Flights

And the Winner Is…(Part 1)

Our time abroad may be finished, but the Luggage Tags blog is not! On our flight yesterday, Brooke and I realized that we still have boatloads to say about our once in a life time trip. We plan to post on our budget for the trip, reflections on returning home, how we would have packed differently and more. We’re proud that we managed to update the blog almost daily while we were abroad, but as we realign our life, posts may appear a bit less frequently. If this still sounds like your bag of chips, we hope that you’ll stick around and continue the voyage with us for a bit longer! – PK  

Throughout our trip around the world, we have experienced stays in more hotels than we count, ate at more restaurants that we can remember, and need an abacus to add up all the train rides, bar visits and stops at museums. We thought it might be fun to look back through on all of our experiences and present our findings on the best of the best. So, below are Luggage Tag RTW Awards! It was tough to narrow down the Creme de La Creme, but we did our best below:

Luggage Tags  RTW Awards!
Best Bar/Pub– Lord Nelson Bar, (Copenhagen) – A bar for locals located smack dab in the middle of an incredibly touristy area of Copenhagen. Unassuming, unsuspecting and easy to miss. Glad we found it because we had an absolute blast while visiting. The incredibly friendly and knowledgeable bartenders allowed us to sample just about every beer they had. The bar boasted an impressive collection of unique craft beers from around the area and friendly locals. It was just our speed. Honorable mention goes to Cafe Bar Bard in the Old City of Dubrovnik: While it is quieter and has a limited menu, it is right on the Adriatic with the best view any watering hole could hope for.

Best Museum–Te Papa – The National Museum of New Zealand (Wellington)  We visited tons of sensational museums on our travels so that makes this a hard one. But Te Papa was the biggest and the best. The museum is incredible interactive and expansive. The exhibits about New Zealand are diverse and modernized. You can visit without a guide and it’s still awesome. As you might expect, English was spotty or secondary in many museums we saw. The best part about Te Papa? Admission is completely free. Honorable mention here goes to the small but impressive Nikola Telsa Museum in Serbia and their passionate staff and also to the the quirky, effectively informative History Museum of Estonia in Tallinn.

Best Hotel Stay- Hanoi Moment (Hanoi)  Wow, what a hotel! The staff seemed to spend every minute knocking themselves out to assist you. Wine and fruit was waiting for us in the room when we checked in, the room itself was comfortable, large and chock full amenities including a laptop. It was all a real respite from the humidity and hustle of Hanoi. Plus they serve an amazing breakfast. And for all this luxury, the price was astoundingly low. The list of nominees for best hotel list was a bit shorter because mixed up hotel stays with nights through Air B ‘n B, hostels and more along the way. Honorable mention goes to Le Meriden in Budapest (but since the room was through hotel points, we can’t rank against cost) and The Lennox Hotel in Buenos Aires.

Best Airport- Changi Singapore Airport (Singapore)  With an amazing kinetic art sculpture, this airport makes an immediate impression on visitors.  Beyond that, it is new, clean and has a lot to offer.  On a long layover, passengers can visit a swimming pool to get some exercise or relax between flights.  We also loved that the security lines were at the gate when you board the plane rather than in the front of the airport with all other passengers.  There is also tons of shopping because, after all, it is Singapore. It is a big airport that seems to do it all well.  Honorable mention goes to the Amsterdam Airport.  We were just there on a lay over for a few hours, but with a casino, museum and massage center,  it seemed pretty great just walking through.

Best Meal –Dinner at Lubimoto (Sofia). – Man, what a meal! Run by a trio of brothers, a dinner at Lubimoto allowed us to sit outside and pace ourselves over a nice long meal. One of the brothers had spent considerable time in America and doubled as our host (so much more than a waiter) for the evening. We finally relented and began the meal like Bulgarians do -with Rakia! From there, we enjoyed another local staple that’s become a fast favorite and a daily must of ours: A shopska salad. After that, our host brought us two made-to-order entrees that were out of this world.  One pork dish and one chicken dish that I would only shame if I attempted to describe the deliciousness. A couple of pints of Staropramen and a dessert made of cake and pecan ice cream (compliments of our host) rounded out the evening. And the final bill left us wondering if the printer was broken or someone sliced off a few zeros. Great stuff, but not an isolated incident in Sofia.Honorable mentions go to Ocho Cepas steak house in Mendoza, Ippudo Ramen in Kyoto and endless number of Hot Dog carts in Copenhagen!

