Tier Points running to Jakarta – Part 2

Just a brief recap: I flew to Jakarta on the morning CX777 departure to Jakarta and I was doing a back-to-back for BA Executive Club Tier Points. Jakarta is 2,000 miles away from Hong Kong, which qualifies as a long-haul flight. A round-trip bags 280 TPs – which is nearly 20% of my TPs for Emerald this year!

I was picked up by a Cathay staff at the gate and was guided through transfer, which consisted of him walking me up to the departure concourse via an elevator. He had my boarding pass in hand and settled me down in the lounge while he dealt with my passport and stuff. Within 5 minutes he came back to me and told me to head to the boarding gate. I happily obliged. I was very impressed by the service I got at Jakarta – no confusion and I was able to transfer without entering Indonesia!

The FIDS

There was a queue at the security check before the gate, but it digested quite quickly.

Priority lane for boarding pass check

I am liking the gate area design

The gate area was quite full of people. It was rather difficult to find a seat. But I happily stood. Once boarding was announced, Business Class was invited to board first, followed by Emerald and Sapphire.

When I boarded the aircraft, the ISM and SP were in shock to see me back. I then explained to them I was doing a back-to-back. They asked me where I would be sitting. I originally chose 21A at the rear of the Business Class cabin. The ISM was very insistent that I moved to 11A – so that I would be served first on this sector, and that the air conditioning system was not working at the rear cabin. I was too happy to oblige. More importantly, everyone now knows who I am – I was feeling more like a VIP on the return!

The inflight map

Boarding finished rather quickly, due to the light load on the return sector. Business Class was half full, PEY was similar and EY was a bit fuller.

Plane spotting while taxing to the active runway

Onwards and upwards

I quickly started watching another movie

For pre-refreshment drinks I had Gin and Tonic

Even though it was a 2 pm departure, and the menu was branded as a refreshment – the meal was really a glorified version of lunch / dinner. The full servings, perhaps given the 5-hour block time

To Start: Balik Salmon, cucumber, creme fraiche, salmon roe and lemon

Seasonal mixed salad and balsamic vinaigrette

Garlic bread was excellent as ever

A menu shot

Loving the view

As per protocol, all the options of main courses would be rolled out on a cart. I still have mixed feelings for this way of doing things – the main courses would be cooled, and even if a main looks good, there is still the chance for it to taste bad. In all honesty, I am looking forward to dine on demand: especially the extended menu choices.

Followed by

Pan fried beef fillet, tomato onion sauce, asparagus, lotus root, mushroom and steamed jasmine rice

Pan fried sea beam, savoy cabbage, kipfler potatoes, black pepper and garlic butter

Thai red chicken curry, garlic vegetables and steamed jasmine rice

I had the Chinese beef option. It was excellent.

Evidence. My wine was topped up throughout the service – I must have a few glasses during the main!

Fruits and cheese soon followed

The sun begins to set at this point

The dessert was simply divine. Peanut butter macadamia cake

It was so good that I asked for a second helping! I also asked for a comment form so I can praise the crew for the lovely service I received.

The meal service took about 3 hours, which I took to be a good pace, though I am very sure my neighbour did not agree (he got his laptop out for work after main!) This was due to the turbulence during the flight, but I think it was an afternoon flight – people would have had lunch earlier

The SP came by to thank me for choosing CX on my TP run and asked me whether she could offer me a cup of hot chocolate. I happily obliged.

Before landing, I also asked for a cup of green tea

Catching up on some work prior to landing! We were put in a holding pattern due to congestion

Putting my seat back to take off position prior to landing

A bottle of water was available upon request

When the gate information finally appeared, I knew my day was coming to an end

Back at home after a long day!

Verdict? Overall an excellent flight. The catering was very good. While not too fancy, it was completely edible and I enjoyed the service. I particularly loved the Yealands Land Estate Sauvignon Blanc – not a pricey wine, but definitely very drinkable on the plane. I hope to continue to see this wine on board, as I have for the last 5 months. The service was commendable – perhaps because I have flown the outbound sector, the crew was warmer and more proactive this sector. But either way, very good service. The delivery was excellent. Hard product and inflight entertainment excellent as ever.

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BA Dreamliner to Kuala Lumpur

Picking off from where we left off, I looked at the departure FIDS just to make sure that my flight would depart from Terminal 5.

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Heading to the transit bus

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The bus affords some good plane spotting

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Arriving into Terminal 5

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My flight would depart from gate B48 so I left for the B gates

The irony of seeing this advertisement in a predominantly BA terminal

The B gates lounge

The food offering was… meh… there were only sandwiches and cakes on offer – no real hot item despite nearing dinner hours

My selection

I flagged down an attendant for some champagne. I asked for a glass and he insisted on bringing two – saying that I needed that!

The saving grace of the lounge was that it was rather quiet

At about the boarding time, I headed to the gate

To my surprise, there was no queue at the gate, which was unusual – passengers seemed to really love the idea of queuing up to board the flight. I would later discover a rather light flight awaiting me: full in First, about 70% in Club, about 20% in World Traveller Plus and another 20% for World Traveller.

My plane was the further one

The boarding sequence

My plane

I was the first to board the airplane

My seat for the flight – 6A

An empty Club cabin (for now). For its 787, BA retained the yin-yang design from 2006 and opted for a 2-3-2 configuration. 7 seats a row is rather bad given that airlines like JAL opted for 8 seats per row for their economy cabin.

My view

The usual pre-departure beverages were offered

The IFE was available gate to gate

The menu for tonight

The legroom

We left 20 minutes behind schedule as some passengers did not make the flight and their bags were offloaed

Safety demonstration soon after

We took off about 40 minutes behind schedule

The privacy screen was up once the safety demonstration was over

Last view of England

My first movie…

The amenity kit (washbag) was offered

Its content

Hot towel

Pre-dinner drinks

More nuts as I was very hungry

The starter plate: it was really not bad but would love a plate for the bread.

The main: Satay Chicken rice. Overcooked and poorly seasoned. I do hope the new Club World investment meant better main choices

By this time, we are well into our flight

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The cheesecake was divine… but I hate the fact that I could only choose between dessert, cheese and fruits, when I could have all three on Cathay

Tea to end

I then made my bed for the night. I had about 4 hours of sleep and woke up with the sun high up in the sky

I was hungry and got some snacks – I must say I was rather taken aback by the lack of food in Club Kitchen despite it only being halfway through the flight

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And seriously – serving tea in Club with paper cups?

