Feb 122018
 


After a very good night’s rest, it was up early to take care of a couple meetings before heading over to the airport. I checked out the Le Meridien club lounge to hopefully find a bit of breakfast, but the rather small spread was disappointing. The only thing I really wanted was some hard boiled eggs, but some giant local-looking muscled-out dude had taken what looked to be two dozen of them and was peeling and eating them one by one….so I settled for coffee.

Over to the airport, and first stop was the baggage scanners before being allowed into the check-in hall. Put my bags on the belt, walked through the metal detector, and the guard demanded “Passport!” Told him it was in my bag…and he got so caught up harassing the little old lady walking through the metal detector after me that he completely forgot to check mine. Ah security theatre!

Check-in with EgyptAir at the dedicated First/Business counter was suprisingly quick, and the agent confirmed I was the only person in business class today. 24 seats all to myself…maybe EgyptAir wouldn’t be so bad after all!

Passport Control, even in the expedited business class line was its usual shambles, and took nearly 30 minutes to clear. Despite knowing the grim fate which awaited me I headed to the lounge near my gate for a quick bite. I have to admit, the orange soda and cold pizza they serve has actually kind of grown on me…since everyone knows cold pizza is the best pizza. I wish they still had Diet Pepsi, but it seems they got rid of that nearly two years ago and now it’s only the full octane stuff.

Boarding was pretty quick and painless once I got to the gate, and off to Vienna we go.

EgyptAir flight 797
Cairo, Egypt (CAI) to Vienna, Austria (VIE)
Depart 10:45, Arrive 13:30, Flight Time: 3:45
Boeing 737-800, Registration SU-GDA, Manufactured 2009, Seat 12A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 8,244
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,528,306

Waiting for me at the seat was an assortment of goodies: an amenity kit, a set of stickers to be woken up for various things, some very poor quality headphones, and a blanket.

EgyptAir’s 737s are actually not bad at all, and have great legroom for short-haul flights.

Welcome aboard orange juice, and chocolate:

It was a bit strange getting a Merry Christmas chocolate not just on EgyptAir, but in mid-January:

Before takeoff a family of six joined me in business class who boarded at the last minute. One man and five women, the man wearing an EgyptAir ID badge around his neck. Despite now being seven people in 24 seats they occupied the last two rows and it still felt extremely private and roomy. View of dusty Cairo after takeoff:

So, what’s to eat today? Laminated, reusable menus were passed around:

…complete with a festive holiday cover:

Despite being a dry airline, they was still a drinks menu:

Starter of a couple salads, salmon, cheeses, and plenty of bread:

I went with the beef for a main, and it was about as disappointing as expected. I think he was trying to make a point with the bread, practically demanding that I take more…

The chocolate cake, despite being a little bit dry, was pretty good.

I passed the time watching movies, and about an hour before landing, a small snack of nuts and dried fruit was passed out. EgyptAir sure didn’t want me going hungry!

Overall, a pretty reasonable and comfort flight, made even better by the relatively empty cabin. No, EgyptAir service isn’t quite as refined as European airlines, but the 2×2 configuration and the extra legroom made it a much better flight overall than taking Lufthansa, Austrian, or Swiss. I would definitely take them again, especially if the flight timing worked out well.

Immigration and security in Vienna were relatively quick and painless, and I had about 45 minutes to enjoy the lounge and get a bit of work done while waiting for the next flight. Unfortunately, my connecting flight was at the very last gate in the terminal, so was a bit of a hike from the lounge. Oh well, after spending four hours on a plane it felt good to stretch my legs a bit.

Austrian flight 131
Vienna, Austria (VIE) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 15:10, Arrive 16:45, Flight Time: 1:35
Airbus A319, Registration OE-LDA, Manufactured 2004, Seat 2C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 8,631
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,528,693

Once up in the air, Austrian served a fantastic snack for a 75 minute flight with a chicken skewer, grilled vegetables with feta, and a delicious lemon tart. The tart was SO good I might have asked if there were any more left…but unfortunately not. I also had to practically beg the flight attendant to stop refilling wine – completely packed flight, but still fantastic service.

