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Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin: Turkish Airlines, Thalys, and KLM

Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin: Turkish Airlines, Thalys, and KLM

Old Apr 7, 2015, 10:34 am
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Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin: Turkish Airlines, Thalys, and KLM

Spring Break. Holy Week. Pesach. Whatever the occasion. Many people were headed out of town, offices would be closed, so I decided to pay a long-overdue visit to my family and friends. My sister and her family live in Paris and a close friend and his family live in Berlin, so I decided on a little European adventure. I needed a place to go during the workweek, and Id never been to the Netherlands, so that was an easy choice.

Devaluations aside, MileagePlus was my friend. It was absurdly easy to book business class tickets as well as a hotel in Paris. One could go on for days about the value of miles versus paying out of pocket, but I really like something for nothing, or at least the illusion thereof.


Ben Gurion Airport
Although I departed at the height of holiday travel season, there was little traffic on the highway, and the check-in lobby was busy but Ive seen far worse.

The security woman looked about 17-years-old, and she was wearing a massive trainee nametag. She seemed completely baffled as to what questions she was supposed to ask me, and I was tempted to prompt her. She gave up after about three questions, and her supervisor slapped a number 1 sticker on my passport. Not exactly the pinnacle of cautious security, but it didnt take long.

An Arkia Airlines agent checked me in. He seemed rather bored, but it wasnt a problem.

The security checkpoint was as fast as always. I think there was perhaps one person in front of me, and it was less than three minutes. All smiles all the time.

The immigration woman asked where I was going, and she sighed, smiled, and said Ahhh, PARIS! Enjoy! I felt kind of guilty. Was I supposed to have invited her?

I really wanted coffee and I didnt feel like buying $10 coffee, so I went to the Dan Lounge. It was a mess. The place was overflowing, and most of the food had been removed in preparation for Passover. I dont know why they had to remove juice and coffee. I eventually scored some lousy espresso. Then I escaped the lounge, and took a little walk around the Rotunda.

Although a delay was announced, this was overturned, and I got to the gate just as boarding began.

Turkish Airlines
TK785
Tel Aviv-Istanbul/Ataturk
B777-300
Seat 1B

Boarding was not divided into any zones or classes, but I often feel that this is just as speedy as any other process. This flight was originally an A321, but had been upgraded. There was plenty of room, and boarding was fast.

I have read complaints about Turkish Airlines business class seats. I cannot fathom any reason to complain. The seat was massive, with an enormous amount of legroom.

I had also seen reviews of rude or indifferent crews. This was not my experience. They were all warm, smiling, immaculately dressed, and calm (more about that later.)

Turkish Airlines does not allow gate-to-gate electronics, but their Planet entertainment system is offered at all times, including a variety of cameras.

As expected, the crew offered juices on the ground, and the purser introduced himself. The orange juice is marked as fresh, (it isnt.) Go for the raspberry; its awesome.

Heres the specific joy: they shut up. Announcements were at the bare minimum, amusingly addressed to Ladies, Gentlemen, Dear Children. They did not reiterate items already in the the safety video (smoking, seatbelts.) There was no need to explain the security policy, no discussion of the glories of the Star Alliance, no special welcome extended to Miles and Smiles members, no duty free hawking, no special credit card offers just beautiful silence.

Incidentally, the safety video advises you to loosen one's necktie in the event of an emergency. Was that a hint that I should be dressing a bit better?

Something else was silent too. There was no ding dong ding dong ding dong throughout boarding or the flight itself. The crew kept were calm, quiet, and worked together.

I have flown too much in the US, where the phone rings about 25 times during boarding, and the stress level is often extraordinary. Norleen back at L3 is out of creamers, and Im filing another grievance because catering and they knew we were rerouted off of 2129, and thats a vacation reserve line, and my cat is lonely, and I dont like Jeanines attitude. Do you Jeanine? Well I dont like her. I think she has my copy of Real Simple magazine, the one with the cheesecake recipe. Now 31C is asking for water... ding dong ding dong ding dong. Im not saying that these are bad crews, just that they have a tendency to talk and whine a lot.

