After finally waking up early afternoon and realizing just what getting hit by a truck feels like, I rushed to make the most of what was left of the day. Fortunately, Ian hadn’t completely waited for me and had done a bit of exploring so I didn’t feel completely awful.
On the way out, admired the view of very dark KL from the hotel elevator lobby. It definitely looked like rain was on the way…
Of course, the first stop was Starbucks to get some caffeine to try and undo the haze from 12+ hours of sleep. Can someone please explain to me why you’d want to add cheese to a glazed donut?!
Caffeinated, we grabbed a grab to the Batu Caves. Ian had never been to Malaysia before, and this is one of my favourite sites, so I decided if we had time to go “see” one thing, this should be it.
Of course, the minute we stepped out the door to get our Grab, the skies opened up and heavy rains came down. The hotel doorman suggested maybe this wasn’t a good idea because “it will probably rain for a long time” but the radar didn’t look too bad to me, so off we went. It would be a 30 minute drive, so hopefully the rain would at least let up a bit….
The Batu Caves are a Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Murugan in this predominantly Muslim country, and are over 100 years old. They had done a lot of work, maintenance, and painting since my last visit. and things were extremely colourful now. The 42+ meter tall statue of Murugan was also looking resplendent with a fresh golden painting:
Feeling like death from oversleeping, I wasn’t looking forward to climbing the 272 colourful steps to the top in the heat and humidity, but the rain had mostly stopped and was just a very light mist now, and the temperature had really dropped. It was only around 22C now, and actually almost cool and pleasant! What luck! Finally inside the caves, lots of the individual shrines had also been brightly repainted:
Loved how the bright green of this peacock contrast with the rest of the shrine it was next to:
It looked even more brilliant against the rainbow-coloured shrine:
From my first visit, I remember hundreds of begging monkeys everywhere. Some effort had clearly been made to get rid of many of them, but there were still a couple dozen hanging about begging for bananas:
Love the gesture I caught this one in…seems to be saying “what do you expect from me? She gave me a banana!”
Looking back down towards the city from the caves:
Nom nom nom, banana! …and post-banana carb coma face:
After the caves we had a fairly difficult time getting a Grab, with the app repeatedly saying none were available due to metering. I guess the local taxi mafia managed to get caps put on how many Grabs could be on the road and being rush hour there weren’t enough to go around. We finally got one after 20 minutes or so, and headed back to the hotel to get ready to get drinks and dinner.
It felt a bit odd going to dinner when I’d barely been awake four hours, but hey, it was what it was. I wanted to take the Monorail to dinner because I’ve been on a bit of a “subway / monorail / urban train” counting kick lately, and hey while it’s a bit more of a Shelbyville idea, I felt I had to ride it!
Finding the monorail and buying tickets was a piece of cake, and soon we were at our stop. It looked on google like it was a 5-10 minute walk to the bar we were headed to, but it turned out to be right at the bottom of the monorail station.
Heli Lounge Bar is on the 37th floor of an office building, and it has two parts. The first is an inside bar where you get the drink included free with your cover charge. For some reason, you have to order this inside. But hey, they had a mirrorball helicopter, so that was kinda cool. I went with the lychee martini:
After getting your free drink you’re allowed to go upstairs to the rooftop helipad to drink it. Carrying a full martini up two flights of stairs wasn’t an easy task, but finally we made it and emerged to the awesome view. We had timed the visit for shortly before sunset, and timing was perfect!
Had to pose for a photo with the Petronas Twin Towers!
Sunset over KL…nice oranges and pinks in the sky, and the buildings were all lighting up for nighttime.
Petronas Twin Towers lit up at night:
After having a couple drinks and bar snacks we were pretty much over the place. It was a neat one time experience, but as someone who doesn’t like heights to begin with I was a bit unsettled the whole time. That combined with feeling poorly due to oversleeping I’d had enough, so on to dinner we went.
Another friend had recommended a local pub that did good pizzas, so we ended up going there for pizza and a couple of craft beers. It was good, not great, and we assumed from the pizza prices on the menu that the beers were similarly reasonable. Nope, not at all, and 2 individual pizzas (which were like $10 each) and 3 beers each came to over $100. Clearly Malaysia is not the place to come for craft beer!
After a good (and more reasonable six to seven hours) night of sleep I was awake at 530a. Ugh. Hello jetlag, this was going to suck. I made the most of it and went to the hotel for a short workout, followed by Starbucks while I let Ian sleep in. Hooray, I’m in Malaysia!
A couple hours later when Ian was ready to go I was in need of more caffeine to struggle through the long day, so we headed off to another coffee place he’d found the day before.
It seemed to be a Vietnamese chain and was called “CONG Caphe” and I was able to get a delicious iced Vietnamese coffee. We sat in the upstairs balcony, despite warnings that we should “mind the naughty step” whatever that meant!
Fully-caffeinated and ready to go it was back to the hotel to pack up a few things and then head to the KLIA Ekspres to the airport. Bangkok awaits!
So, you already think I’m insane. I get that, and I proudly own it. So, while I’m at it, let me reinforce it. This trip had been (unusually for me lately) booked several months ahead of time. Three weeks prior, I was in Switzerland for work, and some issues arose which necessitated an urgent trip back.
I looked at changing my vacation ticket to just go DC-Geneva a few days earlier with a layover, but due to the craziness of change fees and one-way fares it was actually a better deal to book the roundtrip to Geneva and then…um…
Yeah, I got home from Geneva on Friday afternoon. Turned right around Saturday night…back to Geneva.
Ok, yeah, moving right along….every great trip begins with…well, scratch that, not DC Metrorail, but it’s always fun to document the first leg of the trip!
Nothing interesting until I got to the United Club, where the same bartender as four days prior was working. He was like “I remember! Back from Switzerland so soon? Where to now?” Probably should have said Chicago or something so I didn’t reinforce the perception I’m crazy. Or maybe it scored me pity points…because somehow my (non free United Club plonk) wine magically refilled without asking…
You need something to wash down what passes for snacks in the Dulles United Club these days. United brags about the Polaris lounges, while in DC we get the big middle finger…not even a couple of premium drink coupons. Not feeling the love.