Time for another movie

2 hours left!

With 1.5 hours to go, breakfast was served

I asked for a Buck’s Fizz to go with, especially given it would be early afternoon already in KL

cheers!

The main was exactly the one I had on BA27 last June – quite interesting how the menu for breakfast was almost nearly the same!

Approaching Malaysia

In descent

The full route for the day

The KL airport

My chariot of the day

I arrived into KL a bit over 30 minutes late, hoping to just go to the gate of my next flight on Cathay Dragon to Hong Kong only to find that that flight was delayed for nearly an hour! Well at least there is a lounge!

Verdict? The 787 was surely quiet and quite pleasant. The Club World cabin was a bit dense and could feel claustrophobic at times. The lack of storage space and lack of space to manoeuvre were also problematic on such a long flight if one wanted to work or to stretch out. The service was okay if a bit slow – which was really not understandable given the light load across the flight. The catering was a passable attempt for most part. It was a pleasant ride no less, but there are surely better ways to fly.

See my flight with Singapore Airlines on a flight: LHR–SIN

 

BA Euro Traveller & Club Europe to/from Vienna

This is a short report featuring a return trip to and from Vienna that begins my ex-EU trip to Hong Kong. I flew out in Euro Traveller (which is BA’s regional Economy Class – though more akin to LCC now as they charge for food and drinks on board). BA operates some of their flights out of Terminal 3 and Vienna is one of these ‘special’ flights. I do like the idea of flying out of Terminal 3 as it means I can access to Cathay lounge, which was indeed very nice.

I arrived about three hours prior to the flight at Terminal 3 via National Express on quite a gloomy day.

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BA’s Check-in area

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Priority lane was quite empty

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Soon enough I got my boarding pass and my bags were all tagged priority. I was then told I should use the Fast Track for security.

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Fast Track security was a breeze. It took a mere 5 minute, which was a record for me in Terminal 3. I do thank my OneWorld Sapphire card! In no time, I was in the Cathay lounge enjoying the Cathay-branded brew – the Betsy Beer.

As part of the ‘Life Well Travelled’ campaign, Cathay introduces the ‘Betsy beer’ which is ‘a high-quality craft ale that has travel in its DNA’. Uniquely the beer has three ingredients: dragon eye, Hong Kong honey and fuggle. It was very unique in taste and rather sweet – not a fan, but good to try.

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The sun breaks through

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One hour prior to boarding, I moved over to the dining area to get some food. I asked for some sparkling water and white wine to go with my dinner.

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My selection: I must say that the food quality has improved appreciably since I was last here in December. Very enjoyable, indeed.

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My gate today

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The flight was to be very full and I got a text message that I could check my cabin luggage in as well.

The gate agents did not have much success in getting people to check their bags, in part because if they are travelling on hand-baggage-only fare, they would not want to wait for the bags at Vienna. Given that I had two other bags in the hold, I was happy enough to offer to check my hand baggage, which was met with appreciation by the gate agent!

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Boarding began soon after

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I bagged an exit row window seat, which in my opinion, had a much better legroom than some of the Club Europe (Business Class) seats!

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The flight left on time and arrived pretty much on time

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This is my first flight featuring the M&S Buy On Board program, although I did not partake

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I do like the idea of being able to pay with avios!

The flight was short – just under two hours – and soon enough, we began our descent into Vienna.

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Vienna was very picturesque and I was blessed with very good weather. I had a nice long stroll in the loop and it was rather refreshing.

Belvedere Palace

Burggarten

Somewhere medieval

Somewhere old

It was a satisfying stroll

I began my travel to Asia the following day after a whole day stay in Vienna. I took the train from the City to the airport

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And this is the arrivals hall

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Like the other ports I have visited, BA only has three counters for check-in

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The FIDS

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The lounge was alright – not much food and beverage. I just used the free wifi and did some emails

The flight was calling at gate D29, which was a bus gate

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View from my seat

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Legroom from row 1

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Take-off

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Hot towel was offered

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The view makes up for the lack of inflight entertainment

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Club Europe was half full today and service was fast, efficient and personal… exemplified by having two scones! (This would be my last flight was the old Club Europe catering – will miss the scones!)

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Toasting to a good trip

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After afternoon tea, we were nearing London

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The descent into Heathrow made for great sightseeing

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The Concorde!

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Landed

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We were parked next to the JAL flight to Haneda

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Next time I will pick up on my connection to Terminal 5 and my flight to Kuala Lumpur on BA’s Dreamliner in Club World Business Class.

Verdict? BA’s new Economy concept seems to be working well – there were plenty of orders for food and drinks. I like the idea of being able to pay with avios and I think the avios/cash conversion is very reasonable. Of course, paying at all is undesirable and I will continue to eat up in the lounge and fill up my water bottle before flying with BA on Economy; but I will be open to the idea of purchasing on board when I have to.

BA’s old Club Europe catering suits me well, but perhaps not for the gentleman across the row from me who did not appreciate the lack of choice for afternoon tea. I like the bulkhead seat which has good legroom – but this is nothing compared to the regional seats in Asia or even in the USA.

 

 

Sightseeing in Toronto

  • Introduction
  • Slave Class to Toronto
  • Sightseeing in Toronto [here]
  • One of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Niagara Falls
  • WestJet Take One: Toronto to Yellowknife via Edmonton
  • Spirits Dancing on the Lonely Planet: Aurora Hunting
  • Subarctic hiking and fishing
  • WestJet Take Two: Yellowknife to Calgary
  • A First in Delta: First Class to Seattle
  • Alaska with Delta’s Comfort Plus
  • Spencer Glacier Sea Kayak and Hike via the Alaska Rail Road
  • Anchorage in the rain
  • Redeye in Domestic First: Anchorage to Vancouver via Seattle
  • Home with Air Canada: not dead yet!

We had two days in Toronto for general sightseeing before we were off to a road trip to see the Niagara Falls. We did not rent a car for our two days around the city but the city was easy enough to navigate. There were quite a few spots that one should go to when in town, and their tickets could be covered in a CityPass (CAD$72 + tax for an adult). We did not go to the Zoo nor the Science Center, but we did use the Pass for the CN Tower, Casa Loma, Royal Ontario Museum and the aquarium. A little trick to remember is not to purchase the pass online because it will attract processing fees (a mistake that we made!) and you can easily pick up one at one of the above-mentioned attractions (you will still need to pick up an online-purchased Pass, so the time you saved by purchasing it online is next to nil).

