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TPA to IST in F via MUC/NRT (US/LH/TK with many pictures)

TPA to IST in F via MUC/NRT (US/LH/TK with many pictures)

Old Nov 2, 10, 7:42 am
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TPA to IST in F via MUC/NRT (US/LH/TK with many pictures)

My previous trip reports:

My First Trip to Turkey - How It Came About - Where I'm Going June 2008
Going to California, and We're... July 2008
Istanbul and Amsterdam to End 2008 and Start 2009
Germany: Driving the Romantic Road and Rhine Valley May 2009
Flying to and from South America: Viña del Mar, Santiago, and Buenos Aires December 2009 - January 2010
Driving around NZ's South Island + QF A-380 in J and 12 hours in Sydney September 2010

Earlier this year, I decided to teach a two-week study abroad course in Turkey during May 2011. After getting approval from my university’s international programs and curriculum committees, I had an excuse to visit Istanbul during my sabbatical!

Because the trip would be on my own dime (or miles and points, in this case), and also because Mr. FB would not be able to accompany me, I needed to limit the length of my trip. Armed with 120K+ miles on US Airways and the ANA website’s Star Alliance award availability finder, I was able to book the following itinerary in First Class:

November 1
November 2
November 6
November 10

Why Tokyo? Because booking a round trip ticket to NRT with a stopover in IST on the return required fewer miles than a simple round trip ticket to IST. Also, I had never been to Tokyo, other than to transfer at NRT, so I thought it would be a good diversion.

With air transportation booked, I just had to make sure that I was able to get three nights in Tokyo and four nights in Istanbul at minimum or no expense. For Tokyo, I was able to get three nights at the Conrad—two from Hilton’s first quarter promo and the third from points. For Istanbul, I reserved four nights at the W—one from Starwood’s second quarter promo and the other three with points.

After months of waiting, I was amazed that there were no major changes in the itinerary. I monitored availability at the W Istanbul almost daily, hoping to find a cash and points deal on at least one of the nights, but I had no luck.

Finally, the date of departure arrived:

Monday, November 1, 2010

US Airways 1492
Scheduled Departure/Arrival: 1:35 p.m/3:12 p.m.
Actual Departure/Arrival: 1:35 p.m./3:03 p.m.
Seat 2A

Because Mr. FB had to be at work at 9:00 a.m., I decided to book my trip to the airport with SuperShuttle. We live close enough to the airport that a taxi fare is usually around $20. However, I would have to stand outside and wait for a taxi, at least I would be able to track the SuperShuttle from indoors (and save about $10 in the process).

I booked a SuperShuttle that was to arrive at 10:35 a.m. At 10:25 a.m., I received a call from the driver that he was waiting outside. I was ready to go, so I gathered my bags and headed outside. There was one other passenger, and I was the last pickup, so we were at the airport 15 minutes later.

I went to the US Airways ticketing area and stood in the first class line. Within a minute, an agent came over to help me. He asked me where I was going, and I handed him my passport and a copy of my itinerary. I got the idea that he rarely gets passengers flying to Tokyo via Charlotte and Munich, but he was fascinated by the fact that I was doing all of this just to get to Istanbul. He was very good-natured during the process, and wished me well.

Security at Airside F took awhile. There are no elite/first lines at any of Tampa International’s five airsides. To make things more frustrating, there rarely seems to be a single line to get to the security screening. Passengers have to choose a line, and I always seem to choose the one that stops moving. However, after clearing security a realized that it would not have mattered today. Both were moving pretty smoothly.

After clearing security, I went to the US Club to wait for the nearly two hours before my flight started boarding. I was able to take care of a few emails and bills while waiting, and 1:00 p.m. arrived quickly. When I arrived at the gate, Zone 2 was already boarding, so I spent a bit of time on the jetway. After I settled into 2A, one of the FAs repeatedly warned passengers that overhead bin space was filling quickly and that they were trying to avoid a delayed departure. By the time all was said and done, only 2 – 3 bags needed to be checked and we pushed back at the scheduled departure time. Taxi to the runway was quick, and we took off to the north 8 minutes after pushback. Off the left side of the plane, I had good views of the Gulf Coast, including Honeymoon Island.

After we reached our cruising altitude, a FA came through taking drink orders. A little later he returned with drinks and then with a snack basket. I took a bag of potato chips.

I guess at this point of the trip report, I should mention that I just recovered from a bout of food poisoning. On Thursday afternoon, I began to feel, well, those of you who have had food poisoning know the feeling. On the bright side, I began to feel the symptoms about an hour before a visit to my doctor’s office, so he told me to drink lots of fluids and let it run its course. After experiencing the worst of both worlds (trying to be delicate here) on Thursday night, I thought I was better on Friday. However, I awoke Saturday with a milder but still uncomfortable feeling. Therefore, an appetite is something that I have not really had since Wednesday evening.

Back to the flight. It was uneventful, and we landed in Charlotte at 2:58 p.m., reaching the gate 5 minutes later. I headed for the US Club between concourses C and D. The club was crowded and noisy, so I headed to the quiet room. The large room was practically empty, so it was the perfect spot to wait for nearly three hours before my flight started boarding.

Around 4:30 p.m., I heard an announcement for passengers to Munich to get their documents checked, so I went to the desk with my passport and the BP I had received in TPA. When I reached the front of the line, an agent took my info and gave my BPs for CLT-MUC and MUC-NRT along with a form (more like a photocopied piece of paper) to complete before boarding. The piece of paper said it was collecting information required by the United States to match the passengers on the flight to their names. Don’t tickets and passports do that? Anyway, I completed the form.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lufthansa 429
Scheduled Departure/Arrival: 6:25 p.m/8:10 a.m. (+1)
Actual Departure/Arrival: 6:30 p.m./8:08 a.m. (+1)
Seat 2A

I left the club at 5:30 p.m., and reached the gate about 10 minutes before boarding started. Passengers needing assistance and those with small children went first, then first and business classes boarded together. I made it down the jetway and turned left once on the plane. First Class looked bright and spacious.

