Thursday, January 20, 2011

Moscow 2011: Istanbul to Moscow

Moscow 2011: Istanbul to Moscow


On reaching back to the airport, we had about 2 hours before our flight to Moscow. We hoped over to the lounge while we waited for our flight.  At this point, we were REALLY tired after not having any real sleep for the past ~24 hours.  The food and beverage selection was kind of ok and not too impressive - a couple of wines, beer and liquor with hot soup, sandwiches and a couple of local Turkish dessert and pastries. The shower was a disappointment as well with "paper disposable towels" being used instead the proper cloth towers (yuck!).  Lydia also had to endure the lights going on and off in the bath a couple of times.  What I did like about the lounge though was the design - it was big and airy.

Turkish pastries:
 Lydia in the lounge:

The departure gate for our flight was a 10 minute walk from our lounge.  We would also be bussed to our plane on this flight.  The flight was scheduled to be a A321 when we booked and I was surprised to see a 737-800 when the bus pulled up to the aircraft.  Looks like a last minute aircraft swap.  The seats on this plane were the Euro style business seats (the center seat is left empty) but were adequate for this 2.5 hour flight.  We were walking zombies when we got to the plane and we nodded off before even take off.  We woke up as we found menus being left for us and dinner was going to get served shortly.  Both of us were not too hungry but decided on eating anyway for "the experience".  After dinner, we went back to sleep and before we knew it, we heard the captain coming on the PA announcing that we will be arriving in Moscow shortly.  I woke up to views of white snow at the airport and after a ~24 hour trip with multiple stops, we were finally in Moscow tired but happy :)

Some pictures of food on this flight (sorry for the lack of pictures but as mentioned, we were too tired to take many pictures at this point):

Moscow 2011: Istanbul Layover

Moscow 2011: Istanbul Layover


The flight to Istanbul was supposed to reach at around 11am giving us a good 8 hours before your flight to Moscow.  Due to the delay, we only landed at noon giving us only about 4 hours to explore Istanbul.  We were pleasantly surprised that there was a dedicated business class line to get through immigration. To save on cost (and probably the time due to traffic), we went down to downtown Istanbul using the public transport.  It took about a 30 minute metro and tram ride to reach the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul with the metro station conveniently located in the basement of the airport.

We were mainly interested in seeing Hagia Sophia which was once both a cathedral and mosque which has now been turned into a Museum.  We got slightly lost and actually ended up in the Blue Mosque first.  It was a good de-tour as the mosque itself was pretty impressive.  There were prayers on-going when we got there but they still allowed tourist into the back part of the mosque to look around and to take pictures.

Some pictures of Blue Mosque:

After the mosque, we walked over across the park to where Hagia Sophia.  It was really interesting seeing both Christian & Islamic influences in the building.  Pictures of Hagia Sophia:

When we were done with Hagia Sophia it was about 3pm and time to head back to the airport.  When walking to the tram stop, we stumbled onto a couple of kebab stalls and being self-proclaim foodies, we had to get some to try even if we were not to hungry.  We ordered a chicken and beef kebab and they were pretty good but the portions of the meat could have been more.  I was surprised that they added french fries into the kebab itself.  We also ordered a pomegranate juice.  Those were the largest pomegranates we've seen before.

Some pictures of the metro & tram:

We really liked our short stay in Istanbul.  It was easy to get around, there was plenty of culture, history and things to see and the food is good.  Istanbul is definitely on our list of places to come back one day for a longer visit. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Moscow 2011: Dubai to Istanbul

Moscow 2011: Dubai Layover


The 3 hours in the lounge seem to go by pretty quick but we were made to wait slightly longer with a 1 hour delay.  2 out of 3 flights delayed already? :(

When we got to the gate, I was surprised that I saw a Turkish plane. I read on flyertalk that this flight was supposed to be a BMI leased/operated flight.  Maybe a last minute plane change?

Plane to Istanbul:
The boarding was somewhat chaotic with only one line and no one enforcing the boarding order.  There was also only one aerobridge for this flight. All the chaos seem to go away once we boarded the plane.  The plane felt more comfortable than the previous Thai flight with plenty of leg room in business class:

It turns out that this flight was indeed a leased BMI flight for Turkish Airlines.  The in-flight supervisor was from BMI with another BMI stewardess with the remaining cabin crew coming from Turkish Airlines.  The flight crew probably was from BMI as well - the pilot had an English accent.  I guess Turkish Airlines repainted the leased plane from BMI.

Interesting safety card showing both BMI and Turkish Airlines logo:
While waiting for the flight to take off, both of us fell asleep.  It did feel a long time before we took off and I woke up right as we approached take-off where we were the forth of fifth flight lining up to take off.  This further delayed our flight.

There was no AVOD on this flight.  They were some technical difficulties with the in-flight entertainment. Apparently, some seats didn't even get any video/audio in spite of several reboots and the in-flight supervisor could only offer an apology.  The audio on my seat was also "funky" where English was playing on the right earphone and Turkish on the left.  I removed the left earphone and watched a movie that way.

After an hour after take-off, breakfast was served.  More food and champange:


Cheese Plate/Starter:
Turkish Pastry:
Turkish Coffee:
More Champange:

Overall the flight experience was mixed.  There were no pre-departure drinks.  The Turkish crew seemed less polished and rushed the meal service.  The food was pretty good.  The flight parked at a remote gate with buses taking us to the main terminal.  The stewardess did not guard the door when we landed for business class passengers creating a rush.  There was also no business class bus.

