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3 Continents, 1 Wedding and a pile of EQM BA/AZ/IB/AA/LH/AY J + DY Y

3 Continents, 1 Wedding and a pile of EQM BA/AZ/IB/AA/LH/AY J + DY Y

Old May 30, 19, 10:37 am
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Join Date: Dec 2009
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3 Continents, 1 Wedding and a pile of EQM BA/AZ/IB/AA/LH/AY J + DY Y

My best friend decided to get married in Hungary. We'll get back to that later. The myriad reasons this was an awful decision, why the wedding was in Hungary, etc...first let's get down to the autistic flight planning. This trip was a gem, and really highlighted the neurotic advance flyertalk style planning that I have learned from this site. After mining the premium fare deals forum, this trip was bracketed by halves of two other fares, with another MR worked into the middle. Back in 2018, there were cheap fares from the U.S. to Moscow AND cheap fares ex-ARN, so in November, I flew JFK-HEL-SVO, to get to Europe, then when I returned in Dec., I used the front end of an ARN-HEL-JFK ticket. Now, in May 2019, I would complete these two tickets and toss in a little extra. The itinerary was:

1. JFK-LHR-ARN (BA J) the back end of the ticket I flew the front half of in Dec. '18
2. ARN-BUD (DY Y) Thanks to Malev's failure years ago, and SAS not offering ARN-BUD direct flights, this lovely option was my only choice.
3. BUD-FCO (AZ Y - later J) Purchased as coach, before departure my bid on the upgrade cleared
4: FCO-ALG (AZ Y - later J)) Purchased as coach, before departure my bid on the upgrade cleared
5: ALG-MAD-LHR-LAX-JFK-MAD (IB, AA J) Another gem from the premium cabin fare deals forum, my second ex-ALG run ~20k+ EQM for ~$1.4k USD
7: SVO-HEL-JFK (AY J) Back end of the ticket I flew TO Europe in Nov. '18

On Jan. 22 I returned from Africa WDH-JNB-LHR-JFK straight through in BA (Comair) J and BA F. Since then, there was a long, dark period with no longhaul flights, save for JFK-SFO-JFK back and forth on AA 321Ts in J (Y fare upgraded with miles & copay). Finally, on May 30th, it was time to get back up there.

BA 116
Boeing 747-400
Seat 62A (J)
Flight #33 of 2019

I don't love BA. I was prepared to be VERY underwhelmed by this flight, but I have to say my expectations were (for a change) not only met but exceeded. After arriving at JFK, I went to the dedicated F check in at JFK which was painless. I asked about a buy up from J to F, but the going rate was $1,100 which was too rich for my blood. From there, it was on to security. I noticed a guy to the right of me putting his belongings into a bin and thought "man, this guy looks like a haggard, older and uglier Keanu Reeves." Then I noticed he had an airport staffer escorting him through the line. Eventually when one of the TSA agents shouted out "Hey man I loved John Wick!" I realized "huh, that actually IS Keanu Reeves." He seemed like a pretty chill and humble guy. The new BA J lounge at JFK is very spacious and quite comfortable. I had a brief spat with the lounge dragon, when she told me that as a AA OWE traveling in Club World I was not entitled to access the F section of the lounge, but she soon realized the error of her ways. I thought she was merely trying to diffuse the situation when she said "the J section is nicer anyway," but after she came back around and granted me access, I have to agree with her assessment. The F section is very low on seating and not that great. I perused it briefly then grabbed my carryon and went back over to the J side to hang out before the flight.

There is also a dining area for BA Club passengers. It's a vast improvement over the slop they used to serve in Club Dining in the old lounge, the food was not only edible, but good.

This JFK-LHR flight was on one of BA's 747-400s. My absolute favorite airplane, the Queen of the skies. As a OWE, I had selected an upper deck seat (62A) in advance. I try to avoid BA Club World since the seats in that god awful 2-4-2 configuration are not the best. It had been quite a while since i'd flown 747 UD, and I'd forgotten how pleasant it can be. While MOST of BA's CW seats are not great, the 747 UD seats, especially 62 A and K are very comfortable. Tons of bin storage on the side, direct aisle access and plenty of privacy. Turned out to be a phenomenal flight. The upper deck J cabin was only about 2/3 full. After takeoff, I watched Creed II which honestly was NOT that great. In the end, I felt BAD for Drago. I'm not sure why Sly has been making Rocky seem more and more like a mentally feeble imbecile as he ages. I know he took a lot of blows to the head, but I thought we were all regarding that whole Rocky V brain damage plot as not being canon.

I had a lamb main during the movie that was also excellent, then cranked the seat back and slept for 4-5 hours before touch down at LHR. Absolutely nothing to complain about. Great crew and a perfectly comfortable and pleasant flight. As good as it gets on BA. According to my records, I flew this same aircraft, in the same seat on 12/15/14 LHR-JFK. Seat 62A is HIGHLY recommended.

BA 780
Airbus A321-200
Seat 2A (J)
Flight #34 of 2019

I had a fairly long layover in LHR. I hadn't thought about how tired I might be after the TATL flight when enthusiastically booking this roundtrip months ago. C'est la vie. During my last swing through LHR in Jan., after landing from JNB, while clearing transit security and before boarding another long haul to JFK, I had a lovely dust up with the charming security staff at LHR. Mind you this was 5am, and I was a bit grumpy after getting off a 10+ hour flight, and before getting on another 8 hour flight. LHR security are absolute NAZIS regarding liquids. I have literally never seen any airport staff anywhere in the world that are this insane about it. If you have any tiny amount of liquid or anything almost liquid like deodorant that you don't put in a plastic bag these people will LOSE THEIR DAMN MINDS and basically strip search you. Anyway, back in Jan., these clowns took every item out of both of my bags and everything out of my toiletry kit because we all know that if a hotel sized shampoo bottle goes through the scanner INSIDE your luggage and not in a clear plastic bag, the security of the UK is DONE HERE. They were not at all civil or pleasant about it and I got a bit worked up and decided to give it back to them. 5am isn't good for anyone. In my groggy and perturbed state I may have said something like "you're worthless and you don't actually make us any safer, this is all security theater and you're just enjoying having a modicum of power for once in your lives and being tyrants" or something like that...needless to say the security staff were not amused. That led to ~45 minutes of being stuck at security and arguing with them to no avail.

This time, I eschewed the toiletry kit and put everything in a clear plastic ziplock from the get go, not worth the hassle. This being my first visit to LHR as a OWE, I went to Galleries First. While it's not the CCR, I thought this was an excellent lounge, and it was a very pleasant place to pass the crushingly long layover (I think it was ~5 hours!?). Boarding for ARN was uneventful, as was the flight. The only thing I noted was that the legroom was absolutely BRUTAL. At 6'4'', many airline seats can be less than ideal for me. I could be wrong, but I feel like in years past, the first few rows of most intra-euro configured aircraft had slightly more legroom. Perhaps i'm wrong, but that certainly isn't the case now. Row 2 had very tight pitch. I managed to contort myself into a semi-comfortable state and get a little sleep on the way to Stockholm.
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Old May 30, 19, 10:50 am
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The Grand Hotel, Stockholm

The first time I came to Stockholm in 2005, I stayed at The Grand. I was SHOCKED then by how bad and out of date the rooms were, but then again, Scandinavia is not exactly a hot bed of top notch hotels. As life would have it, I ended up dating a Swedish girl in the earlier part of this decade and came to spend a lot of time in Stockholm. After we broke up, I had no reason to visit Stockholm for several years. As mentioned in the previous post, I availed myself of that ex-ARN fare that kicked off in Dec., and prior to flying out of Europe, I returned to Sweden and spent two days in Stockholm to catch up with some old friends. On that stop, I also stayed at The Grand, and was pleasantly surprised that, as a LHW Leaders Club, member they upgraded me to a room that wasn't tiny, tired and horribly out of date. It seems that in the past few years, The Grand has greatly upped their game, and joined the ranks of first world 5-star hotels. Still, I was worried that perhaps that one pleasant stay was an anomaly. After landing at ARN, I fired up uber, popped out front of the terminal and was quickly on my way to central Stockholm (30-40 minutes by car, there's also an airport express train option).

The staff at the hotel were great. Check-in was a breeze and they informed me that as a Leaders Club member they had upgraded me and that I would have free breakfast the following morning. I had emailed in advance to request the same room I stayed in during my last visit. While that room was occupied, they put me in the room directly next door, which was the exact same configuration (Room #612 or 613 RECOMMENDED). Lovely room, spacious and most importantly a great deep bathtub.

I was only in Stockholm for one night in transit on the way to this wedding, and by the time I got to the hotel it was already late afternoon. To rally and go out or to rest? The eternal question. I messaged a bunch of friends to see what their plans for the evening were, then went to the gym to try to pep up. The Grand also has an excellent spa, gym and pool. The day of my arrival (May 1) was a bank holiday, as a result it seems pretty much everyone had a rough evening the night before and was not inclined to go out again. However, a few of my hardier friends were still up for getting drinks. My flight to Budapest wasn't until the following afternoon, but I knew that the wedding would be a 3-day drinking gauntlet, so I was torn. After the gym, I got dressed went down to the lobby bar at the hotel (which is also beautiful) and figured I would have a drink and think it over. After two martinis, I decided that I would make the responsible decision and retire rather than go meet friends for "just one or two," because I knew that "just one or two" would actually turn into "out until 4am" and I would be very, very full of regret the following day.

Back in the room, I mentally patted myself on the back for this wise decision, turned in and got a great night of sleep in a very comfortable bed. The Grand gets a STAMP OF APPROVAL and remains the go to choice in Stockholm until they greatly drop off and give me a reason to shift my loyalty.
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Old May 30, 19, 11:18 am
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DY 4478
Airbus A320-200
Seat 3F (Y)
Flight #35 of 2019

It's ALWAYS a treat when you get to fly on a bare bones low cost carrier. It's even better when they decide not to operate your flight and stick you on even crappier wet leased equipment. As mentioned, since Malev no longer exists, and SAS doesn't fly direct from ARN to BUD, my only option was Norwegian. When I initially booked this flight months ago, it was scheduled to get into BUD around 2pm, which was perfect. DY later changed the schedule so that the flight wouldn't get in until around 7pm. I wasn't thrilled, but it's not like I had any other options. Things got even better in the wake of the MAX8 fiasco. Since DY had to ground theirs (this flight was scheduled to be on a MAX8), DY were left with insufficient aircraft to operate all their routes and had to wet lease A320's from Avion Express.