Arrived in Frankfurt right on time, and it was a relatively quick walk down the entire length of the A gates to my hotel at the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport. Nice surprise to get one of their few suites for the night, although it had way more space than I needed. I almost prefer not to get the suites there because they don’t seem to cool quite as well. The living room area:

The fantastic five hour long happy hour was already going on in the Club Lounge, so I stopped in for a very high-brow snack of gummi bears and a glass of wine:

Caught the S-Bahn into the city, and met a couple of friends for beers and catching up. Being a Friday night the bar/restaurant was absolutely packed and super loud. Naiv definitely has the best beer list by far in Frankfurt, although I might give it a miss on a Friday night unless you’re looking for a loud, happening bar. Plus, they took my favourite item (the bacon-wrapped dates) off the menu, so that was a little disappointing.

I had an early train the next morning, and was still feeling a little behind on sleep due to the redeye flight two days prior, so called it a relatively early evening and caught the train back to the hotel to crash. Next up, off to Dresden!

Feb 092016
 

After a very productive week of meetings, it was time to head back to the airport for the long trek back to DC. Of all the trips I’ve made to Thailand this was the first time I’d ever gone transatlantic, and this trip I was going transatlantic in both directions. Unexpected bonus of this was an early morning arrival in Bangkok (as opposed to the usual midnight) and a late afternoon departure, as opposed to the oh-dark-thirty.

Check-in was nice and easy at Thai’s Royal Silk area, and even the toilets were friendly:

IMG_5195

Since I had a long way to go until sleep – still another 8+ hours, I grabbed a Starbucks at the airport before exploring Thai’s rather sad excuse for a lounge. The main lounge was extremely crowded, very few power outlets, and the snacks were also pretty dire. Overall, it was way below the quality I remembered, and I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come. I actually left the lounge early to wander the airport I was so bored in there – even the internet was pretty slow.

At least there was a wat near my gate?

IMG_5198

Boarding was a few minutes late, and then like all flights to India it was a mad rush to the door. I’ve gotten pretty good at holding my own, definitely a trait I’ve learned from my travels in India, China, and Africa. If you don’t look out for yourself in a crowd, nobody else is going to! Once safely aboard, it was a nice empty (maybe 50% full) business class cabin tonight, unlike the flight over. Not only was I spared sitting next to Typhoid Mary again, but I had a whole row of three seats to myself in business!

Thai Airways flight 315
Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Depart 20:00, Arrive 23:00, Flight Time: 4:30
Boeing 777-200, Registration HS-TKF, Manufactured 2000, Seat 14D

All three seats…just for me and my bags!

IMG_5199

Side view of the two window seats…unfortunately all the window pairs were full, but for a night flight it didn’t really matter.

IMG_5201

Unlike the flight over, pre-departure bubbles were offer. Leads me to believe it was a customs issue that they wouldn’t open them in Delhi.

IMG_5202

Tonight’s dinner menu:

IMG_5203

a few almons and spring rolls to start – not on the menu – guess it was a change:

IMG_5205

Salmon and crab salad to start, along with a regular green salad and garlic bread…not bad, but not impressive either:

IMG_5207

The chicken penang curry…pretty good, but again nothing to write home about:

IMG_5208

Mini desserts and fruit…I’m not sure what’s with Thai’s fascination of serving everything (curry, desserts, fruits) in little cupcake tins:

IMG_5209

Stayed up this flight and caught up on a bit of work and tv, and arrival into Delhi was right on time. Immigration and transit security were a piece of cake this time, and the Austrian staff were expecting me. Austrian uses the same lounge United does, which was absolutely packed. There are something like 10+ lounges at Delhi for like 20 gates, yet they always all manage to be packed. I haven’t been able to figure out the logic behind it. I tried to go to the Lufthansa lounge, but it was too full ,and they weren’t letting Star Golds in. Finally found a seat in the United/Austrian one, and at least I found a magical snack:

IMG_5212

Boarding was right on time for my first longhaul flight on Austrian.

Austrian flight 34
Delhi, India (DEL) to Vienna, Austria (VIE)
Depart 02:15, Arrive 05:55, Flight Time: 8:10
Boeing 767-300ER, Registration OE-LAX, Manufactured 1992, Seat 3K

Tonight’s dinner menu. I didn’t get a picture of the breakfast menu, which was a card you filled out, along with if you wanted to be woken up for it. I decided to get as much sleep as possible, knowing there were plenty of options for food in the airport upon arrival.

