Brazil tagged posts

Polaris-ish? Underwhelmed on United Polaris Business Sao Paulo to Washington (GRU-IAD)

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United Airlines Flt. 860 Sao Paulo-Guarulhos to Washington-Dulles

This is the concluding post of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.  (Low-quality pictures in this post due to equipment issues, apologies.)

In June 2016, United made a huge deal out of announcing its “new” business class, rebranding it as “Polaris” effective December 1.  Their PR company did an amazing job, and blogs and news articles made it seem like United was going to finally bring its business class product into the 2000s – since it was the only of the American carriers that didn’t have direct aisle access on most long-hauls, and had a 2-4-2 configuration on many of its business class flights...

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Stelllaaaaaaa – Or getting stuck in Sao Paulo and the Sao Paulo Airport Marriott

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This is part 19 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

It may seem like this trip report series is taking forever, but (a) it was a long trip and (b) other things have been going on which I will blog about shortly.  This should have been my last post from my trip, but the travel gods intervened.

DC had very little snow this winter – indeed one day of accumulation total prior to my March trip.  Of course, that meant a storm was then predicted for the day I returned home. Winter Storm Stella was predicted to bring 2 to 6 inches in DC – but in Dulles, far west of the city, they were predicting 6 to 12 inches.  So, even taking off from Johannesburg, I was prepared for the possibility of a travel disruption.

Still on the SAA plane, I p...

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Trip Report: South African Airways New A333 Business Class Johannesburg to Sao Paulo, Sans Camera

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This is part 18 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

South African Airways Flt. 222 Johannesburg to Sao Paulo – Guarulhos
Sched. Dep. 11:15am              Sched. Arr. 4:00pm
Actual Dep. 11:07am                Actual Arr. 3:30pm
A330-300, Business Class

My trip back home was an unusual, but not that illogical, route using Aeroplan miles, flying South African Airways from Johannesburg to Sao Paolo, then United from Sao Paolo to Dulles.  It’s about the same length as a routing via Europe, and was available on the day I wanted to travel in business class.

You may no notice that I have pretty much no pictures of my trip from Johannesburg to Sao Paolo, for reasons that will be explained later...

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2016 Index and Year in Review

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I won’t belabor the point, but 2016 was pretty terrible.  My travels were pretty good,though.  I still owe you all a few posts from my November New Zealand adventure, but as we say goodbye to the dumpster-fire of 2016, here’s a look back at my year in travel.  For previous years’ retrospectives, check out 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

2016, yeah!

I’ve kept the blog as a travelogue, continuing to blog less and less about things other than my personal travel given how crowded the space is for “hacking” and “free” points.  Going into 2017, I’ve requalified for American elite status (Platinum), and let my hotel status’ drop down to be those I have via credit card (Hyatt Platinum/Discoverist, Marriott/SPG Gold, Hilton Gold, IHG Platinum) and Intercontinental Ambassador.

So, what were my tra...

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Rio Mini-Trip Report Part 2, the Sheraton Grande Rio, Sunshine, and AA GIG-MIA-DCA

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For my third night in Rio, I switched hotels because my friend was staying at the Sheraton Grande Rio his second night. Prices were a little less than the Caesar Park, so I decided why not. The property is in Leblon, about 10 minutes from Ipanema – a bit west of the main beach and shopping/hotels/restaurants area of Leblon. The hotel is more resort-like than those on the main drag, with its own beaches, pools, tennis courts, etc. It’s also a huge hotel, with 26 stories.

The Sheraton from Leblon

The Sheraton from Leblon

As an SPG Gold member, I had gotten an email two days prior to my stay asking me my arrival time, and inviting me to check in at the “Club Reception” on the 26th Floor. I had hoped this would mean I’d have club access, as its pretty tacky to tell people to check in at the club, and then banish them.