I got to seat 2A and took a few things out of my backpack before putting it and my duffel in the overhead. As soon as I sat down, an FA approached and said something to me in German. I would be able to pass for German or Dutch, that is, if I could speak German or Dutch. When I did not respond immediately, he welcomed me on board in English and asked if I would like a pre-departure drink. I asked for a glass of champagne and he asked if I would like some macadamia nuts with it. Sure, why not!

Another FA came by with pajamas, amenity kit, and slippers. Then newspapers. After a few announcements, the door closed and the jetway pulled back from the plane. It was another 5 minutes or so before we pushed back, and nearly 20 minutes after before we finally took off.

Once we were in the air, I checked out the personal video screen. The screen was a bit smaller than I would have expected, and there was no AVOD. While in-flight entertainment is not high on my list of necessities, it is a nice thing to have. While I was fooling around with this, a FA came over and asked if I would like something to drink. I asked for another glass of champagne. After taking a sip, I figured this would be a good time to go to the lavatory.

When I returned to my seat, I barely touched the champagne glass and it topped over. Thank goodness it did not fall into my seat. Instead, it fell against the video screen and onto the floor, shattering into pieces. I knelt to pick up the pieces. The two FAs were taking dinner orders and did not notice what I was doing. I know it looked weird, and probably suspicious, for a passenger to be on his knees discreetly doing something against the wall of the plane. When the purser passed by, she asked if everything was OK. When she saw what had happened, she got a towel to put on the floor and told me not to worry about the glass. Then she brought a blanket to put on top of that. She brought me another glass of champagne, and all was good!

Because all the movies had started while I was spilling champagne, I decided to watch Dinner for Schmucks. I had already seen it and figured that it didn’t matter than I had missed the first 20 minutes. A FA came by with a piece of seared tuna garnished with tomato, cucumber, and avocado.

This was the type of thing that would have turned my stomach as recently as Saturday, but it looked appetizing and tasted even better.

As quickly as the first appetizer was history, another FA came by with a cart of appetizers. In addition to “Caviar with the traditional garnishes,” there were three choices:

Dungeness Crab and California Citrus Salad with Blood Orange Vanilla Vinaigrette

Seared Beef Carpaccio with Baby Arugula and Watercress, pickled Onions and Lemon Oil

Roasted Red Pepper stuffed with Goat Cheese, grilled Artichoke Hearts, roasted Fennel and Red Wine Vinaigrette

Normally, I would have gone for the lot, but playing it safe with my newly found appetite, I chose the red pepper stuffed with goat cheese. The FA offered the caviar again, so I had some of it as well.

I especially liked the roasted fennel with the vinaigrette.

The next course was a “Seasonal Salad with dried yellow tomatoes and green bell pepper presented with dressing.” For the main course, there was a choice of the following:

Pancetta wrapped Prawns on Butternut Squash Puree, Mushrooms and Sage Butter

Grilled Tenderloin of Beef with Porcini Butter, roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Broccolini, Cherry Tomato Confit and cracked Pepper Merlot Jus

Grilled Chicken Breast with Balsamico Grape Jus on Chive mashed Potatoes, Baby Carrots, Balsmic infused Pan Juice

Vegetable Tart with stuffed Portobello Mushroom and red Pepper Sauce

I was torn between the beef and chicken, but chose the beef:

All of the flavors mixed nicely, but the beef was on the well side of medium well, unfortunately.

The portions were nicely sized, so I had room for dessert. I chose the “Almond Apple Puff Pastry Tart and Sour Cream Sorbet.”

It was delicious, but I realized I was full after a few bites. After the FA collected my dish, another came by with a box of truffles. I had eaten enough, so I stashed it away for later. By now it was 9:00 p.m. EDT, so I put my seat into the bed position and relaxed. The seat was close to flat and horizontal. As far as flatbed seats go, it was good. At 6’5”, I never felt constricted. My only complaint is that when I was on my back, I felt like I had no place to put my arms. Anyway, it was early to try to get to sleep, but I think I first dozed off after about 90 minutes. I woke up a few times, and I have no idea how long I slept. All I know is that when I put the seat back in the upright position around 6:00 a.m. Munich time (1:00 a.m. EDT), I was ready to sit up.

Seeing that I was up, a FA came over and asked if I would like something to drink. He returned soon with a pot of Assam tea. While I was pouring my second cup, he came back to ask what I wanted for breakfast. I wasn’t really hungry, so I took the “Fitness Breakfast” with a croissant.

Before long, we were making our final descent into Munich. The service on this flight had been exemplary. Of course, when you have 2 FAs taking care of 7 passengers, that’s to be expected. In addition, the FAs and purser were very personable. One of the FAs had a conversation with me before landing, asking if Munich was my final destination. When I told him I was going to Tokyo, he was a little puzzled, but I explained it to him. The purser and I also had a nice talk after breakfast when I joked that I had not broken any more glasses!

We landed just after 8:00 a.m. and were at the gate a few minutes after that. With seven hours to kill, it would be nice to take the train into Munich. However, I had been there with Mr. FB last year, and it would not be the same without him. Instead, I looked forward to spending the time in the LH First Class Lounge!
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Old Nov 3, 10, 7:00 am
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Day 2: Munich to Narita

My first experience with Munich’s airport was in 2006 when I was transiting through it with 25 students on the way from Amsterdam to Krakow. I was impressed with the airport’s design and functionality then, and I still am.

The LH F Lounge was easy to find after I cleared the security screen. I gave the attendant my boarding pass and she directed me to passport control, where the officer held my passport until departure. I asked the attendant if I needed a code for wifi in the club, and she gave me a t-mobile card that was good for two hours.

I found a comfortable spot on one of the sofas in the lounge and placed my bags there. Someone came over and asked if I would like something to drink, so I ordered a pot of tea. I walked over to take a look at the food choices, and the variety was dizzying: some breakfast items, breads, soups, sushi, salads, etc.

