waiting on the ground during cleaning, the purser asked which beer had been my favourite, and insisted on bringing me another to enjoy while waiting for the plane to be cleaned:

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Soon we were off for the short 25 minute flight to Banjul.

Brussels Airlines flight 203
Dakar, Senegal (DKR) to Banjul, The Gambia (BJL)
Depart 17:25, Arrive 18:15, Flight Time: 0:50
Airbus A330-300, Registration OO-SFO, Manufactured 1994, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 2,900
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,169,938

Flight was very short and uneventful, was the first one in line to immigration, and I didn’t ask about the visa on arrival, and they didn’t ask for one…so I was stamped in and that was that. In advance, the visa is $100 and visa on arrival is supposedly about $30-40, but perhaps since I arrived behind a large plane full of British tourists (who don’t need visas) they forgot to ask me? Either way, was nice to save the money. Waiting for Jordan in baggage claim:

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Exterior of the airport, grabbing a taxi to the hotel:

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With that, I’d entered my 186th country, and there were only ten more to go! Now, off to explore The Gambia!

Nov 052015
 

As I mentioned earlier, since it was absolutely pouring rain and late at night, I really didn’t have much choice but to take a taxi to my hotel in Tokyo. I considered trying to call an Uber, but there wasn’t one anywhere on the map, and I was too tired to wait, so went with it, fully expecting an extremely expensive ride.

I had asked the hotel approximately how much I should expect in an email, and they told me “around 70,000 Yen.” This was around $55 or so, so I didn’t feel like it was too bad. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the hotel, the total bill was 9,370 Yen, or just over $78. Ouch. To the driver’s credit, however, he knew exactly three words of English (compared to my four of Japanese), made exact change, and was as pleasant as could be.

Arrived at my hotel the Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo, and there was a line waiting to check in, and only one agent working. Waited nearly 15 minutes (even as an SPG Platinum) and finally got to the front of the line. The agent was indifferent, displayed absolutely no personality, and when asked about the possibility of a platinum upgrade, perhaps to a suite, said “we do not do that.” So, standard room it was for me. This ranks as some of the poorest platinum treatment I’ve had anywhere in the world.

Got to the room, and it was smaaaaaaal. I’ve stayed at the Westin Tokyo before, and through the rooms were a good size. This hotel was more “traditional” feeling, but at the same time felt old, run-down, and not nearly as nice. After putting my bags down and grabbing a shower (it was about 12:30am at this point) I realized I was pretty starving. Ordered a sandwich from room service along with two beers, which was actually a pretty reasonable (for Japan) around $38.

When it arrived, I had just sat down to my computer to do some work and saw that there would be no internet from 9-5 the next day due to upgrading work. Are you kidding me? How can a hotel of this level not have internet? Regardless, my body clock was off by 4-5 hours at this point, so ended up staying up until around 2am doing work after having what proved to be a reasonably decent sandwich. Then, passed out, and didn’t bother to set an alarm.

…which I probably should have done, because it was nearly 1pm when I woke up! I can’t remember the last time I’d slept nearly 11 hours, and pretty sure it’s been more than a decade. So, despite the room being small, the AC being barely functional (it was 22C in the room), and anything else I didn’t like about this hotel, at least I managed an amazing night of sleep!

Upon seeing the time I leapt out of bed, but when I threw open the curtains I suddenly didn’t feel bad about sleeping in – it was STILL pouring rain! I puttered around for maybe 30 minutes before grabbing a shower and heading to check out. Once again, the front desk was completely indifferent, so I headed to the concierge to find out the best way to Narita. He suggested a taxi to Shinagawa station about 2km away, followed by the Narita Express train to the airport. Given the rain this sounded good, and off I went. The taxi was just under 1,000 Yen (around $8) and the station was absolutely huge.

I was able to buy tickets no problem from the ticket office, and decided to wait 55 minutes instead of rushing for the train in 25. I hadn’t had anything to eat since room service like 12 hours prior, so headed off to, well, you can probably guess…

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Yes, apparently the Pumpkin Spice Latte is called the Pumpkin Pie Latte in Japan. It was super packed in Starbucks, but after stalking tables I managed to find somewhere to sit. Coffee and sandwich was good, but after around 15 minutes of people watching it was time to head down to the platform and find my Narita Express. I’d decided to pay a little extra for the “Green Car” aka business/first class and it was definitely well worth it given it was empty while most of the rest of the train seemed pretty full:

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It was a reasonable walk from the train station at Narita to the JAL check-in counter, and I waited about 10 minutes to check in since apparently there was also a flight to Taipei leaving around the same time, and the entire business class was filled with people needing to check their golf clubs. Wasn’t too bad of a wait, the agent was very friendly, and soon it was off to immigration and security (which were completely uneventful) and finally the JAL lounge.