Our route was a simple one. We started from the north of the city and worked our way south over the course of two days. We started with Casa Loma and ended with the CN Tower. In addition, we went to the Toronto Islands on our second day.

 

Casa Loma (Spanish for Hill House) was the residence built for Sir Henry Pellatt in the years 1911-14. The architect was E. J. Lennox and it follows a Gothic Revival style – owing to its unique building style, Casa Loma is a popular filming location (like the Vow in 2012) and venue for weddings and receptions. Of course, it has been one of the most popular attractions in Toronto – so my advice for you is to get there as early as possible.

It opens at 9:30 am and at that time the queue should be minimal (as we encountered). Aim to get there by 11 am as the queue will mount then. Getting there should be easy enough via the TTC (the subway): go to Dunpont Station and walk two blocks north on Spadina and you can climb the Baldwin stairs – where you should get a very good view of the city.

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While most of the furniture had been sold in the auction when Sir Pellatt went bankrupt in 1923, the house’s design remained as it was in the 1910s and similar furniture had been put in place.

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Although most of the house was really grand and in their historic style, my favourite would be the conservatory – it was bright and was filled with exotic plants… It was no wonder that a couple decided that they would like their wedding photos to be taken here:

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The bedrooms were interesting too – Lady Pellatt had a much bigger room than Sir Pellatt for reasons passing understanding.

The Lady’s room:

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One of the guest rooms: (Cannot seem to find Sir’s room on picture)

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The servant’s room:

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You can also climb up the Towers for a view of Toronto (and exercise, perhaps?!)

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On a dry day (not the day we visited), the garden would make a good destination for a nice stroll:

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Queue as we were leaving (lesson: go early!)

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Views from the Baldwin steps (110 steps)

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It was about lunch time, so we took the TTC to Dundas, and there was a wealth of Asian restaurants for us to pick from – and we chose a Japanese all-you-can-eat restaurant and it was excellent.

Past lunch time, we had a stroll to the Civic Center to see the “Toronto” sign (what a tourist thing to do!)

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Toronto Sign 1

Next up for us is the Royal Ontario Museum. It is conveniently located at “Museum” Station on the TTC. The CityPass voucher is good for the permanent exhibitions – so you would need to pay for the feature exhibitions if you would like to see them. (Some feature exhibitions do not cause any money – and the exhibition on “a third gender” was particularly thought-provoking)

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The ground floor of the museum features exhibits of an Asian character: mainly from ancient China and Japan; whereas the first floor features exhibits on science (mainly biology – and the nature around Ontario). The third floor features exhibits of a more ancient past – from ancient Egypt to the Byzantium Empire.

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I particularly enjoyed the exhibition “A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints”. It explores the “complex system of sexual desire and social expectation from 1603 to 1868 in Edo Japan.” What is particularly interesting is how the discussion of sexuality and gender ambiguity is manifested in paintings and arts. In addition, the fact that Japan was the background was further intriguing given the conservative attitudes most Japanese now have regarding sexuality.

The exhibition introduces “a third gender” – known as wakashu – male youths, were sexually desired by both men and women, meaning that wakashu is not characterised as either man or female. As such, wakashu had a different standing in the social hierarchy and played a different role in the society. The exhibition fundamentally challenges the dichotomy of men and female, and is a constant reminder of the fluidity of human identity and how gender, like race, is more a social construct than natural.

I am pleasantly surprised and very impressed by the depth of the exhibitions put on – the Royal Ontario Museum is a place where I would gladly spend the whole day.

We left the Museum to have a stroll in the University of Toronto:

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We called it a day then, as we were pretty tired from the jetlag. We were to go to the CN Tower but the weather was not too good.

We started our second day in Toronto with a morning outing to the Toronto Islands. We got off the TTC at Union Station and headed to the ferry pier. I would recommend getting the tickets online to avoid a queue at the ticketing desk.

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The Toronto Islands is a haven from the city’s hustle and bustle (though it has an airport of its own towards its western tip). It is a giant park in its own right, and has plenty to offer to fill your day. You can walk around and enjoy the fresh air and the concrete trails that it offers. For the more active ones, you can go on a bike (can be rented near the beach towards the south of the island) or even go swimming in the Lake! Or simply, a picnic will do!

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My sister and I completed at the maze!

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Such tranquillity:

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And my attempt at climbing this thing:

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Our lunch spot: at a smoke joint:

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We left after lunch to complete our last two attractions in Toronto:

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Located near the Union Station are the Aquarium and the CN Tower. Both were packed with people as summer was the peak season for the city. The Aquarium is slightly more bearable in terms of queues with the CityPass – only a short one as you get to skip ticketing, but expect a 1.5-hour wait for the CN Tower lifts even with the CityPass.

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The Aquarium was interesting enough, though the crowd made it somewhat unbearable as the air became really stuffy.

The CN Tower was up next:

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The Toronto City Airport as seen from the lift

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The glass floor

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And thus ended our two-day short sightseeing in Toronto before we left for the Niagara Falls. Toronto is an exciting and vibrant city, and is not short of queues everywhere. True, it was no New York but it was a city of a personality of its own. Casa Loma showcases the history (albeit recent), the Museum with it the openness and acceptance to diversity, and the Toronto Islands a piece of quiet haven in a busy city.

A short hop with Lufthansa

This is my first morning flight out of Heathrow or any European airports for that matter. I have always flown the evening flights to Asia so getting up at 4 am felt a bit surreal. For most, though, it was not that unusual, for the coach to Heathrow (via Stansted) was fully booked and some people couldn’t get on.

I slept the whole way from Cambridge to Heathrow and got up around 7:30 am when we were still battling traffic on M25, but with my flight leaving at 11 am, I wasn’t too fussed. (I got on an earlier coach so I would beat the traffic, though!)

Arriving at the check-in desk almost an hour later, after dealing with some chores and other things, the Star Gold desks were as customary quite empty. Lufthansa is probably the only airline within the Star Alliance to give Star Alliance Gold members the privilege to check in in their First Class desks. Occupied, though, I chose to check in in the Business Class desk.