When I made the booking, I paid extra for an exit row seat (15A), knowing that pitch elsewhere would probably be uncomfortable. When the MAX8's were all grounded and this flight was swapped to an A320, DY didn't move me to an exit row in the new layout, didn't notify me and when I tried to check the seatmap to verify gave me a message saying seat changes were NOT permitted. Like an idiot, I didn't worry about this much, but around the time that I got to ARN I checked Avion Express' A320 seatmaps and realized I was no longer in an exit row. The gate agent told me all exit row seats were gone, and all extra legroom seats were also gone. So, I paid for extra legroom and didn't get it. Thanks Norwegian! On the plus side, the AMEX Lounge at ARN (which I was able to access with a US Platinum Card) has an a la carte restaurant and was quite good.

Because good things always come in threes, the flight was also delayed. After boarding, the people next to me in my row noted that they too had paid for extra legroom and didn't think these seats had it. I told them about the aircraft swap due to the MAX8 grounding and they were not pleased that Norwegian hadn't moved them into extra legroom seats post-swap or at least notified them and let them change their seats. Oh well, life on a LCC. The flight wasn't pleasant, but i've seen worse. It was only two hours anyway.

We landed right at the tail end of an absolutely stunning sunset over Budapest and parked at one of the far away stands. Deboarding was by stair, then we walked under a covered walkway to the main terminal building. Here I linked up with my girlfriend who had arrived 45 minutes earlier from London, and we got a cab and set off for the villa that the bridal party were staying at.


The main reason for this trip, was my best friend's wedding. We've been best friends for about a quarter century now, which is absolutely horrifying. How are we old enough to have been friends with anyone for that long? My buddy recently moved to San Francisco for work, and was raised on the East coast, but his Mother emigrated from Hungary during the Cold War. The bride's family (Indian) had...let's call it "creative control" over most aspects of these nuptials, so the location in Hungary was a concession to the groom's side, even though the ceremony would be Hindu and would be presided over by her Uncle who apparently counts as a Priest in their religion because of the caste they hail from? I don't know. For reasons I will not delve into in public, I do NOT at all care for his wife, an opinion shared by 100% of his friends and family. A good set up!

Our driver didn't seem at all confused by the address, didn't need GPS and after some F1 style ripping around curves in the hills climbing away from the immediate center of Budapest, he pulled us up to the gate of the villa. Impressive mental navigation. We used the key code to get through the main gate, and as we got to the front door of the house, my buddy greeted us and showed us to our room. The house (The Writers Villa) was absolutely lovely. Beautiful place, nice gardens, pool etc...Unfortunately, of the 7 bedrooms in the house, the Bride and Groom were in one, me and my gf were in one, and the other five were allocated to her friends. Everyone from his side, including his sister were forced to a hotel and his sister wasn't even allowed a +1 which I thought was particularly egregious. When we got to the house he greeted us with "thank god you guys are here, everyone else in the house are her friends." A promising start to this life together! I won't bore you with all the details of the weekend, but the initial evening consisted of just getting hammered at the house, a groggy walk through of the ceremony the following "morning" (I woke up at 1pm), a reception at High Note Sky Bar at the Aria Hotel (fantastic venue, didn't know there were roof top bars so close to St. Stephens) followed by drinks at the Ruin Bars (where the bride to be refused to go home and we left her. She apparently returned home blacked out after 3am the night before her wedding), the wedding itself and a very sloppy reception which went until 4am and was of course highlighted by the bride again getting black out drunk, crying and slurring her words. Wonderful! Magical! I think I crushed the best man speech and my buddy was happy, so really that's all that matters. I hope it works out! After getting to bed around 5am after the wedding, I had thankfully booked a maintenance day in our itinerary before the flight out to Italy. Most of the crew would be departing from Budapest that day in pain, while we were headed to the Ritz-Carlton to lie in the fetal position and order room service.

EDIT: Borkonyha Wine Kitchen...highly recommended restaurant in Budapest. Top choice.

Last edited by GetSetJetSet; May 30, 19 at 6:24 pm
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Old May 30, 19, 11:47 am
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Ritz-Carlton, Budapest

This would be my 2nd visit to this hotel. After playing in European Championships in Budapest in 2016 (lacrosse), I came here to chill for a few days. On that stay, I got an ABSURD upgrade to a suite that was like 1/2 a floor. I wasn't expecting a similar treatment this time.

The morning after the wedding, we helped the groom tidy up and get everything squared away at the house, and discussed his travel plans. Even though the bride and groom would be departing the following day for a mini-honeymoon (they would later have a proper one), they hadn't decided where they were going yet. I offered suggestions and said I would help with flight booking as necessary, then called a cab and took off for the hotel with my girlfriend. The weather was horrible, and the rain coupled with our exhaustion and hangover clinched that nothing approaching productive activities were in the cards.

While it was not the rainman suite, the hotel did upgrade us to a lovely junior suite with a nice view and club access. The balance of the day, was as expected, spent in the fetal position and included a room service order to burn a chunk of the F&B credit we received and another viewing of Eurotrip. I have nothing but great things to say about the RC Budapest. Their club is one of the better RC clubs and overall I would say it's towards the top of my list of favorite RC properties anywhere. It's usually quite a bit cheaper than the FS Budapest as well. Highly recommended.

AZ 479
Airbus A319-100
Seat 1F (J)
Flight #36 of 2019

On to Italy! At the time of booking, months ago, I put in a bid on upgrades for this flight. I don't recall how much it was, perhaps 80euros/person? A day or two before the flight, Alitalia informed me that they had accepted the bid, and my gf and I were upgraded to J. At some point the day before, the groom told me that they were going to fly to Rome, then on to parts TBD in Italy. He booked two seats on the same flight my gf and I were on. I figured perhaps we'd hang out in Rome on the first night.

We got to the airport around 1.5 hours before the flight, breezed through security and went to the Platinum (Priority Pass) Lounge near our gate. It was spacious enough, had power ports and some dreary looking food options. There we found my buddy and his now wife. She did NOT look pleased to see us and seemed surprised. I could only assume that he didn't mention to her that he'd booked them on the same flight we were on.

Boarding was by bus. It was only a 1h16m minute flight, but a (terrible) meal was served. For a country known for their food, Alitalia really does not deliver with the catering.

After landing in Rome, we all assembled at the end of the jetway before heading for the exits. We were going to different hotels, so we agreed to stay in contact and perhaps meet up that evening for dinner. Overall, while Alitalia is not a great airline, it's nice to be able to book cheap fares and consistently score upgrades through the bidding process. I always bid at the lowest end of the spectrum, and I have only missed one upgrade on AZ in the last two years despite not having any SkyTeam status.

HT6 Hotel, Rome

This is my hidden gem hotel in Rome. It's not a "luxury" property, but they have great rooms, an unbeatable location and very reasonable prices. I don't like any of the "top" hotels in Rome like The Hassler or Hotel de Russie. I find them to be poor values for the $ and I don't like being RIGHT in the middle of snap snap tourist hell. The HT6 is located in the old Jewish ghetto and is right along the river, meaning you are a very short walk from Trastavere while also remaining close to Piazza Navona and an easy walk from all the major tourist sights, should you want to check them out. This was my 3rd or perhaps 4th stay at the HT6. I requested an upgrade to room 105, which they had agreed to on previous stays. On this visit, #105 was occupied, but they were kind enough to give us a complimentary upgrade to room #107 , which is the same layout. It's a duplex suite with a living room, full bathroom with tub on the ground floor, then the bedroom and a 1/2 bathroom upstairs. The hotel doesn't have a gym, but they offer an excellent breakfast in the AM (included in the rate), as well as cocktails in the evening in the lounge. Rates/night are almost ALWAYS under $300 a night and are often under $200 a night. This is absolutely my first choice hotel in Rome and I highly recommend it.

After getting to the hotel, we decided to wander around the streets for a few hours. My gf and I have been to Rome many times and have long since done all the tourist stuff, so it was pleasant just to walk. We stopped into Giolitti for gelato (excellent, highly recommended and my current favorite in Rome), then continued our meandering until dinner time. We popped back into the hotel to freshen up and check in with my buddy, to see if he and his wife still wanted to join us for dinner. Earlier, he had unilaterally told me he wanted to have dinner with us around 8:30pm. I asked if he wanted to meet around 8 and head to the restaurant. He said his wife was gravely ill and bedridden, as it was coming out of both ends. I think she probably just didn't want to see us. Understandable given it was her honeymoon, I just would have appreciated some transparency and not a thin, likely false story.

With no further need to wait for the others, we set off for Trastavere and one of (in my opinion) the two best pizzas in Rome. Da Ivo. Going into this trip, my ranking of Rome pizzas was 1. Dar Poeta, 2. Da Ivo, 3. Ai Marmi. Da Ivo and Ai Marmi make a Roman style pizza with a thin, crispy crust, while Dar Poeta is a hybrid style that certainly isn't Roman and isn't soupy enough to be Neopolitan, it's almost like smaller, personal sized NY style. It's very good. However, after this stop, I have had to elevate Da Ivo from #2 to #1(B), as it's every bit as good as Dar Poeta. After finishing up dinner, we walked through Trastavere and thought about going for drinks. In the end we decided to to walk back, turn in and get ready to wake up early and make the train to Naples in the morning.
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Old May 30, 19, 1:18 pm
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A Casa del Principe, Naples

It turned out to be good that we got a reasonable night of sleep in Rome. The following morning, we had what we thought was ample time to make our train to Naples. We left the hotel, walked out to the main street and requested Uber...20 minutes. It ended up being closer to 30 due to horrific traffic. We had purchased our tickets for the train online that morning and were now tied to the departure time, so we begged Sergio to unleash his inner race car driver and somehow get us there on time. He made power move after power move, went down a one-way street the wrong way and got us to Rome Termini about 2 minutes before the train departed. Now THAT is a 5-star Uber driver. We sprinted from the entrance to the train and made it just before departure. The 1-hour express trains were almost 2x the price, so we took one of the slow trains to Naples. Total travel time was around 1h45m. It was a pleasant enough trip other than the obligatory baby in our vicinity shrieking it's head off for most of the journey.

Once to Naples, we grabbed a cab and took off for our B&B in the Centro Storico. I found this place through extensive searching, it had great reviews, was under $100/night and was right in the alleyways of the historical center. The cab couldn't go down the street the place was located on, so we grabbed our bags and continued on foot. After getting slightly lost, we doubled back and found the side street the B&B was on. The proprietor met us at the door and showed us to our room. She was a very nice and helpful lady. The room was bright, recently renovated and perfectly comfortable. Certainly not luxurious, but what do you expect for $90/night? We dropped our bags and began what would become known as "the day of the two pizzas."

Both of us are VERY into pizza (really, who isn't?), and when in Naples, one must eat pizza. We had two places circled, and we intended to plow through both of them. I'd been to Naples a few times before, but this was my gf's first stop. Lunch would be at my favorite pizza place in Naples, Di Matteo. Since it was a bit after the lunch rush, when we rolled up there was ZERO line, which in and of itself is noteworthy. We were seated immediately and got down to business. The pizza was phenomenal, cheap and everything you expect it to be. Top notch, still best pizza in Naples. From there we went on a multi-hour death march up and down every street in the center and more churches and cathedrals than I can count. The Naples Cathedral and Nuovo Gesu in particular are amazing. After we'd run through everything in centro storico, we continued down towards the waterfront and did a tour of Castel Nuovo...very underwhelming. It looks better from the outside than it is to tour from the inside. We then walked through a park along the waterfront and up the stairs towards the part of Naples where the Hotel Excelsior and some of the other high end hotels are located. After a quick stop for a coffee we slowly made our way back to A Casa del Principe and rested briefly before pizza #2 .

The second pizza, was Da Michele. I have heard endless hype about this place, but I had never been before. We arrived a bit after 9pm and took a ticket with a number on it and began our wait. After perhaps 20-30 minutes, they called us in and seated us. We both had the margarita pizza and while it was good, it wasn't great. Certainly (in my opinion) not as good as Di Matteo. Given the huge number of other famous pizza places in Naples that I have yet to try, I wouldn't bother with a return visit to Da Michele.

With about 10 miles of wandering behind us, and two pizzas in our bellies we slept well that evening. The following morning we would be heading to Positano by way of Herculaneum and Pompeii.

We were up bright and early, grabbed a coffee in a local cafe and made it Piazza del Gesu Nuova to wait for our driver at the assigned hour. I had previously hired this guy in 2016, and he did a great job then. Apparently he's gotten complacent. We stood there with our bags for 15, 30, 45 minutes...he kept saying he was 10 minutes away. Finally, over an HOUR after our agreed upon pick up he arrived and said "traffic, not my fault" and shrugged. As if today's traffic was any worse than a normal day, and as if it was impossible for him to monitor the situation and leave earlier if he would be delayed. Whatever. Our first stop was Herculaneum. This was my third visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum. They are both amazing sites, but three times is a lot of times to visit...I went because my gf had never been. Some might say i'm a Saint. We spent probably three hours going through every inch of Herculaneum, then popped over to Pompeii, engaged a guide and did that place up and down as well. I was very ready to get to the hotel when we wrapped.

Hotel Poseidon, Positano

After perhaps an hour and a half we made it from Pompeii to Positano. I first came to Pompeii in 2011, returned in 2016 and was now returning for a 3rd visit. This time, we were staying at Hotel Poseidon. On previous trips I had visited La Sireneuse (good, not great) and Hotel Conca d'Oro (very nice rooms, but very far from the center). The hotel upgraded us to a sea view room with a very large balcony. The rooms have great views, the location is pretty good but the decor is still firmly lodged in the 1950's. There's a pool (not heated) at the hotel, and as it was unseasonably cold it was not warm enough to swim. The pool deck also has tables to take cocktails at while enjoying the view and a top notch restaurant. The included breakfast was served on the same floor and was quite good.

After dropping our bags in the room, we went down to the pool deck for cocktails. We attempted to reserve a table at the hotel restaurant that evening for dinner, but they were fully booked. The desk recommended Da Vincenzo, not far up the road. We walked in without a reservation, and though they were almost fully committed they found space for us. Excellent meal, recommended. We followed the earlier cocktails with a bottle of rose at dinner and then continued on. After dinner we wandered down into town to meet some friends that were staying in Praiano but having dinner that night in Positano at Chez Black. We got there just as they were finishing dinner up and then we all went over to the cocktail bar above Music on the Rocks. Around 12am or so, our friends departed to get back to Praiano, and we went to check out Music on the Rocks which was beyond dead (zero other patrons). Other than peak peak season weekends it's always pretty empty but this was REAL empty. It was still early, who knows, maybe it picked up later.

The next morning in addition to being cold it was overcast and drizzling. We went back down the road into town, checked out the church, wandered down to the beach then up and down the alleyways. I was looking for a new pair of driving shoes, since the only shoes I had packed for the trip were in quite bad shape. Sadly, all the shoe stores only stocked Italian twink sizes, and no one could accommodate my 'MURICAN sized foot. Too much freedom. While traipsing through the shopping streets I saw HORDES of Chinese shock troops parading into town arranged in columns like an invading battalion. It was truly shocking, and I don't think I will return to Positano. 1. There's really nothing to do, sure it looks pretty but after you get over that what do you do all day? The beach isn't even nice. 2. everything from hotels to restaurants to shopping is MASSIVELY overpriced, 3. It's boring at night. I know Music on the Rocks is like the only game in town on the Amalfi Coast, but it's not much of a centerpiece. 4. The amount of Chinese tourists was overwhelming. I have no desire to go to a "relaxing" vacation spot and have thousands of people pushing and grabbing and choking the streets to the point of it being impossible to move. Luckily, from Positano we would be heading on to new places and looking to uncovered untapped vacation spots.

That night we had dinner at the hotel restaurant and the food was excellent. The only negative being (again) the obligatory shrieking baby seated at the table next to ours. We had tried to arrange a driver from Positano to Santa Maria di Castellabate in town, but everyone was quoting us something crazy like 300-350euro. Finally, I called the hotel we'd be staying at in Cilento and they offered to send someone FROM there to pick us up and bring us BACK for only 180euro...DONE and DONE. With everything resolved, we went to bed before moving on to the next adventure.

Last edited by GetSetJetSet; May 30, 19 at 6:33 pm
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Old May 30, 19, 2:01 pm
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Palazzo Belmonte, Santa Maria di Castellabate

Continuing with the wonders of antiquity tour, on the way from Positano to Santa Maria di Castellabate we stopped at Paestum, which has some amazingly well preserved Greek temples. It was an amazing site, highly recommended. Far less tourists than better known Pompeii and Herculaneum. After this stop, it was on to the hotel, which is owned and still inhabited by Prince Belmonte. I don't know the whole story, but I would assume that he's a somewhat impoverished aristocrat that now has turned part of one of their ancestral homes into a hotel. I think it has been receiving guests in some capacity since after WW2 and the Pirelli Calendar was shot there perhaps a decade ago. The Prince is a nice enough older gentleman (70s or 80s) that we met in the courtyard one afternoon while he was sitting there relaxing with his cat.

The hotel has amazing grounds, nice gardens and a pool (sadly not open for the season yet). After a long drive up from the gate, we were dropped off, entered the courtyard and went in to reception. As this was still the "soft opening" period of the season in May (the hotel would fully open in a few weeks for a wedding), lots of amenities were not yet functioning. The pool was closed, the bar and restaurant were closed, there was no breakfast room and the entire staff seemed to just be Claudia at the desk and one other guy. Of course no one mentioned this limited program at booking or any time after. We seemed to be the only people in the hotel, though i'm sure there were a few others. I think in total there are 50 rooms. We were shown to our room, a tiny affair on the top floor (walk up) that was facing the sea and had a nice balcony, and given a sheet to fill out with our breakfast preferences. Since the breakfast room was not open yet, they would serve breakfast in the room, which was nice. The room, being on the top floor and in the sun was quite hot, when we called to ask about the aircon, they told us that too was not yet working. Lovely. We asked to be moved to another room, but they said it wouldn't be possible until the following day. Not wanting to argue, we just let it go and went to wander around the town, which was charming.

First we went past the pool and down the stairs to the beach and lay in the sun for a while. Once we began to burn, we dressed and walked into town. We stopped at Baffo for gelato. The proprietor, Baffo's wife, was adorable and the prices were very reasonable (2 euro). It was perhaps the best gelato I have ever had. We continued on up and down the streets of the small town and then returned to change for dinner. Our first choice of restaurants, Osteria 1861 was booked up all weekend for some private event, so we settled on Per Bacco. We had a nice bottle of fiano and a surprisingly great meal with a view of the sun setting over the beach in the center of town. While this town is popular with Italian tourists, it didn't seem like many other groups go there. No English menus anywhere due to no English speaking visitors is always a good sign. It was still May, so even the Italian tourists hadn't arrived (they come primarily in August) and the town went to bed quite early. After a post-dinner stroll, we did the same.

The following morning, after breakfast in the room, Claudia agreed to move us to a room next door that was an upgrade to a suite with a nice living room, huge balcony with a view of the sea and of Castellabate on top of the mountain, as well as a spacious bedroom and the same super large tub we had in our previous room. With all animosity towards the hotel now quelled, our trusty Cilento driver Franco picked us up to get some fresh buffalo mozzarella. The cheese is produced in farms around Paestum, and we wanted to go right to the source.

Inexplicably, none of these places have realized the opportunity to make $ by having restaurants attached to their farms that pump out dishes focused on the meat and cheese they produce at huge markups, so while we'd planned on a lunch of caprese salad, we ended up just buying some incredibly fresh cheese, made earlier than day and eating that. Franco would later tell us that restaurants in this region almost never feature caprese even though some of the best tomatoes and mozzarella anywhere come from this region because locals eat it all the time at home and it's considered "too simple" and not something people want to eat when they go to a restaurant. Certainly not how this tourist felt! Back at Palazzo Belmonte, we changed and set off across the beach to San Marco di Castellabate, on the other end of the small bay. We had a coffee there in a lovely cafe by the marina filled with fishing boats and tried to understand why this unbelievably beautiful and charming place was totally off the radar. I travel quite extensively, and had never heard of Cilento before.

