Archive for the ‘Destinations’ Category

Delta SkyClub Tokyo


2011
07.03

After exploring Tokyo in the summer heat, I was all hot and sweaty when I got to the airport.  That’s not the way you want to start a 15+ hour trip home!  Thankfully, the SkyClubs at Narita (NRT) have showers available.

You simply ask for a key at the front desk, then head back to the shower room you’ve been assigned.  There are attendants that clean the rooms after each use.  I’m really not the kind of person who craves personal attention. I prefer to use an ATM rather than go into the bank.  I never have a bellman carry my bags, even when in places like Japan where you’re not expected to tip for the service.  But having this shower available was just awesome.  Instead of being tired and sweaty when I got on the plane, I was clean and feeling refreshed.  Most excellent!

There are shower facilities at many international airports, so if you have premium status with your airline or are traveling in first/business class…be sure to check ’em out!

Private Shower

private potty and shower

sink, soap, shampoo, etc.

A Little Too Much Time In Tokyo


2011
06.23

On my way home from China I stopped-off in Tokyo for one day of meetings. It’s an awesome place, filled with great people.  But that’s another whole post.

We stayed at the Hotel Villa Fontaine Roppongi, which was nice.  It wasn’t the most convenient to get to from Narita, though.  I took a $38 bus ride followed by a $24 cab.  Ouch!  Coming from China where you can take an hour long cab ride for $10, $60+ really stung!  If our flight had landed earlier we could have taken the bus closer to our hotel and saved the cab.  But the hotel was nice.  The room was a nice size by Japanese standards.  Fast wired internet was included, and the room was very comfortable.  There was a nice HDTV with lots of HD content…none of which was in English.   Oh well.

A comfy bed and a desk...all I really need.

After meetings on Friday, I went out to eat with our local salesman.  We decided on a grill-it-yourself place.  We walked into the small restaurant and all the staff started shouting something…I’m guessing it was akin to “Welcome to Moe’s!”

We ordered some Asahi on draft while he perused the menu, which was all in Japanese, without a single picture anywhere.  Good thing I trust the man!  Below, from top right:

  • Beef – It was marinated in something like a teriyaki sauce, and was quite delicious.
  • Horse – there were three cuts (neck, belly and leg), and all were consumed RAW.  Yea.   I had one sliver of each, and that was plenty.  The leg actually tasted pretty good, but no thanks.
  • Beef Tongue – I’ve had this before, and it’s not bad.  The trouble with grilling your own food, though, is that you’re probably not as good a chef as…well…a chef.  Plus tongue should be cooked “wet” (covered in water, etc), not grilled.  So it was quite tough.  The flavor isn’t bad, but it seemed an odd choice for this kind of restaurant.
  • Chicken – I don’t think they did anything to it at all, but at least it was a good piece of white meat.
  • Beef Intestines – I’ve had pork intestines, and I can now attest that they taste just like beef intestines.  Both taste exactly like what comes out of them.  OMG…I don’t understand why people do this to themselves!

Dinner, before we cooked it.

You cook things in the center, then move them off to the edge where they’ll cool a bit, but stay warm.  It’s actually a nice system for quickly cooking bite-sized bits.

personal grilling

There was a distinct lack of vegetation.  We had a small bowl of potato salad to share, and that was it.  Not even rice.

So that was Friday night, and I was headed home on Saturday.  My flight didn’t leave till 4pm, so I had some time to kill in the morning.  I got up, and had a quick breakfast.  They have a buffet literally in the lobby of the hotel.  It was a bit odd, but the high-top tables worked well.  Looking for something light, I just grabbed a bowl of cereal; corn flakes to be precise.  I wanted a little sugar on top, and there was a bowl right next to the cereal.  What I didn’t notice was that the bowl of white crystals was also next to the boiled eggs.   I took a bite and thought “these are the nastiest corn flakes I’ve ever eaten!!!!”  Doh!  Salt!  Take 2.

I checked-out of the hotel and walked down the street to the ANA Intercontinental hotel, just a couple blocks away.   As I walked out of the VF, I saw their glass walled smoking booth outside, with this sign.  I have no idea what those two people are doing, but I don’t think they’re smoking.

no smoking...or other activities

The Narita airport “limousine” stops at the ANA, so that’s the best way to get to the airport.  It’s really just a nice Greyhound bus, but it had wifi, which was quite helpful as you’ll see.  I bought my bus ticket, left my bags with the bellman, then headed north towards the Imperial Palace.