Soon enough it was time to board, and I was glad I’d made an effort to get to the gate for the start of boarding. It was clear this was a very heavy infrequent traveller flight, and Group 1 was being swarmed by people on the “trip of a lifetime.” Given that 767s are a little short on overhead space to begin with, I was glad to not have to fight for it.
After boarding and listening to chatter, it was evident it was a large group from DC going to Europe for a package tour. Hopefully that wouldn’t mean lots of excited chatter all night long…
United flight 974 Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD) to Geneva, Switzerland (GVA) Depart 17:30, Arrive: 06:25 next day, flight time: 7:55 Boeing 767-300, Registration N651UA , Manufactured 1992, Seat 9A Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 175,829 Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,868,417
After going 19 for 20 in not getting United Polaris reconfigured 767s this year so far, I finally lucked out! Given that nearly 60% of the fleet is reconfigured, I’d had some seriously bad luck up until now!
One of the best things about flying at this time of year is that transatlantic flights leave right around dusk, so you tend to get some amazing sunsets as you break through the clouds. Tonight was one of the best!
As usual on United things began with some very salty mixed nuts…and for me a glass of wine.
Tonight featured a spinach salad that was much better than the normal salads out of Dulles lately, but unfortunately it also featured the extravagant two shrimp appetizer. Ugh. But there was a pretzel roll and garlic bread, so all was not lost!
This meal has been around on and off for over a year now, but I always smile a bit when it’s on the menu. I think the spicy chicken is the best meal United has going, even if I do manage to splash the broth on my shirt every single time! (This time being no exception.)
As usual, cheese and a sundae for dessert. The cheese was much better than average, and the sundae was…well…a sundae. In my quest to be healthier this is really a course that needs to be eliminated from my indulgence entirely.
Fortunately, I managed nearly four hours of sleep, which is a transatlantic record for me lately. For years I had no trouble passing out for 5-6 hours on most flights, but that was also when I would take 10pm flights out of DC and it was a more normal time to sleep. With the 5pm flights they tend to land at around midnight or 1am DC time, so I’d much rather book another night of hotel and take a 4-5 hour nap upon landing. Unfortunately, with connections this trip, that wasn’t an option, so I was glad to get some rest!
Speaking of healthy, I just asked for a Diet Coke. The lovely crew insisted that I needed a cinnamon bun as well. This was also the best crew I’d had out of Dulles in ages, and it’s amazing what a difference it makes when the crew enjoys their jobs!
I had a few hours to kill in Geneva, and since I had to go through immigration anyways (since my next flight was “domestic” to Frankfurt) I figured I might as well leave security as well. And get coffee. For science. To prove Starbucks in Geneva tastes the same. As it did 40 hours prior. LOL.
Back through security where there was absolutely no line, and I’ve been through Geneva so much this year that I know all the little nuances that can make security more of an experience (keep your phone til the last minute, don’t put it in a bin – they’ll need to scan your boarding pass before your bags go in, etc.) and even had a little time for the lounge.
I was starting to feel the jetlag a bit (that heavy airline meal and alcohol probably didn’t help) so stocked up on lots of water in the lounge and some orange juice to keep the blood sugars happy. Then, it was off to the gate, where of course things were running a little late due to some fog as crew stuck in traffic…which is odd because you would think this crew would just be a turnaround from Frankfurt….
Lufthansa flight 1213, op. by Lufthansa Cityline Geneva, Switzerland (GVA) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) Depart 08:50, Arrive: 10:05, flight time: 1:15 Embraer ERJ-190, Registration D-AECH , Manufactured 2010, Seat 1D Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 176,115 Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,868,703
Shortly before takeoff the fog in Geneva turned to an absolute torrential downpour, but that apparently didn’t have too much impact as we had little wait for takeoff and soon shot into the skies.
Despite flight time only being 55 minutes there was a meal served. Often Lufthansa serves a small plated snack even on flights this short, but today it was just a packaged half-sandwich and a small snack bar. I had a few bites, but wasn’t hungry enough that I bothered with the rest – it was unremarkable.
The best part of taking off in a downpour for a short-ish flight and a small-ish storm is that occasionally, on descent, you get amazing rainbows. Today was extra-awesome descending into Frankfurt:
Fortunately, my flight today was leaving from the B Terminal at Frankfurt, but we arrived at the very end of the A Terminal which meant a rather lengthy walk to get there.
I was rewarded, however, by a nearly empty Lufthansa First Lounge in Terminal B, which meant that I could have a shower and relax with a glass of champagne before considering lunch.
A bit after noon I decided I was hungry enough to wander over to the dining area for lunch. I still wasn’t really hungry, and definitely didn’t need much, but as one tends to do when offered the delights of the Lufthansa First Class Lounge I threw caution to the wind and ordered the wienerschnitzel. Along with the potato salad, it was delicious as always.
…and a second failure at behaving. Because: apfel struedel! Yum!
Time passed (less than I should probably admit) and while doing some work and waiting for my life to board I decided that it would be a shame to let the Lufthansa First whiskey selection go to waste, and had just one class…ok, and maybe a berry tart to go along with it…
Finally off to the gate, where it was time to board what appeared to be a very packed A320 to Tunis. Quick look at ExpertFlyer confirmed the flight was still J1, and it appeared the only empty seat in “business class” was in my row…could I be this lucky yet again?
Lufthansa flight 1324 Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Tunis, Tunisia (TUN) Depart 14:55, Arrive: 17:10, flight time: 2:15 Airbus A320, Registration D-AIZY , Manufactured 2013, Seat 1A Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 177,029 Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,869,331
When the door closed on a very full flight with one empty seat (plus the middles in “business” of course) the one empty was indeed 1A in my row. I slid over after the door close and had the entire row to myself. This is living! If you have to fly EuroBusiness, having the whole row at least makes it much nicer!
Despite the short flight, a full linner service was offered, with multiple choices of main course. I obviously wasn’t very hungry, but accepted in the name of being able to take a picture for everyone…you’re welcome.
Of course, I ate way more than I needed to, but hey…that’s what happens. Side note: I’ve never liked gravy or sauces on my beef or veal, so why is it when there’s Spätzle it suddenly becomes magical? I mean, Spätzle and burrata? How can you say no!