The aircraft next to me caught my amusement. It was an A330 in Star Alliance colours, an Egyptian flag, and Egyption registry. Hmmm. I cant imagine WHAT airline that could have been. Its such a silly political game; theyre not allowed to mention that EgyptAir flies to Tel Aviv, so they just hide the title on the plane.

After a quick departure, we were over the Mediterranean for the 1h40 flight.

The Menu, for those interested
Fresh Fruits
Yoghurt with Honey
Chicken and Turkey Breasts
Assorted Cheese

Scrambled Eggs
Turkey and Kasar Cheese Toast
Grilled Tomato and Green Pepper

or

Gratineed Crepe with Scrambled Eggs,
Tomatoes , and Peppers
Herbed sauted mushrooms, grilled green pepper, cherry tomato
The meat looked a little sad, but everything else was quite good.
We were flying over Turkey in no time at all.


Istanbul Ataturk Airport
We had a seemingly endless taxi to a bus gate. And there was perhaps a 15-minute wait for stairs. The purser grumbled about his companys claims of efficient ground services. I should say that he wasnt whining, just honest.

The bus gate wasnt all that bad: it provided the amazing experience of standing beside a 777-300. Its still cool after all these years.

There was an unmanned entrance to a Business Class line for transit security. This was less than five minutes; shoes on, no liquid rules totally painless.

The concourse was crowded but not painful, and it was easy to navigate.


The CIP Lounge
I had heard many extol the virtues of the CIP Lounge. I didnt have much time to spend there, but it is beautiful. Its spotless, friendly, calm, and you can even play golf. Id also heard stories of the lounge being too crowded, but there was plenty of room on either floor.

I tried one of the famous cakes, but it was kind of tasteless. I didnt feel hungry enough to have pasta, pides, or the other food stations. The coffee, however, was excellent.

I might explore more on the return trip.

Turkish Airlines 1827
Istanbul-Paris/Roissy-Charles de Gaulle
Seat 1K
A330


This was also a bus gate, and boarding was not divided into any special groups. Again, it really didnt seem to matter.

Once on board, the A330 was what the? It arguably the best seat I have ever experienced. It was roughly the same as a Lufthansa First Class or United Global First seat in terms of legroom and seclusion, but with an absurdly large television. There was a single row in the cabin, and there was only one other passenger.

The crew were similar to the first segment: calm, polite, smiling, and attentive. They did have chefs, which seemed rather like a gimmick. But the chef was very friendly.

The food was good; not necessarily life-changing. But its good. The dessert was very pretty but it tasted just like jam. Not that jam is a bad thing, but it somehow didnt turn out quite right.
Assorted Turkish Appetizers
Stuffed Eggplant Marinated in Olive Oil

Sauted Prawns
Ratatouille, Rice

or

Chicken Brochette
Marinated Red Peppers, Grilled Zucchini, and Pan-Fried Potatoes

or

Rigatoni
Tomato Parmesan sauce, sauted vegetable (sic), cherry tomatoes, olives

Assorted cheese

Mango and Strawberry Macchiato, Light Vanilla Cream

I watched Ivory Tower on the huge TV. Id wanted to see that for ages, so time flew by.


Paris Roissy/Charles de Gaulle
Terminal 1 is never much of a treat, but I know the routine. It is quiet at that time of the late afternoon, so there was no wait. As usual, there was the passport check inside the satellite and once again at passport control. But both were quick and courteous. The circuitous route to baggage meant that my bags were just arriving as I got to the belt mine were the second bags to be offloaded.

I went to go get some euros, but I forgot that Im a moron.I had left my ATM card at home. I make lists of what to bring with me, I keep travel items packed and ready. But I still manage to screw it up. I usually forget my toiletry bag. Nope. This time it was my bankcard. Thats a first.

