Lots and lots of apartments/condos
Lots and lots of apartments/condos
St. Mary's Church towers over Krakow's main square
St. Mary’s Church towers over Krakow’s main square

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.

Berlin Cathedral and the TV Tower
Berlin Cathedral and the TV Tower

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.

Obwarzanek is a popular snack in Krakow.
Obwarzanek is a popular snack in Krakow.

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.

Meal service on a 40 minute flight!
Meal service on a 40 minute flight!

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!

Dawn over the Alps enroute to Zurich from Vienna
Dawn over the Alps enroute to Zurich from Vienna

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.

Day room at the Swiss First Lounge in Zurich.  Here it is in "blue mode."
Day room at the Swiss First Lounge in Zurich. Here it is in "blue mode."

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.

Shortly after takeoff I changed into my PJ's and joined Amy for dinner.
Shortly after takeoff I changed into my PJ’s and joined Amy for dinner.

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.

Pulling up to our gate at Joburg
Pulling up to our gate at Joburg

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!

Hopping Around Europe
Berlin Cathedral and the TV Tower
Berlin Cathedral and the TV Tower
Deutsche Bahn Headquarters at Potzdamer Platz
Deutsche Bahn Headquarters at Potzdamer Platz
A familiar livery on the apron at TXL
A familiar livery on the apron at TXL
Old Town Square, Warsaw
Old Town Square, Warsaw
Back to WAW for our flight to Krakow
Back to WAW for our flight to Krakow
St. Mary's Church towers over Krakow's main square
St. Mary’s Church towers over Krakow’s main square
Obwarzanek is a popular snack in Krakow.
Obwarzanek is a popular snack in Krakow.
Quite strange to be back in the fall season for the third time in 2011.
Quite strange to be back in the fall season for the third time in 2011.
Time for another flight with EuroLOT.  Destination: Vienna
Time for another flight with EuroLOT. Destination: Vienna
Since everyone boards from the rear, business class is at the back of the plane.
Since everyone boards from the rear, business class is at the back of the plane.
Meal service on a 40 minute flight!
Meal service on a 40 minute flight!
Dawn over the Alps enroute to Zurich from Vienna
Dawn over the Alps enroute to Zurich from Vienna
A tasty grilled sandwich from Austrian
A tasty grilled sandwich from Austrian
Day room at the Swiss First Lounge in Zurich.  Here it is in "blue mode."
Day room at the Swiss First Lounge in Zurich. Here it is in "blue mode."
Some nice toiletries to make away with.
Some nice toiletries to make away with.
Palm trees in the fall time in Zurich
Palm trees in the fall time in Zurich
Zurich's main train station
Zurich’s main train station
Time for some snacks at the Swiss First Lounge
Time for some snacks at the Swiss First Lounge
Enjoying some canapés while the rest of the passenvers board.
Enjoying some canapés while the rest of the passenvers board.
Shortly after takeoff I changed into my PJ's and joined Amy for dinner.
Shortly after takeoff I changed into my PJ’s and joined Amy for dinner.
A light breakfast as we cross Botswana
A light breakfast as we cross Botswana
Pulling up to our gate at Joburg
Pulling up to our gate at Joburg
The 8th flight and 5th airline on this ticket!
The 8th flight and 5th airline on this ticket!
Namibia, at last!
Namibia, at last!

I suspect that some of my readers have been appalled by some of the travel conditions we’ve endured during parts of our RTW trip.  Cramped buses, dirty hotel rooms, limited food options, etc.  Overall it hasn’t been nearly as bad as some might think but I will agree that there were a few days here and there where the situation just plain sucked.  November 5th did not fall into that category.

A seat AND a bed!
A seat AND a bed!

November 5th was the day we were scheduled to take Lufthansa Flight 741 from Osaka to Frankfurt with an onward connection to Berlin.  This flight is operated by Lufthansa’s 747 aircraft which they are in the process of retrofitting with a new First Class product.  Their product is unique in that it offers first class passengers both a traditional seat as well as a dedicated bed.  Many airlines offer lay-flat beds but most are seats which convert into beds – obviously some design compromises must be made there.  The icing on the cake is that Lufty has their First Class on the upper deck of the 747.

