Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Trip Report 9, Part 2 LH HKG-FRA-BHX

I managed the first part of the morning pretty well for someone with four hours sleep. Shower, breakfast, extra coffee, finish packing and out to a taxi to HKG.

On arrival, it took me a little while to find the Lufthansa Check-In but I soon had boarding pases and my bag was on the way to BHX, festooned with various tags including another HOT tag (this time for a 2:40 transit!). I then made my way through exit immigration and security, there was no priority line for either which I found a bit odd (or I didn't spot one if there was).

I then perused my way up through various duty free shops and via several smoking rooms of varying quality to the United Airlines International First Class Lounge - which is a designated Star F lounge. What a dismal dump.

I was the only person in there, but there were still plenty of traces of former occupants, cups, saucers, spillages etc. The furniture looking like it needed a good clean and the air-conditioning was set to sweaty. Having perused the selection of cheap spirits and two-buck-chuck wines, I settled for a quick Perrier and then went back to mentally pricing up cameras. To be fair, there seemed to be a reasonable food selection. I dread to think what the Faded Carpet Club proper was like. I was going to try and glom into the Thai lounge, but I found myself lost in shiny electronic toy world for too long.

Our steed today for the trip back to Frankfurt was the mighty Potsdam, a 747-400, sadly not refitted with the New First Class. Boarding was nice and fast and I swiftly settled into 84K on the upper deck. The crew for First consisted of two ladies assisted by the purser, who all introduced themselves, offered drinks (Ginger Ale for me) and handed out various amenities including the piss-poor amenity kit, a rather nice jumper and some magazines etc.

We were off on time and spent about 20 minutes having a bit of turbulence whilst climbing through the murky clouds which had infested the Hong Kong area throughout the trip. After that, we had post-take off drinks and the distribution of the menu with an amuse,

The amuse was a asparagus frittata, quite pleasant. I didn't get my first choice of main, which would have been the salmon, but I honestly wasn't that bothered, I would have happily tackled all four. From what I know of LH's catering that means 4 out of the other 5 pax ordered salmon.

The HorsWagen turned up - I had the caviar and Courgette/Parma Ham/Parmesan

Some people dislike LH's farmed caviar, I would agree that is isn't as nice as SQ's, but it was more than acceptable. The other plate was some quite delicious ham, nice parmesan and slices of courgette - light and pleasant. I skipped the salad course, nuts lurked within it.

For mains I had Agnolotti with Porcini Mushrooms and Thyme Cream Sauce with braised leek and more courgettes. The Agnolotti were delicious. but I was feeling a little over courgetted by then.

I failed to take a photo of the cheese course, there was  Edam (OK), Double Gloucester (a bit meh), Brie (good), Goat (very good) and Danish Blue (avoided). I then went onto the Ricotta Cheesecake with Berry Compote and a glass of the offered dessert wine which was a Auslese and quite nice - but not as nice as the Yquem I'd had back in Birmingham just before leaving.

I avoided the pralines, they did look very nice and settled down to a few hours of fizzy water and doing some writing on the MacBook. I was mildly chastised for working so hard, and explained that it wasn't echt work, but some creative writing - I was writing another couple of chapters of an alternate history (entitled Where you still up for Balls) and catching up on the last episode of series 4 of Dexter on my much larger screen on the MacBook.

Drinks were constantly offered and a tray of cakes, rolls and fruits was wheeled out at about half way as I watched various places ending in -Stan through the window. I took a nice selection of tropical fruit (dragonfruit, melon, papaya, pineapple) and some coffee.

About two hours before landing, there was another meal. This was slightly larger than expected and stopped my plans dead from taste testing the FRA F-lounges renowned Schnitzel Wiener Art. To start with there was an HorsWagen containing, Bayerisch Wurstsalat, Obzatda and something oriental. I took a small plate of the Wurstsalat, although a larger plate was offered with more if it was wanted.

The Warm plate was a choice between a Dim Sum basket and a traditional Biergarten snack. I foolishly chose the latter and waved bye-bye to the schnitzel.

It was quite large, three Nürnberger Röstbratwurst, a piece of smoked pork loin, mash, sauerkraut and gravy, nice gravy. Nom, Nom, Nom.