At least I had a fair bit of cash in Israeli currency, so I exchanged that. Then I banged my head into the wall.

LeCab
I did not feel like making the long trip from Roissy to my sisters place near the Bastille. There is no good way to make that trip. I usually take the RER, but it is kind of a pain. After investigating some options, I decided on LeCab.

The driver was about 10 minutes late and profoundly apologetic. There were multiple traffic jams, and I witnessed them. Thanks to Waze, the driver circumvented most of the traffic, and the trip was just under 40 minutes. Although tips are not common for taxis in Paris, I gave him a very generous tip. He did an amazing job of navigating that mess.


Hotel Allegro Nation (Best Western)
The Allegro has several advantages:
1. It is around the corner from my family.
2. The rooms are big by Parisian standards.
3. The staff are great.
4. One can pay using MileagePlus points.

This trip was no exception to the above. I dont know that the Allegro would be so great if one was planning a sightseeing trip. But its perfect for visiting my family.

There were a few downsides:
1. Breakfast was mysteriously included this time, but the breakfast was not as good as it had been in the past. It seemed like everything was profoundly sweet, and the selection was slim.
2. Housekeeping was sort of sad. There was an apparent coffee stain on the sheets (I hope that was coffee.) It remained there for all four nights.
3. The complimentary WiFi worked for a few seconds at a time. Overall, it was hopeless.

But I still like the Allegro for the size of its rooms and its fantastic bathrooms. It remains the best choice for the neighbourhood, but I would not be in a rush to give it four stars.


Paris
It seems like something out of a David Sedaris book, but people cannot refrain from making recommendations if one mentions a trip to Paris. For me, Im visiting my family. Im not going to see the Eiffel Tower, or a particular caf, or Versailles Im watching The Lego Movie with my niece and nephew, taking them to the playground, having beer with my sister and brother-in-law. I have seen many sights in Paris, but that wasnt the purpose of the trip. I listened politely to the travel suggestions before I left, and then hung out with my family.

Thalys 9339
Paris/Gare du Nord-Amsterdam/Centraal
Car 13, Seat 51

The weather had warmed up, so I took the RER to the train station. The train is arguably quicker than taking a taxi. It is certainly a lot cheaper.

The Thalys offers remarkably good fares if one books in advance. There was only a marginal difference between Comfort 1 and a regular fare, so I chose the former.

It is quite a painless trip. One boards the train about 10 minutes prior to departure, and I had an assigned solo seat. There is an unspectacular lounge at Gare du Nord, but it was closed for some reason.

Although the Thalys offers complimentary WiFi, it is apparently run by Best Western. It just barely works.

Service on board consisted of a cold meal, which was catered by LSG. It appeared identical to what one would receive in Air France shorthaul business. It was a few slices of tandoori chicken, cauliflower, rice, a sort of tomato-chili sauce, a salad with sundried tomatoes and cheese, a macaroon, and a few pieces of very good candy. This came with beer, wine, coffee, etc. There was a second round of a fruit tart and some drinks between Brussels and Amsterdam.


Taxi Trouble
The Thalys crew, who are incredibly polite and cheerful, offered to arrange for fix-rated taxis into Central Amsterdam. Quite a few people opted for this, including me. They gave explicit instructions as to where to find the taxi. Unfortunately, all of us were at a loss to find the aforementioned taxis. I was glad that I hadnt made any sort of deposit.

So I turned to Uber, which also seemed to be a mess. It took three attempts to get a driver. The first one drove right past me and picked up someone else (I knew this from the license plate.) The second never materialized, and I got a driver cancelled message. The third was right there, smiling, friendly, and quick. I was not happy to be charged 10 euro each for the two drivers who didnt pick me up. Ive sent the note back to Uber, and well see what they say. I can always contest it with Amex. I know its only 20 euro, but thats not a fair deal.


