DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Four Days in Tokyo: Day 2

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo


…Continued from Day 1

Imperial Palace

The next morning, we took the Tokyo Metro to the Tokyo station and made a short walk from the northeast entrance to the Imperial Palace.

Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo

Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo

Imperial Palace on a moat

Imperial Palace on a moat

Guardhouse

Guardhouse

The Imperial Palace is located in a massive park in the middle of the city.  We primarily walked through the East Garden of the Imperial Palace complex.  The Garden was beautifully landscaped and is a true oasis in the  middle of the biggest city in the World.

East Garden of Imperial Palace

East Garden of Imperial Palace

East Garden

East Garden

After about an hour of walking around the Imperial Palace grounds, we decided to leave and head over to Shibuya to hit up Shibuya Crossing during the lunchtime rush.

Shibuya Crossing

After a short metro ride to Shibuya station, we emerged just a block or so away from the famed Shibuya Crossing.  This is supposedly the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world.  Unfortunately, on this particular afternoon it started to rain pretty hard.  Surely that thinned out the crowd a bit.  We zapped a few pictures and then headed up to the Starbucks for an aerial view of the crossing.

Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks

Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks

This Starbucks is the highest-grossing Starbucks in the world, and it provides an awesome aerial view of all the people crossing the street.  We hungout at Starbucks for a little while until the rain subsided, and then started weighing our options for lunch.

Me in rainy Shibuya

Me in rainy Shibuya

Ebisu and lunch at Blacows

After we asked about a place to find an awesome Wagyu beef burger in Tokyo, the concierge at the Tokyo Hilton highly recommended Blacows in the Ebisu neighborhood, just south of Shibuya.  We decided to head there for lunch.  It took about thirty minutes to walk from Shibuya Crossing to Ebisu, but we took a leisurely pace as we stepped into a handful of vintage stores on the walk.  Upon arriving into the Ebisu neighborhood, I immediately liked it.  Ebisu is an upscale neighborhood lined with restaurants, bars, patiserries, boutiques, and vintage stores.  I much preferred this neighborhood to the hustle and bustle of Shibuya and Roppongi.  With minimal effort, we located Blacows, tucked away on a side street in Ebisu, a few blocks from the Ebisu station.

Blacows

Blacows

Blacows literally translates to “black cow”– referring to the legendary black Wagyu beef, which is used exclusively in the burgers made here.  This place has been proclaimed by several websites and periodicals to have “the greatest burger in the world.”  While I’m not ready to proclaim this as the best burger I’ve ever eaten, it certainly was in the top five.  After being immediately seated, I ordered the bacon, egg, and cheeseburger for 15oo yen.  Oh, man this thing was good.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Bacon, egg, and cheeseburger at Blacows

Bacon, egg, and cheeseburger at Blacows

Blacows... Nom Nom!

Blacows… Nom Nom!

If you’re a fan of burgers, definitely check this place out while you’re in Tokyo.

After lunch, we strolled around Ebisu to the Ebisu Garden Place and the area Sapporo Beer Headquarters before taking the JL train back to Shinjuku.

Japanese Kendo Fighting

After a quick nap, I hit up the Manager’s Happy Hour at famed New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. The view from the New York Bar offers some of the best views of Tokyo and the immediate Shinjuku area.

Happy Hour at the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo

Happy Hour at the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo

Late afternoon from the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Late afternoon from the Park Hyatt Tokyo

I then proceeded to the Tokyo Hilton where I met my friends to embark on a visit to the Shinjuku Cosmic Sports Center where we arranged to sit in on  Kendo practice.  Kendo, or “way of the sword”  is a Japanese martial art based on sword-fighting.   This form of kendo features bamboo swords, or “shinai” and lightweight armor called “bogu.”  Formal competitions are judged with points, and the goal is to strike the opponent on the throat, the top of the head, the side of the head, the sides of the body, or forearms.  The kendo instructor was extremely happy to have us sit in on their practice, and it was an extremely cool experience.  For an hour, we watched dozens of Japanese kendo fighters basically whack the hell out of each other with fake samurai swords.

Kendo!

Kendo!

Fight!

Fight!

It.  Was.  Awesome!

More Kendo fighting

More Kendo fighting

A calm end to an intense Kendo session

A calm end to an intense Kendo session

I highly recommend trying to experience this while in Tokyo.  The best thing to do is to ask your hotel concierge to arrange a trip to a practice if there is not a formal fight while you’re there.  I suppose one could contact the Shinjuku Cosmic Sports Center itself, but there was not much English spoken there.

Shinjuku Dinner

After our kendo experience, we hopped a metro back to the main Shinjuku station in search of a dinner place.  We ended up seafood barbecue and Izakaya (bar)  place that came highly recommended by a few locals, called Marukou-Suisan in Shinjuku.

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Marukou-Suisan in Shinjuku

The place was packed, and we were the ONLY Westerners in the joint.  While the language barrier was a bit of a challenge, we managed to have a pretty good sampling of the menu brought to us.

Sake!

Sake!

Mussels and Squid

Mussels and Squid

Mussels

Mussels

Grilled Calamari

Grilled Calamari

Oysters

Oysters

Some dishes were good; some were pretty awful, but the overall experience was quite special.  Grilling raw seafood on the dinner table was certainly fun time.

Grilled Prawns

Grilled Prawns

Tempura fish (I think?)

Tempura fish (I think?)

Tempura peppers and veggies

Tempura peppers and veggies

We sat next to some locals who could not have been  nicer, and introduced us to a whole bunch of shochu — a Japanese distilled liquor.  We hit that pretty hard, actually…

Shinjuku Golden Gai District

Upon completing a huge dinner, we were ready to go out on the town.  This time, we decided to keep things relatively local, and headed to the famous Shinjuku “Goledn Gai” district.  This is a relatively small area of a few square blocks that features the highest concentration of bars in the world.  Most all of the bars are small, shanty-style bars with no more than 15 bar stools.