I didn't really have room, but it would have been rude not to have a tiny bit of Strudel with Vanilla Sauce followed by another cup of coffee.

By this time we were somewhere just to the north of Prag and so, I packed everything up and prepared for landing. It had been a nice, but somewhat lengthy flight and I thanked the crew on leaving. I must say this was a great crew, all three were helpful, drinks were constantly topped up, nothing was too much trouble and they had time to chat etc, especially during the last couple of hours, when every one was awake feeling at bit "have we got there yet"ish. They stood out sufficiently from the fairly high standard Lufthansa set that I sent a compliment through to Lufthansa.

We arrived at B28, which is right next to the First Class Lounge, but this is Frankfurt, there was a considerable walk on a high floor, which I think was round in a circle to get to the B-B transfer security - which was slow, bored and lousy. But a couple of minutes later I was welcomed into the B First Class Lounge, I headed straight for the Cigar Room, which was even more impressive than the München one and consumed two cigs with a nice cold Coke Zero.

At that point I went in search of the showers, they weren't busy and they were really rather good. Having washed and changed, I had a little prowl around, the buffet looked delicous with all the jambon Iberico and salads and Zander with fava beans and decent wines with real stemware, but I couldn't manage a single mouthful. Not even a pretzel passed my lips, not even a gummibear could have been managed.

However, I did save my alcohol ration for something from the Wall of Whisky.

Which turned out to be some of the 18 year old cast strength The Macallan, they have lurking there. A very large shot of it, far more than I should have had. They did have an nice selection of Schnapps and offered to make a number of cocktails - perhaps I should have had a WooWoo.

After that, I spent a quiet hour drinking black coffee, coke zero and having the odd cancer stick before going to get my connection. Now, the great thing about this is that the bmi A320's (who are the wet lease for LH on 3 out of 4 BHX-FRA's) end up out on remote stands, which means you get a car from the First Class Lounge to the aircraft. However, this is not just a car, but Mercedes S-Class. Very nice (and the driver was rather delectable as well) which makes for a very nice ride out to the remote stands.

There were downsides, all the other passengers were on board, so you get the full "evils" treatment as the sole pax to board last. But we were ahead of time and bounced out onto the runway at precisely the right time. The flight itself was pretty fast, we left on time and arrived 12 minutes early. I could have had a hot meal but I just took a diet Pepsi as I couldn't have eaten another thing. The crew seemed nice enough and we helping always offering drinks etc.  Note to LH, I know you are going to sell BD, but can we keep them on BHX-FRA please, the 320's are much nicer than those 735's you used to inflict on us.

The final bit to mention is that incredibly, I was home within 30 minutes of the wheels touching down. Now it's true that  I've moved a bit closer to BHX, but given their track record on arrivals so far this year, it was straight to immigration (no queue), 5 mins wait for the bags to come off and my bag was first, off to the ATM, taxi queue and a driver who knew the shortcut through Sheldon and Olton. I was greeted by an ungrateful feline demanding food and was in bed by 11:45pm, about 23:30 mins after waking up.

Conrad Hong Kong

Some people rave about this place, they think it and the Conrad Tokyo are the ne plus ultra of Asian Hiltons. I'll not know about the latter until a) I summon up the balls to go to Japan and b) I give up the evil cancer sticks.

This is, errrm, my third visit. On the first I was downgraded, on the second I was only overnighting but got the right treatment for a Gold. This time was pretty decent, except for Sunday but Sunday was self-inflicted wounds. I'm not supposed to drink too much, bad things happen with my medication if I do, unfortunately the Saturday wedding meant bad things happened on Sunday  - all Sunday. I'd like to thank the Conrad staff for obeying the Do Not Disturb light for most of the day, then whizzing in and doing it all immediately I staggered out for some form of grease based hangover killer.

Anyway, on arrival I got the big lie, "as a Diamond we have upgraded you to a Harbour View Room" - I booked a Harbour View room. Please don't do this, Hilton, I know what I booked. "You get a free breakfast" - no, I booked a B&B rate because I didn't realise I was going to have an virtual exalted shiny card last February.

There were no cancer rooms on the Exec Floor, but I got access to the fabled lounge. More on that laters.