Flight was pretty quick, and there was absolutely no queue at immigration when we arrived in Tunis, so it was a pretty painless process. Except the immigration guy who insisted on using his 10 words of English on me instead of speaking French. I couldn’t tell if he was just proud of his limited English, it was an “anti-colonialist” thing re: French, or what…but it was quite annoying, and made what could have been a 30 second transaction several minutes. Oh well.
Fortunately, I’d decided in advance I didn’t want to deal with the often-annoying Tunis taxi mafia so I’d asked the Sheraton to meet me with their shuttle. It’s probably twice the price a taxi can be negotiated for, and you have to wait for everyone on your flight to disembark so they can fill the shuttle, but…today it was definitely worth it.
If you remember my last visit to this Sheraton, it’s the home of some pretty disturbing artwork. The artwork had changed in the past few months, but not for the less-weird:
Fortunately, I’d had plenty to eat on the plane since the evening snacks in the executive lounge at the Sheraton weren’t worth the calories, but around 8pm I was hungry enough I wandered down to the lobby lounge for a small dinner snack.
My last time, the lounge had been absolutely packed with football fans watching a Tunisia game, but this night I was one of only two people there! Not sure if it was because it was a sunday night or not, but the hotel was actually sold out so there were definitely people around. Everyone must be eating room service.
They do do fairly reasonable “mini sliders” (aren’t sliders mini by definition?) at the lobby lounge, and that with a local Celtia beer to wash it down made the perfect end to a very long 24 hours of travel. I better get used to it, because the next day would be just as long!
Back to my room, where sleep was hard to come by. First reason? The room temp was 75F (23C) because the air conditioning in the hotel was turned off. Why? “The guests complain that it is too cold in the hotel.) WTF, it was 85F during the day, and if you think it’s too cold don’t turn it on in your room? (Haven’t you all missed my AC rants recently? Side note: checking out the next morning I mentioned it to the staff, and the other guy checking out was like “yeah, I have to sleep with the windows open for it to be tolerable.)
Other reason it was hard to sleep? The disorderliness of the pictures on the wall really bothered me…. only half kidding…
With that said, the first long segment of the trip was over, and it was time to sleep. Tomorrow will be another very long day!
Landed right on time in Shanghai around 10am, and my first mission was to get into the country. See, while booking these things, my mind told me “just get your flights booked, the rest is easy.”
My mind also told me: “China? No problem. Visa on arrival for 72-96 hours as long as you’re in transit and headed to a third country.”
The problem? I hadn’t yet figured out how to get from Shanghai to Tokyo…and I had landed…and my phone was having trouble grabbing internet. Shit.
Fortunately, I got a connection after five to ten minutes, and quickly got a flight booked on JAL to Tokyo…whew…sorted. To the immigration area, where I easily found the line for transit visa on arrival, but unfortunately there was only one officer…and many Japanese tourists in front of me who spoke neither English or Chinese.
The agent seemed to get frustrated after a few, and waved me up from like 10 deep in the queue to be next. Piece of cake, Show my passport, onward ticket, stamp in the passport, welcome to China. Whew. Easier than expected.
Since there’s no Uber in China, next thing to figure out was how to get to my hotel. Taxi drivers speak zero English and pretty much take cash only, so off to find an ATM…which wasn’t bad. It even had the Statue of Liberty on the screen….which was kinda funny in China.
After a long 10-15 minute pantomime, finally got my taxi driver to realize where the hotel I wanted to go was, and off we went. It was torrential pouring rain and traffic was a complete clusterfu*k, but eventually almost an hour later we arrived.
Checked in a bit before noon…and….crashed hard for a nap for like four hours or so. This followed my plan of sleeping when I was tired and just enjoying the trip when I wasn’t.
What does one do when it’s 5pm in China and your body thinks it’s morning time? Head to the world’s biggest Starbucks, of course, and get a delicious syphon brew coffee and some tiramisu…at an outrageous price of over $20. But they were doing some kind of demonstration brew, so it was worth it for the entertainment value of watching all the rural tourists snapping pictures in awe.
Oh, and the coffee was awesome as well…it had better be: I literally came halfway around the world for this coffee!
Back to my hotel and the top floor executive lounge for a more substantial snack. You can’t beat sunset views like this!
Snacks in the lounge? Dumprings, sushi, cheese, and Tsingtao. When in China…
I walked around for like 30 minutes after snacks, but was kinda out of it due to the combination of jetlag, drinking a bit much in flight, and the general disorientation of which side of the planet I was on. Decided a bit of a metro ride was in order since I’m a transit geek, and then, I just walked and followed the life on the streets.
Coincidentally, of all things, I came upon Stone Brewing’s Shanghai location. I mean come on, how can I not stop in for a few craft beers? It was destiny!
“Few” craft beers indeed…and I decided I really should head back to the hotel and see about a nap. On the way…I found Jesus. He was in Shanghai all this time. Opiate of the masses indeed.
You really have to love riding the subway in Shanghai. The advertisements are just epic…and hey, “great” belongs to me! How can you not love that!
I totally admit it….I knew there was a little local craft beer place near my hotel, so I stopped by for one…and a bottle of water, because I’d already drunk the ones in my room, and wanted more. I loved this little phone charging machine. Apparently everyone in Shanghai has the same phone?
The stop was both one of the best and worst choices I made on the trip. I’d had just enough to drink I was feeling social and chatty, and just enough that my guard was down a little.
I mean, they were two nice ladies who were “students” despite being early 20s who wanted to practice their English, so it would be rude to not stay at least 20-30 minutes and chat a little…and 30 minutes was about right…because that’s when I realized they were “working” students….yes…do the maths. Yikes…out of there pronto.
Managed only about six hours of sleep (thanks jetlag, you suck) and it was still too early for breakfast, so I went for an hour walk…getting back in time for one of the better hotel breakfast buffets in the world. Fresh OJ, fantastic tea, dim sum, and bacon! Life is amazing!
After breakfast, I went for a walk in the Peoples’ Park. Came across a cute little pond that had amazingly abundant vegetation growing in it.
Then, umbrellas everywhere. Lots of pictures of young people. I couldn’t quite figure it out. My first guess was maybe something to do with Hong Kong because of the umbrellas? But surely they wouldn’t allow anything protest-related in Shanghai.