Hilton Amsterdam

I sort of wanted to stay someplace closer to all of the action, but points are points, and a lot of people seemed to love the Hilton. It has a phenomenal view along a canal. In fact, the front desk manager suggested that I wait 30 minutes, have a drink at the bar (at their expense) and wait for a room with a view. Good call.

The room itself is neither good nor bad. Its big by European standards, clean, quiet. But it seems a tad heartless. Like other travellers, Im always a bit baffled by the idea of a desk with no electrical outlets. But the WiFi works, and its free.

But if I look out my window, it is just incredible. Its a picturesque streen scene with bicyclists, a canal, and charming houses.
Mats is offline  
Old Apr 7, 2015, 2:48 pm
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That Hilton also has superbly comfortable beds, probably the most comfortable beds I've slept in in Amsterdam (I go to Amsterdam a lot).
A couple of minutes walk over the bridge across that canal brings you to a stop for the 16 tram, which takes you towards the main museums and on to the city centre.
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Old Apr 7, 2015, 7:17 pm
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Great trip review. I like the colours. Looking forward to hearing more about your time in Amsterdam, it's such a great city.

I didn't realize that TK flew real business class between IST and CDG. I'm flying this summer IST-STR DUS-IST and was expecting regular middle seat blocked euro business class.
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Old Apr 7, 2015, 9:37 pm
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The A33-200 are leased from Jet Airways. They are 3 class configured with Jet Airways. Meaning you actually sat in 1st Class (sold as business class on TK).
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Old Apr 7, 2015, 11:23 pm
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Originally Posted by Mats
The aircraft next to me caught my amusement. It was an A330 in Star Alliance colours, an Egyptian flag, and Egyption registry. Hmmm. I cant imagine WHAT airline that could have been. Its such a silly political game; theyre not allowed to mention that EgyptAir flies to Tel Aviv, so they just hide the title on the plane.
Found this after a quick google, very interesting!

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/...article627176/
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Old Apr 8, 2015, 7:45 am
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Originally Posted by Mats

Something else was silent too. There was no ding dong ding dong ding dong throughout boarding or the flight itself. The crew kept were calm, quiet, and worked together.

I have flown too much in the US, where the phone rings about 25 times during boarding, and the stress level is often extraordinary. Norleen back at L3 is out of creamers, and Im filing another grievance because catering and they knew we were rerouted off of 2129, and thats a vacation reserve line, and my cat is lonely, and I dont like Jeanines attitude. Do you Jeanine? Well I dont like her. I think she has my copy of Real Simple magazine, the one with the cheesecake recipe. Now 31C is asking for water... ding dong ding dong ding dong. Im not saying that these are bad crews, just that they have a tendency to talk and whine a lot.
Great Trip Report. Laughed out loud at that part. What a joy it must be to have a quiet boarding time!
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Old Apr 8, 2015, 8:06 am
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flatlander, indeed, I just took the 16 tram. It was really easy. The bus and tram drivers have all been quite friendly.

montezume, I hear that most of the narrow body fleet has real business class, but there are still some with the blocked middle seat. I'm returning from Berlin/Tegel to Istanbul on an A321, so I'm hoping for the best.

gilbertaue, thank you for the explanation. I was baffled by the seat map with single seats on either side of the first row. One of my return flights is on an A330, so I'll hope for the same.

DanielW, it is really insane. The "Air Sinai" check-in is clearly marked at Ben Gurion Airport. It's often a much smaller plane, but I figured that they brought in an A330 for the holidays.

psych, even noise-cancelling headphones won't block that out. I've heard it so many times.

Uber did refund the 10 euro fees immediately with their apologies. And I used Uber again late last night/very early this morning without incident. (What happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam, and it was really too late to take a bus. I have no further comment.)

Today featured a somewhat grim breakfast in the lounge. I'll try the "real" restaurant tomorrow.

Indeed, the Hilton has very comfortable beds and amazing staff. There are a lot of American couples in their 60s and 70s, and they seem to be enjoying themselves.