Insanely great Ramen from Ippudo in Kyoto

Best “Bang for your Buck”– Vietnam. With a conversion rate of 22,500 Dong to the US Dollar, everything is incredibly affordable. There is a ton to see and plenty to spend money on from knock off bags to newly tailored suits and unique pieces of art.  In addition, there are endless wonderful, authentic restaurants, that serving  heaping portions with prices that make your make thing there is a misprint in the menu. Plus, visitors can easily stay at a Four-star hotel for $60 or less. Excluding accommodations, we’re pretty sure that travelers could do Hanoi on a mere $20 a day. A complete bargain for such a lively, friendly and different place.

Halong Bay in Vietnam

We’ve got six more that we want to share as we continue Part 2 tomorrow! Including Best Public Transportation, Best Non-Flight Transportation, Best Local Beer, Most Beautiful setting and, our favorite, Best Surprise. Drop us a line if there is anything you’d be interested in hearing what we thought was top notch. Trust me, when it comes to recommendations, feedback and opinions, we’ve got plenty of ammo!

-Brooke and Phil

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Categories: Bars, Beer, Best Of, Eating, Flights, Museums, Post Trip Reflections, Surprises, The End of our Trip, Transportation, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sour Goodbyes and Gorgeous Hellos

St. Stehpen's at nightAt the crack of 4:30am, we woke up to get ready for our 6am train from Budapest to Zagreb, Croatia.  From there, we took a very short flight on Croatian Airlines to the coastal town, Dubrovnik.  Because today was primarily a travel day, we don’t have a lot to tell you.  However, I would like to share one good story and one lovely moment.

Whenever we leave a city, we try to have as little leftover cash as possible.  We have found it sometimes difficult to exchange certain currencies and so much is lost in the exchange that we’d rather spend it.  We’ve had mixed success in this endeavor, but in Budapest we did quite well–only 500 Hungarian forint in coins left.  That’s only about $2.25 so we felt it was a success.  However, we realized that is about 140 forint shy of the amount required for the metro ride we would be taking from the Hotel to the train station.  Phil was willing to risk it and go without a ticket, and even though I felt a little uneasy, I agreed.  (I should tell you that earlier in the week, Gina and Phil made fun of me relentlessly for being a “rule follower” and buying a metro ticket when they didn’t.  Phil said he was willing to risk it because he thought it was only about an $8.00 fine if we got caught.)  In this case, Phil figured since it was 5:30am on a Saturday and we were only going three stops we would be fine.  Although I didn’t love the idea of cheating the system, I agreed Phil was probably right and we boarded the arriving train sans ticket.

Stunning hilltop in budapestWe arrived at our stop without incident and thought we were in the clear.  Not so fast!  As we joined the line to board the ascending escalator, we noticed a large group of people checking tickets.  I blame the early hour and our surprise for our inability to think quickly and jump back on the train or avoid the inspectors in some other way.  So, when they asked for our ticket, I showed them a 24 hour pass we purchased 2 days before.  Knowing it wouldn’t work, I tried to blame it on a language misunderstanding between me and the original woman who sold us the ticket.  She wasn’t buying it.  She vehemently pointed to the 24-hour description of the ticket and the date so clearly written on top.  Knowing it was hopeless, I relented and asked how much we owed for the fine. She immediately responded, “8000 forint, per person.”  Sixteen-thousand forint total!  That was almost 80 bucks! What happened to the $8.00 ticket Phil expected?  Irritated and immediately regretting my decision to join with my rule-breaking husband, I asked if they would accept a credit card.  Of course, they did not.  She would have accepted euros, but we didn’t have that either.  So while Phil stayed trying to beg and fruitlessly plead with the ticket control agent, I sped up the two escalators and several steps to find the nearest ATM.  We paid, got a receipt and apologized (all the while Phil was still trying to convince her not to give us the ticket).  Walking away defeated, Phil felt terrible and completely responsible.  I’d like to blame him completely, but I’m a grown-up and I could have bought my own ticket if I really wanted to.  I just chose to go along with him this time. Next time I’ll think twice.  (On a side note, the only other people who did not have tickets were other tourists heading to the train.  Coincidence?  I think not!)

