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Friends, Flakes, and Felons: PAR, STO, BER, and more (UA F, LH F, SK, DY)

Friends, Flakes, and Felons: PAR, STO, BER, and more (UA F, LH F, SK, DY)

Old Jan 7, 18, 10:04 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Arizona, USA
Posts: 2,298
Friends, Flakes, and Felons: PAR, STO, BER, and more (UA F, LH F, SK, DY)

Two of my friends commented that I had not written a trip report in some time. Thus, off to Paris, Stockholm, Berlin, and points in between.

This trip report was not at all sponsored by the Park Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. And by viewers like you. Thank you.
Now try to use the word “verdant” in a sentence.

It was a high-stress send-off. One of my patients bought me a beautiful bottle of Israeli wine as a Chanukah present. Since I am so clever, I placed it on the edge of a shelf. It was like a wine grenade had been detonated in my kitchen. In the early hours of the morning, I was picking up shards of glass, going through rolls of paper towels, and cleaning the booze off of my suitcases. The general consensus is to tell the patient that the wine was lovely.

A bit wine-soaked, I got stuck in traffic. This is not typical mid-day in Tucson, but I really wanted to augment as much tension to the journey as possible. I licked my clothes for some soothing ethanol.

This was also my first time travelling in years without my best friend: Pancho the dog. He is getting on in years (15), and I felt that this trip would be too tough on him. I bid him farewell as my phone lit up with SMS messages from my office. “Breathe,” I thought. Then I sucked more wine out of my clothing.

Arf! Don't leave me! Arf!

Although I had checked on the parking situation in advance, the lot was quite full because of course it was. I lugged my suitcases from the far reaches of parking to the check-in counter.

There were three employees working at the United counter. If I could read their minds, they were watching “Three’s Company” reruns inside their heads. They seemed confused that there were people in a queue with suitcases. After five minutes, one of them had a flash of insight and affixed the tags to my bag.

My dread of airport security was escalating: I was late, and—of course—the PreCheck line was closed. Mercifully, the wait was minimal, and the staff were all smiles. It was only a minor inconvenience.

22 December 2017
United Express (SkyWest) UA5538
Tucson to Chicago/O’Hare 2
Seat 1A
Still smelling like wine, I settled in. I have always liked the E-Jet, especially the quiet seat in 1A. The flight had a pleasant, unobtrusive crew. There was WiFi and “Private Screening.”

Lunch consisted of a verdant arugula salad, a side of grilled chicken, and a triple chocolate cookie from the Christie Cooking Company. The cookie was particularly nice.

We arrived in the cramped and dirty Terminal Two just a few minutes late.

Electronics Mishap Number One
Somewhere in flight, I realized that I’d left my power adaptors and cables at home

I went to “Headphone Hub,” in Terminal Two, where the staff were cheerful. “It’s always the chargers,” they said with sympathy. The bill was extortionate, but I lacked any better ideas.

The Polaris Lounge
I had just a few minutes to freshen up in the Polaris Lounge. The receptionists were all abuzz, eager to help and full of enthusiasm. They seemed to be having quite a lot of fun.

The lounge was full but not overflowing. I really just had water and looked around. It is well-designed, reasonably quiet, but it is not breathtaking. It has a nicer atmosphere than the older United Clubs, and the Global First lounge, which used to occupy the same real estate.

22 December 2017
United 987
Chicago O’Hare 1 to Paris/Roissy-Charles de Gaulle 1
767-300 ER
Seat 1K
I know that United First / Polaris First is really often described as business class with soup, but it does have a more intimate cabin, and the seat transforms into quite a comfortable bed.

Seat 1K is away from the washroom, and it is a fair distance from the galley, so it is reasonably dark and quiet.

It is also the worst place for a bomb.

Did you ever see that Liam Neeson movie in which he plays a US Federal Air Marshal (from Northern Ireland?) He sits next to Julianne Moore, and the flight attendants are Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong’o. In the middle of the flight, Liam Neeson just starts frisking passengers in the aisles, because that’s normal.

The movie refers to the “Least Risk Bomb Location.” Wise defender of the skies, Liam Neeson knows to put the bomb near the aft-most exit on the left side.

I was sitting near the R1 door, which I presume was the “Most Risk Bomb Location.”

I started frisking everyone in the aisles, because that’s what one is supposed to do. I learned it from Liam Neeson.

by Nathan Congleton (labelled for noncommercial re-use)

I was greeted by Michelle (not Dockery), the purser. She had been a kibbutznik at one point in her life, and later joined United with hopes of living at its erstwhile Paris hub. That didn’t happen, but she still relishes the opportunity to go to Paris.

Michelle was remarkable: she served the entire first class cabin herself. She delivered everything by cart, turning around to cover both sides. It seemed exhausting, but Michelle did not seem to mind a bit. She made sure to make small talk, smile, and take great care in serving dinner.

Michelle explained that many of the crew were quite junior, so they were ecstatic about scoring a trip to Paris. They were too intimidated to serve first class, thus leaving Michelle on her own. Or maybe they dislike being so close to the “Most Risk Bomb Location.”