IMG_5215

Tonight’s route of fight. I love westbound redeyes – by the time you depart you’re usually rather tired from the late hour, but when you arrive at 5-8a local time it’s usually around noon where you came from so your body feels rested and ready to go..

IMG_5218

Mixed nuts for a starter. I was pleased that despite being a 2am flight, a reasonably full meal was being served.

IMG_5219

“Potpourri of Salmon” starter…rather tasty:

IMG_5220

Chicken breast starter main. Extremely bland and unimaginative, but at the same time not bad. It just sort of…was. I’m more wondering how I got this picture at such an extreme angle!

IMG_5221

Passionfruit cheesecake and cheese. The cheese was delicious, but there wasn’t nearly enough of it. You can guess what happened when I asked for a second helping…yep…of course there was no more. Seriously, why is cheese the one thing they seem to never have extra of?

IMG_5222

On the positive side, after this relatively small dinner I passed out for a solid six hours, waking up only on final approach to Vienna. The crew had done a great job of serving breakfast to those who wanted it without waking those of us who wanted to sleep. Generally, for me, seat comfort and ability to sleep is the most important thing on longhaul flights, and in this regard Austrian did a great job. I was worried they would keep the cabin super hot as Lufthansa and Swiss tend to do, but no such problems this flight.

Landed right on time, though there was a bit of a line at immigration and at security, which didn’t leave much if any time for the lounge. No big deal – the next flight was a short one and I figured I would doze on it anyways.

Austrian flight 561
Vienna, Austria (VIE) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
Depart 07:10, Arrive 08:40, Flight Time: 1:30
Airbus A320, Registration OE-LBQ, Manufactured 1999, Seat 4A

Fantastic view of sunrise after takeoff. Although they were crummy EuroBusiness seats, at least I had the whole row again.

IMG_5228

Rather strange breakfast panini, yogurt, and fruit. I pecked at it, but wasn’t worth more than a few bites.

IMG_5230

Landed in Zurich right on time, stayed in the Schengen Area of the airport to enjoy the Swiss lounge, and had a nice shower as well as a pretzel roll and a bit of cheese. The showers were actually a bit difficult to find, as they are in the business class part of the lounge and not the Senator side. Not a problem, however, and once found they were basic but solid. One note is that while the Senator side of the lounge was very crowded, the business class side was relatively empty.

IMG_5233

Walking to the gate, the airport was already ready for Christmas:

IMG_5234

Stopped to get one last Starbucks before boarding, at what is one of the most expensive Starbucks in the world. At seven francs for a venti Americano the only countries I recall being more expensive is Denmark. Hong Kong runs a close third, however. If anyone wants to help contribute to my Starbucks Index, feel free to send me the price of a Grande Drip/Filter Coffee in your city including tax.

Despite telling them my name was François to try and make things easier, they still managed to stuff it up. Should have gone with something German, but that would have just confused them since I didn’t speak German.

IMG_5235

Boarding for United was the usual cattle call, and every seat in business was taken today.

United flight 53
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Washington DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 11:35, Arrive 15:15, Flight Time: 9:40
Boeing 767-400, Registration N77066, Manufactured 2002, Seat 1D

Oscar Cliquot, 2014, verre plastique:

IMG_5236

Today’s menu:

IMG_5237

IMG_5238

Cashews from Oscar’s Split Cashew Farm:

IMG_5239

…but hey, garlic bread, with plentiful replenishments. Yay!

IMG_5242

Yes, this is an appetizer. One shrimp and small piece of salmon, hidden amongst greenery:

IMG_5243

What WAS I thinking ordering the beef…

IMG_5247

I’ve seen shoe leather that was less tough. Lesson learned today: never again with the beef on United. Never again.

IMG_5248

Cheese was an improvement, mainly because they had plenty of the sweet biscuits I like with it:

IMG_5249

Sundae, with caramel and cherries. The usual three when asked for “cherries.”

IMG_5250

Napped a little bit, watched lots of tv, and all in all generic United transatlantic daytime flight. The arrival snack was a very nice change, with a decent serving of fruit that was still juicy, meat, and cheeses. Probably one of the better pre-arrival United snacks I’ve had. Much better than those super sad tea sandwiches they serve out of London. I really wish they’d do something about the rather sad and cheap chocolates for a sweet, however.

IMG_5253

Another trip in the books, next up, I’ll write a bit about the hotels in Bangkok.

Dec 252013
 

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

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

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

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

IMG_1992

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

IMG_1994

Amazing views over the mountains as we descended into Podgorica:

IMG_1999

IMG_2002 Continue reading »

Dec 252013
 

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

Good planespotting from the lounge:

IMG_1957

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

IMG_1959

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

IMG_1961

Continue reading »

Apr 262013
 

No sooner had I gotten back from Johannesburg than I found out that the new job I took starting the day I returned had a trip planned for me.  I expected it would maybe be one new country, but as planning has evolved it’s now planned for nearly three weeks and four new countries!  Score!  The downside is not getting to really play tourist too much, but you can’t complain about getting to go to four relatively out of the way countries  without it costing any vacation time or out of pocket expense!  Things are pretty much lined up now, and the the route looks like:

map

 

Plan is to visit four new countries:  Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.  Assuming the visas show up in time, all systems should be go for this trip!  Lots of long segments on Lufthansa…perhaps in First if upgrades clear, along with a couple long segments on dreaded Turkish 737s from Sarajevo to Istanbul to Bishkek.  Also, two new airlines:  Uzbekistan Airlines and Air Astana, one on an A320 and the other on an ERJ-190.  This assumes, again, that everything happens as planned…

Not sure how many sights I’ll get a chance to see, but I’ll definitely make an attempt to review the flights, check out the local restaurants, and use my evenings wisely to at least try and see some sights around town!  Plus, I should have a full weekend day in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, so that should be a chance to see a fair bit!

More to come soon!

Jun 152012
 

Since I’m in a small lull between trips (I don’t think anyone really needs to hear about my upcoming trip to Cedar Point, Ohio to ride roller coasters) I figured this was a good idea to catch up and post a few trips from the past.  First one will be my May, 2010 trip to Moldova, TransDniester, and Romania.

What, you’ve not heard of TransDniester?  According to Wikipedia, it is: “a breakaway territory  mostly on a strip of land between the Dniester River and the eastern Moldovan border to Ukraine. Since its declaration of independence in 1990, and especially after the War of Transnistria in 1992, it is governed as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR, also known as “Pridnestrovie”), a state with limited recognition which claims the territory to the east of the river Dniester, the city of Bender and its surrounding localities located on the west bank. The Republic of Moldova does not recognize the secession and considers the territories controlled by the PMR to be part of Moldova’s autonomous region of Stînga Nistrului (“Left Bank of the Dniester”).”

Wait, breakaway region with its own military, currency, parliament, border control, etc?  Sounds like a de-facto country to me…and of course I had to visit.  Naturally, you get there from Moldova…but since you can’t fly in, you get to take a sketchy mashrutka minibus.  I’m up for adventure!  Flights booked, it was time to head off!

United Flight 950
Washington, Dulles (IAD) to Brussels, Belgium (BRU)
Departure 17:44, Arrival 7:30 next day, Flight Time: 7:46
Boeing 767, Registration N654UA, Manufactured 1992
Seat 2A

One of my first flights in a newly-configured United 767 in first….and I was nervous how I’d sleep on such an early flight.  I’d learnt to pass out cold on the 10pm flights to London, but not sure how I’d manage on such an early departure.  Not to worry, however.  After meal service, plenty of wine, it was 8pm, and eyes shut…and I dozed all the way to Brussels.  I searched in vain for a lounge with a shower…no luck, and just killed time in the terminal.  Was my first time at BRU in several years, and I wasn’t terribly impressed.  Of course, considering it was 2am eastern time and I’d just gotten up from a 5 hour nap…that’s understandable.

Austrian Flight 352
Brussels, Belgium (BRU) to Vienna, Austria (VIE)
Departure 10:25, Arrival 12:15, Flight Time: 1:50
Airbus A319, Registration OE-LDG, Manufactured 2005
Seat 2F

Short hop over to Vienna, with very little to say on it.  This was my first every short-haul flight with Austrian, and honestly it felt a lot like Lufthansa with cheerier colours.  I dozed on and off the whole flight, and there was nothing overly special about it even though the load was 100% in the entire plane.

Austrian Arrows Flight 655
Vienna, Austria (VIE) to Chisnau, Moldova (KIV)
Departure 13:45, Arrival 16:30, Flight Time: 1:45
Fokker F70, Registration OE-LFG, Manufactured 1995
Seat 2F

This is where the fun started!  Only 90 minutes in Vienna, but had to exit the Schengen Area, and then hang out in the Austrian Senator Lounge.  Decent food like any Senator Lounge, plenty to drink, but was hotter than a Turkish Bathhouse.  I was unimpressed!  I tend to get extremely warm on long haul flights, and going on 12+ hours at this point I was less than impressed.  Oh well, almost there!

Flight was maybe 2/3 full, but I was the only one in “business” class if you can fall it that on a Fokker!  Landed, taxied up, and immigration was pretty much a non-event.  Surly immigration officers assured us this was definitely still closer to the ex-USSR than it was to the West, and we’d arrived for a bit of fun!

Took a taxi for 100 Lev which was no drama at all, and soon we were at the hotel!

Hotel was the Hotel Nobil which had been recommended by coworkers, and definitely lived up to its billing as the “only boutique hotel in Moldova.”  It wasn’t super fancy, but it was definitely approaching 4-star quality, which is something I never would have expected to find in Moldova.  First night we got dinner at Symposium Restaurant which was pretty awesome!  Local Moldovan wine which was nothing to write home about (but decent) and lots of small plates, and we were definitely full for the big trip ahead!  On the way to dinner we’d checked where the minibuses ran from, and with a bit of help from my Russian managed to determine they ran about hourly to TransDniester, the price, and we were more or less ready!

Up early the next morning we found a cafe for some coffee, and it was time to head on the adventure!  We easily found the minibus station again, and with help from a couple grandmotherly types easily purchased tickets (although, it would have been quite a bit harder without speaking Russian) to Tiraspol, TransDniester for 29 Lev (about US$2.25) each!  Remember, our taxi the previous day had been 100 Lev!  It was a rather large bus – definitely a coach.  The lady “working” the bus was quite grumpy to see US passports, since it would definitely mean more work at the “border” to TransDniester.  She probably would not have let us on had I not spoken Russian…she was seriously worried we’d hold up the whole bus at the border, but not to worry!

The bus was….WARM!  It was 25C out and rising, and there was nothing even remotely resembling climate control on the bus.  It was a very warm ride!  The ride, and border was a relative nonevent.  We got a bit of questioning from the TransDniester authorities, but were not required to pay any bribes or “visa fees” as others have reported, and were quickly through.  We definitely didn’t hold up the bus more than five minutes total, and from that point “bus mother” was much kinder!

Just upon arrival we verified that return buses ran every hour, and we were off to wander.  Just after arriving, there was a torrential downpour, which caused us to hide under overhangs for a good 30 minutes.

Continue reading »

Aug 222011
 

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

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

Aug 202011
 

So up at the crack of dawn to catch our hotel-arranged shuttle to Ljubljana Airport. Nothing exciting to report here. The airport was rather small, check-in was confused and slightly chaotic (as was security) but soon we were on the other side and in the promised land: the “lounge.” This might be one of the most uninspired lounges I’ve ever been in, but at this early hour it had the single most important thing in the universe to me: a coffee/espresso machine. Several shots later I was approaching human, and life was good!

Adria flight 284, LJU-VIE
Depart 7:55 Arrive 8:45, Flight time 50 minutes
CRJ-200, Registration S5-AAI, manufactured 1998, Seat 3A

Wow – this was the same aircraft (and same seat) I had been in two days prior. What are the odds! Even on this short flight, a snack was served: something you would never see in the US!

Soon, we were landing in Vienna – where we had about 90 minutes between flights. Now, one of the biggest challenges we had was finding hotel information online. We were a bit uneasy about the hotel we’d booked, so I decided to use the lounge connection to Skype another hotel in Erbil….which was happy to offer a reservation at a rate we considered very reasonable so we snatched it up! It was then off to the gate area, and OMG this was really going to happen…we were going to Iraq for tourism! Continue reading »