The bars of Golden Gai

The bars of Golden Gai — ha.. Baltimore!

Each bar is essentially a different dive bar that has a different theme – from jazz to karaoke to R&B to punk rock — , and we thoroughly enjoyed hopping to a number of different places throughout the night and into the early morning.  Apparently this is an area frequented by locals, and Westerners have had a hard time being welcomed, but we had no problem whatsoever (shocking, I know).

Shinjuku at night

Shinjuku at night

After a few hours in the Golden Gai district, we decided that it was time for some late-night noodles before we called it a night.  We stopped in a noodle shop in a back alley just north of  the north entrance to Shinjuku station in Nishi-Shinjuku.  This area is filled of narrow alleys that are lined with ramen and sushi shops — it’s a must see in the early evening hours, for sure.  We settled on a decent looking noodle shop, and were served a piping hot bowl of Soba noodles topped with tempura fish.  It was freakin’ awesome, and a perfect small meal to end the night.

Perfect late night meal

Perfect late night meal

 To be continued with an installment for each day I spent in Tokyo…

Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class – Dubai to Hong Kong to Tokyo-Haneda

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


I arrived at Dubai International Airport about two hours before my departure.  After clearing security and immigration, I made the long walk to the T2 gates at DXB and proceeded to British Airways Galleries Lounge.  This place had decent tarmac views and small spread with a couple fried appetizers and some cold plates.  I used my time in here to catch up on e-mail and charge the laptop, but the lounge was nothing special.  After a brief stop at the duty free shop to buy some postcards, I made my way to the gate where by flight to Hong Kong awaited.

Cathay Pacific (CX) 746
Dubai (DXB) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Seat: 17A (Business Class)
Sunday, June 23
5:10PM – 5:00AM
Duration: 7:50

I once again found myself on a Cathay Pacific A330-300, just as I had on my inbound flight to Dubai.    I settled into my seat, a solo seat on the port side of the airplane.

Back to the great Cathay Business Class Seat

Back to the great Cathay Business Class Seat

Me in the seat

Me in the seat

Stretching out prior to departure with a glass of champagne

Stretching out prior to departure with a glass of champagne

The flight attendant came by immediately and offered a pre-departure glass of champagne, which I happily accepted.  Boarding concluded pretty quickly, and we were pushing back from the gate in what seemed like no time.  As we made our ascent, I was treated to some pretty awesome views of Dubai below.  Though it was hazy, this was just about as clear as it had been the entire time I was in Dubai.

Dubai below

Dubai Creek area below

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

En route to Hong Kong!

En route to Hong Kong!

Since I wanted to hit the ground running when I eventually got to Tokyo, my primary goal for this flight was to get some good sleep.  Luckily, dinner service started pretty soon after we reached cruising altitude.  I had a vodka tonic along with the mixed nuts mix to start out.

Relaxing with a V&T and some wasabi nuts

Relaxing with a V&T and some wasabi nuts

The salad and appetizer was brought out together.  I’d never had a “chicken terrine”, but it wasn’t half bad.

Green peppercorn chicken terrine with fig chutney

Green peppercorn chicken terrine with fig chutney

For my entree, I went with the Kung Po chicken, which was decent, but nothing too special.

Kung po chicken with steamed jasmine rice and pok choy

Kung po chicken with steamed jasmine rice and pok choy

A light blueberry cake, which went well with the Hong Kong style milk tea for desert.  The milk tea is a must when traveling on Cathay.

Blueberry layered cake with vanilla sauce

Blueberry layered cake with vanilla sauce

After dinner, I immediately fell asleep, as I was exhausted from a few long nights in Dubai.  I slept a good five hours and was woken up as the flight attendants were starting breakfast service, about 45 minutes outside of Hong Kong.  I had the poached eggs, and found the dish to be excellent. Usually breakfast onboard is pretty bad, but I found the breakfasts on Cathay Pacific to be much better than the dinners.

Poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce, chicken sausage, roesti potatoes and grilled tomato

Poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce, chicken sausage, roesti potatoes and grilled tomato

We landed in Hong Kong from the east in the middle of a nasty thunderstorm with torrid rain.  We were right on time, so I had about 3.5 hours to kill.  I proceeded through transit security and went right back to The Wing.  I covered this extensively in a previous post, so I won’t go into too much detail other than mentioning that I couldn’t turn down some dim sum and BBQ pork bao at the noodle bar!

Dim sum, noodles, and BBQ Pork Bao at "The Wing" Noodle Bar

Dim sum, noodles, and BBQ Pork Bao at “The Wing” Noodle Bar

As luck would have it, my flight was at gate 50 — which is pretty much the furthest gate possible from The Wing.  I allowed myself plenty of time to get to the gate, and after about a 15 minute walk, I arrived at the gate in plenty of time, as boarding was delayed while we awaited the flight crew.

Ready to go to Tokyo!

Ready to go to Tokyo!

My B777-300ER to Tokyo-Haneda

My B777-300ER to Tokyo-Haneda

Cathay Pacific (CX) 548
Hong Kong (HKG) – Tokyo Haneda (HND)
Aircraft:  Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 19A (Business Class)
Monday, June 24
8:45AM – 1:55PM
Duration: 4:10

Cathay Pacific’s B777-300ER is an internationally configured, three-class airplane.  This actually made a ton of difference.  Everything about this flight was a step above my other Cathay flights on this trip, since those were either regional or only two-class airplanes.  I didn’t think this would make such a difference, but it certainly did.  The hard product (the seat) is pretty much identical.  The cabin in situated in a 1-2-1 configuration, which is as good as it gets for business class.

Once again, the wonderful Cathay business class seat

Once again, the wonderful Cathay business class seat

Stretching out!

Stretching out!

Since this was another morning flight, I would be having another breakfast.  I was pretty stuffed from my previous two meals, but since this flight left from Hong Kong, dim sum was on the menu, and I couldn’t resist.  The most noticeable difference on this flight was the fact that every course was brought out individually instead of a tray being brought out with everything.  I guess this is what you get on a 3-class, internationally configured plane.

