Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Lunch in Xi'an

Timo takes us to our first tour-included lunch in a cavernous place that runs a "Tang Dynasty" evening dinner show for tourists.

Our plane was late (fairly comfortable Air China flight) so there seem to be only a couple of dozen other tourists, mainly British, here.

It's a buffet. To call it mediocre would be kind, so we'll call it mediocre. We may take Timo out for lunch on the last day.

Xi'an: 'X' Marks the Spot

Our private guide, Timo, is waiting for us when we arrive at the airport. He whisks us to the air conditioned van, where a friendly and capable driver is waiting.

Timo (not his Chinese name) is in age somewhere between our youngest child and oldest grandchild.

He is a university graduate in tourism, speaks very good English, and sports an earring.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Beijing or Bust

We made it to PEK in time to catch our Air China flight onward to Xi'an.

We're sitting in an Air China lounge feeling fine after long showers and some good coffee.

The Air China flight was among our best ever, with a great "hard product" (flatbed seats and lots of room) and "soft product" (service). We probably slept six or more hours each.

Beijing arrivals are quiet before 5:00 a.m. but the airport is busy enough.

Now onward to Xi'an.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Best Laid Plans

Our flight was cancelled, or at least delayed until tomorrow morning, too late to catch our flight to Xi'an. 

American did rebook us, and we're sitting in a flight to L.A. There we board an Air China flight, thankfully in Business Class, and are scheduled to land with about  three hours to spare before the Xi'an flight departs.

There was clearly some confusion between us and the agent, leading us to walk all the way over to the United C gates to catch a United flight that didn't exist. We were lucky to catch a shuttle bus back.

It will help if we can sleep on the Air China flight. We're ready for a nap.

Lounging at ORD American Style

Our Business Class ticket on AA gave us admittance to the Admirals Club in Chicago. One step up, two new FlyerTalk  friends on the same flight to Beijing have hosted into the First Class Flagship Lounge, the best North American lounge we've ever visited.

Dallying at Dulles

We're awaiting departure aboard our first flight - to Dalles.

Our hotel shuttle left right on time and we were checking in by 4:15 a.m. The fun started when we we went to TSA Precheck. It wasn't open and we were directed to an entry a couple of minutes walk away. 

Those employees directed us back to one on the another side of Precheck, which we learned opens at 4:30 a.m. 

Rather than waiting 10 minutes we walked on to the regular line which was deserted. There an employee told us we had no Precheck privileges (as at some other airports) so it was off with the shoes and the whole works.

We then made our way to the automated train, and boarded one that said "all gates." The train on the other side was "out of service." One small detail: we rode out to A and C Gates and then headed back to the Main Terminal. Others were equally confused but we got off and got on the train arriving on the other side that was now going to B Gate, our boarding area.

If you are already on, there is no announcement until the door has closed.

Anyway, here we are. We're guessing Dulles just starts to come to life at this hour and we caught it at a bad moment.

Early to Bed...

We hope waking up at 3:00 a.m. To catch a 4:00 a.m. Shuttle to catch a 5:30 a.m. flight is the worst part of our trip.


In the Airport Hilton lobby we see a conference (or two?) announced.

Hmm... Some would say that English isn't all that commonly taught.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

First Flight of the Trip - BLI-SEA

We earn a surprising number of miles - about 1500 - for this 25-minute flight, which is only a 25-minute drive from our house.

Today it's on a 737 to boot. We fly over I-90 and Boeing Field on the final approach to SEA, and enjoy a cup of coffee in the airport while doing some - what else? - plane watching.

It Happened One Night: China Edition

It happened one night. No, not the classic 1934 movie. We were watching some TV when Brian read an e-mail sent out by one of our favorite travel bloggers, Ben Schlappig, aka Lucky, at One Mile at a Time.

What he described was a $450 Business Class fare on American Airlines from the East Coast to Beijing that had just appeared. That sounded intriguing, to say the least, especially since American is a partner of Alaska Airlines (Alaska gave us a status match to their top tier, MVP Gold 75K, in late 2014 and we've been flying them with some enthusiasm).

There was one awkward detail: The fare was only good through May or so, and we already had two big trips booked, our recently concluded transatlantic cruise / Poland junket which took up the early part of April, and our upcoming May trip to Fiji and New Zealand for Oz Fest, our ninth consecutive attendance at this Flyertalk "Do."