Dubrovnik by airAfter loving Budapest so much, the ticket incident left us with a sour departure, but it was our own fault and a hard lesson learned.  Luckily, we were able to shake it off and enjoy a lovely moment later in the day which I’d also like to share.  The Croatia Airlines plane ride from Zagreb to Dubrovnik is a short 40 minutes from take-off to touchdown.  All in all, it is less than an hour on the airplane.  Exhausted, we both fell asleep almost immediately.  Phil sleeps like a baby on planes, but it is more difficult for me and I wake up much more often.  As we were nearing Dubrovnik, I awoke to see beautiful mountains outside our window.  Feeling that we were descending, I woke Phil so he could enjoy the view before we landed.  It was spectacular.  All around we saw huge mountains and rolling hills.  The plane tipped its wings to make a turn and we saw the coast of the Adriatic Sea.  At seeing this beautiful sight, there was an audible gasp from the passengers on the plane.  The mountains and ocean seemed to extend all around us.  It was amazing, but we started to question where we would land.  Except for the water, there was no extended flat space in sight.  Luckily our pilot skillfully found the runway and landed us safely among the mountains.  Since Dubrovnik’s airport is quite small, we were not surprised when we exited the plane down the steps and onto the tarmac.  Once there, we were thrilled to be hit with the most gorgeous view from any airport we’ve been to.  Passengers immediately started snapping photos, trying to capture this picturesque landscape.  This lovely welcome ensured us that our time here would be wonderful.

Croatian Tarmac

Part of the awesome view from our terrace in Dubrovnik!

Now we enjoy discovering this beautiful seaside town and await the arrival of our friend, Jack.  We aren’t sure what we’ll do tomorrow because we don’t want to discover too much before Jack gets here.  I’m sure we’ll find something awesome to occupy our time.  Actually, I’d be perfectly  happy sitting on our terrace and staring out at the Adriatic Sea with a glass of wine all day long!

–Brooke

Categories: City Visits, Croatia, Customs, Destinations, Eastern Europe, Flights, Friends, Hungary, Landmarks, Rail, Surprises, Trains, Transportation, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Last Day in Copenhagen

 

Brooke enjoying some wine in ole 4026Our wonderfully relaxing and easy-living nine day Baltic Sea cruise has come to an end. The time has come to leave the boat. We started the day with one final delicious breakfast buffet at our favorite spot on Deck 11 of ye olde Norwegian Sun. And, for the last time, walked away from the table without worrying about  settling a check or removing a single dish. After docking in Copenhagen, Brooke and I attempted to remain onboard as long as we could but around 9:00 AM the crew pulled us off kicking and screaming. It was quite a scene that disturbed some of the older passengers. In all seriousness, we’ve enjoyed the cruise but we’re ready for what’s next.

Copenhagen's most famous art musemSo, we find ourselves back in Copenhagen for one last day before we close the book on our Northern European leg. Now off the boat and away from the all-English all-accomodating lifestyle, we’re back to the little things being a touch more difficult and occasionally frustrating. Today’s particular challenge was our attempt to spend some time in the local library. We figured a Copenhagen “bibliotek” would be a good place to cool our heels for a few hours, flip through some travel books and hop online. We were able to pinpoint the location, determine walking directions, and check the hours. But what the Danish language website did not make clear is that this funky library is open on Sunday only to library card holders who must swipe their way in via key card. See? Frustrating. Also, please don’t alert the Copenhagen Transit Authorities, but due to issues with the ticket machine, we managed to take a pair of rides on the local trains without forking over a single dime.