Fresh fruit and croissant

Fresh fruit and croissant

Yogurt

Yogurt

Dim sum

Dim sum

The service on this particular flight was spectacular.  I was sorry that it was only a four hour flight, as I would have loved to have this crew on a longer flight.  They were most certainly some of the best that Cathay has.  One particular flight attendant, Cherry, was especially attentive and friendly the entire flight…. she didn’t miss a beat.  I passed time by watching some Anthony Bourdain episodes about Tokyo, and before I knew it, we were starting our descent into the Tokyo area.

IMG_3682

Heading down into Tokyo

We landed into Tokyo’s Haneda International airport about an hour late due to our departure delay.  I transited through immigration and customs quickly and began my journey to the Park Hyatt Tokyo.  This flight was by far the best of my four flights on Cathay during this trip.  This was the Cathay Pacific that I had expected.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Two Days in Dubai, Day 2

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


…Continued from Day 1

I wokeup relatively late on Saturday morning, and opted against breakfast since in my infinite wisdom, I’d consumed a massive cheeseburger at about 3am the night before.  At that point, I met up with three friends in the lobby of the Park Hyatt where we caught a cab to the Dubai Mall. Today was the day I was most looking forward to:

We were scheduled to SCUBA dive.

In an aquarium.

An aquarium in a mall.

With sharks!!!

Dubai Mall has a very large aquarium smack-dab in the middle of it.  It features an absolutely massive glass panel, which is the world’s largest acrylic glass panel.  The aquarium is in plain view of all levels of the mall, so it truly serves as a centerpiece.

Aquarium in a mall

Aquarium in a mall

Dubai Mall Aquarium

Dubai Mall Aquarium

The World's largest acrylic glass panel at the Dubai Mall

The World’s largest acrylic glass panel at the Dubai Mall

Me at the aquarium before my dive

Me at the aquarium before my dive

In the weeks proceeding the trip, we had arranged to dive in the aquarium with Al Boom Diving — a diving operation that runs dives to many sites in the Persian Gulf, as well as the Dubai Aquarium.  We were asked to arrive at noon for an hour orientation and about a 45 minute dive to follow.  We went through a brief orientation that went over the nuances of aquarium diving, and highlighted how NOT to get bitten by a shark.  After the orientation and signing our lives away on waiver forms, we suited up and got in the water.

It was quite an experience.  The Dubai Aquarium has an extensive collection of fish, sharks, and rays.  In particular, this aquarium has the world’s largest collection of Sand Tiger sharks, a particularly ferocious looking, but relatively docile species.

A Sand Tiger shark

A Sand Tiger shark

While a couple other friends snorkeled above, we had another friend who took pictures of us from the outside the entire time.

Relaxing at the bottom of the fish tank

Relaxing at the bottom of the fish tank

Our group diving!

Our group diving!

Chilling on the reef as a Sand Tiger shark cruises above us

Chilling on the reef as a Sand Tiger shark cruises above us

Without a doubt, the most unique and memorable part of this dive was having an audience.  It felt like I was a goldfish in a fish tank, and the humans were all gathered looking at me.  Seriously though, it was pretty cool waiving back at the little kids who ran to the glass waiving with grins ear-to-ear.

Diving with an audience

Diving with an audience

The sharks were of no concern to me, and they really didn’t want much to do with the divers, as expected.

Me after the dive

Me after the dive

We finished up the dive, dried up, and then I headed for a dim-sum lunch with a friend while the rest of the group went to High Tea at the Burj Al Arab hotel – supposedly the world’s only 7-star hotel.  After lunch, we went to check-out the Burj Al-Arab from the outside and the Jumeirah Beach Resort.  It was entirely too hot outside, so we went back to our hotel to hangout at the pool.

Burj al Arab

Burj al Arab

Me in front of Burj al Arab

Me in front of Burj al Arab

Dusk over Dubai Creek with Burj Khalifa in the background

Dusk over Dubai Creek with Burj Khalifa in the background

I got a quick nap in after the pool, and then we headed to have a traditional Arabic dinner at Reem Al Bawadi.  This place did provide a good sampling of some Arabic foods, but there were also some highly Americanized selections – like fried mozzarella sticks. Unfortunately, the service was extremely slow, but it was nice to have dinner with a huge group of about 16 people.

 

Mezze at Reem al Bawadi

Mezze at Reem al Bawadi

Dinner at Reem al Bawadi

Dinner at Reem al Bawadi

Once dinner was complete, we hailed a few cabs and took them to the Jumeirah Beach Resport, where we went out to have drinks at 360, the club at the end of the Jumeirah Marina’s pier.  The views from out here of Burj Al Arab were phenomenal.

360

360

Burj al Arab from 360

Burj al Arab from 360

Burj al Arab

Burj al Arab

We had an awesome last night in Dubai out at 360 – the drinks were great, and the views of the area were just awesome.

We then called it a night and headed back to the hotel for some more fun.  It was a late night, so I slept in pretty late on Sunday.  I awoke to join some friends at the pool for a few hours before I headed back to the room to pack.  I said my goodbyes to my friends, and met my S-Series Mercedes for a lift back to Dubai International Airport, where I had a 5:25pm flight scheduled back to Hong Kong and then to Tokyo.

My sweet ride back to DXB

My sweet ride back to DXB

Overall, I really enjoyed Dubai.  It’s a shame that I didn’t get the three intended days here since I was planning to meet my former roommate and friend from Grad school in Dubai the first day before he left for Japan.  Alas, this was not in the cards due to the debacle with my outbound flights.  I also missed out on a trip to Abu Dhabi, but there’s always time for that in future trips.   The biggest takeaway from Dubai is that it’s an interesting place.  There’s obviously a ton of money here, and as a result you have some pretty phenomenal architectural marvels.  Folks over here are also pretty intent on making Dubai a true tourist destination, and they’re well on the way to accomplishing this.  I didn’t get a chance to go dune-bashing, which I really wanted to do.  I do regret sitting out the Royal Tea at the Burj Al Arab, but when planning it, I couldn’t justify paying the price for it.