I then took off on a long walking, biking, and public transport trip. Although I hit some of the most famous sites, I really liked the section that included the Artis zoo, de Hortus Botanicus, and Schouwberg. I also hit the bookstores, and took a sort of peripheral tour of the city.
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Old Apr 8, 2015, 8:23 am
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Nice report! Great to hear that you had a nice experience on Turkish Airlines, and you certainly lucked out by scoring widebody aircraft on those segments since they're often times operated by narrowbody aircraft (and there's always the risk of last minute equipment swaps). Will you maintain United 1K now that you've relocated to Tel Aviv or are you looking to switch to another airline. Given TK's massive presence in TLV I suppose they're a good candidate.

Anyways looking forward to seeing more reports from you!
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Old Apr 8, 2015, 9:19 am
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Originally Posted by Mats
no duty free hawking, no special credit card offers
Great! I really hate it. I also hate to see promotions if I start a movie at the entertainment-system....
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Old Apr 8, 2015, 10:26 am
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Nice writing style.^

Look forward to the rest of the report.
I agree with your statements about TK, they just do their job and no yadda yadda.
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Old Apr 8, 2015, 10:39 am
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My aunt / grandmother lived across the canal from the Hilton.

I used to love going to the Hilton for lunch. This was in the 1960s.

The EL AL crews used to stay there and we met an Arkia crew who were with them. I believe they were on holiday.

In those days EL AL had a flight Tel Aviv to New York via Amsterdam. I took it in 1968.

In fact a few years later the same flight was nearly hijacked.

However the Hilton is far from the centre of the city.
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Old Apr 8, 2015, 12:43 pm
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Your accurate and hilarious characterization of the U.S. airline experience with the FA announcements, gossip, etc., had me in stitches! Bravo!

And can someone tell me why TLV can't seem to get its act together with regard to the lounge situation? That Dan lounge is the bane of my existence when I fly out of TLV: always overcrowded, filthy, food items sloppily arranged and nasty (seems to always be globs of salad dressing in the hummus, etc.). With such a huge Star Alliance presence at TLV, why have they not opened a Star Alliance Gold lounge there?

At any rate...chag Pesach sameach!
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Old Apr 8, 2015, 12:50 pm
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Brettee, how sweet! What a nice place to have grandparents! Indeed, it's somewhat far from the middle of everything, but the view and surrounding area are spectacular.

zcat18, I don't get it either. Even the refurbished Dan lounges are not great. There is plenty of room, so it would be nice to see an American Express or Star Alliance lounge.
חג שמח
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Old Apr 10, 2015, 4:19 pm
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Schipol
Again, a place of mixed reviews. Some had said it is their favourite in the world. My sister says that she "loves Amsterdam but hates Schipol."

It was a very quick trip from the Hilton, and there was no wait to check in at the combined "Sky Team Sky Priority" desks. The agents were all smiling and friendly.

Security was a breeze. It is all contracted out to ICTS, the Dutch/Israeli company. Although everyone must go through a Millimeter Wave Machine, they are so much quicker than the US. Nobody says a word, you keep your shoes on, and it is therefore far less stressful. I think that body scanners are pointless, but this was as easy as it gets. No frisking after the scanner, and no shoe drama. Above all, it was silent.

The Crown Room Lounge was not worth a visit. There were almost no seats, and the desks were mobbed with people who needed flight re-accommodations. The lounge really didn't seem any better than a club in the US; in fact, it was somewhat worse because there are no windows to the outside. And the bathroom was in disrepair.

The only benefit seemed to be the smiling staff, who were working hard to assuage the fears of distressed passengers.


KLM
KL1825
Amsterdam-Berlin/Tegel
B737-800
Seat 1C

Berlin was one of the few destinations that did not have a delay. I knew where this was going to be headed.

First there was a gate change. Then I went downstairs to the gate and waited until after our departure time. Then there was another gate change. The departure time never changed and there were no announcements.