Philospohical Phil!We did manage to make a visit to the renowned Glyptotek museum in central Copenhagen. The museum offers free admissions on Sundays and boasts an impressive art collection started in 1882 by beer baron Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg fame (see our post mentioning Carlsberg here). Jacobsen also donated, among others, the sea-side dwelling Little Mermaid statue that is forever associated with Copenhagen. We strolled through a handful of the galleries, enjoyed some of the architectural features of the museum building as much as the art and took in some great paintings and sculptures. There was art by Degas, Manet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Rodin, Gaughin and two dozen other European artists and painters I should probably know but have already forgotten. The sculpture gallery was loaded with marble and bronze creations and was positively great, although I wouldn’t want to be there at night. My personal favorite was a sculpture of Perseus severing Medusa’s head in action. We were kind of thrilled when we saw that the museum was the home of Rodin’s iconic “The Thinker” as part of a comprehensive Rodin gallery. But that was until we learned that there are like twenty other “original” casts of the statue throughout the world. Maybe not as special, but the Glypoteck is still a great museum.

Amazing lunchOf course, for lunch, we couldn’t resist one last hot dog. This time we asked around for the best hot dog in the city. We went gourmet with arguably the best deluxe wiener in town from Nimb. These dogs were a bit more expensive, but they delivered the goods. Gourmet taste-bud satisfaction from one end of the bun to the other.

Final impressions of Copenhagen? It’s kind of a great city. Locals give off a vibe of general contentment – they seem especially merry whilst mounted on bicycles. The town is sophisticated, forward thinking and awash in eye-brow raising design. Highbrow, but accessible. Expensive, but doable. The town even managed to surge my own bit of creativity. Growing up, my friends and I used to watch a lot of professional wrestling. We were always coming up with ideas for new gimmicks for the wrestlers to use in the rings. I now have a fantastic concept: The Angry Dane. He’s big, he’s blonde and he rides a bicycle to the ring which he locks to the ringpost once he arrives. During his match, The Angry Dane illegally uses the Bicycle as a weapon against his opponent. The announcers will call that move the “Twelve Speed.” Pure gold. Someone get me Vince McMahon on the phone.

The Denmark Airport Bids Adieu

Now, we’re off to Romania and Bulgaria as we open the door on our Eastern European segment. We start by visiting yet two more nations that we know virtually nothing about. (As always, we’re open to suggestions!) A pair of flights from Copenhagen to Vienna and then Vienna to Bucharest and yet another quick time change where we jump ahead two hours. We selected a landing spot in Bucharest in part because of it’s Eastern European location in relation to points Westward and in part because, well, it sounded like an interesting place to visit. It’s so cool that this trip has allowed us to point to a strange, new location on a map and just go. By tomorrow, we should have some new insight into yet another town that seems to be begging to be discovered. We’ve already begun reading up on Romania to prep a bit for our visit by taking a sneak peek at the culture, food and airport taxi scams.

For the next month, our schedule gives us much more flexibility on where to go and when. Our next scheduled flight isn’t until Mid-October. Little by little, I’m discovering that the world is such a big place, but it is also a finite place as well. Who knows what we’ll see, but the odds are that it will be worth sharing.

-Phil

Brooke studying a painting in the Glyptotek’s French Impressionist wing.

 

Our final dinner in the Norwegian Sun! Ah, we’ll miss meals like this.

Another look at the outstanding sculpture gallery in the Denmark museum.

Our exceptional bartender Maxwell from the Windjammer of the Norwegian Sun. He took good care of us many nights.