I don’t fly a ton of OneWorld, so in all my trips to Narita had never been in this lounge. A few thoughts…it was absolutely packed, to the point it felt like a United Club. I know late afternoon is rush hour in Tokyo, but it was still pretty ridiculous. The food options were also rather poor, basically some little wrapped cheese things, some biscuits, and that was more or less it. The beverage option was decent, and I took the chance to have a bit of plum wine. Internet was also reasonably quick, so overall not a bad stay. Just nothing “special.”

Headed off to the gate about 50 minutes before the flight, and there was already a long queue to board. Didn’t matter, however, since we ended up being a bus gate. Fortunately the rain had turned into a heavy drizzle at this point, so didn’t get TOO wet waiting to board.

Japan Airlines (JAL) flight 959
Tokyo, Narita (NRT) to Seoul, Incheon (ICN)
Depart 18:40, Arrive 21:15, Flight Time: 2:35
Boeing 767-300 Registration JA601J, Manufactured 2002, Seat 3D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 93,180
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,131,786

Upon boarding, this 767 business class was exactly what I expected. Those who fly United will remember what was not-too-fondly called the “Ghetto Bird” which was a 767 with 2-2-2 seating that was pretty much domestic first. Well, JAL still flies them, and that’s what we were on today. The big difference was the crew was super friendly and helpful and despite the flight being booked full there was one seat empty in business class…and it was next to me!

Plus, how can you complain when you get a menu on a two hour flight:

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Sure, it came all on one tray, but the wine came in individual bottles, and the presentation was pretty much excellent:

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When I finished it all, I was asked my favourite part, and the flight attendant brought me another lobster salad along with my ice cream dessert…and insisted on bringing me another bottle of wine. So far, this crew was excellent!

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After clearing my tray, she came back again…with yet another bottle of wine. “Please, I would like you to have.” I mean, come on, how can you not drink it when the flight attendant pretty much guilts you into it? I have to say, despite the hard product being pretty poor, the soft product was most likely the best I’ve ever had on a two hour flight. I know lots of people say JAL is no ANA, but I have to say after this flight I look forward to trying them on a longer flight.

Immigration was a piece of cake in Seoul, bought my ticket for the KAL Limo bus to my hotel, the W Seoul. After about a 90 minute ride, we finally arrived at the hotel around 11:45 pm. I’d been upgraded to a “studio suite” which wasn’t quite as large as my previous stays there, but was still a pretty good size:

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Super large bathroom too:

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So, this is where the problem began. I’d unpacked, and after 15 minutes of the AC running it wasn’t getting any cooler. The thermostat read 24.2, up from 24.0 when I’d checked in. So, I called down and asked someone be sent up. Someone came up, but they assured me it ‘just takes time’ and I should wait. So, I waited 15 minutes…before calling back and informing them it was no cooler.

Ok, so now maintenance will look at it. Maintenance assured them the AC was working fine, and sometimes “these just take time.” No, this isn’t acceptable. I asked to change rooms…please…give us 15 more minutes, it will cool down. I waited 15 more (it was now 12:30 am) and I called down and demanded to speak to the manager on duty.

The manager showed up a few minutes later, and agreed to see “if” she could find another room since they were “pretty full.” Well, not according to the website, which had all kinds of rooms to sell me if I wanted. After 15 minutes she managed to find me the exact same room on the floor below….which was also 24C when I walked in, but cooled to 21C in the first 15 minutes. Ugh.

Fortunately, now that I had a cool room, I could tuck into the wine JAL had supplied me with, along with the chocolates the W had left in my sauna…I mean room:

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By this point, it was approaching 1:30 am, and I was ready to tuck into the Austin Powers bed:

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So, overall, extremely disappointing performance by the W. Eventually I got a good room, and a good night of sleep, but barely six hours thanks to all the mixups on their part. The kicker was the next morning when I asked the manager on duty for some points as compensation for all the problems. She was “not authorized to do that” because only the General Manager can…and he is on vacation for two weeks. Are you serious? Service recovery seems to be a MAJOR weak point for this hotel. When things go right, it’s a great property, but as this stay proved when things go wrong, they really have no idea how to recover for it.

Six hours was plenty of sleep to function on, however, so off to the airport it was for my next new country…Mongolia!

Oct 152015
 

Hotel shuttle to the airport got me there right when I wanted to, and already had my boarding pass from the previous evening so was able to head straight to immigration. Almost no line, and in probably 10 minutes I was inside the departures area…and not a second too soon. I believe in being completely honest about travel, and something about Ethiopia and I didn’t get along.

I got to the lounge I usually go to, and she told me “yes, but there is a better lounge you can access” which nobody had ever told me before. I’ve always been Star Alliance Gold, and always in business or first out of Addis, so how this was news to me I don’t know…but it was. The problem was, she insisted I go use the nicer lounge, and I was rapidly losing the battle against…something I’d eaten the day before. I don’t know if it was the hotel pizza, or the plane lunch, or the bar snacks at the hotel,  but by the time I found the nicer lounge it was not a second too soon.