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With no luggage to check in, the agent and I did not talk much. She merely asked where I was headed to and I said Munich. Since I have done my online check in, she issued my boarding pass and told me where the Fast Track security was.

Note for Lufthansa: you will always want to do online check-in. For the past three years, I have successfully secured exit row seats through online check-in at no extra cost. I don’t know whether this is a perk afforded to because I am a Star Alliance Gold member, but it is worth bearing in mind of.

In Terminal 2, there is a Star Alliance Gold Track for security. Basically, it is a fast track security lane for passengers with Star Alliance Gold status or travelling First or Business Class. I have only previously utilised it during the quiet hours of late afternoon where it was no different to the normal security lane.

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But, in the morning, the Fast Track does it job. Even though the automatic machine checking your boarding pass was done, the agent was quick in identifying Gold members and the passengers on First and Business Classes, and with three X-ray machines being in use, I was in and out of security in 5 minutes. Not bad!

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There is always uncertainty surrounding where regional flights are going to depart. I have been on a Swiss flight that would depart in satellite B, but no point of going to the lounges there unless I know for certain that the flight would go there. So I settled for the Lufthansa lounges.

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Again, unlike other airlines, Lufthansa treats their elite flyers a bit better than their fare-paying Business Class flyers with the dedicated Senator Lounge. In Heathrow, the Senator lounge is inside the Business Class lounge. Usually, the door between the two remains open, or is guarded by an agent. Today, I was issue a ticket with a barcode that would allow me to access the lounge:

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Just normal breakfast offerings in the Senator lounge. The offerings in the Senator lounge is not too different to those in the Business lounge, except the better spirits collections and wine selections, I believe.

Haven’t had breakfast myself, I chose to go for most of the hot items, but they were quite disappointing. You know something’s wrong when even the baked beans tasted a bit off… Though, the smoothie, the tea and the sparkling water were alright:

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Tea was nothing special, too, though – just Twinnings’ Every Day tea. One could definitely agree that Lufthansa could have done better in a lounge in Britain.

I spent the rest of my stay in the lounge just catching up on work on my iPad. The lounge has really good wifi and I was able to do my emails in peace. I left the lounge at boarding time (10:30), and to my delight, the gate was just 2 minutes away.

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The flight was pretty full and when I arrived, boarding was well underway. The economy queue was…

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And I chose to use my privilege as Star Alliance Gold to go for the Business Class lane:

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I quickly settled down in my seat after placing my backpack up in the overhead compartment – no storage under the seat in exit row – which works to my favour anyways – more legroom.

Outside of my window today is quite a gloomy British day and a Turkish Airlines A330 (and I feel sad now with the recent incident in the Istanbul Airport).

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My legroom was not too bad for an intra-Europe flight!

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And some plane spotting after an on time push back.

I think this is an AC 767

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An AC 77W – which I dread of flying on in coach, but will do so in August!

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Taking off from running 09R

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The BA terminal

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The Queen’s Terminal

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I then feel asleep for 20 or so minutes despite not being able to recline my seat. When I woke up, the weather turned for the better!

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And I was offered drinks – I chose tea with milk (not very good by British standards) and sparkling water (decent)

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We were offered a sandwich for lunch – it was okay but I did not see the point of the red pepper in it! I guess it is just me – who despises red pepper!

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Soon enough we were approaching Munich.

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The Captain warned us that Munich was very windy and sure enough the approach was a bit bumpy – but during the final approach, everything quieted down slightly and we were treated to a smooth landing!

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We arrived well ahead of schedule, due to the on time departure and short flight time (1h 20m).

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LH A346

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A SQ 77W departing Munich after arriving from Manchester

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We parked next to a Swiss aircraft with this Zurich Airport paint

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Deplaning was efficient. And in a few minutes I was off to check out the Senator lounge!

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Bonus: Lufthansa Senator Lounge Munich

I have read elsewhere on the internet that if you arrive on a Star Alliance ticket into Munich and you would have access to the lounges too. So I went and tried it out – and I was not disappointed (in terms of gaining access) – I was asked to show my Gold card and I was allowed in.

The lounge was reasonably big, but not too big.

The limited food option – there aren’t even sausages!

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Typical drink selections – nothing special

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But there’s a very good bar – on par with the bars found in Cathay’s lounges in Hong Kong. The bartender could make a lot of different cocktails – so for those fans of cocktails – this is the place to be. I did recall a very good champagne but I did not take a picture of the bottle!

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I just utilised the wifi for a bit and then I headed off!

In sum, Lufthansa had a decent offering. It was not the best with the lack of entertainment, limited food and horrible tea. But it was on time, the seats were comfortable and everything else was okay compared to other intra-European flights.

If the price is right – I wouldn’t hesitate to take Lufthansa again.

Singapore to London on SQ Next Generation Economy

This is a short continuation of my review of SQ’s next generation economy product from Hong Kong to Singapore. After touring around Terminal 3 of Singapore’s Changi Airport, I dragged my tired body back to gate B10 – the last gate of concourse B, far away from the Krisflyer Gold Lounge (which you can use if you are a Star Gold member, but if you hold a Business ticket, you can use the fancier lounge).

To be honest, nothing to write home about with the lounge and apologises for the lack of pictures. I had some fish congee for supper in the lounge and stuck with my favourite pineapple juice.

One of Singapore Airport’s unique characteristics is that security checks are conducted at gate, rather than at a centralised checkpoint. So, after you are checked, you enter a confined holding area to wait until your flight calls for boarding. No priority lanes at security checks nor at boarding pass checks – but the lines were short as I arrived rather late (half past midnight for a flight departing 10 past 1, late because the gate has been opened for long enough to digest the lines!)

For the first time in a lounge like this (unlike the gate areas of A1-5 for instance, where boarding passes are checked before boarding), the gate agent actually rather religiously enforce priority. Star Alliance Gold members are once again forced to board with Premium Economy passengers.

Short fiasco: the passenger in front of me pulled off a drunk trick so he got a three-seater to himself, and sent his neighbours to the two seats next to me, which would have been blocked otherwise. But I still got a good window seat, hence no complaints! And the crew dealt with it really well, and the flight departed more or less on time.