In fact the way that we ended up here at all was quite strange. The previous summer, we were in Florence. After being thoroughly disgusted by the tourist hordes and the awful, overpriced food, we spoke with a local woman who suggested a place on the opposite side of the river from most of the tourist sites. It turned out the restaurant was closed, but a bartender steered us towards another restaurant a few blocks away. It was fully booked, but after some free prosecco and a short wait we were seated. We had a wonderful meal there and a nice chat with our waiter. He went on and on about how where he was from (Cilento) was near the Amalfi Coast, but more beautiful and without the tourists. He also raved about the food. I made a mental note and did some further research. It looked worth a shot, so we planned this stop based on the recommendation of our waiter. As with his food recommendations that night in Florence, he was spot on.

After walking back from San Marco to the Santa Maria side, we popped into Baffo again for an afternoon gelato and parsed through the vacant and dilapidated buildings along the waterfront, reimagining which would be suited to be turned into a hotel. More fiano and some churcutterie at Le Gatte ended the evening and our sadly short stop in this wonderful town. We will return next summer, no doubt to the chagrin of Claudia who seemed a bit exasperated with our frustration at most of the hotel's amenities being closed. Tomorrow, Acciaroli.

Hotel La Pineta, Acciaroli

The legend says that Hemingway lived in Acciaroli for some time in the very early 1950's and that one of the local fishermen was his inspiration for The Old Man and The Sea. No one can say for sure if this is true and none of the people in town seemed to be able to tell us where Hemingway lived while he was there (though they all asserted the legend was true). There is however, a local pizzeria named in his honor. What IS fact, is that somewhere between 17-20% of the 2,000 people in Acciaroli live to be over 100, a curious fact scientists have been studying.

Franco met us around 11am at Palazzo Belmonte to take us onwards to Acciaroli, only about 30 minutes further down the coast. It was a grey, chilly day with rain intermittently prickling the windshield. When we arrived at La Pineta, we dropped the bags and my gf took a nap. I wasn't tired, so I walked into town. The town (population ~2,000) consists of a tower and a church along the marina where the fishing vessels are moored. A "waterfront" featuring a handful of open restaurants and cafes, the edifice of a long since closed hotel that has seen better days, and a lot of shuttered businesses. I assume many of them open when the summer season is in full swing. Behind the waterfront promenade, there is a lengthy pedestrian area with a number of small shops, restaurants and boutiques, most of which were never open at any time during our stay in Acciaroli. After getting a feel for the town by walking up and down all three or so streets in the place, I went back to the hotel to wake my girlfriend up.

We followed my tracks back across the waterfront and then to the pedestrian street before settling into 'a Tartana, a small little restaurant where we had a phenomenal meal of spaghetti with shrimp. We exhaustively marched across every inch of the small town before returning to the hotel for some coffee and time by the pool as the haze had finally burned off. That evening we returned to town to attempt dinner. We couldn't find any place that was open, and a local directed us to Luca e la Lucciola. We had some drinks, watched Napoli play in the Serie A match on TV and ordered some pasta. Once it arrived and we pushed it around a bit, though it was delicious we realized we were far too full from lunch to attempt to eat again. Back at the hotel, we watched news, the only English language stuff we could find and slept.

The following day the weather was sour once again, we spent all day wandering around the small town. Had lunch once again at 'a Tartana, as nowhere else was open and skipped dinner. There's not much, or really anything to do in Acciaroli, but it's a beautiful, charming small town. The only issue is that at the edge of town there is this godawful modernist blocky building called "Mediteraneo." I can't understand why they would put such a horrible looking building at the entrance to such a pretty old town. That thing has to go!

La Pineta was faultless though not excellent in any way. The room was a bit small and cramped but had a lovely balcony. The location was described by Franco as "a bit outside of town." Which in the parlance of Cilento meant "1-2 minute walk from the tiny downtown." There was a pool, nice outdoor seating and a fairly decent breakfast spread. The staff were wonderful and extremely helpful I would return without hesitation if ever in Acciaroli again and would recommend it unconditionally.

Last edited by GetSetJetSet; May 30, 19 at 6:39 pm
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Old May 30, 19, 2:17 pm
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B&B Ventisei Scalini a Trastavere, Rome

Sadly our Cilentan interlude had come to an end and it was time to head back to Rome. We explored a number of transit options with the hotel, including taking a cab to Paestum, Agropoli or a 3rd station whose name escapes me, then taking a train from there to Napoli Centrale before continuing onwards to Rome but it all seemed like such an exhausting hassle. In the end, we settled on trusty Franco, as he was willing to come down on the price sufficiently to make it worth while to just go with him from Acciaroli directly to Napoli Centrale.

We had a great chat with him during the ride about the region, how tourism has been developing, where they would like to take it, etc...and took his card when we arrived at the train, so if anyone finds themselves in this region and needs a driver, inbox me and i'll be more than happy to share his contact info.

At the station, my gf popped open the TrenItalia app and booked us two seats on the next highspeed train to Rome. We hopped a cab from the station and were on our way. I spoke very highly of the HT6 in my earlier post. When I was planning this trip out months ago, I thought "you know what, let's mix it up and try somewhere new, somewhere IN Trastavere." I would pay dearly for this. The cab couldn't make it to our street, so he dropped us nearby and we continued on foot. When we got to the address, there was an envelope stuck to the door with my name on it. The envelope contained a phone number. When I called, the woman first chastised me saying I was supposed to arrive later and come from the airport (uh, no...not sure where you got that idea as we were never set to fly back to Rome, also not sure WHY it matters whether I arrived by plane or train), then finally she gave me the front door code, and the code to a lock box inside that contained the key. This was not a hotel or a B&B as the listing had indicated. We walked up two steep flights of stairs, opened one of several doors on that floor and entered into a living room with two doors off of it. The other key opened the door to our bedroom. In essence, this woman had a 2BR apartment, she was renting each bedroom out as if it were a hotel room and using the living room as a common space for breakfast. This was more shared AirBnB than an actual B&B. At no point was the woman I spoke with on the phone or any "employee" present. We were told to leave copies of our passports (yea right) and $ for city tax in the room when we left for them to collect. I left them the $, but there was no chance I was going to leave copies of our passports for god knows who. Awful experience, would never return. I told my gf shortly after "check-in" to remind me "next time I say we should switch it up from HT6 and try somewhere new, just remind me of this please."

The ONLY good thing I can say about this legit sh*thole, was that it was directly across the street from Dar Poeta. With Da Ivo's recent brilliance fresh in my mind, we went to Dar Poeta for lunch, and I was ready to move Da Ivo to #1 and drop Dar Poeta from it's long held top slot to 2nd place. Then the pizza came out and was as phenomenal as ever. I guess it'll just have to be a first place tie for now.

Lunch was followed by several more hours of wandering around the streets of Rome. The following day, I would leave for Algiers to undertake an absurd (to normal sane people) mileage run, and my girlfriend would return to London until I wrapped up the MR, then we would meet in Madrid.
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Old May 30, 19, 2:58 pm
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AZ 800
Airbus A319-100
Seat 3F (J)
Flight #37 of 2019

Usually Alitalia let you know a day before your flight if your upgrade bid has been accepted. A day before this flight, I got an email saying that they had not accepted it, nor had they declined it. If I still wanted them to reconsider, the email told me not to check-in, and AZ would re-evaluate 8 hours before departure. I complied, did not check in and figured since it was a small E75, I was probably out of luck. The Italian (Roman?) gods smiled on me, and Alitalia up-gauged from an E75 to an A319, and when I woke up the morning of the flight, I saw I'd scored the upgrade. I checked in and selected 3F.

I was flying to Algiers, but my gf was flying to London. Our flights were at relatively the same time, so we set off on another boondoggle in search of transit. It was a gray, rainy day in Rome. We walked from our pedestrian street out to one of the main squares in Trastavere along the river. Uber was quoting close to 30 minutes for pick up. We tried to find a taxi but there were absolutely NONE. We set off with our bags across the river and through Piazza Campo de Fiori and finally to the Corso where we were able to flag down a cab. We were thoroughly soaked by this point, but at least we were on our way. Our flights were leaving from different terminals. We sadly separated at the curbside and I went in to my terminal, and she continued on in the cab to the next one.

After clearing immigration, I turned to head towards my gate and BAM! I see my gf walking from security. We were both quite surprised. Apparently these "different" terminals, link up again somewhere after security/immigration and we fortuitously came to that chokepoint at exactly the same time. Gifted another 30 minutes or so together, we stopped into duty free where she picked up some Limoncello and other crap for her parents, then I walked her to her gate and waited until she boarded. Once BA was whisking her back to London, I proceeded back down the finger to the surprisingly great Alitalia lounge where I will not lie, I succumbed to the call of loungepizza.

The load was 8/16 in eurobiz on this A319, we had the double whammy of a bus transfer on departure and arrival. Otherwise nothing to write home about, short uneventful flight in eurobiz, i've been less comfortable. Upon landing at Algiers, I was surprised to find that 1. Algeria is now covered by the $10/day Verizon int'l travel pass (during my previous visit in Nov. it was not) and 2. the new Terminal at ALG appeared to be OPEN for business as a few Air Algerie planes were pulled up to jetways. During my previous visit it was still under construction, and I thought it was a ways from being put into service. Sadly, Alitalia still operate from the old terminal, so I got no more than a fleeting glimpse of the new, hopefully more efficient terminal.

During the flight I had asked for a landing card, but Alitalia said they forgot to load them. I can't say I was surprised. Once the bus dropped us at immigration, I grabbed a card, a pen from my carryon and scribbled the card out while waiting to enter. This was my 3rd time to Algeria, so I don't think they're suspicious. There were no questions asked and I was quickly stamped into the country.

Sofitel, Algiers

I hate the Sofitel brand. In my life I have NEVER stayed at a Sofitel that I consider "good." The Sofitel in Algiers is without question the WORST Sofitel in the world. However, they are truly the only game in town in Algiers, and they know it, so they have zero incentive to improve in any way, or make their prices fall into line with what they provide.