I took a bunch of photos…see the thumbnail gallery below.  While I was in the gardens, I was running through the time line in my head and nearly had a heart attack.  It was 12:25 when I realized that I should have booked the 12:30 bus instead of the 1:30 bus.  For some reason I had it in my head as I bought the ticket that my flight was at 5:00, but it was really at 4:00.  Given that the bus ride can take 1:30, it could be 3:00 before I got to the airport, and they’d literally be boarding when I arrived.  NOT GOOD!  But there was no way I was going to get on the 12:30, so I tried to relax and continue enjoying the gardens.

moat & tower at east gardens

My last task before reaching the hotel was to get a shot of me and the Tokyo Tower.  My kids are big fans of the movie Cars, and there’s a great little “short” called Tokyo Mater.  In the short story, Mater is a drift racer and has to race up Tokyo Tower.  It’s very cute; check it out on YouTube.  “Domo arigato, Mr. Tomato”  Brilliant!  I couldn’t seem to find anywhere to get a clean shot of the tower, and I didn’t have time to get any closer.  The kids thought it was cool, though.  :)

me and the tower

From there I pretty much ran to the hotel, changed out of my very sweaty clothes and hopped on the bus.   Using wifi on the bus I was able to check-in to my flight and get a mobile boarding pass in case I didn’t have time to print a paper copy at the airport.  Thankfully, since it was Saturday, the bus only took 1:00 to get to the airport instead of 1:30…so I had a whopping 0:30 to burn.  As an extra special bonus, the Sky Club at NRT has showers…but that’s another post.  I hope you enjoy the pix.

Notice that there are two pages of thumbnails, so to see the last pix you’ll need to click on “2”.

I put the map marker on the palace grounds.  Just zoom in and switch to the satellite view.

no images were found

Shanghai Airlines


2011
06.11

I took my first flight on Shanghai Airlines on this past trip, flying from Wuhan to Shanghai on our way to Tokyo. They’re a wholy owned subsidiary of China Eastern, but maintain their own branding. As far as flights go, it was fine. We managed to get an exit row (no clue how), so there was plenty of room. A nice ride.

It's beautiful up above the pollution.

I thought you should know that I don’t ALWAYS get  to ride up front.  And if you think US airline food is rough…try an inter-China flight sometime.  This looks like a nice plate of noodles and mushrooms; not so much.  By mid-day I was hoping for some caffeine, but water was the only drink offered.

Noodles with mushrooms, and some "pork"

Fairy Lake Botanical Garden


2011
06.10

After arriving late on Sunday night, I had Monday to adjust myself to a time zone 12 hours ahead.  I find the best way to do this is to be active, so I decided to get outside.

I had originally planned to hike Wutong Mountain, which is the highest point in the area.  But I had difficulty finding anybody that could tell me where to start the hike, and the 20-something bellman at the hotel seemed to think I was nuts to try to hike up there.  :)  So I backed-off and decided to go see the botanical gardens which were located on the side of Wutong Mountain; I figured I’d get at least a bit of hiking in.  As it turns out, I had a great day.  The highlight was meeting this very nice family who allowed me to tag along behind them for a couple hours.  Below are three pages of photos from the day.  Enjoy.

no images were found

no images were found

no images were found

XX

Overnight to Hong Kong


2011
06.06

I’m home from my week-long trip to China and Japan, and am excited to share some of the great experiences I had on my trip.

The week started off on Saturday morning with a flight from Atlanta to Detroit, then on to Hong Kong.  I was actually on the same plan for both legs of the flight; one of Delta’s “long range” 777-200LR’s.  These are equipped with these ultra-sweet lie-flat seats.

Delta's Lie-flat Seating

All laid down and ready for a nap.  The nice blanket and pillow are excellent!

reclined for sleeping

This is the last seat in the forward cabin (there are two business class cabins in front of coach).  What’s cool about this seat is that there’s nobody behind me.  That means I got an extra little “table” (see triangular spot by my left elbow, and there’s a coat closet to the side of me which provides some privacy.  The photo was taken by Doug Sonders, a photographer who happened to be sitting in front of me on the DTW-HKG leg.  Nice to meet you, Doug!

this is how I roll

The flight from ATL-DTW was rather uneventful.  Frankly I don’t remember anything interesting to say at all, but I suppose that can be good.  :)

Then I had a short layover in Detroit; about an hour before re-boarding.  I strolled around the terminal a bit to stretch my legs before the long flight, and then had a snack.

our chariot

The dark spots on this window are from the terminal windows in Detroit.  All of the glass is covered in these little polka dots.  From about 10 feet away you don’t even notice them…they act almost like tint to lower the light level inside.  But when you get close, it’s a bit uncomfortable to look through.  In any case, the point of this photo is to show the MASSIVE engines on this 777.  If one engine goes out, the other one has to keep 278 passengers + crew/luggage/supplies in the air for at least three hours.