I skipped supper, but the menu:

Cajun Spiced Chicken Salad to start

Choose from Braised Beef Brisket or Oriental Barbecued Pork or Indian prawn curry

Mango Mousse Cake to end

I had outstanding sleep until 3 hours prior to landing, which was decent. The seat was very, very comfortable as I mentioned in my previous post, but one can only sleep so much.

We were soon served breakfast:I chose to go for the Singapore Nasi Lemak

It was excellent. It was my first time having this dish, but there were lots to commend on this dish: the fish was crispy and the egg was not overcooked. Similarly, the rice was not cooked to burn – which was a hallmark of skillful cooking on the FA’s part.

At this time, the sun rose above Eastern Europe

We reached Western Europe when breakfast was taken away from us.

The Alps in the morning

Approaching London…

Still some morning mist on Kent and Essex

Sorry for a short report. But in sum, SQ once again delivers. A very comfortable product with decent width (19 inches) and legroom (32 inches). Sure, there have been cost cuts to the Economy service (e.g. only two choices for breakfast, no more cheese), but SQ remains superior in my opinion. Sad that this would be the last time I fly with SQ in a very long time.

Hong Kong to Singapore on SQ Next Generation Economy Class

Just a quick trip report from Hong Kong to Singapore on SQ’s next generation Economy product, which I have not reviewed yet, though I have been on it for quite a few times.

It is, to date, my favourite product, and I don’t think my opinions of it will change anytime soon, though I am jumping ship to chase the OneWorld Emerald status.

I have been a loyal Star Alliance Gold member for the past three years and that afforded me Business Class check-in in Hong Kong’s airport. I was through with check-in in no time, at all, seeing that I was the only one using the Business Class check-in counters. Three bags in the hold and 46 kg (50kg Star Gold allowance in Economy) lighter, I am off to London.

I opted to use the Singapore Airlines lounge, which is the best Star Alliance lounge in Hong Kong without the shadow of a doubt.

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When I got to the lounge, the flight was 20 minutes to boarding, and the flight would be boarding at gate 28, meaning a 10-minute walk. So, I did not explore the food options, though there was the customary made-to-order noodles, hot food selections, cold plate selections, and ice cream. I opted for Champagne instead, which was the good old Piper Heidsieck – not bad, not bad.

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Soon enough I joined the masses of passengers marching to the boarding gate. I departed on a Wednesday but the airport, like a weekend or during holidays, was jampacked with people, for no particular reason.

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View of the Boeing 777-300ER that would take me to Singapore (and later to London). Connecting to SQ306, I could always take the later SQ871 service (departing 1 hour 5 minutes later), but I am not a fan with the old cabin in the Boeing 777-200, so I always took the SQ865 service.

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As ever, with Singapore Airlines, boarding starts way too early, but fine for me.

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One of the reasons why I am going to ditch Singapore Airlines and its Star Alliance partners is the lack of recognition of elite status, evident especially during boarding. Hong Kong is probably the only port that has Star Gold members boarding with Business Class passengers. Even so, it was because the lane was shared with Premium Economy passengers.

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I get it, from the point of view of a Business Class passenger, it is a nuisance if one has to queue up for boarding because of elite members, but equally, elite members like myself (I score at least 50,000 miles a year with Star Alliance), would feel left out. Results? I am giving up on you, Singapore Airlines!

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More queuing…

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View from my seat:

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The TV is now 11.1-inch, and is among the largest one in the industry for economy class. Very intuitive in design and I really like the touch screen (I think touch screen should be available in Business Class as well)

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A screen on the remote, as well: unlike CX where such a remote only features in Business, SQ is more generous!

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To be honest, I prefer the old inflight map, but this new one does not hurt!

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Quite a stuffed pillow and a big one, too, as big as the table. Very comfortable. Thumbs up to Singapore Airlines for providing both pillows and blankets on a short flight, unlike Cathay, where these items are only available upon request

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Singapore Airlines must be among the few airlines around the world that still offer hot towels before take off for its Economy Class passengers

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The same applies for the menu…

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I cannot remember how many times I have watched this video… Not the most frequent flyer myself, but I am fairly loyal when it comes to flying

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Once we have taken off, I watched a British dark comedy: The Lady in the Van. The SQ’s inflight entertainment offers more than 1,000 entertainment options, and it is fair to say that you will find it quite hard to be bored

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Sunset over the South China Sea

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Post take-off nuts

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And rum with coke…

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My dinner option: Braised Beef with Roasted Garlic Thyme Sauce

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Slight complaint is that they have now cut the cheese option from economy class (though I have seen it in some flights from London)

Ice cream was excellent, though!

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The rest of the flight was rather uneventful. I asked for a can of pineapple juice to keep myself hydrated during the flight. This pineapple juice is among one of my favourite drinks on a plane (I am easily satisfied!)

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We landed into Singapore 20 minutes ahead of schedule and I proceeded to do some shopping in Terminal 3 with my SG$20 voucher.

In sum, Singapore Airlines is the best airline I have ever flown with, in economy and in business. It delivers: excellent catering, excellent service and wonderful hardware. The seat is very comfortable and the 4 hours easily lapse. Although the real test is the next 13-hour sector which I will report on very soon, this was a good start, as usual from my past experiences (and they have been plenty).

 

Day 8: A bittersweet farewell:Adelaide to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific

Today is my first Cathay Business Class experience in long haul (when I was younger, I did a return to Seoul in Business from Hong Kong, but that was it, and that was ages ago). I wasn’t too thrilled: after all, CX174 departs at an ungodly hour of 07:25 am, and I have not heard good things about Cathay catering (which I value highly in my premium class travels). And I was not surprised: food was not good, and the early departure renders me sleepless both the night before and during the flight.

Thanks to my father who let me go business for this sector (I have a job to tend to after landing), I was able to sample Cathay’s Business Class for the first time in many years. I woke up at 4 am for a 4.30 am departure from my hotel right in the middle of town. We were efficient as a family and by 5 am we were in the airport.

We arrived extra early because of the texts we received from Cathay the day before, that the customs and immigration officers were planning a strike. We were not affected too much by it though.

We arrived before daybreak:

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Despite the early hours, the Adelaide airport is fairly busy already. Only one international departures in this ungodly hour of the morning (in winter schedule, flight leaves at 06:25), but tons of domestic ones. MH and SQ both timed their flights later in the morning, at around 9-10 am, whereas the Gulf carriers fly out in the afternoon / evening (newest addition is, of course, QR)

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We quickly located the CX check in desks, about the same as where they were a few years ago.