Categories: City Visits, Copenhagen, Destinations, Differences, Eating, Europe, Flights, Museums, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A few video clips and leaving Asia

Well, we’ve reached a small milestone on our Round The World trip. Today, we officially close the book on the Asia and Pacific portions of the trip and head west to Northern Europe. We’ve got some amazing photos, sensational stories and our passports are starting to fill up with stamps the colors of the rainbow. The list of countries we’ve visited so far includes New Zealand, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore. Not too shabby. We have some mixed feelings about leaving Asia. We’re pumped to see what we’ll get up to in Copenhagen (and eager for any suggestions!), but it’s a bittersweet ending to our time in that section of the world.

We sort of fell in love with several of the places we visited and wish we had a bit more time to explore and dive in. So, I guess that just means we’ll have to plan a return trip down the road. One thing is for sure: it will be nice to get a break from the heat! Now, we fly halfway around the world (again) on an overnight flight in business class on Air France from Singapore to Paris and then Paris to Copenhagen. Monsieur! Monsieur! More Champagne, si’l vous plait! Time for a new country, a new region and even a new continent but that also means, sigh, so long Asia.

We also wanted to say a huge thanks to everyone who has been checking out our Luggage Tags travel journal. It’s great to be able to share our big trip with our friends, family and the world and we’re thrilled that people seem to be digging it. We seem to gain a few new followers every day. It’s been cool to watch the blog grow and we get a kick out of each comment someone leaves (we do our best to respond to each comment!). As a reminder, if you are so inclined to follow the blog or get an e-mail when we post our daily update, you can click the link in the column to the right to follow.

As we shift gears on our trip, we thought we’d shift gears on our blog by posting some of our favorite video clips from the last few weeks shot with our trusty Canon S100 digital camera. (Sorry e-mail subscribers – you’ll have to click on the images to open up a new page). If you want to see any of our past videos, you can click here to see all of our videos on the You Tube page. As always, we can’t wait to see what’s next!

-Phil

Categories: Europe, Flights, Leaving, Transportation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

A Brief Run in Singapore

The 2012 Singapore Skyline!Greetings from Singapore! Brooke and I are only in this small nation for two days as we close out the Pacific/Asia leg of our RTW trip. Our initial impression of Singapore? This is the one place so far that has most reminded us of an American city. In fact, and to be oddly specific, its kinda like Chicago. Add in the tropical foliage and location near the equator and Singapore has reminded us of Tampa at times as well. English serves as the official and primary language (thanks to 140 years of British imperial rule), and the city has an udeniably western vibe emitting from familiar looking shopping malls, big name hotels and modern skyscrapers. In short, Singapore has also been our easiest stop in a while.

Singapore is unique in that it manages to be a few different things all at once: a relatively small island geographically, a relatively big city socially and a sovereign nation politically. All wrapped into one happy enchilada. The country is made up of a hodge podge of people represented by four ethnic populations: Chinese, Malay, Indian and, um, Other. Yeah, apparently, that last few percent just gets kinda grouped together. Like many other cities we’ve seen, the city itself is heavily populated, but not as densely jam packed or teeming with bodies. Singapore has worked to keep the city full of open spaces, manicured landscapes that include a world famous botanical garden and even a few cricket fields downtown. In fact, urban Singapore has managed to become one of the world’s biggest exporter of orchids. Who knew?

A Singapore Landmark - Raffles hotel goes way back to the 1800'sAnd how do you get such a lovely, nice, town? By making it gut-churningly expensive. In fact, to encourage a cleaner, less congested city, there are measures in place to make it prohibitively expensive to even own a car. And Brooke and I are relatively certain that Singapore’s national pastime is going to a mall. There were lots of malls. Tons of malls. Endless malls. Many of them on the high end of the spectrum. If I had really wanted to buy Brooke an Omega watch, I had about a dozen opportunities. Cost was a factor when we skipped out on a classic visitor stop: ordering a Singapore Sling from it’s birthplace at the long bar inside the historic Raffle Hotel. At $23 a sling, that one was out of our budget. But the most amazing example of a city that works to control it’s environment through cost measures? The casinos: If you’re a resident of a Singapore and want to visit one of the stunning, new casinos in town, you are required to fork over a hundred dollars just to enter the gaming floors! I’ve never heard of such a thing – essentially an admission price to a casino that only locals have to pay.