Delta has the very nice charging stations throughout many of their terminals (these are in Detroit).  You can get both 110V and USB (5V) power.

Charging Stations

The long/straight McNamara Terminal has two trams that run back and forth down the length of the terminal.  They use a single rail, and pass each other using a bypass at the center stop.

DTW Tram

They didn’t serve any food on my 11:00 flight from ATL-DTW.  :(  I was on the plane from 10:30-13:15…yea, who’d want to eat then?  But on the plus side, I had plenty of room to enjoy some yummy snacks in the Sky Club.  :)

SkyClub Snacks

After a last minute update on the wifi and a couple phone calls, I was back on the plane.

These are the seat controls.  Just super.  It’s really an amazing seat.  You can adjust the back-to-knee length and the head rest angle.  There’s a lumbar support that can be raised/lowered and inflated/deflated.  And there’s a “massage” mode where the lumbar automatically moves up/dn/in/out.  A++

Mission Control

Mission Control

As soon as we leveled off on the way to Hong Kong they started meal service with a cocktail, while I enjoyed some light reading.

oh nuts!

No peanut filler here.

Quality

For the appetizer course, we had tomato soup and seared tuna.  Maybe an odd combination, but both were very good.

Appetizer Course

Clear skies above an icy Hudson Bay.

Clear & COLD

Since you’re flying with the sun, it’s daylight the whole flight.  People pretty quickly pull the window shades down to keep glare off the TV screens, but I love to keep looking outside.  After your eyes are acclimated to the dark cabin, opening a window to broad daylight and a snow/ice covered landscape is blinding…but well worth it! :)

Ice

Ice

Dinner was served next, which reminds me of something.  While we were still on the ground, the purser came around taking dinner orders.  She approached me and said “Mr. Garrett, I noticed that you’re a Diamond Medallion member and wanted to thank you for your business!  We want to make sure you get your first choice for dinner tonight.  What would you like?”  While I don’t enjoy being singled-out in front of other passengers, it was a nice gesture and I appreciated it.  She was very busy at the time, and she went out of her way for me…which was nice.  This was in stark contrast to my flight home where the purser came by and without so much as a “hey, how y’all doin’?” simply looked at me and asked “chicken or beef?”  Not “Could I bring you the parmesan chicken or the beef tenderloin?”  Not “What can I bring you gentlemen for dinner?”  I’m not joking when I say that this woman would have been fired from a TGI Friday’s on her first night.  She was just that bad.  But she’s a former Northwest flight attendant, so shot got where he is because of seniority.  Sorry; rant off.

I chose the shrimp scampi, asparagus, and saffron rice.  The shrimp were quite excellent and the asparagus was cooked just right, but the rice was paste.  2 out of 3 still beats the snot out of coach food!  :)

Dinner

For desert I had a little cheese (I turned down the strawberries and bleu cheese), a hot fudge sundae, and a glass of port.  Mmmmm.

Desert

We flew way up north through the Arctic Circle, further north than I’ve ever been before.

Arctic Circle

The mid-flight snack was served about midnight.  We were served cold grilled salmon and roasted chicken, with some brie, bread sticks, salad and a piece of chocolate.  Light enough that you could go right to sleep, but filling enough to tide you over till breakfast.

Midnight Snack

For those of you Risk fans, these are the mountains of Yakutsk.

Yakutsk

I stayed up till after 2:00 am Eastern time, then laid down and crashed.  I slept right through breakfast; never had the first clue they were serving.  I woke-up as we had begun our descent.  The excellent crew brought me some orange juice in-lieu of breakfast, and the pilot made a memorably smooth landing.  Well done, Delta!  This was a great flight!!!

I had no reason to stay in Hong Kong this trip, so I took an airport “limousine” service (a 6 passenger mini-van).  The service I use is called SkyLimo on the Hong Kong side and Trans-Island Limousine Service on the mainland side (with a W logo?).  It costs $170 HK  (about $22 US), which is more expensive than the train or big bus…but it’s a VERY convenient service.  They take you through HK immigration without even getting out of the car.  Then they drive you across the border and drop you off at mainland immigration/customs.  You fill out your form, run through the line, and they have another van waiting for you on the other side and take you right to your hotel.   After such a long trip, it’s well worth the extra few bucks.