At long last, two KLM agents arrived and ushered everyone to one side of the holding area to board the plane. Call me crazy, but why not put the computers and scanners near the entrance to the plane rather than in the middle of the departure lounge?

As expected, there were computerized announcements for various boarding groups, but nobody adhered to these. It was just a push and shove routine.

Once on board, I was met by charming KLM crew. The purser greeted everyone in business class by name and made a bit of small talk. All of the crew had bright smiles and a gentle demanour. Sadly, this reminded me of some sort of sociological study of KLM crews and how the smiles actually made them feel like soul-less automatons.

We pushed back rather quickly, and had a short taxi.

Lunch was served:
Salad
Pasta salad with pesto, olives, capers, and Parmesan cheese

Choice of Sandwiches
Smoked salmon sockeye salmon wrap with Thai-style vegetables and aged cream cheese

or

Vegetarian club sandwich served with potato crisps

Dessert
Greek yoghurt mousse with lemon jelly
Seriously, how does KLM serve such a great snack on a 55-minute flight? Oh right, they're hemorrhaghing money.

I had a split of cava and a cup of outstanding coffee, and we were already descending into Tegel.

The captain apologised for the delay, citing the weather in Amsterdam. It was 21 degrees and sunny, so I am a bit flummoxed by that excuse.

Berlin/Tegel
We had a bus gate at Tegel. This is sort of ridiculous because it is so close to the terminal. But it's a very active apron, and I'm certain that the busses are required for safety reasons.

Also, bags took about 25 minutes, which seemed crazy since the plane was right in front of us. At least mine were some of the first to be offloaded.

I used Talixo, which meant that I was in a black S-Class within two minutes. There was a long traffic jam on Tiergartenstrae, so I was glad to have a fixed-rate fare. The driver was a friendly woman in a snazzy uniform. Talixo is much easier than ber because the driver actually comes inside and meets you at the gate.


Grand Hyatt, Berlin
The Grand Hyatt is a comparatively small hotel by Berlin standards. It's a very swank hotel next to a TJ Maxx. Go figure.

The agent at the desk was shocked when I switched to German during our conversation. Was he trying to trick the Auslander? Haha. Busted. I speak German.

The room on the 8th floor is dyn-o-mite! It does not have the view of the Amsterdam canals, but the room itself is spectacular: huge, cozy, with the right mix of modern ultra-modern and classic wood. The bed is huge, and the bathroom is suitable for a rockstar. I know this because I am, obviously, a rockstar myself.

The room came equipped with a large fruit basket and a greeting from the manager. (Do all rockstars get that, or just me?)


Berlin
So good to be back! One of my closest friends lives here, and we've known each other for 22 years. He has a new swank law office near the Grand Hyatt, and we enjoyed a lot of beer outside in the summery weather.

We then headed off to a favourite hangout in Prenzlauer-Berg for excesses of beer and sptzle.

Berlin isn't cute like Amsterdam, but it's amazing. I love how lively and interesting the city is. We walked by Honecker's old office, which is across from the Schloss renovation project. I have never seen Berlin so alive with new construction and rehabilitation of crumbing neighbourhoods. It looks good.

Last edited by Mats; Apr 14, 2015 at 2:54 pm
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Old Apr 14, 2015, 6:18 am
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Berlin (continued)
Again, this was not really a sightseeing trip. I was visiting friends, and we really just hung out. We enjoyed a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Treptower Park. The Soviet War Memorial is incredible. I had never seen hammers and sickles like that since I visited the DDR as a kid.

A bit more about the Grand Hyatt, Berlin

I've had the good fortune to stay in some amazing hotels in the world. The Grand Hyatt pretty much tops the list. It's owned by a Qatari investor, and every last bit of that hotel is in perfect condition. They have remarkable attention to detail, and the health club and pool are astounding. I was saddened to leave.

Tegel
Another shout-out to Talixo. They have reasonable rates, pleasant drivers, and S-Class Mercedes service. There was comparatively little traffic.

