Getting to the Shetlands

This is Part 1 of our series on a vacation in the Shetland Islands in August 2013.

We’d been talking about a Dog & Pony Show with our pal Resident Evil on Earth for over a year, but our vacation schedules never seemed to align properly. It was kind of a chore just to figure out the airfare — we have never needed three flights just to arrive at a destination within the EU before now. Getting there was certainly worth it, but more of a challenge than is normal for us. Continue reading Getting to the Shetlands

Hong Kong Trip, Part 2: Arriving in Hong Kong

In February 2012, we flew to Hong Kong for about a week. This was our first (non-business) trip to Asia. You can read Part 1 here to start from the beginning.

Regensburg to Hong KongIt took over 25 hours get from our apartment in Regensburg to the hotel in Hong Kong. Several of those hours wasted away groggily in the Dubai Airport in the middle of the night. After walking (what seemed like) a couple of miles, we made it to the departure hall. I was kind of surprised at how dead it looked; only one fast-food restaurant was open. I guess all the rest of the passengers were upstairs in the business lounge (I know that’s where I’d be). We scarfed some pita sandwiches and made our way deeper into the departure hall, and that’s where we found life again: duty-free store upon duty-free store, jewelry counters and trinket souvenir hawkers. Only at 2:30 in the morning, local time, nobody seemed too enthusiastic about anything. We felt like zombies, too, but the alarming turbulence around Ahmedabad did us a favor by keeping us up even longer, thereby ensuring that we’d crash zonk out for the remainder of the flight.

Exiting the plane and claiming our baggage was trouble-free. Immediately upon exiting the baggage claim, the friendly staff from Airport Express was there to inform us about the packages available. Our Frommer’s Hong Kong guide was right on the money. We snagged a few maps and brochures for later use and made our way down to the Airport Express station, boarded a train (most hours of the day they run every ten minutes), and one of us zonked out some more until arriving at Hong Kong station.

A note on the terminology here: “Hong Kong” is one of the Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of the PRC — just like Macau. It’s comprised of many islands in the region, one of which is called “Hong Kong.” One of the stops on the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system is “Hong Kong” (and thankfully, it’s also on the island of Hong Kong).

We’d almost forgotten to clarify our hotel’s shuttle pickup in advance, but just before getting into our taxi to Regensburg’s Hauptbahnhof, Sarah called and got the instructions from the hotel (working that 7-time-zone offset to our advantage). We met the schedule right on time, took in the Central, Sheung Wah and Kennedy Town neighborhoods at street level, and checked into our hotel, the Dorsett Regency Hong Kong.

The staff there was happy to upgrade our reservation from a standard double to a king-sized room on the 28th floor (why? not sure). We were impressed with the staff’s efficiency and welcoming demeanor. We tried to admire the view of the harbor from our vantage point, but due to the fog we could hardly see it at all. The night views from our hotel room proved a little more attractive.

The front desk was kind enough to make us a recommendation for dinner that same evening, but in the end we fell back to our Frommer’s book, since they recommended a place right at the end of our street. It was just slightly hidden around the corner, and it was a good thing it wasn’t harder to find — we’d have given up on it quickly. After watching us struggle with chopsticks and bok choi a bit, someone in charge offered us a spoon. We used it for serving, but remained stubborn about eating with the chopsticks. And we got better over time.

Grounded in Iași

So I’m staying, reluctantly, overnight in Iași. I’m in Little Texas (www.littletexas.org), which is kind of ironic, given that my VPN’d proxy usually reports my IP as being in San Antonio.

My location
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I’m staying here an extra night because of an undisclosed technical problem with the Austrian Arrows plane that arrived late from Vienna this afternoon, intending to scoop up passengers and return with them to Vienna.

After it arrived in Iași late, we boarded and then proceeded to sit. And sit and sit. Then, from my choice seat under the wing, just across from the engine cowl and landing gear on our Dash-8 turboprop plane, I saw some ground crew pointing and gesturing at a growing puddle on the ground and drips coming out of some kind of exhaust port on the plane. Eventually the pilot left the cockpit and came out to check it himself and touched the fluid, sniffed his finger, and returned to the cockpit.

Not too long after that, we deplaned and started making plans for the night, since that was the last flight of the day in a direction useful to me. Austrian Arrows tried to convince me to get on a bus to Bucharest (5 hour ride to catch at least two more planes? No thanks!) so that I could take a plane from there. I said “What else you got?” When he tried to offer me a stay overnight and some more Austrian flights out of Iași in the morning, I said “I’d rather fly Carpatair tomorrow at 07:30. Can you make that happen?” He swallowed and reluctantly made me a reservation for flights home to Munich and an overnight stay and dinner at Little Texas on Austrian’s Groschen.

