Europe tagged posts

Cha-cha-changes . . . A Career Transition & my Norway/Netherlands/Malta Trip Preview

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I don’t directly talk about my actual job on this blog much, but some changes on that front have several direct implications on my travel and blogging, and since I don’t have any other blog, I’ll share this news here.

For a little over three years, I’ve had the privilege to serve as an attorney in the federal government, working to protect the rights of American workers and job-seekers. My specific portfolio has largely focused on employment discrimination, with a smattering of other issues relating to worker’s rights.  I also served as my agency’s guru on all things LGBT-related. So, as referenced in my post about Election Day in New Zealand, the election results had an extra dimension for me.

Although I’ve been a career employee, I worked very closely with political appointe...

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Turkish Airlines Washington-Dulles Lounge and Air France Business Class Washington-Dulles to Paris  (IAD-CDG)

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This is part 3 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

Air France Flt. 55  Washington-Dulles to Paris
B777-300ER, Business Class
Sched. Dep. 6:35PM   Actual Dep. 6:29PM
Sched. Arr.  8:00AM +1    Actual Arr.  7:38AM +1

It’s been awhile since I’ve flown out of Dulles.  But this experience reminded that Dulles isn’t a terrible airport to fly out of… once you get there.  I decided to take the 5A Metrobus over the rail; though they take about the same length of time, the bus takes you straight to the terminal in one shot, as opposed to a long metro ride transferring to a bus.  (The Metrobus option is also significantly cheaper.)  I left my office at 3pm, and Uber-ed to the bus stop at L’Enfant Plaza.  Despite traffic, the ride took only a little over an hour, and everyone on the bus had a seat.

As a reminder, I was flying Air France from DC to Cape Town via Paris, in business class, on a Delta Skymiles redemption.  When I got to the Air France/KLM/Korean Air counter at around 4:35, there was no line on either the Sky Priority or regular line.  The agent wasn’t particularly friendly, but was fine as she took my bag and printed my boarding passes.  Air France doesn’t participate in Precheck, but there was basically no line at regular security, on either the “premium” or regular lane.  I was through quickly and on the train to the A concourse.

Air France/KLM/Korean Air check-in at Dulles

I had forgotten that I actually wanted to go to the B concourse, though my flight was leaving out of A.  The two are just different sides of one of the midfield terminals (one straight line with gates on each sides), which is Dulles’s nicest terminal, and home to pretty much all airlines but United and a few other randos (Frontier, Air Canada, and even some United Express flights).  The terminal is modern, with lots of food options, and with increasingly fancy shopping over the years.

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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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A Little Report from Berlin

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My report from Berlin is going to be fairly brief. Not only was I just in Berlin two years ago, but I stayed in the exact same two hotels as I did last time: the Intercontinental and the Grand Hyatt.  Both were excellent last time, both were excellent this time.  The only difference was cash rates at the Intercontinental were nearly three times as much as they had been 2 years ago on the same weekend, so I spent two nights there using points.  I then used my Hyatt Category 1-5 annual Visa cardholder certificate at the Grand Hyatt Berlin for my last night again.  I’m not going to do a full review of the properties again as there was nothing appreciably different.  Check out my review of the Intercontinental Berlin here and my review of the Grand Hyatt Berlin here.  If you’re interested in more of what to see and do in Berlin, I’d recommend this post as a supplement to my 2014 report, available here.

Berlin and the River Spree

Berlin and the River Spree

As I did last time, I took the public bus from the airport to the Zoo Garden station and walked about 10 minutes to the Intercontinental.  The stay was really just lovely, and reminded me why I’ve stayed at about 20 different  Intercontinental properties (with return visits to several) over the years: the consistently good service and treatment of elites.  (And I generally find Holiday Inns and Crowne Plazas underrated too!).  This stay was no exception.  At check-in, I was asked how my trip was, and told “Welcome Back.” While this should be a no-brainer at any hotel, I’m rarely asked these questions as a Hilton Diamond.  Although I was on an award stay, I received the same upgrade I had two years ago, and was proactively offered a 4pm checkout.  Just after I checked out, I realized I had left my passport wallet in the room, and the front desk clerk profusely apologized to me, as if *they* had done something wrong.  Good job, Intercontinental Berlin.  It makes me excited for my upcoming stay at the Intercontinental Wellington.  (And note, I did not have a free breakfast or lounge access, yet still came away feeling like a valued guest of the hotel.

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A Short Hop: Airberlin Copenhagen to Berlin-Tegel (CPH-TXL) and the CPH Lounges

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Despite a late night out in Copenhagen, I still made it up with my first (of 2) alarms at 7:30am, showered, had breakfast, and was on my way to the airport.   It was a five-minute walk from the Hotel Hebron to Central Station, and I had to wait about 15 minutes for the next train to the airport given it was early on a Saturday morning.  The train was an older one, so it didn’t have wifi like my train from the airport had, but it was still a painless journey and by 8:55am I was at the airport for my 10:55am flight to Berlin.