There was no time to procrastinate - we scrambled and checked dates, knowing this deal wouldn't last long. We booked it. This deal was only from the East Coast - our China flights originate and end at IAD (Washington-Dulles) - so we had to reposition ourselves there. A little time on the Alaska website solved that.

Some years ago we "did" Beijing on one of our very first big trips, a marvelous five days on the ground in a small tour group. Air fare on Northwest (economy of course), five nights in a luxury hotel, and the amazing tour itself set us back a total of $650 each. That was a bargain even 10 years ago and we've continued to look for bargains ever since.

We decided this time to overnight at PEK (Beijing) and fly to Xi'an, the home of the Terracotta Warriors and a lot of other amazing sights, the following morning for a four-day tour. We then fly back to Beijing, spend two nights at an airport hotel, and take a day tour of a section of the Great Wall we haven't previously visited, Mutianyu. The tour company has warned us that our May 2 visit is in the midst of China's Labor Day weekend, but we'll deal with that as best we can. Besides, we've never before seen Labor Day celebrated in China.

We fly out of Bellingham on AS less than three hours from now. Excluding hotel stays and tour days, our airport schedule between April 25 and May 4 boils down to BLI-SEA-IAD-DFW-ORD-PEK-XIY-PEK-ORD-MIA-IAD-SEA-BLI.

Yes, we'll be earning mega-miles on this trip; in fact, on the AA flight to PEK we'll be making a distinct profit on the miles earned versus the fare paid. We learned from the Flyertalk Master Thread wiki that there will a minimum of four other "FTers" on our outbound flight, including our young friend, Daniel, known on FT as "Friendly Skies." We'll see him again a short while later in New Zealand at Oz Fest. Such coincidences are the spice of life.

The purpose of the foregoing description is to explain (justify?) the reasons for our April-May travel schedule. An alternative title might have been "Really, We're Not That Crazy." You'll have to decide for yourself.

Stay tuned for progress reports.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Home Sweet Sehome for Three Days

It was a great flight and Brian even slept for several hours, allowing us to beat the afternoon Seattle rush hour and drive home. Our longest single wait of the day was standing in line at the Blaine Post Office to pick up our mail, although the time spent waiting to reclaim our bags at SEA was a close runner-up.

Since we're leaving on another trip (to Beijing) Saturday morning, we're not too worried about time zones at the moment. We went to bed at 5:00 p.m. and slept about eight hours before getting up to start preparing ourselves for this upcoming trip.

It seems like a long time ago that we were lining up on the FRA runway and spotting another LH 747 waiting until we passed and an A380 taking off just ahead of us...

Climbing out of Frankfurt: Spot the Shadow of our 747

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lufthansa 747: The Pointy End

Flying home for a few days.. Old configuration but still nice to be aboard FRA-SEA.

Monday, April 20, 2015

European-Style Business Class Seats

Basically the middle seat is blocked with a little table installed.

We wouldn't pay for it ourselves, but we got it with our Business Class award tickets. Lovely German breakfast...

WAW LOT Business Lounge

Early in the morning, we're sitting in a quiet lounge, drinking good coffee and enjoying the sound of the adjacent 'waterfalls.' Kinda cool...

Warsaw Airport (WAW) Hampton Inn

It's a place that reminds us of Scandinavia in its cheerful bright colors.

When's the last time we felt like taking a photo of a hotel corridor?

The employees are really friendly and helpful.

The other Scandinavian-like quirk is the dual purpose sliding door in our room that covers both the closet and the bathroom. Is that cute or what?

Warsaw: Tapas Gastrobar

It's next door to the Hilton and it gets great reviews, so why not try it?

We're glad we did. 

The Warsaw Rising Museum

We spent several hours there today and found it incredibly moving. The museum is wonderful in terms of its displays and, most important, the photos and stories of  so many of those caught up in it.

The bravery of the Poles and their under equipped army is nothing short of amazing.

On our ride to the airport (Warsaw Shuttle) the young driver described how some of his relatives had escaped from captivity, but his great-grandfather was shot on the third day of the "rising," as the Poles call it in English.

We were able to tell him our regrets at the comments just made by the FBI Director implying that Poles were collaborators. Of all times to make such comments! The Poles are outraged and we don't blame them.

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Warsaw Hilton

It's a good  property with a decent lounge and large rooms. We always feel spoiled to have a comfy tub, let alone a separate tub and shower!