I have never had anything but pleasant prompt service from Carpatair. I have always had complicated, delayed, stressful travel with Austrian Arrows — including sprints through the lousy Vienna Schwechat airport and luggage arriving days later than I did, which is why I didn’t bring a suitcase on this trip. I’m thinking this was Austrian’s last piece of business from me.

A Hop, Skip & Jump through NAFTA*

I’ve been collecting frequent flyer miles. I just got back today from my very first business trip back to the continent of my birth. I didn’t visit Canada at all on this trip, but since Detroit is north of Canada (check it on the map!), I consider it covered.

Guadalajara

First destination was Guadalajara, Mexico (where I picked up some swell mustaches in anticipation of Mexican Independence Day festivities). I’ve been to Puerto Vallarta many times (as faithful readers know), but this was my first trip to the capital of the state of Jalisco. I stayed at the Hotel Presidente Intercontinental, which was very nice. My company’s corporate rate there seemed very reasonable, considering the amenities, generous room, location, friendly staff, and the outstanding breakfast buffet. I can’t say “¡no!” to chilaquiles rojos o verdes and frijoles fritos for breakfast. Ever. I found my colleagues in Guadalajara to be charmingly energetic, engaging, and — above all — alarmingly young. My host took me out on my last night for dinner, and I requested a restaurante típico of the city. We tried a place he recommended for pozole, but they were closed. So, we scooted over to Las Vías for a couple of tortas cubanas y aguas frescas — my jamaica was excellent. I’m hard-pressed to find a website for Las Vías, but I’d like to throw more business their way. Our sandwiches and drinks were cheap and delicious.

Chicago

Next stop was Chicago, where Yelli graciously picked me up from the airport and showed me how Chicagolanders eat not once, but twice while I was there for two days. (It’s really good to have friends spread around the world.) I am so pleased to have caught up with her (and to have been the excuse she needed to drop her kids with their grandparents), but I would have liked to have seen them and her husband, too (particularly to see the mustache effect on their elder son). On the first night, she took me to Portillo’s to get a true Chicago diner experience. After a long second day at the office, she picked me up again and I sampled Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Note to Detroiters: it was like Pizza Papalis, but better, in terms of crust and cheese.

Detroit/Michigan

After a full work week, I landed in Detroit, where my sister scooped me up at the airport. We rendezvous’d with my parents, ate dinner with my grandparents, and headed up to the house on the lake for the remainder of the weekend. It was nice to get sort of a spontaneous visit with my family, but I really wish I’d had Sarah with me. It generally feels weird traveling without her, but even more so in places where we’ve lived or at least visited together. I got the chance to meet up with some old work colleagues, dear old Michigan friends, and recent transplants from Regensburg to the Detroit area outside of my work commitments.

Writing it up in restrospect, after arriving today (according to my Michigan-based bodily clock, but that was actually yesterday according to local time), it doesn’t seem quite so intense. Visiting three offices over a span of 10 days doesn’t sound like much now, but I can assure you — it took a lot out of me. Still, I’m so pleased everything worked out as well as it did.

P.S. — My thanks go to joolsstone over at trainsonthebrain.com for the inspiration to use tripline.net for this nifty animated mapping thing. The Indiana Jones theme plays through my head when I watch this.

* — NAFTA stands for “North American Free Trade Agreement.” It’s shorthand, for my company, for our U.S./Canadian/Mexican locations. Does anyone else call it that? I wonder if German companies are more likely to use a term like that, since they can compress all that meaning down to just two syllables this way.

AirBär Web Check-in — what’s in it for me?

Print your own stuff, so they don't have to!

AirBär generally are pretty good as far as the cheapo European airlines go. I don’t think they’ve ever gotten a black mark on their record with me…until today, that is (and this gripe is an admittedly small thing).

Yesterday morning, about thirty hours to take-off, I got an email from AirBär that we could do a web check-in and print our own boarding passes.

“Great,” we thought. “This’ll make our departure from Munich tomorrow even easier.” So, I clicked on the link in the email to check us in on-line and downloaded an eight-page PDF with barcodes in the top left corner of every page. Eight pages, because we’re two passengers with two flight segments each (layover in Palma de Mallorca) and for each segment there’s an “Original” and “Customer Copy” page.

“Uh…that’s fine,” we thought. “We only need the customer copy electronically and not at all with us on the trip.” So we didn’t print out the “Customer Copy” files or even bring them with us. And besides, apart from the red “Customer Copy” heading, they appeared identical to the “Original” print-outs.

