Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Off on Our Jakarta Jaunt

Having flown SEA-JFK the previous day, and then spent an additional three hours at the airport sorting out our American Airlines codeshare boarding pass problems, we arose at the ghastly hour of 3 AM EST at the JFK Hilton (our suite upgrade was sadly underused) and caught a surprisingly crowded 4:00 AM shuttle (two vans were in use) to Terminal 8.

We breezed through a quiet TSA PreCheck security line and entered a deserted American Airlines Admirals Club fairly close to our gate, drinking some much-needed coffee before boarding for our 6:00 AM departure.

We flew JFK-LAX in Business Class on AA’s Flagship Service, an Airbus 321 with a rare three-class configuration. First and Business were full and Economy was empty. Our seats were true flatbeds and we made good use of them on the six-hour flight.

It was a terrific flight with excellent service, despite a significant delay for deicing and some noticeable bumps along the way.

Our Japan Airlines flight is delayed so we’re passing time sipping Mumm’s in the lovely Qantas First Lounge at LAX  that we first visited last year.

The friendly Aussie at the front counter (“I married an American woman”) pointed out that our Alaska frequent flyer numbers weren’t on our boarding passes, although most of them state Emerald, our OneWorld status that gets bus into classy joints like this one.

We told him we were thankful just to have any boarding passes, but we’ll try to get our numbers added. We’ll see how that works out.

So far so good, but we have a lot of flying ahead of us.

Updated: we’re departing early (1:30 AM) March 2 from Tokyo Haneda to Ho Chi Minh City on another JAL flight.

It was a decent flight 12- hour LAX-HND and a few hours of rest in the transit hotel.

The JL 777 Business Class has a 2-3-2 configuration and not all that much room, but we managed. How about that mood lighting?

The Royal Park Transit Hotel in HND Terminal 3 impressed us, and we would definitely stay again. We’re sleeping our way a few hours at a time along the trip.

After checking out, we visited the JL First Class Lounge, our second time at this beautiful lounge, very quiet at 12:30 AM.

Fortunately for us, it’s open until1:30 AM. At 12:45 AM we ordered soup and a beef curry, which arrived promptly. Our fingers slipped and we realized we’d mistakenly ordered FIVE beef curries on the app, but we managed to cancel it in time.

Then it was time to head to the nearby gate.The JL plane on which we’re currently flying HND-SGN is a 787 with a 2-2-2 configuration and angle-flat seats. We still enjoy the quiet and orderly Japanese boarding procedures, but that requires the co-operative participation of employees AND passengers.

It’s quite comfortable nonetheless. 

We have about a six-hour flight to SGN, where we again transit* to our SGN-HKG flight on Cathay Pacific.

The forms we filled out on the Visit Japan website helped us to speed through the transit line, even though it’s only required for those landing formally in Japan, which we’re planning on our return flights.

To transit Vietnam at SGN, we believe we need nothing but our passports and an onward boarding pass.

To transit Hong Kong (HKG), the main requirement is - get this - a photo of a self-administered rapid antigen test within 24 hours of the previous departure, with name and date written on it. We’ll complete those during our SGN layover.

To land in Indonesia,we’ve downloaded an app, and have paid for an e-visa on arrival. We have an online customs form to complete still. We’ve consulted the somewhat ponderous but authoritative IATA website, the same ones the airlines use.

Notwithstanding Phileas Fogg’s bold claim that the unforeseen does not exist, we still anticipate challenges on this expedition that we couldn’t have predicted, as of now, halfway between Japan and Vietnam, we can say truthfully that it’s still fun.

*Some countries allow air travelers to travel through their airports without formally entering the country through Immigration channels when it’s a connecting point between two other countries. That is described as transiting.

Monday, February 27, 2023

A Curious Codeshare

We’ve made it as far as New York JFK on our expedition to Indonesia. As we ready ourselves for an early bedtime, snow is falling lightly.