The Panglin Hotel in Shenzhen is quite comfortable, so long as you enjoy sleeping on a pile of bricks.  I could sleep on a Chinese sidewalk at rush hour, so this is no problem for me.  :)  Seriously, though, it’s very simple, but clean and comfortable, with free wired internet service.  That reminds me that I need to post about my Lenovo laptop’s “MyWifi” feature, which allows me to create my own wifi hotspot from a wired connection.  This is perfect for keeping my iPhone connected when I don’t otherwise have wifi.  More later.

My Room

They even have a little sitting area.  Too bad I don’t have anybody on these trips to sit and chat with.

Sitting Area

Well, that about covers the trip over.  The following day I visited the local botanical gardens, but that’s another post.  Good night all!

You Meet The Nicest People


2011
05.31

I had the day off on Monday, as did most of you, and wanted to go do something outside.  I had done some research ahead of time, but I left the hotel feeling a bit low.  For a couple weeks I had been thinking I’d hike up Wutong Mountain; it’s the tallest mountain in the Pearl River delta, at over 900m.  I thought it would make for an exhilarating hike, but was having difficulty finding any information on exactly where to start the hike.  I read lots of posts online that talked about how it was a great place to hike, etc. etc., but nothing that said how to find the trail head.  I think I found it via Google Maps, but when I talked to the concierge at the hotel yesterday morning, they thought I was crazy to be hiking up there.  They said it would take an entire day, despite the 5 hour (rt) estimates I’d been reading.  And he was careful to warn me that there are no roads up there, so I would need to remember how I got up there, so I could find my way down.  I’m not worried about my land nav skills, but I was having second thoughts about my plan.

So the other thing I’d been reading about is their botanical garden.  It’s supposed to be “the most beautiful garden in China”.  Not that I’ve been to a lot of Chinese gardens, but that seems pretty high praise considering the size of the country!  Given that I wasn’t sure how to get to Wutong, and the concierge thought it was a really bad idea, I headed off to the botanical garden.

As it turned out, I had a great time!  The map they gave me at the entrance had English in the title, and nowhere else.  And their signs were an absolute joke.  So I wandered around somewhat aimlessly, finding some cool stuff.  Then at one point I stopped to pull out my map and a young family walked by.  One of the guys said, “Come on, we’re going this way!”  I laughed and said “Oh yea?  Where are ‘we’ going”?  They said they were headed for the temple (which does exist there).  They seemed like nice enough people in the 2.4 seconds I’d “known” them, and I figured…what’s the worst that could happen by walking off into the woods with a group of people I don’t know, in a land where I don’t speak the language?  Right?  LOL

I had a great afternoon.  Jimmy and his family let me tag along behind them like a lost dog for about 3 hours.  We visited several sites in the park that I might never have found.  Good times.  Photos to come soon.

New Friends

Heading to the Tropics


2011
05.27

No, I’m not going to Destin, or on an Caribbean vacation.  I’m headed to China and Japan for a week.

Here’s the plan…Atlanta to Hong Kong (via Detroit), Shenzhen to Wuhan, Wuhan to Tokyo (via Shanghai), and finally Tokyo to Atlanta (via Minneapolis).  That’s 17,438 miles, on 7 flights, with 44+ hours of scheduled travel time.  Yea, that’s an entire weeks work for most people, just in the flights alone.  Ah, the glamorous life, right?

Red = Day 1, Blue = Day 4, Yellow = Day 6, Green = Day 8

But don’t get me wrong.  I love this part of my job.  Working directly with customers in challenging environments is what really drives me in my job.  Plus, I don’t expect any sympathy since I was able to upgrade the long-haul legs.  On the way over I’ll be on a 777-200ER, in Delta’s new lie flat seating.  It’s a window seat and and aisle seat all in one!

Photo courtesy of Delta

The Rickshaw


2011
05.26

If you ever find yourself in Beijing and need some good Mexican food, The Rickshaw is where it’s at!  Open 24/7, this tiny free-standing bar caters to expats, and is a welcome reprieve.

The Rickshaw is a Mexican restaurant, in China, owned by an Aussie.  Oooook.  Regardless, they have a great burrito, some outstanding nachos, non-Chinese beer, as well as American and Aussie sports on the tube (can I say that since everything is flat scree now?).   Being open all night is a godsend!  My flight to Beijing gets in near midnight, so by the time I get to the hotel is pushing 01:00 local time…but that’s lunch time when my body is still on Eastern time!  Thankfully, The Rickshaw will hook me up with some comfort food, and some beer to help me sleep.