We waited in line in front of the ticket agent desks just like everyone else to check our bag. There was no short(er) or “express” or bag-check line for passengers who already had checked in and printed their boarding passes. “Well, OK,” we thought. “Surely there is a benefit here for those without a bag to check because they can go right to the gate.”

Upon reaching the gate, however, the rather haughty gate agent with terrible English pronunciation* took our Originals to be scanned and we were a little surprised that she kept them.

Hoppola, jetzt weiß ich nicht mehr, welchen Sitzplatz ich habe!” I apologetically exclaimed, as I realized she intended to keep it, and I hadn’t memorized the seat assignment. Her response was not technically incorrect, but her tone (hard to reproduce here) was really not helpful: “dafür haben Sie ja eine Kopie bekommen!

Maybe I missed something in the fine print. But I really think it’s dumb that they scan the boarding passes’ barcodes and then still need the paper (for what, exactly?). So far — greetings from the tarmac on Mallorca — we haven’t needed any paper proof of our claim on these seats. But otherwise I’d have no post-boarding proof of our boarding passes.

I really don’t see the benefit of a “web check-in” if you have to wait in line with everyone else to check a bag in, TWICE the paperwork is involved, and you have to print it yourself. I’m totally on board for printing out my own documentation (gotta fire up the printer once a quarter or so to keep the ink heads from drying out), but this seems to be wasteful and confusing and of no benefit whatsoever. Except maybe that AirBär uses my printer, paper, and ink instead of theirs.

*Lest ye think ill of my Aussprachenbeurteilung: I don’t begrudge anyone’s efforts in foreign languages, but if your daily tasks on the job require you to make announcements in English, and it is unrecognizable as such, and remains unimproved (I gather this was not her first day on the job), then whom are we kidding here? Just stop doing the announcements in “English.” Clearly nobody needs them.

Romanian Airports: ce faci?*

I just got back last night from another trip Romania. I think the trip was a success, but we’ll know for sure in a few days (hopefully not weeks) and ultimately in the long term over the next year or so.

View Larger Map

I was headed to Iaşi, my most frequent destination in Romania (I have been known to visit Timişoara from time to time and Sibiu once — so far). There are no direct flights to Iaşi from Munich or Nuremberg. But you can get to Iaşi after stopping and changing planes in Timişoara, Vienna, or Bucharest (or maybe others?).

It’s fine, as airports go, I guess. But it really gets on my nerves that that there is apparently no way to go from the domestic arrivals to international departures (or the way around) without going past the ticketing windows and through the security lines a second time — the first being when you boarded your first plane.

Am I just crazy, or don’t other airports allow you to exit one plane and get on another without an additional trip through the metal detector and x-ray machine? The infuriating thing at Bucharest is that when you’re exiting the plane, you can see a clearly labelled path intended for transfers so you to shortcut past the ticket windows, but there’s a security dude there (looking mighty bored and scowly) shooing anyone who tries to use it up the stairs and out of the secured area. So everyone taking a connecting flight has to get re-screened.

*”Ce faci?” (pronouced like [chay fahtch]) means “How are you?” or “Zup?” or “What’s going on?” as near as I can tell. I wonder if it’s a literal translation of “what does [he/she/it] make?” Romance language experts, what do you think? I like looking at Romanian words and finding their cousins in Spanish and the little bit of French I’ve gleaned from three vacations there the past couple years.

Reminds me of
Romanian PhraseSpanishFrenchItalianEnglish meaning
(Bună) dimineațamañanademain(good) morning
la revederearrivedercigoodbye
Nu înțelegI don’t understand
urgențăemergency
târziutardelater
Cum te cheamă?¿Como te llamas?What’s your name?
Cu plăcerewith pleasure (you’re welcome)
AtențieAttention!Look out!
setesedthirst
Unde e toaleta?¿Dónde está ..?la toiletteI’m off for a slash
șăptămânăsemanasemaineweek

two car rentals in one day

I pride myself on being pretty automobile-independent, but as it happened I rented two cars in one day yesterday for two completely different purposes. The first one was due to a SNAFU in getting back to Regensburg from Iasi via Munich (which worked out just fine after all — just a little more hassle than I wanted), and second one was for attending Jentry and Markus’s wedding reception in Hirschau.

We ended up renting it for the whole day, and that means we can do some exploring today before we return it. We’re thinking of a trip to Weltenburg for brunch, like last year with Tammy and Matthias.

Here are the remaining snapshots from my most recent trip to Iasi:
clouds 1 clouds 3 clouds 2 night shift

AirportLiner Regensburg — use at your own risk

For those of you planning on visiting us via flight arrivals/departures from Munich or Nuremberg, there are several ways for you to get to/from Regensburg to/from the airport.