Dubai from above

Dubai from above

Food and especially drinks are not cheap in Dubai.  However, cabs are dirt cheap.  Our hotel was a bit out of the way — by Dubai Creek, but this was not at all a problem since the cabs were so reasonable.  The city does have a metro system, but I never tried it.   Dubai is a city of what seems to be a never-ending number of malls, so there are retail shops from every high-end retailer you could imagine.  I’d love to come back to visit my roommate and knock some other things off my list, but honestly, there are many other places that I’d rather visit first.  With that said, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to spend a few days in Dubai, as it’s a place where I’ve wanted to go for quite some time.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Two Days in Dubai, Day 1

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


After clearing passport control, I found a greeter from the Park Hyatt who led me to my private S-class limo for my transfer to the hotel.  Since I was staying at a suite at the Park Hyatt, this transfer was complimentary.  As we went outside to get to the car, the overwhelming heat and humidity of Dubai hit me hard.  It was only 5:30am, and it was already approaching 100 degrees!  I guess that’s what I get for deciding to go to Dubai in the summer time.

The transfer to the Park Hyatt Dubai is only a 5-10 minute car ride, as the property is located on Dubai Creek, very close to the airport.  The Park Hyatt itself is a stunning property. 

Park Hyatt grounds

Park Hyatt grounds

Park Hyatt Dubai

Park Hyatt Dubai

Park Hyatt Dubai indoor promenade

Park Hyatt Dubai indoor promenade

I checked in and was walked to my suite where I was meeting a friend who had checked in the day before – on my intended arrival date.  I was to meet a group of about 20 frequent fliers who were gathered in Dubai for a big meet-up, dubbed the “DubaiDO.”  My roommate and I chatted for a bit, and then I took a nap to get some additional rest before brunch.

The living room of my suite at the PH Dubai

The living room of my suite at the PH Dubai

The view from the balcony of my suite

The view from the balcony of my suite

We scheduled Friday brunch for 12:30pm at the Traiteur Restaurant at the Park Hyatt.  It was an all-you-can eat and drink affair, featuring Veuve Clicquot champagne and a massive assortment of foods.  In Dubai, Friday brunch is a BIG deal.  The weekend in Dubai spans Friday and Saturday, so the Friday brunch is a great kickoff to the weekend.  Our group of about twenty people had two tables of ten reserved.  The spread was truly spectacular and delicious.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  It was well worth the price.

Grilled lobster and beef tenderloin

Grilled lobster and beef tenderloin

Assortment of grilled seafood and meats, including sausages, lamb, and duck

Assortment of grilled seafood and meats, including sausages, lamb, and duck

Wines and desserts

Condiments and appetizers

Assortment of side dishes

Assortment of side dishes

My first dish

My first dish

Meats, cheeses, and breads

Meats, cheeses, and breads

After 3.5 hours of food, drinks, and glass upon glass of champagne, we finished up an epic brunch and decided to take the party to the pool.  The pool at the Park Hyatt is beautiful, and is an awesome place to escape the ridiculous heat.  An array of palm trees keeps the pool relatively shaded, which is great in the middle of the desert.

The beautiful pool at the Park Hyatt Dubai

The beautiful pool at the Park Hyatt Dubai

We had previously arranged reservations to go to the top of Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building at 6:30pm, so we headed that way at about 6pm.  We arrived at the Mall of Dubai and followed the signs to get us to the “At The Top” observation deck.  Though the observation desk is ironically NOT at the top of Burj Khalifa (nor is it anywhere close), the views are pretty stunning nonetheless.

Burj Khalifa - the tallest building in the world

Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Unfortunately, it was quite hazy the entire time we were in Dubai, but we were still able to get some pretty cool vistas of the downtown Dubai area.

Dubai from the "At the top" Observation Deck

Dubai from the “At the top” Observation Deck

Hazy day in Dubai

Hazy day in Dubai

A city carved out of the desert

A city carved out of the desert

Long ways down...

Long ways down…

While we were up top, the sun went down, and we got to witness one of the water shows (similar to the ones at Bellagio in Las Vegas) from above.

Water fountain show from above

Water fountain show from above

Burj Khalifa at night

Burj Khalifa at night

Me at Burj Khalifa

Me at Burj Khalifa

This was a great experience, but in the future, I’d wait to make sure it was a clear day before paying the ~USD$30 to go up there.

After Burj Khalifa, the group wanted to grab some drinks, so we decided to checkout the Atlantis Resort at The Palm Islands.  The Palm Islands carry that name because, well – it’s a group of islands.  In the shape of  a palm tree.  Only in Dubai, right?  The cab ride from Burj Khalifa out to The Palm was about USD $20.

While most things in Dubai like food, drinks, and merchandise are expensive in Dubai, the cabs are relatively dirt cheap.  We cabbed pretty much everywhere and found them to be very reasonable priced.  This was a good thing considering that Dubai is very spread out.  It’s quite a haul from the Dubai Marina or Palm Islands to Burj Khalifa or Dubai Creek / Park Hyatt.

The Atlantis is at the very tip of the island.  Having stayed at Atlantis in the Bahamas a number of times, I found this resort pretty similar, but nowhere near as grandiose as the Bahamas version.

The Lobby of The Atlantis Palm

The Lobby of The Atlantis Palm

Aquarium at Atlantis Palm

Aquarium at Atlantis Palm

Looks pretty similar to Atlantis Paradise Island

Looks pretty similar to Atlantis Paradise Island

We proceeded to the outdoor bar called Nasimi Beach for a couple drinks.  After about 45 minutes, we had to go inside because it was just too hot outside.  We then settled on drinks and sushi at Nobu.  As with most things Atlantis, Nobu was very expensive.  After a few drinks, we decided to call it a night and headed back to the Park Hyatt where the group hungout for a bit before going to bed.