Oh, I know, lots of young people…it’s a missing persons event. Very sad, all these young people that have gone missing and their families have come to the big city looking for them. One older lady even grabbed my arm, pointed to her daughter’s pic, and was practically begging me for help. Really sad.
…except later I found out I had wandered upon the “Shanghai Weekend Marriage Market.” That’s twice in less than 12 hours that I’d almost ended up with a Chinese lady. This place is the most dangerous place, ever!
Got back to my room with about an hour before I had to head to the airport to grab my flight out…and then just realized that my friend Laurent Perrier had left the Lufthansa flight with me and didn’t have documentation to leave China. Shit. Well, when in China… (yeah, view from my room most certainly did not suck…)
Soon enough, my time in Shanghai was over, and it was time to head to the airport. I was feeling brave and adventurous on my second ever visa to Shanghai, so had the hotel call a taxi to take me to the subway/maglev station. View while waiting on my cab:
Arriving at the Maglev station. I could have taken the subway, but Shanghai subways are not made for rolling bags, and I didn’t want to get sweaty, so for less than $10 it was worth taking a cab. Plus, amazing post-Soviet art!
Buying the ticket for the airport maglev was a piece of cake, and the station was super sleek and modern in that very Chinese way:
Standing at the edge of the station, looking out on the maglev tracks:
So, the Shanghai airport maglev has “VIP Class” which costs double the regular class…for what is like barely a 10 minute ride. But come on, how could I say no! It was less than $10 extra, so I had to try it. 301 kph (it’s capable of nearly 400 kph but for some reason is speed-limited on weekends) and I had the entire VIP car to myself!
Views of VIP class. Very disappointed in the lack of champagne.
With that, my time in Shanghai was sadly over. 57 hours down, 29 hours to go! Next stop: TOKYO!
After a lovely four+ hours of sleep at my home away from home, the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport, I was feeling rested and not wanting to waste another minute of the day. To ensure maximum performance, the first stop as always was the Starbucks located near the B Terminal of Frankfurt Airport.
Apparently, there are even Basic Beckies in Germany….purse sized ESA, pumpkin spice latte, and all.
Caffeinated and ready to go, it was a short walk to my version of nirvana…otherwise known as the Lufthansa First Class Terminal. Approximately a 7-8 minute walk from the main terminal.
They’re not exactly used to people walking to the terminal (I assume most visitors are posh Germans showing up in their fancy BMWs and Mercedes…or at the very least an Uber… but the good thing is for us AvGeeks who like such things there is a pedestrian entrance as well!
Upon entering the terminal and handing over my passport, the magic began to happen. I explained I was connecting from DC with a long connection, and mentioned I’d chosen it so that I could spend an extra-long birthday in my favourite place. The agent’s face lit up, and she actually remembered me from just a couple weeks prior, and asked if she could do anything to make it extra special.
I mentioned that item number one was to take a quick shower, and then I needed somewhere to set up so I could chair my meeting. Even better, the security staff remembered me from a few weeks prior when I joked about my German apparently not being good enough yet to go through security in German…and I got the full treatment!
Before the shower, I was shown to a work room, and asked if this would do? Absolutely it would…and when I came out from the showers I found my name had actually been written on the reservation slate outside the room and literally moments after I entered a glass of rosé champagne appeared without asking. I’m not sure if that was birthday celebratory or if they remember that’s what I always start with, but it was a super special touch.
Took a few minutes to get the laptop set up for a Skype conference, and the iPad set up with agenda and note-taking, and I was ready to chair the meeting that had almost derailed this entire trip.
…but just before the meeting started, there was a knock at the door, and a hand gesture asking if it was ok to open. It was…and then…the skies opened, a chorus of angels sang out in unison…and manna from Heaven rained down…well, not really, but the whole trip was worth it, because a chorus of Happy Birthdays from several of the lounge staff was delivered along with the whole point of the trip: the elusive Birthday Duck!
The next 90 minutes was decidedly less exciting, as chairing meetings is never all that fun…but there was a rather hysterical moment during the call. Not when they realized it was my birthday and I was out of the office, that was funny, but not that funny.
Anyone who reads my blog knows I spend a lot of time in Switzerland and Germany for work, and is also why I’ve been working on my German. The best part? Half the clients on the call were about 400km away in Switzerland and the other half? Maybe only 100km away from me in Southwestern Germany. The irony is because of this trip…I was actually closer to them than if I’d taken the call from Washington.
Right, business dispensed with, it was time to enjoy my last 45 minutes or so in the lounge. The bartender remembered me from a few weeks prior as well and suggested we do a whiskey tasting again. Who am I to say no?
I can’t tell if the duck is judging me, or secretly thrilled that Lufthansa went the extra mile and really delivered an extra special birthday on the ground! It would have been nice to have a couple extra hours in the First Class Terminal, but the fact I pulled this off at all was pretty miraculous, so I was really thankful for the time I had!
With that, it was almost time to wrap up my magical birthday in the Lufthansa Lounge and head on my way to the second amazing flight! But just to get a bit more perspective, this is the fantastic workroom in the terminal – I’m fortunate to never have needed it before, but what a great amenity to have!
Approximately 18 hours down, 68 to go! Next stop…Shanghai!
Talk about a bit of an anticlimactic end to a trip. I had been all excited to fly two long segments with EVA Airways in their Hello Kitty service on the 777, but due to crew strikes the flights were canceled. At least I had an option that would get me home comfortably. No, it wasn’t exciting or new, and certainly not the way I wanted to end this really cook AvGeeking trip, but hey, make lemonade from lemons and all that jazz!
Woke up early after only about six hours of sleep, figuring I could always sleep on the super long flight and crossing 12 time zones my body wouldn’t really know the difference anyways. Grabbed an early coffee before heading to the airport, and what Hong Kong Starbucks called a “croque monsieur.” Close, but no croque…
Off to the airport by train again, and one thing I was looking forward to was checking out the American Express Lounge. The United Lounge in Hong Kong is known to be one of their nicer ones, but I’d also heard great things about the American Express Lounge.