  • Train/Bus — check out the BayernTicket, because it’s great for a pretty low-cost, low-stress trip from anywhere in Bavaria to anywhere in Bavaria. The catch: it’s only valid one day at a time and you’re responsible to figure out your own subway/train/bus connections.
  • Rental car — good flexbility, but more expensive, and do you really want to deal with traffic having just got off the plane or on your way down to the airport?
  • Taxi — I shudder to think what this might cost,
  • AirportLiner Regensburg — I used to think this was the best option because
    • they’re reliable
    • they’re fairly priceworthy
    • they provide door-to-door service.

I think my opinion of them has changed. Read on.

AirportLiner Regensburg offers a pretty unique service; I myself have had good results with them. Their drivers have always been friendly and prompt, even in spite of rude/late/grumpy customers. The most trouble I have ever had with them was a failure to communicate a more specific pick-up time than the 1.5 hour window they gave me; but even that was no big deal — I just waited outside for longer than I needed to.

Matthias, thinking about AirportLiner while on vacation in the USThen I heard about Matthias’ miserable AirportLiner experience, in which AirportLiner apparently couldn’t schedule a pickup for them themselves, but rather had to hire a taxi to pick him up and drop him off at some misunderstood rendezvous point, which nearly made him miss his flight (or maybe it did, I’m a little unclear on the details). But you know what? I thought it was just him. He seems like the kind of guy who gets rotten luck — order identical menu items at a restaurant, and his is the one that comes out undercooked. Ask for ketchup and mayo for your fries at a restaurant, and they’ll be out of mayo if Matthias is the one requesting it. Stuff like that.

Then Cristi and Adi came to visit from Romania. AirportLiner was late picking them up yesterday morning, and there were unexpected traffic problems on the highway down to the airport. These two factors lead to Cristi and Adi missing their check-in window at the airport by 10 minutes. Since it was an economy-class flight, CarpatAir This is not Cristi and Adi!was not obligated to let them rebook on a later flight. AirportLiner would assume none of the liability for them having missed their flight. The next feasible to flight home to Iasi would be Monday morning. So thanks to AirportLiner, Cristi and Adi’s trip got extended by 2 days. Fortunately their boss in Romania* just happened to be passing through the Munich airport on his way to Regensburg on the day that they were scheduled to head home, and he was able to arrange new flights home and a couple of nights’ stay at a hotel in Munich for them.

Bottom line: apparently not everyone has good luck with AirportLiner like Sarah and I have had. I’ll be rethinking my transportation options for my next flight. We fly economy all the time and also cannot afford to purchase new tickets simply because our ride to the airport did not come through for us.

got my stuff back!

Big ups to the Hotel Unirea for offering to call — and keep calling — Austrian Airlines to inquire about my lost bag for me while I was at work today. Big boos to Austrian Airlines having lost it in the first place, and making me wear the same clothes three days in a row, and not having the decency to deliver my lost bag to my hotel. They made me come pick it up!

This morning (It’s about 6:30 now) I will do a full shave (I didn’t trust the flimsy disposable one in my Star Alliance overnight bag to do anything more than my neckline) and wear clean, non-jean, non-t-shirt clothes for the first time since Sunday morning at 4:00 Central European Time. I’m really looking forward to it.

I tend to ride to and from the office in a taxi while it’s dark when I’m here visiting. Various members of the hotel staff have been calling at all hours of the day/night to the Austrian Airlines department at the Iasi Airport and reporting back to me. I found out yesterday at 1pm that I’d have a two-hour window to pick up my stuff, starting at 12pm (so much for the two hours). I was prepared to take a taxi out to the airport and back, but Vlad suggested he drive me in the company car. Vlad has been very, very helpful in lots of office-related ways. He sacrificed his lunch hour and I am grateful for that. We got stuck in traffic, further shortening my 2-hour window to arrive at the airport. The image at left actually does not show one of the reasons we got stuck in traffic. Those horses were moving along at a good clip.

After work last night, I grabbed my camera and tripod (thanks Sarah) and tried to capture the city in a more festive light:

Day 3 — still not stinky (I hope)

I fear I might not even notice my stench in these clothes at this point. I must praise the staff of the Hotel Unirea, because Virgil and Alina on staff there are repeatedly calling Austrian Airlines to check on the status of my suitcase. For the latest report, I am supposed to check back with them today after 10:00 to see what Austrian Airlines knows.

One small complaint:

I know that all Enrique needs is the rhythm divine, but the Unirea needs to expand its music selection at the breakfast bar. If they manage to get my bag back before I leave on Friday though, I’ll happily sing (if you can call it that) along with them and the Progeny of Iglesias.