It remains my favourite airport. You get out of the taxi, and you're at the check-in counter immediately in front of the gate. Zoom! It's so easy!

A friendly woman from a Lufthansa subsidiary checked me in with no wait.

I had enough time for a coffee at the Senator Lounge, which is no great shakes. It was too early in the day for the caramel mousse I still crave. Mmmm.

There was no wait for security, which was friendly and fast. I think I had to wake the passport guy up from his sleep, but we wished me a pleasant flight nonetheless.


Turkish Airlines
TK1785
Berlin/Tegel-Istanbul Ataturk
A321
Seat 3C

The agents actually enforced priority boarding despite the absence of a separate queuing point. There were only four people in business class, so it was quite simple.

Unlike most European carriers, Turkish Airlines has real business class on most of its A321 aircraft. The seat pitch is 45 inches; there are foot rests, adjustable lumbar support, in-seat power, and individual video screens. This is certainly not the case on most European and US carriers.

Once again, the crew were outstanding. I was always referred to by name, they were constantly in the cabin to ensure that everyone was comfortable. It was a calm, pleasant atmosphere. I should mention that one of the crew was extremely good looking, which made the flight even more enjoyable.

The menu was as follows:

Assorted Turkish Appetizers
Mediterranean Salad

Islim Kebab
lamb coated with eggplant
Rice

Chicken Satay
Sauted tomato and onion, rice

Rigatoni
Tomato sauce, sauted eggplants (sic.), sun-dried tomatoes, arugula

Assorted cheese

Homemade Apple Stroudel (sic.)
The pasta was especially delicious. The "chef" recommended it, saying that it was her favourite. I pretty much licked the plate clean.

The "stroudel" was not especially good, but everything else was excellent. Again, I wish that other airlines could offer the same level of comfort and service.

After a 2h40 minute flight, we landed just a bit early into Istanbul. There was once again a very long taxi to a hard stand.


Istanbul/Ataturk
After the endless bus-loading, we circled around the airport to a special entrance marked "One-Stop Arrivals: Passengers from EU". There was therefore no need for an additional security check, and I was on my way to the CIP lounge.

After the beautiful pasta on board, I was once again not hungry. I enjoyed the quiet of the lounge, had a quick shower, and plenty of the raspberry juice.

All of the staff were cheerful and helpful, and I'm sure that the lounge would satisfy anyone's taste in food or drinks.


Turkish Airlines
TK788
Istanbul Ataturk-Tel Aviv/Ben Gurion
777-300
Seat 2B

There is a minimal security check at the entrance to the gate: just a few questions. Although they had a few people pulled aside for explosive swabbing of clothing and baggage, this seemed to be for very few people.

The crew came over and said hello to everyone as they boarded, again offering juices, and asking "are you comfortable?" They were especially attentive to a woman travelling alone with a very cute baby.

The baby managed to get up after the doors were closed and we were starting to push back. The crew just got up and helped with the baby, smiled, and one talked about her own little one. The typical US response would have been about the $10,000 fine for disobeying the fasten seatbelt sign. ("Ma'am! Ma'am! I need you to sit down. MA'AM!") No, it's not great to have a baby walk around during pushback, but it's easier to help out than cite the rules.

I'm still amazed by the comfort in the 777 business cabin. It has a roomy feel despite having one more seat per row than many carriers. There is something about the size of the armrest dividers, the seat design, and the attitude of the crew that makes the cabin just feel so comfortable. It's also a very short flight!

After a speedy departure, the crew had a friendly and very complete dinner service despite the just 90-minute flight time.
Assorted Turkish Appetizers
Mediterranean Salad

Grilled Sea Bass Fillet
Lemon Butter, Ratatouille, Rosemary Potatoes

or

Spiced Chicken Brochette
Sauted Leaf Spinach, Rice

or

Rigatoni
Parmesan Cheese, Cherry Tomatoes, Roasted Pine Nuts

Assorted Cheese

Do & Co's Chocolate Mousse
They did the whole thing: hot towels, appetizers, main courses from the cart, two rounds of warm bread, and coffee, tea, and liqueur service... all in 90 minutes. All with warm smiles and willing efforts to attend to individual requests.