I know everyone loves the AmEx lounges in the US, but they frustrate me a bit. I find them very crowded most of the time, and hard to find a seat. It also really bothers me that as a Centurion Card holder I can barely find a seat when some guy and his family of six with a Platinum Card are taking up seven seats. Anyways, rant over.
So, why was I looking forward to the AmEx Lounge then? Hong Kong, like Buenos Aires and Mexico City actually have Centurion Lounges within their “Centurion” Lounge. I always found it weird that “Centurion” lounges let platinum card holders in, but whatever.
The lounge in Hong Kong was pretty quiet, and had a nice menu to order from. How can I say no to eggs benedict and champagne in the lounge? That’s right…I can’t.
Service in the AmEx lounge was amazing, and it was easily one of my top AmEx Lounge experiences ever. Next time, I’m going to have to make much more time to stop by than just the 45 mintues or so I had before this flight.
Fortunately, my gate was not far from the lounge, and caught this view of my chariot as we waited to board:
The plane was named the “New Spirit of United” but beyond Polaris seats (which I do actually really like) I wasn’t expecting too much.
United Airlines flight 180 Hong Kong (HKG) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR) Depart 10:25, Arrive: 14:10, flight time: 15:45 Boeing 777-300ER, Registration N2331U, Manufactured 2016, Seat 11L Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 78,376 Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,770,964
Somehow I think this 8,063 mile flight is going to take a bit longer than 0:00 as the screen seems to promise:
Pre-departure sparkling plonk and water were offered. I commend United on upgrading to actual glass glasses for PDBs, but the Spider Man napkins and terrible sparkling wine were a stark reminder I wasn’t on Emirates anymore…or Qantas…or Thai…or Cathay…or, well, you get the point…
I love planespotting outside the US where I get to see lots of airlines I don’t see every day…today it was Air Mauritius:
Warm nuts were served right after takeoff, with more Spidey napkins. I honestly have always wondered what United “does” to their almonds. They always seem kinda mushy to me and stale.
The salad was a pretty below average offering today, and the appetizer was two rather sad looking shrimp with “yellow mushrooms”. Way to put the class in business class, United. *frown*
I felt like something was fishy with this meal, so I went with the “pan-fried halibut” with lemon caper butter sauce. It was pretty decent, and less heavy than the overcooked beef options, so overall it passed muster.
Cheese and deserts finished off the exactly-as-expected United meal. I would say the cheese was just average today (I never really find interesting or adventurous cheese on United) but the bonus cherries on the sundae were definitely a win!
Having only gotten about six hours the night before, I decided that after lunch was a perfect time for a good long nap….which lasted nearly six hours!
Woke up at exactly the perfect moment! I looked outside and the sun was just rising over extreme northern Alaska. Absolutely gorgeous views!
Pre-landing breakfast was served, with the usual offer of congee, “smoked salmon and spinach frittata” (aka cholesterol and sodium bomb) or “fruit with cereal and milk.”
There was nothing high-end about it, but the fruit and cereal were nice and light and did hit the spot, so overall it was the right choice for me.
Landed at the B Terminal at Newark, which seems to be where all my international Star Alliance flights have been coming into lately. I know SAS always lands there as does Lufthansa, but even my United flights seem to land there now. Is immigration and customs at Terminal C just that busy?
Caught the AirTrain over to Terminal C, and fortunately my flight to DCA would be leaving out of C today and not A so I could spend my layover enjoying the Polaris Lounge, which I hadn’t visited in Newark before.
I asked the bartender for a Paper Plane, but made with Mezcal (thanks ORD Polaris Lounge for introducing me to this) and the bartender gave me the most perfect Jersey “what’s wrong with you” look. She made it though, and it was delicious, and she was an absolute hoot to chat with, so bonus!
All too soon it was time to head to the gate for the short hop to DCA.
United Airlines flight 3434 op. by Republic Airlines Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Washington, DC, National (DCA) Depart 15:45, Arrive: 17:17, flight time: 1:32 Embraer ERJ-170, Registration N642RW, Manufactured 2005, Seat 1C Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 78,575 Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,771,163
When I booked, only economy was available on this flight for an award, but the great agent did waitlist me for first. Oddly, 24 hours before the flight, there were still five seats unsold but still no upgrade for me….it dwindled to four, then three, then two…and held at one…and finally cleared for me at the gate. That was a close call.
Nothing to say about this flight. No drinks, no snack basket “due to the short length of the flight” but I really didn’t care for barely 40 minutes of flight time.
Most notable part of this flight was the beat to hell United plane at the gate next to our arrival at DCA. Get this thing a new paint job!
…and just like that, I was home from an epic 18 day vacation….and when I say home, I meant for 68 hours…because it was already time to head out to Switzerland for work….for three whole weeks! Next segments, coming up soon!
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!
Yes, to answer that question I know you must be thinking, I did make it to every country in the world before I made it to the Florida Keys. I also haven’t been to New Orleans, Austin, or New Mexico yet. These are things I definitely need to fix in the short run.
So my friend Jen who’s also an ultrarunner turned me onto the Keys 100 race, and I was determined to have my first go at 100 miles. Unfortunately, as it has done so often lately, work conspired against me, and there was no way I would be able to make the cutoff time despite pretty decent training. Fortunately, there was a 50 mile option that just ran from Marathon Key to Key West which had a super generous cutoff and I was planning to do.
Unfortunately, I got sick shortly before the race, and had to drop out, which turned out to be the right call given the heat and humidity I clearly wasn’t prepared for. That just means I can go back next year now prepared to run the full 100! Right, so you really want to hear about the trip…
Thanks to the 24 hour change policy I was able to bump my departure from 09:30 to around 13:00, which gave me just enough extra sleep that I felt human after two transatlantics in 10 days, and it was off to Florida.
I won’t bore you with the details of domestic flights on United, but they were predictably meh. More or less on time, however, and exactly what I expected, so overall I can’t complain.
Met my friend John who came down to support me for the race, and after waiting an unreasonable amount of time to pick up my car as an Avis President’s Club member, finally got this one which clearly had barely gone through the carwash. Gross.
Also took another 20 minutes to get out of the lot, but that was more a customer problem than an Avis problem. With that, we were off!