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Though the boarding gate has already used the new colours (see below), the screens for check-in were still using the older design:

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We were met by an disinterested ethnically-Chinese staff. Quickly issuing our boarding passes, she seemed that she did not want to be here. We asked for fragile tags for our wine, but was met with contempt, though compliance. Courtesy of my Silver status, I was issued a lounge invitation, just like my father, and I scored an extra legroom seat for my sister who would later take my seat.

The airport concourse shares both domestic and international departures. So, you only go through security when you enter airside. Only 2-3 gates are for international departures and you would clear immigration there and of course you will find duty free in there. Cathay does not run its own lounge in Adelaide, and like in most other Australian ports, Cathay’s passengers use the Qantas lounges, located in the domestic concourse in Adelaide. Only SQ’s Silver Kris Lounge is in the international concourse, all One World passengers use their lounges prior to immigration.

Qantas Club @ ADL

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As always, I do find being able to access lounges as a silver member is a great perk for Cathay’s Marco Polo Club. Yet, the changes have made it impossible for me to attain their silver membership anymore (even though I do three roundtrips to London, at the minimum).

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The lounge was gigantic and by no means crowded, though people do have a tendency to congregate near the food seeing that this is breakfast time. If you sit next to the bar (I do think they will serve you alcohol if you ask for it), you are guaranteed some peace and quiet to your own.

Service was good. When I sat down, I was immediately offered a cup of tea or coffee. And I asked for tea, with milk.

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Then I was given an introduction to the amenities of the lounge by the lounge attendant, knowing it was my first visit to the club. I then got up exploring the lounge slightly:

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Funny enough: this is for making a toastie!

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The resultant:

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Here’s the rest of the food selection:

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I think the hot food spread is very limited, but understandable for a domestic lounge. I think toastie is a very clever addition to the lounge, though the Chinese tourists (flying CX) do not know exactly how to operate the toastie machine. The breakfast spread could be made slightly better by having a larger variety of fruits (the fruits salad is quite grim and full of seeds!), and maybe a better spread of cold meats.

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That said, the environment is lovely, I enjoy the big and spacious atmosphere. Service was excellent, too, for a domestic lounge, where my breakfast plates were taken away within seconds of me finishing. Of course, the most important thing about the breakfast selection is the quality of the tea and coffee, and on that front, I am not disappointed. Artisan coffee is available on request, and there are coffee machines around the lounge, too.

Very good indeed.

CX174 Adelaide to Hong Kong

The lounge attendant announced that we should head to immigration for the flight’s boarding. The flight ran slightly late from Hong Kong and the 1 hour 15 minute turnaround would seem like quite a push. We went through immigration quickly and hung around in the international departures for a bit. Boarding did not start until the scheduled departure time (never a good sign!)

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Green Card members can no longer board with Business Class passengers, but with Premium Economy passengers.

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My chariot awaits.

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Boarding eventually started but was quite chaotic. I decided to not board just yet seeing that most passengers were queuing already in a small confined space and with a very full flight. Eventually, I boarder the plane and settled down in my seat of 16K. As a result of the delayed departure, I was able to snap a few shots of the sunrise on my side of the aircraft.

Boarding was through door L1, so all passengers walked past my seat. Seeing that there was only one airbridge, maybe boarding should be done through door L2, so at least most of the business class passengers can then “turn left” symbolically.

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The IFE was locked in flight path mode when I was seated. But I don’t mind it at all.

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I was, very soon, offered my pre-departure beverage. The selection today includes orange juice, apple juice and water. No champagne – the standard affair. I chose apple juice and water.

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Hot towels were offered quickly after. Boiling hot towels…

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Then comes the safety demonstration video. By this time, all the passengers have boarder, But we were waiting for the luggage to be loaded into the hold, so further delays.

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We left the gate about 30 minutes late. The Adelaide airport is quite small so a short taxi to the runway would suffice. Hence, mood lighting went on quite soon in Business Class in preparation for takeoff. A note about these reverse herringbone seats of CX: no storage in the ottoman for take off, but you do not have to stow your TV monitor for takeoff.

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We took off to the East of the Airport, that is the city of Adelaide. In a way, we backtracked where we came from (as we landed towards the West when I came). I was hoping for some view of the coastline, but that did not materialised.

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But soon enough, we made a U-turn into the coast before heading north back to Hong Kong.

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Goodbye Adelaide. Side note: the engine view of the A333 isn’t as nice as the majestic GE-90s of the 77Ws, I must say.

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Noise cancelling headphones – a very good one.

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Breakfast service began right after takeoff. The crew initially pulled up the drink carts and offered us drinks. My aisle was served by a purser and the Inflight Service Manager (ISM). I was served by the ISM. I asked for a milk tea and an apple juice. She mistook it for orange juice.

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I was not paying attention, in a way, as I was exploring the IFE system. But later when she finished serving all the passengers of my aisle, I pointed out to here that she mistook my drink orders. She was very apologetic and quickly got me the apple juice that I wanted. She also recommended the mango smoothie, so I had a glass of that, too, and indeed it was very nice.

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After the drink service was concluded, the cabin crew came around and set up the table. One major difference between the CX seat and the SQ new J seat is the size of the table. SQ’s table is gigantic, probably about double the size of that of CX’s. The table is quite small in size, and you cannot adjust its position (slide forward or backward etc.), hence I was limited in how I sit – something I think has been worked upon in the new design.

In a way, the breakfast is a 2-course affair. We were first offered the cold plates (no choice), fruits, bread and museli all the same tray.

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The cold plates were perfectly fine, nothing to write home about, really. One gem I found, though, was strawberry jam for my croissant – something that I did not have for the two breakfasts I had with SQ – well done Cathay, on that.

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The sky has lit up significantly by the time we finished the first course for the breakfast. The ISM was quite proactive in refilling drinks. I had another glass of the smoothie and milk tea while finishing up my cold plates.