Champagne and macadamia nuts
Champagne and macadamia nuts

After climbing the stairs and being shown to our seats we got down to business.  Namly, Champagne and macadamia nuts.  A short while later, and still during boarding, the flight attendant came through and offered an amuse-bouche so that we wouldn’t starve to death.  She also gave us all the other supplies we’d be needing: a stack of food and wine menus, slippers, pajamas (ours to keep) and Bose headsets (ours not to keep!).  She also gave us each our Lufthansa rose.

Before even seeing the menus I had decided that I would be selecting the Japanese menu on the flight.  It seemed like it was my last chance at some gourmet Japanese food for a while so why not?  I started with caviar and a wonderful seared tuna appetizer.

Zensai Sanshu: Caviar with all the fixings and a starter of seared tuna with grilled watermelon
Zensai Sanshu: Caviar with all the fixings and a starter of seared tuna with grilled watermelon

As is traditional in a Japanese Kaiseki meal, there are many many courses.  My caviar and seared tuna were followed up with three more dishes in the “zensei sanshu” course (click for enlargements and menu text).

Honey glazed Duck Breast, Vegetable Salsa, Micro Greens and Seasame Dressing
Honey glazed Duck Breast, Vegetable Salsa, Micro Greens and Seasame Dressing
Scallops and Shiitake Mushroom with Bonito flavored Cream
Scallops and Shiitake Mushroom with Bonito flavored Cream
Kudzu Cake with Cod Milt, Salmon Roe and Dashi
Kudzu Cake with Cod Milt, Salmon Roe and Dashi

Next up was the beautifully-plated “Hassun” course.

Hassun: Snow Crab Sushi, seared Blowfish Sushi, Fish Roe rolled with Kelp, blanched Blowfish Skin served with Ponzu Sauce, Gisei-Tofu and Kumquats simmered in Syrup
Hassun: Snow Crab Sushi, seared Blowfish Sushi, Fish Roe rolled with Kelp, blanched Blowfish Skin served with Ponzu Sauce, Gisei-Tofu and Kumquats simmered in Syrup

I was getting pretty full by this point but I still hadn’t reached the biggest dish of the meal, the “Omozakana” course.  One highlight of this course was the rice.  Rice often gets dried out and tough on the plane but Lufthansa has solved that by serving the rice packaged in a bamboo sheet.

Omozakana: Simmered Sea Bream and Turnip served with Gin an Sauce, Kintoki Carrot and steamed Tawara Rice
Omozakana: Simmered Sea Bream and Turnip served with Gin an Sauce, Kintoki Carrot and steamed Tawara Rice
Gohan: Steamed rice wrapped in a Bamboo Sheet
Gohan: Steamed rice wrapped in a Bamboo Sheet

To close out the meal they served some miso soup and then some Japanese sweets.  Japanese sweets often leave the western palate unsatisfied as they tend not to be very sweet.  I enjoyed mine but I will admit that I supplemented with some truffles and a coffee.

Wagashi: Japanese Sweet with Otemoto Stick
Wagashi: Japanese Sweet with Otemoto Stick
Some truffles to top things off...
Some truffles to top things off…

Thoroughly stuffed I took a stroll around the plane before heading to the lav to change into my pajamas.  The meal took a couple of hours so by the time we finished we were making our way across China and headed for Mongolia.  I spent a long while just staring out at the barren terrain thinking about what a wonderful experience it was to travel in Mongolia.

Mongolia!
Mongolia!

I stirred after a few hours of sleep and decided it was high time to investigate the snack options.  I availed myself to both the western (canapes) and Japanese (onigiri) snacks.  One of the flight attendants also pointed out that we were half-way to Germany so I decided to order up a nice beer, a Erdiner Weissbier to be exact.  Meanwhile, Amy was still chiseling through the movie selection.

Amy enjoying her bed and the movies
Amy enjoying her bed and the movies

Before we knew it, our 12 hour flight was nearing its end and the flight attendants were preparing to serve the second meal of the flight.  I scarcely had room left in my belly but I did my best.  Even so, I had to skip a couple of the courses.  

Attention to detail: the logo always faces the customer!
Attention to detail: the logo always faces the customer!
Omozakana: Simmed  Black Rockfish with simmered An Sauce, grilled Tofu and steamed Tawara Rice
Omozakana: Simmed Black Rockfish with simmered An Sauce, grilled Tofu and steamed Tawara Rice
Chocolate Spicy Cake
Chocolate Spicy Cake

Sadly, we were right on schedule touching down in Frankfurt (flights like this you always want to go long) but there was more luxury waiting for us in the First Class Terminal (FCT).  Lufthansa has a dedicated terminal building in Frankfurt for First Class passengers.  The facility is primarily intended for passengers originated in Frankfurt, however, transit passengers such as ourselves are equally welcome.  The only downside is that it required us to pass through security and walk down the street a little ways.  It is well worth the effort though!