I wasn’t hungry, and with nearly 7 hours in the lounge, there would be more than enough time to eat. As I walked back to my sofa, I passed trays of cookies, bowls of chips, and dishes of Mozartkugel. When I sat down, I realized that what I thought was a decoration on the end table was actually three carafes (yes, carafes) of nuts! The food was everywhere.

I spent some time on the internet, checking email, seeing that the Giants had won the World Series, and editing a flier that my travel vendor had prepared for the Turkey trip in May 2011. That took a bit of time, and while I worked on my next pot of tea, I took care of some advising duties that I had put off on my day of departure. The last time I was on sabbatical (Fall 2001), I returned to campus for a week to take care advising during pre-enrollment. With all of the information on the campus network (and no more computer-illiterate students), the process can be done from anywhere at any time.

Before I knew it, the two hours of wifi had come to an end. I went back to the food area and got some of the cream of mushroom soup and a pretzel with sweet mustard. The pretzel was almost as good as those I enjoyed in Munich last year and better than anything I could get in Tampa! The soup was excellent, worth a trip back for seconds. While I enjoyed those, I worked on the first installment of my trip report.

A little before noon, I explored the club a little more extensively and found the showers. I figured it was about time for that, so I grabbed my bags and returned to the shower area. The attendant was very cheerful and directed my toward one of the rooms. The room was fully outfitted—sink, toilet, shower, towels, and toiletries.

The room was clean and a wonderful place to wash a way a day’s worth of travels and prepare for another. A shower and a change of clothes later, I was back in my familiar spot on the sofa.

I considered sitting at one of the restaurant tables instead, but I was not ready to eat just yet. The lounge had been busy during the first hour after my arrival, but much less so since. I went back to the attendant at the door and got another 2 hours of wifi. I posted my trip report and did a little research on getting into Tokyo from Narita. I went back to the food area and decided that a plate of sushi and some chocolate mousse would tide me over until I had dinner on the flight. As I returned to my seat, I noticed someone walking around the lounge taking pictures. Perhaps he was a fellow FTer?

I spent the rest of my time in the lounge updating my vita so that I could escape the wrath of my dean’s administrative assistant. Even though I am on sabbatical, the day-to-day stuff is still taking place back on campus, and deadlines apply to me, too. While I took care of that, a gruff-looking man sat on the sofa perpendicular to mine and took off his shoes while he grunted. Beautiful! Then he put his socked-feet onto his sofa, no more than a meter from me. Really beautiful! Before long, he was cuddled up and asleep. Every time an attendant walked by, he/she would look at the man, then look at me, and we would share a smile.

Before I knew it, it was 2:30 p.m., and about time to head to my next flight.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lufthansa 714
Scheduled Departure/Arrival: 3:35 p.m/11:20 a.m. (+1)
Actual Departure/Arrival: 3:40 p.m./11::00 a.m. (+1)
Seat 2A

It’s amazing how quickly time can pass in an airport lounge when you are occupied. When I booked that 7-hour connection, I thought that I would get stir crazy in the lounge, but the opposite happened. I had so much to do while I was there that I was not really sure that my next flight was only an hour away. I collected my passport from the officer at control. The attendant at the front asked me where I was headed. She pointed me in the direction of gate H-38 and wished me a pleasant trip.

The gate was maybe a 10-minute walk from the lounge. Boarding was still about 10 minutes away, so I put my bags on a seat near the window and took pictures of the plane.

Once boarded started, I took the long walk down to the plane and saw an F cabin identical to one in the A-330 from CLT. I was welcomed aboard (in German) by a FA, and I found my seat. Once everything was put away, the FA came back and said something else and handed me the pajamas, amenity kit, and slippers, and I said “thank you” instead of “danke.” When she returned, she asked if I spoke English, and we had a normal conversation! She brought a glass of champagne and some macadamias, and I watched boarding continue from my window.

When boarding was complete, I realized that I was one of only 2 passengers in F on this flight. With the other one in 1K, I felt as though I had the entire left side of the cabin to myself. The jetway to the forward door had pulled away from the plane a bit earlier, and the other jetway retracted at scheduled departure time. About five minutes later, we began push back. The taxi to the runway was slow, perhaps because of the overcast weather. We took off about 20 minutes after we pushed back. Our initial course seemed to be to the ENE, and somewhere near the German-Czech border we banked to the left for a more northeasterly track toward Berlin, giving a beautiful glimpse of the clouds below and the sun.

Another FA came by with entry documents for Japan and asked if I would like to be awakened for breakfast about 90 minutes before arrival. I told her that I did. In the meantime, I read my Tokyo guidebooks and did a little more research about how I would spend my time there.

The dinner menu for this flight was separated into “Western” and “Japanese” sections. At first, nothing really appealed to me from either side, so I decided to wait until the FA came back to make my choices. Before the appetizers, I was offered a plate with smoked salmon, mustard sauce, and avocado sherbet.

The sherbet was interesting with a citrus flavor, and it contrasted well with the oily salmon. Next came the cart of appetizers. There were three Western choices:

Caviar with the traditional garnishes

Salad of Bacalao with Oranges, black Olives and Sherry Dressing

Cecina de Leon, grilled zucchini and shaved Manchego Cheese

I figured these might have been the three saltiest appetizers ever offered together on one menu, so I opted for two choices on the Japanese side: a sushi plate and “Boiled Tofu Balls with Crab Meat and green peas marinated in Gin sauce.”

The sushi was OK, but I guess it was very good considering that it was being served in the dry air of an airplane. The tofu ball was served cold, and it was not bad.

After the salad of “Frisee, Chicory, Romaine Lettuce and Radicchio with Cherry Tomatoes, Olives and Beetroot” with the Tomato and Tarragon Dressing, I was served my main course: “Saffron crusted Halibut with Sauce Bouillabaisse, Bell Pepper and black Venus Rice.”

