Wedge-snouted Lizards (Meroles cuneirostris)
Wedge-snouted Lizards (Meroles cuneirostris)
The red carpet awaits
The red carpet awaits
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!

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!

© 2011-2012 RoamingRyan.com Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha