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Old Apr 21, 17, 4:21 pm   #1
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Rock in the Abkhazia - Progress on the Unrecognized Countries List

After finishing all 193 UN Member states last September, I was at a bit of a loss for what would come next. I told myself that I was just going to do fun trips for a while. Spend some time at home. Not worry about having lists.

Well that lasted all of a month or two.

Earlier this year, I took a first class trip around the world, just for the fun of it. Spent time in some of my favourite cities along the way, but something was still missing.

FlyIgglesFly had a one-way back to Moscow that he was planning to use in April, so a plan was hatched. I decided it was time to start visiting semi-recognized countries. No, Alaska still doesn't count even if Sarah Palin and the TCC disagree, but I decided to start defining countries as places recognized as independent by at least one UN member...or places with their own border controls. I haven't finished the list yet, but Moscow presented the opportunity to tick off at least three such places: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Unfortunately, due to some personal commitments, I had to bail on South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh at the last minute, and was only able to do Abkhazia. This was fine anyways, as two days before the trip we still hadn't received permission to enter South Ossetia. Of course, the permission came just 24 hours before departure, and I looked for any way at all to still cram it in...but couldn't make it work. Still hoping to use the permit later this year.

Plans were re-hatched and rebooked, and after paying the change fee at least I would get the small consolation prize of an overnight in Moscow and Frankfurt as well as a trip home in Lufthansa First.

All in all, it was an absolutely amazing trip. First, if you want to check my previous trips:

I. London to Iran and Afghanistan in a mix of C, F, and LCCs
II. Above the Arctic Circle with UA/CO/LH and SK in whY, C, and F
III. Around the World in 40 Days for 40 Years
IV. 8 Places People Who Are Right in the Head Do Not Spend New Years
V. 12 Countries, 10 Airlines, 4 Islands, 27,080 miles, 11 Days
VI. 6 Countries in 6 Days - Caribbean Island Hopping and first AA Experience
VII. Guyana, Suriname, and French Guyana with an unexpected sidetrip to Caracas!
VIII. To Ha´ti - for vacation and a milage run!
IX. Around Senegal and West Africa
X. 4th Annual New Years in Dangerous Places - Libya Edition
XI. Kosovo and FYR Macedonia - Milage Run in United Business + TK/LH
XII. Washington to Peru and Machu Picchu on COPA and TACA
XIII. To Johannesburg...for 36 hours!
XIV. Here a Stan, there a Stan, everwhere a Stan Stan....
XV. Air Burkina, Air Cote d'Ivoire and 7 countries in West Africa
XVI. Turkey for Thanksgiving....with a side of Tajikistan, Serbia, Montenegro, and Moscow
XVII. Into the Heart of Darkness... Congo, Angola, Gabon, OH MY!
XVIII. HI! Four Islands, Lots of Planes, Beaches, and Convertibles
XIX. Plenty of Salt, Not Enough Oxygen...a Trip to Boliva, Colombia, and Ecuador
XX. Learning to Relax - Long Weekend in St Christopher and Nevis
XXI. You're spending New Years WHERE? IRAQ? (2009-2010)
XXII. Pineapples, croissants, and neon OH MY! A trip to Hawaii, Paris, Andorra, and Vegas
XXIII. South Pacific, Israel, Lebanon - 6 weeks - 71,500 miles - 24 countries
XXIV. Sundae bloody Sundaes...a 2014 United Year in Review
XXV. Lakes, Lemurs, and Lithuania: Horton Hears a Houthi!
XXVI. First Americans tour to North Korea 2005 - Arirang Mass Games
XXVII. Doing the Needful - Lufthansa Business US to Chennai
XXVII. C-ing things: Canada, Curry, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, Camels, Chengis Khan and China!
XXVIII. Learning my ABCs: Algeria, Bahama, Cuba and the Cubana IL-96
XXIX. Exploring ZMapp of West Africa...or how I got detained by the CDC
XXX. Transatlantic to Bangkok with United, Austrian, Air Canada, and Thai
XXXI. Being Lazy in Belize
XXXII. Quick Trip to Cape Town with United, SWISS, South African, and Lufthansa
XXXII. FUNny thing happened going to and from Tuvalu...Cathay F, Etihad Apts, Fiji Biz
XXXIII. Achievement Unlocked: AFRICA! Visiting Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal
XXXIV. FIN. (and thanks for all the fish)
XXXV. What do you do after visiting every country? RTW in First with NH, TG, SQ, QR, EK, LH