I got a 49th floor Harbour King, very nice, had one before, it's my idea of the near perfect hotel room. It was a bit bare of goodies at the time, but a small stream of people arrived with fruit, choccies, water, bikkies, bears and rubber duckies in a matter of moment. If you run out of hanging space, you are carrying too much and damn if they didn't get all the wrinkles out of my suit in double quick time. Housekeeping were utterly top notch throughout, although with a disturbing tendency to catch me on the can.

Breakfast, the first day was in the lounge. Nice, decent selection for lounge brekkie, major absence of bread, you could order toast. English breakfast tea was disgusting, switched to perfectly good coffee. There was no breakfast on Sunday, I did not dare. I overslept breakfast on the Monday.

Room service was pretty good, if pretty expensive. Used it on the Monday night in a two martini haze.

The Pacific Bar was like the grave, went there with a friend on the Monday night, pretty good drinks, but expensive.

Wifi was like a rock, solid and a decent speed and they automated roaming onto your mobile as well.

My other visits to the lounge were confined to an afternoon tea stop and snacks on my arrival evening. I wasn't comfy there, it was a bit too formal for my liking. I like my lounges more like Berlin. Afternoon tea was pretty good through, nice cakes.

Checkout was fine apart from the bag-grabbers. I can handle my carry on fine, thanks. Points posted quickly, including the double points from the Q4 promo.

All in all, I'd stay there again, it's a good hotel, but I might go next door and indulge my Shangri-La habit sometime.

As ever, comments are welcome.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Trip Report 9, Part 1 LH BHX-MUC-HKG, J/F

I had a need to be at a wedding in Hong Kong, I also was very short of holiday but had a small cash surplus , I'd also really like to be a SEN before my holiday in November.

All this added up to a F ticket, well an A ticket - I'm not paying full price for LH F. I did toy with the idea of LX F out and LH F back, but LX have annoyed me lately. Or rather the B bus gate bag police have.

Anyway, as usual, it all started with a taxi to BHX in glorious warm sunshine, a silly 27C for the tail end of September. Check in was, errm, up the the outstations usual standards, as in minimal eye contact, minimal speech and the odd placement of a HOT tag on my bag when I had a 1:45 connection at MUC - perhaps they knew something I didn't.

Anyway, I did security which was good, avoided the spraying women in the walk through duty free which was good, did my usual shopping and then decided to proceed through to the lounge for some water and shelf-stable cake.

Boarding time came about 20 minutes late and it was the usual extremely poor performance by LH's contract ground staff. Three people there, one half heartedly checking tickets and docs whilst  chatting to her two mates. When the holding pen was full, they walked up opened up the door to the air bridge and walked back without a word. Classy.

Mercifully, there had been no late substitution this time and it was a E-195 on the MUC run, but it had a small technical problem and we lost our slot. So we waited on the ground a bit and finally took off about 35 minutes late, l saw my valuable lounge time slipping away.

2D was reasonably comfy and I settled into my magazines, the service was the usual from a MUC crew, fairly friendly but fairly quick. I declined the food, thinking of the feast that was coming later (plus it really looked pretty poor) and took only a plastic cup of still water. A second round of drinks was offered and then the crew had a rest for the rest of the flight.

On arrival, LH had arranged some minibuses for some direct connections, which I thought was very good service. However, as we were at a remote stand, a car had been sent for me to take me directly to the First Class Lounge. With about 30 mins before boarding (and knowing how long it takes to fully board an Airbus 340-600), my imp of the perverse almost sent me onto the bus and to take my rightful place in the FTL lounge, but I carefully resisted this.

Instead I was whisked off in a Mercedes and escorted to the Holy of Holies the First Class Lounge. I wouldn't have long in there at all, but it was enough time for a cigarette and some rehydration.

The last picture is of the minibar in the small "Cigar Lounge" which must be the classiest smoking room in an airport anywhere. I did nibble some cheese and ham and have a glass of Helles in there as well, but I was feeling a bit anxious about a small clothing malfunction - so I went to the extremely classy toilets and sorted that out.

By this time, it was time for boarding, so I collected my passport and headed off to the gate. Hopefully, I will get a bit longer at FRA on the way back.

Boarding the Airbus was very swift, two gates were being used, one for economy and one for First, Business and I assume Star Gold members. The F/J line was very short, so I was straight on board. There are eight seats in F on the Airbus A340-600, but there were only three passengers which is bad for LH, but good for the passengers.