As customary to the Cathay service, main courses are pulled out in a cart for us to choose. On the plus side, this allows customers to look at the main course before choosing as sometimes the actual main will be so different to what was described of in the menu. On the negative side, given the low temperature in the cabin, the main courses, by the time they reach the end of the aisle, would have been cooled down and not oven fresh anymore (not that airplane food would be fresh)

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The three choices for main today was Fish congee, stirred fried noodles with (burnt) shrimps and western breakfast (omelette). I doubted that the Adelaide catering could do congee or noodles better than the hawkers in Hong Kong, and that they just did not look appetising to me. Thus, I chose the omelette, which suffice to say, was a disappointment.

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I think this really represents a low in Cathay catering. The omelette was so overcooked that the cheese in it was so chewy like plastic. And the rest of the breakfast seems to be soaked in chilli oil somehow. Also, the portions were quite small for a Business Class meal. It was as big as the economy breakfast, which I enjoyed a bit more when I came to Australia. I wasn’t too hungry, though, so it was alright, and I continued on my movie.

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The plane flew in on 31st March, and I left on 1st April. And while they have loaded in the April inflight magazines, the IFE selection remains that of March. Similarly, while the menu denotes that the special drinks would be Cathay Delight, but again, they only had the special drinks of March.

I then reclined my bed, after my movie, for some rest. The bed was very good (I still liked the bed provided by SQ, though, because of their mattress). The length is incredible and I do appreciate the width provided at the hip level, but the width on the head level was quite narrow (21 inches), as opposed to SQ’s 28/29 inches on their new J seat. The pillow is too small, frankly: should either offer two or a better one. The duvet, on the other hand, was very good: quite suited to the cabin temperature and the use of fibre is very comfortable.

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Service was decent, not excellent, though. The purser on my aisle was polite, and always addressed me by my name. Cabin crews answered call lights really quickly and some would inform me if my request would take longer than a while. At some instances, they were proactive, e.g. offering to check whether the other lavatories were available while I was waiting for one. Yet, once the meal service was over, the crew sort of disappeared into the gallery and was mainly chatting away. I was not seated near the gallery, but I could imagine the noise.

Cathay’s green tea

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Lunch service began around 3 hours 20 minutes before landing. It began with a drinks service.

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Hot towel to start with:

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I got a champagne and a sparkling water to start. The nuts were warmed, which was a plus.

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Table was set after the drink service was completed, as with the breakfast service. The nuts took away. There was no choice for the starter, so once your table was set, someone would bring you your tray. Mark of efficiency!

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The bread went a bit wrong today… That was surprising – one would say that the thing I look forward to most in a meal (if all other fails) would be the never-failing garlic bread. But today, the bread was too dry and not warm enough…

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The starter, too, was ice cold.

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A Cathay branded butter.

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Lunch choices: Steak, chinese stir-fry was cashew nuts and sweet pepper, salmon and a vegetarian pasta option. Steak was something always to avoid, I think, because they tend to overdo it. I hate sweet peppers. So I went for the salmon. I was disappointed again, it was overcooked.

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I had a few bites and I gave it a pass. But things could only get better (this statement bears both positive and negative connotations!) The desserts were better.

After they cleared away the main course, the fruit trolley came around offering us with fruit plates and cheese plates. Rather than letting us choose what we want from the fruit trolley, we were merely given one of everything. That said, the fruits were probably the best dish of the lunch service – and they were really good.

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You can never go wrong with ice cream I think

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To end, I was offered some pralines, which I gladly accepted. I went for a Hazelnut one and a salted caramel one. Can’t say they were excellent, but good enough.

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Lunch service concluded about 1.5 hours before landing, which gave the crew good time to clear up. I asked for a milk tea and this time I specified I wanted Hong Kong style Milk Tea, and the cup that returned was like a gift sent straight from heaven. (Note to self: always specify HK style Milk Tea!)

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Nearly there…

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Amenity Kit – definitely one of the strongholds of Cathay. I really like it.

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About to land

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And welcome to Hong Kong!

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Last pictures…

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Last Words…

Cathay was better than Singapore in three areas and three areas only:

  • They can make a mean HK style Milk Tea
  • The IFE has touch screen
  • They provide amenity kits

While with a hard product on par with SQ, Cathay’s hard product is disappointing, and in particular, the food/catering need a massive improvement.

 

Day 7: A love affair with Riesling in Clare Valley

Our last day in Adelaide saw us visiting the least frequented wine region of Clare Valley. Clare Valley is where the best of the Australian Riesling is produced. While with less people, Clare Valley feels less commercial and more like a holiday destination, where wine tasting and eating good food seem to be on everyone’s agenda. Not pressured into buying any wine in any way really shows a great strength of the region: while the quality of the wine can be paramount to the experience, I think the people matter quite a lot, too. And Clare Valley really delivers on making the wine tasting experience a really special one.

Clare Valley is located around 140 km north of Adelaide, and will take up to 2 hours on a good day to drive up north. The trick is to get on the M20 instead of the A20 because the latter has tons of traffic lights and you would be in urban area for most! We made that mistake in the outbound and took a few extra minutes to get there.

But once we arrived into Clare Valley, things turned for the better!

Our first stop is Crabtree’s Watervale Wineyard:

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We arrived quite early, though already in the mood of wine tasting. The lady manning the counter was very friendly and was very keen on getting all of us to try their range of wine. She started off by introducing us to their field and where in the field that they planted the different grapes, and the effects of the sunlight on the wine produces.

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As you can see, most of the vineyard is dedicated to planting Riesling, and most of them are planted on the westside of the ridge. This is because that Riesling tends not to like the morning sun. Out of the two Rieslings we tasted, I was particularly fond of the Hilltop Riesling, which was very fruity and crisp. The Watervale Riesling was not bad, too.

We really enjoyed the wines here, though we did not buy any at this point (we did come back later in the afternoon and grabbed a bottle of the Hilltop Riesling which I was very fond of!) I really appreciated the very detailed introduction to the region’s Riesling production, and the recommendation that we should aim to have lunch in Paulett’s, which was brilliant, too. I would highly recommend Crabtree’s as a starting point, or as a place of very good quality wine.

Next up in Mitchell’s. Uninspiring, in my opinion, nothing to write home about, really.

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The Riesling there tended to be a little too acidic to my taste.

We then carried on and went to Skillogalee, which was another excellent wine producer. As we arrived into the gate of Skillogalee, we saw people starting to harvest grapes for this year’s vintage. I do not remember which type they were harvesting, but I would think that it is Riesling!

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Clare Valley is a very beautiful place. The geography there meant that it is not very flat, the hills and valleys made up a very picturesque portrait of nature.