The pasta was once again amazing. Wow. And the chocolate mousse is worthy of an honourable mention. I want more.

I noticed a few coffee cups and tumblers after we had landed, but they were really doing "silver" coffee and liqueur service from the cart as we were nearing landing. And they smiled the whole time.


Un-Welcome Home
I do not have an electronic passport, so I know to RUN through the airport to get to passport control as quickly as possible.

As expected, there was no line, but a hostile neanderthal sociopath at passport control. I know, it's a lousy job, I know she's in some nasty little booth, but she really intensive therapy... just like many of them. They're so rude that it's comical.

She asked if I had been in Africa in the past however-many days. I sad "no," and she asked, "Can you prove it?" I said, "no." Then she let me go. It's like some sort of twisted mind game.

Bags took 45 minutes to arrive, which is probably the only snafu I experienced with Turkish Airlines, and is obviously a problem with their ground handling agent.

I walked outside into the massive cloud of cigarette smoke (Welcome to Israel!) and got into a cab.

The cab driver did not know how to get to my address. Seriously. I live across from a major landmark; the second-most visited site in the country. He didn't know how to get there. He even had Waze, but ignored it. And he took the wrong highway exit despite my efforts to dissuade him. He then drove right past my apartment. The taxi has a fixed fare, so this wasn't an effort to make money; he was just a numbskull.

He nearly killed multiple people; perhaps he got confused by what the red light and the green light mean. Maybe he needs a "cheat sheet."

I was very happy to be home, see my dog, have my bank card back, and reflect on a fantastic trip to Europe.


Concluding Remarks

Turkish Airlines
Given a choice, fly with them! All four flights had beautiful food, warm and professional crews, there were no delays, and Istanbul/Ataturk is a really easy place to change planes.

KLM
Their ground and inflight staff were very nice, and I was impressed by their catering on a short flight, albeit not as good as Turkish. Schipol has the advantage of a really nice setup for security, but the lounge isn't so good, and the multiple gate changes and delays were irritating.

LeCab (Paris), ber (Amsterdam), Talixo (Berlin)
LeCab and Talixo were both exceptional, and I highly recommend both (especially Talixo.) ber was problematic on one trip but better on the subsequent two. I'd still use them, and I was glad that they refunded the "fees" charged to my account immediately.

Allegro Nation, Paris
Ehhh. It's really convenient for me, and still has really big rooms and nice bathrooms. It is otherwise mediocre if not less-than-mediocre. I'm yet to find a better option. How does that place get four stars? (I know it has something to do with room service and parking, but it is not a four-star hotel by any stretch of the imagination.)

Hilton Amsterdam
It wins for the view, neighbourhood, and staff. It's not particularly exciting in terms of the rooms, food, or lounge. I wouldn't hesitate to go back there, but I might also try somewhere else. It is very convenient to Schipol, so it would be a great choice for a short stay.

Grand Hyatt, Berlin
Yes, more please! I knew very little about the hotel, and was amazed. When can I move in?

Arriving at Tel Aviv/Ben Gurion
I'm going to see about some sort of public health effort to get the passport control people on medication. I know, they can be snippy in many countries, but tourism is essential to Israel's economy. The security personnel upstairs are so cheery; it's a shame that the passport control on arrival is so miserable. Maybe the Airport Authority could take over Immigration... they could teach them a lesson or two about how to be... less evil.

And lousy taxis in Tel Aviv are par for the course. I usually do pretty well, but this joker was both dangerous and incompetent.

Oh, and my bankcard was at home and did not face any tampering. I hope I won't forget it again. And I'm glad that I had enough cash to avoid any problems.



Until next time...

Last edited by Mats; Apr 14, 2015 at 3:05 pm
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