I had been emailing back and forth with the hotel in advance about the shuttle schedule. I told them what my flight details were, etc...and they said the shuttle comes and goes at set times whether or not the flights arrive on time/people are there. Makes sense. As our flight was 20-30 minutes delayed, and there was a bit of a queue for immigration, I missed the shuttle by 10 minutes. As soon as I got through immigration and into the hall some local Algerian latched on to me and wanted to "help," I politely told him a half dozen times I wasn't interested in any help and knew where I was going. He still followed me to the Sofitel's kiosk at the airport. I asked about the shuttle and the woman behind the desk, looking VERY annoyed that she had to stop watching videos on her phone informed me that it already left. I asked when the next would be, she said 45 minutes. I suggested perhaps I go out front and get a cab and she told me she would not advise me to do that. I asked if she could call a cab. Doubly exasperated now she called and informed me that with the traffic it would take at least 30 minutes to arrive, so i'd be better off waiting for the shuttle. I said OK, and went back behind the counter to the little waiting area with two couches at which point I was finally able to lose my "helper."

30-40 minutes later the shuttle returned and the woman told me it was here and asked if I knew where the shuttle pick up point was. I did not. Now beyond exasperated, she got up and walked me over to the shuttle. I was the only passenger, and the dusty black van took me from the airport and towards central Algiers. In late 2018, on my first ex-ALG run I had spent some time exploring the city. Since this stop was purely for connection, and it was already after 4pm when I arrived and I would be flying out the following morning, there was no sightseeing or anything exciting this time. We got to the, as usual, almost totally abandoned hotel and the indifferent desk staff took their time before checking me in. No upgrade, or even a thanks for being a repeat customer. I don't normally expect it, but in such an out of the way and lightly touristed place, I would think seeing a repeat guest in their system would stand out. I was given a room and took my bags up there. While it had been unseasonably cold during my time in Italy, it was QUITE hot in Algiers, somewhere in the mid-80's F I believe. When I got to the tired, dusty and badly worn room (all the rooms in the Algiers Sofitel are like this), the aircon wouldn't work. I called for maintenance. When the technician arrived, I verified that I had everything on the control panel set properly. He said it was, then fiddled around for a while, then left to turn something on and suddenly the aircon worked. My guess is the aircon for that whole half floor or perhaps the whole floor was set to "off" to save power since there were no guests and he had to go switch it on. Who knows.

With that settled, I went out to the pool to get some sun and swim. The pool deck has a great view of the Independence monument, downtown and the botanical gardens that are located next door. I'd seen all of that before, and was exhausted from travel, so it was nice to just relax. The pool is half outdoor, half indoor and part of the outdoor section and nearly the entirety of the indoor section are in various states of being ripped up and possibly repaired. Who knows.

My big plans to hit the gym after the pool unraveled and I watched some TV before passing out early and soundly. I awoke early the next AM and managed to dominate the gym, which while very 90's was surprisingly well stocked with weights. It's rare that you find a hotel gym with a proper bench press for example. The gym overlooks the pool and there was a guy hanging from a rope from the ceiling doing some sort of repair work.

Also notable, smoking is still allowed inside the hotel. You don't see that much anymore. I walked past a guy in workout clothes just ripping butts and sitting in an arm chair near the elevator at about 7:30am. After working out, I went to the bar and asked for an iced coffee. The bartender was at first perplexed, then as I explained I wanted a large glass filled with ice cubes and black coffee his surprise turned to disgust. Strange considering the Mazagran (a cold coffee drink) allegedly originated in Algeria. Energized from gym and coffee I went back to my room to shower and repack my bags. The hotel shuttle was late as usual, and surprisingly crowded. 3-4 other people joined me as we made our way to the airport. We drove past the sleek new terminal and the adjoining Hyatt Hotel (new?) to the tired and broken down terminal and in we went. Bags through the security scanner at the door, turn left, find the Iberia desks, wait for the clowns taking 20 minutes to check-in at the business desk, BP in hand then the long, long wait to get through immigration.

IB 8721
(Operated by Air Nostrum)
Bombardier Canadair CRJ-1000
Seat 2A (J)
Flight #38 of 2019

In addition to a painfully slow immigration queue, Algiers also has one of the top-5 worst lounges I've ever been to. I think the lounge allows access with priority pass, but it also welcomes premium passengers from (I think) every airline, since it's the only lounge. It's never too crowded though, since there are not a lot of flights in or out of ALG. The lounge is ratty, light on power ports and doesn't offer anything even approximating edible food. I drank more black coffee and counted the minutes until departure.

The lounge calls all departures, but when they announce your flight that means it's last call at the gate. I was one of the last people to board the bus. When you are leaving Algiers, they check your passport and scan your bags before you enter the terminal. Then they check your passport when they stamp you out of the country, then you go through security again. When you get to the gate, they scan your boarding pass and check your passport, then you go through security again before you go down the hallway. Then at the end of the hallway they check your passport and BP again before you get on the bus. Then when you get off the bus they check ID and BP one more time before you get on the plane. Insanity.

It was a light load on board. Only 3 total people in business, and it looked to be about 1/2 full in the back. I have had 3 or 4 flights on Air Nostrum RJs now and all of them have been very pleasant. Great crews and excellent meals. Really striking when compared to flying RJs on U.S. flag carriers (or mainline for that matter).

It was a short flight, so I passed out for as long as I could before a very short overnight stop in Madrid, the following day would be a long one.
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Old May 30, 19, 3:44 pm
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Vincci The Mint Hotel, Madrid

I had "been" to Madrid a number of times, but never actually been to Madrid. Previous stops were connections or quick overnights where I was so exhausted that I just went from the airport to a hotel to sleep, then from the hotel back to the airport to fly out. I had close to 20 hours on this stop, but as I would be returning to Madrid for three nights with my girlfriend on the back end of this mileage run, I told her I wouldn't run through any of the tourist stuff without her.

After landing from Algiers, I grabbed an Uber and headed for hotel. I was not expecting much, since it was very cheap and I was pleasantly surprised. The check-in girl was very cheerful, my room was ready and it was surprisingly spacious and had big windows facing Gran Via. I was expecting a cramped, double bed sort of situation, but this was a massive king. With my bags stowed, I popped outside and set off down Gran Via. I was horrified to pass a number of Taco Bell locations, as I thought these were U.S. only. I walked down to Plaza Espana, then over towards Palacio Real before turning back and walking the length of Gran Via in the opposite direction. By the time I wrapped all of this up, it was starting to get late. Since I'd already been fed on the flight in from Algiers, I went up to my room, verified some details regarding my flights the following day, I would be flying MAD-LHR-LAX, and figured out just how early I would have to wake up...before 5am, not ideal. I drew the curtains, since it was still light out, and did my best to fall asleep early, hoping to make the next day slightly less painful.

IB 3170
Airbus A320-200
Seat 2F (J)
Flight #39 of 2019

The fun began at check-in. My AA FF# wasn't on the BP. I added it, then when I had my BP's in hand, the FF # was only showing on one of them. The agent assured me I'd be credited for both. I suppose no choice but to trust it will work out. I noticed that my pre-selected seat for LHR-LAX (3J) had been moved to 4J, I asked the agent why, she couldn't tell me. I later called AA from the lounge and the EXP desk said they could see that AA had for some reason changed my seat without any input from me and without telling me, but couldn't figure out why. Guess someone more important wanted it.

With my BPs in hand, I went to fast track security, loljk it was closed. Back on the regular security line. Surprisingly long for slightly after 5am. Once through security, I saw Starbucks at the end of the hall and figured some coffee would wake me up, loljk Starbucks was closed also. I walked all the way back to the other end of the hall where signs indicated the Iberia lounge was located, figured I could get some coffee and breakfast there, loljk the lounge wasn't open either.

I stood out in front of the lounge with a half dozen others until Iberia finally decided to open. There was still no breakfast as they hadn't bothered to put anything out, but at least there was coffee. No ice, so I had to drink it hot, like a normal person, not great but it kept me awake. After a long walk to the gate, boarding began and I was in my incredibly uncomfortable seat. The legroom on the BA flight to Stockholm had been bad, but this IB "biz" seat was closer to the wet leased Norwegian economy seat. Just awful. The plane was a brand new A320NEO so I am guessing these are some "enhanced" new seats that are even less comfortable and spacious than the usual eurobiz.

From my brief stroll up and down Gran Via, Madrid looked amazing, and I was eager to return, but now it was time for lots of flying. We got off on time, but the first 60% of the flight was quite bumpy, either ATC couldn't find a smooth FL, or one didn't exist. Breakfast looked vile, and I planned to ball out of control at the OW Lounges at T3 LHR, so I passed and tried to sleep when not being smacked around by turbulence or driven to the brink by the obligatory shrieking baby. We had a tailwind and got to LHR early, so of course we were put in a 20 minute holding pattern by ATC to ensure that we wouldn't actually get off the plane early. This Iberia flight was arriving into T5 which seemed odd, because I thought (I guess incorrectly) that T5 was BA only.

After arrival I made my way to the shuttle bus from T5 to T3, which of course is always a very pleasant experience and then through transit security.

Boeing 777-300ER
Seat 4J (J)
Flight #40 of 2019

Obviously this flight # conjures up images of Messerschmitts to any obsessive airplane aficionado. I hadn't flown through LHR T3 in ages, and I had forgotten how many OW Lounge options there are. There's a Cathay Pacific Lounge with a biz AND separate F section, a Qantas Lounge, BA Galleries AND an AA Lounge. The choice seemed clear for a OWE...Cathay Pacific First Class.

I popped in and went to the a la carte dining area to have some noodle soup for breakfast. I asked for iced coffee, and received a small coffee cup with 2-3 sad, wilting cubes. After eating, I decided to scan the other options and bounced next door to the Qantas lounge. They have a lovely bar on the ground floor and another great bar with ample seating upstairs. I asked the barman for a proper iced coffee there and he complied. Viva Oz! I slammed the coffee as I was short on time and went down to the gate, no time for AA or BA galleries. At least I THOUGHT I was short for time. I got to the gate and boarding time came and went with no announcement. Finally AFTER boarding should have already started we were informed it would be delayed because the crew didn't show up on time. Very professional. Finally we boarded, perhaps an hour late.