Driving 50+ miles when tired probably wasn’t a stellar call, but made it to Key Largo in one piece completely ready to crash. This was my first time in the Keys, and I was determined to make the most of it…and that combined with being jetlagged and time zone confused kept me up a bit later than I should have. So, as one does, we walked around outside a bit, got lost, and ended up with a few drinks at Skarkey’s Pub. Delicious craft beer selection…
Next morning the sun was shining, and the view from our room wasn’t bad at all…and there was a Starbucks less than 10 minutes walk away. Life was absolutely grand!
Few plans the day before the race, so we drove back up to Homestead to go to the Robert is Here Fruit Stand which John mentioned was definitely worth seeing. I had a delicious Jackfruit and coconut milkshake which was to die for, and the wildlife in the “petting zoo” was pretty cool too.
Next it was down to Marathon for lunch at M.E.A.T. Eatery and Taproom which had an absolutely delicious burger! Total dive (and was even on Diners, Dives, and Drive Ins) but absolutely delicious!
On the way back up to Key Largo, we couldn’t resist stopping at the Florida Keys Brewing Company for a set of tasters which was pretty delicious!
Back to the hotel in Key Largo the night before the race, nice sunset over the marina…
After dropping from the race I still figured I could support my friend Jen, but first decided we had to lunch in Marathon at the Island Fish Company and Tiki Bar…delicious conch fritters and deadly tropical frozen drinks.
Spent the rest of the afternoon following Jen…nearly 50 miles into the race and she was still looking amazing!
We got to Key West just before sunset, and in time to get a sunset pic at the southernmost point in the continental U.S.A….
We found an amazing little bar filled with kitch called Glitchcraft which was absolutely amazing. Great craft beer selection, and even better staff. John actually came back the next night where they were hosting a huge watch party for the final episode of Game of Thrones. Super cool place!
I’ve never met a cutout where I could take a corny pic that I didn’t like…
Brunch the next day at Blue Heaven… lethal bellinis and delicious lobster Benedict. Well worth the wait…plus they had a pony I could ride!
Plus, they had a cat who literally couldn’t be bothered. This is the life…
We decided to play tourist for a little bit, and stopped by the Little White House which was President Truman’s getaway from Washington, but was also used by several other presidents.
Of course, no trip to Key West would be complete without margaritas…
…and the iconic picture at Mile 0 of Route 1…which runs right up through home in Arlington Virginia as well, and I used to live on!
The question still needs to be answered: why did the chicken cross the road?
Last morning in paradise…picture on the beach at our hotel…the Casa Marina by Waldorf Astoria. Nice enough property, but I have to admit the rooms were sadly in need of renovation, especially given the prices. I can’t say I would choose it again all things considered. That said, the location was fantastic.
I wanted to buy this painting…unfortunately it was a little out of my price range at $12,000…even though they did offer to ship it for free….
Neat sign…had the store been open that morning I probably would have picked it up…
Driving up to Fort Lauderdale, we passed the first Starbucks from Key West…80 miles in. This sign is terrifying!
One final lunch in the keys at the Key Largo Conch House where I had some delicious conch tacos. A fitting end to an amazing rest between three hectic work trips. Anything else would have been too much, but it was just enough relaxation with an amazing friend that made it work.
So yeah, I’ll be back next year to run the full 100 Miles, wiser at what it will take to succeed. With that, we were at the Fort Lauderdale Airport, and it was time to catch my flight down to Brazil to get back to work!
So, if you saw my post yesterday, you’ll have seen that I had a work trip to Paris, home for one day for an important event, then had to turn right back around to go to Germany. In an ideal world I would have either stayed in Europe, or stayed home longer, but sometimes these matters are just out of your control.
The other downside: when I booked the Germany trip it looked like Paris was going to be a full month earlier, so I’d have lots of time at home, so I agreed to a one-stop routing to save a bunch of money. Unfortunately, this meant leaving home at 11am instead of 5pm like the nonstop to Frankfurt would, so this was going to be a much less than ideal trip. I could really have used those extra six hour at home.
See, at the time, United/Lufthansa had a killer fare from NYC-Frankfurt that was like 1/3 the fare out of DC. So, even with adding a one-way ticket to JFK and a one-way ticket back from EWR, the overall fare would still be less than half. Had I known I’d have so little time between trips, I would have splurged on the nonstop. By the time the Paris trip moved, however, the price difference was more than 300%, so I was stuck with it. Oh well, make the best of it!
Delta flight 5957 operated by Republic Airlines Washington, DC, National (DCA) to New York, Kennedy (JFK) Depart 11:00, Arrive: 12:18, flight time: 1:18 Embraer ERJ-175, Registration N206JQ, Manufactured 2008, Seat 1A Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 26,399 Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,718,987
…and make the most of my time I did, so much that I arrived DCA at 10:20. was through CLEAR/PreCheck in less than two minutes and still at the gate 5-10 minutes before boarding. I don’t usually like cutting it close and like to relax in the lounge a bit, but hey, I’ve been in the DCA SkyClub somewhere around 1,000,000 times, so the precious extra minutes at home were well worth it.
Not much to say about this one, standard short hop up to New York. The most surprising part was no wait for a landing slot at JFK (thank you Saturday morning traffic) and would actually be arriving over 25 minutes early today. Also the shortest flight time I can ever remember at 32 minutes.
With nearly five hours to kill at JFK (the only flight that left “enough” time between my separate tickets without anxiety, I decided to make up for my lounge negligence at DCA and visit every lounge I was entitled to at JFK, starting with the SkyClub right after landing.
Food was uninspiring today, but they had real honest-to-God Champagne. Cheese cubes and hummus were as normal, but the chicken strips were awful pressed/processed with fatty and dark streaks running through them. Revolting. I’ll spare you the close-up shot, but rest-assured I didn’t have a bite.
After these adventures in dining, it was time to make my way outside security in Terminal 2 and attempt to find the AirTrain to Terminal 1. Down the escalator, across the street, through a parking lot, up another elevator, and finally the train platform. Seriously, between JFK and LGA I’m not sure which is a bigger embarrassment. That said, I made it just fine on the first try and it gave me practice for my next upcoming JFK flight in a few weeks.
