Most people that ask us about our RTW trip are surprised when we tell them that we spent less than ten days in Europe during our 10-month trip. The truth is, it’s a fairly expensive part of the world and on top of that, we’ve both spent quite a bit of time traveling in that part of the world. Given the choice we would have flown straight through from Asia to Africa without even stopping but unfortunately that wasn’t possible due to award seat availability. I detailed the rational behind this ticket in an earlier post but it was basically an 8-flight, 5-airline one-way ticket that required us to make stops just shy of 24 hours in Berlin, Warsaw and Krakow plus a long daytime connection Zurich.
Our first stop was in Berlin. After the long-haul flight in from Japan we were both exhausted so we didn’t get to explore all that much. We did head over the east side of the city for lunch and wandered past the Berlin Cathedral on our way back to Potzdamer Platz.
An evening flight with Polish LOT took us from Berlin’s Tegel Airport to Warsaw, Poland. We stayed the night at the Courtyard by Marriott that is right at the airport terminal. The next morning we rose early, checked out, and headed into town. Most of Warsaw was bombed flat in World War 2 so it is mostly devoid of old buildings but it is still nice enough for a walk around. The biggest challenge was the cold! The temps were down around freezing which was quite a shock since we were in the Philippines just a week prior.
Krakow, Poland was our third stop and probably the most likable of the cities on our whirlwind circuit. We stayed at a youth hostel near the train station which placed us very close to Krakow’s old town. We had a picture perfect autumn day ahead of us and we made good use of it by exploring the main square and Wawel Castle.
Before we knew it our two-day visit to Poland was behind us and we were on a EuroLOT turboprop headed from Krakow to Vienna, Austria. Since it was an international flight, albeit a short one of about 40 minutes, we had a nice meal service along the way. I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m on a 90 minute regional jet and the crew declares the flight too short for a beverage service!
Vienna was just a plain and simple overnight for us. We got in late and had to leave early the next morning so we found a place to stay close to the airport. In retrospect, we should have just been hobos at the airport to save money because it was a pretty crummy night of sleep. The next morning we checked in with Austrian Airlines for their early morning flight to Zurich. The sun rising over the Alps made for a great view while we enjoyed the breakfast service.
Upon arrival in Zurich we were still quite tired due to our short overnight. Since we had outbound tickets in Swiss First on the evening flight to Johannesburg, we had free reign over the Swiss First Lounge. I had read that they have some nice day rooms available so we availed ourselves to one of them. The rooms are small but they include a small bed, a writing table and a bathroom with shower. One of the entertaining features of the rooms are their chromatherapy system which lets you change the ambient lighting to any color you want.
After naps, showers and topping up our stomachs on free lounge food we headed into Zurich for some sightseeing. In typical Swiss style it is a quick and efficient 8 minute train ride from ZRH to the city center. From the bahnhof we wandered around the lake a little ways and also made our way up to a local university that has a view over the city. Amy bought takeaway lunch for us at a local vegetarian restaurant and I think all there is to say is that we were simultaneously awed and horrified at the cost of eating out in Switzerland!
Back at the airport that evening we had a bit of drama just minutes before boarding our flight to South Africa. The document check agent at the gate wanted to deny Amy boarding because she lacked the two completely blank pages required by South African law. She relented once we told her that we were merely transiting South Africa on our way to Namibia. Of course we had planned to go to South Africa in a couple of week’s time so we’d eventually have to face up to this issue. Fortunately, Windhoek has a US Embassy.
The ten hour flight from Zurich to Johannesburg went all too quickly. After the chaotic boarding process it was nice to relax with some champagne while the other passengers boarded. Shortly after takeoff I changed in to the my new Swiss PJ’s and joined Amy for dinner. On Swiss you can optionally dine facing your traveling companion so we gave that a go. It was fun for a change but sitting on the ottoman isn’t too comfortable.
I woke up after 5 or 6 hours of sleep and opened my window shade for my first glimpse of Africa. I think we were over Botswana at the time but honestly it could have been the American Midwest for all I could tell as it was dotted with circular crop fields. Touchdown at JNB was nice and smooth and we had no difficulty obtaining our transit stamps at document control.
The 8th flight on our crazy award ticket was with South African Airways from Joburg to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. The 737-operated flight had a very strange seating configuration in business class…there were two seats on one side of the aisle and three on the other! It was a short flight on a new airline for me so I didn’t mind it one bit, I just found it a bit peculiar.
All in all, it was a pretty exhausting week of travel milestones for us but certainly 120,000 miles well spent. We kicked it off with what is, in my opinion, the finest first class product in the skies and followed that up with Poland, my 50th country. We had a short stay but we’ll go back some day and do a more thorough job. Africa was also a new continent for both of us not to mention the 6th we had stepped foot on during the trip. Despite the passport drama of the night before it was hard to feel too down. After all, we were in Nambia…a country with wild giraffes!