Moscow 2011: Dubai Layover


We got into Dubai around 10.30pm and our flight to Istanbul was at 7.40 am the next day.  The plan was to hire a a taxi for 300 Dirham (~80 USD) for 6 hours where you could tell the taxi to take you to the major tourist attractions.  (Thanks to tripadvisor for in the info!!)

We went to the taxi queue and after some confusion with what seems like the guy manning with taxi queue, he found us a taxi that was willing to do the 6 hour hire.  The guy had to make sure the taxi we got on just got on duty and had enough time left on the job for the 6 hour hire. We hopped into a "pink" Innova taxi which was driven by a female driver.  She spoke relatively good English and seemed to have done the "layover tour" before.

We visited Burj al-Khalifah, Burj al-Arab, Atlantis, the marina & Jumeriah beach area. It was still pretty lively when we got to the Jumeriah beach area at 2 am with restaurants and cafes still opened and relatively crowded.  Dubai felt kind of "fake" for us with a lot of huge buildings and malls.  We are definitely not in a rush to come back and visit Dubai again. At about 3 am, both of us were already exhausted and decided to return to the airport.

Calvin at fountains with Burj al-Khalifah (currently, the tallest building in the world) in the background:

Lydia at Burj al-Arab:


When we got back to the airport, the check-in desk for our Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul was not opened yet.  Thank god we had our boarding passes issued at Hong Kong and we could enter the departure area. We went to the Marhaba lounge which was listed as the Turkish lounge on its website.  The lounge agent checked her list and Turkish wasn't on her list.  She recommended we head over to the Star Alliance lounge that was opposite the Marhaba lounge.  When we got to the Star Alliance lounge, the agent made a few phone calls and said Turkish uses the DCA lounge which was on the other side of the airport.  This turned out to be a good thing as the DCA lounge has a shower, where both the Star Alliance and Marhaba lounge did not.

At this point, we were too tired to take pictures.  The only pictures we had were of our attempts trying to sleep on the lounge chairs ;)

Moscow 2011: Bangkok to Dubai

This flight was supposed to be in first class when we booked the trip in March 2010 but Thai swapped the A346 to a 2-class B772.  The flight was delayed about an hour due to waiting for in-bound passengers from Manila.

The 772 taking us to Dubai:

An hour after take-off, dinner was food.  After the somewhat disappointed western offerings on our flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok, we decided to stick with the Asian options and it was the right choice - the food was better than the first class flight. More food and champange...

Bread and starter:

Rice and beef:

Fried rice and shrimp:

Cheese plate and fruits:
Dessert (some tart):

We tried to get as much sleep on this flight as we had a "overnight layover" that we were planning on doing some sight seeing in Dubai.  I only managed to get 2-3 hours of sleep due to the cabin feeling really stuffy and hot.  The cabin would have been more comfortable being colder a few more degrees.  The seats were also not comfortable for sleeping as it was not completely lie flat.  I was woken up when I felt I was sliding down the seat.

About an hour before landing, there was a snack service of a meat pastry but I skipped it as I was still full from all the food.

Moscow 2011: The Thai F experience in Bangkok


We had a 3 hour layover in Bangkok before our flight to Dubai. There was a Thai Airways rep waiting for us right when we got off the plane.  We were escorted from the plane, through security and to the First Class lounge with a buggy. 

Buggy ride from plane to security:

When we got to the lounge, we inquired about the one hour body massage that the first class passengers were entitled for (business class passengers get a 30 minute shoulder or foot massage). The lounge agents called the spa and confirmed that the massage was available at this moment.  We decided to do the massage first just in case it might not be available later on.

Lydia and I were showed to different rooms.  We were given 5 kinds of massage oils to choose from.  After a quick shower, the one hour massage was a good way to wait between flights.

Massage bed:
We went back to the First Class Lounge after the massage.  The staff still recognized us and I was impressed that there was no need to check boarding passes.  We just walked right-in and settled for one of the "living-rooms" in the lounge.  We forgot to take pictures of the living-room :(  It consisted of a couch with a private TV and a worktable for a laptop.  The massage worked out a slight appetite and we ordered more champange (Moet Chandon) and food from the ala-carte menu.  The food was good and definitely better than the offerings in the business class lounges that we've entered before from our previous trips.  The Thai food tasted like what you would get in downtown Bangkok.


Shrimp Cakes:

Grilled Pork:

Tea and champange:
 Let's see how the Lufthansa and Turkish F experience at their home bases compare...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Moscow 2011: 1st time in first class: Hong Kong to Bangkok


We saw our plane to Bangkok arriving from the lounge:

We proceeded to the gate after the boarding announcement was made in the lounge. When we got to the gate, boarding had not started and there was a line for the business/first class line.  We got pulled to the front of the line after the gate agent realized that we were in first class.

Our seats - 2E & 2F:
Pre-departure champange and hot towel:
We had pre-ordered our meals (lamb chops & lobster) through the Thai website.  There were no menus for this flight but this might have been caused by us pre-ordering our meals. The canapes and appetizers were pretty good but we were pretty disappointed with the mains.  The sauce on the lamb felt like too starchy, the vegetables were on the overcooked side and the lobster was on dry side.  Maybe we should have stuck to the menu instead of pre-ordering :(


 Cheese Plate:
Dessert - Ice Cream:
The service was good but not excellent. I had to ask for several champange top-ups. We both watched a movie and the 2.5 hours flight was over.  There went our first-class virginity.  Maybe this flight was too short, but I would not pay for first class for this short hop.