Cocktail snack
Blue cheese, dried fig, grape

Chilled appetizer
Smoked duck, farro salad with cranberry and pumpkin seeds, brined carrot, whole-grain mustard

Butternut squash leek

Kale, mesclun, roasted fennel, bell pepper, pomegranate seeds
Served with a choice of dressing and assorted breads


Seared beef short rib
Five-spice sauce, wasabi grits, bok choy

Spicy chicken
Thai-style coconut ginger broth, udon noodles

Poached shrimp
Coconut red curry sauce, basmati rice, Japanese eggplant, mixed vegetables

Lentil chili
Roasted garlic polenta, sautéed spinach

Seasonal salad with grilled salmon
Mesclun, cucumber, jicama, tomato


All entrees are served with yogurt, breakfast breads, butter, and fruit preserves

Provence-style omelet
Herbed cream cheese
Served with Italian chicken sausage, potatoes, and fruit

Fresh seasonal fruit
Served with cereal and milk

As it was the end of the year, the wine list was blank. There was a menu insert listing the liquors available. I was saddened to learn that the Moscow Mule is on domestic flights only. It is also available at the Kremlin and the White House.

Also, United and Continental stopped offering Campari some years ago. It is my drink of choice. It is also fun to ensnare those who are unfamiliar. It looks like it might taste like “Cran-Apple,” juice but it actually tastes like aspirin crushed up in battery acid.

Dinner was actually quite nice. I ate two bowls of the soup, which was brilliant. Michelle also urged me to try a “Seven Layer Bar” (or was it nine layers?) Layer count aside, it was very good.

I curled up amid the fluffy pillows and thick mattress, and slept quite well.

The terminal was quiet, and there was no wait at immigration. The officer actually said “Bonjour” and “Merci,” which is rarity.

Electronics Mishap Number Two
I like to think of myself as some form of savvy traveler. I can be absent-minded sometimes, but I am fairly street-wise. I would not keep my wallet in my back pocket, I do not dress in ways that might call attention to my nationalities, nor do I have shiny new luggage.

I knew that Roissy was famous for theft, so I kept a close eye on my fairly nondescript briefcase while I waited for my checked bags.

This was inadequate. I must have looked away to answer a call or to pick up a checked bag and whoosh! Adieu, briefcase. Adieu MacBook Pro. Adieu brand new headphones. Adieu overpriced chargers and cables from “The Headphone Hub.”

I can hear unsolicited advice: “Why don’t you have a burner laptop that is just for travel?” “Why don’t you handcuff yourself to your laptop?” “You should stay home.” “Never go to Paris; everyone knows that.” “I bought my laptop for $19 so it doesn’t matter if it gets stolen.”

I spoke with the Aéroports de Paris information desk, the border police, a representative from United, and one from ICTS. I have to say that they were all endearingly kind and apologetic. They conceded that it happens multiple times per day, and that they are frustrated too. Another passenger had just had his Macbook Air swiped moments before I arrived. There seems to be little doubt that this is an inside job.

I felt like a hi-tech sleuth as I watched the “radar” of the “Find My iPhone” application. No dice.

The representative from United asked if I was having a heart attack. I must have been sweating and a bit pale. I did not think I was having a heart attack, but there is nothing more anxiety-producing than having someone pop that question.

The “Le Cab”’ app kept failing, so I jumped in an Uber to sit in traffic and contemplate if I was having a heart attack.

There was only one obvious answer to this situation: summon Liam Neeson. He did not answer his phone, presumably mired in an argument with his daughter and ex-wife. (“But dad, it’s only a two-week trip to Waziristan!”)

Flake number one
My older sister lives in Paris with her family. I often get to see my family in Paris or near Geneva around the winter holidays. My sister had been begging me to come visit, and I had verified by travel dates with her. A few weeks before my trip, she announced that they would not be home. She did not offer her apartment as a place to stay.

To the rescue
A friend in Italy got word of my sister’s flakiness, and said, “My girlfriend and I will come up. We’ll have Christmas in Paris!”

One week before the trip, his girlfriend had her passport stolen, and she is a citizen of a country that sometimes raises eyebrows at immigration. I will not identify this country but I-a-tollah them it could be a problem, if you catch my drift.

My friend was kind enough to come to Paris himself for just under 24 hours. After all, he had non-refundable plane tickets and a hotel room.

He asked me to be the best man at his wedding, and part of his plan was that I could meet his soon-to-be-fiancé. I guess I will have to meet her at a later date.

We dined at a dyn-o-mite French bistro and drank beautiful wine, which I did not spill.

Electronics Mishap Number Three
The following morning, I went to answer my phone. It slipped out of my hand and shattered the screen. So much for the special ultra-protective glass cover. The phone still worked—to an extent—and I deemed it best to just have it repaired in the USA, where it would be only $30 or so.

Hotel Félicien David
21 rue Félicien
16° Arrondissement
It is hard to pick a Paris hotel. They all seem to blur on TripAdvisor, hotels.com, etc.

The Félicien had a decent location and the added benefit of a basement pool and hammam.

It is sort of indistinguishable from other Paris hotels. The room was perhaps a bit bigger than some, and the bathroom was definitely large by Parisian standards. The bed was large and decently comfortable, but the sheets were dirty.

The staff were all kind, smiling, and the guests seem to be a mix of French, Dutch, Russian, and American.

The breakfast far exceeded a typical Parisian hotel: there was fresh fruit and juice, the croissants were fresh, and they had that amazeballs Bonne Maman yoghurt. The coffee was presumably made of pencil shavings and fermented cat vomit.

The below deck “spa” was nice enough: the whirlpool felt good, and the steam room was soothing. The only problem was that couples were often there by themselves, so I felt more than a bit awkward. “Oh don’t mind me. Heh heh. We’re all friends here, right?” I was out of there in a flash.