They pre-boarded Concierge Key, as they often do, and no joke there must have been 20-30 CK on this flight, I have never seen so many. The guy next to me was complaining that he's a MM EXP flying Biz and he has to wait, everyone's a snowflake. Once on board, I found 4J to be rather agreeable except for the proximity to the lav. Some guy felt the need to perpetrate a pre-departure terror bombing of that lav and I was worried I would be traveling in a cloud of stench for the next 10 hours, but thankfully the smell was cancelled out by some sort of spray very quickly and no one else committed crimes of this nature during our journey.

As this was a very long haul, I watched a lot of movies.

First, I watched "Holmes & Watson." I figured HOW BAD could a movie with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly be? They're both funny, Step Brothers was great, right!? No...this movie was horrible I mean one or two mild chuckles, but overall just a steaming pile of crap like that the one that assaulted my senses before departure.

***of PARTICULAR interest to Flyertalkers*** after the long debate about airlines and lav policy, I would like to offer a data point. The AA crew made an announcement telling passengers NOT to cross the curtain dividers between cabins and to only use the lavs in their ticketed cabin.

Moving back to less contentious matters, the next movie up was "First Man." I had put off watching this movie for a long time, because I viewed the refusal to show the flag being planted as some sort of lib nonsense that would make an otherwise compelling story unwatchable. My fears were unfounded. I did not find any political slant to this movie. It was mildly entertaining, but what made it mediocre was that it was overly long, slow and Ryan Gossling plays every character as "quiet, emotionally reserved and at least mildly autistic." It was a quasi-Neil Armstrong biopic, and I learned things about him I didn't previously know. It was good but could have been better if it was a little tighter.

3rd up, I watched "The Upside" with Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston. It's a remake a French movie. It was OK, but so very by the numbers, safe and predictable that it was nothing more than a forgettable and mild distraction.

Oh, I almost forgot about the food, the focus of most trip reports. The meal started with a surprisingly good shrimp starter and salad. Very decent braised beef followed, then the AA ice cream sundae. Overall a very solid airplane meal, nothing to gripe about, AA catering is certainly not bad.

Finished with one final movie. Vice. I thought it was good as a movie, maybe not as a historical piece. I will avoid delving into how slanted it was and how hard it was trying to lead people to a desired conclusion because we avoid politics here.

I slept on and off but really couldn't pass out. Before landing, the 2nd meal with a chicken mini pot pie and a mushroom mini pot pie, both were really good. We landed a bit late due to our late departure, but it was a pleasant if sleepless flight. AA's J seats on the 773 are really top notch, and I would choose them over any other OneWorld product across the Atlantic (unless we're going WAY across the Atlantic and continuing to Qatar).
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Old May 30, 19, 4:33 pm
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Join Date: Dec 2009
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Posts: 6,730
W West Beverly Hills (LOLNO, 1 Hotel West Hollywood), Los Angeles

It had been a very long day. Up before 5am in Madrid, MAD-LHR, layover LHR-LAX, finally a long Uber ride in traffic from LAX to the W Hotel "West Beverly Hills" Keep in mind "West Beverly Hills" doesn't exist, this is Westwood. I had booked a suite, it was already almost 4pm by the time I arrived. I went to the check-in desk and the guy told me the room wasn't ready, and he didn't know when it would be. Absurd. He then suggested I take a suite with a Queen bed (downgrade) as one of those was ready now. So you mean I can pay you for my original room and stay in a lower category for the same price! What a deal! I told him that's not how this works, you don't downgrade if there's an issue, you upgrade. He saw my point, went back into the system and "upgraded" me to essentially the room I booked, but with a vestigial extra bedroom. I thanked him for his understanding, explained i'd been awake for ages, just got off a long haul, etc...I went up to the room and while the look of the room, the worn furnishings and the general vibe screamed "low budget 70's porno shooting location," I was too tired to care. I flipped on the aircon and went to unpack. Or rather I almost got to unpack.

The room consisted of a living room, bathroom and two bedrooms. The aircon in the two bedrooms turned on but couldn't be set to anything but auto and only put out lukewarm air. The unit in the living room was totally nonfunctional. I called 3-4 times to the worthless desk before getting a technician. He informed me the building used to be UCLA dorms in the 70's and that pretty much everything was of shoddy quality. He "fixed" the aircon unit in the living room briefly. Some 5-10 minutes after he left, it conked out again. It was hotter in the room than in the hallway even with the other two units "working" in the bedrooms. I called another 3 times asking for a technician or the manager, no one cared. I called Bonvoy, they contacted the manager, and I told them if this is how things were going to go, I would just as soon leave. I'd booked an advance purchase prepaid rate, so I asked them to either remedy the situation or refund my $ and i'd take my business to a hotel that had some idea of how to function as a hotel.

The manager agreed to refund my $, and I started repacking my things and scanning kayak for a new landing spot. As I was getting ready to go, the manager also offered to show me another room before I decided to leave. I said OK, then the manager said it would be ~45 minutes before I could see the other room. At this point it had already been around 2 hours since arrival and I was exhausted and needed sleep. I told them I would look at the room if it was ready now, otherwise i'm gone. The room was not ready, I grabbed my bags, booked 1 Hotel West Hollywood from my phone while heading downstairs and requested an Uber.

Things improved RAPIDLY at the new hotel. Check-in was quick and painless. I was given a spacious room with a deep soaking tub, great aircon, high ceilings and a nice view of the downtown LA skyline. I had plans to meet some friends and go out drinking that evening, but first I thought...a quick nap to recharge. It was 5:30pm.

When I woke up, it was 10am the following morning. I had set an alarm to rouse me from my nap, but I guess I turned it off while still half asleep. I must have really needed the sleep.

Since I was up, I decide to check out the hotel gym. Decent, but not great, and I'd expect more weights in a fitness conscious city like LA. I was somewhat familiar with the area as I'd stayed at the Andaz West Hollywood across the street on my last swing through LA, so I went from the gym to Sunset and continued up to Starbucks to cop some iced coffee. With that sorted, I came home, relaxed a bit, then changed and went down to the pool deck to get tan.

There was a brief interlude on the phone with AA and IB as I was starting to worry about my upcoming LAX-JFK flight on AA (ticketed by IB). It was unclear if the changes IB made had properly changed my flight and kept me in J or accidentally put me in F or if I would have a seat at all. More on that later. I showered up and went to meet some buddies at El Carmen. We had plans to bar hop but ended up posted up there until almost last call. After midnight, thoroughly soused, one by one they all called it quits. I was supposed to meet another buddy at Raspoutine and continue the night, but I just didn't have it in me. I departed when my last friend did, Uber'd home and called my gf to share with her my amusement over how drunk I was. Sometime thereafter, I would assume I passed out.

As is usually the case, the next day was not the most pleasant of all days. Since the hotel charged exorbitant prices for room service AND a delivery fee AND tax AND a mandatory 17% tip, I flat out refused to be so gouged. I ordered food from seamless and had it delivered to my room. In fact, the only time I left the hotel all day, was to slink across the street for water and gatorade. I binge watched Letterkenny all afternoon and if you haven't watched it, I highly recommend.

During this lazy afternoon the W emailed me to say they had decided to charge me in full for the stay I didn't have there. I wrote back telling them that was absurd, and you cannot agree to a refund, wait for me to leave then change your mind and say you're charging me. This would drag on for a week, emailing back and forth, dealing with idiots at that awful hotel, but finally they issued a credit to my AMEX for the amount charged and the debacle had a satisfactory ending.

Then, the t+24 hour mark came for my AA flight. Going back to set this up...on the day of my initial JFK-LHR flight on the way to Stockholm, I went into my IB locator (thankfully) and realized they had changed my LAX-JFK-MAD flights without telling me. I had initially been on a 6:30am LAX-JFK then connecting on to MAD. IB changed me to a 12:30am flight...Had I not caught this, I would have shown up at LAX and been totally screwed. I called IB then, and told them 12:30am was not going to work as I'd already prepaid hotels and leaving at that time would basically cause me to forfeit a night. They moved me to a 10am LAX-JFK and the late IB flight JFK-MAD. I thought everything was settled.

Mostly everything. I like window seats and even though expertflyer showed BOTH windows in row 3 and 9 were blocked but not occupied on my IB flight, IB would not put me in one of those seats in advance even as a OWE. I had to select a middle and wait until check-in to move to a window.

The other sticking point, was that my ticket was booked in J, but when IB rebooked me on the 10am AA flight they put me in F and I had been assigned an F seat and even pre-selected a meal on AA.com. So, when t+24 came, I tried to check-in on line and got an error message, saying speak to agent at airport. That is never good.

I immediately called the EXP desk and explained the situation to them. They said basically I was on a J ticket but my reservation had been saved in F by IB so the system was seeing a J passenger traveling in F and was unable to reconcile the problem. They also said since it was an IB ticket they couldn't touch it, and I would need to call IB and have them push the ticket to F or move me back to J.

I called IB and they told me a few times there was no issue. I insisted there was, further explained it and then the agent saw the problem. However, being an IB agent and therefore useless and lazy, he told me there was nothing IB could do, the ticket was fine and to proceed to the airport. He did at least slide me into a row 9 window for JFK-MAD.

Fearing the worst, I called AA back. I asked them to please just push me back to J to ensure I would have a seat and get to JFK and not miss my connection to MAD. They reiterated that they could not touch an IB ticket. I had visions of showing up at LAX, being unable to board in any class, stranded with no way to JFK, no way on to Madrid, problems.

AA 238
Airbus A321-200 (A321T)
Seat 4F (F)
Flight #41 of 2019

I woke up early and resolved to get to the airport 3 hours before departure to make sure there would be ample time to work out what I assumed would be an enormous headache regarding my uncertain flight status.

I got to AA Flagship First check-in, handed over my passport and with nary a word the helpful desk agent gave me an F BP for LAX-JFK, my JFK-MAD BP and told me someone would be right down to walk me to security. I couldn't believe my good fortune. IB's laziness and general incompetence had led to a free J to F upgrade on a transcon, and I didn't even have to feel guilty. I had notified AA of the issue TWICE and ASKED them to push me to J just so I could be sure I was flying and THEY had refused. Sometimes, very rarely the airline screws up IN your favor I guess.