Upon arrival at the FCT our credentials were checked and we were subjected to a respectful screening at the dedicated security checkpoint.  Next, we were introduced to our personal assistant who would take care of us during our stay.  Normally this person would also collect our passports so that they could be processed at the facilities private immigration facility, however since we had an onward domestic flight to Berlin this wasn’t necessary.

Nice shower rooms at the Frankfurt First Class Terminal
Nice shower rooms at the Frankfurt First Class Terminal

Our first order of business was showers.  The FCT has some excellent spa facilities with huge “rainfall” shower heads and enormous bathtubs which are very welcome treat after a long flight.  To be honest though, what I was really excited about was picking up a souvenir of the occasion: a Lufthansa Rubber Ducky.

A quality spread on the buffet line...cured ham, anyone?
A quality spread on the buffet line…cured ham, anyone?

Rubber ducks in hand, we headed to the dining area for some more food.  Amy made a pass at the buffet while I ordered a pumpkin salad and the weiner schnitzel.  I can also report that dying of thirst is not a risk at the FCT as there is a choice of seven different types of bottled water.  Their selection of alcoholic beverages is also formidable: I counted 66 different single-malt whiskeys on the menu!  All of this is complimentary of course. 

...and the schnitzel
…and the schnitzel

The FCT experience ends with a bang.  About 15 minutes prior to our flight’s scheduled departure time our personal assistant came to find us and asked that we follow him downstairs.  Waiting downstairs is a row of Mercedes limousines and Porsche SUV’s.  We climbed in one and headed out across the tarmac to our waiting aircraft.  Our assistant escorted us onboard and introduced us to the crew.  As soon as we sat down the doors were closed and off we went – everyone else was already on board!  I think that is about as close as we can get to having a private jet.

Our ride to our Berlin-bound aircraft
Our ride to our Berlin-bound aircraft

The flight to Berlin was short and uneventful and we soon made our way out to the curb to find the city bus.  I would venture to guess that we were one of the only Lufthansa First passengers to also use a city bus that day.  The bus took us from Tegel airport to Potsdamer Platz and the Grand Hyatt Berlin.  Of course there is no way that we could afford such fancy digs on our budget but I had a some free Hyatt nights saved up for such an occasion.

We scored a nice upgrade at the Grand Hyatt Berlin
We scored a nice upgrade at the Grand Hyatt Berlin

Thanks to my soon-to-be-expired status with Hyatt’s rewards program, we were given an upgrade for the night to a suite.  The room was spectacular and we made good use of the hotel’s facilities which included a beautiful indoor poor on the top floor.  As an added bonus, they even comped the contents of the massive minibar!  Too bad we could only stay one night.