Flake Number Two
I informed some long-time family friends that I would be in Paris. Moreover, I would be there alone for several days. They responded with enthusiasm, looking forward to having me over. I agreed to send an SMS after I arrived.

They flaked as soon as I got to Paris. They were “too busy” for three days.

Oh, I’m sorry. Was there something new on Netflix? I try not to take it personally, but… umm…

There are far worse places to spend a few days on one’s own. Paris is still as beautiful as it is interesting. I took long, touristy walks. I saw so many people on their honeymoons, anniversaries, or enjoying a “trip of a lifetime.”

I chatted with people from the States on their first trip to Europe, getting their first taste of how much fun it is.

Frustrated as I was by some circumstances, I would never take a trip like this for granted. I am one of a lucky few who can fly first class to Paris and have entire days to spend in the City of Light.



Orly Sud… dazzling showcase of French elegance.

At least there was no wait at all to check in, and the staff were friendly. There was only one person ahead of me in security, so that was equally expedient and bearable.

26 December 2017
Norwegian Air Shuttle DY4314
Paris/Orly-Sud to Stockholm/Arlanda 5
Seat 1C
The 737-800 arrived and unloaded. Although most Norwegian aircraft have artwork of famous Norwegians on their tails, this one was blank. A friend suggested that perhaps the original portrait was created during a snowstorm.

There was free WiFi and the opportunity to rent television shows or movies. The food for sale appeared to be sandwiches.

Although we were perhaps 20 minutes late, I did not especially mind.

The seats are tight, but the service was friendly, the plane was clean, and the fare was half of what Air France and SAS charge. I think Norwegian is fine for a flight of this length. It might get a bit less tolerable on a longer trip.

There was about a 25-minute wait for baggage.

As they have been my entire life, the washrooms at Arlanda are unimaginably disgusting.

Once I had my bags, I was on the Arlanda Express in no time. The Arlanda Express app ate two of my tickets, which I had to re-purchase. I did write to their customer care email, but I never heard back.

Preparations for Sweden
Hoo-oo. Big summer blow-out!

Although I have spent a lot of time in Sweden, it had been more than a decade. In order to brush up on my limited Swedish, I turned to the obvious choice: the Millenium trilogy.

It certainly made a bit uneasy about going to Sweden. The whole place seemed fraught with danger: what if I got trapped in some Nazi torture chamber basement? And that bridge would be closed!

At least I knew to ask for the doctor with the pizza. He was kind, and I am sure he would have helped me out.

I was careful to memorize some critical phrases:
Var är pizzaläkaren? “Where is the pizza doctor?”

Lisbeth Salander är oskyldig! “Lisbeth Salander is innocent! ”

Jag vet inte vem du är, men jag hittar dig, och jag kommer att döda dig! “I don’t know who you are, but I will find you, and I will kill you.”

Hilton Stockholm Slussen
The Hilton is in a perfect location: a few steps from the Slussen Tunnelbana station. Although there is a fair bit of construction along the shoreline, it is still a perfect place to walk around. Slussen is now full of bars and boutiques. Moreover, Gamla Stan is right around the corner.

A high school classmate joined me for dinner at the Hilton’s restaurant, Eken. It was delicious food and not very expensive. I am getting hungry and nostalgic just writing about it.

The room was in the waterfront “Executive” section. It was not a particularly large room, but it was certainly comfortable, quiet, and had a spectacular view of Stockholm.

View from Södermalm

The room also featured a blessing to exceed all others: a Nespresso machine and real milk. After the Parisian coffee, the Nespresso was warm, rich, and satisfying. It was like a dream to look out at Mälaren and sip good coffee.

The Hilton includes breakfast in the room rate, and it was lavish—almost comparable to an Israeli hotel. They had make-your-own waffles, if that gives you an idea. I was disheartened that they lacked lingonberry juice, but I suppose the hotel caters more to non-Swedes.

They did have large jars filled with a sort of ginger gel candies. These were like cubes with a white line down the middle. I have scoured Amazon and Google to no avail. Let me know if you are familiar with these candies and where I can arrange for immediate access.

The executive lounge was too crowded to be of much use. My friend and I had a couple of beers there, but it was a tad claustrophobic.

Above all, the Hilton is a bargain. I was amazed to have such a luxurious room with an ideal view for not much.

I spent a couple of days walking around, and met up with another dear friend. It really did lift my spirits to see friends I have not seen in years. I got to have dinner with Mats #2 (I will always be Mats #1).

Skating at Kungsträdgården

Glad to see my alma mater represented

28 December 2017
SAS SK2679
Stockholm/Arlanda 5 to Berlin/Tegel
Seat 1C
For unknown reasons, I could not check in online nor use the kiosk. It just said fel (“error.”) A representative from SAS struggled to grasp this. “Use the blue machine,” she kept arguing. I tried to reason with her in English and in Swedish. I kept explaining that the machine would not work, and could I please go to the counter?

I finally found a more senior agent working in the lobby. She joked, "What did you do wrong this time?" Without delay, she took me to a counter. The problem was minor: sometimes the system flags foreign credit cards, just asking the passenger to present the card.

Off I went to Fast Track security, where there was nobody waiting. In my usual preparedness, I had my (remaining) electronics all out and separated, liquids out, belt off. The rather charming security guy asked, “Are you American or Israeli?” Trick question. “Both,” I replied. He could not stop laughing. The three staff at security all smiled, waved, and wished me a happy new year.