The escort grabbed me from check-in and we joked about the weather, it had rained 2 of the 3 days I had been in "sunny" LA, then I was amused by the looks on the pressed businessmen in suits as they tried to figure out what was going on as the disheveled guy in a t-shirt with unkempt clearly unwashed hair was escorted ahead of them and to the front of security.

Being a good flyertalker, and one with a lot of time on his hands, I knew the score for LAX. I went down the connecting passage way to the TBIT and the QF F lounge for breakfast. There, I found more on point iced coffee and perhaps the best croque monsieur I've had in recent memory. As the lounge began to fill up, I slid briefly into the OneWorld Biz lounge since i'd never checked it out before. Looked pretty nice, lots of seating. From there, I went back to the AA lounge, where bedlam was breaking out due to a cancelled LAX-JFK and the associated screaming, angry passengers. I slid into the quiet sanctuary of Flagship Dining for more coffee and a view of the tarmac.

I got to the gate, shortly before boarding. A guy in front of me noticed my jacket and started talk to me about his son who was playing high school lacrosse. When we boarded, he was in the seat right behind me. He grabbed me once more before push to show me pictures of his son playing and told me "I promise I won't bother you all flight." His son was doing some sort of study abroad in China, so I told him where he could find a lax club to hook up with if he wanted to play over there as the game is spreading everywhere now.

The food on this flight was meh. The starter, as many AA starters are, was pretty good. The soup shockingly good since I think it was some sort of squash soup which I generally don't enjoy. The salad was very sparse and not great and the lamb chops I had pre-selected were mostly fat and bone, I didn't bother with them. Dessert, a mousse cake was pretty excellent.

On the entertainment front, I started with "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" I cannot STAND fat pig Melissa McCarthy and find her completely unfunny, so I was skeptical. Luckily, this was a drama, so her comedic prowess, or lack there of was not on display. I thought it was a rather good movie. Not 98% Rotten Tomatoes good, but very entertaining, well paced and well done. I would recommend watching it if you're shut up in a metal tube at 30,000 feet.

Next, I watched Stan & Ollie, another John C. Reilly movie about the later years of Laurel & Hardy and a British tour they did towards the end of their careers. It was part comedy, but mostly drama. I knew little to nothing about Laurel & Hardy, really no more than their names, so this was an enlightening and entertaining film.

As our flight time was only 4:49, no time for a third movie.

The AA F seat on the A321T is basically the same seat as the J seat on the B773. It's a very comfortable seat. While I haven't flown DeltaOne transcon, I have flown the UA 757 a number of times and this for sure beats that.

Last edited by GetSetJetSet; May 30, 19 at 6:54 pm
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Old May 30, 19, 5:23 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: En Route
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Posts: 6,730
IB 6252
Airbus A340-600
Seat 9C (J)
Flight #42 of 2019

By the time we got to JFK, I was starting to fade. I woke up extremely early in LAX, perhaps 4:30am, and figured since it was like 1:30pm in Madrid, I should just stay awake and try to start adapting to the time early. No sleep at all on LAX-JFK. After landing at JFK, I had to take the skytrain from T8 over to T7, go back through security, and then up to the BA J lounge where this whole trip had started, almost 3 weeks earlier. I drank a lot of water and had another coffee to try to keep my eyes open until boarding.

Initially I had been on the earlier IB flight, an A359, but due to the changes made to my inbound from LAX, I was bumped to this one. I quite like the A340, and there are less and less of them out there, so I saw this as a plus.

I went down to the gate when my ticket indicated boarding would start. Since it was Iberia, boarding of course had not started and the gate area was total chaos. Maybe 20 minutes after boarding was slated to start, it actually kicked off. Through pestering IB, I had managed to finally get a window (9C), but it was one of the windows with the table between the seat and the window, so that you're basically lying in the aisle. Not ideal.

Once on board, I scanned the movie list and found that there was nothing that 1. I hadn't already seen or 2. wasn't complete crap. With this realization, I resolved to skip the meal, skip the movie and go directly to sleep in hopes that I wouldn't feel like death once I got to Spain.

We took off, hit cruising altitude, I hit the lav and put some PJ pants on, and I cranked the seat back and went to bed. I slept straight through until shortly before landing, save for the FA's smacking me with the drink cart while clumsily going up and down the aisle a few times and briefly waking me. This was an excellent decision, we landed around 10am in Madrid, and I felt rested and energized on arrival. I probably got 5-6 hours of much needed sleep. It was time to finally GO to Madrid.

Gran Melia Fenix, Madrid

My girlfriend had arrived at around the same time from London. However, she was coming into T1, and I had landed at T4. After re-entering the EU, I found the shuttle bus and took off on the surprisingly long ride to T1. I gathered her at arrivals, we grabbed an uber and set off for the hotel.

The Gran Melia Fenix is a member of Leading Hotels of the World. I stayed at the hotel once previously on an overnight connection. That time I received an "upgrade" but it was still a very lousy room. I figured I would give the hotel one more chance, before exploring other options in Madrid. We arrived around 11am, and were thrilled to find that the room was ready, and we'd been upgraded. I worried the "upgrade" would be like last time, but this was actually a great room, #407 . I would request it again in the future. Big bed, spacious room, nice bathroom, good tub. We dropped the bags and figured we might as well get right after it and start running through our tourist itinerary. Pitter patter.

Day 1, we started with Plaza Colon right in front of the hotel, then walked down past Plaza de Cibeles and stopped into the Starbucks under the Palace Hotel for some coffee. Then we went to the Thyssen, which is a surprisingly great museum. After a few hours there, we walked down through Plaza Mayor and stopped into La Campana for a bocadillo de calamares and a beer. I have to say, I have NEVER seen a calamari sandwich on the menu anywhere, but after reading about it being a Madrid institution, I figured we'd have to try it. It was excellent. Salty, crispy, nice bread, perfectly paired with a beer and some patatas bravas. From there, we wandered to Puerta del Sol and then on towards Gran Via and eventually back to the hotel in the early evening. At this point, after flying LAX-JFK-MAD and going directly from the airport to a full day of sightseeing, I was totally shot. I think I passed out before it was dark outside.

Day 2, we went to Museo del Prado, another wonderful museum. After, we walked through all the pedestrian streets in Centro and kept wondering aloud WHY people always hype Barcelona, while you rarely hear about Madrid. I get that Barcelona has a (crappy) beach, but give me Madrid 10 out of 10 times, what a wonderful city. We stopped in to Casa Toni and had crispy pig ear and zarajos for lunch with beers and sangria, then continued to Almudena Cathedral and the Palacio Real before continuing past Plaza Espana, up Gran Via, back to Plaza Cibeles and up the street back to Plaza Colon and the hotel. We rested and showered up, then walked back down through Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor to Botin, another Hemingway favorite (allegedly). I would like to NOTE that I am NOT a Hemingway fanboi, I consider him overrated and vastly inferior to Fitzgerald, but it seems he had good taste in places to live/vacation.

I would not say that good taste extends to Botin, at least not in the present incarnation. The restaurant, which is listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the oldest in the world, has been making suckling pig for 300+ years, using the same oven. It has been visited by a laundry list of luminaries over the years, and now it is basically chocked full of tourists like me every night, who read about it and like some combination of history, old timey settings and suckling pig. The place itself was nice, the staff were not rude or jaded as staff in tourist traps often are, the real issue was that the suckling pig wasn't that great. It was OK, but nothing deserving of a world wide reputation. The sangria however, was quite good and strong. We were more than a little drunk by the end of dinner.

After the meal, we walked back through Plaza Mayor, on past Puerta del Sol and took a new route towards Plaza Cibeles. The downtown core of centro looks majestic at night under the lights, and the architecture in Madrid is really phenomenal. It looks like a very imperial city. From Cibeles, we turned left and back to Colon and the hotel and bed.

On our final day, we had another full agenda. We started at Reina Sofia museum, because it felt wrong to come to Spain and NOT see Guernica and the cubism exhibit. The museum was OK, but not as good as the Thyssen and Prado, which I guess is to be expected. At my gf's request, we returned to La Campana for bocadillos de calamares for lunch again. It was jammed this time and we had to share a table with an annoying American couple. After we again looped around to Gran Via, on to Cibeles and back to the hotel to get ready for the main event.

In planning this trip, I scouted the bullfighting schedule, and found there were fights on all of our nights in town. I figured it would be a good end to the trip, booked the tickets and had them delivered to the hotel. We were unsure how long it would take to get to Plaza de Toros, so we took a cab over that way. I knew bull fighting was still popular in Spain, but I had no idea it was THIS popular. 43% of Spaniards actively follow bullfighting, and top matadors are as popular as international football stars. The streets around the stadium were slammed, people spilling out of bars, glasses in hand. We popped out of the cab and figured we'd get into the spirit. We ducked into a bar across the street, I ordered a tinto de verano for my gf and large draft Mahou. We settled in with the aficionados and watched the pregame show on TV while drinking.

Shortly before game time, we adjourned and went over to the stadium. The structure which was built in 1929 is beautiful. We showed our tickets at the gate, grabbed some beers from the bar and located our seats. We weren't quite sure what to expect. My gf had never been to a bullfight before. I had been to one in Portugal, but they play by different rules there and don't kill the bull.

There were a total of six fights. I could see the appeal, and enjoyed it...my gf did not. It was not that she was against the concept of the bull being killed, she just didn't find it very sporting. If you have not been to a bullfight it goes like this:

Phase 1: The bull comes out, and a crew of matadors tire it out a bit. If they get in trouble, they can run behind a wooden barrier, and have other guys distract the bull.
Phase 2: Two guys come out on horseback, the horse is protected from the bull so it can only get blunt force injuries but not get gored. These guys have long spears. They stab the bull twice.
Phase 3: A series of guy with two small spiked sticks run up to the bull and stab these into it's back
Phase 4: With the bull now thoroughly tired and bloodied, the main matador comes out and uses the red cape to bring the bull in close and tire it out further before he finishes it off with a sword between the shoulder blades that penetrates to the heart.

Without getting into the unfairness of Phase 1-3, her issue was with Phase 4. SEVERAL times, the bull knocked the red cape and/or the sword OUT of the matadors hand and at that point, she felt the bull had "won" and was entitled to a free pass, if people were going to be fair and sporting about it. I can't say I disagree. I know some matadors still get gored, but in the interest of safety it seems most of the real danger has been taken out of the sport. Given that the real point of the sport in the first place, was for the matadors to display their courage, it seemed like the current incarnation has been watered down to the point of almost defeating the purpose.