Continued…

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class – Hong Kong to Dubai

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


I headed to my gate about 30 minutes early, and boarding was commencing as I arrived.

My ride to Dubai

My ride to Dubai

My flight was scheduled to go to Dubai and then continue to Jeddah, so there were a very large number of Hajj pilgrims on the flight.  Economy was completely packed, but there was a pretty light load up front.

Cathay Pacific (CX) 745
Hong Kong (HKG) – Dubai (DXB)
Aircraft:  Airbus A330-300
Seat: 20A (Business Class)
Friday, June 21
1:40AM – 6:00AM
Duration: 8:20

This was a newly renovated A330 with the new Cathay Pacific business class seat.  These seats are in a 1-2-1 configuration, and are truly awesome.  These are without a doubt the most private and comfortable business class seats  that I’ve flown.

Cathay's new business class seat

Cathay’s new business class seat

Forward Business Class cabin

Forward Business Class cabin

Tons of room

Tons of room

I settled in with a pre-departure champagne, and then occupied myself with checking out the details of the seat.

Obligatory champagne

Obligatory champagne

Seat Controls

Seat Controls

So much legroom.  You WANT this seat

So much legroom. You WANT this seat

Before I knew it, it was time to push back, and I assumed that it was only myself and the guy next to me in the aft mini-cabin of business, but once I stood up, I saw that every seat was full. The seat was so private that I didn’t even notice the people around me.

As we ascended after a takeoff to the east, we turned to the south, providing me an awesome view of Central Hong Kong and Kowloon below.

Kowloon and Central Hong Kong below

Kowloon and Central Hong Kong below

Hong Kong is probably my favorite city in the world, and I do wish I got to leave the airport for a day or two.

Dinner service started soon after takeoff, as it was already approaching 2am. Because of this late time, it would be an expedited meal service.  The meal was brought out on one large tray, and the courses were not delivered course by course  The appetizer was a small salad served with garlic toast.  For the entrée, I selected the halibut. It was nothing special, and I left the choy sum since I’m not a huge fan.  Dessert was not memorable, and again this dinner service left me wanting more.

Mixed salad with pine nuts and green olives with French vinaigrette

Mixed salad with pine nuts and green olives with French vinaigrette

Sauteed halibut with shallot black bean sauce, steamed jasmine rice and choy sum

Sauteed halibut with shallot black bean sauce, steamed jasmine rice and choy sum

I know it was a late night flight, but I was expecting more from an international business class meal on Cathay Pacific.

After dinner, I settled in for a good five hours of sleep.  Again, this seat is awesome for sleeping.  At 6’4”, I was stretched fully out and my feed did not touch the end of the foot well.  That is a very, very good thing.  A thick blanket and fluffy pillow were provided.

Waking up outside of Dubai

Waking up outside of Dubai

I awoke about an hour outside of Dubai as the cabin crew was preparing for breakfast service.  It consisted of fresh fruit, yoghurt, a selction of bread, and a choice of a quiche or dim sum.  Since this was Cathay, a Hong Kong-based airline, I naturally selected the dim sum.

Fantastic Breakfast

Fantastic Breakfast

It was extremely good.  This was a very good breakfast on all accounts.  As I finished my dim sum, we began our descent into Dubai and arrived just after 5am into Terminal 2.

Dawn above the Arabian Desert

Dawn above the Arabian Desert

Descending into Dubai

Descending into Dubai

The business class seat stole the show with this flight, as it truly is a superior hard product for international business class.  Though the service was good for the most part, and the flight attendants were very nice, they all seemed overly robotic to me.  The dinner was average at best, but the breakfast was great.   The late night flight and rushed dinner service detracted from the flight a bit, but overall, it was a good experience, and the seat more than made up for any shortcomings.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Review: Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class – Tokyo-Narita to Hong Kong

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


I arrived in the late morning, I had several hours to kill at Narita due to my re-scheduled inbound flight.  As mentioned earlier, I hopped the inter-terminal bus to Terminal 2 and decided to spend the day in the Cathay Pacific Lounge.  There was nothing special about this lounge, but it did have functioning internet, a decent food and drink selection, and sadly no showers.

Cathay Pacific Lounge at Narita

Cathay Pacific Lounge at Narita

Self-Serve Bar at Cathay Lounge NRT

Self-Serve Bar at Cathay Lounge NRT

Self-Service at NRT Cathay Lounge

Self-Service at NRT Cathay Lounge

I proceeded to my gate to see a massive boarding scrum, but because I was flying in business, I got to hop ahead in line of all that nonsense.

Ready to go back to Hong Kong

Ready to go back to Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific (CX) 505
Tokyo-Narita (NRT) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300
Seat: 17A (Regional Business Class)
Thursday, June 20
6:20PM – 10:10PM
Duration: 3:45

 

Boarding my ride, a B777-300

Boarding my ride, a B777-300

A few weeks prior to this flight, Cathay Pacific subbed in a B777-300 with the regional business product instead of the lie-flat business seat that they’re known for.  This, of course was a disappointment.  Instead of a 1-2-1 configuration with a fully flat bed, I found myself in a 2-3-2 configuration with decent recline, but nowhere near lie-flat.

Cathay Pacific's New Regional Business Class Seat

Cathay Pacific’s New Regional Business Class Seat

Good IFE and decent leg room

Good IFE and decent leg room

Seat Controls

Seat Controls

For a regional business product, it was pretty good, and it was obviously tolerable considering the flight was only about 3.5 hours.

The flight attendant offered some pre-flight champagne, which I happily accepted.

Pre-departure glass of champagne

Pre-departure glass of champagne

About 30 minutes into the flight, the meal service commenced.  With this being regional business, the appetizers and salad came out together.  The salad was paltry, and barely had any lettuce.  The soba noodles with shrimp was not my favorite, and the ham appetizer tasted pretty funky.