LH currently has two types of First, New First on the A380's and some 747's and Old First on the other 747's and the airbus fleet (I think one of each type of Airbus has been converted as a test bed). Old First is a bit of an aged product, whilst it has a lie-flat bed, it's first generation and a bit cranky, there's also a fairly poor IFE and some suboptimal storage. However, it's still better than LH's poor inter continental business class.

As usual at this point there was an offer of pre-flight drinks, I had a glass of water and the handing out of the goodies, which consisted of some rather nice pyjamas, slippers (too small for my plates of meat) and a very empty and naff amenity bag. I was really rather unimpressed with this. Menus were saved until after take off.

We were a few minutes late leaving, but nothing that couldn't be made up in flight and we were swiftly on our way to Hong Kong where the pilot warned us there would be turbulence for the last half hour or so of the flight.

About 10 minutes after take off, the crew came around with menus and offered pre-flight drinks, I decided on a scotch and soda. This was actually a bit of a sin really, as they opened a new bottle of Johnny Walker Blue just for me and I only had one drink out of it - the rest will be poured away. I felt slightly guilty. It was a large and strong one. There were three crew for the first class section, two ladies and a rather dishy young man, all three were excellent and a credit to Lufthansa.

The menu was not what I expected, I had seen the standard Sept/Oct Star Chefs menu and wasn't that impressed. This, however, was a special Oktoberfest menu for MUC flights only.

This may have been a "beerhall" menu, but it had lots of appeal to me and I enjoyed.

We started with a amuse, which was a small chicken boulette on a crouton.

This was rather good, although quite large for an amuse.

I switched for the meal from the scotch to the special Dunkel (dark beer) that was on board, whilst not the best Dunkel I've drunk, it complemented the food very well.

My starter choice was Weißwurst, I know it's a morning food, but I like Weißwurst and one pair of those, a salt pretzel and some sweet mustard and I got a really good feeling about the flight. I even remembered to peel the Weißwurst, something you occasionally see not happen. I've had better, but not at 10,300 meters.

There was then a salad course, now I know I'm a bit of a salad dodger in my figure, but lambs lettuce with bacon and pumpkin is right up my street. I took the potato dressing for it (very German). The salad was excellent and the potato dressing did no harm.

By this time, it was time for a second glass of Dunkel and onto the mains. Now all three Bayerisch mains were tempting, but I resisted the veal shank sheerly out of the memory of tackling a few slices of one of these in München once. I went for the mushrooms with dumplings. Sounds odd, doesn't look great on the plate either.

Tastes fantastic, a good selection of mushrooms and excellent rich creamy sauce and Fried Bread Dumplings. That was one completely cleared plate. By this time I was getting a little bit stuffed, so I just had a smidgen of the cheeses available.

The squidgy stuff isn't some Kräuterquark, it's Obatzda - something normally for that snacky moment with your beer - I love it and this wasn't a bad one. Nice to have some radish as well to go with it.

I refused dessert, I really couldn't have managed another mouthful and after a few pages of book, changed into the PJ's in the tiny loo and then tried out the bed. I would say that I rested more than slept for about 5 hours, but I obviously slept at some point because some kind soul (hopefully the dishy dark-haired purser) covered me with a blanket/throw, bless them. It did it's job and it's better than I'd manage in LH C.

After that, there was about three hours left of the flight, I was offered immediate breakfast if I wanted it, but I settled for two large cups of strong coffee and a bottle of water whilst I got the MacBook out and cracked on with my best man's speech.

With about 75mins to go, it was suggested that I had breakfast if I wanted it. I did consider not having it as I was still quite full, but decided to have a bite. Apple juice, coffee and some freshly scrambled eggs and bacon.

To be honest, I could barely manage that, but it was nice to have fresh eggs.

As we had been promised, it was a bumpy ride down to HKG where it was raining quite heavily and we did seem to have a very long taxi to the gate. However, we were only about five minutes late and after a bit of a trek to a trouble free immigration, it was off to baggage claim and to see if the mystery tags had worked. They obviously had, second bag off, virtually no wait at all for it. With this, it was time to locate a smoking area and then off in a taxi to the Conrad.