I had my choice of the American Express lounge, the Priority Pass lounge, or the SAS lounge. I chose the latter. It was okay. There is no view, and the food was meager. But they had good coffee and beer on draft.

Electronics Mishap Number Four
I replaced the stolen headphones at the Bose Store, which was right by my hotel in Paris. I distinctly remember listening to a podcast on the Arlanda Express. Somewhere in the lounge, I realized that I was missing—you guessed it—the brand-new headphones. Although I completed a “lost and found” report, there was little else I could do.

Off to Berlin
Boarding was a bit chaotic, as it often is in Europe. But it still works out. The passengers tend to be self-regulating.
The short flight to Berlin was comfortable. Although SAS does not block off the middle seats in “SAS Plus,” I had the entire row to myself.

The snack “box” consisted of:
Wild boar roast from Småland with a salad of smoked pork sausage from Gränna, Stora Tollby Farm potatoes and Skags Farm carrots, and a crudité of brussels sprouts with rosé pepper and carrot cream.

Served with malt croutons and a Ringis apple cider vinaigrette.

Since I do not eat red meat or pork, I ate the salad, potatoes, and vegetables, which were very fresh and tasty. The snack came with a piping hot roll in a separate little paper box. To my delight, they had Ringis cider, which I love. To my knowledge, it is not sold in the States.

I sat next to a couple with two cute little kids, so I played with them for a bit of the flight. They seemed to love flying, especially because it included pizza. (One of the crew brought it up from the "Buy on Board" menu in the back.)

For some reason, I thought to myself, “I would really like chocolate right now.” Within seconds, one of the crew arrived with boxes of Hedh-Escalante chocolates from Malmö.

We arrived at a hard stand at Tegel, which afforded me a chance to take a nice photo of the aircraft. I will miss the tan, red, and blue livery.

A driver from Talixo was waiting for me outside of the baggage hall. He was a bit miffed that there was a 15-minute wait for bags, but he was soon apologetic and quietly removed the additional fee for waiting. There was no traffic, and we were at Marlene-Dietrich-Straße in well under 20 minutes.

Arriving at Tegel

Grand Hyatt Berlin
This could easily be one of my favorite hotels in the world.

Check in was immediate, and I went up to the seventh floor. The room featured a massive, plush bed, a bathroom out of an architecture magazine, a bowl of apples, and several large bottles of mineral water.

I remembered to bring my own shampoo and soap since Grand Hyatt insists upon using miserable cucumber goo from June Jacobs. The JJ web site describes their products as “cutting edge science married with nature.” I describe it as “what is the point of soap that smells like salad?”

I get burned every time (slow learner). I open the soap at the sink, and start to wash my hands, only to exclaim, “J-Jake! You got me again!”

Maybe June is working to make the world more verdant. I imagine that she is about to introduce her next line of skin creams made of scallions, cumin, and radish rinds.

Cosmetics aside, the hotel was a treat.

The Club Olympus on the top floor features a nice gym, a large and serene pool, spa, steam room, sauna, etc., all with rooftop views of the Philharmonic and beyond.

The lounge seems a bit more posh than in the past. Their dinner offering was more elaborate than in the past. The staff were all attentive, and were thoughtful enough to always address me by name.

Club Olympus at the Grand Hyatt, Berlin

I have a group of friends in Berlin. One I have known since we were 17-years-old; the others I have known for about 15 years. Even though we all have careers, some have wives and kids, we still make time for one another. It feels like we have not changed a bit. Maybe we have a bit more grey hair.

We hung out at our Stammtisch in Friedrichshain, laughing and teasing one another.

The only tourist activities were visits to the Weihnachtsmarkt and the Deutsch-Russisches Museum in Karlshorst.

I also replaced the headphones (Groundhog Day) at KaDeWe.

I am not much of a fan of New Year’s Eve parties, and I have spend quite a few New Years Eves travelling. This year would be no exception.

31 December 2017
Lufthansa 195
Berlin/Tegel to Frankfurt/Main 1
Seat 1C
One of my friends insisted on giving my ride to Tegel. There was no traffic, and the airport was fairly quiet.

I had to endure the entire two meter walk from the entrance to the check-in counter and gate.

The GlobeGround agent was laughing, telling jokes, and seeming to enjoy the holiday travelers.

I had enough time to go up to the Business Lounge, which is nothing to write home about except for caramel pudding. They have always had caramel pudding. A little jar of that and some strong coffee. Mmmm. Thank you, Lufthansa.

The A321 was in the 1950s “retro” livery, which is incredibly classy.

The flight was just under 40 minutes. There was no menu card on this fight, but dinner consisted of some verdant-type products, meat things, a warm roll, and Rote Grütze (tough call between the caramel pudding and the Rote Grütze.)

To be surprise, we landed at an actual gate. I do not think I have experienced that in my entire life on an evening arrival in Frankfurt.

Lufthansa Magazin: Pantheon of Lies
I flipped through Lufthansa Magazin, and was concerned when I came across the section about electronic devices. There was a nice matrix to explain which devices may be used and when.

Indeed, Bluetooth devices were not to be allowed at all on flights outside of the narrowbody Airbus aircraft.

Thus, I stopped at a shop in the Frankfurt Airport and bought a pair of wildly overpriced wired headphones.