Small salad, soba noodles with shrimp, and a parma ham and melon appetizer

Small salad, soba noodles with shrimp, and a parma ham and melon appetizer

Grilled beef tenderloin with mushroom wine sauce, pumpkin potato mash and sauteed squash with bacon

Grilled beef tenderloin with mushroom wine sauce, pumpkin potato mash and sauteed squash with bacon

For the entrée, I selected the grilled beef tenderloin.  It was tasty enough, but grossly overcooked.  The pumpkin potatoes were great, but it was not a very visually appealing meal in the least.  The steaks I’d enjoyed on United on the flights to Japan were far superior.  Dessert consisted of a small serving of Haagen Daaz ice cream, which is pretty hard to mess up. It was a relatively disappointing meal, but then again, it was only regional business class.

After dinner, I nodded off for a couple hours, and woke up  upon our decent into Hong Kong.  It was quite choppy on our decent, but we landed and arrived at our gate, leaving me with about 3 hours until my connecting flight to Dubai.

Overall, this flight was perfectly fine, but I was expecting more since this was my first flight on Cathay Pacific.  The service was fine, but certainly nothing special or memorable.  My first impression was that the flight attendants, while efficient and kind, appeared quite robotic.  But this was, again only regional business class.  Surely Cathay’s international business would be better.

 

 

Six Observations from My 15-day Adventure

First of all, I’m back!   After fifteen days and 38,650 miles of travel, I’ve made it back home.

My Trip

My Trip

With that said, I want to apologize for the delay in my trip reports.  Since I arrived in Tokyo, I’ve been going non-stop.  I slept most of time during my flights back to DC yesterday, so I didn’t get too much time to work on anything.  The trip reports will be published, post by post in the coming days.

To whet your appetites until then, I’ll share six observations from my trip:

1.  I thought I’d had good sushi before — that is until yesterday

Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a sushi snob by any means, but I was pretty sure that I’d had some decent sushi before.  Granted, the sushi I have had up until yesterday was probably pretty good, but after my trip to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish market and subsequent breakfast at Daiwa-Zushi Thursday morning, my opinion of “what is good sushi” has drastically shifted.  After a set menu of everything sushi-related you could imagine, my mind was effectively blown.

My Thursday morning breakfast

My Thursday morning breakfast

I've never had a better piece of Tuna

I’ve never had a better piece of Tuna

More to come in my upcoming trip reports…

2.  The Park Hyatt Tokyo is simply stunning

Simply put, this is nicest hotel that I’ve ever been to — by far.  And I’ve been to many great hotels, including Park Hyatt properties in Dubai and Zurich, numerous Ritz Carltons, Conrads, and Intercontinentals.  But this place was just over the top.

My room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

My room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

From the incredible level of service (they did the check-in procedure in my room after being escorted by two people up there) to the beautiful hotel facilities to the amazing breakfasts at Girandole and drinks and steak at the iconic New York Bar & Grill.  The setting for the 2003 Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray film, Lost in Translation definitely lived  up to the hype.

The New York Bar, from "Lost in Translation" fame

The New York Bar, from “Lost in Translation” fame

3.  Now I now know what it’s like being a goldfish — and it’s weird

SCUBA diving.  In an aquarium.  In the middle of  a mall.  With sharks!

Yup, only in Dubai.

The Dubai Mall Aquarium offers an interesting experience where one can dive with sharks in their massive aquarium smack, dab in the middle of the Dubai Mall.

Only in Dubai... an aquarium inside a mall

Only in Dubai… an aquarium inside a mall

I’ve dived with sharks before, so the novelty of this dive was the fact that was the attraction in the aquarium.  It was quite strange having a crowd of people watching you dive and waving.

Chilin' with the fishies

Chilin’ with the fishies

4.  Two days is not enough in most cities,  but three days is fine

My short stay in Santiago was about a day short of ideal.

My short stay in Dubai was caused by a Dreamliner malfunctions on United Airlines.

Each of these stays left me wanting another day in each city.  I didn’t get to see all of Santiago, and I missed out on some events in Dubai such as tea at Burj Al Arab and dune bashing.

Jetting out of Dubai a day too soon

Jetting out of Dubai a day too soon

But I did have a full three days in Tokyo, and it was fine.  Tokyo is so huge, you couldn’t possibly see it all in a week or two.  It’s one of those cities that you must keep going back to and exploring.

The never-ending cityscape of Tokyo

The never-ending cityscape of Tokyo

But three days continues to be  my standard for adequate time to see a city.

5.  When in Tokyo, you must go to a Japanese baseball game, if possible

The game is the same, but it’s quite an experience.  Their fans are insane and out-of-control whacky.

Whacky fans...

Whacky fans…

And their beer distribution techniques are quite… interesting.

Yes, that's a mini keg... on her back.  And that's Kirin she's pouring.

Yes, that’s a mini keg… on her back. And that’s Kirin she’s pouring.

6.  When the crew is on its game, United BusinessFirst just may be better than Cathay Pacific Business Class

When a United crew is as its best, as it was on my DEN-SEA and SEA-NRT 787 flights, United BusinessFirst is hard to beat.  The hard product is phenomenal, but the food and service really shined.  My four flights on Cathay Pacific in business class were all fine.  In fact, their international business seat cannot be beat.

Cathay Pacific's New Business Class seat

Cathay Pacific’s New Business Class seat

BusinessFirst cabin on United's 787 Dreamliner

BusinessFirst cabin on United’s 787 Dreamliner

But the food and service were just not up to par with United’s.

Cathay Beef Tenderloin

Cathay Beef Tenderloin

United Beef Tenderloin

United Beef Tenderloin

United Seabass

United Seabass

Cathay Halibut

Cathay Halibut

There, I said it.

And I know this defies all industry perceptions and subsequent accolades.

And yes, this shocked me too, but that was my experience.

Again, I’ll be making several more posts about this trip, including detailed accounts of what to do in Dubai and Tokyo.  So stay tuned!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Two Days in Santiago

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


The flight from Rio de Janeiro to Santiago was relatively uneventful.  I had a standard economy seat on a TAM Airlines A320.  The legroom was quite restricted, and it was not the most comfortable 4hr45minutes of my life.  But I dealt with it like a champ.