Security in Terminal 1 was the biggest shitshow I’ve ever encountered in the US, with no CLEAR line and no clear PreCheck line either. I asked the agent at the front about PreCheck and “I just yell to the other agent that you got it” – I asked about laptops out, shoes off, etc and was met with a nasty response. When I went through, my laptops caused problems, and the next agent snapped at me that I “should know better.” It was the last straw, and I asked for a supervisor.
“You can talk to me.” No apology, no “I’m sorry that happened” but after calmly explaining the severe attitude from the agents he just said “The one that looks like Dora the Explorer? I need you to identify her so she can be punished.” Seriously, this is what is “keeping us safe” these days? Now, I find TSA agents 99.99% of the time to be great and professional, but this entire crew at JFK was a nightmare. Is this the norm at Terminal 1? I ask because I’ll be back in a few weeks…
Up to the Lufthansa lounge, where I spotted the steed that I will take in a few weeks….the ex-Singapore A330 recently acquired by Evelop! which is operating for Norwegian on the JFK-London daytime flight. I might be crazy for trying this, but I’m kind of looking forward to it. Great views from the lounge, and a tasty array of nibbles…
The lounge was so nice I didn’t want to leave, and had amazing people-watching on top of it (including the Chinese guy with a sequinned sweatshirt that said BITCH PLEASE! in huge letters) but I vowed to try all the lounges I could…so traipsed off to the Korean Air lounge which I could access via PriorityPass.
I should have fled when I saw the elevator was out of service. Lugged my Rimowa up the stairs, and was met by a surly agent who was clearly over it. Seriously, I know New York attitude, but the airport staff (non-Lufthansa and Delta: they were lovely) were just miserable.
Also, this was the best snacks on offer. I should have once again passed…but drank the water, few sips of the wine and a fig newton, and I was off to the gate.
When I got to the gate, thanks to my need to check out the Korean Air lounge, boarding was already underway and I was concerned I might have trouble finding room for my bag due to the huge number of people queued up in front of me. I forgot, however, that the A380 is simply massive even in business class, and there would be plenty of room.
Lufthansa flight 401 New York, Kennedy (JFK) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) Depart 16:10 Arrive: 06:05, flight time: 7:55 Airbus A3800-800, Registration D-AIMJ, Manufactured 2012, Seat 22D Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 30,255 Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,722,843
Remember when I foreshadowed yesterday about how nice the last row of business class was in the Polaris 777 as long as there was nobody with an infant in the bulkhead? Well, karma paid me a major visit today…and I had a second passenger in the seat next to me today who seemed incredibly interested in my pre-departure beverage:
Now, in fairness, with the exception of takeoff and landing he did sleep 80% of the flight and was pretty much an angel the rest of the time, so it didn’t work out too badly, except mom was constantly working to keep him busy. Fortunately, with a 4pm departure I had no interest in sleep anyways, so it all worked out just fine.
Meal service was actually one of the better ones I’ve had on Lufthansa lately. Their business class meals can be a little on the unusual side, but they’re usually tasty. This one was more-or-less pretty mainstream, and the crew was absolutely fantastic. Once they found out I spoke some German, even though English was obviously easier, they made a huge effort to speak slowly and clearly in German to let me practice. Major points for that. Plus, the food was really good too:
Other than that, the flight was excellent. I skipped the breakfast since I wanted to head straight to bed upon landing. We arrived nearly 40 minutes early around 05:30 and I was in bed and asleep in the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport by 06:00 for a solid six hours of sleep. So much nicer this way than trying to sleep on the plane, and since it’s still on East Coast time it was very easy to fall asleep.
Woke up at noon, did a little work, and then off to catch my train to Saarbrücken for work. Unfortunately, there were no direct trains this late in the day so I would have to change in Mannheim. Unfortunately, the train to Mannheim was nearly 20 minutes late, meaning I missed my connection and had to wait another hour – making me late to dinner. D-Bahn is no Swiss train system these days – that’s for sure.
I treated myself to some Apfelwein and Pringles to enjoy the delay a little more…
Not too much to say about Saarbrücken since it was three very intense days of working with clients, but fortunately very productive. Stayed at the Mercure hotel this time which was more than adequate, and very well-located in the middle of the city. Close to Starbucks, and walkable to lots of places to eat and drink.
I had been completely unsuccessful on previous trips finding any craft beer at all, but this time found Stube 8 which at least had a couple. Not a great selection, but hey it’s a start!
Enjoyed a nice dinner with clients at Zum Stiefel as well, and got to have some traditional heavy Saarlandische food. I had to try the Saarländische Versuchung (the Saarland Temptation) and got a little bit each of three things: a “gefillder” which is basically a potato dumpling with liver sausage filling and sauerkraut, a green “hoorische” (a green dumpling) and a large meatball which I’m still not sure of…heavy, but delicious!
After successful meetings we ended just in time that I could catch a direct ICE back to Frankfurt. Unfortunately, a person was on the tracks between Mannheim and Frankfurt, and we ended up delayed on the train by nearly an hour. Worst service I’ve ever had in ICE first class, however, and never once did I see the train attendant – would have been nice to have a beer!
Arrived in Frankfurt early evening, however, with just enough time to head out to my favourite little craft beer joint for dinner. Naïv is a great little place, and this time they had several fantastic drafts and cans. Either my German was getting better or the staff’s English worse, because I managed to keep the whole thing in German this time without them switching to English. Dinner was two tasty sausages and a delicious brownie with ice cream. Oh, there may also have been a few beers….
Up somewhat early for breakfast at the airport (I sometimes feel like I live in Flughafen Frankfurt, and it’s amazing!) – my usual Iced American and Bretzelsnack…mmmm…so good! Stopped by the Senator Lounge only briefly and then strait to boarding. I needed to max out sleep this morning so little time for the lounge today.
I was pretty excited for this flight – my first time ever on the 787-10 – which was even more awesome because it had “real” Polaris 1-2-1 seating installed and I had managed to get my favourite seat – 1L – way in advance.
United flight 961 Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR) Depart 11:20, Arrive: 13:50, flight time: 8:30 Boeing 787-10, Registration N12006, Manufactured 2019, Seat 1L Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 34,125 Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,726,713
Pre-departure sparking wine delivered, and temperature sensor reporting a reasonable 71F today…at least we wouldn’t be roasted during boarding.
Mixed nuts and wine to start, while Paul judges from afar….