In true Kollineiser traveling style though, we’ve managed to keep our visit on the cheap. We dropped a few bucks to grab a set on an open-air double-decker tour bus. Slipped on some sunglasses, sat back and took a guided-tour for a few hours around town. These buses are becoming our preferred method of sight-seeing when we only have a short time to pack in information. The tours can be a little lacking in personality, but are certainly an easy going and quick way to get a crash course on a new town. We stumbled upon Din Tai Fung – a phenomenal, busy Dim Sum restaurant where a team of cooks create dumplings and pork buns right on the spot. This might be a western city, but you can see the influence of the neighboring Asian countries all around. Particularly in the majority of dining options. Last evening, we even took some time to go see a movie. Another little international difference: upon purchasing tickets for “The Campaign” at the box office, we found that we had assigned seats in the theater!

That is a crazy buildingIf there is one gleaming landmark worth calling out, it would be the newly built Marina Bay Sands Towers: three fifty-five story hotel buildings linked at the top by a massive cruise-ship looking Sands Sky Park. From every angle, it looks like the brainchild of a demented I.M. Pei prodigy, but it works. The city really has a sharp set of grand architecture scattered throughout. Clearly, thoughtful efforts have been made to preserve the past by repurposing beautiful old buildings and build intelligently for the future with such provisions as limiting skyscraper heights. Singapore looks at times like one giant playground. We know that’s probably not an accurate representation, but alas. The number of endless water parks that are open year round (since there is just one season around here) doesn’t exactly help that impression. And they too have a giant Ferris wheel downtown – we’re seeing them everywhere.

But one of the best things that we did in Singapore was to take some time to sleep in. Our quality Air B ‘n B stay and comfortable bed allowed us to stay in bed as long as we wanted. After running at a breakneck speed through Vietnam and Hong Kong, we now feel rested and ready for Copenhagen! Overall, we enjoyed our short stint in Singapore. And since we didn’t embark on a major shopping spree or happen into some serious money to blow, two days worked out to be a good amount of time in town. Onward!

One last note: we discovered a piece of boarding genius at the dazzling Singapore airport. Passengers only have to go through a security screening once they arrive at their departure gate. Each gate has its own little security. Brilliant! Are you taking notes on this, America? Also, not one other country has made us take our shoes off while going through security. Just throwing that out there.

-Phil

Enjoying delicious Dumplings and steamed rolls in Singapore!

One last opportunity to buy high end goods in Singapore. This was the hundreth Swarovski store we saw…this one at the airport.

On the clean, cheap and modern MRT (subway) we kept hearing anouncements and seeing signs to Alight. I’ve never done so much alighting in my life.

Categories: Casino, City Visits, Diversions, Flights, Louisville | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

One day in Guangzhou

Note: Apologies for the delay in getting this post live, but it seems that China blocks access to the wordpress site. Interesting, no? We’ve landed in New Zealand and we’re catching up on a few posts now.

In the weeks leading up to this trip, we knew that we would run into our share of surprises along the way. All part of the travel experience. Still, we didn’t expect to fall into the very cool and astounding turn of events that we found ourselves in on our very first day overseas.

Where we waited for our roomWe had been debating and struggling with how to spend our 18 hour layover in Guangzhou (pronounced Guang-JO, not Guang-ZOW. It took me way too long to get this right). Lo and behold, it tuns out that a standard best practice among airlines (at least for China Southern) is that for flight itineraries that include layovers of 14+ hours, the airline will put passengers in a hotel room on their dime during the layover. In all the research we did and of all the people we talked to, this never came up. So, that came as incredibly pleasant shock at 6:30 AM this morning! particularly after arriving in steamy Guangzhou from a cross-Pacific flight when all we wanted was a shower and change of clothes. Turns out that instead of slogging around the international terminal, the day was filled with relaxation, a big lunch, naps and showers. Not exactly a back-breaking, rough layover.