The other choice from the Western menu was a Lufthansa Classic: “Roast Goose with Red Cabbage, Potato Dumplings and Herb Crumb Butter.” On the Japanese menu, the two choices were

Slices of Saddle of Wild Hog with Sweet Potato Noodles, black Salsify, Silk Tofu, Arugula, Chinese Cabbage and Spinach Roll, Carrots, Shiitake, served with Miso Sauce accompanied by Japanese Rice and Sesame

Boiled Japanese Cod, Radish, Carrot, Shiitake, Leaf Spinach, Tofu and Vegetable Roll in dark Fish sauce served with Japanese Rice and Sesame

I think I made the right choice. The black rice was nice and chewy, and the halibut was light, moist, and flaky. For dessert I chose the “Truffle Cream of Chocolate and Olive Oil with Flor de Sal, Raspberry and Bell Pepper Jelly.”

It was certainly one of the most unique desserts I had ever eaten, but as you can tell from the photo, I could not wait to dig into it. The chocolate and olive oil flavors were two I had never experienced together, but they created a curious (not in a bad way) combination that made me want to eat more of it!

After the last dishes were cleared, a FA came by with bottles of water. I put my seat into the bed position at around 2:30 a.m. Tokyo time (6:30 p.m. Munich time) and relaxed. Sleep came a little faster than it did the night before. I woke up a few times but went right back to sleep. Finally, around 6:30 a.m. Tokyo time, I decided to wake up. Maybe this will get me acclimated to Tokyo time for the three days I will be there?

Almost as soon as I returned from the lavatory, a flight attendant was at my seat offering snacks and asking if I would like anything to drink. I asked for a pot of Assam tea and took one of the pears she offered. I decided to use the time productively, so I worked some on a paper that a colleague and I hope to submit by the end of the week—universities expect productivity from faculty members on sabbatical—and I did a little bit of work on the second installment of my trip report.

After a couple of pots of tea, I raised my window shade and saw that it was light outside. The landscape below looked rugged and treeless.

A glance at the flight map suggested that we were somewhere near the border of Russia and China, maybe over part of Mongolia?

This is one of those times a larger video screen with higher definition would have come in handy. I returned to work, and before I knew it, it was time for breakfast. Again, there were Western and Japanese choices. I started with a croissant, glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, and another pot of tea. When the FA came by with the other choices, I ordered the scrambled eggs with bacon and chives. She said that the chef would prepare it and apologized that it would take a few minutes. As someone who has eaten more than his fair share of hours-old eggs on airplanes, I didn’t mind having to wait for some that were freshly prepared. A few minutes later, the other FA came back with the best breakfast I have ever eaten on a plane.

After breakfast, the FA with whom I had had the most contact cleared away the dishes. She asked if I wanted more tea. I think I was on my fourth pot, so I told her that I should probably stop. I added that I probably drink more tea than any passenger she has ever served. She laughed and asked if I was British, and I told her I was from the US. She was Japanese and said that she had been an exchange student in Maryland. She asked where I was from, and she said that she had visited Florida once when she was in the US. She said that the humidity reminded her of Japanese summers! I am sure that she experienced a bit of humidity in Maryland as well.

Once again, LH provided an outstanding experience.

As we began our descent into Narita, I put away the bag I had taken down and admired the view outside. We had crossed Honshu and were heading back over water just south of Iwaki. I was about to take a picture of the city below, but the plane banked to the right before I could. We landed at 10:45 a.m., and even with a long taxi, we still reached the gate about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I was first off the plane, and after a long walk through the deserted concourse, I reached immigration. There were no lines; this must have been a good time to arrive at Narita!

Next came the long wait for bags. After that, customs was a breeze, so I exited into the arrivals lobby. I found an ATM and got some cash, then went downstairs to get my Narita Express ticket for the 12:16 p.m. to Tokyo Station. The train arrived on platform 1 at noon, but workers cleaned the inside of each car meticulously. It was fascinating to watch. Boarding started a little before 12:10 p.m., and the train started moving at 12:16 p.m. sharp. After a brief stop at Terminal 2, we were on our way.

Tokyo Station was wild. People were everywhere, and trying to find my way to the exit was an adventure. I kept seeing signs for the exit, but I began to wonder if there really was a way out. Finally, I escaped and found a taxi line. I hopped into the first one, and the driver seemed puzzled when I said “Conrad Hotel.” I gave him a hotel map, and he studied it for awhile. Finally, I found the hotel’s name written in Japanese in my Lonely Planet guide to Tokyo, and that cleared everything up.

We pulled into the hotel, and someone greeted me, took my bags, and escorted me up to check-in on the 28th floor. The gentleman welcomed me, and told me there was an upgrade to the executive (37th) floor for me. However, it was for a smoking room, so I settled for a standard room on the 34th floor with access to the lounge.

At this point, I was happy just to have a place with a real bed that was not going at 600 mph. For a standard room, it was really nice.

With a day and a half of flying and the trip into the city behind me, I decided to take a walk to get familiar with the area. The real exploration begins tomorrow.
Flying Buccaneer is offline  
Old Nov 3, 10, 12:45 pm
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Great TR so far! Love the contrast between the German and Japanese menu choices...
shaggy_mutt is offline  
Old Nov 3, 10, 1:21 pm
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Great TR so far. Can't wait for the rest^
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Old Nov 3, 10, 9:40 pm
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Great TR, thanks for taking the time to do this! Can't wait for the rest.
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Old Nov 3, 10, 9:47 pm
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Great writing and photos, thanks for sharing ^
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Old Nov 3, 10, 10:00 pm
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Great report. Can't wait to read the rest.
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Old Nov 4, 10, 6:27 am
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The Buccaneer is hitting a home run with this report! ^
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Old Nov 4, 10, 7:37 am
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Originally Posted by sobore View Post
The Buccaneer is hitting a home run with this report! ^
Thanks sobore, and everyone else. I'll try not to disappoint!
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Old Nov 4, 10, 7:47 am
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Thursday, November 4: A full day of exploration

Wednesday’s exploration of Tokyo was a very short one. If your first experience walking around Tokyo is in a jet-lagged haze, chances are you’re going to get confused. That was me. I was able to find Hamarikyu Gardens and the general area of Tsujiki Fish Market. That was about it before I decided that I wanted to go back to the hotel. After a brief detour to explore the restaurants in the Caretta Building, I went back to my room. Then I realized that the evening service was taking place in the hotel’s executive lounge.

As soon as I entered the lounge, an attendant showed me to a table. There were no seats by the window, so I took another seat. Someone else came to take my order for an Asahi, and then someone else brought a plate of samples from the restaurant downstairs. In addition, there were finger foods like crackers with Boursin cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. There was enough food to make going out to dinner or ordering room service unnecessary.

I’d like to make everyone think that I sampled Tokyo after dark, but I was just too tired. I was asleep by 8:30 p.m. The bed in my room was very inviting, and the fluffy pillows gave me the perfect setting for a good night’s sleep.

Then jet-lag reminded me that I was still in its grips. I woke up. I think the watch said 2:00. I went back to sleep. Awake again at 3:00. I finally gave up at 3:30 a.m. and got out of bed. I had planned to visit Tsujiki, and I was certainly up early enough for it. However, I didn’t leave the hotel until 5:00 a.m. That was a little too late to see the tuna auction. Lesson learned. Friday will bring another chance to do that.

I returned to the hotel around the time the lounge opened and enjoyed a couple of cups of tea before breakfast started. I had an omelet and a lot of other tasty breakfast items. The lounge is certainly making my food budget go a lot farther.

But this report is not just about the lounge. After a shower, I was off to explore Hamarikyu Gardens. I set out for the gardens a little before 9:00 a.m., and it only took a few minutes for me to get there. I paid my entrance fee with my Suica Card, something I got with my Narita Express ticket on Wednesday. A regular ticket on the Express is 2940Yen. I was able to get the ticket with a Suica card loaded with 1500Yen credit (and the 500Yen deposit) for 3500Yen. That’s a no brainer. The Suica card is good for transport on subways, rail, and buses, plus a few other things like entry to Hamarikyu. So I used 300Yen of the credit, and then I was walking through the gardens.

The first thing that caught my eye was the 300-Year Old Pine.

In case you can’t see it, the trunk of the tree is on the right side of the picture, and the tree itself is sprawling away from it. I spent the next hour strolling through the Gardens, which is an urban oasis between the clamor of Tokyo and the Sumida River. Perhaps the most interesting feature is Shioire-no-ike, a lake with salt water that is taken in from the bay during high tide. The lake has a few islands, one of which has a tea house.

After about an hour of exploring the gardens, I made my way to the pier where I would be able to take a boat up the Sumida River. I bought my ticket and waited 20 minutes for the boat. About 5 minutes before the scheduled departure time, the young lady from the ticket office made an announcement. I thought she said that the next boat was going to Asakusa, my desired destination. However, I think she meant the next boat after this next boat. I was not the only one confused. Our boat pulled up a few minutes later, and then nine of us boarding joined what appeared to be a large group. Thankfully, the group disembarked at Takeshiba, leaving the nine of us to choose the prime seats. The boat took on a few more passengers, but not nearly as many as it lost!

The cruise up the Sumida to Asakusa was pleasant. Recorded commentary pointed out the major sights, including all of the bridges en route. However, I was unable to understand what the recording was saying. No matter, because it was a fascinating cruise. It took about 30 minutes to get to Asakusa, and we were able to see the gold-clad Asahi Beer Tower from across the river.

My first stop in Asakusa was at the visitor’s center. It’s pretty awkward to use a map from a guidebook when a piece of paper is much easier to shove into your pocket and read when you’re looking for something. Speaking of guidebooks, my itinerary for the day closely matched the “Tokyo in 1 Day” entry in Frommer’s Tokyo. No apologies for that!

I had lunch on the run (some tempura), and I headed through Kaminarimon Gate onto busy Nakamise Dori. There were people everywhere, some looking, some just standing, and others in a hurry to get somewhere. That’s a pretty unsettling combination. I didn’t take a picture until I got closer to the gate at the other end.

Nakamise Dori has all sorts of souvenir and food shops, but I came to this area to see Sensoji Temple. One of the first things that struck me was the smoke. Moving closer, I smelled incense and realized that people were “bathing” in its smoke.

I walked upstairs to the temple. Some were worshiping, and others (like me) were looking at the throng of people and the beautiful building. I noticed a monk behind the screen and was amazed that the noise did not appear to distract him.

I spent a bit more time in the area, taking pictures of the temple from its less busy side:

as well as the nearby Five-storied Pagoda:

before heading to Asakusa Station to catch the Ginza Line to Ueno Station. Not only was this another excuse to use my Suica Card, it was my first experience with public transport in Tokyo. It went very smoothly. When I was ready to leave the station at Ueno, I did hesitate before trying an exit. Luckily, I chose one that took my to Ueno Park. Maybe I could have chosen a better one, because I had to climb two sets of stairs to get to the park.

The park has lots of attractions, and one of the first visitors see is the statue of Takamori Saigo.

There’s also a zoo, but probably the best reason to take a stroll through this park is to get to the Tokyo National Museum. The museum is actually a collection of buildings. When I reached the museum grounds, I purchased the 1500Yen ticket from a vending machine. (Nope, no Suica here!). I walked through the gate and headed for Honokan, which houses the Japanese Gallery.

I spent nearly an hour at this gallery, and I was fascinated by a lot of the earlier items on display, some going back as far as the 3rd and 4th century. If there’s anything you could identify with life in Japan before 1900, you’d probably find it on display here.

A meandering breezeway took me from Honkan to Heisekan, which houses Japanese Archaeology as well as well as the current exhibition on the Todaiji Temple. All of the videos were in Japanese only, and I think this temple and its Great Buddha hold special significance among the Japanese people. I am ashamed of my ignorance on the topic, but there were many old and beautiful pieces and remnants of the temple.

The next gallery was in the Hyokeikan Building. This had displays from all over Asia, including Egypt, which isn’t really part of Asia at all. Whatever, seeing items as old as 4000 BC more than made up for any geographical confusion.

My last stop was the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures. The displays here were very similar, at least to my untrained eye, to those in Honkan, so I picked up the pace as I walked through.