We landed in good time this afternoon on our repositioning Alaska SEA-JFK flight. Tomorrow morning at 6 we’re scheduled to depart for Los Angeles on American Airlines. There  we transfer to Japan Airlines to Tokyo Haneda, and onward to Ho Chi Minh City. There we board a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong, and then onward to Jakarta. That’s the plan, all in business class flatbed seats, at about $2,500 round trip each.

The problem is that after hours of phone calls, AA reps insisted that all was well. Unfortunately, Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific disagreed. This is the most complicated codeshare itinerary we’ve ever attempted, and we’ve come to realize why some experienced travelers avoid them at all costs.

Today after arriving at JFK, we spent nearly three hours talking to AA employees, then calling Cathay Pacific. At the end, supervisor Henry Familia and another employee, Alvarez, managed to print out American Airlines boarding passes JFK-LAX-HND-SGN-HKG-CHK. 

Henry is on the right below, and shy Alvarez is ducking out of the photo at the left.

Win, lose, or draw we really appreciate Henry’s cheerful efforts over a period of a couple of hours, and the contribution of Alvarez to finally produce some boarding passes for us.

For the time being, we’re ignoring the fact tha AA has no presence in Jakarta to print boarding passes for our return flights. At 13,588 miles each way, it’s probably our lengthiest ever itinerary.

We invite you to follow us along to see how far we actually get. The next two weeks could be interesting. We’re hoping it reveals how smooth and efficient OneWorld codeshares can be.

That remains to be seen and experienced.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Phileas Fogg and a Trip to Bali

Brian read Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne, the great French author, around age ten.

Phileas Fogg, the typical English gentleman as depicted by a French author, is the restrained hero who makes a bet with fellow members of the same gentlemen's club that he can circumnavigate the world in eighty days, starting and ending in London, an amazing feat in the late 1800s.

He overcomes an incredible series of obstacles to win his bet at the last minute of the final day and it's still a very worthwhile and entertaining read.

One of Fogg's favorite expressions is "The unforeseen does not exist." Brian was too young when he first read the novel to recognize that this is an ironic statement, to say the least. The entire book consists of a series of unforeseeable circumstances that Fogg manages to overcome. Brian still quotes that line when we run into little obstacles in our own travels.

The past few hours have offered a good example of trying to foresee a potential travel problem. Our plans have been to fly from Bellingham very early Monday morning, connecting in Seattle to fly to New York, a "repositioning" trip. The following morning we embark on an ambitious itinerary with a total of three OneWorld partners, American, Japan, and Cathay Pacific.

It was a bargain business class fare we spotted that takes us from New York to Los Angeles to Tokyo Haneda to Ho Chi Minh City to Hong Kong to Jakarta, Indonesia, and onward from there on a separate ticket (Garuda) to Bali, where we've reserved the Conrad Bali on points, before retracing our steps.

We have jumped through all sorts of hoops to meet the requirements of each country we transit, with web pages and apps that we need a list to keep track of. We've also built in stays at transit hotels in Tokyo Haneda and Hong Kong, to allow us to rest up a bit (even flatbeds have their limitations) along the way.

Suddenly there's an accumulation of snow predicted for our corner of Washington State. We've bailed out of our first flight from Bellingham to Seattle, getting a surprisingly nice credit from Alaska, and we're renting a car to drive one-way to Seattle. We'll have to pay for a couple of unforeseen hotel nights, but there are some bargain available, and we won't be out of pocket too much.

What's important is that we'll be in Seattle. Even if there's an unforeseen problem with our Monday morning SEA-JFK flight, there are a variety of flight options that would get us from Seattle to New York one way or another in time to catch our first early-morning flight on our trek to Indonesia.

Luckily for us we packed yesterday, a kind neighbor is driving us to the airport to pick our rental car, saving us an additional round trip. and starting our travel adventure two days early is far better than the possibility of being snowed in before we ever start.


Wednesday, February 8, 2023

An Evening in Tampa’s Ybor City

As this was our final evening in Tampa, we decided to go out with a splash in Ybor City.