The lobby of the hotel was a flurry of activity, much more hectic than the Caesar Park, reflecting a mix of conference guests, tourists, businesspeople, and airline crew. I took the elevator up to the 26thFloor, where there was a long reception desk between two glass rooms, a club lounge and a restaurant. The desk clerk was friendly, and told me I’d been “upgraded” to an Ipanema view room on the 23rd floor, and that they’d also given me club access, which included breakfast, “tea” from 3 to 5, and happy hour from 6 to 8.

Club Lounge , Sheraton Rio Grande

Club Lounge , Sheraton Rio Grande

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Rio Mini-Trip Report 1: AA Main Cabin Extra DCA-JFK-GIG, a Second Try at the Caesar Park Hotel, & Rain in Rio…Again

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I’d already been to Brazil twice since November, with Rio and Iguazu in one trip, and Bahia, Sao Paulo, and Brasilia in another.  But American had a really cheap, sub-$500 fare from DCA to Rio, and a friend was going down for a weekend.  I hadn’t done the Rio nightlife on my last trip, with only two nights in the city, and the weather had been grey and cloudy, so I thought this would provide a second opportunity to do that stuff.  Also, after eighteen months of solo travel, the idea of traveling with someone else was nice. My friend was only going for two nights though, which struck me as insufficient (I’m getting old), so I went down a night early.  The routing would be a lot more straightforward than my last trip to Rio, and I’d be flying DCA-JFK-GIG on the outbound, and GIG-MIA-DCA on the inbound.

My trip down to Rio was pretty uneventful. It started with a stay at a crowded Admirals Club at DCA, where I worked a bit, and a 737 from DCA to JFK. The one thing of note was an honor guard meeting an arriving plane at one of the gates at DCA.  I’d never seen an honor guard meeting a plane inside a terminal before, and assume it was to greet the family of a fallen servicemember.  The leader of the group welcomed about a half dozen passengers off the plane, and none looked super sad, but obviously I have no idea.

Honor Guard at DCA

Honor Guard at DCA

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28 Hours in Brasilia

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I got to my hotel in Brasilia in plenty of time to shower and head to dinner.  The problem with Brasilia’s zones is that by definition the “Hotel Zone” isn’t going to have anything much but hotels and some businesses catering to their guests.  There was a shawarma stand and a Fogo de Chao across the street, and then lots of hotel restaurants.   Brasilia is supposed to have really good restaurants though, so I decided to go farther afield, finding a place on TripAdvisor that was about a five minute drive away in a residential area called Asa Sul.

I got an Uber, which embarrassingly cost 7 reais – less than $2 – but it wasn’t a walkable distance.  The restaurant, Cantina da Massa, was quite good.  It had a lively outdoor seating area, though I was given an interior table that was poorly located as often is the case when seekingor a table of 1.  It was Restaurant Week in Brasilia, and I wasn’t super hungry, so I figured I’d go with the prix fixe meal, which was much cheaper than the rest of the menu.  It was 3 courses for about $15, starting with little cheese cubes and tapioca cubes alongside a spicy duck-like dipping sauce, followed by sea bass in a shrimp sauce and mashed potatoes (which were sweet but not sweet potatoes), and then a delicious panna cotta.  I also had a bottle of water, Coke Zero, and espresso, and the bill was still less than 20 USD.  (It would have been a lot more if I’d ordered a la carte, but much less than a comparable meal in the States.)  It really was a lovely meal, and I was glad to have a more relaxed nice meal, since I hadn’t really done that much on this trip.  My Uber back was also $1.50.

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Orientation to Brasilia and the confusing Melia Brasil 21

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As a means of orientation, before I get into specifics, some background on Brasilia. Brasilia was founded in 1960 to serve as the new federal capital of Brazil. It was one of the main projects of late-50s president Juscelino Kubitschek, who was a strong supporter of a new centrally-located capital as part of an economic plan. The city was created from scratch, designed by urban planner Lucio Costa, with most buildings designed by famed modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer. The entire city was built in 41 months.