Having satisfied my cultural obligations for the day (perhaps the year?), I headed back to Ueno Station to catch a ride home. I had planned to take the Ginza Subway Line to Shimbashi Station, but I realized that taking the Yamanote Rail Line would be a lot more direct. The ride took a little over 10 minutes, and I left the train looking for the Shiodome exit. I never found it. Well, actually, I did. I found an exit that led to Shiodome, but no matter. I made it back to the hotel, but having a basic understanding of what buildings were close by made that possible!

My legs were ordering me to take it easy, after over 7 hours of sightseeing with few stops to sit. Friday will bring another opportunity to tire them out!
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Old Nov 5, 10, 5:42 am
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Friday, November 5: More Tokyo

After Thursday’s marathon exploration of Tokyo, I did not feel like leaving the hotel for dinner. I decided to take advantage of the spread in the Executive Lounge instead. The offerings were not identical to what was there Wednesday night, and the small plates were satisfying to me because I was not that hungry. Even more satisfying were the two Asahis!

Back in the room, I posted my trip report and slipped into a deep sleep. Like the night before, jet-lag prevented my from sleeping past 3:30 a.m. No problem though, because I needed to get up early to visit Tsujiki. I left the hotel around 4:10 a.m., hoping to see the tuna auction. As I passed the main entrance to the markets, I saw four people headed in the opposite direction. One of them asked if I was going to the market. I told him that I was, but that you had to go to the Fish Information Center to go to the auction. He showed me directions he had printed that said something to the contrary. I told him I was right because I had missed out the morning before. I guess he didn’t believe me because he kept walking toward the main entrance.

As I approached the Fish Information Center, I saw a line similar to the one the morning before. Are you serious? I got there a minute after 4:30 a.m., when they start accepting reservations, and they were already full. C’est la vie! There’s always Saturday morning, but is a tuna auction worth going out of the way to see?

This morning, I decided to go ahead and walk through the markets anyway. Even though parts of the market are off-limits to visitors, those areas are clearly marked. You just have to make sure you stay vigilant with all of the forklifts, hand carts, trucks, and other things whizzing around. My head was on a swivel the whole time. Even though it was not 5:00 a.m. yet, the place was abuzz with activity. The side passageways were just as busy as the parts of the market where vehicle access was possible.

The sushi restaurants were also busy, including one with a line.

I continued my walk through the market, paranoid that maybe I had ventured into someplace I should not be. I felt like a spy, dodging vehicles and slipping into any safe nook I could find so that I could snap a quick photograph. My paranoia was possibly warranted, because as I exited the market to the street, I saw a sign that said “Do Not Enter.” Oops!

I walked back to the hotel. Even though it was still before 6:00 a.m., there was quite a bit of traffic, and I passed other pedestrians. I walked around the building to the entry to the hotel. When I got up to the 28th Floor Lobby, I saw the darkness beginning to give way to light over Tokyo Bay.

It was still an hour before breakfast started in the Executive Lounge, so I went back to the room for awhile. Mr. FB and I chatted before he left work, and I responded to a few emails that had arrived. At 7:00 a.m., I went upstairs to breakfast, and I was able to get a seat by the window. I was fascinated by the reflection of the Tokyo Shiodome Building (which houses the Conrad Hotel) in the Caretta Building.

It was nice to have such a view with breakfast. Oh, and here are the obligatory pictures of the Executive Lounge:

and my breakfast:

After such a hearty breakfast, I had to get out and burn some of the calories. My first stop was the Tokyo Edo Museum. The museum had some interesting artifacts from the Edo Period, but so did the Tokyo National Museum when I visited it the day before. I guess the main reason to visit this museum is for the more in-depth exhibits of what life was like during the Edo Period and reconstructions, like the one of the Kabuki Theatre.

Guided tours in English are available, but I didn’t want to wait 20 minutes for one to start. If you are interested in this period of Japanese period, it would be worthwhile to tag along on one of these tours. As for me, 45 minutes was more than enough time to explore the museum.

My next stop was Akahabra’s Electric Town. As soon as you exit the train station at Akahabra, you are overwhelmed by a dizzying collection of colorful buildings housing electronics showrooms, anime and comic shops, and other types of establishments.

I even saw a place that billed itself as an “Adult Amusement Park.” I didn’t cross the street to see what that was all about. I was more interested in lunch. I had read about restaurants where a customer placed and order and paid for it at a machine, and then presented a ticket to someone inside. When I saw one of these places, I thought I should give it a try.

No, neither one of those fellows is me. One of them is looking at the case with models of food available, while the other is deciding what he wants from the machine. It’s a very efficient system. Customers were in and out of the place very quickly. I had the soba noodles with shrimp tempura.

No one will ever confuse this with gourmet food, but it was quick, filling, and at 400Yen (about US$5), a good value.

My next stop was the Meiji Shrine. There was probably a more direct way to get there, but I took the Yamanote Line to Harajuku, which was easy but time consuming. Compared to the Sensoji Temple from the day before, it was not quite as impressive to a tourist. However, it was much more serene. A 15-minute walk through a park vs. the hectic Nakamise-dori helped make this a more relaxing experience. There were some curious sites along the way, including what appeared to be the world’s largest mah jong game.

This shrine is a relatively recent reconstruction of the original, but it is apparently true to the original’s design and content.

After the visit to the shrine, I walked back through the park and found Takeshita-dori, the center of activity in Harajuku.

The street was bustling with activity, wall-to-wall people for its entire length. In addition, it probably has more crepe shops per block than any other street in the world outside of Paris.

After a brief stop at the Oriental Bazaar on Omote-Sando to buy a couple of gifts, I walked to the subway to get to Roppongi before heading back to the hotel. Once again, my day of exploring Tokyo (along with the very early start to the day) left me with barely enough energy to get to the Executive Lounge to enjoy a snack and Asahi before bed. This evening, there was the added bonus of a slight tremor that lasted maybe 10 seconds.