Still, it was a cool experience, and I enjoyed it. She no doubt appreciated it, even if she didn't love it.

With the fight over, we walked from Plaza de Toros back through the streets of (I believe, Salamanca) towards the hotel. It was a beautiful stroll, as the sun set, and the street lights clicked on. A wonderful way to end this all too brief stop in Madrid, which went from unranked to one of my favorite European cities. We will return.

Speaking of returning. The Gran Melia Fenix was excellent. The location is perfect, close to everything but not right in the thick of where tourists will be thronged. Wonderful rooms at very reasonable prices. Leaders Club benefits included free upgrade and free breakfast. The hotel helped us secure the bullfighting tickets, plan our touring, made recommendations, even send someone to get me a decongestant when I had awful sinus pressure/pain after that LAX-JFK-MAD day. Zero complaints, they even gave us a complimentary large bottle of water (and small ones on each side of the bed) plus some sort of complimentary food platter each night. I would for sure return and recommend.

Last edited by GetSetJetSet; May 30, 19 at 7:07 pm
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Old May 30, 19, 5:40 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: En Route
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Posts: 6,730
LH 1807
Airbus A321-200
Seat 2F (J)
Flight #43 of 2019

The alarm went off at 4:45am. Another painfully early wakeup. Another stressful and upsetting separation. We gathered our bags, and as planned we were in a cab by 5am. Her flight to London was at 7am, my flight to Munich at 7:10am, with a further connection on to Moscow.

We got to MAD shockingly fast, as there was zero traffic at that hour, and cabs were lined up in front of the Gran Melia, so there was no wait time. Again, we were traveling from different Terminals, her from T1, me from T2. We again had a sad curbside goodbye, and went to our respective flights. She would be heading back to her parents in London, I would be flying Madrid-Munich-Moscow-Helsinki-New York, where she would meet me the following week.

Not much to say about this one. Checked in, fast track security was open, I was through it in a breeze. There seemed to be no coffee options in the gate area, so I popped up to the Priority Pass Lounge. It was huge, had a good array of powerports but not much in the way of food. I rigged some facsimile of an iced black coffee and was generally in good spirits prior to this flight. I wrote an old buddy, living in Moscow and told him I'd be there in a few hours, and that we should make plans. He told me to give him notice next time, because he was flying out to Voronezh with his girlfriend that night after work, for the weekend. He said we'd work something out.

On board Lufthansa's eurobiz seats seemed slightly less oppressive. 2F was a bulkhead. Breakfast was scrambled eggs with little hot dog style sausages. Not bad at all. Got a bit of sleep post-meal and before landing in Munich.

MUC is one of my favorite airports in Europe, since it is always a pleasure to transit. Very easy. There's even a biergarten in the courtyard between T1 and T2.

LH 2528
Airbus A320-200
Seat 2A (J)
Flight #44 of 2019

I quickly got through security and immigration and to the LH Business Lounge. Unfortunately, worthwhile LH lounges are only SEN and above. The business lounges are always overcrowded and have crappy F&B options. This one was no exception. Thankfully, I was early enough to find a seat. I grabbed a coffee and killed time until boarding, which was basically across the hall from the lounge.

2A was NOT a bulkhead and the legroom was pretty substandard on this one. However, lunch was fantastic. Smoked salmon filet and veal as a starter and a veal main course. One of the best meals I have had on an intra-euro flight.

That was the plus side, the downside was that both sides of Row 1 were occupied by Russians with of course a double dose of screaming baby. I think the woman in front of me even changed screaming baby #1's diaper in the seat...it sure smelled that way. Vile behavior.

Aside from the shrieking baby related aggravation, it was a pleasant flight. It generally is with Lufthansa, they're a fantastic airline.
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Old May 30, 19, 6:06 pm
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Join Date: Dec 2009
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Posts: 6,730
St. Regis Hotel, Moscow

When people think of arriving in Russia, they no doubt picture crumbling facilities, drab walls with crackling paint and dour functionaries waiting to see their papers. It might still be like that at some ports of entry, but I have no complaints about flying into DME or SVO. Arrival was painless, there wasn't much of a wait to get up to the immigration desk, and I was through in a flash.

Once into Russia, on a my 3-year multi-entry visa that I have been putting to good use, I fired up the uber app. When I was in Russia just a few months ago, this worked fine, but NOW you need to download the Yandex app. I struggled to do this with my data crawling at a snail's pace, and gave up after trying to enter my credit card details a half dozen times. I requested a car for cash payment, even though I had no cash and figured i'd sort it out on the fly.

I managed to get in touch with the hotel, they confirmed there would be an ATM in the lobby. No longer worried about my lack of rubbles for the driver, I tried to relax, but the traffic was astounding. It took almost 2 hours to get into central Moscow from DME and this guy drove like animal. One of those gas, break alternator guys that whiplashes you around. When we got to the hotel, I tried to indicate with hand gestures and broken Russian that I would be getting $ and coming back. He indicated he wanted me to leave my luggage as insurance...no chance. I pretended not to understand him, took my bags and went into the hotel.

The ATM was in fact RIGHT there, so I quickly got the paper, ran back out front and paid the guy. He seemed relieved.

With that sorted, it was back to check-in. I had booked an entry level room on a prepaid advance rate. Even though I hadn't booked through my TA, he called his contact at Marriott and asked them to hook me up, so at check-in they were pleased to upgrade me to an Astor Suite. I was pleased as well. Or at least I was pleased briefly.

They showed me to the room, and it was a huge, lovely room. However, it had an odd smell. As I started to unpack my bags I realized this smell was coming from the bathroom and it was almost unbearable in the bathroom and the adjoining bedroom, while it was much less noticeable in the entryway and living room. I thought about this for a moment. I didn't want to appear ungrateful to the hotel for the upgrade, but there was simply no way I could stay in this room.

I rang the desk, "Uh, hey I was wondering if there are any other rooms available in this category? The room is lovely it's just uh, there's a really strong smell in here, it's not great." They sent someone up right away with a key to show me another room. It was allegedly of the same category, although it was quite a bit smaller. However, this was all gravy as it was a free upgrade, so I didn't feel I had any justification to gripe. I told the woman that the new room would be fine, and that I hated to complain but the old room really smelled, she instantly replied "oh yes, it was HORRIBLE." It was nice to realize I was not crazy, and the smell really was that bad. Puzzling, that they thought they could stick someone in there to start with. REALLY puzzling as to what the previous tenant ate to cause that biohazard scene.

Now settled in a room that didn't smell like a Karachi sewer, I unpacked my bags and took off for a stroll. I went from Nikolskaya through the underpass to Lubyanka square, then up a bit to grab a coffee. Then I doubled back went past the hotel and down the pedestrian ways leading to Red Square. Walked around the museum, Lenin's tomb, over to St. Basils and looked at the Kremlin walls. I have always been fascinated by Russian history and especially the Soviet Union/Cold War, so coming to Red Square is exciting, no matter how many times i've been. I continued wandering around for a bit, then went back to the hotel.

My friend had send me a half dozen texts asking where I was, telling me to come over to hang out at his place and drink for a while and that his flight wasn't until midnight. I was a bit tired by now. I popped open google maps and saw that in traffic, it would take more than 40 minutes to get from my hotel to his apt in between the 1st and 2nd ring road. The idea of sitting traffic for 40 minutes, drinking with him at his place for a few hours, then sitting in traffic for 30-40 minutes home when he had to leave for the airport, just to feel like garbage the next day became very, very unappealing. I opted to stay in, and told him we'd catch up in August.

I must have been tired, I didn't wake up until noon the following day. I have been meaning to see the bunker UNDER Red Square, but again, I promised to do this with my gf when we return in August for a wedding, so I was digging deep to find things to fill my second day in Moscow with. I settled on the Museum of Soviet Arcade games. This was an easy walk, tucked into a pedestrian street near the Bolshoi theater. It was really fascinating, the end of the USSR circa-1991 games they had looked more like 1970s pre-Atari stuff. Shocking to think kids in America were playing Street Fighter II in arcades while poor Soviet children were making due with this garbage. No wonder America won the Cold War!

After the museum I walked over to Tverskaya, and up to the first ring road, then all the way back around to Red Square. I went back through all the famous buildings there, then remembered an article I had read a few months prior about the first McDonalds opening in Soviet Union in 1990. It was just at the top of Tverskaya, near the cross with the ring road and Pushkin Park. I'd been there hours earlier. I decided, since I had nothing better to do, I would go see it for myself.

It's one of the largest McDonalds in Europe, and I think one of the busiest. When it opened, people waited for HOURS to get inside, and saved money for months, as a Big Mac cost as much as a monthly bus pass. Today, and with every passing year and new visit to Russia, there is less and less remaining of the Soviet identity, as Russia and the former Soviet space embrace capitalism with alacrity, while the West for some inexplicable reason has now become enthralled with the prospect of socialism and communism.

Long story short...I had lunch there and it was a pretty top notch McDs. After, I took another long tour around on the ring road, then more wandering around the small streets near Red Square before returning to the hotel. I checked out the gym, which basically had nothing but cardio equipment (although the pool looked nice), then dipped into the lobby for another coffee. The lobby at the St. Regis is beautiful.

Overall I would say the hotel is good, not great. I chose it this time because it was very cheap for my dates. The location on Nikolskaya is convenient to Red Square, but there are so many people around that it doesn't seem very private. It's also basically on top of a metro stop. The rooms while spacious were very worn, and badly in need of a refresh. I would stay there again in the future if the prices were this unbalanced, but when the Ritz and St. Regis are similarly priced, as they often are, the Ritz wins hands down (also consider Park Hyatt and Four Seasons).
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Old May 30, 19, 7:01 pm
Join Date: Mar 2016
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After the crappy way you spoke to the security officers at LHR I lost interest in everything else you had to say.
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Old May 30, 19, 7:14 pm
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Originally Posted by Newly Wed View Post
After the crappy way you spoke to the security officers at LHR I lost interest in everything else you had to say.
Cool story bro. To be fair 1. They started it, 2. My comments were 100% factually correct.

Last edited by GetSetJetSet; May 30, 19 at 7:23 pm
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