PS  The Comfort Inn & Suites is right by The Rickshaw, and I’ve stayed there several times.  It’s MUCH nicer than a Comfort Inn in the US, and I’d highly recommend it.

Delta Diamond Royal Treatment


2010
11.11

I recently crossed the 125,000 mile threshold for the year, putting me into Delta’s highest “elite” category, Diamond Medallion.  Before they created this status (just this year), I had been a Platinum Medallion for three years.  As the top tier at the time, I have to admit that I still didn’t feel like I was treated all that specially.  Yes, I could get a Delta representative on the phone in under two rings almost any time of day or night.  That’s really quite excellent as much as I travel.  But aside from that, Platinum felt an awful lot like the lower statuses except that I had a better chance of being upgraded domestically.  Given the business-heavy routs I fly, I still only got upgraded occasionally (less than 20%).

But after reaching Diamond status, I feel like I’ve stepped into a whole new world.  The Delta reps are now eager to do anything they can to make me happy.  Case in point, they just switched an international flight for me, at no cost, when it was arguably my fault!

I’m on my way home from Israel at the moment.  This trip came about on short notice, so I literally bought the ticket only 5 hours before leaving my house.  My usual MO is to check upgrade availability online (thank you Expert Flyer!), book my ticket online, then call Delta to book the upgrade.  In this case, there was no time.  I called Delta to check on upgrade availability (I could fly direct , or through JFK, or through AMS), then just told him to book the flights.  I told him I needed to come home on Thursday night.  Well, he complied in the literal sense.  He booked me on a flight at 00:30 Thursday.  Yes, that’s at night, and yes it’s on Thursday.  But I think most of us would call that a “Wednesday night” flight , especially since you have to be at the airport at 22:30 on Wednesday night to check-in.  I didn’t notice the error when I got the confirmation e-mail, as I was frantically packing and trying to spend a few minutes of my Sunday with my kids.  Instead I noticed this when I looked at my iPhone on Wednesday night to verify the flight time for the next day.  I noticed that my flight was leaving in two hours.  DOH!!!!!

You see, the part that really threw me off is that I took this EXACT flight last week.  I flew TLV-JFK at 23:30 on Thursday night.  Well for whatever reason, Delta pushed the flights back an hour this week…so the same flight (Delta 269) leaves at 00:30 this week instead of 23:30.

So I called Delta and explained what happened.  I just laid it all out there.  I acknowledged that I hadn’t looked carefully enough at my itinerary, but given that I had just taken the flight 3 days before…it simply didn’t occur to me.

If you’ve read this boring story this far, thanks.  :)  We’re close, I promise!

So here’s the truly amazing part.  The Delta agent was kind enough to re-book my flight for the next night, and was even able to get me an upgraded seat on the direct flight instead of the connection through JFK.  To top it all off, they waived the change fee.  SWEET!!!!

Thank you, Delta!!!  This is precisely the kind of service that creates customer loyalty!   Thank you!

Eataly


2010
10.01

I’ve discovered Italian food mecca, and it’s called Eataly.  On a recent trip to Torino, Italy, I arrived at my hotel tired and hungry.  From my hotel window I saw a place called Eataly and figured they must have food.  :)  So my co-workers and I walked across the street and saw that they had an outdoor eatery, serving pasta, pizza, and beer.  Perfect.

I ordered the lasagna, which was really just okay.  In light of my anticipation, it was sub-par.  It tasted good, but they used fresh pasta (made in house) rather than dried pasta, so it didn’t have the texture it needed.  The funny part, though is the pizza my co-worker ordered.  On the menu it said “peperoni”, which seemed pretty safe/familiar.  What arrived wasn’t peperoni at all.  It was little peppers.  Roasted yellow bell peppers.  LOL  Apparently what we call peperoni they call “spicy sausage”.  Who knew?

Okay…so far not a ringing endorsement.  But wait, there’s more!  Only after lunch did I discover just cool the INSIDE of the store is.  They have an unreal variety of quality ingredients, and small food counters throughout which serve dishes based on that segment of the store (cheese, fish, etc.).  Despite the lasagna, we went back for dinner another night and had the completely opposite experience.  I had the most AMAZING meat loaf, while eating at a counter in the beer/wine cellar.

After returning to the US, I learned that there’s an Eataly open in NYC; here’s a link.  If you’re anywhere in the NY metro area, you owe it to yourself to check this place out.  If it’s anything like the Torino store, you’ll have a great time!

no images were found