It seems a shame to spend my last night in Tokyo in the hotel, but I think I have packed as much into my short time in Tokyo as I possibly could. Next stop, Istanbul, and (hopefully) a First Class Suite on Turkish Airlines to take me there.
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Old Nov 5, 10, 2:10 pm
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Really enjoying your report! The pictures are fantastic.
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Old Nov 5, 10, 5:30 pm
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Thanks for the great trip report! I am looking into visiting Tokyo next year, and this gives me some very good ideas! Excited to see the next parts!
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Old Nov 6, 10, 5:41 pm
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Saturday, November 6: Tokyo to Istanbul

The long walks around Tokyo and the early mornings due to jet-lag were catching up with me. After Friday night’s visit to the Executive Lounge, all I wanted to do was sleep. I had planned to do some packing once I got back to the room, but I decided that could wait until the morning. I was asleep before 9:00 p.m.

Sleeping after 5:00 a.m. meant there would be no opportunity for seeing the tuna auction at Tsujiki. No biggie, I’ll do it next time I am in Tokyo. I got up and did some packing. I didn’t buy much during my stay, so it was just a matter of separating the clean clothes from the worn but will wear again and the worn and won’t wear again.

At 7:00 a.m., I headed upstairs for my last breakfast in the Executive Lounge. As usual, the staff in the lounge was extremely accommodating. The lounge is one of the many reasons I would stay at the Conrad Tokyo again without hesitation. However, the people are what really make this hotel what it is. They are polite, attentive, and they go out of their way to make the guests feel welcome.

After breakfast, I finished packing and got ready. I left the room a little before 9:00 a.m., and there was no line for check out. I had reserved the 9:15 a.m. departure on the Friendly Limousine Bus to Narita and billed it to my room. The reason I reserved such an early bus was because the next one departed two hours later. I thought getting to the airport about 90 minutes before flight time was cutting it close, and I preferred not to be in a rush, even if it meant I might have to wait about 30 minutes before Turkish Airlines check-in opened.

Even though we hit a few traffic snarls, the bus arrived at the South Wing of Terminal 1 at 10:45, about 5 minutes early. I got a baggage cart, located where the Turkish check-in desks would be, and headed for the Japan Railroad office in the basement to turn in my Suica card and get the 500Yen deposit refunded. After that was done, I still had about 10 minutes to wait before check-in opened.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Turkish Airlines 51
Scheduled Departure/Arrival: 2:25 p.m/8:05 p.m.
Actual Departure/Arrival: 2:35 p.m./7:55 p.m.
Seat 1A

I positioned myself near what I thought might be the First Class check-in counter. I observed about 8 agents in a circle around another agent, each taking notes and listening intently to what the agent in the center was saying. They scattered, and check-in opened. An agent came up to me and asked if I was flying business class. When I told her I was flying first class, she ushered me to check-in. Another agent came along with a piece of paper bearing my name. She expedited the check-in, gave me a card for priority customs clearance in Istanbul, then took me through security. She walked through immigration and waited for me to get through. She met me on the other side and escorted me to the ANA Suite Lounge. On the way, we passed the United International First Lounge. She told me that I could go there, but that the ANA Lounge was better. It was also farther away, but I didn’t mind. I had lots of time. It took less than 25 minutes from the time check-in started until I was seated in the ANA Lounge. Impressive.

On the way to the lounge, I noticed that my boarding pass had me in seat 2D. However, I had requested and obtained 2A when I called Turkish Airlines in September. My reservation at usairways.com still showed me in 2A. The agent who was ushering me along said that first class was rarely full, so I could probably switch.

The lounge had a few snacks on offer: four different types of finger sandwiches, rice balls, two soups, etc. A little later, a couple of cooked entrees came out, as did sushi. The lounge had a nice open feel to it:

and it provided an opportunity to observe the comings and goings at NRT.

At 1:30 p.m., one of the ANA agents came over to tell me that my flight was scheduled to start boarding in 10 minutes. I decided to head to the gate and spend my remaining 760Yen on the way. When I got to the gate, I asked an agent about the seat assignment. She said that she had no idea why I was not given 2A, but first class was completely full. Hey, at least the plane had an F cabin! Then she said that I should go to the lounge. I told her that I just came from the lounge. She summoned an agent who took me to the United International First Lounge, where I was able to spend a grand total of 10 minutes. While I was there, I did get to see the infamous beer machine!

After a few sips of beer, I headed back to gate 34. On the way, I stopped briefly to take a picture of our plane.

When I arrived at the gate, the agent who had escorted me through check-in was there waiting. She took my backpack and led me onto the plane and to my seat. I got seated and took a look to the right at seats 2G and 2K.

I am scheduled to have 2K on the IST-JFK on Wednesday, but I guess that’s never a certainty.

What happened in the next 20 minutes or so was comical. There were 4 Japanese passengers traveling together in F, and 3 Turkish passengers. To make a long story short, we played musical seats so that the 3 Turkish passengers were in Row 1, 4 Japanese passengers were in Row 2, and I got seat 1A. Everyone, including me, was happy.

I settled into seat 1A with my champagne and nuts, ready for the long flight to Istanbul.

FAs came by with amenity kits and newspapers. The flight pushed back about 10 minutes late, and we took off about 20 minutes after that.

About 30 minutes after takeoff, one of the FAs took my drink order. While this was taking place, three or four passengers from business class kept coming up to visit with the gentleman in 1D. The FAs were very attentive to him as well. One of the visitors kept backing into my suite. I didn’t say anything to him, but it could have been uncomfortable for someone with space issues.

The meal service was uneven. The food was well-prepared and satisfying. The way it was served left something to be desired. With the beverages came canapés. So far, so good. Next, a FA came by to set my table, leaving a rose and a basket of bread. I asked for another glass of cherry juice, but it never came.

A good 20 minutes or so passed before the trolley with hors d’oeuvres came out. The caviar was placed on the table, and then I was offered a choice of seven dishes. I took the sushi, stuffed eggplant marinated in olive oil, humus, and spicy lentil salad and goat cheese, bypassing the smoked swordfish and “gardenfresh salad,” chicken Caesar salad, and home made cheese & spinach puff pastries.