We brought the Hyatt rubber ducky two friends from the Lufthansa lounge
We brought the Hyatt rubber ducky two friends from the Lufthansa lounge
Crossing Asia in Style
The red carpet awaits
The red carpet awaits
A seat AND a bed!
A seat AND a bed!
Champagne and macadamia nuts
Champagne and macadamia nuts
Amenity kit, slippers, pajamas and a Bose headset
Amenity kit, slippers, pajamas and a Bose headset
Amuse-bouche to keep us from starving during the boarding process
Amuse-bouche to keep us from starving during the boarding process
When flying Lufthansa, one must not miss the pretzle rolls!
When flying Lufthansa, one must not miss the pretzle rolls!
Zensai Sanshu: Caviar with all the fixings and a starter of seared tuna with grilled watermelon
Zensai Sanshu: Caviar with all the fixings and a starter of seared tuna with grilled watermelon
Combination of Sesame crusted Yellow Fin Tuna, grilled Water Melon and Capsicum Parfait
Combination of Sesame crusted Yellow Fin Tuna, grilled Water Melon and Capsicum Parfait
Honey glazed Duck Breast, Vegetable Salsa, Micro Greens and Seasame Dressing
Honey glazed Duck Breast, Vegetable Salsa, Micro Greens and Seasame Dressing
Scallops and Shiitake Mushroom with Bonito flavored Cream
Scallops and Shiitake Mushroom with Bonito flavored Cream
Kudzu Cake with Cod Milt, Salmon Roe and Dashi
Kudzu Cake with Cod Milt, Salmon Roe and Dashi
Hassun: Snow Crab Sushi, seared Blowfish Sushi, Fish Roe rolled with Kelp, blanched Blowfish Skin served with Ponzu Sauce, Gisei-Tofu and Kumquats simmered in Syrup
Hassun: Snow Crab Sushi, seared Blowfish Sushi, Fish Roe rolled with Kelp, blanched Blowfish Skin served with Ponzu Sauce, Gisei-Tofu and Kumquats simmered in Syrup
Omozakana: Simmered Sea Bream and Turnip served with Gin an Sauce, Kintoki Carrot and steamed Tawara Rice
Omozakana: Simmered Sea Bream and Turnip served with Gin an Sauce, Kintoki Carrot and steamed Tawara Rice
Gohan: Steamed rice wrapped in a Bamboo Sheet
Gohan: Steamed rice wrapped in a Bamboo Sheet
Misoshiru: Miso Soup
Misoshiru: Miso Soup
Wagashi: Japanese Sweet with Otemoto Stick
Wagashi: Japanese Sweet with Otemoto Stick
Some truffles to top things off...
Some truffles to top things off…
...and coffee, with more chocolate.
…and coffee, with more chocolate.
Dessert wines and cheeses on the way but I was stuffed.
Dessert wines and cheeses on the way but I was stuffed.
A bit of a strange routing to begin with
A bit of a strange routing to begin with
Mongolia!
Mongolia!
Lake Baikal in Russia
Lake Baikal in Russia
Sporting my Lufty PJs
Sporting my Lufty PJs
Canapés as a mid-flight snack
Canapés as a mid-flight snack
My last chance at some onigiri for a while so I had that as a snack as well.
My last chance at some onigiri for a while so I had that as a snack as well.
Half way to Germany, might as well celebrate with a German beer.
Half way to Germany, might as well celebrate with a German beer.
Amy enjoying her bed and the movies
Amy enjoying her bed and the movies
Why look, it is time for another meal!
Why look, it is time for another meal!
Attention to detail: the logo always faces the customer!
Attention to detail: the logo always faces the customer!
Hassun: Osaka pressed Sushi featuring Mackerel, Prawn and Eff, Sea Bream, minced Chicken Cake covered with Poppy Seeds, small River Fish rolled with Kelp, Petit Arrowhead Bulb pickled with Sweet Vinegar and Ginger
Hassun: Osaka pressed Sushi featuring Mackerel, Prawn and Eff, Sea Bream, minced Chicken Cake covered with Poppy Seeds, small River Fish rolled with Kelp, Petit Arrowhead Bulb pickled with Sweet Vinegar and Ginger
Omozakana: Simmed  Black Rockfish with simmered An Sauce, grilled Tofu and steamed Tawara Rice
Omozakana: Simmed Black Rockfish with simmered An Sauce, grilled Tofu and steamed Tawara Rice
Chocolate Spicy Cake
Chocolate Spicy Cake
I decided to try some plum saki.  Tsukinoi Nihonshu Shikomi Umezake
I decided to try some plum saki. Tsukinoi Nihonshu Shikomi Umezake
Nice shower rooms at the Frankfurt First Class Terminal
Nice shower rooms at the Frankfurt First Class Terminal
A quality spread on the buffet line...cured ham, anyone?
A quality spread on the buffet line…cured ham, anyone?
I order off the menu a pumpkin salad
I order off the menu a pumpkin salad
...and the schnitzel
…and the schnitzel
Hot chocolate for dessert
Hot chocolate for dessert
We scored a nice upgrade at the Grand Hyatt Berlin
We scored a nice upgrade at the Grand Hyatt Berlin
The walk-in closet at the Grand Hyatt Berlin was about the size of our whole room at the Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong
The walk-in closet at the Grand Hyatt Berlin was about the size of our whole room at the Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong
Huge bathroom!
Huge bathroom!
We brought the Hyatt rubber ducky two friends from the Lufthansa lounge
We brought the Hyatt rubber ducky two friends from the Lufthansa lounge
We couldn't even put a dent in the complimentary minibars
We couldn’t even put a dent in the complimentary minibars
Nice sculture in our floor's elevator lobby
Nice sculture in our floor’s elevator lobby
Our ride to our Berlin-bound aircraft
Our ride to our Berlin-bound aircraft

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