This trip will be roughly split into these parts:

I. DC to Sochi with American, FinnAir, and Aeroflot

II. Overnight in Sochi and Sochi to Sukhumi, Abkhazia
III. First day in Abkhazia
IV. Full day driving around Abkhazia
V. Abkhazia to Sochi by car and flight to Moscow with Rossiya Airlines
VI. Overnight in Moscow, Moscow to Frankfurt with SWISS and Lufthansa, overnight Frankfurt
VII. Frankfurt to DC in Lufthansa First

Trip is over, so I'm going to aim to crank the report out over the next week. Enjoy!

Last edited by ironmanjt; May 17, 17 at 8:06 pm
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Old Apr 21, 17, 6:13 pm   #2
  
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I'm really looking forward to this. You've already taken me to places I'll never be able to visit.
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Old Apr 22, 17, 7:49 am   #3
  
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This looks to be fun. Looking forward to your future trip report to SeaLand
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Old Apr 22, 17, 8:21 am   #4
  
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Great!! Looking to your TR as always, and I missed the previous one, so will get stuck into that right away.
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Old Apr 25, 17, 2:27 pm   #5
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I. DC to Sochi with American, FinnAir, and Aeroflot

The day of the trip was finally here, and despite lots of last minute changes needed to deal with some unexpected work and personal commitments, I finally was able to salvage part of the trip. Unfortunately, that would mean missing two of the stops we had planned, but at least we would get to Abkhazia which was one of the parts I was super excited for.

American had changed their schedule about three months before my flight, and suddenly my DCA-JFK flight no longer existed. They decided instead to book me on an ERJ-145 flight instead, which meant an involuntary downgrade. Because it was the short part of an international itinerary no compensation was due, and they seemed completely uninterested in helping. Fortunately, about 45 days before the flight they changed schedules again, and there was now an option with first class. It meant a relatively short two hour connection in JFK, but I figured it should be doable in the spring.

Calling in, I got the rare fantastic agent who was able to force availability and get me on the new flight, and all was set. Day of travel I actually had quite a bit of time given the later departure, so decided to risk taking the metro to the airport, which was drama free. Rare occurrence on metro! Had to check-in with an agent to show them my Russian visa, and after they made sure to show me how annoyed they were with having to help me they checked me in and I was on my way to the lounge.

Lounge was serving the usual cheese and crAAckers along with some other unexciting kibble, but who can resist a whole carrot right before Easter?



Blue skies, and a great view form the lounge at DCA for a bit of plane-watching. Plus, N406YX in the foreground would be my ride up to JFK today:



Boarding commenced right on time with some rather grouchy gate agents and a total of three emotional support animals for the rather short ride up to JFK.

American Eagle flight 4540
Washington DC, National (DCA) to New York, JFK (JFK)
Depart 14:35, Arrive 15:55, Flight Time: 1:20
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration N406YX, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 33,332
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,405,647


I see lots of complaints online that American is very hit-or-miss with pre-departure drinks, but today was a definite hit. The always classy Chateau le Parker in the finest plastique crystal:



Shortly after boarding and being seated there was some commotion in the entryway. I didn't catch the whole conversation but apparently the passenger had accidentally packed some vital medications in the bag she was forced to gate-check, and needed/wanted to get them out. All I heard was the rather nasty gate agent saying "I don't care what you think you need you ain't gettin' the bag now!" Followed by "you know what, you're a very nasty woman!" from the passenger. I was having visions of Dr. Dao at this point, and had the iPhone really to shoot prize-winning footage....but eventually the pilot who was great managed to calm the situation (after the gate agent yelled at him to) and everything was defused.

After that bit of excitement, departure time came and went...except we weren't going anywhere. The pilot came on at five minutes past the departure time and told us we would be another 15 minutes because they were trying to locate...a first officer. Apparently the first officer's dog had died and they were desperately trying to locate a replacement one. Another five minutes passed, and we were assured one bad been found, and he was "on his way" and we "should be out of here" in 15 minutes. Of course, 15 minutes came and went...and no first officer.