Copenhagen Central Station

Copenhagen Central Station

My Airberlin flight was pretty cheap, about $60, and I didn’t pay for any extras, knowing I’d just have a carry-on and it was a short flight.  Interestingly, when I booked the ticket, the fare class I purchased (Z) would not have earned any miles in American’s AAdvantage program.  But one strange positive change from the devaluAAtion of August 1 was that I would now receive 25% base miles and 50% EQM. (Once the EQD system kicks in, I would be credited at a rate of 5%.)  So as a 213 mile flight, that means I’d get 50 miles! Yippee! (AA doesn’t give an elite bonus on AB flights for some reason- perhaps its membership in the Etihad alliance?)

As a Oneworld Sapphire member, I had access to Fast Lane security, which went smoothly, and then dumped me into a big duty free shop.  The shop is run by Heinemann and Co., a German operator of duty free shops throughout Europe.  If you join their loyalty program, you actually get a 10 Euro voucher every year on your birthday, good for an entire year with no minimum purchase.  Unfortunately I didn’t see any toys, but I was able to buy two bottles of water and some candy for my office and for my nephews – and they actually gave me 10 Euro cents cash in change.

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Trip Report: A Quick Stay in Copenhagen

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I hadn’t realized how late I would actually get into Copenhagen after connecting through Helsinki, so I really only had a day and a half there.  The city, and the greater Copenhagen-Malmo area, have a lot to see, but thankfully I had seen much of it before, so I focused on a few things and a relatively leisurely time.  So I didn’t do the Little Mermaid (a waste of time anyway), Rundtarn, Tivoli, or any of the sights in Roskilde or Helsingor, which tend to be on most tourists’ lists. So this post should in no way be indicative of how a first-time visitor should spend 36 hours or so in Copenhagen.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens

When I was in Spain in July, I met a fellow solo traveler who lived in Copenhagen, and we had made plans to meet up when I was in town.  On my way to meet him, I wandered around some of my old haunts, and it was weird to feel the memories flooding back as I passed some of the places I’d spent a lot of time.  A lot of the city has changed, with a ton of new construction, and the turnover in shops and restaurants you’d expect in 12 years.  But the KFC where we got our fried chicken on July 4th was still there right on the Radhuspladsen – City Hall Square.

Radhuspladsen

Radhuspladsen

Radhuspladsen KFC

Radhuspladsen KFC

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Copenhagen Part 1: The Hotels-  Radisson Blu Royal and Best Western Hotel Hebron Reviews

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One reason why I stayed in Copenhagen only two nights was the expense of the city. Food and beverage is pretty pricey, but hotels were also astronomical. Indeed, many hotels were sold out 6 months in advance.  I decided I’d use my free night certificate from the devaluation of the Club Carlson credit card for one night at the Radisson Blu Royal.  It wasn’t available for points for my second night (and would have been 70,000 points anyway or over $300), so I figured I’d stay somewhere else.  I’d looked at various boutique-y properties in the $200 range, but an intriguing possibility emerged in April with the US Travel Association’s annual Daily Getaways promotion.  Through that promotion, USTA often sells points bundles for various hotel providers at discounted rates.  One of the days was a sale for Best Western rewards points at a rate of $55 per 10,000 points, up to 5 packages per person.  I don’t know if I’d ever stayed at a Best Western before, and if I did, it was as a child.  It’s not a chain associated with high-end or even business properties, but as it happens, there are two locations in the heart of Copenhagen.  Both were decently reviewed, and one of them, the Hotel Hebron, had room availability for 28,000 points.  So a $165 purchase would get me the room with 2,000 points left over; not cheap, but a good option for Copenhagen that week.  And it was about a 5-minute walk from the Radisson, close to the train station. (I walked nearly everywhere my entire time in the City, except for one bus one way on my sightseeing day.)

It’s very easy to get from Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport to downtown, by either train or metro, depending on where you’re going in the city.  When I had lived there, the Metro had just opened and was very short.  The expansion is notable, but it’s expanding even more – unfortunate if you’re visiting now because many of Copenhagen’s loveliest squares are all torn up for construction of stations.   It’s an interesting move, because the trains are pretty convenient, and most Danes bike everywhere, so I’m not sure there was a massive need.  (I lived about 45 minutes outside of the city by S-train, which was my one regret, as it limited my exploration of the city- particularly at night.)  On this trip, I took the train for the 20 minute ride to Central Station, which is about a block from the Radisson Blu Scandinavia, the more centrally located of the two Radisson Blus in Copenhagen.

Radisson Blu Royal

Radisson Blu Royal Copenhagen

Radisson Blu Royal Copenhagen

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Layover in the Finnair Schengen Lounge in Helsinki and Finnair Business HEL-CPH

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My flight from JFK landed in HEL’s non-Schengen area at around 9am.  HEL is an exceedingly easy airport to connect in, though.  Unlike in many other airports, upon landing, you aren’t routed to immigration or customs or anything upon landing, but just exit into the terminal.  There are two Finnair lounges in the non-Schengen area, which theoretically arriving passengers can use.  One is the “Premium” lounge, complete with sauna, but that is only for Oneworld top-tier elites.  There is a “regular” Finnair lounge as well, but I decided to just make my way to the Schengen part of the airport, where there was also a Finnair lounge which was supposedly pretty similar.  I was a little worried that it would be more crowded than the non-Schengen lounge, but overall the airport was pretty empty.