The Sheraton Frankfurt Airport
I have this particular fondness for the Sheraton. It is so convenient, the staff are so pleasant, and the rooms are spacious.

A charming and good-humored agent had me checked in quickly, and suggested toasting the New Year on their outdoor deck.

At the lounge, there was the usual supply of a cold dinner of salads and rolls, and just about anything one might want to drink.

The room was once again clean, comfortable, and silent. It smelled just vaguely of cigarette smoke, but I wondered if that was a function of my own clothes and their visits to many bars in Berlin.

I went down to the basement gym, which was surprisingly busy. I also cleared my head and my lungs in the eucalyptus-infused steam bath. It is such a pleasant way to end a day of travelling.

I slept like rock, and had a light breakfast. They had a particularly nice array of fresh fruit, among other typical lounge breakfast fare.

Living room, Sheraton Frankfurt Airport

Electronics Mishap Number Five
I should have known better. It is has never once worked before, but I somehow get suckered in. The kind salesman at KaDeWe suggested that I get a few Euros back from their tax-free counter. They refund the tax to one’s credit card, but one still has to stop at the airport desk.

This was not really much of a hassle since the Sheraton is right by the tax-free counter. The woman at the KaDeWe tax-free office gave me everything in a neat envelope, all of the documents stamped, and stapled.

I presented these at the tax-free desk at the airport, only to receive a lecture from the tax-free lady about how I had all of the wrong paperwork, and should have known better. She must be fun at parties. She was especially livid, saying, “You even speak German!”

I offered to give her EUR 15 or 20, or whatever the tax was.

It remains entirely unclear as to what she wanted. It think she just felt like saying “no.” I followed her instructions, got the formed stamped by a nice customs officer, and still do not know what went awry.

I had this happen before in Oslo, Frankfurt, and Buenos Aires. There is always some blurry technicality.

I was not terribly upset, but the tax-free lady is probably still trying to calm herself down.

Lufthansa First Class Terminal
I have flown in Lufthansa First Class before, but had only visited in the first class lounge.
It is definitely a good way to travel.

The lobby was empty, and an (overly) exuberant host welcomed me. I had already checked my bags in next door, so there was little else to do.

Despite having a one-way ticket, I did not get the quadruple S, which is so popular these days.

The security staff were abundantly kind. I think they had very little to do that morning.

In order to comply with the latest rules from the USA, the First Class Terminal still has to put on some sort of show for passengers to the USA. One just said to the other, “Vereignigte Staaten,” an the guy at the metal detector nodded. Without a word, he made a few quick swipes with his glove on my shirt and pants, and sent it through the trace detection machine. There was no need to take the “I surrender!” position. It took perhaps 60 seconds to clear security.

This is a far cry from “Clarice Starling” interviews at US carriers. They need to know your spirit animal, number and type of dental fillings, a three-to four paragraph explanation of the Gideon vs. Wainright decision and its sequelae, and which type(s) of dishwasher detergent you use, how much it costs, and how much is currently in the bottle.

Although I did not need to shower, I was given a duck.

The perky host asked if I preferred any particular type of car to take me to my flight. I was thinking of a 1994 Honda Civic, but that was not available.

I went downstairs, where a (good looking) immigration agent stamped my passport, and I hopped into a Porsche. The view of the apron was perfect: a sea of jumbo jets all preparing to take off for points around the world.

Entrance to the First Class Terminal

1 January 2018
Lufthansa LH440
Frankfurt 1 to Houston/Intercontinental
Seat 1K

My intended destination in the US was Denver, but there is no first class on the Denver flight. Given a choice of a connection in Houston with first class versus a nonstop in business, I chose the former. I made a good call.

I was the only passenger in first class, so I had my choice of eight seats.

Choice of eight seats

I had previously flown Lufthansa in First Class on the A330-300, and I did not feel that this was materially different. The seats and furnishings are very much the same.

The captain came downstairs to say hello, shake my hand, and ask if I needed anything. (Klasse!)

This was followed by the purser, the first class cabin attendant, and the first class galley attendant.

They joked about trying out each of the seats, but we agreed to make one into a bed, and reserve another for dining and movies. As @SFO777 pointed out 1A and 1K are a delight. The crew decided on 1A as a bed, 1K for sitting.

The crew were exactly what one would have expected: kind, organized, urbane. They have the perfect mix of professionalism and warmth. They wanted to chat, learn who I was, talk about themselves and their families, but all in a cordial and appropriate way.

Economy class was full, and two of the crew in the back were on their first flight. I urged the crew to spend as much time as they needed in back, and I promised that I would call if I needed anything. They periodically took breaks, and came by while I was awake. It was reportedly a “tough crowd” in the back that day, so I think they came up to first class to say hello, but it was also a good excuse to get away from the crowd.

Electronics Mishap Number Six
During pushback, the purser announced that Bluetooth devices could be used during the entire flight. Thanks so much, Lufthanasa Magazin, and your shoddy journalism!

The flight was smooth, and there were shockingly beautiful views of the Scottish Highlands and Greenland.