Our first long-haul flight arrived with ease and triumph this morning. As Brooke wrote, riding in Business Class made for some sensational travel. The time on the plane qualifies as “super comfortable” and was even easier than anticipated. Sleeping soundly for seven hours doesn’t hurt. And the flight attendants were always brining you SOMETHING. A towel, a mint, coffee, etc. Now we have a solid base in which to compare our other long haul business class flights from other airlines. The bar has been set pretty high. Also made me realize that I would dig doing more/some/any! international business travel in my next job. We disembarked from this insane luxury and began our first of three visits over the next eight weeks to the Guangzhou (CAN) airport.

Pullman Guangzhou Hotel LobbyAfter walking to the China Southern Transfer Counter, the agent confirmed what we had been told in Los Angeles – since our next flight was so much later in the day, the airline would be happy to book a hotel for us. We asked them to confirm this like five times – partially because the langauge barrier made things a little murky and partially because we were incredulous and filled with glee-inspired amazement. We made a quick pass through immigration and customs where our near virgin passports received their first passport stamp of the trip. We swapped travel stories and made some affable new Australian and New Zealand travel friends as the airlines rounded up a few other business class travelers. Although the hotel option is available for all travelers, an agent eventually walked us across the street to the sensational Pullman airport hotel. The fine folks at Trip Advisor indicated that it is the 13th best rated hotel out of 1,800 in the city (!) and the rooms run about $125. It was one last, heretofore unknown perk of the business class ticket.

Our awesome free hotel room for 18 hoursSo, on day one in Asia, we stayed in what will likely be the nicest hotel that we’ll see for weeks. Brooke and I spent a fair amount of the day in awe. Walking around and checking out the giant lobby, oversized pool tables and snooker table (confession: I thought I knew what snooker is, but apparently I only have a vague notion), the self-playing piano and more. The hotel room was nice with a capital Niiiiiice. Complete with comfy robes, slippers, comfy beds with giant, head-melt-right-in pillows the size of Smart Cars. There was even a yoga mat in the closet. One of the nicer touches is that the bathroom opened up to the main room via a giant glass window that could be closed off by a giant mechanical shade. Handy for the two showers that we each took. Given the undeniably hot climate, Brooke was particularly appreciative of the ice-cold AC. The bottom line is that it this was a really nice hotel which we didn’t expect. We probably should mention that we almost blew every fuse in the hotel when Brooke plugged in her hair dryer, but that was an almost predictable debacle and it all worked out with electronics in tact.

Phil making great use of the free Yoga mat!We even managed to have a bit of an indulgent lunch at the Vegas-style hotel buffet between giant nap #1 and super-sized nap #2. We slept incredibly well on those lay-flat beds on the flight last night, but the jetlag is really starting to kick in. When dawn broke this morning, I had no idea what time is was back home and wasn’t even completely sure that it was (apparently, it was Wednesday). Time guru Brooke predicted and then confirmed that we were exactly 12 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time. In fact, from this point forward for the rest of the trip, we’ll be anywhere between one and fourteen hours ahead of East Coast US Time – getting closer and closer in sync as we continue to travel east.

Have I mentioned that this is all amazing? This is amazing. It just keeps getting better. It really does. Only a couple of days in and I’m getting a kick out of being on this incredible journey spanning some significant distances.

-Phil

check out the closing curtain from the bathroom

Categories: China, China Southern, Flights, Hotels, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

China Southern Business Class

When we planned this trip, we knew we would be taking some very long flights. In fact, our very first flight from Los Angeles to Guangzhou, China was scheduled to be 14 and a half hours long. It is for this reason that we saved enough Delta Skymiles to book all our flights in the Business Class section of the aircraft when available. Even though it would require considerably more Skymiles, we knew things would be more comfortable for us, and now that we have completed our first flight across the ocean, we say that there is no other way to travel!