Disaster averted, it was time to check out this lounge. Did some re-arranging of flights for later in the trip on the internet which had quite good speed, and enjoyed a diet coke or two. The most notable features that made this lounge better than my usual one were that it wasn’t a dark dungeon and was actually well lit, had a group of people sitting on traditional chairs burning incense, drinking coffee, and eating what looking like popcorn in some sort of quasi-traditional setup, and had plenty of power outlets. It also definitely improved my impression of Addis airport immensely!

Soon, it was time to board. Out of the lounge, through security, to the gate, and no plane anywhere to be found. Agent told me boarding was at least 30 minutes off, so why don’t I go back to the lounge. Out of security, to the lounge, a little bit of blogging and another Diet Coke, and finally back through security and to a bus to board. There was a special bus for business class…all three of us. Yes, the plane seats 28 in business, and only three seats were taken.

Ethiopian flight 602
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADD) to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (DXB)
Depart 10:55, Arrive 15:30, Flight Time: 3:35
Boeing 777-300, Registration ET-APY, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2L

First impressions of business class on the Ethiopian 777, my first time on their long-haul business product. Middle seats in business, who does that anymore, ugh, it’s almost as bad as United:

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Similar to my Turkish flight a week before, they had the footsie seats which went completely flat, but where you were very likely to end up playing footsie with your seatmate as you sleep:

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Settled in with bubbles in what basically felt like a private plane…couldn’t even see the other two in business:

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Amenity kit which, while not super fancy, makes a great case for storing the small stuff I tend to keep in my carryon. Just big enough, but not huge. It’s now beat out amenity kits from ANA, Lufthansa, Swiss, and South African which I used to use. I feel it’s that well-designed!

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Today’s menu:

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More airplane-shaped crackers with bubbles as as pre-lunch snack:

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The salmon starter wasn’t bad, and the salad was decent as well:

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The Cape Malay Chicken Curry, however, was absolutely delicious despite being a bit scary looking:

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But once again delicious cheese…glorious cheese…and they refused a second serving. Grrr!

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Arrival at Dubai involved a pretty long walk to immigration through several escalators, and the line was about 10 minutes as well, but stamped into the country with no issue at all. That is, until I passed the immigration desk and a woman in an abaya started pointing at me and screaming HARAM! HARAM! HARAM! It took a minute to figure out what was going on, but I think she’d seen the rather large tattoo on my arm (and I’m sure wearing shorts wasn’t thrilling her either) and had decided to make sure everyone knew just how awful I was. Thanks! Fortunately nobody else seemed to care.

Stopped at the ABM for some cash, and into a taxi for the ride to the Sheraton Dubai Mall – my first time at this property. I think every time I’ve visited Dubai I’ve ended up at a different hotel. Since this was a relatively short overnight I wanted somewhere convenient. I had some shopping to do for the rest of the trip (mainly something warmer for Mongolia) so being attached to the mall seemed a logical choice. Upgrade to a nice suite:

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The room was quite large with a bedroom, large bathroom, huge walk-in closet, and a sitting room with a couch, tv, desk, etc. Much more space than I needed, but extremely comfortable. Headed down to the attached mall for the shopping, and could have been anywhere in America. They even have Shake Shack now…Michelle Obama would be so proud!

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Stopped at Starbucks for a quick caffeine and snack. No clue how I was hungry, but I was, so…

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I still had a couple of hours to kill, so stopped by Ski Dubai to embarrass myself. The only place in the world you can go skiing inside a shopping mall. This was my third visit, and I keep hoping to snap a picture of a woman in an abaya going down the slopes, but they remain elusive. Perhaps on the next trip!

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Also, probably the only Hollister in the world with two twenty foot high television ocean displays outside the store:

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Back to the hotel for a short bit before dinner, and the executive lounge had an amazing spread. Alcohol is available at hotels in Dubai, but it’s also extremely expensive. Not only were drinks in the lounge free, but they were poured very generously. I think I had two glasses of wine, and probably finished off 2/3 of a bottle. Plus, they had tons of tasty bar snacks and desserts:

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Shortly after drinks I was picked up at the hotel by my friend Daniel, a long-time reader of my blog who lived in Dubai. We had met just under a year ago in Bali of all places and did some touring, and then met up again a few days later in East Timor. Now I was on his home turf, and it was time to catch dinner and catch up. Daniel and Rianda picked me up, and we drove a short ways to another mall (because that’s what you do in Dubai) to find some dinner. Car parked, and we set off to find somewhere to eat. Walked past the water show, and it was pretty much people taking pictures and not really looking at the show:

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We managed to grab a delicious dinner at a Lebanese place in the mall, which was blessed with fantastic air conditioning. Lots of great grilled meats and catching up, and regrets that we weren’t going on to Turkmenistan together. Daniel and I had originally planned to do the Turkmenistan part of this trip together, but when they denied me the visa he decided to go on alone and enjoy while I made other plans. After a couple of hours it was back to the hotel to get some sleep because they had to work in the morning and I had an early flight. One of the treats of traveling so much has been meeting people who live all over the world, and feeling like you always know at least someone in all major cities!

Up early the next morning, and off to Oman!