Meal was pretty standard Polaris fare, and nearly the identical menu I had from Paris the week before. I was glad to see the delicious pork and apricot terrine was back, and I went with the fish again as well. This is starting to be a habit! The cheese wasn’t quite as good as from Paris, but much better than from the US, and they actually had butterscotch today! YUM!
Mid-flight snack…I’m addicted to the little cakes and overly chewy macarons. Meanwhile, the Great British Bakeoff was providing some very suspicious looking bakes….and Paul was quick to glare!
Pre-arrival was the same meal options as from Paris, and since I won once with the mozzarella salad and “Hamburger Wellington” I decided to give it another go. The cheese was weirdly peppered with all the pepper on one cheese ball, but other than that it was quite tasty again.
On approach to Newark…not sure which airport this is. Approach into Newark was super, super bumpy today, with our 787 being tossed about pretty seriously.
Immigration was a breeze, though I find it annoying that more and more arrivals into Newark arrive at Terminal B these days necessitating a transfer over to terminal A or C for connection. Fortunately my connection was from Terminal C today, and I was curious if I could get into the Polaris Lounge since my arrival was on a different ticket. Yup, no problem since they were both United, and they even let me bring my Starbucks in. The Newark crew had never heard of the Mescal Paper Airplane, so I got to share that with them…though they were still suspicious of it.
Off to the gate to fly to DCA, and once more short segment to go.
United flight 3434, operated by Republic Airlines Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Washington, DC, National (DCA) Depart 15:45, Arrive: 17:03, flight time: 1:18 Embraer ERJ-170, Registration N864RW, Manufactured 2006, Seat 1A Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 34,324 Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,726,912
How much can you say about a 40 minute flight from Newark to DCA. We were delayed about 30 minutes by a flat tire (seriously) but other than that we still arrived exactly on time. Very good luck today considering how the weather was. Super, super bumpy on the takeoff just as the approach had been.
…and with that two of my four back to back trips were done. Unfortunately didn’t get home until 6pm which meant a very short night to do laundry and repack since my flight the next morning was 8:30am. UGH. Fortunately managed a same-day-change to an 11:00am via Newark, so at least I would salvage a LITTLE more sleep….
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!
So, continuing with my week in Berlin, the next day when I had a long lunch I decided to venture even further out into the former East Berlin, and visit the main prison of the Stasi which is now a museum. The Gedenkstätte Hohenschönhausen is a museum on what was once the site of the Stati’s most notorious prison. Tours are relatively infrequent – at least public ones – and when I called I couldn’t get anyone who understood English…but based on my limited German there would be a tour today, so I made the long trek by tram out to Lichtenberg.
Fortunately, the tour happened right on schedule, but unfortunately, our guide would be a young Czech lady. While she was excellent, the majority of guides are former prisoners, and it would have been much more interesting to hear their perspective.
We started with a 25 minute movie which was a fantastic introduction to the complex, and then it was off to the original prison building, and its cells. At the time, like Robben Island or other former prisons, it was just another site, but looking back today it’s much easier for me to see the terror in the site…even decades later.
After touring the old cellblock, it was out into the main yard to walk to the “newer” building which was built once it was clear the DDR was going to be a thing, and the Cold War was going to split Germany for quite some time.
Inside the new cellblock, the door to a cell. Note the wire running over the top of the door? See how to the right of the door there is what looks like connectors? This is because guards were unarmed, and if shit went down they could loosely yank on the wire, which would pull the connectors apart, and set off an alarm. The entire complex was wired this way.
Inside of an interrogation room. Prisoners were never interrogated right away – they waited several days or weeks until they were sufficiently disoriented first and ready to talk.
Metal grates on the stairwells between floors.
Barbed wire on the ends of the complex.
Another day, I took the U-Bahn out to Friedrichshain, a now trendy and gentrifying part of former East Berlin, and decided to go for a long walk back to my hotel to appreciate how the city was laid out. With a subway, it’s often hard to appreciate how all the parts of a city fit together, so I figured this would be a great way to do it – plus – I love long urban walks. A very colourful street in Friedrichshain:
Funky mural – not entirely sure what it’s supposed to depict:
Even the Germans aren’t big fans of the Cheeto in Chief:
A short way through the walk, I was hungry and cold, so stopped into Ostbahnhof which for some reason I really like, and had my favourite German snack….a Bretzelsnack and caramel macchiato – perfect on a cold winter day.
Crossing the river and looking west towards Alexanderplatz:
St. Michael’s Church:
One of the best street names in the world – under water street! Wonder if Spongebob Squarepants is around…
…and after the long walk, nearly 12km, I rewarded myself with a currywürst and beer. I mean, when in Berlin…
One of the weirder parts of Berlinale, on top of all the fru fru people in my hotel in silk scarves, was the pop-up make-up booth in the middle of Potsdamer Platz. I very tempted to poke my head in and see if I could get my makeup did…
Another day, I went for a long walk through the Tiergarten. Seeing the Siegessäule brought back memories of U2, and I think I was humming “Stay – Faraway So Close” for the rest of the trip.
Just the bang…and the clatter…as an angel…hits the ground.
Walking through the memorial. Unfortunately, lots of young people acting disrespectfully – I really hope the future holds better than a lot of these kids were displaying, or history will be doomed to repeat itself.
From there, I wandered back to the Brandenburger Tor, which looked awesome with the sun setting behind it:
Apparently, there were multiple protests/demonstrations going on….including this colourful character…the “Kaiser”
A short video of his…interesting…spiel…
One final walk on my last night in Berlin, and the L’Oreal people were still out in Potsdamer Platz doing makeup…incredibly odd.
Last morning, before heading to the airport, decided to go for one final long walk through the Tiergarten. Pond partially frozen over:
Statue of Albert Lortzing, a German composer:
I love how this picture captured the reflection of the trees on the partially-frozen pond:
One final stop by the Siegessäule. I was going to climb to the top, but was running short on time to get to the airport, so decided to skip it so I’d have an “excuse” to come back again.
…and with that, my week in Berlin was over. Definitely confirmed my feeling that it’s an amazing world-class city, and somewhere I’d love the opportunity to live. So if you know anyone there who’s looking to hire… 😉