The walk to the Schengen area takes you through some duty free shops and past a Priority Pass lounge, and then voila, no security or anything.  In the Schengen area, there are a lot of shops, and a few restaurants, but it’s not that big.  The Schengen Finnair Lounge is upstairs from the main concourse, and is quite large. My guess is that the time I arrived, just after the morning bank of flights has taken off, is one of the slowest times at the airport, but I was still surprised just how empty the lounge stayed my whole time there.  I had a three-hour layover, and theoretically could have checked out the Priority Pass lounges as well, but didn’t.

Finnair Schengen Lounge  Helsinki

Finnair Schengen Lounge Helsinki

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Labor Day in Copenhagen and Berlin:  Introduction and DCA-JFK on AA, JFK-HEL in Finnair Business Class

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I spent an extended Labor Day weekend in Copenhagen and Berlin, 5 nights on the ground plus 1 in the air.  The trip reports on this one will be a bit nontraditional because I had actually lived in Copenhagen for a summer, and been to Berlin twice before, so I didn’t really do much of the tourist stuff in either city. My trip home also ended up being a bit of a disaster, through no real fault of any of the airlines involved.  So, with that, on to the first entry.

American Airlines Flt. 4644 DCA to JFK
Operated by Republic, Embraer 175, First Class
Sched. Dep. 1:59 PM      Sched. Arr. 3:19 PM
Actual Dep. 2:42 PM       Actual Arr. 3:55 PM

Finnair Flt. 6 JFK to HEL
A330-300, Business Class
Sched. Dep. 5:40 PM      Sched. Arr. 8:50 AM +1
Actual Dep. 5:46 PM       Actual Arr. 8:48 AM +1

My flight to Copenhagen was the return leg of my trip home from Spain a month earlier.  As you may recall, when I couldn’t find mileage availability home from Spain, I bought a cheap business class ticket that went from Dublin to DC and then DC to Copenhagen.  I studied abroad in Copenhagen 13 years ago and haven’t been back since, so I was excited to explore.  Unfortunately, Copenhagen is quite expensive, so I decided to combine a few days there, with a few days in Berlin, a city I spent Labor Day in 2 years ago but felt I’d only scratched the surface.  I was able to get an AA award ticket back from Berlin just before the AA price hike, but more on that later.

My routing to Copenhagen was via Helsinki on Finnair, meaning DCA-JFK-HEL-CPH.  I was excited to fly Finnair for the first time (despite having actually been to Finland in the past), and their business class looked pretty solid for a redeye flight.  The JFK-HEL flight leaves pretty early for a transatlantic flight, at 5:40pm, so I had an early flight up to JFK, leaving DCA at 2pm.   I couldn’t check in online, so I took a Lyft to the airport at around 11:40am, in case there was a problem with the ticket.

There was a bit of a wait at the AA priority check-in, but it turns out the only issue was that I was flying on a ticket to Denmark with no return ticket.  The agent was a bit more accusatory than I’d have liked, but I said I was flying back from Berlin on a ticket with another record locator, and that satisfied her.  I got all three of my boarding passes and was on my way.

Five different US/AA liveries on display at DCA

Five AA planes, five different  liveries on display at DCA

Rather than load up on the Admirals Club food I’m sick of, I picked up a salad at Cosi pre-security, and sailed through Precheck and security.  I noted the setup for the Clear membership program, which I imagine won’t survive at DCA.  I’ve rarely if ever had long waits at Precheck at DCA, so I don’t see a huge market for people to get Clear just for DCA, given how expensive it is.  I then headed to the Admirals Club for a quick stop.

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Aer Lingus Bilbao to Dublin and the Bloody Radisson Blu Dublin Airport

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This is part ten in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

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Aer Lingus A320

The business class fare that I had booked home was out of Dublin. I thought that flying from somewhere in Basque country to Dublin would be pretty cheap.  Alas, it wasn’t; the only nonstop was on Aer Lingus from Bilbao.  (After I booked, Aer Lingus added a second weekly late evening nonstop on a wet-leased BA Cityflyer Embraer regional jet.)  And it wasn’t that cheap; I booked a “Plus” fare, which included a checked bag, advanced seat assignment, and the ability to earn miles (Aer Lingus ended up delaying the launch of its own Avios program, so I’ll be crediting to British Airways Executive Club (how many remains to be seen, as I’ve had to manually request after they didn’t automatically post)), it came to 150 Euros.  But hooray for trying a new airline!  (Fun fact- it’s my 57th airline, not including regional/express carriers flying for mainline carriers.)

Although there is a bus from Bilbao to the airport, it would have had me heading out of my way, taking the metro downtown and then turning around.  The Holiday Inn was on the way to the airport, so the ride took less than 15 minutes and was worth the 25 Euros.

Main Hall of Bilbao Airport

Main Hall of Bilbao Airport

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