Notsomuch legroom on my TAM flight GIG-SCL

Notsomuch legroom on my TAM flight GIG-SCL

The highlight to of the flight was the meal.  While it was only a standard economy meal, it was very different from any economy meal that I’ve had.  I chose the chicken pie, and it was very good – probably one of the best tasting economy meals I’ve had on any flight, actually.

Chicken Pie... seriously... it was good!

Chicken Pie… seriously… it was good!

I also recall the catering from my flight from Rio to Orlando last March to be quite good too, so maybe I’m having luck with the catering out of the TAM Rio de Janeiro station.  It’s much better than what I’ve had from JFK.

I arrived in Santiago just around 7pm on Friday night.  Before the authorities were able to process me through immigration, I had to pay the reciprocity fee at a very clearly labeled kiosk.  This reciprocity fee sets Americans back USD$160, but is good for multiple entries for the life of your passport.  Credit cards are accepted as a form of payment for the fee.

After passing through immigration, I headed to the taxi stand inside the terminal where they advised me of a rate of 19,000 (~USD$38) Chilean Pesos for a cab to my hostel in the Bellavista neighborhood.  This was a bit high, but after traveling for the previous 24 hours, I went ahead and went with it.  For what it’s worth, most in Santiago advise not to pay more than 15,000 pesos (~USD$30) for a cab to the airport.

I pulled up to a non-descript entrance on a dimly lit street in Bellavista after about a 30 minute ride from the airport.  After buzzing the gate, I proceeded through the front door of the La Chimba hostel.  I had decided against staying at a chain hotel like the Grand Hyatt or one of the many SPG properties simply to save some money on this two-week trip.  The place was an eclectic little hostel with a main common area and several dorms that house anywhere from one to four.

La Chimba Hostel hallway

La Chimba Hostel hallway

La Chimba hostel common area

La Chimba hostel common area

I pre-booked a single dorm with a shared bathroom for the princely sum of USD$30 per night (4 person dorms were available starting at USD$16 per night).  The room was small, but was all I needed.  The bed was a spring matress with plenty of bedding to keep me warm during the cold nights.

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Without a doubt, the highlight of the property is its location.  It is situated on E. Pinto Lagarrigue in Barrio Bellavista, which is one block off of Pio Nono – the primary restaurant and entertainment artery in the area.  Furthermore, it was less than a ten minute walk to the heart of downtown at Bella Artes and less than fifteen minutes from Plaza de Armas.

Barrio Bellavista

Barrio Bellavista

Bellavista at Night

Bellavista at Night

The location of this place alone made the $30 per night a no-brainer.  I really cannot imagine a much better location for touring Santiago and for being in the middle of the action.

After checking in and taking a much-needed shower, I met up with an Australian friend who I’d met last March while staying in Buenos Aires.  A group of us went out for the evening to a couple bars – first, to Bar The Clinic (near Bella Artes) and then to Onaciu in Bellavista.  It was an extremely fun night out on the town where I was introduced to the national drink of Chile – the Pisco Sour.  Though it’s a little sweet for my tastes, I really didn’t have a choice but to try one (or two… or three…) of these things.

A Pisco Sour

A Pisco Sour

I awoke Saturday morning to a somewhat clear morning as the fog receeded.  The entrance to the funicular at San Cristobal hill was a whopping two blocks from my hostel, so I proceeded there and bought a 2,600 peso round-trip ticket on the funicular to the top of the hill.

Funicular up San Cristobal Hill

Funicular up San Cristobal Hill

Funicular from up top

Funicular from up top

The views from up here were awesome!  Unfortunately, the smog / fog held around a little bit too long that morning, and I was unable to see all of the the Andes mountains, but I was able to see some vistas of the mountains – the first time I’d ever seen the Andes!

Statue of Virgin Mary

Statue of Virgin Mary

Smoggy View of Santiago

Smoggy View of Santiago

Financial district in Santiago

Financial district in Santiago

My first view of the Andes Montains

My first view of the Andes Montains

Me atop the hill with Santiago and the Andes in the background

Me atop the hill with Santiago and the Andes in the background

After walking around for about an hour, I grabbed an empanada and a Gatorade and headed back down the hill on the funicular.

Jamon y Queso Empanada

Jamon y Queso Empanada

Llama!

Llama!

My next stop was Plaza de Armas downtown, where I met up with a free walking tour.  The group consisted of about ten tourists and our guide, Felipe.  Felipe gave a wonderful 3.5-4 hour, narrated tour of the city.  I feel like this tour enabled me to see all of the important landmarks in the city during my short time there.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Former National Congress Building (the current Congress is in Valaparaiso

Former National Congress Building (the current Congress is in Valparaiso

La Moneda Palace

La Moneda Palace

Universidad de Chile

Universidad de Chile

"New York Street" in Santiago

“New York Street” in Santiago

The Santiago Stock Exchange

The Santiago Stock Exchange

Parque Forestal - The largest park in the city

Parque Forestal – The largest park in the city

Parque Forestal at dusk

Parque Forestal at dusk

One of the millions of "street dogs" in Santiago.  The locals care for these dogs, and they are very much a part of the city

One of the millions of “street dogs” in Santiago. The locals care for these dogs, and they are very much a part of the city

About two-thirds of the way through the tour, we stopped at a coffeeshop in the LaStarria neighborhood for a Pisco sour.  The tour ended up in Bellavista, about three blocks from my hostel.  Felipe gave me all sorts of great recommendations for dinner and for lunch the next day.  As with most “free tours”, the tour guides operate on a tips-only basis, and in this case it was well-deserved.  This walking tour leaves daily from Plaza de Armas at 10am and 3pm.  I highly recommend it for a cheap, easy, fun, and informative way to see the sights in Santiago – it would especially be a good way to orient oneself with the city on their first day.