Model of Brasilia

Model of Brasilia

The city is entirely planned, with little to no mixture of uses. What that means is that residential neighborhoods are separate from business neighborhoods, which are separate from government buildings. The city is shaped like an airplane, with different “zones” named by use. For example, there are two hotel zones, “Zona Hotelera Norte” and “Zona Hotelera Sud”—one on each side of the fuselage of the “airplane”, known as the Monumental Axis, which runs the length of the city. The residential areas are the “wings.”

Melia Brasil 21 Bloco B

Melia Brasil 21 Bloco B

Selecting a hotel for Brasilia was very confusing, and I don’t remember exactly how or why I picked the way I did. In terms of location, almost all of the hotels are in similar locations, given the zone system.

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A Brief Sao Paulo Stay and the Intercontinental Sao Paulo

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Due to a series of events, my short time in Sao Paulo provided even less time to experience the city than I had planned – I didn’t explore the nightlife, restaurants, or museums at all really, and only saw a few of the main sights. Part of it was how late I got to my hotel on the first night, but there were also work crises that took up a good portion of my time there, rainy weather, and problems with my phone which required multiple trips to a market that sold tech accessories and a wipe of my phone. But what I did experience I enjoyed, and Sao Paulo was unlike any other part of Brazil I’ve been, with the feeling of a bustling mega-metropolis and a great energy. Plus, my stay at the Intercontinental was fantastic.

The Intercontinental Sao Paulo

The Intercontinental Sao Paulo

Pulling up at the Intercontinental late at night felt really good after my days in bug-infested Morro de Sao Paulo. It was shiny, clean, and fancy. The lobby and common areas were sleek, modern, and well-maintained. I had reserved two nights at the hotel on points at a rate of 40,000 a night. Just before my trip, the rate dropped to 35,000 points a night, but there were no award nights left at that point, and my attempts at asking IHG Reservations to adjust me the difference went nowhere. The hotel is in the Jardins area of Sao Paulo, which is relatively safe, clean, and fairly convenient to get around.  The concierge an front desk staff were helpful and friendly, and the hotel felt like  a retreat from the busy city.

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Leaving Morro de Sao Paulo and Salvador to Sao Paulo on Avianca Brazil

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Avianca Brazil Flt. 6259, Salvador (SSA) to Sao Paulo-Guarulhos (GRU)
A320, Economy
Sched. Dep, 6:12PM   Actual Dep. 6:23PM
Sched. Arr. 8:50PM Actual Arr. 8:36PM

My trip to Morro de Sao Paulo would have made a lot more sense if it weren’t for the problems I had with two different transfer companies. The fastest way to get from Morro de Sao Paulo to Salvador International Airport is to fly. Online, companies show two different companies flying 8 seater planes a total of 4 times a day. But I tried emailing 4 different companies, and only heard back from one of them. I sent them my date, and they wrote back with a quote and time, with a plane that left in the afternoon, from an airstrip right next to my hotel. So I booked a ticket on the 4pm Avianca Brasil flight from Salvador to Sao Paulo using Avianca LifeMiles, and emailed to confirm the trip. I then got an email back saying the flight was sold out, and that I’d have to take a morning ferry.  It is highly unlikely that flight sold out in the ensuing 25 minutes. Ugh. So I looked into other options. I then spent $75 to cancel my Avianca ticket and another $25 booking fee to rebook on the 6pm flight, and booked a service that combined car and short ferry to get me to the airport, leaving at 12pm from my hotel. Then, on my first night in Morro, that company emailed me in broken English saying I was the only one who booked it, so I had to either pay double or take the 11:30 catamaran. So that means I’d now spend about 12 hours traveling, since I now needed to be at the catamaran dock at 11am, meaning leaving my hotel at 10am, and not getting to my Sao Paulo hotel until close to 10pm. Ugh. (And it would have been cheaper for me to get the ticket for the catamaran and taxi myself.)

It’s always unfortunate when a calm relaxing place has no calm, relaxing way of leaving.   With a 6:15pm flight out of Salvador, I now had the insane departure time from my hotel at 10:30, to take a car to second beach, walk...

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