 

Brooke with her Golden TicketsWhen we checked into our flight using the SkyPriority line at the airport, we were greeted by the friendly China Southern desk agent who immediately started processing our tickets and filling out our VIP pass – an invitation to wait for our flight in the Skyteam Lounge. She also informed us that when we arrive in Guangzhou we should talk to the transfer agent and she will give us our boarding pass for the next flight as well as hotel accommodations. We were confused. Hotel accommodations? What was she talking about? She explained that we were leaving LA on July 30 and don’t leave Guangzhou until August 1 (yes, we have entirely lost the day July 31, 2012 from our lives because we crossed the international date line…how that happens, we have no idea). Because we have such a long layover and since they were unable to give us a more convenient connecting flight to Auckland, we are entitled to hotel accommodations for that time. We couldn’t believe it! What great news! But this was only the beginning!

So much room!After going through security, we arrived at the Skyteam lounge. I’ve never been to one of these lounges before and it was all I hoped it would be. There was a buffet of food–small snacks, but also some sandwiches and heartier items. There were sodas, water and freshly ground coffee. There was even a bar where you could make yourself a drink with liquor and mixers! And all for free? Now I know why some people head to the airport very early! Also in the lounge was a really nice bathroom with an area to freshen up. There are even showers available for those who need them and monitors with flight departure information so you can check on your plane. We took advantage of the free wi-fi to write a blog post and watched the American men compete in gymnastics at the Olympics. It was so great this far, could it possibly get better? Yes!

Nice!Once onboard the aircraft, it was a flurry of activity. There was a very plush pillow and heavy, large blanket waiting on our seat. In the seat back pocket in front of us were lots of goodies. First, we took off our shoes and placed them in the shoe bag provided complete with plastic shoe horn, and then we put on the cozy slippers they gave us. We couldn’t take the slippers out of their plastic covering before someone was whisking away the trash. At one point we counted how long it took for them to pick up trash we laid down–it was less than 10 seconds. There must have been 6 flight attendants solely dedicated to the 24 passengers traveling in business class. It was amazing.

Also in the seatback pocket was a pair of headphones and a goody bag. I just love goody bags. Whether it be at the hotel for a wedding or on an airplane, it is the little stuff that makes me so happy. The goody bag for the flight is a really nice little reusable zipper bag which holds an eye mask for sleeping, lotion, lip balm, a comb, toothbrush & toothpaste, and earplugs. What more could we need? Apparently more!

Our China Southern Alternative FootwearOnce we took off we were given a menu and asked to make dinner selections. We had already eaten, so we passed on dinner and ordered breakfast for later in the flight. They set up a lovely bar up in the front of the cabin with wine, alcohol, soda and juice. Phil ordered some white wine and it came with a little plate of mixed nuts. They even refilled the wine when he looked away for a brief minute. Amazing service.

At this point we were so tired, but didn’t want to close our eyes for fear we would miss something awesome. I’m so glad we stayed awake because the flight attendant came around offering personal entertainment systems–like a PSP which has games, movies, television, books–all kinds of things. This is in addition to the TV that is built into our seat, of course! We both took one and saw lots of great movies available (Phil finally got to watch Ides of March) and short informative videos about several destinations where China Southern flies.

A better breakfast than I get at homeAlas, we were exhausted. It was 12:30am LA time which means it felt more like 3:30am to us. So, we both pulled up our footrests, laid our chairs back and stretched out. Our chairs allow us to lay almost completely flat which was really great. It didn’t take long, cuddled under the warm blanket, head nestled into the pillow, to drift into a very comfortable sleep. We woke up to more snacks being placed out, a bottle of water by our side and even mouthwash in the lavatory. It’s an incredible way to travel – made a 14 hour flight fly right by- and we can’t believe that some people get to travel like this all the time.

Yeah, business class is definitely the way to go!

–Brooke

Categories: China, China Southern, Flights, LA, Transportation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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