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There is a huge range of wine in Skillogalee for us to try. The 2012 Trevarrick Riesling was particularly good. It was rich in flavours.

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On our way out, we stopped again at the entrance, and the man in charge of the harvesting came and talked to us about the harvesting. He told us it would take them a few days to harvest (by hand) just the fields in the bottom of the hill. I guess the wine quality in Clare Valley is very good partly because of the lack of mass production in a way.

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Before going to Paulett for lunch, we went up the hill (by car, of course) to the Spring Gully Conservatory Park to see the view of the creekbed of Spring Gully. The park has a bit of the feel of outback with slightly dry ground and barren trees etc.

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Without further a due, we were all very hungry and wanted a lunch. We heeded the advice of the lady back at Crabtree’s and went to Paulett, and it did not disappoint.

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This is our table:

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This view was spectacular (thanks to the weather), and so was the food:

Menu:

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We shared a starter: which was crisps with pate, which was excellent. The pate, in particular, was rich in flavours and went well with the wine.

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The main course was braised beef cheeks with mash potatoes. I don’t think I have had any better beef before – it was phenomenal, and definitely restored my faith in beef after last night’s terrible steak in Glenelg.

I went for ice cream to share with my sister: which again was brilliant (and I am definitely looking forward to the ice cream in the garden party I am about to go to)

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After a fulfilling lunch, I felt much obliged to wash down some wine, and went to the cellar door of Paulett to taste their white range. I think their Riesling was very, very good, but not as fruity and crisp as Crabtree’s Hilltop Riesling. Yet, they have top-notch sparkling whites, and the sparkling red wasn’t bad either. Out of the wines I tasted, I particularly enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc.

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And then, we drove back to Adelaide after stopping at Crabtree’s for its excellent Riesling. It took 2 hours to get back, and just in time to fit some shopping in town for us. We returned to our favourite restaurant in Adelaide: Ding Hao for our last supper (pardon the pun).

Stir-fried Squid with Prawn Sauce

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Clamps in Black Bean Sauce

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Steamed Oyster with Spring Onion and Ginger

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Complimentary Dessert

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In conclusion, Clare Valley is excellent, it is very scenic and the people were very friendly. If you have a day in Adelaide, Clare Valley should be on the top of your list for the wine, the food and the nature.

 

Day 6: Back to Adelaide, Adelaide Hills, and a magical sunset

Day 6 sees quite a long drive on the road from Naracoorte all the way back to Adelaide. Last time we did it, we did a detour into Victor Harbour. But likewise, it would seem that we haven’t yet had the motivation to explore the Murray River region thus far, which I hope, we would pay a visit next time.

As usual, I shall start off with a map of our day:

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After a quick drive, we arrived into Keith, a small town. Not picturesque in its own term, it is quite a pleasant place to work into. We ran into polices having a cup of tea (probably coffee) while chatting among themselves, and families just strolling down the streets.

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For travellers, free tea and coffee is served in the tourist centre, which is also a café. There are lots of tourist information about not only surrounding areas but the whole South Australia. We got lots of pamphlets for our next trip to South Australia, where we would most likely return!

We kept going, as the afternoon is slightly more interesting – wine tasting in Adelaide Hills. We have been to Adelaide Hills before in this trip, when we visited its German town of Hahndorf. We arrived into Tailem Band for lunch.

Tailem Band was not hugely exciting, either. This town is very small, with only a population 1000 men strong. We stopped by the city’s hotel for lunch. We did not get pictures for our lunch options, either, again because it was not too exciting. We had deep-fried seafood most probably – that was what was the more exciting options on the menu as I recall.

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We got a tad bit excited as we left Tailem Band, partly because we were then 100 km away from Adelaide, one of our favourite cities in the world, but also for the wine-tasting experiences that were to come, though we were slightly disappointed at the rather commercial nature of the region.

Adelaide Hills produced very good wine, there is no doubt about that. I have had the pleasure of drinking some myself in the past. Wineries in Adelaide Hills were fairly spread out in the region, making travelling from one winery to another quite a tedious one sometimes, especially some roads were unpaved. Also, for most of the wineries we have been to (in the south side of Adelaide Hills), they charge a fair amount for tasting, which would be refunded if we make purchases – we did not like the idea of that, not that we mucked around and would not buy anything in the end, but we wanted to buy wine because we liked the wine, not because we spent $20 ($5 per person, usually) and we wanted that back.

I did get a lovely day out, though – the nature is very nice:

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Adelaide Hills is very famous for its Sauvignon Blanc white wine. It is more of a white wine region than the nearby McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley, which was a good thing for me because I am a white person. I don’t really do red. I was not disappointed with the Sauvignon Blanc I tasted at Nepenthe: it was very crisp and refreshing while not too dry in nature. I particularly liked the citrus taste of this wine. The Riesling here was not bad, but as our experiences would show, the Riesling in Clare Valley is just off-the-chart good. We had a taste of the wines:

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Our host was very, very lovely in Nepenthe. He was really friendly and was really chatty. We talked about his day-to-day encounters with people in the cellar doors and travelling, which was really interesting. Although we tried quite a number of wine, the time flew by really quickly. As I said I really liked the Sauvignon Blanc so I bought it – it was not very expensive either. I remembered that it was sort of in the sub-$20 region.

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For the evening, we went to see the sunset by the Glenelg Beach. Suffice to say, the sunset was very, very pretty, though the restaurant was fairly disappointing (which was probably an understatement).

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We had the dinner at a causal dining place in the Oaks Plaza Pier, which was a hotel/service apartment sort of place. The food was reasonably priced but the quality was lacking to say the least.

The oysters were okay – they were not very fresh, though.

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Probably a failure when your best dish is garlic bread. Sort of a yardstick we hold airlines’ food to account, too, interestingly.

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I went for the beef steak fillet, which was not tender, overcooked, and impossible to cut through. I always thought you could not really go wrong with Australian beef, but I stood corrected there (well, I sat corrected?)

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The only saving grace of the restaurant was a very extensive wine list and the wines were fairly reasonably priced. We ended up having two whites from Tomich: I love the names of the wine

Rhyme and Reason Pinot Grigio: very, very fruity

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Wing of a Prayer Sauvignon Blanc

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Slightly tipsy, I called it a day. It was a lovely day.