Our first stop was the Ybor City Wine Bar, which offers a choice of about 200 wines by the glass.

Now properly fortified, we wandered down a block to make our 6 PM reservation at La Terrazza Ristorante.

We love independent restaurants and Luigi and his wife run one of the great  ones in Tampa out of this modest property.

We shared mussels, melanzane (eggplant), and salads as starters.

We also enjoyed Luigi’s recommended red wine.

Our main dishes were tasty as well.

We’re back at the Embassy Suites, all packed up for a 5 AM departure with Blue One Transportation to TPA and a 7:15 AM departure to SEA on Alaska, fortunately upgraded to F this morning.

This has been another most enjoyable getaway to Tampa.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Visiting Tampa’s Florida Aquarium

We bought advance tickets online yesterday for a senior rate of about $28 each, and an entry time of 11 am.

It’s a modern facility with a lot of interesting exhibits. It isn’t in the same category as aquariums we’ve visited in Sydney, Singapore, and Vancouver, to name a few, but we enjoyed wandering around it for a couple of hours.

We’ll let the photos speak for themselves, starting with a blue-billed Ruddy Duck.

An abundance of birds, lizards, fish, and other sea creatures.

A roseate spoonbill…

A Tomato Frog…

Psychedelic camouflage?

The spiny lobsters looked appetizing.

And fish of all shapes, sizes, and colors…

This large grouper brought back memories of George, the huge one we encountered on our Great Barrier Reef “Reef Sleep”years ago…

It was slightly pricey- definitely not a bargain- but worth a visit.

Later we rode the trolley back out to Ybor City, this time to have a late lunch / early dinner at the well-reviewed Stone Soup Company.

Kathy chose onion soup and a Reuben.

Brian’s pick was a Spanish bean soup with chorizo and a classic Cuban sandwich. 

That’s Cuban-style Mojo sauce on the side.

Tasty, filling, and reasonably priced. What’s not to like?

Monday, February 6, 2023

Tampa Redux

We spent a few days in Tampa almost exactly one year ago, and this return trip is turning out to be just as enjoyable.

We found a bargain stay on Hilton points, with the fifth night free, at the Embassy Suites Convention Center, surrounded by restaurants, a riverwalk, and a free trolley that goes out to Ybor City, a quaint and historical neighborhood that was the cigar-making capital of the world in the early 20th century.

Our first night here we ate late at Garrison Tavern, downing pastrami-topped hamburgers.

We walked around the area yesterday, enjoying the watery views.

We never cease admiring these mooring slips with their electric hoists.

We hung out at the ES pool for awhile, and couldn’t help notice that the pool is similar in shape to that of the Hilton in Lima, Peru. The rectangular footprint of this ES (a narrow atrium) on such valuable property probably explains it.

Last night after a stop at the ES happy hour, we walked across the street to dine at Harpoon Harry’s, a Florida chain we just realized we’d visited in Key West a decade ago, in addition to our 2021 visit to this location.

We shared a meaty and filling “Cuban Egg Roll” appetizer.

Kathy enjoyed her snapper main.

Brian had high hopes for his seafood risotto, but was disappointed. 

The scallops were cooked perfectly. Sadly, the lobster tail, shrimp, and risotto were all over salted, and he left the last shrimp on the plate. Oh well…

Today we rode the trolley over to Ybor City, named after Vicente Martinez Ybor, the Spaniard who first developed the cigar making industry there.

After a leisurely 15-minute ride, we disembarked to wander around the scenic streets.

We even spotted, outside one of the cigar stores, a couple of politically incorrect Indians.

We returned to Thai Asiatic, a pleasing little fusion joint we’d also visited on our previous trip.

Truth be told, our light and inexpensive lunch was the most pleasing meal of the trip so far.

We bought advance tickets to visit the Florida Aquarium tomorrow, and can trolley over to within half a block of the entrance.

The temperature is just about perfect and the locals are friendly. It’s a fine place to spend a few days in February.