About halfway through my plate of appetizers, a FA asked if I would like the creamy zucchini soup. I said I would. He came back and asked if I was through with my appetizer plate. He didn’t wait for the response. He took it away and served the soup. Why the sudden hurry?

The soup was delicious, but I was afraid that if I savored it, I might have it taken away! Next came the main course. I chose the Catch of the Day, which was grilled sea bass in a creamy mustard sauce, served with sautéed leaf spinach and leak, cherry tomato, and roasted potatoes.

This is the second time I have had a fish dish on Turkish Airlines, and both times the fish has been cooked just right. That’s quite a feat for a flying kitchen. The other choices were

Fillet of Beef: Rosemary sauce, grilled vegetables, parsley potatoes

Chicken Brochette Yakitori: Sauteed vegetables, rice

Asian Style—Fried Tofu: Soy sauce, fresh vegetables, steamed rice timbale.

Before the main course was served, I asked for another glass of water. As you can see, the glass was still empty. I had to summon another FA to get some water for me. This became a recurring theme during dinner and much of the rest of the flight. Requests were acknowledged but frequently forgotten. After I finished dinner, the FA who took my plates asked if I would like some coffee. I asked for tea. It never came. Another FA came by and asked if I would like some coffee or tea. She actually served the tea.

Another 30 minutes passed before the dessert trolley came by. I had the Tuskish pastries and chocolate soufflé with chocolate sauce.

The pastries were moist and flaky and tasted like they actually came from a bakery, not a box. The soufflé was a bit hard and the sauce was lumpy.

As a FA came by to take my dishes, she asked if I wanted her to make my bed for me. I told her that I did not just yet, and she said to tell the male FA when I was ready. She also asked if I needed anything else. I asked for water. I never got it.

While I was watching a movie, it cut off and the system rebooted. I started watching it again, and it rebooted again. This time, it froze. I was working on something else, and after about 30 minutes, I got up to tell a FA. He said he would check. About 15 minutes later, I went to the area where the FAs were and no one was there. I saw a bottle of water and grabbed it. One problem solved.

A little later, I got up again and found the FA who was going to check on the IFE. He said that they tried to restart it but it didn’t work. I asked if it could be fixed. He said he did not think so. OK. Then I asked if he could make my bed. About 10 minutes later, he prepared my bed for me.

It looked comfortable, and it was. I crawled into bed and took one last look at my dead IFE.

About four hours later, I was awakened by talking in the aisle. The visitors were back. I decided to get out of bed and hit the lavatory. When I got back to my seat, a FA came along with orange, tomato, and pineapple juice. A bit later, another FA came by to set the table. It was basically a repeat of the ritual before the first meal. Then came the first course. The two hors d’oeuvres were salmon tartar and “gardenfresh salad and tomato.”

There was a package of olive oil and lemon juice, but a FA came by with a bottle of Turkish olive oil and poured some on my salad. Even though she spilled some, I thought it was a nice touch. The tuna tartar was light and tasted fresh, almost making me forget that it had to have been prepared at least half a day earlier.

For the main course, I chose the grilled beef fillet, served with sautéed leaf spinach and leek and gnocchi with cream sauce.

The beef was cooked a little more than I would have liked it, but it was still a nice piece of beef—lean, tender, and seasoned just right. You’d think the gnocchi and beef would be very heavy, but the portion sizes made it a good combo. However, I wonder if Turkish Airlines got a deal on the spinach/leek side?

The other choice was “Porcini Panzerotti with cream sauce, sautéed mushrooms and leeks, and cherry tomatoes.”

For dessert there was a choice of chocolate cake and fruit salad. I took the cake, and the FA served a glass of Turkish tea with it. While I was finishing my dessert, the FA told me that the gentleman in seat 1D was the Turkish Sport Minister. A few minutes after that, she told me that he wanted to speak to me. We discussed my previous trips to Turkey and my plans to bring students to Turkey in May. I also told him that I had had quite a few Turkish students in my graduate students. He was proud of Turkey’s track record of graduating students in math, science, and engineering. It was a nice way to bring the flight to a close.

We landed in foggy Istanbul around 7:45 p.m. and taxied for about 10 minutes. When I deplaned, I saw someone holding a piece of paper with my name on it. He took me to a cart, where he was joined by a colleague, and they sped me through the concourse to get a visa. I gave his colleague my passport and US$20, and a couple of minutes later, I had my visa. Then they sped me over to immigration, and then I was in baggage claim. While we waited for my bag, he asked me what I was doing in Istanbul, and I told him that I was meeting with a professor to set up lectures for students in May. He asked what I taught, and it turned out that he was a graduate student. Before I knew it, my bag was there, hand delivered. We went through customs and then to the parking deck. My usher put me into the back seat of a Mercedes mini-van and said goodbye. All this took place in about 20 minutes after I deplaned.

Getting through Istanbul was another matter completely. Traffic was not that bad until we got within sight of the Galata Bridge. It’s always nice to see all the fishing poles hanging off the side of the bridge, but I wanted to get to the hotel. Traffic didn’t get any better after we crossed the bridge. In fact, it got worse. The 6 km. ride up Meclis-i Mebusan caddesi took about 45 minutes, but we eventually reached the W.

Mr. FB and I had stayed at the W in late 2008, and we fell in love with it. While it’s not in the center of Istanbul’s activity, I think it is in a good location. Three men greeted me as I got out of the van, and one of them helped me with my bags. As I checked in, Efe explained that no suites were available, but that I had been upgraded to a “Fabulous Room” with a balcony on the fourth floor. With check-in complete, the fellow who had helped me with my bags from the van showed me to my room. It is a bit smaller than the junior suite we had in 2008, but it has the same décor:

and the awesome shower:

Getting to sleep will be a chore, considering that this is about the time I was waking up every morning in Tokyo. For the first time on this trip, I might need to set my alarm for the morning.
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Old Nov 6, 10, 5:52 pm
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Have a great time in Istanbul, which is a wonderful city. Thank you for sharing your trip with us.
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