The crew asked if I had any dietary likes or dislikes, and I explained that I did not eat red meat. No problem at all. They promised to make their best recommendations.
Choice of Appetizers
Caviar with the traditional Garnishes
Stuffed Beef Ham with Gorgonzola and Date Sesame Chutney
Spiced Carrots with curried Yogurt
Salad of Shrimp and green Papaya with Chili
Fresh Leaf Salad with grilled Vegetables
and Yogurt Lime or Macadamia Oil Dressing

Blood Orange Sorbet, flavored with champagne upon your request

Choice of Main Courses
Variation of Venison, Back and Bratwurst, with Lingonberry Jus, mashed Brussels Sprouts and fried Curd Cake
Skrei (Winter Cod) with Beurre Blanc, Bean Cassoulet, smoked Bell Pepper Mash and Passe-Pierre Seaweed
Ptoato and Mushroom Roulade, Gruyère Sauce, and green Asparagus
Coq au vin with Pearl Onions, Leaf Spinach and creamy Polente

Selection of Cheese and Dessert
Rock Salt Cheese, Saint Agur, Goat’s Cheese with Honey, L’Explorateur Langres with Mango Peperoni Chutney
Warm Curd Cake with Lemon Thyme, Yogurt Oat Crumbles and Sour Cream Ice Cream flavored with Lime Leaves
Marzipan Mousse with glazed Kumqauts and Walnut Crumbles

Relax and Enjoy
Japanese Sushi Plate
featuring smoked Salmon Maki, Uri Maki, Takuan Maki, Salmon Bo Sushi, Wasabi, pickled Ginger and Soy Sauce

Gourmet Burger with Truffle Mayonnaise, Brie, Onion Jam and Arugula, accompanied by Sweet Potato and Plantain Chips

Stew of curly Kale with 2 smoked Sausages Meatwurst and Grützwurst, fried Potatoes, and Mustard Croutons

Tom Kha Gai with Chicken Bread Strips, Mushrooms, Chili and Coriander

Gourmet Salad
Fresh Leaf Salad with Carrot Julienne, Fennel, Violet Blossoms and Saltimbocca Skewer enhanced by Grape Seed Oil Vinaigrette

Confit of Prawns, Manchego Cheese, Fig and Plum wrapped in Ham

Sweet Treat
Apple Cake with Cinnamon Crumbles
Tahiti Vanilla Ice Cream with hot Cherries
Seasonal Fruit Plate featuring Apples, Oranges, and Blueberries
Fresh Mixed Wild Berries

The caviar was delicious. I ate two servings of it (why not?)

The blood orange sorbet with champagne was particularly memorable.

The real highlight was the Tom Kha Gai, which is a favorite among the crew. It was exquisite.

And how could one really go wrong with warm cherries on vanilla ice cream?

The let-down was the main course. I chose the potato roulade. It was just sort of mushy with tired asparagus. It did not matter much; there is so much to eat!

The ten hours and 30 minutes passed by very quickly. I slept for perhaps five or six hours.

The purser was tearful as I left. “You were such a kind passenger,” she said, “I wish they were all like you.” I was not sure what to make of that. It must have been really rough in the main cabin! The crew gave me two bottles of wine as a send-off, along with hugs and kisses... and a box of gummy bears.

In the 1970s paint scheme at IAH

Houston, Featuring a Skirmish with the Law
There were perhaps ten people in front of me at the Global Entry queue. The line moved very fast, and the agent collecting the white receipts was smiling, wishing everyone a happy new year.

I made sure to declare the wine, knowing that it was over the limit. “Yeah, it’s over the limit,” he said, but it’s fine. He also had the good sense to ask, “You got it as a gift? From someone you trust?”

My bags were already at the belt, and I had to shuffle things around a bit to accommodate for the wine.

A Customs and Border Protection eyed me making the wine transition, and I knew he was eager to stage an attack.

He came around with his dog, who was sniffing my bag. The dog did not sit, which is the indication they make when they find contraband.

“That bag! That pocket!” snapped the CBP guard. He was clearly doing this to attract as much attention as possible, so as to add a bit of public humiliation or—perhaps in his mind—to teach everyone a lesson.

I showed him that the pocket contained dirty shoes. They were dirty with---ummm---exactly what one expects to find on the street in Paris, hence attracting the interest of the CBP dog.

“Your shoes are filthy!” he remarked. Right, I forgot to bring a sneaker cleaning machine with me.

“What do you do for a living?” he asked, attracting a crowd of onlookers. They are obsessed with that question. I get asked every damn time. What does it matter? If anyone has an explanation, I would love to hear it.

I started to close my suitcase. “Ohhh, noo!” he said, lifting his hand. It was like watching a newly-minted high school teacher with no classroom management skills. He had no idea that he was discrediting himself in front of a crowd.

I think he was especially angered that I was not upset. Rather like the tax-free lady, he was hoping I would be mad at him. No; he was just pathetic. Perhaps he is trying to compensate for something.

He sent me over to the secondary inspection queue, with a paper listing various infractions: apples, bananas, meat, etc. None were circled since I did not have any of those things.

The secondary inspection people commented, “There is nothing written on this.” I explained the dog situation. The guy just laughed. I re-declared the wine, and he said, “We will just x-ray your bags, but have a good new year.” They all waved goodbye with smiles on their faces.

Someone I know is a special investigator for the Department of Homeland Security. He was laughing uncontrollably when I told him about this encounter. "It's always the guys with the dogs," he remarked. He had no idea why they're so occupation-obsessed, but we agreed that the best occupation to mention would be, "In house counsel for the Department of Homeland Security." It has some other name, which I have already forgotten.

A New Approach to the TSA
As you might have gathered, I greatly dislike power trips, and I struggle with “petty tyrants” with badges. The TSA seems to be ripe for all of that.