Finally, about an hour past departure, the new first officer rocked up and the door was closed a couple minutes later. My 1:45 connection had been reduced to about 40 minutes, so I was hopeful we would make up a little of the time in the air. Great view of the turn over the Pentagon right after departure:



Once in flight, the crew broke out AA's finest stemware, and passed around the kibble basket. Since I'm addicted to the DiBella biscotti, I wasn't complaining for a 42 minute flight. Never seen blueberry lemon before...yum!



We made up a tiny bit of time, and looks like we would make the gate with about 50 minutes to connect. I had to blink twice to make sure the plane hadn't entered a time warp on the way when I saw this parked at the terminal:



So despite flying well over 2 million miles and over 250 transatlantics in each direction, I've never flown internationally out of JFK before. I remember the day when international travel almost ensured you would head to O'Hare or JFK, but these days unless you're flying a smaller international carrier, JFK is super easy to avoid. Of course, it was just my luck that my arriving flight would arrive as far from the International First Lounge as possible, and the departing flight which normally leaves from right by the lounge was also leaving as far away from the lounge as possible.

Ian was perfectly fine skipping the lounge, but I was having none of it, so he met me near my arriving flight and off to the first lounge we went.

I mean, I'm not going to turn down Bollinger and a nice cheese plate!



Unfortunately, given time constraints, I had to limit myself to around two glasses, and then make the long trek over to my departure gate. I wished Ian well, made sure all his shots were updated for his flight back with the proletariat, and then boarded.

Finnair flight 6
New York, JFK (JFK) to Helsinki, Finland (HEL)
Depart 17:40, Arrive 8:50 next day, Flight Time: 8:10
Airbus A330-300, Registration OH-LTT, Manufactured 2010, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 37,449
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,409,764


I had fortunately booked well in advance, so had one of the "throne" seats on Finnair. On the left side of the plane the rows alternate, with one row having two seats, and the next row having one. In the row with one seat, your footwell is under the centre console of the two seats in front of it...in the row of two your footwells are under the two large tables on either side of the "throne" seat. My fabulous Marimekko branded slippers and amenity kit were already waiting for me:



Pre-departure champagne, blueberry juice, and water were offered. I asked for a champagne AND a water, and with the sigh that followed you would think I was asking for them to move Heaven and Earth. But, I was successful. I still love the Littala crystal - even for pre-departure drinks. I really need to pick up some of this glassware for at home.



Unfortunately, right before the door closed, a couple boarded sitting right in front of me with twins who looked no more than a month or two old...and were already crying their lungs out. You have GOT to be kidding me. Seeing the glares they were getting from the other passengers, the purser suggested that all 12 seats in the mini cabin of business class were open, and perhaps they would be more comfortable there. They agreed to move, much to the relief of the other passengers.

With that sorted, time to get comfy and rock the Marimekko slippers!



About 30 minutes after departure drinks and snacks were finally offered. While I was glad not to see the usual mixed nuts, a single skewered prawn doesn't really make much of a cocktail snack....



Even more surprising was that the meal was all served on a single tray. No courses here. I would be less surprised if this was a late departure, or if I requested the executive meal, but nope...everyone got their entire meal on one tray. This looks like something that would be served on a domestic flight in the US and not internationally! That said, the beef was rather tasty along with the potatoes, but the salad and cheese course were rather stingy and disappointing. Definitely one of the most disappointing business class meals I've ever had across the Atlantic. Boo to Finnair on this one!



An hour into flight, my free internet cut out. Supposedly Finnair elites and OneWorld Emeralds get free complimentary internet for the entire flight, but for whatever reason Finnair had forgotten to load this data into the computer for this flight, so everyone was cut off at one hour. Ended up paying for the rest of the flight, which per the purser's recommendation I will now dispute with AmEx....

Package ice cream for dessert was pretty disappointing as well, but the fun little mini pastries were a nice touch, and there was plenty to go around:



I still wasn't tired, so after a bit of time watching tv, I used the call button to ring for another glass of wine. A new/different flight attendant appeared this time, and he was more than happy to bring me one. He also brought a mini snack of mixed nuts and dried fruits. Thought it was odd he served this right after dinner had finished, but it was definitely a nice appreciated touch.



