Mongoose
Mongoose

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

Those of you who have been viewing the website regularly have probably noticed that we have switched continents again. In fact, I am writing this post in hot and sunny Windhoek, Namibia. About 12 days ago we were packing our bags in tropical El Nido, Palawan which is tucked away in a remote corner of the Philippines. Since then we have passed through Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, Poland, Austria, Switzerland and South Africa. Quite a bit of flying for 12 days!

The crazy routing was mainly due to a bargain redemption that I spotted on the United award chart a couple months ago. One-way awards from Japan to Southern Africa (that is, most of the continent south of the equator) are 40/50/60k miles in coach/business/first respectively. 60,000 miles for an intercontinental first class redemption is a good value but this one in particular is spectacular due to the overall distance traveled and the very generous routing allowance.

Boeing-Lufthansa 50 years of partnership special livery
Boeing-Lufthansa 50 years of partnership special livery

United’s Mileage Plus awards are now governed by a “maximum permitted mileage” (MPM) rule that limits how far you can fly on a given award. The MPM is based on the given origin/destination city pair you are traveling between – basically, they look it up in a big table. For Osaka to Windhoek, the MPM allotment is a whopping 15,880 miles – to put that in perspective, the straight-line distance is a mere 8,627 miles!

Krakow to Vienna, again with EuroLOT
Krakow to Vienna, again with EuroLOT

With a huge cushion of routing allotment to work with, I set to work finding a good set of flights on our desired travel dates. Lufthansa had some nice availability on their Osaka-Frankfurt flight and, as an added bonus, there was a rumor floating about that it would be operated by 747′s featuring their new seat+bed first class product. Even without the new seats, Lufthansa First is a fantastic product that I was eager to try again.

Vienna to Zurich, my first flight with Austrian
Vienna to Zurich, my first flight with Austrian

The next challenge was finding award availbility on the Europe to Africa portion of the trip. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a flight that lined up well with our inbound flight from Osaka. Award space on the long-hauls to the southern tip of the continent is pretty scarce. In the end, I found space with Swiss on a flight but it was four full days after our inbound flight from Osaka. This would be a deal-breaker for some, but it was still usable with a little bit of work.

Our Joburg-bound A340-300 as seen from the first class transfer limo.
Our Joburg-bound A340-300 as seen from the first class transfer limo.

United one-way awards don’t allow stopovers so it wasn’t possible to scheduled a stopover in one city for a few days without paying for two award tickets. What their rules DO allow are an unlimited number of connections provided you still observe the MPM restriction. Connections are defined as stops of less than 24 hours in a given city. The Star Alliance has an incredibly dense mesh of routes across the European continent so it feasible to bounce from city to city to pad out the schedule. So that is just what we did!

Getting closer to our final destination.
Getting closer to our final destination.

The routing I pieced together gave us 23 hours in Berlin, Warsaw and Krakow plus nearly a full day in Zurich and an overnight in Vienna. What’s amazing is that we still had 2,880 miles left in our MPM allottment. If I had really tried, I probably could have fit Portugal, Norway and Turkey all on the same ticket!

Namibia, at last!
Namibia, at last!

Actually getting United to ticket this five-airline, eight-segment, 13,303 mile routing was a challenge in and of itself. At first, the agent expressed complete disbelief that such a redemption was possible. Foruntately, she was open-minded and was willing to go through the rules with me. Eventually, she took down the routing I had come up with and called the rate desk to see if they would authorize the booking. This took quite some time but she gave me updates every few minutes. She let on that the rate desk was very unhappy with the routing but that it was indeed within the bounds of all their published rules. When it was all said and done the tickets came to 60,000 miles plus $220 in taxes per person. Not a bad deal since even the cheapest economy ticket from Osaka to Windhoek was over $1800!

Lots of interesting airlines on the apron at WDH - that's Windhoek
Lots of interesting airlines on the apron at WDH – that’s Windhoek

Positioning ourselves in Japan was fairly easy.  We used Zest Air (“Asia’s most refreshing airline”) to get from Palawan to Manila and then continued with Cebu Pacific to Macau.  After a day in Macau and two nights in nearby Hong Kong, we flew Cathay Pacific to Osaka on award tickets issued by American Airlines (a friend owed me some miles!).  So all in all, Philippines to Namibia the slightly long way!

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