I do what I can to prepare myself mentally and chemically, but it is not always so simple.

I learned, however, that the TSA has a new program called, “Passenger Support Specialists.” It is a voluntary program for TSA personnel to help anyone for any reason at no charge. No questions asked.

I called their 800 number before my trip and a woman answered immediately. She volunteered reasons why people call: “Sometimes it is people who cannot stand being touched;” “sometimes it is the lines… we get all kinds of reasons that people call.”

The following day, I got a call from the TSA in Houston, telling me where to go, and the name of the woman who would assist me.

The checkpoint was almost entirely empty. I told the agent at the desk the name of the agent. The woman at the desk was unerringly kind: “Well, it is totally empty here right now. We could wait for her, but I am right here, and I think it will be fine today. You have PreCheck, and it is going to be over before you know it.”

She looked over and gave me a “thumbs up” sign once I was past the metal detector.

That is all it took to keep me entirely at ease.

I headed onward to the American Express Centurion lounge, which was mobbed. Definitely no chance at a shower, but the woman was so polite about it. My guess is that they are a bit overwhelmed now that the United Clubs lack showers. She joked, sniffed, and said, “Oh, you’re okay for a couple more hours.” But did she smell my shoes?

1 January 2018
United (legacy United) 825
Houston/Intercontinental C to Denver B
Seat 1B
Back to reality. A full flight on a 737. I want that empty first class cabin!

But it was hard to complain: the plane was clean, reasonably comfortable, and the flight would be a short one.

There were two flight attendants in first class, who managed to serve dinner to all 20 passengers in the 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Dinner consisted of a choice of mushroom pasta or hamburger served on a pretzel. This came with a salad, and what seemed to be a type of chocolate cheesecake.

The pasta was a bit cold, but it tasted okay. It had the strange addition of chopped beets.

The crew had not received a galley briefing sheet, so they were curious to know what was in it, and if it tasted okay. I think most people liked it. I decided to be honest and say that it was bit cold. The galley attendant was actually grateful: "I really wasn't sure how long to leave it in," she remarked.

We were on the ground ahead of schedule, and there was perhaps a 10 or 15 minute wait for bags.

Westin Denver International Airport
As I planned this trip, I arranged to see another old friend. Her travels were taking her via the Denver Airport as well.

Sure enough, she had to cancel. In her case, it was due to weather problems, and she apologized, and we will make other plans.

I thus had the night at the Denver Airport to myself.

Ice skating between the Westin Hotel and the airport entrance. The skates are complimentary.

The Westin is convenient but nothing more. The staff were scarce and apathetic. In fact, they edged on rude. The corridor to my room was full of room service trays and—even better—broken glass (I am an expert in this area due to the wine bottle incident).

The lobby was packed with skiers, holidaymakers, and airline crewmembers, all trying to control their frustrations as they tried to check in.

I had time to use the gym and pool, which were arguably the best parts of the hotel.

I was upgraded to an “executive suite,” which was fine, but nothing memorable. There was a view of the top level of a frosty parking garage, which reminded me of Fargo.

At least I slept well.

Denver International Airport
I had not received a call from the TSA, so I made sure to arrive with plenty of time.

The first stop was a 25-minute queue for check in. There was one contract agent checking in the entire Premier/First Class section. Another arrived later, but it was aggravating. Did they forget it was a holiday?

A sort of coordinator for the TSA introduced me to the guy who would help me out. He was calm, polite, and seemed quite happy to help. My (broken) phone screen would not scan correctly. He did not mind a bit. “No problem. I will walk with you upstairs, and you can just print out a new one. It happens all the time.”

As we got back to the checkpoint, he said, “So I can leave you from here?” He must have seen the look on my face. I had not said a word. “Nahh, that’s not right. I’ll be here with you.” He did just that. There is such value in just having someone look out for you.

He smiled and wished me a safe flight.

2 January 2018
United 1298
Denver to Tucson
This was another full flight, but the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly.

The A319 had clearly been refurbished recently, and it looked good. All of the cabin fittings were clean and sleek.

The only exception was the washroom, which seemed suitable for Arlanda Airport.

The first class flight attendant did not stop for a moment; she was eager to keep up refills and snacks despite the very short flight. She commented that she was flying with some of her favorite coworkers, and that they were having a good time.

Aftermath: Electronics
While at the American Express lounge in Houston and the United Club in Denver, I spoke with my insurance company. I had already emailed them while in Europe. Within two days of my return to the United States, I had money deposited in my account, which covered everything but a $250 deductible. I am glad that I kept the receipts, lost and found reports, police reports.

The second lost headphone situation was easily covered by American Express’ purchase protection plan. I just emailed them the receipt. No problem.

This trip filled me with gratitude. I feel fortunate that I am able to travel in such style, stay in nice hotels, and share the company of good friends. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude to the thoughtful TSA staff, the insurance adjustor, the staff from United, ICTS, and the border police who helped me report the stolen goods. Perhaps it is the tensest situations that can bring out the best in some people.

Electronics problems, flakes, and theft aside, I did not encounter a single significant flight delay, no cancellations, and overall remarkably good service on two continents. Lufthansa first class knocked my socks off, and they run circles around United, but that should be a surprise to nobody.

I imagine that John D. peered over his morning newspaper, glancing at Catherine T.
“Catherin T.?” he asked, “I wish the world was more verdant.”
“Yes, John D. I agree. We should start a foundation.”