After finishing this glass of wine I was getting pretty tired, but there was just one problem. Two extremely loud large russian women in the row behind me having a conversation and cackling at a volume that I'm sure even the people back in coach could hear. I'd already asked them several time to keep their voices down because people want to sleep and was just met with a dirty glare in return. The flight attendant who'd brought me the nuts tried to quiet them as well, to no avail. He suggested I could move to the back of the cabin where there were plenty of seats and it might be a bit quieter. Fortunately, when I returned from chatting with him they had mysteriously and suddenly passed out cold. Saved!

At this point I managed to pass out for a nice uninterrupted five hours of solid sleep, waking up just as we crossed the Finnish coast on descent. Flight delivered in the ways that were most important to me, a comfortable seat for sleeping and a cabin temperature that made it possible. The food was a huge let-down, but again, it was adequate. However, if Finnair really wants to compete for connecting traffic they really need to up their game in this department.

We arrived in Helsinki about five minutes late, and only had a 35 minute connection to Moscow to begin with. Fortunately, there is no need to re-clear security in Helsinki, and since we also did not need to clear immigration it was a very easy transit. No time to check out the lounge, but our gates were right next to each other and I think the change of planes took maybe five minutes maximum. Most passengers were already boarded once we got there, so just a few minutes after boarding the door was closed 15 minutes early.

Finnair flight 153
Helsinki, Finland (HEL) to Moscow Sheremetyevo, Russia (SVO)
Depart 9:25, Arrive 11:05, Flight Time: 1:40
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration OH-LKL, Manufactured 2008, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 33,877
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,410,309


There was only one row of eurobusiness 2x2 seating on this ERJ-190, and only one other passenger, so we each had two seats to our self. It should be noted that unlike Lufthansa, Finnair sells all the seats in eurobusiness on the ERJs, so you don't get a free seat next to you. The only thing you get is a free meal, when those in economy had to pay for buy on board. Not a bad meal for a 90 minute flight, and two main thoughts: yes, the fruit may have been packaged, but was fresher than anything United serves. Maybe being sealed held in some moisture? Also, the flight attendant noted: "surely you would like some champagne, you can't fly business class without it!" Best flight attendant ever!



Landed at Sheremetyevo Airport right on time, my first time there since 1989. I've been do Domodedevo and Vnukovo since then, but never back to Sheremeyevo. They wanted to make sure and remind me that I love it:



Immigration was a relative non-affair, with no line at all when we arrived. Got a few questions from the agent, who seemed mildly amused that I spoke Russian. Why do you speak Russian? Where did you learn it? How do you still speak it if it has been more than 20 years? She was seriously curious, and every time I answered the other agent in the booth would giggle. I guess my accent is amusing or something.

Right past immigration there was a check-in flight for connecting flights, and the agent was able to issue our Moscow to Sochi boarding passes, even though it was a separate itinerary. Next stop after checking in was to find Starbucks. I knew there was one at the airport, but we weren't sure exactly where. We decided to trust the Starbucks app, and head to the next terminal over (connected landside) and search for it. FlyIgglesFly knew better than to resist my need for caffeine, and we were off on the hunt.

On the way, we passed a caviar vending machine. Only in Russia! It was tempting to buy some for our connecting flight...



All price points from $20 a tin up to well over $100 a tin. I mean, everyone buys $100 worth of caviar from vending machines...right?



The Starbucks was right by the vending machine, and provided some much-needed fuel to continue on with the day. After sitting and resting for a bit, we were back to the check-in area to try and find our gate. On the way, we ran into the (relatively new) Krasnaya Machina Red Army Hockey Team store. I couldn't resist posing with the cut-out poster and buying a hat:



Security wasn't too bad, except for the guy who was getting busted for trying to take a cage filled with rabbits through the x-ray machine. I mean, totally normal, right?

Next stop was the lounge, which since we had arrived on OneWorld they wouldn't let me use with my SkyTeam Elite card. Apparently, no lounge access allowed to SkyTeam Elites on domestic flights with Aeroflot? Fortunately, they did accept Priority Pass, so that made short work of the 90 minutes we had left until boarding.

Reasonable selection of food and beverage, and more importantly, places to charge devices. Biggest downside is the lounge was completely dark inside, and emerging from the lounge was like walking back out into bright daylight!