Per Felipe and my Aussie friends’ suggestion, I had a late dinner Saturday night at Galindo in Bellavista.  This restaurant is well known in Santiago amongst both tourists and locals for its Chilean food.  I was starving after a long day of touring, and ordered the empanada a pino to begin, and the “Pastel de Choclo” for the entrée, along with a couple of beers to wash dinner down.

Empanada a pino

Empanada a pino

Pastel de Choclo -- Corn Pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives, and raisins

Pastel de Choclo — Corn Pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives, and raisins

It was fantastic.

Dinner no doubt left me in a food coma, so I back to the hostel and called it a night.

Sunday morning, I awoke in time to shower, re-pack my things and check out of the hostel.  I stored my luggage there and had them order me a cab for noon.  Meanwhile, I trekked to the Mercado Central where I intended to have an early lunch, and oh, what a lunch I had!

Mercado Central de Santiago

Mercado Central de Santiago

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

The Mercado Central is the main fish and seafood market in Santiago.  I really enjoy going to markets when I visit varous cities, and this was no exception.

Fresh Seafood!

Fresh Seafood!

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

I ended up eating at one of the many restaurants around the Mercado, and ordered the Paila Marina – a local specialty that translate literally to “seafood soup.”  It was amazing, and extremely filling.   This set me back only about 3,500 pesos.

Paila Marina for lunch

Paila Marina for lunch

According to Felipe, the many restaurants in the Mercado rotate chefs on a continual basis, so they all have basically the same food.  The restaurants on the outer ring of the Mercado are much cheaper, while the ones in the center are more expensive for essentially the same food!

After this amazing lunch, I walked 20 minutes back to the hostel, where my cab was waiting to take me back to the airport for my flight back to New York via Sao Paulo.  All in all, Santiago was a fantastic city, and my big regret was not spending another day here.  I usually like to spend three days in a new city, and this was no exception.

Simply put, I needed another day.

Well, this trip didn’t start as planned

So I was finishing up work yesterday when a co-worker mentioned to me that there was severe weather expected to roll through the DC area on Thursday.  Alarm bells immediately went off in my head as I was scheduled to fly from DCA to New York-JFK at around 12:30 on Thursday — the same time when the weather was supposed to be God-awful.  This flight was to get me to JFK in plenty of time for my flight to Rio de Janeiro – at 7pm on Thursday.  My concern was not necessarily the Rio flight; rather, it was being able to get to JFK in order to take that flight!  These were separate tickets after all, so the good folks at TAM Airlines really wouldn’t care less if Delta couldn’t get me to New York in time.

I got home and started running through my options.  I could:

  • Keep everything as it was, and just cross my fingers that there wouldn’t be a significant delay or cancellation of my flight to JFK
  • Try to fly out earlier in the morning from DCA-JFK
  • Err on the side of caution and take the Amtrak up to New York on Wednesday night to ensure I wouldn’t miss my flight to Rio.

If I kept everything as-is, I would have been a nervous wreck, and probably would not have slept very well.  The weather forecasts were extremely ominous, and I didn’t like my chances.  Many times with weather, there are many cancellations — primarily of regional jet traffic (which would include my DCA-JFK flight).  In situations of extremely bad weather, air traffic control tends to get the large planes flying internationally out, and the regionals end up with severe delays or cancellations.  After thinking about all this, I decided that I could not just stay with what I had — I needed to make a proactive change.

My first thought was to change the flight to an earlier flight to JFK on Thursday morning.  Then it dawned on me — I wasn’t flying United.  Since I have status with United, I’ve grown accustomed to being able to make same day changes to my flights — I almost take it for granted.  But no, this flight was with Delta.  An airline with which I have zero status.  Delta had not issued a weather waiver at that point, and it was unlikely I’d be able to change my flight unless they did.

The last option I had was to take the train up to New York on Wednesday, stay the night, and have a relaxing day during which I could find my way out to JFK.  I have a modest bank of Amtrak points from which I could use 4,000 of them to get to NYC, and I was able to find a very reasonable last minute rate at the Four Points Sheraton SoHo.  Perfect.

But then there was a small detail that I had to work with:  it was 6:15pm and my train left at 8:45pm.

I had not done laundry.  I had not packed.  At all.

Fast forward two hours, and I found myself scarfing down a slice of Sbarro pizza as my train was about to depart for New York’s Penn Station.  I made it!

The boarding scrum for the NE Regional Amtrak train DC-NYC.

The boarding scrum for the NE Regional Amtrak train DC-NYC.

The train ride was uneventful — a standard Northeast Regional experience.  It takes about 3:20 – 3:30 to get from Washington to New York on Amtrak, and it’s a good way to go, as it dumps you off at Penn Station — smack dab in the middle of Manhattan.

I arrived at Penn Station at about 12:10am, hailed a cab to the Four Points, and went right to bed.

I slept pretty well in the small room, and woke up at around 8am to do some work.  Again, the room was quite small, but the location is very good and is well situated in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.

My small room

My small room at the 4 Points Sheraton SoHo

After a brief walk around the SoHo neighborhood, I packed my things and headed to Brooklyn where I planned to meet a friend for lunch.  The subway ride was about 15 minutes, and eventually plopped me out right in downtown Brooklyn near the brand new Barclay’s Center.  Wow – what a cool looking arena!

Photo Jun 13, 2 13 26 PM

The new Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn — home of the Nets

My friend took me for a roast beef sandwich at Brennan and Carr’s in Brooklyn… awesome!

The Gargiulo burger at Brennan & Carr's in Brooklyn

The Gargiulo burger at Brennan & Carr’s in Brooklyn

After lunch, he drove me to JFK, where I had plenty of time to check-in and make the flight to Rio!  In fact, I’m writing this from the comforts of the American Airlines AAdmirals Club at JFK in T8.  My flight is scheduled out for 7:10pm, I have a drink in hand, and things are good!

A whole bunch of AAirplanes at JFK

A whole bunch of AAirplanes at JFK

Next stop:  Rio de Janeiro!