"Pro" Tips
1. The Arlanda Express app is convenient but buggy. Buggy in a costly sort of way. I wish I had just used the kiosk.

2. Stockholms Lokaltrafik (SL -- public transport in Stockholm) has an app with online tickets. These are purchased in-app and produce a QR code. but the QR code can only be presented at counters with personnel, not the regular entrance gate. It is much quicker to purchase an access card for SEK 20 (USD $2.50).

3. Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG -- public transport in Berlin) has a reliable app, which does not lead to any restrictions.

4. Hooray for Apple Time Capsule backup and for renter's insurance. What could have been a particularly expensive theft turned out to be a temporary inconvenience.

5. There are kind, professional people at the TSA. You just need to ask for them. I am glad I did.

6. I know there are many Lufthansa first class trip reports, particularly featuring the duck. It seems a bit like Singapore Airlines lobster. But it really was a terrific flight, and I would be delighted to fly with them any time. I was on a MileagePlus reward ticket, and I just paid the change fee from United to Lufthansa once the seats opened up--about two weeks before departure.

7. Theft happens. It is an unfortunate part of travelling, especially in certain ports of call. There is a point at which one just has to accept it as a risk. I just bought some new luggage (a long time coming) that is a bit less cumbersome. It might make it easier for me to guard (or it might make it more attractive to a thief. I'll find out!)

8. Can we start a change.org petition to oust J-Jake from the Grand Hyatts? Send those cucumbers back to the garden. Maybe her "marriage" between nature and science needs to seek couples' counselling.

9. Always keep Liam Neeson on speed dial.

Next up: Naples in May.

Last edited by Mats; Feb 6, 18 at 8:16 am
Mats is offline  
Old Jan 9, 18, 1:50 am
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Thanks for a great report Mats ^

In NZ customs & agriculture specifically ask about footwear and other items that might be soiled. No mention of dog poop, but the pre-arrival video does feature a sniffer dog!
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Old Jan 9, 18, 7:42 am
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I absolutely adored this TR, not least because Berlin and Stockholm are two of my favorite cities -- and I just flew my first two segments in LH F, so your comments rang true. (Alas, no pilot visit or gifts of wine upon exiting, though I did have one of the best Indian meals of my life FRA>DEL.)

Your writing is exceptional. I just wish you'd taken more pictures!
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Old Jan 9, 18, 11:00 am
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Great trip report and love your writing style and wit. Thanks for sharing!
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Old Jan 9, 18, 2:40 pm
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This trip report was hilarious, loved it!
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Old Jan 9, 18, 4:17 pm
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Excellent report! I think all reports must have at least one Liam Neeson movie reference! I chose Taken for mine, you chose Non-Stop. I approve. Worst quote from that movie " You can't change the world with words, Bill . . . unless you write them on the evening news . . . with blood."
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Old Jan 10, 18, 2:16 am
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Great read thanks
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Old Jan 10, 18, 2:29 am
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Originally Posted by Anlun View Post
Excellent report! I think all reports must have at least one Liam Neeson movie reference! I chose Taken for mine, you chose Non-Stop. I approve. Worst quote from that movie " You can't change the world with words, Bill . . . unless you write them on the evening news . . . with blood."
@Anlun I had to go back to imdb; I'd forgotten the name of the movie, "Non-stop." Those passengers should have known better than to fly on British AquaAtlantic flight 10.
"Bill, you are that lie."

Last edited by Mats; Jan 11, 18 at 3:53 am
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Old Jan 10, 18, 6:30 am
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Oy veg az meir. Sorry for all your mishaps. Your trip, otherwise sounds lovely.
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Old Jan 10, 18, 8:28 am
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@kiwiflyer I clearly need to pay greater attention to shoe hygiene when travelling!

@RandomBaritoneThanks. I'm not a big photo person. I took more on this trip, but I tried to just pick a few highlights for the trip report. I'll try to be more diligent next time around. I imagine that Lufthansa's first class Indian food is amazing.

@kcmd, @wakesetter93, and @wtcmor :
Thank you so much for your kind words.
@CosmosHuman I think I might have possibly used more vivid language than "oy veg."

Last edited by Mats; Jan 11, 18 at 3:53 am
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Old Jan 10, 18, 9:42 am
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Funny trip report - thanks for sharing ^
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Old Jan 10, 18, 11:05 am
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Thanks for sharing, @Mats! Sorry about the saga of bad ju-ju on electronics. I'd like to think I am a vigilant traveler when it comes to my belongings and security, but even the best of us can blink and something happens. :/

What was the weather like in France?

Nevertheless, great TR! Thanks for posting.
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Old Jan 10, 18, 1:37 pm
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S.nig.gering like a lunatic at your trip report instead of doing a very boring report of my own. Loved it!
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Old Jan 11, 18, 3:48 am
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@Madone59: Thank you. Glad to keep you entertained.

@jtav559: "Saga" is definitely the right term for Scandinavian misadventures.
It was unseasonably warm in Paris. It was--I think--up to 10 degrees (Celsius) one day. It was grey but not raining.
Definitely the warmest December I have ever experienced in Paris.

@Babuduck: I wish you greater lunacy among your travels. It does make life interesting.
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Old Jan 11, 18, 8:43 am
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What a great read!!! Thank you once again. Looking forward to the next saga - hopefully sans electronics mishaps ........
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