Boarding was nice and easy, and they actually made time for elites and business class to board first.

Aeroflot flight 1124
Moscow Sheremetyevo, Russia (SVO) to Sochi/Adler, Russia (AER)
Depart 14:00, Arrive 16:30, Flight Time: 2:30
Airbus A321, Registration VP-BAZ, Manufactured 2016, Seat 33C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 34,205
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,411,182


About a 90% full A321 down to Sochi today, but fortunately we had booked the A and C seats and hoped nobody would take B. We asked the gate agent nicely, and she verified it was still open and she wouldn't put anybody in it. Score!

Scary pre-packaged sandwich, mandarin, and chocolate was offered, along with tea on the two hour flight. Not bad for a $50 ticket. Legroom was also reasonable, much better than you get from most domestic airlines in the US. This was my first time on Aeroflot since the late-1980s, and things have definitely improved with Western aircraft. No more cages of chickens in the luggage racks, no more fold-down seats, and especially no more grumpy Soviet passengers lighting up and chain-smoking the entire flight. It was actually more pleasant than most domestic flights in the US these days...



Mystery meat sandwich, fruit/chocolate, and a mandarin. Not bad...



Landed right on time in Sochi, and it was time to begin the adventure!
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Old Apr 25, 17, 2:37 pm   #6
  
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This sounds like it could be a fun adventure.
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Old Apr 25, 17, 9:10 pm   #7
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Great report so far! Sorry to hear about your rather disappointing experience with Finnair from JFK.

"I had to blink twice to make sure the plane hadn't entered a time warp on the way when I saw this parked at the terminal"

I saw this last week landing at MSP - definitely a time warp when you see the old TWA colors on a plane tail!

Looking forward to the rest of your report.
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Old Apr 25, 17, 9:15 pm   #8
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Great report so far! Sorry to hear about your rather disappointing experience with Finnair from JFK.
Do you work for them? As much as I love Finland, Finnair has disappointed me so many times I'm to the point they're good for awards only, but I'd absolutely never pay for them.
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Old Apr 25, 17, 9:27 pm   #9
  
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Do you work for them? As much as I love Finland, Finnair has disappointed me so many times I'm to the point they're good for awards only, but I'd absolutely never pay for them.
Thanks for sharing so far. I just flew Finnair ORD-HEL on friday night as a OWE (AA Explat). No free internet for me. Website said only Finnair elites + biz class.
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Old Apr 26, 17, 12:29 am   #10
  
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...but who can resist a whole carrot right before Easter?
LOL, I hope you saved the carrot to feed it to the little travel companion you got in the FCT on the way back...
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Old Apr 26, 17, 7:38 am   #11
  
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Excuse me, I knew exactly where the Starbucks was!

Comments on the coach sectors on AY: I survived but got no sleep and no slippers. My meal was also on a single tray.

I did not buy any airport vending machine caviar, but I did buy contact lenses yesterday from the adjacent machine.
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Old Apr 26, 17, 9:14 am   #12
  
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Quote:
Security wasn't too bad, except for the guy who was getting busted for trying to take a cage filled with rabbits through the x-ray machine. I mean, totally normal, right?
He was probably getting ready for Easter........
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Old Apr 26, 17, 10:15 am   #13
  
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The Finnair food looks good - surprised to hear your negative comments though, as I have always had great experiences on AY J!

Also, let's be careful in calling Abkhazia an unrecognized country... It's more of an occupied territory (like Transdnistria) than an unrecognized country (like Somaliland). Great report so far!
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Old Apr 26, 17, 10:18 am   #14
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\Also, let's be careful in calling Abkhazia an unrecognized country... It's more of an occupied territory (like Transdnistria) than an unrecognized country (like Somaliland). Great report so far!
One man's occupied country is another man's unrecognized country...
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Old Apr 26, 17, 1:35 pm   #15
  
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Jason, have you ever given thought to visiting some of the really obscure British overseas territories (St. Helena, Ascesion, etc.)? My last visit to London found even the Falklands have a tourism office...

And if you go by the lists the ham radio operators use, a lot of these places are "countries"...just a thought.

Last edited by CHSDOC; Apr 26, 17 at 1:41 pm
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